Thursday, May 20, 2010
2010 Hugo nominee, Dramatic Pres., Long Form: Star Trek Screenplay by Robert Orci & Alex Kurtzman; Directed by J.J. Abrams (Paramount)
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Sunday, May 16, 2010
Claw of the Conciliator continues The Book of the New Sun. Most of what I said about the series last Monday still applies. It’s a very well-written work with an intriguing narrator and a rich and fascinating world. Though Wolfe’s Urth owes a lot to the whole body of post-apocalyptic literature, there’s a level of detail here rivaled by few outside of Tolkein.
The novel, somewhat disconcertingly, picks up a few months after the abrupt end of the previous book. Severian the torturer is still on a slow journey to a distant posting. He’s been temporarily separated from his companions, and has a new friend Jonas. Following plotlines set up in the first book, he is torn between fulfilling his duty as a loyal member of the torturer’s guild and an old attraction to a group of revolutionaries under a nobleman named Vodalus. Severian has also picked up a magical gem called the Claw of the Conciliator, which figures heavily in the plot at several instances. Severian is drawn to the gem’s power, but he also considers returning it one of his paramount goals. At one point, Jonas mocks Severian’s contradictory goals, and I took this as Wolfe acknowledging his own schizophrenic plotting.
Jonas, and the eventual reveal of his place in this world, is actually a fascinating and worthwhile addition that adds a new layer to Wolfe’s Urth. But, what really makes Claw superior to its predecessor are the new layers that Wolfe adds to the overall narrative. It’s increasingly clear that nothing on Wolfe’s Urth is as it appears, and Wolfe does a great job playing with questions of reality, metaphor and legend. These ideas are developed wonderfully in various plot twists and some very evocative and beautifully written symbolic passages, especially in the latter half of the novel. At the end of Shadow, I was worried that this series had been over-hyped and that I was bound for disappointment. By the end of this novel, Wolfe’s storytelling had really flourished, I had gotten accustomed to it, and it was clear that this series really is something special.
It’s certainly not conventional sci-fi/fantasy, but it’s not really conventional literary fiction either. It’s an odd but fascinating hybrid of gritty pulp adventure and postmodern fiction. And I like it.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
This is the first novel in The Book of the New Sun tetraology, which is arguable the most award-winning science fiction series of all time. The only series that comes close to racking up as many awards is Bujold’s Vorkagasian saga, which required several more novels to do so (though New Sun never won a Hugo, but Bujold’s series won three). My copy also has a cover blurb from Neil Gaiman declaring it “the greatest science fiction novel of the twentieth century.” Plenty of hype here.
I assume Gaiman meant the entire Book of the New Sun. It’s clear by the end of Shadow that the series is meant to be read as a single story unfolding over four novels. I, on the other hand, am reading and reviewing each in turn. Not surprisingly then, my biggest problem here is that the novel feels so incomplete.
The story takes place in the far distant future. The sun is dying, and society is pretty low tech (though there are several genetically engineered – or alien? – creatures running around). The main character, Severian, grows up in the Torturers Guild. Yes, he is raised to maim and execute for interrogation or as punishment, but he’s a torturer with a heart of gold. He falls in love with the first “client” with whom he interacts. As a result, he leaves the guild and begins a journey to a new assignment. He meets a few eccentric characters, attains some valuable items, and as he is preparing to move on….the novel ends abruptly with a promise of more to follow.
It’s an entertaining story, interesting world, and Severian is a fascinating character, even if he remains a bit of a cipher despite being the narrator. The plot and world felt a tad generic – actually, I wondered if this novel was huge in Japan, considering that 90% of the anime from the last quarter century have involved an anti-hero wandering across a dying world. I think it was:
The main attraction is the prose though. The details are rich and evocative, Severian’s thoughts range from the philosophical to the brutally frank, and yet the novel always propels the reader forward. I’m not ready to anoint Wolfe the Faulkner of sci-fi yet, and the book does wander along the edge of pretension every now and then (we can’t talk about “historians;” we have to talk about “historiographers” because it sounds better. Who cares if it has a different meaning?) But, it was a very nice read.
Also, best cover ever?
Friday, May 7, 2010
2010 Hugo nominee, novelette: "One of Our Bastards is Missing" by Paul Cornell (The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Three)
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
2010 Hugo nominee: Graphic Fiction: Captain Britain And MI13. Volume 3: Vampire State Written by Paul Cornell; Pencilled by Leonard Kirk (Marvel)
Monday, May 3, 2010
Lord Valentine’s Castle introduced the world of Majipoor, a very large planet with magical elements. Basically, while there are a few aliens in the picture and even references to occasional starships, it’s really a place where Silverberg can write a straight fantasy adventure. It’s also a much more typical, and conventional, adventure novel than the “drugs will set you free” psycehdelia of a A Time of Changes.
The main character, Valentine, appears near a city in Majipoor with no real memory of who he was or where he came from. This is actually a nice device for Silverberg to introduce his setting, as the main character is largely unfamiliar with the world around him. Valentine does have a lot of cash and a few talents – he’s smart, agile, and good at winning people’s confidence. Having nothing else to do, he signs on with a crew of travelling jugglers (he can’t juggle to begin with, but he picks up the skill with uncanny ease).
From here, two of Majipoor’s main features kick in. First, dreams are incredibly important in the culture of Majipoor, and most magic on Majipoor seems to involve psychic dream manipulation. Valentine begins to “receive” dreams that hint at his true identity, and lead him on a quest to uncover and recover it. Second, we’re told the planet is extremely large, with twenty billion inhabitants, so this is a long quest, and we get the grand tour of Silverberg’s new creation along the way.
This novel is really the opposite of A Time of Changes . It’s decently written and fast-paced. It’s extremely conventional; without spoiling it, I’ll just say that the plot is one of the most basic plot formats for a fantasy story. In the end, Silverberg delivers a novel that is more entertaining but even less interesting. Even his combination of sf and fantasy seems rather pointless. Putting a fantasy world in a science fiction universe is a great idea, but it has no bearing on this story (perhaps it means more in the sequels?)