I recently finished my re-read of Gene Wolfe’s Fifth Head of Cerberus. Feeling pretty smug, thinking I’d caught a lot more than I’d picked up on first reading it, I Googled fifth head of cerberus analysis, which led me to a passel of articles on Ultan’s Library, including Proving Veil’s Hypothesis [warning: many, many spoilers] . And… wow.
I had no idea.
I still have no idea.
But I’m glad there’s at least one writer out there as subtle, as sneaky, as sly, as Gene Wolfe.
I went today to the Prairie Comics Festival. Reconnected with some writer friends (Chadwick, Sam, and Jamie), made some new connections (hi, Donovan), and regretted not bringing along my business cards (at least three people asked about WordPress stuff).
But I picked up a bunch of local art, so at least there’s that.
Mini Book of Monster Girls by Autumn Crossman
Eggman Colouring Book #1 by Gabrielle Ng
How to be Human by Kathleen Bergen
Street Style Samurai by Jamie Isfeld
Those Who Make Us with short stories by Chadwick Ginther and Corey Redekop, among others
Every time I read a John Scalzi novel, I’m reminded what a good writer he is.* This one’s no exception. He handles the big picture and the small, personal details with equal deftness.
After I finished the epilogue, I jumped back to the prologue. With the knowledge of everything else that happens in the book, it was fun to see how this little piece of the story — largely unconnected to the events in the remainder of the novel, featuring characters we wouldn’t see again — still added to the whole.**
When I started reading the book, I wasn’t sure if it was a stand-alone novel or the launch of a new series. When I got to the end, it was pretty plainly the opening volume in a multi-volume set. (Don’t get me wrong — the novel is complete in itself, but the ending indicates there’s more to come.) Under normal circumstances, I’d have felt a twinge of irritation at this, but in this case I was relieved. I want more time with these characters, and I want to know just how they’re going to deal with an empire in collapse.
One final note: Peer review is important. Read the novel and you’ll see what I mean.
* In a lot of ways, John Scalzi’s writing reminds me of Joe Haldeman, who is one of my favourite writers.
** A note on prologues: Elmore Leonard famously wanted writers to avoid them, and generally speaking he’s right (IMHO). But any list of “rules” of writing are really guidelines, and usually reflect what works best for the author writing the list of rules. I’ve read a lot of Elmore Leonard’s detective novels, and I can’t recall ever running into a prologue there.
I don’t skip prologues when I read, but I do notice when they really don’t connect at all to the story. When that happens, I agree, it would have been better to excise the prologue entirely.
The Collapsing Empire’s prologue was fun enough — and connected enough to the overall story — that I read it twice.
Fellow Brandon author Craig Russell recently had a new novel published, titled Fragment. I went to the book launch at McNally Robinson Booksellers and bought myself a copy.
I finished reading it last night, and I must say, I enjoyed it. It’s a short novel—not much over 200 pages—but it packs a lot into that space.
Thousands perish as ice overruns a research/tourism base at the south end of the world. A massive sheet of Antarctic ice—the Fragment—breaks free of the continental ice shelf and drifts into the ocean. Three scientists, survivors from the destroyed base, must try to get the message out: This is a disaster. The Fragment threatens thousands, possibly millions, of lives.
Standing in their way is the captain of the nuclear submarine that rescued them, under orders to run silent, run deep. Also, the President of the United States isn’t thrilled about the situation, since it looks like it’ll be bad for his polls in the run-up to re-election.
And Ring, a blue whale, tries to warn his people of the dangers presented by the Fragment. But he’s only one voice in the vast ocean.
The story is captivating. Russell1 does a good job of fleshing out his cast of characters, especially the ones we’re going to spend a lot of time with. Ring in particular felt like a well-developed person, who just happened to be a whale.
The stakes start out high and get higher all the time. I couldn’t stop turning pages, especially in the last half of the book, which I read in a single sitting.
The “Needs Improvement”
The ending, while compelling, felt like it could be fleshed out somewhat. Several disasters involving the Fragment’s unstoppable force vs. an island’s immovable object were delivered in a few paragraphs, and it felt rushed.
Buy it. Read it. It’s an eco-disaster novel with political overtones, and it’s a first-contact novel, all in 200-and-a-bit efficient pages.
Craig is a friend of mine, and it feels weird to call him by his last name, but that’s the way things are done. Right? ↩
Kelly Link writes stories like no other. Every one is different, but they’re all linked by a curious magic and a sense that you have no idea where you’re going, but it’s going to be worth the ride.
OK, that’s the short version. I’ve had time to digest, and so here’s a bit more.
I suspect that Ms. Link is a pantser, like, say, Stephen King. (Edit: She evidently is not.) She invents fully-formed characters, then sets them loose in settings as varied as the hollers of the southern US, a sleeper ship on its way to Proxima Centauri, a hotel hosting two conventions, and an island wedding. Then she sits back—in a manner of speaking—to see what happens.
The opening story, “The Summer People”, was a beautiful thing. I’ve been working my way through the last season of Justified, and I kept imagining actors from the show in the roles of the two girls in the story.
“Secret Identity” is a long email written by a young woman (almost sixteen!) who almost got involved with a man nearly twenty years her senior. It takes place at a hotel hosting two conventions, one for dentists, the others for superheroes.
“The Lesson” felt tragic and beautiful and creepy.
“Two Houses”, a collection of ghost stories on board a spaceship, was every bit as spooky and spacesuit-y as you think, and it had echoes, as you’d expect, of Ray Bradbury.
Every story in this collection is worth your time. Every story dumps you into a situation that you don’t understand, that you can’t yet understand, and then feeds you the information you need to make sense of what’s happening. (It took me quite some time, for example, to decide if the superhero convention was a cosplay convention, or a gathering of honest-to-God superbeings. I’ll let you read it so you can decide for yourself.) Every story is a layered treasure, unfolding slowly or quickly, till the gem at its heart is revealed.
From Daniel Handler’s review of Patrick deWitt’s latest novel, Undermajordomo Minor, which I am currently reading and enjoying:
It is said, for instance, that Margaret Atwood does a take on science fiction and therefore is a literary writer instead of a science fiction writer, and then we wonder why there are so few science fiction writers who write as well as Margaret Atwood, while the science fiction writers glare at us and order another round. This is bad. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is science fiction and should not be disqualified as such on the grounds that it has good sentences and makes you think, as does the work of Patrick deWitt. Therefore, “Undermajordomo Minor” is a terrific piece of genre writing, and that’s that.
I’m a little irritated—perhaps unjustly so—at the suggestion that science fiction (and other genres) can never contain “good sentences” or “[make] you think”. I just can’t quite decide if Handler shares my irritation; I’d like to think that he does. In either case, I’d point those that may hold that opinion at works like Michael Swanwick’s Stations of the Tide or Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, to name two examples.
PS: If you haven’t read anything by deWitt, I highly recommend The Sisters Brothers and (even though I’m not yet done reading it) Undermajordomo Minor.
Went down to the public library tonight, since my copies of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane and John Scalzi’s The End of All Things were due back.
(Reviews: The Ocean at the End of the Lane was a spooky coming-of-age/memoir tale from a master of eerie fantasy; The End of All Things further solidified my view of John Scalzi as my generation’s Joe Haldeman (though it might have been smart of me to read The Human Division first).)
So I went in without any plans as to what I wanted to check out. I did check the catalogue for the status of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which has been checked out every time I’ve gone looking for it. Tonight was no exception. One day (shakes fist at the sky).
But by and large I had no agenda. I checked the New Releases section, and snagged Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath. Then I wandered over to the SF/F section, which is where I usually end up. Grabbed another volume there — a four-novel omnibus of Philip K. Dick novels, which either a) has fantastically small print or b) serves as a reminder of how short novels could be back in the 60s. And then I took a gander at the graphic novels, where I grabbed my third and final volume: Scott McCloud’s Sculptor.
I’m looking forward to all of these. I just can’t decide which should be first.