Two novels this month:
Infernal Devices by KW Jeter – okay so this was meant to be the start of my attempt to take on Steampunk fiction. As a result of my earlier post I had a few suggestions about what I should be reading and I thought I’d start with one of the classics. Angry Robot have done a nice job of packaging this reprint with a cracking cover by John Coulthard and an afterword bu Jeff Vandermeer, so there were lots of reasons to dive right in. To be honest, though, I had problems with it right from the start. Don’t get me wrong there’s a lot of neat invention in the book, most of it very much in the category of “out there”, and there’s quite a lot of fun to be had with what in the end is pretty much a surreal caper throughout Victorian Britain. But therein lies my problem, and it’s one that I think may lie at the heart of my reluctance to integrate with Steampunk so far, and may hamper future efforts of a similar nature. It’s the casual cod-Victoriana (well it’s all just made up, innit?), the unnecessarily circumlocutary verbiage (seriously, if I wanted to read a book narrated by Leonard Sachs, I’d have got hold of The Good Old Days annual 1971), and the Dick Van Dyke guide to dialects (and yes, the pseudo Victorian ‘London’ accent is nowhere near as strange as the pseudo Victorian ‘Scottish’ one). In the end I just found that I was fighting to get through the book, and that’s never good. I may still invest in one of the modern Steampunk novels, and I hope to be pleasantly surprised, but this wasn’t the best of starts.
Moxyland by Lauren Beukes – hot on the heels of the triumphant Zoo City, I was keen enough to pick up Beukes’ debut. It’s a slick read and is full of many of the hallmarks that made its successor so damn readable – funky characters, South African locales, neat future tweaks. This time though I thought the over all plot slightly lacked focus until it was all ramping up for the denouement. Not a major quibble since the characters and their lives were still highly enjoyable to spend time with. And Beukes is easily one of the most readable writers out there.
The pick of this month’s notable shorts for me were both by Lavie Tidhar.
In The Season Of The Mango Rains (Interzone) – Interzone has a habit of throwing in the occasional story that appears only tangentially fantastical, and that kind of story is one of the strengths of the versatile Lavie Tidhar. I enjoyed his How To Make Paper Aeroplanes in the so-called Mundane SF issue of the magazine for much the same reasons as I enjoyed this one: he sketches exotic locations and cultural viewpoints with such ease that – to the western eye – they feel fantastical. This was a gentle and sad story, and I kinda loved it.
The School – ah, well, this is the other side of versatility. Published on his own blog (even if for what seem to me to be ever so slightly disingenuous reasons) I think this little piece is worth mentioning because of the way it uses exceptionally blunt tools to highlight one of the longest running and most divisive arguments ongoing in Science Fiction: the straight, white, male, western ‘norm’. It ain’t pretty but it’s worth a look.