Heard on the Grapevine…

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Tony Thomas sends us his thoughts on some articles in recent issues of Wild Goose

Red Sparrow reviewed by Roman: I read the novel about the same time as you and had similar reactions.
Although considerably bloodier than novels by Stella Rimington (former head of MI5), you’ve got to believe the spycraft in both her books and Red Sparrow because they’re written by people who supposedly have lived these lives. But this doesn’t lead necessarily to involving, or even very believable stories.

Having read a few of her earlier novels, I read a recent Stella Rimington and won’t bother again. Likewise with any sequels to Red Sparrow.
I passed this on to my son as soon as finishing it – and am still waiting for his reaction! Haven’t seen the film, which as I remember had mediocre reviews.

Three Days, Two Communities by Leigh Edmonds
Good to hear from Leigh at such length. I’m sure it’s a fannish truism that many of us avid fiction readers in our youth have turned away from SF, indeed most fiction, and in our older-not-to-say-elderly years spend much more of our reading time on non-fiction. This is somewhat true of me as well, although having become a more active part again of the Nova Mob in the last decade (after many decades of inactivity) I can’t but help be aware of some of the younger members reading interests, and, spurred by Justin Ackroyd selling me things, even read some of these books. So I discovered one of my current favourites, Adam Roberts, who didn’t start publishing till the 21st century – and whom I heartily recommend to anybody interested in very good sf (though this is very much a minority view – apparently he can’t even get published in the US). Later this year I’ll be talking to the Nova Mob about the six(!) books Roberts published in 2018.

[Roman: maybe we can persuade you to write us an article for Wild Goose — I’m a fan of Roberts, too.]

I wish I had Leigh’s strong willed determination not to buy any more books, just because his house is already full. I too have a full house, but luckily this isn’t where I currently live with partner Jenny Bryce, so I’m busily trying to fill up her apartment as well.

Leigh spends much more time describing his model convention than the sf one. I can’t myself quite appreciate the love for those plastic creations – my brother used to make them when we were both kids, and one or two adventures with glue and balsa were enough for a lifetime for me. But I suppose my spouting Shakespeare to the air and 20 or 30 people every couple of months, or abstruse modern classical music to the airwaves every week, are equally hard for most to appreciate.

Dianne DeBellis’s review of Ian McGuire’s The North Water
I read McGuire’s novel when it was long listed for the Man Booker in 2016, and thought it was a very strong and bloody book, and should probably have made the short list. Then in 2017, I think, McGuire was a guest at Writers Week in the Adelaide Festival, and spoke well about his book.
McGuire remarked in an interview with the TLS that the hardest thing for a novel to be is both credible and surprising, and his, and the ones mentioned below, achieve this unexpected duality.

2017 was the same year that His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet had been on the Booker short list, another book of murderousness, with the author also at the same Writers Week. I thought this might have won too, as I said to the very mild-mannered author in the signing queue.

Last year, another murderous book made the short list, and I heard the author read from it and speak in London the day before the winner was announced. This was Elmet by the young Fiona Mozley, who wrote a good part of it on her phone while commuting by train daily to her bookshop job. She read well and spoke beautifully, much better than the somewhat insipid winner, George Saunders, who told the audience (to the surprise of the host) that in writing his Lincoln in the Bardo, he hadn’t been able to find enough satisfactory historical documents to fill out the pages of his rather brief novel, so he decided to just make them up.

This wasn’t a surprise to me because the voices all sounded much too similar and not much like the 19th century they were supposed to be writing in – and if you looked hard at the copyright page boilerplate in tiny print you could work this out for yourself. (I also haven’t heard anyone remark that the central idea of Saunders’ novel – ghosts who can’t escape the cemetery where they are living a Limbo/Bardo-like existence – was used by sf’s own Peter Beagle decades earlier in his first novel A Fine and Private Place.)
But back to bloody novels. Readers of crime novels also like bloodiness – and so do I – and I thought these three mentioned here were at least as good as the winners in their respective years.

Tony Thomas,
tonythomasactor@gmail.com

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