Fiction: November 2007 Archives

M. John Harrison: The Pastel City

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The Pastel City, set in the world of Viriconium, is an early novel from M. John Harrison. It's a sword and sorcery story, basically, but with the sorcery replaced by ruins of ancient high technology. Queen Jane of Viriconium tries to defend her kingdom against the forces of ruin and destruction, with the help of old warriors, methvens. Their enemy is armed with mysterious and dangerous forces, and ruin seems inevitable.

Yet there's a strange metallic bird, with a strange message, offering a chance to survive. In the middle of a lost war, curious events unfold. Viriconium is an interesting world, unlike any other. While the story isn't that remarkable, the setting is interesting and this short book is worth reading for that alone. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Pastel City at ]The Pastel City at LibraryThing ]

This novel by Nobelist Yasunari Kawabata is a mixture of real-world events and fiction: it is a description of a real-world Go match, fought in 1938 between Honinbo Shusai and Minoru Kitani. Kawabata was present at the game, reporting it to the newspaper that had organized the match. In this book, Kawabata has taken certain liberties, though: some names and events have been changed, there's a dose of fiction in the story.

Fiction or not, it is a beautiful story. Kawabata's style is subtle and even though not much happens in the book, it is an intriguing tale that hooks the reader as the events unfold both on the Go board and outside it. The Go match is in the focus, yet at the same time Kawabata offers so much more: the clash between tradition and modern rationalism and the struggle between two strong personalities.

I don't know how much one can enjoy the book without any knowledge of Go. Go was the reason I read this book, and I was satisfied - the match was very central to the story. The story is, however, very beautiful and Kawabata - or at least the translator Edward Seidensticker - knows his way with words, so it was a pleasure to read, Go or no Go. [ The Master of Go at ]The Master of Go at LibraryThing ]

Ursula K. Le Guin: Rocannon's World

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An early novel in the Hainish cycle, Rocannon's World is a small story set on Fomalhaut II, inhabited by few different alien species. Rocannon is a researcher examining the world and its population for the League of Worlds, when rebel forces destroy his ship and kill all of his companions. Rocannon is stranded on the world with no way to contact friends.

Fortunately he has friends on the planet. Armed with their bronze age technology, friendship and courage, Rocannon takes on the technologically advanced enemies. Sometimes technology just isn't the key! Le Guin paints an interesting world and tells a good story, even if it pales in comparison to her better-known Hainish novels. (The Worlds of Exile and Illusion of the Amazon ad includes Rocannon's World and two other early Le Guin novels.) [ Rocannon's World at ]Rocannon's World at ]Rocannon's World at LibraryThing ]

Ngugi wa Thiong'o: Wizard of the Crow

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Aburiria is a fictional country in Africa, ruled by The Ruler, a dictator unlike any other. For his birthday, his cabinet has decided to build a huge tower, tall enough to reach the Heaven, funded by loans from the Global Bank. Of course, not every citizen loves the idea, but all dissenting voices are crushed without mercy - if the international bankers get the idea that Aburiria is unstable, they won't loan the money!

Wizard of the Crow is a delicious satire, filled with outrageous characters. The African story-telling tradition is rich and colourful and Ngugi wa Thiong'o isn't saving words. The book is long and full of magic - magical realism is an excellent label for this book. The competing ministers Machokali and Sikiokuu are hilarious in their antics, yet almost painfully real, not to mention all the corrupt, power-hungry and superstitious businessmen, police and politicians.

I believe most people haven't read any books from African authors. If you wish to educate and entertain yourself, reading Wizard of the Crow is an excellent idea. Even though the book is over 700 pages long, I wouldn't have minded if it had been even longer - it was that good. Only the ending was somewhat flat, perhaps, but making a story this epic end in a satisfying way must be really, really hard. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Wizard of the Crow at ]Wizard of the Crow at LibraryThing ]

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