Friday, November 30, 2012

Osama, by Lavie Tidhar

My last novel to read for this year's major award nominees is Osama, by Lavie Tidhar.  I have not read any of Tidhar's work before, and wonder somewhat how representative it is.  I purchased a paperback version, so it had reviews of the hardcover on it.  Am not sure I would have expected what I got if I paid a lot of attention to them. More approachable than Mieville's The City and The City?  Not sure about that.  Many reviewers compare it to novels by Phillip K. Dick.  I think not too much.  Both Mieville and Dick have strong speculative fiction hooks in their work.  Things that can really make you think. Osama might do that for you too, but in a very different way at best.

Our protagonist, Joe the Detective, is hired by a mystery woman to find the author of low-rent paperback novels featuring the deeds of Osama Bin Laden.  But this is a place where terrorist violence didn't happen, and the stories are about the real world.  This place appears to have unacknowledged ghosts--"refugees"--and Joe might be one.  Things get weird as he progresses the case.

I think the most apt comparison here is Camus, particularly The Stranger, not Dick.  Indeed, Tidhar gives a shout-out to Camus in the book.  It's a very interior story, mostly focusing on Joe's feelings of dissociation with events, or just his feelings generally.  Joe, like The Stranger, is on a personal journey so deep into himself that he is in danger of disappearing.  Go read The Stranger for the real thing.  I give this one 3 stars, for reflection.

Thus ends my reading of the World Fantasy Award nominees, and all award nominees, for 2011.  The best for World Fantasy?  Probably Jo Walton's Among Others--might as well make it a sweep.  Which one was my favorite this year?  I am leaning toward Stephen King's 11/22/63, I just enjoyed reading every word.  

Friday, November 23, 2012

Deadline, by Mira Grant

Deadline is the second entry in the Newsflesh trilogy, nominated for this year's World Fantasy Award.  The first one was also nominated for an award, reviewed here.  Zombies are a done to death theme, so much so that according to the acknowledgements material in this volume the author's proofreader wouldn't even bother with the first one.  And I would not say it's a uniquely told story either.  But just because it's been done before doesn't mean it's not worth doing again.  There's a lot of zombie adventure stories because they are fun.  Feed, the first in the series, is fun, and this one is too.

We pick up where the last left off, after the death of Georgia Mason at Shaun's hands. He is a haunted man, clinging to the ghost of her in his head.  Shaun, his sister's ghost, and the rest of the organization try to solve a conspiracy that's gotten so big and bad they can't even describe it.

This is consistent with the world Grant has drawn, one in which the survivors of the Zombie Apocalypse have pulled together and done a considerable amount of infrastructure work to get by in the world.  Many governments actually pulled together a somewhat effective response, and it seems that even the poorest ordinary citizens have access to, say, serious disinfectant showers with instant blood tests for infection.  Roads are maintained and the Internet is bigger than ever.  In such a world, huge conspiracies are possible, and the one described here is just such a doozy.  And it's a truly fun read.  But it's definitely a middle volume, nothing is resolved, the protagonists just do a lot of running and fighting.

It seems an odd choice for a World Fantasy Award, as the science elements in this installment definitely come to the fore in a way they did not in the first volume.  Scientists investigating the origin and control of the zombie virus come to the fore, and there is explication.  Not very fantasy.  But for me that's a recommendation, I still appreciate a good attempt at a hypothesis.

Like the last volume, I had to buy this one for my local library.  Hope they start keeping these, they are definitely worth having on the shelves.  Go pick it up, I give it 4 stars.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Those Across the River, by Christopher Buehlman

Those Across the River is a World Fantasy Award nominee this year, which is why I read it.  The pure horror genre does not usually appeal to me.  But, giving it a chance, this was a decent one.  The author has definitely read plenty of Stephen King--he has plenty of those single sentence, short, portentious paragraphs that mark King's work ("I never made it.").  Many authors use this device, so it's not a knock, but Buehlman definitely put it to work.  The setting is typical also, a sultry, sullen, Southern town dealing with devils of some sort.  I won't spoil it but it is pretty predictable.  The monsters have a long and distinguished history, not delved deeply here.  Our protagonist, a veteran of the Great War, is mostly there to suffer.  He tries to have feelings for the sad, pinched souls facing the menace but doesn't manage much.  In the end, even vengeance is too much feeling for him.  I did enjoy how it closed out, though.

This book is up against strong competition for the award, I don't think it will get it.  But it is probably a good one if you like the horror genre.  Two stars for me, three by reputation, I believe the author has promise.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Kingdom of Gods, by N. K. Jemisin

The Kingdom of Gods is the third book in the Inheritance Trilogy, and a 2011 Nebula award nominee.  I had to buy this one, my library did not, but it was pretty cheap by then.  The third installment focuses on Sieh, first child of the Three and the most powerful godling.  He's kind of an irritating thing, remaining a child forever.  Except in this novel, where he is turned mortal and grows up.  This is accomplished by the Arameri twins Shahar and Dekarta, who form a bond of friendship with him.

There's a struggle to return Sieh to his godhood before he dies of old age, and a struggle against a godling of Vengeance who wants to join the Three, but this second plot is somewhat confusing and not fully developed.  It's all about Sieh and his developing love for mortals, his two friends in particular.  There's a tendency to dwell on the tender moments in the chaos, overdone in my opinion.   Sieh's not really likeable enough, in my book, to carry this off.  I kind of struggled through the middle of it, until toward the end the book gets back to the action and scale that made the first two installments memorable.  I am not sure why this installment got a nomination and the second one, The Broken Kingdoms, did not. The Broken Kingdoms was better, in my opinion.  Three stars for this one, but only just.  Read it to finish the story.  And if you do, go ahead and read the short story at the end, it is worthwhile.

I see that Jo Walton's Among Others got the nod for the Nebula (and the Hugo) this year.  I agree, at least in the case of the Nebula, it was the strongest entry, and such a paen to SF could hardly lose.