Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

November 18, 2010

Alan Campbell – God of Clocks

Filed under: review — Tags: , , , , , , — Sam @ 2:36 pm

This is Part 3 of the Deepgate Codex series; I realised after it got to me that I hadn’t actually read part 2 (Iron Angel) after all, but I picked up on what was happening quickly enough.

From my several-years-old recollections of Scar Night I’d expected something fairly intense, with text as gothically baroque as the architecture, but my memories must have been in error because the style here is straightforward and relatively transparent.

What did stick in my mind was the imagery, and it’s amazingly inventive. The god of brine and fog sails a decaying wooden ship across the sky, with an army of deathless corpses hanging from the gallows below, and an immortal man dragging it behind him across the world. The god of knives and flowers rules a kingdom, and commands a legion of soldiers. And the god of clocks lives in a vast castle which exists, in strange and complex ways, across all of time.

Time travel is handled interestingly here—we see the classic looping effect, but without being shown all the branching points for the duplicated character. Mind you, it uses the Very Slow Time Machine method (ie. living through the intervening time, 1:1) for part of the trip, so that was probably a practical decision as much as anything.
It’s introduced very late in the book, though, and doesn’t really relate to—or interact with—anything that happened before it, so its potential feels rather wasted. That’s symptomatic of the whole book, really; vast numbers of cool things happen, but not in any real detail, and without emotional intensity.

I found the characterization a bit lacking, but that can often happen when you (effectively) start with Part 3. Some are excellently done (John Anchor, for instance), but others seem to be coasting rather on their initial introductions. I think part of it is the classic adventuring party problem; with a lot of characters together, it’s rare for an author to find things to do with all of them, and Campbell is noticeably better with two- or three-person scenes.

Overall, it’s a fun and easy read; I’d recommend the series to a mid- to late-teenager looking to move on from Garth Nix, or anyone who’s looking for an uncomplicated thrill to spark their imagination.

January 16, 2010

Kim Stanley Robinson – Galileo’s Dream

Filed under: review,sf — Tags: , , , — Sam @ 4:38 pm

I loved this book. It’s both a pure shining SF novel and a good, respectful fictionalized biography of an amazing man; it really brings the beginnings of science to light, and I learnt a lot I hadn’t known about the politics surrounding the Copernican system at the time. (I also learnt something I hadn’t known about elliptical orbits, too.)

If I could arrange my bookshelves by affinity (and if I hadn’t taken it back to the library), this one would go between Anathem, Godel Escher Bach, 2061: Odyssey Three, Galileo’s Daughter, and Latitude. In fact, I had to re-read Latitude almost immediately on finishing Galileo’s Dream.

June 27, 2009

Connie Willis – To Say Nothing of the Dog

Filed under: review,sf — Tags: , , , , — Sam @ 11:30 pm

If the proposition had been put to me, prior to reading this novel, that it was even remotely possible for a text to be at one and the same time a time travel caper, a 1930s detective story, a deconstruction of the Country House Novel, and an extended meditation on modelling chaotic systems and the cosmological significance of jumble sales, I would (I freely admit) have been dubious.

There are so very many things I would like to say about this book, but it will take another half-dozen readings at least for me to understand it properly. That is, however, a chore I will undertake with equanimity.

Normally, I would encourage all of you to read this book immediately; however, that would be wrong of me. You must, if you have not already, read Three Men in a Boat (though The Wind in the Willows will do at a pinch), The Complete Jeeves and Wooster, By His Bootstraps, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, William the Conqueror, and at the very least The Nine Tailors and Gaudy Night. Then you must read this book.

I was a little disappointed when I worked out one of the central mysteries long before the protagonists did; but then again, it was (in retrospect) inevitable, and I suspect Willis would have been disappointed if a genre-aware reader hadn’t been expecting that.

The book is gentle, witty, poignant, and more than occasionally side-splittingly hilarious. It runs on cheerfully, like the ever-flowing stream which forms such an eminently Victorian metaphor for time, but – like the stream – there are all sorts of interesting eddies and crosslinks inside the flow. Nothing is insignificant, the story tells us. Nothing gets ignored or passed over; not bulldogs, Oxford Dons, kittens, spinster ladies, or the most egregiously hideous Victorian decorative ware. All Nature is but Art.

June 14, 2009

Harry Harrison – The Stainless Steel Rat Saves the World

Filed under: sf — Tags: , , , , — Sam @ 12:47 pm

I adore the Stainless Steel Rat books. I grew up with them – my father’s old Sphere paperbacks, and then 2000AD serialized The Stainless Steel Rat For President in 1984/5. (I was 8. I was in heaven.)

Slippery Jim DiGriz has always been the epitome of the fast-talking, high-living, straight-shooting trickster hero (and First Person Smartass), and what’s more he never kills people. He’s rather the Technical Pacifist, though, and it’s stated fairly unambiguously that this is down to his not wanting to kill people rather than, you know, not wanting them to die. And I don’t have a problem with that… it’s more honest than the A-Team version, where they very carefully show everyone escaping from the burning building or the car crash. And Jim rarely sheds a tear (except in a melodramatic smartass kind of way) for the mooks who do insist on dying. This happens a lot around his wife Angelina.

Speaking of Angelina, though… she’s a former psycho killer mastermind, who was born Extremely Ugly and had herself reshaped into ravishingness. She and Slippery Jim fell in love, and he had top Patrol doctors surgically implant a conscience in her. This is possibly a littlIe too close to Taming Wild Women for my taste, but, well, 1972 SF.

Speaking of 1972… well, 1975 really. This is one of that odd sub-genre of SF where the protagonist travels to the author’s time (or timeline) and generally place, and we’re supposed to derive some enjoyment from their attempts to understand our world or their gleeful rampage through it. And, of course, from recognizing things they don’t.

It seems to be closely related to that odd sub-genre of SF set in a fantastical world which halfway through turns out, with a nod and a wink, to be a postapocalyptic version of our own.

I suppose you could call them reverse portal-quest stories; there’s probably a case for understanding them as a kind of mooreeffoc story, with the same abrupt disruptive perceptual shift in the Way Things Are.

On the other hand, the past is a different country, and 1970s America even more so; I feel that that perceptual shift trivializes and distances the interestingness of it. Which is probably useful in context, since that lets us focus on the characters and the capers instead of the scenery.

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