Saturday, March 03, 2012

Book catch-up: Nov & Dec 2011


In Other Worlds, Margaret Atwood
SFFANZ review book - link here.
At the start of this book, Atwood invokes the mighty Ursula Le Guin - funnily enough, both Le Guin and Atwood have published collections of essays that purport to offer insight into the fantasy genre with particular reference to children's writing. However, the respective approaches of the two essayists are very different. Whereas Le Guin's approach was to analyse popular children's fantasy novels and tease out common themes, Atwood's is to talk at length about the bunny superheroes she doodled as a child. I think readers may be able to guess my opinion of this book.

City, Clifford D Simak
Recommended by a friend, this collection of stories chronicles the decline of humanity and the subsequent rise of canine/robotic civilisation. I'd expected a certain degree of tweeness, but in fact the stories hold up well and despite the stretch of time over which they were originally published, there are strong thematic links between them as well as the occasional recurring character. Pretty good.

The Adventures of Langdon St Ives, James P Blaylock
Borrowed from a friend. This small press hardback volume collects together all of Blaylock's Langdon St Ives stories - the novels Homunculus (which was one of the three novels to comprise the original canon of steampunk) and Lord Kelvin's Machine, as well as half a dozen short stories. In terms of its basic imagery, this body of work seems to be the inspiration for most subsequent steampunk - the eccentric Victorian inventor, the evil mad scientist, the airship that no modern steampunk writer can seem to do without. But like The Anubis Gates and Infernal Devices, it's a lot looser than the modern stuff and it's in the "secret history" vein rather than alternate history. It's interesting to read through the short pieces, presented in order of writing, and see Blaylock's ideas slowly develop - St Ives is more morally ambiguous and much less responsible in the early stories, the fiendish Dr Narbondo is redeemable and even to be sympathised with. By the time we get to Homunculus, Blaylock has settled into a more comfortable style of heroic adventure yarn, which he sticks with thereafter. Generally entertaining, with Homunculus the high point for me.


The Digging Leviathan, James P Blaylock
Borrowed from a friend. Although not part of the Langdon St Ives canon, I'd gathered that this novel linked into it in some way, and so it does, with subtle but significant links to Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates thrown in as well. Giles Peach is a small-town American boy with the unwitting power to reshape reality with his daydreams; he believes he's a scientific genius, but either way the upshot is the same: when Giles decides he's going to drill to the centre of the Earth, there's every reason to believe that he can do it. Dr Hilario Frosticos, last scion of the villainous Narbondo line, plans to exploit Giles' power for his own evil purpose; Giles' friend Jim, Jim's paranoid father and his uncle Edward St Ives try to foil Frosticos. This novel's even looser than the Langdon St Ives stories (which it preceded), but somehow it works.

No Other Home Than This, John Andrews
Library book. Examines the history of immigration into New Zealand and the various motivating factors behind it, or at least that was the idea. In fact large sections of this book are given over to very broad digressions on NZ's pre-human history, and to centuries of human history outside NZ that the writer believes give some insight into the cultural mindset of the later settlers, but which I believe are shameless padding to get the book up to a saleable weight. Still, once the book gets around to the frigging point, it's pretty good, and if nothing else it offers an extensive list of potential further reading.

Maddigan's Quest, Margaret Mahy
The story here is that we saw the NZ children's fantasy series Kaitangata Twitch off the back of its Sir Julius Vogel Award win last year, enjoyed it so much we went looking for more, found the 2006 series Maddigan's Quest adapted by the same team from a story by the same writer, and while we were waiting for the DVD to arrive and for our chance to start watching it, I got hold of the book. And it's good. A travelling circus troupe crosses a post-apocalyptic NZ in search of the solar power converter needed to keep the city of Solis alive, pursued by assassins from the future. It'll be interesting to see how the TV version compares.

Hunter's Moon, David Devereux
Borrowed from a friend - well, sort of thrust upon me by a friend, really. Andy McNab spoof with supernatural elements. At least, I assume it's a spoof. Also a touch of Ian Fleming pastiche in the sliiiightly misogynistic leanings - that's the charitable interpretation, anyway. The story follows a magically adept secret agent - a kind of SAS wizard - as he tries to stop a feminist/activist coven of witches in the Home Counties from assassinating the Prime Minister. Emphasis is more towards realism than fantasy, with hand-to-hand military action to the fore and the magical business kept relatively low in the mix. The coven is run as a cult, and we see far more conventional brain-washing than magic, although there are also demons in the offing. Eh... it was all right, certainly not badly written, but not exactly my thing.

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