Bill Tozier and Cosma Shalizi on the tough-love approach to academic peer review. Cosma opts for the frank and brutal – “This MS. is completely lacking in scientific interest and should be rejected.” I’ve never had the heart to do this myself, but I don’t know that my slightly more hesitant approach to stinkers (usually something along the lines of “this manuscript may have had some merit, but I couldn’t see it”) is any more pleasant or helpful for the author.
Also via Cosma, this admirable Michael Chabon piece on Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series in the New York Review of Books. Chabon captures precisely the strengths of the first two volumes, and the weaknesses of the third. Nor does he worry about catching genre-cooties – he unapologetically situates the books in a wider fantasy/sf tradition dating back to Vance, Moorcock and others.
Vollmann’s prose has a distinctive way of cycling between two styles. In one, the sentences snake through dense thickets of figural language, wrapping themselves around elephant-size metaphors, which (jaws unhinged) they try to swallow. In his other voice, the tone is flat, narrating the scene in a detached and almost affectless way, like some cross between Alain Robbe-Grillet and Joe Friday on ‘’Dragnet.’’
Appreciation of ‘’Rising Up and Rising Down’’ properly begins—and will, for most people, immediately end—with awe at its physical presence. Whatever the genre, it is a remarkable example of the book as furniture.
is rather well put too.