Quiet lately. Rather busy at work, plus trips home and being busy
with other writing projects.
In other news, a few words on books that I’ve finished recently.
Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson.
Though Elantris was a promising debut, this novel doesn’t step it up
as much as one might wish. Although it’s pretty nice in that it is
another stand-alone book, for which I think Mr. Sanderson should be
applauded, the writing hasn’t grown quite as much as one might wish,
and there is also second degree abuse of the word ‘maladroit’. It
also doesn’t properly address my complaints about the exceptionalism
inherent in modern fantasy. My big gripe with the book is that,
although it has its heart in the right place, with the people and all,
it doesn’t really interact with them very much. Even the main
character, supposedly drawn from the lowest of the low, seems
exceptionally clever and not beaten down as the skaa, the proles of
this particular word are called, would seem to be, and they’re more or
less disposable and interchangeable throughout the course of the
narrative. There is a touch of the revolutionary vanguard party
ideology going on here, that’s something that I’ve never been able to
identify with, although your mileage may vary, depending on your
political stripe and tolerance for that sort of thing. However,
Sanderson continues to produce books that stand head and shoulders
above standard extruded fantasy product and take on the standard
tropes of the genre with no small amount of rigor and inventiveness.
Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake.
I got ahold of a galley of this one, which is coming out soonish. It
starts out in the vein of novels like The Etched City (which I
loved) and Veniss Underground (which I thought was interesting, but
flawed), but lacks the ultimate sense of hopelessness that many of the
novels of that ilk are afflicted by, and I think is made better
thereby. It’s refreshing to see a blend of the world-weary and
disaffected characters most traditional to the ‘new weird’ movement
fused with some of the grand, sweeping structural elements of
traditional fantasy without being overconsious of the effect, and I
think that this is where the great strength of this novel lies.
Deeper but more distant than work by Mieville, who I would hold up as
the modern exemplar, I think that a lot of people will like this one,
and also that it heralds big things for Mr. Lake.
The Demon and The City, by Liz Williams.
I really shouldn’t even have to say anything here. The Chen novels
just get more interesting in this iteration, and Williams just gets
better and better. All told, I have to admit that I slightly prefer
her ‘pure’ science fiction stuff, but these novels are a lot of fun,
and I think that they’re much more accessible to a general audience.
Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko.
I thought that the film was decent, but I liked the book(s) quite a
bit better. The movies changed the story around to create resonances
that I don’t think really needed to be created, and I think that the
lost a lot without the conflicted voice of the narrator. The ending
feels a little like a cheat, but the setting is interesting, and I
hope that this one does well enough to get more Russian contemporary
fiction and genre stuff coming out in English.
The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman.
Um. Wow. I just finished this and I will admit to being more than a
little overwhelmed. Ryman is, in my opinion, one of the top three
prose stylists working in the genre at the moment. My inner science
geek is appalled, at times, with the treatment of some of the science,
but that’s about the only criticism that I can level at this
particular work. The world depicted is simultaneously intricately
surreal and utterly quotidian, and I would describe it, at the risk of
sounding Cluteian, as a fictive world with the heft of the Real.
There are some disturbing elements and some absolutely harrowing
sequences. The book really sucks you in to the point where it’s
painful to read some of it, but you cannot stop. I haven’t read all
of Ryman’s novels, but with every one I am more and more impressed.
Sun of Suns by Karl Schroeder.
Two words, people: Air Pirates. This book, which is a smart little
novel in the vein of the old pulp adventures updated for contemporary
sensibilities, much like Paragaea, by Chris Roberson. It also has
one of the cooler science-fictional conceits that I’ve come across
recently: The entire novel takes place in a world sized ball of air
lit by giant fusion radiators that the people call the suns. The
entire thing is convincingly well thought out, but Schroeder never
lets the world building get in the way of the action or the driving
plot. I quite like Karl Schroeder, and although this is one of his
lighter books, I recommend it highly. Fun fun fun, and have the
inkling that this particular series is really going to go places.
Blindsight by Peter Watts.
As I’ve said before, this one is a book that you need to read to even
pretend that you know where science fiction is in this day and age.
There’s likely already enough breathless prose out there describing
it, so I won’t add much but to say that it’s a fascinating example of
how to make deeply, deeply flawed characters engaging and compelling.
Hell, in this one, the characters are barely human (and not, in some
cases) but you can’t really put it down. It is not a book without
flaws, but it works in the “if you’re not failing you aren’t trying
hard enough” kind of sense. Watts might not have reached his goals
here, but with the aim of the novel being hitting the ball somewhere
into the next state, I think that everyone could be content with just
a grand slam home run.
The Machine’s Child by Kage Baker.
I have to admit that this book annoyed me somewhat, as the Company
sequence is still not over, and this book does little but set up the
pieces for the grand finale. It seems to be that it’s going to end
with an incredible bang (supposedly in the next and last book), but
we’re still not there yet, so there isn’t a lot to say.
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.
This book makes me angry because I’d barely heard of Tiptree before I
picked it up. I have tons and tons of old year’s bests and
collections from the period in which she was writing, but I don’t
think that I’d read a single story from this collection before, and
that’s a crying shame. Many of the stories in here are totally
amazing and deeply depressing. You will not find anything nice said
about human nature, but you will find some really excellent prose, and
the titles! Wow. You owe it to yourself to find a copy of this and
read it. It is one of the building blocks upon which modern science
fiction is built (indeed, William Gibson owes Tiptree a particularly
large debt, only subtly acknowledged, as far as I know), and it’s
terrible that her work is more or less unknown to the modern reader
(at least of my age group). Hopefully the new biography will
belatedly bring her more readers.
Scar Night by Alan Campbell.
There was a lot of pre-release buzz for this one, but it doesn’t
really live up to it, in my opinion. It’s a first novel, plain and
simple, and doesn’t nearly have the depth or density or reach of China
Mieville’s similar and, honestly, much better, work. Still, it isn’t
terrible and it doesn’t rule out Campbell’s work becoming of more
interest in the future, although if I were Campbell, I would ignore
the fact that the book claims to be book one of a series and write
about somewhere else for a while.
Memory by Linda Nagata.
I’m not all that familiar with Nagata’s books. This one isn’t
terrible, but it’s light reading. There’s some interesting stuff
here, but for all that the ending costs a lot, you don’t really know
all that much more when it ends than when it begins (I have a feeling
that it was meant to be book one of a series that didn’t get written),
and I don’t think that the losses, at least at the end, are deeply
felt or affect the characters very much. The world where the novel
takes place is pretty interesting, and I feel like it would be pretty
interesting to learn about what’s really going on there, but you don’t
get there in this book.
End of the World Blues by John Courtenay Grimwood.
In this one, Grimwood continues being uneven. Stamping Butterflies
was great, 9tail Fox interesting but less great, and this one falls
into the latter category. You’re never quite sure what’s really going
on or what the significance of the far future story thread is, and it
never gets explained, or at least explained well enough to make me
care. The best thing about this novel is the characterization of the
near-future thread’s protagonist, a broken, conflicted loser who’s
made some really nasty mistakes in the past. For all that he fails to
become completely real at times, his story is interesting and carries
you through the book well enough. I just feel that Grimwood
romanticizes the outsider/pseudo-psychopathic male a bit too much. He
has the chops to tell us a really interesting story, and he’s getting
there. I’m betting that in a book or two he’s going to make a
breakthrough and write something that’s huge and possibly quite
important. I’m really looking forward to reading it, when it finally