Wednesday, July 17, 2013

SFFWorld Review Round-up: Baxter & Pratchett, Hough, Kemp, Jemisin, Martin, Willis

Some new reviews  have been posted over at SFFWorld and the SFFWorld Blog over the past coiuple of weeks. Reviews from both Mark and myself, as well as Nila White.  Here goes...

Visitors to the SFFWorld forums who know Mark are probably aware he's a big fan of Connie Willis.  His take on the collection The Best of Connie Willis (SFFWorld / SFFWorld Blog):

There are 10 stories, the 2006 Worldcon Guest of Honor Speech and her Grand Master speeches (both given and as an alternative version) included. As the editor of the book points out, Connie is nearly as well known for her presence on the US convention circuit as she is for her writing, so her speeches are nearly as entertaining.

What may also make this a must-buy for those who know the stories is both the Introduction by Connie and an Afterword by Connie for each of the ten tales. Like the speeches, they are, as you might expect, emotional, filled with warmth, wit and great self-deprecation, as well as clearly showing a deep everlasting love for the genre. Connie’s Introduction to her stories and how she came to read (and write) SF is about as eloquent an homage to older writers as you can get. The Afterwords end each of the tales nicely.

Yesterday (7/16), I reviewed the debut novel from Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator, which also launches his Dire Earth Cycle of novels:

Hough does a lot of things well in his debut effort, The Darwin Elevator, which also launches The Dire Earth Cycle of novels. There’s a convincing sense of despair and desolation as conveyed through the characters who live in the world. Hough also imparts a plausible sense of fear about the Elevator and the characters concern over its source/origin. The elevator itself is more than just a MacGuffin, the mystery behind it, as well as potentially more events or contact with the builders is theme laced throughout the narrative. Neil Platz is the Donald Trump/Lex Luthor (with a slightly more altruistic bent, but still the Magnificent Bastard) like character who pulls many strings in Darwin and the civilized world. He was able to build his power and influence because he just so happened to have built power, water, and energy supply stations near the center of the civilized world which is now Darwin. Timing is everything and knowledge is power seem to embody Platz.
Unfortunately, the inconsistent pace of the novel brushes over some of the characterization, especially regarding Skyler’s crew and the snarling Russell Blackfield (surprise, he’s an antagonist). Danger is inherit in an apocalyptic landscape with an alien technology people fear, don’t understand completely and whose origins are in question.

Over the past weekend, Nila had a look at the first installment of N.K. Jemisin's Dreamblood duology, The Killing Moon:

The Killing Moon is more about a time and place of Jemisin’s making than it is about any of these characters, but they will make you rejoice and weep as you follow them into the dream world and struggle to overcome the corruption that seeps through the fabric of their lives and their religion. This is the book’s greatest strength: its richly layered world and its incredible characters.
Based on both Egyptian mythology and Nairobi traditions, I actually found the book to be too short. I wanted to spend more time with the characters in the places they found themselves, from the streets of the outer city of Gujaareen, to the desert oasis, and further afar into Kinsua. I found the cultures Jemisin created in the two city-states. as well as the religious Hetawa. to be both an interesting interpretation of African mythology as well as a relief from our own cultural hang ups concerning sex and gender. Not that the cultures in this book are perfect in that regard, but different from our own western sensibilities - and I liked it. I wanted more ‘meat’ to this story and would have been glad if the book was twice as long.

A little over a week ago, I dove into a long out of print fix up novel/collection from George R.R. Martin, Tuf Voyaging:
Seven stories are included in this fix-up novel/book and are presented in chronological order of the events of Haviland Tuf and his acquisition of the Ark rather than publication order.
Martin has long professed his admiration for Jack Vance’s writing and these stories can very much be seen as homage to Vance or his style. The balance of humor and fantastical situations were hallmarks of Vance’s work. In particular, one might imagine Tuf himself interacting with Cudgel the Clevor or Rhialto the Marvelous. Undoubtedly, Tuf’s deadpan style and pure logic work in direct contrast to every personality he encounters. Nobody trusts Tuf, he is distressed by this lack of trust when he always attempts to present himself as, if not altruistically as possible, as logically as possible. Humanity has evolved to a state on many of the planets he visits that logic is far from even the tenth lens to view their respective world.

Last week Mark posted his review of The Long Earth, the collaboration between Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (SFFWorld / SFFWorld Blog):

Much of the actual bones of the tale appear to be themes of Baxter’s, as there are resonances of his writing style, so reminiscent of Arthur C Clarke, throughout. There is an imaginative extrapolation of the ‘what-if’ here. The consequences of people migrating to these new worlds, the changes in society, trade, commerce and even religious belief are all examined here, and have that overarching tone of some of Baxter’s other books, such as Evolution. The characters also seem to fit the Baxter/Clarke template, in that they are not particularly deep or complex, but they are understandable and accessible. In terms of worlds, the writers clearly had a lot of fun explaining extinct animals and sapient civilisations. There’s a definite Arthur C Clarke/Olaf Stapledon feel of epic-ness to that aspect of the plot, which I am assuming comes mainly from Stephen Baxter.

If Stephen brings the imagination usually demanded by SF readers, what we seem to get, with added Pratchett, is a warmth and a less clinical, more human dimension that will appeal to those readers less SF-inclined. Readers should not be misled, however - this does not make a laugh-out-loud, comfortable Discworld-kind of novel – but there is, in places, a wry grin, and even at times a little acidic statement (something Terry can do very well.) In tone, this is more like Nation than Discworld. It is clear from the start, though, that when the power for the stepper is a potato, it’s obvious that there’s going to be a certain amount of humour involved. How a potato can change the world… 

A few weeks ago, I posted my review of Paul S. Kemp's second Egil & Nix novel, A Discourse in Steel (SFFWorld / SFFWorld Blog):

I said in my review of The Hammer and the Blade that Kemp is evoking Fritz Leiber, that evocation/homage continues here in A Discourse in Steel quite nicely. The protagonists Egil and Nix are fully realized characters who breathe and banter in my head like old friends. Kemp’s writing/storytelling with this duo puts you in the room, the tunnel, or dungeon with them; essentially, it feels as if you become part of their group. Sword and sorcery can be considered the fantasy equivalent of the buddy movie and Egil and Nix, along with Scott Lynch’s Locke and Jean, are perhaps the most entertaining buddies in the genre. Egil and Nix are a bit more experienced, which adds another layer to their dynamic and the depth of their history. At times I’d almost expect one of them to echo Murtaugh in saying I’m too old for this shite. That age and history comes into play as the Blackalley plays against a person’s fears, sorrow and loss. This affects Egil very profoundly as the regret over his lost wife and child continually come back to him as the duo progress through the narrative.

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