Alternate history is a crowded and often quite useless genre. How much can we really learn from aliens from the future giving gamma rays to the Viet C...moreAlternate history is a crowded and often quite useless genre. How much can we really learn from aliens from the future giving gamma rays to the Viet Cong? It may have entertainment value, but the best in alternate history takes a bigger approach than this. Classics like Philip K. Dick's Hugo award winning novel The Man in the High Castle and Philip Roth's The Plot Against America spring to mind. I don't think Jeff Pearce's Reich TV is quite The Man in the High Castle, but I think I liked it just as much as The Plot Against America, if not more.
Unlike any of the alternate histories I had read prior to Reich TV, Pearce's novel uses real life public figures as his main characters rather than his own creations. In one aspect, it makes the characterization process easier; you don't have to create them yourself. On the other, though, it adds a lot of required research to a genre that by definition requires more in-depth study than any other genre of fiction. In the case of Reich TV, this use of real people is brilliantly executed. This is an outstandingly well-researched piece of speculative fiction.
At its core, I think Reich TV is a story about the way technology changes everything. Just in case it isn't already obvious from the title and cover, Reich TV is set during World War II. The biggest technology advances of the century have come to be earlier than in reality, and this leads to a much larger influence of media on the scheme of things, on the ebb and flow of the conflict. Essayist and novelist George Orwell is a journalist from England, in Germany investigating the circumstances surrounding some mysterious deaths. The Marx Brothers are performing a weekly variety show in London being transmitted in Berlin that causes enough controversy to put their lives in danger. Dylan Thomas is their producer, who tears himself away from booze and women just long enough to focus on a new obsession: stopping the Nazis.
There are times in Reich TV where I wish the pace had been just a bit faster, especially around the middle third. It starts out very strong, and I found myself immersed in the story very quickly. There's a bit of a slowing around the middle, but it was still very enjoyable. Pearce writes wonderfully, so well that I'm actually quite surprised this wasn't published by a more traditional, larger publishing company.
The strongest aspect of Reich TV is the characterization. Pearce's portrayal of all of these seemingly larger than life figures is picture perfect. In reading the novel, I could entirely believe that Dylan Thomas, George Orwell, and Groucho Marx were exactly as Pearce wrote them and participated in the events as written. Pearce did an excellent job of immersing me in the world, and completely squelching any disbelief that I might have had reading another alternate history book.
Of particular interest, aside from the great novel itself, is the section at the end when Pearce explains how much of the novel is based on reality, and how much his own creation. The inclusion of this several pages of explanation really managed to deepen my appreciation for the novel and how it was written. It was certainly no small task, and not something everyone could do. Reich TV is a pretty special book. Pearce is a brilliant and talented writer, as well as being spectacularly diverse: he has a couple other novels out that are in completely different subgenres of speculative fiction, but they intrigue nonetheless. I would definitely recommend Reich TV to anyone with an interest in alternate history. (less)
The brilliance of the story that Philip K. Dick weaves in his Hugo award winning novel "The Man in the High Castle" is not the world itself, which is...moreThe brilliance of the story that Philip K. Dick weaves in his Hugo award winning novel "The Man in the High Castle" is not the world itself, which is full of intrigue and layered so magnificently, but that the story is told through the eyes of perfectly ordinarily people who are trying to get by in this world, just as ordinary people get by in ours and any other. This isn't the story of the new Fuhrer, or the struggling American president, but the story of an antique store owner, of a separated couple, of a Jewish man trying to pretend to be something he is not for the sake of his own survival, and of a Japanese businessman struggling with the politics of his job and the world in general.
It is 1962, twenty years after the Axis won World War II. The world is divided between the Japanese and the Germans. German Fascism continues to spread throughout the world in whatever stretches of land are left that do not yet feel the iron boot heel, and the people under the extreme conditions are finding amusement in a science fiction book, in which a writer proposes what might have happened if the Allies had won the world. Its a wonderful premise that makes anyone who writes themselves think "Wow, I wish I'd thought of that." The story is so layered and expertly written, Dick writing with a sort of Kafkaesque quality that fits the situation he writes so perfectly.
"The Man in the High Castle" isn't necessarily a story with an overreaching plot; the journey is the important part. It's not about going from point A to point B, but it is about the world the people live in and the day to day troubles that affect any person, and not just a person living in Japanese and German controlled 1962. Dick has the talent for writing novels that go beyond being simple science fiction, and this is one of his works that deserves to be in the popular lexicon of classic literature, and not just sitting on the sci-fi rack.(less)
Ian Tregillis has managed to create a wonderful bit of alternate history in his debut novel, "Bitter Seeds." It is a well-written work full of excitem...moreIan Tregillis has managed to create a wonderful bit of alternate history in his debut novel, "Bitter Seeds." It is a well-written work full of excitement, twists, and extraordinary characters. Perhaps the most interesting thing about "Bitter Seeds" is that, although it is a story about Nazi super humans and British warlocks fighting in World War II, nearly all of the scenes that I find most memorable about the novel are the simplest ones. The scenes involving Marsh, the primary protagonist and neither a warlock nor a superhuman, are touching and really the parts that stand out most in the book.
The plot is really no more complicated than previously mentioned; The Nazis have a program going back a couple decades of raising children from infants to being superhuman in adulthood, and when the German army unleashes its menace against Europe, the British enlist the aid of a collection of warlocks, who make demonic pacts with beings known as Eidolons to slow the Nazi invasion.
Although it starts out a bit slow, by the time the 75 page mark rolls around, things are really exciting, and it rarely lets up. It reads like a Hollywood movie, with several extraordinarily memorable scenes, great dialog, and moments of utter shock and sadness. Its a book that does an excellent job of keeping the reader's attention, without resorting to cheap thrills or cookie-cutter plot lines. It has some pacing issues, especially early on, but "Bitter Seeds" is a really excellent book and looks like an early contender for the major science-fiction and fantasy awards.(less)
When randomly perusing the "new paperbacks" rack at Borders, I can't help but be intrigued by the idea of a steampunk adventure that features airships...moreWhen randomly perusing the "new paperbacks" rack at Borders, I can't help but be intrigued by the idea of a steampunk adventure that features airships, zombies, and a relatively under-explored Civil War era Seattle. Frankly, when Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy) and Warren Ellis (comic book writer extraordinaire) both absolutely gush about a book, I expect good things. Luckily, Cherie Priest's Hugo Award nominated novel "Boneshaker" is certainly good things.
"Boneshaker" tells the story of a fictional Civil War era Seattle, where the Klondike gold rush has come early, and with it, a huge population boom. A contest is held for an inventor to create a machine that can drill through a hundred feet of solid ice, to get to the gold. Leviticus Blue is the inventor of the Boneshaker, but its first goes horribly awry. It runs out of control, drilling too deep, and releasing a terrible poisonous gas the locals call the Blight. People are changing, becoming horrible undead creatures with an awful hankering for flesh. The city is vacated and walled off, to protect the outside from the Blight that continues to seep out from the Earth.
In 1880, the fifteen year old son of the inventor responsible for the destruction of Seattle sets himself on a quest to get into the walled off city, gas mask and pistol in tow, to find evidence that would vindicate his father and save his reputation. His mother, and the widow of Leviticus, is forced to follow him into the city, to try to save her boy from terrors that neither he nor she could possibly know.
The writing of the story is superb; Priest has wonderful prose that is consistently interesting to read. She is a naturally gifted storyteller, writing a novel that is very well paced and pretty exciting, even in the earliest stages of the book when there is little action and tons of exposition, she manages to do a really good job of holding interest. The major triumph of the book is the world building; the novel really immerses you in its world, full of zombies, pirates, crazed inventors, airships, and general unsavory types. It operates on a simple premise but really manages to do a lot with it.
All this being said, it is not entirely without its flaws. About the middle point, it slows down for a good quarter or so, when the constant zombie chases and tunnel wandering gets a bit tiresome. It doesn't slow too long, though, because it was right about when I realized that it was starting to peter off that it managed to pick up the pace again; the last one hundred pages are excellent. Its nice to see a book that ends as well as it begins, with plenty of action in between.
With the nature of the Hugo Awards being as it is, I would be surprised of Boneshaker didn't win the award. At the time of this writing, I haven't had a chance to read the other five nominated novels, but I can't imagine a book with the kind of accolades it has gotten and the big number of sales not being the one that comes out on top, if even because of pure quantity of people who have read and enjoyed this book. I would highly recommend this to anyone with an interest in science fiction, specifically steampunk, or just a fan of zombie stuff. You really can't go wrong here.(less)
There is a certain level of excellence and achievement in the literary community where you, as a writer, where your name itself has become a term used...moreThere is a certain level of excellence and achievement in the literary community where you, as a writer, where your name itself has become a term used to describe an entire literary style. George Orwell is one of those people, and Nineteen Eighty-Four is his greatest work.
In the dictionary, the word Orwellian is defined as "Of, relating to, or evocative of the works of George Orwell, especially the satirical novel 1984, which depicts a futuristic totalitarian state." Simply put, this novel shows the absolute worst in a government that invades privacy, places social restriction, and just generally impedes upon the pursuits of happiness and liberty.
It tells the story of a futuristic government, where news is completely manufactured, and loyalty is not only expected, but enforced. Oxymoronic maxims like "war is peace" are shoved down the throats of every person. One of these people is Winston, a man who finds himself involved in a revolutionary movement, and a co-worker name Julia, who he falls in love with and sneaks away to see, dodging the thought police who would arrest them and take them away.
"Nineteen Eighty-Four" is an absolutely essential read that ought to be required in every freshman English class. It is as relevant today in the times of the PATRIOT Act as it has ever been. It is one of the books that piqued my interest in literature, activism, and made me want to be a writer.(less)