Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book catch-up: January

The Affinity Bridge, George Mann
The Osiris Ritual, George Mann
Well, now we're into January and the first of the Christmas books. These are the first two Newbury and Hobbes novels, part of a series of steampunk detective/adventure stories that I've been eyeing up for a while now.
In The Affinity Bridge, secret agent Sir Maurice Newbury and his assistant Miss Amelia Hobbes investigate the apparently unconnected matters of a dirigible crash, a spate of deaths caused by domestic automata going berserk, and a zombie plague sweeping the East End. (I don't know what it is about zombies in steampunk stories, but there's a lot of it about just now.)
In The Osiris Ritual, against a backdrop of Egyptological intrigue, Miss Hobbes investigates a stage magician who may or may not be involved in the disappearance of several young ladies, while Newbury is sent in search of a former secret agent turned rogue cyborg assassin.
Readers may have gathered that there's a lot going on in these stories, but they don't feel cluttered - they're busy, but not overcomplicated. They're not really trying to be more than plain, honest, pulp adventure fare with some SF trappings, and at that they succeed very well. I would've liked a little more character development - the romance that develops between Newbury and Hobbes is well signposted and develops very perfunctorily, for instance, while Newbury's opiate addiction doesn't seem to have any real consequences - but as they stand these books are entertaining and pretty solid. I'm likely to read more in the series.

Time Unincorporated, vol 2, ed Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
A collection of essays - some culled from old fanzines and other books, some new - on Doctor Who (Ye Olde Edition, 1963-89 & 96; vol 3, due out this year, will concentrate on Ye Newe Edition, 2005 ff). Could possibly have used more comedy pieces, and I was a bit surprised by just how many pieces were filched from the very recently published Time and Relative Dissertations in Space, but still, a pleasant and engaging read.

Stories of Your Life and Others, Ted Chiang
Ted Chiang's been an active SF writer for about twenty years now, but his entire bibliography to date amounts to about a dozen short stories and a small press novella or two. And this is the only mass market paperback of his work currently available, collecting his first eight short stories. Four of them have won major SF awards. Chiang actually turned down a nomination for one of the others, apparently on the grounds that he wasn't satisfied with the published version. This should give some indication of the overall standard of the collection.
"Seventy-Two Letters" is still a favourite of mine, along with "Tower of Babylon", another story that takes scientific (or at least academic) theories contemporary with the setting of the story and runs a very long way with them. "Hell is the Absence of God" is another good one, a story in which the Christian metaphysical world interacts with the real world on a daily and catastrophic basis; I'm not entirely sure whether it's meant seriously or as a black farce. As for the other five stories, there aren't any duffers, they just wowed me slightly less than the three already mentioned. Fingers crossed that it won't take Chiang another decade to get a second mass market book published.

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