My sf and fantasy review column is in Time Out this week.
One of the things that SF does is lock you in the room of some bright young geek's mind so that you can be shouted at, with no ear muffs available, about wonderful weird things that are just around the corner of our lives! Really!
Charles Stross is one of the best, and certainly the most hyperenthusiastic, of the younger crop of British SF writers - he won the Hugo at Edinburgh for best novella - and 'Accelerando' (Orbit 433 pp. £16.99) is the most original and typical, if not quite the best, of his books. Manfred is an ideas guru sometime in the next decade and this is the story of how he and various members of his extended family cope with change that includes artificial intelligences, downloaded minds, quasi-intelligent virtual lobsters, interstellar travel, multiple selves and cats. By the time the book is done, the reader has been spun around until quite dizzy and deafened - Stross is a noisy writer as well as one who will stretch the limits of narrative to make us see how wonderful ideas for their own sake can be.
An entirely quieter sort of British SF, one which engages in sly social commentary and a sense of the adventure involved in quite mundane proceedings, comes courtesy of James Lovegrove in 'Provender Gleed' (Gollancz 330 pp £14.99). Young Provender is the disenchanted heir of one of the Families, who run everything in a world that is not quite ours, and where Family worship largely takes the place of celebrity culture. He might rather the world was otherwise; taken hostage by an anti-Family revolutionary whom his own writings have inspired, he nonetheless wants both to survive and to abort the universal war his disappearance has triggered. This is a book about quiet competence - Provender and Isis, his kidnapper's accomplice, are one of the more charming couples in recent fiction because they are both too smart and able for simple romance.
China Mieville's accomplished short-story collection 'Looking for Jake' ( Macmillan 303 pp.£17.99) reveals clearly what was fairly obvious from his New Crobuzon novels, which is that like a number of other young writers - Steph Swainton for example - Mieville is fascinated by the influence of M. John Harrison. Accordingly, these are tales of urban entropy, in which interloping weirdness separates lovers and friends - the best of these is probably 'The Tain' which draws on that Borges' notion of distorted reflections rebelling at us out of mirrors. Occasionally, Mieville demonstrates that he can do other things too - 'Tis the Season' is a genuinely hilarious satire.
'9Tail Fox' by Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Gollancz 326 pp £12.99) teases us constantly about what genre it belongs to. Is maverick San Francisco cop Bobby Zha back from the dead in someone else's body because a fox-spirit has brought him for its own inscrutable purposes? Or is the explanation more mundane, though equally bizarre? A flashback to the siege of Stalingrad implies one thing; Bobby's visions another. Bobby is at once an avenging angel, a man with a chance to put right as many as possible of his mistakes and a huge McGuffin, whose mere existence brings bad guys out of the woodwork. Grimwood is always ingenious and here he moves into the entertainingly wilful.
Leigh Brackett was the screenwriter on 'The Big Sleep' and 'The Long Goodbye' - she also brought her noir sensibility to bear on planetary romance in stories like the ones gathered up in 'Sea Kings of Mars' (Millennium Fantasy Masterworks 653 pp £9.99). Her work is full of swordplay, sandstorms and phrases like 'the tiny bells the women wear, a sound as delicate as rain, distillate of all the sweet wickedness of the world'. She stands up to reissue, as does Tim Powers, whose 'The Anubis Gates' ( Fantasy Masterworks 464 pp £7.99) has Byron, Coleridge, tiny warriors adrift in eggshells, Egyptian magic, and a hero waking from marooned torpor by the sound of someone whistling 'Yesterday' in 1812 London.
There is a long tradition of the weird in Scots literature - 'Nova Scotia' (Crescent 289 pp. £9.99) is a collection of new work from writers as various as Charles Stross, Ken McLeod, the fairy story writer Jane Yolen and the poet Edwin Morgan. It is a spectacular and odd collection - Scotland as subject, and Scottishness as a feel, are the only things the stories have in common except quality.
I was distinctly freaked the other night by watching part of an episode of Brideshead Revisited, and was slightly surprised how much I wanted a bunch of child soldiers armed with anachronistic AK47s to burst in and blow Charles, Sebastian and the rest of them away. When did I replace my vague tenderness for that sort of Oxford homoerotic blathering with a deep angst and hatred? I really am not sure.
Certainly, when I went there in 68, I was only too aware of the extent to which the book had hideously deformed some of the people around me. There was a whole queer subculture of the posh and aspirant posh that sat around drinking and spending money they had not got and most of them were ravingly right-wing. As someone with a northern accent, no money, and a lot of sexual complexities to sort out - and I was already spending a lot of time in Manchester with the trans hustler crowd there - I really could not be doing with them, though oddly Duncan Fallowell, who was part of that whole thing, became a friend of sorts in later life.
It was that whole world in which Hitchens did some of his sexual slumming, which is part of the reason, the other being vicious homophobia, why sections of the Left were hostile to him.
And now he is number 5 Public Intellectual in the world, allegedly. I think they mean loud.