Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reading in May

This collection felt like being handed a treasure map. Suddenly, I know just where I’m going when exploring this bizarre sub genre. Yes, not all of the stories worked entirely – Kathe Koja’s, for instance, was too bizarre and irrational for me to get any emotional connection with at all – but the ones that did drastically outweighed the others, and even the not-so-great stories are never trite or boring. If you’re interested in The New Weird, and somehow have not read this yet, it’s absolutely essential.

This was a very interesting biography-esque book, primarily consisting of letters to and from Bulgakov. My only complaint is that the summaries at the beginning of each chapter (detailing the overall events of his life, so as to give the letters some context) could probably have benefited from being spread throughout, rather than lumped at the beginning, as it felt odd in some of the lengthier chapters to go from reading about Bulgakov’s death say, to reading a letter he wrote four years earlier about his dinner plans. Still, if you’re interested in Bulgakov, this’ll shed quite a bit of personal and professional light on the man.

Almost every story in this collection is about finding subtle holes in our understandings of the world, in deconstructing almost every kind of happiness that people find for themselves. That’s not to paint this as a wholly grim work, though, because the beauties of the work come from those same interactions and observations. If I was to compare the writing to any one author, I’d probably go with Stephen King, as odd as that sounds. The stories here, like in King’s work, are not based on forward motion, but rather a flashback and musing filled contemplation of a man’s life, or at least a part of it. This is a quiet work, but an interesting one too.

Though no one part of The Neutronium Alchemist is as jaw dropping as the what’sgoingon!? segment of the Reality Dysfunction, the book as a whole is much stronger, with most of the issues I had with the first book ironed out. Well, except its own infuriating cliffhanger ending. Still, these books are the epitome of wide screen space opera, as far as I can tell, and I can’t wait to dive into The Naked God. Review coming when I’ve finished the series.

20th Century Ghosts is at once exactly what a horror collection should be (disturbing, supernatural, even morbid on occasion), perfectly aware of every one of your expectations (Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead works precisely because it’s nothing like what you expect), and something completely different (such as the touching Pop Art, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest short stories I’ve ever read). If you’re interested in horror, you need to read this as soon as possible. I’ll definitely be returning to these stories on here, though I’ll need some time to gather my thoughts, I expect.

[Note: At the time of writing I still have not read My Father’s Mask, so, technically, I haven’t finished the book. All the same, I’m going to finish the collection by tomorrow (so still May) without a doubt, and I’m unsure about the status of my internet then, so I figured it was better to go through with a blank than to procrastinate and miss the end of the month.]

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon seems, at first, like it’ll be an excellent novel. The young girl’s voice is perfect, and the minutia of her struggle to survive, lost, in the woods is gripping. Then the supernatural comes in and – who’s surprised? – it all goes to hell. Not the hell of fire and brimstone, but rather one of wholly absent tension and dues ex machine. Yay. Full review coming at some point.

Apartment 16’s a character driven horror story, and as such it’s a good thing that the characterization’s generally excellent, and the walls positively drip with atmosphere. There are a few problems herein – the ending was a bit of a letdown, Apryl’s character isn’t as captivating as Seth’s, and god do I hate that Y in Apryl – but none of them really matter when stacked up against the work as a whole. Review coming soon.

The first quarter or so of this book was fairly difficult, to be honest. It’s fairly standard in fantasy to have a period of disorientation – nothing makes the world seem quite so exotic and strange as being clueless about it, after all – but here that period goes on for well over a hundred pages, and it starts to get quite annoying. Still, the book does eventually come together. The writing is, as you would expect from Mieville, excellent, and the narrative’s incredibly fun. This isn’t my favorite of his works, but it’s certainly not a disappointment.

This book of essays turned out to not be my thing. At all. Individual portions of essays were appealing – the book had two quote-worthy passages, which was quite impressive for a volume of only 139 pages – but every single one of the essays felt meandering and disjointed, an effect that was only exacerbated if the reader reads more than one in a sitting. Before long, all the boundaries between them break down, whatever hard-to-detect main ideas there might have been long lost, and you’re just drifting along on an endless small-wonders ramble.

Swainston’s novel was one that I was quite looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. The Year of Our War is a bizarre, character driven story that looks into immortality and how societies – and people – progress over time. My full review is here.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Anatomy of a Doorstopper (The Neutronium Alchemist)

Your average book has, one hopes, carefully determined pacing. After a certain point, though, the author’s best efforts to guide my reading speed invariably fail. When the requisite weight is reached, the sheer number of pages in one of our beloved genre’s many doorstoppers simply outmuscles whatever pace the author was trying to set.

I have a pattern for these doorstoppers, and it seems fairly consistent. The first two or so days are pretty much like with any other book. You usually have more exposition in the opening of a one thousand page epic fantasy than in a three hundred page one, but it doesn’t change up my reading experience all that much.

It’s around the third day when problems start to set in. By this point I’ve usually read around three or four hundred pages. Now, if I’m reading an average book – and I’d say that the average book in my collection is probably between four and five hundred, though I’m not really basing that number off of anything – I’m drawing to the close. If the author’s done their job, I’m probably itching to see how everything ties together. If I’m reading Steven Erikson’s Reaper’s Gale, however, I’m a third of the way through. That’s about when the realization that I’m nowhere near the end sets in, and it occurs to me that I could probably read at least two other books in the time it’s taking me to go through Reaper’s Gale, or any other similarly sized behemoth. The knowledge that, were I to sit down and read for five hours straight, I still wouldn’t be even close to the end is frankly demoralizing, and it’s about here that my pace always flag.

But, of course, reading giant books isn’t an exercise in tedium, because I probably wouldn’t read so many if it was. Once I hit the halfway mark I start speeding up, the momentum I’ve been slowly gaining finally coming into play. By the time I hit page five or six hundred of a thousand page book, my speed starts increasing exponentially. I’ll often find myself reading the last three hundred pages of an epic in a day, because the agony of delayed gratification and slowly building tension has simply become too much.

Then, of course, there’s the comedown. This period is frequently so extreme that looking at any book under five hundred or six hundred pages feels like trying to dam a river with a skateboard, or trying to end a famine with a cracker. Almost always, I’ll start the next book in the series immediately after, providing there is one, because by this point I’m like a runaway train, and I’ll be damned if running out of pages is going to stop me. Of course, I usually realize what I’ve done about fifty pages into the new book, such as when I started Reaper’s Gale twenty minutes after finishing The Bonehunters, and put down the new one in a hurry before I’m too immersed to prevent the process from repeating itself all over again.

All of this brings us (finally) to Peter F. Hamilton’s Neutronium Alchemist. This book – at 1137 pages it’s a doorstopper if I ever saw one – started out by going through all the usual steps. The beginning was slightly slower because I was sick at the time, but, then again, the first scenes were genuinely excellent. Then I lagged for a bit, but as of Monday – and page 498 – I kicked things into high gear. Halfway through the book, I give in to the inevitable and admit to myself that I see why Peter F. Hamilton is considered such a master of science fiction.

Then comes Wednesday, and, by this point, I’m hopelessly hooked. I go from page 802 to page 1137, feeling like every moment not spent reading was utterly wasted. I barreled through the climax in a sitting, my jaw stuck somewhere between the floorboards. And then I turn page 1137 and…

that’s it?

No, there’s a mistake somewhere in here. I try turning the page again, but it doesn’t work. I try turning past the author bio, thinking that they might’ve shoved it somewhere in the middle of the last chapter, but that doesn’t seem to be the case, either. Around this point it finally dawned on me: Hamilton ended a thousand page book with a cliffhanger. My gradual jog-cum-crazed-sprint had ended with me falling off a god damn cliff.

Mr. Hamilton, I love your books. As we speak, I’m shaking a little from withdrawal and looking out the window on the off chance that the post man’s bringing it to the box now, unlikely as that may be. All the same, I think that anyone who could possibly write a book that good and then not end it must be a truly terrible person.

[Note: The Neutronium Alchemist cover is the upcoming Subterranean Press edition, posted over at Walker of Worlds.]

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Steph Swainston - The Year of Our War

I wanted to ask the Emperor how life was, back when god walked the earth. What did it really look like? Sound like? What did it mean to live when everybody knew everything? While San wrote, the pen scratching, I tried to imagine existence with god nearby, enjoying its creation, when there was no Insects, no Castle – this two-thousand-year-old stone, just lush grass. The Fourlands does not really belong to us – it is god’s playground; god gave us responsibility for its creation, which we have failed to defend.

As ever, San read my mind. Almost imperceptibly, he said, “Once there was peace.

The Year of Our War is a book that, at first, looks just about as generic as fantasy can get. We’ve got a (literally) faceless, inhuman enemy; we’ve got an immortal protagonist who can fly and, due to his ability to access the Shift, may be instrumental in the war against the Insects; we’ve got a series of squabbling, immortal lords, generally far more interested in increasing their own fortunes than in banding together and actually accomplishing something; and, to cap it all off, we’ve got a semi-divine Emperor ruling over the whole thing. And yet, The Year of Our War is anything but a traditional fantasy. The novel is set apart both by the excellent characterization and first person prose of its main character, Jant, and by its interesting take on immortality.

Now, I’ve seen some people say that Jant is a poor character because of his weak personality. This is absolutely baffling to me. It’s true that Jant is not the driving force behind most of the events of the book, but since when does a character not being a traditional hero invalidate their depth? Jant’s very much the junior among the immortals of the Emperor’s Circle, and he is constantly dragged into the schemes of the older, more powerful, and more forceful immortals. Since before his time in the Circle, he has used the hallucinogenic scolopendium. His drug use is one of the few things that sets him apart amongst the immortals, and his habit has, if anything, worsened. It hasn’t, however, given him a degree of control over his own life; instead, he’s just added yet another master yanking him in yet another direction. One of the only times he’s ever taken direct control of something in his life was to commit a terrible crime that he now regrets. He’s conflicted, intelligent, and immensely self centered. He is absolutely oblivious to the feelings of those around him, something never more obvious than the scenes with his wife, Tern. All of that points to a deep, realistic character to me, even if he’s not the easiest to always cheer along with.

Jant isn’t always the most honest, nor knowledgeable of narrators. When one of his ideas backfires, he rarely admits guilt. Any events that took place without him present might as well not have happened, as far as his recollections are concerned. This gives the book a meandering feel at times, because sub plots are dropped and resumed almost at random. This can be annoying, yes, but it also gives the book a more lifelike feel, one that timelier pacing would be unable to provide. Paradoxically, the focused nature of the narrative is what lends The Year of Our War its sense of scale. When Jant returns to an area unmentioned for a hundred pages, only to find it burned to the ground, it’s apparent that the war with the Insects is bigger than any one person can comprehend.

The thematic crux of The Year of Our War is the immortality of the Circle. Though at first it seems to be handled in a comic book sense, where immortality and blessing are simply means to kill monsters better, it soon becomes apparent that the longevity of the Fourlands’ rulers dictates every aspect of their culture. This is explored in what is by far the book’s most interesting sub plot, Swallow’s quest for immortality on the basis of her musical skills. When she goes up to the emperor, he says:

“Do you think music requires an immortal guardian, as Lightening controls the skill of archery? Would it better if music was left to change and develop as future people wish?”

Since its policy makers are immortal, the Fourlands have essentially stagnated. This isn’t a Warhammer-esque stagnation, where progress is lost forever, but, as long as the immortals reign over their disciplines, true progress cannot take place. How could a musketeer outperform the god of archery, and, if he could not, how could the invention ever take hold in such a society? The immortals, however, only control the arts of war, and the rest of the society can progress at a standard pace. This leads to the interesting (though occasionally hard to swallow) existence of a society where people wear T-shirts and kill each other with swords.

This stagnation extends to characterization as well as to setting. One of the major complaints that I’ve seen about The Year of Our War is that the supporting characterizations are shallow. I don’t completely agree in all cases, but I’ll admit they have a point – I just think the one dimensionality of certain characters is intentional (though, as I’ve said on here before, interesting thematic decisions don’t always translate well to enjoyable reading). When a character becomes immortal, they’re frozen at whatever age they happen to be at, arresting their own development:

“How old have you been for two hundred years, Comet?”

“Twenty-three. But I’ve grown wiser!”

“Have You? I think it would be a shame to deny the Fourlands the music she would make if she were to grow more mature. When she gains more experience, her music will be so improved that the rest of the world will learn from it.”

Of course, the members of the Circle don’t think that they’ve been treading water for thousands of years:

Many [immortals] are jaded and love innovation; some of us, like myself, invent to make our lives easier and to prove we are the best specialists in our various professions. The more confident immortals embrace novelty and would welcome Swallow’s continual creation.

While at first convincing, Jant’s words soon ring hollow. First of all, the end of the first sentence is very telling: to prove we are the best specialists in our various professions. So, while Jant may pass his time by inventing gliders, you’re not going to see Lightening rendering himself obsolete by inventing (or even endorsing) handguns. The older immortals are all trapped in their own pasts. Lightening still squabbles with Mist over territorial disputes forgotten before any living mortal was born; Mist is unwilling to acknowledge Ata’s innovations, because something that daring would be unthinkable in the more traditional time that he’s a product of.

The Insects, a faceless enemy that endlessly encroaches on the borders of the Fourlands, drive almost every event in the novel, but they’re probably the least interesting part of it. They’re suitably terrifying off screen, of course, but the Circle’s prowess defangs them a tad in direct confrontation. Really, the main problem facing the human armies seems to be a lack of arrows, and, as such, I have a simple plan for victory: all T-shirt factories have hereby been taken over by the state, and they will produce either A. arrows, or B. quivers to hold said arrows. If every archer brings, say, fifteen quivers, instead of the customary four arrows, I’m confident the Insects would cease to be such a big deal.

And then there’s the Shift, an altogether different realm in which the rules of reality are totally different, accessed by overdosing on scolopendium. I don’t understand how there are so few Fourlanders there, if an overdose is really all that’s needed, and if scolopendium is as often abused as Jant’s flashbacks would have us believe, but that’s a miniscule point. The Shift is a breeding ground for the bizarre, and it would be easy to let it grow whimsical to the point of irrelevance, but creatures like the unsettling Vermiform insure that there’re some teeth in the whole affair, and I’m looking forward to learning more about what the hell it is in future volumes.

The Year of Our War is an excellent debut. I’ve seen a whole host of reviews that have called it a Miéville clone, and I just don’t really get that. It’s about a self centered character who flies, so alright, I guess that’s a superficial similarity to Perdido Street Station. They’re both New Weird, but I don’t think genre’s enough to acquire rip off status. They’re both concerned with questions of immortality and an eternal war…oh, wait, no; they’re not. Maybe I’m being silly, but I don’t know how a book can be a pastiche while exploring wholly different themes. The Year of Our War has got some flaws, some of which are easily excusable and some of which are not, but it makes up for all of them with its tight focus and interesting ideas. If you’re interested in New Weird, this is something you need to check out.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Half Made World [Cover Art]

I really enjoyed Thunderer, despite its flaws, so it's no surprise that I'm eager to be there as Gilman evolves as a writer. He gave a bit of information on this in an interview with Locus a while back:

In September, I have something coming out from Tor which is very different. I didn't want to write another city book, didn't feel like creating another gigantic setting. And I wanted to try my hand at something which had a more straightforward plot. I've been accused of overplotting and underplotting, but this one has a clearer plot. It's called A History of the Half-Made World (first of what will be either two or three books), and up to a point it's like a fantastic western. It's a purely invented world, though the fantastical elements are mostly limited to two weird and inhuman factions which sort of divide the world between them. They're archetypes of something or other, probably. The book has the frontier theme, the theme of the founding and various falls from grace, but I don't want to describe it as purely an American history thing, because that sounds like it's more closely tied to American history than it is. It plays with certain tropes, let's say.

Looking forward to it (and City of Gears, as well) quite a bit.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Iron Man 2

When I first settled down to watch Iron Man 2, I had some problems pretty much right off the bat. See, I couldn’t quite get my head around why everyone cared so much about the Iron Man suit. Yeah, it’s awesome, and I’ll give you that it’s way better than one un-suited person. I’m still not seeing how it’s the equivalent of nuclear deterrence, though, or why North Korea and all those countries want one more than they want other, far more practical weapons, or how it could possibly insure world peace.

Then again, in the movie world it’s pretty damn apparent that the Iron Man suits are all that matters. After all, as a general rule of thumb, if a character isn’t wearing a suit, they’re absolutely worthless. The main villain doesn’t get revenge by shooting Tony Stark in the face while he gives a speech, unarmored, on a public state; no, he does the far more reliable plan of developing his own suit and slugging it out face to face.

While Whiplash is fighting Stark – and keep in mind that his suit is purely offensive; it has no armor – no security guards intervene in any way, despite the fact that a single bullet could’ve saved quite a few lives. Before Whiplash can finish Stark; he is hit with a car. Several times. This leads to the movie’s most surprising moment: being repeatedly rammed by a few thousand tons of steel has no effect on this guy. In retrospect, however, it makes sense, because the car’s not a high tech Iron Man suit.

Even once I’d managed to force myself to accept the superiority of the suits, I still found myself siding with the movie’s villains more than its heroes. Not the disturbingly maniacal Whisplash, of course, but rather the US government, who, as far as I can tell, had the safety of its citizens as its primary concern. Their argument went something like: no weapon sufficient to make a nation a superpower should be wielded by one wholly unsupervised international mega-vigilante, and I have to say that I agree. For the first half of the movie, Stark responded by being arrogant and immature, not exactly inspiring me to change my mind.

But all right, I think we all know I was watching this the wrong way. The Dark Knight and Watchmen (the comic; I still haven’t seen the movie) taught me that it’s okay to look for something more than that guy just got totally owned! in a super hero movie, but that clearly wasn’t what Iron Man 2 was trying to do.

Once I managed to beat the parts of my brain that kept tossing up all the reasons Stark should be thrown in jail and the government should take all his stuff, I managed to enjoy the movie, but even from an entertainment perspective, Iron Man 2 still fell short of the first movie. The main problem was that everything felt disjointed.

The movie’s ace in the hole throughout was Robert Downey Jr., and though I thought his character was a bit of a bastard quite often, I was with him every step of the way. The first half of the movie was based on Stark’s steady slide into depression, and this part was well done, with some very funny scenes. The resolution to all of Stark’s problems, however, felt artificial.

The instant Stark’s personal life ceased to be the focus, the movie turned to the villains. The problem with this was that the villains had, for most of the movie, been playing second fiddle. Hammer’s sudden ability to compete with Stark felt like a symptom of Stark’s problems, rather than a cause. As a result, having him and his psychotic developer suddenly step forward felt somewhat awkward (while still managing to be predictable), and the personal relationships never gelled with the external threat in the same way that they did in the first movie, leaving Iron Man 2 feeling like two aspects of Iron Man’s life jammed together harder and harder until they fit. Sort of.

Still, Iron Man 2 wasn’t a bad movie. If you enjoyed the first movie, or are just a general fan of the genre, you’ll probably enjoy this – just keep in mind that it’s an experience you might remember more for the popcorn than for the plot.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stephen King - Duma Key

When it comes to the past, we all stack the deck.

Stephen King’s Duma Key epitomizes the strengths and weaknesses of later King. On one hand, the characterization maintains that beautifully down to earth grace that King’s made to seem effortless throughout his career. On the other hand, the horror elements are a complete mess; when the book switches over from trying to draw you in to trying to scare you, it messes itself more than a little bit.

Duma Key is the story of Edgar Freemantle, who, crippled in a construction accident, is forced into an early retirement in Florida’s Duma Key. While there, he decides to try his hand at art and discovers that he’s actually quite skilled. This part of the story is vivid and lifelike. Edgar Freemantle is well drawn, both in his hurts and his triumphs. The supporting cast is painted with equal skill, and each character is as fully realized as Edgar, from his ex-wife, Pam Freemantle, to his new friend, Wireman.

This part of the book feels so real that I could conceive of it taking place across the street…or, well, taking place in Florida. A lot of this is due to King’s endless connections to the real world. Other authors may reference popular culture; King pours gallons of it into his books. Characters quote lyrics at each other, discuss politics, name drop famous artists and actors, and mention brand names. It would be easy to say that this kind of thing takes you out of the world of the story, but I think that, if done well, it doesn’t do that at all – it takes the story to your world.

The horror aspect of Duma Key is relatively laid back in the first two thirds of Duma Key, and, when it does surface there, stems entirely from the characters. This is, I think, what King does best. All of his greatest monsters have been so great because of what they represented within the characters. The Shining’s manipulation of Jack wasn’t terrifying because a hedge moved, but because of an, otherwise innocent, alcoholic’s self denial and rage; Pet Semetary wasn’t scary as a zombie story, but was horrifying because of what it said about a father’s love.

In line with those, Duma Key’s great terror is a – literal – projection of the character’s inner being into the outside world. As the Overlook Hotel offered a way for Jack Torrance to shift all blame away from himself in the Shining, Edgar Freemantle’s art in Duma Key allows him to escape his crippled body for a time and to make his mark on the people and places once dominated. The concept of an artist whose paintings control the world around him isn’t a new one by any stretch of imagination, but the subtlety and gravitas of King’s handling of it, for the first part of the book, lends the trope a new mystique.

Even more important than the supernatural, the mundane miseries of human existence decide the course of Duma Key’s beginning and middle. The realities of dealing with so tragic an event are depicted well, and there are absolutely no easy decisions in this messy reality. Reflecting on the marvels brought about by Edgar’s new abilities, Wireman asks him:

“Tell me something, muchacho. Looking at this…and thinking of all the other ones you’ve done since you started…would you change the accident that took your arm? Would you change it, even if you could?”

I thought of painting in Big Pink while the Bone pumped out hardcore rock and roll in thick chunks. I thought of the Great Beach Walks. I even thought of the older Baumgarten kid yelling Yo, Mr. Freemantle, nice chuck! when I spun the Frisbee back to him. Then I thought of waking up in that hospital bed, how dreadfully hot I had been, how scattered my thoughts had been, how sometimes I couldn’t even remember my own name. The anger. The dawning realization (it came during The Jerry Springer Show), that part of my body was AWOL. I had started crying and had been unable to stop.

“I would change it back,” I said, “in a heartbeat.”

No matter what world changing powers they’ve been given, Kings characters are, above all, human. There are no right and wrong choices here, per say, and the slow developing of relationships and lives is heartbreaking to watch. This book crosses over a rare divide, the one where the reader goes from watching a character live their life to living that character’s life right alongside them. It’s not a fun experience, no, nor an easy one, but it’s a magical one all the same.

It’s good this section of set up is written so brilliantly, because it goes on for far longer than I would normally be able to stand. Duma Key is six hundred pages, hardback, and there’s precious little that occurs in the first two thirds that I didn’t just mention. This book is a slow burn, but it’s one of the rare cases where turning up the heat even incrementally would ruin the dish. It’s the kind of novel where you almost dread something happening, because when it does, you know that, good or bad, nothing will be the same as it was ever again.

And it’s not, and it’s not better, either. When something finally does happen, it’s akin to a sledgehammer smashing a beautiful stained glass window into pieces. The climax of Duma Key begins on page four hundred-or-so, and it is one of the rare few endings that not only fails to do justice to the story, but actually manages to demean everything that came before. The solutions to book long mysteries turn out to be superficial; the action is unsuspenseful and protracted; and the reverential regard to Edgar’s abilities, maintained for four hundred pages, is cast to the wind, as his powers become akin to the Force on a particularly uninteresting day.

Most damning of all is the abandonment of what made the beginning of the novel good. In the conclusion, the jagged interplay of characters turns into a Hollywood ending, complete with big explosions and car chases. Or, if not quite that, animated objects and inimical lawn ornaments. King manages to take one of my favorite characters, and kill him/her without me feeling the slightest sorrow. Looking back, it’s hard to even see how he managed it. This was a character that I was invested with to the degree that, if he’d just said, *** tripped and broke his/her head on their way to the bathroom, I would probably have been crushed. Yet, by the time the death actually comes, it’s foreshadowed so heavily, and for so long, that my only real reaction was finally.

The first two thirds of Duma Key are among the best pages that Stephen King has ever written. As I was reading them, I was mentally listing Duma Key alongside great works like The Shining and It. And then, I read the ending and was forced to watch as everything I loved about the book was ravished and discarded. I don’t know whether I should recommend this book or not. It’s not the worst thing that King’s written, Everything’s Eventual takes that dubious honor with ease, but it disappointed me more than anything else he’s done. In the end, I think my recommendation goes like this: Buy the book, read the first portion. Then, as the art story climaxes (and you’ll know when it does), go get a black sharpie and write THEN THEY ALL DIED over the remaining pages. Trust me, the ending will be better that way.

Adam Roberts has done an interesting review of this over at Strange Horizons.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ronnie James Dio

[Note: The following has absolutely nothing to do with books, but it’s something I had to write.]

I just found out that Ronnie James Dio died. It’s strange, in a way. I’ve never met Dio; I’ve never seen him perform; I’ve never heard his normal voice; and I’ve only seen a few pictures of him. And yet, I feel like some of the color has the left the world forever, and it’s not coming back.

I’m listening to Rainbow’s Rising as I type this, and I think it’s the twenty-fifth time that I’ve heard it, but now the real world’s seeped into the album. The music’s the same as it always was: the chorus of Starstruck I can never stop myself from trying to sing along with (The Lady’s starstruck; she’s nothing but bad luck!), the epic journey of Stargazer, where Dio’s voice draws the listener into his own visions and where the listener beautifully bleeds for each laid brick alongside the narrator (Where is your star? Is it far, is it far, is it far? When do we leave? I believe, yes, I believe, I believe!).

Now, though, an extra note has entered the album; it’s a quiet note, inaudible compared to the rest, but it’s there all the same. The album’s highs and lows have something else added to them: the knowledge that the man enveloping us in his world is never going to sing again. That he’s gone, and that something as iconic as Stargazer, or Children of the Sea, Heaven and Hell, Holy Diver, The Bible Black, and so many others, can die.

But can they? No, I don’t think that they can. Dio’s gone, and the man of 67 that stood in front of crowds and sang with Heaven and Hell, the man that had to cancel shows to try and fight his stomach cancer, he will never sing another note. The man that stood in a recording studio in 1976 and sang A Light in the Black, though, he’s still here. The man that jammed with Tony Iomi in 1980 and made up the lyrics to Children of the Sea on the spot, he’s still with us. Just because he’s not there to lead us doesn’t mean we can no longer give him the horns.

In the misty morning, on the edge of time
We've lost the rising sun, a final sign
As the misty morning rolls away to die
Reaching for the stars, we blind the sky

We sailed across the air before we learned to fly
We thought that it could never end
We'd glide above the ground before we learned to run, run
Now it seems our world has come undone

Oh they say that it's over
And it just had to be
Ooh they say that it's over
We're lost children of the sea, oh

We made the mountains shake with laughter as we played
Hiding in our corner of the world
Then we did the demon dance and rushed to nevermore
Threw away the key and locked the door

Dio the man is gone, but his music is still here, and it’s the most incredible legacy that any of us can aspire to leave behind us. As long as his work is still with us, Dio is too.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Reading Habits

For a time, I tried to resist this meme, but, really, what choice did I have? After all, who am I to argue with the collective wisdom of just about the whole blogosphere?

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack:

I lack the multitasking ability needed to eat and read. Besides, I'm too terrified that I'll get something on the book.

What is your favorite drink while reading?
While this seems like a very useful skill, it's one I'm having some trouble developing. I've tried reading and drinking seltzer with a huge amount of lemon in it (which is absolutely delicious, refreshing, and unlikely to cause your premature death), but I need to bring the reading to a full halt to summon the concentration needed to bring the glass to my lips without serious mishap occurring.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
I'm obsessive about the condition of my books, but I have no problem dog earing mass market paperbacks. It's just too convenient to stop. Hardcovers, though, get either bookmarks or me awkwardly trying to remember what page I was up to (and then finally finding my spot just before I have to stop reading). Trade paperbacks are a case by case basis.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

The idea of applying my own ink to the same paper that was graced with the ink of someone like VanderMeer is a thought so blasphemous I'm tempted to dust my entire collection in order to banish it. That being said, I do take note of passages that I either really enjoy (for my Obese Quotation Hell word document) or want to use in a review. If it's a book I'd dog ear anyway, I'll just dog ear the pages. If it's a hardcover, I'll frequently either write page numbers on the book mark (I usually use whatever's at hand - my current book mark, for instance, is the old keycard from a hotel I stayed at two or so years ago that I found in my drawer), or, if that's not a good option, write all the page numbers on a separate sheet of paper.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?
My pleasure reading is always fiction.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
Chapters at the least. I'm the kind of person who will read a short story of less than a hundred pages in a single sitting, no matter what. Stopping in the middle of a page just feels wrong, even if there're forty five more pages in the chapter, I should have been sleeping an hour ago, and I'm not all that into the book in the first place.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?
There are people who do that? Really? I always thought it was a myth, like the bogeyman or something. I propose that anyone who's intentionally injured a book should have their reading privileges revoked for a period of time equivalent to the damage inflicted. Hell, I carefully stack the books I'm planning to give away the next day.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

Nah, that would break the flow far too much. I'll generally try to remember it if it looks interesting, but all but the most fascinating sounding are forgotten by the time I get to a computer or dictionary. Ah well, I guess my perspicacity* must be helpful here, as you can generally tell from the context.

* This may or may not be a word that inspired me to actually go find out what it means earlier today

What are you currently reading?
Wrapping up Stephen King's The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. Up until page 150, it was unbelievably riveting. I then wondered where he could possibly take it. It seems he was wondering the same thing, because we've just been meandering around since then(, and I'm damn close to the end).

What is the last book you bought?
I have poor self control, and I rarely want just one book, so I usually buy books in bulk. For instance, the last time I bought books I bought:

Steph Swainston - The Year of Our War
Simon Ings - The City of the Iron Fish
Thomas Ligotti - Songs of a Dead Dreamer (Preorder)
Patrick Rothfuss - The Adventures of the Princess and Mr. Whiffle (Preorder)
Neil Gaiman - American Gods (An audiobook present for mother's day...if only she'd realized what I meant when I asked if she could play mp3s. Well, nothing's funner than wasting money...)

This probably wouldn't be so bad if I just bought books every few months, but I purchased six or seven books in the beginning of April (though I'll have mercy and not list them here).

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

For novels, I always read one at a time. It's not that I can't concentrate on two so much as I can't see a good reason to. Short story collections can be different, though. I've got to read one for a class fairly soon, and I'll be mixing the stories with Algernon Blackwood's, just in case.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
Really, I'll read anywhere. I love to sit at home and read a hundred pages, but I'll also bring a book along and read it during three minute checkout lines. Hell, I've even managed to corrupt exercise; I now read books while I go on the most badass of all workout machines: the exercise bike.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

No preference, really. I almost never read two books by the same author in a row, though, so series frequently take me months to complete. I've been gnawing away at Malazan, for instance, for well over half a year by now.

When it comes to reviewing, I much prefer standalones. It feels odd to condense an entire series into a single review (and prevents you from really discussing later books for fear of spoiling the first), but I have a hard time conceiving of a trilogy of reviews that wouldn't involve putting the same words in a different order again and again.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
Not really, but that's because I haven't done very many general recommendation posts on here. On forums, though, I've been known to advocate VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen or Veniss Underground to a slightly unhealthy degree at times. When it comes to genre newcomers (or just people who don't hang out on message boards debating the relative qualities of relatively obscure releases), I recommend Martin for fantasy and Reynolds for science fiction day in and day out, by which I mean on the one or two occasions I've ever been asked.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)
I've got a single book case (and another improntu shelf on top of my dresser), and, at a very, very conservative estimate, I've bought two a hundred fifty books in the past year and a half. The books that don't get shelf space join one of the five towering piles of Couch Books that have rendered my couch kinda useless for anything else. As for organization, I keep authors together, and my shelves DO have some kind of general idea, even if it's one only known to me. For instance, my third shelf has: Malazan (Erikson and Esslemont mingling), my two Jim Butcher books on top of Malazan, Wolfe to the right, then Rothfuss, Card, and Herbert, with Vance atop the last three. My dream, however, is something like this.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Songs of a Dead Dreamer Shipped

Subterranean press's edition of Ligotti's Songs of a Dead Dreamer just shipped on amazon, which means that it's pretty much perfectly in sync with its March 31st release date. Oh, wait...

Well, this should be good enough to justify the delay. I haven't read any of Ligotti's work yet, save for his A Soft Voice Whispers Nothing story (in The New Weird anthology). Within a sentence of that, however, I knew that Ligotti was an author I needed to learn more about. His prose bowled me over like a fist; it was the same sheer awe that I'd first felt upon reading Lovecraft. If you, like me, haven't gotten into Ligotti yet, this looks like a great place to start; it's a definitive rerelease of his first collection (and, since it's Subterranean, you know it's gonna be a sight to behold). C'mon May 26th to June second...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

China Miéville Interviewed (Elsewhere)

Alright, alright, I'm aware that I'm not the only person to post this interview. In fact, I'll wager that I'm not in the first hundred. I do, however, want to draw attention to a slightly different part of it (though I won't deny that Miéville doing SF is a mouth watering proposition):

It seems sometimes that monsters are only considered valid if they are supported by some deeper meaning, but they can be enjoyed for what they are too,” he said. “When I was a kid I drew squids and robots because I loved them and I still feel that way now.

“Fantasy and science fiction can be literal as well as allegorical and there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a monster like a giant squid for what it is, as well as searching for metaphor.

I think that dichotomy (between social commentary and holy fuck that moth just owned that guy) is precisely what makes Miéville books such excellent reads, and I think it's the skewing of that dichotomy that made The City and The City less gripping than its predecessors.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Neil Gaiman - Neverwhere

Richard wrote a diary entry in his head.

Dear Diary
, he began. On Friday I had a job, a fiancée, a home, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as any life makes sense.) Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement, and I tried to be a Good Samaritan. Now I’ve got no fiancée, no home, no job, and I’m walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruitfly.

Neverwhere is about the idea that people can slip through the gaps in our modern society and discover a world – still existing in the shadows beneath modern London – that evokes the (literally) magical days of yore. It can easily be read as a condemnation of the modern world. Richard’s fiancée, Jessica, is a vapid woman whose interests include going to art museums (with no hint that she cares at all about the art) and going to fancy dinners (calibrated to charm her boss as much as humanly possible). How Richard escapes dreary reality is by an act of compassion, something that few (if any) of the “real world” characters show in Neverwhere.

London Below is not, however, paradise. After a period of terrifying acclimatization, Richard begins to view it as the vibrant opposite of everything the dreary, callous real world is, but can we really just give into our wishes and vacate reality quite so easily? Gary, Richard’s “real” friend, certainly doesn’t think so:

“I’ve passed the people who fall through the cracks, Richard: they sleep in shop doorways, all down the strand. They don’t go to a special London. They freeze to death in winter.”

Of course, the question of London Below’s reality is not central in the narrative. What is important to note, however, is that London Below is not a simple solution to all of Richard’s problems. The world of the underground is filled with just as much darkness and evil as London Above, and it’s not just of the black and white variety. It’s hard to say that the Lord Rat-speaker’s disregard for his follower’s well being is any better than the emptiness displayed by Richard’s coworkers in the book’s closing scenes.

London Below is the main “character” of Neverwhere. It remains throughout the book more of a style than a known quantity, but that fits with the wondrous, magical feelings that Gaiman is trying to evoke. The reader knows that the market meets every night in a different place, and the reader gets to experience the strangeness of the occasion, but (despite Richard’s questions) we never find out who sets it up.

The characterization of the other characters in Neverwhere is focused first on theme and setting, second on establishing realistic personalities…which is not to say that it doesn’t do both, on occasion. The most interesting character by far is Richard Mayhew, protagonist. He stands in for all of us in the modern age, to a degree, but there is always a slight disconnect between him and the real world scenes, even before his encounter with London Below. His relationship with Jessica consists of absent mindedly doing whatever she says, and his professional life is made remarkable only by the toy trolls that wage war across his desk. When he goes underground, he begins to develop a personality of his own, reacting to both the bizarre stimulus around him and his memories of his life above.

Other characters follow the same general principles, frequently archetypes that are given enough of a twist to appear fresh. Hunter, for instance, is practically obsession personified. She’s settled on a goal, and she’d determined to fulfill it at the expense of all else.

In addition to the forces of good, or close enough to it, Neverwhere also boasts two of the best villains ever conceived. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar are blacker-than-black, wolflike in their tenacity, and absolutely hilarious:

“Are you bribing me?” [Varney] asked.

Mr. Vandemar had picked up the morning star. He was pulling the chain apart, with his free hand, link by link, and dropping the bits of twisted metal onto the floor. Chink. “No,” said Mr. Vandemar. Chink “We’re intimidating you.” Chink. “And if you don’t do what Mister Croup says, we’re…” chink. “hurting you…” chink “…very badly, before we’re…” chink “killing you.”

“Ah,” said Varney. “Then I’m working for you, aren’t I?”

“Yes, you are,” said Mr. Croup. “I’m afraid we don’t have any redeeming features.”

“That doesn’t bother me,” said Varney.

“Good,” said Mr. Croup. “Welcome aboard.”

The entire journey is held together by Gaiman’s brilliant prose. Gaiman alternates between description and comedic wording, but both are in evidence here. If the above quotes still haven’t convinced you of the greatness of Neverwhere’s prose, allow me and Gaiman to try and sway you once more:

They walked through an impressive lobby. Then they waited while the footman lit each of the candles on the candelabra. They went down some impressive richly carpeted stairs. They went down a flight of less impressive, less richly carpeted stairs. They went down a flight of entirely unimpressive stairs carpeted in a threadbare brown sacking, and, finally, they went down a flight of drab wooden stairs with no carpet on them at all.

Neverwhere is not a particularly original book, but Neverwhere is – cliché notwithstanding – about the journey rather than the destination, the dank feel of the air rather than the exact width of the tunnel. It’s true that you’ve probably read a few books like Neverwhere, but how many of them made you look at the real world when you were done reading and recoil at how empty it all seemed? Neverwhere does just that.

Aidan, of A Dribble of Ink, has got a review here. The review, and especially the comments, here are interesting with their comparisons to Gaiman's other works and Alice in Wonderland.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

An Addendum to Up and Coming (and Essential?) in May: Above the Snowline

These lists always turn out to bite me in the ass a bit. By the time the month's over, without fail, I will have discovered at least one thing that is just as necessary as anything on the list. As April rolled around, I saw Shine on a shelf and realized it came out far earlier than I realized. A few days ago I finally got around to looking up some of Ligotti's work, and what do you know, his Songs of a Dead Dreamer was (theoretically) rereleased in March.

This time's a bit different, though. I knew about this book at the time, but I didn't throw it up for the same reason that I didn't put Hobb's new releases up, despite my enjoyment of Hobb: I feel really uncomfortable having a latter book in a series that I haven't read. What happens if I read the series and it turns out to be shit? Now, I haven't read the whole series, here, but I've read the first book, and, from what I can see, this release is (wholly?) absent in the parts of the 'net that I frequent. The author is Steph Swainston, and the book is Above the Snowline:

I can't say much about it, having not read the preceding two volumes, but I will have quite a bit to say about her debut, The Year of Our War, in the coming days, and, if this is anything approaching that novel's quality, this is something to watch out for.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

An Addendum to my The City and The City Review

Over on his blog, Graeme posted the reading group questions from the back of The City and The City. Seeing as I'd done a review the day before, I felt that I had no choice at all but to spew out yet more wordage on the subject. My response can be found in the comments to his post, but I'll repost the main part of it here:

China Mieville says that he considers ‘The City & The City’ “a crime novel above all.” Do you agree with his assessment? Why or why not?

Not at all, really. I think that the crime is important in that it's a breach of the social boundaries/rules that govern the novel, but I don't think that it is the defining event by any stretch of the imagination.

Try to think of the novel primarily in science fictional or fantasy terms instead of as a crime novel. Is there any evidence that the novel falls into either of these categories? How would looking at the novel from these perspectives change your perception of the story?

Well...that's exactly how I looked at it, so not much. I simply don't see how The City and The City could be expected to function without at least the guise of its speculative elements. As a crime novel, it's about someone who breaks a tradition that's too ridiculous to ever really believe in. As a fantasy, it's about someone who breaks a rule of nature that we gradually realize is merely arbitrary and man made. You end up at the same place, but only one allows (me) suspension of belief to any degree. Not to mention that, as a pure crime novel, the lackluster resolution to the mystery is even more of a blow.*

Mieville calls the crime novel “a kind of dream fiction masquerading as a logic puzzle.” What do you think he meant by that, and how does ‘The City & The City’ measure up to that definition?

It's an interesting definition, as, no matter how seemingly messy the mystery, there is always an underlying order to the bizarre events around it. I'd say that it could apply to The City and The City quite well, but only if one mangles Mieville's meaning a bit. This is, after all, a novel about what is almost a collective delusion (the unchangeable nature of our own perceptions), which has strict rationalizations underneath it. It is, in a way, showing us the flaws in our overly-neat perceptions of the world (IE, the standard mystery plot that, by nature, has a solution).*

Why do you think that Mieville… calls this novel an ‘anti-fantasy’? What does this term suggest to you? Do you agree that it describes ‘The City & The City’?

As is no doubt obvious by now, I agree completely. The City and The City undermines just about every expectation most go into genre novels armed with, but it does so in a way that relies on them precisely as much as it subverts them.

* Places where I cleaned up my wording or expressed my point better than I did in the comments.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

China Miéville - The City and The City

In the morning trains ran on a raised line meters from my window. They were not in my city. I did not of course, but I could have stared into their carriages – they were quite that close – and caught the eyes of foreign travelers.

[Note: I generally try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but The City and The City is a novel about shifting perspectives and, as such, I don’t think that it would be possible to do anything more than a shallow overview without them, so be warned.]

China Miéville is no stranger to anticlimaxes. To one degree or another, every one of us his Bas Lag novels have ended in one. The City and The City, however, takes things to a whole new level. The book is, essentially, composed of two massive anticlimaxes.

The novel’s main idea is the overlapping nature of the cities of Beszel and Ul Qoma. The two cities inhabit the same geographic coordinates, yet are actually disparate in location. Despite the fact that their streets overlap, a journey into Ul Qoma consists of passing through strictly guarded borders, rather than crossing to the next block. At first, the whole experience seems delightfully surreal. When the concepts were first introduced, in the opening chapters of the novel, I imagined it as if reality was frayed in the area, with buildings phasing in and out of existence depending on how much crossover there was in the area. At this point in the novel, the reader’s main question is probably along the lines of how the two cities got to be the way they were, and how Breach – a secret police organization, of sorts, that brutally enforces the boundaries – manages to keep the two cities in line.

As the novel progresses, these fantastic layers are stripped away one by one. Near the beginning, we are told that:

I lived east and south a bit of the old town…It is a heavily crosshatched street – clutch by clutch of architecture broken by alterity, even in a few spots house by house. The local buildings are taller by a floor or three than the [Ul Qoma] buildings, so Besz juts up semiregularly and the roofscape is almost a machicolation.

At the time, it seems like this is an exceptional site, the occasion of the worst of the frayed-reality sites that I mentioned earlier (in my terminology, not Miéville’s). As the book continues, however, we come to realize that every part of the city is crosshatched. We come to understand that every Besz building is also, to some degree or other, a part of the Ul Qoma landscape, that every square foot of Ul Qoma also exists in Besz and that there is no fundamental difference between the two. The act of “breaching,” or travelling unauthorized from one to the other, is not one of violating a magical law, but rather the breaking of a social custom. Besz and Ul Qoma are the same city, they just like to pretend otherwise.

It’s commonly accepted that a large part of the allure of fantasy is the ability to deal with real world issues in a new way, analyzing concepts like race without the connotations that something like the Jim Crow Laws immediately drag into play. This is never put to better use than in The City and The City. The novel is about the incorporeal nature of the divides we put on ourselves. It is saying that the man next to us is, no matter what we think, actually not that different at all. By exaggerating our tendencies to stay within our social comfort zone to the point where we try our damndest to pretend any other doesn’t exist, Miéville makes us realize the flaws in our own perceptions.

Of course, such a thing could never work from the beginning of the novel. If The City and The City started with half the population simply ignoring the other half, we would find it ridiculous. Instead, the beginning implies that this all occurred in some fantastic, magical way, and that it is not the will of the individual occupants at all. Because of this, our initial transition into the world is a relatively easy one. As Miéville strips away the trappings of fantasy one by one, we are forced to recognize that he was talking about us all along.

Unfortunately, though the focus shifts from who made it like this, there’s nothing to make the question go away. If there was nothing otherworldly in its schizophrenic creation, why on earth have Beszel and Ul Qoma evolved the way that they have? The obsessive, unanimous, impossible drive that would be needed in the founding generation of such a place is something that I can’t conceive of. The city initially works as a storytelling device and gradually changes over to a thematic one, but the transformation to the latter effectively hamstrings the former.

That is only one of a few similar issues in the novel. In the beginning, Breach seems omnipotent in their ability to enforce the laws. Later, we discover that they have no superpowers at all. This is a necessary realization; a supernatural dividing force would be a bullet to the heart of the novel’s themes. That doesn’t mean that it makes any sense, however. If Breach is a police organization made exceptional only by their ability to traverse the boundaries, how can they appear at the scene of a cross-city accident in seconds?

The second great anticlimax of the novel deals with the plot of the story, and it goes hand in hand with the steady debunking of the city’s wonders. For the novel’s first sections, the mystery grows ever more complex. Eventually, it seems obvious that the force behind the throne, so to speak, is the mythic Orciny, a third city that is believed to be long extinct. Through tantalizing hints and small clues, Miéville builds our expectations of Orciny up to a fever pitch.

And then, in the same way that the fantastical nature of the cities was orchestrated to collapse from the word go, the entire thing turns out to be a very human puzzle, and it is backed by a very human evil. To a degree, this accomplishes the same slow but inevitable shift of perceptions that the change in world building does. At first, we need to feel no responsibility for the increasingly sinister shape that the conspiracy is taking. It is Orciny, a direct product of the bizarre, irreproducible structure of the cities. It turns out, however, that there is no supernatural agency in play at all; in fact, the whole thing is a literal example of the real world’s intrusion into the oddities of Beszel/Ul Qoma.

What is interesting from a thematic point of view, however, is not necessarily interesting form a plot point of view. After having Orciny built up for so long, it turns out to be nothing but the creation of an all but absent side character. Instead of a mind blowing revelation, the book’s climax takes the form of a long speech, in which Inspector Borlu reveals every piece of the puzzle, a scene that serves primarily to emphasize the underlying mundane nature of the whole book. Fascinating? Yes. Rewarding? No.

Any book that shifts our perceptions to such a degree could be hard to relate to, and The City and The City does much to magnify the problem. The book is written, as opposed to Miéville’s Bas Lag novels, in a very cinematic and understated prose style. Events are reported in a matter of fact way, with a minimum of stylistic flourishes. We see the actions of Inspector Borlu from the outside enough to get an idea of who he is, but we never get to see under the hood and learn what really makes him tick. The experience feels like following him from directly over his shoulder. We see what he sees, and we hear what he hears, but we never know what he’s thinking.

There has been much debate over whether The City and The City is a speculative work at all. Now, as I’ve repeated for much of the review, The City and The City has very, very few (if any) speculative elements. That being said, it reads as if it were a speculative novel for the vast majority of its length, and so I think that it should be undoubtedly counted as one. Let’s take one of Miéville’s earlier works. Perdido Street Station is undeniably speculative in nature, but what if, at the very end, someone in New York City had woken up and remarked upon the strange dream that they’d just had? The novel would then contain no speculative elements whatsoever, but would anyone really say that it was not a speculative novel? Though the degree is obviously quite different here, I think that the question of genre is one determined more by form and style than by literal content, and I think that The City and The City dons far more than enough of a genre costume for it to be considered beside Miéville’s other works.

In the end, The City and The City is a novel that is easier to admire than it is to enjoy. It is, at times, a page turner, but visceral pleasure and intellectual interest are in an inverse proportion here. When the novel feels like a fantastic mystery, you find yourself compulsively reading on, but unable to even begin to answer the myriad questions posed by the novel’s setting. When those questions are answered, however, the revelation sucks away much of the book’s thrill. The City and The City is something that I recommend to every genre fan, but it is not something that I can consider Miéville’s best work.


Abigail’s review is absolutely essential reading material. For a contrasting opinion, check out James’s take.

The day after I posted the review, Graeme posted the reading group questions from the back of Del Rey's The City and The City. My answers are here.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Few Notes on Review Order

As inconsequential as this instance may be, I don’t like lying to my readers, so I figured I’d come out and say that, when I said that Neverwhere would be getting a review this week in Reading in April, I was unaware that the next day I would be seized with a fit of inspiration and would pump out a review of The City and The City. Seeing as the month is over and there’s no longer any real reason to get the Neverwhere review out as soon as possible (I would’ve liked to be able to mention it in the aforementioned Reading in… post, but that wasn’t to happen), I’m going to post the Mieville first so that it will be up before I read (and review?) Kraken.

While I’m doing this, I feel I might as well mention the other two reviews in the queue and the promised article. I have not had writer’s block with regards to the Sanderson short or the King novel (every review up there is already written); they just keep getting pushed back by more newer, more exciting reviews. I guess it’s an unavoidable result of posting a review a week and writing slightly faster than that, but I always have an itch to show off my new work first. The Sanderson/King will both be coming, though I will still give preference to new releases and books that’ll show up in that month’s summary.

As to the Reynolds article, mentioned in my review of Terminal World, it is still planned, though I’ll admit that I’ve yet to do anything more than find the quote I plan to start off with, though that easily took an hour. Redemption Ark is a damn big book, and I read it before I started noting down my favorite passages. I’m aware that I really shouldn’t have mentioned it till it was on the horizon, but rest assured that it will eventually materialize.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Up and Coming (and Essential?) in May

I quite liked The City and the City, but it only felt tangentially like a Mieville novel. The weirdness and interesting themes were there, but everything felt quite muted. Even if it’s not set in Bas Lag, Kraken looks like it’s going to be a lot closer to Mieville’s more colorful works. There’s a decently sized sample floating around I haven’t read the whole thing (I generally prefer to devour something in a few sittings, rather than taunt myself with excerpts), but I couldn’t resist the opening, and I love the writing there. Several reviews of this are out so far, all glowing, including Wert's and The Speculative Scotsman's.

Apartment 16 looks like a dark, claustrophobic horror novel, but what’s got me most excited are the great reviews. James came first, and he convinced me that this was something I had to look into. When the Speculative Scotsman joined him, I knew I needed to read this sooner rather than later. If you’re into horror, this seems like a pretty safe bet from where I’m sitting.

Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet was an excellent read and just the kind of thing that makes me desperate to read more of an author’s work. The prose was both beautiful and precise throughout, the characterization superb. Leviathan Wept is a collection of his short stories (some of which are award winning) that looks perfect for filing that urge. You can get one of the stories, the The Cambist and Lord Iron, here for free.


And, finally: