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Perdido Street Station (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 05 August 2012 10:00

So you’re sitting around one night, poised in that indecisiveness readers occasionally flounder into. What next? Science Fiction? Steam Punk? Magic? Fantasy?

Why not all of them, wrapped together in a plot which chafes so delightfully?

China Miéville is a London author – it shows. His city of New Crobuzon is a sprawling, dangerous, vibrant, cruel place, a fun-house mirror image of London. Steam-technologies work. Magic (in a limited yet practical form) works. The city is a melting pot of story types and urban fears. Presumably New Crobuzon has a positive side, a side of decent people, quiet suburbs, theaters and museums. But hanging around with the likes of Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, we never get to them. No, we base our stay in the dirty sections of town.

Where London seems to be coping with interracial issues, New Crobuzon faces problems of interspecies. There are cactus men, winged Garuda, and Khepris (along others), all living in their sections of town, all bringing down each other’s property values. In fact, our main character Isaac is dating across the species line, taking a khepri lover (who has a woman’s body and a bug for a head – creepy). But he gets along with Lin well enough, and he’s got his interests, specifically the difficult assignment of fabricating wings on a Garuda who’d had them sawn off for some unspeakable crime against his people.

The thing I loved about Perdido Street Station (and its sister books, The Scar and Iron Council) is the scale. New Crobuzon is a sprawling city existing on a massive continent, surrounded by dozens of half-understood seas. 5000 miles away, there is another city and culture, but the New Crobuzonians hardly know anything about it. It is a world where pictures of dragons are drawn on maps, not in art but in warning. It’s a place where no matter how many steamer lines and telegraphs are thrown out, you can never know it all. It’s a gigantic world where everything is possible, everything discomforting, and everything is sinister.

Buggy Lin is asked to create art for a dangerous mob boss. And Isaac’s searches for an avionic solution to his Garuda’s problems are leading him down some dangerous paths. Slowly the truth unravels, truths about cationic victims found babbling in alleys, of the mob’s involvement with horrific winged creatures hunting across the city, of the government’s contact with demons. And when the black threads of the plot finally come together, the reality is almost too terrible to believe.

I liked China Miéville’s writing – it is a mixture of Victor Hugo and H.G. Wells, with a touch of Lovecraft to spice it. It’s long and sprawling and bombastic and unsettling. I can’t recommend it enough.


Not eveyrone likes him, it seems...

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 August 2012 10:09
Nausicaa (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 29 July 2012 11:18

It happens sometimes, with work and class and trains and general malaise, that I don't get a book read in a week (before I had a weekly column, I was even slower). I'm currently wending through the Odyssey, which is a pretty stiff read. However, I was interested to find a character in it with the unlikely name of Nausicaa, which was also the character of an amazing translated Japanese comic I'd read over the years. Turns out that's where it's author/artist, Miyazaki, got it from.

So cute, so determined...It's been a while since i read it (I've got them all here next to me right now and am flipping through them, marveling as always at the amazing art). Essentially, it's the story of a proud little princess who's tiny little kingdom becomes a pawn between two larger empires in a dark (or shall I say, ochre) future earth. A thousand years before, pollution and a massive war toppled everything and birthed a massive forest, the 'Sea of Corruption', which is slowly spreading over everything (carried by the various huge insects that serve it). Nausicaa is everything you'd want in a hero, strong, honest, thoughtful and compassionate. She tries to end the war, tries to understand the protagonists, tries to set the world on a better course.

But just as her actions are "heroic", the actions of the various other characters are often "human". The Torumekians invade the Dorok lands, a blitzkrieg in a scale Miyazaki's art captures. Then the Doroks respond by purposely spreading the corruption over the battlezone, resulting in a loss of life even more staggering. And on it goes, violence and destruction, while Nausicaa attempts to understand, and perhaps even solve, the multi-layered problems.

As I write this, fond memories are bubbling up - I remember a Dorok priest, a bald little guy, who first sought her death and then, slowly, began to understand and perhaps even support her. I remember how much his own story moved me, as he shifted from unthinking nationalistic/religious standards to something more humanist.

I've got my seven-volume set I assembled out of Amazon here - I'll have to give it another read. I can recomend looking it up. Also, a foreshortened version of this was created by Miyazaki's anime studio and wonderfully dubbed by Disney, Nausicaa of the valley of the wind. It's a small taste of the scope of the greater epic, but one well worth watching.

Great story. Great art. And I loved her little fox/cat creature.



Last Updated on Sunday, 29 July 2012 11:50
The Time Traveler's Wife (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 22 July 2012 00:00

Got this as a loaner from a friend. She didn't tell me anything, so I went in cold.

Quite a book.

Hokay, imagine that a guy has a chromosome disorder, something that when he is stressed or upset or sometimes just random, he flushes, sweats, pukes, then jumps through time. And he always leaves his clothes behind.

So first off, he's good at mugging people. And picking locks. And running.

But more important are the places and times he goes to - eras and locales that mean something to him. He watches his mother's horrible death from every angle. He see's himself in all sorts of critical times.

But more strange are the twists that are introduced. A girl comes up and introduces herself to him; she's twenty or so, and he's eight years older. She says she's always known him, that he's appeared in her private meadow while she was growing up, that he is her mentor, model, and (as we find out) lover. But he's never seen her before.

But now that he has, his jumps are to her past. The very fact that she knows him means he knows her and his later jumps are to her - he appears in his late thirties, nude before her six year-old self. And it's not chronological. Fortunately every chapter is given a date and their ages so we can keep things straight, but otherwise their meetings are like haphazardly set bowling pins, and time is this sixteen pound ball that just rolls through them, plunk plunk plunk.

I rather liked it. It was an interesting take to the usual shoot-your-grandfather time travel story, one that brushes forbidden love (i.e. pedophilia) but never crosses the line. There are other unique things, such as when your fifteen year old self goes back and meets himself a few months before. And what do fifteen year olds do when they are alone? Well, what if they are, literally, with themselves? What at first seems strange, if you think about it, really isn't. Is it? Hmmm. Not too strange, I guess.

There are clever temporal twist, a shock or two, but grip those book covers tightly because even with all the flexibility time travel affords, fate is a cruel bitch and there is no escaping her. If anything, with his future-knowledge, he is more trapped than the rest of us normal-chrononauts. And the end? Well, you'll have to just read it for yourself if you want to see if this is happy or sad.

It's clever. And personal. And unconventional.

If you are an advanced reader, by all means, wind up the clock spring and read it.


Last Updated on Sunday, 22 July 2012 09:03
Battle-Chasers (Review) PDF Print E-mail
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Sunday, 15 July 2012 00:00

There are two types of fantasy: there is the fantasy where everything is so alien, you scratch your head trying to remember what a mulack is or what the heck a void-princess does. And there is the fantasy straight out of D&D, with all the character classes and all the races and beings and whatnot. Elves and orcs and wizards and fireballs, basically saving-throw fantasy. Battle-Chasers falls into the latter.

Now don't get me wrong - that's not a bad thing. Tigana was a super book (reviewed HERE), but it was high-fantasy, certainly an effort (and well worth it). Battle-Chasers brings nothing really new to western fantasy worlds - it's just the same character classes (orcs, clerics, wizards) put in a very interesting setting.

It's the aftermath of an unimaginatively massive battle where a nuclear bomb couldn't have killed more - pretty much everyone is dead, for miles and miles. You get the impression that this was a battle of scale, Helms-deep and Minas Tirth with a couple of Conan battlefields tossed in. The book spans a single day on this gory wasteland, and the namesake characters? Well, they are folks 'chasing' battles.

There is the evil wizard Bakmano of the Circle of Death (the bad guys in this epic war), with his comic-relief demon Rumplestumple. There is the vampiress Minghella and her companion dragon Rhordanz. There is the draven dragon-hunter Ringlerun. There is the gigantic elf named Tree, and the blind cleric Chawk (and his little owl Vu (couldn't resist that pun)). And a nasty assassin Chosser, with all the personalities he carries in his head. And all of them play off each other in interesting way amid the clotting corpses.

Originally I wasn't sure if I was going to like it - like I said, it's basic fantasy and I'm a bit of a snoot on my reading. But really, I settled in pretty well - it's like an old western movie on a rainy Friday evening - not high art, but fun in a cozy sort of way.

I did have a couple of "blink" moments - like when characters in a fantastic world use the word "Okay". And crosses (presumably Christian crosses) factor big in the book - one character even crosses himself when he sees a corpse with a cross. This is like opening a theater door in my mental movie house for me - so, if there are crosses, are there Christians? Was Christ in this world? And Romans? Did it happen the same way or is it simply a parallelism? Sorry, but modern religions, like Volvos, shouldn't be in fantasy novels.

Remember what I said about Irony? And using cultural imagery? It's a very dangerous thing.

But anyway, I rather liked the novel - high-brow expectations and all that. It was fun and interesting and had some neat moments and even a couple of jokes that made me laugh aloud. I'm sure you can find it on line with a little doing. Worth the effort, if only for that rainy Friday evening when there isn't an old western on.


Last Updated on Sunday, 15 July 2012 13:16

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