wishful thinking

Is This Census-Taker set in Bas-Lag?

this-census-taker-bas-lagIt’s been out for quite a while, but I just recently got around to reading China Miéville’s latest book, the novella This Census-Taker. It was a really quick read, at just 130 pages, and I very much enjoyed it, although I wish it had been longer and explored the setting a bit more.

That, I think, was the only drawback of the book: Miéville revels in describing fantastic worlds — it’s his biggest strength as a writer, in my opinion — so for him to take such a restrained approach with This Census-Taker means that I’m left feeling the tiniest bit deprived. I wish Miéville had expanded the end, and unveiled more and more of this weird world. I wish we could have seen the narrator’s full journey from his childhood to the “present day” from which he tells his story.

Maybe the reason I’m feeling deprived is because I think I started to uncover some clues throughout the story, but they never added up to a satisfying answer. These clues were inserted sparsely in description and dialogue, and they pointed to the unearthliness of the setting. A fanboyish part of me started to think that maybe they were pointing in a particular direction, one that the real fans would recognise. You can probably guess where I’m going with this — I mean, I made it the title of this blog post.

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In lieu of a real book review I’m going to talk mostly about the setting of the work. I’m no literary critic, so I couldn’t begin to unpack here the deeper meaning of the work, the potential allegory and metaphor and themes propping up the story. There are probably a hundred reviewers who have already done that, and I plan to find their reviews later and read my way to a better understanding of the novella.

What I really want to do in this post is just nerd out a bit, and examine those clues I talked about. I want to see if I can structure an argument to convince myself, let alone anyone else, of my hunch. I really want to ask the question: is This Census-Taker set in Bas-Lag?

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Update on The Best of Alastair Reynolds — including the first description

minlaFans of SF short stories pay attention: Amazon UK now has a description for the upcoming collection The Best of Alastair Reynolds! It’s for the Gollancz version, but I assume the contents will be the same as the Subterranean Press version, which supposedly will be arriving sooner. Still no word on the release date — as I reported previously, different Amazon catalogues have different years listed (2016 or 2017). Anyway, here’s the description:

With an introduction by noted SF critic Jonathan Strahan, this collection of twenty short stories, novellettes and novellas includes MINLA’S FLOWERS, SIGNAL TO NOISE, TROIKA, and seven previous uncollected stories, including TRAUMA POD, THE WATER THIEF and IN BABELSBERG.

Alastair Reynolds has won the Sidewise Award and been nominated for The Hugo Awards for his short fiction. One of the most thought-provoking and accomplished short-fiction writers of our time, this collection is a delight for all SF readers.

There’s also a short review quote from The Times, but I can’t find the actual review in question. It’s probably one they were asked by the publisher to provide in advance.

So, let’s examine the description. Twenty stories is a good number, but it looks like there will be a good deal of overlap with Reynolds’ previous collections. That’s to be expected, because this is a career highlights package, but only seven uncollected stories is a shame considering Reynolds has been very prolific since his last collection in 2011. (Actually, they don’t list the novella “Troika” with the other uncollected stories there, so I’m not sure if it’s actually meant to say eight uncollected stories…)

Of the six stories listed, I’ve only read “Minla’s Flowers” and “Signal to Noise”, both of which are in Zima Blue — check out my review of that book to see what I thought of them! “Minla’s Flowers” is good, but it’s really better read alongside its companion stories “Hideaway” and “Merlin’s Gun” (also found in Zima Blue). It’s also good to see “The Water Thief” included, because if I recall correctly, it’s part of the Poseidon’s Children universe.

Now, as for the rest of this collection’s contents, let me talk about what stories I hope get included.

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New jacket description for Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories

threemomentsToday on Amazon.co.uk I found the final jacket description for China Miéville’s new short story collection, Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories:

A highly anticipated collection of short fiction listed in the Guardian’s ‘Essential Literary Calendar’ for 2015 from one of the most exciting and original authors writing today.

The multi-award-winning China Miéville has been called ‘the equal of David Mitchell or Zadie Smith’ (Scotland on Sunday), whose ‘inventiveness and precision is awesome’ (Independent), and who writes with ‘an imagination of immense power’ (Guardian). In this extraordinary series of stories, defying definitions and literary stereotyping, he once again proves why he ‘is one of the most interesting and promising writers to appear in the last few years in any genre’ (Carlos Ruiz Zafon).

In these stories, glistening icebergs float above urban horizons; a burning stag runs wild through the city; the ruins of industry emerge unsteadily from the sea; and the abandoned generations in a decayed space-elevator look not up at the stars but down at the Earth. Ranging from portraits of childhood to chilling ghost stories, from dystopian visions to poignant evocations of uncanny love, with beautiful prose and melancholy wit, this breath-taking collection poses searching questions of what it is to be human in an unquiet world. It is a humane and unsentimental investigation of our society, our world, and ourselves.

There’s a bit to dissect there, so let’s dig on in! (more…)

7 things SyFy should do when adapting The Magicians

magicianscoverCable networks seem to be snapping up SF/F properties left and right ever since Game of Thrones turned out to be a massive success. Recently, the network SyFy has declared their plans to adapt a number of book series, and the series I am both most excited and most trepidatious about is Lev Grossman’s The Magicians.

I absolutely love that series. I first read The Magicians in paperback back in 2010, and I have since bought the hardcover and audiobook versions of all three. The audiobooks are particularly special to me, thanks to the amazing narration and characterisation given by the actor Mark Bramhall. Combining reads and listens, I’ve now “read” the first book thrice, the second (The Magician King) twice, and the third (The Magician’s Land) once… so far.

I really hope SyFy manages to capture what I love about the books so much: the unique psychology of human depression when faced with magical wonderlands; the, at turns, awe-inspiring and creepy atmosphere; the countless homages to Harry Potter and Narnia, among many other fantasy classics; and the endless creativity of the world Grossman has built.

Precious few details have been revealed so far about the direction SyFy is taking with the adaptation, apart from a few preliminary casting details. Quickly on that topic: Eliot’s actor is a bit too pretty for my tastes (he’s supposed to have a slightly strange face due to his twisted jaw), and now I’m nervous that they won’t keep Josh the tubby dude he is, but they’ll cast someone “TV fat”, i.e.: not fat at all.

Anyway, I’ve given quite a bit of thought as to how the complex structure of the Magicians trilogy would work on screen, and I thought I would list some things that, in my opinion, SyFy should do when adapting these books. Various bits and pieces of this list have been cribbed from my past posts on Reddit and other forums. So, here are my thoughts. SOME SPOILERS AHEAD!

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The next Alastair Reynolds short story collection? Possible contents

reyn

Alastair Reynolds has a huge number of short stories, many of which have been collected in a handful of volumes. His UK publisher, Gollancz, has three collections of his short work, and a fourth was published by NESFA Press. Counting the latest editions of these works, the four volumes contain a total of 39 short stories and novellas. I won’t list the contents here, because they’re easy to find on Wikipedia and other websites, but the collections so far are:

  1. Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days (2003) – 2 Revelation Space novellas
  2. Galactic North (2006) – 8 Revelation Space short stories and novellas
  3. Zima Blue and Other Stories (2009) – 14 short stories and novellas
  4. Deep Navigation (2011) – 15 short stories and novellas (one set in the Revelation Space universe)

(NB: years given are for the latest edition; links go to my reviews of the collections)

What does this leave uncollected, and what might a future collection of Reynolds short fiction be like?

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There should be more books like Mass Effect! A lament, with recommendations

I’ve been reading science fiction avidly for about 5 years now, and I really got into it to begin with thanks to the Mass Effect video game series. Those games have, I believe, a sense of worldbuilding that’s hard to find in published science fiction. As a setting for SF stories, it’s unbeatable to my mind. It’s a densely-populated galaxy filled with humans and numerous, diverse alien species, living and working side by side. It’s a co-operative, optimistic future, despite all the peril it gets put in during the games’ storylines. To put it simply, it’s a future I would love to live in.

mass-effect-trilogy

The notion of entirely alien species being your co-workers, friends and even romantic partners is just such an alluring one, and it’s why I’ve read far and wide trying to find an SF author who feels the same way. While I’ve found some wonderful authors that come somewhat close to the feeling I got from those games (Reynolds, Banks, Brin, Vinge, and others… see below), I’ve yet to find any novel or series of books that entirely scratches that itch. A reading experience that brings to life a universe I want to live in and explore.

And no, the Mass Effect tie-in novels don’t count. They’re just awful.

This blog post has two aims:

  • Firstly, to lament upon the lack of recent books that fall into a similar worldbuilding niche as the Mass Effect games (the ‘recent’ part being important, I’ll explain why soon).
  • Secondly, to give some recommendations to works of science fiction that admittedly do come close. This will be my personal selection of recommendations for anyone else who, like me, came to printed SF via the Mass Effect games, and who wants to read books with a similar feel.

There should be more books like Mass Effect!

The first Mass Effect game came out in 2007, with the sequels coming in 2010 and 2012. I don’t blog about video games, so I won’t go much more into the specifics of their releases, but they were pretty damn popular. And they were, deservedly, critically acclaimed; yes, even the third title with its controversial ending. Moreso, they are without a doubt influential and key works of recent space opera. The website io9 called the series a “major highlight in the history of space opera” and “the most important science fiction universe of our generation”.

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The new China Miéville short story collection, out in June 2015

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FINAL UPDATE MARCH 12TH, 2015: Full contents list and US cover!! Okay you can stop reading this post now, it’s all old speculation!

UPDATE MARCH 9TH, 2015: The book will contain 28 stories!

UPDATE FEBRUARY 5TH, 2015: Jacket description

UPDATE JANUARY 4TH, 2015: Cover art!

(2014 updates below)

UPDATE NOVEMBER 5TH: The title of the collection is Three Moments of an Explosion: Stories! Here’s the Amazon UK page.

UPDATE OCTOBER 22ND: According to Pan Macmillan’s Spring 2015 catalogue, the collection will contain “seven previously published short stories and multiple brand new, never-before-seen short stories”. Interesting… Also, the publication date is given as June 4th.

UPDATE JULY 1ST: Finally we have confirmation! The UK Tor blog has stated that the collection will be out in June 2015. What a long wait it will have been since Railsea by then!

UPDATE FEBRUARY 27TH: The date has moved again to November 20th. Keep an eye on the “Lead Titles Order Form 2014” file in the left column of this page for further updates.

UPDATE JANUARY 30TH: The latest .xls order form on Pan Macmillan’s website has pushed the release date back to November 6th, 2014. No title listed yet.

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Okay, so neither a title or cover have been released yet. But numerous sources indicate that China Miéville’s next book will be coming out in June this year and it will be a new short story collection.

The collection first popped up on Amazon last year as the imaginatively titled “China Miéville Short Stories”, before disappearing again. As a fanatic who searches Amazon.com and .co.uk practically daily for new Miéville titles (as well as his US and UK publishers’ websites), I was thrilled and immediately saved the ISBN.

That ISBN is 9780230770188, and googling it today gives mostly a bunch of automatically generated pages from other online booksellers, with numerous placeholder titles including the newly popped-up “China Miéville Novella”. The other noteworthy google result is an excel spreadsheet on Pan Macmillan’s (his UK publisher) website. The spreadsheet seems to be an order form for booksellers, and it also lists “China Miéville Short Stories” coming out on June 5th 2014. The date of revision for this file seems to be November 5th 2013, so as of that time, June 2014 was still the planned month of release.

So what could be the contents of a new short story collection? Well I was surprised when I sat down to find out how much China has published in short form since his last collection, Looking for Jake.

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