Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Book Review | The Causal Angel by Hannu Rajaniemi


Alone on a timeless beach, Josephine Pellegrini find herself disappointed by the end of the world.

The sun is almost down, an orange flare just beyond the edge of the calm expanse of the sea. The globe of Earth hangs in the sky. There are dark tendrils chasing each other in the white and blue, spreading like spilled ink. Matjek Chen's Dragons, turning matter and energy and information into themselves. Soon they will burrow into the crust of the dying world.

And when the world has died? Josephine will turn her attention to the tools that have failed her. To the traitorous Mieli and to the thief who betrayer her: Jean le Flambeur.

With his infectious love of storytelling in all its forms, his rich characterisation and his unrivalled grasp of thrillingly bizarre cutting-edge science, Hannu Rajaniemi has swiftly set a new benchmark for SF in the 21st century. He has told the story of the many lives, and minds, of the gentleman rogue Jean le Flambeur.

Influenced as much by the fin de siecle novels of Maurice le Blanc as he is by the greats of SF, Rajaniemi has woven intricate, warm capers through dazzling science, extraordinary visions of a wild future, and deep conjectures on the nature of reality and story. And now it's time to learn the final fates of Jean, Mieli and all mankind...

***

The finale of the stellar science fiction saga that The Quantum Thief kicked off begins days after the devastating denouement of The Fractal Prince, with Jean le Flambeur, the trilogy's fin de siecle frontman, finally free, if crestfallen after the abject failure of his latest caper. His partner in crime, meanwhile, finds herself in terrible peril, in part because of the last act of her sentient spidership Perhonen:
When a Sobornost hunter attacked us, the ship tried to save Mieli by shooting her into space. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea at the time. [...] The problem is that Mieli served the Sobornost for two decades and carries a Founder gogol in her head. There are too many forces in the system that was access to that kind of information, especially now. For example, the Great Game Zoku, the zoku intelligence arm. They might be nice about it, but when they find her, they are going to peel her mind open like an orange. The pellegrinis, the vasilevs, the hsien-kus or the chens will be less polite. Let alone the mercenary company she infiltrated and betrayed on Earth. (pp.10-11)

The Causal Angel is as daunting a novel as this early excerpt suggests, requiring from its readers such deliberate committment that those who come to their fiction for fun—though there is some—would be best to leave this baby be. Accessible it ain't, I'm afraid. What it is is brilliant: far more focused than the books before it, and as fulfilling, finally, as it is difficult.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Book Review | The Spectral Link by Thomas Ligotti


Throughout Thomas Ligotti's career as a horror writer, many of his stories have evolved from physical or emotional crises. And so it was with the surgical trauma that led to the stories in The Spectral Link, an event that is marginally mentioned in the first of these stories, 'Metaphysica Morum.' In the second, 'The Small People,' Ligotti returns, although not precisely in the usual fashion, to his fixation with uncanny representations of the so-called human being. Having nearly ceased to exist as he lay on the surgeon's table, the imposing strangeness of the nature and vicissitudes of this life form once again arose in his imagination.

So what project and publications are forthcoming from Thomas Ligotti? As ever, not even he knows.

***

An anachronism in an age when authors are expected to be out there, selling themselves every second, Thomas Ligotti has never been particularly prolific, however he did, for a period of years, publish new short stories on a semi-regular schedule, every one of which represented an event among enthusiasts of his existential efforts.

Then, a decade or so ago, Ligotti was laid up with a crippling case of writer's block. Perniciously, this persisted until 2012, when a near-death experience moved him to pick up his pen again. The Spectral Link is the result: a slender collection of novelettes that is no less essential for its relative brevity.

In 'Metaphysica Morum,' the descendent of "degenerate swamp dwellers" (p.40) documents his desire to die. Feeling left behind in life, and utterly unable to relate to reality, our unnamed narrator dreams of release, but cannot bring himself to do the deed.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Book Review | The Child Eater by Rachel Pollack


On Earth, the Wisdom family has always striven to be more normal than normal. But Simon Wisdom, the youngest child, is far from normal: he can see the souls of the dead. And now the ghosts of children are begging him to help them, as they face something worse than death. The only problem is, he doesn't know how.

In a far-away land of magic and legends, Matyas has dragged himself up from the gutter and inveigled his way into the Wizards' college. In time, he will become more powerful than all of them—but will his quest blind him to the needs of others? For Matyas can also hear the children crying.

But neither can save the children alone, for the child eater is preying on two worlds...

***

Representing Rachel Pollack's first original genre novel since Godmother Night in 1996—a World Fantasy Award winner in its day, and a classic now, by all accounts—the release of The Child Eater is bound to be a big deal in certain circles. How her returning readers respond to it remains to be seen; this was my first of her works, I'm afraid... but not likely my last.

Based on a pair of tales from The Tarot of Perfection, Pollack's last collection, The Child Eater tells two separate yet connected stories. Separate in that the boys we follow are worlds apart, and divided in time, too; connected, though neither knows it, by the parts they're fated to play in the downfall of the eponymous monster: an immortal man wicked in the ways you'd expect, not least because of the innocents he eats.

Matyas, when we meet him, is a slave to his parents, the proprietors of The Hungry Squirrel, a "dismal wood building on a dismal road that ran from the sea to the capital. Most of the inn's business came from travellers on their way from the port to the city, or the other way around. Sometimes, with the wealthier ones in their private carriages, Matyas saw the faces screw up in distaste, and then they would sigh, knowing they had no choice." (p.1) Likewise dissatisfied with his lot in life, he follows one such weary wanderer to a forest far from his home, where he sees something he can hardly believe: the man—a magician, he must be—shooting the shit with a head on a stick.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Coming Attractions | Scale-Bright by Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Lavie Tidhar has it that Benjanun Sriduangkaew is amongst "the most exciting new voices in speculative fiction today," and readers? I don't disagree. I've only read a few of her short stories—'Fade to Gold' in End of the Road and 'Silent Bridge, Pale Cascade' in Clarkesworld Magazine—but both have been (excuse the hyperbole here) mindblowing.

To wit, I met the news of her new novella—her first, unless I'm very much mistaken—with more than a mite of excitement. Due out sometime this month from the fine folks at Immersion Press, Scale-Bright is "a contemporary fantasy" narrative blending "Chinese myth, interstitial cities, and the difficulties of being mortal and ordinary when everyone around you has stepped out of legends."

Here's the wonderful Richard Wagner cover, in all its high resolution loveliness:


I've got a blurb for the book, to boot. Behold!
Julienne’s aunts are the archer who shot down the suns and the woman who lives on the moon. They teach her that there’s more to the city of her birth than meets the eye—that beneath the modern chrome and glass of Hong Kong there are demons, gods, and the seethe of ancient feuds. As a mortal Julienne is to give them wide berth, for unlike her divine aunts she is painfully vulnerable, and choice prey for any demon.
Until one day, she comes across a wounded, bleeding woman no one else can see, and is drawn into an old, old story of love, snake women, and the deathless monk who hunts them.
If, like me, you can't contain your anticipation, check out these three free short stories—'Chang'e Dashes from the Moon''Woman of the Sun, Woman of the Moon' and 'The Crows Her Dragon's Gate'—all of which "provide further background to the mythological grounding of Scale-Bright." And then get your orders in, alright?

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Bargain Books | Speculative Fiction for Free

I don't know why, exactly, but whatever the impetus is, the effect is excellent: if you haven't already bought copies of Speculative Fiction 2012 and Speculative Fiction 2013, Jurassic London's exemplary collections of the best online reviews, commentaries and essays—both of which I'm honoured to be included in—for a limited time you can grab the digital editions from Amazon for nada.


But be quick about it, my pretties! Through today and tomorrow, both volumes of the Hugo- and British Fantasy Award-nominated anthology are completely free, but they'll be back at their usual price before you know it.

Then again, with every penny of the proceeds going to Room to Read, it might actually be better, ethically, to wait till you can put a few pounds down...

Monday, 14 July 2014

Book Review | The Garden of Darkness by Gillian Murray Kendall


Their families dead from the pandemic SitkaAZ13, known as “Pest,” 15-year-old cheerleader Clare and 13-year-old chess club member Jem, an unlikely pair, are thrown together and realize that, if either of them wishes to reach adulthood, they must find a cure. A shadowy adult broadcasting on the radio to all orphaned children promises just that—to cure children once they grow into Pest, then to feed them and to care for them.

Or does this adult have something else in mind? 

Against a hostile landscape of rotting cities and of a countryside infected by corpses and roamed by voracious diseased survivors, Jem and Clare make their bid for life and, with their group of fellow child-travelers growing, embark on a journey to find the cure. They are hampered by the knowledge that everything in this new child-led world has become suspect—adults, alliances, trust, hope. But perhaps friendship has its own kind of healing power. 

***

A teenage take on The Walking Dead blissfully free from that franchise's most mercenary elements, The Garden of Darkness is an astonishingly good debut about a cheerleader and a chess club member's struggle to survive absent adults in a landscape ravaged by the Pest pandemic.

Though they went to school together way back when, the odd couple we quickly come to care about only really meet a matter of months after Pest lays waste to the world as we know it, killing all the afflicted adults and sentencing every single survivor to death at the onset of adolescence:
Clare knew she was infected with Pest—the rash was enough to prove that. She knew that she was going to die of it, too. Eventually. She might even have a couple of years left, but, according to the scientists, she wasn't going to live to adulthood. [...] In its own weird way, Clare thought the link between Pest and adolescence sounded logical. Adolescence had always been a bag of goodies: complexion problems, mood swings, unrequited love and now, Pest. (p.17)