Friday, January 20, 2006

Ex Libris: A Quick Review

Just so I'd have a clean slate, here's a quick look at the nine books I read last year but I hadn't gotten around to reviewing:

  1. Steph Swainston The Year of Our War: Very interesting concept about a kingdom ruled by an immortal emperor and served by a select in a war with inhuman insects. However, I thought it faltered in its execution. The world-building skills is quite imaginative but it somehow lacked "realness" for me. Story and prose is adequate, almost simplistic at times. I probably succumbed to the hype over Swainston as the next New Weird writer when I first heard about this.
  2. Steve Aylett Atom: A hyper-kinetic fun read about a weird private eye and his ugly giant gold-fish in a surreal city. Akin to riding a carnival ride: you feel like you're just barely hanging on even as your brain feels it's been blenderized. I was quite sorry when I finished reading this one.
  3. Ian McLeod The Light Ages: A slow-paced story about an England that managed to industralize itself by mining magic. It reminded me of Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange opus but a bit on the heavy/drama side, lacking the sly humor of the former. More Charles Dickens rather than Emma Austen, I think.
  4. Graham Joyce The Facts of Life: Joyce can never go wrong with me and he proves it once more about the life and times of a British family during the WW 2 Blitz. The only thing strange here is the family's second sight but you have magical prose, fascinating characters, and an engaging story. So, what more can you ask for?
  5. Peter Straub ed. Conjunctions 39, The New Wave Fabulists: If the McSweeney's anthologies are a cross-over attempt of non-genre writers to genre, this is the reverse (for example, John Crowley's story doesn't have any fantasy element in it). Some great stories in here, some just okay. However, people should get this book if only for the essays of genre critics Gary K. Wolfe and John Clute. And, oh yes, Kelly Link's story.
  6. Howard Waldrop Going Home Again: Waldrop is supposedly the genre's best kept secret and this book convinces me why. Interesting stories, plus his story-notes are almost as good reading as Harlan Ellison's. Unfortunately, unlike Ellison's notes, the reader really needs to read Waldrop's in order to understand better his stories.
  7. Jeffrey Ford The Physiogonomy: Courtesy of handsome robb. I can see why this is start of the greatness that is Jeff Ford: a strange city, a demented ruler, a rebellion, an investigator using a strange science to find a monster. Funny enough, this did remind me of Colson Whitehead's The Intuitionist.
  8. Brian Aldiss Malacia Tapestry: Aldiss' fantastical tale of an alternate history where dinosaurs flourished and populated a Renaissance-era Italy (no Eric Garcia dinosaurs-in-latex suits here though!). Definitely an anti-fantasy anti-story novel: the layabout main character has a series of encounters while their city is undergoing a siege.
  9. Michael Chabon ed. McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories: A better draw of short stories as compared to the first collection. I liked the stories of China Mieville, David Mitchell, Steve Erikson, Jason Roberts and Daniel Handler (even though I didn't get the ending).

Of the nine books I've mentioned, I'd recommend outright two: Steve Aylett and Graham Joyce. But then, I've always been a sucker for great prose (or in case of Aylett, weird ones).

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