Category Archives: Matthew Appleton

Cities in Flight by James Blish

Cities in Flight Cover

Woodstock, NY: Overlook Press, 2000; $35.00 hardcover; 591 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the October 2000 issue (#146) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Because most of the genre’s classics were written well before my adolescence, I often bemoan the fact that many are out of print, making it hard for me to track them down and read them for myself. Luckily, however, the task is not impossible. Often, with a little perseverance, I can find these novels used, and occasionally they come back into print, making my search easier. When I do find them, I sometimes find myself with contradictory reactions to them. For example, after reading Slan by A. E. van Vogt, I understood intellectually its importance to the genre and its popularity when it first arrived, but I couldn’t fathom how someone reading the novel today for the first time could think it a great example of sf. In fact, I found much of the writing so outright laughable that I was left wondering why it was necessary to bring the novel back into print.

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Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels by David Pringle

100 Best Novels Cover

New York, NY: Carroll & Graf, 1997; $10.95 trade paperback; 220 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the July 1999 issue (#131) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Over the past decade or so, Carroll & Graf became a leader of sf reprints by bringing many classics of sf back into print, even if only for a brief period. This army of reprints includes, but is not limited to, Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration, at least three J. G. Ballard books, Ian Watson’s The Embedding, Clifford Simak’s Ring Around the Sun, and Murray Leinster’s The Forgotten Planet. As part of their marketing strategy, Carroll & Graf made extensive use of David Pringle’s Science Fiction: 100 Best Novels for their back cover blurbs; if a reprint made it into his list, then Carroll & Graf made it clear by placing the line “Selected by David Pringle as one of the best 100 novels of all time” on the back cover. Sometimes, the novel itself didn’t even have to make the list; if another of the author’s novels made the list then Carroll & Graf would excerpt a Pringle quote that praised the author in general. It should then come as little surprise that Carroll & Graf is reprinting David Pringle’s 100 Best, originally published in 1985, but out of print for many years.

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Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

Old Man's War Cover

New York, NY: Tor Books, 2005; $23.95 hardcover;
320 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

An edited version of this review originally appeared in the April 2006 issue (#212) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

The urge for authors to write a novel in response to Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is completely understandable. In addition to the genre’s well-established internal dialog, Heinlein’s statue and influence in the field, combined with his didactic and inflammatory statements concerning citizenship and the responsibilities of those who serve in the armed forces, almost demand a response from each new generation of sf writers. What’s really amazing is that it inspired John Scalzi to compose Old Man’s War, a novel that in some ways is very similar to Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, even though Scalzi never read Haldeman’s classic. Don’t let the structural similarities fool you though; Heinlein inspired Scalzi to write something different from Haldeman’s take on the material nearly 30 years ago.

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The Meek by Scott MacKay

Meek Cover

New York, NY: Roc, 2001; $5.99 paperback; 328 pp.

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the November 2001 issue (#159) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Scott MacKay’s first sf novel, Outpost, was a haunting piece of science fiction that blurred the lines of genre literature. Though the novel was definitely sf, a pervasive Kafkaesque quality made it feel more like a work of dark fantasy. Despite a few highly implausible plot turns, especially towards the end, it was an aggressive piece of writing that hinted at great potential for MacKay as a sf novelist. Yet, despite mostly favorable reviews, Outpost didn’t garner much attention from the field. MacKay’s second sf novel, The Meek, takes a much more conventional approach. Whereas Outpost blurred genre lines and had an intricate, slowly unfolding plot that traveled across time, The Meek is a straightforward novel that carefully stays within the sf tropes and makes its revelations in a more linear fashion. Do not misconstrue that, however, as saying that MacKay has decided to blaze an easier trail with this book. The Meek shows much of the daring and dense storytelling exhibited in Outpost.

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Jack Faust by Michael Swanwick

Faust Cover

ISBN-10: 0380974444
Publisher: Avon Books
Pub. Date: Sept. 1997
$23.00, 352 pages, hardcover

Reviewed by Matthew Appleton

This review originally appeared in the February 1998 issue (#114) of The New York Review of Science Fiction.

Since Christopher Marlowe penned Doctor Faustus in 1604, the story of Faust has been retold in many major guises from Goethe’s Faust to Gounod’s opera to Randy Newman’s concept album Faust. Those who believe that that any further retellings just waste our time should take a look at Michael Swanwick’s latest novel, Jack Faust, which is more of a modern, adaptation of the famous tale; rather than a modern retelling.

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