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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

24 Comments

  1. peeeeeeet
    October 19, 2012 @ 1:09 am

    This reflects very much how I feel, about Warlock, about Cartmel, about Science Fiction, about SF awards and about modern media Science Fiction. Excellent piece.

    Reply

  2. Nick Smale
    October 19, 2012 @ 2:33 am

    Not the Hugos I know, but didn't one of Kate Orman and Jon Blum's DW books win an award for best Australian science fiction novel?

    Reply

  3. daibhid-c
    October 19, 2012 @ 2:55 am

    Yep, Fallen Gods won the Aurealis Award in 2003, with Blue Box also on the shortlist. In previous years Set Piece, Walking To Babylon, and Unnatural History were also shortlisted.

    Fallen Gods and Year of the Intelligent Tigers were also shortlisted for the Ditmars.

    Reply

  4. Unknown
    October 19, 2012 @ 3:07 am

    It's a shame you're not covering Parasite. I've been waiting almost 20 years now for someone to come along and tell me what in the world that was all about.

    Reply

  5. Matthew Celestis
    October 19, 2012 @ 3:25 am

    Parasite is about a weird alien ecosystem that can do horrible things to your body.

    Reply

  6. Aaron
    October 19, 2012 @ 3:41 am

    I've got to admit I was disappointed that Parasite wasn't covered either, as I was looking forward to Phil wading through how little fun that book is. Remember that scene where they cut open Benny's stomach to remove an alien in it? No? It's not even the most gruesome part of the book!

    However, I wasn't aware it was that hard to figure out. Mortimore's doing his own version of a sci fi trope of showing off an incredibly brutal, but incredibly alien world. Basically, the Parasite is a solar system sized living alien creature, and the TARDIS crew lands in it. After 300 pages of having fun torturing each of them is excruciating detail, the book then informs us that they don't belong inside this creature, and it has a right to live, and then they leave. Oh, and the Doctor stops it from destroying a solar system. But that's all.

    Fall's the Shadow, Parasite, and Warlock never should have been commissioned all together. Each one of them is just so mercilessly focused on doing horrible things to the characters we like. Warlock is definitely a good book, but all three together was just…too much.

    Reply

  7. Ununnilium
    October 19, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    "And this is an important point – the sort of literary science fiction that Warlock aspires to just isn’t that significant a factor anymore."

    But… isn't The Diamond Age exactly that kind of science fiction? I don't really get where the idea that it isn't a significant thing anymore comes from. No, it's no longer the only kind of science fiction, or even the primary kind, but I'd say "Take a piece of speculative technology and tell a story about its implications" is still an enormous, vibrant strand of what SF/sci-fi/SyFy is.

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  8. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 19, 2012 @ 9:51 am

    Yes. My point was more that The Diamond Age is already at the dying end of that. It's telling that of the six books Stephenson has written since then, only one is a traditional piece of science fiction. Two are techno-thrillers, and three are historical fiction.

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  9. Ununnilium
    October 19, 2012 @ 10:40 am

    I don't know – I've read a number of excellent SF novels which have come out between now and then which fit firmly into that strain. I don't think it's something that had an end, just something that's been on the lower levels of fluctuating popularity.

    Reply

  10. John Seavey
    October 19, 2012 @ 10:52 am

    I dunno…one of the things that always stood out to me about 'Warlock' was just how empty his characterization of the animal scientists was. It was frankly as if Cartmel had made no room for the possibility in his head that people could have a reason for conducting experiments on animals; every single person at the lab was either a merciless money-grubber who viewed the deaths of animals with callous indifference, or an active monster who tortured animals for fun.

    Which isn't to say that the book should have been more pro-animal experimentation; but the characters who are doing it should have been. When everyone, even the experimenters, are parroting your point of view, only the "bad guys" are saying, "I don't even know why I'd do this; I suppose I must be evil!"…then you probably need to do a bit more work on your characterization. 🙂

    Reply

  11. Tiffany Korta
    October 19, 2012 @ 11:50 am

    I'm so glad you skipped Falls the Shadow's, I can't express how much I hate that novel. I've only managed to struggle through it once and it stumps me every time I try again.

    I have a theory about tie in novel. They only seem to get good once they don't have to compete with the show there written about. Well once they realize that they don't have to conserve the show continuity.

    Reply

  12. Jack Boulton
    October 19, 2012 @ 1:54 pm

    One thing I've noticed is that the SPAG in the New Adventures is appallingly poor. The paragraph I copied below is a particularly bad example of the overuse of the full stop. So whilst I can see that these stories are sometimes definitely up for an award of some kind, the editing is shockingly bad, which goes against them in many ways.

    "The Doctor was examining the small pill Ace had given him. He took a clean handkerchief out of one pocket and spread it carefully on the dusty, paintspattered newspaper. The handkerchief was made of some strange, lustrous red material. The small white pill seemed to glow against its folds. The Doctor reached into another pocket and took something out. Ace saw that it was the bag of dried mushrooms from the refrigerator."

    Reply

  13. Nick Smale
    October 19, 2012 @ 11:09 pm

    I've read a number of excellent SF novels which have come out between now and then which fit firmly into that strain.

    The difference today, I think, is that while there are many novels like this, they're very different and diverse; there's little consensus in the genre about what's important, about where we're heading socially and technologically. 40/50/60s SF agreed that space was the future, and so there were many novels about planetary colonisation and galactic empires; in the 80/90s was united behind computers, and so we had cyberspace, artificial intelligence and the singularity; today's writers are all pointing in different directions, and that lack of unity results in the genre seeming less important and substantial than it did in the past.

    Reply

  14. Ununnilium
    October 20, 2012 @ 8:15 am

    That's a good point. Also, it tends to blend with other genres more. For instance, Charles Stross's Accelerando is all about the concept of the Singularity, but it's also a multigenerational family drama.

    Reply

  15. Aaron
    October 21, 2012 @ 4:40 pm

    I love your user name.

    Reply

  16. Nick Smale
    October 21, 2012 @ 9:46 pm

    It's telling that of the six books Stephenson has written since then, only one is a traditional piece of science fiction. Two are techno-thrillers, and three are historical fiction.

    What's fascinating about Stephenson's historical fiction is the way in which it reads like science fiction. Partly that's because the books share SF's interests – they're about the ways in which scientific and technological change lead to changes in society. And partly that's because they use SF techniques in the writing – the bizarre society of 17th century Europe in 'Quicksilver' is explored in much the same way that the bizarre society of the planet Arbre is explored in 'Anathem'.

    Reply

  17. Alex Wilcock
    October 22, 2012 @ 1:45 am

    I'm with you on that – and don't forget what the Ship does to the Doctor in the next one along…

    My other half and I used to group the NAs into four-to-six-story 'seasons' and give them titles for fun. I can't remember most of them, but for these stories the season title was definitely "The Horrible Agonies".

    Reply

  18. ferret
    October 23, 2012 @ 3:40 am

    Shouldn't that be S.P.A.G. ? 🙂

    Reply

  19. saintthefireshow
    October 23, 2012 @ 9:38 am

    Surely that's just Cartmel's writing style, though? Yes, another writer might use semi-colons or dashes or whatever, but I don't think you could describe either approach as (objectively) 'wrong', or evidence of "bad editing".

    Reply

  20. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 23, 2012 @ 9:40 am

    I don't find Cartmel's somewhat terse style to be a problem as such, although it is fair to comment that Stephenson's skill as a prose-stylist is well beyond that of almost any of the NA writers.

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  21. Jack Boulton
    October 24, 2012 @ 7:40 am

    Wasn't there one NA author who was criticised for using full stops to add. Emphasis. To the end. Of almost. Every. Paragraph?

    Does use of punctuation count as writing style? Philip you are kind to use the word 'terse', but to me it comes across as clunky, making it harder to read, and ergo less likely for an award. That's not necessarily to say that Warlock (the current example) is a bad book, I like it, but the punctuation seems somewhat unimaginative. With the paragraph I quoted, the excessive full stops don't add anything to the texture of the prose, it just seems like no-one bothered to say 'Andrew, this would be better as a semi-colon'.

    Oh, and I am assuming that SPAG is a acronym, so therefore doesn't require full stops after each letter. That's a stylistic choice I prefer to employ because it helps the flow of the text – how annoying would it be if Cartmel also wrote T.A.R.D.I.S. instead of TARDIS! 🙂

    Reply

  22. Ross
    October 26, 2012 @ 4:34 am

    I should clarify (I being the unknown poster above due to having forgotten to reset my profile name years ago) that I didn't mean "what that was all about" in the sense of "I didn't understand the plot" so much as in the sense of "After I finished it, much-younger-me just sat in the corner for a bit rocking back and forth and muttering 'Why? Just why?' over and over."

    Reply

  23. Andrew McLean
    October 28, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    Slightly disappointed that you skipped over Falls the Shadow as it's one of my favorites, but I can understand that you might have more to say about other books. If you had to pick only one of O'Mahony's books to cover, I think you made the right choice.

    On more of a tangent, I've never looked at Sullivan's rankings before and it's a little depressing to see some personal highlights in the bottom third you mention. Falls the Shadow, Sky Pirates! and Time's Crucible are all in my personal NA top 10. The Death of Art and Strange England are admittedly uneven and not quite successful at what they set out to achieve, but are a lot more interesting than some of the better remembered or more polished works. I can see why Jim Mortimore's books can evoke a strong negative reaction, but think they deserve to be rated more highly.

    My personal quibbles aside, I can't deny that the top third of the rankings are generally worthy of note. I just felt the need to give Falls the Shadow some love 🙂

    Reply

  24. Andrew McLean
    October 28, 2012 @ 6:31 pm

    "Even villainous characters who exist primarily to do something bad and get killed for it get a good few pages of attention and development, and we get a real sense of who they are from it."

    Although this deserves to be noted within the context of the New Adventures, there's a level on which it seems odd to me that this technique should be considered as particularly innovative. This is because I first encountered it in my teens when I went through a phase of reading lots of James Herbert horror novels. You could always tell when a new character existed purely to be killed off – anybody who developed several pages of back story immediately after being introduced was bound to be killed off a couple of pages later.

    This isn't a criticism of the technique itself of course – Cartmel uses it to good effect – just an unfortunate side effect of my personal reading history.

    I've just now remembered that Cartmel wrote a Judge Dredd novel about genetically modified pigs. I might need to track that down and see how it compares to Warlock…

    Reply

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