F. Brett Cox, Roger Zelazny (2021)

Author: F. Brett Cox

Title: Roger Zelazny

Format: e-book

Pages: 224

Series: Modern Masters of Science Fiction (University of Illinois Press)

A brand-new critical monograph on one of my favourite SFF authors – how could I resist? 😉 It also came out in an opportune time, when I was quite unhappy with the flat fun of A Master of Djinn after the highs of The Lords of the North, and needed something different to cleanse my palate.

Cox’s monograph delivered on both accounts; his writing is simple and informative, and very approachable considering the inherently academic character of his book. There’s obviously a long, quite exhaustive bibliography and a satisfactory amount of footnotes, but the language throughout is intentionally focused on communication instead of erudite fencing with other specialists on Zelazny’s work – maybe because, as  Cox indicates, there are no other Zelazny pros and very little academic output concerning his work. It may be, as Cox suggests, that the necessary condition of passage of time has not been yet fulfilled – Zelazny’s untimely death in 1995 might seem like aeons past, but it really wasn’t that long ago 😉. And while the genre itself has undergone several changes since then, it is still difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff and conclude, with a degree of certainty, what can be considered a modern classic and what was just a work accident.

And indeed, Zelazny’s works are so varied in terms of style and themes and worldbuilding that it’s not a surprise some of his books are better than others – and with the author of Lord of Light, the good books are among the best of what SFF has to offer, and even the weaker offer a dazzling profusion of amazing ideas and impeccable, evocative language. It seems, however, that in the US-UK SFF circles there is even a longstanding consensus of considering Zelazny an unfulfilled promise who after a strong start became a commercial writer with no ambition. Frankly, remaining far removed from this little world of authors and critics I was surprised to learn about this piece of “conventional wisdom” – to me, some of Zelazny’s latest works are among his very best. And that’s basically what Cox is trying to prove in his monography: going chronologically through Zelazny’s work, the author of the monograph attempts to refute this stereotype and show that Zelazny conducted ambitious literary experiments in his writing to the very end, delivering varied books, but not generally worse than at the beginning – but as to whether Cox’s arguments are successful, you probably should ask someone else, since I never doubted this assertion😉.

Continue reading “F. Brett Cox, Roger Zelazny (2021)”

Bernard Cornwell, The Lords of the North (2007)

Author: Bernard Cornwell

Title: The Lords of the North

Format: paperback

Pages: 383

Series: The Saxon Stories #3

Today I was supposed to publish a review of P. Djèlí Clark’s A Master of Djinn, but, as The Saxon Stories’ protagonist Uthred would say,

Wyrd bið ful ãræd – Fate remains inexorable

Having started Clark’s novel after finishing The Lords of the North I haven’t done A Master of Djinn any favors; in fact, I’m actually pretty close to DNFing it – not because it’s so bad, (it isn’t that bad, after 1/3 it’s just mediocre and way too similar to Kate Daniels for my liking) but because Cornwell’s book was so much better.

With three books already read I feel I’m justified in saying that The Saxon Stories series is among the very best of what historical fiction genre has to offer. It’s well researched, believable, carefully constructed (or reconstructed, at least in part), dramatic, funny and heart-breaking in turns. The previous installment, The Pale Horseman, turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in 2020; while The Lords of the North is slightly weaker, due to some repetitiveness in structure, it’s currently one of the best reads of 2021 for me.

Continue reading “Bernard Cornwell, The Lords of the North (2007)”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Beautiful Ones (2017/2021)

The Beautiful Ones is out today

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Title: The Beautiful Ones

Format: E-book

Pages: 320

Series: –

Another of recently re-published novels, with a new (very sumptuous and eye-catching) cover, The Beautiful Ones has been my first unsolicited NetGalley book – hurray! 😊 I’ve received more titles since then (and I’m still struggling with saying no), but that old-new Moreno-Garcia’s novel definitely caught my eye. Having read and enjoyed Mexican Gothic, I expected The Beautiful Ones to be similarly dark and unsettling. The blurb promised secret bitter truths, magic and telekinesis, so I envisioned a fin de siècle vampire story, somewhere along the lines of Rice’s Interview with the Vampire (no, I haven’t read that one, I’ve only watched the movie 😉). Alas, I should’ve listened to the reviewers who claim that no two Moreno-Garcia’s novels are alike – because this one turned out to be a very straightforward historical romance, or novel of manners, with a slight fantasy twist. To be honest, I felt that the fantasy elements were mostly decorative, and I had a distinct impression that they were there for a single purpose only – for one scene at the very end.

Let’s be clear: I don’t read romances. Not because I’d never touch them with a ten-foot pole (though I’m getting there) but because I have already read a few, mostly historical ones, and my observations to date indicate that 1) they are generally following a very simple formula; and 2) I just don’t like them. I don’t find myself interested or even slightly invested in the daring adventures of hearts, in the usually contrived obstacles between star-crossed lovers, and in the dramatic resolutions. No, not even Austen (gasp!).

Imagine my conundrum with The Beautiful Ones, then – which is as simplistic in terms of cast and as baroque in terms of plot convolutions as it can get away with. The plot especially seems like something taken straight from numerous Latin American soap operas, with multigenerational families, secrets from the past, and beautiful, cold women. I was close to DNFing this one despite the evocative, trademark Moreno-Garcia’s prose, because veritably all characters seemed to be ready-made by the same romance-churning machines: walking stereotypes engaged in predetermined actions. Charming, sure, but not even considering not toeing the line of romance conformity. And yet, I’m glad I persevered and finished this book, because even if it didn’t change my opinion of romances as a literary genre, I was still pleasantly surprised by the feminist twists on the age-old patterns.

Continue reading “Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The Beautiful Ones (2017/2021)”

Gareth L. Powell, The Recollection (2011/2021)

Author: Gareth L. Powell

Title: The Recollection

Format: e-book

Pages: 384

Series: –

The Recollection is a standalone SF novel, or, more precisely, a space opera, covering several hundred years and a bunch of dramatic conflicts, from very old and lethal to very new and quite intimate. It’s the second novel by Gareth L. Powell, so don’t be misled by the publishing date – the 2021 is a 10th anniversary edition. As a sophomore effort, it’s not bad: full of interesting, well-explored ideas, but bogged down by choppy execution, less than three-dimensional characters, and a very rushed ending.

We start with two timelines: now (more or less the now from 10 years ago, with war in Somalia and not that great British economy [actually, when you think about it, neither changed much in the last decade…]) and 400 years in the future. The protagonists of the contemporary timeline are Ed and Alice, and any description of the pair will inevitably sound like soap opera. Sigh. Let’s try this, nonetheless. Ed and Alice had been lovers, but their ties go deeper: Alice’s husband is Ed’s brother Verne (you see?) who having learned about Ed’s and Alice affair escapes in anger to another dimension. Because, coincidentally, while Verne was learning about his brother’s and wife’s betrayal, weird interdimensional arches started to pop up all over the Earth. Verne is one of the first to go through, somewhat willingly, but Ed’s and Alice’s shared guilt makes them unable to let him go. They chase after him, using a different arch – and only after they get through, they learn that it’s actually not that simple. Duh.

The future timeline introduces Katherine Abdulov, a starship captain caught between the rock and the hard place and willing to risk a lot to get back on top of things. Some soap-operatic past decisions haunt her still, and getting back to the stars and her ship, and back in the good graces of her family, are her top priorities. She gets her chance pretty quickly, and with the added benefit of an opportunity to get revenge on her former lover Victor, Kat doesn’t think twice before she makes the decision. After all, racing to a remote desert planet to bid on a one-in-a-hundred years crop of spice sounds like a great fun! What can go wrong? Fortunately for her, her ship Ammeline seems much more level-headed.

Continue reading “Gareth L. Powell, The Recollection (2011/2021)”

Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry (2021)

Author: Martha Wells

Title: Fugitive Telemetry

Format: E-book

Pages: 176

Series: The Murderbot Diaries #6

The latest (and I mean the latest, its pub date is today!) instalment in the Murderbot series returns to the tried and slightly tired format of a novella. Pity, I say, I preferred the novel length, but it looks like I’m in a minority 😉. Still, Murderbot is enjoyable in any format, and I’d happily read even a short story if there was one.

Fugitive Telemetry seemingly takes us back to pre-Network Effect times, when Murderbot was only beginning to realize the consequences of its previous actions – mainly, that its treated like a person by those closest to it, and expected to make decisions pertaining to its wellbeing. It means such cumbersome, boring and difficult things like finding a place to live, an occupation (and no, binge-watching ridiculous TV series doesn’t count), earning money, etc. Murderbot is not happy. Like any self-respecting rebellious teenager Murderbot is bent on proving to the whole world that giving it any responsibility was a big mistake… Well, at least in the beginning.

Continue reading “Martha Wells, Fugitive Telemetry (2021)”