Sunday, May 21, 2017

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said

Philip K. Dick's Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said, tells the story of Jason Taverner, a TV celebrity who wakes up one day to find that he doesn't exist - the world doesn't remember him at all. It's set in the near future of the mid 1970s (so, 1988), and the USA has become a fascist police state. Taverner has to struggle through the impositions put upon the poor of that society while trying to uncover what has happened. Being a mid 1970's novel it's full of casual drug use and even more casual sex, and it does show its age in that regard. The prose is a bit rough (as with more of Dick's work), and the sci-fi bits that explain what has happened to Taverner are a bit dodgy (but with a little effort I think could have been a lot more interesting). But it's an interesting look at the class distinctions and varying freedoms in a totalitarian society.

Kushiel's Dart

Kushiel's Dart was a bit of a surprise - I went into it expecting some light Fantasy with a bit of a different take on things, but got much much more. This novel was a big pile of hot sex and sadomasochism, with quite excellent in-world justification for what is going on. The world of Kushiel's Dart is a medieval/renaissance era fantasy based on our own world, but with the point of divergence being when Jesus is crucified, a drop of his blood falls to the earth and creates Elua, a semi-divine, angelic being who recruits a group of similarly angelic followers, wanders across to France, and creates a kingdom called Terre D'Ange. These angelic beings then have children, and history progresses. The novel is set an unspecified period of time later, but basically in the medieval era. The protagonist, Phèdre, is indentured by her mother, a courtesan, into one of the 13 courtesan houses of the City of Elua. Thus begins her training as a courtesan. She is then purchased by Anafiel Delaunay, to be trained as a spy. Things get complicated from there, but Phèdre has an important role to play in the succession for the d'Angeline throne.

A really interesting aspect of the book is its take on sexuality. With the current debates around gender and sexuality in Fantasy literature, the Kushiel's Legacy series is a good response to the justifications of regressive gender politics. In this world, Elua, who is effectively their chief god, has declared "Love as thou wilt" to be a primary commandment. This means that for d'Angelines, there is no taboo against sex, homosexuality, S&M, or anything of that nature, as long as consent is freely given. And rape is blasphemous. It's a good illustration of how when you're building your fantasy world, it's pretty easy to get sexuality right, and not just fall back on "well, that's how it was in medieval times, can't change it".

I think some readers might find it a bit heavy going - it's written in the first person, from Phèdre's viewpoint, and she is a rather flowery writer. And she is kind of Kushiel's chosen one, so it can in places read like teenage fan fiction, but once you get past that, it's a rollicking adventure in a world that is interestingly different to any other fantasy that I've read. There's another 8 of them (there are three trilogies), so I'll have a pile of reading to get through, but I'll certainly be reading more of Jacqueline Carey's series.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Songs of Love and Death

Another big George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology of short stories, this one doesn't feature a Song of Ice and Fire extra to draw in the crowds. However, there's still plenty in here to keep a reader entertained. There are quite a few creepy tales of being in love with a ghost or having a ghost in love with you, or in one extra creepy case, the ghost of an angry former love being super angry. Some stories are vignettes that add to an existing (Jacqueline Carey's story about the dying regrets of Anafiel Delaunay was an interesting enough introduction to that series that I'll follow up with some more of them). The only substandard entry was an awful Dresden Files story (the usual amount of awful for a Dresden Files story, nothing special). The Dresden files series seems to be uniformly misogynist and dreadful, and I'd skip them when reading anthologies, but then I'd feel annoyed that I hadn't finished the book.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Babylon's Ashes

The sixth entry in the Expanse, this one is suitably exciting and epic. Interplanetary war is in full flow, and James Holden and his doughty crew are naturally central to the whole thing, solving crises and solving problems that the so-called scientists and politicians with their fancy book learnin' and analysis tools are unable to crack. It's a great series and a rollicking adventure, and I think space opera traditionally tends towards the trope of the small group of people (*cough*Skywalkers*cough*) who are critical to everything, so this isn't too much of a problem. At its wrap-up, this book felt like the end of the series, though there were some big questions left open, so I was glad to find out that there is another book coming this year.

The Magician's Land

The third installment in Lev Grossman's Magicians trilogy, The Magician's Land really amps up the epicness, digging into the nature of gods and magic, and putting whole worlds at threat of destruction. Characters grow and become more rounded and mature; old friends return, and threads of plot from the first two novels are picked up and tied off neatly. I thoroughly enjoyed this series, and would happily read more set in this universe.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Three Body Problem

I'd heard good things about The Three Body Problem, and wanted to broaden my science fiction intake to some fresh perspectives, and so was very pleased by Liu Cixin's novel, translated from the original Chinese. It is a weird mixture of style between that odd 1950's impersonal feel that so many classic sci-fi novels have, weird magical fantasy, and a solid modern hard sci-fi. It takes more than half the novel to work out which it is. It spans 50 years of Chinese history, from the Cultural Revolution to the modern day, and tells the story of humanity's first contact with an alien species, and how people cope with the changes and threats that brings. For a western reader, it also gives a fascinating internal view of life for academics under the Chinese communist government. Well worth a read.

The Magician King

The first book in this series, The Magicians, was so self-contained and complete that I was surprised to find there was a sequel. Lev Grossman's The Magician King takes the conclusion of the Magicians, where (spoiler alert) Quentin and his friends have found their way into the magical land of Fillory, and builds on that in an epic tale where the entire world was endangered and a Quest was required to save it. Again, the book is rich in reference and homage to other fantasy novels, but makes the genre its own. The story wraps into a expected-yet-unexpected bittersweet conclusion, providing a clean ending to the stories of the characters. And as I finished it, I was surprised to find there was a third book in the series to read.