Adam Robots. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz, p/b, £12.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
I have previously read a small part of Adam Roberts’ vast output and had more than a wee bit to say about his writing style, mainly because I find some of it a tad too clever and over-written at times. Yes, he does continually push the boundaries, but he also tries too hard to sucker-punch his reader. Far too often for my tastes: “You will accept my clever writing even if I have to beat you over the head with it…”
A recent discussion I caught on Twitter raised the issue of modern genre writers trying to be too smart nowadays, leading to an alarming trend of writing that feels forced, weird, and generally hidden behind that all-encompassing mystic buzzword known as ‘style’. For me, writing of this type does little other than distance me from the story the author is trying to tell, making things harder to follow and often leading to a look of befuddlement and an amicable parting of the ways between me the reader, and whatever message the author is trying to convey. Imagine then, a whole book of this kind of thing —24 stories, in fact— as Adam Roberts takes up the baton: “I like the idea of writing at least one thing in all the myriad sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of SF” (quoted from back cover). One can perhaps understand how I initially thought my own personal reading hell had arrived, quite literally, at my doorstep… Imagine then, also, if you will, my pleasant surprise to find that more than a few of these stories were perfectly accessible even for one such as I: a man of relatively simple tastes, as it were.
As with any short story collection, there will always be those that hit the mark and those that drift so far off base they end up sprouting in someone else’s playground, and this is no exception. The majority of the stories have appeared previously, but this is apparently the first time they’ve been collected into one publication in the UK. Space doesn’t permit me to go through each individual story, but here’s a quick snapshot to give you some idea of what you may be letting yourself in for…
Adam Robots examines the question of robotic purpose in a very twisted take on the standard tale of Adam and Eve, this time involving robots Adam 1 and Adam 2 discussing why a blue jewel has been put atop a steel pole in the centre of the garden and both robots given explicit instructions not to touch it…
Shall I Tell You the Problem With Time Travel? is probably the most widely read from this collection, and takes a sideways look at the subject of time travel, including an admission that history is usually written by those who don’t necessarily know the whole truth.
Throwness is told in the first person, and is a haunting study of how one might behave if they were given carte-blanche to do as they please, knowing full well that whatever they chose to do all memory of their existence would be erased every three days. Can a life of no consequence be considered any kind of life at all?
Dantean and The World of the Wars are both classic takes on tales of yore. Here, the Divine Comedy feels neither comical or interesting, and not particularly clever, either; while the classic H. G. Wells story is given a Martian viewpoint, with a tiny little sting in the tale… Ahem. Similarly, Pied is a classic fairy tale retold, but didn’t exactly stick in my mind, either.
The Imperial Army was one of the stronger stories in this collection I think, and whichever way you choose to interpret it, this read like a clever ‘homage’ to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers; with a subtle dig at Orson Scott Card’s Enders universe thrown in for good measure.
The Man of the Strong Arm is my personal favourite of the bunch, telling an amusing tale in which real-life history is re-interpreted as a series of corking, ‘pulp-like’ stories from the likes of Edgar Burrough of the Rice, Wells from World’s-End, Robert Highline and the Jew, Verne; also featuring such colourful historical pioneers as Sir Arno of Bergerac, and the preposterous concept of flying to the moon on a giant firework full of gadgets… A very tall tale this, and a funny one at that.
The Woman Who Bore Death felt like an attempt at fantasy that failed completely for me, serving as a timely reminder that an author should usually stick to what they do best, frankly.
Finally, Anticopernicus is another clever tale, this one expertly carving a return to man’s ‘rightful place’ as the centre of the universe. Or not…
In conclusion, I was genuinely surprised and pleased by the number of stories I enjoyed in this collection, and no-one can say the author doesn’t have a fantastic flair for the written word — it’s just that I personally struggle with a lot of it. That said, the University of Lincoln has declared Adam Roberts’ work as the subject for an academic conference later this year entitled New Genre Army: An International Conference on the Writing of Adam Roberts [search ‘Adam Roberts conference’], so he must be doing something right, right?
The Soddit. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz Fantasy, h/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Carl Barker
Tolkien probably never got around to working out how to translate the phrase ‘blatantly had it coming’ into Elvish, back in the day. But if he had, it would surely have been put to good use by sci-fi author Adam Roberts in this hardback re-issue of his 2003 parody of The Hobbit.
The literary excesses of Tolkien’s often over-cluttered passages lend themselves well to humour of a sort, and from the very first pages, Roberts engages in a full-on rearrangement and refocusing of the original text into something more resembling a Marx Brothers movie. Character and place names are altered as a matter of course, forming a deluge of puns and one-liners, some more funny than others. In addition, Roberts puts footnotes to excellent use as a delivery system for his own distinct narrative voice alongside that of the story, thereby allowing him to poke yet more fun at Tolkien’s penchant for digressing into the detailed history and background of his universe.
Whilst all this slapstick humour and irreverence is initially fun, you can’t help but feel yourself craving something a little more substantial by the time you reach the halfway point of the book. Thankfully though, it as this point that Roberts’ story sensibly begins to deviate from the original book more and more, heading off in an entirely different direction for its perhaps slightly hurried conclusion.
Whilst not adverse to a little Pratchett or Fforde from time to time, I’m not what you might call a serious fan of fantasy humour and where I feel Roberts’ approach works perhaps less well than others’ is in his sometimes too light-hearted approach to the text. Though you may certainly enjoy reading The Soddit, you’ll never quite forget that you are at all times reading a parody, as opposed to losing yourself in something absorbing, which also happens to be funny.
Special Juries announced for BFAwards(1)
The British Fantasy Society is delighted to announce the Special Juries for the British Fantasy Awards. The awards will be presented at FantasyCon in Brighton in September 2012.
The Jury for the PS Publishing Independent Press Award:
Sandy Auden is a freelance writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in SFX, Interzone, Locus and Supernatural magazines; a wide range of websites; and the occasional music video.
Peter and Nicky Crowther’s PS Publishing received the coveted annual BFS Award for Best Specialist/Small Press on seven occasions until, with a yearly output running to between 40 and fifty titles, Peter removed it from further consideration and instead contributes an annual financial prize to imprints with more modest schedules. We’re not sure whether those moist eyes when he presents the Award are due to parting with the prize of £250 or hankering for the days when he was putting out less than a book every week.
Nicholas Royle is a novelist and short story writer, a commissioning editor for contemporary fiction at Salt Publishing, and editor and publisher of chapbook specialist Nightjar Press.
Peter Tennant is the book reviewer and a contributing editor to Black Static magazine. He’s also the proofreader for Interzone and Crimewave.
Darren Turpin is the Marketing / Publicity / Digital / Webguy for UK-based independent genre fiction publisher Angry Robot, as well as the proprietor of their Robot Trading Company webstore. In the past he’s been a Waterstones bookseller, a book reviewer and serial blogger (The Alien Online, The UK SF Book News Network, The Genre Files), a freelance website content manager and a Big Publishing corporate wage slave. He lives in Manchester with his wife Jo and their cat, Hobbes.
The Jury for the Artist Award:
Guy Adams has written over twenty books, ranging from novels such as The World House and the Deadbeat series to novelisations of Hammer movies and more books about Sherlock Holmes than you could shake a Calabash pipe at. He is also the writer of the comic series The Engine, working with artist Jimmy Broxton.
Anne Sudworth is a British artist with paintings in many international collections. She has exhibited widely and has had two books on her work published.
Christopher Teague has been an independent publisher for over ten years and is still relatively sane. In that time, he has realised that folk do judge a book by its front cover.
The Jury for the Non-Fiction Award:
Djibril al-Ayad is the editor of The Future Fire, a social-political speculative fiction magazine and review, as well as a writer and academic historian (under different pseudonyms).
Roz Kaveney is a poet, novelist, critic and activist resident in London.
Adam Roberts is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London; and the author of a dozen science fiction novels and various pieces of SF and Fantasy criticism.
Stories of the Smoke: Charity art auctionComments Off
Gary Northfield, artist, cartoonist and illustrator, has graciously donated all the original artwork from Pandemonium: Stories of the Smoke for a charity art auction. The pieces will be auctioned at the book’s launch party on 4 April 2012, with all the proceeds donated to English PEN. PEN campaigns around the world to promote and protect writers’ and readers’ freedom.
Attendees at the launch party can place their bids in person, and those unable to make the event can send in bids via email until noon (UK time) on Wednesday 4 April 2012. To bid by email, send your name, desired piece and maximum bid to jared [at] jurassic-london [dot] com
Art and details can be found HERE
Stories of the Smoke, tales of fantastic London inspired by Charles Dickens, features seventeen original stories from Adam Roberts, Kaaron Warren, Lavie Tidhar, Aliette de Bodard, Jonathan Green, Sarah Lotz, Archie Black and many others, and an introduction by Christopher Fowler.
The launch party on 4 April 2012 is free to attend, but space is limited. Tickets can be booked HERE
Arc, a new science fiction / science fact ‘zineComments Off
Arc is a new science fiction / science fact publication from the makers of New Scientist. Its aims are to explore the future through cutting-edge science fiction and forward-looking essays by some of the world’s most celebrated authors, along with columns by thinkers and practitioners from the worlds of books, design, gaming, film and more.
The first issue, Arc 1.1: The Future Always Wins, is out now, including new fiction from Margaret Atwood, Stephen Baxter, M.John Harrison, Hannu Rajaniemi and Alastair Reynolds; thought-provoking essays from Simon Ings, China Miéville, Sumit Paul-Choudhury and Paul Graham Raven; and incisive commentary from Leigh Alexander, Simon Pummell, Adam Roberts and Bruce Sterling.
Full details HERE
NewCon Press plans for 2012Comments Off
Ian Whates has announced his plans for NewCon Press in 2012. There are three titles planned for release at Eastercon 2012. One is a short story collection from Ian Watson, gathering together fifteen previously uncollected stories, with an introduction by Adam Roberts. The next is a hard SF novel written by Andy West. Finally, there will be an anthology, Dark Currents, that returns to the traditional NewCon Press formula of mixing science fiction, fantasy, slipstream and horror stories, all written to a common theme.
Later in the year, there will be a collaboration between NewCon Press and Un:bound. This will involve a podcast programme, individually downloadable readings of original stories, plus an anthology (e-book and hardcopy).
Finally, plans for the Imaginings series of signed limited editions are well under way with individual issues devoted to the work of Tanith Lee, Nina Allan, Adam Roberts, Stephen Baxter, Pat Cadigan and Jon Courtenay Grimwood. Volume 1 will feature the work of Tanith Lee. Entitled Cold Grey Stones, the book will comprise eleven stories, six of which have previously appeared in such publications as Interzone, Realms of Fantasy, and Fantasy Magazine, while five are completely original to this collection. The cover features atmospheric artwork by Tanith’s husband, John Kaiine.
Solaris Rising edited by Ian WhatesComments Off
Solaris Rising edited by Ian Whates
“Looking for science fiction of the highest order? Solaris Rising is the first in an exciting new series of anthologies set to reaffirm Solaris’ proud reputation for producing high quality science fiction.
In a book full of boundless variety, energy and imagination, award-winning editor Ian Whates gathers the most accomplished writers in the genre including Ian McDonald, Paul di Filippo, Stephen Baxter, Adam Roberts, Pat Cadigan, Eric Brown, Alastair Reynolds and Peter F. Hamilton.
From the imprint that brought you The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction series, Solaris Rising promises bizarre futures, gritty other worlds and strange realms, exemplifying the diversity and innovation that continue to make science fiction the most thrilling genre there is.”