Thursday, May 03, 2007

April Reading Round-Up

Nova Swing, M. John Harrison. I didn't fully understand this book while I was reading it so discussing it at a month's remove is a tough ask. Harrison is one of those writers whose work is simultaneously thrilling and frustrating. It doesn't lend itself to easy comprehension, but you don't mind having to re-read because the writing is so good. Nova Swing isn't as good as Light (to which it is a sort-of-sequel) but it's still good stuff - so good that soon after finishing it I went out and bought all the M. John Harrison books I could find. I realise that's one of those classic pieces of reviewer hyperbole, but in this case it happens to be true.

Update (4/5): Nova Swing has been awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Wizardry and Wild Romance, Michael Moorcock. I'd already read "Epic Pooh", an all-out assault on the Inklings and their legacy, and the most interesting essay in this collection. It's a fine polemic, well-informed and often dripping scorn: "Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down; they haven't got the approval yet to put a new one in." The rest of the book is a kind of potted history or survey of "epic fantasy", developed thematically - and with zero claim to objectivity - under such headings as "The Exotic Landscape" and "Wit and Humour". All very interesting, although a bit short. Apparently an updated edition was recently published that covers developments in the field such as Harry Potter, Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett.

Peace, Gene Wolfe. Like Harrison, Wolfe writes subtle, nuanced works of fantasy that you know you’re only half grasping even as you read them. Peace is a modernist patchwork of stories within stories that illuminate – and obfuscate – the life of a small-town industrialist. Sound boring? Well, the small-town industrialist is also a serial killer, but you have to pay attention to spot it. (Spoiler warning. Oh, too late.) The more I’ve thought about Peace in the weeks since I read it, the more impressed I have become. As a result, I have half a shelf of Gene Wolfe novels to read once I’m done with M. John Harrison. Special bonus Gene Wolfe trivia: Gene Wolfe was part of the engineering team that developed the machine that cooks Pringles chips. Astounding!

Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut. Sheer bloody genius.

Virtual Light, William Gibson. I have fond memories of the earlier "Sprawl" series of novels and stories, so I was surprised to discover in Virtual Light just how poor a writer Gibson actually is, or at any rate can be. There’s some really lazy writing in this book, and it’s conceptually weak too, an example of “fake sf”: drop the incidental technology and the story could be set in the present. Even the “virtual light” glasses that are plot’s prime mover are little more than a fancy bit of surveyor’s gear. Lame stuff.

Started, didn’t finish: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. I’m not going to piss all over everybody’s favourite Booker runner-up but frankly it didn’t do it for me. I made it halfway through, so I guess I missed out on the bits where Mitchell knits it all together (he does knit it all together, right?). I found it all quite dull, a succession of empty pastiches that I didn’t care about. Sorry, Beth.

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