Friday, July 16, 2010

Red Planets

Red Planets: Marxism and Science Fiction,
Ed. by Mark Bould and China Mieville

Wesleyan University Press, 2009

In this book with the intriguing subtitle "Marxism and Science Fiction" equal proportions between the constituent parts of it still are not observed. And whether it is good - for the book and the reader - can not be answered unequivocally.
Eleven articles plus, the musical language speaking of, the intro and outro from the editors of the book explore the theme of relationship between Marx's theory and the actually science fiction with varying success. If Marx's works appeared in the middle of the XIX century, the critical thinking of science fiction through Marxism got its start a century later, in the 60's of last century. The founder of leftist approach became the most influential SF critic Darko Suvin, which, in general, is mentioned in every article of the book under review.

The theme "Marxism and science fiction" is treated by each of the authors in his own way, so one way or another both subthemes of the book varied. Thus, science fiction in the book is an example of not only the classics, but also more modern authors of SF, with examples from film and even painting. This, of course, is the step towards the reader: one who knows little of the cinema will grasp the meaning of articles which subject is literature, the one who knows little in the science fiction books, may be happy to read articles about the movies.

Another fact that causes a double sense is that critics, scholars, academics, presented in the book, for his articles selected examples known to everybody. If this is cinema, that is Lang, Kubrick, Wilder, Wenders. If this is literature, that is Disch, Stross, Le Guin, Stanley Robinson, Verne. On the one hand, it helps better understanding of articles: it is always easier to understand that once looked \ read himself, not relying only on the retelling of critic. On the other, it seems to say about the narrowness of the range considered works by critics, about their non-wide reading \ non-wide watching.

The article’s authors, despite the Marxist approach, seem to feel that reliance on only left-wing critics is not enough, so almost every article calls for help Zizek, Lyotard, Badiou, Adorno, Althusser, Lacan and others.

Among the number of articles of the book suddenly greatest interest is provoked by those that focus on the relation of Marxism and film, not literature. Thus, Carl Freedman in his article compares the film noir with the SF films from the viewpoint of Marxism, and names an exemplary film showing a perfect blend of noir and science fiction not Blade Runner nor Alphaville, but Dark City by Alex Proyas. A detailed analysis of criticism in the Weimar Republic is presented by Iris Luppa in «"Madonna in Moon Rocket with Breeches": Weimar SF Film Criticism during the Stabilisation Period». She discusses the attitude of German critics of the early films by Fritz Lang and shows that politicized film criticism of those period still did not know what to demand from cinema, looking to the future, hence not a warm reception of Lang`s films. John Rieder found the Marxist roots of Wim Wenders in his "Until the End of the World", noting pronounced themes of colonialism and technology in this film.

The book, of course, for its better understanding demands from the reader acquaintance with the works of many philosophers, not necessarily left-wing. Without that not a simple language of book’s articles can become an insurmountable obstacle to make the book read on. The book was published by university press, so this should be expected.

Once again returning to the cover of the book and its subtitle, it has to be admitted that Marxism in the book was still more than science fiction.

Canary Fever

John Clute
Canary Fever

Beccon Publications, 2009

No need to explain who John Clute is. He is known for his Encyclopedia (new edition of the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction which will be published online), critical works and reviews. Actually, reviews made this solid, more than 400-page volume. «Canary Fever» is the fourth book of this kind By Clute. In this edition, he collected his reviews as from 2003 to 2008, written primarily for online magazines, as well as older ones.

The book is divided into 5 parts: three of them were brought to the reviews of individual writers important for the author - Thomas Dish (who the book is dedicated to), John Crowley and Michael Moorcock, and one, only 8 reviews, is compiled from old reviews, which were not included in previous books; a main body comprised reviews of recent years.

In almost every review Clute invariably mentions two of those key words around which criticism of Clute is built. These are fantastika and Story. Once invented a term “fantastika”, he remains faithful to it, always picking works for review so that they could illustrate the viability of the term. Sometimes it seems that the author too flirts with fantastika, giving the term too much room in the review, as though he has nothing to say about the actual book.

Story is generally supporting structure of his reviews. Clute skillfully retells the stories; sometimes his scale in the description of the book is amazing. Retellings of some of the books look more solid and weighty than the books themselves. In his reviews he gives the comparison with films, classical literature and even opera. I can not say that he encourages them to help because he had nothing to say. He always has something to say about the Story, and he knows how to say that. Sometimes written by Clute requires has not yet written Clutish vocabulary to understand. His style is baroque, but behind it there could be always seen how story is unfolding- Story of review.

Moreover, the critic in his reviews had managed to create a tower of Babel of the dozens of languages. However, the tower is not falling apart, and serves entirely to Clute. The critic uses words from different languages not to display his encyclopedic knowledge, but in that case, when the English equivalent is not required. Encyclopedic knowledge helps him in catching errors in academic books, though.

The critic can be blamed for his passion for space opera and British authors. Both reproaches are not solid: space opera (those examples selected by the author of the book hardly anyone calls weak books) allows Clute display hi talent fully, stretching Story to cosmic proportions. But American authors in the book, perhaps, are not less than the British (and British reviewed books are of the highest grade).
«Canary Fever», perhaps, isn’t a guide to the reader for the stated period (there is also quite mainstream authors and small press, important figures in science fiction), but I doubt that the author set himself this as a goal.

This Clute’s book, despite the fact that this is not fiction, is a Story.

Sunday, July 4, 2010


Cathy Malkasian

(Fantagraphics, 2010)

In the first, the shortest, part of this long comic story a man with a very angry face chops down trees by huge ax. He is watched by the two girls, one small with bulbous nose, the second higher, reminding, have put her on the pages of a fantasy novel, a princess of distant kingdom. Little, whose name is Minerva, names a man Pa, the high one says that he is not their father. Soon, Pa beckons to Peggy, the high. Instead of talking on the souls Pa shows the power and, it seems, just about rapes his own daughter. But a traveler in a straw hat, appeared from somewhere, prevents it. The girl hides in the woods, and Pa and wanderer begin to beat each other. Pa however cuts down the defender and makes her daughter to cut off the traveler's leg with an ax. She refuses, and then Pa himself does it, leaving the girl with a young man lying in a pool of blood. All the rest of the book the two of them will play the loving couple: a young man loses memory.

Malkasian`s book contains all the variety of genres. This is quite a traditional fantasy (queen, clans, the expectation of war), and not quite a traditional fairy tale, and sometimes physiological sketch, and surreal painting, and even the kind of superhero comics (Pa here is just as the chief villain). Painted in two colors, the story of most of the book unfolds around the castle, where some people, whom Minerva, one of the daughters of Pa, leads by the nose for decades, live. She also hides from her husband Lester, an amnesiac, how he got into the castle. He does not remember anything and silly runs around the castle at night for the birds, considering them enemy spies.

In the final part of this graphic novel Malkasian seems, like Minerva, which had lost power over the husband and the city, lose the thread of the story. In the end without much logic, the author mixes Pa, Lester, who comeback part of his memories, missing Peggy, trees, birds, wooden doll, so you have to ask yourself: why then were two previous parts needed?

In the end Cathy Malkasian doesn't have enough madness to make the novel truly psychedelic, as well as lacked the ability to construct the plot. It would be a significant book about lies, self-destruction, pervasive evil, but it became just a fairy tale about how dangerous is sometimes to interfere in one's affairs.

Black Water Rising

Attica Locke
Black Water Rising

(Serpent`s Tail, 2010)

Black lawyer Jay Porter who has not enough the money arranges for his wife a short trip by boat across the bay near Houston. Jay himself doesn't really like this night aquatic journey, but it is the most affordable and cheapest option of a small gift for his pregnant wife. Three of them: Jay, his wife and the captain, they slowly wheel through the waves, while a serene rest is not interrupted by the sound of gunfire on the shore. Porter, who grew up in not very affluent neighborhood, knows that it is better not to get involved, especially with having a pregnant wife. He tells the captain to not pay attention, but his wife insists that Jay interjects: someone's life is in danger. Soon they hear the cries of woman and see how a white woman jumped into the water. Porter swims toward her and pulls out of the water. Woman is scared and says nothing. They float on, then moor at the town and decide to take a woman to the police station. Jay drops off the woman at the door of the site and leaves without knowing whether she had gone inside. He thinks he will never see her again.

It would probably be too easy, to stop by on only one of the storyline, but Locke gives a reader not just detective, she worries more of social problems. The father of his wife, the Rev. Boykins, asks him a favor: black workers from the oil companies want to strike until they get the same rights as employees with white skin, so Jay is required to put in a word to the mayor - a girl with whom he had once was close. Jay hesitates, but eventually agrees. However, troubles will be there as well.

Looking at a short retelling of the beginning of the book, you can immediately assume that such a novel would never have written by Russian writer, but also because a number of features there wouldn't be too close for Russian reader. First of all, the protagonist is a lawyer. Secondly, the main character is the Negro. (This combination has already seems impossible, not for nothing that one of the characters in the novel, finding out what Porter is engaged, looks at him and asks: Black lawyer? "- And puts his into the house as if it were a double proof of lawyer's honesty.) Thirdly, racial theme dominates the novel. However, the two layers - crime and race - do not overlap, do not pull the blanket, but supplement each other, making the intrigue multi-faceted and tenser. Chapters alternate: Jay unravels the case of the woman he saved, and helps father-in-law, parallel recalling his first trial: the one where he was nearly sent to prison and the one where he himself stands by counsel.

Despite the fact that the action takes place in 1981, this is also a very modern novel. One can not say, is it plus or minus for this book. Oil, confrontation single man and large corporations, the power of lie - all this makes the novel very urgent. But Locke is not quite able to catch the spirit of that time. If not the figure in the beginning and an example of a real strike, we would have nothing to point us that the novel is set not in 2010. There are no such clues to the level of language and psychology at the characters.

Attica Locke managed to write a very smooth novel: the style is closer to the end does not become crumple and clumsy, there is logic in the behavior of the characters. Though in the end the plot begins to limp, the level of "black water", according to the title, rolls over, but it does not spoil the general impression.

James Ellroy on the cover of the book says it is “the best bad town novel in some time”. It's not quite true: the city in the book plays not the last role, but the main is still people. This book is about how a good man in a bad town remains good.