Posted on | December 31, 2016 | No Comments
It is always good when a good book series maintains the expected quality throughout its run, as was the case with this year’s seventh installment of Stross’ Laundry Files, Kloos’ continuing battle against the Lanky invaders, or Abercrombie’s foray into the short story world of First Law. Robert Jackson Bennett continued the Divine Cities series with a worthy sequel to one of the surprise wonders of 2014, and after the thoroughly mixed impressions of the first part, the second book of M. John Harrison’s Empty Space Trilogy right properly blew my socks off. But wonderful though they all are, there’s not much to say about them other than: “Jolly good, sir! Do carry on.”
Some of the other pickings do leave something to be said, though David Markson’s uniquely delightful Reader’s Block is such an exercise in the experimental faffing about of an aging, well-educated writer contemplating the writing of a novel through a series of wikipedian digressions and consciousness streams that it is both hard to write about, as well as hard to recommend – I loved it (though self-identification may have played a rather considerable role there), some other people also loved it, but would you? Hard to say.
Far easier to talk, for example, of Michael Flynn’s unconventional space opera The January Dancer. It is a book that, by all means, should not work – a pretentious pile of purplish keisersoziana constantly digressing from the main storyline of a discovered and promptly stolen alien artifact that keeps changing hands with numerous sidetracks that seem to go nowhere, taking its sweet time letting us know even who the bloody protagonist is, it nevertheless evokes a vivid, unusual (a rare feat nowadays) and deep future history populated by a cast of picturesque not-quite-pleasant characters chasing the titular and seemingly mundane dancing stone that, of course, has a few surprises up its sleeves. If you always wished Star Wars was a bit more LSD, this would hit the spot right and proper.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for something more down to earth (or rather, water) and scary, you might try John Langan’s highly praised The Fisherman, though it is entirely possible you will not be properly sated. It tells the story of a, well, fisherman, off in the wilds of Appalachia, who encounters an ancient supernatural threat to life and limb and whatnot. The problem this short novel has is that the framing modern-day narrative is like a proper fisherman’s tale, going on for way too long, and once we pop into the dazzling flashback story that occupies the middle part of the novel, the inevitable pop back out into present time is a bit of a let-down that just can’t take the hint that the party is over.
Trent Jamieson’s Day Boy, on the other hand, gets full marks, simply for taking a battered, bruised and sparklified old trope and infusing some fresh (dontsayblooddontsayblooddontsayblood) air into the good ole vampire story. It tells of a distant future when vamps have taken over the world, but instead of being manic bloodthirsty animals or lurkers in the shadow, they are good shepherds that take care of their flock, with the venerable institution of renfield being taken up by “day boys”, young lads of good standing, highly respected in the community for their work – through this frame, we follow the intrigue and machinations both of the world of the “masters”, as well as that of the “day boys” in a small, rural community and its surroundings.
This type of weirding displacement is also on hand in Marcel Theroux’s Far North, a proper postapocalyptic western set in, of all places, Siberia (and yes, there is a logical explanation). Makepeace the protagonist is a full-on sheriff, hat and horse and gun and all, keeping, well, peace in a village slowly disappearing as people seek their (mis)fortunes elsewhere in a bleak, freezing world of dwindling everything. Our protagonist keeps grappling with the conflicted urges of maintaining self-sufficient solitude and seeking out human companionship in a troubled, harsh world that mostly promises pain. Though about half way through the story took a turn I did not expect, shifting gears and – without giving too much away – shifting (sub)genres, Makepeace’s unique perspective made the read worthwhile and enjoyable throughout.