When I wrote my review for Gardens Of The Moon, I didn’t have that much new to offer to readers familiar with the series, and instead I tried to convince possible new readers to give that book a go, as it was one of my favorite reads that year. This is the sequel: what to say about a 943-page book that is the second in a 10-book series, set in a universe co-created with Ian Esslemont – who also wrote another 7 books?
Let me start this review by something that could be also of interest to readers not familiar with the series, namely the philosophical foundations underlying the book, and presumably the entirety of The Malazan Book Of The Fallen.
After that, I’ll try to voice my assessment of Deadhouse Gates as a work of High Fantasy fiction – the actual review, so to say. That might also be of interest to readers still pondering whether to start this series, as I didn’t feel this book to be as successful as Gardens Of The Moon.
My 2017 posting ratio is about half of what it was last year, as life continues to happen, but the number of readers on Weighing A Pig keeps rising slowly but steadily. A big thank you to everyone who has read, liked, linked or commented. My best wishes for 2018!
I’ve read 29 titles in 2017, and reviewed 26. Below are the ones I gave a 5-star rating on Goodreads, 8 in total, in no particular order. Click on the covers for the review. After the books, music & art.
You Should Come With Me Now features 42 short stories written between 2001 and 2015. About half of those are very short, about half a page, and previously appeared on M. John Harrison’s blog. Harrison calls the short items “flash fiction”, but the “prose poem” moniker would have worked just as well.
Having said that, categories aren’t of much use in this collection: this truly is genre defying prose. There are elements of fantasy, science fiction, horror and the plain the weird. But ‘elements’ is indeed just that: mere elements – as the core of most of these stories are humans and human relations: for every ounce of speculativeness, there’s three ounces of something Raymond Carver would have been proud of too. So yes, what we have here is a 21st century Franz Kafka: fiction about the ordinary weirdness of being human, all too human, in a setting that’s at times a bit off, and at times perfectly normal.
This “anthropological SF” book has a somewhat confusing history. In 1975 Michael Bishop published his debut, A Funeral For The Eyes Of Fire. It didn’t sell well, but Bishop continued writing – books like Catacomb Years and Transfigurations. In 1978 David Hartwell of Pocket Books offered Bishop a contract to rewrite his first novel. The result was published in 1980 as Eyes Of Fire, with a cover almost identical to the first edition. To make things even more confusing, in 1989 Kerosina Books published that new version under the exact same title as the debut, something Bishop would have liked to have done in 1980 too, but didn’t, to avoid confusing potential readers. In 2015 Kudzu Planet reprinted the 1980 version, also as A Funeral For The Eyes Of Fire, yet again with another cover.
All that explains why Goodreads at the moment still has just one entry for the two texts. Both books differ tremendously however, and the differences are chronicled quite detailed in the 1989 edition, most explicitly in an afterword by Ian Watson, as well as in the extensive foreword by Bishop himself. Just to be clear, Bishop prefers the second version: he will not allow a reprint of the first book.
The differences are not a matter of rephrasing some sentences and the addition or subtraction of a few scenes. This is not simply a director’s cut like Green Earth. While the overall idea of the plot and the philosophical foundations of the story are more or less the same, the two protagonists have a very different relation to each other, the aliens’ anatomy differs, and the social reality on the planet were the bulk of the story is set, is significantly different. And while the debut had a first person narrator, this is a third person narrative. The fact that nearly all names are changed too isn’t even that important.
Anyhow, it seems like Bishop took the basic ideas of his debut, and wrote a whole new book. Watson puts it like this:
The new novel is far more disciplined and tauter; but where another writer might merely have pruned excesses, Bishop has not merely reorchestrated but has written an entirely different symphony based on the same themes – and on several new ones.
Just to be clear: I’ve read the 1989 edition, and so this review can double as a review for 1980’s Eyes Of Fire too. Continue reading
After finishing a book, I usually read up on other reviews and stuff before starting my own. There’s no use in repeating what others already have written. When I came across a review by L. Timmel Duchamp – an SF author herself – published in the February 2006 issue of the New York Review of Science Fiction, it quickly dawned on me it was no use of even starting the review I had in mind, as her text said about everything I wanted to say – references to Robinson Crusoe included – but better. It also opened up my understanding of the novel. Not that I had totally missed one of the political messages of the book, but I hadn’t perceived its full importance.
As I read it, the soliloquy not only allows the narrator to put herself–once a “Neochristian”–on trial for murder, but also explores enough of her history to make it possible for the reader to understand her series of responses to the situation following the crash. Through the soliloquy we discover that the narrator’s despair is not so much existential as political in the most fundamental sense of the word. At the time of the crash, the narrator was in full flight from a life of political activism and idealism that had smashed on the rocks of discursive politics. As part of a burgeoning movement of dissent, she learned the painful lesson of who may speak in a polis controlled by vast political and financial machinery (which these days we generally name “gobal capitalism”).
The main gist of what I wanted to say is that We Who Are About To… is a lot more than a feminist novel. Framing the novel only as such – an easy mistake as Russ is the author of the better know The Female Man, and maybe even more importantly as identity politics is important in today’s discourse on culture – does the novel tremendous disservice. Not that its feminist stance is not important, on the contrary, and well-done at that. But I’ll refrain from elaborating further, and urge you to read the entirety of Duchamp’s take – if you’ve read the book already that is, as the first experience of this book suffers badly if you’ve had too many spoilers.
If you want a quick intro on the plot, here’s Joachim Boaz’s glowing review.
What’s left for me to say? I thought maybe of writing a text on how the unnamed protagonist of this book is a kind of opposite to the childbearing character in Children Of Men, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen the movie, and I haven’t read the book by P.D. James. More importantly, doing so would also focus on the feminist side of the novel, and that wouldn’t be in sync with what I wrote above.
The Buried Giant had been lying on my TBR for more than a year, and Ishiguro winning the 2017 Nobel Prize for Literature prompted me to pick it up from the pile. The Swedish Academy issued a very short press release on October 5th, saying no more than Kazuo Ishigoru to be an author “who, in novels of great emotional force, has uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”.
There are two important elements in that statement, the personal and the political, and I’ll get back to them in a moment. First, some basics on the book, and a rumination on intertextuality. Continue reading
I enjoyed reading Provenance, but after I put it down the question whether this really was a good book quickly took my enjoyment hostage. As entertainment it works just fine: others have called it a comedy of manners, and Leckie has a distinctive, somewhat detached style which helps her create awkward social atmospheres seemingly effortlessly. The pacing is okay, the prose too, and enough stuff happens to keep the reader’s interest fresh. It needs repeating: all that is no mean feat, and Provenance is definitely not a bad book.
A small part of the novel’s charm deals with the strangeness of aliens – but ultimately it’s just the same old trick as in Frank Herbert’s Whipping Star: having aliens speak garbled English. I wrote ‘small’ part, because I wanted more. Provenance is set in the same universe as Leckie’s famous debut trilogy, but those of you craving more of the Rrrrrr or something like that hilarious & menacing Presger translator
will be disappointed. In fact, the character of the Geck ambassador more or less repeats Leckie’s trick from Ancillary Mercy – yet without anything coming close to the genius of the fish sauce.
Provenance is the Imperial Radch trilogy light. Those books are about characters and pack quite some emotions – although it might not show at first, and Leckie takes her time to develop, all the way up to book 3. This is a standalone story of 438 pages, and the main character simply isn’t as interesting, her adventures not as compelling. In fact, the ending is so, so predictable I wonder if it’s a joke on Leckie’s part. Joke or not, it doesn’t make for literature that sticks, as the narrative arc ends with a fizzle, and the same goes for whatever emotional build up there might have been. Continue reading