November 17th, 2002

The Sunday Morning "Catchup" Reviews - Number 1: Dark Visions

The Dark Visions anthology has been sat on my "to-be-read" bookcase for some time now. Not as long as some books, but long enough to make it surface when I was grabbing for a tube book the other morning. It's a collection of dark fantasy stories by Stephen King, Dan Simmons and George R. R. Martin, which I probably bought for the Martin. A good job too, as I'd actually read all the Simmons stories elsewhere, and I found the Kings derivative and disappointing. Capsule reviews of the stories follow.

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The Sunday Morning "Catchup" Reviews - Number 2: The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents

Terry Pratchett is a writer who loves the underdog. Read through all the Discworld novels, and you'll see that it's the little people who act as the catalysts for change, the powerless who gain power, and those who reject destiny who achieve personal greatness.

The heroes of The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents can't get much smaller or downtrodden: they're rats. Not your everyday rat that scrabbles around in the rubbish pits, these are the rats that scrabbled around in the rubbish pits of Ankh-Morpork's Unseen University, the rats that ate the magical waste and became intelligent. Now, with Maurice, an ambitious cat, and a kid with a pipe, they tour the towns of the Discworld with a never-fail scam. Fake up a plague of rats, send in the kid with the pipe, and dance off into the sunset, pockets jingling with gold. It's a scam that's worked well up to now, at least until they arrive at the town of Bad Blintz.

In Bad Blintz someone is running a different scam, one that's not a simple con. This time people are going to get hurt, and the rats and Maurice are going to have to learn just how to build relationships with the rest of the world. It's not going to be easy, as there's something evil in the sewers, and it's getting into people's minds and trying to push things to its agenda.

Originally intended for a young adult audience, this is actually a very adult piece of work - it has themes that are deep and abiding, and the ultimate resolution one that is a lesson to us all. This isn't as angry a work as The Truth or The Last Hero, but it's still passionate, and obviously drawing on Pratchett's heart felt beliefs: At the end of the day, no matter what the provocation, the only real solution is to sit down and talk.

A short, but sweet work that grows the Discworld canon significantly. This is Pratchett at his most thoughtful for some time, and so is well worth reading.
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The Sunday Afternoon "Catchup" Reviews - Number 3: The Shadows Of God

It's hard to write reviews of the fourth and final volume of a series.

Not only do you have to avoid spoilers for all three earlier volumes, you have to try and remember your feelings about those earlier books over a period of more than two years. But, the final volume of J. Gregory Keyes' alternate history science fantasy series Age of Unreason, The Shadows Of God jumped the "to-be-read" queue, and so arrived here, ready for review.

It is the beginning of the 18th century, and the final part of the Age Of Unreason series, The Shadows Of God wraps all the varied story lines of Keyes' series into a single, well constructed whole. Now we finally see just what Ben Franklin needs to do, how Adrienne resolves her many conflicts, and just what path Red Shoes needs to walk. Keyes has given us a world of alchemy and angels, where spiritual forces vie to end the threat of science. The Age Of Unreason is a world we never knew, whjere Newton discovered the guiding principles of alchemy, and the French threw comets at London. It's an alternate history, and like Mary Gentle's Ash, it is also in some forms a secret history, one that partakes of the myth structures used by Philip Pullman in his His Dark Materials trilogy.

Keyes has told us a big story, and told it well. Franklin's humanism and his republican sentiments turn the world upside down, giving us a world where kings have to fight for survival alongside working men, and where the only way for humanity to survive may be to make the ultimate sacrifice. There's not much more I can say. If you've read the rest of the series, you will pick this up and read it as quickly as you can. If you haven't, then you'll need to start with Newton's Cannon and you'll find yourself exploring a world that is not quite ours, one where the unreal and the real meet in chaos and fire.

Excellent stuff, and well worth adding to your bookcase.
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