Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sanctum - Markus Heitz

I promised to see if I could get my hands on this book after reviewing Ritus by the German author Markus Hetiz in September. As it turned out the book was still available in my local book store so I decided to see if I liked Sanctum better. I'm stubborn like that, I don't easily drop a series. Sanctum is the second half of the story that began in Ritus. Where Ritus is more focussed on the historical part of the novel, partially based on the legend of the Beast of Gévaudan, Heitz explores the connections between the historical and present story line more in this book. It turned out to be an entertaining read but like Ritus, I wasn't all that impressed.

We pick up the story of Jean Chastel in the year 1767. He has killed the beast but the price has been high. He has lost his sons and what's worse, he knows the beast was not the only one. Although the French King would have peace and quiet restored in the region Jean knows the danger isn't past. Together with his beloved abbess Gregoria he decides to travel to Rome to see the pope. One of the church's agents did not quite behave like one would expect of a representative of the Holy See during the events that lead up to the killing of the beast. First Jean has to travel to Versailles to present himself to the king however. He makes Gregoria promise to wait but she leaves for Rome without him anyway.

In 2004 Eric von Kastell's search for the one remaining beast his family has hunted for centuries is turning into quite a mess. After getting into several nasty fights in the previous book Eric finds himself empty handed in a national park in Croatia. Several other groups have shown interest in the beast for several different, usually less than honourable purposes and none of them are afraid to support their claim with bullets if words fail. To make matters worse, his girlfriend is in the hands of one of these groups. Eric decides to travel to Rome to find her only to find that the intrigue surrounding the beast runs far deeper than he ever suspected.

I had hoped the character of Eric would receive a bit more attention in this book. Although Heitz gives us some clues about the origins of his family throughout the book he still spends most of his time running from one fight to another. Some of them are way over the top, in fact, given the number of very lethal gunfight he gets in, it unbelievable that the authorities have not taken an interest in his activities. What's even stranger is the number of groups that suddenly seem to spring up around Eric with in interest in him or the werewolves. Eric's family has been hunting them for centuries, surely they should have noticed the competition by now. Oh, and then there is the small matter of financing his, shall we say, rather destructive lifestyle. In short Eric is not a very believable character (did I mention he speaks at least 6 languages?). I had hoped for some improvement but Heitz only seems to have made it worse in Sactum.

The historical part of the novel is somewhat better. It is mainly set in Rome and effectively uses the historical conflict surrounding the Jesuits at that time. Heitz carefully reveals the origins of some of the organisations Eric runs into centuries later. This insertion of a little history makes it sound somewhat plausible. Jean's actions in Rome suffer from the same problem as Eric's however, he leaves bodies wherever he goes. Again, you'd expect people to notice this. It was not until the part where he trains a group of church sponsored women warriors before I really began to wonder what Heitz was thinking.

Sanctum is Ritus on steroids. It is supposed to be bigger, better, faster, more and when it comes to the action scenes Heitz succeeds in this to a degree. The book is fast, the action relentless and brutal, the reader can almost hear the bullets flying past. There is more to a good book than that though and Heitz neglect to lay a proper foundation for all this action. The dangerous stranger with the dark past remains just that. I was also quite disappointed in the way Heitz ties his two stories together at the very end of the book. He could have done it in a number of ways but in the end it almost felt like an afterthought.

In short, Sanctum is not the improvement I had hoped for. If you like fast and action packed this book might still entertain but for me the plot itself showed so many holes that I couldn't really get into the story. I guess it is a classic werewolf tale of local legend intertwined with a bit of conspiracy theory. This story works, it gets written over and over. In this case the execution leaves something to be desired though. I am sure there are a lot better werewolf stories out there than the one I just read.

Book Details
Title: Sanctum
Author: Markus Heitz
Publisher: Luitingh Fantasy
Pages: 496
Year: 2008
Language: Dutch
Translation: Marcella Houweling
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-90-245-2860-8
First published: 2006

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Shadow's Edge - Brent Weeks

I read Weeks' debut novel The Way of Shadows a while ago. It was not a brilliant book but it kept me entertain enough to try the second part in the Night Angel trilogy, Shadow's Edge. With only a month between the publication of each book this trilogy it is the perfect series for a reader who doesn't like to wait for the next book. On the whole I liked Shadow's Edge a lot better than The Way of Shadows. With the wider scope of the story it is a much more satisfying read than the first book in the series. Even if it still has a number of annoying flaws.

The story picks up right where we left the characters at the end of book one. The army of the Godking (as he styles himself, there is little in the way of proof of his divinity that I can see) Ursull has taken the city of Cenariain an orgy of violence and blood. The nation appears subdued, all resistance broken. Kylar has decided to give up his life as an assassin and prepares to move away from the city with his beloved Elene and their adopted daughter Uly. Elene has made Kylar promise not to kill again whatever the circumstances but Kylar finds that a promise impossible to keep.

I becomes even harder after his old friend Jarl shows up on his doorstep and tells him Logan Gyre, the recently appointed heir to the last king of Cenaria and close friend of Kylar is still alive. To escape the Godking, he has hidden himself in the most unlikely of places, the worst prison in the country, a place known as the Hole. It is only a matter of time before Logan is discovered or perishes in his hellish prison. Kylar needs to act and he needs to do it now. Especially since the Godking does not seem to have forgotten Kylar either.

Were the story of The Way of Shadows was very much confined to Kylar and the city of Cenaria Shadows's Edge zoomed out a little. There's a lot less emphasis on Kylar's character and we get to see more of the politics surrounding the conquest and occupation of the nation. It gives the story more depth than the first part of the trilogy. I still think a bit more detail on the Godking and the search that drives him would have done the story good but there is something to the mysterious bunch of magicians opposing him. I guess Weeks does not want the puzzle resolved too early in the trilogy.

I like the character of Kylar a bit better too, now that he finally admitted to himself he is in fact an assassin. With the control over his powers increasing Kylar gets into a number of very cool, almost matix-esque fights. His relationship with Elene on the other hand is a bit over the top. Considering Elene grew up in one of the worst parts of town and has seen more than enough human misery you'd expect her to hold a somewhat more realistic view on human nature. Her religious views were so at odds with the world around her that no reasonably intelligent being would expect themselves to live up to her ideals. It did make for some funny scenes with Kylar trying to talk her into having sex with him though.

I am not all that fond of another of the major female characters either. The second most talented wet boy after Kylar is Vi. Her apprenticeship with the successful but excessively cruel Hu Gibbet puts her through the same mental and physical abuse Kylar suffered but on top of that Hu heaps enough sexual abuse to break even the strongest spirit. Vi puts on a brave face but ultimately she has very little control over her emotions and this makes her easy to manipulate. Hu is described as a very cruel man so I guess the cracks in his apprentice's psyche are fitting. For the story it is something off a loss though. Vi would have made a very good strong female character but somehow Weeks has turned her into a helpless woman in denial, at the mercy of anyone who is clever enough to pull her strings.

Where The Way of Shadows leaned heavily on the action scenes the pace in this book slows down just a little, to allow a bit more worldbuilding to slip into the story. Personally, I feel Shadow's Edge is a bit more balanced and a much better read than previous novel. In fact, for a middle book it has a surprisingly satisfying end. Weeks leaves a number of story lines open for the final part in the trilogy of course, but the story arc in does book doesn't suffer from these loose ends. Unfortunately he manages to undo some of that good work in the epilogue with a plot device that is turning into a pet peeve for me. I can't tell you without spoiling the book though. A lot of improvement over the first book. After The Way of Shadows I doubted I would continue this series. Now, I look forward to the final part in the Night Angel trilogy, Beyond the Shadows.

Book Details
Title: Shadow's Edge
Author: Brent Weeks
Publisher: Orbit
Pages: 636
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-84149-741-9
First published: 2008

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Magi'i of Cyador - L.E. Modesitt Jr.

The nice things about Modesitt's long-running Recluce series is that once you are familiar with the time line you can reread them in pretty much any order you like. There are never more than two book with the same main character. Mind you, for the first read publication order is still the best order to read them as Modesitt refines his order/chaos based system of magic over time. Once in a while I reread one of these book. I call them random Recluce rereads. All of the early Recluce books are written from the Black, Ordermage side of things. Starting from the 8th book onwards (The White Order) Modesitt changes the series around on the reader and writes four books with a focus on White/Chaos oriented characters. These are some of the most interesting books in my experience. The Magi'i of Cyador is the third book seen from the Chaos perspective, the tenth in publication order and the first in the Recluce chronology.

The main character of Magi'i of Cyador and it's sequel Scion of Cyador is Lorn. When we first meet him Lorn is a young man with a talent for Chaos magic he inherited form his father. Lorn has even more potential than his well-respected father but magic is not his passion. His teachers and his father note this, and while his results are impressive it becomes clear a future with the Magi'i is not going to happen. Lorn has quite a few activities outside the closed Magi'i caste. One of them involves Ryalth a pretty, young, and ambitious woman of Merchanter heritage. Lorn intervenes when she is assaulted and is instantly attracted to her. Gradually he learns there is more to Ryalth than just good looks.

When his father has finally had enough Lorn is sent to officer training with Cyador's Lancers, bringing involvement in Ryalth's mercantile ventures to an abrupt end. It also puts him in a very dangerous position. Several generations earlier a Lancer with Chaos-talent took Cyador's malachite throne and the establishment does not look kindly upon that period in their nation's history. Lancers with magely talents are supposed to die bravely and preferably early on the field of battle. Lorn is faced with the impossible task of surviving assignments with high mortality rates as well as keeping his relationship with Ryalth alive.

As usual the worldbuilding is excellent in this book. Magi'i of Cyador is the first book in the Recluce chronology but it refers to an even earlier, very important event. In Fall of Angels we get to see how the Black Angels, the champions of Order magic, crash on the world of Recluce and found the nation of Westwind. In following book, The Chaos Balance, a book which has close ties to this book, we then learn that their arch-enemies the Rationalists have already visited the place and that the nation of Cyador is a remnant of that. Magi'i of Cyador puts the founding of the nation by the 'firstborn' approximately two centuries before the opening of the book. Many readers have asked for that particular story but as far as I can tell Modesitt has no plans to write it.

I also very much liked the way Cyador and it's politics are described. The nation is run by three powerful groups, the Mages, the Lancers and the Merchants, each indicating their own heritage by a different suffix. This small elite is overseen by the emperor and rules over a large population in what at this time is the most powerful and advanced nation of the world. Much of this power is based on the technology of the first born. It is uses for Chaos powered transport, weapons and above all wards to keep the great forest in check (again a link with The Chaos Balance). This technology is failing and can't be replaced, giving the whole society something of the feel of an empire in decline. This feeling is reinforced by many of the powerful characters clinging to past glory and technological achievements that can no longer be matched or maintained. It's a very well realized setting.

Lorn is not the first military man Modesitt has created in his books and I doubt he will be the last. There are a number of parallels with the story of Alucius, the main character of the first three Corean Chronicles book for instance. Modesitt has been accused of being repetitive on more than one occasion and I must admit, I find the differences in the protagonist's characters minimal at times. I like what Modesitt did with Lorn though. Especially early in the book Lorn is not a nice guy. In fact, he is something of a sneaky bastard most of the time, not shying away from violence or even murder when it suits him. It is a trait he never entirely looses even as the stakes rise throughout the book. Even if Modesitt's characters think of ethics a lot, some of their actions are questionable. The author is always carefully inserts various shades of grey into his stories and in this particular instance he succeeds very well.

Modesitt gave the series a good shake up with the White/Chaos oriented books, something the series needed, I don't think he could have gone on as long as he did by just writing from the Order side of things. In fact, I would not mind if he wrote another White story. This book is among the best in the series and I very much enjoyed this reread. So much so in fact, that I was temped to pick of Scion of Cyador right away. I'll leave that for sometime next month though, there's some other books I'd like to read first. A sixteenth Recluce novel, Arms-Commander, will be published in January next year. It will be set a number of years after The Chaos Balance and feature a female main character. A first for the Recluce series. Some people think the series has gone on long enough but I think I could handle another one.

Book Details
Title: Magi'i of Cyador
Author: L.E. Modesitt Jr.
Publisher: Tor
Pages: 544
Year: 2001
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 0-812-57948-8
First published: 2000

Saturday, October 24, 2009

More Tinkering

I got the stats working earlier this month so I now have official confirmation almost nobody reads this blog ;) Time for the next project.

I've finally decided to make a links list. I'm making separate page rather than a long list in the right hand column (which I feel clutters up the main page too much) and link that up to the modest links list that is already there (Sites I like to visit). It is a work in progress of course, I'm considering adding an artist section for instance. There's some very cool fantasy art sites out there.

If you want on and haven't been mortally offended by being omitted in the first place drop me a line at the email address in my profile.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Black Trillium - Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton

Kim picked this first edition hardcover up at a book fair in Amsterdam a while ago. It was nearly in pristine condition. She hasn't read it yet I think, but since I have been ill for most of the week (if this is the Mexican flu I recommend you try not to contract it) and my own to read pile is not as large as it used to be I thought I have a go at it. At first glance it looks like an interesting project. Three leading female authors of speculative fiction writing a book together. I don't know how well it sold but after having read it, I don't think the result is a resounding success. It still spawned a total of four sequels written by each of the authors individually. I understand there are some continuity issues between those books making the whole series a strange one indeed.

Black Trillium is the story of the Kingdom of Ruwenda, a place surrounded by vast marshlands and bogs and closed off from neighbouring states by a mountain range. Ruwenda is a human kingdom but a lot of the inhabitants of the marshlands are not. Different tribes of the Folk or Oddlins, as humans refer to them, live more or less peacefully together. All under the watchful and benevolent protection of the White Lady, a sorceress of great power. The Oddlings are the source of some much coveted merchandise and all of this trade goes through Ruwenda (and adds to the royal treasury). Something not all neighbours seem to think fair.

Driven by the dark magician Orogastus, the newly crowned king Voltrik of Labornok decides to cut out the middle man and conquer Ruwenda. The White Lady's power is waning and the power hungry Orogastus has his own reasons for joining this invasion. Soon the Kingdom falls and all seems to be going Orogastus' way. The White Lady has one more trick up her sleeve though. The three daughters of king Krain of Ruwenda escape when Voltrik's forces take the capital. According to prophecy, they will bring great change to the kingdom. Set on their path by the White Lady ad quest to fulfil their destiny now begins for the bookish Haramis, the hot-headed Kadiya and the shy Anigel.

For most of the book the chapters alternate between the three princesses, with each of the authors writing one storyline. Haramis is the creation of Marion Zimmer Bradley, Kadiay was written by Andre Norton and Aringel is Julian May's part in the story. The style of the writing is very much the same, the editor took great care to make sure the writing of each of the three matches. The prose itself is rather flowery. Probably not everybody's cup of tea, but once you get into it Black Trillium is a pretty fast read. The world building, at least for the nation of Ruwenda is also quite elaborate. It mentions a great many details on life in the marshlands and number of very different types of Oddlings and their cultures. The setting in particular was one of the more interesting aspects of the book.

The story itself is rather disappointing. We see the story for a large part through the eyes of the three princesses who's actions are almost entirely decided by others. There is very little initiative in these girls. The prophecy and guidance by the White Lady lays out their map to their destiny almost from start to finish, turning it into a rather standard D&D plot. Fetch the talisman, rally your supporters, defeat the evil wizard, live happily ever after. And yes, there is a handsome prince to be married too. It's not only a standard and horribly predictable plot, we go though it three times in the course of this one novel. Given the fact that this was written by three established authors, who at that point had more than a few critically acclaimed novels under their belt, it is really beyond comprehension that they were willing to have their name attached to it.

The idea behind this novel may have been interesting and the world the authors use as a setting is certainly unusual but that is not enough from saving this book from being a disaster. If you are attracted to it because the book has three female protagonists (rare these days, even rarer in 1990 when the book was first published) or because of the names of the authors, think again. The good thing about buying second hand books is that you can afford to take chances. I never seriously considered putting it down as the story progressed at a fair pace and the book certainly isn't a punishment to read, but when you get right down to it the plot itself is just substandard. I really can't recommend this book to anyone.

Book Details
Title: Black Trillium
Author: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Julian May and Andre Norton
Publisher: Doubleday
Pages: 410
Year: 1990
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 0-385-26185-3
First published: 1990

Thursday, October 22, 2009

On Reviewing

I came across this link to an article by Bill Ward on the how and why of reviewing on Grasping for the Wind. Like John, I like it a lot. I had to write an awful lot of review to figure even half of this out for myself (and I continue to ignore this hard won knowledge on occasion).

It's also nice to see this subject handled in such a constructive way. I have seen a lot of essays of reviewing that basically say most reviews suck and go on detailing why. Usually this comes down to reviews not containing what the essayist feels it should contain and the whole thing spirals into a pointless debate on what a review actually is.

Ward does not go for a precise definition in his article but he does mention why it is so bloody hard to write a proper review. You are trying to please more than one crowd with one text. I think it will take a couple of hundred reviews more on my part to really get the trick down. Ward offers some advice to reviewers and aspiring reviewers. Recommended reading.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Always Forever - Mark Chadbourn

Earlier this year I read World's End and Darkest Hour, part one and two in Chadbourn's Age of Misrule trilogy. I tried to get a copy of the final book as well but for some reason that took a lot longer than expected. I hate to leave a series unfinished so when my to read stack approached manageable proportions (meaning the stack is not quite as tall as I am) last month I decided to finally order a copy. Always Forever was first published in the UK in 2001. Pyr recently reissued all three with some new and very nice cover are by John Picacio (the cover for World's End has got to be one of the best of the year) with about a month between the books. In 2010 will be reissuing Chadbourn's Dark Age trilogy in the same fashion. These books are set in the same world as The Age of Misrule trilogy.

The Brothers and Sisters of Dragons have never been in worse shape. Shavi has been killed and Laura is presumed dead too. Tom and Veich are still in the north of England trying to decide how to proceed while Ruth and Church are on their way to the Cornish coast. There they hope to be able to find passage to the Otherworld, hoping to convince the Tuatha Dé Danan to join them in their struggle against the Formorii and their plans to bring the destructive god Balor back into the world. Time is quickly running out, the night of Samhain or Halloween, the time will be right for Balor's return. All five of the Borthers and Sisters of the Dragon must be there to prevent Balor from bringing about the word's end.

The Formorii are not content to wait until Samhain.As soon as Ruth and Church are trying to cross over to the Otherworld they are attacked. In England they are also wreaking havoc on the land, in particular on the now totally depopulated capital. London is turned into a ghost town, filled with ruins and burnt out vehicles. It is the place where Balor's power manifests itself most clearly and the place where he will eventually enter the world. If the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons can persuade the reluctant Tuatha Dé Danan to join them, this is where they must face the Formorii to decide the fate of the world.

In the previous two books the action was mostly set in different locales in the UK. Large sections of Always Forever are set in the Otherworld. One particularly interesting location is the vessel of the sea god Manannan. Church and Ruth hail it to get passage to the Blessed Isles. I very much enjoyed to part of the book set there, and he curious descriptions of the ship's interior. These scenes are something of a turning point for Church too, as he doesn't have Tom around to bully him in the right direction when he needs it.

The quest Tom and Veitch undertake to bring back Shavi from to the dead was a little less convincing. Generally, I feel that if you kill a character they ought to remain dead. Very few authors ignore this and really manage to get away with it. There was nothing ambiguous about his death, there for attempts to bring him back, especially when they succeed feel like a cop out. Chadbourn has made it quite clear on several occasions in the book that each of the five is vitally important to succeeding, more or less giving away the result of the quest. Chadbourn wraps all this in a wonderfully Gothic description of the land of the dead but it still feels like a bad choice to me.

Like in the first two books Chadbourn sets a brisk pace, in their race against time the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons can't really afford to lose any time. Being harassed by the Formorii every step of the way makes for plenty of action scenes. He also adds quite a bit to his already large set of mythical creatures and gods. If you enjoyed his approach in the first two books then Always Forever is going to be a fitting conclusion to the trilogy. I think the writing in the final part of the novel felt a bit rushed but it did suit the atmosphere of the book.

The Age of Misrule trilogy is not without it's flaws. It is light on character development and the way the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons are chased from one quest to the next takes on a Dungeons an Dragons quality, especially early on in the series. The great attraction of these books is the way Chadbourn deals with British mythology, the secret history of the land as he puts it by voice of Tom. There is a whole library worth of fantasy novels that borrow from this rich source but I don't think I have read anything that does so in such a comprehensive way as Chadbourn. The books takes us through a variety of myths associated with specific places in the UK. Having been to several of those places in person makes it even more interesting to read. Not perfect but all in all The Age of Misrule series was certainly worth reading.

Book Details
Title: Always Forever
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Pyr
Pages: 469
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59102-741-6
First published: 2001

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Time Out - Various Authors

I provided translations for the titles of the stories in this collection. These translations are mine and any errors in them are mine as well. Should any of this ever be translated there is no guarantee that the translator will even opt for a direct translation of the Dutch title so don't get attached to them.

Earlier this week I received the copy of a collection of Dutch language science fiction and fantasy I won at Fantasy Realm, which despite the English name is a Dutch language site for speculative fiction readers. Generally I am not impressed with the level of speculative fiction written in Dutch. Considering I am not that well read in this area, that may be a bit of a preconception so I make a point of trying once in a while anyway. Someone might surprise me after all. This collection published by the Belgian publisher Kramat seemed like a good candidate. It contains stories by authors you'll frequently come across in the local scene. I have only read books by two of them, one of which I put down after fifty pages because I couldn't get into the story.

By American standards this collection is something of a strange thing. It does not state who is the editor for instance. It does not seem to have a particular theme either. The fifteen stories in this collection range from far future SF to stories set into a more traditional fantasy setting. I suppose you could consider it a showcase of what the field has to offer at the moment. The result is mixed. There are a couple of very good stories in Time Out but also a few that should not have made the cut.

The collection is off the a very bad start with the foreword by John C. Vermeulen. He has a number of English language works on his resume so you may have heard of him. In the introduction he laments the state of science fiction in general, he appears to be a fan of the golden age authors but not much beyond, and of course the very limited recognition for the genre in Belgium. I disagree with his assessment on a number of points but what really puzzles me is why he chooses to kick off this collection on such a negative note. The editor then makes the critical mistake of following this introduction with Vermeulen's own story Vrouw met staart zoekt man (literally: Woman with Tail Seeks Man). It is by a fair margin the worst story in the collection. A combination of wish fulfilment and a cliché UFO story seen from the point of view of a very unsympathetic character. After reading this story I began to fear the worst for this collection.

Fortunately the next story by Guido Eekhaut is one of the best in the collection and probably the single reason why I didn't put this book down. His De angst in de ogen van de Millennium Mens (translating this one is tricky, perhaps "The Fear in the Eyes of Millennium Man") is a wonderfully dark post apocalyptic tale. What drew me to this story in particular is the prose. Eekhaut's use of the Dutch language is some of the finest I have come across in the genre. He manages to create a very dark and resigned atmosphere, a sense of the inevitable approaching. Eekhaut put himself on my to read list with this story.

Next up is Nico de Braeckeleer with his story Extase (this shouldn't need a translation). The main theme of the story is virtual reality. The main character is addicted to committing suicide in a virtual environment over and over again. A kick she thinks far exceeds even the best sex. It's a very interesting concept but unfortunately the end of the story is quite predictable. Despite that I rather enjoyed it.

W.J. Maryson's contribution is a story called De Zee (literally: The Sea). Maryson is a big name in Dutch fantasy with a dozen or so published fantasy novels. He's a very versatile artist. Maryson is credited with the cover for this collection for instance and also has also released several fantasy themed symphonic rock albums. I'm not sure about this story though. It is set in a kind of Waterworld like setting. It could be either fantasy or post apocalyptic. Or perhaps both. A group of people are making a living of rafts drifting on the endless sea and looking for what they refer to as the great raft. It turns out that not everybody on the raft is entirely committed to finding this mythical place. I must admit it is an entertaining read but it also looks more like the first chapters of a novel rather than a piece of short fiction. I had the feeling the story was just about to get going when Maryson concluded it.

In De Goliath (again this should not need translation) Johan Deseyn offers a tale with a classical theme. The artificial intelligence of a great spaceship about to be decommissioned objects to being terminated and turns on the crew preparing it for its final journey. Not a terribly good story. Personally think the process of an artificial intelligence going mad can be (and has been) used to great effect in science fiction stories. Deseyn doesn't show this however. He presents us with a machine already insane and never offers the main character any hope whatsoever of escaping doom. This story didn't work for me.

Peter Schaap is the only author in the collection I have finished a novel of, his 1999 fantasy Het Woud van de Maker. I think the emphasis of his writing is more on fantasy but in the story in this collection, De zesde poort (literally: The Sixth Gate), turns to science fiction. The story revolves around a high risk experiment that goes awry after the test subject passes the sixth gate. Schaap does not focus on the experiment itself but rather the motivation of the main character to take part in it. It mostly succeeds in distracting us from the technical side of things. Solid story.

Versteend Verlangen by Bianca Mastenbroek, (again a difficult translation, perhaps "Petrified Desire") is one of the highlights of this collection. A community is being manipulated by dragons into an unusual form of population control. It uses a classic fantasy trope and an ecological principle to build a very interesting story. Add to that a character with one of the strongest desires know and a nice non linear narrative you get a great story. My only critique is that there is perhaps a bit too much into this relatively short story. There is material for a novella there at least. Mastenbroek is also someone I am going to have to keep an eye on.

The next story Noodstop (literally: Emergency Stop) by Rudy Soetewey is one of the most unusual stories in the collection. The main character is desperately trying to get to an important meeting on time but it frustrated by Antwerpen's rush hour traffic. The hurdles he has to take and the situation he finds himself in become increasingly surreal as desperation takes hold of him. It is a very well paced story building up from a regular case of road rage to a complete disconnection with reality. Very well written.

Another very imaginative story is Kees Krick's De Maatopnemer (Perhaps "The Measurement Man"). I suppose you could say it is about a man caught in an awful marriage getting rid of his wife. A nasty specimen she may be, this is not a very nice thing to do. The concept of staying on the edge of life and death is interesting enough to ignore that for the duration of the tale. One of the more original stories in Time Out.

Pijn (literally: Pain) is Thirza Meta's contribution to the collection. It's a very short story about a woman struggling with an unnamed illness causing her great pain and fatigue. I suppose she escapes the reality of her situation to deal with the pain. It's an intriguing story but it does leave the reader with a lot of questions. Perhaps the glance she offers is a bit too brief for me to fully appreciate it.

Frank Roger and his story De kloof in de toren van hoop (literally: The Rift in the Tower of Hope) is something of a critique on our consumer society. It is also a clear miss in my opinion. The author depicts a society where the faults of consumerism are much more pronounced than in our own. Despite that all the main characters are blind to it. They are prepared to make unbelievable sacrifices to obtain material wealth for their families. For me it strains suspension of disbelief beyond the breaking point. His point is clear enough but I didn't really like this story.

De Droomfiguren (literally: The Dream Figures) by Mel Hartman is another virtual reality themed story, this time seen through the eyes of a PI. He is hired to investigate the disappearance of a wheelchair bound antiques dealer by his worried wife. His condition seems to rule out the usual motive and it soon turns into a very unusual case. De Droomfiguren deals with some pretty heavy themes (which I won't mention, it would spoil the story). At first I feared it would be a rather cliché story but it turned out very well.

Written by a man who's pseudonym still makes me wince but accurately states his ambition, De laatste akte (literally:The Final Act) by Brad Winning is one of the more interesting stories in this collection. It deals with a travelling judge and a band of stage actors meeting in a small rural town. None of them appear to be above a little robbing and cheating but when the opportunity arises one of them is prepared to take it one step further. A wonderfully wicked main character makes this story very much worth reading. According to the author introduction preceding the story, an English translation is going to be published but I have been unable to find any useful information about the collection that should contain this story.

I am going to be very brief about Robot op Mars (literally: Robot on Mars) by Luc Vos. It commits the deadly sin of having the main character wake up at the end, finding it was all a dream. Ouch!

That takes us to the final story in this collection Gestolen Tijd (literally: Stolen Time) by Tisa Pescar. I have rarely read a future where the lives of people are depicted as being as meaningless and empty as in this story. There does not seem to be any room to deviate from the rigidly controlled standards society imposes on the people. Naturally the protagonist does not wish to conform to these standards and rebels. Very depressing story with an equally depressing conclusion. Of course I have a weakness for bleak or post apocalyptic futures so I like this story just fine. I'm not entirely sure if I would choose to end a collection with this one though. Maybe something that would leave the reader in higher spirits might have been better.

With collections like these there is never a hundred percent score. I guess that if the stories you liked are more numerous than the once you didn't it is a good collection. For me that is the case for Time Out. I do think that the level of the stories varies too greatly and that another look by a good editor would have done this collection a world of good. On the whole I did enjoy Time Out. There are several authors in this collection I want to read more of in the future. It is always a good thing if an anthology makes your to read list grow. Another aspect I also enjoyed is the difference between the language of the Dutch and Flemish authors. It is not so clear as in spoken language but it's still there. Should any of this ever be translated that is a point that is probably going to be lost. This collection has its weaknesses but all things considered enough positive points to gain my stamp of approval.

Book Details
Title: Time Out
Author: Various Authors
Publisher: Kramat
Pages: 286
Year: 2009
Language: Dutch
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-90-795-5218-4
First published: 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Wild Shore - Kim Stanley Robinson

This is another review from the archives. I dug it up polished it a bit and moved it over here because I intend to read the remaining two books in this series some time later this year, or maybe early next year. I wrote the original version of this in August 2007 and after rereading it I must admit it needed a bit of work. Hopefully this version will read a bit better than the 2007 edition does. Enjoy!

The Wild Shore is the first book of the Three Californias trilogy. Each book covers a possible future of Orange County, the place where Robinson grew up. The Wild Shore was first published in 1984 and was his first full length novel. I wasn't sure if the concept would appeal to me, does it get repetitive? I decided to try it at least and give the first one a go anyway. I always liked post apocalyptic settings so this first book probably suits me best. No regrets after reading it. The Wild Shore is a very good read.

The story is set in a California after crippling nuclear strikes against the US have laid the nation to waste. The details of these attacks remain unclear, but we do know that it took place in the mid 1980s and that the US did not retaliate. The technological basis of the US was completely destroyed in the attack. In 2047, the year the novel is set in, scattered, isolated groups of people try to rebuild and scavenge whatever they can from the ruins. The economy has collapsed into a barter system with no currency worth mentioning. For reasons that remain unclear to the Americans, the world has decided to actively keep the US from rebuilding itself to its former glory.

In one such community our main character and the narrator of the story, Henry, grows up. He is about 16 in 2047 and lives in a small settlement on the coast. Some 60 people in all, who get by on fishing, some agriculture and trade with the other communities in the area. They seem to lack the resources to move much beyond that in the short term. Because of the struggle for survival and the relative isolation of his community, Henry is quite ignorant of the wider world. Despite the best effort of a man named Tom, one of the survivors of the nuclear strike, he doesn't believe half of the stories he has heard about the former glory of America. Henry may not believe in his nation's former power but there are people who will not settle for mere survival. South of Henry's community, in San Diego a group is trying to rebuild in earnest. They show up in Henry's village with a request from the mayor of San Diego. A request that spits the community, used to taking decisions democratically, right down the middle. Henry chooses his side and has to face the consequences.

Robinson chooses to focus on the characters and this one small community. That means we don't get to see a lot of the world or even California. A lot of the background remains uncertain. Henry doesn't seem to know a lot about it anyway. But somehow that does make him a very convincing character. He's naive, uneducated. Clever in a way but not really intelligent. Quite an unusual character for Robinson really. Most of characters are scientific minded, often very intelligent, Henry doesn't seem to be wired that way. Henry likes action, he is not one to sit around waiting for something to happen or deeply reflect on the possible consequences of his actions. It makes this novel pretty fast paced. More so than Robinson's later work, that tends to contain a lot of reflection of sociological, environmental and scientific issues.

Although the concept is a bit outdated The Wild Shore is absolutely worth reading. It's definitely not the most likely future for California, even if at one time it was certainly possible. Being published right before the first cracks start to appear (to the outside world at least) in the Soviet Union, the timing of this novel probably was a bit unlucky for Robinson. The prospect of nuclear war would be receding fast in the years after publication. The story itself is interesting and skilfully told, Robinson put a lot of thought into how such a community would work (no surprise there, sociology shows up in a lot of his other novels as well).

All in all I was pleasantly surprised by this novel so I guess I am going to try the others as well. There should some subtle connection between the three. It will be interesting to see if there is any difference in his approach between The Wild Coast and the other two books. The Gold Coast and Pacific Edge represent a rampant capitalist society and a utopian society respectively and were published in 1988. Robinson published two excellent other novels in the years between the first and the second Three Californias novels. In these books, Icehenge (1984) and The Memory of Whiteness (1985), Robinson starts exploring the solar system, a journey that would eventually take him to the much praised Mars trilogy. It makes me wonder if his early works were written in the order they were published in. More on the Three Californias soon.

Book Details
Title: The Wild Shore
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publisher: Orb Books
Pages: 377
Year: 1995
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0-312-89036-2
First published: 1984

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Galactic North - Alastair Reynolds

Galactic North collects most of Reynolds' short fiction in his Revelation Space universe (I reviewed Absolution Gap, one of his novels in this setting, a few months back). The collection presents eight stories, more or less in chronological order, covering just about the entire time line the author has revealed so far. Spanning from the early 23rd century to approximately forty thousand A.D., we get a look at most of the factions described in Reynolds' longer work. Individually most of the stories don't quite pack the punch to make them excellent but collectively Galactic North offers a very nice insight in some of the unexplored parts of Revelation Space.

The collection opens with The Great Wall of Mars. The story details Nevil Clavain's encounter with the conjoiners and explains how he became one of them. I was particularly interested in this story. Clavain is one of the major characters in the Revelation Space trilogy and one of the most interesting ones as well. I must admit this story was a bit disappointing. Once the outline became clear it was quite predictable. It does explain a thing or two about the relationship between Clavain and Galiana, as well as a bit of Felka's story. For those who have read the novels this story still has a few things to offer.

We meet Clavian again in Glacial. It tells us of a visit to a previously colonized world by the Conjoiners on their first explorations outside the solar system. Something has gone very wrong on the planet, all the original colonists died except for one man. He was able to freeze himself in time so his body would be preserved for future visitors. The Conjoiners wake him to hear his story but he fails to convince Clavain. Science fiction is littered with puzzles like this. I liked the concept and the way Clavain goes about solving the matter. Perhaps not the most original story but I must admit I failed to solve it before the end of the story.

Next up is A Spy in Europa. It's the only story in this collection I have already read. It is available online here. As the title suggests it is a spy story and it shows us Demarchist society in a bit more detail. Like most of the stories in this collection you will get more out of it if you have read at least some of the novels but this particular story stands pretty well on it's own.

In Weather we shift to the Conjoiner side of things again. This story explores their views on humanity and what happens if they are separated from their collective consciousness. It also reveals one of the secrets of the mysterious Conjoiner drives. I think this is the best piece in the collection. Emotionally it probably has the biggest impact. It has a bit of an open ending. This one leaves you wondering what happened to the main character afterwards.

The Ultras, humans adapted to the rigours of sub-light speed space travel, star in the next story. Dilation Sleep deals with the interactions between a crew member and an artificial intelligence on a long voyage through inter stellar space. The crew member spends most of the journey in reefer sleep, a kind of cryogenic suspension, but he is woken early because of some emergency. It turns out his medical expertise is necessary to save one of the other crew members from a melding plague infection. Or so he thinks... I liked this one a lot. Reynolds has a way of turning space ships in to haunting places for the increasingly paranoid people who crew them.

Grafenwalder's Bestiary is set in the Rust Belt some time after the melding plague abruptly put a halt to the Demarchist's golden age. Society collapsed but there are still ultra rich individuals and some of them have strange interests to spend their money on. A particular group of these people thinks of themselves as collectors. They collect rare and exotic lifeforms and put them on display to dazzle their rival collectors. All very illegal since sentience is no guarantee you will not be collected. The whole process is rife with shady deals and covert operations. Not surprisingly not everybody in this world is what they appear to be, as one of the collectors is about to find out. Conceptually a very interesting story. It's a nice blend of science fiction and horror with an absolutely gruesome revelation at the end.

The next story, Nightingale reminded me a bit of Clarke's Space Odyssey books for some reason. In the wake of a civil war a group select group of specialists boards a hospital ship presumed destroyed in the war to look for a war criminal. The ship turns out to be alive and kicking, it is not going to be an easy extraction. Maybe Reynolds takes a bit too much time to build the tension but he certainly builds a haunting atmosphere. There's more than a bit of horror in this story as well.

The concluding story is the one that gave the collection its name. Galactic North covers almost forty thousand years in forty pages. One of the surviving crew members of a pirated ship sets out in pursuit of the pirates. A voyage that will take far longer than anyone expects. The jumps in Revelations Space history are interesting but I do feel it gives away something of the end Absolution Gap. Personally I would not recommend reading it before the novels.

All things considered this collection contains a number of stories that are more than worth reading. Especially of the Revelation Space fans this collection has a lot to offer. I'm not sure if it would make a good introductions to Reynolds' work however. In the frame of his future history most of these stories work pretty well but you get a lot more out of it if you are familiar with the books. A solid collection by one of the leading authors of space opera. I still haven't read all his Revelation Space related material but after reading Galactic North the missing works are high on the to read list.

Book Details
Title: Galactic North
Author: Alastair Reynolds
Publisher: Gollancz
Pages: 392
Year: 2007
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-575-07984-7
First published: 2006

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Dust of Dreams - Steven Erikson

Steven Erikson's epic fantasy monster The Malazan book of the Fallen is reaching it's conclusion. The ninth part, Dust of Dreams, is the first half of what could be considered the massive closing volume of the series. Until now I have read his books in mass market paperback format, the sheer size of his work makes a hardback rather unwieldy (don't get me started about on how crappy trade paperbacks are). This time around I couldn't contain my curiosity long enough for the paperback to be released. I ordered the hardback anyway. Dust of Dreams is what we have come to expect from Erikson. A massive, multi-faceted, fantasy for the hard-core, epic fantasy fan. In other words, I loved it.

Dust of Dreams is set on the Letherii continent shortly after the events in Reapers Gale. King Tehol the Only has assumed the throne after the defeat of the Triste Edur occupation at the hands of the Malazans. Travore's Bonehunters are preparing for a march into the Wastelands, an aptly named region east of the empire of Lether, that was left almost devoid of life after some ancient catastrophe. Their goal is a mystery to everybody but the Adjuct. In the mean time the Malazan allies are approaching the kingdom of Bolkando, which the Malazan's must pass though to reach the Wastelands. With foreign armies approaching from three directions the Queen of Bolkando feels threatened. It is by no means certain Tavore will reach the Wastelands without a fight.

The Wastelands themselves may appear empty but all sorts of ominous signs point to the fact that it won't be for much longer. Several groups are making their way to or across the region. Most importantly the K'Chain Che Malle, not seen in these lands (in living form at least) for ages, are trying to re-establish themselves. On top of that, events in Toll of the Hounds have removed some major players from the field and released a number of very powerful others. When the effects of the events in Toll of the Hounds become clear on the Letherii continent, it puts just about everybody on edge. From the lowest squad magician in Tavore's army to the most ancient of gods. Change is coming and true to Erikson's style it promises to be violent.

In a brief author's note Erikson explains why this book is going to end on cliffhanger. A first in the Malazan series. Personally, I am not too fond of cliffhanger endings. At least not when reading a series that is currently being written. The prospect of having to wait for the conclusion for a year (or longer) does not generally add to the reading experience. The author seems to agree and has avoided cliffhangers thus far. He thinks it necessary for this book however. The climax of his series is simply to large to fit into one tome. All things considered I think Erikson handles this first cliffhanger rather well. Certainly, it leaves us with a lot of questions, the fate of quite a few characters is unknown, but it does also provide us with some answers, contain some major developments in the overall story and at least one complete story arc. There are worse cliffhangers out there.

Dust of Dreams, like previous volumes in the series, is quite a challenging read. I figured it would take me about ten days to finish it but that turned out to be too optimistic. There's an awful lot going on in this book and rushing through it is not going to enhance the experience. Some readers think Erikson's books are too long and that he could have handled to story in less words. I think for some of the previous books this was in fact the case (The Bonenhunters in particular). I don't think it goes for this book though. We see the story though the eyes of a lot of different characters but Erikson does keep the story contained to a handful of story lines. With eight books worth of back story and the inevitable continuity errors that have crept up during the series, that doesn't mean this book is a lighter read than the previous ones but it did have a pretty clear sense of direction. Something that Toll of the Hounds for instance didn't find until the last couple of hundred pages (or at least not one I could detect).

There are lots of memorable scenes in this book, most of which would considered spoilers but a few I can mention. Tehol and Bug are some of the best characters Erikson has written in my opinion. Their continued satire of the fallacies of capitalism and Letherii society and government is just hilarious. Most of this is contained in the first part of the book, which on the whole is a very fast paced opening by Erikson's standards. Fiddler's antics to escape doing a reading of the Deck of Dragons for the Adjunct is another highlight. The reading itself, if you will permit me a tiny spoiler, makes sure the book is off to a running start. A pace that does sag a little in the middle portion of the book but Dust of Dreams is still one of the faster paced books in the series.

The real verdict on the quality of this book is in part dependant on how Erikson wraps things up in The Crippled God. I am very much looking forward to reading the conclusion of this series that will no doubt remain one of the landmarks in epic fantasy. Dust of Dreams, like the entire series, is complex, dark, humorous and at times heart-wrenching. For fans of the Malazan world this book delivers what has drawn people to the series in the first place. My expectations of the last two volumes were high and Erikson hasn't done anything to temper them with this book. Dust of Dreams sets things up for a blistering finale. Normally books wait for me to find time to read them, with this author I can't wait for the final book to be published.

Book Details
Title: Dust of Dreams
Author: Steven Erikson
Publisher: Bantam Press
Pages: 889
Year: 2009
Language: English
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-593-04633-3
First published: 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Genre vs. Literature

It seems another round in the genre vs. literature debate has erupted. A couple of weeks ago Kim Stanley Robinson (one of my favourite authors) took a swing at the Booker prize judges for their ignorance of the excellent works or (literary?) science fiction currently being published in the UK. Today I came across this article on several blogs and message boards I frequent.

I have never really gotten involved in the debate before. Both parties seem to be firmly entrenched, there really doesn't seem to be a point to debating the of something so ill defined as a genre and what it's (equally impossible to pin down) literary merit may be. It may be hard to pin down genres but the divide between genre fiction and literature is quite obviously real.The question that does occur to me is "Do we really mind?"

As a child I read a lot. An awful lot even. This interest in reading came to an abrupt halt when my classes in Dutch and English literature started. Debating the significance of the dice in Mulisch' The Assault, disecting a poem by Willem Kloos, or figuring out what some particularly obscure phrase by Chaucer would mean in modern English were something of a traumatic experience to me (and I might add, most of my fellow students). And don't blame that on the teachers. They tried. It is not even that I don't appreciate skill and talent of some of the authors discussed. Their selection just didn't interest me at all. My appetite for reading didn't return until I was well into my college years. Since then I have read mostly, but not exclusively, books that Booker prize judges would not want to be caught with.

Laying siege on this ivory tower of literature, trying to gain some foothold in this "respectable" part of writing, is not something I quite understand. In my experience literature can be very enjoyable but it also possess a talent for finishing off any desire to read at all in it's unsuspecting victims. As long as it stays out of the clutches of the literary establishment I don't think genre fiction is at risk of ending up that way.

So tell me, do you think the divide between genre and literature is a bad thing?

Monday, October 5, 2009

The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells

Another read in my efforts to get a bit better aquinted with the classics of speculative fiction (I will be reading some more Heinlein in the not too distant future). Apparently Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are the fathers of science fiction. I have read Verne, which I recommend, they are fun to read, but so far Wells has escaped my attention. Something of a miracle given the fact that Wells was one of the few readable things on the English literature reading lists at the pre university college I attended. I have no idea where this copy of The Island of Dr. Moreau came from but it was gathering dust on the living room table for quite some time so I gave it a go. I found it very readable and, despite being over a century old, in some respects still very relevant.

The story is presented as a written account of the adventures of one Edward Prendick. He is shipwrecked somewhere in the Pacific, Wells is vague about the precise location, and picked up by a ship with some very strange passengers and a very remote destination. The ships crew turns out to be a quarrelsome lot and refuses to take poor Prendick any further than the island they are headed for. Prendick has no choice but to join his mysterious rescuer Montgomery and his bestial servant. The island Prendick finds himself on turns out to be the laboratory of Dr. Moreau, a scientist with an interest in vivisection far beyond what his colleagues find acceptable.

I suppose a novel like this was an inspiration to many writers in the pulp era of science fiction. At barely a hundred pages it is short and throws the reader straight into the story. Very little attention is paid to the main character and trivial questions such at what Prendick is doing in the Pacific in the first place. The novel is very much based around the sense of horror about what is going on at the island, something Wells cultivates to great effects. The sense of dread and rising panic in Prendick is very well done. These days it would probably be considered horror in stead of science fiction.

The science in this novel is date of course. Wells enjoyed part of his education as a student of the Darwinian Thomas Henry Huxley and it shows. I very much doubt that many of is contemporaries would have used the theory of evolution in their works. Man is still very much considered the absolute pinnacle of evolution of course, something that colours Prendick's vision on Moreau's experiments. Vivisection was a big topic of debate when Wells wrote this novel. I guess it still is in some respects. Animal welfare protests certainly haven't gone away and animal testing is as controversial as ever. Most of the things Moreau are not possible or at the very least incredibly complicated. Mixing man and beast is probably the ultimate Victorian taboo, sure to horrify and secretly delight readers back then, but grafting tissue in the way the book describes won't work. Still, it may well have looked possible back then.

The Island of Dr. Moreau is not the most challenging of reads but I think I can see why Wells became so popular in the 1890s. Compared to modern works of speculative fiction it is a very basic story, the bones of which have been used many times since. What it does very well is create a dark, brooding atmosphere and a sense of imminent disaster. It is obvious to the reader that this affront to decency and the balance of nature cannot remain without serious consequences, I guess the story is a bit predictable in that respect. Generally I am not to fond of science fiction before the new wave era but I must admit I liked this one. In Victorian times this book must have been quite something, Wells made quite an impact in this period and from this book it is clear why.

Book Details
Title: The Island of Dr. Moreau
Author: H.G. Wells
Publisher: Dover Publications
Pages: 104
Year: 1996
Language: English
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-486-29027-0
First published: 1896

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Perdido Street Station - China Miéville

I am currently in the process of reading Steven Erikson's Dust of Dreams. It is of average length for one of the Malazan books, which by most standards means it is enormous. I expect it will take me another five or six days to finish it so in the mean time I am going to keep you entertained with this review of Miéville's Perdido Street Station. I wrote it in July 2008 but didn't post it on bscreview because of the one review per book policy that site had back then. It is one of the few reviews on my private blog I consider halfway decent so next time I am reading an encyclopaedia sized novel I will have to come up with another trick :P


I've finished this book almost two weeks ago and I still haven't gotten around to writing the review. Partly because I didn't have the time but mostly because I didn't have a clue how to approach this book. It does a marvellous job of not fitting in any category of speculative fiction I can think of for one thing. Miéville himself calls it weird fiction, which is perhaps the most fitting label one could think of. It took me a long time to make any sort of sense of the story, which, in hindsight, was not that complicated. The book is highly praised for it innovative approach to speculative fiction and awesome world building. While I don't dispute these judgements, upon reflection, I do think the book is slightly overrated.

The story is set in the sprawling metropolis of New Crobuzon. A Victorian London-like city state that is at the same time corrupted and falling apart but also at the edge of modern science. A centre of power that shows both it's long history and new initiative. A city full of strange creatures, held together by it's five magnificent railway lines that join at the cities heart. Perdido Street Station. One of these strange creatures is a the new arrival Yagharek. He is a member of a species capable of flight and has come to New Crobuzon with a lot of gold to buy the impossible.

The man who is to supply this miracle is Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin. Isaac is an independent scientist with an obsession for finding a practical application of his favoured theory. He is looking for means to harness crisis energy. To sustain himself and his research he works for various clients on both sides of the law and isn't above "liberating" pieces of equipment from New Crobuzon's university, his one time employer. His private life is equally colourfully. He is currently in a passionate affair with Lin.

Lin is a member of the Khepri species (the name is a reference to an Egyptian god). The females of this species look human except for the fact that she has the body of an insect, complete with legs and rudimentary wings, where her head ought to be. Lin is an artists, sculpting great pieces of art with her spit and so-called colourberries. Her work is unusual for a Khepri and attracts the notice of one of New Crobuzon's most notorious criminals, Mr. Motley. He commissions her to create a sculpture of himself. A worthy challenge indeed as he is "Remade". A process of adapting the human body to all manner of biological impossibilities. Being remade is usually the result of a punishment handed out by New Crobuzon's notorious system of justice, but can also be used to create highly specialized workers.

Lin keeps her commission carefully secret but soon Isaac is to caught up in his own commission to notice her behaviour. Yagharek's wish proves to be the ultimate challenge, one that Isaac thinks can only be solved by the application of crisis energy. Before Isaac reaches that conclusion however, his investigations inadvertently release a creature that is both of great value and extremely dangerous. Soon the city is in the grip of this creature that leaves a string of victims robbed of their wits in it's wake, if it doesn't kill them outright. Various parties in the city set out to end the crisis but Isaac seems to be the one that can actually succeed.

It took me quite a while to get into this story.
Miéville has two habits that distracted me in the early stages of the book. His vocabulary is impressive. It way exceeds even my passive English vocabulary which is seizable for a second language speaker. I have long ago learnt to ignore the urge to reach for the dictionary every other page but almost Miéville had me there a couple of times. Another thing that makes the first part of the book rather inaccessible too was the way Miéville looses himself in descriptions of various parts of the city. I have to admit, they are marvellous. He makes his city come alive, paints a vivid image of the fantastic environment in which the story is set in his readers' minds. But the fact remains that he does so rather a lot and that especially early on it breaks the flow of the story. Miéville seems to frequently get lost in his own city (no pun intended).

On the other hand
Miéville introduces a lot of very interesting technological concepts. If I understood one of the passages set in Isaac workplace correct Miéville suggests New Crobuzon possesses computer-like technology based on steam power. The Construct Council's rise to intelligence from what is basically a scrap heap is also a very interesting, if somewhat disturbing, concept. Especially in the second half of the book, where the story gains speed, Miéville blends a lot of the technological concepts, Isaac's outlandish scientific ideas and even the local pantheon into a finale that will keep you up too late just so can finish the book. I will have to admit Isaac disappointed me in the end, when he finally faces the ethical side of accepting his commission. It felt like he chickened out on Yagharek in the end. Can't say it was entirely out of character though.

Miéville's approach to speculative fiction is certainly refreshing but Perdido Street Station remains an overwritten book. The story
Miéville tells does not justify the 867 pages in my copy. That being said it was well worth the read. Should you decide to pick it up though, remember that it takes a while for the story to get going. Miéville is demanding on the reader but I am tempted to find copies of the other Bas-Lag novels The Scar and Iron Council as well. Maybe when I have managed to reduce the to read pile to more manageable proportions.

Book Details
Title: Perdido Street Station
Author: China Miéville
Publisher: PAN
Pages: 867
Year: 2000
Language: English
Format: Mass Market Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-330-39289-1
First published: 2000