Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

September 2, 2009

Ben Okri – Starbook

Filed under: review — Tags: , — Sam @ 11:37 pm

This book is delightful, dense, and rather odd. It’s a kind of Nigerian fairy tale (though “fairy tale” itself is a very Anglocentric term – “folk story” might be better. Though I ain’t never seen a horse write SF), and plays around with the age-old prince-meets-princess story in a way that also brings in slavery, the nature of creativity, the inner life of a people, the now of history, and the Passion.

The text plays around in really interesting ways with causality, narrative sequence, and the reality of one group to another. One of the first people we meet in the book is a king and his son; shortly after that, a tribe of artists whose art arises as a spontaneous reaction to reality, who disclaim all credit or remembrance, who make art the way they breathe or converse. But neither the king nor the artists are “real” to each other, or to the kingdom; and the kingdom is barely “real” to itself.

June 6, 2009

Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu – Zahrah the Windseeker

Filed under: review — Tags: , , , — Sam @ 4:59 pm

This is, almost entirely, a delightful book. It’s a little like Stardust, a little like The House of the Spirits, and a little like The Edge Chronicles, but mostly like itself.

It’s classic YA quest fantasy – an early-teenage girl comes to grips with her Special Nature, begins to explore the Forbidden Greeny Jungle (yes, that’s its real name) with her best friend, and then when he’s injured decides to go on a quest for the medicine that will save him.

She lives in a delightful world full of whimsically sketched and pleasantly inadequately explained biotech (genetotech? Techneculture? Clever plants, anyway) with light bulbs that grow in pots and can be transplanted into the walls of your house, CPU seeds that grow into PCs, and flowers as currency. Oddly, there are some others around (non-biological digi-book and compass, and a reference to cars being either hydrogen or flora powered) but no elaboration on them. It’s a very animistic world, too – Zahrah’s compass talks to her, there are Talking Animals both benign and predatory, and we’re left in no doubt that she considers the animals and even some plants around her as intelligent and sapient as she is.

The only problem I have with it is that it’s narrated in the first person by Zahrah herself, and she’s basically not that interesting a person to share headroom with. She isn’t all that curious about what’s going on around her, and rarely initiates anything that the plot doesn’t require her to, and whilst we’re told that she grows and changes it’s hard to see that for ourselves.

For that matter, the promise of the phrase “born dada”, and the name “Zahrah Tsami”, doesn’t seem to be fulfilled – whilst there’s a great deal of Odd Stuff going on, it all makes sense in context. It’s all explicable and can be related to the main plotline.

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