July 23rd, 2002

The Tuesday Morning "Ill In Bed Review": At The Mountains Of Madness

Re-reading Charlie's novella "A Colder War" recently made me realise that I hadn't read anywhere near enough H.P. Lovecraft to pick up on many of the references in Charlie's excellent story. Luckily for me, the crawling horror that is Voyager Classics had indulged in literary necromancy, and had conjured up an omnibus edition of Lovecraft's three short novels (plus a handful of short stories).

At The Mountains Of Madness contains the titular novel, along with The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath. All three are (if loosely) part of the overall Cthulu mythos, that unwritten history of a world manipulated by Elder Gods and evil that lurks behind the cozy walls of our universe.

Part of the horror of Lovecraft's writing is the style he chooses to deliver his mysteries. He's not one for the purple prose that fills the pages of most airport horror fiction. Instead, Lovecraft chooses to use the normally innocent styles of journalism, or of scientific papers. At The Mountains Of Madness is a scientist's retelling of a disaster-filled expedition to Antarctica, one that finds relics of a civilisation that dates to before the first amphibian crawled from the primeval swamp, while The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward is a report on the escape of a lunatic, an escape that reveals more of the darkness behind the walls of the world than we really need to know.

It took a little while for me to realise why The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath felt so familiar. And then it hit me - this is what Jack Vance must have been reading before he began his writing career. A picaresque travelogue through an incredible imagined world, The Dream-Quest... introduces the wild variety of cultures and creatures that were to fill Vance's later works.

Roll for SAN before reading, but do read, as these are true classics of fantastic fiction.
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Another Tuesday "Ill In Bed" Review: Lost In A Good Book

Jasper Fforde's first novel was last year's surprise hit. The Eyre Affair was a conglomeration of SF and low comedy, all mixed with a post modern literary conceit that grabbed the imagination and thrust us into Thursday Next's alternate Britain, where literary detectives track down forgeries, and Richard III plays to Rocky Horror audiences, and secret organisations battle crime and cheese smuggling.

But was it just a one shot wonder? Or was there a new Robert Rankin on the streets? The arrival of Lost In A Good Book put paid to the fears - this was no flash in the pan. And, if anything, this second book is better than the first.

Thursday Next is happily married to Landen, but the events of The Eyre Affair are still catching up with her. The Goliath Corporation wants its man back (she's trapped him in "The Raven"), she seems to be on trial (in Kafka's "The Trial", no less) for her new ending to Jane Eyre, and someone is trying to kill her with coincidences. And when Landen is erased from history, she needs to find out just what is happening - especially as it appears to mean the end of the world.

With the same mix of literary jokes and puns as The Eyre Affair this is a quick and easy read - and it's one you're unlikely to want to put down until you get to the very last page (and the advert for the next volume in the series...). Fforde writes with tongue firmly in cheek (with plenty of little jokes for the observant reader), and with a certain flair that is very difficult to describe.

Still, this is one time you can quite literally get Lost In A Good Book...
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Where do all the helicopters come from?

Lying in bed on a dull gray July afternoon with a pile of books and an iBook, all I can hear is the sound of helicopters as they trundle up and down the Thames. It's not just the choppers bound for the nearby Battersea heliport, it's also the huge military craft that roar across the sky at regular intervals, their grey and green bodies shading between the sky and the trees...

Up and down the river, all day long, no idea where they're going, no idea where they've come from...
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Yet Another Tuesday "Ill In Bed Review": Archangel Protocol

One thing with being ill, you get to read a lot...

Archangel Protocol is an interesting, if slightly confused, first novel from Lyda Morehouse. Like many recent novels that skirt the edges of fantasy, it's about angels, but instead of toying with vampires it wraps its story in harder stuff.

It's 2076 and, after the oil wars and the medusa bombs, secular states have been replaced by theocracies. Science has been discredited, apart from entertainment and the net. Angels have appeared in the net, and there is an election in which the lead contender appears to be the Second Coming.

Deidre McMannus was a cop, until she and her partner got caught up the case that ended with him assassinating the Pope. Now excommunicated, she's been stripped of her connection to the LINK, the implanted computer that plugged her into the nets. Working as a private eye, in the depths of the city, she's offered a way back onto the net by a strange man who goes by the name of Michael. He wants her to prove the web-Angels are fake...

Morehouse's story is an enjoyable romp that mixes the tropes of the cyberpunk thriller with religious eschatology. The clash between the secular and the religious is the heart of her story, and her main characters struggle with issues of faith and trust. As readers we can suspend enough disbelief to find ourselves in her world, and with the relationships between the human characters, the AIs and the angels. And as readers, we end the book wanting to find out what happens next...

A first novel worth trying out, and an interesting mix of solid SF and religious fantasy.
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