A Memory Called Empire.

As I said here, I got Arkady Martine’s A Memory Called Empire for Christmas, and I have now finished reading it. Since most of what I have to say will be negative, I should start by mentioning what’s good about it. The author has a master’s in classical Armenian studies and a PhD in Byzantine and comparative history, and she puts that academic background to good use; the book’s Teixcalaanli empire is clearly based on Byzantium, and she says the novel is “in many respects a fictional version of her postdoctoral research on Byzantine imperialism on the frontier to Armenia in the 11th century, particularly the annexation of the Kingdom of Ani.” If you know anything about the subject, it’s fun to see the echoes, some of which are linguistic (see below). The central character, Mahit Dzmare, a new ambassador from Lsel who has long been absorbed in Teixcalaanli literature and culture, is very convincingly torn between her Stationer patriotism and her desire to be absorbed completely into the imperial culture — I’m sure many provincial visitors to Constantinople felt the same way. And there are nice science-fictional touches like cloudhooks and infofiches. I can see why sf readers enjoyed it.

I should also, in fairness, point out that I have an inherent bias against space operas that expect you to thrill to the glorious grandeur of empires and emperors (though I enjoyed them as a wee lad); I especially dislike the trope of the Old Wise Emperor who is needed to preserve peace, law, order, and such good things. I’m a pacifist anarchist, which means I don’t actually want emperors blown up, but I don’t want them to exist and I bristle when they’re glorified. I also am sick and tired of trilogies and other series; why can’t people just write a self-contained novel without leaving plot ends dangling for inevitable sequels? On all that, YMMV, and I am not a dispassionate critic. But I stand by what follows.

I was eager to read this book because it got rave reviews (here’s one, if you want to get an idea of the plot); it has a blurb by Ann Leckie, whose Ancillary Justice, as I said here, is the best science fiction I’ve read in years; and it won this year’s Hugo Award for best novel — certainly not a guarantee of quality (being voted on by fans), but usually promising at least a good read. And yet this is a terrible novel.

It didn’t need to be. It’s got interesting characters, a good setting, and what could be a powerful plot. But Martine has no idea how to write. The book reads like a cross between self-published fan fiction and an adolescent’s diary. All the emotions are adolescent ones, there is endless repetition, and every page is speckled with multiple words in italics — hell, some sentences have multiple italics (“There aren’t planets to live on in our sector, only planets and asteroids to mine”). Absolutely nobody behaves professionally; the author seems to have taken her ideas of how people with power act and talk from genre fiction, and she has clearly never met an ambassador or anyone who moves in diplomatic circles. (My father was an attache in various embassies, so I know something about it.) Everyone speaks in a kind of sub-Princess Bride banter, everything is “relatable,” and Mahit is a classic Mary Sue to whom people say things like “I keep underestimating you” and “What a prize you are.” Here are some quotes scribbled down at random, when I couldn’t take it any more: “had to clamp down on the urge to giggle inappropriately”; “she didn’t know what to do with how much she felt, all at once”; “Mahit kept weeping, even when she wanted to talk.”

I hope nobody thinks I want sf to be full of manly men who feel no emotions; it’s great to have protagonists who have feelings, and I like the fact that most of the characters here are women. But they are overwhelmed with their feelings all the time, and it’s just too much. I wish Martine had had the chance to learn how to write the way people used to, getting their lousy stories ripped to shreds by editors or friends who are writers (or by fellow participants in workshops); if she’d been forced to ditch the italics and endless navel-gazing and tighten things up in general (the book is way too long), she could have become a fine writer like Leckie. Alas, now that she’s won a Hugo and general acclaim, she likely never will. And that Hugo is evidence that genre fans don’t demand much from their fiction beyond genre satisfactions. (There are also misspellings like “pretentions” and solecisms like “like” for “as” and redundancies like “a four-line quatrain” that a copyeditor should have caught, but of course nobody uses copyeditors any more.)

But I don’t want to end on a down note. The book is very enjoyable from a linguistic point of view; the Teixcalaanli language is reminiscent of Nahuatl (e.g., huitzilahuitlim is from Nahuatl huītzilin ‘hummingbird’; there is an appendix “on the pronunciation and writing system of the Texicalaanli language”), and the Stationer language owes so much to Armenian that Martine says in the final appendix “If one wishes to pronounce Stationer words one’s own self, and has only Earth languages to go by, a good guide would be the pronunciation of Modern Eastern Armenian.” For example, a sector of space is called Barjravand, which is defined as “(High) Plateau”; that’s clearly Armenian barjrawand, derived from barjr ‘high’ (a good old IE word). At one point she writes: “There were a lot of kinds of birds in Teixcalaanli, and one word for ‘bird’ in Stationer. There’d been more once.” This is all tremendous fun, and it provided me with some enjoyment as I suffered. If you can get past the bad writing, you can enjoy it too.

Comments

  1. I don’t think we’ll see eye to eye on that, but this is why I categorically don’t read science fiction (OK, maybe there’s 1% of it I could read, that’s a quibble, and Victorian SF is OK too). Too much bad writing in a genre that glorifies the clever idea above all; and worse, where the clever ideas are what scientists think is clever.

    Another thing: sometimes it’s really hard to write without italics, when prosody is crucial. I try it sometimes, even when italics are an option, and it’s tough. And yet good writers have managed without. So well and so invisibly, that I can’t answer the question, how do really good writers get around conveying prosody, while avoiding italics (and fancy punctuation)?

  2. Arkady is a she!

  3. As I said throughout.

  4. >> As I said throughout.

    I just meant I was very surprised..

  5. It’s a pen name — her real name is AnnaLinden Weller.

  6. Wow. Totally disagree. I do agree that there’s a little too much “Gee, aren’t you amazing?” going on, but as for the “adolescence” of the emotions and all… that’s the point. She IS young, and what is more incredibly vulnerable like an adolescent because of her malfunction, which is messing with her emotional and endocrine systems. She’s not actually suited to be an ambassador, because she’s not been chosen to be an “ambassador” in the sense your father and his colleagues are. (I also think the fact that ambassadors have no staff other than the liaison assigned them is a bit implausible.) She was sent because and to be a Teixcalaanli fangirl.

    I don’t think the Wise Old Emperor trope is at all in effect. He does the “right thing” at the end, but even that is horrible, and his attempt at immortality is in no uncertain terms monstrous.

    I bristle at “And that Hugo is evidence that genre fans don’t demand much from their fiction beyond genre satisfactions.” Not that the Hugos or Clarks or any awards are the be-all and end-all of genre writing, but at least in recent years, there’s been tremendous attention to newer, more challenging work (like Leckie’s) from newer, more diverse voices, with concommitant pushback (lots of it).

  7. at least in recent years, there’s been tremendous attention to newer, more challenging work (like Leckie’s) from newer, more diverse voices, with concommitant pushback (lots of it).

    Yes, there has, which is why my hopes were raised. I respect your opinion, which is far more widely shared than mine, but I stand by mine.

  8. Your remark about her use of italics put me in mind of the perennial soap-opera comic strip Mary Worth, in which characters frequently utter banal statements with bolded words, to signify the depth of their feelings.

    I regret to confess that I am a daily reader of Mary Worth, because all human life is there.

    For other fans of Mary Worth, here is a cinema verité realization.

  9. My friend Arkady, I only ask of you one thing — don’t speak beautifully.

  10. Whoever did that Mary Worth adaptation is my friend, forever.
    This kind of bolding was used in comic books of all genres for a long time, even in Mad.

  11. I really try to keep prosodic italicization to a minimum in my writing (both my fiction and my scientific writing). This is a challenge, but like anything that forces a writer to go back, take stock, and calibrate the flow of their prose, it can be a useful editing tool.

  12. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    From your description, I thought the author might be Armenian and you a closet Armenophobe. But the names AnnaLinden and Weller do not have a strong Armenian vibe (unless Anahit > AnnaLinden).

  13. I’m sorry…

    I also am sick and tired of trilogies and other series
    THIS. SO MUCH OF THIS.
    I don’t mind series of novels a la Discworld or The Laundry Files that are connected through a shared universe of characters. But the way every goddamn sci-fi and fantasy book needs to be a fucking trilogy or pentalogy just completely turns me off.

    but at least in recent years, there’s been tremendous attention to newer, more challenging work
    And that is good. But – and I want you to listen very carefully here – new and challenging does not necessarily mean good.

  14. PlasticPaddy says:

    @bulbul
    This is probably due to market or competitive pressure, similar to the “Publish or Perish” ethic in academic work, where however of course new and challenging always means good😊. Do you think the mandatory production of (-ogies of) “doorstoppers” leads to poorer quality work than the previous system of serial publication of longer works in magazines?

  15. If “Three Little Pigs” would be written today (or if Peter Jackson would be asked to film it), it would be a trilogy:
    HOUSE OF STRAW
    HOUSE OF STICKS
    HOUSE OF BRICKS

  16. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    That sounds like quite a good set of titles for a series of thrillers or something. I expect it’s been done…

  17. Stu Clayton says:

    A great idea ! Since the plot is rather simple, it would not be spoiled by fleshing out the film with pointy-eared alien porkers and conlangs. A spinoff for Henry Green fans would have

    Straw
    Sticks
    Bricks

    That may be what Jen had in mind.

  18. From your description, I thought the author might be Armenian and you a closet Armenophobe.

    WTF?

  19. PlasticPaddy says:

    @hat
    I believe Armenians may have a certain nostalgia for their former Byzantine masters and (more or less) co-religionists.

  20. All well and good, but I don’t appreciate the Armenophobe thing.

  21. PlasticPaddy says:

    That was silly of me. I think i was imagining Kim Kardashian speaking in the emphatic way you disparaged😊.

  22. Jen in Edinburgh says:

    That may be what Jen had in mind.

    I suspect I was really thinking about House of Cards. It might be the wrong way round for thrillers (which I don’t know much about) – you might want to bring down the person in the house of bricks first, and work up to the most precarious position.

  23. PlasticPaddy,

    Do you think the mandatory production of (-ogies of) “doorstoppers” leads to poorer quality work than the previous system of serial publication of longer works in magazines?
    What you got there, chief, is one of them false dichotomies.

  24. If “Three Little Pigs” would be written today

    I believe the Kolobok has more stages:

    Escape from Grandpa
    Escape from Grandma
    Escape from the Hare
    Escape from the Wolf
    Escape from the Bear
    Grand Finale with the Fox

  25. P.S. The Kolobok is a Russian counterpart to the Wee Bannock.

  26. @ Y:
    Too much bad writing in a genre that glorifies the clever idea above all; and worse, where the clever ideas are what scientists think is clever.

    The vast majority of science fiction readers and writers are not scientists, so I’m not quite sure what this sideswipe against the latter is doing here. Then again, you admit to reading little or none of it, so I’ll take it as a generic exercise in “I don’t really know anything about X, but I’m going to pontificate about it anyway.”

    @ PlasticPaddy:
    This is probably due to market or competitive pressure, similar to the “Publish or Perish” ethic in academic work, where however of course new and challenging always means good😊.

    But why this change only in the last few decades? “Publish or perish” has been the rule for professional writers (i.e., those who had to support themselves by writing) for centuries. And it’s rather different from the academic idea, where the point is that people nominally employed as educators are also expected to publish regularly.

    I’m tempted to speculate that it might be a combination of the increasing appeal of franchises and the ease of marketing them and increasing authorial ambition.

    The first might include the success of Star Trek and Star Wars, which created a viable market for “more of the same world”, which is probably always a bit easier to market; the 1980s saw the appearance of “shared-world” anthologies (and series of novels) and roleplaying-game novels, where even though the authors might differ, the world — and often the characters — are the same.

    The second aspect might be authors coming to think that coherent, multi-volume narratives are more ambitious and artistically satisfying and prestigious than individual novels or loosely connected series (a bar possibly set by The Lord of the Rings, even if that was really a single large novel cut up into three parts). This can even take over what might have started as an unplanned series; bulbul mentions Charles Stross’s Laundry series, which seems to have shifted from the single-novel unrelated stories towards building a more coherent, multi-volume epic conclusion.

    (There is perhaps a third possibility, which is that computers might make it easier to write coherent, multi-volume stories, because you can keep notes and do searches more easily; e.g., “Wait, did Lord Mal already tell the Constable about his plans in the second volume?”)

  27. Kim Kardashian

    She did more to help Armenia during the recent Karabakh war than anyone else in America despite having very little personal connection with Armenia (only her father is Armenian American, she grew up with her Irish American mother).

    Didn’t expect this of her.

    I always like it when people turn out to be better than my opinion of them.

  28. I always like it when people turn out to be better than my opinion of them.

    Me too.

  29. jack morava says:

    I can’t recall where I saw someone say, `Who knew, before Tolkien, that children like backstories?’ They’re a way to extract energy from the vacuum, and they seems to be the engine behind a major support network for the fantasy/scifi industry.

    tangential? : R A Lafferty, Nine Hundred Grandmothers

  30. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ms. Kardashian has also managed to leverage her clout as a celebrity to induce the President to carry out some of his more admirable exercises of clemency toward those treated overharshly by the criminal justice system. The Lord worketh in mysterious ways, but we ought to be grateful for the results and mindful that any sort or condition of person can end up being an instrument of justice and mercy.

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/06/06/politics/alice-marie-johnson-commuted-sentence/index.html

  31. No series in my childhood (if we define USSR as “childhood”). Sherlock Holmes stories, and Moomins stories by Tove Jansson. That is all. Both are great.

    Accordingly I spent my whole childhood dreaming of this, series. The idea to make a film 400 series long, to continue the plot in next books was an obvious revolutionary idea that no one ever realized, because they all are idiots – one of many such ideas.

    When the USSR fell and I discovered that many authors do such things and that there are even sci-fi series and cartoons, I was more than happy. I have never seen Peter Jackson LotR (not because I don’t want to), but I’m absolutely happy that finally someone revolted agains this nonsense that all films must be 2 hours long.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m with Frank on this. The “adolescent” vibe is surely in character. (This is actually testable, as we’ll see when the sequel comes out.)

    The novel is not up to Leckie standards, but that leaves quite a margin for it to be good enough to be going on with. I also regard “good writing” as a welcome extra in science fiction, in the sense that science fiction can be excellent qua science fiction without being at all mistakable for Great Literature. (Exhibit A: Isaac Asimov.)

    Though trilogies are Not All The Same, as various people have rightly said, the grotesquely-padded sort is indeed a curse of modern science fiction. Still, it’s noticeable that with the major offenders even the individual volumes are overstuffed eight-hundred-pagers. The problem is more deep-seated than the mere number of volumes. I think one can be most justifiably cross when the multivolume work in question deliberately leaves the major plot threads unresolved, so that you get to page 750 of 800 and realise with a sinking feeling that the author has left no room to resolve anything by the end of the book. At this point, you can reasonably feel that you’ve been sold a pup.

    A series is a very different matter. There is satisfactory closure at the end of each volume, and it wouldn’t mar your enjoyment of the existing works if the author decided never to continue; your feeling if they do decide to write another is just pleasure at there being more to enjoy – perhaps with some apprehension about whether they can maintain the standard. (I feel like this about Martha Wells’ excellent Murderbot series.)

    PS Italics are fine. Until English orthography finds a better way of noting meaningful suprasegmental features, I’m going to keep right on using them. You copyeditors are just plain mean.

  33. The “adolescent” vibe is surely in character.

    Adolescents are not made ambassadors. Not even in the Far Future. And I’m sorry, someone who’s 26 is not an adolescent unless they refuse to grow up, in which case see above about ambassadors.

    I also regard “good writing” as a welcome extra in science fiction

    See above with regard to genre fans and genre satisfactions. When I was a science fiction fan (as opposed to someone who appreciates good sf) I felt the same way.

  34. David Eddyshaw says:

    someone who’s 26 is not an adolescent unless they refuse to grow up

    I hold to the proper Roman view of these matters. You’re not grown up until you’re forty (at which point you become a Veteran.) We Elders should not have unrealistic expectations of the Young (their respect and obedience are enough.)

  35. Stu Clayton says:

    I find myself warming to proper Roman views. But a lot of them were Republicans, right ?

  36. Not only ancient Rome… I remember reading someone observe that, in modern Western Culture, adolescence becomes ever longer, and that nowadays behaving like a responsible adult and having found one’s place jn life is something that isn’t really expected (socially / culturally, not legally) from people who haven’t reached their mid-30s. That chimed with my experiences.

  37. All well and good, but those people are not made ambassadors. Also, I doubt life on a hardscrabble mining station is conducive to delayed adolescence. It’s pure authorial whimsy.

  38. David Eddyshaw says:

    But a lot of them were Republicans, right ?

    They did have a bit of a reputation for creating desolation and calling it peace (an early example of Fake News.)

  39. Murderbot ” – I am pleased that I’m not the only idiot who read Ann Leckie and the Murderbot:)

  40. David Eddyshaw says:

    We are many. And we shall prevail.

  41. Murderbot

    I enjoyed All Systems Red a lot; it didn’t have any pretensions and carried the reader along with zip and panache. I probably won’t read any of the sequels, though.

  42. There is DEFINITELY something to be said vis a vis the modern sf penchant for “doorstopper” novels that are part of hernia-inducing series. I’m actually a fan of many of them (I read so fast, they’re “more bang for the buck”), but many others do not need to be so, and really shouldn’t be. From what I understand, it’s in large part a publisher thing; series sell better. And the trilogy was enshrined as “the” form for fantasy, in particular, by Tolkien and everyone just still goes along with that.

    I’m almost certain Dzit isn’t 26 in Earth years, but I can’t tell you where it actually says that.

  43. Re: Murderbot.
    I admit to being a fan. The idea of an AI who doesn’t particularly want to become a ‘real boy’ is smart and interesting, and more relatable than one might think.

    Re: A Memory Called Empire
    OK, but not great, IMO. A lot of SF appeals to an adolescent sensibility, and it can, indeed, get tiresome.

    You might like Charlie Stross’s latest novel, Dead Lies Dreaming. Set in the Laundry Files universe, but not part of the long narrative. It’s the Stross version of the Peter Pan story. Very unDisneyfied.

  44. I didn’t find the emo aspects that off-putting but that may be because of recent overindulgence in YA fiction. For me the virtues of the novel overcame the impetuous youthfulness of the prose. I look forward to the testable hypothesis as David says, of the next installment.

    Game of Thrones mostly cured me of reading any in-progress series. Byzantine empire recast into space empire by an actual scholar was too much to resist, though.

  45. One weird thing is that Hugo and Nebula ceased to nominate male authors:/

    0 male winners since 2016 (one transgender), 0 male Hugo nominees this year, 1 male Nebula nominee this year.

    P.S. when Ann Leckie won both awards I decided to read female winners and nominees specifically, because I do not know many female sci-fi authors. Actually, the genre – her novel is not a “space opera” but looked like one when I was choosing it – and the cover image also contributed. It looked like a sort of things I usually do not read:)

    Same logic with Murderbot: I normally do not read such things.

    And obviously now this approach does not work, because it is girls-only awards:)

  46. Peter Erwin:
    The vast majority of science fiction readers and writers are not scientists, so I’m not quite sure what this sideswipe against the latter is doing here. Then again, you admit to reading little or none of it, so I’ll take it as a generic exercise in “I don’t really know anything about X, but I’m going to pontificate about it anyway.”

    OK, “scientists” was sloppy. Maybe “people finding soulful inspiration in science”? What I meant was, discoveries in physics, or biology, or even linguistics, are interesting, but I invariably find them weak foundations for interesting fantasy. I find that the utility of whatever differentness SF authors have contrived runs out pretty quickly, and then they are up against the same challenges of writing literature based in this familiar world. At worst, they ignore this and think the clever differentness will save them the need of writing well; at best, the writing is fine, but is dragged down by the contrived background.

    As to how much I’ve read, I tried to like SF. I liked some of it when I was a kid — H.G. Wells, Pulps, Asimov. I knew a lot of SF fans in college, so I read some classics, I read some that were just lying around, I read some that were recommended. I disliked nearly all of them, and eventually I gave up. If I happen to open some SF at random now, I am usually instantly reminded why I don’t like the genre. That’s OK. I have other things to read.

  47. If Ancillary Justice is not “space opera,” then the term has no meaning except as a derisive epithet.

  48. I am willing to read SF novels by female authors, but only if there are no topless muscular men on the cover.

  49. Brett, it is.I was simply wrong here – but what I expected when opening the book is a specific subjenre, one with empires, emperors, uniforms (all of this is abundant in the novel), while the cover image suggested Battlestar Galactica.

  50. I am willing to read SF novels by female authors, but only if there are no topless muscular men on the cover.

    No, there is: “Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space! on the cover.

    Ann Leckie new novel’s female protagonist also blushes when talking to a certain female who is “fetching” by definition of a male character who likes a third gender person, operating a mech made by aliens who change their gender and pronouns which surprises the female protagonist.

  51. David Eddyshaw says:

    Lesbian necromancers explore a haunted gothic palace in space!

    But does it have ponies?

  52. i very much agree with @hat’s crankiness about the push for trilogies, though i do adore a lot of long-form narratives (in recent SF, i think n.k. jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy sets a mark that not much else reaches). but i disagree about both martine and leckie, which probably makes it a matter of differing tastes.

    i always like a potboiler with good social history, whether the setting’s historical (lauren belfer’s City of Light), contemporary (anything by larry mitchell, though they’re now barely even set in the recent past), or purely devised (tamsyn muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which deserves a better blurb than the one @drasvi quoted) – so i enjoyed A Memory Called Empire quite a lot. it could’ve used a copyeditor, for certain, and a good hands-on editor editor would’ve made it better, but not much i’ve read published this century has shown signs of having either…

    and as much as i enjoyed the Ancillary books, i think leckie’s extremely overrated. with that trilogy, all the hubbub about radchaai non-gendered language mostly showed that reviewers didn’t just not know from existing languages (mandarin? kiswahili? bueller?) but they hadn’t read much SF. delany’s tour de force of disorienting/re-orienting pronoun magic in Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand* actually does what folks seemed to think leckie did – and it came out in 1984. and by me, Provenance had about enough meat on its bones to be an excellent short story – but i react to inherited wealth and position the way @hat does to emperors (but with less pacifism, i must admit).

    but i have to say that i didn’t find martine to be glorifying the teixcalaanli empire or emperor. i thought she did an adept job of writing a protagonist who does, and of showing how mahit’s adoration is and isn’t shaken by her experiences in different contexts (and how her attachment to the empire as institution is and isn’t the same as her cultural assimilation, and is and isn’t different from her lsel patriotism). and the slow backs and forths of the different characters’ relationships to the empire – mahit’s, but also the natives of the capital – are part of what i’m excited to see developed in the next book.

    * part of a projected diptych – but The Splendor and Misery of Bodies, of Cities remains unpublished, so perhaps it can be forgiven…

  53. But does it have ponies?

    alas, no! but there are all kinds of critters made of re-animated skeletons, if that’s any consolation…

  54. David Eddyshaw says:

    The idea of an AI who doesn’t particularly want to become a ‘real boy’

    Or, indeed, a real girl. Especially in the latest instalment, Martha Wells sneakily subverts expectations with this (a teenage character straight-out declares that she sees Murderbot as a mother figure. Mind you, one of her other mothers is pretty badass too.)

  55. i think leckie’s extremely overrated. with that trilogy

    To be clear, I think the trilogy went downhill, precisely because she felt forced to go full space opera, with the fate of the universe resting on our plucky heroes. I have no patience for that crap. What I loved was the first book, with much of the action concentrated on one fully realized planet with its history and various classes and societies. That’s literature. “How can we save the universe?” is childish bullshit.

    My gold standard for space-based sf is the Strugatsky brothers, who are always adult and treat their readers as adults, and who focus on local situations and moral dilemmas rather than the Universe and pluck saving the day.

    but i have to say that i didn’t find martine to be glorifying the teixcalaanli empire or emperor. i thought she did an adept job of writing a protagonist who does

    My point is not that Martine herself worships empires; I presume she doesn’t, and I expect she will problematize Mahit’s ingrained subaltern feelings in the sequels I will never read. My point is that books about universe-spanning empires and their glorious glory are inherently pro-empire in the same way that movies about war are inherently pro-war; no matter how much you emphasize the downside, the message is “look at the glory!” The readers of such books are not there to see a debunking, they’re there to revel in the banners and the storm troopers (so to speak) — Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point. I’m there for the human entanglements and (hopefully) the good writing, not for the tinsel.

  56. i react to inherited wealth and position the way @hat does to emperors

    Oh, I feel the same way about inherited wealth and position, but sf historically hasn’t lionized that as much (it lionized engineers, scientists, Boy Scout types, etc.).

  57. It just occurred to me to check the Fanfare section of MetaFilter to see if there was a thread on the book, and there is. As I expected, pretty much everybody loved loved loved it, but this comment resonated so much with my own reactions I thought I’d copy it here:

    Oh gosh, so I finished this, and didn’t like it much at all! I feel like I’m the only one in the world who didn’t! Admittedly, my expectations were sky-high as this book was on virtually every best of year list etc. I thought it had a terrific set up that was mostly squandered and it suffered from numerous problems, including:

    – The whole imago concept was wasted, the author told us time and time again that it wasn’t a “Jiminy Cricket” type voice in the head, but that’s exactly what she made the imago out to be in 90% of the situations. The ambassador should have been a different person entirely, and then ‘half a person’. The idea of how imagos would influence the stationer culture was never fleshed out properly.

    – This highlights another problem, infodumps were common there was sooooooo much tell-don’t-show in the novel. It felt clumsy and often unnecessary; I think she probably did it because of the propulsive plot, which was a positive and a negative because…

    – Whilst I ripped through the book, the narrative has our protagonist entirely reactive. She’s so passive, everything in the book happens to her, virtually nothing is a result of her character or actions.

    – The author has a really bizarre idea of how embassies work. What kind of embassy has no staff? What kind ambassador spends most of their time personally reading and approving visas? So weird. Having a super young ambassador only made sense when the imago was involved (though barely even). Her inexperience was not found unusual by anyone else though.

    – Much like stationer culture, the culture of the empire was inconsistently examined and explicated. I mean, the book has empire in the title, it’s meant to be all about empire, but I felt her examination of what that actually means was so facile and one dimensional.

    – Many of the motivations were iffy. Why would anyone help her, really? Why were the three main characters all so young and without family etc? They were too “cool for school”, read like fan fic.

    There were parts of the book I liked. The ideas/concept. The pacing. But it just felt really immature and rushed, and I felt like a lot of the discussion of empire was just immature and lacking.

    The Traitor Baru Comorant was also a first novel, was actually all about empire and is a far superior book on every level (indeed, one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in the last few years). It had a far more interesting (though still young) protagonist, that absolutely drove its powderkeg plot forward with her own actions. It had a wide variety of characters and character types with different, complex, motivations. Its world building infused absolutely everything, and as an examination of what empire truly is and does it is brutal, stunning, mature.

    I dunno, I was disappointed.
    posted by smoke

    Has anybody read The Traitor Baru Cormorant? (The Kindle edition is only $2.99 on Amazon at the moment.)

  58. “The author has a really bizarre idea of how embassies work. What kind of embassy has no staff?”

    I also have a vague idea how embassies worked in 11th century, if this was the inspiration. An account of Syrian church delegaion in 17th century Moscow begins with a complaint that they were forced to behave like saints (never joke and keep serious faces) because Muscovite spies would tell everythign to the tsar – and concluded with an appeal to God to save them from this terror.

  59. Looked at its description in WP.

    Oh, my.

    Wallenrodyzm in hard fantasy.

    Definitely not going to read.

  60. John Cowan says:

    only if there are no topless muscular men on the cover

    Please do remember that (a) authors have zero influence over the cover art unless they have a very long history with the publisher or it is a very small publisher, and (b) cover artists are generally given an amount of time barely sufficient to read the back-cover blurb, never mind the whole book. The infamous case of the first Ballantine (authorized U.S. paperback) editions of Tolkien (images here) are particularly egregious: Ballantine was in such a hurry that the artist knew absolutely nothing about the books.

    i react to inherited wealth and position the way @hat does to emperors

    Most of the time it’s much the same thing: emperors do occasionally arise from poverty, but even if they haven’t inherited the Petal Throne, they generally have a fair amount of i. w. ≈ p. already. I myself am perfectly okay with i. w. as long as it was earned fairly, which naturally limits its extent.

  61. @LH: I looked at the goodreads reviews for the book (lots of spoilers), and it seems to be a book people either love or hate. I find the premise interesting, but I’m not currently planning to put another fantasy book on my reading list.

  62. Thanks! I guess I’ll skip it.

  63. Stu Clayton says:

    only if there are no topless muscular men on the cover

    That “topless” convention does not transfer to men, dear. One sees pecs all the time. On book covers men should be bottomless. I mean they should have butts, of course, but … oh well, never mind.

  64. David Eddyshaw says:

    What kind of embassy has no staff?

    Actually, I recall getting a Burkina Faso visa in London from a single Honorary Consul who did that sort of thing part time, his day job (as it were) being a West African import-export business. I think I made his day. It was the fastest visa processing I have ever experienced (though the Burkina embassy in Ghana were also very good.)

    It seems quite plausible that the relationship of Lsel to the Empire might not be too different from that of Burkina to the UK (or even more so.)

    Bear in mind that nobody is supposed to know that Lsel is of any importance at all.

  65. ə de vivre says:

    “[Men] should have butts…”

    This is the kind of high-level intellectual discussion that keeps me returning to chez Hat.

  66. “…be bottomless. I mean they should have butts…”

    I recalled how my friend (as a teenager) was translating “that the topless towers be burnt”…

  67. David Eddyshaw says:

    “[Men] should have butts…”

    I think this comes under the rubric of inalienable human rights, and I would hope that no Hatter would dispute it. There is no place for pygophobia in this day and age.

  68. The Hattery is always open to Buttery.

  69. ə de vivre says:

    I thought we took a descriptive rather than prescriptive approach to morphology—grammatical and anatomical. It would be more accurate to avoid a normative statement and say that “no exceptions to male butt-having have so far been observed.”

  70. David Eddyshaw says:

    I’m sorry, one has to draw the line somewhere. Buttless males are ungrammatical. Ill-formed, in fact.

  71. Buttful. Bottomful. Arseful…

    (I wrote only one word originally, but the spam filter…)

  72. jack morava says:

    @Hat : Has anybody read ‘The Traitor Baru Cormorant’?

    I haven’t, but my son recommends it…

  73. The Arseful Dodger.

  74. I read The Traitor Baru Cormorant and liked it a lot. It was the first in a series but, unfortunately, I found the sequel unreadable.

  75. Trond Engen says:

    Asshat!

  76. Well, there is a Russian chastushka that has a word similar to arseful. But it was about “lasses”. They were said to have other positive qualities too…

  77. I’ve never get the critizism of SF novels based on the novel being too unlike the real thing. The whole point of SF is that it’s unlike the real thing. In fact, I was put off of reading “A memory called empire” precisely becaues reviews emphasized that it was based on the author’s indepth knowledge of real life empires. The Ann Leckie trilogy was great despite being loosely based on the Roman empire, not because of it. If you want to write about realistic ambassadors, why make it an SF novel at all?

    Some classic SF has characters without any personality at all. I’m not sure if that’s worse or better than emotional heroines (or stoic heroes).

    I read Gideon the 9th and found it to be quite entertaining as a fantasy book, but confusing in the beginning as I expected SF.

  78. John Cowan says:

    Buttless males are ungrammatical. Ill-formed, in fact.

    All humans have glutei maximi (short of surgery), but not all have butts, much less BUTTS. By the same token, all female humans have mammary glands (modulo ditto), but not all have boobs.

  79. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is a considerable amount of science fiction which has all the excellences for which prizes are awarded for non-genre novels. Hat seems to have progressed/devolved to the point where he no longer appreciates any other kind, and good luck to him: he’s got no shortage of choices left to him, after all.

    I think this is orthogonal to the questions of what makes science fiction, science fiction; and of what makes science fiction, great science fiction qua science fiction. Again, I think Isaac Asimov is a good reference point for what I mean by great science fiction, on a quite separate axis from any distinctively literary merit. At his very best, he’s a great science fiction writer because he can take a particular idea (which need not in fact be scientifically plausible or even possible) and run with it, playing “what if” and drawing out the consequences satisfactorily in human terms without cheating (I’d nominate The End of Eternity or The Gods Themselves as his best in this regard.) On the other hand science fiction can be good because it’s just very good fiction set in a fairly stock science-fiction universe (Lois McMaster Bujold, say.) Happily, these virtues are by no means mutually incompatible, of course. (Babel-17!)

    But either way, good science fiction has to be respectful of the genre (satire is also a kind of respect in this context.) This is why Margaret Atwood is incapable of writing even mediocre science fiction, as she herself evidently realises, in her denigration of “science fiction”; she has no feeling at all for what science fiction actually is, and in fact produces allegory, which she miscalls “speculative fiction.” She has no real interest in how her imaginary worlds could actually work, with the result that her creations are humanly impossible. The imaginary world is merely a means to an end: telling us what to think. That is irritating even when what she wants us to think is actually quite true (viz: that women are all too often exploited and treated as not fully human, and that that’s very wrong indeed.)

    I would contrast Nineteen Eighty-Four, which I would unhesitatingly claim as proper science fiction: Orwell is fascinated by the detail of how his dystopia functions (see, for example, his loving description of Newspeak in the appendix, which is almost Tolkien-like.) He earns the right to tell us what to think through his imaginary creation.

  80. jack morava says:

    I’ve tried to bite my tongue, but I can’t restrain myself: I think very highly of Philip K Dick – Ubik, Martian Timeslip, Clans of the Alphane Moons, Dr Bloodmoney, Do Androids…?

    Cf Borges? Gogol? Discuss?

  81. David Eddyshaw says:

    (I’m about halfway through Gideon the Ninth, a purchase encouraged by rozele’s entirely accurate assessment: in fact, I think eldritch ponies would be right at home therein.)

    If Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius is not (brilliant) science fiction, the term has no meaning …

    I’m never quite sure quite what I think about Philip K Dick – a reaction which I am sure would have delighted him. The work of his I read most recently was Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said, which is a superb example of whatever it is that it’s an example of. (Certainly science fiction, whatever else.)

  82. The last time I was willing to give someone a chance to recommend SF to me, I explained to whoever I was talking to what was disappointing me, they said, “oh, you want something like literature” — I thought to myself, is good writing a subgenre of SF? — “you want to read Philip K. Dick.” I chose Through a Glass, Darkly, which according to the cover, Dick himself called, “the only masterpiece I will have ever written”. I figured, that’s as good as it gets, and I read it. It was readable. It wasn’t awful, just a bit annoying. It made me think the author was full of himself and couldn’t help but inject it into the book. But anyway, it was OK, just I wouldn’t bother with it of my own accord.

    BTW, I liked, and still like Lem’s The Futurological Congress, and Frank Robinson’s The Power. The first is funny, the second is hard-boiled. I also like unpretentious pulp stories from way back about bug-eyed monsters. Clean dirty fun.

  83. Gideon the 9th” The realistic thing about it is the cover image:)))))

    @Moa, when I read the sequel, I found that I underestimated her seriously. Can’t say the same about Ann Leckie.

  84. “BTW, I liked, and still like Lem’s The Futurological Congress,”

    Y, is it known in your country? I read it when I was 5 and that was a Heroic Feat. I already knew that sci-fi is cool (seriously:)), and I found a magazine with it and understood that it is sci-fi. But for a child who still reads slowly, for whom every book was mostly mystery reading how the strangest author I know is hallucinating within hallucination was…

    Yet in my country it is not the most famous piece by Lem. Mildly speaking.

  85. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Y:

    I don’t think I’d recommend Dick to literary types as a gateway drug to SF, myself. If I was trying to establish that my low science-fiction habit was actually quite respectable really (a game I am now happily too old to be concerned with) I’d probably point people at Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr, Samuel Delany, Gene Wolfe … possibly John Crowley, though he irritates me for reasons which I can’t quite explain.

  86. David Eddyshaw says:

    But then, why should it be respectable? That way lies Progressive Rock, and all its horrors. And academic professors of jazz.

  87. John Cowan says:

    “Like ‘The Saturday Evening Post’, [‘science fiction’] means what we point to when we say it.” —Damon Knight

    “Science fiction is what I say it is.” —the other JWC

    And many other fine definitions.

  88. When I listened to Bach in Moscow Conservatory (where else – they have an organ) I found all those faces quite annoying as well. Bach rocks, faces didn’t. It was a lesser problem, though. What was worse is: I understood why keeping silence (even though it was not easy), but could they have put there couches or beds? WHY chairs?

    There are some couches in the lobby, but that time I would rather be walking, or preferably running.

    (As you can guess, I was a fan of classical music as a kid. As you can also guess, I never needed to explain why any of this is respectable – it is a normal combination for Russia)

    “Like ‘The Saturday Evening Post’, [‘science fiction’] means what we point to when we say it.”
    A wooden post in the Saturday evening

  89. I want to thank the focus group and announce my sesquilogy featuring androids with rounded personalities and butts.

  90. drasvi: I was introduced to Lem in the United States, in English translation. That was while I was in college. I still have the book, in the same cheap paperback, with all the pages now loose from the dried glue-binding.

  91. Hat seems to have progressed/devolved to the point where he no longer appreciates any other kind

    Not so! As I said above, I liked All Systems Red a lot. But it has to be good quick efficient fun or well-written, genuinely thoughtful literature; betwixt-and-between doesn’t work for me.

    I’d probably point people at Ursula Le Guin, James Tiptree Jr, Samuel Delany, Gene Wolfe

    Same here, plus the Strugatskys of course.

  92. I was once on a science fiction presentation (aka seminar). The author considered the possibility that pre-inflation universe had metric signature (-,-,-,-). In layman terms, time was exactly like space. And then in a process resembling quantum transition (or maybe it was quantum transition) time became time and the rest is history.

    Unusual universe? Check
    Not a shred of proof? Check
    Titillating? You betcha.

  93. Strugatskys

    I was wandering, how you pluralize them:) “Strugatkies” would match both the pattern diary-diaries and Russian plural strugatskie with -e [-je] after a vowel.

  94. J.W. Brewer says:

    When prog rock is ridiculous or naff (as is often the case), it still may be sort of charming in its guileless goofiness. Plus you’ve wasted 40-45 minutes max. One cannot say the same for an 800-page tome of bad genre prose which is rather alarmingly billed as a first installment in an X-logy. There are certainly records I listened to when I was 14 that I now have, I think, well-grounded critical reasons (after decades of deeper immersion in all sorts of music I hadn’t yet heard at 14) for not thinking particularly highly of, but I’m often willing to give them another chance for old times’ sake. Whereas my attitude toward essentially all of the SF I consumed at that age is that life is far too short to waste any of it on giving any of that stuff another chance. Your mileage may, of course, vary.

    Perhaps it’s an idiosyncrasy of mine, or maybe it’s something about different artforms, but I feel like I can often find fairly unimpressive (50th percentile at best) hack/journeyman musical performance a decidedly preferable alternative to silence yet I cannot find 50th-percentile hack/journeyman genre prose a preferable alternative to not reading at all.

  95. Trilogies? Genre fiction? You got it easy, kid.

  96. Trond Engen says:

    David E.: But then, why should it be respectable? That way lies Progressive Rock, and all its horrors. And academic professors of jazz.

    Incidentally, a review by Roy Søbstad of Thomas Falla Eriksen’s graphic sci-fi trilogy Enki, posted this Friday by the online comic magazine Empirix. Opening words:

    Hvis Thomas Falla Eriksens science fiction-trilogi hadde vært musikk, ville den ha vært et trippelt, konseptuelt progrock-album fra 1973.

    “If Thomas Falla Eriksen’s sci-fi trilogy were music, it would be a triple conceptual progrock album from 1973.”

  97. I like these timely coincidences.

    That reminds me, along with my Bah on written-words SF, Bah on superhero comics, which are a genre of SF comics and are prone to similar ills.

  98. David Eddyshaw says:

    “If Thomas Falla Eriksen’s sci-fi trilogy were music, it would be a triple conceptual progrock album from 1973.”

    Ooh, burn.

    (It’s the “1973” which really twists the knife …)

  99. @Y:
    personally, i wouldn’t recommend phildick in general, but especially not as an exemplar of literary sf. the little i’ve found satisfying in what i’ve read of him has all been in the tiny trickle that slips in around the edges of his devoted and vigilant quest to write High Literature. but plenty of folks do enjoy him…

    i agree with DE & hat about delany, tiptree, the strugatskae, and (especially later) le guin as better examples – i haven’t read (that) wolfe or (that) crowley.

    and i want to agree with DE’s “sf is sf” comment, but point (as always) to delany. he takes (and i tend to agree with) the position that sf is very specifically not literature, on the level of its discursive workings and structures. one of his more straightforward examples is sentences that can appear in either literature or sf, but require a radically different reading to make sense, depending on which kind of text includes them. e.g.: “Her world exploded.” it’s not about respecting the genre in the sense of tropes, ideas, or details; it’s about writing work that is legible through specific reading strategies. which is why to me some atwood is sf despite her protestations of literariness – some of it i like (The Handmaid’s Tale) and some i hate (The Heart Goes Last) – but no orwell is.

    books about universe-spanning empires and their glorious glory are inherently pro-empire in the same way that movies about war are inherently pro-war; no matter how much you emphasize the downside, the message is “look at the glory!”

    i think this is often how such books function, but far from inevitable or inherent. i don’t think intent has much to do with it, but some of what makes the difference is in the writing – to me, Stars In My Pocket Like Grains of Sand and the related short story Omegahelm are a great examples of writing set in universe- (or at least galaxy-)spanning empires at their peak of glory that would be hard to get a pro-empire message from. i think the context of the reading is more decisive, though. if i’d read A Memory Called Empire in the 80s, i think i’d agree more with @hat about it; reading it last summer in a crumbling imperial metropole, what jumped out was the shakiness of Teixcalaanli power, not the glory.

    I’m there for the human entanglements and (hopefully) the good writing, not for the tinsel
    this, absolutely!

    i apologize for the lack of butts and prog rock in this post.
    i hope the sidelong reference to uncle aleister can serve as a passing invocation of both.

  100. Nelson Goering says:

    “I expect she will problematize Mahit’s ingrained subaltern feelings in the sequels I will never read”

    This book already does that — it’s one of the central points of the whole story.

  101. I feel like I can often find fairly unimpressive (50th percentile at best) hack/journeyman musical performance a decidedly preferable alternative to silence

    I agree. Even mediocre prog rock still requires a lot of technical skill that I, as an amateur musician, can appreciate. I may not like a lot of 1970s Yes as music qua music but I could never play drums at that level, and it is still fun to listen to Bruford or even White. Bad writing usually doesn’t have that “but how did she do that?” quality.

  102. David Eddyshaw says:

    Writing even a very bad novel is an achievement well beyond my own powers, at any rate.
    I don’t think novel-writing is as easy as one might suppose.

  103. This book already does that — it’s one of the central points of the whole story.

    Yes, of course; I didn’t express myself clearly, but at the moment I’m too lazy to figure out more precisely what I meant and express it better.

  104. Trond Engen says:

    Me: Incidentally, a review by Roy Søbstad of Thomas Falla Eriksen’s graphic sci-fi trilogy Enki, […]

    I thought I added a link to the review.

    I should say that the review takes a more positive turn, along JWB’s and Vanya’s views on prog rock. Since this is a graphic novel in the tradition of Moebius (and Enki Bilal, a reference missed by the reviewer), there’s a lot to enjoy on the technical side. Long and confusing stories with beautiful, disturbing drawings is a genre of its own.

  105. January First-of-May says:

    Sorry for the rambling multi-part comment…

    “There were a lot of kinds of birds in Teixcalaanli, and one word for ‘bird’ in Stationer. There’d been more once.”

    Previously on LH.

    No series in my childhood (if we define USSR as “childhood”). Sherlock Holmes stories, and Moomins stories by Tove Jansson. That is all. Both are great.

    Sherlock Holmes (and to a lesser extent also the Moomins) is a different (sub)genre: a collection of short stories about the same protagonists. I’m not sure it’s really a series when you can put the parts into a different order and expect it to make about as much sense, if any, in terms of being a coherent plot. The cartoon version of this is Nu Pogodi [or, for the non-Russians in the audience, Tom & Jerry].
    (IIRC there are some “series” that are kind of like that except at the end of each part there is a sentence to the effect of “this reminds me of the time when X…” and the story of X follows. This does at least fix the order of parts, if nothing else, but still might not necessarily qualify.)

    Other Soviet or available-in-USSR series that come to my mind include Karlsson on the Roof (short but definitely a series), Crocodile Gena, Prostokvashino (short by 1991, but definitely a series), Alisa/Girl from the Future (extensive, but the books are about as connected as the Moomins – i.e. not very – except in some mini-series that might postdate 1991), Elektronik, and of course Wizard of the Emerald City.
    However, I do admit that offhand I can’t think of any Soviet cases of a series where the plot actually continues from one book to the next (as opposed to the next book starting off where the previous book ended, or shortly after, but otherwise making its own plot threads). I suppose Seventeen Moments of Spring might qualify as a film version. (I’ve never watched Seventeen Moments of Spring.)
    That said, it’s perfectly possible that I’m missing something obvious; after all, I didn’t grow up in the USSR (I was born in an independent Russia, a week and a half after the final dissolution of the Soviet Union).

    Though trilogies are Not All The Same, as various people have rightly said, the grotesquely-padded sort is indeed a curse of modern science fiction. Still, it’s noticeable that with the major offenders even the individual volumes are overstuffed eight-hundred-pagers. The problem is more deep-seated than the mere number of volumes. I think one can be most justifiably cross when the multivolume work in question deliberately leaves the major plot threads unresolved, so that you get to page 750 of 800 and realise with a sinking feeling that the author has left no room to resolve anything by the end of the book. At this point, you can reasonably feel that you’ve been sold a pup.

    Of course at those levels you’re right back at the Tolkien problem: even if you believe that your excellent novel idea works best as a single novel of 2400 pages, you probably have to publish it as a trilogy of 800 pages each (or perhaps a quadrilogy of 600 pages each as the case may be), because, with all due respect, approximately nobody is going to buy a 2400-page book, and for that matter I suspect few publishers have the equipment to print one either.

    I suppose these days there is also the John McCrae option: just put the darn thing on the web, chapter by chapter, and hope that your readers put enough money into your Patreon. I’m not sure to what extent this is a sensible strategy, but it sure seems to have worked for John McCrae.

    At his very best, he’s a great science fiction writer because he can take a particular idea (which need not in fact be scientifically plausible or even possible) and run with it, playing “what if” and drawing out the consequences satisfactorily in human terms without cheating

    This is indeed a good way to make a good story, but it might not be necessarily be limited to science fiction (though it probably works best there).

    Many of the best (…in my opinion, at least) alternate history works started that way [then again, alternate history probably counts as a subgenre of science fiction]; so did many of the best fanfics (there’s a reason I like Harry Is A Dragon, And That’s Okay so much, and from what I’ve heard, it’s not just me).

    BTW, I liked, and still like Lem’s The Futurological Congress

    I’m a bit of a fan of Lem myself, but The Futurological Congress is one of the few Lem stories I didn’t like; it was so confusing that after only a few pages I had entirely no idea what the triangular heck was going on, and the rest of it didn’t get any clearer. Few stories I’ve read had made me quite as confused as that.

    (…I think the fifth Hitchhiker’s Guide book came close, but other than that I can’t recall any specific names offhand. Admittedly, I suspect that in some of those cases this is merely because some kind of subconscious response excised those names from my memory.)

    Writing even a very bad novel is an achievement well beyond my own powers, at any rate.
    I don’t think novel-writing is as easy as one might suppose.

    I’m not particularly confident of my own ability of writing a novel, even a very bad one, either (despite, or possibly because of, regularly hanging around in a chat full of people who casually write many thousands of words of their stories per week).
    I suppose if I really try I could probably write something that kind of looks a little bit like a novel; it would not be so much a very bad novel as a text that is very bad at being a novel – but still far better at being a novel than, say, a grocery shopping list would have been.

    (Now that I think about it, some of my Language Hat comments probably came close – this one not necessarily excluded.)

  106. On some forums/platforms, there is an option to read all comments of a poster (if he somehow attracted your interest) in chronological order – day by day, year after year.

    Certainly makes for interesting reading even if it’s not a novel.

  107. I came here to write that Soviet Russian literature produced at least one overlong serialized novel “Tempestuous stream”, but it happened to be a single novel. Stierlitziana is a collection of largerly independent novels, but it probably helps to know what main protagonist did in previously published ones (I didn’t read any of them). Here’s a quote from aforelinked page [GT with a few personal touches]:

    The reader must love the writer, ask him for an autograph and actively buy his artistic creations. Writers don’t write bad books. If the book is published, then it is good. And we don’t publish bad books, because nobody needs them. Literary criticism must protect the writer from the readers. It happens that some reader will become so unruffled that he begins to dislike this or that writer who creates artistic canvases of prose, poetry and drama. The critic must make the reader love any printed word.

  108. ə de vivre says:

    I didn’t express myself clearly, but at the moment I’m too lazy to figure out more precisely what I meant and express it better.

    There really should be a single word for this feeling. I’d certainly get a lot of use out of it.

  109. Whatever

  110. Bravo! If “whatever” is a touch too snarky just add a 😜

  111. Stu Clayton says:

    I call it impudence. “I care so little for what you think, that I can’t be bothered to make clear what I think.”

    People act like that on blogs, they think it’s cute and winning. I wonder if they would have the temerity to do it in one-on-one conversations. They would do it at most once with me.

  112. I’m right here, you know.

  113. Stu Clayton says:

    You didn’t address that to me in private. Allowances can be made for nice guys. Recently in a telco about technical matters someone opposing my views laid that “I don’t really know what I’m trying to say but I’ll oppose you anyway” on me. Since he is ignorant as they come, I said: “if you don’t know what you want to say, you’re wasting my time by saying it.” That shut him up.

    That’s an example of what I meant by “they would do it at most once with me”. Fortiter in modo is my motto. The res take care of themselves.

  114. jack morava says:

    @ rozele, re PKD: When William Gibson invented cyberspace, he defined it as a consensual hallucination. What interests me about Dick is his concern that reality is another such consensual hallucination – to the extent that even one’s self may be such a thing. I agree that he’s a clumsy writer, but I think for example that Timothy Archer, Martian Timeslip, (insert long list) are very moving. Delaney, in Dhalgren for ex, seems to me to have similar concerns. In an earlier post I suggested comparison with Gogol, not because I think Gogol wrote scifi, but because Noc for ex is a lot like one of Dick’s more lighthearted romps through fractured reality.

  115. @jack morava: I think Gibson described cyberspace as a consensual, collective hallucination. Dick’s questionable realities often seem to lack the collective aspect, pushing them more into the realm of solipsism. (See also here for where John Cowan and I seemed to disagree somewhat as to whether a shared dream has more reality than a strictly individual one.)

  116. @J1M:
    i think most overlong current fiction would be just fine if it were published as a serial, and wish that there were more ways for writers to do that effectively. extended-form comics are thriving online in that mode (Dicebox and Vattu are two i’ve been following), and the current ‘golden age of television’ is really a flourishing of long-form film released in a serial format (as opposed to the core television form, the indefinite-length series).

    @jm @Brett:
    i think i’d have to read more dick to have an opinion on the collectiveness of his realities. but at the time i read what i’ve read, i was also reading robert anton wilson’s novels, whose “reality is what you can get away with” slogan is likely an uncredited source of gibson’s definition*. i found RAW the more enjoyable of the two probably because he’s more interested in the consensual part (and how to change that consensus), as well as having a sense of humor.

    I feel like I can often find fairly unimpressive (50th percentile at best) hack/journeyman musical performance a decidedly preferable alternative to silence ||| Bad writing usually doesn’t have that “but how did she do that?” quality.

    i think the literary equivalent to that, for me, is enjoying writing on the level of the sentence or paragraph but disliking it on the level of the chapter or book. hilary mantel has always been like that for me, so I’ve never gotten past Eight Months on Ghazzah Street and Wolf Hall.**

    ** maybe part of that is the thing about glorification of imperial pomp. i think Wolf Hall leans pro-aristocracy, while The Other Boleyn Girl leans decidedly anti-.

  117. J.W. Brewer says:

    PKD lacked RAW’s sense of humor and playfulness, agreed, but RAW for that very reason lacked PKD’s ability to evoke unease-or-terror about what might be Really Going On once the illusions were stripped away.

  118. Stu Clayton says:

    ability to evoke unease-or-terror about what might be Really Going On once the illusions were stripped away.

    Descartes was the first big illusion-stripteaser of modern times. His influence was not of his own making, of course. He merely tapped general discontent and uncertainty. Not unlike Trump, except that Renée was more into books.

    D. didn’t have a dog either.

  119. i think Wolf Hall leans pro-aristocracy

    I don’t (it’s basically pro-Cromwell, who was no aristocrat though he used the aristocracy to advance his own goals), but if it’s heads on pikes you want, you should read A Place of Greater Safety.

  120. But it has to be good quick efficient fun or well-written, genuinely thoughtful literature; betwixt-and-between doesn’t work for me.

    Of course that’s not exhaustive; another category that works for me, perhaps the quintessential sf category, is the idea-based novel where the idea is so compelling that it doesn’t need fancy language or characterization to triumph (which is not to say that it can get away with terrible writing and no characterization). A recent example of that is Blindsight, by Peter Watts, which has stuck in my head ever since I read it as only the best sf does. Talk about a chilling view of the universe!

  121. Nelson Goering says:

    “Yes, of course; I didn’t express myself clearly, but at the moment I’m too lazy to figure out more precisely what I meant and express it better.”

    Fair enough!

  122. I guess it would make more sense if I changed it to “she will further problematize Mahit’s ingrained subaltern feelings.”

  123. @January First-of-May, I rather spoke about my own childhood – I can’t speak about USSR as a whole.

    What I need to explain is my hunger for this, and why I felt that “violence”, “stereotype”, “dumb pressure” act in the direction of putting a river into water tanks or cans, while the “obvious”, “natural” and “revolutionary” thing is letting the river flow freely. I mix up several related things.

    – stand alone pieces.
    – “Star Trek” as opposed to continuous flow. *

    – Tolkien wrote an ocean. *

    As I need to explain, why I felt so, I can be subjective and I do not need USSR to represent the extreme, just be close to this end of the range. Warhammer 40k produced several hundreds of novels within a few years:) It is breathtaking. It did not exist in LH’s childhood, but I see why his perspective is different.

    Now I will comment on your exmaples.

    Star Trek and Tolkien deserve a comment, but here they just illustrate “different reaction to pressure” and “different way to be free of limitations”.

  124. David Eddyshaw says:

    Warhammer 40k produced several hundreds of novels within a few years

    Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!!

    https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/CiaphasCain

  125. and of course Wizard of the Emerald City.

    I should have mentioned this one:( It does qualify. It was one of my first “large” books. I liked it. For a while I kept drawing emeralds*. Novels do not continue each other, though. The second book begins with the main villain : an extraordinary and cunning mind, industriousness, determination, remarkable willpower, courage and willingness to take risks.” (Wikipedia). I learned palissandre “rosewood”, and mahogany (red wood in Russian). He was a carpenter. I wanted to see him conquer the world, hot to see all his diligent labour go to shit because he ran out of weed!

    It is a Russian version of Oz. Wikipedia says, it is known better than the original in China, Germany and some Arab countries. The author translated the Wonderful Wizard of Oz as an exircise, but “changed some events and added new adventures”. Many years later he wrote continuations.

    It was the best awailable entertainment, but apart of several images from the first book, it did not affect me much. Rowling must be better.


    *Then I read (or listened to?) the Hobbit and drew piles of gold, piles of gold, gems and swords and piles of gold. That was what dwarves liked;/ But then it were Les Enfants du capitaine Grant and grootzeil, marszeil, bramzeil, bovenbramzeil.

  126. I think I’ve mentioned it before, there is an alternative portrayal of its author – Alexander Volkov as a Russian nationalist forced to live under hated Bolshevik rule while pretending to be a loyal Communist. (his bio does suggest that such views would be natural for his milieu).

    Magic Land in the story is the old imperial Russia, a beautiful country taken over by usurpers using magic and tricks to mislead the population (Communist propaganda).

    Industrious carpenter Urfin Joos who became dictator is personification of the Communist party.

    As befits a provincial Russian nationalist who grew up in the late empire, Volkov apparently perceived Bolshevik takeover of Russia as a conspiracy by international Jewry, hence the name Urfin Joos – clearly based on English “Orphan Jews”.

  127. Well, there was also the Bull’s Hour, by Efremov.

    A spaceship with a crew mostly comprising beautiful naked women – from the future were humans regain common sense – is dispatched to a planet suffering from totalitarian nightmare (with casualities).

  128. Efremov is one of the few SF writers who were seriously investigated (by KGB!) under suspicion of spying for aliens.

    The greatest honor, I’d say.

  129. “you get to page 750 of 800 and realise with a sinking feeling that the author has left no room to resolve anything by the end of the book”

    David Foster, “The Glade Within the Grove”: “I have made a bad blue with narrative pace, as no way am I going to finish now.” The narrator dies, and the book suddenly ends, 20 pages later.

    The book feels like a lengthy introduction to the real story, which the narrator never gets to tell. But this is deliberate. Through various asides and comments throughout the book, and the educated reader’s knowledge of the traditions it draws from, he has already given us a rough idea of what’s going to happen. It’s appropriate that the details remain a mystery, not witnessed by the uninitiated.

  130. Well, there was also the Bull’s Hour, by Efremov.

    A spaceship with a crew mostly comprising beautiful naked women – from the future were humans regain common sense – is dispatched to a planet suffering from totalitarian nightmare (with casualities).

    I’ve had an old paperback of that for years — I guess I should read it!

  131. the Bull’s Hour

    Tangentially related:

    Ushi-no-Toki-Mairi (Japanese: 丑の時参り, lit. “ox-hour shrine-visit”) or ushi no koku mairi (丑の刻参り)[2] refers to a prescribed method of laying a curse upon a target that is traditional to Japan, so-called because it is conducted during the hours of the Ox (between 1 and 3 AM). The practitioner—typically a scorned woman[3][4]—while dressed in white and crowning herself with an iron ring set with three lit candles upright, hammers nails into a sacred tree (神木, shinboku) of the Shinto shrine. In the modern-day common conception, the nails are driven through a straw effigy[a] of the victim, impaled upon the tree behind it.[4][5] The ritual must be repeated seven days running, after which the curse is believed to succeed, causing death to the target,[6] but being witnessed in the act is thought to nullify the spell.[7] The Kifune Shrine in Kyoto is famously associated with the ritual.[8]

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ushi_no_toki_mairi

  132. So Efremov was a spy for the Planet of Naked Women. As job titles go, it’s a real ice-breaker at parties.

  133. Trond Engen says:

    When a simple cover story is elevated to cover art.

  134. But that what I would love to do for Sentinelese. It is a dream job. A head of Sentinelese intellegence.

    If you succeed in establishing contact them, it is unnecessary to inform the world.

  135. David Marjanović says:

    One weird thing is that Hugo and Nebula ceased to nominate male authors:/

    They do have a lot to catch up with, so I’m not surprised…

    Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!!

    A BFG in one hand, a BFS in the other!!!

    (Always bring a gun to a knifefight.)

    “you get to page 750 of 800 and realise with a sinking feeling that the author has left no room to resolve anything by the end of the book”

    The great Ibáñez the Greatest occasionally has a main character point out that the adventure is over but there are still a few pages left to fill.

    (Hilarity continues.)

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