HAWKSBILL STATION – Robert Silverberg (1968)

Hawksbill Station Silverberg (Steir)It is one of the wonders of the written word that a novel about time travel actually functions as a time machine itself – albeit a shaky one. Reading Robert Silverberg’s Hawksbill Station takes us back to the end of the 60ies, but not fully: the possibility of truly experiencing the context in which readers in 1968 read this short novel for the first time is forever lost in time.

According to Lawrence Block, Silverberg wrote 4 books a month at the end of the 50ies and the beginning of the 60ies, “a quarter of a million words a month”. He did so in lots of genres, including “about 200 erotic novels published as Don Elliott” – to pay off the house he bought.

If anything, Hawksbill Station shows that Silverberg was indeed a hardened professional: the prose is rock solid and the pacing is great. But solid prose and great pacing don’t necessarily save a novel from becoming dated. So, has this story about a penal colony for future political prisoners in the early Paleozoic aged well?

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TOO LIKE THE LIGHTNING – Ada Palmer (2016)

Too like the lighteningEver since its first book came out in 2016, I’ve been reluctant to start Ada Palmer’s Terra Ignota series – even though it was met with a lot of buzz and praise. Something about it seemed try-hard, and even pretentious. A science fiction novel set in 2454 with 18th century mannerisms made me put up my guard.

Not only those supposed mannerisms made me wary, but also the influence of 18th century thinkers. I don’t know why, but I’ve never been big on Voltaire, Diderot or Rousseau. Not that I want to dismiss the French Enlightenment out of hand, not at all, but I’ve never been drawn to the thinking & writing of that age and place.

It not only seemed pretentious, there really was a certain intellectual huff and puff surrounding this 4-part series. In a 2016 interview on The Qwillery Ada Palmer – history professor by day – voiced a part of her ambition:

Terra Ignota is most directly based on 18th century philosophical novels by figures like Voltaire and Diderot. They wrote speculative fiction too, of a sort, exploring imagined political systems, metaphysics, even aliens in Voltaire’s Micromegas. We’re used to using classic science fiction futures to ask questions about things like technology, heroism, or transhumanism, but I wanted to write one that would ask the kinds of questions 18th century authors asked, about cultural relativism, hierarchy, equality, and whether we can reconcile Justice and Providence.

And in the author’s notes and acknowledgments at the back of the book, she takes it up more than a few notches – an issue I’ll get back to at the end of my review.

I wanted it so much. So much sometimes it felt like I couldn’t breathe. Sometimes I would cry, not because I was sad, but because it hurt, physical pain from the intensity of wanting something so much. I’m a good student of philosophy, I know my Stoics, Cynics, their advice, that, when a desire is so intense it hurts you, the healthy path is to detach, unwant it, let it go. (…) But there are a lot of reasons one can want to be an author: acclaim, wealth, self-respect, finding a community, the finite immortality of name in print, so many more. But I wanted it to add my voice to the Great Conversation, to reply to Diderot, Voltaire, Osamu Tezuka, and Alfred Bester, so people would read my books and think new things, and make new things from those thoughts, my little contribution to the path which flows from Gilgamesh and Homer to the stars. And that isn’t just for me. It’s for your. Which means it was the right choice to hang on to the desire, even when it hurt so much.

Well, that’s pretentious indeed. So much even, it kinda hurt my eyes. As I read it before I started the book itself, I entered with extreme caution.

Guess what, dear reader. About 25 pages in, the quality of this book already shone through crystal clear – like when you put on a brilliant record and you know it’s going to be brilliant for the remainder, halfway the first song.

While the jury is still out on whether Palmer made me think truly new things – I’ll reserve that judgement for when I finish the full series – the rest of her sentiments seem merited. Too Like the Lightning is one of the best books I have ever read, regardless of genre. Extremely ambitious, yes, but as a work of imagination, so far – again, this is just the first book – it is up there with the greats: Anathem, The Book of The New Sun, Dune.

A whole lot of readers won’t be convinced of that: this is a tough cookie. No beach read, no space opera romp. And even readers that do like chewy might not click with this: taste is taste. I don’t do the novel justice by reducing it to ‘intellectual’ by the way: it is a thrilling, at times wondrous story.

I’ll try to elaborate on my sentiments after the jump, and while doing so also say a few words about Palmer’s philosophical project.

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THE WALL – Marlen Haushofer (1963)

The Wall HaushoferI don’t know why, but it seems I am drawn to books about singular women that have a heightened contact with nature. I’ve just read The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip, about a female wizard that grew up in isolation, surrounded by fantastic beasts. I also have fond memories of Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead by the Polish Olga Tokarczuk – who won the 2018 Nobel Prize. And don’t get me started on The Door by the Hungarian Magda Szabó: while my review of that 1987 book was just short, it is one of my favorite reads ever – if you haven’t read it, I urge you to give it a try.

25 years older than The Door and 46 years younger than Drive Your Plow…, The Wall also has a central European origin: Austria. Marlen Haushofer wrote it in German, and Die Wand was translated in English in 1990 by Shaun Whiteside.

The story has a clear speculative premise: the female protagonist gets trapped in the Austrian mountains, as a suddenly appearing giant transparent wall closes her in, encircling the hunting lodge and the surrounding landscape – mountains, woods, an alm, a valley. It seems all animal life outside the wall is dead, and the woman is left to her own devices to survive – together with a cow, a dog, and a cat.

Those expecting a full-fledged sci-fi romp will be disappointed if they can’t appreciate anything outside genre. The origin of the wall is never explained, nor explored. It is something of a paradox that the story’s only speculative element is at the same time very dominant, yet hardly present. Haushofer’s choices make for a novel that hasn’t dated at all.

The Wall takes the form of a first-person account of the woman, who writes about her ordeals to keep madness at bay. The book has no chapters, and its 224 pages are one long sequence describing chronologically what happened, with the occasional foreshadowing rumination. The story’s focus is rather monomaniacal, and what happens is more or less predictable: she turns to a farming life, one that might offer her better chances of self-realization than her old life.

In a way, it is a miracle Haushofer managed to write an utterly compelling novel, rather than a drab, boring tale about someone planting potatoes again and again. The Wall sucked me in after 30 pages, and if I could, I would have finished it in one sitting. Continue reading

2021 FAVORITES

The continuing pandemic freed up time this year as well, so I read 38 titles in 2021. As always, I won’t make too many promises about what I’ll read in the coming months, but I’ll finish my reread of the Dune series – Chapterhouse: Dune should be one of the next reviews I post. Greg Egan, Kim Stanley Robinson, M. John Harrison and Antwerp author J.M.H. Berckmans have become regulars on this blog, and they will remain so.

I’ll continue to read non-fiction too, I’ve amassed a bit more science books than I usually have on my pile – yearly picture below. New additions are books on vision and the brain, oceans and economy. I also hope to finally read Feynman’s QED on light. As for art books, I’m still reading on Picasso, and I’ll try to finally start with Becher or Twombly, long overdue.


Before I’ll get to this year’s favorites, a bit of blog stats for those of you who are interested in such a thing. I’ve again had a significant increase of traffic: 38,763 views and 21,108 visitors – about 16,000 and 8,000 more than in 2020. Lots of that traffic seems to be driven by my writings on Frank Herbert – I guess the Villeneuve movie increased the interest in analysis of his work.

Of the posts I wrote in 2021 Dune: Part One, God Emperor of Dune and The Book of the New Sun were most read: 1567, 1210 and 1106 views. To offer a bit of perspective: last year that top 3 was Dune Messiah, Children of Dune and The Ministry for the Future, and they only got 675, 501 and 363 views.

As for all-time stats, most read reviews so far are those for Dune Messiah (2742 views since published), Recursion (2631) and Piranesi (2255). There’s 14 posts with over 1000 views now, and an additional 23 with over 500 views in total. I’ve been blogging for 6 years, and so far I’ve published 266 posts.


As always, a big thank you to everyone who has read what I write, and an extra special thanks to those that have commented, linked or pressed the like button: much appreciated, it doesn’t go unnoticed. My best wishes to you and yours for 2022 and beyond.



FAVORITE READS

As for the actual favorite book list: below are the titles I’ve given a 5-star rating on Goodreads in 2021, six books in total – the older I get, the harder it seems to become to rate something the full 5 stars. If I had to pick one, I’d go for The Book of the New Sun, an old favorite that held up well to rereading, or maybe Contingency And Convergence – I learned so much from that book.

Honorable mentions for Eschbach’s The Hair-Carpet Weavers, Harrison’s Nova Swing, Robinson’s The Gold Coast, Cook’s The Black Company, Buchanan & Powell’s The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory, Stephenson’s Termination Shock and, in Dutch, Boon’s De Voorstad Groeit. All more than excellent reads, well worth your time.

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THE FORGOTTEN BEASTS OF ELD – Patricia A. McKillip (1974)

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld McKillip (Canty)Some authors have managed to break through the wall between genre fiction and the literary establishment. Le Guin springs to mind, and Atwood as well.

Patricia Anne McKillip will never be able to do so with a cover like the one on the left – of the 2017 edition. Beautiful as it may be, you cannot market this like Orsinian Tales, The Handmaid’s Tale, or even Piranesi.

Also the plot is harder to sell to a regular crowd: Sybel is a reclusive female wizard, surrounded by mythical beasts that are centuries old – a talking pig, a dragon, a lion, a big falcon, a black swan. Hardly experienced with emotions, Sybel is asked to raise a baby, the alleged son of some king. Gradually she becomes “entangled in the human world of love, war and revenge.”

On top of that, I’ve seen this categorized as YA – even by McKillip herself – and while a 14-year-old might enjoy this, a teenager will miss what this book is actually about – just like most people will miss the thing entirely if they can’t get past that cover and the blurb.

So can we fault people for thinking: fantasy from the 70ies for teenagers, nothing to see here, walk on, next shelf? You could say the same of A Wizard of Earthsea, but somehow Le Guin managed to get respect and four Library Of America volumes. It would be interesting to read an academic study of how that came about, but my guess is being the daughter of an anthropologist helped, as did writing about socialism, Vietnam, gender and the likes – Serious Things. McKillip, on the other hand, as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to write about politics in her later work. She also kept on writing YA titles, not exclusively so, but maybe too many to make a blip on the radar of Literary respect.

Not that I want to make the issue a contest. It is just interesting to ponder the reception of speculative fiction, and what factors contribute to mainstream success: how would Earthsea be looked upon today without Le Guin’s later work?

Because just as Earthsea, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is about human emotions first. Pat Cadigan tries to frame the story as one about power in her introduction to the Masterworks edition I read, but that reduction doesn’t do the story justice.

So, what is this very first winner of the World Fantasy Award about? I’ll keep it spoiler free: I want nobody deterred from reading the rest of review, because The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a masterwork indeed.

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PERIHELION SUMMER – Greg Egan (2019)

Perhihelion Summer Greg EganIf you think Greg Egan isn’t to your liking – too dense, too much math, too much science – Perihelion Summer is the title for you. With hardly any science inside, this novella shows yet another side of Australia’s most reclusive science fiction author.

While it may have a difficult world in the title, the fact that Tor published it is an indication of its accessibility. Length is another argument to give it a chance: its 214 pages offer a short, smooth, engaging read. While every online bookstore or professional review I’ve consulted seems to consider this a novel, Egan himself calls it a novella on his own website. That classification does matter, as I’ll explain below.

So what’s this little gem about?

Well – climate change, but not as you know it. None of the man-made stuff of Termination Shock or The Ministry for the Future, but change brought about by Taraxippus – a black hole one-tenth the mass of the sun that passes through our solar system.

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VERGEET NIET WAT DE ZEVENSLAPER ZEI – J.M.H. Berckmans (1989)

A post in Dutch, about Antwerp author Jean-Marie Berckmans, who died in 2008 – after a lifelong struggle with manic-depression, anxiety and addiction. I’m slowly working my way through his oeuvre.

This review is about his 2nd debut – he disappeared for years from the literary stage after his 1977 debut. The title is a Dutch translation of “Remember what the dormouse said”.

Next post will be in English again – on the excellent Perihelion Summer, a 2019 title by Hard SF giant Greg Egan.


Voor een introductie in J.M.H. Berckmans: zie de linkjes onderaan.

De zevenslaper is een relmuis: relmuizen slapen 7 maanden per jaar. Het is meer bepaald de relmuis uit het nummer White Rabbit van Jefferson Airplane – waarin Grace Slick er ons op het einde aan herinnert dat die muis “feed your head” zei. Jean-Marie Berckmans was verslingerd aan muziek, maar in zijn 2e debuut uit 1989 is het veelal toch wat minder swingend & free dan in zijn latere werk.

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TERMINATION SHOCK – Neal Stephenson (2021)

Termination Shock Neil Stephenson ToppingScience Fiction has always been about its own times too, and so today Cli-Fi – a term coined by Dan Bloom – is taking center stage more and more. While there is Cli-Fi that’s not speculative, so far most of it has been part of SF, and lots of SF authors will have to incorporate some of its elements, whether they want to or not: anybody writing about future Earth will have to deal with climate change one way or another. While we continue our journey into the 21st century, the Change will become less and less speculative, turning what started as a speculative genre into dead serious realism. Horror possibly. It’s clear that fiction about the changing climate is here to stay, in whatever form.

Over the past few months, I’ve read 3 high profile authors’ most recent takes on the genre: Bewilderment by Richard Powers, The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson and Neal Stephenson’s brand new Termination Shock.

I’ll briefly compare these three offerings, but let me first situate Termination Shock in Stephenson’s larger oeuvre, and also say something about its general merits. There will be no spoilers, but I’ll have to talk about the book’s core message – as that needs more than just a novel, but a megaphone too.

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FAREWELL, EARTH’S BLISS – D.G. Compton (1966)

Farewell, Earth's Bliss (Compton, Lloyd)There’s a few slow projects in progress on this blog: rereading favorites I haven’t reviewed yet (Foundation, Anathem, Frankenstein and maybe some Banks are in the queue), working my way slowly through the KSR, Greg Egan and M. John Harrison I haven’t read, reading Frank Herbert’s lesser novels (a form of masochism), read more of my non-fiction TBR, digesting the oeuvre of Flemish writer J.M.H. Berckmans, and checking out some of the vintage scifi Joachim Boaz recommends on his site Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations.

Some of Boaz’ recommendations have worked out really well for me: Non-Stop, Stand on Zanzibar, Beyond Apollo, Dying Inside, We Who Are About To…, An Infinite Summer, others less so: Ice, Memoirs of a Spacewoman, A Funeral for the Eyes of Fire.

The British author David Guy Compton’s second speculative title falls somewhere in between. I didn’t fully love it, but it is not to be discarded either. Farewell, Earth’s Bliss combines 2 tropes: colonizing Mars and the prisoners’ colony.

I’m sure the story of unwanted people that are sent to a distant island or so has been told lots of times in regular fiction too, but science fiction obviously offers a bit more possibilities than some version of Australia. In 1967 Robert Silverberg published Hawksbill Station – a novel I have yet to read, and he uses time travel as the method of exile. [update: I read it in January 2022, click on the title for the review.] In the 1980ies Julian May takes that same idea for The Many-Coloured Land and makes an entire series out of it – one I loved as a teenager.

Stories about communities in isolation being abundant, the question then is whether Compton uses his Mars setting effectively – to wit, distinctively. The short answer is yes, but the longer answer is a bit more nuanced, as Farewell, Earth’s Bliss is social science fiction, no hard sci-fi or space laser stuff.

That’s easily explained by the fact that Compton simply was not interested in science fiction as such, and has read none of his peers’ stuff, as he expressed in a fairly long 2019 interview with Darrell Schweitzer on Black Gate: Continue reading

THE EVOLUTION OF MORAL PROGRESS – Allen Buchanan & Russell Powell (2018)

The Evolution of Moral Progress Buchanan Powell

While reading the brilliant Contingency and Convergence: Toward a Cosmic Biology of Body and Mind, a 2020 book by Russell Powell on what evolutionary science can tell us about the possible nature of consciousness emerging in bodies on other planets, I was in awe of Powell’s meticulous reasoning skills. The book was an intellectual feast because of the rigorous thinking on display.

What struck me most was the interdisciplinary prowess: Powell is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Boston University, and aside from a PhD in Philosophy also holds a Master in Evolutionary Biology and a professional doctorate in Law. It is rare to encounter a mind that can argue that well and commit complex thoughts to paper in a manner that is both logical & clear. Obviously the first thing that I did when I finished Contingency and Convergence was see if Powell had written other stuff, and that let me to this book, co-authored with Allen Buchanan, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Duke and professor of the Philosophy of International Law at King’s College.

For starters, let me quote the Oxford University Press‘ description of The Evolution of Moral Progress: A Biocultural Theory:

“Allen Buchanan and Russell Powell resurrect the project of explaining moral progress. They avoid the errors of earlier attempts by drawing on a wide range of disciplines including moral and political philosophy, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, history, and sociology.

Their focus is on one especially important type of moral progress: gains in inclusivity. They develop a framework to explain progress in inclusivity to also illuminate moral regression—the return to exclusivist and “tribalistic” moral beliefs and attitudes. Buchanan and Powell argue those tribalistic moral responses are not hard-wired by evolution in human nature. Rather, human beings have an evolved “adaptively plastic” capacity for both inclusion and exclusion, depending on environmental conditions. Moral progress in the dimension of inclusivity is possible, but only to the extent that human beings can create environments conducive to extending moral standing to all human beings and even to some animals. Buchanan and Powell take biological evolution seriously, but with a critical eye, while simultaneously recognizing the crucial role of culture in creating environments in which moral progress can occur. The book avoids both biological and cultural determinism. Unlike earlier theories of moral progress, their theory provides a naturalistic account that is grounded in the best empirical work, and unlike earlier theories it does not present moral progress as inevitable or as occurring in definite stages; but rather it recognizes the highly contingent and fragile character of moral improvement.”

If you want a much more thorough summary of the book, I can vouch for the accuracy of this one by Jeroen Hopster from the University of Utrecht. (Buchanan & Powell’s book is liberal to a certain extent, definitely not Marxist, should it being reviewed on a Marxist site worry you. Readers hostile to Marxism should not be detered from reading Hopster’s review either, the summary is politically neutral.) There is also this review by Prof. Em. Allen Gibbard, and one by Michael Brownstein and Daniel Kelly here, the latter start with an outline, but also offer interesting caveats to some of the book’s theories. These authors are much more in the know as I am on the subject matter, and they call the 422-page book “marvelous” and “likely to become a landmark”.

In the rest of the review, some thoughts on the book, an intermezzo on the supposed power of literature, and, as usual in my non-fiction reviews, I’ll end with a collection of interesting information tidbits I want to keep an account of.

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BEWILDERMENT – Richard Powers (2021)

BewildermentEvery intelligent, well-informed human that trusts the global scientific community and that recently became a parent undoubtedly will have had the same question staring him or her in the face: why did I knowingly bring a child into this world, a planet on the brink of catastrophic climate change, during the onset of the 6th mass extinction?

Richard Powers, 64, having no children, also felt the need to write a book related to that 21st century existential parental question. On the back cover it is posed like this: “At the heart of Bewilderment lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperilled planet?”

I will end this review with my own answer to these questions – being a father of two toddlers. Before that, there are 3000 words about Powers’ attempt – ultimately a failed and defeatist answer, in a novel that doesn’t really know what it wants to be. I’ll try to judge the book by the ambition that Powers’ expressed himself in various interviews.

But first, the question of genre: Bewilderment should appeal to most science fiction fans, at least on paper.

The father-protagonist is Theo Byrne, an astrobiologist who theorizes about life on exoplanets. Aside some talk about his actual research models, spread throughout the 278-page novel are about 25 short chapters that speculate about possible alien worlds.

The book is set in a slightly alternate today – not in a near-future, as I have seen claimed elsewhere. The novel’s story takes about one year, and Earth’s population is said to be 7.66 billion, so that would be somewhere in 2018. It’s basically our own time, but there are a few alternate events concerning a thinly veiled president Trump, and some existing technology that is used in a bit of a different manner as today. There are only three instances of such technological futurism, two of which are just details and perfectly possible already. The third however is central to the story, and while the technology does also already exist today – decoded neurofeedback (DecNef) – its described effects are totally speculative, even within the boundaries of the story itself, and as such it gives Bewilderment also a sparse magical-realist vibe.

Aside from the speculative content – I’d say this is slipstream rather than full blown sci-fi – Powers also incorporates references to science fiction, most importantly to the 1959 classic Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes. Theo Byrne is vocally proud of his collection of 2,000 science fiction books, Stapledon‘s Star Maker was “the bible of my youth”, and also the Fermi paradox is one of Bewilderment‘s themes – yet another staple of science fiction.

What’s not to like, fandom?

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2xDNF: BLOOD MERIDIAN (1985) & BRASYL (2007)

A short post on 2 books I didn’t finish, mainly because of their prose.


BLOOD MERIDIAN, OR THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST – Cormac McCarthy (1985)

Blood Meridian McCarthyDubbed as one of the ultimate Great American Novels by some, I looked forward to reading this, but DNFed at 30%. It’s basically a violent (anti-)Western with lots of descriptions of landscapes. I have no idea why it is included in some lists of speculative fiction.

Why did I quit? The prose didn’t click. I thought it was contrived, and convoluted because of that. Taste obviously, as lots of people seem to like its poetry, and even say it is genius. Lots of reviews on Goodreads extensively quote examples of sentences & entire passages, so take a look at those to see if it could work for you.

I also don’t buy the premise of the book – or what the general consensus seems to be on its premise – namely the fact that man is depraved. “Man” is such a generalization that statements like that are hardly interesting. True, at times some humans act in a depraved way, but the vast majority of people I know are good at heart. Then again, if I had kept on reading, I might have seen McCarthy was being ironic. Who knows?

For contrast, here’s Caryn James from the NYT on the novel in 1985: “This latest book is his most important, for it puts in perspective the Faulknerian language and unprovoked violence running through the previous works, which were often viewed as exercises in style or studies of evil. ”Blood Meridian” makes it clear that all along Mr. McCarthy has asked us to witness evil not in order to understand it but to affirm its inexplicable reality; his elaborate language invents a world hinged between the real and surreal, jolting us out of complacency.”


BRASYL – Ian McDonald (2007)

BrasylBrasyl – a near-future account of Brazil – started out good, but at 30% I still couldn’t figure out what the story was about, and the stop-start prose started bugging me: chaotic & jumbled.

I started reading some reviews on Goodreads, and came across this by Ian James:

“the description of being able to see into parallel worlds was not at all believable, and it made no sense that the poison from a frog conferred the ability to do so in humans, just because that frog’s retina is supposedly capable of detecting a single quantum of light (and is thus able to see into the quantum world). Also, just because you can see billions of parallel worlds does not mean you can predict the future, find out answers to questions in your own world, or be able to travel in time. It made NO sense, and it was not explained at all. There was some gibberish about quantum computers somehow causing a sort of gateway between parallel worlds, but this unconvincing pseudo-scientific explanation was muddled up with the hallucinogenic or mind-altering psychic power “explanation” in other parts of the book.”

I decided to cut my loses, because it is exactly that kind of stuff that bugs me these days.

I liked River of Gods & Luna: New Moon a lot, but Luna: Wolf Moon didn’t convince me to read the third Luna installment. This time McDonald failed to convince me altogether. I still have The Dervish House on my TBR, we’ll see about that one.


Consult the author index for my other reviews, or my favorite lists.

Click here for an index of my non-fiction or art book reviews, and here for an index of my longer fiction reviews of a more scholarly & philosophical nature.

DE VOORSTAD GROEIT – Louis Paul Boon (1943)

De Voorstad Groeit (LP Boon) 9e druk 2000This time a post in Dutch, about the debut of Louis Paul Boon, an Flemish author, born in 1912. In 1979 he was invited to the Swedish embassy sometime before the Nobel Prize was awarded, likely to be informed of him winning it, but since he died the day before, he never got it, as Nobel Prizes are only awarded to the living. De Voorstad Groeit translates as The Suburb Grows, and deals with themes of urbanization, poverty and the lives of factory workers somewhere in the first half of the 20th century.

An early French translation by Marcel Defosse was never published, and no other translations exist as far as I know. A shame, because this book remains as powerful and relevant as when it was written. It has been compared to the work of Jon Dos Passos.

Next post will be in English again – probably a review of Bewilderment by Richard Powers.



Hoewel Boon een van onze grootste schrijvers is, en misschien zelfs de grootste romancier, is het grootste deel van zijn omvangrijke oeuvre enkel tweedehands verkrijgbaar. Van dit debuut werden in de loop der jaren ongeveer 82 000 exemplaren verkocht, omnibusuitgaven incluis. Ik las de 9e druk, de zogenaamde wetenschappelijke ‘Werkuitgave’, in 2000 door Querido uitgegeven op vijftienhonderd exemplaren, met achteraan een 40-tal erg interessante bladzijden publicatiehistoriek, receptiegeschiedenis en tekstverantwoording.

Die publicatiehistoriek is opmerkelijk omdat dit boek tijdens de oorlog is uitgegeven, nadat het in 1942 de Leo L. Krynprijs had gekregen – een literaire prijs met o.a. Willem Elsschot in de jury. Dat toont eens te meer ons – of toch op z’n minst mijn – gebrekkig historisch besef aan. Ik had niet gedacht dat tijdens de Duitse bezetting literaire prijzen werden uitgeschreven, of dat Angèle Manteau 3000 expemplaren van dit boek had kunnen of zelfs willen uitgeven – winkelprijs 35 Belgische Frank. Het is zelfs besproken door heel wat (Duitsgezinde) recensenten.

Die Duitsgezinde heren zijn het haast allemaal roerend eens dat De Voorstad Groeit vormelijk en qua taal een ijzersterk boek is en Boon een groot nieuw talent. Enkel over de inhoud twijfelt men: het boek zou te ‘miserabilistisch’ zijn, en daarom als het ware voorbijgestreefd. De Nieuwe Orde kwam er immers aan, en na de oorlog zouden alle problemen van de arbeiders en het volk toch als sneeuw voor de zon verdwijnen?

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THE BLACK COMPANY – Glen Cook (1984)

While the goofy 80ies cover by Keith Berdak to the left suggests otherwise, The Black Company hardly feels dated.

Or maybe scrap that, as it is the first book in a long standing dark fantasy series – 10 novels, some short stories, a spin-off – that has only 217 pages. Only two hundred seventeen, indeed.

It features none of the things most publishers demand of fantasy in the 21st century: no impressionistic descriptions of exotic fragrances of herbs & spices on the local market, no 400 pages of set-up for the next book to sell. In short: this is the real deal, not some streamlined version of what generic fantasy has become.

More so, The Black Company is seminal, if we have to believe Steven ‘Mazalan’ Erikson: “With the Black Company series Glen Cook single-handedly changed the face of fantasy – something a lot of people didn’t notice and maybe still don’t. He brought the story down to a human level, dispensing with the cliché archetypes of princes, kings, and evil sorcerers. Reading his stuff was like reading Vietnam War fiction on peyote.”

Cook’s series is also often described as a precursor to grimdark – even if violence doesn’t take center stage in this first book. What takes center stage is plot: Cook wrote a fast paced story about a group of mercenaries involved in a continent-wide battle.

But characters aren’t unimportant either – this indeed is the story of a band of brothers, and while there isn’t that much psychological depth at display in this first book, I suspect that I will end up caring a lot about these men by the time the series is finished – even if most of them probably will be dead by then.

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DUNE: PART ONE – Denis Villeneuve (2021)

Dune Part One Poster While this is not a movie blog, I thought I’d share my thoughts on the new Dune film that was released yesterday – except in the USA, where it will be released on October 22. For those that are interested, I’ve invested quite some time writing about Frank Herbert’s books and my reread of the Dune series in particular, resulting in a series of long posts – links at the end of this review.

What I will not do is compare this movie to Denis Villeneuve’s other sci fi work, as I haven’t seen Blade Runner 2049 or Arrival – even though I did read both stories on which those were based. I will also refrain from commenting on what David Lynch did or didn’t do better with his 1984 adaptation – I’ve seen that movie multiple times, but it has been years, and my memories of it are sketchy to the extent I can only say two things about it: I liked it, but the movie probably won’t make much sense to somebody that hasn’t read the book.

I’ll simply try to give an honest appraisal of how I experienced the new film, based on just one viewing. I have no intention of writing a lengthy analysis, nor add to the Twitter bloodsport on Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Liet Keynes or the White Savior Myth.

So, is the movie any good? Does it do the book justice? The short answer is a double yes, loud and clear. The longer answer needs a bit more words. No spoilers, I promise.

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