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Posted by Matt | November 29th, 2010

Darin Bradley, Noise. Spectra 2010 (US): trade paperback.

My review of Darin Bradley’s debut novel Noise has been published by Strange Horizons. When I came to write this review, I had the notion to mention a few other books I had reviewed recently that shared some similar qualities. That’s when I realized that these books all had the same publisher, and, checking further, the same editor. I wrote the following paragraph. But it ended up not fitting into the review I went on to write, so I present it here, as an outtake.

I wasn’t surprised to learn that Juliet Ulman had acquired Bradley’s book for Bantam Dell/Spectra, before her untimely downsizing. In several ways Noise is very characteristic of the late run of Ulman’s editorship that I’ve read–books like Catherynne Valente’s Palimpsest, and Christopher Barzak’s One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing. These works all feature excellent, refined prose; most include small but effective experiments with narrative structure; most can be read as speculative updatings of classic stories (Palimpsest of the Narnia-like portal fantasy, One for Sorrow as a speculative take on The Catcher in the Rye, elements of The Love We Share echo Sleeping Beauty, and Bradley’s Noise can read like an Americanized, post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies). And all these works chronicle the dissociation of America’s Generation Y, that generation’s–my generation’s–complex relationship to the classic narratives and myths embedded in our society at large and in the specific places we live, our fascination with secret knowledge, and our at-times scary susceptibility to more overt forms of story.

Selected past reviews at other venues:

Posted by Matt | July 19th, 2010

Chill cover image

Elizabeth Bear, Chill. Spectra, 2010 (US): mass market paperback.

My review of Elizabeth Bear’s Chill, the second volume of her Jacob’s Ladder trilogy, is now online at Strange Horizons. Reviewing the middle volume of a trilogy is an odd and discomfiting business. A review of a complete work allows for something approaching definitiveness–not in capturing an author’s intentions, but in giving one’s own reading of a text. When reviewing the second book of a trilogy, however, that reading becomes highly provisional. I wondered in this review, as an example, at two characters using the same metaphor for the same story element within a few pages of each other. Was this just a slip, a metaphor that had been in the author’s mind and so was used twice inadvertently? Or was it a way of signaling something within the story? I’ve seen similar repetitions used in science fiction to indicate that characters were clones of each other, to give one possibility–in this case, both characters are bonded to symbiont nanocomputers, and so it might also be a way of indicating the manner in which such symbionts shape and constrain thoughts; maybe the shared thoughts are a sign of decreasing bandwidth. Or more prosaically, maybe both characters simply heard another person use the metaphor and it stuck with both of them. There’s no way of knowing at this point. To call it out critically is thus to say, and to say only, that I can’t see a possibility latent in the text that makes the awkwardness of the repetition necessary.

But this assumes I haven’t missed a possibility. And that, of course, is a possibility.

Selected past reviews at other venues: