January 3rd, 2005

Black Books: Manny

Word count amusement...

...writing about a police force's response to the FOIA for a Guardian piece, and I'm nearly done, so I do an interim word count.

It came to a very apt total.

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I don't think I could have done better on purpose.
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A post-New Year Review: The Road To Mars

Eric Idle may always be a Python, but The Road to Mars shows him to be a thoughtful and inquisitive novelist. Billed as a "post-modem" novel, it intersperses snippets of a thesis on the nature of comedy with a cross-solar system caper reminiscent of John Varley's The Golden Globe.

Two comics and their robot dresser are working their way through the outer system habitats and colonies, trying to make the big time on Mars. It's a sad and lonely life, long weeks of travel and a few hours on stage. In their wake are failed marriages, lost friendships and mounting debts. Meanwhile, their robot is secretly using them as source material for its study of comedy. Then everything changes. In a few short hours they get a chance at the big time, and a glimpse of love. Then it's all snatched away. Suddenly they're trapped in a conspiracy that mixes rebellious ice miners, lost daughters, spies, a diva, and her husband. It's a story that will leave friends dead and habitats wrecked.

Idle wraps his space opera in snippets from the robot's study of 20th century comedy (a thesis that mixes white faced and red nosed clowns, and the tensions between manic and depressive), and with the self-justifying unreliable narration of an failing academic 70 years or so later. In a complex work like this, by someone unfamiliar with the everyday trappings of SF, it's easy to forgive a few minor lapses of physics and to just go with the flow of the story.

Well worth reading.
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Another post-New Year review: The Risen Empire

Scott Westerfield's The Risen Empire is another example of the new generation of space opera. The first part of a two-book novel called "Succession", The Risen Empire is a story of a stagnating empire, ruled by the immortal dead.  Relativistic starships and FTL communications hold the worlds of the Empire together, but true power comes from the Emperor, the man who controls the keys to immortality. In a universe of transhuman societies, the Risen Empire is struggling to avoid absorption by the Rix, a race of cyborgs who worship the planetary machine intelligences that are the ultimate expression of networked societies.

A Rix fleet has arrived in a border system, capturing the Emperor's sister and planting the seed of a planetary mind. The only hope is a single frigate, the Lynx, and its captain Laurent Zai. Separated by light years from his political masters, and his lover, the captain has to rescue the Child Empress. It's a mission that will lead him to the edge of his honour, and to the possibility of transcending the rules that bind the Empire together...

This is an intriguing novel, well written and complex, brimming with the moral ambiguities that characterise the New Space Opera. Westerfield sketches out the various evils that face his hero, and leaves us wondering just how he and where he will end the story. Long descriptive passages carry us to and from the action, while flashbacks flesh out the life and motivations of Captain Zai. However, we will have to wait for The Killing Of Worlds.

An interesting and intriguing novel.
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Yet another post-New Year review: Voyage of the Shadowmoon

If Sean McMullen's epic fantasy spy thriller Voyage of the Shadowmoon was a movie, it would probably star George Clooney and Nichole Kidman, and be directed by James Cameron. We've grown used to multi-volume quests and massive battles between good and evil, so it's a challenge to be presented with a fantasy in which there are no good guys and no bad guys, just shades of grey - and weapons of mass destruction.

The eponymous Shadowmoon is a spy ship, plying the seas of one of the moons of the gas giant Miral. Its mixed crew of warriors, priests and magicians has an ace in the hole, an immortal vampire - who has been 14 for 700 years. When the Emperor Warsovran uses the mystical artefact Silverdeath a continent is doomed. It's up to the motley crew of Shadowmoon to save the world... It's a mission that mixes chivalry with underhand dealings, and one that will take them from one side of the ocean to the next.

McMullen's new series is a complete departure from his earlier SF works. Delivering a fantasy with an SFnal sensibility, McMullen has unleashed something new on the world, something innovative and exciting. Complex characters find themselves in complex situations, trying to overcome their frailties in order to deal with unimaginable threats.

Roll on the next voyage of the Shadowmoon, Glass Dragons.
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