May 28th, 2002

A lunchtime book review: Belarus

Lee Hogan's Belarus is one of those books you buy because of the cover art and the back cover blab, not because of reviews or word of mouth. That's not surprising really. How often do midlist paperbacks get coverage, even in specialist magazines like Locus? But they're the books we end up buying, and end up reading, as they contain a few days escape from the mundanities of public transport, for a few pounds or dollars. And they end up as effective house insulation, on the myriad fannish bookcases.

Belarus appears to be a first novel, and it shows it. Not in poor writing, more in a failure of the imagination - or perhaps the author's failure to trust their own imagination. There are good ideas here, interesting viewpoints on the drive to find a place for one's self in the world, even if that place is to be marked by nihilistic destruction. Unfortunately they are masked by a plot that mixes elements of Babylon 5 with that particular strand of the serial killer mythos popularised by Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter novels.

In a far future civilisation (better drawn than that of Altered Carbon, but still too close to the early 21st century), a colonisation party is finalising the terraforming of their new world. Nanotechnological sprites have reshaped the world, and the empty towns and cities are ready for their new inhabitants. Unfortunately for the very Russian colonists, it's not an empty world. It's inhabited by an insectoid race that hibernates for much of the time, and is possbly technologically superior to their human invaders. And the aliens like to kill - after torture (then eating livers to taste the nature of their victims). To pull out one of the Babylon 5 resonances, this is like humans colonising Z'ha'dum... Of course, to compound the colonists' misery, there's a human serial killer whose actions mask the existence of the aliens. Once the supporting stellar civilisation collapses in genocidal war, the real nature of their new home reveals itself to the now abandoned colony.

Despite its flaws, Belarus is an enjoyable read. Most of the violence takes place off camera, and it's easy enough to suspend belief in the deus ex machina conclusion (as well as the obvious hook for a possible sequel). I'll keep an eye out for future books by Hogan...
  • Current Music
    The Orb - Adventures In The Ultraworld - Outlands

A toaster... toast.

In the spirit of miramon's visit to the Tate, I have to ask myself, is this art? And my answer here has to be yes. The artist has had an idea for a strictly representational piece, and has chosen their medium carefully. And the self-referential choice says something to me about how we relate to the world through food, and how we filter everything through our assumptions.
  • Current Music
    Marillion - Anoraknophobia - Between You And Me