Slaves of the Death Spiders and Other Essays on Fantastic Fiction

This one gets a low-res scan designation because it seems rather pointless to spend a lot of time on some of the pieces in this reprint collection.

Low Res Scan: Slaves of the Death Spiders and Other Essays on Fantastic Fiction, Brian Stableford, 2007.

In “Slaves of the Death Spider: Colin Wilson and Existentialist Science Fiction”, Stableford talks about Wilson’s Spider World series in a way that convinces me there’s probably not much of merit in them. He finds them not that original – specifically derivative of Star Wars and Murray Leinster’s “Mad Planet”. He finds it ironic that Wilson, who once accused science fiction of being fairy tales for adults who have not outgrown fairy tales, has written, inspired by his occult interests, a story that seems to suggest, a la L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics, that mankind’s salvation will come. In short, Stableford says Wilson neither delivers a new plot or anything conceptually satisfying

H. G. Wells and the Discovery of the Future” is a very informative essay on Wells. Stableford points to Wells’ 1901 futurological work Anticipations of the Reaction of Mechanical and Human Progress upon Human Life and Thought as marking a change in his career and approach to speculative fiction. From that point on, Wells’ would attempt to forecast the future rather than just deal with possibilities. His classic works – The First Men in the Moon, The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man, The War of the Worlds, When the Sleeper Wakes – predate this turn. These, and three short story collections between 1895 and 1901, are realistically, what Wells’ reputation as a vital sf writer rests on – not the turgid utopias he wrote later on. Interestingly, Wells’ The Food of the Gods and How It Came to Earth (1904) is seen as an example of Wells’ new direction. Begun as a scientific romance, it diverted to a new direction with the giants becoming an example of  what Wells’ thought humanity should be concerned with in the future. The giants are an example of a “new wisdom and new spiritual strength”. Stableford sees Wells’ participating in a general turn, around 1902, by British sf writers to pessimism, most specifically seen in the natural catastrophe and future war story. As the world became more secular, the belief that salvation and ultimate survival was not guaranteed begun to have effects. After World War I, the British scientific romance became fatalistic to the point of nihilism. Hope for civilization was in short supply. Optimism took a peculiar turn in Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men where man goes through various cyclic rises and falls in his civilization. But, says Stableford, Wells’ earlier approach did not go to waste. It was taken up by American sf. Ultimately, Stableford is fairly critical of the later Wells saying his work had a large element of folly. He says that the best of modern sf tries to strike a balance between the two Wells: an energetic, fun, romantic exploration of possibilities tempered with a desire to see and shape the future.

The Adventures of Lord Horror Across the Media Landscape” is a history of a notorious British novel and accompanying multimedia adaptations of it.

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Angel Time

I will be doing many things this holiday weekend. Blogging is not one.

So, you’re going to get five retro reviews.

This is the first, and it’s probably the last time I’ll read Anne Rice.

From October 9, 2009 …

Review: Angel Time: The Songs of the Seraphim, Book One, Anne Rice, 2009.Angel Time

Since this is the first of her novels I’ve read, I didn’t come to this book with any expectations or resentments about Rice’s recent change of subjects or themes.

This book suffers from several problems. The first is that its setup – a modern hitman recruited by his guardian angel to undertake a mission into medieval England – hints at an intriguing, violent story that never materializes. Malchiah, guardian angel to protagonist Toby O’Dare, seems to think Toby is ideally suited for this mission. I remained unconvinced. O’Dare’s contributions seem to be his beautiful, graceful appearance which renders him credible enough to attempt a deceit to save the Jews of Norwich, England. To be sure, Toby has also read extensively about the time. But Rice seems to cheat a little by giving him linguistic abilities which he hasn’t earned unless we’re dealing with an implicit gift of tongues. The second problem is that the characters all sound alike when narrating their tales be it Toby O’Dare or Malchiah or the Jewish woman Fluria. The third problem is that, for a tale involving an assassin and a threatened massacre of Jews in England, it’s remarkably ungrim and beautiful – in fact several figures are described as beautiful or graceful: Fluria, Meir, Godwin, Toby, Malchiah, even the mysterious Right Man (who may head a government assassination bureau). Granted, that constant emphasis on beauty and grace is sometimes an advantage in conveying the visual attraction of the Catholic faith, and Rice depicts some of the nuances of Jewish-Christian relations in the Middle Ages. But it is too much beauty when depicting the fallen human world.

The fourth problem is that the story is too long. Rice writes some nice sentences, has some truthful, insightful bits in her internal monologues and then dilutes the effect by being too wordy. Finally, the ending is contrived, a revelation to Toby too neatly mirroring another character’s dilemna.

The book ends with a hint of more Toby adventures to come. I didn’t hate this novel. But I didn’t find Toby’s adventures intriguing enough to want more.


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