Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Dream Master! Dream Faster!

Over the years, Roger Zelazny has been the most reviewed author on this blog (see previous thoughts on Amber, Lord Of Light and This Immortal), which is odd because while I like his work I don't necessarily love it.

I may find him easy to write about because many of his interests - pop psychology, mythology, religion - coincide with my own. I also like the way his allusiveness - rich descriptions and deep conversations spanning the pulp architecture of his plotting - resists easy explanation.

In a way Zelazny represented the accessible end of the 'New Wave' of fantasy and SF of the late 60's and early 70's. He displays influences beyond the genre and a degree of literary experimentation, but he is a much easier entry point than fellows such as Ballard, Disch or Delany.

That said, his second novel The Dream Master (1966) is more difficult to fathom than many of his works. It follows Charles Render, a psychologist trained in the construction of healing dreams for his clients using a technowomb. Ostensibly the perfect therapist, his hubris undoes him when he attempts to give a blind woman dreams of sight.

It's a confusing book - intentionally so. Fragments of other narratives are placed alongside the main plotline, often without context. So much is hinted at, often in crucial passages that attempt to follow the logic of dreams themselves, that the reader apprehends the book as if through a glass darkly.

This gives it undeniable atmosphere. But a rushed ending in particular ultimately denies The Dream Master its potency. Zelazny himself felt the short story on which it was based did a better job, but having not read that I can't comment. 

I will say that several of the supplementary narratives felt like padding (interesting, but nevertheless padding) and the one-dimensional nature of the women in the book much less easy to overlook than they might have been at the time.

Interesting enough that it begs a re-read, but flawed enough that it stands more as a statement of ambition than of craft.

Monday, April 9, 2018

2018 Hugo Awards shortlist - initial thoughts

The 2018 Hugo Awards for science-fiction and fantasy shortlist has recently been announced. I didn't contribute to the nomination process this time around (although I may register to vote) but here are my initial thoughts.

Best Novel 

I've read two of the six novels on the shortlist. Yoon Ha Lee's Raven Stratagem is a considerable improvement on last year's Ninefox Gambit, which I admired more than I liked. I'm starting to see him as a potential successor to Iain M Banks and his intricate far-future  epics. The novel is definitely a strong baseline for others on the shortlist to see if they can better, although it may suffer from being a sequel.

And with four other Best Novel award-winners on the shortlist (N K Jemisin, Ann Leckie, Kim Stanley Robinson and John Scalzi) to reckon with the competition could be steep. Scalzi's The Collapsing Empire, however, is merely default Scalzi: highly enjoyable space opera but no Redshirts, and not the remarkable work you'd expect to clinch the award. 

Short fiction

Much to my surprise, I've read seven of the short fiction entries already, which is highly unusual. I've not been absolutely floored by any of them yet but here is what is setting the pace:

Novella: Sarah Gailey, River Of Teeth
Novelette: Sarah Pinsker, Wind Will Rove
Short Story: Vina Jie-Min Prasad, Fandom For Robots

Best series

A new category as of last year. I'm particularly pleased to see Robert Jackson Bennett's Divine Cities trilogy up - it started well with City Of Stairs (my review here) and finished very strongly last year with City Of Miracles.

Best film (AKA Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form)

Probably the Hugo equivalent of the Group of Death, with Blade Runner 2049, Get Out, The Last Jedi, The Shape of Water, Thor: Ragnarok and the mighty Wonder Woman all battling it out.

Best Fan Writer

Nice to see a nod for Camestros Felapton, who I've nominated in previous years.

No block voting - hurray!

After last year's changes to the nomination process showed diminishing returns for block voting tactics it's a relief to see block voting entirely absent this year. Discussing the politics of this would take a whole other post, so I'll just say that it didn't noticeably improve the quality of the work on offer to the Hugo voter and in some cases actively prevented good work making it onto the shortlist.