Below an English translation (and adaptation) of the blurb:
"Louis XIV has just died, leaving France ruined. Under the Regent a wind of freedom that soBelow an English translation (and adaptation) of the blurb:
"Louis XIV has just died, leaving France ruined. Under the Regent a wind of freedom that some will call debauchery blows as occultism and Black Masses are a daily occurrence. Frédéric Lemât is a painter appreciated in the salons. He is also a sympathetic paid assassin whose art consists of ridding young marquises of their cumbersome old husbands to whom they were sold by their families as he uses his knowledge of chemistry to transform his paintings into deadly traps.
But suddenly the hunter becomes game! Who wants to kill Frederic? And above all, who is the mysterious Ikonos, the painter whom no one has ever seen and whose canvases are reputed prophetic? If prophetic, they could shake the foundations of the monarchy. In the eyes of the Louvetiers du Roi ("Wolf Hunters of the King"), a group of fanatics, it is crucial to destroy these impious works ... and their author, and somehow Frederic becomes suspected of being Ikonos! Despite his best judgement, Frederic will find himself involved in a conspiracy that surpasses him, and of which he risks being the first victim."
Got to this book as the recent works of the author are generally more accomplished than earlier books (though the crazy ideas of some of those makes them worth reading), while recently he released a book (L"Oiseau de Tempetes - The Bird of the Storms) which has some commonalities with this one, the Bregannog family, the Bretagne location, the historical period, and I had this one but not yet the new one...
Anyway, after a prologue which will be understood only later (and it could be skipped until the second part of the novel), the book moves to its main action where Frederic of the blurb above, tries to navigate the treacherous waters of Regency Paris where he is a talented but not genius painter from a poor countryside background who treasures his independence over all, so he disdains getting a noble patron and undertakes jobs that can be dangerous and even fatal if known, like doing killer paintings; for example one such put in the studio of the rich old husband in just the right spot will be illuminated by the sun and start a fire at the right time (after a couple of weeks or so of hanging in the same place to allay suspicions as the flammable material is covered with some degradable pigment to start with) when said old husband is asleep, while the wife is out meeting rich friends that make unimpeachable witnesses, or a special saddle cover that will release a poison making the horse mad when the dissolute son-in-law of an older countess who beats his wife and squanders her money, happens to ride near a ravine etc etc Frederic deals also in legal but less savory stuff like realistic death masks, wax people etc which if known may send him to the wheel or the stake despite the new enlightened times under the Regent. And to top it all, he gets a castle as gift/payment, though said castle is presumed to have been set up to be destroyed (by resonance) by three mallet hits in the right spot by the vengeful architect, so that gift may be quite a poisonous one...
When rumors surface of the mysterious paintings that entrance people to the point of madness (see blurb above) Frederic starts investigating despite advice to the contrary, only to become a target of the Louvetiers of the title who start believing Frederic is Ikonax and must be killed to protect the monarchy.. And the real adventure starts when Frederic decides he has no choice but go undercover to meet the actual Ikonax...
Typical Brussolo - atmosphere, twists, over-the-top but larger than life characters that take over and fascinate (with Frederic as fairly sympathetic pov interacting with them as despite his paid killer jobs he has his honor code so refuses to kill poor peasants even to save his life, as his targets are only the rich and/or the aristocrats) , mysteries, action, allusions to other works and ironical touches (there appear lifelike heads of Danton and Robespierre after being guillotined - obviously nobody knows who they are or how their heads were cut that way as the action is ~1720) and while there is some predictability after a while (that castle and the three mallet hits must come into effect after all!), I greatly enjoyed this one and the ending is pitch perfect
"Prima călătorie ameţitoare din viaţa mea a fost aceea prin mama. Cînd m-a văzut în braţele mătuşii, cleioasă şi cu ţeasta ascuţită, a ţipat: „Da’ e "Prima călătorie ameţitoare din viaţa mea a fost aceea prin mama. Cînd m-a văzut în braţele mătuşii, cleioasă şi cu ţeasta ascuţită, a ţipat: „Da’ e foc de urîtă!“. Mătuşa a potolit-o, şi-a pus mîinile pe capul meu şi mi l-a modelat cu atenţie. A nimerit-o. E meritul ei că mai tîrziu toţi bărbaţii pe care i-am cunoscut au vrut numaidecît să se însoare cu mine. Poate că unele lucruri ar fi fost mai puţin complicate dacă aş fi avut capul ca un ou. Aş fi acum o fată bătrînă, pe deplin împăcată. Sau neîmpăcată, dar asta n-aş recunoaşte-o nicicum."
From the beginning paragraph (above) to the blow your mind twists at the end - one (the second) maybe predictable to some extent, but the other (the first) just unbelievable and actually so foreshadowed in small details before - the book just sparkles.
The novel is a first person narration by the title character Zaira, born in 1928 and only child of a Romanian well to do ("small boyar") farmer's daughter (who lives and parties in the capital Bucharest with her many lovers) and an army officer (who is away all the time in army camps), raised on the family estate by her Catalan grandmother (the story of how she was bought at 15 by Zaira's grandfather on a business trip to Spain is one of the early highlights of the novel), her physician aunt (whose lawyer husband deserted her on the birth of their son Zizi some 20 years before Zaira's birth) and her cousin Zizi who is now the "man" of the farm after his grandfather dies - though in all important matters the grandmother "bunica" decides
Given a Persian name and growing wild with her cousin who took her with him in his daily farm business from an early age, Zaira suffers an accident when the horse she and Zizi were riding gets injured and in the process kills elder Dumitru, the crier of the estate and earns the permanent hate of his son Dumitru the younger for her family; while confined to bed like Zizi (injured too), her cousin starts making wooden characters and from there it she develops her lifelong love of marionettes and her skills that will later make her one of the most famous practitioner of such in Romania; also "the hands" will become the most important body part for her and she will judge all her men by their hands...
Anyway, the war comes, later communism, the estate is taken away and Dumitru the younger returns as the big shot communist avenger...
Later Zaira marries her childhood friend Paul (who nevertheless earlier spit on her and her family at the ritual humiliation the communists led by Dumitru forced and not only as some did it for pleasure, the estate villagers to offer Zaira's family when the communists came to take the land and evict them) but she does not like his hands and she soon leaves him for a colleague at the marionette theater, Traian who will be the love of her life but who unfortunately is also alcoholic and Zaira (justifiably) has bad memories of such...
And so it goes...
Divided into 4 parts:
"The wild (giddy, dizzy) ride begins" "Cheating men" "Escape with the cat" "An American life"
the novel is just astounding and after the twists at the end definitely requires a second reading to see how masterfully the author inserted the clues
Definitely a top 25 novel of the year and depending on how it will stay in my memory, it could be even #1...more
This is the novel of my parents generation and of the fate I thought would await me unless I could escape communist Romania - of course the regime felThis is the novel of my parents generation and of the fate I thought would await me unless I could escape communist Romania - of course the regime fell when I was 21 and I could get away and come here to the US - with vignettes from the past both pre-war and during the communist terror of the late 40's and early 50's, the main action takes place from ~1970-1980 and follows Letitia Branea's life and her marriage with Petre Arcan and her affair with Sorin Olaru, which is the mainstay of the book.
All the little details of the communist era "middle class" life are in there. Funny, sad and depressing by turns, this novel made me laugh and cry by turns and remember how utterly lucky I have been that I could escape...
Edit later: as per the comment below I add more detail:
The book is both fun and sad - at least the main part (not the historical part that takes place in the 1938-1950's) is not particularly sensational - just the daily lives of people who were reasonably privileged at least as Romania of the time went (eg had jobs in Bucharest at the main press house "Casa Scanteii" or in academia, had access to some older western magazines like an 8 month old Paris Match, had the occasional import item, the occasional trip outside) but still had to scramble for a place on the apartment list, for a place on the car/furniture list, had to suck up to the uneducated politrucs for various crumbs, etc while their lives were very limited in many other ways; the book is clearly based on the author's experiences and it shows.
The ending is of The Gone with Wind type, "tomorrow is another day' and I dearly hope Mrs. Adamesteanu will write another book telling Letitia's life in the really tough 80's decade after the 70's here and the late 50's and 60's in Drumul Egal.
There are glimpses at the post-89 Romania here and there but maddeningly (or cunningly) no hint about happens to Letitia's relationships - we just see her in 1990 talking with a colleague while protesting the Iliescu government in Piata Universitatii...
The book will be published in France in 2012 and who knows we may see an English translation too after the wonderful Wasted morning this year; fragments appeared in English in an anthology ...more
Great book of atmosphere and suspense; for Kate Morton "veterans", the ingredients that made her first two book successful are here too, but this bookGreat book of atmosphere and suspense; for Kate Morton "veterans", the ingredients that made her first two book successful are here too, but this book has an added edge in atmosphere and interpersonal-relationships as well as a twist or two that will surprise you. Another novel at the edge between an A+ and an A++, will see how it stays in my memory. Will add the full FBC review ~Nov 9 its US publication date...more
This is a big blockbuster novel written in the newspaper/magazine style favored by such - in sff Harry Turtledove's tomes are similar in style - so yoThis is a big blockbuster novel written in the newspaper/magazine style favored by such - in sff Harry Turtledove's tomes are similar in style - so you read it for its story/subject rather than for great characters, emotional or literary writing.
the author does well with intrigue and great society happenings and reasonably well with the "little people" part, he is mostly abysmal in war scenes - basically Wikipedia or an military encyclopedia does them better - but good with historical portraits, with Wilson, Lenin, Churchill top of the list.
Lots of characters whose life intertwine in various ways - the most interesting by far were the German intelligence officer Walter von Ulrich and the strong willed maid, later women rights activist and politician Ethel Williams, though I had a soft spot for the roguish Lev Peshkov and his picaresque doings and for the earnest Gus Dewar - ultra-ridiculous name btw, but the character raises beyond it -
Others were more stereotypical and while they had their chance to shine, they did not really. In typical blockbuster fashion no character of note dies despite shells exploding in their face, policemen shooting at them and other high peril stuff, so the novel has a slight comic book aspect in the action scenes with no real suspense.
all in all I liked it better than i expected and i am definitely in for the next installment...more
INTRODUCTION: Iain M. Banks' early Culture books, "Use of Weapons", "Consider Phlebas" and "The Player of Games" as well as the standalone "Against a INTRODUCTION: Iain M. Banks' early Culture books, "Use of Weapons", "Consider Phlebas" and "The Player of Games" as well as the standalone "Against a Dark Background" are among my top sff books of all time, with "Use of Weapons" (which I hope to review by year-end) still at #1 after 18 years since my first read and many re-reads in the meantime.
Last year's Transition was my number 1 sff novel of the year and this year Surface Detail will be most likely #1 sff of the year. Actually as structure goes, Transition was a pretty complex novel that required at least one reread for full appreciation, while Surface Detail is straightforward, though of course rereading it brings a fuller appreciation.
Surface Detail is also a Culture novel, the best since the early three and the first in which the global vision of the Culture as part of a well developed galactic community that started in Excession and Look to Windward, while being explicitly articulated in Matter, pays off big time.
I have seen before this attempt to proceed from relatively local adventure novels like the first three Culture books, to having a fully developed coherent "big picture" framework as in Matter and Surface Detail and it is not easy, but when it succeeds, it does big-time.
Because beyond being a very entertaining novel, Surface Detail is much more, an articulated vision of an Universe that while purely materialistic as far as its inhabitants know, allows the major goodies associated with traditional religion: souls, afterlife, though of course logically it has some of its drawbacks like Hell(s). All of course was implied from the first Culture novel (Consider Phlebas), but here and in Matter the edifice hinted before is explicitly built.
FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: Surface Detail stands at about 630 pages divided into twenty nine chapters, the usual IM Banks "what happened later with the characters" coda and a tongue-in-cheek epilogue that was hinted already in chapter two; I considered the possibility slightly far-fetched at the time, though there was a general "you know, it actually could be" feeling there. About what, well read the book to find out...
Surface Detail has several threads with all kinds of POV's: humans in the extended Culture sense like Ledejde - the "ingenue" decided on justice at all costs, even if it's inconvenient for the great and the good like the mighty Culture itself, Vateuil, "the ultimate warrior", Veppers, "the businessman from hell" - not quite literally, but close and Yime, "the Culture agent", non-human quadrepds "Pavuleans" Prin and Chay who take a literal journey in (the Pavulean) Hell and the "elfin" Legislator-Admiral Bettlescroy-Bisspe-Blispin III and of course the Culture Ships/Minds of which the The Abominator-class picket ship Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints and its bad boy avatar Demeisen take over the novel alongside Veppers.
Surface Detail is readable perfectly well on its own though a familiarity with the rest of the Culture novels only adds to its enjoyment.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The main idea of Surface Detail can be summarized simply: the laws of the Universe allow mind-states aka "materialistic souls" and any sufficiently advanced civilization can build a virtual afterlife since physical immortality in the Real is still undesirable due to issues like finiteness of space and resources. Some of course build Heavens, but some build Hells too...
Of course many of the most advanced (stage 7 and 8) civilizations object to the existence of Hells and the Culture is the most powerful of such, but unfortunately some events recounted in "Look to Windward" made it recuse itself from the debate for a while now. When the Pro-Hell and Anti-Hell forces decide to fight a virtual war - "The War in Heaven for the fate of the Hells" - to decide the issue for ever, the Culture (officially) stands on the sideline which gives an unexpected edge to the Pro-Hell side. And of course like all virtual contests, the result needs to be accepted by both parties since after all there is the Real where the war may otherwise spill with potentially catastrophic consequences.
While not directly involved with the war - except for Vateuil whose career as AntiHell grunt-to-marshal is recounted in his thread - all the characters above will nonetheless play an important role in its context and resolution.
I will let the three characters that dominate the novel speak for themselves:
“All those years, all those times I tried to run away, the one thing nobody ever asked me was where I might be running to.” She smiled a small, thin smile at the avatar, who looked surprised now. “If they had asked,” Lededje told her, “I might even have told them: I was running away to the Culture, because I’d heard they’d escaped the tyranny of money and individual power, and that all people were equal here, men and women alike, with no riches or poverty to put one person above or beneath another.” “But now you’re here?” Sensia offered, sounding sad. “But now I’m here I find Joiler Veppers is still deferred to because he is a rich and powerful man.”
Veppers (full quote here):
There was nothing worse, Veppers thought, than a loser who’d made it. It was just part of the way things worked – part of the complexity of life, he supposed – that sometimes somebody who absolutely deserved nothing more than to be one of the down-trodden, the oppressed, the dregs of society, lucked out into a position of wealth, power and admiration. ..... Still, at least individual losers were quite obviously statistical freaks. You could allow for that, you could tolerate that, albeit with gritted teeth. What he would not have believed was that you could find an entire society – an entire civilization– of losers who’d made it. And the Culture was exactly that.
“What, this?” he said, looking down at the ash-dark burn on his skin as Lededje stared at it, openly aghast. “Don’t worry; I don’t feel a thing.” He laughed. “The idiot inside here does though.” He tapped the side of his head, smiled again. “Poor fool won some sort of competition to replace a ship’s avatar for a hundred days or a year or something similar. No control over either body or ship whatsoever, obviously, but the full experience in other respects – sensations, for example. I’m told he practically came in his pants when he learned an up-to-date warship had volunteered to accept his offer of body host.” The smile became broader, more of a grin. “Obviously not the most zealous student of ship psychology, then. So,” Demeisen said, holding up his hand with the splinted finger and studying it, “I torment the poor fool.”
This is not say that the rest of the cast, especially Vateuil, Yime, Prin and Chay do not have important complementary roles but for me those three elevated the novel beyond all recent Culture novels which lacked precisely that: powerful, larger than life characters and here we have Veppers and Demeisen, while Ledejde is the most sympathetic Banksian character in a while for her quiet determination.
I talked about world building and sense of wonder in the introduction, while the coming together of the various threads is handled very well but I would like to add that there are so many great touches that I could fill two pages talking about them and those give Surface Detail a very rich texture. The novel has a lot of humor and I found myself laughing out loud at quite a few scenes, with the quotes above just a small sample.
If there is one negative is that the whole is somewhat less than the sum of the parts in the sense that each thread is very engrossing and with lots of specific goodies - the Pavulean Hell, the virtual War, the Unfallen Bulbitian and the Tsungarial Disk have each their goodies so to speak, in addition to the awesome stuff in the threads following Veppers, Ledejde and Falling Outside The Normal Moral Constraints/Demeisen - but the main story is quite straightforward. So in a sense you could look at Surface Detail as a core-story with beautiful ornate wrappings which one enjoys more in themselves than as part of a larger tapestry.
But that does not matter since Surface Detail (A++) is as good as speculative fiction on a large scale and about "big issues" gets from all points of view: great writing, powerful characters, coherent and detailed world building and just sheer sense of wonder and inventiveness. If you want to experience the best that sf has to offer these days and understand why written sf is still such a vital part of the "landscape of imagination", Surface Detail is the one 2010 novel for you. And the book has the added bonus that you can start exploring IM Banks' wonderful Culture universe just by reading it, even if you have not read previous Culture novels. ...more
Described as "Jules Verne on drugs" with some justification, the book takes place in the fictional city of New Venice 450 miles from the N. Pole - "puDescribed as "Jules Verne on drugs" with some justification, the book takes place in the fictional city of New Venice 450 miles from the N. Pole - "putting ice back in Ven*ice* " is one of the many wonderful plays on language in the book; literate, funny, a sort of "icepunk" alt-history with sex and drugs.
Will add the full review tbd soon, but for now I would say that this is the best sf I've read in 2010 (full FBC rv below)
INTRODUCTION: "1908: New Venice--"the pearl of the Arctic"--a place of ice palaces and pneumatic tubes, of beautifully ornate carriage-sleds and elegant victorian garb, of long nights and vistas of ice. But as the city prepares for spring, it feels more like qaartsiluni, "the time when something is about to explode in the dark." Local "poletics" are wracked by tensions with the Eskimos circling the city, with suffragette riots led by an underground music star, with drug round-ups by the secret police force known as the Gentlemen of the Night. An ominous black airship hovers over the city, and the Gentlemen are hunting for the author of a radical pamphlet calling for revolt. Their lead suspect is Brentford Orsini, one of the city's most prominent figures. But as the Gentlemen of the Night tighten the net around him, Orsini receives a mysterious message from a long-lost love that compels him to act."
Despite our monthly spotlights in which we try to showcase the most interesting sff, I would have missed "Aurorarama", if not for its inclusion in Jeff Vandermeer' extended list about which I have talked recently. After the exciting blurb above and the extended excerpt available from Amazon, this was a buy/read on the spot and it turned out to be even better than I expected and it's possibly the best sf I've read so far in 2010, though it should appeal to both fantasy and literary readers for its wealth of material and beautiful style.
FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Aurorarama" stands at about 415 pages and is divided into three parts and 30 chapters, all interestingly named which adds value to the novel. There is a prologue which bears rereading later once you understand its meaning and an epilogue that nicely concludes the tale, though the way is clear for more books in this superb milieu imagined by the author.
Each chapter starts with appropriate quotes related to the Arctic and the novels has several pictures that are both beautiful and illustrate well scenes from the novel in true Vernian spirit. Aurorarama is modern speculative fiction at its best; an "ice punk" adventure in an alt-history setting. While a standalone that concludes perfectly its threads, Aurorarama is intended to kick-start a series based on New Venice and based on the quality of this one, any new volume will be a top anticipated book of mine.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Aurorarama" alternates by chapters POV's from its two main heroes. "Duke" Brentford Orsini is a scion of New Venice "articocracy" with a leading position in the Administration of the City as the Gardner-General of the Greenhouses & Glass Gardens. New Venice is under the real control of the Council of Seven established by the founding fathers, the Seven "Sleepers" whose bodies are supposedly cryogenically preserved to return in case of dire need. And the Council is moving toward autocracy and ignoring the Utopian roots of New Venice; there are even rumors that the Council intends to crack hard on the Inuit and get into the export drug trade.
"Whereas the Council was supposed to keep intact the utopian ideals of the Seven Sleepers who had founded the city, it was now more than ever involved in all matters of business with the “Friends” who funded it, and these Friends had themselves increasingly turned from philanthropists into shareholders who wanted a return on their investments. The Administration, which had originally been devoted to the practicalities of running a city at a latitude that was anything but reasonable, had meanwhile—and Brentford was one of the main actors in this conversion—evolved toward a faithfulness to the first principles that was at times somewhat fanatical. "
"Earl" Gabriel (Lancelot) dAllier (de St-Antoine) is also a member of the articocracy and friend of Brentford since college, but in contrast to the still rich and important Orsinis, he inherited mostly debts from his father. Needing a paycheck, he moonlights as literature professor at the local Doges College with an interest in recreational drugs, weird music and younger girls like some of his students whom he prefers to "bed than corrupt" in his own memorable words from later in the book....
Alas, the Council's new puritanical direction - for a long time drugs were regarded as vital in New Venice both as survival tools and in the Transpherence process the articocracy used to preserve memories between generations, while casual sex was encouraged in places like the (in)famous Ingersarvik swapping den based on Eskimo customs - means that Gabriel is vulnerable to blackmail from the secret police...
All because a "seditious" pamphlet that the Council says it calls for revolution and its overturn - "A Blast on the Barren Land" has just been published and pretty much everyone in the know believes Brentford wrote it, while Gabriel contributed too. Since Brentford is too important and well connected - he is even respected by Captain-General Frank Mason, the New Venice 2000 strong army commander, not to speak of his ties with the powerful Scavenger guild, the "middle class" shopkeepers, the bohemian artists and the native Inuits - the Council cannot charge him without hard proof, so the Gentlemen of the Night in the person of obnoxious Sealtiel Wynne and sidekicks are dispatched to put pressure on Gabriel to confess and rat on Brentford.
To top it all, a mysterious black airship has been hovering above New Venice for a while, a sled with an elderly dead woman holding a mirror that spells "Lancelot" has just been found, Brentford is busy planning his upcoming wedding with singer/performer Sybil Springfield while receiving a prophetic dream from former (presumed dead) flame Sandy Lake for a North Pole rendezvous on March 1st that may portend great changes and Gabriel is busy falling for troubled student Phoebe and later magician assistant Stella...
So, why would you read Aurorarama? For me the answer started with the blurb - very interesting setting and great story potential - and continued with the excerpt since I really liked the author style: literate, full of language plays as well as of literary allusions and showing the author's command of the English language and both of Arctic expeditions and their novelistic renderings. But also clear and a page turner once you get in the flow of the action, so Aurorarama was relatively a fast read, though I felt compelled to read it again twice both to fully appreciate its finer points and because I wanted to spend more time in its wonderful milieu.
What made it so memorable though were the characters of Brentford and Gabriel as well as the many supporting ones that come out vividly and enrich the novel. The idealistic Brentford and the jaded, but still somewhat naive Gabriel come alive from the first chapters and the reader cannot help but care for them even when things seem to be at their bleakest.
The atmosphere of the novel is exquisite - and I use "atmosphere" rather than "world building" since Aurorarama is definitely not hard sf, so things are hinted and there are mentions of various aspects that make New Venice and more generally year-round life on the N. 80th parallel possible, but nothing is spelled out in say Baxterian detail. So in that sense Aurorarama is a clear Vernian successor, rather than a Wellsian one.
There is intrigue, action, ice travels, prophetic dreams, occasionally somewhat explicit sex and drugs and just pure fun - there is a scene in which Gabriel is interrogated under supposedly infallible hypnosis that epitomizes the pure fun part of the novel and made me laugh out loud even of third read. Here is Gabriel mocking the secret policeman and his henchmen who supposedly have him under hypnotic control:
“Mr. d’Allier, there is one thing we would like to know above all others. Would you please tell us what or whom A Blast on the Barren Land evokes for you?”
A flurry of images gushed forth in his brain. Whatever they were, they would have to do.
“Flap,” said Gabriel, after a pause, not without surprise.
“Who is Flap, Mr. d’Allier?”
“Flap is … a friend.”
“Where did you meet him?”
“Her. I met her in the Greenhouse in Grönland Gardens. I took a path that I thought would take me out of the hothouse but did not. It kept on, it seemed forever. At some point, I fell asleep under a tree. And after a while, I woke up, feeling a fresh sensation below the waist, and Flap was over me.”
“Over you?” said Wynne, in a faltering voice.
“Over me. Yes. I opened my eyes, and I saw her. She was rather cute but a bit on the chubby side, with little dragonfly wings on her back. I asked her who she was and what she thought she was doing. ‘I’m Flap the Fat Fairy,’ she said, ‘and human **** is like honey to me.’ Then she spat something on my belly and flew away. I reached to see what she had spat and it was a little heart-shaped ice crystal she had kept in her mouth all the time. It immediately attracted two little elves or fairies on my belly, who were commenting on my withering ‘snowdrop’"
"Aurorarama" (A++ and possibly best sf of 2010 for me) is fun, compelling and full of gems; the biggest positive surprise for me in sf for 2010 though as noted above, the novel should appeal to both fantasy and literary fans for its many aspects and superb style....more
Stunning book and the one that *should win* the Booker - of the 5 I've read/tried, i would say that only Long Song is somewhat comparable for its weigStunning book and the one that *should win* the Booker - of the 5 I've read/tried, i would say that only Long Song is somewhat comparable for its weighty subject, though this one has a weighty subject too. Strange Room is nice but lighter, C is mediocre at best, Parrot and Olivier boring.
This one though blows one away and as others mentioned i was ready to dismiss it - 5 year old narrator isolated in a room since birth???
Will have a full review soon.
FBC Review below:
INTRODUCTION: "Room" came to my attention when it was first longlisted and then later shortlisted for the prestigious 2010 Man Booker award. It seemed to be one of the most controversial novels on the list and looking at its blurb, it is easy to imagine why.
More..."It's Jack's birthday, and he's excited about turning five. Jack lives with his Ma in Room, which has a locked door and a skylight, and measures 11 feet by 11 feet. He loves watching TV, and the cartoon characters he calls friends, but he knows that nothing he sees on screen is truly real - only him, Ma and the things in Room."
"Room" is a book that needs to be approached without knowing too much about it since the first two parts: "Presents" and "Unlying" have different flavors if you let Jack's voice to guide you in exploring what's what or if you already know.
FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Room" stands at about 350 pages and is divided into five parts each named by one word that is actually quite important in what follows. Jack narrates throughout and his voice never falters and remains credible to the end.
Contemporary fiction at its best and a truly emotional novel; maybe you need to have a child to truly appreciate it, but I would still highly recommend it to everyone.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Today I'm five. I was four last night going to sleep in Wardrobe, but when I wake up in Bed in the dark I'm changed to five, abracadabra. Before that I was three, then two, then one, then zero. "Was I minus numbers?""
So Jack wonders in the superb first paragraph of Room that decided me to read the novel. I was skeptical that the author will maintain the credibility of a five year old boy's voice throughout several hundred pages, but she did...
The five year old does not know anything else since he was born and has lived all his life there - he has a TV with 3 channels and "bunny years" that can make them clearer or fuzzier, but his viewing schedule is regulated by Ma so "his brain does not turn to mush".
Jack and Ma also have 10 books - five picture ones, though the latest one has too many "old words" and five with pictures only on the cover - the titles are really funny, Twilight and Da Vinci included - and some other stuff like five colored crayons so he has quite an interesting perspective on the world. Jack also has a tight schedule every day and its exploration forms a big part of the novel in the beginning, so we can call "Presents" and "Unlying", "normality in strangeness".
After the short transitory third part which is the weakest one of the novel since the happenings there stretch a little bit the suspension of disbelief, especially considering the whole carefulness in the setup of the "room", the book switches focus but Jack remains the same wide-eyed five year old trying to cope with what he sees now as "weirdness". So while the enjoyment of the first half of the novel was derived from "normality in strangeness", the second part deals with "strangeness in normality" and keeps the tale fresh and interesting.
Room (A++) is an impressive achievement and the one novel that imho - based on finishing three and reading enough from two more of the six shortlisted novels - deserves to win the Booker....more
Another excellent novel from the author after the 3 Tyrant books which i enjoyed all; a first person narration from Arimnestos of Plataea as told to hAnother excellent novel from the author after the 3 Tyrant books which i enjoyed all; a first person narration from Arimnestos of Plataea as told to his young daughter and companions, in the hero's old age when he seems to be a noble of some sort in Thrace
It covers his young years, training under an old soldier and killer of men himself and later his begging soldiering in the week of 3 battles when the Athenians and the Plateans face 3 enemy armies and defeat all
However young Arimnestos is wounded and cowardly betrayed and sold into slavery to Ephesus where by chance he is taken by rich merchant and poet Hyponnax as companion to his son Archilagos
Here he grows to manhood in a sort of luxury slavery but the conflict with Persia is looming on the horizon...
Superb world building and a very convincing narrator's voice this is as good as anything I've read by the author. For some reason though the book stops just short of blowing me away as other historical fiction did and I cannot figure why - maybe the author' style is a bit dry, maybe there is a bit too much soap in the relationships in Hyponnax household which will reverberate to the future, but I think the novel is missing something to make it a top-top one of mine.
I am in for the duration of the series of course and I really liked it and highly recommend it
The sequel to Roma and one my top expected non-sff novels of 2010 was even better than i expected. I liked Roma (A+) but its vignette like nature needThe sequel to Roma and one my top expected non-sff novels of 2010 was even better than i expected. I liked Roma (A+) but its vignette like nature needed to cover 1000 years of history made it read like a collection of related stories than a novel.
Empire focuses on a much shorter period - about 125 years and covers four main characters, the male line of the ancient Pinarius family and ends on a note promising more
The heart of the novel and the best parts are the middle two, with the 3rd one Lucius: the Seeker covering the Flavian dynasty and the start of the Antonines (69-100) just awesome in both cast of characters and action. The portrait of Domitian as a precursor of Stalin is chilling, but Lucius the main hero steals the show and is one of the best characters in all fiction I've read this year.
His father Titus the augur who was sort of friend to both Claudius - whom he ultimately betrays - and Nero to whom he stays loyal to the bitter end - is the second best character of the book and reminded me a bit of the Roman of Mika Waltari, though in a more serious rather than picaresque mode.
The first and last parts are dominated more by the Emperors - Augustus and Hadrian and by historical characters - young Claudius and Antinous and Appolodorus respectively and the Pinarii here - Lucius the augur and Marcus the sculptor - play important roles but they are less well developed and more a vehicle to carry the story of Rome from its Imperial beginnings to its Imperial height that is presaged so well and about i hope we will see another Pinarii novel.
Extraordinary detail and world building and this novel is a clear work of love for the author and the single best novel he has written; A++ and a top novel of mine for 2010...more
I finished The Technician by Neal Asher and it was a blast to the end; while I still like the Cormac arch the best for its complexity, this standaloneI finished The Technician by Neal Asher and it was a blast to the end; while I still like the Cormac arch the best for its complexity, this standalone - sort of at least - Polity novel that takes place mostly on Masada some 20 years after Line of polity and deals with Gabbleducks, the Atheter and Hooders, most notably the Albino sculpture making out of bones of his meals one nicknamed The Technician is one of the best that Neal Asher wrote.
Separatists, fanatics, super drones - most notably the iron Scorpion Amistad and the Black AI Penny Royal, dracomans, one sort of madman with a deeply buried secret, Jain tech, powerful alien war machines on a mission that puts the Polity in their way, high tech and a look at both insanity and fanaticism that occasionally is quite chilling
High tech adventure in a space opera context of the highest level and a triumphant return (for me at least whom I was so-so on Orbus) to the Polity for Neal Asher. I am looking forward to the Owner novel announced for 2011, but this one makes me want more Polity too ...more
will continue once my thought are clearer, but this is a big "wow" novel
The Scarab Path is quite a different novel than the first four in many ways. Iwill continue once my thought are clearer, but this is a big "wow" novel
The Scarab Path is quite a different novel than the first four in many ways. It is very personal and has a lot of magic, though there are still lots of battles, intrigue, assassination attempts and even a crocodile hunt on the Nile - I mean a "land fish" hunt on the Jamail...
But first and foremost this is Che's novel and to a lesser extent Thalric's one. When "Salute the Dark" ends and despite her personal triumph at Myna and the truce that ended the war, she was devastated by loss and later she not only became literally "haunted" by what she perceived to be Acaheos ghost, but she lost her Aptness too.
And to top it all, Tynissa blaming herself for the death of Che's lover and a bit unhinged by her experiences in Capitas has left for places unknown and even Sten's far reaching agent network cannot find her trace. While Sten is used to deal with the Inapt in his household - he raised his ward Tynissa alongside Che after all and now he has Arianna as his young lover - for Che the experience of being one is new and frightening, so she mourns and broods...
Luckily politics intervene - upcoming new elections for the Assembly - and one of Sten's rivals capitalizing on the huge interest in all things foreign and exotic after the war, has published a very popular atlas, so Sten and his allies have to do something to top it; and what better than a real expedition to a strange place, the ancient and seemingly backward city of Khanaphes, far to the east of Solarno and the Exalsee. And Sten has the perfect ambassador/guide to take several unworldly academics all the way there.
Thalric should be on top of the world; facing crucifixion - the Wasp analog - for treason in the main public square of Capitas, he found himself overnight the "leading man" of the Empire, Regent and husband of the young Empress Seda; of course almost all is a sham since Seda and her advisers hold the power tightly - the husband part is real though, but due to Seda's new habits after her dramatic accession to the throne, a night with her is almost as bad as the crucifixion, so Thalric finds that the Empire needs him in the farthest corners he can write himself a mission to...
Unfortunately someone with clout is after Thalric's life - he has way too many enemies, not to count the Empress' ones to be an easy guess whom - so when word comes of the Collegium's new interest in Khanaphes, Thalric believes that an ambassadorship there, far away from the Empire across the Nem and its dangerous Scorpions will be a temporary safe haven....more
The House on Durrow Street is the sequel to Magicians and Mrs Quent and 2nd volume in the trilogy; despite its 700 page length, i was a bit upset tha The House on Durrow Street is the sequel to Magicians and Mrs Quent and 2nd volume in the trilogy; despite its 700 page length, i was a bit upset that the novel ended - though the ending was fitting - and i really, really want the announced trilogy ending Master of Heathcrest ?? now
While the first installment had elements of both Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre, this one is very original, moving away completely from the classics and into pure fantasy with magic, illusions and "witchcraft" and quite a lot of it.
There are three threads as before - one follows Ivy who now is restoring the House on Durrow Street to live there with her husband and sisters, and the house itself is a powerful magical locus with lots of stuff inside; accepted now at the highest levels of society - though few know her powers and even fewer her mysterious background of which one issue is still a mystery with possibly large implications - Ivy discovers that life at that level can be both interesting and frustrating, while friends and foes are not so easy to discern
Than we follow Mr. Rafferdy who is now in a funk for obvious reasons, though he tries to keep himself busy attending the Assembly for his ailing Lord father; later he gets himself sucked into magic again and of course he gets back into Ivy's orbit despite his trying to avoid her - after all the pair of them: magician and witch is almost unstoppable by the bad guys.
The third thread follows Garytt and Dercy and to my surprise it took lots of pages was quite developed to a pretty surprising end.
Dark times are announced for Altania and maybe the world and while Ivy and Rafferdy may save the day one more time here, the next time the enemy may be just too powerful. Well, we will see that of course.
The House on Durrow Street is one of those novels that stay with you for a long time and I plan to read it several times more. Again, I just hated that it ended and there are few books i felt that strongly about ...more
the 3rd Rhenn novel from the Imager series - the next Imager novel will go quite a while back in time with new characters
I loved the first two which fthe 3rd Rhenn novel from the Imager series - the next Imager novel will go quite a while back in time with new characters
I loved the first two which form a duology with a definite ending but kind of needing to be read together; this one starting some 5 years later is more of a standalone, though it uses some of the back story. The ending again is definite like the one from book 2, but there is scope for more of course, though I would expect another gap of 5-10 years at least in the story and since the author is now working on the earlier set trilogy, i guess we will have to wait a while for more Rhenn...
More Ferran mischief, though this time it really gets serious and it's up to Rhenn to save the day as usual though of course the far-sight flashes from his wife help too...
I tend to think that this series is LE Modesitt's best at least as fantasy goes and Imager 3 has all the things from the previous volumes - intrigue, assassinations, complex plots, great characters in Rhenn and Seliora first and foremost, but also Iryel and some of the other Imagers
Again it's a book i could talk a lot about - i will have a full review next week, or the week of its publication (July 20) - but I would not want to spoil too much.
For people who like 'complete" series, Imager so far has a pretty complete duology (Imager, Imager's Challenge) and a reasonably standalone Imager's Intrigue so I strongly recommend them... ...more
This is the start of a big-time epic fantasy with superb world building and high magic - which hopefully will put to rest the originality issues from This is the start of a big-time epic fantasy with superb world building and high magic - which hopefully will put to rest the originality issues from Night Angel - while keeping the same twists/turns page turning narrative.
The first 2/3 was just awesome and i thought the novel could compete with my top 2 fantasies of the year, but the last third was a little more predictable, though the ending recovered the great intensity of the first part. All in all an A++ from me and a top 5 fantasy I would say, while the series has the potential to become one for the ages.
If you liked Night Angel, you will like this one, while for people who were less impressed with Night Angel, Black Prism answers things like originality, depth of world-building at least as magic goes, while keeping what I loved from Night Angel - inventiveness, narrative energy, surprises...
In a way the main failing of The Black Prism is that it ends - despite 600 pages and a reasonable ending point, i still wanted it to go another 600 at least ...more
As I mentioned in a recent review, sometimes books come out of nowhere, hijack my reading schedule andI will just copy my FBC Review here:
As I mentioned in a recent review, sometimes books come out of nowhere, hijack my reading schedule and it takes a while until I can un-weave the magical spell they had exerted on me and leave their universe, usually needing at least one complete reread as well as an immediate review.
The novelistic debut of the author, The Invisible Bridge attracted my attention by its fascinating cover in a Borders bookstore several days ago and the blurb below made me open it; I got hooked on the first page which you can read in the extract linked above and I stayed way, way too late to finish the novel since I really needed to find out what happens with the main characters, while rereading it at leisure during the next few days.
"Paris, 1937. Andras Lévi, a Hungarian Jewish architecture student, arrives from Budapest with a scholarship, a single suitcase, and a mysterious letter he has promised to deliver to C. Morgenstern on the rue de Sévigné. As he becomes involved with the letter's recipient, his elder brother takes up medical studies in Modena, their younger brother leaves school for the stage - and Europe's unfolding tragedy sends each of their lives into terrifying uncertainty. From the Hungarian village of Konyár to the grand opera houses of Budapest and Paris, from the lonely chill of Andras's garret to the enduring passion he discovers on the rue de Sévigné, from the despair of a Carpathian winter to an unimaginable life in forced labor camps and beyond, The Invisible Bridge tells the unforgettable story of brothers bound by history and love, of a marriage tested by disaster, of a Jewish family's struggle against annihilation, and of the dangerous power of art in a time of war."
FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: The Invisible Bridge stands at about 600 pages divided into five parts and 42 named chapters with an epilogue some decades later. The novel spans the turbulent years from 1937 to 1945 with action mostly in Paris, Budapest and various labor camps on or behind the Eastern front lines where Hungarian Jewish males were conscripted as forced laborers for the army instead of as soldiers, since they were considered unreliable to be given weapons and training to use them.
The novel follows the intertwined destinies of the lower-middle class Levi family from a village near Debrecen, of whom middle brother and architect-to-be, Andras is the main hero, though older brother Tibor and younger Matyas play important roles too and the rich Hasz family of Budapest, of whom early forties Gyorgy is a Bank President and his son Jozsef, a painter-to-be is studying - and partying, with more of the latter than the former of course - in Paris.
There is also mysterious early thirties Klara - Claire - Morgenstern who is a ballet teacher in Paris with a 16 year old strong willed daughter Elisabet, to whom Gyorgy's mother, the matriarch of the Hasz charges the twenty two year old Andras to secretly deliver a letter when he gets to Paris for his studies, in addition to carrying a huge package with goodies for Jozsef.
Romantic, epic, dark even painfully so at times, The Invisible Bridge is historical fiction of the highest caliber.
ANALYSIS: "The Invisible Bridge" succeeds so well because of three aspects:
1: The characters: Andras and Klara first and foremost are such extraordinary characters, the young idealistic student who cannot help himself but fall in love with the 31 year old woman with a 16 year old girl and a dark past we get hints about and who somehow managed to make a reasonably successful life for herself and Elisabet despite all; also Tibor, Andras' friends, the closet gay Polaner and the handsome Ben Yakov, the wastrel but good natured Joszef, theater manager Zoltan Novak who is Andras' mentor and first employer and the rest of the Hasz and Levi families are all memorable and distinctive characters and you want them to succeed and later to survive, though of course the odds were what they were, so do not get overtly fond of anyone...
2: The writing style which is spellbinding; the book is a page turner end to end and it manages to combine the first half cautious optimism of the main characters even in face of the clouds of war and of rising antisemitism in France and violence in Germany and other places, with the day to day struggle to survival in the face of the tightening vise of the second half. "The Invisible Bridge" does not descend into melodrama in the first half, nor does it descend into despair and darkness without a light in sight, in the second half, but it maintains a "matter of fact" attitude throughout that kept me guessing almost to the end what will be the fate of the characters.
3: The world-building: as noted at the end of the novel, "The Invisible Bridge" is based on the author's family stories and real life experiences plus a lot of research and it shows. The feel of both Paris of 1937-1939 and of Hungary from 1939-1945 is pitch perfect and the Jewish traditions are vividly expounded. "The Invisible Bridge" feels to me "right" as a book set partly in Eastern Europe in a way few books by Western authors feel and the little details like recipes, names, ways of speech contribute mightily to that feeling.
There are several moments that descend a bit into farce like the story of Ilana, the Italian Orthodox Rabbi's daughter that Tibor helps elope to Paris to secretly marry Andras' friend, the handsome ladies' man Ben Yakov - who is actually in love with Black American student Lucia - and of course Tibor falls in love with Ilana, while Ben Yakov is desperately unhappy that he cannot marry Lucia so he hopes that Ilana's beauty will 'cure him" of his "wandering eye" so to speak- all with predictable results of course, but the novel manages to surprise after that. But the lighter interludes work well as a balance to the increasing darkness that descends on the world and on our characters.
Another superb touch in the novel was how famous stories like Job's fate are weaved explicitly in the novel, first in the story of Andras' father nicknamed "Lucky Bella" in an ironic and tragic way as he lost everything in life - family, child, inheritance - by age 30 and was living in depression and despair on the community's charity until a wise rabbi convinced him to try and turn around his fortunes and then in the tragic story of one of novel's important characters, though for this one you have to read the book to find out what's what. The last meeting of Andras with the respective character in 1943 is one of the emotional highlights of the second half of the novel.
In turns, a wonderful love story, an epic historical saga in the grand traditions of yore and a dark story of destruction and survival, The Invisible Bridge (A++) is one of two awesome mainstream novels that will lead that category in my best of 2010 list....more
The setting is an ice-age like alt-Earth around the 1800's but with a quite different history, magic houses, but alAn awesome book that blew me away;
The setting is an ice-age like alt-Earth around the 1800's but with a quite different history, magic houses, but also budding science that the "cold mages" dislike and want suppressed, but the local princes try to protect
The heroine/narrator is Cat (Catherine) of Carthaginian descent - here 2000 years ago Carthage was ruled by queens (called dido's for the famous mythical founder) and Hannibal defeated the Romans at Zama for once, so the two powers fought themselves to a standstill and while the Roman Empire eventually extended over most Europe, North Africa and Spain remained Carthaginian influenced and after the Empire breakup some 1000 years ago, there has been a patchwork of mini-states all over Europe, which now stops at the Baltic ice-sea - there is a great map too
Cat is almost 20 - age of majority - and studies at a college in a Celtic city in Britain at the edge of the sea, city that is a famous trading one and a mixture of all races/nationalities - the headmaster is an Egyptian since they are perceived as "neutral"; Cat lives with her uncle/aunt and cousins of which Beatrice younger by two months is like her twin sister, while her uncle is the head of the local family clan which like many other Carthaginian old trading houses is now somewhat impoverished and acts as spies/mercenaries/enforcers for the powerful and the moneyed
Cat's father who was a famous traveler for the clan and wrote some 50 travel journals drowned with her mother who was a mysterious figure - seemingly an "Amazon" warrior of Belgae origin in the army of a Napoleon like conqueror of Iberian descent that was finally defeated 13 years before by the mages and has been imprisoned on an island; since the local British princes have been the general's fiercest enemies and since Cat's mother deserted to have a family, it is understandable that nobody wants to talk much about her
And then the cold mages come to enforce a "bargain" made with Cat's house many years ago and she will find herself thrown in the unknown...
Great narration, tons of twists and turns - some that you can dimly see, but still think a bit far fetched until they actually happen, and a punch ending that really makes me want the sequel Cold Steel asap
The blurb of the novel does not do justice to this awesome novel that is the "pure" genre debut of the year so far for me.
I have not encountered the iThe blurb of the novel does not do justice to this awesome novel that is the "pure" genre debut of the year so far for me.
I have not encountered the inventiveness, sense of wonder and generally the "many goodies" of The Last Page in a debut, all packed in a reasonable 400 odd pages, since John C Wright's Golden Age and Gary Gibson's Angel Stations, though this one is fantasy with blood magic, necromancy, mysterious and ultra-powerful beings and airships, guns, newspapers and a "steampunk" like setting with an early industrial flavor. The main characters Caliph and Sena are just superb with a great supporting cast of witches, spies, former college friends, devoted servants and mysterious personages, while the meaning of the title remains somewhat ambiguous to the end (Page as in book, or as in a young servant?); while the main thread of the novel is solved, the stunning ending promises a sequel for the ages too. A++ ...more
reread this end to end in 2017 and I remembered pretty much everything as I was going along - while having read Bone Clocks in the meantime clarified reread this end to end in 2017 and I remembered pretty much everything as I was going along - while having read Bone Clocks in the meantime clarified some things from this novel as they are related in subtle ways - and I found it as good, engrossing and enjoyable on this read (maybe even more so in some ways) as on first read so the original review below is still current and the novel a superb one which is highly revommended
(review on original publication 2010) Set in 1799-early 1800's mostly on the artificial island of Dejima that was Japan's only window to the West from the 1640's to the 1850's and which was connected to the city of Nagasaki by a simple "land gate", gate that metaphorically connects two worlds, though there is a lot of action both in Nagasaki and in its surroundings, the novel has three main interweaving threads:
the life and fate of Jacob de Zoet, the isolation of Japan as expressed through its one window to the European world, the artificial island of Dejima and finally a story of cross lovers, murders, abductions, secret mystical and very dark cults that gives the novel both a tinge of the fantastic and powers its action and emotional content.
A stunning novel that was worth spending several days on; set in third person in a change for the author who usually writes novels in first person from multiple pov's, The Thousand Autumns has three main pov's - Jacob de Zoet, an idealistic and devout clerk who comes to make his fortune in the East, Uzaemon Ogawa a young Japanese samurai/translator/scientist-to-be and Orito Abigawa a Japanese midwife, daughter of a samurai and scholar who wants to be a doctor/scientist too despite the barrier of her gender - but a plethora of various others, including a slave, various Japanese nobles, an Englishman naval officer have their own pages and the author makes it completely believable and immersive.
There is a lot to explore in this book and it's really worth spending the time to do it; An A++ and a novel to savor at length and probably my best of the year at least so far...more
About a month ago when Secrets of the Fire Sea was published I gave another try to Rise of the Iron Moon and while it still read too pulpy, I was bettAbout a month ago when Secrets of the Fire Sea was published I gave another try to Rise of the Iron Moon and while it still read too pulpy, I was better disposed towards it and today I would give it a B, rather than the D to F I gave it originally..
That's the power of expectations, after a very good but flawed Court of the Air, the superb Kingdom Beyond the Waves was a top five book, after that the pulpy Iron Moon was almost a throw away in anger...
Now Secrets of the Fire Sea returns to the form of Kingdom Beyond the Waves with a superb tale that has sense of wonder, great characters, twists, turns and a new setting in the Jackelian world, the island continent of Jago, surrounded by a magma sea, where electricity works and where thousands of years ago, civilization kept going in the ice-age and later under the savage Chimecan Empire domination.
While the book has all the trademarks of the series, it is also the deepest one in many ways, with a study of what it means to be human, godlike, sentient; how much technology is too much, how little is not enough...
And of course there are ruins, duels, assassinations, battles, intrigue, a riff on Sherlock Holmes and much more. An A+/A++ depending on how it will stand in my memory and a book on par with Kingdom Beyond the Waves - this one still does not equal the imagination run wild of that one but on the other hand it is somewhat deeper as mentioned...more
The 4th installment of the superb Safehold series goes back to the intensity of the first two volumes, with lots of quotable lines, jaw-dropping momenThe 4th installment of the superb Safehold series goes back to the intensity of the first two volumes, with lots of quotable lines, jaw-dropping moments and powerful emotional ones.
The ending is similarly emotional to the one in OAR though I have to say that the book is more like BSRA in the sense that it opens a new arc but not closes it. I heard the series is planned to go 10 volumes, so who knows maybe the next volume will close its first part, maybe not..
It's hard to talk more about the book without spoilers and I will try to add more after the first reread, but I really wanted the book to go more - and it's quite long, almost 700 pages of text plus characters, glossary, timekeeping details, probably the longest of the 4 -
Action galore in Corisande, Zion, on the seas (make sure you have the map from OAR handy, though I think the final version of the novel will come equipped with maps), daring escapes, nasty conspirators, dastardly assassinations, one sword fight for the ages inside the Temple of all places, very, very emotional moments, tragedy and rejoicing, a tense dinner, lots of memorable lines and a baby...
One of the non-spoilerish quotable lines, though there are several that are even more awesome, but...:
“I was simply attempting to establish the proper . . . collegial atmosphere.”
Somewhere between an A+ and an A++ depending on rereads" ...more
reread August 2013 as the earc of 2nd book Spheres of Influence was released; original thoughts below in the full FBC rv
update 2013 - on this reread Ireread August 2013 as the earc of 2nd book Spheres of Influence was released; original thoughts below in the full FBC rv
update 2013 - on this reread I enjoyed the book even more than on the original read and now i am definitely classifying as a top 25 as it wore the 3 years and hundreds of read books much better than many other books that i may have rated better on first read; excellent stuff, old/new space opera and great characters
hope this series will go on for a while as it has scope and space for that
FBC Rv on original read in Feb 2010 (done then but added 2013)
Before "Grand Central Arena" I have not read anything by Ryk Spoor, though for several years I had a copy of "Boundary", his 2006 collaboration with Eric Flint which has a sequel Threshold to be published in June 2010. I started Boundary several times but the story of archaeology and long gone aliens in a near future setting never hooked me, so when I heard of "Grand Central Arena", I was not sure how much priority to give it. The blurb above was very, very tempting and when the author started posting chapters on Baen's Bar - chapters collated in the link above - I got hooked and bought an e-arc from Baen several months ago despite it being almost twice the price of the original print mmpb that has been released recently.
And I have to say that I never regretted the decision since Grand Central Arena was an excellent read, fast and entertaining and I hope it will get the sequels it richly deserves. After I finished it, I finally read "Boundary" which was quite entertaining too, though much more predictable in some ways and less exciting than "Grand Central Arena", but it is very hard for near future sf to compete with space opera as my interest goes. I plan to read Threshold too at some point in the future, though it is less of a priority for now, but any sequel to Grand Central Arena would be an asap.
FORMAT/CLASSIFICATION: "Grand Central Arena" is a long book - Amazon has it listed at 688 pages but since I have only an e-arc I cannot guarantee that, just that it seems reasonable - however it reads so fast that you do not really notice when the pages go; the novel is divided into 74 chapters of which you can read quite a few for free as linked above and there are several points of view, most notably main heroine, Ariane Austin top race pilot in the Solar System 's "Unlimited Space Obstacle Racing" championship tour.
Then there is her team's chief engineer Carl Edlund who happens to know genius physicist Simon Sandrisson, the discoverer of "hyperspace" some 10 years ago, from which discovery the possibility of ftl travel followed; after extensive drone testing and with the approval of the humanity's Space Security Council, Dr. Sandrisson is ready to take the first manned human ftl spaceships Holy Grail on a test ride. The leader of the Combined Space Force sends mysterious power engineer Marc DuQuesne as both crew and representative of the powers to be and at Marc's insistence, Simon Sandrisson decides to include a human backup pilot despite everything running on pseudo-AI's - AISage - guidance, so much so that human pilots are generally used fully only in competition racing. There are several more crew members of the Holy Grail and of course when the Holy Grail finds the Arena of the title instead of the stars, there are several important aliens, most notably one called suggestively and for reasons to be found in the book Orphan.
"Grand Central Arena" is space opera in the grand old tradition - "costume" aliens, heroic and plucky humans - but with modern sensibilities and awareness of current speculations in cutting edge physics.
ANALYSIS: "Grand Central Arena" introduces an Earth several centuries hence where advances in nanotech and AI development allowed the expansion of humanity in the Solar System, wealth and relative peace and stability in a sort of libertarian way, though the same decentralization allowed by tech and global wealth led occasionally to trouble when groups of single minded people used such for nefarious purposes, or even sometimes in thoughtless ways that turned to disaster.
All in all though, the Solar System of the novel is a prosperous place and on the verge of attaining the stars due to Simon Sandrisson's revolutionary extension of the latest unified field theory, extension that allowed the first ftl drive to be built and now to be tested for the first time in a manned spaceship. However the drone tests of the Sandrisson Drive, while mostly successful and with a reasonably low rate of non-return revealed a glitch - all AI powered systems on the drones - eg sensors, recording devices - seemed not to work properly in ftl mode, though the "dumb" 2oth century like mechanical/electronic ones worked.
So "just as a backup" Ariane is co-opted in the crew of the Holy Grail with Carl as support engineer and of course when things go completely awry and instead of the stars, the spaceship finds itself in a huge but considerably scaled down enclosed reproduction of the Solar System with all major bodies in proper orbits, all AI's - including guidance, piloting and personal ones - down - with the Holy Grail heading fast towards an inevitable crash with the looming walls of the enclosure, it's up to Ariane's reflexes to save the day and of course the surprises start immediately after...
Grand Central Arena of the title which the crew of the Holy Grail discovers instead of the stars is a very, very old place, wondrous and awesome but dangerous and "ritualistic" too, with many alien races at various privilege and development states mingling under some rules strictly enforced by ultra-powerful beings. And since the minimal achievement a race needs to get into the Arena is the Sandrisson Drive - known of course under various names by each alien species - and since each new race discovering that and using it, represents an opportunity for the more nefarious Arena species, while having itself an opportunity to "establish" itself under the rules above, it is up to the crew of the Holy Grail to make sure humanity is among the "winners" and not the "losers", with Ariane appointed by default leader, while Simon and Marc are her main "side kicks" and mysterious alien Orphan who encounters them first as "guide" and mentor of a sort.
The whole setup, rules and such are described in loving detail and the author put a lot of thought into them, so while the whole Arena and its paraphernalia are quite outlandish, I never lost for a moment my suspension of disbelief. The various alien races encountered are reasonably distinct and vary from ultra-mercantilistic, to seemingly benevolent but with maybe hidden agendas, to dark, mysterious, powerful and with unclear motives and of course to obvious enemies either out for plunder or for subtler reasons...
While the first part of the book including the early Solar System chapters, the introduction to what will become known as "humanity's sphere" and then to the Arena and its wonders/dangers is just awesome, the novel sags a little in the middle when all the aliens playing a role in a story appear, diplomatic relations and more generally Arena "adjustment" occurs; we also have the "blatant" costume-aliens part including stereotyping and representing a race by a few characteristics that is the pulp-sf legacy to the book; the novel keeps a brisk pace but I found it losing a lot of its luster and inventiveness and reverting to the old-style space opera of yore
Fortunately "Grand Central Arena" picks up momentum and heads into some interesting and unexpected directions and the last third or so of the novel is excellent again with lots of intense action and it kept me turning fast the pages to see how our plucky heroine and her sidekicks elbow humanity into "its proper" place in the Arena's social structure. The ending is very good and completes the main thread of the novel so "Grand Central Arena" stands well on its own, but I so want more novels since both the whole setup and the heroes of the story are excellent. A very strong A, almost an A+ and a novel that manages to bridge golden age space opera tropes to their modern expressions in a way other similar recent tries did not....more
Baen published an e-arc of Mission of Honor on 2/2 and I bought it that evening and stayed until 4 am to finish it and then I reread it the next day aBaen published an e-arc of Mission of Honor on 2/2 and I bought it that evening and stayed until 4 am to finish it and then I reread it the next day and I have to say that Mission of Honor was the book I wanted to a large extent and together with Storm from the Shadows to which it's a completion and the side-novel Torch of Freedom which is also essential here, it represents the hinge of the Honorverse in the way At All Costs represented the end of its first part.
Very well plotted and flowing superbly with lots of emotional moments, the one small disappointment I had (besides that it ended of course) was that it was relatively predictable; there were lots of small touches (the midnight "visits", some names which got me anywhere from chuckling to laughing hard), then we get find out the hinted secrets of the "spider" drive, "ghost" ships and who died in and who survived Oyster Bay, but there was nothing new in the big picture that would made me gasp in wonder; that essential unpredictability, the twists and turns which are one of David Weber's main trademarks were missing here so overall MoH is an A+ (only) but the next book should be a cracker since now we are really in "uncharted territory" for the Honorverse...more
This was all that i expected and more; though the series is supposed to go 10 and there are at least 2 more books in the 6 month interval pipeline, thThis was all that i expected and more; though the series is supposed to go 10 and there are at least 2 more books in the 6 month interval pipeline, this book nicely rounds a lot of the main plots threads and concludes to some extent the story started in Empire and Gold;
The title is apt (so to speak) since this book is very dark - I saw some complaints how given all the war and violence in the first 3 volumes, most main characters escape; well, up to here since this book is merciless on them; I would not want to spoil some of the most powerful moments of the book but there are so many including personal combat, cavalry charges, mystic foretelling of the future, escape from crucifixions in the nick of time, weapons of mass destruction, land battles, air battles, intrigue and assassinations or tentative of such, but the prize goes to the gladiatorial combats and especially to the climactic one that has all the intensity of the best from Spartacus on...
Since the first part of the series sort of ends here, I really have no idea what will happen next so the fifth book due this summer jumped a notch on my asap list; Salute the Dark is an A+/A++ depending on rereads; if book 5 matches the intensity of book 4 and brings more twists and turns - here there some unexpected ones but mostly the sheer carnage of the war including withing the ranks of the main characters was the biggest surprise - they could jump to the top of my fantasy list for 2010
For "series completists" books 1-4 can be said to form sort of a complete series so go read them... ...more
I spent three days on this book and read it almost three times to fully appreciate and enjoy it; my top expected fantasy release of the first half of I spent three days on this book and read it almost three times to fully appreciate and enjoy it; my top expected fantasy release of the first half of 2010 and possibly of the whole year, The Folding Knife delivered all that I expected and more; this one is a very tough book to review since so much happens that I would not want to spoil and the motives and actions of its main character Basso are hard to understand without learning some crucial things but at a first try there are some points to emphasize:
- the book is written almost flawlessly with the same understated, cynical voice of KJ Parker's oeuvre, though this one is arguably the most idealistic of all and Basso the author's most idealistic character who wants to do good in a "real world" way through a combination of wealth, populism and intrigue with "war is an admission of failure" as his motto
- the world building is pitch perfect; I could describe it as a modern world without religion and technology in the way we understand them, or in another way an what if no messianic religion with a message of the possibility of human betterment - which however long it took essentially led to our technological world - appeared, but the flows and ebbs of the ancient Greek/Roman/Byzantine world would have continued for another two thousand years or so; another way of thinking about it would be as a "western" Chinese/Egyptian civilization, relatively stable over thousands of years but based on the Greek/Roman templates; very similar to the world of Fencer but without any overt magic like there - lots of names carry over modified a little, while both the world of The Engineer trilogy and Purple and Black could fit in The Folding Knife universe; very different from Scavenger and The Company which are more traditional pseudo-late medieval/early modern worlds; lots of naming jokes and allusions to the classical world
- the twists and turns are superb and while we have an idea of the book ending both from the blurb and from the prologue, we really do not know the hows and whys until almost the last page
- the book is also a page turner that you do not want to put down, though I forced myself to read 100 pages, reread them, read another 100 pages, reread them, another 100 pages, another reread and then the last 150 pages, a reread of them and then a reread of the most salient parts of the novel, so in this way I could both enjoy and savor the book as well as keep the tension which ratchets through to the finale
An A++, for now this one and The Left Hand of God are the two top fantasies of 2010 and both will be very hard to dislodge from this position...more
A mix of the inventively weird human cultures of Jack Vance's Reach novels (Night Lamp is the first I thought of but others also) and the cynicism worA mix of the inventively weird human cultures of Jack Vance's Reach novels (Night Lamp is the first I thought of but others also) and the cynicism worthy of Joe Abercrombie's excellent novels make this book a compelling, strange experience and possibly the best debut I read in a long time and one that will be hard to equal in 2010. Ultra-dark but a page turner and with very compelling characters, the novel is probbaly best described as a far future post apocalyptic tale set on a reverted pre-industrial Earth with fantasy vibes but much more sfnal in content than f-nal
I am still rereading the novel to get all its nuances so i may add more once I finish the reread but I can say that the opening line which represents the tone of the novel perfectly hooked me and I dropped everything I was reading at the time to start this one. The line below would have gone into my top opening lines of all time if available when I did the post on FBC.
"'Listen. The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a damned lie for there is no redemption that goes on there and less sanctuary'"...more
Desert Spear is excellent end to end; pretty much the whole novel is on the quality of the best of The Warded Man; much more focused on the cultures oDesert Spear is excellent end to end; pretty much the whole novel is on the quality of the best of The Warded Man; much more focused on the cultures of Krasia and The Free Cities than on the Demons per se, with Jardir emerging as a great main character in addition to Arles, Leesha, Rojer and several more; new kinds of demons too and a good stopping point setting up a great sequel plot
reread in dec 2012 as I started Daylight War and while i got a fast reminder of what's what through a browse of this and the first volume, after some 100 pages from TDW, I decided that I still really like the series so it's better to go back and read it from the beginning more or less (read some 1/2 from The painted Man also) to get into its spirit
On the second end to end read, i would say that The Desert Spear is arguably even better than on first read as the focus on Jardir and the Krasians is not somewhat jarring at least at first as before, while the last part is as awesome as before; definitely a top 25 book now so another example of a book that improved for me with time and another series installment - of course the reverse can and does happen but it's more likely a (carefully constructed) series book improves on the next installment as more details are revealed, more little things become important, the shifts in view points (eg from Atlen, Leesha and Roger to Jardir here) start working etc...more