She was tall and fresh, with dark, young, expressionless eyes, and well-drawn brows, and the immature softness and mindlessness of the sensuous Celtic type.

I propose a literary parlour game: for an author you dislike, find a sentence that most economically exhibits the qualities for which you dislike them. The game takes its title from the above passage from D. H. Lawrence’s “Samson and Delilah”, the presence of which only slightly mars NYRB Classic’s edition of Randall Jarrell’s Book of StoriesThe passage seems to me to epitomise Lawrence’s worst qualities – stylistic clumsiness, judgemental pomposity, and a tendency to erupt into nineteenth-century race nonsense at the slightest provocation.

American Science Fiction: Five Classic Novels 1956-1958

I never got around to reviewing the second volume of the Library of America’s science fiction anthology! Here you go.

Double Star

Robert A Heinlein

Wow. Robert A Heinlein was such a bullshit-artist.

The Stars My Destination
Alfred Bester

Alfred Bester, on the other hand, wrote preposterous space opera with more panache than anyone, before or since. Forget Heinlein: Bester does science fiction libertarianism as it should be done, a tattooed teleporting madman with a fistful of sub-atomic dynamite.

A Case of Conscience
James Blish

Father Ruiz-Sanchez, the thoughtful Jesuit scientist who reads Finnegans Wake when he’s not pondering the theological implications of the peaceful, religion-free inhabitants of the planet Lithia, is still one of my favourite characters in literature. The first half is a beautiful first contact story: the second half, which moves to an overcrowded and decadent Earth, is much less convincing. The satire is shrill and dated, and the Lithian ambassador to Earth is an unconvincingly camp false prophet in the centre of a bad Wyndham Lewis pantomime. 

Algis Budrys

I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this, as projections of the Cold War into the 80s from the 50s rarely satisfy, but it was surprisingly good: a controlled and deliberately ambiguous story of a scientist who is returned from East to West after a lab accident, having been rebuilt as a cyborg by Soviet scientists.

The Big Time
Fritz Leiber

A short and impressive novel which deals with an aeon-spanning time war in an elegant and effective way: by setting the action in a pocket universe/bordello used by the agents of one faction for shore leave. A bit marred by the narrative voice – the story is told by one of the girls in a corny sub-Judy-Holliday-in-Born-Yesterday vernacular – but if you consider that Leiber’s parents were touring Shakespeareans of the old school, and treat it as farcical theatre, the whole thing snaps into focus. (Curiously, the narrator of the Heinlein novel is an actor, and he is, somewhat mystifyingly, given that it’s set on like the Moon or something in the 21st century, and that Heinlein is supposed to be a master of social world-building, an incredibly corny caricature, just the sort of old stager who was disappearing in 1956, so, yeah, as I said. A bullshit-artist.)

Not Stevens

The only artisan is the artisan of ice-cream.

The only emperor penguin is the emperor penguin of ice-cream.

The only Ute Lemper is the Ute Lemper of ice-cream.

The only God-Emperor is the God-Emperor of House Atreides Dune™ Melange-Ripple Ice-Cream.




I’m hopelessly addicted to Kai Krause’s Frax app. (More of mine here.)

The Causal Angel

Hannu Rajaniemi

The conclusion to the Jean le Flambeur trilogy which started with The Quantum Thief. I enjoyed this as much as the first two books, although for me, nothing really capped the moment in The Fractal Prince when we discover the true nature of the Aun, as breathtaking a piece of meta-(science)-fiction as I’ve read in decades. The Causal Angel has a society which uses quantum entanglement as currency/politics, entertaining intertexts, especially the Finnish ones, and just enough explanations of the backstory of Rajaniemi’s posthuman solar system to not spoil the mystery. In principle, I frown on the “computational turn” in contemporary sf, but this disapproval wilts in comparison to the pleasure I get from stories that throw you in at the deep end and expect you to keep pace with a bewildering array of strange terms and situations. What we might call high modernist science fiction.

Coincidentally, I was reminded the other day of Cyriak’s bizarre manipulation/animations: I don’t think the world of Jean le Flambeur could really be filmed but this animation made me think of Rajaniemi’s Sobornost.

Help publish Materiality: SURFACE!

Now you can help fund the next issue of pinknantucket press’s excellent themed journal Materiality. SURFACE is due to come out in September this year. Like the previous issues, BOOK, TIME and PRECIOUS, SURFACE will include lots of great fiction, non-fiction, poetry and graphic art about the intersection of materials and culture. My contribution to this issue is an interview with my brother about the mysteries of the family business: electroplating.


Not Montaigne

Of coaches
Of diverting or diversions
Of digressions
Of another matter, &c.
Of love-making
An apology of Raymond Sebond
A retraction of Raymond Sebond
Of a monstrous child
Of the inconstancy of our actions
Of a subject that has naught to do with the title under which it is presented
A sullen look of Raymond Sebond
Of the Cannibals
Upon some verses of Virgil, the which shall be disregarded for the better part of the essay
Of head-lice
Of political correctness
Of my own character and temperament, which is a fickle patched inconsistent thing, but withal still pretty good
Of what-you-will
A passive-aggressive dinner invitation of Raymond Sebond
That to philosophize is to learn how to diet
That to philosophize is to learn how to spell
Of complaining
Of age
Of my library, which is on the third storey of a tower, and which you would really like if I were to permit you to visit it; which I will not
Of boots
Of the art of entitling essays