science fiction

I’ve never heard of John Crowley but it seems I should have.


Genre Trouble

What stands between John Crowley and a serious literary reputation?

James Hynes

For the most part, the American novelist John Crowley flies under both the commercial and critical radars, as invisible to most readers as he is to most critics. You don’t have to look very hard to see why this should be. Despite their high literary gloss and intellectual sophistication, his first three novels were originally published as genre fiction: The Deep (1975) is a gothic fantasy reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy; Beasts (1976) is a science fiction romance about the genetic recombination of humans and animals, sort of a cross between The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Wind in the Willows; and Engine Summer (1979), Crowley’s most impenetrable work, is an after-the-apocalypse narrative. In an attempt to give it mainstream credibility, some admiring critics have called his next book, Little, Big (1981), a magic realist novel. But Little, Big, his best known work and arguably his masterpiece, is unequivocally a fantasy novel, albeit a highly idiosyncratic one. Much of the book reads like a straight literary narrative–it is as compelling a portrait of a long marriage as any I know–but it is based on the Sufi fable The Parliament of the Birds and uses the themes and archetypes of Northern European folklore. In other words, it is a long, gorgeously written, picaresque family saga, in the last fifty pages of which all the major characters, with one heartbreaking exception, turn into fairies.



Author Rating: A+

The Ferryman Institute (Read 11/15/2016) Highly recommended

I absolutely love this book. It is perfect. (Well, there was one typo toward the end but hey).

It’s the story of Charlie Dawson who has labored for 250 years helping people cross over after their death, never failing at his task but heartbroken by the effort. It is well paced, hilarious at times, and utterly convincing in the universe revealed. I won’t give away any more than that because you want to discover it for yourself.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read this lovely book and look forward patiently to whatever Colin Gigl comes up with next.

Author Rating: C

All The Lives He Led (read 7/27/12) Meh

I haven’t finished reading this book yet, and I’m not sure I will finish it. Pohl is yet another example of a writer who is far more popular than the quality of the writing can possibly justify. Here’s a sample paragraph:

And then when she had finished devouring her pizza, she exploratorily ran her tongue over her teeth a time or two. Unsatisfied with the result, she unwrapped a coat of ruby-red foil from something she pulled out of her bellybag and popped it in her mouth. I guess I was really enjoying watching her chew, and showing it, because she grinned and pulled out another stick of the stuff for me, this one wrapped in green foil. “Cleans your teeth,” she informed me. Maybe it did. That wasn’t why I enjoyed it so much, though. It was the taste of the gum itself, I guess, that really got my little buds tingling, fruity and flowery and, I think most of all, just a tad warmed by the flesh of Gerda Fleming.

Really? This is what passes for quality writing?

The narrator announces at the beginning of the novel that he is going to tell us about his life, but he’s not sure why or that he should. In the above paragraph, do you know what Brad Sheridan is supposed to have enjoyed? Gerda Fleming is a person you would think he would be highly suspicious of — she comes up to him out of the blue, knowing his name and background information that she shouldn’t know unless she had been talking to the dreaded Security Forces, yet he acts as though she were just some random person.

We’re at page 82 of 347, and I’m very tempted to just throw it over and start the next. The aimless wandering is really annoying. Nothing has happened except I have wasted my time watching this kid chew gum. Pohl has given me no reason whatsoever to continue with this story. He has not created characters here that operate under any pattern of discernible motivation. We’re told things but they have little to no relationship to what happens during the filler.

Nope, we’re not going to finish it. My life is simply not that long.

Author Rating: C

The Riftwar: The Messenger (read 7/24/12) Meh

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology isn’t so bad that I couldn’t finish it, but there was nothing engaging about it.

Why does there seem to be so much fantasy/science fiction that has human beings using horses for transportation and dressing like they’re living in the 15th Century yet able to build machines to provide breathable atmosphere so they can build a city on a high mountain on a planet so large they have not explored the entirety of it in 10,000 years?

This is why I won’t be bothered with Feist. To me, that’s just plain stupid. He gets a grade of C though instead of Banished, because he’s not nearly as stupid and annoying as Anne McCaffrey.

Author Rating: C

Realm of the Elderlings (read 7/24/12) Agnostic

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology isn’t so bad that I couldn’t be bothered to finish it, but I’m not sure that I could stand more than the 89 pages that contain this story. It’s fairly overwrought, and I can only tolerate so much of that kind of thing

I was a little surprised that this is the first entry here for Robin Hobb. I have a vague memory of having tried to read one of her full-length novels in the past and throwing it over as a bad job. As much as I would not go out of my way to read anything further of hers, I don’t think I would slit my wrists in despair if I were stuck on an airplane with nothing else to read. I wouldn’t want to test that theory, however.

Author Rating: B

Legends II (read 7/24/12) Recommended

The only reason I recommend this anthology of five fantasy/science fiction novelettes is because it includes The Monarch of the Glen by Neil Gaiman, a short sequel to American Gods.
The Book of Changes (read 7/24/12) Recommended

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology is good enough that I would consider reading other works by Silverberg, despite his obviously atrocious judgment as the creator of Legends and Legends II. It’s true that it is easier to find bad fantasy/science fiction than good, but please, Mr. Silverberg, don’t serve up shit and call it caviar.

Author Rating: D

Otherland: The Happiest Dead Boy In The World (read 7/24/12) Don’t Bother

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology is so bad that I was only able to manage one page before I gave it up as a completely bad job.

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