Monday, January 10, 2022

Reading Into the Past: 1/10/98

On a Monday morning here, you get one of two kinds of posts. If I got new books - no matter how I got them - I'll list them. If I don't get new books, I pick "that week" in a random past year of my reading notebook, list the books I was reading then, and try to remember anything about them.

That's "Reading Into the Past." Think of it as the opposite of review of new books: an examination of what, if anything, remains in memory of books read long before.

This time, the RNG gave me 1998, so here's what I was reading at this time that year:

James Blish, Earthman Come Home (in Cities in Flight, 1/3)

I read the first two books of Cities in Flight on the first of the year. And the fourth one the next day, so I think I'll put any thoughts about the series together below.

James Blish, The Triumph of Time (in Cities in Flight, 1/4)

This was the first and only time I read Cities in Flight: I do not remember being particularly impressed. (I don't remember being impressed by anything of Blish's; in my memory, he's a dour and dull writer, plodding in the small and depressing in the big. Oh, the two magical-apocalypse books are OK because their pyrotechnics are bigger, but, in my memory, they're all the same kind of neo-Calvinist thing.) As I remember, the four novels are all quite separate - by many years in both writing and internal chronology, I think - and only a few characters even appear in multiple books. Plus the whole point of the series is another one of those Atom Age parables that nothing ever gets better and everyone is horrible and cruelty is the iron law of the universe. I do not regret letting them slip out of my mind: let me put it that way.

Anne Fadiman, Ex Libris (1/5)

I remember liking this, and, before I look it up, let me say that I think it was a small collection of essays about books that she particularly liked. (Maybe originally appearing somewhere like The Atlantic? Something classy and literary, I think.) Probably also some element of "what I read while young, to mold me into the classy literary intellectual I am today," he said with more cynicism than is probably warranted.

After looking it up: Fadiman is the daughter of Clifton Fadiman (if you remember that name, congratulations! you are at least as old & stepped in random publishing history as I am), and this is her memoir of growing up in a world steeped in (drawl it out for maximum impact) high literature and how she occasionally slummed in things that are not quite as highbrow. I still have pleasant memories of it, but I think it could come across as awfully precious to readers who don't at least like some of the Great Classics, since she is a big-time Great Classics type.

Ian McEwan, Amsterdam (1/6)

I'm several books behind on McEwan now, and started having trouble keeping track of which was which long before that - so many short novels, all well-written, all realistic, all about middle-class British people, will tend to blur in the mind. So I have to admit I have no memory at all of which one this was.

According to sources, this is his Booker-winner, which makes me sad I can't remember it independently. It's the one where two old lovers of the same woman meet at her funeral - I think he jumps into flashbacks from there, with some kind of revelation at the end. McEwan is always an excellent writer and creates great characters, but he has the prolific novelist's problem: there's so much that's all pretty good or better that they all get forgotten in the general mass.

Damien Broderick, compiler, Not the Only Planet (1/7)

I'm going to guess this was a book of quotes and try to look it up. It is not ringing any bells.

Oh! The cover is familiar: it's actually a book of short stories about SFnal travel, published by the Lonely Planet people in one of their occasional frenzies of line-extension. I'm not sure why Broderick was credited as "compiler" rather than "editor" - sure, reprint collections are assembled and their "editors" typically don't touch a word of the text, but that is the standard credit. Maybe Broderick was persnickety about it; it's the kind of thing I could see me being persnickety about. (Speaking as someone who compiled a number of single-author collections in my own day, and who doesn't entirely remember what credit I gave myself.)

ISFDB has a TOC, which is pretty impressive: "Let's Go to Golgotha!" and "Trips," "Tourists" and "Seven American Nights," among others. Probably a fun book to read, even now, if you can find it.

Connie Willis, editor, Nebula Awards 33 (bound galleys. 1/10)

Let me try to remember how it worked in that era: this would have been a book published in 1998 reprinting stories that won the Nebula in 1997 by ending their eligibility period in 1996 and mostly being published in 1995. I used to complain that the Nebula books should be billed as "The best stories of two years ago!" and people would just glare at me. I believe the rules have changed since, and Nebulas are no longer trailing indicators as they used to be - no idea if anthologies of the winners are still a thing, though.

Again, I'll grab a TOC from the indispensable ISFBD and also link to the official list of winners on the Nebula site. I do remember some of those stories - Swanwick's The Dead" in particular on the positive side, though I do not think I was a big fan of "Abandon in Place." No particular memory of this specific assemblage that Connie put together, though it does have a ghastly cover that I'm sure we can't blame on her. (It was the late '90s! Everything was "cyber"!)


Josh said...

Have you read any of Blish's criticism?

Andrew Wheeler said...

Josh: I know I read The Issue at Hand in early '01, since I blogged about it. I don't think I ever read the second one.

My very vague memory is that I liked Atheling better than Blish, possibly because Atheling was opinionated and willing to hate things in public - I've always enjoyed that kind of critic.

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