Tag Archives: 1990s

4 SHORT REVIEWS

After I finished the fantastic Version Control, I read the excellent Keith Rowe biography by Brian Olewnick. I might still review that, but it’s a hard review to write for an audience unfamiliar with Rowe’s particular branch of experimental music.

Sadly, after those 2 great books, I’ve hit three I did not even finish. That and the relentless summer heat didn’t really urge me to start writing the reviews. Fortunately, that streak of bad reading luck came to an end, as I’ve also read a great, recent SF novella by Peter Watts, and finished yet another book on Rembrandt.

As the summer drought is still not over, I’ve decided I simply won’t bother trying to write longer, in-depth reviews for these books. I won’t even try to write up Hard To Be A God, the 1964 political allegory by the Strugatsky brothers, and the first book in that row of DNFs. I stopped after only 40 pages, not enough to write something meaningful, except that it was all too obviously allegorical for my tastes. Anyhow, without further ado, here’s those 4 mini-reviews…

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TAXI NAAR DE BOERHAAVESTRAAT – J.M.H. Berckmans (1995)

Taxi naar de BoerhaavestraatIk lees al jaren amper nog Nederlandstalige literatuur, vaak helemaal niks. Vorig jaar alleen Jagers In De Sneeuw, de fantastische debuutbundel van Eric Spinoy, uit 1986. Die had ik op een rommelmarkt in de Markgravelei in Antwerpen gevonden. Hetzelfde kraampje had ook Taxi Naar De Boerhaavestraat van JMH Berckmans. Het werk van Berckmans is moeilijk te vinden – alleen zijn laatste boek Ge Kunt Geen Twintig Zijn Op Suikerheuvel (2006) is nog relatief vlot verkrijgbaar, en 4 Laatste Verhalen – in 2009 postuum uitgegeven. Een vijftal andere titels zijn tegenwoordig wel verkrijgbaar als e-book, zelfs op bol.com: vooruitgang.

De Boerhaavestraat ligt in de Seefhoek, en op nummer 20 is er De Wilg, een sociaal centrum van het Antwerpse OCMW. De Wilg begeleidt onder andere mensen met een psychiatrische problematiek die elders geen opname kunnen betalen. Het is genoegzaam geweten dat Berckmans in 1977, 24, zelfmoord heeft proberen te plegen. Berckmans had na de eerste kandidatuur Germaanse – grote onderscheiding trouwens – een zware depressie gekregen, gevolgd door een manisch avontuur als succesvol schoenenverkoper in Italië, om dan terecht te komen in wat heel zijn leven lang een sukkelstraat zou blijven. Taxi Naar… is een bundel uit 1995 met 9 stukken, zo’n 10 tot 30 bladzijden lang.

Ik heb eens een avond en een nacht met Jean-Marie Henri Berckmans doorgebracht, op 18 november 2006, in jeugdhuis Zigzag in Merksplas, waar we een literaire avond hadden georganiseerd. Ik had er gedichten voorgelezen uit een ongepubliceerde bundel, en Berckmans zou er ook voorlezen. Daar is weinig van gekomen, zoals je hier al kon lezen. Geen twee jaar later was hij dood, gestorven omdat hij weinig at en enkel dronk.

JMH Berckmans

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LAKE OF THE LONG SUN – Gene Wolfe (1994)

lake-of-the-long-sun

If Nightside The Long Sun was about the protagonist’s self discovery, this second book in the series is about Patera Silk slowly discovering the true nature of his world.

The 4 volumes of The Book Of The Long Sun are set on a multigenerational starship – a fact that Tor reveals on the back cover, but one that is only revealed to the reader in this second book. It’s understandable that Tor did so, as The Long Sun is extremely hard to market: it’s an odd book: a lot more accessible than Wolfe’s magnum opus The Book Of The New Sun, but less lush, and a lot less compelling – at first sight maybe even boring. Tor might have increased its sales, spaceships sell, but the spoiler doesn’t do the reader any service: it takes away part of the joy of discovery, and it sets wrong expectations. Multigenerational starship yes, but no space opera or high tech scifi of whatever ilk. Continue reading

GARDENS OF THE MOON – Steven Erikson (1999)

gardens-of-the-moonI don’t have a lot of analysis to offer to readers already familiar with Gardens Of The Moon. It’s a massive book (703 pages + an 8 page glossary) and yet I only took 4 notes while reading. In this case, that means there was nothing to complain about structurally or idea-wise: so no plot holes, or bad writing, or philosophically unsound ideas. It also means Erikson didn’t surprise me with particular insights in the human condition.

That last one is not necessarily a negative: I don’t want to imply Erikson writes derivative, superficial stuff – he doesn’t – but I have the feeling I can only start making valid points on his ideological foundations after I’ve read a lot more of this series.

So what do I have to offer to readers familiar with this debut? Nothing but the information I liked it a lot – which may or may not say something about how our tastes align. I was a bit bogged down at the halfway point, but that probably was more because of other things keeping me from reading than because of the book itself.

I do want to convince fantasy readers unfamiliar with Erikson to start this widely acclaimed book, so I’ll devote the rest of this review to doing just that.

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THE PHYSIOGNOMY – Jeffrey Ford (1997)

the-physiognomyThe Physiognomy is the first book of The Well-Built City trilogy, and all three books supposedly make up one big novel. I won’t be reading book two and three, as The Physiognomy failed to connect with me. I am not saying this is a bad book, I am just saying it wasn’t my cup of tea. As it won the World Fantasy Award – not an award with a bad track record, with winners as diverse as Clarke, Le Guin, Miéville, Kay, Priest, Powers, Wolfe – I’m sure there’s an audience for it.

I’ve devised a quick litmus test to see if you’re part of that audience. Consider these two sentences:

I stared at some of the titles on the shelves and before long found four of my twenty or more published treatises. I was sure he hadn’t read Miscreants and Morons – A Philosophical Solution, since he had not yet committed suicide.

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THE SECOND CHRONICLES OF AMBER – Roger Zelazny (1985-91)

Second Chronicles Of AmberRoger Zelazny wrote two Amber cycles. The first five books were published from 1970 to 1978, and have Corwin as the main character. They are one long story, and taken together they are one of my all time favorite fantasy books, as the story is something daring & unique. It’s considered to be one of the classics of the genre, and rightly so.

The second cycle, also know as the Merlin cycle, was published from 1985 to 1991. It consists of 5 novels too: Trumps Of Doom, Blood Of Amber, Signs Of Chaos, Knight Of Shadows and Prince Of Chaos. Their story takes place a decade or two after the first cycle, and focuses on Merlin, the son of Corwin.

I’m disappointed to report that I agree with those who think this second part of The Great Book Of Amber doesn’t live up to the Corwin cycle. As it has been a couple of years since I’ve read that first cycle, it’s hard to compare the two in a detailed manner. I also can’t rule out that my tastes have shifted a bit, resulting in me simply liking these books a bit less than I would have if I’d just continued with the second series right after the first. Still, I don’t think this is a big determining factor in my dislike. I can put my finger on why I didn’t like The Second Chronicles quite easily, and as I remember it, the first books didn’t really suffer from these weaknesses. (I plan to reread the Corwin cycle, so I’ll report back on this issue somewhere in the future.)

Why didn’t this cycle click with me?  Continue reading

NIGHTSIDE THE LONG SUN – Gene Wolfe (1993)

Nightside Of Long Sun

It was earliest morning, when even small trees cast long shadows and scarlet foxes trot denward through the dew like flecks of fire.

That’s a line from The Urth Of The New Sun, and it’s one of my favorite lines ever. Since Gene Wolfe wrote it, and Nightside The Long Sun is the first volume of The Book Of The Long Sun, a series set in the same universe as The Book Of The New Sun – one of my favorite reading experiences ever –  I started this book with high expectations, the hideous cover notwithstanding. Add to that the fact that Kim Stanley Robinson has called The Book Of The Long Sun his favorite SF novel.

Indeed, novel. The 4 books in this series are actually one big book: the 333 pages of the first volume all of a sudden just stop, and Lake, the sequel, just picks up where Nightside stops. So, my definitive judgement on the Artistic Merit of this Book will have to wait until I’ve read the 3 other volumes – something I will most definitely do.

That doesn’t mean Nightside is a very good book. As with all Wolfe I’ve read, the same list of adjectives – bizarre, strange, baffling, different, mythical, mysterious and oddball – springs to mind. And harsh, and deadpan. Nightside is set in a giant generational space ship, of the spinning cylinder Rendezvous With Rama-type. It was sent from a far, far future Earth (or Urth, or the Whorl) to some distant planet. Yet Nightside doesn’t register as SF at first – as in The New Sun, the inhabitants of its world don’t understand their surroundings, aren’t even aware they are on a spaceship, and are not able to repair or even understand the technology – AI entities in the Mainframe that sometimes appear on screens are worshipped as gods. The ship has been flying for ages, and its origins are mostly lost to the book’s characters. Continue reading