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More Saturday Capsule Reviews

Another batch from the recently read pile...

Vitals, Greg Bear
A near-future biotech thriller, Vitals mixes life-extension research, biological mind control, and the community of bacteria into a dark and dangerous story. Hal Cousins finds himself caught up in a decades old conspiracy from Stalin's Russia that believes he's getting a little too close to its secrets. It's a conspiracy with literal power over the way people think. And it's one that may be connected to the ultimate fate of the human race. Bear has come up with a dark book that looks carefully at the underbelly of science. It's not a pleasant picture, but it's a book that's hard to put down.

Darwin's Blade, Dan Simmons
Another thriller, this time a more conventional novel. Darwin Minor is a freelance accident investigator, who finds himself caught up in a nasty turf war for control of Southern California's accident fraud industry. With accident scenes taken from the Darwin's Award gallery of gruesome deaths, and a philosophy from William of Ockham, this is a darkly funny and hugely enjoyable read. It's a subversion of the classic airport thriller, with a dark humour that's often missing from the serious tone of many blockbuster novel writers. Like all of Simmons' books to date, highly recommended. I'm always amazed by how many different ways this man can write.

Sister Alice, Robert Reed
Robert Reed is a minor miracle of modern SF. Writing dense and complex fictions, he tells stories of a posthuman tomorrow in a way that makes them understandable to today. The characters of Sister Alice are as powerful as gods, and as weak as we are. A brave and grandiose experiment at the heart of the galaxy has turned into disaster, killing untold trillions and tearing down the structures that have kept the myriad worlds at piece. The youngest member of the Chamberlain family is tasked with preventing the disaster, and must survive betrayals and the destruction of everything he holds dear. It's a story of love, loyalty and compassion, set against a background of advanced technologies and cutting edge physics. Reed at his best, and at his most compelling.

Magician's Ward, Patricia C. Wrede
In an alternate London, after the end of the Napoleonic wars, a young girl has escaped the slums to become the ward of a great magician. It's the world of Sorcery and Cecilia, and great deeds are afoot once more. Someone is stealing the magic of untrained street wizards, and Kim and her guardian must use all therir skills to both find the villain, protect possible victims and deal with Kim's coming out to London society. It's a classic romace novel, with misunderstandings, sperations and reconciliations to spare. Wrede loves her world, and it's a joy to share it with her.

The Scar, China Mieville
Bas-Lag is a big world, full of strange places and stranger people. Bellis Coldwine is about to see more of it than she ever expected, as she flees New Corobuzon and the repercussions of the events of Perdido Street Station. When her ship to the new colonies is diverted, and then attacked by the pirates of the floating city of Armada, she finds herself on a quest for a creature from another universe, and for the mysterious Scar itself. None of Mieville's characters are particularly sympathetic, and it's difficult to feel much for Bellis. The Scar gives us a different side of Mieville's writing - dark and sparse, like the emptiness of the oceans. Another masterpiece from the talented China.

More still to come...

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
peteyoung
Aug. 30th, 2003 12:57 pm (UTC)
it's difficult to feel much for Bellis

I think China chose the name 'Bellis Coldwine' deliberately to prevent us from warming to her. My own review of The Scar is at Diverse Books

I've heard plenty of great things about Sister Alice, and I'm rather surprised its first edition is as a UK paperback. The US hardback is still not out yet.
magiien
Aug. 30th, 2003 11:43 pm (UTC)
The Scar gives us a different side of Mieville's writing - dark and sparse, like the emptiness of the oceans. Another masterpiece from the talented China.

Was this really dark as compared to Perdido? It seems that Perdido is much darker, dealing with the loss of sanity and self. Scar seemed more about hopelessness and defeat. It has been a while since I read it, though, so I could be remembering it incorrectly.
Have you read King Rat? I've thought about picking it up, but have never gotten around to it.
rickbooth
Sep. 1st, 2003 10:35 am (UTC)
I'd agree with the distinction in subject you're drawing between Scar and Perdido, but I also thought Scar was at least as dark.

King Rat is not that much like the other two in style, though there is some atmosphere in common, but I definitely recommend it - serious, thoughtful,urban and energetic.
sbisson
Sep. 1st, 2003 10:40 am (UTC)
I think we may have different scales of darkness: for me hopelessness and defeat are the darker themes.

King Rat is a superb work. It's London's drum and base culture mixed up with fairy tale. (I'd also recommend Q's Deadmeat as a similar work, which takes drum and base and splices in the technothriller, and was original released as a partwork in zines at soundsystem gigs).
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )