Tag Archives: 1990s

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

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

A SHORT, SHARP SHOCK – Kim Stanley Robinson (1990)

A short, sharp shockReading A Short, Sharp Shock confirmed my impression that Robinson is a writer with a tremendous range. It is a novella of about 100 pages that is hard to categorize because of its bizarre, surreal content. The story is about a man who wakes up, washed ashore on an unknown beach, not remembering who he is or how he got there. Next to him is an unknown woman, and very soon a story of travel throughout a mysterious world, filled with adventure and meetings with odd and intriguing characters, starts. Saying much more would spoil the experience of reading, since it has to be read and experienced first hand, as if immersed in a dream.

It’s probably not science fiction (it could be, if you think the protagonist is a space traveler stranded on another planet), and calling it fantasy is also a bit of a stretch, but there sure are fantastical elements to be found. Lets just leave it at speculative literature…  Continue reading

INVERSIONS – Iain M. Banks (1998)

InversionsWhen cancer tragically stole Iain Banks from our world in June 2013, I still had 4 of his books on my TBR-pile. Surface Detail, Inversions, The Algebraist and Transition. I decided to savour those, since there would never be the joy of waiting for a new Iain M. Banks to be published again. I decided to read Surface Detail first, so that I at least could achieve some kind of closure with the Culture series – Surface Detail being the last Culture novel I had to read. After more than a decade of near abstinence of fiction, it was this series that really turned me into an avid fiction reader again. As such, they will always occupy a special place in my memory. A friend of mine told me he liked The Algebraist – a non-Culture SF novel which features sentient gass giants among other things – a lot, and found Transition to be one of the wildest books he ever read. That set the order for the remaining books: read Inversions first, then The Algebraist and end with Transition, maybe in a year or two, three.

Over a week ago, I decided to start Inversions. It feels more like a fantasy story than science fiction. It is considered a Culture-novel by some, since it’s probably set in the same universe, and Banks himself has hinted at the fact that two of its principal characters are Culture agents. (For those of you that haven’t read a Culture novel, read the opening section of this page, and get yourself Player of Games asap). Banks has employed the technique of writing fantasy-like stuff in the context a bigger galactic SF context elsewhere – parts of the excellent Matter play out in a kind of medieval kingdom too.

Sadly, Inversions is one of the two Iain M. Banks books that have disappointed me. Reading Feersum Endjinn was a chore that didn’t feel like it really paid off, and Inversions simply felt uninteresting. It seems a bit like fantasy, but it’s not really: there’s no interesting world-building whatsoever. No magic, no different societies, no mythos, no creatures, no nothing. It’s a standard medieval human setting, albeit on a planet with more than one moon, true.

While I liked the first 50 pages, and was even a bit awestruck by how easy Banks’ prose is on these eyes (apparently I had forgotten what a smooth writer Banks can be), by page 100 the book had me bogged down. I don’t know where it happened exactly, but it became a 1st person recount mainly consisting of pages and pages of lifeless, uninspired dialogue. The two fictional narrators aren’t style champions – I counted the  ‘X said’ or ‘said X’ construction 6 or 7 times on numerous pages, with a couple of ‘smiled X’ thrown in for variation. I lost interest in the characters, and more and more felt like I was reading really, really generic medieval fiction – aside from the book’s narrative construction. There’s not an interesting mystery either, and hardly any action. If this hadn’t been a book by one of my favorite authors, I wouldn’t have finished it.

Some of Banks usual themes – morals, discussion about a version of the Prime Directive, etc. – are so obviously present in the words of some characters, they come across as Banks’ hand puppets, instead of real people.

Inversions is about perspective too. The book is an epistolary novel – of the found footage type so you will – and has 2 tales and 2 narrators. Both stories reflect on each other a bit. As a literary construction this surely has some merit. Yet, nothing really happens. Some flat character ambassador tries to assassinate somebody else, and so forth, yet we don’t connect with either party, since they feel constructed rather than real.

Flashes of Banks’ brilliance do shine through at times. There are some interesting scenes, and his talent for aphorisms still shows.

You can draw the blinds in a brothel, but people still know what you’re doing.

His main strength though – a wild, vivid, grand and daring imagination – simply isn’t played out here. Inversions isn’t grand scale utopian dreaming. Some reviewers have called this book subtle. I stick with dull. You be the judge, just don’t let this be your first Banks.