Reviews of BSFA Nominees

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British SF Association Nominees 2007

NOVEL

  • Darkland, Liz Williams
  • End of the World Blues, Jon Courtenay Grimwood
  • Icarus, Roger Levy
  • The Last Witchfinder, James Morrow
  • Nova Swing, M. John Harrison
  • SHORT FICTION

  • "The Djinn's Wife" by Ian McDonald (Asimov's Jul 2006)
    Anyone who has browsed around on this site knows Ian McDonald is one of my least favorite writers, but it's not necessarily his fault, and of course he has many admirers who think enough of his work to get just about anything nominated that has his name on it. So here we have this story, set in the same universe as "River of Gods", which I still haven't been able to bring myself to read yet, but it doesn't really matter. In a future Delhi, the human residents share the city with the semi-mythical djinn, which are some kind of nanobot AI that seem to still manifest themselves in human form occasionally and have actual names and responsibilities. The story focuses on Esha, a traditional dancer who becomes entangled with one of those djinn named A.J., and ultimately they get married. Needless to say there are some insurmountable problems of coping with each other's daily lives and habits, and Esha as it turns out can't really cope, to the point that she plots against her husband.

    So as far as it goes, the plot doesn't really cover anything particularly original, but as we know from McDonald's other writing that isn't his point, he's come up with a richly detailed exotic future full of foreign words and place names that are rattled off without explanation, with a whole political subplot in the background around two competing regions fighting over whether a dam gets built or not. In the midst of all this high-stakes intrigue, this small personal story gets played out, and in some respect affects the course of history, so there is that element. Also, McDonald would seem to have taken as a point of departure the notion that swarms of self-aware nanobot AI are the real explanation behind the mythical genie (i.e. djinn), and they seem to be something that has always existed and not just created by humans. Esha is stubborn and independent minded enough to get herself married to one, but as a reader you can't really see why she would, and she obviously hasn't thought this through as it doesn't take long for her to realize that A.J is, for all his human trappings, alien in the extreme.

    Unlike many McDonald stories, this one has a linear, comprehensible plot with a beginning, middle and end, which should be a good thing, but I feel once again like it fails to live up to the backdrop that he has so meticulously assembled around it. By making the story easily related to and following a more conventional narrative, you can't help but focus your attention more towards plot and away from setting, but since the plot is kind of thin, I find the end result unsatisfying.

  • "The Highway Men" by Ken MacLeod (Sandstone Press)
  • "The House Beyond Your Sky" by Benjamin Rosenbaum (Strange Horizons Sep 2006)
    Rosenbaum's story takes place towards the latter end of the universe, where some sort of post-human priest named Matthias is tinkering with a number of individual worlds in various stages of creation. A pilgrim, representing the "old ones" who created him, comes to visit, having heard of his efforts to create a brand new universe, in which they are very interested as the current one is dying. Parallel to this are brief vignettes from six-year old Sophie, inhabitant of this new universe, who is caught in the middle of a violent argument between her parents. Matthias is able to fend off the pilgrim's attempts to take over by retreating into Sophie's teddy bear, at the same time providing the little girl with some extra resolve to try to make things right.

    There's a lot going on here in a very short amount of space, this story is really a prose poem in its use of language to describe setting and mood. Rosenbaum very deftly juxtaposes the medieval aspect of priest and pilgrim with their actual embodiment as essentially computer-based lifeforms. I won't pretend to understand what the author is trying to say here, I suspect given its poetic structure you could take this several ways, but he's mostly poking at the corners of metaphysics and the idea of how sentient existence can relate to a series of bubble universes. Certainly ambitious, nicely evocative, maybe a little pretentious, but in this short form you have the opportunity to read it a couple of times and at least get a sense of wonder out of the story and the author's unorthodox imagination.

  • "The Point of Roses" by Margo Lanagan (Black Juice, Gollancz - original to UK edition, 2006)
  • "Signal to Noise" by Alastair Reynolds (Zima Blue and Other Stories)
  • "Sounding" by Elizabeth Bear (Strange Horizons Sep 2006)

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