March-Jan 2004

8 09 2004

March 2004

Classic time once more (the SF Masterwork’s series has provided with some choice titles) as we explored Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination (originally published as Tyger, Tyger!). Despite being decades old it was a remarkably fresh and powerful novel with a central character, Gulley Foyle, who is neither hero nor really even an anti-hero. Foyle is physically ugly, mentally dim and utterly unlikeable – and unlike many novels he doesn’t become better or change as the story progresses – the novel is unremitting in this, quite a brave move for a writer. Although sinned against, Foyle’s continual quest for revenge is relentless and wearing – in a way you want him to have revenge, but in another it is hard to sustain sympathy for him. It’s amazing just how much Bester packs into this short but powerful tale and it is easy to see why it has become a classic of SF (Bester himself was honoured by J Michael Strackzynski by naming Walter Koenig’s Psi-Cop character after Bester in the award-winning and ground-breaking Babylon 5). Brilliant stuff.

February 2004

With his new novel, Newton’s Wake, just weeks away from publication we decided we should focus on one of our local authors, our favourite left-leaning SF writer Ken MacLeod and his novel The Sky Road. A part of his thematically-linked Fall Revolution series, the novel uses a split chronology narrative (a device Ken has used a couple of times). One strand, in the distant future has a group of engineers working in Scotland on the first spaceship in centuries (Ken paints a wonderfully evocative future which is ahead of us in a few places but behind us in many, building a spaceship almost the way the shipbuilders of the great Clydeside yards built liners), accessing forbidden knowledge from black devices in Glasgow University (information technology has become not only unused but regarded as evil over the centuries). In the other strand we are much closer to our own time and see some of the events of the fragmented near-future as nations and politics clash, leading to the events which will shape the far future we see in the ship-building era. Its an inventive and intriguing bit of future – and far-future – world-building by Ken, with a fair dose of politics thrown in, as is common in his work. Fictional future history SF for grown-ups.

Joe says: if you enjoyed this then perhaps you may want to try Singularity Sky by Charlie Stross, or Marrow by Robert Reed.

January 2004

Hold on! Haven’t you missed one? Well, no – it’s too busy in the bookstore in December and even we SF fiends need time to buy our Xmas pressies, so no meetings in December. We welcomed everyone back with a modern classic, the erotic horror that made Anne Rice’s name in the mid-70s (was it really that long ago???), Interview With the Vampire. Later entries may not measure up to the book which began the Vampire Chronicles, but Interview was to the late 20th century Gothic novel what Stoker’s Dracula was to the 1890s – a shot in the arm and an inviting bite on the neck, re-inventing and re-invigorating the Vampire genre for a new age. It’s as lushly decadent as its New Orleans and Paris settings. Human mortality is highlighted by the focus on unchanging, immortal creatures, notably the tragic figure of the child vampire, Claudia, while the prose is rich and erotically charged.

Joe says: if you like this novel have you tried Tom Holland’s excellent The Vampyre? Lord Byron has been held up as the classic model for the aristocratic vampire – here Holland takes it literally, with Byron being vampirised during his European travels. It is a deliciously rich novel, traversing English literature as well as mythology. Seriously literate Gothic horror.

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