The OF Blog: Four recent reviews of mine posted elsewhere

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Four recent reviews of mine posted elsewhere

For those who haven't been following the SFF Masterworks blog, I recently added four reviews there over the past five days (links are also found embedded in the "Fantasy Masterworks" and "SF Masterworks" links to the right under "Recommended Reading."

J.G. Ballard, The Drowned World

Kate Wilhelm, Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside

David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus

If you haven't already commented on them over there, I'd urge you to comment there and to visit that blog regularly over the next 3-4 months, as there'll be dozens more reviews from several other online reviewers in addition to myself.  Also, in the next week, there will be at least two new reviews from me, of Philip K. Dick's The Simulacra and George R. Stewart's Earth Abides.  Be sure to check out that blog for them and for others that should be going live in the next few weeks!


Matt Denault said...

Hrm, I can't comment at the SFF Masterworks blog because I don't use any of the accounts it requires to comment--maybe you can set it up to also accept a name/URL combination, as your own blog does?

This is the comment I would have posted, which applies to both your review of The Drowned World and now The Simulacra:

A lot of these reviews are ending on the question, Is X worthy of being considered a "Masterwork"? I don't own any of the Masterwork editions, but do Gollancz ever define what they mean by "masterwork"? The one goal for the series that I've seen stated by Gollancz was to bring certain works that were out of print in the UK back into print, works deemed important to the development of the genre but not too dated for modern readers. And meanwhile the historical definition of "masterwork" is the work by which a journeyman proves that they are worthy of being a master: not necessarily their best work, and indeed often not, but rather a work of baseline quality that establishes some of their unique identity in technique, theme, etc. So there's the connotation, to me at least, of a list that fills in the gaps, of works that are interesting and important historically if not necessarily the well-known pinnacle of classic genre works that were presumably already in print--these would be books that preserve the history of the development of the classics.

On the other hand, these reviews seem to be taking "masterwork" to mean the pinnacle of an author's work, some combination of "great" and "essential reading for all." Which is why I'm wondering what Gollancz has to say on the matter--because I'm not sure anyone is truly making the assertions about many of the books that you're judging them by.

But as I said, I don't have any of these editions, so I don't know if their cover copy or introductions are arguing differently than my assumptions.

Larry said...

The reason why those reviews have a concluding paragraph that begins in such a strange way is that when the group project began, it was agreed that we would, in our own ways, address whether or not we felt the story could justify being labeled as a "masterwork" beyond the marketing pitch of those Gollancz titles. So there are multiple definitions of the word in play: 1) what I think of the story itself, 2) the convenient title given to OOP books that one publisher thinks might be of interest to its target audience, 3) how these fictions relate to others of its time/place.

Generally, my introductions involve a historicist approach to these works, grounding them in a larger narrative, while my conclusions are meant to both reference these introductions and the series as a whole. Might be trying to accomplish too much in too little space, but it has been an interesting experiment and I've noticed that certain themes are being repeated, both in the books (and their cover copies, which do play up the books' importance for understanding the genre) and in my reviews. I think it's going to build to something on this blog in the very near future, something more sweeping than the cultural materialism post from last week.

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