Mark Sachs (ksleet) wrote,
Mark Sachs

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I want to say things about books.

There will be very mild spoilers for The Jennifer Morgue by Stross and Century Rain by Reynolds in the following random chatting, so be cautious.

  • The Jennifer Morgue by Charles Stross. I was struck by how sweet the ending of this book was; I have a feeling that those whose image of the Scottish Invasion is impenetrably techno-obsessed and inhuman would be rather startled by it. Also, the "James Bond geas" has got to be the biggest lampshade-hanging in the history of lampshade-hangings. Verdict: It's Stross, so of course it's good! In the Laundry pantheon it's better than The Concrete Jungle, not quite as good as The Atrocity Archive (but then, that's an awfully high bar.)

    The reason I compare it with The Concrete Jungle, by the way, is that we get a better sense of the Laundry (Britain's supernatural counter-espionage agency, in the books) being plausibly competent enough to execute its mission. In the stories that focus on the Laundry's internal workings, it is consistently portrayed as an organization so disorganized, so riven with bureaucratic backbiting, that midlevel functionaries are regularily summoning demons or unleashing zombies on their competitors in the hope of obtaining a nice corner office or a better parking space. It ended up being hard to believe that such a hopeless wreck of an organization would have been capable of successfully protecting the Earth in The Atrocity Archive. Although there were parts of TCJ I liked almost more than anything in the other Laundry books, to the length that TJM concentrates less on Laundry infighting and more on the mission it is, weirdly, a more plausible tale and thus maintains the needed suspension of disbelief.

    Digression: Why yes, I am the sort of person who needs even an absurdist parody to maintain some level of internal consistency. When an author takes the attitude that "this is a comedy, I don't need to take the story seriously or treat the characters like people" the book hits the wall fast. In other words, life's too short to read Sewer, Gas, and Electric.

    Another side note I have to comment on is that the Black Chamber, the American counterpart of the Laundry, is portrayed in The Jennifer Morgue book as a brutally competent, efficient, and organized outfit. This is maybe a bit less believable to an American like me than the sea monsters and magic spells were.

  • Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds. Reynolds could be fairly accursed of being an impenetrably techno-obsessed and inhuman author, based on such works as his Revelation Space trilogy. (I like Reynolds, but it's a fair cop.) However, I was impressed that Century Rain deviated from that stereotype. It's no doubt a big help that the majority of the book takes place in a sort of alternate 1950s Paris, in which Reynolds is spinning a noir murder mystery that gets out of hand when you get to the interspatial portal hidden in the Paris subways; but the book is very approachable indeed, certainly a big step away from Revelation Space.

    I couldn't avoid noticing as well how cinematic the book was, in the sense that I felt like I was reading a Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster: of course right after the hero and the heroine find the burned-out building where a vital clue is located, the demolitions crews will start knocking it down, of course right after they land their ship on the Eiffel Tower for a secret rendezvous the [spoiler] will start bombing it, of course the [spoiler] will just happen to shut down explosively while they're trying to use it... Once the story really gets going, every opportunity to set off huge explosions and trigger a chase scene is enthusiastically taken. And from the first page the plot ratchets forward with casual confidence, every piece slotting neatly into place, so if you're paying attention you can tell exactly how it's all going to come out. I really could see it all playing out on a big movie screen, could hear the THX surround sound, feel the sticky theater floor under my shoes and taste the popcorn. That made reading this book an unusual experience, to say the least.

    But I'm glad I did, and now I don't feel so ambivalent about the guy. I'll have to seek out more Reynolds -- I know there's Pushing Ice out there, and at least one short story collection.

  • Other books: While I was visiting my sister in Minneapolis over Thanksgiving, she very kindly took me to Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore, a place which I enthusiastically recommend to everybody. I came out of there with a big stack of paperbacks, including the third one of Brian Daley's Hobart Floyt and Alacrity Fitzhugh adventures and a compilation volume of his Han Solo novels (excellent, distinctive adventure novels, written a long time ago before the current blurt of spinoff books that started with Zahn's trilogy.) So that should keep me busy for a while!

    As a final note, am I imagining this or did Michael Moorcock write a book called The Steel Tsar that was supposed to wrap up his parallel universe trilogy? I have never seen a copy of it anywhere; Uncle Hugo's had lots of Moorcock in the used section, but there was no sign of this one there either.
  • Tags: nerd
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