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- "Stories from The Quiet War" by Paul McAuley (Revi...
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For this reason his novels while tending to assume the structure of thrillers and mysteries, are in effect quite close to speculative fiction and in a few cases I would argue that they are sff-nal by any reasonable definition.
While I have almost all of his novels that have been translated into English and a few like Regicide that are French only and I fully read some four as of now, I also read quite a lot from a few others and I plan to read carefully all his oeuvre as time goes. Here I will present the two most impressive (imho) of Alain Robbe-Grillet's novels I've finished so far.
"A provocative novel by the most influential living French writer, Recollections of the Golden Triangle is a tour de force: a literary thriller constructed of wildly diverse elements--fantasy and dream, erotic invention, and the stuff of popular fiction and movies taken to its farthest limits.
A secret door that is opened slightly by an electronic device, a beautiful hanged factory girl, a pale young aristocrat whose blood apparently nourishes his vampiric lover, the evil Dr. Morgan who conducts his experiments in "tertiary dream behavior," the beautiful and sinister women from the world of horror films, and the investigating police, who are not all what they seem to be, are just some of the ingredients of this intriguing new novel by the French master of the intellectual thriller, whose novels and films have effectively changed the way we can look at the "real" world today.
Recollections of the Golden Triangle challenges the reader to find his own meaning in its descriptions, clues, and contradictions, and to play detective by assembling the pieces of the fictional puzzle"
Recollections of the Golden Triangle is a haunting and visual book that just throws at you unforgettable imagery and quite a lot of scenes from the novel stuck with me for a long time. If you want a mind bender which is short but offers more than novels three times its size, this one is highly recommended. Try opening it and see if it mesmerizes you - the Amazon listing linked above too has a few pages excerpt and I grabbed a picture of the first two paragraphs of the book from there.
Repetition is on its face a classical Cold War thriller as the blurb above indicates, but in reality the action is so over the top and the imagery so haunting and outlandish that the book is as close to sff as it gets, while standing withing accepted historical facts. This is a superb novel but one that is not for everyone with its hallucinatory prose, uncertain and shifting identities and themes of incest, forbidden love, s&m, Lolita... all taking places in the ruins of Germany in 1949.
Everyone encountered is not quite whom he or she seems but the main characters - our "hero" HR aka Henri Robin aka many other names - his seeming double (identity and role to be revealed later), his "handler", the older German officer that is a target of assassination and the mysterious mother and daughter pair of the American zone in Berlin whose past and relationships with the main characters above is also slowly revealed give this novel its power in addition to the superb prose.
Highly recommended and another novel that needs to be read at least twice since early happenings change or deepen their sense after later revelations so the second reading will be quite different than the first. Also in a contrast with Recollections of the Golden Triangle and showing the author's literary range, this novel starts slower and then accelerates in the second part to end in a pretty decisive, no controversy about what's what, finale.
Order "Blue Remembered Earth" HERE
Read Three Chapters from Blue Remembered Earth HERE
Read FBC Review of "House of Suns" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Terminal World" HERE
INTRODUCTION: As my number one sf writer of the 00's, any novel or story by Alastair Reynolds is a must and based on the exciting blurb below, "Blue Remembered Earth" has been one of my highly anticipated novels of 2012. As I commented in this review of the recent Solaris SF anthology that featured a superb story by Mr. Reynolds, I really missed reading the usually "annual" novel from the author in 2011 as Terminal World has been published in early 2010 and Blue Remembered Earth showed me once again why...
"One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked - well, blackmailed, really - to go up there and make sure the family's name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise - or anyone else in the family, for that matter - what he's about to unravel. Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything. Or shatter this near-utopia into shards .."
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Blue Remembered Earth" is arguably the author's least "technical" novel insofar as its world's society and technology are extrapolated from today's cutting edge stuff without anything really "exotic" and Mr. Reynolds talks a little about this in the Acknowledgements page of the novel.
However I found the book an excellent showcase for the author's major strengths, sprinkled with what I consider to be his occasional weaknesses and proving again why he is still the number one writer of "hard" sf today.
The world building is top notch, Africa as a major power comes off naturally and pitch perfect, the Aquatics, the Moon colonies, the Martians, the Mech, the AI phobia of the society and the dispute between the bio-first and the tech-first powers/corporations read also naturally and the novel's universe is both "alive" and a place where I can easily imagine myself living. As speculation about a mid 2100's Earth and nearby solar system, "Blue Remembered Earth" is simply unrivaled in recent sf and if only for that and the novel is a top 25 of mine.
There are some underwater scenes that are just unbelievable even if a little too short, but those few pages are also almost worth the novel by themselves, not to speak of the Moon stuff and the Martian one; lots of humor and the Pyhthagorean adventure - read the book to find out about it - just cracked me up laughing. Just read this paragraph where Geoffrey Akinya visits the Earth Aquatic states:
"He had no sooner formulated that idea than they were, startlingly, outside – crossing between one part of Tiamaat and another, with only the tube’s glass between them and the crush of the surrounding water. They were crossing through a forest of night-lit towers, turreted and flanged and cupolaed, submarine skyscrapers pushing up from black depths, garlanded with myriad coloured lights. The buildings were cross-linked and buttressed by huge windowed arches, many stories high, and the whole city-district, as far as he could see, lay entwined in a bird’s-nest tangle of water-filled tubes. He could, in fact, make out one or two tiny moving forms, far above and far below – swimmers carrying their own illumination, so that they became glowing corpuscles in some godlike arterial system."
"Blue Remembered Earth" is also a compulsive read that you do not want to put down and here is one place where Alastair Reynolds of 2012 shows his maturity as a writer, comparing with the amazing but fractured in style Revelation Space of 2000. The novel follows the two rebellious siblings, Geoffrey and Sunday Akinya, one who starts as an Elephant scientist on Earth and the other as an artist in the Moon "free zone" - where the complete Mech surveillance is banned by law - and when the narrative splits into two threads, the transitions are smooth and each storyline is compelling on its own.
The weaknesses noted in earlier novels - most notably the lack of major differentiation between Geoffrey and Sunday despite their different genders, the use of important secondary characters like Sunday's boyfriend Jitendra and Geoffrey's ex Jumai as props rather than real "live persons" and the mostly cartoonish villains Lucas and Hector Akinya, our heroes' cousins - appear too, but a few powerful secondary characters like old family retainer Memphis, "opposition" leader Arethusa, the (sfnal) "spirit" of deceased matriarch Eunice and others I leave you to discover, mitigate this and show again the growth of the author in literary skills.
The other niggle I had about "Blue Remembered Earth" was its thriller/quest structure that developed after maybe a third of the novel and which gave a feeling of "too long in parts" with some action sequences that could have been shortened for a stronger impact, while the "content" part - eg more about the Mech and the Gearheads or the Moon free zone for example, more backstory, more path evolution of the world - could have been lengthened for a higher ratio of content/action as befits a core-sf "sense of wonder" novel versus a "run of the mill" action thriller.
The book has a great ending which makes it a quasi-standalone, though of course I want to know what happens next in the Poseidon's Children series which "Blue Remembered Earth" (top 25 novel of mine) debuts so magnificently. If you want to understand why sf at its best is still the most interesting form of literature today, "Blue Remembered Earth" and the recently reviewed In the Mouth of the Whale are the places to go.
Official Paul J. McAuley Blog
Order Stories from the Quiet War HERE
Read FBC Review of "The Quiet War"
Read FBC Review of "Gardens of the Sun"
Read FBC Review of "In the Mouth of the Whale"
INTRODUCTION: I read this collection after the wonderful In the Mouth of the Whale - my top 2012 book so far and while it's very early, I am quite sure the novel will remain a top 10 as the year goes by - as I did not want to leave the superb universe of the author.
For some of the stories here, it was the 4th or 5th time I read them, some third, some second time and only Karyl's War which is newly published (hint: contains an Arab Spring reference) was for the first time; notable Quiet War milieu stories missing are Dead Men Walking and The Gardens of Saturn which are also awesome and there are 2 or 3 others excellent ones missing also (The Passenger, Assassination of Faustino Malarte...). Still for a very low price, these 5 stories offer a very good reading experience and I highly recommend them.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Stories from the Quiet War opens with a new introduction by the author explaining a bit the genesis of the milieu and of the novels, while also making the transition from the Solar System of their action, to the future and away of In the Mouth of the Whale.
Making History is the first QW story I have read in the awesome PS anthology "Futures" of 2000 and it hooked me on the milieu; this was my 4th or 5th read of this story and the first person narration of an aging history professor who is commissioned by the winning powers to write a biography of the most hated (or most heroic) leader of the Outers, the immediate post war desolation where the winners make the rules and the vanquished endure and a beautiful girl and a love stricken police commander/chief torturer were as fresh as on the first read.
Incomers is a more recent story and is set after the war in a habitat less touched by it, though its reverberations and suspicions still go on; good stuff too but less memorable than most of the rest.
Second Skin - one of several stories about the spies and saboteurs, the Earth Powers had sent in the first wave of the war before the conquest and while Dead Men Walking is the best such, this one is excellent too.
Reef - Outers science and tech on display and sense of wonder and speculations about the future; this story fits best with In the Mouth of the Whale and is another excellent one
Karyl's War - the odyssey of an Outer outsider who wants only to be left in peace to live his nomadic life, but as those memorable words say: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you". More great world building and action as well as a cautionary tale for all seasons so to speak. When history is in the making, the individual becomes a statistic...
Overall - if you have not read the author's wonderful series that starts with The Quiet War, try these stories and see if they hook you as Making History did it 11 or so years ago for me...
Via SFSignal from which I grabbed the image above and then from Torque Control here are the 2011 shortlist nominees for the British SF Association best novel award. After a few comments, I will include the nominees in the other three categories below.
- Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press) - Amazon link
- Embassytown by China Mieville (Macmillan) - FBC Rv
- The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz) - FBC Rv
- By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz) - FBC Rv
- Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing) -author site
COMMENTS: While smaller that its US analog Nebula, and not on the scale of the best sff award today - the British Arthur Clarke one - the BSFA awards are (imho) much more interesting and "respectable" than the often butt of jokes Nebula ones and I always take a look at them. This year the shortlist contains three major sf novels that have all made my top 25 list of 2011.
You can find more information and comments in the reviews linked above.
In addition, there is the provocative "Osama" from Lavie Tidhar (the author of the superb "Bookman Files" series from which the third installment The Great Game will be published soon and I plan to review it in early February, while the first two books have been reviewed HERE and HERE). I have a review copy of Osama and I will definitely take a look in the near future too.
Then for the last nominee, Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith, a book and author I have not heard of before - one of the beauties of these lists is bringing such to attention - but as it is available inexpensively as an ebook at the link above, I have just bought it and will take a look as the blurb is intriguing and the sample reads well.
Of the three major novels above, I would go with By Light Alone as my clear top choice and I give it 33% odds to win, though I would say the big favorite remains Embassytown. The Islanders is an extraordinary book in its way, but I would say it is the "most acquired taste" of the three.
As promised here are the rest of the nominees in the other 3 categories.
Best Short Fiction
The Silver Wind by Nina Allan (Interzone 233, TTA Press)
The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July)
Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley (Kameron Hurley’s own website)
Covehithe by China Mieville (The Guardian)
Of Dawn by Al Robertson (Interzone 235, TTA Press)
Out of This World: Science Fiction but not as we Know it by Mike Ashley (British Library)
The SF Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition ed. John Clute, Peter Nicholls and David Langford (website)
Review of Arslan by M J Engh, Abigail Nussbaum (Asking the Wrong Questions blog)
SF Mistressworks, ed. Ian Sales (website)
Pornokitsch, ed. Jared Shurin and Anne Perry (website)
The Unsilent Library: Essays on the Russell T. Davies Era of the New Doctor Who (Foundation Studies in Science Fiction), ed. Graham Sleight, Tony Keen and Simon Bradshaw (Science Fiction Foundation)
Cover of Ian Whates’s The Noise Revealed by Dominic Harman (Solaris)
Cover and illustrations of Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls by Jim Kay (Walker)
Cover of Lavie Tidhar’s Osama by Pedro Marques (PS Publishing)
Cover of Liz Williams’s A Glass of Shadow by Anne Sudworth (Newcon Press)
Official Paul J. McAuley Blog
Order “In the Mouth of the Whale” HERE
Read 12 Chapters from In the Mouth of the Whale
Read FBC Review of "The Quiet War"
Read FBC Review of "Gardens of the Sun"
Order Stories from the Quiet War HERE
INTRODUCTION: As I have read and hugely enjoyed almost all sff Paul McAuley has written to date as well as a few of his near future thrillers, In the Mouth of the Whale has been one of my most awaited novels of 2012. While events in the duology The Quiet War/Gardens Sun impinge a little, this novel takes place far away in time and space and it's a standalone which can be read independently.
One thing of caution: as the main points of the two above novels are retold here, In the Mouth of the Whale contains huge spoilers for the preceding duology, though to be honest the characters and world building are such a big part of the enjoyment of the author's novels, that storyline spoilers are ultimately not that important.
And of course I highly recommend you to try The Quiet War and the stories from its universe, part of which the author has recently released inexpensively HERE.
The author describes the novel much better than I can on his website and I will reproduce his "overview" below, while the first 12 chapters can be read at the link above. As Paul McAuley says (and on reading the book I feel this overview presents the book pitch perfect):
"After you die, what do you do for the rest of your life?
The posthuman Quick settled the system of the star Fomalhaut long ago, and created garden worldlets and thistledown cities in its vast dust ring. An empire that after centuries of peace fell to a second wave of settlers, the fierce and largely unmodified True People. And now the True are at war with interlopers from another interstellar colony, the Ghosts, for possession of Fomalhaut's gas giant planet, Cthuga.
In the damaged and perilous Amazonian rainforest, the precocious Child is being groomed for her predestined role. But control of her story is fraying, and although she is determined to find her own path into the future, others have different plans.
In the war-torn worldlets of Fomalhaut, a librarian, Isak and his assistant, the Horse, are harrowing hells, punishment for a failure they can never live down, when they are given a new mission. The Library of Worlds has been compromised by a deep, mysterious conspiracy; as Isak and the Horse attempt to unravel it, they're drawn into the final battle for Cthuga.
And aboard a vast scientific project floating in Cthuga's atmosphere, a Quick slave, Ori, is snared in the plans of an eccentric genius. As the Ghosts mount their final assault on Cthuga, she discovers that she hold the key that determines the outcome of the war.
Three lives. Three stories that slowly draw together. And at their intersection is the mystery at the heart of Cthuga. Something dangerous and powerful. Something that may not only shape the future of humanity, but may also give control over the shape of its past."
The transitions are handled very well as they make you want to read what comes next in that particular thread, but also what comes next in the upcoming thread and the book maintains this balance to the end. The style transitions well too, from the more serene and slower moving chapters where the unknown entity narrates, to the immediate saga of Isak, the Horse and later Prem, where Isak comes as the typical "naive do gooder but very likable" hero of sf, so you cheer for him, to the action packed, darker story of Ori and the Quicks.
Overall the first three quarters of the novel were the kind I really wanted to just go on and never finish, while also reminding me why sf is still the most interesting literature when done superbly like here; sense of wonder, great characters, and for once the (as genre sff goes of course) stylistic daring I mentioned above. The last quarter was all action and things converged well with a great ending.
A combination of real - space shoot outs, strange habitats with everything from primitive life forms, dangerous animals to post modern grifters - and virtual action - harrowing hells, immersive drone combat -memorable characters and world building involving human/posthuman clades, slavery and superb references ("wreckers", "the True"...) weave into a rich tapestry that contains hard sf - biology and physics with a sprinkle of math - sociology and politics as well as a deep sense of history and what evolution means, while the speculations about future technologies and future possibilities for humanity are very convincing.
I also want to emphasize the "realistic feeling" that the author's exquisite world building induced, without info-dumps or too much jargon. I will direct you to chapter eight, so #3 in Isak's narration for a great example of this, while I will quote a few paragraphs here:
"A steady spout of water poured from a notch in the fountain's bowl, feeding a stream that ran off along a channel cut in the lawn, rippling clear as glass over a bed of white and gold quartz pebbles. We followed it through a rank of cypresses and emerged at the edge of a short steep slope of loose rock and clumps of dry grass. The parkland I had glimpsed from the flitter stretched away beyond, a mosaic of dusty browns and reds enlivened here and there by vivid green stands of trees. The sky had taken on the dusky rose of sunset, and clumps of stones glowed like heated iron in the low and level light. Rounded hills rising on either side hid the margins of the platform: the parkland seemed to stretch away for ever, like the landscapes of sagas set on old Earth.
Lathi Singleton dismissed my praise of the illusion, saying that it was simple stagecraft. 'My interest is in the biome itself. The plants and animals, and the patterns and balances they make. This one is modelled on Africa. You have heard of Africa?'
'It's where we first became what we are, Majistra.'
'I once kept a species of early hominin in this biome. Australopithecus afarensis. The reconstructed genome is contained in the seedship library; it was easy to merge it with Quick templates. And of course we hunted the usual Quick variants as well. But those happy days are long gone,' Lathi Singleton said, and walked off down the slope, stepping quickly and lightly beside the stream, which dropped down the slope in a ladder of little rills and waterfalls and pools, its course lined with red and black mosses and delicate ferns as perfect as jewels.
It grew warmer as we descended, and by the time I caught up with Lathi Singleton, at the bottom of the slope, I was out of breath and sweating. The stream emptied into a wide pool of muddy water whose margins had been trampled by many kinds of feet. Scaly logs lay half in and half out of the water on the far side. When one yawned, its mouth two hinged spars longer than a man's arm and fringed with sharp teeth, I realised that they were a species of animal.
'They won't hurt you because they can't see you,' Lathi Singleton said. It was the first time I had seen her smile. 'None of the fauna can see or smell anyone unless I want them too. Come along. I've arranged a little picnic. We'll eat, and I'll tell you what I need you to do, and why.'"