Mike’s Prattle


Vernor Vinge “Fast Times at Fairmont High;” Jeff VanderMeer – City of Saints and Madmen; etc.

Posted by Mike on June 13, 2006

I gave precedence to Vernor Vinge's novella "Fast Times at Fairmont High" after buying his newest novel Rainbow's End, which is his first full-length since the Hugo-winning A Deepness in the Sky. He's a must read writer, possibly one of the few in the science fiction field, and this novella is a precursor to the novel, set in a near future where internet/virtual technology has advanced to a degree where junior high school children are being tested at a level unheard of today. Like Vinge's far futures, his near future scenario is cleverly laid out with a lot of plausible advancements in technology that boggle the mind, including advances in computer and medical technology and the movie industry. Like his last two novels, this novella also won a Hugo and it's easy to see why, as the ideas are huge and the plot believable with moderately filled out characters.

I'd talked about the novella "Dradin, in Love" several weeks ago, the opening salvo in this bizarre collection by writer and critic VanderMeer, who has been a source in many ways of a lot of recent reading (especially the Whittemore and Carter novels). City of Saints and Madmen includes a number of other stories, three that follow "Dradin" in the table of contents and then about half a book of metafiction including a hilarious scientific treatise on King Squid, a glossary of Ambergris and a number of shorts all attributed to various characters in the Ambergris world. Having started the collected fictions of Jorge Luis Borges, it's easy to see the influence, especially in the glossary. However, the strongest material is definitely before the appendix (which might be larger than the book itself), with a history of Ambergris, the World Fantasy winning "The Transformation of Martin Lake" and a surreal piece about a man in an insane asylum who believes he's in Chicago and has dreamt up Ambergris, which increasingly impinges on his reality. The writing is pretty amazing, especially some of the stylistic switches between his "writers." The tonal difference between "King Squid" and, say, the history of the Hoegbottoms is pronounced. While I found some of the appendixes a bit tedious (I might have found them more digestible as paged stories or maybe it was the glossary at the end) and some of the prose verging on the overwrought, the imagination that has gone into this world is virile and endless in permutation. I'll definitely be grabbing a copy of his next Ambergris novel, Shriek, when it comes out in August.

Bought a few books last weekend, the first in a long while:

  • Hal Duncan – Vellum
  • Vernor Vinge – Rainbow's End
  • Flann O'Brian – At Swim-Two-Birds
  • Salman Rushdie – Midnight's Children

And I'll be spending part of the weekend finishing up my liner notes for the Water Records reissue of Alan Sorrenti's Aria, which is the first thing I've written about on music in quite some time. Another album that defies the need to canonize a definition of progressive rock.

Spending time watching TV stuff as well, mostly Blake's 7 and Deadwood episodes (redoing the first two seasons to refresh my memory for the new season). All sort of comfort food for an extreme paradigm shift.


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