Holiday Reading #2

5 Jan 2012book-reviews

After the rather dreary spy novels, time for something a bit more fluffy.

First, a couple by John Scalzi, who is an all-round good guy with a great blog, and a fine line in fairly traditional sci-fi. Zoe’s Tale is an alternative view of some of the events in the universe of Old Man’s War, told from the perspective of the teenage daughter of the hero of the original book. It’s an interesting experiment, to rewrite events already told from one perspective from a different viewpoint, one with quite distinct emotional responses and interests. Scalzi says that it was among the hardest things he’s ever written! It’s also interesting in that the protagonist and narrator is a teenage girl. I don’t think I’d have the balls to try to write anything substantial from that point of view, but Scalzi does, as far as I can tell, an excellent job. He says that he ran the book by a lot of female friends to check that he’d got the tone right.

The Android’s Dream, also by Scalzi, is a standalone novel introduced by a diplomatic incident precipitated by farting. The book gets sillier from then on. It’s amusing, if you’re prepared to accept the main premise of the book, which is to do with a sheep-human hybrid developed through non-consensual zoophilia (is zoophilia ever consensual) that plays a critical part in the ceremonial involved in the handover of power of the government of an alien power, sort of though not quite allied with humanity. They’re big lizards. Who communicate partially by scent. Hence the farting. Seriously, it’s quite a diverting little book, but very very silly.

Snuff: Pratchett, Discworld, Vimes. Does more need to be said? This is another Discworld book that deals with otherness and racism, people who are even more marginalised than dwarves and trolls. For me, the hero of the show? Willikins, Vimes’s manservant, a man with a history so shady you could use it as sunscreen for an albino rhino.

I’ve now read all of the Twenty Palaces novels by Harry Connolly, the latest being Twenty Palaces, A Prequel, which covers some of the backstory of Ray Lilly and the events that occurred before the “first” novel, Child Of Fire. I haven’t yet decided one way or another whether I think they’re any good. But I’m still reading them, so that says something, eh? They have some of the same feeling as spy novels, this sense of another world lying parallel to our own everyday world, where unpleasant people do unpleasant things to each other and everyday folks just suffer the consequences. I’m interested to see where he’s going with it all though, especially if we get to learn some more about where the spell books come from (and what they hell they actually are, since they certainly aren’t books!).

Similarly indecisive critical opinion surrounds Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim books. The latest is Aloha From Hell. It has all the usual stuff, with demons and angels (and other weirder things) doing battle, this time in a weirdly skewed Los Angeles in Hell which is an echo of the real L.A. (and you might argue, not all that much different). Kadrey’s books are more “mind candy” than Connolly’s: I get the feeling that Connolly is going somewhere with his stuff, but Kadrey is much more in-your-face with everything at once, with less of the mysterious slow reveal of the Twenty Palaces books. But what do I know? I’m still reading these too, although this may be the last one.