Soundings

by Gary K. Wolfe

Cover image

Publisher: Beccon
Copyright: 2005
ISBN: 1-870824-50-4
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 399

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Well-written book reviews are one of my favorite types of light reading. (Doubtless, this is one of the reasons why I buy books much faster than I read them.) They're short and self-contained, easy to pick up and read between other things, to catch in snippets. I read quite a few reviews on-line, but the quality is spotty at best; a good collection by a reliable author is something to look forward to.

Wolfe is one of the regular book reviewers for Locus and has been for quite a while. This is a collection of all of his Locus reviews from 1992 to 1996, notably including his summaries of the year (which have been moved before all of the reviews for that year instead of given at the end, a choice that worked well for me). As such, it's all reviews of new arrivals, although that includes some re-releases of classic works. The selections are an eclectic mix of whatever happened to come in recently, although Wolfe mostly reviews only works that have some merit. Unusually, he also reviews a lot of anthologies and collections, including the various best of the year anthologies.

The year summaries are a definite feature. Wolfe writes good overviews, and those essays plus other comments in the reviews make the collection more than just coverage of random books. I like the approach of taking a clear chronological section rather than picking and choosing the best of Wolfe's reviews; it gives some insight into how the science fiction and fantasy field evolved during the five years covered. The reviews of the yearly anthologies add to this due to Wolfe's analysis of what was chosen, possibly why, and what that may mean about statements about the borders and direction of the genre.

Wolfe has a background in critical analysis, but he does a great job balancing that against the fundamentals of whether the book is enjoyable and what the plot is trying to accomplish. His background mostly shows up in the occasional use of the correct specific term and a broad grasp of not only the SF canon but the mainstream and classical canon as well. I was left wishing I'd read far more of the classics so that I would understand the allusions and references. It's good motivation.

On opinions, I disagree with him in a few places, but for the most part I thought his reviews were on target. Wolfe won't lead you far wrong in my opinion, and like any good reviewer, he gives you a good feel for the subject matter of the book and the general themes, enough to recognize books that just aren't in a style or on a subject that you'll like. And while he's not Langford for humor, there is the occasional dry quip or neat turn of phrase that had me laughing out loud.

You probably won't find this book in your local bookstore, and US readers will need to order it from the UK, but if you like reading book reviews, it's worth tracking down. It does suffer from some minor editing problems (occasional typos and a few places that looked like OCR errors), but not so much as to detract from the readability, and the packaging is otherwise excellent. After finishing it, I subscribed to Locus and was wishing I had done so long ago.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2005-11-21

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21