I haven't had much luck finding new, entertaining brain candy lately and the drought continues.
I feel about Grimspace the way I feel about the rebooteI haven't had much luck finding new, entertaining brain candy lately and the drought continues.
I feel about Grimspace the way I feel about the rebooted Star Trek: I like the character (Sirantha Jax) but the story she's stuck in isn't very good. In the future, starships navigate using humans with the J-gene, a mutation that allows Sirantha and her compatriots to "see" beacons left behind by an unknown alien race and get ships safely from point to point. The technology doesn't seem well thought out. At one point, the crew of Svetlana's Folly, Jax's ship, spend three weeks moving from a grimspace exit point to a space station yet - when they escape from the station - they're only 36 hours away from another planet. And later Sirantha is lured back to joining the Folly's crew when she learns that Dina, the engineer, is planning on taking Sirantha's place even though she doesn't have the J-gene. Umm...how could this be convincing when, supposedly, no one lacking the gene can navigate through grimspace?
And then there's the absurd romance between Jax and her pilot, March. An atoning mercenary who's devoted his here-to-fore wasted life to breaking the monopoly of the Farwan Corporation, which controls the training and indoctrination of every human with the J-gene. It's a case of reluctant attraction at first sight and two cringe-worthy sex scenes because (you know) sex between a navigator and her pilot is so intense since they're intimately connected through the jump and - in this case - March has psionic powers.
The story reads like a script for a Hollywood SF blockbuster with all the stock characters and all the stock encounters(view spoiler)[, including a scene where the token alien on the ship's crew can sacrifice himself. (hide spoiler)]
That said, Sirantha Jax is a fun character to adventure with. She's a refreshingly nonself-delusional person who quickly realizes she's out of her depth (though, in the spirit of the Hollywood blockbuster, she winds up able to do things like pilot spaceships and operate the ship's weaponry despite having no training in either - sigh). As long as she wasn't mooning over March, I liked her voice. I just wish she wasn't stuck in such a cookie-cutter storyline.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I like Kage Baker's Company books (Mendoza, before she's reduced to a simpering, love-sick nonentity, is one of my favorite characters in any series)I like Kage Baker's Company books (Mendoza, before she's reduced to a simpering, love-sick nonentity, is one of my favorite characters in any series) and I love C.J. Cherryh's Union-Alliance future history (Signy Mallory of ECS Norway ranks as one of the most brilliant characters in SF (IMO) and Downbelow Station is a masterpiece). But I can't stand their forays into fantasy. I couldn't finish The Anvil of the World and Cherryh's fantasy tends to bore me.
Sarah Zettel joins that band of authors whose SF I like but whose fantasy leaves me cold. I first met Zettel in her SF author guise - Fool's War, Kingdom of Cages, etc. - and enjoyed her writing. (Though, being reasonably honest, I confess to not remembering anything about the stories; all I remember is that I liked them.) And perhaps I should have known better: I hated A Sorcerer's Treason. But this was a tale of King Arthur, and because I didn't like one book didn't mean that I wouldn't like this one.
But that turned out not to be the case. I gave Zettel 117 pages to convince me to go on but her arguments weren't good enough. The writing felt awkward and forced; there was never a point where I could lose myself in the story. I was always aware that I was lounging in a chair reading a book. Even in Mary Stewart's Arthurian saga, which I recently finished rereading and had issues with, I was engaged enough in the story and the characters to want to continue reading. Every few sentences, In Camelot's Shadow's clumsy prose jarred me back into reality.
If I had time or inclination, it might be interesting to reread Zettel's SF novels to figure out why she fails for me in a fantasy setting.
But in this case, I can't recommend the book. I can see where others might find interest in it, however, and wouldn't want to discourage anyone from trying it....more
Rating for this book: 3.75+; rating for the series overall: 3.5 _____________________________
After a relatively lackluster second volume in the Bel DamRating for this book: 3.75+; rating for the series overall: 3.5 _____________________________
After a relatively lackluster second volume in the Bel Dame Apocrypha series, Kameron Hurley comes roaring back with Rapture. Seven years have passed since the events of Infidel, and Nyxnissa so Dasheem is in exile in Drucia, where she lives with her former comrade Anneka and her family. The situation in Nasheen has continued to deteriorate in the meanwhile: The centuries-long war with Chenja is over, and the boys – the fodder the bel dames and First Families have been sacrificing for all this time – are returning home and becoming a disruptive element that threatens to push Nasheen into outright civil war. Raine, Nyx’s erstwhile instructor, enemy and a man she had left for dead, survived and has become the leader in the fight for men’s rights. When he’s kidnapped, Fatima – another old foe, the murderer of Rhys’ family and bel dame leader – extorts Nyx’s aid in tracking him down and bringing him back to Nasheen. Obviously, things cannot be as straightforward as this, and Nyx rapidly finds herself enmeshed not alone in the machinations of the bel dames, the Queen and the First Families, but also those of the Ras Tiegans, the civilizations of the North and a larger cabal of First Families that revives an ancient conjuror to ensure the “aliens,” who have returned, do not gain a foothold on Umayma.
This thing that makes Rapture such a good read and a very satisfying conclusion to the story is Hurley’s decision to focus almost exclusively on Nyxnissa, who is the heart and soul of the series. Looking back, the weakness of Infidel was that the author introduced too many new characters and their subplots that either didn’t go anywhere or distracted the reader from Nyx. Here, we have brief discursions into what Rhys and Inaya are doing but everything properly comes back to Nyx, who is one of the more interesting characters I’ve encountered in a while.
Why? I have been wondering how to answer that question since I don’t like to leave readers hanging with sentences like the one above, so let me enumerate several of the reasons:
1. Nyx feels very human. That is to say, her motivations are complex, conflicted and not always obvious to herself or to us 2. She’s indomitable. Despite failing – as she see’s it – in everything she’s done, she doesn’t give up. 3. She has at her core an admirable nature (part of which, IMO, is #2). You have to admire her devotion to what she see’s as her duty, to her companions (though they often misinterpret it), and to her ability to cling to her humanity in the face of all the shit (pardon my French) that’s thrown her way.
Another factor in the novel’s favor is that Hurley continues to open up the world of Umayma without info-dumping. We are tantalized with more clues about Umayma’s colonization and its earliest history, the nature of humans and their relationship to the bugs, and the reasons behind Umayma’s xenophobia.
And – finally – I liked the ending’s ambiguity, which immediately brings to mind Frank Stockton’s short story “The Lady or the Tiger.”
A vigorous thumbs-up for this book and the entire Bel Dame Apocrypha series. I fervently hope Hurley continues to write in this universe (as well as branching out; I’d be interested in reading anything she writes)....more
Recently, a friend sent me a link to a review in the LA Times of several of this year’s Best of…SF anthologies. The reviewer argues that the SF fieldRecently, a friend sent me a link to a review in the LA Times of several of this year’s Best of…SF anthologies. The reviewer argues that the SF field has become complacent and self-satisfied; there are few authors really pushing the boundaries or using the genre to explore things other media can’t. In his opinion, most of the stories in these collections are good enough in a technical sense but lack any desire to make the reader think. In fact, he thought the best story was James Tiptree Jr.'s “And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Cold Hill’s Side,” a short story written 40 years ago and included in one of the collections in honor of Tiptree’s lifetime achievements.*
Based on the stories to be found in Tad Williams’ A Stark and Wormy Knight, the review’s author may have a valid point. There’s no particularly bad story. All are entertaining to some degree and all are very, very “safe.” Seeds of potentially good stories are here (cf., “And Ministers of Grace”), and – as always – Williams is a fine story teller but most are too predictable and by the numbers.
“And Ministers of Grace” – This story is about Lamentation Kane, an assassin for the theocratic world of Covenant, whose mortal foe is the hyper-rationalist society of Archimedes. “Lamentation Kane,” alone as a name, nearly makes up for any shortcomings in the story. The greatest of which is that it reads like a chapter in a larger work (which Williams as much as admits to in his “Introduction”). That and we have seen this kind of anti-hero before.
I mentioned “seeds” of good ideas. Some to be found in this story include Lamentation Kane, who has the potential to be an interesting character, if Williams can find the time to write a few more stories about him. Another is the brain implants that plague both societies. On Archimedes, it’s a continuous feed of targeted commercials and infotainment; on Covenant, it’s called Spirit and it keeps everyone safely on the heterodox path.
“A Stark and Wormy Knight” – The titular story of the collection is a typical bedtime story about a princess, a knight and a dragon but told from the dragon’s point of view. It’s cute, though the dragonspeak it’s written in can get annoying, i.e.:
“Mam! Mam!” squeed Alexandrax from the damps of his strawstooned nesty. “Us can’t sleep! Tail us a tell Ye Elder Days!”
“Child, stop that howlering or you’ll be the deaf of me,” scowled his scaly forebearer. “Count sheeps and go to sleep!”
“Been counting shepherds instead, have us,” her eggling rejoined. “But too too toothsome they each look. Us are hungry, Mam.” (p. 57)
It goes on like that but only for a mercifully brief 12 more pages.
“The Storm Door” – This is the best piece in the collection. It’s about what happens when the hungry ghosts of the Tibetan hells learn how to possess the dead. Very dark, and with no happy ending.
“The Stranger’s Hands” – You can see the twist coming from the first page but it’s a likable story about an “evil” wizard who inadvertently gets the power to grant wishes (at the expense of his mind) and the “good” wizard who can’t have that. It’s another exploration of the theme that the good guys aren’t always that good and the bad guys aren’t always that bad which informs much of Williams’ work.
“Bad Guy Factory” – This is a pitch for a comic book series about where the villains go to get training.
“The Thursday Men” – This is a Hellboy story originally written for the Hellboy: Oddest Jobs anthology. I’m not a fan of the “Hellboy” franchise in comic or movie form so the tale didn’t make a great impression upon me, though – like “The Stranger’s Hands” - it wasn’t a bad one.
“The Tenth Muse” – This is the second best work in the anthology. It may or may not take place in the same ‘verse as “And Ministers of Grace.” Covenant is mentioned but there is none of Archimedes, whose rationalist polity seems to have been replaced by the Confederation. It has the potential to be a really good story about first contact and communication between alien minds.
“The Lamentable Comical Tragedy (or the Laughably Tragic Comedy) of Lixal Laqavee” – This is an homage to Jack Vance and his “Dying Earth” stories, and as such it succeeds fairly well. Williams can’t always capture Vance’s tone (who can?) but he comes close and it’s a good story in its own right.
“The Terrible Conflagration at the Quiller’s Mint” – This is a short story set in Williams Shadowmarch world. Well told if unmemorable.
“Black Sunshine” – This is a draft script for a horror film about an experimental drug, the teen-ager who takes it, and the consequences for his friends 20 years later. The story idea is pretty well known and well used by now, and I can’t see it as becoming a particularly good movie.
“Ants” – This one reminded me of nothing so much as Roald Dahl’s “Lamb to the Slaughter.” Anyone who’s read that classic will understand the general tenor of the story.
I wouldn’t recommend buying this unless you’re a Tad Williams completist but there’s enough good stuff here to justify a library checkout, borrowing from your friend the TW completist, or picking up a copy for less than a buck at a library remainders table.
*I read the story when I was about 14 in the collection Ten Thousand Light Years From Home. Anyone who’s read this collection will understand what a powerful impact these stories can have on an adult reader; you can imagine what they had on a newly pubescent teen-age boy. On the other hand, I’m very glad my parents exercised no censorship on what I could read (except for the obvious stuff most parents censor like “Playboy”)....more
I can’t recommend Infidel as enthusiastically as I do its predecessor, God's War, because it suffers from the middle-book-of-a-trilogy syndrome: It doI can’t recommend Infidel as enthusiastically as I do its predecessor, God's War, because it suffers from the middle-book-of-a-trilogy syndrome: It doesn’t go anywhere, and reads a bit too much like filler. I hope that the final book in the series, Rapture, will restore the energy that carried God’s War along.
I also didn’t like the overly manipulative way Hurley tries to get our sympathy with the stories of Rhys’s and Khos’s families, which have established themselves in Tirhan after fleeing Nasheen at the end of the first book. And Nyx is dangerously close to becoming a “mary sue” character – too awesomely bad ass to be believable (view spoiler)[she comes back from the dead at one point because of something in her brain that bel dames just happen to have been equipped with (hide spoiler)].
Nevertheless, with these caveats, I would still recommend this book. However, if you haven’t read God’s War yet, you should wait for the final book and read them as a whole. Fortunately, that final volume is due before the end of the year (2012), so one shouldn’t have a GRRM-like wait.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Any world where you want a healthy population of roaches in your kitchen and bathroom is potentially interesting in the hands of a good writer. FortunAny world where you want a healthy population of roaches in your kitchen and bathroom is potentially interesting in the hands of a good writer. Fortunately, Kameron Hurley is pretty good, and Umayma is one of the more interesting future histories to appear in the last few years – insect-based technology, an Islam-influenced culture, a centuries-old religious war, an organization of murderous female assassins, boxing, magicians and shapeshifters.
Such a world, however, would be a sterile read no matter how inventive the details if there weren’t any interesting characters populating it, and here again Hurley comes through. Both of the protagonists, Nyx, erstwhile bel dame (see “murderous female assassins” above), and Rhys, fugitive Chenjan magician (though not a very good one), are believably complex characters motivated by misplaced senses of inadequacy and a need for atonement that translates into making them an extraordinarily effective team. (view spoiler)[Nyx can’t forgive herself for failing to save her brothers and for a mistake that killed her squad during her time at the front; Rhys can’t forgive himself for fleeing from service at the front. (hide spoiler)]
Hurley offers enough detail to make Umayma seem real without overwhelming you with boring exposition. For example, Umayman xenophobia is clearly expressed by the fact that the non-Umayman humans are always referred to as “the aliens.” Or there’s the factoid that most visitors to the system were attacked and destroyed (which very quickly isolated the planet from the rest of the galaxy).
I was also intrigued by Hurley’s almost coy allusions to the permutations of Islam that have shaped the dominant nations of the planet (Nasheen – a female-dominated polity – and Chenja – still ruled by male mullahs). Rhys carries a copy of the Kitab, not a Quran. “Kitab” is Arabic for “book”; “Bible” derives from the Latin for “book.” So one wonders what the contents of Rhys’s scripture is. And there are allusions to a more Christianity-oriented religious war being fought amongst “the aliens,” who play a prominent part in the plot.
I would strongly recommend this book. The violence can be over the top but I think that’s another one of its strengths in that it depicts the deteriorization of civil society in the face of endemic war (a depiction further elaborated on in the sequel, Infidel, where the “diplomatic” overtures of the bel dames are contrasted with the cultured responses of the Tirhani). I would say that I’m looking forward to the next book in the series but as I’ve already read it, that would be untrue. However, I am looking forward to the third book, Rapture, coming in November.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t also recommend Ceridwen’s review, which does a far better job than I of conveying the uniqueness of this book.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
It's extraordinarily rare that I can't finish a Star Trek novel. Heck, I even managed to get through Black Fire. But my tolerance for bad literature mIt's extraordinarily rare that I can't finish a Star Trek novel. Heck, I even managed to get through Black Fire. But my tolerance for bad literature may have been higher 20+ years ago, and - in Ms. Cooper's defense - her story was so ludicrous it was like watching "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or "Cave Dwellers" or "Eegah." So bad it's good.
The most egregious fault in Plagues of Night is that it's boring! Endless chapters that sound like synopses of a TV episode, and that keep cycling through a variety of POVs. There's no action, just a lot of people hanging out and talking to each other (about the action that had gone on behind the scenes). I was only able to get about half-way through before my better sense convinced me that I shouldn't be wasting my time here.
The second quality that sank it for me was what I have called in other reviews "The Star Wars Syndrome." This is an illness that strikes writers in the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises (and I'm sure in others that I haven't read) where they feel compelled to include every character from the respective series no matter how peripherally. A less serious version of the virus is excessive references to episodes from the TV series and/or other books in the franchise.
I'm glad this is a library loan and will soon be leaving the apartment forever.
It may not be readily apparent but I'm not recommending this one, not even to Trekkies....more
As a rule I don’t read Doctor Who novels. I enjoy (mostly) the new series, and I loved the old series when the PBS station in St. Louis aired them wheAs a rule I don’t read Doctor Who novels. I enjoy (mostly) the new series, and I loved the old series when the PBS station in St. Louis aired them when I was a kid. When I was that kid, I got a three-in-one volume of the Fourth Doctor’s (my favorite’s) adventures written by Terry Nation from the Science Fiction Book Club, and I know (but can’t remember the titles) of a few other novelizations I read. I can’t say that I ever acquired a taste for them, however. Certainly not one that equaled my youthful quest to get all the Star Trek novels (this was pre-TNG so the goal was within the realm of possibility at the time).
So why this particular Whovian tome?
Number one, it’s based on Douglas Adams's script and notes, and, number two, it concerns the Fourth Doctor (admittedly post-Sarah Jane but still pre-Adric).
And I enjoyed it. It was a pleasurable way to kill a few lunch hours and before-bedtime moments. Admittedly, it tended to read more like a script than a novel at times but if you’re a true Who fan you don’t need much character build up anyway. You already know what to expect. The adventure was sufficiently universe-threatening and the villain, Skagra, was one of the series’ more interesting. I wasn’t quite sold on how The Doctor managed to take control of Skagra’s ship (I won’t spoil it further than that) but aside from that quibble, I found the escapades and death-defying escapes no more outrageous than any other episode and fun to read. (view spoiler)[And there’s a backhanded homage to Adams, when Prof. Chronotis explains that when he stole The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey he replaced it with a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which had a remarkably similar cover. (hide spoiler)]
In sum, if you’re a DW fan, you’ll like this book; if not, don’t read it (or, if you do, prepare to be lost pretty much from page one since a fully grounded Whovian background is assumed). ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
There’s a point in Riddley Walker where Riddley writes, “You try to word the big things and they tern ther backs on you,” which is a bit how I feel trThere’s a point in Riddley Walker where Riddley writes, “You try to word the big things and they tern ther backs on you,” which is a bit how I feel trying to write about this book. There are so many “big things” going on in it that it’s difficult to decide what to raise in a short review. But I will try to articulate a few of the “big things” that struck me on this – my first – reading.
Riddley Walker shares a theme with Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. In that novel, our world too is destroyed in a nuclear holocaust, and its survivors spend the subsequent two thousand years recovering only to commit the same follies and suffer the same fate. Riddley Walker isn’t written on the same time scale – it takes place over the course of about a week – but the idea of humanity’s recurring folly is present. Abel Goodparley and Erny Orfing, respectively the Pry Mincer and Wes Mincer of Inland, seek to recreate the “1 Big 1” (the atom bomb) and the “1 Littl 1” (gunpowder) so they can rebuild the world from “time back way back.”
Riddley Walker is also kin to Edgar Pangborn’s Davy and Still I Persist in Wondering. Again in the humanity-can-be-kind-of-stupid theme but also in similarities between the characters of Davy and Riddley. Both ultimately reject what their societies impose upon them. Davy’s rejection is more of an individual choice and he doesn’t set out to change anyone’s life but his own. Riddley, though, is a “happener” (in Goodparley’s estimation) and what he chooses to do will have profound consequences (you suspect; the ending leaves us at the beginning of his “roading”). And there’s an underlying humane-ness that Hoban shares with Pangborn. A sense that – despite our flaws, there is something good in us – that I don’t find so much in Miller. Chapter 15, which is the central part of the story, recounts Riddley’s flight from Goodparley, his attempt to reach a former companion (Lissener) whom he realizes is in trouble, and the epiphany he reaches in the ruins of Canterbury Cathedral (Cambry). In the course of that flight he moves from being Lissener’s ally in overthrowing the Mincers, to agreeing with Goodparley’s plans for Inland, to realizing that neither party is right and he must chart a third course:
May be all there ever ben wer jus only 1 minim when any thing ever cud be right and that minim all ways gone befor you seen it. May be soons that 1st stoan tree stood up the wrongness hung there in the branches of it the wrongness ben the 1st frute of the tree…
I wer progammit diffrent then from how I ben when I come in to Cambry. Coming in to Cambry my head ben full of words and rimes and all kynds of jumbl of yellerboy stoan thots. Back then I ben thinking of the Power of the 2 and the 1 and the Hy Power what ben wooshing roun the Power Ring time back way back. The 1 Big 1 and the Spirit of God. My mynd ben all binsy with myndy thinking. Thinking who wer going to do what and how I myt put some thing to gether befor some 1 else done it. Seed of the red and seed of the yeller and that. That onwith of the yeller boy and the pig shit in the hart of the wood. Hart of the wud. Now I dint want nothing of that. I dint know what the connexion were with that face in my mynd only I knowit that face wer making me think diffrent. I wernt looking for no Hy Power no mor I dint want no Power at all. I dint want to do nothing with that yellerboy stoan no mor. Greanvine were the name I put to that face in my mynd.
I cud feal some thing growing in me it wer like a grean sea surging in me it wer saying, LOSE IT. Saying, LET GO. Saying, THE ONLYES POWER IS NO POWER.
Which brings me to the “Eusa shows.” These are puppet shows – propaganda – put on by the Pry Mincer and the Wes Mincer to justify their rule. They are the wildly distorted remembrances of the story of St. Eustace, the scientists who created the 1 Big 1 and the governments who used it, and Punch and Judy. They form the ritualized beliefs that unite the farmers (the “forms”) and the hunter-gatherers (the “fents”) of Inland. When Goodparley takes Riddley into his confidence at one point, he tells him about and reenacts the original Punch and Judy show, and later Riddley stumbles upon an ancient Punch doll. And it’s in this medium of storytelling that Riddley begins to “happen” things. The book ends with Riddley and Orfing shaking things up with a “Punch and Pooty” play at Weaping form:
Pooty says, ‘I know that wel a nuff thats why Im going down to get on with it now wil you mynd the babby?’
Punch says, ‘Not a bit. Mmmmm. Yum yum yum.’
Pooty says, ‘Whyd you say “Yum yum yum”?’
Punch says, ‘I wer jus clearing my froat.’
Pooty says, ‘For what?’
Punch says, ‘So I can sing to the babby.’
Pooty says, ‘What kynd of song you going to sing?’
Punch says, ‘Yummy py.’
Pooty says, ‘Whatd you say?’
Punch says, ‘Lulling by. Iwl sing the babby lulling bys.’
Pooty terns to the crowd she says, ‘Wud you please keap a eye on him wylst Im frying my swossages. Give us a shout wil you if he dont mynd that babby right.’
Theres plenny of voices in the crowd then speaking up theyre saying, ‘Dont you worry Pooty wewl keap a eye on him.’ Easyers voice says, ‘Wewl see your babby right Pooty that littl crookit barset he bes not try nothing here.’
Punch he dont anser nothing to that. When Pooty goes down hes zanting a littl with the babby its a littl jerky kynd of dants. Hes singing:
‘There wer a littl babby A piglet fat and juicy Who ever got ther hans on him They cudnt tern him lucey Ah yummy yummy yummy Ah slubber slubber sloo Ah tummy tummy tummy Ah piggy piggy poo’
The crowd becomes so incensed by Punch’s imminent cannibalism that one jumps up and attacks Riddley to stop it. There’s a parallel here between this and a story Riddley tells early in the book about the Bad Times when a couple are convinced by a “clevver” man to kill and eat their own child. Punch, the “clevver” one, can never be trusted with the “babby,” the “Power” (?):
The clevver looking bloak said, 'Iwl tel you what Iwl do Iwl share you my fire and my cook pot if youwl share me what to put in the pot.' He wer looking at the chyld.
The man and the woman thot: 2 out of 3 a live is bettern 3 dead. They said, 'Done.'
They kilt the chyld and drunk its blood and cut up the meat for cooking.
The clevver looking bloak said, 'Iwl show you how to make fire plus Iwl give you flint and steal and makings nor you dont have to share me nothing of the meat only the hart.'
Which he made the fire then and give them flint and steal and makings then he cookt the hart of the chyld and et it.
The clevver looking bloak said, 'Clevverness is gone now but littl by littl itwl come back. The iron wil come back agen 1 day and when the iron comes back they wil bern chard coal in the hart of the wood. And when they bern the chard coal ther stack wil be the shape of the hart of the chyld.' Off he gone then singing:
Seed of the littl Seed of the wyld Seed of the berning is Hart of the chyld'
And this just scratches the surface. I originally gave Riddley Walker three stars (albeit, a strong three stars) but upon rereading passages, looking at other GR reviews, and following the threads of a serendipitously found discussion of the book at the A.V. Club, I’m revising my appraisal to four stars and even more strongly recommend this book.
Oh, yeah – the language. As you may have gathered from the quotes above, Riddley Walker is written in the vernacular of Inland but this isn’t a gimmick. If you’re able to get through the first chapter or two, the rules of Riddley’s English become clear and it’s only occasionally difficult to understand what’s going on (e.g., it took a random reference in the A.V. Club thread to “Salt 4” meaning “sulfur” before I figured that one out). Using it, however, Hoban makes readers inhabit Riddley’s world like no other device can and demands that they pay attention to what’s (and what’s not) being said....more
If Armor comprised pages 7-89 and 261-374 (in my edition, i.e., Felix’s story), John Steakley would have had the “gripping, forceful and compelling…toIf Armor comprised pages 7-89 and 261-374 (in my edition, i.e., Felix’s story), John Steakley would have had the “gripping, forceful and compelling…tour de force” the cover blurb promises. Something that really could compare to Starships Troopers or The Forever War. Instead he had to go and break the narrative with Jack Crow’s story. It’s a WTF moment as you’re roughly torn from the claustrophobic, terrifying, soul-crushing milieu of Banshee to…the cafeteria of an alien prison. And Steakley never recovers the narrative momentum. It’s a colossal error in story-telling judgment.
As in Vampires, Steakley can write effective scenes of psychological torture that puts you there, even if you don’t want to be. But he’s not that compelling or original elsewhere. He still can’t write a believable female character – Lya is another impossibly good Madonna, and Karen is the damaged whore. In a different novel and a better writer’s hands, Jack and Karen’s relationship might have been interesting but here it’s trite and melodramatic. (Though I did like Steakley’s coda: (view spoiler)[“Karen is not pregnant and won’t be. Yes, we’re still together. But we are not, repeat: not happy. But I guess we’ll keep at it anyhow.” (p. 426)) (hide spoiler)]
And the surprise ending was anything but. I could see it from several kilometers away. It’s been done before. (view spoiler)[At the very least, Borglynn could have turned out to be Kent. That would have been an interesting development in that character. (hide spoiler)]
Recommendation: Read the “Felix” sections because they really are quite good and skip the rest.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Peake’s writing in this first Gormenghast novel reminds me of E.R. Eddison’s in The Worm Ouroboros, both for its fecundity aTitus Groan: Part 1 of 3:
Peake’s writing in this first Gormenghast novel reminds me of E.R. Eddison’s in The Worm Ouroboros, both for its fecundity and for the manifest enjoyment in the English language its author feels. Twenty years ago – even as few as 10 – I wouldn’t have appreciated this book and would have stopped reading it rather quickly but today I can’t help but thrill to opening passages like:
This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow. (p. 9)
Or to the vivid descriptions that pepper the narrative:
It was a long head.
It was a wedge, a sliver, a grotesque slice in which it seemed the features had been forced to stake their claims, and it appeared that they had done so in a great hurry and with no attempt to form any kind of symmetrical pattern for their mutual advantage. The nose had evidently been the first upon the scene and had spread itself down the entire length of the wedge, beginning among the grey stubble of the hair and ending among the grey stubble of the beard, and spreading on both sides with a ruthless disregard for the eyes and mouth which found precarious purchase. The mouth was forced by the lie of the terrain left to it, to slant at an angle which gave to its right-hand side an expression of grim amusement and to its left, which dipped downward across the chin, a remorseless twist. It was forced by not only the unfriendly monopoly of the nose, but also by the tapering character of the head to be a short mouth; but it was obvious by its very nature that, under normal conditions, it would have covered twice the area. The eyes in whose expression might be read the unending grudge they bore against the nose were as small as marbles and peered out between the grey grass of the hair. (p. 107)
Based on the first book, we’re swimming in three- to four-star territory.
Gormenghast: Part 2 of 3
There is a scene early in Gormenghast where Titus is immured in the Lichen Fort for playing the truant and he is visited on his last day by Professor Bellgrove and Dr. Prunesquallor, and all three wind up playing marbles:
For the next hour, the old prison warder, peering through a keyhole the size of a table-spoon, in the inner door, was astounded to see the three figures crawling to and fro across the floor of the prison fort, to hear the high trill of the Doctor develop and strengthen into the cry of a hyena, the deep and wavering voice of the Professor bell forth like an old and happy hound, as his inhibitions waned, and the shrill cries of the child reverberate about the room, splintering like glass on the stone walls while the marbles crashed against one another, spun in their tracks, lodged shuddering in their squares, or skimmed the prison floor like shooting stars. (p. 522)
I wish I could reprint the entire episode as it’s brilliant and magical and is an example of Peake’s ability to meticulously set up a scene for maximum effect. And there are many more I could bring up. In Titus Groan, Flay learns something from his exile and his witness to (view spoiler)[Keda’s suicide (hide spoiler)] (pp. 345-50). Peake lovingly lingers for 30 pages building up to Steerpike and Titus’s lethal confrontation (pp. 768-799). In an absurd vein, there’s the scene where the castle’s coterie of tutors turn their dining tables upside down and sit on them like rowers in a boat, all according to a ritual whose purpose has been lost (pp. 498-9). Equally absurd is Irma Prunesquallor’s matchmaking party (pp. 564ff); or nearly as intense as Steerpike’s fate is the young earl’s first and last meeting with The Thing (pp. 730-7).
I like Peake’s attention to detail and patience in creating a picture and setting a mood; considerations not often addressed in many fictions. I can see why some find this book tedious but it’s the rare novel where I can so vividly see what I’m reading.
And our author is as masterful in painting word images as in the first novel. Here’s his description of Professor Bellflower:
He was a fine-looking man in his way. Big of head, his brow and the bridge of his nose descended in a single line of undeniable nobility. His jaw was as long as his brow and nose together and lay exactly parallel in profile to those features. With his leonine shock of snow-white hair there was something of the major prophet about him. But his eyes were disappointing. They made no effort to bear out the promise of the other features, which would have formed the ideal setting for the kind of eye that flashes with visionary fire. Mr Bellgrove’s eyes didn’t flash at all. They were rather small, a dreary grey-green in colour, and were quite expressionless. Having seen them it was difficult not to bear a grudge against his splendid profile as something fraudulent. His teeth were both carious and uneven and were his worst feature. (p. 437)
Or, a favorite, his description of the odious Barquentine:
Barquentine in his room, sat with his withered leg drawn up to his chin. His hair, dirty as a flyblown web, hung about his face, dry and lifeless. His skin, equally filthy, with its silted fissures, its cheese-like cracks and discolorations, was dry also – an arid terrain, dead it seemed, and waterless as the moon, and yet at its centre those malignant lakes, his vile and brimming eyes. (p. 608)
Three characters stand out as my favorites:
The first is Flay, Lord Sepulchrave’s (the 76th earl) first servant. He begins the story a close-mouthed, ill-tempered man but becomes one of Titus’s fiercest protectors and close friend.
Fuchsia, Titus’s older sister, begins the books a spoiled, utterly self-centered brat but she also grows and matures into a woman (view spoiler)[whose tragic end is moving and gut wrenching.
What was the darkest of the causes for so terrible a thought it is hard to know. Her lack of love; her lack of a father or a real mother? Her loneliness. The ghastly disillusion when Steerpike was unmasked, and the horror of her having been fondled by a homicide. The growing sense of her own inferiority in everything but rank. There were many causes, any one of which might have been alone sufficient to undermine the will of tougher natures than Fuchsia’s.
And then there’s Steerpike, the adolescent kitchen slavey who rises to become the de facto master of Gormenghast. In Titus Groan, the reader can feel a certain sympathy with the youth but in Gormenghast, he assumes an evil of Miltonesque stature:
But Steerpike hardly heard him. His future was ruptured. His years of self-advancement and intricate planning were as though they had never been. A red cloud filled his head. His body shuddered with a kind of lust. It was the lust for an unbridled evil. It was the glory of knowing himself to be pitted, openly, against the big battalions. Alone, loveless, vital, diabolic – a creature for whom compromise was no longer necessary, and intrigue was a dead letter. If it was no longer possible for him to wear, one day, the legitimate crown of Gormenghast, there was still the dark and terrible domain – the subterranean labyrinth – the lairs and warrens where, monarch of darkness like Satan himself, he could wear undisputed a crown no less imperial. (p. 705)
Titus Alone is admittedly the weakest of the three novels. The glass city, the Black House, Cheeta and all the other characters who populate its pages are pale indeed to their counterparts from Titus Groan and Gormenghast. No one has the same presence or reality that even so minor a character as the Poet achieves. And it doesn’t help that – even in the first books – I have no real interest in Titus.
The strongest part of the final volume is the end, when Titus, after much wandering, finds himself standing before a recognizable landmark, knowing that over the ridge he’ll find Gormenghast, and realizes he doesn’t need to go home to find home:
His heart beat out more rapidly, for something was growing…some kind of knowledge. A thrill of the brain. A synthesis. For Titus was recognizing in a flash of retrospect that a new phase of which he was only half aware, had been reached. It was a sense of maturity, almost of fulfillment. He had no longer any need for home, for he carried his Gormenghast within him. All that he sought was jostling within himself. He had grown up. What a boy had set out to seek a man had found, found by the act of living. (p. 1022)
In an ideal world (among the myriad things that would be better), Frank Herbert would have stopped with Dune, Spock would have remained dead at the end of “The Wrath of Khan,” the universe would not have had to endure Robin Curtiss as Saavik, and Mervyn Peake would have ended the Gormenghast novels with Titus riding off into an unknown world. So I would recommend the first two books strongly. The third is interesting and, in parts, as richly imagined as anything found in Titus Groan or Gormenghast but there’s an overall lack of intensity or engagement which makes it a more cautious recommendation.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I went into Ecotopia not expecting much in the way of serious character studies or deeds of derring-do. What I expected was a typical utopian/dystopiaI went into Ecotopia not expecting much in the way of serious character studies or deeds of derring-do. What I expected was a typical utopian/dystopian novel where the author focuses on describing the virtues or faults of their imagined society at the relative expense of all else; and I wasn’t disappointed.
I was pleasantly surprised, however, at how well the novel read.
It’s constructed as a series of articles and diary entries written by William Weston, the first American (officially) allowed to enter Ecotopia, the nation created 20 years previously by the secession of Washington, Oregon and northern California. The articles describe Ecotopian society, which is based around the ideal of a sustainable, modern society radically different from the growth-oriented, extractive society we’re currently saddled with. The diary chronicles William’s immersion in Ecotopian life and culminates in a near-religious epiphany, where he realizes he can’t return to the United States.
Strictly speaking, Ecotopia is neither a utopia nor a dystopia. It’s quite clear which society Callenbach prefers but there are numerous instances where the narrative points out the problems that persist in this new society, and the struggle to achieve a constantly shifting balance. And there are some aspects that may be problematic to the reader:
Segregation of races/cultures (side effect [in the book] of the drive toward decentralization and regionalism)
Moving too far toward communalism? (for which I’m personally ill-suited but which seems preferable to the ultra-atomization of modern culture)
Continued flirtation with nuclear power
Callenbach’s effort doesn’t attempt to explain Ecotopia’s economy or schools or social relationships in great detail but it does compel readers (whatever bias they bring to the book) to think about the costs that our consumption-driven, growth-oriented, violent culture extracts from both people and planet. (I will admit that the author is preaching to the choir in my case - given the choice, I would happily emigrate.)
Not “highly” recommended, perhaps, but definitely recommended if your interested in the utopia/dystopia genre or environmental concerns....more