Monday, August 31, 2020

Book review: AIR by Geoff Ryman

AIR (2004) by Geoff Ryman

Life in a remote, tiny Central Asian village is transformed by a new kind of World Wide Web called "Air" (a breakthrough in "cloud computing"). The novel AIR focuses on the life of one single woman in this village where "everybody knows everybody," and how she uses Air to improve her situation.

Eventually, Air causes much more radical change, and there are some quite surprising twists. The village will never be the same again - it has been irrevocably connected to a larger world with immense, ambiguous possibilities.

This is a moving, likeable and optimistic story. You care for the characters, who lead small lives but are caught up in something much bigger than themselves.

Though AIR is science fiction, it also contains (in my opinion) an obvious element of magical realism. (No spoilers, but... get ready for a surprise. )

Recommended for readers of all genres.
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Friday, August 28, 2020

Book review: DUNE by Frank Herbert


DUNE (1965) by Frank Herbert

Finally, I've read this novel. I saw the 1984 movie first – a mistake, and I didn't like it.
The book, as the saying goes, was better.

DUNE may superficially seem to be an epic ”space opera” with the hero Paul Atreides fighting villains for the fate of the universe in an imaginative interplanetary setting... but it gets more interesting than that.

The author has created a unique world with its own societies, complex characters and a plot revolving around ecology, anthropology, politics, religion and mysticism.

Paul Atreides is not a typical space opera protagonist – he is more of a tragic figure driven by a fate he didn't choose and struggles to control. The novel is packed with foreshadowing, suggesting that Paul has to accept his destiny rather than master it. Also, the power he gains changes him (and not in a nice way).

Exotic drugs play a central role in the story (unsurprisingly, DUNE was a big hit in the 1960s) – and that's where it wanders off from SF into something more like Fantasy. There are several ”trippy” key scenes , where the characters literally get stoned outside of their minds.

Since this is space opera, it is constrained by the same genre limitations as STAR WARS. If DUNE takes place in a galactic empire, why does it seem so small? How can a few characters control the fate of an entire galaxy? How can they travel faster than light?

Why do they fight with medieval weapons in the far future? Why are the women not more liberated? How does an emperor ”rule” a galaxy anyway? Yet, the whole thing still works.

What I admire most about DUNE is the author's attention to characters, detail and style. Frank Herbert simply wrote better than most of his contemporary genre colleagues (and perhaps better than many known SF authors active today).

For example: When Paul Atreides kills a minor adversary, this death has consequences. The killed adversary is painstakingly buried and paid last respects, and the hero is forced to take care of his widow and her children. (How often do you see that in genre fiction?)

DUNE is required reading for any lover of great ”world building” in SF and Fantasy. It's a genuine classic that has inspired many other, lesser works. It can be a heavy read at the start, as the setting is so densely described and detailed... but it will draw you in.

Thoroughly recommended.

(NOTE: This novel has many sequels, in case you thought the first book ended too abruptly.)

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Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Norsk barnbok med svensk illustratör: "Krokodiller og aper kan ikke være venner" av Elin Anita Straumsnes & A.R.Yngve

Jag har nu bott i Norge i 25 år -- halva livet! -- så det är märkligt att efter all den tiden har jag inte fått någonting publicerat i Norge (bortsett från radioserien "Magiens Arv" som jag skrev manuset till)...

Men: i år har en norsk barnbok kommit ut, skriven av Elin Anita Straumsnes, som jag har illustrerat med många teckningar. (Varje sida innehåller minst en bild.)

I den här intervjun från Porsanger Bibliotek berättar Elin Anita Straumsnes om sin bok, och om hur mina illustrationer kom till:

"Digital bokprat med Elin Anita Straumsnes", Porsanger Bibliotek

Läs även denna recension av boken, i den norska bloggen "Boktimmy":

"Krokodillehumor og Apemorro med glimt i øyet, og med et hint av moral"

Boken finns att köpa HÄR (enbart i Norge, än så länge).

Monday, August 03, 2020


Sometimes fiction works like a Rorschach test - you look at the ink blot and what you "see" reveals what's on your mind. If GIDEON THE NINTH is my Rorschach test, it seems to reveal an intense dislike of teenagers...? (I kid, I kid...)

The two principal characters of the novel are teenage girls - one a fighter, the other a necromancer who bosses her around. They go to a space castle, people start dying and The Last Person You'd Ever Suspect is the killer.

Despite living in a "dark" fantasy setting that just screams "Goth", these two protagonists behave very much like real teens at their most annoying: callous, shallow, self-centered, emotionally immature, occasionally psychopathic, obsessed with superficial appearance and "attitude", snarky, sexually frustrated, shortsighted... and sometimes quite stupid.

This novel was on the reading list for the SF/Fantasy reading circle I'm in. Those in the reading circle who had enjoyed GIDEON THE NINTH explained to me what I didn't get: The protagonists were written that way on purpose.

I guess that's true and original and subtly clever, perhaps even a satire pointed at YA fantasy itself. But... those are still a pair of annoying, snarky teenagers! Truth is, I can't stand their company.

Then there's the other "big thing" the reading circle explained to me: The setting.

Basically, the novel can be read as modern Fantasy from the viewpoint of the "bad guys" - who deal with abuse, murder, black magic, plotting and mutual hatred as a matter of daily business. (The phrase "the banality of evil" springs to mind.)

If that is Life On the Dark Side, then its darkest secret is how drab and boring it really is. Maybe it's parody. I have NO idea.

GIDEON THE NINTH has been hyped up as "Lesbian necromancers in space." Should've been "Frustrated High School Mean Girls in Gothland." If you like that sort of thing, good for you. And I mean that from the very bottom of my heart.

FOOTNOTE: After this review was written (it originally appeared on my Instagram feed), GIDEON THE NINTH was nominated for a Hugo Award.
Oy vey...

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Saturday, August 01, 2020

"And the winner of the Grandstanding Award is..."

Introducing the GRANDSTANDING AWARD for "excellence in performative moral superiority."

The Rules:

1. First it is awarded to someone who has publicly denounced a writer as morally reprehensible, in the loudest, most uncompromising manner.
(Demanding that the works of the accused should be burned in public certainly qualifies. Calling the accused a "fascist" is taken as read, but you may have to try harder than that -- the competition can get fierce.)

2. Said winner is then denounced in turn, for some moral failing (small or large doesn't matter - you must have no sense of proportion)...

3. The award is then taken away and passed on to the most chest-thumpingly self-righteous denouncer of the previous winner...

4. ...and then that winner is "found out" and denounced (for something or other)... the award is passed on to the best of the latest denouncers... and so on.

In the end, everyone gets the award because nobody's pure enough to keep it.  (Hence the words "Certified Righteous (for now).")

(Even I might get the award eventually...)


Book review: THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (1959) by Shirley Jackson

I had heard many good things about this novel - Stephen King has praised it - and I had seen the movie adaptations before I finally read it. (Haven't seen the Netflix series, though.)

And I think it's a remarkable piece of fiction - a successful fusion of psychological horror and the "haunted house" story.

The novel centers around the character Eleanor, who starts out with a clear hint of mental problems... and grows increasingly unhinged as she stays in the haunted Hill House. Somehow Hill House comes to haunt Eleanor, until she loses her mind. How this happens is never really explained, but it works perfectly as an uncanny tale.

One detail struck me: Even for a novel written in the late 1950s, all the characters have way too good manners. No one swears, whatever happens - and they're Americans! (I've grown so used to Americans cursing all the "effing" time...)

A recurring theme in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is parental issues. Eleanor seems to have been psychologically damaged by having to take care of her sick mother. Hill House was designed by a terrifying, creepy father figure. One character laments that he "never had a mother." I leave it to you to figure out how the parental issues are woven into the haunted house itself...

Another striking subtext - not a value judgment, just an observation - is how "gay" the principal characters are. Not one of the male characters seem the least bit sexually interested in women, but the female ones flirt with each other repeatedly and become infatuated with each other.

(I'm not sure how important this subtext is to the story. In any case I assume it was too sensitive for 1950s audiences and had to be "masked" somewhat.)

As for the ghosts, the reader never gets to see them. Rather it is the house itself that is evil.

THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE is both a psychological thriller about a disturbed, lonely person and a weird, modern ghost story. It will make a lasting impression on you. Highly recommended.

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