Izumi Suzuki, Terminal Boredom (2021)

Author: Izumi Suzuki

Title: Terminal Boredom

Format: E-book

Pages: 240

Series: –

Other: Short Story Collection

Don’t let the publication date fool you: Izumi Suzuki committed suicide in 1986, at the age of 36, and her SF dystopian short stories were all written in the period between mid- 1970s and mid-1980s. Her works were both highly controversial and influential, diametrically different from mainstream, and the publication of Terminal Boredom, a collection of seven of her most famous stories, is a good opportunity for the English-speaking readers to get acquainted with Suzuki’s world. A nice introduction has been recently published in ArtReview – Daniel Joseph, one of the stories’ translators, succinctly but informatively presents both the author and her career here.

Suzuki creates a very intriguing world, indeed. Deeply dystopian, populated by unhappy people bound in equal measures by the societal norms, their own fantasies and their fears, it features green-skinned aliens, potent drugs, elaborate medical procedures designed to deal with very mundane relationship and psychological problems, and even a post-apocalyptic matriarchal society where men are held in prison-like structures, kept alive only for procreation purposes, like drones in a beehive. No one is truly happy; some have forgotten what happiness even means. The suffocating mood of ennui seems to arise from a number of moods and feelings: social constraints, regrets, inability to feel empathy, bad life choices haunting the present and the future, and the overwhelming boredom all conspire to create a nauseating lack of will to live. The mood, the feeling of these stories is prescient: four decades on, we deal with the very issues so clearly intuited by Suzuki – from the crippling emotional numbness among individuals to the aggressive, grasping behaviour of societies.

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Andrew Mayne, Black Coral (2021)

Author: Andrew Mayne

Title: Black Coral

Format: e-book

Pages: 317

Series: Underwater Investigation Unit #2

Andrew Mayne has been getting a lot of good reviews – and a lot of publicity – in recent years. Specializing in well, specialist police procedurals/mystery thrillers, where the protagonists have each unique skillsets and viewpoints markedly different from your run-of-the-mill police detectives, Mayne made a name for himself. I guess his previous career as an illusionist gave him a lot of experience in creating intricate structures and patience in preparing the big show in incremental, consecutive steps, because that approach is clearly noticeable in his newest book, Black Coral. Black Coral is the second installment in the Underwater Investigation Unit series, but can be read as standalone.

I confess that I chose this book from NG on a whim, not having read anything by Mayne before. But the premise, promising a special diving unit solving crimes in Florida, sounded really cool – and my own experience with crime thriller series (from Nesbo’s Harry Hole to Rankin’s Inspector Rebus to Larsson’s Millenium, or even Peters’s Brother Cadfael) is that I’m usually happier NOT reading them in the chronological order. This way there’s more to discover:  I can have more fun with the mystery puzzle pieces and the inner workings of protagonist and/or their team, as well as the psychological makeup of the characters, and I don’t get bored by the ever-growing historical background :D.

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Adrian Tchaikovsky, One Day All This Will Be Yours (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: One Day All This Will Be Yours

Format: E-book

Pages: 192

Series: –

After a couple of disappointing books by Tchaikovsky I approached this novella with certain trepidation. After all, one can become too thinly spread, “sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread,” even without One Ring (unless you want to confess, Mr Tchaikovsky?) I needn’t have worried, tough – this novella is short and sharp and scathing, with long pointed teeth and unrelenting snarkiness that brings to mind the best that stand-up comedy has to offer.

And this novella is indeed written very much in the style of stand-up comedy, with the protagonist wound up to the extreme, never shutting up, venting his anger and misanthropy in an unceasing torrent of words. It’s funny, it’s rabid, it’s sarcastic – but most of all, it’s to the point. You see, in Causality Wars the unnamed protagonist is the veteran of the humanity – and history – ceased to exist. With the onset of time travel rewriting the past became the favorite pastime of governments and agencies, and all the innumerable, contradictory changes to the history carried out by time soldiers resulted in shattering the past and erasing the present. It was still salvageable, more or less – until Causality bombs destroyed the substance of time. And so now, at the end of times, in the one stable point of a glorious indeterminate amount of time, our protagonist treasure hunts the sharp shards of the past, gathering farming equipment, growing veggies and killing random time travellers who inexorably land in his garden, in the farthest possible future. Until travellers from the actual, future, future turn up on his porch and call him Gramps. The gall! Gramps is not happy; he’s a nasty mean old geezer and wants to stay this way forever, so obviously the only thoughts he spared for his bride-to-be are how to most efficiently kill her before they can produce any of that horrible offspring.

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E. J. Beaton, The Councillor (2021)

Author: E. J. Beaton

Title: The Councillor

Format: E-book

Pages: 448

Series: ?

Soft-BDSM LGBT+ YA Court Intrigue (and not the “feminist Machiavellian political fantasy” it’s marketed as, at least for me)

I just thought I’d get it out of the way first.

Now that’s done I can start with the proper introductions 😉. The Councillor is E.J. Beaton’s debut novel, published today by DAW. It takes place in a fictional world bearing strong resemblance to our world’s Italy in Renaissance times and all this time and place entailed: separate city-states, feudalism, a ruling caste of cutthroat nobles, condottieri and the constant warring they made their fortunes in, and even something of an Italian League (not the football one, this one). The main character, Lysande Prior, is an orphan foundling who through sheer talent (she translated an ancient poetry artifact, Silver Songs, at the age of twelve) became a protégé of Elira’s Iron Queen, Sarelin. When the queen is murdered, our poor scholar must take the position of a Councillor – a sort of an interrex, responsible for choosing a new ruler from among the four remaining city-state rulers. The decision is urgent, for the person responsible for Sarelin’s murder is no other than Elira’s nemesis, The White Queen: Mea Tacitus (more on that masculine suffix later) who over two decades earlier set the realm aflame (quite literally, being an elemental able to control fire). The White Queen wants to conquer Elira for good this time, and won’t take “no” for an answer. So it falls to our hapless and seemingly mousy protagonist to make the right decisions under mounting pressure and successfully defend the realm. Lengthy discussions, banquets, balls, tournaments, and sightseeing trips abound, and there’s even one short battle.

The book is written in an assured, flowing style, imaginative and lush, bordering on purplish – all the more remarkable considering this is a debut novel for the poet Beaton. The exposition is done deftly, the intricacies of the world explained in small bits and pieces, allowing the plot to flow naturally. The cast of characters is sizeable but managed effectively by the author: while their characteristics are mostly limited to the bare minimum allowing the reader to recognize each without trouble and focused mainly on physical traits – with the exception of the dead queen and the main protagonist, who were given a bit more depth and much needed ambivalence – the characterization seemed adequate for the task of differentiating the various persons of interest. Beaton’s writing holds a promise, and her broad literary knowledge can be glimpsed in the myriad of references to various texts, from Machiavelli to Marx. The introduction of magic as a discriminatory trait in a feudal post-war society was an interesting decision and resulted in the lion’s share of my enjoyment of the book. I wish the novel lived up to the marketing description and actually focused on politics of the realm; however, after a promising start it shifted its attention toward romantic/sexual fantasies and relationships of the main character couched in the glittery cloth of court intrigues – and left me feeling increasingly disgruntled.

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Cixin Liu, To Hold Up The Sky (2020)

Author: Cixin Liu

Title: To Hold Up The Sky

Format: E-book

Pages: 336

Series: –

Liu’s short story collection comes in the wake of his breakthrough success with the award-winning The Three-Body Problem. Translated by several translators (none of which was Ken Liu, who translated The Three-Body Problem, and Ican’t help but wonder if politics wasn’t the reasond for that) To Hold Up the Sky offers 11 diverse stories spanning near and far future of our own reality; their main common point seems to be their prominent focus on China and a strong undercurrent of Chinese nationalism. As usual with short stories collections, I’ll review each story separately and give a composite score at the end.

The Village Teacher 0/10

I’d give it 0/10 if I could. Oh, wait, you know what? I can.

Over a quarter century after the collapse of the USSR I never expected to read such a prime example of soc-realist fiction fresh off the publishing press. The primitivity of this story is simply staggering on every level: from the utterly two-dimensional character of the martyr to knowledge – the selfless village teacher bravely giving his life in the heroic quest to teach little kids the Newton’s laws of motion on his death bed in the mountain shed serving as a classroom – to the cosmic conflict between the good carbon-based life-forms who live peacefully in a Federation and the bad silicone-based life-forms who formed a bloodthirsty Empire… Having read both the Polish positivist literature (Orzeszkowa’s ABC vividly comes to mind, and that’s a horrific memory of sickly good intentions married to a total inability to write) and the USSR bestseller and soc-realist opus magnum Story of the Real Man by the Hero of Socialist Labor Boris Polevoy I’ve been scarred for life already. But this… This was even worse. Much, much worse. Polevoy’s book was actually interesting, if you stripped it of the Soviet propaganda – maybe because it was based on a true story. Here? Nothing makes sense.

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