A companion piece to Carriger's beloved Parasol Protectorate series, "The Curious Case . . ." concerns itself with the mysterious Alessandro TarabottiA companion piece to Carriger's beloved Parasol Protectorate series, "The Curious Case . . ." concerns itself with the mysterious Alessandro Tarabotti (Alexia's father), and his ever faithful servant, Floote. A charming tale of supernatural espionage and taxidermy in the deserts of Egypt....more
You know how sometimes it's almost impossible to write a review of a book that blows your mind? Ancillary Justice is probably the best book I read thiYou know how sometimes it's almost impossible to write a review of a book that blows your mind? Ancillary Justice is probably the best book I read this year. (A year which included other wonderful things I couldn't begin to critique, like The Martian and The Slow Regard of Silent Things and Station Eleven.) Hard sci-fi that's humane, featuring a complex world and politics that assume you're paying attention, elegant and vivid prose, and an AI protagonist who's anything but artificial, Ancillary Justice feels like a new SF classic....more
The rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy"The rare sequel I enjoyed more than its predecessor (2011's A Discovery of Witches, which was more a 4/5), the second book in her "All Souls Trilogy" gives scientific historian Harkness an even wider canvas on which to strut her stuff. The story of time-walking witch Diana Bishop, her vampire lover Matthew Clairmont, and the search for the mysterious manuscript Ashmole 782 continues. Shadow of Night, however, eschews laboratories and yoga in modern Oxford, instead name-dropping its way around Tudor England and Emperor Rudolf's Prague, where the couple have time-traveled seeking answers about Diana's burgeoning powers, and the manuscript prior to its corruption.
But Diana has difficulty adjusting to the role of women in the 1590s, as well as wife to a 1,500 year old vampire with a host of secret identities. She clashes openly with Kit Marlowe (who is not-so-secretly in love with Matthew), practices alchemy with the Countess of Pembroke, trains her power with a London coven, and (barely) escapes the advances of a certain smitten Hapsburg. (Also present and accounted for? Magicians John Dee and Edward Kelly, Sir Walter Raleigh, Shakespeare and Queen Bess herself, also overly fond of Matthew.) The couple also spend some idyllic time at the deClairmont family fortress Sept Tours, where Diana finally meets Matthew's legendary father Philippe (dead since WWII in the present). But Diana's presence in the past -- and her relationship with a vampire -- draw unwanted attention at a time of witch hunts and fear, and forces both human and supernatural threaten danger from all sides.
In other hands all of this might feel like overload, but Harkness's encyclopedic knowledge of the period, deft character sketches (who knew Elizabeth the Great was such a brat?), and an almost supernatural attention to detail transport readers as effortlessly across time as . . . well, a time-walking witch. Also? Diana and Matthew's romance is (finally!) steamier, despite all the layers of muslin and brocade. And there's a dragon! (Sort of.) I thoroughly enjoyed every page. Almost certainly on my Best of 2012 list. ...more
Four big rollicking stars. A fresh, hugely amusing tale of amnesia and espionage on "Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service." O'Malley has a lot ofFour big rollicking stars. A fresh, hugely amusing tale of amnesia and espionage on "Her Majesty's Supernatural Secret Service." O'Malley has a lot of fun with his unusual heroine(s!) Myfanwy Thomas, and shows endless icky inventiveness in this hip, modern take on who's protecting us from the things that go bump . . . and squish . . . and slurp . . . well, anytime they feel like it. More to come once fully digested. (Ew, bad metaphor for this book. Read it; you'll see.)...more
On one hand, I wish I could convince everyone I know that Mieville is the best science/weird fiction writer working today; on the other I'm kind of glOn one hand, I wish I could convince everyone I know that Mieville is the best science/weird fiction writer working today; on the other I'm kind of gleeful to have encountered his alien genius before he really does become the next big thing (at least among smartypants nerds). He is a writer always testing the boundaries of genre, and Embassytown is likely the most “literary” book he’s written so far . . . though perhaps not the most immediately accessible. Prepare for a novel that both blows your mind and gives it an excellent workout.
You know you're entering heady territory when a novel's epigram is a quote from Walter Benjamin: “The word must communicate something (other than itself).” (Although it might equally be another, quite different, quote: “Gifts must affect the receiver to the point of shock.” I'll let you work that one out as you read the book.)
In Embassytown, Mieville continues to showcase his deft world-building skills on the planet Arieka, a crucial node in the interstellar shipping lanes. Here, human colonists coexist in a state of mutual disconnection with a culture so physically and intellectually alien from our own that communication is nearly impossible, only achieved by a select few “Ambassadors,” genetically altered and rigorously trained for the task. Though the main thrust of the narrative is a tale of political intrigue, be aware that a significant amount of time is spent pondering the brain-bursting concepts of linguistic and semiotic construction. For example: the native Ariekei are unable to communicate or conceive of anything but that which is is literally true – they are incapable of a lie, and must construct elaborate, surreal tableaux in order to formulate even simple similes or metaphors. (Our protagonist, Avice Benner Cho, is herself a simile, having as a child participated in the creation of the unpleasantly loaded phrase "the girl who ate what was given her.") But what might change for the Ariekei -- and us -- when a communication breakthrough occurs?
In Embassytown, Mieville has mostly jettisoned his tendency to revel in the minutia of the grotesque, as he does in the Bas-Lag novels. Instead he works in simple, elegant prose to consider and illustrate evolution and destabilization of the ways in which thinking beings communicate -- constructing meaning (and misunderstanding) from sounds and other signifiers, and constructing civilizations from those meanings. (Now that sentence gave me flashbacks to grad school . . .) With his latest book, Mieville once again defies genre expectations, raising the bar for thoughtful, challenging science fiction.
The Scar is the second book set in China Mieville’s enormous and species-diverse world of Bas-Lag, and while it might help for readers to be familiarThe Scar is the second book set in China Mieville’s enormous and species-diverse world of Bas-Lag, and while it might help for readers to be familiar with its predecessor Perdido Street Station, it's not strictly necessary, as this is not strictly a sequel. It's enough to know that as the story opens our protagonist, linguist Bellis Coldwine, is fleeing her beloved city of New Crobuzan (the setting for PSS) in fear for her life. Unfortunately, Bellis has a tangential connection to the awful events that make up the narrative of PSS, and her friends and acquaintances have started disappearing in the resulting government investigation. Determined not to meet the same fate, Bellis hastily books passage working as a translator on the Terpsichoria, a ship bound for the distant colony of Nova Esperium. There she hopes to wait out the trouble, and eventually return home.
As her journey gets underway, Bellis – chilly by nature and in mourning for her lost life – remains aloof from her fellow passengers, though she acerbically records shipboard goings-on in a long, journal-like letter she means to send back to New Crobuzon at her first chance. Growing restless in the long, dull days at sea, Bellis finally strikes up a guarded friendship with Johannes Tearfly, a naturalist and fellow academic whose primary interests are in “megafauna” and exotic underwater life. She also grows curious about the hold full of "Remade" prisoners, intended to be used as labor in the new colony. (The Remade are the lowest class in New Crobuzan: usually criminals, whose punishment includes the forcible addition or alteration of body parts. These might be organic – beaks, claws, feathers, tentacles, extra human bits; or mechanical – legs replaced by steam-engine powered treads, arms replaced with tools useful in factories. The punishment generally fits the crime in some perverse way, and the possibilities are endless. In a world occupied by a multiplicity of "xenian" races, the Remade are among Mieville's darkest and most fascinating creations. But I digress.)
It's not long before Bellis is pressed into earning her passage, serving as translator in highly volatile and secret talks with New Crobuzon allies the Cray, who seem to have misplaced something large, top-secret and essential to government interests. There is clearly more going on aboard the Terpsichoria than meets the eye. When Silas Fennec, a mysterious passenger with enough clout to commandeer the ship, announces they must return to New Crobuzon immediately, Bellis is both alarmed and relieved.
And then pirates attack. Really. Just when the novel is building up a good head of espionage steam . . . pirates? Please don't let the narrative hard-left throw you – there will be many more – because now the action really begins.
Led by the mysterious and deadly swordsman Uther Doul, the pirates board the Terpsichoria and summarily execute the officers and most of the crew. The passengers, cargo and ship are then claimed for the legendary floating pirate city of Armada. (Another of Mieville's better conceits, Armada is a fully-functioning city-state, built from an endless array of ships captured over centuries, intricately refitted and lashed together. It is quite literally legendary, since the pirates of Armada leave nothing behind when they attack, and no one taken to their city has ever been allowed to leave.) The press-ganged Bellis understands her chances of getting home are now next to none.
But Bellis finds that Armada is not the lawless place she imagined: all the passengers, including the newly-freed Remade, are offered jobs and places to live. The political climate, while contentious, is relatively stable and egalitarian, consisting of several independent “ridings” in loose confederation, all overseen by a pair of mysterious leaders called The Lovers. In spite of her despair, Bellis begins working as a librarian in Armada's huge pilfered collection, and quietly getting to know her new home. But when a strange and important manuscript is discovered in the library, Bellis draws the uncomfortable attention of both Silas Fennec and Uther Doul – who serves as right hand to The Lovers. Drawn into their political machinations, her fate becomes inexorably bound with that of Armada itself.
I have given short shrift to some important aspects of this book – for example the moving subplot of Remade prisoner Tanner Sack, who finds his freedom and a modicum of redemption in his new maritime home; or the fascinating Uther Doul and his deadly quantum magic-fueled “Possibility Sword.” But to say any more (and there is so much more!) would be to deprive potential readers of the pleasure of discovering the myriad of strange beings and weird twists The Scar delivers before reaching its stunning climax. Perhaps the most astounding thing about The Scar – a novel drawing on traditions as varied as the sea-shanty and “big-fish” yarn, political thriller, quantum theory and existential horror, and influences as disparate as Lovecraft, Borges and Melville – is that all the twists, turns and wildly complex narrative threads actually add up to something truly satisfying. Mieville not only builds a world so real you can see (and possibly smell) it when you close your eyes, he also sticks the landing like a gold medalist. The more China Mieville I read, the more in awe of his disturbing and fruitful mind I become. At this moment, I’m convinced The Scar is his best work – though I have no doubt he’ll surprise me again. ...more