I gotta tell ya: I'm really kind of digging these relatively (as yet) unknown works I've been reading lately. I've probably gotten extremely lucky with the ones that I've chosen, but hey -- someone needs to be reading and reviewing them... and it's not like Rothfuss's Wise Man's Fear really needs any more ass-kissing at the moment, right? Please note that while I call what I do 'reviewing', it's a rather loose interpretation of the term and it's probably closer to musing or rambling -- lets call it re-museling.
Anyway, What Time Forgets... the blurb:
Seers and cutthroat politicians, technocrats and a warrior class, jockey for power in a world where memories imperil the future. A soldier and a determined young woman, adversaries with their own secrets, ally to find the key that will avert a terrible reckoning on their world. A prophecy takes them from a mercenary’s stronghold to an oracle’s decaying temple, on to a monastery’s long-buried secrets and, finally, to a violent confrontation in a long-ruined fortress at sea’s edge. A final justice may well sacrifice everything they know.
Alright, first off... I'm not going to tell you that this was the greatest book I've ever read in my entire life. What I am going to tell you is that I enjoyed it quite a bit. It has some very strong (likeable characters) in Zoë and Tiernan and the plot is very dialogue-driven. Which means that rather than employing the tried and worn out "World-building by largely unnecessary (and boring) infodumps from an omniscient narrator" technique, the author chose my personal favorite "World-revealing by natural conversation taking place between characters who are going about their various plot-ty duties" technique. In other words... you get little peeps and glimpses of the larger world that the city of Ard Creggan is a part of (from the people who actually live in that world), but most of it is left to the reader's imagination.That scores big, big points with me! Nothing worse than a micro-managing author who doesn't trust a speculative fiction reader to have a vivid imagination of their own.
Speaking of worlds... Redmond's world is unique. Kind of a hybrid of surreal/normal/(not quite) weird that's really rather hard to nail down. But the world is vivid -- and has history -- and the various plot-lines in What Time Forgets are about digging into that history to unravel some ancient mysteries about certain artifacts, blood-lines and prophecies (please don't interpret that as Dan Brown-esqe!). The mystery was more than enough to keep me turning pages (not to mention making a few editing glitches seem immaterial) all the way to the end. While there were a few unpolished bits of prose that I caught my "toes" on along the way, the vast majority of the writing was quite strong.
Which brings me to the end. And the good news is... THERE IS ONE! And if that weren't enough, it's a pretty satisfying one to boot. It seems obvious to me that there will probably be sequels to this particular book, but this one can definitely stand on its own two feet. Which scores high marks on the Bushleague Critic's Stand Alonish-ness scale.
I'm also going to go out on a limb and say that there may have been some political and social subtext pointing out the dangers of "us or them" bipartisanship and the silliness of xenophobic, intolerant immigration stances. Either that, or I'm completely full of shit and reading too much into the words -- which is quite possible. Subtext is pretty "hit or miss" with me.
If my arm were twisted to give a ranking or a grade of some type, I'd probably go with a B. But I believe the author is certainly capable of an A.
Finally, after a week's worth of rampant speculation that George had Kong wobbling -- and his demise was imminent -- Kong breaks his long-standing silence to set the record straight.
From Kong's What the heck's a blog?:
3/13/2011 -- The white, mostly-hairless gorilla had me on the ropes for a bit--I'm not ashamed to admit it. But I battled back and bloodied his lip. I have once again asserted my dominance. My resolve will not slip like that again. Yes, I'm a little embarrassed that I had to resort to actually defecating on his Commodore 64 to gain his full attention, but hey... drastic measures were called for!
(Now where'd I put Fay Wray?)
Mood: Chest pounding.
Thanks for sharing Kong! I always appreciate your no-nonsense style.
Amazon's product description:
The year is 2085, two decades after the great economic collapse that destroyed Western civilization. With its power broken and its cities ruined, life in the West continues in scattered communities. In rural Dorset Jake Reed lives with his 14-year-old son and memories of the great collapse. Back in '43, Jake was a rich, young futures broker, immersed in the datascape of the world's financial markets. He saw what was coming - and who was behind it. Forewarned, he was one of the few to escape the fall. For 22 years he has lived in fear of the future, and finally it is coming - quite literally - across the plain towards him. Chinese airships are in the skies and a strange, glacial structure has begun to dominate the horizon. Jake finds himself forcibly incorporated into the ever-expanding 'World of Levels' a global city of some 34 billion souls, where social status is reflected by how far above the ground you live. Here, under the rule of the mighty Tsao Ch'un, a resurgent China is seeking to abolish the past and bring about world peace through rigidly enforced order. But a civil war looms, and Jake will find himself at the heart of the struggle for the future.
Ok, first of all, Amazon's product description is incorrect. Unless Jake Reed was 10-12 years old when he was a rich, young futures broker, the year -- during which most of the book takes place -- is most definitely not 2085. it's 2065.
I'm a latecomer to David Wingrove's Chung Kuo series -- having just recently read the entire series pretty much straight through. So as I muse and ramble about this newly released prequel (Son of Heaven), keep in mind that the details of the original series are still quite fresh in my mind.
Also keep in mind that I had a love/hate relationship with the original series. What I loved, I loved unreservedly. But that which I didn't love... I loathed. Mainly I was pissed at Wingrove's penchant for "off camera" action. His plotlines would build and build and build towards obviously massive confrontations, but when things finally came to head, he would immediately skip the actual crisis and move directly to the aftermath. It was maddening. But at the same time, such rich characters and subtle political and social machinations made abandoning the books quite impossible.
Son of Heaven represented quite a change in writing style, I thought. Not surprising really, since the last Chung Kuo book was published twelve years ago, or so. The story starts in 2065, twenty-odd years after the collapse of civilization. Jake Reed and a small community in rural England are living a bucolic, yet dangerous apocalyptic life. I like it. Other than that little thing where authors think it's a good idea to actually phonetically spell out a character's accent (or speech impediment) in normal dialog. That annoys the shit out of me if it goes on for any length of time. Just give me a taste of it, then stop it. I'm perfectly capable of hearing an accent in my head while reading.
Anyway... we meet Jake and get a good idea of what the current state of civilization is like. Then we flash back to just before the collapse (2043), and I hate it. I want to put the book down. But I suffer through the silly technological slang and the mind-numbing infodumps (that offer no insight that wasn't already given in the original series) clear up until nearly the half-way point of the book.
Then we come back to the "present" and things start to get good. Really good, in fact. We start flashing back and forth between different POV's (the first half was one POV for the most part) and shit finally starts happening. To be perfectly honest, the second half of the book is a bit of alright. I just wish I hadn't had to suffer through the first half to get there.
So in summary, if you've never read Chung Kuo (or don't remember anything about it), Son of Heaven may be a pleasant intro/refresher for you. Otherwise, I'm not really sure that it contributes much of anything to the series other than word count.
A suitably grandiose blurb:
The glittering tradition of sword-and-sorcery sweeps into the sands of ancient Arabia with the heart-stopping speed of a whirling dervish in this thrilling debut novel from new talent Howard Andrew Jones.
I'm not going to waste a whole bunch of time here. I've always been in love with all the different incarnations of the Arabian Nights tales. Something about the period, the culture and the mythology fascinates me. So when I saw The Desert of Souls with its fantasic cover art (and I rarely pay attention to cover art), I bought it... planning to shelve it for a rainy day.
The problem is, I couldn't wait. So I read it. And enjoyed it. In fact, I had a bit of a problem putting it down for any length of time. Now, I'm not going to try to convince anyone that this book reinvents the genre or anything like that, but as far as adventure and entertainment goes... Howard Andrew Jones impressed me in this debut novel. Quite a bit.
There's not a lot I can say about it that you can't read in the blurbs, but I will tell you that it's a first-person narrative -- all the way through. I like to get that out of the way quickly, because I've learned (and no one was more surprised than me) that a lot of people seem to break out in hives when their novels stray from the traditional third-person omniscient/limited. It makes no sense to me that someone would dismiss a book for this reason, but there you have it. Don't say no one ever told you.
The story mainly involves Captain Asim el Abbas and the scholar Dabir ibn Khalil - who are both in the employ of Jaffar (the caliph's vizier). Together they must ferret out the meaning of an odd artifact that a dying man leaves at their feet in an 8th century Baghdad marketplace.
There's also an evil Zarathustran Magi, some djinn, a kidnapped beautiful princess, swordfights, zombie monkeys, betrayal and a little bit of unrequited love thown in for good measure. Quite the Arabian ride if you ask me.
Althought it's obvious that Asim and Dabir will be teaming up in some further adventures (hopefully anyway), this novel contains one complete story -- which scores Jones some major points in my eyes.
Buy it. Read it. That's my official recommendation.
Leo Grin (over at Big Hollywood) doesn't care for "gritty" fantasy. So he wrote an article. In that article, he stuck his nondescript, attention-whore thumb into modern fantasy's pie and pulled out a fat, juicy, "look at me" plum. Bankrupt nihilism indeed. Maligned popular new fantasy authors, misinterpreted (and badly represented) classics.... Oh MY!
The response? "This. Must. Be. Addressed. At once."
Congratulations Mr. Grin, you've got your attention. My take on the whole thing?? Who gives a shit? Authors, please write what interests you... readers, you keep reading what you find interesting. Does anyone know what they call that lovely, rare intersection where those two interests meet and mesh completely?