Fantasy and Science Fiction online course, starting on 23 July.

Just signed up for the course on its webpage. Online higher education seems to be speeding up toward becoming the next big thing. I myself have tried, mostly unsuccessfully, to follow a couple of courses in different areas. So I thought I should try again, harder this time. Why this course? It looks fun, plus I figured it would be a good stimulus for me to finally sit down and read up on the genre classics. I will probably try to post about it here, depending on how diligent/inspired/not-on-a-vacation I am. Hope to see you in class!

GRANTA България, бр. 1: “Бъдеще?”

Before the review itself, apologies to the non-Bulgarian speakers who might be reading the blog. Mybiochemicalsky is and will be written primarily in English, but the urge to write about Bulgarian literature as well is simply too strong. Hence this separate rubric, which I hope to have the energy and occasion to populate slowly.

Когато преди няколко месеца научих, че GRANTA, литературно списание-еталон на над 120 години, ще се сдобие и с българско издание, се зарадвах много. Още повече се зарадвах, като разбрах темата на първия брой – “Бъдеще?”. Даже обмислях да се пробвам със собствена проза, но не би, останах си с обмислянето. Българският пазар се нуждае отчаяно от качествена периодика. Дори само едно списание, излизащо два пъти в годината, е силна стъпка за литературната ни реалност, в която да си писател е почти като да тръгнеш да бориш мелници. От повече от месец дебютният брой на GRANTA България вече се намира по българските книжарници, а аз най-сетне успях да го прочета през последните няколко дни.

Най-общите ми впечатления са, че българската GRANTA тръгва добре, но можеше и още по-добре. Continue reading

Blue Remembered Earth – Alastair Reynolds

In The History of Science Fiction Adam Roberts writes, after Heidegger, that “technology, from windmills to hydroelectric plants, “enframes” the world in a certain way, allowing or shaping the ways in which we “know” the world around us.” Consequently, the science in science fiction is not much different from a classic thought experiment, an exercise in imagining our possible worlds and their technologically-defined architectures. I find this poke at a definition particularly useful when reading that core type of SF story, the futurist novel. It is easy to invent an imaginary science, like jaunt travel in Bester’s The Star My Destination or Le Guin’s ansible. The more difficult task an SF writer is faced with is to predict the technologies of the future and weave them into the textual world. An emblem of good SF writing is that fulfilling readerly feeling when in the final tapestry those technologies both define and are defined by the cultural milieu in which the narrative agents operate.

Alastair Reynolds has always been a very technology-oriented fantasist. Despite the rather huge gap in my reading of his stories (I hadn’t tried anything outside of the Revelation Space novels), I knew what to expect from his new book with a fair amount of confidence. No FTL-drives and other seemingly magical gimmicks. Continue reading

Two promising SF releases today!

Two interesting new books came out today. One is Existence, which I have been expecting for a long time. If it is comparable in scope and ambition to Earth, then it will be a truly great SF novel.

The other one is a curious collaboration between Terry Pratchett and hard sci-fi author Stephen Baxter, called The Long Earth.

If all is well and there is time, I will try to post reviews of the two in the coming weeks. With new novels from Alastair Reynolds and Kim Stanley Robinson already out, and with Rajaniemi’s The Fractal Prince coming out in September, 2012 is shaping up to be a decent year for SF.

No Present Like Time – Steph Swainston

Note: This one was written quite a long time ago – certainly more than a year – but I never got around to publishing it anywhere. Maybe I would write it differently now, or maybe not. Anyway, I thought that it might be of interest to some, while I’m trying to find the time to finish and review Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds.

I’ve already reviewed one book by Steph Swainston – the first part of her Castle series, consisting of four published titles (and another one to come): The Year of Our War, No Present Like Time, The Modern World and Above the Snowline. Here is a link to the text, which is in Bulgarian. If you are already familiar with the setting of the series, you can skip the following two paragraphs. If not, I will try to outline briefly the world of the Fourlands, because worldbuilding is certainly one of Swainston’s greatest fortes. The story takes place on a small continent (or a big island, depending on the point of view, I guess), partitioned territorially by the four nations living on it. In this case we can even speak about distinct human species, as the Awians in the north are winged (although flightless) people with hollow bones and the Rhydanne inhabiting the Darkling mountains are also strinkingly different with their thinner, longer limbs and superhuman speed and agility, not to mention their ferocity and seemingly pathological individualism. Continue reading

Yellow Blue Tibia – Adam Roberts

Note: This review was written some time ago for ShadowDance. What appears below is a translation of the original. Hence the recognizable formatting with “+” and “–” sections.

Kim Stanley Robinson wrote some time ago that Adam Roberts’s Yellow Blue Tibia should be awarded the Booker prize for 2009. I am not in a position to say whether I agree or not, as I rarely read the shortlisted novels. What I can agree about is that this strange and strangely-titled book absolutely deserves a spotlight. Authors of so-called “literary realism” will definitely benefit from reading it; its methods can make their stories more interesting, their worlds more imaginative and their ideas more provoking.

Adam Roberts is probably one of the currently active authors who are best versed in the genre. He is a London-based professor who specialized in Robert Browning and Victorian literature, author of Science Fiction, a critical introduction to SF,and of the comprehensive study The History of Science Fiction (to the extent such a thing can be comprehensive, of course). In addition to that Roberts maintains an active blog, where he frequently demonstrates and hones his fine critical skills and incisive humor. When an author’s name sits beneath an intellectual overview of the ideas of Frederic Jameson andbeneath popular parodies (such as The Soddit, The Sellamillion, The Dragon With a Girl Tattoo, etc.), and when that author manages to pull off roughly one good SF novel per year, take notice and keep close tabs on that particular career. Continue reading

Railsea – China Mieville

Everybody knows that there are two layers to the sky, four to the world. The downsky goes to two-three miles plus a biscuit above the railsea and after it comes the upsky, prowled by odd alien flyers. It is fortunate that dirt and mist hide that horrible scenery and only sometimes, when the clouds disperse, are you in danger of glimpsing any of those creatures. That Apt Ohm forbid one of them tumbling down dead on your head.

But we are not interested in the skies, we are interested in the four-layered world. The subterrestrial where the digging creatures dig and everything is trying to eat everything else. The mad iron squiggle that is the railsea lying on the flatland, long ago mapped out during the godsquabble, as if by a child scribbling haphazardly on a piece of paper. The third layer of hard rock islands, home to the human cities above the railsea. And above it the mountains, littered with danger and debris from the upsky, the destination of a handful of reckless updivers. Continue reading