What is it that has enabled George to captivate readers in so many different fields? What qualities are there about George’s work that ensnares readers, no matter what kind of story he’s telling?

For one thing, George has always been a richly romantic writer. Dry minimalism or the cooly ironic games of postmodernism so beloved by many modern writers and critics are not what you’re going to get when you open something by George R. R. Martin. What you’re going to get instead is a strongly-plotted story driven by emotional conflict and crafted by someone who’s a natural-born storyteller, a story that grabs you on the first page and refuses to let go.

You’re going to get adventure, action, conflict, romance, and lush, vivid human emotion: obsessive, doomed love, stark undying hatred, unquenchable desire, dedication to duty even in the face of death, unexpected veins of rich humor … and something that’s rare even in science fiction and fantasy these days (let alone the mainstream) - a love of adventure for adventure’s sake, a delighting in the strange and colorful, bizarre plants and animals, exotic scenery, strange lands, strange customs, stranger people, backed by the inexhaustible desire to see what’s over the next hill, or waiting on the next world. […]

The most important reason, though, why so many readers are affected so strongly by George’s work, is the people. George has created a gallery of vivid characters - sometimes touching, some¬times grotesque, sometimes touching and grotesque - unmatched by most other writers […]

George cares deeply about all of his people, even the spearcarriers, even the villains - and by caring so deeply, he makes you care for them as well. Once you’ve mastered this magic trick, you don’t really need another. […] And it is the thing that ensures that, no matter what field he chooses to work in, people will read him - and want to read him again.

–Gardner Dozois, Introduction to Dreamsongs, Vol. 1 by George R.R. Martin

We wanted gods and could find none, so we built some ourselves. We should have remembered what the gods were like in the old mythologies: amoral, cruel, selfish, merciless, murderously playful.” He was silent for a long time, and then, visibly gathering his strength, as if he was almost too tired to speak, he said, “They must be destroyed.
—  Recidivist by Gardner Dozois

I bought myself a book last Monday to celebrate the ending of our 2nd Chem L.E.*, an anthology called The Mammoth Book of Best New SF edited by Gardner Dozois.

I like Gardner Dozois’ taste in stories, so I just had to buy it, despite it almost singlehandedly freeing me of all my birthday money. But it was worth it! I’ve read the first story, “Utriusque Cosmi” by Robert Charles Wilson, about a woman who has transcended this plane of reality going back to her younger self to tell her story. It’s awesome, and I can’t wait to have the free time** to read everything else!

*I got a relatively high but just a bit disappointing grade for this one. Ah well, on to the last!

**What with the Bio Quiz later, the Lab Practical Test tomorrow, and the short exam in Philo II on tuesday, I have a moderate lot on my plate. haha.

Currently Reading - The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fourth Annual Collection

5. “Against Babylon” by Robert Silverberg

At first this reminded me lots of his story “Hot Times in Magma City” which I’d read in the first volume of Year’s Best SF from nearly a decade later.  Both follow fire-fighters in LA, albeit in the other responding to volcanic activity and in this case clumsy aliens.

Another story of culture clash within the US, the whimsy quirkicality of the Bay Area against the stolid, down-to-earth interior and the gulf of values and understanding between them.

America, America, America again, and I’m sick of it. The USA and the UK, I’d love to go a good long while without their stories, their centredness. I want an escape from having to hear about them, care about them, know about them. But I won’t have it, of course. I’d have to cut myself off from the world almost entire, nearly everyone I know. No where else to go.

But it ain’t right. That teensy little description up above about the cultural divisions represented and played out in this story? Of where else in the world would I be able to write that out, off the top of my head? Just about nowhere, that’s where, and that even includes my homeland, because I’ve never had enough stories of where I am to get that same embedded understanding of its dynamics.

How do I feel about this story? It makes me want to weep because I’m tired of hearing about the good old US of A, that’s how. (the aliens are mainly a narrative device to puncture the protagonist’s cultural complacency)

Disappointing, as Silverberg’s stories in previous anthologies have tended to be among my highlights.

Book Review: Dangerous Women

Dangerous Women is a cross-genre anthology, but I’d say that most of the stories fall in the realm of speculative fiction. Like most anthologies, it has some hits and some misses, but I was, in general, disappointed that it didn’t live up to its title. While there are indeed a few dangerous women to be found here, too many of the stories were written from the point of view of male characters; several stories were not about women at all and focused on either the relationships between male characters or on how much men are freaked out by women having, you know, agency; and one story was so disgustingly and violently misogynistic that I almost didn’t continue reading because it made me so angry to find it in the middle of a story collection ostensibly focused on women.


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Currently Reading - The Year's Best Science Fiction: Fourth Annual Collection

24. “Down and Out in the Year 2000” by Kim Stanley Robinson

The backdrop makes this science fiction, but I don’t think it needed to be. This is a story of poverty in America as the world falls apart in war, which it feels like I’ve read five times already in this book alone. It could have been a shared world piece with Swanwick’s “Covenant of Souls”, frex.

Normally when I say something like that I mean it as some sort of savage criticism, but I liked this story. And I liked it despite its science fiction elements, not because of them. It could easily have been a work of contemporary non-genre fiction, although maybe I say that because I assume the 1980s were more similar to the 2010s in joblessness, urban decay and unrest than is justified. But I do think it’s so.

The only characters whose ethnicity is marked in this story are white. Something I see too rarely which says to me the great majority of characters in this piece are people of colour (if I had to put money on it, I’d say black, because various contextual clues).

I liked that a lot for selfish reasons - it’s a technique I’ve intended to use myself, so it’s gratifying to see it work for communicating character ethnicity while centring on their own perspective. But of course KSR is himself a white guy so it’s possible this is badly messed up [1] and I’m just failing to see it.


[1] Such as the one story in this collection centred on black Americans being also the one story that is about falling on hard times and being poor in America. Particularly in that by being so as a science fiction story it immediately stands out and captures interest, whereas as a work of ‘non-genre’ or crime(!!!)[2] fiction it might get lost in the shuffle.

[2] In this context I would count slotting in well amongst crime stories against “Down and Out in the Year 2000”[3], whereas normally I would be all over a good crime / sf hybrid. The problem is that this isn’t one of those, and reading it as crime fiction is clearly the wrong approach. But, that genre is one where it is much more normal to encounter the pattern “black guy hits hard times, takes to selling pot to get cash together for the sake of the sick woman in his life”. The only thing that’s missing is the crisis-crash-object lesson pattern that’s put me off non-detective crime fiction, and is the reason it doesn’t quite fit.

[3] Just realised that as I write this I am equidistant from the year of story setting as the story was in its year of publication.


What I’m saying, I suppose, is that in isolation I find this a pretty excellent story. Engaging, well-written, well-characterised in ways most I’ve read fall short on. But in broader context the association of blackness-poverty-failed-by-system, while reflecting the reality of the world as it is, stands out among a lack of science fiction positing alternative possibilities.