association-list a veritable mint for dunning-kruggerands

Short reviews, 'cause I can't think of a better title

Not quite an exhaustive listing of the fiction that I’ve been reading recently, but for the most part it’s been re-reads lately, in addition to a lot of writing. Coming up on the first draft of the book and knocked out a good third of a new story yesterday. Near term schedule for writing, for the truly bored amongst you:

  • Finish the first draft before my brother’s wedding in late June. This is ambitious, but I think that I can get it done, and I’d like to have nothing hanging over my head for that.
  • Let the book sit for a month before revising. In that time period, I’m going to work more on the supporting stories and start polishing them for publication and then sending them out. I plan on starting to send these out in July.
  • One all of the supporting stories are ready for market and making the rounds, revision starts on the novel. Hoping to have this hitting agent’s desks around late September, but we’ll see how long it takes. I’ve never been an expert at revision, nor have I ever revised something this long before. We’ll see how long it takes.
  • Once it’s polished and ready to go, more supporting stories and a start on the next book, which I’m sure that I’ll talk about more when the writing starts.

Now, to the books.

Brasyl by Ian McDonald.

Every time I read something by McDonald, I’m kind of shocked that he isn’t better known. That said, River of Gods was a huge, dense book, and that might have scared a lot of people off. Brasyl, however, is not nearly so long, and every bit as good, if not better. Not being Brazilian, I can’t tell you how close he’s gotten to the feeling of the place, but as a reader I now feel like I’ve been there. The sense of atmosphere is incredible and the pacing and characterization in the book are spot on.

Now, I rarely say things like this, being a fan of brevity, but I really felt that the book would have benefitted from being just a bit longer. This is only partially because the rest of it is so good that I didn’t want it to end. We’re well set up for a sequel of some sort, but another ten thousand words could easily have dispensed with the need for one, I think. McDonald is a writer who’s heavily influenced by music, I think, and one thing that he’s taken home from that influence is the concept of dynamics. He’s more than capable, I feel, of stuffing every page with pyrotechnics, but he refrains, making parts of the novel quiet, other parts loud, some fast, some slow, and he does this quite intentionally and to wonderful effect.

Although I’ve been somewhat underwhelmed by Pyr’s efforts so far, they’ve at least earned by admiration by bringing McDonald back to the U.S., and I think that this is possibly the best book that they’ve put out so far. I’ll be looking to see this one on the award ballots next year, and I’ll be very disappointed if it isn’t there, but with the way that they’ve been going lately, it’s almost hard to take them seriously.

The Last Colony by John Scalzi.

The last book in his series concerning John ‘Competent’ Perry, The Last Colony follows up reasonably quickly after the conclusion of the other two, but not so closely that I’ll be incomprehensible to someone who hasn’t read either of the others. Like his hero, Scalzi is competent, charming, and funny. Unfortunately, that’s about all there is to the book. As much as I applaud his concept of ‘gateway SF’, I can’t help but think that this isn’t quite it, or at least isn’t the gateway that isn’t originally meant. Instead of bringing new readers to the table, I think that these books are more likely to serve as a entree to those readers who haven’t read anything published by an author who wasn’t writing prior to the New Wave.

I’m not sure what I think about that, really. I’m not sure more backwards-looking SF is really what we need from someone new. We have enough extant genre mandarins doing that already, and I’d be nice to see people trying to take things in a new direction. Especially American authors. It isn’t for nothing that three of the books on this list are from the UK. What I would really like to see is something from Scalzi that is forward looking but retains his energy, optimism, and humor. Scalzi is well on his way to making a name for himself, and I’d like to see him stretch a little, rather than continuing to address the established base. To write some true gateway SF.

The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod.

I only finished this a couple of days ago, and I’m still not sure what to think about it. For the most part it’s a fascinating read, full of MacLeod’s usual assurance and poise, and then at the end it yanks the rug out from under the characters and the reader so violently that no one is quite sure what happened. And then it ends. I have to admit that I felt a little bit like I’d been mugged after I turned the final page. I might have to revisit this one, after some time to think it over and re-read it. Fascinating work, but I’m still not sure what the point was, and if the author was telling us the right story.

Bone Song by John Meaney.

I have to admit that I’m still a bit confused by John Meaney. The books that he writes are interesting, sometimes even compelling, but all too often are crippled by his reliance on stale genre tropes and otaku-style interest in certain topics. If he writes one more scene about his characters going running, I think that I’m going to scream. At least in this one he mostly abstains from the dull martial arts stuff and orientophilia. What we get in it’s place is a more or less standard hard-boiled science fiction novel that’s been search and replaced into a somewhat more ornate and dark fantasy novel.

There are some good spots, some effectively written scenes of fantasy and horror, but ultimately the novel is hamstrung by two glaring flaws, in addition to a host of irritants that otherwise could be glossed over. The first is the entirely unbelievable romance at the core of the story. It honestly has no legs and adds absolutely nothing to the story other than a hook with which the author can, quite unsuccessfully, tug at our heartstrings at the very end of the book. It should have been cut, full stop. It’s fine to have those characters sleep with one another and then deal with the weird fallout of that.

The other is the irritating assumption that all polities, everywhere, are going to be too corrupt for Good Cops On The Side of Right and Good to do their jobs without taking the law into their own hands. I’m generally annoyed by tough-guy characters like the protagonist of this book, but to use them in this day and age with scarcely a nod to the long and unglamorous history of them in genre literature is a mistake. To his credit, Meaney makes most of the things that they do in this vein mistakes, but it still detracts from the supposedly moral center of the novel.

This looks to be the start of a series. I’m not sure that I’ll read the next one, unless the premise is more intriguing than that of this novel. I was hoping that the shift in genre might jar something interesting loose, but it’s more or less like the old stuff with a differently colored coat of paint.

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