Back to Ohio

Traveling today (again!) so I’ll be scarce here. In the meantime, why not read this review of The Android’s Dream by James Nicoll? He’s one of the most observant reviewers of science fiction and fantasy writing now (check his other reviews), and I’m pleased to read his observations of the book. The review, I will note, goes to my oft-said (but I suspect, not-especially-believed) assertion that I would rather read an interesting critical review of my work than a bland positive one. Enjoy, and see you on the other side.

45 Comments on “Back to Ohio”

  1. As an aside, I will note that my only substantive quibble with the review is to observe that Android was (at least for a time) my largest seller in Germany, and won the Kurd Lasswitz (Germany) and Seiun (Japan) awards. So there is at least some evidence that the book had admirers (and sales) outside of the US. This does not, mind you, at all invalidate his contention that the book is US-centric.

  2. I’m glad you find it interesting, I found it used words that I had to look up. I realize that makes me sound like a neophyte but the one thing about your writings that I personally love is that you don’t have to be a science fiction nerd to be able to understand them or whats going on. It’s the same reason Star Trek was so popular, even with those that wouldn’t normally go for science fiction, it dealt with moral and social issues that were universally known. You do that too.

  3. Agree with aztraph. I’m still looking up everything in this pompous sentence

    “One of the tricks in SF is to create prose that successfully avoids both the Charybdis of the unreadable quasi-illiteracy typical of a certain MilSF publisher and the Scylla of erudite literary prose that will baffle and terrify the more delicate SF fans, evoking nightmares of Faulkner and Delany. “

  4. His fourth point regarding the interfacing of computer systems doesn’t really hold water. They’re Earth’s closest ally. Why wouldn’t there be a degree of tech sharing or at the very least copying?

  5. That was not a book review; more a ‘how Americans suck at representing the rest of the world’ review and even that was not very well done as it bounced around like an under-inflated balloon. Try again?

  6. I don’t think it’s an entirely terrible thing to learn new words, and the Scylla/Charybdis allusion struck me as apt. Obviously, mileage may vary.

  7. Any fan of The Police ought to know the Scylla and Charybdis reference — Sting uses it in “Wrapped Around Your Finger”.

  8. Just a little background for people who don’t know of him (I’ve wandered in and out of his blog over the years, so I may not have this entirely right), James Nicoll has reviewed and analyzed hundreds of books every year for many years, mostly for corporate clients (SFBC and Publisher’s Weekly, I believe, were two of them). He encapsulates intelligently for a living. Peter Watts has a quote of his front and center on his blog: “Whenever I find my will to live becoming too strong, I read Peter Watts.”

    He’s not your typical reviewer. Agree or disagree, sure, but don’t think of him as someone who reads six books a year and posts ax-grinding reviews of them.

  9. I find that a very very strange review. If you read only his review and not the novel, you would have no clue that “Android’s Dream” is packed full of comedy and humor, starting with chapter 1. Honestly, I barely recognize the book from his plot summary.

  10. Interesting review – and he’s another cane-waver ;-) Yeah, as Charles R points out, it misses the humor completely. Then again, humor is totally subjective, one person’s hoot is anothers ho-hum.

  11. It’s interesting how different readers encounter a text. I don’t read the sentence Icarus quotes as pompous at all — I think it’s wickedly funny, but quite aside from that it reads like something the author clearly had a lot of fun playing with. Pomposity in my experience is characterized by a lack of fun, a desperate and humourless need to be taken seriously.

  12. “cheerfully embraces the idea that the US is the only country that matters on the Earth.” Mehh. British authors do the same for Britain, Polish authors….

  13. Nightmares of Faulkner and Delany?! Nice for Delany to be put in such company, though I’m not sure why. And it sounds more like a dream to me, though I admit, I’ve read more Delany than Faulkner.

  14. I can certainly agree that “TAD” is a US-centric book, steeped in the issues of US politics. And I can appreciate how that could grate on a Canadian. I’m surprised at how Nichols seems to have missed how harshly critical of US politics the book is, how much it plays up the ridiculousness of Washington inside (the Beltway) baseball. Maybe that’s a Canadian thing, too.

    I like how he highlights the court drama aspect of it. John, you include a courtroom scene in an inordinately high percentage of your novels, yet I can’t recall you ever claiming “lawyer” as one of your “If you weren’t a writer” alternate histories.

    I don’t think that Nichols missed that TAD is intended to be an action-comedy, I think he didn’t find it funny. That happens – it’s probably the reason “Redshirts” is, in any way, divisive. IF you get the joke in TAD*, the book is viciously, darkly humorous. If you don’t, the book’s just vicious, mean-spirited, and violent.

    *Using a value for “get” here equal to “find the joke funny”.

  15. James does occasionally make elliptical references to current events in his reviews; the Scylla/Charybdis allusion is one such. Fortunately for my keyboard I’d put the mug of tea down before I hit that paragraph. :-)

    As Ell says, not your typical reviewer – but a professional reviewer, nevertheless. I’ve chipped in to his Andre Norton reviews, because his reviews are useful/entertaining enough that I’m willing to pay a modest sum to make sure they keep happening.

    And if James didn’t have a “no commissions from the author/publisher” rule, I’d have probably commissioned a review of one of my own books by now, because I’d learn interesting and useful stuff.

  16. “you include a courtroom scene in an inordinately high percentage of your novels,”

    Inexplicably the comment box here appears only seven characters wide on my phone so sorry in advance for typos: courtroom scenes and lawyering seem to me pretty common in SF.

  17. Will there ever be a sequel? I really liked the world of Android’s Dream and would spend my hard-earned dollars to read about that world again!

  18. Alex R:

    I started writing a sequel once and it was not good, so I stopped. I might get around to it again one day, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.


    Indeed, have absolutely no ambition ever to be a lawyer.

  19. >> I’m still looking up everything in this pompous sentence>>

    Everything? Including “baffle,” “terrify” and “tricks”?

  20. If you imagine a ‘happily ever after’ for Harry and Robin (and her money!) then it’s hard to conceive of a sequel.

  21. James Nicoll, I don’t doubt, but John seems particularly fond of them, even on that metric.

    John, I get you. Enjoy the dramatic possibilities, but no desire to live and breathe that stuff. I dabble in performing arts from time to time, but would never want to be a professional actor or musician.

    dana, but, but, but… Scalzi keeps saying it’s coming. Someday. Maybe. It’s even got a title.

  22. Oh I’m all for learning new words, but how often do you get to use them AND have them be understood by more than 15% of the readers when you do? I take note that at the time of this post, that review had one comment and one response to that comment while John has had 24, make that 25. I honestly think John is trying to help out someones blog by mentioning it here.

  23. aztraph:

    Most of the people who comment on Mr. Nicoll’s reviews do it at his home site; the comment thread about this review currently has three times the number of comments as this thread has.

  24. Anyone thinking Mr Nicholls uses lots of words should go read M John Harrison.

    Actually, you should go read him anyway. Just be aware not a lot happens in view of the reader, slowly.

  25. aztraph: Be aware that James Nicoll once wrote:

    The problem with defending the purity of the English language is that the English language is as pure as a crib-house whore. It not only borrows words from other languages; it has on occasion chased other languages down dark alley-ways, clubbed them unconscious and rifled their pockets for new vocabulary.

  26. Frankly, it didn’t occur to me Scylla and Charybdis was an obscure reference. I went to a hick high school and we had a year of Greek myth in grade nine. Plus it’s in the Jason and the Argonauts movie Harryhousen did the sf/x for.

  27. I’d say popularity in Germany at least is no real defence against being US centric; most European countries have long since resigned themselves to American cultural imperialism.

  28. John, Thanks for the info, i’ve been looking for that, but unable to find it, got a link?

    Bruce, That’s a fine quote and I’m sure i’ve given it my share of beatings, for which I am eternally sorry.

    James, It’s not that I didn’t get the reference, I didn’t recognize the names, I’m a year older than JS, so it’s been a while since I personally studied anything other than my profession, and am a blue collar worker which doesn’t require me to have an extensive vocabulary. But I’m also good at my job which is in part to not make my customers feel inferior by using big words, so I don’t find it germane to my daily life and interactions to have one.

    What I take away from this thread, I need to find a word-a-day app for my phone. I find my vocabulary a bit lacking.

  29. It’s possible the savage humor about US politics is less apparent to readers outside the US, even as near and closely related as Canada.

    I do have difficulty with the idea that Scylla and Charybdis is a pompous or obscure reference…surprising. But then, at this point I guess I’m an old phart, and Greek myth and classical history was just an accepted part of the curriculum–even before high school.

  30. Beware of Canadians. They’ve been lulling us into a false sense of security for 200 years…

  31. Anyone who thinks James’ review was harsh should never listen to the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast’s episode on Redshirts.

  32. “I don’t think it’s an entirely terrible thing to learn new words, and the Scylla/Charybdis allusion struck me as apt. Obviously, mileage may vary.”

    I don’t either, I just don’t want to spend all my time doing it just to comprehend one or two sentences. I recall some writing pundits saying that if people are spending all their time going off to find the definition of words in your writing they might not come back. [granted this was said before the days of right-click | google the word.]

    I’m usually up on my Greek Mythology references but the Scylla/Charybdis was lost on me, either to old age or public education. probably both.

  33. Sorry, Icarus. It’s my go-to phrase for being trapped in a dilemma and I just assumed it was universal. Note that I put in a link for Mongkut and his son on the assumption that most people reading me have no idea they know who Mongkut was.

  34. “His fourth point regarding the interfacing of computer systems doesn’t really hold water. They’re Earth’s closest ally. Why wouldn’t there be a degree of tech sharing or at the very least copying?”

    … He was talking about the interfacing of the _legal systems_. He compared that to the way the computer systems in Independence Day were the same. I don’t think the aliens in that film were our allies in any way.

  35. I am observing Mr. Nicoll’s observation is a complaint. Totally the same. Like I said, beware of Canadians. Doubters should check out ‘South Park: The Movie’.

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