I simply can't understand how today's endless dreary fantasy sagas are lapped up and claimed to be 'epic'. 'Mind numbing' yes, I'd agree with that. 'R...moreI simply can't understand how today's endless dreary fantasy sagas are lapped up and claimed to be 'epic'. 'Mind numbing' yes, I'd agree with that. 'Repetitive crud' - sure, no argument there. But 'epic'? No.
Contemporary space opera is epic. Plots that take place over thousands of light years is epic. Technology which makes magic cower dejectedly sucking at a crumpled cigarette is epic.The Hydrogen Sonata is epic.
The thing with today's British epic space opera is, that unlike most other types of space opera - these people can write. Hamilton - not so much, but a certain trio are simply wonderful. Neal Asher is the Fleming of today's Brit space opera, Alastair Reynolds - the Len Deighton, and Iain Banks - the Le Carre meets Graham Greene and Moorcock meets Aldiss. Well, after his first three installments in the space opera genre, which are based on his early twenties drafts, which are far too Flemingish...
The Hydrogen Sonata represents what is best in his adult approach to the genre. It is a subdued, melancholy affair of epic splendor and a comedy of manners and barbaric primitive subplots reminiscent of Moorcock's Dances at the End of Time, and also, atmospherically, of 'poetry of nothing ever changes' that Graham Greene shows in The Human Factor, le Carre in The Spy Who came in From the Cold, and Kingsley Amis in The Anti-Death League.
In other words: The Hydrogen Sonata is Look to Windward, but even more subdued. Excellent.
P.S. This year, thus far, two darkly talented and still rather young writers suddenly got stricken with cancer - Mr. Banks, and Mr. Piccirilli. Best of luck to both.(less)
Written in the late 1890's, published in 1904. Awesome eerie, weird, unsettling, disconserting atmospherics, with the obligatory philosophical rambgli...moreWritten in the late 1890's, published in 1904. Awesome eerie, weird, unsettling, disconserting atmospherics, with the obligatory philosophical rambglings about true good and evil thrown in. All bow to the master.
Quote (from journal the protagonist reads): And there were other rocks that were like animals, creeping, horrible animals, putting out their tongues, and others were like words that I could not say, and others like dead people lying on the grass. I went on among them, though they frightened me, and my heart was full of wicked songs 7that they put into it; and I wanted to make faces and twist myself about in the way they did, and I went on and on a long way till at last I liked the rocks, and they didn't frighten me any more. I sang the songs I thought of; songs full of words that must not be spoken or written down. Then I made faces like the faces on the rocks, and I twisted myself about like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat on the ground like the dead ones, and I went up to one that was grinning, and put my arms round him and hugged him. And so I went on and on through the rocks till I came to a round mound in the middle of them. It was higher than a mound, it was nearly as high as our house, and it was like a great basin turned upside down, all smooth and round and green, with one stone, like a post, sticking up at the top. I climbed up the sides, but they were so steep I had to stop or I should have rolled all the way down again, and I should have knocked against the stones at the bottom, and perhaps been killed. But I wanted to get up to the very top of the big round mound, so I lay down flat on my face, and took hold of the grass with my hands and drew myself up, bit by bit, till I was at the top. (less)
There are five reasons for which I would have ranked the novel lower than it deserves, were I a member of the despicable tribe...moreKung-Fu Panda With Gore
There are five reasons for which I would have ranked the novel lower than it deserves, were I a member of the despicable tribe of reviewers who allow personal biases - and even the extent to which they approve or not of the character’s behavior – to distort appreciation of mastery and technique. But, since when Zarathustra sprach, he sprach about me – I am immune to those petty un-Vulcan emotions.
Reasons I would have hated the book were I not Homo Superior: 1. I don’t dig plots about wizard kids in wizard schools with wizard bullies, friends, and love interests. Blah. 2. I don’t dig plots about tough but just drill sergeants making a bunch of trainees manlier and brotherlier and toughier and justier. 3. I don’t dig plot twists based on everyone being everyone else’s long lost son/daughter/uncle/lawyer/butler/grandfather 4. I don’t dig books where all important adult male characters are Magnificent Bastards™. 5. I don’t dig plot rhythms which mirror those of a TV serial. I prefer movie-derivative rhythms if they have to be derivative of something.
Well, now that this is out of the way, I can proceed to say that the book itself is a Magnificent Bastard™ child of a number of classics I also grew up on. There’s nothing wrong with that: we live in a postmodern society where original genre ideas last glimmered briefly somewhere around 1970, but have been in decline since 1940. The question is do you combine the pre-existing components masterfully, and do you use quality source material.
Mr. Weeks has done admirably on both counts. The sea battles are wonderfully reminiscent of Wagner’s Kane adventures. The smaller sea incidents, where Gavin whooshes across the sea massacring wights, are a mirror image of Le Guin’s Ged doing the same with a number of dragons. There’s even an evil twin – a real flesh and blood one, not a shadow one – whom Gavin has locked in an absurdly complex system of interconnected prison cells which are a welcome reminder of Philip Jose Farmer’s World of Tiers classic, and the identical shenanigans the immortals there were up to. Oh, Kickaha… ...The hero worship is 100% David Gemmell, and in a good way, like David Gerrold is 100% Heinlein lecturing libertarian worship in a good way.
Big issues are tackled in the book, like slavery and prejudice, and one of the crowd of villains – The Color Prince – is your typical Acid Guru, who brainwashes young idealists like Liv into accepting his psychedelic Marxism that denies petty bourgeoisie morals:
[She blinked, aware of some change in the atmosphere, a freer brush of the wind than a closed tent should allow. The Color Prince stood outlined against the morning light in front of the open tent flap. He held up a finger so she didn’t speak and wake Zymun. He motioned that she was to come with him. A wave of shame went through her. She felt like a whore, caught by her father with a boy she didn’t even love. The feelings crested, and she quickly drafted superviolet. It was like the first puff of ratweed in the morning, except the luxin made her think more clearly. The feelings were the vestiges of small-town religiosity. Besides, the Color Prince believed in freedom, free choices. She was young. She could do whatever she wanted. There was no need to feel shame here.]
…with its Mensonite overtones of having to torture and kill a gazillion of people so that Helter Skelter and true freedom will finally arrive.
The prose style and character descriptions and behavior are very much a mix of Ender’s Game and Baen-style military fiction of the likes of David Drake, David Weber, Eric Flint, Timothy Zahn (especially him, in moments it was totally Blackcollar/Cobra stuff but with magic instead of cybernetic enhancements) and co. In other words, Mr. Weeks has applied the lessons of battle sci-fi and alternative history to contemporary fantasy, and appears to have done so very much to his advantage.
And the titular Kung-Fu panda: Fat Inept Kid with a Heart of Gold – Kip (who is everyone’s son, uncle, and master simultaneously), is charmingly pulled off, and one actually roots for him all the way.
Bravo to Mr. Weeks for a spectacular genre success, and one hopes that this is just the beginning of a long evolution of the author.
Courtney Rene’s third installment in the Shadow Dancer: Shadow’s End
I’m no stranger to reading books out of sequence. Usually this happens to me with...moreCourtney Rene’s third installment in the Shadow Dancer: Shadow’s End
I’m no stranger to reading books out of sequence. Usually this happens to me with science fiction, for some reason. The first Kevin J Anderson book I read was Metal Swarm – the sixth volume of the saga, the first Peter F Hamilton – Judas Unchained – the second volume of the Commonwealth Saga, and the first Mission Earth book by Ron Hubbard was Fortune of Fear – the fifth volume. I’m a pro in this, is what I’m saying…
Anyway. In Shadow’s End the main protagonist through whose POV we interact with the world is Sunny – a teenage girl who must balance school, relations with parents, and a semblance of a normal life, with being The One in the realm of Acadia, where war is brewing and she must lead an army.
As a shadow walker she can not only travel between the different realms (including the Ice Realm where tiny sharp-toothed blue pixies live, and the Fire Realm – a place of geysers and gingers), but she can also carry about a dozen people with her from one realm to another (ours is the Water Realm, BTW), can throw energy blasts, and can kick dudes she doesn’t like in the nuts.
One such dude is Leif, apparently a manipulative and abusive former love interest, also a shadow walker, who is balanced with current interest Lucas, whom she actually takes to prom. On the way Lucas charmingly masters the art of opening an automobile door, and eating burger with fries, and giving Dad manly handshakes of the ‘your daughter is safe with me, sir’ type.
Sunny’s rebel army is being gathered by Gabriel, who is character who always meets anyone with a variation of ‘why are you late?’ Part of the rebels from Leif’s other rebel army (all going against evil king Gideon, BTW) drift over to Sunny’s (Gabriel’s) camp, but Leif refuses to join forces, as he has a somewhat different agenda, and something up his sleeve. Apart from his nuts after Sunny’s kick.
This book, and the vague feeling of the whole series which it gives, is perfect for a teen TV serial, and I hope that sooner or later someone will see the light and start making it. After all, something needs to balance all the vampires, zombies, cops, murderers, and ‘gritty dramas’. Why not Shadow Dancer? (less)
Another installment in the Lew Archer saga. The usual oedipal psycho-drama, but this time without the dry humor or the adrenaline action moments. Just...moreAnother installment in the Lew Archer saga. The usual oedipal psycho-drama, but this time without the dry humor or the adrenaline action moments. Just the sober pessimism. Didn't work for me. Ross Macdonald is no Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, and only by balancing the narrative with quality genre moments does he reach his peak. Like King and Straub also look a hair away from real literature, but this impression collapses if they really do throw out the quality genre smoke and mirror with which they create this impression. Like poor Robert McCammon, who around 1990 decided that he is ready to graduate from almost-hi lit horror to real hi lit and then had to nurse a depression for a decade, before making a comeback with 18th century detective adventures. In summary: three and a half stars.
Fine stylistic moments:
I stepped into a room so huge that its far corners were in darkness. Gershwin spilled in a nostalgic cascade from a massive hi-fi layout against one wall. The blonde woman was heavily made up in an old-fashioned way, as if she had been entertaining ghosts. Her triangular face had the taut immobility that plastic surgery often leaves behind.
An undersong of protest ran through everything she said, and she had reason. Grey dust rimed the furniture; even without it the furniture would have been shabby. I sat on a prolapsed chair and watched her arrange herself on the chesterfield. She had the faintly anachronistic airs of a woman who had been good-looking but had found no place to use her looks except the mirror.At the moment I was the mirror, and she smiled into me intensively.
The broken jigsaw of Los Angeles tilted and drifted backward into brownish smog. When the plane had leveled out at cruising altitude, the stewardess slipped into the empty seat beside me. She held a folded newspaper in the hand away from me. Under the make-up, her color wasn't good.
IT WAS RAINING HARD when we put down at Guadalajara, as if our descent had ruptured a membrane in the lower sky. In spite of the newspaper tent I held over my head, the short walk from the plane to the terminal pasted my clothes to my back.I exchanged some damp dollars for some dry pesos and asked the cashier to get me an English-speaking taxi driver, if possible.
We emerged from between steep black hills onto a lakeshore road. I caught pale glimpses of ruffled water. A herd of burros crossed the headlights and galloped away into darkness. Through the streaming windshield they looked like the grey and shrunken ghosts of horses. (less)
This was the very first book by Little I read, and boy, was it an introduction. The guy breaks all the rules: what topics can and can't be handled; ho...moreThis was the very first book by Little I read, and boy, was it an introduction. The guy breaks all the rules: what topics can and can't be handled; how characters should develop; how the overal story should be structured. It's a violent, confused mess, in which you never know what will happen next and to whom. Hallucigenic, disturbing, raw and real, it was my favorite horror book for 2011. (less)
Perhap because the term 'horror' has been hijacked, or rather monopolized, by a brand of dynamic authors since the 1970's, I hesitate to call Ramsey C...morePerhap because the term 'horror' has been hijacked, or rather monopolized, by a brand of dynamic authors since the 1970's, I hesitate to call Ramsey Campbell a master of horror fiction. Rather, he is a master of unease fiction, of unsettling fiction, of rising confused dread fiction. He's the modern face of Blackwood and Lovecraft at their most psychological, insinuating, and subtly disturbing. Every book my Campbell, this one included, is extremely difficult for me to read casually. I have to be healthy, at the top of my game, and not busy with anything, to be able to handle his stuff without going to pieces after half a dozen chapters. (less)
My fourth favorite Hitler wins WWII books after the versions of Philip Dick, Brian Aldiss, and Len Deighton. While Dick and Aldiss present a dreamy su...moreMy fourth favorite Hitler wins WWII books after the versions of Philip Dick, Brian Aldiss, and Len Deighton. While Dick and Aldiss present a dreamy surreal version, this is as gritty as Deighton's SS/GB, but more epic. I wonder who'll write one next. Or maybe the times will produce rather a USSR wins cold war hit? Dibs on the idea!(less)
Upon finishing the short introductory chapter of The Clockwork Goddess one realizes that there is no turning back.
This short novel (or rather just ‘n...moreUpon finishing the short introductory chapter of The Clockwork Goddess one realizes that there is no turning back.
This short novel (or rather just ‘novel’, if we pretend the post-1970’s bloating epidemic had not swept the publishing world) is not in the bizarro genre as outlined by the pioneers of the field, but is rather an eccentric cousin from the genre defined in the 1990’s by English titan Robert Rankin as ‘Far-fetched fiction’. Only without Mr. Rankin’s self-conscious humor knotting up the prose.
In other words, The Clockwork Goddess is as bonkers as say Rankin’s Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, but as deadpan as Jonathan Howard’s Johannes Cabal books. With a liberal helping of Gary Wolf’s ‘Who Censored Roger Rabbit’.
This is a steampunk adventure whose structure is hopelessly entangled with the world of Carroll’s Alice. The Cheshire Cats are a race of eerily smiling teleporting butlers, the March Hares have taken over all professions to do with punctuality and uniforms, and the toads are perfect toadies.
A war is waged between the two queens (heads of Texas and New York territories respectivelly) for possession of the enormous Kansas coal fields, while Alice is trying to break out from prostitution into the lucrative assassination business. And at night, a mystery figure dubbed by the newspapers ‘Ripper’ is disemboweling her former colleagues.
Sudden bursts of contemporary profanity and sexuality keep the reader from relaxing too deeply, reminding them that this was indeed published by Bizarro Press, not by Disney. Recommended!
P.S. There are also mechanical Texan warspider submarines. (less)
This is a book a reread every few years. It's awesome on all levels: on the level of social realism, before stuff goes bonkers (that's Dick the 'real...moreThis is a book a reread every few years. It's awesome on all levels: on the level of social realism, before stuff goes bonkers (that's Dick the 'real writer' doing his thing); then on the level of stuff going bonkers (would look great with today's TV effects); the plot twist (not quite mind blowing today, but genius in the late 1950's); and his off-hand prediction of how youth subcultures look in the future. To the t. Man's a prophet even when he's just messing around. Philip Dick, together with Brian Aldiss, Michael Moorcock, and Larry Niven, for me are the climax of the sci-fi genre. Since then it's all been mildly amusing soaps(less)
Imagine Robert Howard or Philip Jose Farmer being given a Clancy and a Ludlum thriller and then contracted to write something in a similar vein. And t...moreImagine Robert Howard or Philip Jose Farmer being given a Clancy and a Ludlum thriller and then contracted to write something in a similar vein. And they try to make this 80's cold war epic thriller, throwing in their usual paranormal, interdimensional naive boyish B film adventure filling. If all this makes your mouth water - congratulations! You're like me. If it makes you wince - this book is not for you. And you're far too grown up. You should consider doing something about that.(less)
This little adventure is mind-boggling, as is usually the case with the young Moorcock - snappy insane stuff with instantly likable characters. A cert...moreThis little adventure is mind-boggling, as is usually the case with the young Moorcock - snappy insane stuff with instantly likable characters. A certain secret institute has discovered a number of paralel reality Earths - all of them stagnating at some point in time. Some have stopped around WWI, others earlier than that... But most importantly, there is a sinister crew of beings who are wiping the planets one by one, coming closer and closer to the Earth of the main protagonist. Breathtaking 60's speculative adventure. I've reread this little book a dozen times since I first discovered it. (less)