I am kinda in literary shock right now. It is clear from my rating that I felt this novel was fantastic... it is just...
Engine Summer is the third novI am kinda in literary shock right now. It is clear from my rating that I felt this novel was fantastic... it is just...
Engine Summer is the third novel by John Crowley. It is definitely at this point that he begins to become the writer that would later write the better known novel: Little, Big. There is quite a bit similar between Little, Big and Engine Summer. Seasons play a huge role both symbolically and plotwise in both, and you could sum up both by saying they are about "The Tale" (to use Little, Big terminology)/"Snake's-hands"(Engine Summer terminology). Essentially, stories about stories.
Engine Summer also marks the end of John Crowley as a science fiction writer. Even in this book, you can see that he is starting to lay out his tools to write fantasy. The next time he will write science fiction will be in short story form ("Snow", followed by "Great Work of Time", both of which you should totally read).
This is, at least on the surface, a coming of age story (Bildungsroman for you snobs out there) set in a post apocalyptic New York state. (the exact location is never mentioned in the novel, but when in doubt, it's New York in John Crowley's writings). Our protagonist, Rush That Speaks, is setting off on a voyage of discovery. Hoping to bring back knowledge that is lost, find his first true love, and/or become a saint; he actually sets off on a path to become something...else... greater, perhaps.
Aside from being a fantastic novel, Engine Summer could actually act as a treatise to the writing style of John Crowley. It is always the 'snake's-hands' (side-plots that do not necessarily go anywhere except to deviate from the main plot for a bit)that are the important parts, nay, the best parts of a story (and review. Further, it is also the jarring change(s) in perspective that make a John Crowley novel fantastic. These changes in frames of references really change the meaning of the story, even though the narrative itself does not change. Or rather, it adds depth and complexity to what otherwise may be a standard, sinuous fantasy.
It appears as if I am one of those rare people who is capable of enjoying all of John Crowley's novels. This is shown by how much I enjoyed the extremIt appears as if I am one of those rare people who is capable of enjoying all of John Crowley's novels. This is shown by how much I enjoyed the extremely imaginative and ultimately jarring novel, Beasts.
Beasts is divided up in what can amount to a few story strands that eventually come together in the end. It takes place after a civil war has caused the United States to split up into several districts. The Federal still exists and is trying to reunite these districts together under its tyrannical rule through the operations and morals of USE (Union for Social Engineering). As the Fed attempts to coerce the largest of the districts to reunite under a Union, a mysterious leo enters the scene as a sort of messiah, inspiring people to live in a more anarchistic lifestyle.
A leo, by the way, is the result of earlier genetic experimentation crossing the genes of humans with lions. This results in a creature that is neither and acts and has its own mindset. Crowley is able to convey this otherness to his genetically created characters, and though a lot of focus is given on the leo, the real monstrosity that steals the show is a human-fox hybrid who is always delightful to have on screen... even if you start dreading it, because that damn fox is always.....
But I'm giving too much away. Suffice it to say, this was a terrific ride... but do not expect a traditional resolution. Yeah, when I said it was 'jarring' I meant the novel just kinda stops suddenly. It almost seems like Crowley may have, at one time, been toying with the idea of having this book be the first in a series and never got around to writing a sequel. Then again, with the exception of the Aegypt Cycle, Crowley writes nothing but solo novels. It is actually just as likely that Beasts is about the journey of several of its characters and not about the bigger conflict they have had the misfortune to be born into.
A fantastic glance into an alternate future, Beasts is full of insights to the nature of human interaction as it looks at the various doings of both human, partly human, and none human characters. Its creative setting and moral dilemmas will not be soon forgotten....more
The Deep, being the first published book by John Crowley, is also a perfect example of Crowley's style. The Deep takes place on another world where twThe Deep, being the first published book by John Crowley, is also a perfect example of Crowley's style. The Deep takes place on another world where two warring factions, the Reds and the Blacks, are essentially re-enacting King Henry VI Part III. This is just as well, as it makes the action of those portions of the novel easier to follow with character names like Redhand, Old Redhand, Younger Redhand, Red Senlin, Red Senlin's Son, and so forth. The similarities in name serve a purpose for the theme of the novel, but might prove difficult to some.
Of course, there are several factors that distinguish this novel from a mere retelling of a Shakespearean play. One is the arrival of the "Visitor" from the sky, a genderless android whose purpose in coming to this world has been forgotten after being attacked by a group of the Just. The Just are a secret group of assassins that pop up every once in a while to dispose of a political figure with their muskets.
The interaction of the political struggles, Just, and the Visitor is what ultimately makes this more than a book about warring factions. In true Crowley fashion, it actually turns metaphysical in parts.
As always, due to Crowley's ultimate reason for writing this book, The Deep does not end the way normal, plot driven books end. What many would consider the "main plot points" fizzle out at the end. At least, to the viewpoint of modern pop lit convention. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of this and almost any John Crowley work is that Crowley does not spell everything out. He leaves that up to the reader. As a result, you will have people who are satisfied with how everything turned out, even the Visitor sub-plot as well as people scratching their heads wondering what the point of the Visitor was in the first place.
The Deep was a quick read for me. But it was exciting and thoughtful as well. The work as a whole will give my mind something to chew on for some time and will eventually demand a re-read....more
With a title like "Consider Phlebas", the better read of us will probably expect what many are calling "a literary, thinking-man's space opera."
WeeellWith a title like "Consider Phlebas", the better read of us will probably expect what many are calling "a literary, thinking-man's space opera."
And, those that have the experience of a space opera (i.e. anyone that has watched Star Wars/Star Trek/Really, any sci-fi show set in space) will probably expect a fast-clip, laser-firing romp across the galaxy.
At its heart, Consider Phlebas is genre fiction. There's a massive galactic war going on between the Culture and the Idirans because each does not like the cut of the others' spacesuits and both are starting to get a little too big for each other's tastes. Admist this war, in a miracle of science, a precious Culture Mind has stranded itself on a Planet of the Dead... monument to the futility of warring civilizations owned by the godlike Dra'Azon. Our hero, Horza, is an agent under the employ of the Idirans. He is a Changer and has been to this world before so he presumably will be allowed there again, and is therefore the perfect candidate for the retrieval of the Mind by the Idirans. All this care must be taken so as not to provoke the Dra'Azon , who may be able to wipe both civilizations from the galaxy.
That is your introduction. This is very much a science fiction genre book. If you do not like science fiction or if the description just given confuses you, this book is not a place to start reading science fiction.
Now, for the flipside: the soul of book is T. S. Eliot's The Wasteland, particularly the section "Death by Water" (which is where the title of Banks's book comes from). The book is bombarded with references to drownings, sermons of fire, sayings of thunder, ritual of burials, and of course that game of chess I was referencing earlier. The galactic war itself is actually modeled heavily on World War I, which coupled with the Phlebian imagery makes for an exercise in the ultimate futility of struggle.
That means if you love science fiction but hate those so-called classics that draw attention away from your beloved novels and prevent them from getting the critical attention they deserve, guess what? Many aspects of the plot will seem pointless, gratuitous, and probably boring.
And that is where Consider Phlebas has decided to make its stand: among the group of readers familiar enough with genre science fiction that they will not be overwhelmed by its various conventions and actually appreciative of some of the finer points of literature.
I have not decided if this is 'groundbreaking' or not. I am pleased at this return to a more old-school science fiction with absurd technologies like Dyson spheres, and it is nice to see it unconstrained by the limitations of pulp magazines. Overall, I enjoyed the adventure and the various uses of imagery from the Wasteland and will eventually return to the Culture Universe....more
Here it is... this infamous volume of feminist sci-fi that I have found my younger contemporaries have never heard about. Which I find shocking, as thHere it is... this infamous volume of feminist sci-fi that I have found my younger contemporaries have never heard about. Which I find shocking, as this book is trumpeted as an infamous volume of feminist sci-fi literateur. Does it deserve this reputation? Does it deserve the Nebula and Hugo award that it concurrently? Is that even an indication of quality since garbage like Ender's Game seems able to.... but I digress.
The Left Hand of Darkness follows (mostly) Genly Ai, an Envoy originally from Terra (code for our world!) sent to the creatively named planet of Winter to try and convince them to join a planetary union known as the Ekumen. On Winter, Ai must find a way to navigate the strange, alien politics to achieve his goal without being killed in the process.
And what's so strange about this society that the politics would be hard to navigate? Well, get ready for the gimmick here, because it will blow your mind if Harold Bloom can be believed (that pretentious bastard). On Winter, there is no such thing as gender. Everybody is mostly sexless except for at certain times of the month when they go into 'kimmering'. While in kimmer, they hook up with other kimmerlings and, depending on the hormones of the participants, one will be the male and the other female as they have wanton, progressive alien sex until their hormones calm down and they return to their sexless self.
That's the gimmick in this novel... well, that and it's really cold on this planet. I call this a gimmick because that is the function this plays in the book. The Left Hand of Darkness is what would be commonly known at the time as a sort of 'science fiction travelogue' which combines generic science fiction adventure with new, wondrous world with new wondrous beings.
And, as such, it works very well. You get a sense of the landscape, cultures, and society of this planet. Further, there really is no generic science fiction adventure in this. If anything, the conflict is between Ai and his sense of identity as a 1)Freak of nature and 2) Exile cut off from his own kind. And LeGuin handles his development masterfully without having to resort to 'space sex' as her contemporaries would/do... all...the... time...
I can not see this as breaking new grounds with 'gender norms' in science fiction. To tell the truth, the inhabitants of Winter are mostly portrayed as men. The only femininity they possess seems to be that of a eunuch's quality. But it does deserve a place as one of the classics of science fiction, and no doubt acted as a stepping stone for Le Guin to find her voice and the themes she would visit in later writings. ...more
If you have gotten this far, you will know what the setting is to the Saga of the Pliocene Exile. You may also be wondering what, exactly, is going onIf you have gotten this far, you will know what the setting is to the Saga of the Pliocene Exile. You may also be wondering what, exactly, is going on with the four characters that went to the Tanu capital of Muriah. And that is where the book picks up.
So, the reader finds themselves backwards in time before the rebel uprising at the end of The Many-Colored Land to catch up with Bryan, Aiken Drum, Elizabeth, and the 'Viking' Stein. Theirs is a much more politically driven story, as they maneuver the conniving of various factions that strive for dominance of the Many-Colored Land. As an anthropologist, Bryan embarks to complete a survey of human-Tanu relations that the King hopes to use to support is breeding program. Elizabeth, as the *cough* first fully meta-functional operant is key to that breeding program and a target for those who wish for a pure-blooded Tanu race. Aiken, meanwhile, decides that he is going to throw his hat into this game of throne and attempt to overthrow the King's heir and the King in the ritual Grand Combat so that he can be ruler over the Many-Colored Land... and Stein is caught up in Aiken's story.
These characters are followed until the beginning of the Grand Truce, after which we are reunited with our other intrepid time-travelers as they prepare to carry out the final phases of their revolution to free humankind from Tanu control.
And of course, in the end, we have the Grand Combat, which Julian May utilizes to grand effect to (view spoiler)[clear the board (hide spoiler)], as it were.
Julian May writes political intrigue right. It is fun, suspenseful, and irritating. Most of all, it is not overdone. There is a good balance between the political plot of some of the characters and the adventure plots of our intrepid rebels. Furthermore, in what might seem to be revolutionary to modern readers, most of the story threads are wrapped up! *gasp!* Satisfactorily! *Wha-wha-whaaaat?*
Kinda makes you wonder what the second half of the saga is going to be about.... *goes to read prologue to The Non-Born King* Well... they're boned.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
As the subtitle implies, Novelties & Souvenirs collects most of John Crowley's short stories/novellas up to around 2002. This collection is a thirAs the subtitle implies, Novelties & Souvenirs collects most of John Crowley's short stories/novellas up to around 2002. This collection is a third in the line of Crowley collections which had its beginning in Novelty: Four Stories by John Crowley. Does not seem like a lot, but those four stories take up a huge chunk of the collection and will no doubt also be the ones most people remember. Particularly a dozy of a novella called "Great Work of Time". But more on that later.
As can be expected, this collection presents the spectrum of John Crowley's writing talents in its mere 330-odd pages. This is how the man writes, in a beautiful, surreal style about ideas that will vaporize the gray matter within your skull more often not. This is where you leave behind your literary training diapers, kiddies.
So this book contains fifteen stories. These are arranged by order of publication, by arbitrary authorial decree. The theme of the stories range from the supernatural, the theological, the metaphysical, the mythological, the poetical, the literary, and the sociological. Also, there is time travel and aliens from time to time.
The constraints of the short fiction mean that not a lot of time is spent explaining how 'things work'. This is very apparent in the time-travel story "Great Work of Time" and "In Blue". The first is by far the longest story in the book, clocking (ha) at about 100 pages. Its subject matter is such that I have come to different conclusions than others have over the ending. Something that is bound to happen when you use 'imaginary' in its standard and mathematical sense. Also be sure to review the term 'orthogonal', that is kinda a very important concept to the story. "In Blue" centers around something known in-story as an 'act-field'.
Good luck with that.
Not every story is going to require extra work on the part of the reader. "The Nightingale Sings at Night" strikes me as an example of a straightforward, touching story about why the nightingale sings at night and the expulsion of Man and Woman from Eden.
John Crowley's stories are like caramels. Oftentimes, you have to chew on it for a while before you can begin to digest it. Some require more mental processing than others. Still others you will find completely incomprehensible until you research the folk tale it is based on ("An Earthly Mother Sits and Sings", I'm looking at you!). It does not follow trends, nor does it care for your concept of 'plot and resolution.' What it does care about is 'effect', and all the work that Crowley puts into these stories goes towards exactly the effect that he wants. And oft times, I believe these 'effects' are much more important in literature than mere entertainment. ...more
The Many-Colored Land is a time travel/alien invasion/political intrigue/what-the-genre-is-this? novel. It is the first of four books comprising the SThe Many-Colored Land is a time travel/alien invasion/political intrigue/what-the-genre-is-this? novel. It is the first of four books comprising the Saga of the Pliocene Exiles. As the first book, it sets up the setting and some of the conflicts for the following books.
We begin our story six million years ago when some alien refugees and their dying space ship from another galaxy land on a planet (presumably Earth).
We then jump forward six million years to 2110, when the human race is part of a Galactic Milieu that is composed of five other alien races. This is a Golden Age for humanity, one that pisses off humans yearning for a simpler time when they could just speak French and be xenophobic assholes. Luckily for them, a "one way" time portal has been made on Earth that can transport these social outcasts six million years in the past to the Pliocene era, where they can leave behind the galactic civilization behind that they hate so much and pursue their individual dreams...
But once in the past, they find that the human time travelers have been enslaved by a new race of aliens known as the Tanu. They use humans to grow their food, mine their minerals, fight their battles, and be impregnated with their children. But some humans have escaped enslavement and joined forces with some of the Tanu's enemies in an attempt to free humanity from the yoke of Tanu servitude... whether they want it or not.
As you can tell, the story and perhaps the mood of the story jumps around a lot in this novel. It centers around eight of the Exile time travelers, each having their own reason to choose or be forced into taking this trip. Not knowing what awaits them, the first part of the novel deals with them making the decision to be Exiled and saying good bye to the worlds they have known and some of the comforts they will be leaving behind forever. It is intriguing, poignant, and sometimes inspirational in its romanticizing.
But there is no survivalist drama to be had in this series. Unlike in other 'libertarian' time travel stories like Farnham's Freehold our protagonists face off almost immediately with their antagonists. Any world building is done through the travel done by the characters as they are split into two groups. Eventually, the reader gets caught up in a rebellion storyline which concludes the novel and the setup for the series.
I found this to be an intelligent and quick read. Julian May, aside from having a terrific command of the English language, has also done plenty of research to help make her world of Pliocene Europe seem real to the readers. Even the alien cultures are given life by associating them with various Celtic folklore. The character variety is also satisfying. Each character is unique and rounded, with different races and sexual orientations thrown into the mix in a natural manner. Julian May is not necessarily writing a civilly progressive novel, but the way she treats writing different characters from different cultures as individual human beings with individual desires that define them is very refreshing and probably was/is ahead of its time. Each character is not merely the sum of its femininity/masculinity/homosexuality, rather each of those is part of a bigger whole....more