Lazy, self-indulgent reviews of science fiction books

Over at Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews, Nicole Cliffe sort of, kind of, not really reviews books. Here are her tongue-in-cheek reviews of Ellison, Delany, and a prehistoric giant shark.

Nova by Samuel Delany

My father lobbied really hard, almost certainly while high, for my mom to consent to naming me "Nova." Because of this book. She actually liked "Esmeralda," so I'm glad they met somewhere in the middle. William Gibson was obsessed with it too, and you'll see a lot of "Nova" in "Neuromancer."

Not only is "Nova" incredible and cyberpunk-y (and written when he was just 25), Samuel "Chip" Delany is dyslexic, gay, black, has a huge Gandalf beard, and is totally rad. "Nova" is my personal favourite, but he has written a crapload of others, including "The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village," which will set your hair on fire. Delany, like Frank O'Hara, is one of the few "mainstream-ish" writers to speak openly about how, when you're a gay teen, hooking up with some strange guy in a porno theater (consensually) can be an amazing, life-enriching experience, and we shouldn't try to get all needlessly wigged out about it.

He gets into that more in "Times Square Red, Times Square Blue," but I'm not particularly on board with the more general "gosh, what a wonderful time was had by all" nostalgia for the old Times Square.

Not that I'm defending the Olive Garden.

Dangerous Visions by Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison's 1967 speculative fiction anthology was the most important book of my adolescence. Note that I use the term "speculative fiction," as do most women who have ever dated an individual who attempts to write the stuff. I don't recommend that, personally, but eventually you will enjoy the genre again.

I had been extremely close to my father, a homemaker, for most of my childhood, but our edges had done serious damage to our relationship through my teenage years. Personally, I think we as a species are too dismissive of the breach of common decency that marks adolescence. It serves a very serious purpose, in that we are supposed to look at each other upon reaching sexual maturity, and say, "my God, I must leave your home and build my own life, farewell." Regrettably, the strange indoor-cat-like domestication of humans between 12 and 18 means that we must continue to live and friction with our parents for an interminable amount of time. Deeply unnatural, seemingly unavoidable.

But I was about 17, anyway, and had recently began sleeping with my boyfriend, who did, it must be said, write terrible speculative fiction, despite being excruciatingly nice and introducing me to the Replacements. (Peace be upon him.) My father and I had not spoken in approximately six months. This had nothing to do with sleeping with my boyfriend, as my parents had delightedly and Canadian-ly whisked me off to get oral contraceptives four seconds after the idea had been casually floated. It had to do with Stalin. I was con, my father pro. He has always romanticized the Soviet Union in a way which continues to puzzle me, but, then, I find books about the antebellum South rather fascinating, and it is surely a small leap to saying "gosh, wasn't that sort of a nice pretty way to live?" So we had had a vigorous argument about Stalin, which I was on the side of the angels in, obviously, and then we just didn't speak for six months. Drove my mother crazy.

My boyfriend, whose name was Jay, gave me "Dangerous Visions." It's completely transporting, and you should all immediately read it, and resulted in me tracking back the individual contributors and thus being introduced to Philip Jose Farmer, and Philip K. Dick, and Samuel Delany, and Roger Zelazny, and Poul Anderson. And some of the stories are dreck (naked women in space!), but most are phenomenal little nuggets. I was about halfway through "Dangerous Visions" when I ran into my dad in the hallway one morning during Month Six Point Five of not-talking, and heard myself say: "Hey, Dad, did you ever read ‘Dangerous Visions'?" At which point he almost fell over with readiness to end our detente, and informed me that it was the single most important book of his adolescence. And then he offered me a ride to school, and I pretty much remember being an adult after that.

MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten

Remember how I said that "Middlesex" was not a bad novel? This is a bad novel. Perhaps the worst novel! How exciting for you!

I first read "MEG" (and yes, I just said "first") on a ski trip, when my brain was too coked out from exhaustion to process something as complex as "Us Weekly" (you laugh, but Angie and Brad have many, many children now, with complicated names). It is almost too bad to be good. Almost.

It's about a ginormous prehistoric shark, obviously. If I had my way, that's what everyone's books would be about. And, as an ardent lover of cryptozoology, so much so that I even incorporate it into my atrocious novel, this got the job done.

What I really wanted to share with you, apart from the basic plot - ginormous prehistoric shark wreaks havoc - is my favourite favourite totally awesome part of the first half of the book. ‘Cause it's not just rogue marine biologists making it with mega-hot Asian women for no reason.

HOW does the ginormous prehistoric shark get loosed on the world? Oh, baby. Are you as excited as I am?

Here's how it goes down - our hero is searching the Mariana Trench for some reason I don't really remember, and his vessel is attacked by a ginormous prehistoric boy shark, who gets tangled up in some cables and dragged towards the surface by our hero's ship. Enthused by the blood and fear gushing from his wounds, a ginormous prehistoric girl shark NAMED MEG, FOR MEGALODON, starts ripping chunks off of him. And, because she is therefore bathed in his hot, gushing blood, she is able to leave the warm, snuggly Mariana Trench where she and the other ginormous prehistoric sharks have been hanging out, and rise with our hero's ship (because of all the warm blood), through all the yucky cold water between her and the balmy surface of the ocean.

That is actually what happens. You can buy it, in hardcover, for a penny plus shipping on Amazon.