Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Chimes, by Anna Smaill

The Chimes was nominated for a World Fantasy Award this year, and also "long-listed for the Man Booker Award".  I was possibly long-listed for the Pulitzer--no one informed me.  Matters not, the question is, is it a good read and a candidate to win?

Anna Smaill is an english major, and the book is very stylish.  The Chimes is set in a post-apocalypse London, where music has deliberately replaced much of language and is a primary means of communication.  The book's style tries to get across the feeling of thinking musically, in words.  Quite a challenge.

The protagonist comes to London after his parents' death to find a particular person in the city who might be able to help.  When she refuses him, he falls in with a street gang that makes a living recycling palladium.  The palladium is in turn used to build and maintain the Carillon, played twice a day.  Its music drives all memories from the minds of the people of London, except for those they take extreme measures to preserve.  The Masters think it is better this way, after the disaster (called the Allbreaking).  The protagonist does not start out looking to change this, but finds the leader of the gang he is in with does.  The plot moves from there.

Unfortunately the challenge Smaill sets for herself winds up being a bit much, and what we end up with is a book that is difficult to read.  Its plot is OK but does not, in my mind, quite repay the effort needed to pull it out.  I got something out of it, but if I'm glad a book is over when I'm done reading it I can't give it a strong recommendation.  2 stars from me.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Savages, by K. J. Parker

I have spent the past few days enjoying Savages by K. J. Parker, another of the 2016 World Fantasy Award nominees.  It's an excellent read, with some buts...

My previous experience with Parker (aka Tom Holt, disclosed last year) has been through the stories A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong and Let Maps to Others.  These are deliciously well written short stories in every dimension, and you should go read them right now.  Savages has all the style...

The story has multiple protagonists, starting with a man who is stripped of all possessions, has his family slaughtered and is left for dead surviving the experience and starting over.  We also have a brilliant general, a skilled forger, and an aimless son of an arms maker--but you get all that from the jacket.  What's more interesting is the story of a very long-lived empire at the end of its rope but for that general, and how that empire and its enemies (with each main character from some branch) wear each other down.

The book has all the clever writing of the short stories.  The protagonists are all witty and self-aware, they have a fine time steering their fates.  What is missing somewhat is a point.  The stories mentioned above definitely make a point--you come away not only entertained but thinking.  In Savages the cleverness begins to wear a little thin as the book (yet again) begins to resemble Game of Thrones--a telling of a history but not really going anywhere.

For all that it is a good read and I can recommend it.  Not sure that it will hold up as my favorite.  Interesting and fortunate that my library was able to score one of the 1000 copies of the signed edition.  

Friday, August 5, 2016

Pockets, by Amal El-Mohtar

Pockets is a fine SF story in that it works through a very simple premise in a very beautiful way.  Our protagonist is a woman whose pockets start producing objects she did not put in them.  Her response and pursuit of the cause develop the story.  It's a very worthwhile read in the World Fantasy Award short fiction category.  I give it 3 stars.

Waters of Versailles, by Kelly Robson

Sadly I somehow neglected to write a review of Kelly Robson's fine novella, Waters of Versailles, when I first read it for the Nebula awards.  I will rectify that now for the World Fantasy Awards. 

Our protagonist is an upper-class commoner and artisan who aspires to nobility in Louis XVI's court.  He is cultivating noble women, and providing a service by taming a water sprite and convincing it to pump water through pipes of his devising, allowing modern plumbing in the palace of Versailles.   It's a fine speculative story that shows the utility of plumbing through this unusual route to get it.  The character and plot development are excellent as well.  It's just a very satisfying story to read, so go right away and read it while the link is still good.  Four stars from me!

The Heat of Us: Notes Toward an Oral History, by Sam J. Miller

The Heat of Us is the sort of story the Sad Puppies complain about for the Hugos.  It's an oral history of the Stonewall uprising with the added fantasy element that a wave of fire magically came off some of the resisters and killed several of the cops involved in the raid.  It's got some literary interest for character development, but there's really not much there that's speculative.  OK but I can't give it more than two stars.