2008 UPDATES & NEWS
Home » » » » List » » » » Reviews » » » » Criteria» » » » Updates

2007 » » 2008 » » 2009 » » 2010 » » 2011 » » 2012 » » 2013 » » 2014 » » 2015 » » 2016 » » 2017

2009 Updates can be found here.

Due to a steadily diminishing number of requests, I will continue a list of reviews in the order they were written. The page of last year's 2007 Updates can be found here. Believe it or not, the whining is getting even more pathetic for my latest opinions. The incessant complaints from insomniacs keep plopping in. Evidently, they are reading the same stinkers over and over again and want the fresh pile.

Oh yeah, there might be babble on newsworthy things if I can ever figure out what those might be.

-- Larry Crawford ********crawfoto@silverlinksphotography.com

01/12/08
Tim Lebbon
No Review
02/01/08
Tim Lebbon
No Review
02/20/08

 

The 10% rule has finally worn me down, again.

The first time I quit reading Fantasy & Science Fiction was the year Neuromancer was published. Reading-wise, I was filled with sludge and saw only more of the same with the oncoming cyberpunk revolution. Besides, 1984 was a personal banner year. Happy that Orwell's prediction was wrong (the observation post got abandoned for the dance floor, but that came later), I moved to a small lake in the Northwest woods, got married, and re-invented myself as a photographic portraitalist. I had too much to do to read anyway.

Twenty years later, I gave Excalibur another wrenching. I never figured to clear the rock, but I hoped to expose maybe 20% of the blade this time. This webpage is a result of that effort. My goal was to compose a list of what I considered the Best 100 SF&F works written to date. I got close, but my strength has waned and my fancy has turned back to the visual. I will try to maintain this webpage as a reading list, but the time, thought, and energy it takes to write the reviews is probably over.

 

02/23/08
Kent Harrington
Done
02/25/08
Kem Nunn
Done
03/08/08
Steve Erickson
Done
03/15/08

 

It has been brought to my attention that I am reading off the list. Well, duh. As far as this webpage goes, I will keep the main list pure. I'm confident it will hit 100 eventually. But the non-list entries will begin bloating with non-SF&F categorizations. Hey, diversity is good, right? I don't want to end up wearing a Gollum suit to Worldcon, okay?

 

03/15/08
Robert Stone
Done
03/20/08

 

Went to Denver for an old friend's family reunion and to see my sister who moved there last year. Spent five days looking at the snow-capped mountains in the distance and reading Kent Harrington's Red Jungle. I wanted a page-turner set in the Guatemalan jungle involving ancient, mysterious cultures mixed with modern, terrorist juntas starring a Dr. Indiana Rambo type chasing skirts with names like Honey Rider or Holly Goodhead. I got close. The hero turned out to be more angst-ridden and constipated, the plot more about identity convolutions than loot, and the writing less H. R. Haggard because of Graham Greene-isms always moping around. Character driven, the main savor is the villain, General Selva, with the Penelope Cruz-look-a-like wife, who is, of course, our hero's emotional trou-de-loup. El Presidente-to-be is as confident and cool as the jungle jaguar, and just deep enough in the underbrush of pages to be ambiguously menacing, psychopathically indifferent, and lethally manipulative. There's even a point in the novel where I considered him possibly the true, hidden whitehat with the experience, vision and chutzpah to save us all. But, while brushing back the vine-like entanglements searching for the legendary Red Jaguar—an invaluable life-size prize carved from red jade—I'd uncover lines like, “he had to clear a path through this jungle of his desire” (p.101), and realize I was too jaded (jade, jaded, get it?) to leave it at a simple beach read, until I came to the conclusion of the novel with its' weighty delivery of, “when you are most lost is precisely when you are the most alive” (p.322).

Got sick with the stomach flu coming home. The only reason I knew it wasn't from the novel was that my wife followed my retching in succession. For sickbay time, I chose McMurtry's Dead Man's Walk, a novel with a far more credible message: that Texas is Hell on Earth.

 

04/01/08
Larry McMurtry
Done
04/21/08
Charlee Jacob
Done
04/23/08
Greg F. Gifune
Done
05/10/08
Sarah Langan
Done
05/12/08
John Shirley
Done
06/05/08

 

Since zombies and the coming Zombie Apocalypse remain an ever-popular fascination, more history in regards to their first, literary shamblings has come to my attention. This entry is therefore correctional to my review of I Am Legend, as my earlier speculation that Matheson's short story Dance of the Dead drew original blood proves to be erroneous. Flesh-eating undeaders with Voodoo cult acquaintance have been heard from as far back as the 17th century, but it wasn't until W.B. Seabrook's 1929 publication of The Magic Island that "zombi" zinged into Western culture, especially after it was adapted by Hollywood as White Zombie three years later. Rounding out the Apocalypse side of the equation has got to be H.G. Wells' 1936 screenplay, Things To Come, based on his 1932 speculation, The Shape Of Things To Come. The film brings us a worldwide, viral contagion that turns its victims into insensate, heel-dragging hulks called "the wandering sickness". Of course it was Romero's Night of the Living Dead in 1968 that splattered these elements together and was most likely Patient Zero for the current, rapidly-spreading infection.

And, after this update forced me to re-read my I Am Legend review, I apologize for its excessively verbose and stupid introduction. There's some valid stuff in the body, but, man, do you ever have to pry it out of the pretentious prose. The conculsion is the only thing worth passing on in that one. Sorry. BTW, once I changed the name in my head of the current film adaptation to I Am Legolas so its association to the source material was not so immediate, I rather enjoyed the movie. Well, except for the most brain-dead, audience-insulting ending I've seen in a long time. They blew the bridges. It's called a quarantine. They'd need Snake Plissken to get them off Manhattan. But, thank God for small savors, when I close my eyes, I still see my own Neville--and, no, he doesn't look like Orlando Bloom--instead of Will Smith's multi-billion dollar face. Certainly better than the previous two, and pushrods above Smith's last Sci Fi adapt-a-rape, I, Robber.

 

06/17/08
Elizabeth Hand
Done
06/20/08
Elizabeth Hand
Done
07/02/08
Elizabeth Hand
A Lister!
07/16/08

 

Went to Missoula, Montana for a week. For my vacation time, I decided on a rousing romp in High Fantasy, full of brainless action and simple intrigue. I chose Paul Kearney's 5 volume series, The Monarchies of God. This could easily be Alt Hist Fantasy--they navigate by Polaris--mirroring Europe around the 1500s. The series straddles the real and the fanciful, borrowing foundations from Italian Renaissance city-states, conquistadors and Columbus' New World discoveries, Vatican verses Royalty politics, and Empire's fall to the Visigoth hordes. Did I mention Hannibal over the Alps? There's sulphur 'n saltpeter, but the guns are single-action matchlocks, with batteries of big, mofo cannons. The mage magic (the good wizard is Golophin, but I kept pronouncing it as Gandalf) is quite minimal until the Big Boss Battle ending, leaving most of the real gut-spilling for the human-vs.-human slaughterfests with a multitude of characters just deep enough to care about and distinctive enough to keep track of. Shape Shifters—aka werewolves—welcomingly step in for Dragons, while later animalistic abominations start feeling strangely like a tercio of al-Qaeda terrorists. The question, “what can cannon and cutlasses do against such magic?” (Ships from the West, 5th volume, p.89), seems to echo the modern dread of our ineffectiveness against suicide bombers, since that execration is supernaturally rationalized. Overall, it's 1500 pages of grand swashbuckling, yet burrows into your brain with ponderances like: what if Mohammad and Jesus were the same guy? Its galloping plot and character embraces bound just above Young Adult reading level, albeit with a well-deserved NC-17 rating. The technical knowledge and riveting execution of the land and sea battles are up and away the toot of this work. I'd do a regular review, but I'm too summer-slug lazy 'bout now.

 

08/12/08
John Burdett
Done
09/01/08
Alastair Reynolds
Done
09/08/08
Norman Spinrad
See Below
09/20/08
Dan Simmons
See Below
09/29/08
Richard Morgan
See Below
10/05/08

 

Due in part to the phenomenal events of Black September combined with my personal itinerary of attendance for a 6-year-old's birthday party in Seattle and visits from two old Blood Brothers, reviews of my last three reads will probably remain nonexistent. They are all excellent works in their own domains.

The Void's Captain's Tale is a marvelous 1P narration of the search for true, metaphysical satisfaction by combining physical with celestial orgasm. You see, voidships make light-years distance through Jumps powered by the intensity of the Pilots' Big O wired into the ships' drive devices. Guidance is the Captain's job, but what if that Captain is so alienated by the pretentious trappings of space travel's affected high-society that he's willing to toss it all for a chance at Nirvana? Told in very esoteric world-speak, Germanic Lingo language, this novel would make the Crawford List if 1) Spinrad was not already represented, and 2) this short novel has hardly any action and thus becomes a platform of dialogues and thoughts better suited to an even shorter work.

The Terror is just the opposite, as it is brimming with page-turning action that's sustained throughout its almost 800-page length. The historical parameters for this novel are Sir John Franklin's arctic voyage of the mid 1800s to find the NorthWest Passage that took all 129 men to their deaths. With both square-riggers trapped in the ice and finally abandoned after the third summer of non-thaw, the factual terror of hypothermia, cannibalism, and food poisoning from inadequate provisions are fairly undisputed despite no surviving written documentation. I was at first aghast that Simmons elected to throw in a supernatural "terror" in the quasi-sentient form of an Abominable Snowman. I mean, isn't it horrible enough that this is the worst expeditionary disaster of all time without having to disrespect it by putting a fuckin' Yeti on board? But, as I finished the book, I realized I was wrong. Simmons, in his brilliance, pitches a final curve onto this nightmare that bows to man's endurance and ultimate humanity in the face of impervious Nature. A great achievement. I should probably put it on the Crawford List. And I have added it as of D-Day, 2009. As an ironic sidebar, my trade paperback edition actually broke apart as I was reading it, just as if it was the HMS Terror deadlocked in the crushing ice.

Black Man, or, the US edition, Thirteen, is future-told in an America where the whole middle and southern states have re-invented themselves as Jesusland, leaving the left-over, sane liberals to the Rim states; all loosely governed by a self-styled UN at odds with a powerful Colonial Co-op that's succeeded in making Mars habitable. The anti-hero is a genetically and cyber-nano altered bounty hunter who runs down his own, as "thirteens" have become a threat because of their sociopathic personalities and highly-skilled, murderous techniques. As if Bladerunner's final hole card is that Deckard's a Replicant after all! My, oh my. Liftings aside, by dealing out macho solutions to difficult societal problems and stacking up prejudicial issues such as race, creed, or skin color, author Morgan hedges his bet by making his Frankenstein's Monster care, and even side-steps the cold-blooded execution-style murderings by presenting his protagonist's flaws on the felt of superior intelligence and the ability to make hard decisions the right ones. All in all, it is satisfying action-style adventure delivered in hard-boiled prose, effectively un-sentimental (except for the sissifying, over-wrought scenes of the Love Interest's death) and gritty enough to fill the void left by Spillane and Schwarzenegger. If you can leave your bleeding heart at the door, this is a fun, rocket-ride of a read.

 

10/13/08
Charles Dickens
Done
10/18/08
H. G. Wells
A Lister!
11/01/08

 

And I called September black! Well, October was darker than inside Black's intestines! Desperation is when you're waiting to be voided into a salvation of circling the bowl. Is this how America will finally flush down?

Reading has been sporadic, as I seem to have a pesky dose of The Skids. Coming down from classic literature always makes follow-up tricky, but, worrying the current financial bottoming has destroyed most escapist concentration. Thinking of reposing in the grass of commonality, I tried O'Connor's Wise Blood, but the hook didn't set. I even tried some short, sharp shocks from the new zombie anthology, The Living Dead, but no resuscitation followed. I retreated back again into the entropy of history with A. Merritt's The Moon Pool from 1919. I got half-way through before my suspension was disbelieved by the author's autistic-like fascination with describing things never seen outside of his own mind. To be fair, this book has had almost 100 years of surveys for squanderings and clippings to be looted. As the mighty Impala of the African Serengeti has been debased by Chevrolet, as the great river Amazon of South America has been relegated to a trickle of recognition by the overwhelming presence of its internet namestealer, so the lynchpinnings of The Moon Pool has suffered the borrowings and gobblings of its characters, plots, and settings. Once-original, it seems stale and pretentious in align with its numerous and subsequent vulture culture feedings. If we cannot manage to welcome a new Indiana Jones installment into our soft and warm, multi-media dens (anyone remember The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? Jeez, was it only last May?) then how can we expect aging genre novels to hold onto their magic and marvel?

But, with modern sensibilities dulled, it does run well as an adventuresque romp. Okay, The Moon Pool is kinda clunky, given that the Dream Team of Rugged, Capable Men gets quickly tiring, and, how come the only babes are either Stepford clones or femme fatales? Admittedly, arch-villians like The Dweller make compelling reasons to just move on to Lovecraft and the New, Improved! stage.

Which I did. Quit, I mean, and take up a blatant, modern borrowing, but of the dependable standby, Dracula of 1897, as thunk through the modern lenses of TV newscast tape and sound bytes.

 

11/15/08
John Marks
Done
12/01/08
Joe Hill
Done
 

 

For a coupla weeks vacation in Hawaii, I decided to chew into something hefty, like Storm Constantine's Grigori Trilogy of 1300 pages. It's a modern Dark Fantasy about the offspring of the Fallen Angels who live with and off humanity. I'm a sucker for ancient mythology that's covert and effecting modern sensibilities. But about 1/2 way through the first volume, I had to re-check I wasn't reading the latest Stephanie Meyer novel. That said, Ms. Constantine seems to favor a drama of manners wrapped around matinee vampirism that is far more elegant, ingenious, and thought-provoking, however. I do not doubt that she believes in what she's writing. Unfortunately, I do not enjoy the same devotions.

Besides, what was I doing in Hawaii bodice-ripping to “the strange, shuffling dancing, the rituals of snarling words and significant pantomimes of malevolence” (Stalking Tender Prey, Meisha Merlin Publishing, trade paper ISBN 0965834549, c.1995, p.40) on the bleak moors of cold and foggy England? So, I switched to Kem Nunn's 1st novel, Tapping the Source from 1984, a surf/biker novel set in Huntington Beach. It was like walking in James M. Cain's loafers on Robert Stone's feet. And the soundtrack would be Beach Boys—if they had actually recorded some of those Charlie Manson songs. It's about a brother who seeks his long-lost, runaway sister by immersing into the beach culture decadence of boards, drugs, grease, and underage bikinis, then ends up with an obscene and defiant tattoo—Harley-Fuckin'-Davidson—that saves his ass and transcends him from the penance of “sackcloth and ashes” (Four Walls Eight Windows Press, trade paper ISBN 1568581629, c.1984, p.283) to pursue “some secret voice of a secret thing” (p.300). Maybe this kind of inquiry is only profound to those kids who bleached their hair, wore Pendleton shirts and zinc-oxide on their noses from the by-gone Eden that was once Southern California, but its resonance vibed true enough for me to immediately follow with Nunn's strained masterpiece from a decade later, The Dogs of Winter. As with my own life journey, author Nunn moves from the neon-lit storefronts trying to sell The Cool—as, In The Know—to the inclement, dripping moodiness of NoCal seascapes, where anger and angst sign the essence of Cool—or, The Cold—to the legendary 50-ft wave breaking off some “mysto spot of great secrecy” (Washington Square Press, trade paper ISBN 0671793349, c.1997, p.338). It reminds me of the rising maturity and focusing insight found between Kesey's One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest of 1962 and Sometimes A Great Notion of 1964, a certain contender for the greatest American novel of the later 20th Century. Nunn shows less clarity and strength of vision than Kesey. He's far more genre-bound, which trades shared but unvoiced vantage points with his audience for slippings into foggy prose fanned around cerebral ambiguities. But then The Dogs of Winter is far closer to the 21st Century and its “kind of crazy quilt of a world view, stitched together from disparate parts” (p.179). What's difficult about reading off the Crawford List is not being able to put a great work like this on the Crawford List.

GOODBYE 2008

As the year progressed, reading choices scattered. The economic meltdown funkasized me until what remained was an emotional grasp at about an Africanized bee level. I was no good photographically, either, and couldn't even come up with 12 worthy images for a calendar concept. The books I liked the best typically left me at a loss for words to praise them. I turned pages on a little over 35 books this year, vowing to read more classical literature. I discovered a few new authors to explore:

1. Elizabeth Hand

2. Kem Nunn

3. Greg Gifune

4. Steve Erickson

My top 4 reads were:

1. Generation Loss

2. The Dogs of Winter

3. The Terror

4. The Island of Dr. Moreau

With Honorable Mention to:

1. Blood in Electric Blue

2. Bay of Souls

And returning visits from old friends:

1. Robert Stone

2. Dan Simmons

Interesting. My stellars were mostly Horror with New Writers noted for crossover genre mixings. There's a message here . . .

Summarizing 2008 with regards to fantasist literature is probably best illustrated by the major award winners for best novel. The Nebula, Hugo, World Fantasy, Int'l Horror Guild, and Stoker statues were palmed by established and budding authors alike, with The Yiddish Policeman's Union, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, Ysabel (Liz Hand won the WFA Novella prize for Illyria), The Terror, and The Missing respectively. Across the pond, Grin of the Dark from Ramsey Campbell rode off with the British Fantasy award, Brasyl by Ian McDonald took the checkered flag for the British Science Fiction award, and Black Man finished off with the Arthur C. Clarke award. PBOs were distinguished with a tie between Chris Moriarty's Spin Control & Elizabeth Bear's Carnival for the Philip K. Dick award.

As for my rants and raves: Chabon is a must-read, period; The Missing was a weak choice, but at least the Stokers got it right with Heart-Shaped Box in First Novel position; The limeys usually make better choices, and I'm sure Ramsey's winner is just that, but I'd like to see new talent get the nod from the Br. Fantasy Society, and, although I didn't think Morgan's Black Man was quite up to the gold, I am not familar with any of the other shortlist competition for the Arthur C. Clarke award this year. As for Ysabel & Brasyl & The Yiddish Policemen's Union, I'm looking forward to reading them.

 
2009 Updates can be found here.

 

 

© copyright 2007 by Larry Crawford

updated01/12/2008