Reviewed by Alexandra Pierce
The 40th Anniversary Edition of SF Commentary appeared in three parts. This is a review of parts 2 and 3.
This issue’s cover is, as usual for a Gillespie production, a picture from Dick ‘Ditmar’ Jenssen, and the zine proper opens with Jenssen musing on the story implied by it – a tale of binary stars and exploration – and some recommended reading for the astronomically inclined. This is followed by Gillespie’s editorial, which is mostly an introduction to Coline Steele, a reviewer for the Canberra Times; which is apt, because pages 7-64 are taken up by Steele’s words. Some of this is reprints of Steele’s earlier work, although the opening, extended essay appears to be new and focuses on Terry Pratchett.
Steele provides an overview of Pratchett’s life and work, including a reflection on Pratchett’s appearance at the Sydney Opera House. He also reviews several of Pratchett’s recent Discworld outings, including Making Money and I Shall Wear Midnight. The rest of Steele’s contribution, as mentioned, is made up of reviews. There is discussion of reference and non-fiction works possible of interest to speculative fiction readers, such as The Greatest Sci-Fi Movies Never Made and The English Ghost: Spectres Through Time. His science fiction reviews are varied, from The Quantum Thief (Hannu Rajaniemi) to Lavinia (Ursula le Guin; I would argue this ought to have appeared in Fantasy), to Yellow Blue Tibia (Adam Roberts) and Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (Sean Williams). There are also sections looking at horror, dark fantasy and gothic (from Terry Dowling’s Clowns and Midnight to Kaaron Warren’s Dead Sea Fruit); fantasy (from Diana Wynne Jones’ Enchanted Glass to Margo Lanagan’s Yellowcake, and Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains); ghost stories (The Battle of the Sun, Jeanette Winsterson; Susan Hill’s The Small Hand); and alternative history (David Kowalski’s The Company of the Dead; Stephen Baxter’s Time’s Tapestry novels). It doesn’t claim to be discussing the best of the field, but giving an overview of it, and I think it achieves its goal. It certainly appeals to a wide range of tastes, and gives a sense of how eclectic the field has been over the last decade or so.
The final 20 or so pages of Part 2 is made up of correspondence. Most of this is made up of people responding to previous issues of SFC, occasionally arguing a point but more often offering their own reflections on events, ideas, or issues. Gillespie generally offers his own reply to those letters, which I can only imagine sets off a further cascade of correspondence as people reply to the reply. I have to say that, as previously, the correspondence does not work for me; I’m not the sort of person who usually reads comments on blog or news posts, and this feels similar. I well know, though, that the correspondence is an integral and vital part of the fanzine, and it is awesome to see it continued here.
Gillespie’s editorial in this issue is a touching one. He begins by expressing his unexpected enjoyment of the film The King’s Speech, and goes on to discuss how he felt it mirrored his own experiences, to an extent: the issue of being hampered, and unable to do things that those around you expect that you can or should. He then explains how a number of people have ‘been his Lionel Logue’ and helped him, especially in getting a start in fanzines and connecting with other fans. It’s a really lovely way of reflecting on the joy that fanzines have brought to Gillespie, and no doubt many many others over the last few decades.
Fittingly, Gillespie follows his editorial with a short discussion of fanzines that he enjoys to this day, chief among them Banana Wings and Trap Door. Gillespie seems a bit despairing of the current state of affairs of Australian fanzines, and especially their lack of a sense of history, but does mention some that he has enjoyed.
As with Part 2, the cover art of this issue was provided by Dick ‘Ditmar’ Jenssen, and he again provides an idea of the story behind it, and some technical notes to accompany it.
The rest of the issue is largely made up of reviews, as a commentary should be; this time they have come from a broad gathering, and there is no discernible theme. It would be tiresome indeed if I were to outline all of these reviews, so let me just mention a few to give a flavour. First up is an extensive, spoiler-filled analysis of Connie Willis’ Blackout/All Clear, from Yvonne Rousseau, which looks at some of the problematic aspects – historical inaccuracies and the like – as well as the issue of time travel itself. John Clute gets a thorough investigation, firstly with an introduction by Damien Broderick who places Clute in his larger context, and then with reviews from Douglas Barbour (looking at The Protocol of Excessive Candour) and Steve Jeffrey (No Lack of Joy in Language). The other reviews are slightly less in-depth, and cover writers as diverse as James Morrow, Greg Egan, Sophie Masson (three of her novels) and Dan Simmons. It’s an interesting and broad-ranging series of reviews, by no means all positive.
The exceptions to the reviews are, first, a lengthy reflection on life from Terence M Green, discussing writing and fatherhood and life more generally; and secondly, an interview conducted in 2003 of Stephen Baxter, by Ian Watson, which discusses Baxter’s fiction and, to my surprise, poetry.
There was no correspondence included in this issue, probably because parts 2 and 3 came out so close together.