Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Malice, The Coldest War, and Redshirts Reviewed at SFFWorld

Another high fantasy debut for one Mark’s review, I take a look at the (long-delayed) second installment in an ambitious alternate history/SF/horror hybrid, and Mark's review of the UK release of a popular SF novel round out this post.

A book that’s been generating a fair amount of buzz on both sides of the Atlantic is the subject of Mark’s review. While Malice; John Gwynne’s debut novel. Mark wasn’t quite as happy with this debut fantasy as he was with the previous

For all its length, and, to be fair, the pages can turn, my feeling at the end was that it doesn’t bring anything new to the table that I haven’t read before. Nor indeed anything I couldn’t see coming. For new Fantasy readers, this may be fine. If it helps, I will say that I had similar issues with Brent Weeks’ Night Angel series and Michael J Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations series. (And, conversely, that might mean that if you enjoyed those two series, you might like this novel.)

In addition, whereas books of this type usually show a progression towards an epic climax to create tension and anticipation, in Malice it didn’t. Instead, I found myself wanting to hurry things along, not because I wanted to read what happens, but because I wanted it to finish, never a good sign when reading a book.

I’ve had The Coldest War on Mount To'be-Read (© Fred Kiesche) for quite a few months and finally read it last week. Tregillis really managed to render sorrow and anger in this volume and has me very anticipated for book three Necessary Evil:

In The Coldest War, Ian Tregillis picks up the story threads from his debut novel Bitter Seeds to bring readers back into the lives of Raybould Marsh and Will, the former British spies who worked for the Milkweed group. In the twenty years since, Marsh married Liz and had a son, John, while Will married Gwendolyn and is a prominent member of society. All is not rosy; however. Will has been working for the Soviets providing information on the warlocks whose contact with the eldritch Eidolons allowed for the British victory. With the help of Gretel and Klaus, two of the super soldiers created by Nazi mad scientist von Westarp Marsh attempts to halt the growing power and influence of the Soviets.

While I enjoyed The Coldest War a great deal, the overall tone of darkness, anger, and bitterness was inescapable. As a result of the efforts of Marsh and Will during the war, their lives have changed irrevocably. Tregillis does an amazing job of conveying the stress of post-war trauma on both of these men, especially with Marsh and his wife Liz. The two were very happy and hopeful at the conclusion of Bitter Seeds, but here in The Coldest War there is nothing but blame and hatred in their marriage and the primary symbol of this is their despondent, (seemingly) mentally handicapped son John.

Last week, Mark posted his review of John Scalzi's Redshirts:

Here Scalzi follows it through to a logical literary development. Andrew Dahl is a newly assigned crew member to the Universal Union Capital Ship Ensign. Working in the Xenobiology Department, he soon realises that the ship has a fast turnover of crew, often in bizarre and quite imaginative ways. He soon realises that being assigned to an away team is not a privilege but a means of making up the numbers, with the chances of coming back increasingly unlikely. Most of the story is about how Dahl and his other newly-assigned friends survive, and avoid being put on an Away Mission.

The main problem is that Scalzi can’t keep it all quite going at the very end. What he does about 80 pages in is do something that is either ‘crazy’ or ‘genius’. There is a moment for what many readers will be where the story ‘jumps the shark’ and fiction in another medium is connected to this literary tale. Dahl has a Truman Show moment, and he and his colleagues become aware that they are slaves to the Narrative in an alternate timeline.

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