Monday, October 25, 2010

A Journal of Certain Events..., by Helen Keeble

I have moved on in my reading to World Fantasy Award nominees. There are not nearly as many of these online, but one that is, is quite a good one. A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc, or, A Lullaby, by Helen Keeble, is an interesting take on the mermaid story. There's a gender reversal that adds a little, but not a lot. But its real value is in its treatment of two very dissimilar species trying to communicate, while one has committed a horror upon the other. And yet this is overcome. It's well told from both points of view. Not often do I end up giving short fiction four stars, but this one does get that prize.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Gathering Storm, by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

For the past several weeks I have been reading The Gathering Storm, the 12th book in the Wheel of Time series. The series itself started over 20 years ago--I picked it up about 13 years ago. There aren't many fantasy or SF series that consistently made the NY Times bestseller list, but this one has. There may not be a lot I can add to what's been said about it already, other than my particular opinion.

But in that opinion, Brandon Sanderson is improving it. This series got so out of hand that Jordan was stretched past his limit trying to finish it. Though Sanderson says he had quite a lot of it written when he died. There are two volumes to go, and I believe I will go ahead and finish. The next one is due out in November, it will make a good New Year read.

Rand Al'Thor moves back to center stage in this one, and the conflict inside him comes to a head. He has always been in a fight to reconcile The Dragon Reborn inside him. And - spoiler alert - he does so here, in a way familiar to the best books in the rest of the series. What marked a difference for me in this series was that the protagonist, however difficult things get, is pulled on by more than sheer hope. He makes tangible progress.

Some absences are notable here. Rand and his immediate retinue are the only Asha'man to get any attention--Mazrim Taim and Logain are completely absent. Mat and Perrin get just a chapter or two. All these must be woven back in somehow, though there does seem to be hope for that. And the denouement of the book is a tremendous draw of the One Power into Rand, which other channelers don't seem to notice other than to note its side effects.

It will be satisfying to see this series finally conclude. It lived to be eclipsed by Harry Potter, but it will still go down as one of the great fantasy series, perhaps more comparable to Ghormengast than the Lord of the Rings, but still up there.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

Continuing my tour of 2010 Hugo award nominees, I just finished The Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Bacigalupi has created a future world in which oil has collapsed, and power is created mostly from manual labor stored in "kink-springs", basically springs that can be tightly wound and release power steadily. Nature is victimized by various genetically engineered plagues, caused by agricultural firms that are big enough to be above the law. The Windup Girl takes place in Thailand, which has so far resisted breakdown caused by the plagues. It seems as if there could be no resistance, as most all local officials seem to be for sale.
Bacigalupi's real brilliance in this book is showing how a group of flawed, vulnerable human beings who seem ready to sell each other out can somehow turn the tables on outsiders looking to break them. Plots are foiled not by heroes, but by more ordinary, even mendacious people finding courage at critical moments. His short stories seemed scarily prescient. This book doesn't have that impact (it repeats the same threats many times), but the insight into a very different culture and its strengths, deeply embedded in its weaknesses, is powerful. Read as much of Bacigalupi as you can.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Boneshaker, by Cherie Priest

Today I finished Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, and can at last say I have read a recent zombie novel. This was published in 2009, so written in 2008, so I will say she gets credit for being ahead of the trend, by a little. The zombie wave is at its peak, probably just cresting, while vampires(Two-Disc Special Edition) still seem to have strength.

But on to the novel. This was a well-turned and entertaining read, and I'd say it is worth reading for free (as I did, from the public library). It didn't grab me in any special way. It has the various steampunky accessories, like airships in the 1870's. It is set in an alternate Seattle that got in on the Klondike gold rush, then was hit by the Boneshaker (of the title) and rendered into a version of Hell that reminds me of the environmentally blasted landscapes in William Gibson'sNeuromancer. But the alternate science is there mostly as a prop, other than some speculation on the cause of the zombies. The focus is on the characters, and while they are sympathetic (a mother going into Hell to get her son out), they just didn't get a real grip. But it's a 2009 Nebula nominee, and I like it enough for 3 stars