The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

"January Magazine" review of SHADOW VALLEY

Readers familiar with Barnes’ work before 2006’s Great Sky Woman (released in paperback just last month) will have an understandable challenge in knowing what to do with Shadow Valley (DelRey). On the one hand, Barnes is best known as a genre writer. That’s actually an understatement: Barnes is an esteemed and much awarded author in the twinned worlds of science fiction and fantasy. And since he’s also married to yet another esteemed author of speculative fiction -- Tananarive Due -- it’s a sort of familial thing. We have our expectations of Barnes. But does he deliver? Well, yes. But in unexpected ways.

Like Great Sky Woman, Shadow Valley holds not the merest thread of SF/F. No matter how hard you try to find it, it just isn’t there. This is straight up historical fiction, but more Jean Auel than James Michener: this is creation historical fiction. Or maybe most accurately prehistorical fiction. In Shadow Valley we go way back to ancient Africa where Sky Woman and Frog Hopping -- first encountered in Great Sky Woman -- are dealing with life beyond the devastating eruption of Father Mountain that concluded the last book.

This is exciting stuff. Epic, page snappingly thrilling, not to be missed. The literati have a way at holding their nose when they sense the faintest whiff of SF/F nearby. My hope is that Barnes’ literary pedigree won’t overshadow the excellence of this work. It’s a worthwhile book that has the potential to help a lot of people gain an understanding of their distant roots.

21 comments:

Scott Masterton said...

Great review Steve. Amazon informed me that my cop shipped on Monday. I'm really looking forward to reading it.
Peace,
Scott.

suzanne said...

major congrats, Steve!

Scott Carpenter said...

First: Congratulations, Steve.

Second: I can't help wondering in relation to some of the recent copyright discussion: Did you receive permission to republish this review on your site?

Steve Perry said...

Oh, Jesus, there'll be no living with you now, you ...
mainstream guy ...

Scott Carpenter said...

Sorry, Steve -- I think it's a totally legitimate question. If there's permission, that's great. But if not, why is this kind of copying ok? Just trying to figure out the rules.

AF1 said...

I've read most of your stuff and enjoy it, but have yet to pick these ones up. As they seem very different from what you usually write.

Maybe it's time to give these a chance.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Congratulations on the good review!

For what it's worth, I don't think the literati (whoever they are) control the popular fiction market, there's a lot of literary fiction with fantastic elements, and I count fiction set in pre-history as might-as-well-be-sf.

Steve Perry said...

Scott --

Wasn't talking to you, I was taking to Barnes.

Scott Carpenter said...

Ah, it's not all about me. Gotcha. :-)

(Question remains...)

Steven Barnes said...

Actually, Scott, I didn't. I should have just posted the link. Wasn't thinking!

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Is quoting that short a significant copyright violation if the source is clear?

Scott Carpenter said...

Nancy, I think it *should* be fair use, and I bet January Magazine doesn't mind (although I'm sure they'd appreciate a direct link to the article itself), but it is the entire piece so I don't know where that leaves us. Legally it seems like copyright infringement.

I think this illustrates that people like to share things (digital things), and not simply because they're thieving scum. Steve got this great review and he wanted to share it here. That's great.

I linked to a Clay Shirky article in another thread:

http://www.shirky.com/weblog/2009/03/newspapers-and-thinking-the-unthinkable/

About problems of the newspapers, and there is this:

"One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of 'When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.' I think about that conversation a lot these days."

People like sharing cool things. Look at this! Check this out! They do this because they like or love what the creator has made. And the "problem" is that our digital technology makes this very easy now.

I think the law is going to have to change to accommodate the ease of this *very natural* impulse to share.

How much control do copyright holders desire over personal computing devices in order to enforce copyright? This is the scary part for me. The big content companies want extreme, stifling control with harsh penalties.

How about the time when our brains are augmented and we have perfect or near-perfect recall of things we see and hear, and can share these things just as we share digital files today (since they'll essentially be digital files). Will the copyright enforcers need to be in all of our heads? Dictating how much the memory should degrade or disappear over time?

As I've mentioned elsewhere in the past few posts, I don't want to infringe on people's copyrights. I'm happy to pay for much of the culture I consume. Music, books, movies. Copyright is the law, and I'll observe that law. But there are so many other avenues of creative expression and normal sharing that are adversely impacted by copyright, more than just simply copying --

There are the amazing Kutiman YouTube remixes, taking amateur and some professional clips from YouTube and turning them into something new and great. But they are SO infringing.

There is the parent who puts up on YouTube (or whatever video site) a video of their child dancing to a song on the radio, and the song's copyright holder orders them to take it down.

There is the documentary maker with a scene where there is a less than one-minute clip of The Simpsons playing on a TV in the background, and Fox wants $25,000 for the rights to use the clip.

When copyright is used to clamp down on (or charge extortionately for) every little use of culture, people start to become upset about this and they push back. Our natural tendency is to share -- it's always been done. It's just that now it's so easy and the copies are perfect...

Pagan Topologist said...

I just bought my copy of Shadow Valley yesterday, at my favorite small independent bookstore. Looking forward to reading it, but probably not until the spring semester is over.

Linda L. Richards said...

What an interesting conversation for me to walk into. And why am I so late? Because there isn't actually a direct link from this review to January Magazine, the very established, respected and book passionate site where this review was lifted. How then did I happen to wander this way? Well, the image of the book used in the review is still on January's server. So not only have you lifted the review -- without permission -- we're serving images to your viewers. Does anything about this not feel right to you? Let me rephrase that: as an author -- as someone whose inventory is all caught up in copyright -- does this feel right? To you?

Clearly, it didn't feel right to some of your readers. Fair use covers this situation plainly: you're allowed to use up to 150 words without permission. I'm an author myself, so I get your point about the excitement of getting caught up in a wonderful review. But, again as an author, I can't even imagine the situation where I would use someone else's work intact without their permission.

Now, clearly, we're not a mega-corporation but since we're largely fueled by a love of books and since we're all about discussions of literacy and book culture it seems to me it would behoove you to respect the material in the same way we have respected yours. And I'm not talking, really, about copyright law here. And I'm not talking about a media backbone that is tumbling under the pressures of digitization. I'm talking about we gave you a swell review and -- never mind copyright law -- it would have been nice for you to publicly acknowledge that and give the smile back to us as we -- certainly -- would have done for you.

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