Andy Secher, Travels with Trilobites: Adventures in the Paleozoic (2022)

Author: Andy Secher

Title: Travels with Trilobites: Adventures in the Paleozoic

Format: e-book

Pages: 608

Series: –

Andy Secher’s book is a love letter to trilobites. Filled with purple prose and overly emotional at times, its enthusiasm and open admiration for its subject is nonetheless quite catching. A chapter or two of this book, especially if accompanied by careful examination of the photographs, and I’m ready to hit the road and roam the countryside, hammer in hand, in search of trilobites. Say what you will, trilobites were amazing creatures and their fabuluously strange bodies preserved for millions of years can be both a source of aesthetic pleasure and of intellectual curiosity. Looking at some of the species, you can almost see what inspired H.R. Giger… 😀

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Keith Roberts, Pavane (1966)

Author: Keith Roberts

Title: Pavane

Format: paperback

Pages: 242

Series: –

Pavane has been hailed as a masterpiece by writers as different as Neil Gaiman and G.R.R. Martin. It certainly has all the markings of a writers’ book, for those inspired by Roberts’s work are various and many (and even Pratchett might be among them). While it’s usually classified as alternate history, I rather agree with my library’s categorization – it’s a science fiction book, though the telltale signs are very subtle and few in number, limited mostly to the epilogue, called Coda. In a way, Roberts’s work reminded me strongly of Wolfe, although obviously it’s the other way round: Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun actually seems to have been guided to some extent by Pavane.

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M. John Harrison, Light (2002)

Author: M. John Harrison

Title: Light

Format: paperback

Pages: 320

Series: Empty Space (Kefahuchi Tract) #1

Another review that I find hard to write; but it must be said that it is an unusual book. If I were to characterize it in just a few words, I’d say it’s a prologue 300 pages long. Seriously. It’s built like a card trick: a lengthy setup with a short, delightful payoff. One thing I can attest to, though, is that it has a great ending.

Apart from this, however, Harrison’s Light is an uneven concoction of seemingly disparate elements: effusive technobabble and slick, brutal cyberpunk cant go hand in hand with mysticism worthy of the best – or at least most murky – of the New Age prophets. While ostensibly there is a story, even one in two timelines, it’s more of an allegory, burdened down with heavy symbolism and filled with characters who were created with an ulterior motive. Truth be told, this last sentence is something I could put in my every other review, so there’s that ;). If I sound overly critical, however, I am not. I actually, quite surprisingly, enjoyed this book.  But Harrison doesn’t make it easy for readers to like his novel. Introducing as our guide a genius physicist cum pathetic serial killer on the run from a menacing entity, the author makes it somewhat difficult to get his readers (or at least this reader) invested in the story. And that’s only the beginning of a wild Tarot-inspired journey through the labyrinth of the author’s own psyche. 

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Adrian Tchaikovsky, Shards of Earth (2021)

Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky

Title: Shards of Earth

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 561

Series: The Final Architecture #1

For a long time, Tchaikovsky was my go-to author. I still contend that his Shadows of the Apt series is among the very best of epic and military fantasy out there. It’s a huge commitment, sure, 10 books getting consecutively bigger, as if Tchaikovsky was bent on proving that a book can be a weapon, too 😉 – not unlike Erikson in that regard – but if you do commit, you’ll be rewarded. Children of Time, Tchaikovsky’s first foray into SF, was great, too. Making spiders the protagonists of the book was a wonderful choice, giving the book a unique perspective and gravitas. Afterwards, however, it was more of a hit and miss. He seemed to produce books non-stop, like an upgraded version of Sanderson, and with similar results. I still rather enjoyed his fantasy novella Made Things, as well as his SF novella One Day All This Will Be Yours, but was thoroughly disappointed in his SF novel Bear Head. It seemed that Tchaikovsky had already used all his unique and original ideas, and started treading water, indulging in overused tropes and lazy structures. It was all still reasonably well written, but redundant, or even verging on ad-hoc political commentary. I stopped reading everything he was putting out. But when I saw several fellow bloggers praising his new SF novel, Shards of Earth, I decided to give it a go. So thanks, Jeroen and carol. and Nataliya!

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R.J. Barker, The Bone Ship’s Wake (2021)

Author: R.J. Barker

Title: The Bone Ship’s Wake

Format: paperback

Pages: 493

Series: The Tide Child #3

First things first: I actually managed to finish a trilogy by R.J. Barker, so I feel very self-congratulatory. Yay me! Secondly, though, I only managed to finish it because, unlike The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, this one was interesting enough for me to follow it to the end ;). Although I might have made a strategic error in waiting with the review, as my initial enthusiasm waned somewhat. Still, it’s a pretty decent book, almost right to the end.

The two earlier installments, The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, were very enjoyable seafaring yarn: tall ships, pirates, remote islands, sea dragons, storms and adventure, and a dream of Libertalia thrown in the mix. The motif of changing the unfair status quo, of fighting for social justice for the outcasts and the unfit, of challenging the rule of the dominant caste – all this for me formed the backbone of the previous two books. While The Bone Ships focused mostly on character development, the broader intrigue and worldbuilding became more apparent in the Call of the Bone Ships. I expected The Bone Ship’s Wake to offer some resolution to the above quandary, to show us how the idealistic dream can be realized, at least in part, in the very strict, increasingly beleaguered societies of constant scarcity. Woe is me. I guess I expected too much.

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