by Gary K. Wolfe
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Gary K. Wolfe has been a long-time reviewer for Locus, and 1992 marked his first full year with the magazine. In Soundings, Wolfe has collected most of his review columns from the first five years, along with his annual year-in-review columns, to provide a snapshot of what those five years had to offer the science fiction reader.
In general, it is difficult to review a collection of reviews. At first glance, you can agree or disagree with the reviewer, but that hardly makes for a review (instead, it summons images of Monty Python's Argument sketch). Fortunately, Wolfe's reviews provide much more than simply an opinion of the book he is examining.
Wolfe, who teaches as Roosevelt University in Chicago, has a vast knowledge of science fiction, both the genre's history and the works published within the field. When reviewing books, Wolfe is able to bring that knowledge to the forefront, offering an history lesson along with his opinions of the books he is discussing. This external knowledge is also something a reader, or reviewer, can hang an opinion on to make more than simply a contradiction.
In discussing Janet Gluckman and George Guthridge's Child of the Light, Wolfe comments that writing about the logic of history doesn't lead to angry letters as playing with hard SF, although most alternate history authors would disagree. This review also spotlights something else about Soundings. The first book of a trilogy, as Wolfe notes, but Wolfe did not review the subsequent volumes. This is the sort of thing which isn't necessarily obvious when reading reviews over time, but in a collection, it does give a feeling of unfinished business (the second volume Child of the Journey was published in 1996, during the purview of Soundings, while the last volume wasn't published until 1997).
When Wolfe is able to examine multiple volumes in a series, as he does with Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, it is interesting to see not just how the plots evolve, for which reading the book is a better procedure, but to see how the reviewers expectations of the story change over time. Wolfe's reviews comment on the individual books, but also on the way the fit together and the way Robinson's depiction of Mars changes across the three books.
A collection of five years worth of reviews also allows the reader to see thematic trends in a way which isn't possible in the way the reviews originally appeared. While in some cases, Wolfe may discuss books on a similar theme in a single review, as he did in November 1993 when he reviewed both Robinson's Green Mars and Greg Bear's Moving Mars, but also allows the reader to see other works, such as Ben Bova's Mars and Kevin J. Anderson's War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches
Dipping into Soundings will not only provide the reader with a look at some of the excellent (and sometimes not so excellent) science fiction from the mid-1990s, but will also, perhaps more importantly, provide the reader with a better understanding of what science fiction is and how it evolved during that period.
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