Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Book catch-up: July/August

You know the drill.


Veteran, Gavin Smith
SFFANZ review book. Not my usual cuppa, but I certainly didn't feel that I'd made a terrible mistake in taking it.

Under the Mountain, Maurice Gee
I suppose I can claim this as part of the extremely slow NZ writer familiarisation programme. This is the seminal NZ kids' SF novel; a brother and sister on holiday are (must not say groomed, must not say groomed) recruited by a mysterious old man to defeat the evil plans of a bunch of cthonic aliens who live next door to their aunt and uncle in rural Greater Auckland, and... let's just say the ending involves a volcano. A good example of its type.

Rivers of London, Ben Aaronovitch
Borrowed from a friend. If Kraken is The Sweeney, this would be The Bill. "What would happen if Harry Potter grew up and joined the Fuzz," says the cover quote, and you can't say fairer than that. This is, quite simply, brilliant. Take all the ingredients of supernatural romance and throw them out the window, you won't be needing them any more. PC Peter Grant is recruited into the Met's paranormal division, investigates a series of unnatural deaths with a strangely familiar theme, and has to mediate in a dispute between Father and Mother Thames on the side. Second volume in series swiftly borrowed. Own copies will inevitably be bought.

Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud
Library book. McCloud provides an entertaining and informative history of comics (or comix, or graphic narrative, or whatever you care to call it), examines the extent of what the medium is capable of and bemoans the fact that not enough writers/artists make full use of that potential. Thumbs up.


Embassytown, China Mieville
One of the best books I've read this year, and possibly Mieville's best yet. Embassytown is a human enclave on an inhospitable alien world, made possible by the native Ariekene biotechnology. The Ariekene are two-mouthed and can initially only communicate with other two-mouthed beings, so the most important people in Embassytown are the Ambassadors, who are identical twins telepathically wired to each other so that they can speak the Ariekene language with two mouths but one mind. The Ambassadors effectively control the human trade in Ariekene technology, and the use of Embassytown as a way station for further exploration of deep space. Then the human parent colony tries to break Embassytown's independent power base by sending their own Ambassador, comprised of two completely different people badly linked together. The result is catastrophe for the Ariekene and, without the native support needed to keep the enclave going, for the humans as well. The next relief ship is two years away, so it falls to the Embassytowners to save themselves by saving their hosts.
This is a fantastically rich book, with all kinds of themes firing off against each other. The politics are less to the fore than in Mieville's other novels, but play their part in the story. Also in the mix are considerations of language, communication, duplicity and metaphor (the Ariekene are capable of saying two things at once, but initially have no concept of falsehood), as well as a great alien contact story on the surface. I'll expect to see this one on next year's Hugo ballot.

Soho Moon, Ben Aaronovitch
Borrowed from a friend. More cracking supernatural police adventure - in this one, Peter Grant tracks down an entity that sucks the life out of jazz musicians, and runs up against a villainous acquaintance of his wizard guvnor. Where's Book 3, Aaronovitch, where?!

Time Unincorporated, vol 3, ed Graeme Burk & Robert Smith?
Essays and skits on Doctor Who in its post-2005 form, some insightful and some superficial. Contained a startling number of reprints from other books - I thought this series was touting itself as "the fanzine archives"? I didn't get as much out of this as I got out of vol 2 in the series, or out of the other collections of learned essays on Who that this book plunders.

Faction Paradox: A Romance in Twelve Parts, ed Stuart Douglas & Lawrence Miles
A collection of short stories that tie in, to varying degrees, with the shared concepts set up in the Faction Paradox novels. Quick recap: there's a hard-to-define war taking place across all of reality between the Time-Lords-but-we-can't-call-them-that-for-legal-reasons and a hitherto unnamed Enemy; Faction Paradox are an anarchic cult with stolen time technology who are playing both ends against the middle.
The level of quality here is high with only a couple of weak stories, notably one that didn't actually seem to have been written for this book (just what is Jonathan Dennis' "Gramps" doing here?). Highlights include Matt Kimpton's "Storyteller", a metafictional addendum to Beowulf; Daniel O'Mahony's "Print the Legend", starring Charlie Dickens, Chronicler of the Western Frontier; and Philip Purser-Hallard's magnificent "A Hundred Words from a Civil War", actually a hundred quickfire pieces of a hundred words each, and a great tale to boot.

Smithereens, Steve Aylett
Apparently the last collection of short stories Aylett intends to produce. Now, I like Aylett's little blasts of bitter satire, but damned if I can remember a single piece from this book two months after reading it. I'll have to fetch it off the shelf and look at the contents page to remind myself.
No, that hasn't helped. I recognise the titles of two stories that I'd previously read elsewhere as well as in here, but the rest of it just hasn't stuck at all. Not in the same league as Toxicology.

The Thackery T Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities, ed Ann & Jeff Vandermeer
Following the success of The Thackery T Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases, here's a more general compendium of art and prose from more genre luminaries than you can shake a stick at, with a loose theme of Things Found in Dr Lambshead's Cellar. There's a broad range of material from novella-length (or very nearly) to tiny flash fictions, fantastic photographs and drawings, and an assortment of prose pieces inspired by art pieces and (I think) vice versa. And pleasingly, it's all excellent.


Christopher Pittard said...

Surprised it's taken you this long to get round to "Under the Mountain," especially given your volcanic adventures of not so long ago. But you're surely familiar with the 1981 TV version, right? No? Luckily, someone put the whole thing on Youtube... (well, not luckily for my deadlines this spring). I also understand there was a film remake not so long ago, but it was *too good* for cinema.

John Toon said...

There was indeed a film remake just a couple of years ago, and in accordance with statutory regulations governing Kiwi visual media, it starred Sam Neill (it has to be either him or Charles Mesure, apparently).

No, I haven't seen the film or the TV series! Quelle shockeur. Several friends are in a position to lend it, though, so I needn't even go so far as to burn our bandwidth allowance on it.