John Crowley, Little, Big (1981)

little-big2The last book from my Summer Reads list, winner of the World Fantasy Award, nominated for Hugo, Nebula and Locus for 1982. I actually had it all summer, and started reading it, bit by bit, sometime in September. But it’s a huge book, 538 pages in really small print, and I managed to finish it only recently (a couple of weeks ago, to be precise). In some respects it reminded me, albeit only vaguely, of Tim Powers. There is that similar sense of uncanny in the real world, hidden in plain sight, not mentioned or noticed simply because most people don’t have the necessary apparatus (both physical and mental) to find it out. However, in more respects Little, Big reminded me of Susanna Clarke and her brick of a book, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. Crowley’s work is similarly meandering and slow, and pacing itself with infinite patience (which I, regrettably, don’t possess :P). But it’s also somehow… accruing, contrary to Clarke’s novel, where things just happen in a given order; accruing not as much in the area of action (there’s almost none), but more in the sphere of sense. It actually builds itself up from the foundations set in the beginning – explaining the inexplicable, casting light on the shadows that seemed impenetrable – which, slowly and incrementally, makes the final result all the more appealing.

As you can see, that long and meandering style is contagious. I will try to keep my sentences short from now on, but I can’t vouch for the success of this endeavor :).

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James A. Corey, Leviathan Wakes (2011), Caliban’s War (2012)

Corey_1 Corey_2James S. A. Corey is actually two people, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The former is a productive writer, author of over a dozen novels and multiple short stories. The latter is (or rather was, before becoming a half of James A. Corey) mostly known for his collaboration with George R. R. Martin.

The writers banded together to to create a sf pentalogy which would illustrate the painful and cumbersome process of humanity’s reaching out to stars. Forget that at the start it was supposed to be a trilogy – one does not collaborate with George R. R. Martin and escapes unscathed ;).

The whole series is already out. The final installment, Nemesis Games, hit the shelves not a full month ago, and SyFy is already making a TV adaptation called The Expanse and scheduled for airing in December. I guess there’s no better time for a short analysis J. I’m currently in the middle of book three, so eventually there will be part 2 of the review, covering remaining three novels. But for now – just the first two: Leviathan Wakes and Caliban’s War.

Leviathan Wakes was nominated for both Hugo and Locus awards. It’s a soft sf/space opera. Soft, which means that we don’t get lengthy descriptions of technological innovations or social changes inevitable in further stages of human evolution. Well, actually we don’t get any descriptions of that sort; the first installment is essentially a mystery drama in a sf wrapping. The second – a political drama in a sf wrapping. And it’s not a complaint – I’m simply stating facts, so that nobody mistakes The Expanse series for a new Asimov or Heinlein, or Clarke. Because Leviathan Wakes, and, to a lesser extent, Caliban’s War, have their own merit, and their own joys, as soft space operas.

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Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mister Norrell (2004)

Can a magician kill a man by magic?” Lord Wellington asked Strange. Strange frowned. He seemed to dislike the question. „I suppose a magician might,” he admitted, „but a gentleman never could.”


I don’t read books like this one for action. Not even for characters, although some characters in “Jonathan…” are very good. Slow-paced behemoths like that – I read for atmosphere and quotes. It’s a cross of… Dickens, Austen, and a bit of Connie Willis if her all books were the length of the “Doomsday Book”. I’d recommend, probably for the first time, to watch TV show before reading the book – it takes all the action and excitement and condenses it in a relatively short (seven episodes) form. And since action is not the main point of the novel, you can safely reach for the book after that, to savour all the details – the language, the irony, the literary references. And illustrations! Portia Rosenberg did a great job, illustrations look great and match the tone of the novel. I strongly advise to read paper, preferably hardcover version. Leather-bound edition would be perfect, it would look and feel like one of the books of magic we read about in the novel. Maybe Folio Society will get to it 🙂

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