Re: Fall to, dorks

1

Cloud Atlas, as recommended IN THESE VERY PAGES, or whatever.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:30 PM
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Ok, but like, exposit a little.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:31 PM
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Or you could tell me to RTFA, I guess.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:31 PM
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Never Let Me Go?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:32 PM
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Oryx and Crake?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:34 PM
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Oh hai I only read science fiction by people who don't write science fiction.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:34 PM
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You don't need to be so tentative, essear. There are no wrong answers here.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:34 PM
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6: by people in the second case who have a positive antipathy to the very term.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:35 PM
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Riddley Walker?


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:37 PM
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What does "contemporary" even mean, really.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:37 PM
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My students liked Kindred, but that's 1979, not very contemporary (being the year of my birth and I am getting old).


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:39 PM
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9: I suggested that myself already (as if I would let a chance to do so slip through my fingers!) though I suspect the appearance of difficulty the language presents might put students off (or is this simply the soft bigotry of low expectations? beats me! "College prep" in this context means "not AP English but rarther everyone else", which is probably coloring my reaction.)

And 10: in contradistinction to, say, Brave New World, which is pretty old.

Engine Summer? Is that even science fiction?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:40 PM
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They could read Neuromancer to learn how their parents talked.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:41 PM
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that's 1979, not very contemporary (being the year of my birth and I am getting old)

God help us.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:41 PM
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||
Facebook tells me that 4 of my friends like the New York Times. It amuses me that I knew, even before expanding the list, that no one here would be counted among them.
|>


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:42 PM
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They could read Neuromancer to learn how their parents talked.

Oh don't be ridiculous Sifu, Neuromancer came out in 1984, and if you were going to be 18 in the 2010–11 school year you'd have to have been born in … in …


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:44 PM
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They could read Neuromancer to learn how their parents talked.

I've been re-reading it lately, and while it's aged more gracefully in a lot of ways than I would have expected, the "3 megabytes of hot RAM" bit did make me laugh.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:44 PM
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17: technobabble aside, it's always been much, much better as a book about the 80s.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:45 PM
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Please no one say Mievielle. Although I suppose others of his books could be better than Perdido Street Station. It's hard to see how they couldn't.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:54 PM
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Henry Farrell at CT really likes China Mieville. City and City Is CM too much for highchoolers?

Usually when I encountered a request like that I understood the the teacher wasn't familar with SF to know how off-the-wall "literary" the stuff could get. I also am not sure what "contemporary means.

Connie Willis is still going strong and never writes a bad book. Domesday Book is very accessible but sad, Nothing but the Dog (?) is allusive and thematic and funny.

Give the little monsters the Cormac, except they'd cheat by eatching the movie.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:56 PM
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19 oops


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 9:56 PM
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19: I've been having that sentence running through my head, except instead of "Mieville" it's been "Stross", which isn't entirely fair, as I gave up on the one book of his I tried pretty quickly.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:01 PM
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Stross and Paul Parks are authors of whose works I've read not a sentence but have heard good things.

I guess Adam Robinson is in that class as well.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:03 PM
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Adam Roberts, rather.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:03 PM
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Didn't Newt Gingrich write something science fictiony?


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:06 PM
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Henry at CT is the main reason I've read Perdido Street Station. I don't read his fiction recommendations anymore. (I might read the fiction itself, if there's some other reason to.)


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:08 PM
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25: Sadly, Neil Abercrombie's novel does not appear to be science fiction.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:11 PM
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I've mentioned this before, but Cynthia Kadohata's In the Heart of the Valley of Love remains one my most beloved science fiction novels. Also it's not extremely contemporary, although it feels contemporary still, and is more so than say Neuromancer (and is much less irritating to boot).

I liked both 4 and 5. I liked Kindred too, except it's not exactly science fictiony. I completely agree with 19.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:12 PM
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I think Margaret Atwood is at about the right level for a high school senior; we read The Handmaid's Tale then, which of course I loved. I suspect he's looking for something a little less ordinary than that, though.

Also, on account of all the talk here about how great Cloud Atlas is (and because I really liked the sound of his new book but didn't want to shell out for a hardback), I bought it recently. Maybe I'll even manage to read it soon.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:12 PM
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Paul Parks, apparently. Clute?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:14 PM
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22: Which book? A lot of Stross's stuff leaves me cold, but the Laundry books (The Atrocity Archives and The Jennifer Morgue) and associated short stories are amusing.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:16 PM
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Hell, just tell her to go thru the Nebulas until she finds something she finds something
Interesting, short, suitable

But SF can get pretty damn "literary" I guess the above has a complex PoV strategy.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:18 PM
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Never Let Me Go?

I read this with sophmores at Heebie U and it went over pretty well. Lots of good dystopic things to discuss, and I kind of loved the book myself. So I second it.


Posted by: heebie-geebie | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:19 PM
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31: Halting State. Maybe I'll take another crack at it at some point.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:19 PM
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34 makes me feel better; I gave up on that one too (even while managing to finish some really horrible books on that same trip).

||

To cap what has been a fairly crappy day, I just broke my lovely ceramic butter dish. Argh.

|>


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:25 PM
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As to the OP: Iain M. Banks' Use Of Weapons. (Most of Banks' SF would work, but smart high schoolers in particular will appreciate UoW.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:26 PM
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Something about it just nigh-instantly annoyed the crap out of me. That's never a good sign.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:26 PM
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1. IME, when library patrons say "contemporary" science fiction they mean "Not 1950s/'60s."

2. Although I have never read Octavia Butler, I am biased towards recommending her work because it's likely to be the only time these "college prep hs seniors" read any sci fi by a black woman.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:43 PM
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I'll pass that along, Witt.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:46 PM
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38: Dawn is interesting conceptually and probably worth reading.

Now that I think of it, I was in a first year English course in college whose reading list mostly fit this category. The way the scheduling worked is that you signed up for a section long before the instructors were assigned (because enrollment was so high, but variable, that they didn't know what they would be facing, I guess). When I saw that I'd ended up in a course that was entirely science fiction, I attended for a week, then dropped it. I kept the books.

I read Frankenstein (obviously way outside the criteria), Dawn, and The Forever War. I can't remember if I got to any others. The Left Hand of Darkness was on the list, but that's all I remember of the others.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:53 PM
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Someone is bound to show up and point out Butler has written more contemporary things than Dawn. I'm even older than AWB.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 10:54 PM
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Quick, someone point me to that one Orson Scott Card takedown.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:00 PM
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I'm definitely not anyone's science fiction go-to guy, but I remember enjoying Jonathan Lethem's As She Climbed Across The Table. I'm reasonably sure it contains "some thematic and stylistic features worth analyzing", and it's not a tough read.

Cloud Atlas is probably not the book for these students, but it is once again recommended to this crew, as are the rest of his books. I guess I should except The Thousand Autumns, which I currently hold in my hands, but only because I have read just 25% of it. It is, thus far, excellent.


Posted by: Mr. Blandings | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:01 PM
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Oh also maybe The Intuitionist, which is contemporary and very good, although it is not straightforwardly science fiction, and perhaps difficult for high school students (do you hyphenate "high school", Ben?), although I am ready to believe that many college prep high school students are more sophisticated than I was at that stage.


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:05 PM
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I second Lethem's and Whitehead's sci-fi novels, none of which I'd guess are too hard for a high school student.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:08 PM
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The Colson Whitehead novel about elevator inspection?


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:08 PM
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I remember not getting what was going on in The Intuitionist at all.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:09 PM
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46. Yes


Posted by: jms | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:09 PM
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43.2: Jealous.

William Gibson also seems like an obvious choice - Pattern Recognition, maybe?

Also, and as a more general recommendation, I'm completely enamored with Richard Flanagan. Not sure why I bring it up here, but perhaps it's because Tasmania seems like it might be on another planet.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:09 PM
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Yes, the one about elevator inspection.

For Lethem, I'd recommend Girl in Landscape and Gun, with Occasional Music. As She Climbed Across the Table is nice, but there's probably less analytical work to do with it.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:10 PM
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I have apparently lent out those two Lethems as well as Amnesia Moon.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:12 PM
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A friend has recently been raving about Girl in Landscape. I might have to read that, too. In all of my spare time.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:12 PM
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Despite having been written by a white dude, I found GiL to be pretty eye-opening when I read it at 15, in that it was a real sci-fi story, but from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl somewhat like the one I had been. Also, the names the Archbuilders take in it are so awesome. And John Wayne is in it, under a different name, as a creepy colonialist psychopath.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:18 PM
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Wow, that seems impossible. GiL wasn't published until I was 19. I kept thinking I read it in high school, but I guess I was still into Vonnegut then.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:19 PM
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34, sifu: Halting State. Maybe I'll take another crack at it at some point.

A good book but if I had to guess any book of Stross that would annoy you this would be it, breathless geek vision of the future and all.

Anyway, looking "contemporary literary science fiction that h.s. college-prep seniors would appreciate" amongst what I've read the past few years:

Steven Hall -- The Raw Shark Texts: literary games without the tedium and a cracking good read
Stephen Baxter - H-Bomb Girl - Rock 'N Roll vs Nuclear Armageddon
Hall Duncan - Vellum and Ink, Nick Harkaway - The Gone-Away World - reality isn't what it's cracked up to be.
Nicola Griffith - Ammonite - not so recent feminist sf


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:50 PM
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The Raw Shark Texts is shit, through and through.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:54 PM
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Mieville.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:54 PM
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Rot in hell for all eternity, fake accent.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-12-10 11:55 PM
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I think Mieville is kinda overrated, but I find it interesting how many people were completely revolted by Perdido Street Station.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:00 AM
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For Lethem, I'd recommend Girl in Landscape and Gun, with Occasional Music.

GwOM left me completely cold when I read it. I should go back and try it again, to see if it was me, or the book.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:07 AM
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60: It is his coldest, but it's noir. I loved the gradual disappearance of question-asking and the replacement of memory with devices; I remember being quite taken with how subtly and thoroughly technology changes the culture across the periods covered by the novel.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:12 AM
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I read Kim Stanley Robinson's The Lucky Strike not long ago, and liked it. Found it in an SF anthology, but I don't know if it counts: it's an alternate history where Hiroshima and Nagasaki aren't bombed.


Posted by: Awl | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:23 AM
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Sadly, Neil Abercrombie's novel does not appear to be science fiction.

Our gubernatorial race, let me tell you how depressing it is.


Posted by: Not Prince Hamlet | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:28 AM
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re: 18

Gibson himself recently said much the same.

http://blog.williamgibsonbooks.com/2010/05/

It's a fairly commonplace theme, but it's true that the only books that really seem to be engaging with now -- and not just in the 'reflecting the time they were written' sense -- often seem to be sci-fi, e.g. Ken Macleod's Execution Channel.

A lot of mainstream fiction has barely [if at all] cottoned on to the existence of the cell-phone, ffs.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:38 AM
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FWIW, I've enjoyed Mieville, but he is overly garlanded with praise for someone who is, I think, just a decent fantasy writer who happens not to be completely uninterested in politics and/or sociology.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:40 AM
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My cool aunt sent me Lethem's the wall of the sky, the wall of the eye. Has anyone read it besides my cool aunt? Is it good?


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:40 AM
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64 is a very interesting idea. I've heard the idea that science fiction is always really about the era its written in many times before, but the idea that it reflects its era better than contemporary non-science fiction is very striking.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:42 AM
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59: I wasn't revolted. I was shocked by the shitty writing, the blinkered imagination, and the poor plotting. Also, if you're going to created a monster so hard to kill that some nearly incomprehensible being able to apply forces from beyond the normal dimensions gives up on it, it's probably best not to then have that monster get killed by what's essentially a giant flyswatter, followed by convention weapons. When it had nothing else going for it but action, even the action failed.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:45 AM
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re: 67

I've said it here a couple of times, particularly when discussing Macleod, and I'm sure I picked it up from somewhere else first, but yeah, I increasingly think it's true. I think Gibson has explicitly been trying to do this with everything he's written from the mid-to-late 90s onwards, although I'm not sure if he's been 100% successful.

It's striking how little literary fiction seems to really 'get' the present day, but then again, maybe that's always been partly the case and not why one reads literary fiction anyway. Perhaps genre fiction -- thrillers, detective fiction, sci-fi, the spy novel -- because of the closer attention to plot-mechanics, politics, technology, the built environment, and presence of a certain neophilia is always more reflective of the time in which it's written.

You could probably make a similar case for the fiction of recent Le Carre, too, for that matter.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:51 AM
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And, re: 69.1

I think Neal Stephenson -- traditional deprecated in these parts though he may be -- in some of his pre-over-researched-gigantic-boring-doorstopper phase played with some ideas that I found quite interesting as a way to think about the present day in a way which I think is fairly specific to better sci-fi/genre-fiction.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:54 AM
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Peter Watts Blindsight is quite good contemporary hard SF, M John Harrison's Light is also worth reading. The only Mieville that is arguably SF is City and the City and I really liked it, though some didn't. They might also want to look into Brian Francis Slattery's Spaceman Blues. No fantasy, even of the slipstream variety a la Kelly Link or Jeffrey Ford, right?


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:54 AM
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Interesting. Most people I know who hated it hated it because of the sex scenes with the woman with the insect head.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:57 AM
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64, 67, 69: I think this shows up in movies too, although not necessarily in the same genres. Of the old (pre-1950s) movies I've watched, the crime films and what I guess would call the location dramas - movies with fairly conventional stories but set in unusual locations/settings - seem to give more of a sense of "how things worked" than whatever would be considered mainstream movies. This is not a claim that they're better movies (or worse movies).


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:59 AM
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Oh, Snow Crash was on my course reading list too. It was sprawling, but interesting. (I'm just going to keep using "interesting" non-comittally.) And still sounds more interesting to me than Stephenson's later works.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:02 AM
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re: 74

[Don't really want to invoke Stephenson threads past, but ...]

I enjoyed the Diamond Age in that respect too. Deeply flawed in all kinds of ways, of course, but I still came away from it having at least had a few interesting ideas in the process. Unlike a lot of people here I did still quite enjoy Cryptonomicon [which I think gets unfairly hated on], but, like (I think) most people here, I really didn't like (understatement) the Baroque nonsense.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:05 AM
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59 blinkered imagination? I thought the worldbuilding was great. The plot was a mess, and the rest was just ok, but the city was a wonderful extravaganza.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:14 AM
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The city was a few synonyms for ooze and decay and the like. The Dickensian aspect. I will admit there were the makings of a good set up in the first [some portion of pages]; I was left wondering what a good writer would have made of it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:25 AM
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I still feel like I should read The Scar. I saw it in the library a few weeks ago, reached for it, took it off the shelf, cringed, put it back and walked away. Someday.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:28 AM
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Ken MacLeod. And of course Sifu is right that anybody who hasn't read Riddley Walker should be introduced to it on any pretext whatever.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 2:55 AM
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You can get the general effect of reading Mieville by imagining playing a thirty-six hour marathon Dungeons & Dragons game in which the Dungeon Master is Dave Spart.

As for recommendations: "Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell", though it's not really SF; early Banks, late MacLeod. Recent Gibson is good (Pattern Recognition) but is it really SF? Alistair Reynolds! Peter Watts (Blindsight definitely, and the Rifters books as well). "The Difference Engine", and "The Diamond Age". Paul McAuley, "Pasquale's Angel" and "Cowboy Angels".


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 4:19 AM
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It's striking how little literary fiction seems to really 'get' the present day, but then again, maybe that's always been partly the case and not why one reads literary fiction anyway. Perhaps genre fiction -- thrillers, detective fiction, sci-fi, the spy novel -- because of the closer attention to plot-mechanics, politics, technology, the built environment, and presence of a certain neophilia is always more reflective of the time in which it's written.

I really don't think this is true. I find that a lot of sf these days is basically caught in the late 80's. (& compare say, any sf writer to Salman Rushdie or James Kelman; those two get the present day in a way that a lot of sf writers just don't.

(I'm also sick to death of the insularity of sf: Stross has clearly never read muc`h that isn't genre, and it -shows- in the writing, and it's embarrassing.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:18 AM
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I read Dawn at that age and loved it. Plus it's the perfect first contact story. If you only read one sci fi book in your life it should be a first contact. Because what could be more sci fi y?


Posted by: Shadrack | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:23 AM
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diamond age is a million times better than snow crash, which is lame and boring. paul park is amazing and the princess of roumania stuff is quite recent, though I think the starbridge chronicles are creepier. michael swanwick is the shit. so very spooky. I love the iron dragon's daughter.


Posted by: alameida | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:23 AM
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My favorite Stross is Accelerando, a stitch up of a number of stories published at the beginning of the decade. Derivatives trading programs take over the world! Lobsters in space! The masochistic anarchist computer genius and the sadistic fascist IRS super-agent who loves him!

81.2 THe more literary minded genre authors are currently more focused on fantasy than SF. It comes and goes, in the seventies and eighties it was the other way around.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:30 AM
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Thomas Disch, Camp Concentration?


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:30 AM
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Oh, contemporary.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:31 AM
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Stross has clearly never read muc`h that isn't genre, and it -shows- in the writing, and it's embarrassing.)

Not defending Stross's writing, other than that I like it a great deal, but you really can't say that sort of thing about a writer personally by reading his stuff. The father of a high-school friend of mine was a fantasy/sf writer, and wrote cliched genre tripe (I liked it, and had actually read his stuff before I met her, but even at fourteen it was dumb-stuff-I-like, not stuff I thought well of). And the guy was remarkably erudite and well-read -- apartment lined with books: literary fiction, minor Restoration playwrights, and so on in all sorts of odd categories.

Writing publishable fiction is hard, and the people who do it tend (I believe) to be pretty broadly literate, even if their results aren't the sort of thing that impresses you.

On the OP -- some Nalo Hopkinson? People were recommending her to me for years, and I only got around to buying some of her books a few years ago. Brown Girl In The Ring seems like just the sort of thing wanted.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:31 AM
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78: If you liked PSS at all, The Scar is both more entertaining and, I think, a better book. So worth a shot. Iron Council didn't appeal at all, and I haven't read his latest two.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:39 AM
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re: 81

I'd rather stick pins under my nails that read Rushdie - I've tried a couple and given up on each. I'm afraid my Kelman reading runs out somewhere circa A Disaffection, which is, admittedly, brilliant, but just about the most soul-crushingly depressing thing I've ever read. I should read some of his later stuff.

We studied Kelman at Uni, but that's probably not a surprise as it was Glasgow Uni, and my English lit tutor was a friend of Kelman's, iirc.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 5:42 AM
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Lately I hate it when discussions go meta, but I've never been afraid of hypocrisy: I am inclined to think that HS students are the last readers who ought to be exposed to SF, contemporary especially. High school students are already full of self-pity and resentment; there's no need to top up their reserves with the arrested petulance of the world's beaten-down genre enthusiasts.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 6:09 AM
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I don't even begin to understand that. High school students shouldn't be assigned a particular type of literature because others who read that type of literature are petulant?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 6:34 AM
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High school students are already full of self-pity and resentment

Pause while everyone else reminds themselves how grim US high schools are.

I find that a lot of sf these days is basically caught in the late 80's.

Keir, I'd be interested to hear more about this. (Stylistically? Morally? Their view of society?)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 6:40 AM
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Coal to Newcastle.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 6:42 AM
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I think the point is that it would be really great if this thread degenerated into a sterile "SF GREAT/SF SUCKS" argument, and Flip is selflessly trying her best to nudge that process along.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 6:57 AM
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I think you've got Flip's gender wrong, but other than that, sounds about right.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 7:00 AM
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"His," but I like SF as much as the next man who doesn't watch Doctor Who; I just think the bulk of the contemporary stuff is a little too adolescent to be much good for adolescents. I like William Gibson, though.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 7:02 AM
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I don't even see gender.

I just think the bulk of the contemporary stuff is a little too adolescent

No further questions, m'lud.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 7:03 AM
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58 gets it exactly right.

I would recommend "Excession" for this purpose if the class is entirely science geeks.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 7:09 AM
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The Sparrow

I also enjoyed the Oryx and the Crake


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:07 AM
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Recent-ish writers: Ian McDonald, M. John Harrison. I haven't read Kelly Link but she seems to be well thought of and to appeal to literary fiction readers. Your interlocuter may not think of as science fiction but Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union is alt-hist and won a Hugo. Don't know if Connie Willis is the sort of thing wanted but I will recommend To Say Nothing of the Dog to Unfogged anyway.

Older, but still reasonably modern classics
Replay, Ken Grimwood
Little, Big, John Crowley



Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:14 AM
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"Contemporary" in the sense that I was reading them during HS: lots of Vonnegut (I see that AWB mentioned him); H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, with bonus points: you can do Republicans are Morlocks, Democrats are Eloi; or vice versa!


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:14 AM
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Engine Summer by John Crowley would work well.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:16 AM
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I found Uhura's Song reasonably diverting when I was 14 and liked kittehs.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:23 AM
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Oh or:

http://community.livejournal.com/trekslash

Contemporary enough for ya?!

I'm sorry. I have no serious suggestions. Once upon a time I thought "I should read some sci fi or fantasy since lots of people love it." And then I read maybe 120 pages of Neil Gaiman's American Gods and was punished for my curiosity.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:30 AM
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Ooh, here's an idea: just click play on Season One of Lost. Whichever kid first pipes up, "Wait a sec, this is fucking dumb" gets an A+.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:30 AM
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Contemporary, literary, high-school-senior-appropriate science fiction? Tad Williams' Otherland.

I hesitate a bit to recommend it because I read it so recently and I haven't even read the other two books in the trilogy yet, but it fits the description. Door-stopper novel, FWIW.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:40 AM
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The Dispossessed. Ancient (1974) but decent on coming-of-age, gender issues, academic politics, Utopianism. Interesting structure. And the hero is a working physicist with a social conscience. Downsides: lack of humor; pretty long. Probably most suitable for rising juniors-seniors.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:45 AM
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H. G. Wells' The Time Machine, with bonus points: you can do Republicans are Morlocks, Democrats are Eloi; or vice versa!

IIRC the Morlocks are the cannibalistic, troglodyte descendants of the working classes. Blue collar types.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:52 AM
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Blue collar types definitively doesn't automatically mean Democrat anymore in this country.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:55 AM
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Do you people realize that if I'm going to pass any of these recommendations along I would like to be able to say something about why they are being recommended? I am not going hand over a reading list fifteen novels deep.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:56 AM
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Little, Big not sci-fi by any stretch of the imagination, and also (you may recall) way long.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 8:57 AM
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"Contemporary" just means post-1980s and post-cyberpunk, or at least informed by cyberpunk as an existing genre with existing conventions rather than something in need of invention, right? And "science fiction" excludes fantasy and (all but maybe the hardest) alternate history and all that, right? I have a hard time thinking of anything like that. Plenty of fantasy and modern fantasy and alternate history, but I can think of very little science fiction from the last 10 years. It's like people have just got tired of getting predictions wrong. Of course, that might just say more about my own taste and stuff than about the world, but still.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:00 AM
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"Contemporary" just means post-1980s and post-cyberpunk, or at least informed by cyberpunk as an existing genre with existing conventions rather than something in need of invention, right?

You may be reading too much into "contemporary", but, I admit, I don't really know.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:13 AM
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110: Okay, for the Nalo Hopkinson it's interesting on a cultural studies level as a nearish-future urban-North-America Caribbean community, touching on gender politics and some bioethics issues. It's also, come to think of it, both SF and fantasy (future setting, but one in which voudou (I think? I may have the term wrong) is real. I usually assume that someone who wants to teach SF in a general lit class means fantasy too -- while the genres are distinct, there's a whole lot of overlap in who writes them and the sort of things they do.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:20 AM
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technobabble aside, [Neuromancer has] always been much, much better as a book about the 80s

But the 80s weren't at all like that. They were even lamer.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:28 AM
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IME, when library patrons say "contemporary" science fiction they mean "Not 1950s/'60s."

Never has a genre's golden age sucked harder.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:30 AM
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116: Take it back, apostate, that's Dick's career you're talking about, and the only Delany worth a damn.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:35 AM
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117: oh yeah, I wasn't thinking of them as part of the "golden age" even though they are contemporaneous. I was thinking of the Heinlein/Clark/Asimov axis. Come to think of it, I may have my timeline all wrong.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:36 AM
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Despite the only marginally non-antagonistic tone of 110, I will rephrase 107 for the sake of teh children:

I recommend The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. Le Guin. Set in the distant future on two planets near the star Tau Ceta, this is the story of Shevek, a physicist on the communal, "utopian" planet Anarres, and his attempts to foster understanding with the adjacent planet Urras, which has a nationalistic, materialistic culture. The novel is strong on coming-of-age and gender issues, Utopianism, and institutional politics. It paints an unusual picture of the hero as a working academic scientist with a social conscience. The novel has an unconventional structure: its chapters alternate between Shevek's early years on Anarres and his mission to Urras as an adult. Its downsides are "seriousness" (little use of humor or irony) and its length. Probably most suitable for rising juniors orseniors.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:55 AM
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66: Some of it is unbearably shitty, but there are a few truly amazing stories in it. "The Happy Man" is chilling.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:03 AM
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Stephen Baxter - H-Bomb Girl - Rock 'N Roll vs Nuclear Armageddon

Has anybody else here read The Armageddon Blues? Not a great novel, but one that made me smile, and relatively unknown.

For Octavia Butler, I keep having Fledgling recommended to me, but I haven't read it yet.

I feel like I read something semi-recently that would be appropriate, but it's slipping my mind at the moment.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:06 AM
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Maria Doria Russell, The Sparrow
Octavia Butler, Dawn
If by contemporary you mean cyberpunk, etc., then these don't qualify, but they're both interesting variants on first contact stories set in reasonably 'plausible' near-term futures. Dawn is a serious flipping of usual SF tropes regarding colonialism, etc., first in a trilogy though. LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness is another good one.

Richard Morgan, Altered Carbon
SF Noir, though not contemporary cyberpunk setting of the Gibson/Stephenson type. Multiple bodies, etc.

Vernor Vinge, Rainbow's End.
Near-future SF, less breathless and more character-driven than Stross, not particularly exotic in its literary style.

Paul Park, Soldiers of Paradise
Paul Park, Celestis
Park is a good one to read for literary style. Soldiers of Paradise is a really trippy retelling of the French Revolution on an alien planet. Celestis is also a really serious attempt to think about whether it's possible to represent an alien mode of consciousness.

Greg Egan, Permutation City.
Very technical "hard SF", sort in a setting like Tron, might be hard for some to read.

Peter Watts, Blindsight
Lots of original riffs on the first contact idea here, very intensely driven by the author's scientific interests, probably hard for high schoolers.

Nancy Farmer, House of the Scorpion
Technically YA fiction, but some pretty sophisticated shit going on here--told from the perspective of a clone growing up in a near-future druglord's territory between the US and what was southern Mexico. Some interesting literary issues to talk about--use of first-person perspective, unreliable (or limited-perspective) narration, etc.


Snow Crash would certainly be interesting in terms of talking about literary style, though it meanders pretty seriously in the second half.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:23 AM
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Oh, and MacLeod? The ideological Mary Sue-ing gets a bit much sometimes, but he has his moments.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:27 AM
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My Otherland recommendation in light of 110: lots of stuff about isolated/tribal/third-world cultures and their problems with getting crowded out or left behind by globalization and technology. Unexpected development of characters who easily could have been two-dimensional. Lots of allusions to various cultures' mythologies and a few classics of science fiction and fantasy. I'm too lazy to do an actual storyline summary like 119, but if decent character development, namedropping important stuff and culture/technology clashes are what your teacher friend is looking for, look this up on Wikipedia.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:27 AM
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Otherland has the problem that Williams and some other SF/fantasy authors have when they're writing trilogies/series, and that's unbelievable bloat on the characterization side plus plotting that takes four thousand pages to get the protagonists all together.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:31 AM
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Crush the kids under the weight of Anathem. See how they like them apples.


Posted by: NCProsecutor | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:33 AM
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110: Do you people realize that if I'm going to pass any of these recommendations along I would like to be able to say something about why they are being recommended?

Crowdsourcing with attitude. I like that in a man.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:35 AM
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I think high-schoolers might lack the background knowledge necessary for early MacLeod (Fall Revolution) and for Watts, come to that.

Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles" was on the syllabus at my school - it's conveniently divided into short stories, and probably has lots of resonance with the story of the settlement of America that we Brits completely missed.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:37 AM
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The LeGuin one I would recommend is The Telling, where a South Asian-Canadian anthropologist who lived through Earth wars over religion is sent as an observer to a corporatist planet where she goes out into the countryside and wants to find out how people connect to their traditional beliefs and whether she is as skeptical of them as she is of the stuff that hurt her back on earth. It's shortish but leaves a lot of room for discussion about race/gender/sexuality/religion/free will/governments/consumerism and probably more. The main character is a lesbian, but there's no explicit sex (though characters do share tents and even sleeping bags, there aren't detailed body parts) since that's something that wouldn't go over well in a lot of high schools.

If it's a sort of advanced class Mieville's The City & The City could be fun. It's hard to describe fairly, but it's a police procedural about a cop in a city (on an earth that's otherwise ours) that shares physical space with another city, but citizens of each city have to unsee and not interact with anything on the other side. Eventually the policeman has to cross over into the other city to solve the murder and figure out something about what the "magic" that keeps the cities separate might be. It's not terribly long but it's complex in terms of language and concept. I'd expect great discussions to come from it. Again, adults have sexual partners but there's nothing explicit.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:37 AM
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Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:40 AM
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Multiple bodies, etc.

Thank you, this jogged my memory. I really liked Vast by Linda Nagata.

Also, though it's older, I highly recommend Synners by Pat Cadigan to everybody.

Taking them in order.

If, it has been said, that one of the challenges of science fiction is depicting a truly alien alien, Vast does a good job of presenting futuretech that is very different than the contemporary world. It uses the familiar SF trope of a ragtag group in a spaceship fleeing a interstellar war, but it does much more with with that than any similar book that I've read. It both succeeds in presenting the scope of interstellar space, hence the title, and the very different perspectives of the crew.

Synners is, possibly my favorite cyberpunk book, period. It's smart, sarcastic, feels rooted in real life, rather than cyberpunk cliches, and is wildly ambitious in the various themes that it takes on. It isn't completely successful, the ending struggles a bit, but it still uses the cyberpunk genre to say more smart things about contemporary life than most books. Pat Cadigan has been called the "queen of the cyberpunks" and this book, written in 2001, feels like both a tribute to and a fresh re-visting of a genre that was becoming tired at that point.

Here first book, Mindplayers (1988) is also quite good, and less ambitious but more narrowly focused and with the energy of a good first novel.

I should note, however, that both books can be a little bit tough going for the first 40 page or so, because both dump you, in medias res in a very strange world and it takes a bit to get one's baring (Vast is actually a sequel to a previous book that I feel now need to read). But once you get through that they get easier.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:44 AM
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The Sparrow is a good choice but might be controversial to parents, as would most books with Catholic priests getting turned into sex slaves by carnivorous interstellar kangaroos.

Adam Roberts is crap.


Posted by: Amber | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:50 AM
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I would have liked N. Stephenson's "Quicksilver" except for the character who was both the world's smartest woman, the world's bravest woman and the world's most sexually enlightened woman. Am currently on page 32 of "An Instance of the Fingerpost" and hoping desperately that it doesn't contain a similar character, because there are indications that it might.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:55 AM
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re: 128

Yeah, there are lots of British and lefty politics references both made explicitly and in terms of the various inside jokes.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:59 AM
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125
unbelievable bloat on the characterization side plus plotting that takes four thousand pages to get the protagonists all together.

True. Makes me hope there's some academic analysis out there on the differences between stand-alone stories, series that don't continue plotlines across books starring the same characters in the same settings, and series that are just one long continuous story that happened to be published as separate books. "Multivolume epic" is basically a genre of its own. How much editing for length can you do before you're telling a different story? If the Lord of the Rings trilogy was published today, it would be five books long and it would still be the picture of parsimony.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:02 AM
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Deprecating 110, I recently reread Heinlein's Starship Troopers and thought that its celebration of rugged military training, national service, corporal punishment, and its depiction of war (Earthlings are fighting "Bugs") would be worthy of a HS English class discussion. And it's pretty sexist to boot! Pairing it with The Telling might be interesting.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:04 AM
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Second the recommendations for Le Guin and Crowley. Little, Big is indeed long and not really science-fictional, but Great Work of Time is novella-length, definitely science fiction (of the time travel variety), and fantastically well written.


Posted by: y | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:06 AM
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Huh. I would really want to know a lot more about what this class is reading besides science fiction--are they more on the Return of the Native end of the spectrum or more on the ghastly "relevant" bestseller (in my HS class it was The Prince of Tides) end?

Even though I didn't like it very much, I think The City & The City would be a great choice--it's accessibly written but not childish; students will probably find the "unseeing" interesting and meaningful; there's a lot to debate in a HS-ish way (Mieville says that the vaguely middle eastern name of one of the cities means nothing and the book is not about that; what do you think? Does it matter?) and there's an adequate although flatfooted readers' guide in the new paperback edition. Also, it's a little less message-y than most pop SF and I'm very much against giving HS kids "message" books because that just associates the message with hated authority.

Oryx and Crake has grown on me a lot since I first read it, but I suspect that its very broad (and now slightly dated) satire of the internet won't fly with the kids.

L Timmel du Champ's The Red Rose Rages, Bleeding would be an excellent choice for a more sophisticated group. It's a novella about a near-future prison administrator drawn into the torture/rehabilitation of a political prisoner. The narration goes between her POV and the author's. There's a lot of stuff about art and its effects, individual choices, where subjectivity comes from, plus really super and subtle stuff about gender. In fact, that would be my real recommendation for any smart class. There's a little talk about sexuality, but nowhere near as explicit as, frex, Oryx and Crake.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:14 AM
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I'm with fake accent on Mieville. I found the caterpillar the most sympathetic character, and set it aside about 2/3rds through. The constant, monotonous descriptions of everything as oozing pus and gross and slimy all the time got more tiresome than revolting.

Gun With Occasional Music seemed to lean more towards sensationalist entertainment than depth, but I would think of it as the sort of thing that would appeal to the average HS senior. I did read Cloud Atlas due to recommendations here (it's wonderful; thanks!), but I wonder if all the non-sf genres it covers would make it quite appropriate to this particular class.

I do remember reading Vast long ago; there were some interesting conceits there. The cult-virus aspect might offend conservative religious parents, but I assume this is a blue state school district.


Posted by: persistently visible | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:14 AM
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139: To retread the no-doubt-already-trodden ground re Mieville: The Scar is much better--tighter plot, more characterization (although that's not Mieville's strongest point), more coherent politics, slime present but not universal. Perdido Street Station is absolutely dazzling if you like large books with lots of marvels and scene changes and worldbuilding, so it gets recc'd very strongly by people who do. But it certainly won't appeal to everyone. I read it once and it had interesting bits, but I haven't been able to reread it. I can practically recite passages from The Scar. (One or two because they're so overwritten, but one or two for their beauty as well.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:23 AM
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Eleanor Arnason, Woman of the Iron People. It's a first-contact story. A bunch of anthrologists from an alternative history (Earth has become a Marxist one-world government) land on a distant planet and immerse themselves in the culture of an iron-age society. This society is sharply divided by gender -- solitary men live on the plains, women live in towns.

Also Arnason's Ring of Swords, about a war between earth and an alien culture (large, furry) we have gone to war with. This one would be fun because the Hwartha (the furry culture) is totally homosexual and heterophobic and Arnason makes such logical arguments for why that way of life is (obviously) the most natural and sensible way to run civilization.

Also, Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest. Very short, so it would be great for HS, and deals with perception/reality, so it would be fun to teach. Also dealing with sexual politics, to some extent, but mainly with the exploitation of an advanced civilizaion that lands on a forested world, enslaves the indigenous population, and is, eventually defeated in a guerilla war by that (small, furry) population.

And Le Guin Eye of the Heron. Also very short. Two prison populations in exile on a distant planet, one political, one criminal, about 100 years after settlement, clash over the future of the colony. The political prisoners are pacifist; the criminal population are not. This one would generate discussion.


Posted by: delagar | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:23 AM
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Seems like a good thread to ask this question: what David Mitchell book should I read after Cloud Atlas? Bear in mind that the main things I loved about CA were its echoes of Calvino and the middle, more sci-fi chapters (ie the future and the retro-future stories, although I did really like the whole thing).

As for recommendations, if we're talking post 1980 then there's not a whole lot I can suggest as I'm not too well read after the 70s.

I'd definitely recommend A Handmaid's Tale (gender politics, church/state, dystopianism - compare and contrast The Dispossessed, 1984, The Republic etc) and Cloud Atlas (Calvino-esque structural and styistic playfulness - compare and contrast IOAWNAT). I'm a big fan of Ian M Banks, but to be honest I'm not sure he's all that amenable to lit crit. I suppose you could look at his treatment of the Culture in the light of post-colonialism.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:24 AM
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Enjoyed Ghostwritten much more than Cloud Atlas, and it's equally Literary Themey and science fictiony.

Found Mieville completely unreadable, cf http://xkcd.com/483/

Good Lethem is awesome, bad Lethem is very bad.


Posted by: dz | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:31 AM
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The problem is that to appreciate what Banks is doing with the Culture, you'd really need weeks of other reading. You could do a great college class on American exceptionalism, globalization and speculative fiction that let you see how Banks is riffing off of every futuristic "galactic civilization/One World government" SF novel there ever was, while also poking gentle but sharp nudges at the wet dreams of liberal modernity and technocracy. But there's no way that any Banks novel stands by itself as a usefully done-in-one thing that you could give to high schoolers.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:37 AM
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So the New Testament is out bc it isnt contemporary, right?


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:38 AM
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140- I'll have to give it a go sometime. You're at least the third person I've heard making that point.

Oryx and Crake has grown on me a lot since I first read it, but I suspect that its very broad (and now slightly dated) satire of the internet won't fly with the kids.

This is also probably right. Also, if you want to keep liking Oryx and Crake, I'd say it's best to avoid Year of the Flood.


Posted by: persistently visible | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:39 AM
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See, I think A Handmaid's Tale is pretty dreadful and have always been mystified by its popularity. There's almost no class/economics underpinning to the society depicted, it doesn't actually resemble any known fundie society anywhere except in exceedingly broad brush-strokes, and it suggests that Christian woman-hating has far more power to organize people and browbeat them into obedience than soviet communism (which at least offered some pluses for the proles, at least at first). I find misogyny incredibly powerful and pervasive, but it doesn't work like that. (Notice, by the way, that "misogyny" is the left replacement for "sexism", which is dated and makes the kids with faux-hawks think you're a liberal.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:40 AM
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Just did think of another good recommendation: Maureen McHugh, China Mountain Zhang. Some interesting choices in literary terms (splits the story of the protagonist into disconnected and indirect narratives told from multiple perspectives), near-future setting, non-Western context treated thoughtfully.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:41 AM
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Hm.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:43 AM
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143.2: Brings to mind A Clockwork Orange as a possibility. Probably not "contemporary" enough.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:43 AM
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147: Yeah, I also don't really care for A Handmaid's Tale. I think it uses SF as a way to stroke its contemporary audience's worldview, the classic "See, that's where we're all going unless we do something NOW" kind of thing. The only difference is that it's not stroking the usual male, technophiliac, soft-libertarian, geek authoritarian sensibility that a good deal of other SF does, but it has the same basic defect of not using a speculative setting to speculate. It's about as much fun as reading Looking Backward.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:46 AM
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146: So odd, I'd never even heard of Year of the Flood. It looks distinctly unpromising. Although I would like to read more about Crake--I like Crake because he uses his social despair productively!--but I don't want to have him explained away as someone with an "inability to love".

I also wish that someone could write a book that's really, really negative on the commodified sex for political reasons rather than for icked-out reasons.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:46 AM
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... except for the character who was both the world's smartest woman, the world's bravest woman and the world's most sexually enlightened woman.

Not a genre-limited complaint. I think it takes a genius a couple of standard deviations above Stephenson to write out his sexual fantasies in a manner both subtle and sympathetic. And, of course, standards evolve.

I've read two or three of Mieville's books. I didn't think they were that magnificent at the time, and the absence of very specific memories for details suggests that my opinion has declined, but I didn't think they were all that bad.

Depending on the age of the students, and taking into account the risk of parental offendedness, would one or another of the various YA speculative fiction novels/series that were reviewed in the New Yorker that I read at the dentist's office suffice? I think one was The Hunger Games.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:47 AM
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Octavia Butler has written at least one vampire novel (_Fledgling_) so that should be a freebie compare-and-contrast for a lot of highschoolers. Plus, race and politics for the syllabus.

I second Harkaway's _The Gone-Away World_ because it's on the surface a total boy's book, lots of things go boom, but it's built on subtext and theme (of _Seeing Like a State_, partly). Or the Cherryh _Hellburner_, _Heavy Time_, _Rimrunners_, in which the anthropological/political arguments are less lit'ry. Gov't and corporations control a world that's already almost too hard to colonize; war and piracy result. Survival skills are not appreciated in the halls of power.

_Little Brother_? Depends on the administration. Pair with _Steal This Book_, maybe. Advises that you take the self-pity and resentment and do something with it. Would also fit with _Synners_, which plays with parallels between nervous system and infrastructure.

Lots of stuff by Melissa Scott, who gets modern enough for the Second Life generation: _The Jazz_, _Burning Bright_, _Trouble and her Friends_ (some of these are pre-cellphone, early-internet). Gender/sex/art as special classes.

_Uglies_, _Pretties_, _Specials_? They literalize HS/glamour/celebrity/surgery class structure. I haven't read all of them.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:47 AM
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Wow, my 147 was exceptionally incoherent. I've been reading only activist blogs lately and my standards are slipping.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:48 AM
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I like Crake because he uses his social despair productively!

While I'm generally fond of you, if that's your sense of productive, please don't start working in any bio-weapons labs.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:50 AM
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Has anybody else here read The Armageddon Blues? Not a great novel, but one that made me smile, and relatively unknown.

Daniel Keys Moran? Boy did his career not turn out like he was expecting. (I really liked his stuff when I was in high school and college. I'm afraid to go back and read it now.)

Also:
Pat Cadigan has been called the "queen of the cyberpunks" and this book, written in 2001, feels like both a tribute to and a fresh re-visting of a genre that was becoming tired at that point.

Synners? It didn't come out in '01, it came out in '91. Good recommendation, though.


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:52 AM
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OT: Rock on, miniature Street Fighter cosplayer. Rock on.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:52 AM
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Would also fit with _Synners_, which plays with parallels between nervous system and infrastructure.

Huh, I was just recommending Synners above, but I would never have thought to summarize it in that way. I can see why you'd say that and it's a different perspective on the book than what I would highlight.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:53 AM
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Synners? It didn't come out in '01, it came out in '91. Good recommendation, though.

Thank you.

I pulled that off the Amazon page, but it felt wrong to me (different edition).

It's interesting, it still feels to me like a summing up and re-imagining of a genre. I thought it was earlier than 2001, but I hadn't realized it was that early.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:55 AM
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156: Too late! I only said I was a secretary at a large land-grant university. But I may allow Unfoggers into the secure part of the dome.

And my new people? They are called....Frowners! Like humans, but more depressed and biologically incapable of being non-vegan.

Crake is attractive as a metaphor, mostly--he doesn't get sucked into little useless debates about how maybe it's all right that we have some horrible international corporations if we get rid of others; he doesn't play the stupid little emotional games of the book's corrupt world. In fact, his inability to "love" is maybe the best thing about Crake, because he recognizes that in certain worlds there is nothing you should love.

Obviously, this reading does not show the world of the book as a perfect, analogous reflection of our own. (I mean, it's okay to love.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:56 AM
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Daniel Keys Moran?

Bingo.

Boy did his career not turn out like he was expecting. (I really liked his stuff when I was in high school and college. I'm afraid to go back and read it now.)

What happened to him.

I actually feel like The Long Run would hold up pretty well. But it's in the category of "well written for a book perfectly pitched at HS age." I still laugh when I remember the line, "think of it as a Winnie The Pooh adventure. Lost In Space Awaiting Rescue."

It is the capitalization that really makes that work.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 11:58 AM
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I recommended Engine Summer because:
a)It requires enough engagement on the part of the reader that it would be good prep for thinking about books in general

b) without being too literary or relying on genre-y (generic?) devices

c)it talks about time and culture in interesting but straightforward ways that would suit HS discussion type things

Besides,
d) it's short, so there's some chance the students might actually read it.


Posted by: foolishmortal | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:03 PM
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Frowner, you're making me want to give Oryx and Crake another chance, after deciding that Atwood both can't and shouldn't do SF when I'd only read a few pages plus The Handmaid's Tale (and I'm assuming that the pulp stuff from The Blind Assassin didn't figure into my thinking, but what do I know?) and so I'm grateful for this thread!

For the class, I'd tend to think both the Westerfeld books (Pretties and so on) and The Hunger Games are for younger readers and I really didn't get into Little Brother, but I always have problems with Cory Doctorow and so I assume they're my problems. Most YA is aspirational, so books written about characters who are 17 are written for readers who are 14, and I think teens know this and may or may not take to reading something like these books in a class.

There's a lot of stuff I'd expect some kids that age to enjoy reading (Jeff Noon sprang to mind first) that wouldn't be acceptable in the classroom because of the excess sex 'n' drugs. I haven't been able to come up with more suggestions, but I think LB's Nalo Hopkinson may be the winner.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:06 PM
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164: You have problems with Cory Doctorow? Are they by any chance problems with his treatment of gender? I have problems with Cory Doctorow! I have not read Little Brother because I read a short story of his that was basically a dress rehearsal for it that made me want to track him down and hurt him because of its "I think I'm a feminist because I write strong women characters--who are pitted against each other, saved by men, or ciphers!" qualities.)


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:12 PM
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164: Well, also race! But yes, that. That exactly. Plus his personality online. Plus that something about him makes me want to kick him in the nose and I'm a fucking pacificist. Wait, that thing is exactly the thing you referenced. Little Brother is all about a straight white haxxor dude being the awesomest awesome guy ever, with supporting roles by his browner and non-male friends, who are not as awesome and need to be saved. I'm sure I'm being entirely unfair to it, but mostly I'm mad I tricked myself into reading it.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:16 PM
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165: Wait a minute, so strong women characters always need to be united in cooperative social life in order to get a feminist merit badge for speculative fiction?


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:17 PM
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Considering recommending Spares, but Michael Marshall Smith. My strongest memory of it was humor in unexpected places at the cyberpunkish setting. There's also some stuff about what it means to be human and second-class citizens, and about war trauma. Not sure if it's literary and pretentious enough, though.


Posted by: Cyrus | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:17 PM
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Not to say that Little Brother is good or anything.


Posted by: Timothy Burke | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:17 PM
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167: No, but there's a difference between writing women as people in a non-sexist kind of way, and taking a female character who's a cipher or a trophy and hanging "look, she's a Strong Woman™" tags on her. I haven't read the Doctorow, but it's an I-know-it-when-I-see-it kind of thing.

Here's me bitching about the same thing in a kids' movie I really liked.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:23 PM
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167: Strong women characters need not be united! But in this particular story, Doctorow was very clearly Showing His Feminist Skills (or is it skillz?) and yet the whole story revolved around distinguishing between good women characters (girly, but not too girly, and really like computers!) and bad women characters (too girly! and don't like computers enough). Only one female character can be virtuous! And the story ends with her strategizing about how she'll win in competition with a bunch of other girls (at fat camp no less, because as the story says directly, it's okay to be a little fat but not...too....much. Just like being girly.) because she and she alone knows how to fight!

Also, there are a bunch of poor Asian women who are rescued by a white man--not even rescued by the protagonist!

The story would bug me less if it weren't so didactic. Like, you write a douche-y hacker fantasy if you want, but don't try to sell it as girl empowerment.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:23 PM
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I think Vurt was the first sci-fi novel I read that made me aware that women sometimes aren't really people.


Posted by: A White Bear | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:26 PM
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For junior high school kids, I should think a double bill of A Wizard of Earthsea and Le Guin's essay about how the SciFi Channel messed up the adaptation's casting would be pretty good food for thought.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:26 PM
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Doctorow's characterization sucks. I read Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom and thought "Nothing that these people do makes any sense." And even if it did, they're all assholes so why do I want to read about them.


Posted by: F | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:43 PM
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174: I did that too, but then I somehow convinced myself it was just because I hated Disney and Disney World and then I believed people who said things were better. I've read four or five of his books now and I'm done, this time for real!

172: I found it off-putting and fascinating at the same time, but by then I'd already had plenty of revelations about women not being people, alas.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 12:51 PM
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made me aware that women sometimes aren't really people

No kidding? Wow, that explains so much. Well, vive la difference, I say.


Posted by: Tasseled Loafered Leech | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:02 PM
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I haven't been able to come up with more suggestions, but I think LB's Nalo Hopkinson may be the winner.

Don't kowtow, Thorn. LB has threatened to hurt me on occasion and I haven't buckled under the pressure.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:05 PM
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Don't kowtow, Thorn. LB has threatened to hurt me on occasion and I haven't buckled under the pressure.

Until now.
(177 was me)



Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:08 PM
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I wish I had more ability to read books that are stupid. I enjoyed the first two books of the series on which the Dexter TV show is based, and then suddenly thought "Wait a minute, these books are stupid." Why should that necessarily mean that they are a waste of time? And yet I can no longer stand the sight of them.


Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:09 PM
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Those were stupid. Or, given that I enjoy all sorts of tripe, they were the wrong kind of stupid for me.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:14 PM
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Ender's Game.


Posted by: qb | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:22 PM
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The classic article on the problem with "strong female characters"

http://www.overthinkingit.com/2008/08/18/why-strong-female-characters-are-bad-for-women/


Posted by: emir | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:27 PM
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Bill, I'd still have thought so if someone else had recommended it. Like you! But what are the chances they have a black Caribbean immigrant writing really lovely novels elsewhere in the curriculum? She covers all the bases of what neb's friend seems to want.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:28 PM
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Who said release the kraken ?


Posted by: Liam Neeson | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 1:29 PM
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I wish Mieville would publish a book of essays, for preference about the intersection of radical politics and fantasy or science fiction, up to and including krakens. I mean, he blogs and all but I like an actual book.

I sometimes feel like he writes too much fiction. He's so good when he's on, but he's only on sometimes. Whereas all of his essays (that I've read) have been above average.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 2:11 PM
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I am reminded that, if you wanted a book of short stories rather than a novel, Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang is very good.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 2:19 PM
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42 to 181. Unless 181 was actually to 180?


Posted by: persistently visible | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 2:25 PM
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But what are the chances they have a black Caribbean immigrant writing really lovely novels elsewhere in the curriculum?

Probably slight, especially because Ben won't even post his teacher friend's current lesson plans/reading lists for us. This is a heavy lift!


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 2:28 PM
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Probably slight, especially because Ben won't even post his teacher friend's current lesson plans/reading lists for us. This is a heavy lift!

I don't know these things. It's not some fancy scifi class (whaddayo think I went to, a prep school or something?), it's just the non–advanced placement fourth-year english class.


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 2:37 PM
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189: Ah, so it doesn't need to be an artisanal Sci Fi lit recommendation masterfully chosen to reinforce the pedagogical thrust of the overall course.

Cloud Atlas, as recommended SOMEWHERE IN THIS VERY THREAD, or whatever.

Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 4:20 PM
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There's almost no class/economics underpinning to the society depicted, it doesn't actually resemble any known fundie society anywhere except in exceedingly broad brush-strokes, and it suggests that Christian woman-hating has far more power to organize people and browbeat them into obedience than soviet communism (which at least offered some pluses for the proles, at least at first).

I've never liked The Handmaid's Tale either, I find it far too heavy-handed and didactic and boringly unsubtle.

I think it's worth noting, though, that it was written by a lefty Canadian during the Reagan years. I agree that its depiction doesn't "actually resemble any known fundie society anywhere." But its broad-brush caricature is pretty much what the rise of the christian right looked like to outside observers, I think. In the 1980s, the American right looked a hell of lot scarier to Atwood (and to many others of similar political sensibilities) than Soviet Communism did (but the Soviet system was already on the decline, of course). I guess I've always seen the book more as a warning about the looming power of those increasingly crazy Yankees (that's unsubtle and inaccurate, too, of course, but, again, that's how it tends to look to people looking in from the outside) than as a straightforwardly feminist statement or etc.

The above is not to defend the book on its merits, which I agree are a bit dubious at best. But just to suggest another context which can help explain its obvious shortcomings.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:29 PM
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Further to 191, I don't usually endorse this line of argument, but in this case I think it matters that the people in this thread are not broadly representative of American society.

There are many, many people for whom The Handmaid's Tale is stunning, almost literally life-altering in how it jars them to rethink common assumptions. It's not a comment on Margarett Atwood's writing skills nor does it minimize her didacticism to say that a more sophisticated and nuanced Handmaid's Tale would fail to reach a real percentage of its current audience.

I think it's easy to get caught up in how useful you find a critique, until it becomes so second-nature that it seems tedious and obvious to belabor it. But people who haven't had the same experiences and conversations as you do not find it obvious at all.

I've found myself on both sides of this -- there are issues that I've thought and talked about for so many years that the 101-level is beyond uninteresting to me. And there are others where I find myself bombarding a person with questions and reactions that I only later realize must have been -- wow, the eight millionth time they've had to have that conversation with an outsider.

In summary: Yes! Give THT to high schoolers, please.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:40 PM
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Way above, I suggested The Handmaid's Tale; I read it in early high school. Despite being someone who read very widely, I never quite grasped that literature could be so subversive (and affirm that maybe my feminist mom was on to something good) until that book. In that respect, it was a very important read for me, even if it hasn't held up well when I tried to re-read it. IOW, Witt is right.


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 9:51 PM
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So is there supposed to be not too much sex in this recommendation? 'Cause I was just musing today that William Gibson hasn't included an actual sex scene since Count Zero (except for in The Difference Engine, but that was probably mostly Sterling.) So neB's friend could do Virtual Light with no problem.

Also, I'll plug Richard Garfinkle's sadly neglected Celestial Matters, which is pretty darn awesome, even in these awesome post-millennial times. And Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan.


Posted by: Natilo Paennim | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:13 PM
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140: Your previous comments are basically the reason I still think I'll give The Scar a chance. I promise not to hold it against you if I don't like it.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:27 PM
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And Walter Jon Williams' Metropolitan.

And in the 'first book of good SF trilogies canceled by the publisher after two books in the past decade' there's also Tony Daniels' Metaplanetary good stuff on what it means to be human, authoritarianism, totalitarianism, family and all that stuff. It does have some fairly explicit and weird AI-human sex (our chief heroes are a human-AI couple and their kids) and some disturbing AI concentration camp scenes.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 07-13-10 10:36 PM
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Plenty of fantasy and modern fantasy and alternate history, but I can think of very little science fiction from the last 10 years. It's like people have just got tired of getting predictions wrong.

Have you perhaps been limited to American sf writers? Because you can sort of track the decline of interest in writing "proper" science fiction with the progress of the Bush era -- US sf writers no longer see a future, so don't write about the future.

I actually feel like The Long Run would hold up pretty well.

I read it for the first time last year. It's fallen in that chasm of being just too dated for you to get jarred by the low tech future, but not dated enough that it feels historical. The "4 meg of hot RAM" problem. Also, Moran does not like the French at all.


the only Delany worth a damn.

All Delany is worth reading. Even (especially) the going into too much detail about his sex life autobiographies.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 12:01 AM
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Speaking of Walter Jon Williams, his recent novel This Is Not a Game might be interesting to read for those who bounced off Halting State: simular sort of plot + background, entirely different treatment.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 12:07 AM
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re: 168

Spares might be a good choice, although I think it's probably, in retrospect, the least interesting of his sci-fi novels [before he went into the horror/conspiracy type stuff he's been writing recently]. I think both Only Forward, and One of Us are both pretty fine novels, and the elegiac and/or dream-like elements of both are pretty cool as a twist on what (cyberpunk/noir influenced SF) was already becoming quite hackneyed by then. Also, the talking alarm clocks made me laugh.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 12:49 AM
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Also, come to think of it, reading back through the thread, Nick 'son of Le Carre' Harkaway's Gone-Away World (recommended by Clew above) is good, too.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 12:53 AM
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I read the Handmaid's Tale in high school and hated it. Literature isn't subversive when it is assigned, unfortunately. (& the world building is pretty bad, tbh.)

-- I don't mean that Stross has never read anything but genre in that I have no idea what he does of a weekend, but as far as his practice goes, I can't see any engagement with conversations outside the genre.

I find a lot of sf writing is trapped in the '80s, both as writing, and in terms of the world they want to talk about. (MacLeod's a strong example here, actually.) The non-western world just never appears except as walk-on humour. I don't much like Rushdie, but he is engaging with real issues of post-coloniality etc that most sf authors wouldn't know if they bit them on the arse.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 1:09 AM
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(I should add, aside from other genre works, where the engagement is on the level of pastiche. I mean, those fucking Lovecraft-meets-MI5 novels? They rely on an understanding of the spy novel that is literally decades out of date, and even then was pretty simplistic. I like them, but just because the goodies and baddies dress up in modern clothes doesn't mean that the engagement goes beyond a surface level of `and look! now-I-refer-to-current-events thing'.)

(Yes I am being a bit bitter today; don't take me too seriously.)


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 1:15 AM
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I find a lot of sf writing is trapped in the '80s, both as writing, and in terms of the world they want to talk about. (MacLeod's a strong example here, actually.

Actually, I don't think that's true of recent MacLeod at all, and I'm not sure why you'd say that. The Execution Channel is one of the more impressively not-trapped-in-the-80s books I've read in a while. It gets right a lot of what it's like to live in the UK at this present moment, I think. There's a lot of deliberate 80s stuff going on in the Fall Revolution stuff, but it's clearly intentional. The idea that the sort of student union Trotskyist-lite wannabe vanguardists who haunted the student unions of Britain in the Thatcher period would actually end up changing the world is funny, dammit.

I can't get past Rushdie's prose -- which really doesn't work for me -- or the fact that he seems like a colossal cock.

I'm also not sure why dealing with post-coloniality would be the hallmark of fuck all in genre writing, tbh. Interesting if done well, fucking tedious if done badly, just like lots of other potential themes that fiction can deal with.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 1:38 AM
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Ack, I'm just being bitchy. I'm more thinking of early MacLeod there, really. (Which was trapped in the eighties because it was written in the 80s!)

I don't think that post-coloniality is the only way to deal with modern issues, but I do think it's an important modern issue sf just doesn't see.

But nah, like I say, I was just being snippish. Family medical nonsense was also happening, and I can be curt to the imaginary internet people without them telling to me to grow up.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 2:25 AM
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Best of luck with the family medical nonsense, Keir. If you can't be bitchy to the little people inside the computer, who else can you be bitchy to?!


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 2:31 AM
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I should think a double bill of A Wizard of Earthsea and Le Guin's essay about how the SciFi Channel messed up the adaptation's casting would be pretty good food for thought.

Attention Ms Le Guin: If you write a (very good) series in which there is exactly one black character - the nurturing, supportive sidekick to the hero, who spends his time doing small, entertaining, largely pointless magic tricks while eating fried chicken with his fingers - you are not really on firm ground when it comes to criticising other people's racial casting choices in the television adaptation of said series.

The Handmaid's Tale: do you think students would be able to get past the unintentionally comic futuristic invented words? "Particicution" and "Prayvaganza" come to mind. Always capitalised, too, which gives the effect of Dr Evil's air-quotes.

Michael Marshall Smith is definitely worth a look. I haven't read Spares but "One of Us" and "Only Forward" are great, especially the latter, especially for students.

Riffing off the "trapped in the 80s" point - is it true to say that a lot of non-SF these days is trapped in the past? So many of, say, the Booker winners are either historical novels (The Line of Beauty, Wolf Hall, The Kelly Gang) or revolve around some character reviewing his life story.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 2:59 AM
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Always capitalised, too, which gives the effect of Dr Evil's air-quotes.

That's how the patriarchy keeps you in line, with fricking laser beams.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 3:54 AM
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Thanks, ttaM.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 4:25 AM
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I am very surprised that the word "prayvaganza" isn't real.

US sf writers no longer see a future, so don't write about the future.

At least some other SF writers now see a future precisely because of this...


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 5:29 AM
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207: I thought it used ill-tempered unrealistically fanatical mutant TV evangelists?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 5:38 AM
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133

I would have liked N. Stephenson's "Quicksilver" except for the character who was both the world's smartest woman, the world's bravest woman and the world's most sexually enlightened woman. ...

I haven't read (or don't recall) the book but aren't the male equivalents of such a character common in popular fiction?


Posted by: James B. Shearer | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 6:32 AM
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209.1: Another neologism that would be nice to see unironically used in the wild is "Lordgasm."


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 6:59 AM
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Cosmigasm for the New Agers among us.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 7:12 AM
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212: was that really used in The Handmaid's Tale or did you just make it up?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 7:14 AM
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190 -> 1;189,2 et seq.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 7:14 AM
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Post-colonial science fiction: Ian McDonald, Amitav Ghosh, Ruchir Joshi, Arthur C Clarke! (Sri Lankan books like The Fountains of Paradise), not to mention that "colonies struggling for independence" is one of the oldest and most widely used SF tropes...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 7:18 AM
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I was thinking about the claim that SF is more connected to the present than is straight or literary fiction. Tom Wolfe, Richard Russo, Russell Banks, Richard Powers, Robert Stone are all counterexamples. Mystery writers who pay attention are pretty common-- Paretsky, Pelecanos, Lippman, all of the Swedes.

There's a real tension between writing escape fiction, which has to be light and leave the reader feeling good, and taking up broad socially relevant topics. Lots of good genre fiction makes the broader stuff part of the background, with an escapist plot on top. Similarly, comic books often have extremely detailed backgrounds with a very simple character in front-- Tintin is an extreme example.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 8:45 AM
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There's a real tension between writing escape fiction, which has to be light and leave the reader feeling good, and taking up broad socially relevant topics.

"I believe there are two ways of writing novels. One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going deep down into life and not caring a damn."
-- PG Wodehouse

Not all modern genre fiction could be described as "light and leaving the reader feeling good", incidentally.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 9:34 AM
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It's gotta be Margaret Atwood. The key to picking texts to teach at high school is that they've got to have stuff in there that high schoolers can actually write essays about.

Atwood's science fiction books are perfect for this because they satirize political issues (feminism, religious fundamentalism, slavery in The Handmaid's Tale; inequality, corporatism, genetic engineering, colonialism, racism in Oryx and Crake) and they do so in such an obvious, unsubtle, in-your-face way that no one can fail to get at least some of the subtext.


Posted by: Gareth Rees | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 10:27 AM
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The Handmaid's Tale is not just about the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the US (and I totally agree with MC above that this may only resonant for people from outside?). It's also supposed to be based on the Iranian Revolution so there is potentially a fundamentalism regime it resembles (no idea how true this is).


Posted by: hydrobatidae | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 11:44 AM
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Pohl on what the escapist Golden Age SF writers were escaping, and what they hoped they were escaping to.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 2:09 PM
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217 - Tom Wolfe's novels are less recognizably about the real world than Olaf Stapledon's, let alone William Gibson's. (Michael Swanwick, recommended by alameida, is super-great, but I am imagining the parental reaction when the students arrive at the tantric sex sequence in Stations of the Tide.)


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 4:04 PM
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further to 217, Richard Powers does write SF -- I think he's been unfairly ignored by SF because he's lit'ry (and have never worked out how he gets away with the VR in lit-world, but I suppose if you're depressing enough you must be realist).


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 4:25 PM
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Tom Wolfe's novels are less recognizably about the real world than Olaf Stapledon's, let alone William Gibson's.

True fact.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 4:38 PM
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One thing we are assured of by all the sci-fi community w/r/t the future is, those future people may live in the midst of a Godawful dystopia but nevertheless, they'll be fucking up a storm. I'd really like to know of any halfway-decent science fiction novel written after the period of Asimov's "Spaceship and Sun" series that isn't so chock-full of licking and humping and sucking and fucking that assigning it in any public school in the U.S. wouldn't result in the teacher's immediate termination.

It's like, "What big-hit rap record can I play for my hi-skool class?" Um, why don't you have a look at the current unemployment-vs.-hiring rate, teach, and reconsider, are you sure you want to do that?


Posted by: W. Kiernan | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 5:11 PM
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222 is an awesome put-down, and it's tragic that Stapledon is sufficiently obscure that I probably can't steal it.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-14-10 5:27 PM
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Post-colonial science fiction: Ian McDonald, Amitav Ghosh, Ruchir Joshi, Arthur C Clarke! (Sri Lankan books like The Fountains of Paradise), not to mention that "colonies struggling for independence" is one of the oldest and most widely used SF tropes...

Yes, but that's largely the American Revolution in Spaceeeeeee, not quite what's meant by post-colonialism. I'm not sure either Clarke or McDonald are post-colonial writers either, rather than just writers who did pay attention to the world outside the US and Europe (with the role of glamourous stranger played by Japan or China).

For real post-colonialism in science fiction you may want to look at British science fiction in the seventies and how that sublimated the loss of empire and the decline of Britain and what the purpose is of a small country that no longer rules the world (Christopher Priest's Fugue for a Darkening Island perhaps, or M. John Harrison's The Centauri Device).



Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 12:16 AM
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206:
Attention Ms Le Guin: If you write a (very good) series in which there is exactly one black character - the nurturing, supportive sidekick to the hero, who spends his time doing small, entertaining, largely pointless magic tricks while eating fried chicken with his fingers - you are not really on firm ground when it comes to criticising other people's racial casting choices in the television adaptation of said series.

What, in Earthsea? Who are you talking about here, because I can't remember any such character at all, while the protagonist is supposed to be black.


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 12:32 AM
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"Vetch [...] had the accent of the East Reach, and was very dark of skin, not red-brown like Ged and Jasper and most folk of the Archipelago, but black-brown. He was plain, and his manners were not polished." -- A Wizard of Earthsea


Posted by: Gareth Rees | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 2:40 AM
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228: nope, the protagonist (Ged) definitely isn't black. He's described as "red-brown" which could mean anything from Native American to Indian to a white guy who spends a lot of time in the sun. His friend, Vetch, is specifically described as not red-brown, like the rest of them, but "black-brown". The fried chicken magic tricks are during the big festival scene about halfway through A Wizard of Earthsea, just before Ged gets cocky and ends up summoning the Shadow (he turns the chicken bones into little birds that Ged promptly shoots down with arrows, which is a bit of an asshole move but definitely in character). Apart from that I'm not sure we ever see Vetch doing any magic at all.
Later on Ged runs into him again. He hasn't done anything very heroic or dramatic or high-speed, he's gone back home to his village and is living in his parent's spare room doing comforting, homely, unthreatening Appropriate Technology magic for his neighbours the simple fishermen.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 2:48 AM
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I'd really like to know of any halfway-decent science fiction novel written after the period of Asimov's "Spaceship and Sun" series that isn't so chock-full of licking and humping and sucking and fucking that assigning it in any public school in the U.S. wouldn't result in the teacher's immediate termination.

Not much fucking in PK Dick. Some, of course, but it's easy enough to find novels with none. Also, Bester's

As for LeGuin, Genly in The Left Hand of Darkness is black. Which is (I think deliberately) ironic given that he plays the traditionally white role of someone living among the Other and observing their strange customs.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 3:32 AM
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Ursula Le Guin on the pigmentation of her characters:

Most of the characters in my fantasy and far-future science fiction books are not white. They're mixed; they're rainbow. In my first big science fiction novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, the only person from Earth is a black man, and everybody else in the book is Inuit (or Tibetan) brown. In the two fantasy novels the miniseries is "based on," everybody is brown or copper-red or black, except the Kargish people in the East and their descendants in the Archipelago, who are white, with fair or dark hair. The central character Tenar, a Karg, is a white brunette. Ged, an Archipelagan, is red-brown. His friend, Vetch, is black. In the miniseries, Tenar is played by Smallville's Kristin Kreuk, the only person in the miniseries who looks at all Asian. Ged and Vetch are white.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 3:40 AM
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Huh, I had the same impression of Ged as Martin. I must have gotten it from Tombs of Atuan, since it's the only place that the contrast in skin colors would seem at all important in the context of the novel.

If in the upcoming Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars movie they make Tars Tarkas white, I'll be pissed.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 6:46 AM
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Huh, I had the same impression of Ged as Martin. I must have gotten it from Tombs of Atuan, since it's the only place that the contrast in skin colors would seem at all important in the context of the novel.

If in the upcoming Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars movie they make Tars Tarkas white, I'll be pissed.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 6:48 AM
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I blame neb's inferior coding skills.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 6:57 AM
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233 - there's a bit of a point made in all three that all the horrible murdering idolatrous barbarians are pale, ginger-haired types.

(Incidentally, why do we refer to red hair as "ginger"? Ginger isn't red. It's pale brown on the outside and off-white inside.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 7:27 AM
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No one in the US calls red hair "ginger". I never heard of it before the South Park episode that reveals people with red hair have no souls.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 7:32 AM
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Because it makes your eyes water when you eat it?


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 7:32 AM
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236 - cos it's fiery?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 7:33 AM
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237: interesting. I saw that episode too and just assumed it was common use in the US as in the UK.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 7:52 AM
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I thought the point of that episode was that a racial slur that nobody used could suddenly become the conventional wisdom if people used it confidently enough.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 8:03 AM
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Or, contra Walt, it's generally used in Colorado.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 8:25 AM
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228, 233: It's funny how different a description looks if you draw your major social racial distinction between white and non-white, or between black and non-black. But I think Ajay's way off base -- while everything he said is literally true, particularly the 'fried chicken' thing clearly to me has no connection at all to any American racist stereotype, and there's no sense in the book of any in-book social distinction between red-brown (there, Ajay's just wrong about the possibility that Ged's 'white' -- there's a clearly described ethnic distinction between 'white' and 'red-brown' people in Earthsea) and black people.

It's odd giving the Earthsea books much credit for being anti-racist though -- because there's no connection to our social history of racism, they just don't say anything at all about real world racism. The one thing they do, which was a big deal at the time they were published but isn't a big deal now, was to implicitly assert that non-fairskinned people could be narrative subjects with interior lives.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 8:42 AM
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Tom Wolfe's novels are less recognizably about the real world

A Man in Full was quite good, I thought. Bonfire wasn't bad either. The college novel was terrible. But A Man in Full was pretty good for a lot that happened in the US, a lot of which is still relevant. A contemporary Trollope, roughly.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 8:51 AM
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Bonfire wasn't bad either.

Counterpoint: Yes it was.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 8:52 AM
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there's no sense in the book of any in-book social distinction

See 229.

Ajay's just wrong about the possibility that Ged's 'white' - there's a clearly described ethnic distinction between 'white' and 'red-brown' people in Earthsea

Well, there's a clearly described difference between the extremely pale-skinned, red-haired or black-haired people, and the black-haired, red-brown majority. But that could as easily be Vikings vs. Celts (which is definitely the image you have from the start of the book; sheep-herders on a foggy, mountainous island attacked by sea-raiders in long ships) as Europeans vs. Indians.

Red-brown is the actual skin colour of a lot of people who would be categorised as "white" on Earth but who just spend a lot of time outdoors. Ged isn't necessarily any darker-skinned than Willie Nelson.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 8:58 AM
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But rather than get caught up in this discussion, I'd like to bring up another point:
is it true to say that a lot of non-SF these days is trapped in the past? So many of, say, the Booker winners are either historical novels (The Line of Beauty, Wolf Hall, The Kelly Gang) or revolve around some character reviewing his life story.

Don't novels start at the beginning, go on to the end and then stop any more? They used to... Jane Eyre isn't full of flashbacks.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 9:02 AM
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Red-brown is the actual skin colour of a lot of people who would be categorised as "white" on Earth but who just spend a lot of time outdoors.

Not people who spend a lot of time outdoors on foggy, mountainous islands. I'm related to lots of those, and they're vaguely bluish rather than red-brown.

I'm not going to convince you on this one, but your interpretation does go contrary to Le Guin's public statements about her intent, and requires a certain amount of affirmative intent to insert racial slurs that seems unlikely. (That is, for the 'fried chicken' thing to mean anything, it seems to me that it has to be an intentionally racist joke -- I'll believe a fair amount of unexamined racism from anyone, but deliberate insertion of racist Easter eggs is less generally plausible.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 9:07 AM
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"They used to... Jane Eyre isn't full of flashbacks. "

Whereas Tristram Shandy is almost nothing but.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 9:16 AM
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Tristram Shandy is rather odd, though, and was recognised as such. Maybe it's a late-Victorian thing. Heart of Darkness is essentially one long flashback - or rather it has a framing story.

LB: I don't think there was any deliberate intent to insert racial slurs, just that there wasn't much thinking going on with that character, and so it's a bit much to hold forth Earthsea as some sort of wonderfully anti-racist tract that the wicked TV people ruined. Incidentally, I myself spent the last several days out of doors on this foggy, mountainous island of ours, and am now more or less red-brown (at least on exposed skin) and you should see some of my more outdoorsish relatives. Albion, like Gont, isn't foggy all the time. And there's such a thing as windburn.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 9:27 AM
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I just can't see bringing up fried chicken as anything other than an intentional racial slur -- it's either intentionally racist, or it's not even thoughtless. And I don't think the book supports a reading of Vetch as in a racially subordinate class to Ged.

Saying that Brits get sunburnt is cute, but it doesn't mean that anyone would spontaneously describe the skin color of the white British population generally as red-brown, rather than as pale unless they're exposed to an unusual amount of sun. And Le Guin has been clear that her intent was to write Ged's ethnicity as nonwhite.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 9:49 AM
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VanderMeer's "City Of Saints And Madmen"


Posted by: cleek | Link to this comment | 07-15-10 11:06 AM
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Two observations: first, I would definitely describe certain pre-roman britons as ruddy, or red-brown, and mean nothing more than that they got a lot of sun. (Especially when talking about an outdoorsy type from the south of England.)

Secondly, Amitav Ghosh isn't exactly an sf author, is he? I mean, he's got a lot more in common with R K Narayan or Khushwant Singh (both (Indo-English) literary authors) than Ian McDonald, and I say that as a sf fan. Ghosh is part of a literary conversation. (Maybe it's interesting that the modern literary conversation overlaps with sf?)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 7:27 AM
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253. Why only pre-Roman? Did they all go indoors to sulk after the conquest? But the ground state of typical Welsh (largely descended from pre-Roman britons) complexions is as much lacking in either form of melanin as any Anglo-Saxon.

Look, this is silly. Le Guin is on record as saying that the casting of Archipelagans that she was happiest with used native Americans. She wasn't thinking about sunburned honkies when she wrote the damn books.

I admit that the first time I read the Earthsea books I assumed the main characters were intended as Polynesians, with Vetch as something like a Fijian. But I expect there are more native American actors in America.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 7:42 AM
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I want to thank the people who made recommendations in the thread. I don't know if it will help neb's friend, but I just got an email from my library saying that nine titles I'd requested are ready to be picked up today!


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 7:55 AM
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Because post-Roman Britons include people descended from what we would these days call black Africans: the idea is to talk about an archetypal white-ish race.

I have no particular opinion on LeGuin here, (but I do dislike authors gesturing towards non-whiteness and then letting it be, but that's me being `contingent facts are bad in art' when I needn't be.)

(Yes, the last three words are so problematic as to be useless, but I think you know what I mean...)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 7:59 AM
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In the first sentence, not the second, above, as I hope everybody realised.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 8:00 AM
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So why do you think architypal whitish people (who by your definition no longer exist) tanned differently from their descendants whose Sarmatian, Moorish, Mongolian, Turkish, black African, South Asian, Chinese, etc. genes are nonetheless for the most part invisible in the phenotype?


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 8:10 AM
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I don't really; I was just being what I guess you'd call overly cautious there.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 8:14 AM
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I do dislike authors gesturing towards non-whiteness and then letting it be

Depending on the specific setting of the book, that can be a necessary sf/fantasy problem. If, like LeGuin, you're writing about a location with no historical connection to the real world, you can't directly address real world racial issues. You can write an allegory of real world racial issues, which she didn't do; you can invent a world where whiteness isn't either an unquestioned norm or a mark of goodness/dominance, which she did; or you can make the depressing choice of making all the characters (or all the important characters) white, and saving non-whiteness for minor characters or villains.

Option 2 doesn't mean she's doing major anti-racist work, but it seems to me to get her to at least non-racist in the books under discussion. And the miniseries casting that changed her Option 2 books to Option 3 does seem to me to be noticeably racist, in a way that it's not hypocritical at all of her to be pissed about. (Still arguing with Ajay, here.)


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 8:36 AM
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But it's a bit disingenuous to say `oh, by the way, all these folks are black' and leave it at that; that isn't really forcing the reader to confront race. If the TV people make everyone white, well, that is against your intent, but it is a rather weakly stated intent.

(Compare to say Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 8:44 AM
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I think you had it right in 243, to be honest. If your main distinction is white/nonwhite, Earthsea looks great! Lots of nonwhite people in worthy/superior/heroic roles!

But if your main distinction is black/nonblack, then it looks rather different, because you've still got a situation where the majority of the population, including all but one of the named characters and everyone in any position of authority, is nonblack, and there's only one black character, Vetch the Loyal Nonthreatening Supporting Actor.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 8:47 AM
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Amitav Ghosh isn't exactly an sf author, is he?

Hmm, arguable. I've actually only read "The Calcutta Chromosome" of his, and that was sf, I'd say. But it's a debatable point. I mean, I'd say that Margaret Attwood and Salman Rushdie are sf and fantasy authors respectively, on the grounds that they write stuff that I would identify as sf and fantasy, but I'm sure others (including the authors themselves) would disagree.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 8:51 AM
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I'm sure The Calcutta Chromosome was sf; I'm just not sure if he's an sf author in that I think he's (a) hugely more talented as a writer than most other sf authors, (b) not really treated as part of the genre by a lot of fans, and (c) part of another clear tradition. But yeah, Ghosh is an interesting edge case.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:03 AM
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Not that being talented makes you not sf; just that talent and not being treated as sf is an interesting conjunction.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:04 AM
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262: And if your major distinction is Asian/non-Asian, Earthsea is horrifyingly genocidal.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:06 AM
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Hmm, well,
a) I think Dorothy Sayers was hugely more talented as a writer than other mystery authors, but that doesn't make her not a mystery author;
b) (put in to avoid having to go from a to c directly);
c) the rest of his work isn't sf, so he may not be an sf author any more than Churchill was a brickie, but The Calcutta Chromosome still counts as post-colonial sf which is what the original question was.

I didn't actually think that it was good post-colonial sf, because good writing tends not to involve such obvious wish-fulfilment characters as Laxman. But that's a separate issue...


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:09 AM
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266: not so. Earthsea's almost entirely populated by brown-skinned people with straight black hair. There's no information given either way on their epicanthic folds. And anyway there's a bit of a difference between "my fantasy world doesn't include any X" and "this implies a massive slaughter of all X! OMG GENOCIDE"


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:11 AM
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But I would also say it is literary fiction, & functions as a literary fiction -engaging with issues of the now-, which was also part of the original question, no?

(I dislike divisions along the line of lit-fic/sf, because it think that's an outdated battle.)


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:15 AM
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And anyway there's a bit of a difference between "my fantasy world doesn't include any X" and "this implies a massive slaughter of all X! OMG GENOCIDE"

Heh. I haven't read them, and can't quite remember the author or title (I think the word "Thirteenth" was in it), but one of the subthreads of that RaceFail thing last year was a discussion of a fantasy where Native Americans had never crossed the Bering Strait, so Europeans, Africans, and Asians discovered all sorts of non-extinct megafauna, but no people, when they got here. Lots of people were calling that a genocidal fantasy.

The whole thing is slightly different in a world without a historical connection to our own like Earthsea, of course. Which is mostly why I think seizing on Vetch as evidence of anti-black racism, mild/thoughtless or otherwise, doesn't work at all.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:27 AM
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functions as a literary fiction -engaging with issues of the now

As I say, I think the most noticeable feature of a lot of recent literary fiction is actually that it avoids engaging directly with issues of the now by setting itself in the recent or distant past.


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:27 AM
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270.1: interesting. I managed to avoid actually knowing anything about that whole scuffle, fortunately. If that was what it was about, I'm fairly glad. (For example: The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy begins with the destruction of Earth and its entire population save two. I suppose that makes it even more of a genocidal fantasy.)


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:30 AM
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But I think I disagree, in that I think it's perfectly possible for a book to engage with the now while being set in the court of the Grand Mogul: like, say, Enchantress of Florence.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:36 AM
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Which is sort of the mirror image of the "all SF is really about the present day" cliche, no?


Posted by: ajay | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:48 AM
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273 is right, I think.

Both historically set novels, and novels set in some imagined near or distant future can be novels that engage with the present, and which illuminate it. It needn't even be consciously intended; it's common-place to point to past novels about other times and places [both SF and non-SF] as being really 'about' or reflective of their present. Just that sort of thing is that meat and potatoes of a lot of literary criticism; and there's fiction that itself makes meta-fictional jokes about it (Gibson's Gernsback Continuum and the like).

The problem I have with a lot of contemporary literary fiction -- and I'd be the first to admit that it's a few years since I regularly made any attempts to read more than the occasional Booker prize winner -- is exactly the problem that snarkout jokes about re: Wolfe in 222 above. Not that reflecting their time need be the hallmark of good fiction, of course, but there's only so much 'timeless' bourgeios wank that could have been written at any time in the past 50 years one can read.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:54 AM
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Pwned.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 07-16-10 9:55 AM
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