Buckell himself has described the book as: "A far-future Caribbean steampunk adventure . . . with Aztecs." And that sums it up pretty nicely.
Nanagada...moreBuckell himself has described the book as: "A far-future Caribbean steampunk adventure . . . with Aztecs." And that sums it up pretty nicely.
Nanagada is a peaceful country/continent inhabited mainly by fishermen and farmers. John DeBrun washed up the tropical shores of the continent twenty-seven years ago and with no memory of his past life. Since then, he's settled with his wife Shanta and their thirteen year old son, Jerome. But a threat from across the Wicked Highs, the Azteca ruled by bloodthirsty gods/aliens, might put an end to all of this. John DeBrun's past is closely linked to Nanagada's past and to the tales of the old-fathers who initially came to the planet through a worm hole. And so, along with John, the reader gradually discovers what's become of the original settlers, their link to Earth, their technology and the last mythical artifact they might have left behind, the Ma Wi Jung, which just might save Nanagada from the Azteca invasion.
I loved this book. It was original, refreshing, fast paced with a strong plot. I simply could not put it down.
Of course, reading a science fiction book in which they talk about plantain, tamarind and carnival brought me years back when I was still in Sint Marteen. So obviously this book touched me on a very personal level. But I strongly believe that even if you have no ties with the Caribbean, the story will grab your attention and hold it until the very last page.
What I was initially afraid of was a machiavelic portrayal of the Azteca as just being pure evil and that we would never get to discover their motivations and the reasons behind their way of life. But not only is one of the main characters some sort of double agent spying for the Azteca in Nanagada, but Buckell also describes a community of Azteca who have immigrated to Capitol City where they lead more or less peaceful lives.
This novel is perfect illustration of diversity. Much like in the Caribbean, the inhabitants of Nanagada have different skin colors, any shade from white to black. But more than just physical appearance, Buckell's done a wonderful work on language, including accents, dialects and also, mentioning the fact that one person may have different accents and adopt one or the other according to the situation or the person they are addressing. This is something which often happens in the Caribbean and it was nice to see it highlighted here. I suppose it is the case of most places in which identities are blurred or multifaceted.
Buckell's ability to portray different shades of gray on all levels (skin color, language, character, etc.) is definitely what I consider the true strength of the novel.
My only complaint would be the lack of female character development. There is Dihana, Nanagada's Prime Minister. But the reader is given the impression that throughout the book she is overwhelmed by the situation and in a constant search for support (who wouldn't be if your country was invaded by blood thirsty killing machines?). There wasn't much that she could really do except buy some time, hoping for others to succeed.
Surprisingly enough, I really think reading so many high praising reviews somewhat spoiled this book for me, as I'm sure I would have enjoyed it a gre...moreSurprisingly enough, I really think reading so many high praising reviews somewhat spoiled this book for me, as I'm sure I would have enjoyed it a great deal more had I come to it without any expectation. Still, this is something I'd recommend to any science fiction fan even (or maybe especially) if you're not familiar with Heinlein or military SF in general, if you're looking for an action packed, fast paced read. (less)
The Separation is the story of twins during the WWII; Joe and Jack known as JL. It starts in 1936, as they both leave for Berlin to participate in the...moreThe Separation is the story of twins during the WWII; Joe and Jack known as JL. It starts in 1936, as they both leave for Berlin to participate in the Olympic Games. On their journey back, they bring back a young Jewish woman who they are both madly in love with… until she marries Joe. Priest provides us two (or perhaps even more) stories as Joe and JL both deal with the war and its consequences separately.
JL becomes a pilot in the RAF while Joe, a pacifist joins the Red Cross. From then on, their paths go different way though they can never free themselves of this special bond that links as twins. However, History itself goes its own way as well and the reader is never quite sure which reality he is in and exactly how many realities there are. Is Joe dead or alive? Or is JL the one who’s dead? Did the war truly end on May 11th 1941 when Churchill signed a separate peace treaty with Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s dophin?
The Separation can be classified as an “uchronie” (that would be the French term, perhaps in English you just stick to alternative history) but I would even go further than that and say that it’s an “uchronie” about “uchronie” because unlike other novels of the genre, the author doesn’t change one particular event so as to end up in a completely different world. There isn’t a clear distinction between our world and the world(s) in which the characters evolve.
Priest also uses this to explore the various possibilities offered by History. He raises the question of interpretation and perception of event and how people witnessing the same event never quite have the same point of view on what truly did happen… from then on, what is the truth?
I was particularly interested by the twin’s awkward love-hate-envy relationship and how in the end even though they were separated both because of the war and because of their opposite views of the war, their actions were often defined by their relationship… but then I’ve always found twins fascinating and I suppose Priest knows what he’s talking about since he’s got two of his own.
Some will love and others will hate, my point is that I don’t think you can remain indifferent to this novel. Some will find it brilliant while others will find that it completely missed the point but then, isn’t that what the entire novel is about? Interpretation.
I was immediately caught up in the twin’s everyday life. Here, the battles are mostly inner turmoil and the author uses SF to concentrate and analyse his characters. This is a novel I would recommend to all even those who don’t usually read SF because they sometimes have the feeling that there’s more science than fiction. Here it is not the case. If you aren’t afraid of unexpected turn than go read it! Why are you still here?
The galaxy suffered from a great fire centuries before, which caused the destruction of the transfering device (I've read this in French so I don't kn...moreThe galaxy suffered from a great fire centuries before, which caused the destruction of the transfering device (I've read this in French so I don't know the exact term used in English for this) humans' only access to the stars, cutting off all the planets from one another. At the planets' surface, the great fire also caused the emergence of a barrier of radiations which prevents humans from settling beyond a certain point. The Empire of Toromon on Earth has therefore been forced to grow and develop isolated for several centuries; cut off from part of its own continent by the radiations and cutt off from the rest of the galaxy. But lately, the barrier of radiations has expanded and the dead city of Telphar is now beyond human reach. Toron's government sees this, as well as the shooting down of several of its aircrafts on recognition missions as the act of an invisible enemy... invisible and unknown enemy upon which it decides to declare war. In this political, economical and technological mess, lifetime-sentenced Jon Koshar manages to escape from the mines of tetron and makes his way back to Toron. Trouble is, no one has ever managed to escape the terrible guardians of the forest (once again, not sure the translation is correct). The thing is, Jon's not exactly alone and free. He's been contacted by an extraterrestrial triple life form and so have two other humans. This triple being warns them of the intrusion of the Lord of the Flames in their world. Is the Lord of the Flames responsible for the expansion of the radiations? Who are the other two humans selected by the triple being and how is Jon with their help supposed to counteract the irresponsible actions of his government?
While I've taken my time reading this trilogy (yeah... two weeks. Hey, I've been busy, 'k?), I must say that I've greatly enjoyed this space opera. The intervention of two extraterrestrial life forms never draws the reader's attention away from Delany's first concern, human reactions and interactions. Supported by strong characterization, Delany introduces us to a world full of diversity (the radiations have had some interesting effects on parts of the human population).
The only thing that bothered me at times were the transitions and the conveniency of some situations... this may be because none of the books are very long (count about 500 pages for the whole trilogy). Some things just happened too quickly in my taste, decision taking, change of minds that I would've liked to have a little bit more time and pages to consider and understand... but maybe I'm just slow on the uptake... but like I said, this was one of his earlier pieces of work... some young writers have done far worse and let's not give out names ;-). Same went for certain situations, for example Jon and Alter witness an explosion and they decide to alert Arkor and Petra about it. They take refuge into some kind of bar and ta-da here come Arkor and Petra in the very same bar, saying they know about the explosion and want Jon and Alter to go on some sort of expedition... there were similar types of shortcuts throughout the book, nothing big, but without them, the plot would have appeared more solid and real.
There are plenty more things that I could say on this trilogy though... invisible enemy, unjustified war... does it ring any bell? While this was probably written to criticize the Vietnam War, it can easily be applied to current war in Irak. I'll also say fall of towers? *ahem* where have I heard that before? Ok, so either Delany's forty year old work is still current event or humans haven't learned from their forty year old mistakes... you pick. ;-)
This is the second and final book in the series Wang and it's definitely a nice wrap up to the overall series as it ties up all the loose ends and fin...more This is the second and final book in the series Wang and it's definitely a nice wrap up to the overall series as it ties up all the loose ends and finally leaves our main characters in a comfortable place... Perhaps it even wrapped things up a bit too nicely for my taste.
The first book ended with the Fredric Alexandre winning the Uchronic Games against all odds, mostly thanks to the Chinese immigrant Wang. The second book opens on another final of the Uchronic Games, two years later. The mixed feelings and jealousy Fredric experiences towards his first officer Wang are quite obvious and render their military association somewhat hazardous.
Outside the Games, the stakes are still the same: Western Nations are attempting to fight an invisible enemy whose numbers are fewer but which possesses a greater and much more advanced technology. This enemy sees in Wang the one who will lead the immigrants' army and bring down the electro-magnetic wall which separates the West from the rest of the world and bring an end to Western domination.
The first 150 pages take place during the Uchronic Games and while there were some very poignant scenes illustrating the extent to which the immigrants are forced to go to in order to survive, 150 pages was just too long for me. And so, it momentarily suspended the pace of the series. But then, things started to get interesting again as soon as Wang was out of the Games and thrown into real life issues (though those being as life threatening as they were during the Games, you might not notice the difference).
My main complaint about this conclusion to the series is that it's been too well introduced, i.e. it renders the book too predictable. You know how it's going to end, you know why and there are very few surprises. I still consider it a worthwhile read, but the first book was far more interesting and engaging the second one. Still, if you've enjoyed the first volume, you need to read the second, it's still a very powerful conclusion but it definitely doesn't compare to the first. (less)
There are not many authors out there who can write entertaining fast-paced space opera stories, tightly built political intrigues and introduce divers...moreThere are not many authors out there who can write entertaining fast-paced space opera stories, tightly built political intrigues and introduce diversity in their cast of characters. Tobias Buckell is one such authors and does it all effortlessly it seems. Ragamuffin is smart, fast, serious science fiction but no info dumps. It's refreshing and highly recommended.
Book one, Crystal Rain, hit home because it took place in a Caribbean setting that reminded of my childhood. Book two, Ragamuffin, reminded of why I loved space opera so much.
Also note that, though this is the second book in the series, you may read them in whatever order you feel like. Another smart thing on the author's side: each book is standalone. Sure some characters appear in several or all three books, but you don't have to have read them all to enjoy. That's for all of you who are tired of never-ending genre series.
I'm eagerly waiting for Sly Mongoose (which is the third book and for now it seems final book in the series) to come out in paperback.(less)
Margaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle was an English aristocrat from the seventeenth century and also a very prolific writer... a bit too proli...moreMargaret Cavendish, the Duchess of Newcastle was an English aristocrat from the seventeenth century and also a very prolific writer... a bit too prolific considering her gender and her time. People of her time regarded her as a failed writer with an interesting life. Margaret Cavendish was known for being quite an eccentric with an extravagant wardrobe (apparently, she often dressed her maids and servants to match her outfits... and I'm called vain when my socks match my earings! She totally rocked, didn't she?)
Actually, Margaret Cavendish was only building herself a mask, fighting a paralyzing timidity, portraying herself as a harmless eccentric to avoid serious criticisms from her contemporaries, and at the same time to be allowed publication. She owed her ill reputation not to the fact that she was a women writer, but rather to the fact that she insisted on being published. There were several women writers at the time, but their writings were to remain within the family circle.
Cavendish had far greater and demeasured ambitions... She wished for eternal fame... Yeah, nothing more, nothing less... publication was the only means of making sure her writings endured after her death. In fact, she was forgotten for a while or rather not taken seriously even by later critics and scholars. But actually, this lady, aside from her terrible spelling and repetitive plots, had loads to say on the political and social context of her time.
Margaret Cavendish suffered from being an outsider... because she was a woman she couldn't participate in the scientific and philosophical debates of her time (The Blazing World published together with Observations upon Experimental Philosophy in 1666 represent her most significant participation), as a Royalist during the Civil War she was forced to exil, as women wanting to be published she was even looked upon disdainfully by other women... nonetheless she persisted towards her initial goal during her entire life.
The fact that she had a supportive husband helped quite a lot, that and his position in the aristocracy of the time allowed her an access to seventeenth century philosophers and scientists among whom Thomas Hobbes.
Now let's move on to the Blazing World... maybe one of the first pieces of science fiction, actually it's halfway between SF and Fantasy.... yeap and all that two centuries before Mary Shelley and her Frankenstein and also three centuries before JRR Tolkien!
The poem opening the Blazing World is written by the Duke of Newcastle and he no less belittles Christopher Columbus' discovery in favor of his wife's creation... yeah Columbus only discovered a continent which already existed, Margaret Cavendish created a whole world. That's Margaret the 1st for you people; walking straight in the footsteps of Alexander and Ceasar!
Now the Blazing World is not exactly a breathtaking read... no, chances are, if you know nothing about the historical context, you'll think she was mad, and boring with that... You cannot even regard it as a novel, since the novel as it is now, only emerged in the 18th century with Daniel Defoe (some argue that Robinson Crusoe was the first real novel... but that's not the point here).
The story is that of an anonymous Lady (no real characterization before the novel) who is kidnapped by an enamoured seaman who takes her away on his ship... unfortunately for him and his crew, after a storm, his boat drifts north and soon reaches the North Pole and he and his crew all freeze to death... ah, but not the lady! From there, she passes onto another world, the Blazing World which has unusual creatures such as bear-men, worm-men, fox-men, etc and an Emperor who, ot course falls in love with her and give her full powers over the entire world.
Fom then on, it's basically scientific, philosophical and spiritual discussions that the Empress has with her subjects and then with the Duchess of Newcastle... yes, Margaret Cavendish introduces herself as a character... talk about a narrative chaos ;) yeah, and I've had to study this.
Anyway, the piece is only 120 pages long but already in it, you can see the premises of feminist science fiction. The emergence of what has been referred to as 'soft science fiction' or even 'social science fiction' is said to have attracted those who are the least satisfied with life, the universe and everything... namely, women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities (I'm not saying that's all SF is of course!). Margaret Cavendish was quite obviously one of those; her world left her no room to express her scientific thoughts, rejected by both Ancients and Moderns, her only choice was to create a space to maneuver... and that's what The Blazing World is basically.
Plus the fact that is wasn't a regular piece of fiction, but science fiction, people regarded it as a self indulgent fancy and didn't pay her too much attention.
Margaret Cavendish was misunderstood for a very long time... in fact, Virginia Woolf has said quite non-flattering things about her and her writings. But maybe, now she will be able to reach her eternal fame. (less)
I was starting to feel really guilty at the idea of never having read a single of Tim Powers' book especially after all the good I had heard of them....moreI was starting to feel really guilty at the idea of never having read a single of Tim Powers' book especially after all the good I had heard of them. And then I had the opportunity to listen to one of his (few!!) interviews by a French journalist and well, I must say that the guy sounded quite easy going and humorous so I told myself: "Self, it is definitely time"
And may I add that Self doesn't regret this in the least...
I think that the word that best describes the Anubis Gates is diversity: a fine mix between egyptian mythology, time travelling, English literature of the 19th century, magic and historical events... most of the plot takes place in the 19th century.
Of course, there are a few details that you guess even before the main character, Brendan Doyle, even thinks about it, but I'm not sure that this wasn't made on purpose on the part of the author. After following a discussion on clichés and such on Communautés epicfantasy, I can definitely say that a 100% surprise doesn't make a suspenseful novel. I'm tired of these characters doing and saying things that make no sense at all. I like telling myself "Ok this is logical, I would've done that too had I been in the same situation". I'm sick and tired of characters doing unjustified things because it fits the storyline better... see what I mean?
Anyway, out of all this diversity and crazy universe, Powers manages to make something really good and believable, in the end, you can't exactly tell what's historical fact and what's not... I think the whole adventure could've turned out to be absurd or even a parody but here, even though you smile and sometimes even laugh, we're a far cry from Pratchett's style.
Constantly playing and different styles (Thriller, SF, humor... urban fantasy even?), Powers never gets lost in long detailled scientific explanations about time travelling... I think that could've lead to poor characterization... so amateurs of hard science might be a bit disappointed here.
A few questions remain unanswered but nothing that really disturbs the conclusion of the story. A few plot holes or rather paradoxes withing paradoxes that mustn't be lookd at too closely but overall a more than satisfying book that you pick up and can't seem to let down (yeah, just my luck when I should've been reading Raboteau's "Slave Religion"!)