Connie Willis, one of the most critically acclaimed SF writers of our times, the winner of 11 Hugo Awards and 7 Nebula Awards, the 28th SFWA Grand Master… The list goes on and on. We’ve reviewed some of her works before on Re-enchantment – Blackout/All Clear and Passage; we’ve read many more – and here a really big shout goes to To Say Nothing Of The Dog, which to this day remains my favorite Connie Willis novel.
So, Crosstalk; the newest Willis’ novel, in her own words, is:
about telepathy–and our overly communicating world. It’s also about helicopter mothers, social media, Joan of Arc, sugared cereals, Bridey Murphy, online dating, zombie movies, Victorian novels, and those annoying songs you get stuck in your head and can’t get rid of!
(More of Willis’ thoughts on Crosstalk here.)
It sounded like fun – and besides, Willis always writes greatly enjoyable novels – at least from my limited experience :). Telepathy and Irish, a touch of Powers’ penchant for conspiracy theories, contemporary covens and a bit of light-hearted satire on our over-social-medialized world… If every ingredient is tasty, then, logically, the dish you prepare from them should be tasty too, right? Not.
It’s a yearly event now, the coming out of a new book in Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series. Each March a new installment hits the shelves, and I am fairly sure , after reading the tenth book, that it won’t end too soon. Assigning only the ulterior, financial motivation to the author would be unfair. I’m absolutely sure that it would be incredibly difficult to part with characters as likeable, vibrant and alive as hers. There’s always another story to be told, another angle to explore… And yet, and yet, maybe it’s time to say goodbye.
Ten books is no mean thing. These are not doorstops in style of Czajkowski or Erikson, or let alone Martin who publishes each new installment of Game of Thrones in two parts, because otherwise the binding wouldn’t hold… These are urban fantasy books, three hundred odd pages long and no more. Still, ten books about essentially one character is a lot. And if you don’t have an overarching plot, spanning more than a couple of books, unfolding slowly in the background of the main action – like in Dresden books, to keep the example from the UF field – pretty soon you may find yourself without anything important to say.
Those who became acquainted with the Malazan universe know very well that this world had been originally created by two authors: Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont. It is no coincidence, though, that Esslemont’s name hadn’t appeared on this blog before (except as a necessary mention in this entry…) I fully stand by my words – Esslemont is no Erikson. And it seems to me that he never will be.
Erikson and Esslemont divided between the two of them the enormous cast of characters populating the world of Malazan. Until that division was kept, I was fine with it. Keep the Crimson Guard, ICE – K’azz d’Avore is boring, and I couldn’t care less for the rest of them. I suspect this indifference is too an effect of Esslemont’s writing for the Crimson Guard in itself seems a very fine concept, it’s its execution that is irrevocably flawed. But Esslemont in his share of 10 books grabbed some characters that he should have not reached for – Anomandaris Rake is just the most glaringly obvious example. I still shudder when I remember Assail…
So why on Earth did I reach for another ICE’s book? I should have known better. I’ve read Orb Sceptre Throne (simply terrible), Blood and Bone (interesting worldbuilding, clearly Esslemont’s read Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness or at least has seen Apocalypse Now! ;), but not much else) and Assail (words fail me with this one, I guess that’s the main reason why I didn’t write a review of this book at all), and I promised myself I would not go there again. Why did I then?
Paul Cornell is a British author displaying his talent in many genres. I really liked his Dr Who episodes (not knowing he wrote them, I’m not paying enough attentions to tv and movie writers). Comics… he wrote many, among them several Wolverines, but nothing I’ve read. What I did read, are two volumes of his Shadow Police urban fantasy/horror series. I’ve bought audio version of the third one, with excellent title Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?, and before I get back to his alternative London I wanted to share a few thoughts.
What is Shadow Police? Lets check TVTropes:
Ongoing series of Urban Fantasy Police Procedural
And yes, it is. It’s urban fantasy and it takes better care of details of police work than your usual supernatural cop story.
An Arthur C. Clarke winner for 2015, a 2014 National Book Award nominee (lost to Phil Klay’s Redeployment, and having read both I can say that justly ;)), a poetic novel set in a post-apocalyptic world, where the Traveling Symphony – an orchestra slash Shakespeare troupe – wanders through a dangerous territory reclaimed by wildness, bringing the light of civilization to the places which long have forgotten something like civilization even existed.
Sounds mysterious as well as stilted and full of itself. And to a degree – is, on both accounts. But the most interesting part of Mandel’s novel is the rest, which is neither – namely, the full of life, glittering account of the world before catastrophe.
The world after the Georgia Flu decimated global population is a place of fear and great distances. It’s also a place which has forgotten its past. Only two decades passed from the death throes of the global civilization – cars stopping, planes crashing down, electricity plants going dark, water resources drying up… and all of it just sorrowful side notes to the main theme – the rapid and chaotic death of 99 percent of humanity. But before we see the end, we are allowed to catch a glimpse of the world-that-had-been, rich and colorful and brimming with life, in its last, most triumphant (even if unknowingly) moments. It’s no accident that the most important scenes of Mandel’s book are either the depictions of a theatrical play or a sf comic book. She shows the readers scenes of unreal, ephemeral life, renditions of a nonexistent world, fantasies born entirely in the minds of humans. Juxtaposed with the post-apocalyptic, brutal world they are intended to show the humanity’s ultimate victory, over the deeply rooted bigotry, close-mindedness and cruelty of our species.
Peter Grant, ethnically challenged police officer and wizard-in-training from London, does not need introduction here. I wrote about the series, Ola gently criticized then-latest instalment. In short – we like, but are not sure about the direction it’s been going lately.
One thing to add this time – audiobook is very good. Since I’m buying paper versions from the series’ beginning, I have to wait for paperbacks, to fit them all on same shelf. I hate it when publishers change format midway Even within the paperback realm, most Aaronovitch’s books are published as trade paperbacks, but one in mass market format. Very annoying. Anyway, I will buy my paperback when it becomes available, so now I went to Audible and I got to say Kobna Holdbrook-Smith does a great job.
I am conflicted about urban fantasy lately. Maybe that will change when Butcher finally gives us the next Dresden story, but my last encounters with the genre were unlucky. I couldn’t get into October Daye, Iron Druid Chronicles books were boring, pretentious disaster, Laurell K. Hamilton is ancient history better left forgotten.
Oh, there is also Ben Aaronovitch, and hopefully his next book will be published this year. Regrettably The Rivers of London have their place in paperback part of my bookshelf and so I won’t be able to read it for a good while. But it’s completely different pair of shoes than Ilona Andrews and their Kate Daniels series.
It turns out the only urban fantasy series with female lead I enjoy is Patricia Briggs’ Mercedes Thompson. Mercy I adore. Strong female protagonist that stands on her own, romances a guy, marries him and don’t spend pages after pages fantasizing about musculature of werewolves around her. Or, when does, the rest is interesting enough that I don’t mind.