Up Through an Empty House of Stars

by David Langford

Cover image

Publisher: Cosmos Books
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 1-59224-055-0
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 310

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A good companion volume to The Silence of the Langford and The Complete Critical Assembly, this is a collection of essays and book reviews by David Langford published between 1980 and 2002. (By "essays and book reviews," I mean a small handful of essays and lots of book reviews.) For those not familiar with him (which is probably most people outside of SF fandom), David Langford is an extremely witty and knowledgable SF book reviewer and fan, a regular contributor to various British SF magazines and fanzines, and the yearly favorite for the best fan writer Hugo. Accordingly, most of the reviews are of SF, although there are several reviews of detective novels here as well (and they are in some respects the highlight of the collection).

Langford is an excellent reviewer, particularly of things that he doesn't like (this collection features satisfying skewerings of Ringworld Engineers and The Number of the Beast). The choice of books is eclectic to say the least; there are reviews of both books you've heard of and many you probably haven't. Langford reads plenty of mid-list SF as well as better-known works. The highlight of the SF reviews, besides the humorous negative reviews, are probably the reviews of all of Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun and Book of the Short Sun series (I will warn that Langford mostly avoids major spoilers but worries little about minor ones). Most SF readers will pick up at least one new book recommendation from this collection while enjoying Langford's humor and witty style.

Particularly notable are several excellent career overviews or multiple book reviews of writers who are either straight detective novel writers or who are not often associated with SF. Langford covers G.K. Chesterton, Anthony Boucher, Ernest Bramah, and Rex Stout in some depth, and his enthusiasm for all of them is contagious. I like this in an SF review collection; it broadens my appetite.

The essays are generally either overviews of an author's work (John Sladek, Jack Vance) or surveys of how particular ideas are treated in the SF field, so nearly all of them serve as miniature book reviews in their own right. There isn't much here as laugh-out-loud funny as the essays in The Silence of the Langford (a generally better collection), but Langford is always amusing, and there is a lot of insight into the classics of SF and a fair map to good places to explore. The highlight is probably "A Gadget Too Far," which pokes fun at some of the more implausible gadgets to show up in SF.

Purchasing this collection is probably more for the Langford devotee than for the casual fan. Not only will most readers likely not want to spend money for a collection of book reviews, but most (although not all) of the material here is also available from Langford's web site. Even someone as fanatical as I about preferring printed words on physical paper will conceed that short book reviews are quite readable electronically. Still, there are some new gems here, the book is well-produced with clearer and more readable print than the web site, and anyone this good at writing entertaining reviews deserves some financial support for it. Despite this being my second reading of many of these reviews, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: 8 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-09-17

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