I read THE FARSEER SAGA years ago and have since considered it one of my favorite fantasy epics. It’s one (along with THE LORD OF THE RINGS and MEMORY...moreI read THE FARSEER SAGA years ago and have since considered it one of my favorite fantasy epics. It’s one (along with THE LORD OF THE RINGS and MEMORY, SORROW AND THORN) that I often suggest to new fantasy readers. But after more than a decade of reading deeper and further into fantasy literature, I’ve often wondered how well this saga would now appeal to my more mature (I hope) palate. When Tantor Audio recently released THE FARSEER SAGA on audio, I was overjoyed and considered this to be my sign that it’s time to re-visit the six duchies.
When Assassin’s Apprentice arrived in the mail, I yanked out the CD that was currently in my computer, tossed it aside (sorry, Ray Bradbury) and stuck in the first Assassin’s Apprentice disc. My lips trembled as I mouthed the name of the narrator: Paul Boehmer… Never heard of him. Is he good enough to portray Fitz, one of my all-time favorite fantasy characters? And… my stomach twisted… will Fitz be the same boy I came to care so much for so many years ago?
Within minutes I was reabsorbed into the world of FitzChivalry Farseer, that insecure, lonely boy who has so much potential but, due to his illegitimate birth and his peculiar abilities with animals, never gets what he deserves. Fitz was just as I remembered and Paul Boehmer portrayed him (and all the other characters) beautifully. (Except that at one point he incorrectly used the word “prisoner” instead of “poisoner.”)
Robin Hobb’s prose was as nice as I remembered, too — straightforward and simple. It never calls attention to itself (and therefore away from the story). Her characters are engaging and nicely portrayed, though a couple of her villains are overdone. Her animal characters are especially notable and, though I’m not a dog lover, I can’t help but be emotionally connected to Fitz’s canine companions. My second read also gave me a greater appreciation for Hobb’s world-building as I encountered tidbits of information that are relevant to her later works (TAWNY MAN, LIVESHIP TRADERS, RAIN WILDS). My only disappointment is that I don’t have the next book, Royal Assassin, in my hands yet. I’m not sure why I’m so eager to torture myself again with this story because I know what’s going to happen. Things don’t always go well for Fitz. His story is heart-wrenching, and I know I’ll be emotionally drained after I finish it. But I’m going to love every minute of it.
After his post-WWII convalescence in France, Steven Huxley is returning to his family's home on the edge of Ry...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
After his post-WWII convalescence in France, Steven Huxley is returning to his family's home on the edge of Ryhope Wood, a patch of ancient forest, in Britain. For as long as Steven remembers, his father, who recently died, had been so obsessed with the forest that it destroyed their family.
Upon returning home, Steven finds that his brother Christian is quickly following in their father's footsteps -- both figuratively and literally -- for he has also discovered that this is no ordinary forest! It resists intrusion from Outsiders, time and distance are skewed there (so it is much larger inside than the 6 miles it covers in modern Britain should allow, and time seems to expand), and strange energy fields interact with human minds to create mythagos -- the idealized forms of ancient mythical and legendary creatures, heroes, and villains formed from collective subconscious hopes and fears. So, for example, if you strolled through Mythago Wood (if you could get in) you might encounter Robin Hood, King Arthur, Talos, Freya, or perhaps some more generic version of a popular legendary ideal. You might walk down a Roman road or stay in a medieval castle or a Germanic tribe's hut. And when you come out, you may have been gone only half the time you spent inside Mythago Wood.
The destruction of the Huxley family has been caused by the creation, out of father Huxley's mind, of Guiwenneth, the mythago of an idealized red-haired Celtic warrior princess who occasionally comes out of the woods. Mr. Huxley was obsessed with her (and this is what eventually led to both Mrs. and Mr. Huxley's deaths) and, when Steven arrives, Christian, who has become similarly obsessed, has been making forays into the forest in search of Guiwenneth. Before long, Steven gets pulled into the drama and the strange goings on in Mythago Wood.
I was entranced by Mythago Wood from the first page. The writing is clear, lovely, and unpretentious. The story is told from Steven's viewpoint (first person, with diary entries and letters from a couple of other characters), so the reader feels emotionally involved. The pace is quick. The forest setting is beautiful.
The first two thirds of the novel flew by. During this time, Steven is figuring out what's going on in the woods and he meets and falls in love with Guiwenneth (yes, the same girl that his father and brother loved). All of this was fascinating and highly emotional. I loved the premise of the story -- the wood that forbade entry to modern humans and was bigger in time and space inside than could be explained by it's physical dimensions. The existence in the wood of archetypal heroes and villains from across the ages, all living together at the same time, each in his own clothes and weapons. Cool stuff. I also thought the recollections of Steven and Christian about their father's work and coldness toward their family was poignant.
But, somehow, when Steven and his companion Harry Keeton actually managed to get beyond the defenses of the forest and were traveling through Mythago Wood, it was not as exciting as when Steven was only learning about the forest from his father's notes and his experiences with the mythagos who came out of the woods. Suddenly, it turned into a quest and struggle for survival that was not quite as fascinating as the learning process was, though there were definitely some fun parts.
I did not understand how mythagos, if they are not real, can kill, be killed, or fall in love. Steven and Harry come up some revelations (about mythagos) that seemed to come out of nowhere. I am also not sure why these men are falling for Guiwenneth. The explanation is that she's the mythago of the Celtic warrior princess, and thus men can't help but fall in love with her. Steven mentions that she may be his mythago, but his father and brother fall in love with the same woman. She doesn't do much but giggle. Is that ideal? She has red hair, fair skin, she's slender and uses a knife. Maybe that's it?
I never fully understood Harry Keeton's situation, which was wrapped up much too quickly, but I'm thinking that this will be addressed in a sequel. There were a few elements that seemed thrown in without purpose -- myths that didn't seem to fit, characters who Steven was told had to be "left behind" when he didn't even know they were with him. Perhaps we'll see them again.
So, while I was quickly pulled in and I absolutely loved the first two-thirds of the book, I experienced moments of confusion in the last section. I'm sure I'd benefit from another reading of Mythago Wood -- it's that kind of book. Perhaps some of these things would be cleared up. Or, perhaps not. I believe that the novel was composed of three separate novellas, and that may explain some of the disjointedness.
I'm going to read Lavondyss, the sequel to Mythago Wood. I loved this setting and the characters, and I'm hoping further reading will clear up my confusion.
Let me say two things about Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norell:
1. This is one of the finest novels I have ever read. Ever. 2. You might hate it.
Okay, let me say more. I listened to this book on audio and, because of the language and humor, I was delighted from the very start. I listened for 32 hours and approximately 25 of those hours are rather slow. Interesting stuff happens, but nothing that's going to put you on the edge of your seat. It's leisurely and teasing. It's not clear how all of the characters and plots relate to each other. If you're ready for action, it's a bit frustrating. But the action finally does arrive and all of the characters and plots finally come together in an unexpected and satisfying way. Looking back, you realize that the plot was clever and quite tight all along.
What kept me going was that the writing is absolutely glorious. Susanna Clarke writes like Charles Dickens or Jane Austen or one of those other 19th century English novelists who we love because of the insightful and subtly witty social commentary and the plain but elegant writing style. She's right up there with the best. In fact, I can't think of anyone who writes better than Susanna Clarke. Not Tolkien, not Le Guin, not Bujold. And for this reason, I must give the book 5 stars. It is a superb novel.
Particularly fun were a few devices that I really enjoyed such as the intrusive narrator somewhat reminiscent of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, fictional characters interacting with real historical figures (Lord Byron was my favorite), and a few little alternate explanations of how some historical events in arts and literature came to be (I won't give you any examples because discovering them is the fun part).
The audiobook is also superb. The reader, Simon Prebble, is English (in case you couldn't tell by his name), and his diction, pace, and voices are perfect. I love the voice he uses for the more uncouth characters -- it just sounds slimy. This was a great novel to listen to--Mr. Prebble's voices add to the dry humor--but keep in mind that it will take you 32 hours. It's quite a time investment, but well worth it.
So, I recommend that you read Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell when you have the time to be patient and when you're in the mood to be delighted by a long elegant English novel. If you're in a hurry, or if you're in the mood for quests, orphan boys, sword-fighting, or dragons, don't bother.
This is the perfect book for the right reader. I can't wait to see what Susanna Clarke does next -- she's brilliant!
As I'm writing this, Jack Vance's under-appreciated Lyonesse trilogy has been off the shelves for years. My li...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
As I'm writing this, Jack Vance's under-appreciated Lyonesse trilogy has been off the shelves for years. My library doesn't even have a copy — it had to be interlibrary loaned for me. Why is that? Publishers have been printing a seemingly endless stream of vampire and werewolf novels these days — same plot, same characters, blah blah blah. If not that, it's grit. We all want grit. Or maybe it's that more women are reading fantasy these days and publishers think we want to read about bad-ass heroines who kill vampires. But, the publishers and authors are just giving us what we demand, I suppose. We all got sick of the sweeping medieval-style multi-volume epics that take forever to write, publish, and read. So now we get vampires and sassy chicks with tattoos and bare midriffs. When we've become glutted with those (it can't be long now), what's next?
I've got a suggestion: Publishers, why don't you reprint some of the best classic fantasy? Let's start with Jack Vance's Lyonesse. Here we have a beautiful and complex story full of fascinating characters (even those we only see for a couple of pages are engaging), unpredictable and shocking plot twists, and rambling and entertainingly disjointed adventure. No clichés. No vampires.
As a psychologist, I especially appreciated the many insights into human cognition and perceptual processing that I found in Suldrun's Garden. But what's best is Jack Vance's unique style. He's quirky, funny, and droll. He uses language not just to tell us an interesting story, but he actually entertains us with the way he uses language to tell the story. Similar to Ursula Le Guin, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, or Catherynne Valente, but in a different, completely unique style. I love authors who respect the English language and compose their prose with care and precision. Many of Jack Vance's sentences are purposely funny in their construction and I find myself laughing and delighted not at what was said, but at how it was said. Here's his description of Shimrod's excursion to another world:
He apprehended a landscape of vast extent dotted with isolated mountains of gray-yellow custard, each terminating in a ludicrous semi-human face. All faces turned toward himself, displaying outrage and censure. Some showed cataclysmic scowls and grimaces, others produced thunderous belches of disdain. The most intemperate extruded a pair of liver-colored tongues, dripping magma which tinkled in falling, like small bells; one or two spat jets of hissing green sound, which Shimrod avoided, so that they struck other mountains, to cause new disturbance.
And here is part of King Casmir's lecture to his daughter Suldrun when she announced that she's not ready to get married:
That is sentiment properly to be expected in a maiden chaste and innocent. I am not displeased. Still, such qualms must bend before affairs of state ... Your conduct toward Duke Carfilhiot must be amiable and gracious, yet neither fulsome not exaggerated. Do not press your company upon him; a man like Carfilhiot is stimulated by reserve and reluctance. Still, be neither coy not cold ... Modesty is all very well in moderation, even appealing. Still, when exercised to excess it becomes tiresome.
If you can find a used copy of Suldrun's Garden, the first of the Lyonesse trilogy, snatch it up. There are some available on Amazon and there's a kindle version, too. (Beware the Fantasy Masterworks version, which is known to have printing errors). Jack Vance is original; You won't get his books confused with anyone else's. This is beautiful work for those who love excellent fantasy literature!
There are some fantasy epics that all literature professors, and most normal people, would consider essential...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
There are some fantasy epics that all literature professors, and most normal people, would consider essential reading for any well-educated person -- J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S.Lewis, Lewis Carroll, etc. So, yeah, I read those a long time ago. But beyond that, there's not much fantasy literature that's essential reading. So, for a long time, I didn't read any. In my drive to be educated, I stuck to the classics (which are classic because they're great literature, usually). But one day, maybe 15 years ago, Patricia McKillip's Riddlemaster fell into my hands. I can't remember exactly when, and I can't remember how. I can't even remember enough to tell you exactly what the trilogy was about. It's been that long ago.
All I can remember is sitting for hours, slack-jawed and amazed. The imagery was so beautiful, the writing so elegant, the ideas so powerful. Some of the imagery has remained with me; I can still remember the awe I felt when Morgon learned how to change into a tree, how to harp the wind, and who Deth was. I don't really remember the details of the story very well, but I still feel it.
Lois McMaster Bujold has long been esteemed in the science fiction genre, so I expected great things from The...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Lois McMaster Bujold has long been esteemed in the science fiction genre, so I expected great things from The Curse of Chalion, and I'm happy to report that I wasn't disappointed. This is an excellent piece of work! Bujold's story is completely fresh, and the world-building and magic system are unique, too. I was hooked from page one and it proceeds at a pleasant pace with plenty of surprises and plot twists. Characterization is deep and somehow Bujold made me really like the main character, Cazaril, right from the start, even though he is not the type of hero I thought I preferred (see FanLit for the lurid details of that). As a psychologist, I especially appreciate how the characters realistically maintained their natural personalities throughout the story while maturing (or becoming more immature) as they grew from their experiences.
And, so importantly, The Curse of Chalion is beautifully written. I tend to be very critical about the writing style. But Bujold's writing is perfect. I'd like to especially mention the dialogue, which I think is so hard for an author to get just right. Some authors make their characters so annoyingly quick-witted and perfect in speech that it's completely unbelievable. Bujold's characters pause, hem and haw, and say "um" just like I do. And they occasionally have conversations that provide a dry comic relief (I laughed out loud many times).
I read part of this book in print, and I listened to part of it on audiobook. There are many ways an audiobook reader can ruin a book, but I was, as usual, impressed with this Blackstone Audio production. Lloyd James is an excellent reader who has a nice voice and uses different voices and speaking styles for each character. It is very easy to follow and pleasant to listen to. I highly recommend this format for Curse of Chalion.
Curse of Chalion is the first in a series of books which are set in the same world and have some of the same characters, but which can be read independently. So, Curse can stand alone if you like, but I think you'll want to go on to Paladin of Souls because it's highly decorated (many awards) and it tells a story which you'll want to hear after reading Curse.
This review refers to the trilogy. Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn trilogy was one of the first fantasy series I ever read and it's still one...moreThis review refers to the trilogy. Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn trilogy was one of the first fantasy series I ever read and it's still one of my favorites.
The writing style is very pleasant and the pace is slow enough to be savored, but characters actually accomplish things by the end of each book (you know what I mean). The characters are well-developed and loveable, but not annoyingly perfect. This is a classic epic fantasy plot: Simon the kitchen boy saves the world. But please don’t roll your eyes — this was written in the 1980’s — before it was a cliché. Even though he's now a cliché, Simon is still charming and you can't help but love him.
Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn is on my list to read again, and along with Robin Hobb's Farseer Saga, it's the one I always recommend to newcomers to the genre.
Nobody remembers Tigana — a land bright with beauty, culture, and wealth — nobody but those who lived there be...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Nobody remembers Tigana — a land bright with beauty, culture, and wealth — nobody but those who lived there before the land was cursed by the conqueror Brandin of Ygrath after the prince of Tigana killed Brandin's son in battle. When the now-oppressed Tiganese try to tell outsiders about Tigana, the name just slips out of the listener's mind. Only those born in the land are able to keep its beautiful name in memory.
But the prince of Tigana's son still lives and he and his companions plan to restore their land's name. But, not only must they kill Brandin of Ygrath, but also Alberico of Barbadior, who rules the other half of their peninsula. Otherwise, they will merely be consumed by a different tyrant.
I was entranced by Tigana right from the first page. What I noticed immediately was the passion — this is a story lovingly wrought by an author who loves language, loves his characters, and loves the world he's created. Guy Gavriel Kay's prose is heavy with imagery and emotion yet it reads, for the most part, easily (except for the occasional unexpected shift in point-of-view).
Kay's characters are distinct, well-developed, and likable. The prince's companions are a diverse group, each with his/her own personality, strengths, and weaknesses. The actions and motives of the villains are completely understandable — in fact, I felt sympathetic toward them.
The story of the struggle to free Tigana was fascinating. There were some slightly unbelievable or contrived plot devices, but the rest of the story was excellent enough that I was perfectly happy to overlook them. The end was surprising and bittersweet.
I listened to most of Tigana on audio (and read some of it in print). Simon Vance is the reader, and he is one of the very best. If you're an audiobook listener, I'd definitely suggest that format for Tigana. But, either way, Tigana is a must-read. Read more GGK reviews at FanLit.(less)
Many times I don't like sequels because there's nothing new to learn. Authors tend to give us all of their wor...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Many times I don't like sequels because there's nothing new to learn. Authors tend to give us all of their world-building in the first novel, so I'm often bored by a sequel. But Lavondyss blew my mind. It is, I have no doubt, one of the best fantasy novels ever written.
In Mythago Wood, Harry Keeton entered the forest with Steven and he's been there for years. We got the sense back then that Harry had some secret personal purpose for going in — it wasn't just to help Steven. His sister Tallis remembers him leaving when she was four years old. Her parents are distressed and assume he's dead. When Tallis hears what she believes is a communication from Harry and starts interacting with the wood, her parents think she's gone batty. But Tallis is determined to bring Harry home.
Lavondyss may be the perfect fantasy novel. First of all, it's written in Robert Holdstock's beautiful style. I tend to be picky and demanding about style. A good story will not do it for me if the writing is pedestrian. It doesn't have to be poetic, but it needs to be interesting and creative — not just, as we say, "serviceable." Robert Holdstock's writing style, at least in these novels, is similar to Patricia McKillip's: straightforward, but kind of dreamy, too. To me, it's perfect.
Secondly, Lavondyss made me think. It was complex and convoluted, and I didn't even know how complex it was until I got to the end. At that point I had to go back and re-read several passages so I could try to understand what had happened. It's not that it wasn't related effectively, but rather that Mr. Holdstock does not spoon-feed the reader. He does not divulge everything we want to know when we want to know it. We're given hints and impressions (and maybe even some false information from unreliable characters?) that must be accumulated and assembled. My brain had trouble bringing it all together in the end. What, exactly, is Lavondyss? Why do the mythagos travel there? What drove Harry into the forest? Who is he there? How is he related to the mythagos? How do Mr. Williams and Wynne-Jones fit in? Most importantly: what is the nature of myth, story, and legend, and where do they come from? (There are lots of other questions I could ask, but I'd be giving too much away.) Instead of leaving me frustrated, I am fascinated, and motivated to find the answers.
Lastly, the story made me feel. The characters are endearing and I experienced their joy, pain, hope, and hopelessness. The ending was sad, happy, chilling, shocking, wonderful, and inconclusive. It stayed with me for days.
I am still confused about a lot of stuff that I was hoping would be cleared up, but I'm happily confused. This is a story that requires a re-read in order to appreciate its richness. I've jotted down some notes — stuff I learned in the parts of Lavondyss that I re-read. I will have to go back to Mythago Wood and then read further in the series. I look forward to it and I can't wait to spend more time in, and learn more about, Rhyhope Wood. See my review for Mythago Wood.(less)
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is the best anthology I’ve ever read. These stories w...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance is the best anthology I’ve ever read. These stories will be enjoyed by any SFF reader, but they’ll be ten times more fun if you’ve read Jack Vance’s The Dying Earth, because they are all written in honor of that fantastic work. Each tale is written in the style of Vance, which is quite amusing in itself, and each takes place on the Dying Earth, that far-future wasteland in which natural selection means survival of the cleverest, nastiest, sneakiest, and most self-serving.
Songs of the Dying Earth was written by “many high-echelon, top-drawer writers” (as Mr. Vance says in the preface): Robert Silverberg, Matthew Hughes, Terry Dowling, Liz Williams, Mike Resnick, Walter Jon Williams, Paula Volsky, Jeff Vandermeer, Kage Baker, Phyllis Eisenstein, Elizabeth Moon, Lucius Shepard, Tad Williams, John C. Wright, Glen Cook, Elizabeth Hand, Byron Tetrick, Tanith Lee, Dan Simmons, Howard Waldrop, George R.R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman. And there’s an introductory “appreciation” by Dean Koontz.
It was pure pleasure to listen to these authors emulate Jack Vance’s writing style and to fill their stories with Vance’s beloved (if I can call them that) characters such as Rhialto the Marvellous, Cugel the clever, Derwe Coreme, Guyal, Turjan, T’sais, Ioucounu the Laughing Magician, Lith, Chun the Unavoidable and, of course, plenty of Deodands, sandestins, pelgranes, and Twk-men. They used some of Vance’s neologisms and hilariously named magic spells (e.g., The Spell of Forlorn Encystment, The Excellent Prismatic Spray, The Spell of the Macroid Toe) and plenty of those other strange things we find in Vance novels: colors that don’t exist, baroque architecture and fashion, slimy creatures that squirm and pulsate, eyeball jelly, blue concentrate, miniaturized enemies, nostrils used as doorways, pulp, ichor, fungi, and empty eye sockets… as Kage Baker said in her afterword, the Dying Earth is like a Hieronymus Bosch painting.
These stories were so well done that much of the time I forgot that I wasn’t actually reading Jack Vance. Many of the tales give us supplementary history about some of Vance’s well-known characters and they fit into the canon so smoothly that I’m afraid I’ll forever be remembering them as original Vance! Every story in this anthology is a lot of fun (except for Elizabeth Moon’s because I have a phobia of cockroaches), and they are all highly recommended reading, but my favorites were those that best affect Vance’s florid style, magniloquent dialogue, distinctive character names, black humor, and sense of irony — not so easily done. Those that accomplish this best are:
* Tad Williams, whose story about a low-order traveling magician who gets stuck to a Deodand was the funniest * Terry Dowling, who made me late to work because I was sitting in the parking lot and laughing at his magicians’ contest * Kage Baker, who had won me over even before she has Cugel say to himself “What, though, Cugel! Have you not an unfailing way with the female sex? If you cannot ingratiate yourself with the old witch, you are not your father’s child.” * Tanith Lee, whose style is spot-on in every respect and gets extra points for creating a spell “extrapolated from Phandaal’s empurpled theorem of Locative Selfulsion” * Walter Jon Williams, who creates a delightfully clever hero, puts a disagreeable wife in a bottle, and makes up some nice new words * Mike Resnick, who explains the origin of Chun the Unavoidable and why he sews eyeballs onto his cloak * Matthew Hughes, whose unlucky protagonist inhabits flying insects who keep getting squashed * Neil Gaiman, whose charming last story answers the ultimate question: what happens when the sputtering sun finally goes out?
Something that makes the Songs of the Dying Earth very special (especially to me, a rabid but newer Vance fan) were the authors’ afterwords in which they explain what Jack Vance’s work means to them. I was amazed at how similar their stories were: almost invariably they were between 13 and 15 years old, looking for something to do, found a Vance novel on their brother’s bookshelf or one of his stories in a pulp magazine, became completely enthralled, scoured the bookstores and newsstands for more, and eventually read all of his work. They consider Vance a major influence in their own writing, and (almost all of them say this) he’s one of the few authors they still feel the same way about today as they did when they were teenagers. I found this fascinating. And kind of sad, for I have never experienced the joy of needing to hunt for, and therefore eventually finding, a treasured book that I didn’t know existed. I’ve never seen an Ace Double at a newsstand. This was all before my time and I feel like I’ve missed out.
The afterwords were beautifully nostalgic, but in reality I’m thankful to Subterranean Press and Brilliance Audio, that scrounging around on used bookstore floors is a thing of the past for Vance fans. Both of these houses have lately been supplying us with Vance in print and audio, and both have published Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honor of Jack Vance. Sub Press’s print version has terrific illustrations by Tom Kidd. Arthur Morey does the narration for the audio version and, because he also narrated The Dying Earth stories and uses the same voices for the characters in this anthology, it helps give the impression that these are actually Vance tales. Mr. Morey “gets” Jack Vance — he has the wry tone just right. He really had me laughing at the bad-poetry-quoting barbarians in Robert Silverberg’s story.
Songs of the Dying Earth is a must-read for Vance fans. If you haven’t read The Dying Earth, I highly suggest that you read it first (may I recommend Brilliance Audio’s versions?). Mr. Martin and Mr. Dozois, please give us more Songs of the Dying Earth!(less)
In Clarges, a city in the far future, humans have conquered death. Unfortunately, there's just not enough room...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
In Clarges, a city in the far future, humans have conquered death. Unfortunately, there's just not enough room for billions of immortal people to live forever, so they've passed the fair-play act which divides society into 5 phyle which must be maintained at certain population ratios. Those who choose to participate in fair-play must register in Brood, the lowest phyle, and receive 82 years of life, after which an "assassin" visits and takes them away in a black hearse. By significantly contributing to society, citizens may move up through the phyle, adding several years of life with each step. A very select few will reach Amaranth and may have their bodies genetically modified (with 5 copies made, in case of accidents), making them youthful forever. This social climbing causes a lot of anxiety for the people of Clarges, so their mental hospital is full of people who've gone "catto" (alternating periods of catatonia and mania).
Gavin Waylock has been in hiding for seven years, but now he's ready to return to the immortal society that shunned him. He's back at the bottom and must use all of his wits to work his way up to the place he knows he deserves. Things would be a lot easier, though, if he hadn't just met The Jacynth Martin, because she's determined to keep him out of Amaranth.
One thing I love about Jack Vance is that he writes about things that fascinate me. As Gavin is trying to figure out how he can contribute something creative and meaningful to society, and thereby push himself ahead of everyone else, he tackles the field of psychology. I found it great fun to read Vance's ideas about the future of my field.
To Live Forever was written in 1956, at a time when "insane asylums" in the United States were full. Vance must have thought this to be a hopeless situation because while his characters are zipping around in aircars and have plenty of other cool future technologies, one of their psychotherapists tells Gavin that their hospital is full, and psychology is the only science that isn't progressing, because it's impossible to see inside the human brain.
I'm not surprised that Vance didn't foresee brain imaging techniques (though he actually uses a similar technology in this novel!), but it's amusing that it was only a few years later that asylums in developed countries were nearly emptied after antipsychotic, antidepressant, and anti-anxiety drugs became common. It's also amusing that, for fun, citizens of Clarges use different types of "stimmo" pills, some of which are basically antidepressant or anti-anxiety drugs. Hmmm… I wonder if they thought to try those on the cattos...
Though Mr. Vance's vision didn't seem to foresee much beyond Freud and Jung, at the same time one of his characters comes up with an idea to treat catatonic-mania that is stunningly brilliant and something very much like what is only now being tested as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder! Wow!
You don’t have to be a psychologist to love To Live Forever. This is a fun, fast-paced, and clever science fiction novel, but it isn't at all "gadgetty," so it will probably appeal even to those who think they don't like scifi. It's also, as is common for Jack Vance, part humorously scathing social commentary. www.fantasyliterature.com(less)
audio version Henry Dorsett Case is a washed up computer hacker. He used to be one of the best, travel...more4.5 stars ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
audio version Henry Dorsett Case is a washed up computer hacker. He used to be one of the best, traveling cyberspace and sneaking through computer defenses, stealing money and information for his employers. But after he got greedy and embezzled some money, his employers damaged his brain so he can’t jack into cyberspace anymore. He spent the stolen money trying to get his ability back, but it didn’t work, and now he’s suicidal and wandering the squalid streets of Chiba City, Japan... Until Molly the razorgirl shows up. She wears tight black leather, has mirrored glasses implanted in her eye sockets, and has retractable razors embedded under her fingernails. She delivers Case to her boss, Armitage, who says he can fix Case if he’ll hire on as his hacker. Case’s new hacking job turns out to be a lot bigger and a lot stranger than he and his new colleagues expected.
There’s very little exposition in Neuromancer and it’s got its own slang and culture. So when William Gibson drops us off in degenerate and dystopian Night City with its neon lights, holographic arcades, drug dealers, meat puppets, black market surgeons, and silvery sky, you’ll want to either hide in the nearest alley, or start running... and hope you don’t bump into any of Gibson’s characters. Once you meet them, you won’t forget them, but you’re unlikely to fall in love with any of them because, like their city, they’re cold and criminal (“Towns like this are for people who like the way down”).
The unfamiliar language and setting and the aloof characters will be a turn-off for some readers, but those who think it’s exhilarating to be dumped into new and unknown territory will find that Neuromancer is fast-moving, flashy, decadent, and sexy (think The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell). For a novel written in 1984, it feels surprisingly stylish, its cultural issues are still modern, and it has accurately anticipated some of our 21st century technological developments.
The most obvious thing that Neuromancer anticipated — and this is what makes it classic science fiction and the seminal cyberpunk novel — is the internet, which Case calls “cyberspace.” In his afterward to Neuromancer, Jack Womack suggests that Neuromancer didn’t just foresee the internet, but that the novel may have actually created the internet (or at least influenced how we use it) because the people who developed it read Neuromancer back in 1984.
As a product of the 1980s, a fan of dystopian science fiction, a neuroscience researcher, and a denizen of cyberspace, I’ve been waiting years for Neuromancer to be released on audio, so I was thrilled to see that Penguin Audio finally produced it this summer. The audio version is excellently read by Robertson Dean and includes Jack Womack’s afterward in which he discusses the novel’s influence and his friendship with William Gibson. There’s also an introduction by Gibson in which he talks about how Neuromancer has aged — pretty well except for the mention of modems and the lack of cell phones (something I’ve noticed that most old SF novels are missing).
One thing I’d like to alert audio readers to: Neuromancer is not an easy read because of the lack of exposition, which makes it even more difficult on audio. If you’ve not read the novel before, it will require full concentration and occasional rewinding, but it will be rewarding. No science fiction fan should miss the first novel to win the Triple Crown of SF awards: the Nebula, the Hugo, and the Philip K. Dick awards. And for audiobook readers, now is the perfect time to enjoy Neuromancer.(less)
It’s the dark ages again. A 20th century nuclear war spawned a “Flame Deluge” which destroyed human civilizati...moreORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.
It’s the dark ages again. A 20th century nuclear war spawned a “Flame Deluge” which destroyed human civilization’s infrastructure and technology, killed most of the people, and created genetic mutations in many of the rest. Then there was a backlash against the educated people of the world who were seen as the creators of both the ideas that started the war, and the weapons that were used to fight it. They were persecuted and killed and all knowledge was burned up. After this “Simplification,” people took pride in being illiterate and the only institution that seemed to come through intact was the Roman Catholic Church.
Walter M. Miller Jr’s A Canticle for Leibowitz is divided into three parts, which were originally published as three separate stories. In the first story, “Fiat Homo,” which takes place 600 years after The Simplification, we find a cloister of monks who are applying to New Rome to have their martyred patron, an ex-electrical engineer named Isaac Edward Leibowitz, sainted. Leibowitz’s monks have been collecting, preserving, and copying fragments of the Earth’s previous civilization. As keepers of pre-Deluge history, they attempt to piece together knowledge and history, without knowing for certain what they’re looking at. One day, while maintaining a vigil of silence in the desert around the abbey, Brother Francis stumbles upon the entrance to Leibowitz’s fallout shelter containing precious relics, such as a circuitry blueprint and a deli shopping list. These relics cause quite a stir in the abbey.
“Fiat Lux” begins 600 years later. Genetic mutations caused by the fallout are still affecting mammalian DNA, and the monks of St. Leibowitz occasionally wonder whether there really ever was an advanced civilization on Earth, but progress is gradually being made. This is especially true in the abbey of St. Leibowitz where the monks are safe from the tribal wars that are common in surrounding Texarkana. Their studies of the fragments they’ve been collecting have prepared them to ignite a new renaissance.
Another 600 years pass. In “Fiat Voluntas Tua,” humans, though still affected by “genetic festering,” have reached the pinnacle of civilization and culture, progressing beyond what had been experienced before the nuclear war in the 20th century. But there’s been a cold war going on for 50 years between the two world superpowers and they both have nuclear weapons. At the abbey of St. Leibowitz, the monks wonder if humans are destined to repeat the cycle and, as keepers of the world’s knowledge, what is the abbey’s responsibility to humankind?
"Are we doomed to do it again and again and again? Have we no choice but to play the Phoenix in an unending sequence of rise and fall? …. Are we doomed to it, Lord, chained to the pendulum of our own mad clockwork, helpless to halt its swing? This time, it will swing us clean to oblivion… Back then, in the Saint Leibowitz’ time, maybe they didn’t know what would happen… They had not yet seen a billion corpses. They had not seen the still-born, the monstrous, the dehumanized, the blind. They had not yet seen the madness and the murder and the blotting out of reason. Then they did it, and then they saw it… Only a race of madmen could do it again."
Obviously, the main theme of A Canticle for Leibowitz is the repetitive cycle of human history and the role of our advancing knowledge and technology in our own destruction. This provides the reader with plenty to think on, but Miller also addresses issues that the Roman Catholic Church has tackled during its history, such as its role in state politics and its insistence that euthanasia is a sin. While the novel is meant to be a serious consideration of these ideas, and while its predictions and warnings are frightening, A Canticle for Leibowitz still manages to be amusing and agreeably quirky all the way through. Though there’s a powerful and unforgettable message here, it is the irreverent, eccentric humor that makes it so enjoyable to read.
A Canticle for Leibowitz is a classic piece of post-apocalyptic science fiction that had mass cross-genre appeal when it was published in 1960, won the Hugo award in 1961, and has never been out of print. Thus, it’s a must-read for any true SF fan. I recently tried the audio version which was just released by Blackstone Audio and narrated by Tom Weiner. Audio readers, even if you’ve read A Canticle for Leibowitz before, you won’t want to miss Blackstone Audio’s first-rate production of this imaginative, chilling, and humorous novel.(less)