Thursday, July 01, 2004

The sorry state of British SF

I think I should stop tormenting myself by buying it.

In the "recent" past - that's c1990 up - we've had Peter Hamilton, whose early sub-cyberpunk UK (Mindstar Rising et seq.) held promise, even if it was soft-ish (psi-powers). But then he produced the unutterably prolix The Reality Dysfunction, which took 400 pages (what used to be two whole novels, and is still more than many single books) of scene setting (which introduced no character I felt moved to care about, and an inconsistent economic system with cheap battlefield-surgery capable nanotech that somehow also left bulk timber a viable commodity of interstellar trade) before any semblance of plot emerged - and then it was Dawn of the Dead. And subsequently, I've not found anything of his to tempt me back.

And there's Stephen Baxter, who is intermittently brilliant, but hides it with a preference for Apollo-era nostalgia, and for primitive squalor as a setting. Still not too bad at short-story length, but the last one of his I'd seriously recommend is Space

Not forgetting points north - Ken McLeod, whose The Star Fraction was brilliant, but he has pretty much been serving up variations of it ever since. The recent Cosmonaut Keep was pretty badly written - scenes are described as the characters would describe them, with no clue as to what the things they are seeing actually look like; the characters are not well introduced (I needed to revise my first estimates of their ages down by about 30% after a couple of chapters); and the romance sub-plot is weak. The "Take me to your dealer" reptoids are not enough to rescue it, and I couldn't bring myself to struggle through the second of the sequence.

which brings me to:

Book Review - Natural History by Justina Robson

Her first book, Silver Screen was harmless sub-cyberpunk. The next, Mappa Mundi didn't excite me. This one teased, with its background of post-human development. The first chapter gave me a bit of pause, with its apparent incomprehension of even basic Newtonian mechanics, but the story picked up a bit - but alas the all it did was continue to tease, up to the moment where it suddenly noodled off into psychobabble and ended.

Book Review - British Summertime by Paul Cornell

I should have been warned. His earlier Something More was appealingly British in the way that early Hamilton was (one has to have some respect for an author who contemplates having the 50+ year old radio soap The Archers carrying on for another 450 years through all sorts of social upheaval), but the resolution moved the story into the God-bothering territory that Hamilton also disappeared into.

This one was in the same sort of territory. There were bits that I did want to like. But I really couldn't stay with it - the style was lumpen, and the characters all quite unsympathetic. The only character development was such as to alienate me from the ones I might have followed.

I have to remember, if I want theological SF, to go back to Blish or to Dante.

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