Sunday, June 17, 2012

May books round-up

Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies, Lucy Sussex
Another anthology borrowed from a friend because it's on the SJV ballot.  Ranges broadly on the spectrum from mainstream to fantasy, with pronounced feminist leanings.  Overall quality is high, barring one or two duffers - stories where author/narrators contrive to meet their historical heroes, yeuch.  Top stories include "Merlusine", "La Sentinelle", the very Le Guinnish "The Queen of Erewhon" and "God and Her Black Sense of Humour".  Must find and read more Lucy Sussex.  Of the nominated anthologies I've read so far, this is my preferred choice.
(But not the ultimate winner, which proved to be Tales for Canterbury, a post-earthquake charity collection that I read large chunks of last year but had since forgotten about.  I suspect sympathy for a worthy cause may have swayed the vote.)

The Servants, Michael Marshall Smith
Moving tale of a teenage boy discovering that his mother has cancer while on "holiday" in Brighton with her and his stepfather.  While struggling to deal with all the upheaval, he befriends the elderly woman in the basement flat of the house they're staying in, and she shows him the old servants' quarters.  Strange things happen there.  A short but good read.

Jack Cloudie, Stephen Hunt
More remixed pulp adventure fiction from Stephen Hunt - this one comes across like a combination of Hornblower and 1001 Nights with airships.  There's some toying with the gender politics of the Middle East that I think might best be described as problematic, but by and large this is a solid entry in the continuing saga of the Kingdom of Jackals.

The Drowned Cities, Paolo Bacigalupi
SFFANZ review book.  Basically, Bacigalupi's not pushing himself.  This book's good, but he needs to write another solid gold knockout to follow The Windup Girl, not coast along on the merely good.

Steampunk!, ed Kelly Link & Gavin J Grant
Yes, more steampunk.  This anthology promises to stretch the boundaries of steampunk, and delivers; it includes a pleasing variety of stories, mostly good but with the regulation couple of duffers.  Also includes the two SJV Award novella nominees that weren't written by Paul Haines.  Notable items as follows:
"The Last Ride of the Glory Girls", Libba Bray - frontierpunk, with the dispossessed narrator infiltrating a gang of riot-grrl train robbers who need her technical skills to operate their clockwork time-freezing device. A lovely little piece that could easily withstand being expanded to novel length, in my opinion.  The attempted slang spelling is a little wearing, though.
"Clockwork Fagin", Cory Doctorow - mutilated orphans in a Victorian poorhouse overthrow their cruel governor and replace him with a mechanical double.  Another cracker with the potential of a novel in it.
"Hand in Glove", Ysabeau Wilce - Fantasy detective story that might best be described as "Auguste Dupin meets Frankenstein".  I thoroughly enjoyed this one.
"Gethsemane", Elizabeth Knox - SJV nominee #1.  A borderline case for inclusion in this volume, but a well-written character study and displaying clear NZ sensibilities.  My preference for the SJV Award, but not the actual winner.
"The Summer People", Kelly Link - notably not steampunk.  Even by the author/editor's own criteria as given in the book's introduction, this present-day fairy story can't possibly qualify.  And it's a big load of pants to boot.  Wet raspberries to you, Ms Link.
"Steam Girl", Dylan Horrocks - SJV nominee #2, and the winner.  Really a story about steampunk rather than actually a steampunk story.  Still, a charming piece and a deserving award winner.
"The Oracle Engine", MT Anderson - Roman steampunk.  A wronged man in Triumvirate-era Rome develops a mosaic-based predictive machine to help him get revenge.  Anyone who's familiar with the many stories of oracular double-speak in classical literature will know instantly how this is going to pan out (plus it's largely based on a recorded historical incident).  But what a great story!

In the Midst of Life, Ambrose Bierce
Picked up dirt cheap at a book sale, and - what luck! - contains all the Bierce stories I'd hoped to find in one volume.  A satisfying combination of American Civil War yarns and backwoods horror stories.

1 comment:

Christopher Pittard said...

Ha - I know Lucy Sussex. She came to my Victorian crime conference in Exeter in 2005, and we occasionally chat about detective fiction (which is one of her academic fields, especially antipodean stuff - basically, Lucy and I are the twin poles of the academic expertise on Fergus Hume, a hugely popular Victorian crime writer from NZ). Had no idea she wrote SF, though, but a quick Google confirms it's the same person. If you need any more of hers, let me know and I'm sure I can arrange something...