Saturday, December 01, 2007

World Without End by Ken Follett

Oprah Winfrey is not the devil.

Last year she gave proper due to Cormac McCarthy's science fiction masterpiece The Road long before it won the Pulitzer. (I won't comment on the rampant stupidity of SF Fandom at large on this issue other than to say pervasive.)

So... Oprah.

A month or so ago, Winfrey named Ken Follett's The Pillars of The Earth her latest bestseller... err... book club pick. And kudos to her for the choice. Pillars is a wonderful historical on the building of a cathedral in feudal England, and the tales of those affected by it.

Seventeen years after The Pillars of The Earth was first published, we have the sequel: World Without End.

Hallelujah.

WWE is a return to Kingsbridge to visit with the descendants of of the characters in Pillars of The Earth, and as such, can be read without having read the previous volume. (But you don't want to skip it.) It is a fascinating look into the life of serfs and average business people during the Dark Ages. Politics and religion weigh heavily in this book, and if one is deeply religious and particularly Catholic, one may not like the realities presented.

I have two problems with this novel, despite enjoying it very much; the women are far too modern and the editor was far too timid.

I appreciate that Follett wants to present women as independent, but his portrayal of a teenage girl turned Nun rebelling against the Church to practice modern medicine is a bit much. (I don't want to give away too much, but it becomes increasingly absurd.) And while I enjoy doorstop books as much as anyone, a whole lot of this could have been condensed.

That said, go enjoy Kingsbridge.

8.5/10

Collector's Notes:

The Pillars of the Earth first edition has exploded in value due to Oprah's making it a club selection. That said, I do not foresee the same happening with World Without End. Feel free to wait for the paperback if you are so inclined.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Black Man (Thirteen) by Richard Morgan

'"Fucking right, not us. You know how they breed contemporary humans from a thirteen? You fucking domesticate them. Same thing they did with wolves to make them into dogs... You Select for fucking tameness, Marsalis. For lack of aggression, and for compliance. And you know how you get that?"
...You get it by taking immature individuals, individuals showing the characteristics of fucking puppies."

"We're the only thing that scares those people because we won't comply, we won't stay infantile and go out and play nice in their plastic fucking world."
-Richard Morgan, Black Man

I have something of a man-crush on Richard Morgan. I can admit it.

I've been reading his books for five or so years now, ever since I chanced across the Phillip K. Dick award winning Altered Carbon in my local used book store. To say I was gratified when I finally got around to reading it is something of an understatement.

Altered Carbon is among the very best science fiction books of this young millennium, and although Morgan has written 3 fine novels in the interim between AC and Black Man, it seemed he may never again reach the heights of his debut novel. (This is too often the case with writers, after all.)

Well, Black Man is better. And not insignificantly so. Black Man is the best science fiction novel of the year. Black Man is the most thought-provoking and stirring science fiction novel I have ever read.

Morgan tackles racism and the many faces of religion today and tomorrow; war, politics and the very nature of masculinity. Six or so months removed from my initial reading of this work, I still find myself internally debating ideas expressed here, finding I have no answers. I'll save the plot summaries for Amazon; just read this book.

And then go here to buy your membership so that you may nominate it for the Hugo.

10/10 (If you read only one book this year, etc, etc.)


Collector's Notes:

Do the SF community a favor and import this one from the U.K. (While you still can.) Gollancz published this title as it was written; Black Man. Del Rey, on the other hand, shied away from the controversial title, renaming it Thirteen for the United States.

As for the future value of this title, well..

Look, one of these days Morgan is going to be recognized for what he is; the best combination of sheer readability and thought-provoking ideas we've had in science fiction since Robert Heinlein was good. U.K. First editions of Altered Carbon are selling for around 800 dollars, and I still view that as a sound investment. Buy the book, enjoy the book, and if the value inflates as it ought, you can thank me later.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Amazon's Best of 2007 for SF and Fantasy

Is Amazon the best site on the internet or the evil bane of brick and mortar bookstores?

Yes.

Their list of the top ten SF and Fantasy books of the year is actually tremendous in many respects, and I recommend you check it out.

It features 4 or 5 choices that will probably make my own top ten list, and as such I can only marvel at the savvy, charm, and undoubted good looks of Amazon's crack team of editors.

The List:

1. The Terror by Dan Simmons
2. Brasyl by Ian McDonald
3. Territory by Emma Bull
4. The Traitor by Michael Cisco
5. Spaceman Blues: A Lovesong by Brian Francis Slattery
6. Shelter by Susan Palwick
7. The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
8. Thirteen (Black Man) by Richard Morgan
9. Tin House: Fantastic Women by Aimee Bender
10. The Coyote Road edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

I will be reviewing a number of these books shortly. (But please feel free to purchase numbers 1, 2, 3, 7, and 8 right away. )

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

World Fantasy 2007; Breathing is overrated

In case you've been living under a rock, as I have been, thanks for asking, Gene Wolfe has just won his first major award since the very early eighties in the form of the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for Soldier of Sidon.

Bravo, randomly selected panel of judges, bravo.

Wolfe is as talented an author as has ever graced genre fiction; his least work fit to stand on any ballot. And this latest installment of the paramount example of an undependable narrator is a satisfying return to the world of Latro.

I was fortunate enough to attend World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga this past weekend, and it must be noted that this was a first class convention; as well-run and organized a con as I have attended in my handful of years in fandom. It was a truly first class operation from a members point of view.

So, though I was but a few feet away on the hotel patio, I was not present at the awards ceremony. I am normally angered by the rank foolishness of the chosen winners, and so have learned it is better to not attend award presentations at all. As such I was not present for what was apparently a wonderful and stirring speech by Toastmaster Guy Gavriel Kay about the recently deceased Robert Jordan.

Search as I might, I can not seem to locate a transcript of this speech. However, it was articulated to me that Kay thought it was a shame that Jordan was never nominated for a World Fantasy, Hugo, or Nebula Award during his lifetime, despite the implicit fact that genre fiction was so deeply influenced by his work, both artistically and fiscally. I don't know much else of what Kay said, and would dearly love to, if anyone has a transcript.

But this I can say:

"Right the fuck on, Guy."

James Rigney (as Robert Jordan) shaped Epic Fantasy in his own way just as much as J.R.R. Tolkien. That's right, I said it. Get over it. His impact is seen on the bookshelves of every bookstore that stocks fantasy in the world. With apologies to Marvel, let's do a little 'What If?' shall we?

If there had been no Wheel of Time, epic fantasy would still be stuck in the rut of Tolkien's
(albeit unintended by him) Rule of Three. Trilogies sell, the soul-sucking publishing houses would scream, longer series fail.

Would we have Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire?' Perhaps, as it was originally intended to be a trilogy. However, the popularity of his series, aside from the sheer quality, can also be traced to Jordan's cover blurb on A Game of Thrones. I can not number the many fans who have told me they picked it up do to that tiny blurb.

Well then, would we have the multi-volume epic stories of Steven Erikson? Robin Hobb? L.E. Modesitt? Terry Goodkind? (OK, so perhaps that one's in the negative column.)

Would someone have taken a chance on a seven book fantasy series from an unpublished, unknown author? Probably not. And so I state that while it may not be the only reason, Jordan's success weighed in the decision to publish Harry Potter.

Hell, The Wheel of Time has weighed in some form or another in the decision to publish any and every fantasy novel since the early nineties. The genre would not have it's popularity today if not for Jordan. There are a slew of authors who literally owe their having been published to him. How many genre authors were discovered by how many millions of readers while waiting for the next Wheel of Time novel?

So what am I getting at, exactly?

Next year when I actually attend the World Fantasy award presentation, I fully expect to witness the Life Achievement Award presented to Harriet Rigney. Anything less is wrong. (And I do not care about award rules. They can be changed by a simple vote.)

As for the SFWA Grandmaster, the rules for that will never be changed to allow for the deceased. The reason for that, of course, is that no living author would vote to compete on a ballot with the likes of H.G. Wells, H.P. Lovecraft, or Roger Zelazny. (And since I wasn't blogging at the time... James Gunn over Gene Wolfe? Michael Moorcock? You're a joke, SFWA.)

Please excuse the rambling. I haven't ranted like this in a while.

As for the other award winners, I was exceedingly pleased with Mary Rickert taking two categories.

Her inscription in my copy of Map of Dreams (go buy it!) reads: "Thanks for Sharing My Dream, Sincerely, M. Rickert"

No Mary, thank you for sharing your Dreams with us.






P.S. Yes, I'm back.