Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ken MacLeod

Ken MacLeod is the author of many acclaimed SF novels, including The Stone Canal, The Cassini Division, Newton’s Wake, and Learning the World, which won the Prometheus Award (his third) and was a finalist for the Hugo Award. His latest novel, The Execution Channel, has been shortlisted for the 2008 Prometheus Award.

Last week I asked him what he was reading. His reply:
I've just started reading Farah Mendlesohn's Rhetorics of Fantasy (Wesleyan University Press, 2008). This book develops an original and intriguing taxonomy of fantasy literature, classifying texts according to the way in which the fantastic enters the text. Less formally: according to how protagonist, and the reader, are brought into the fantastic world. Are we brought into it from outside? Are we (artfully) presumed to be already familiar with that world? Does the fantastic, instead, enter our world? Or do we glimpse it out of the corner of our eye? Or - none of the above?

Each of these choices - portal (which is, surprisingly and convincingly, linked to quest), immersion, intrusion, liminality or subversion - imposes its own constraint on the narrative technique, and on the expectations of the reader. What's most exciting about this book is that it makes unexpected predictions and tests them. Mendlesohn's magic sword cleaves many a rock at hitherto unseen fissures.

Another book that makes and justifies surprising claims is The Unknown Stalin, by Zhores A. Medvedev and Roy A. Medvedev (I. B. Tauris, 2003, 2006). The dissident twins have delved into the archives and drawn on their own deep knowledge of the Soviet system to debunk some influential legends - such as that Stalin broke down at the beginning of the war - and to provide fresh insights on a wide range of subjects: the blitzkreig, the bomb, how Stalin died, whom he saw as his true successor, what he read (an astonishing amount, is the answer), and much else.

Finally, on a brighter note, The Oxford Book of Modern Science Writing edited by Richard Dawkins (Oxford University Press, 2008) is pure undiluted reading pleasure and mental joy from beginning to end. (Not that I've got to the end, but I've taken a statistically significant sample of the book, and I'm betting the rest of it'll hold up.) This book's only drawback is that it may well incite you - I know it's inciting me - to rush out and read every book from which the extracts are taken. Which wouldn't leave much time for reading anything else, let alone writing. It's a risk I can live with, and so should you. Read this book!
Visit Ken MacLeod's blog.

The Page 99 Test: The Execution Channel.

--Marshal Zeringue