Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Asimov's Vs. Analog: Hob Carpet & Brittney's Labyrinth

I like reading science fiction and fantasy short stories, especially new ones as I hope to get published myself. My subscription to Analog expired (unrenewed for now), and buying that, Asimov's, and F&SF every month is getting expensive. I'm going to do a series of reviews comparing stories across these 3 magazines. I'll keep subscribed to the winner. First up is the June 2008 issue of each. Round one: Novellas. FIGHT!


The Hob Carpet is the favorite going into this. I frequently dislike novellas because they tend not to hold my attention. Like many novels, they would be better at half the length. Hob Carpet has a better title, and seems less predictable already. I've read far too much mediocre adventure on an asteroid/moon/rocky planet lately to be thrilled by it unless the story is really thrilling and new, so Labyrinth has to impress. I have no idea what a Hob is, outside of Dresdan Codak, so I'm indifferent, which here is an advantage. Also, while I like his science articles, Richard Lovett is not my favorite fiction writer. He has his moments, but infrequently. Ian MacLeod has a lot published too, but doesn't immediately trigger the "meh" switch in my brain, so once again, odds are on Hob Carpet.

The Hob Carpet by Ian R. MacLeod

Ok, the beginning was slow, but I really liked this story quite a bit. I had to get about 1/3 of the way in before it really grabbed my attention, although the intro paragraph was good. But once I got into it, this was very interesting. It did take me a page or two to realize that the narrator was actually human, however, and that his "I'm a monster, an abberation..." was meant emotionally, rather than physically. But it kept me reading beyond the first paragraph, so whatever. Well-written and character driven, it traces the life of the main character from childhood to power to imprisonment and potential execution. He gets a lot of musing done both growing up and while imprisoned and the fictional world is much changed. An idea story, but a very compelling and exciting one. Also "I often chose to transport myself naked, amidst a rolling orgy...." is a quote that will stick with me for a while I suspect. By the way, this story is not safe for kids. There is really a lot to The Hob Carpet that can't be said in short sentences, but I like it. 4 rolling orgies out of 5.

Brittney's Labyrinth by Richard A. Lovett

I did NOT like this story. Especially at first. It was 30 pages long, so it grew on me a bit by the end, but I'd have given up 3 times by then if I wasn't committed to reading it to review. I haven't read the story that this is a sequel to, but it exudes that "I've started-reading-this-and-decided-it-was-no-good before" sort of deja vu. Having not read the prior story last year, it took me a page to find out who the narrator was, 2 pages to get to any sort of problem, 12 pages for even a mention of the caves/labyrinth/moon that is the whole point of the story, 15 pages for what seems like an interesting mystery to be introduced, and 21 pages for me to give a damn. At 30 pages long, that is a lot of wasted narrative.

The first half is about this pointless expedition to a moon that doesn't matter other than to establish that the guy hiring the main characters is an asshole. There are mysterious samples of black dust taken, which seem irrelevant, then you think for about 2 pages that maybe the first half of the story had a point, before realizing that the whole story works better without that minor mystery, even if it had amounted to more than a sentence of the Good Part. We aren't reading a novel here, there is no reason we have to see everything that happens between the last story and this one. Also, the first line was completely irrelevant to the story, and as something I've been paying a lot of attention to, it really bothered me. Brittney's Labyrinth would have worked much better at about 12 pages, a novella is way too long for this story. 2 grizzled space prospectors out of 5.

On Novellas In General

I've seen people claim that novellas are the best length for fiction because they have all the plot and character development and Theme of a novel, without all the fluff. My general comment tends to be that novellas are like short stories but highly diluted. Some novelists are perhaps devout practitioners of homeopathy. But thinking about this for a bit longer, I think that it is the bad novellas that stick with me, as being overlong, boring, and generally something I struggled to get through or gave up on early. The really good novellas that I've read, I don't remember as novellas. They went too fast. And yet there were a lot more Story and Character and Point than in most stories. So I guess there are two structures, the kind where you had an idea for a novel, but it wasn't big enough, so you wrote it and kept it lean and meaty, and the kind where you realized the magazine paid by wordcount, so you took your short story concept and decided to make a short novel out of it, and probably three or four sequels. I think you can all guess which I prefer.


1. I like novellas after all, at least in theory.
2. I like Richard Lovett after all, at least in small, exciting doses. I guess he gets published in nearly every issue of Analog for some reason besides the love of the editing staff for his undoubtedly sexy, scientist body
3. I'm jaded about sentient AI with no body of their own (Brittney) and asteroid adventures, and no longer find them inherently exciting, I need a top-notch story along with it.
4. I should stop being scared off by page count, sometimes it pays off.

Round One goes to Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, easily.

Monday, June 9, 2008


It was a dark and stormy night. Threateningly drizzly afternoon is closer to the truth. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. A bit better, but the times are a little too mediocre. I don't live or work in a squat, grey building of only thirty-four stories, and I have no idea how to introduce this blog I've decided to create. I have this problem all the time when writing, though. I just can't get started. It happens when I try to write stories, it happened with my old blog which ended up needlessly whiny, uninteresting, and rarely updated, and it happens every time I have to write a paper or essay of any kind. I just can't get started. I'm too much of a perfectionist, with too vague an idea of perfection. So, in this instance at least, I'm going to settle for starting off not with a bang, but with a whimper. Enjoy my reviews, ramblings, rants, and alliteration.