Fast Times at Fairmont High

Ack! Vernor Vinge has done it again! His Hugo award-winning novella Fast Times at Fairmont High is not merely an excellent story (what else would you expect from the Vingester?) but it throws out some wonderful ideas about the future of entertainment and the singularity.

The quality of SF writing has increased drastically recently, in my opinion, but I don’t think that the generation of truly new ideas is any faster than it ever was before. Although it’s not the central point of Vinge’s novella, his idea that entertainment companies will merely provide the ‘seeds’ for movie properties and let everyone else create the content and be actors is not something that I’ve heard before – and certainly not articulated as well as he puts it.

I was lucky enough to get Fast Times for free while it was still a Hugo nominee – now you have to pay to download it – but it’s definitely worth reading. Alternatively, you could wait for it to come out in one of the Dozois SF collections later on this year – I can’t see how it could be excluded (except for silly legal reasons).

Princess Bride

Just finished reading The Princess Bride. What a wonderful book! Extremely funny, romantic, adventurous, dashing, with enough sorrow and cynicism to balance it out. I don’t think I’ve read a fantasy story like it anywhere else. It makes me wonder whether this type of story can be adapted for alternate reality games/mmoes. I suspect that it would be difficult, but it’d also be very very fun.

Into the Woods

Saw a truly wonderful musical at Oxford called Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim. The first half is a medley of various fairy tale characters including Jack and Beanstalk, Little Red Ridinghood, Cinderella, brought all together by a quest by the baker and his wife. It’s a traditional musical first half with fun songs and has plenty of inside jokes that adults will appreciate.

The second half is far darker and more realistic (well, as realistic as you can get in a musical) with characters being killed and strife all over the place. Although the moral of the story is layered on a little thick at times, it’s still a great change from most lighthearted musicals you see these days. Plus, the songs are still great. I just ordered a used CD of the songs from Amazon (my first experience with ordering used goods from them). Anyone here seen the musical before?

The Years of Rice and Salt

Finished The Years of Rice and Salt. As usual, it’s up to Kim Stanley Robinson’s high standards. I’m not going to review the book here, as Salon has already got an excellent review. What I want to do is to talk about my impressions of the book.

Firstly, it’s not for everyone, and it is something of a departure from KSR’s usual SF-ish novels, at least from a superficial viewpoint. There are parts of the novel which seem a little neglected or even unbelievable (e.g. it really would not have been possible for the black death to have wiped out 99% of Europe, anthrax or no anthrax). And KSR still has his usual vice of utopianism (though we do love him for it) which shows itself in the last few chapters and bogs the novel down in long, dense political discussions which can get frankly boring.

Now that I’ve summarised pretty much everything that I didn’t like about the book, I hope you realise that if that’s all that was wrong, the rest must be pretty damn good. It is. KSR is at his best writing short stories and looking at the development of characters in changing circumstances, and this is what the novel is all about. Some readers will find the concept of reincarnating main characters to be unacceptably foreign, but I put this down to an lack of familiarity with non-western literature. I read one review which said, “This is nothing like a Turtledove novel!” (another alternate history writer). Well, of course not! If it was, what would be the point of writing it?

KSR makes his books very accessible; while he doesn’t shy away from using whatever language he wants to express himself, he doesn’t use long words just to show off his vocabulary. This is a typical KSR trait, and readers of his work will spot a whole load of his other (good) characteristics.

Anyway, I recommend that you read the Salon review to find out what the novel is about, and if you find it even mildly intriguing, go and buy the book. You’ll learn a hell of a lot about Islamic, Indian and Chinese culture, and you’ll have a great time reading it.