Monday, December 17, 2007

Ex Libris: November Books

And just in case people are interested of my book reviews for last month, here they are:

Here's that New Weird again

Jay Lake's Trial of Flowers is a strange duck, in the same vein as Jeff Vandermeer and China Mieville: surreal, weird, fantastical and with so much happening that a paragraphical description won't do it justice. However, Lake knows he's telling a story-- so that when it becomes a WTF moment when he relates how the people are holding a Carnival-like parade complete with flowers to raise a leader and ectoplasmic god-monsters show up, it's really part of the story. In this case, three idiosyncratic (almost pathologically) characters interact to save the City Imperishable from its enemies inside and outside. Unfortunately, the question remains-- as it always does-- when something or someone has to be saved: does it want to? Lake is definitely a writer to watch.

Split decision

Funny enough, I'm two-minds about Sarah Monette's first book in a series, Melusine, which is apt since the book (and the series) is really about two characters: the brothers Felix the wizard and Mildmay the assassin. I really thought Felix was pathetic, and was always looking forward to Mildmay's sections. However, Monette had written the intertwining sections of the Felix and Mildmay's narratives so well that I couldn't escape reading one without the other. And when it all tied together, as Felix tries to redeem himself for a crime against the magical city of Melusine, it worked quite well. Recommended (just endure Felix's sections).

Epic fantasy with sarcasm on the side

On the other hand, Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself (also first of a series) is an epic fantasy romp loaded with three likeable characters-- a somewhat intelligent barbarian tired of sword-swinging, a fop of a swordsman out of his league, and the best of the lot, a torturer who hates everyone. Think of the character of "House" in a medieval setting. The characters were such an enjoyable read, one only realizes after two-thirds of the book that the plot moves a tad bit slow. I still don't have any idea what the whole thing is about but I'm willing to shell out my hard-earned money for the succeeding books.

Taking names, old school

For a classic look at "gritty" SF, Alfred Bester's The Stars my Destination (original title: "Tiger! Tiger!") comes highly recommended. Despite the somewhat dated technology and the rather surreal ending, Bester's characterization of Gully Foyle shines through as the man-who-will-not-be-stopped in his mission to gain revenge against his enemies. Sometimes it's over the top-- though now that I think about it, there's really no difference between Foyle and Alexandre Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo, including the huge carnival act. Still, I can see why Harlan Ellison praised Bester as "the preeminent class act of imaginative literature".

Chinese murder mystery

Alas, Barry Hughart's books, including Bridge of Birds, is considered one of the tragedies of the fantasy genre in that after the second book, the publishers dropped his series. Which is a shame because it's damn good. Think of a Chinese Sherlock Holmes (a wise man with "with a slight flaw") and his muscular sidekick out to solve a new and old injustice, add strange coincidences and interfering gods, spirits, demons and other nasties, plus mix in a lot of laughs. In terms of sense of humour, the best comparison I can think of is if Douglas Adams made a funny mythic Chinese story. If you see this in a bookshop, buy it quick. You won't regret it.

It's an alien world, mon

Meanwhile, Tobias Buckell's SF-adventure story, Crystal Rain, is interesting reading for those who are wondering how to include one's culture in their stories. Buckell relates a Caribe-flavored SF wherein peoples of Caribbean heritage are on the verge of being overrun by a blood-thirsty Aztecan empire. However, the presence of a third force-- aliens revered as gods-- on the planet ensures that Buckell's story isn't just a small conflict but rather one of inter-stellar importance. Exciting reading except for some problems I had with Buckell's prose (he had a tendency to repeat himself prosaically).

This is called greekpunk

But if the previous book had Caribe versus Aztec, Richard Garfinkle's Celestial Matters is hard SF-alternative history as he relates a tale wherein Ptolemaic science holds sway and the Greek empire is up against its Chinese counterpart. What's more, we have space battles with a Greek 'moon ship' racing to grab a piece of the Sun as a weapon. It was a bit dry in the telling and I had a hard time at first in wrapping my head around the Ptolemaic science. But in terms of conceptualization, Garfinkle's book is hard to beat. Where else can you have a Spartan going up against a ninja?

At least I finished all of these books. Though weirdly enough, I can't remember when I had packed in the Garfinkle. I swear my memory is going.

(And just to bug people, I'm selling copies of PSF volume 3! Buy now! Buy now!)


skinnyblackcladdink said...

dude, it's Tiger! Tiger!

you're right about the Count of Monte Cristo thing though. that's what it sorta is.

banzai cat said...

Hehe thanks I stand corrected.