Fiction: January 2008 Archives

Wicked takes The Wizard of Oz and extends it. In the original work, the Wicked Witch of the West is just a side character, a bad guy for Dorothy to beat. But what made the Witch so wicked? Maguire follows the life of the Witch, from childhood to her lonely adulthood.

Wicked is funny, witty and covers some pretty serious topics: origin of good and evil, religion, family, human rights, tyrants. I didn't love Wicked (it's not that good), but I enjoyed reading it and there's definitely some food for thought as well. I'm not a major Wizard of Oz fan - I have a feeling Oz is a tad more popular in USA than it is in Finland - but I found Wicked interesting nevertheless.

Apparently this book has little to do with the musical. Also, Wicked is clearly an adult fantasy, not a children's book like Wizard of Oz. [ Wicked at ]Wicked at LibraryThing ]

Jonathan Carroll: Sleeping in Flame

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Sleeping in Flame uses the classic Jonathan Carroll elements: there's Vienna, love, reincarnation, magic, a writer and so on. That should sound familiar to anybody who has read Carroll. However, despite the familiarity, I found Sleeping in Flame simply fantastic. I've read, what, nine of Carroll's books so far and of what I've read, it is probably my favourite.

Walker Easterling is screenwriter living in Vienna. She meets a fabulous woman, falls in love and then, magic starts to happen. It's not warm and fuzzy magic, but strange and apparently dangerous. Walker investigates and bumps into curious cast of people, some familiar from the other books in the same continuum Wikipedia calls the Answered Prayers sextet.

It's a lovely story and I enjoyed the way it recycled old fairy tales. The only downside about reading this book is that there's one less Carroll book left for me to read... He's one of the most constantly great authors, every book I've read from him has been good. Highly recommended, this one's a good starting place for those new to his works. [ Sleeping in Flame at Sleeping in Flame at LibraryThing ]

Stepan Chapman: The Troika

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What does a writer with too many ideas? Turns surreal, of course. The Troika, Chapman's debut, is filled to the brim with all sorts of ideas. If anything is possible, how can anything have meaning? Chapman's book avoids this trap, the fragments manage to make sense even if they're really odd.

The protagonists are an unlikely trio. There's Eva, an old Mexican woman. Alex is a jeep and Naomi a brontosaur. They're crossing a desert that seems to go on forever, and the reader is shown glimpses of their past in the form of strange, perhaps false memories, dreams and stories. There's an ending, but if the reader is looking for a proper plot, this book will be a disappointment.

I didn't love The Troika, but enjoyed it quite enough. The turns and twists are interesting and some of the stories paint pretty pictures of curious worlds. I can forgive the lack of plot and all the delusions for that, no problem! (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ The Troika at ]The Troika at LibraryThing ]

Frederic Manning: Her Privates We

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The First World War in literature makes me think of Farewell to Arms and All Quiet on the Western Front. Manning's Her Privates We is perhaps less known, but deserves a place with those classics. The book tells the story of Bourne, a simple soldier fighting in France, apparently quite like the author did.

As this is an honest book, it's not much about fighting and a lot about what happens in between. The life behind the front is boring, though the alternatives aren't charming either. Bourne is an intelligent man, perhaps somewhat unlike his fellows, yet he fits in and doesn't really want the promotion they want to give to him. There's the futility of the war, and then there's the strong companionship between the men.

Manning paints a beautiful literary picture of a horrid thing. The crude language of the soldiers (at least in the non-bowdlerized editions), the vivid descriptions of mud and ruins, of all the uncomforts of military life, it is all described in detailed, beautiful prose. If you're looking for a good book about war, particularly the First World War, look no further. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Her Privates We at ]Her Privates We at LibraryThing ]

Charles Stross: Glasshouse

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Life in the transhuman post-singularity 27th century is flexible: movement is by teleporter, computers can scan your consciousness and transfer it from one body to other, you can clone and back up yourself, and assemblers produce whatever you need from basically nothing. Very nice. However, ugly censorship wars have ripped the society apart and while it's over now, things aren't quite as they used to be.

Robin, our protagonist, is an ex-warrior, now demobilized. To get rid of nasty baggage he has gone through heavy memory-excision operations. While he recovers, he's invited to an experiment, where a group of people is closed to a society that tries to recreate the Dark Ages, that is approximately the time period from 1950 to 2050.

Stross offers some pretty nice satire, but cooks up quite a thriller as well. To begin with, someone is pursuing Robin outside the Glasshouse - why, well, Robin doesn't quite remember. As it turns out, there's something badly wrong in the experiment and Robin keeps having these memory problems and issues with his identity.

This is an excellent book, well worth any praise. Stross has come up with clever ideas and manages to spin the reader around - having an amnesiac protagonist helps, of course - many times before the story is at its end and you finally get a glimpse of what's actually going on. Delicious book! Highly recommended for science fiction fans (the whole post-singularity thing is probably too much for readers unaccustomed to science fiction). [ Glasshouse at ]Glasshouse at LibraryThing ]

Ombria in Shadow, the first of McKillip's books translated in Finnish, tells of Ombria, a city that's facing problems when its prince dies. The new prince is just five years old and the city is ruled by mysterious and frightening Domina Pearl. Pearl doesn't seem to have the city's best interests in her mind, she has her own motives.

Lydea, the prince's mistress is driven out of the palace to die in the streets. She doesn't, thanks to the interventions of Mag, a "waxling" servant of Faye, a strange witch inhabiting the shadowy underworld of Ombria. There's also the prince's bastard Ducon, who seems destined to power, but reluctant to accept his fate.

It's a wonderful story, quite unlike any other. I can easily recommend this to anybody who hates the standard fantasy dreck: Ombria in Shadow is something else. It's a hazy story, full of dreamy elements and interesting twists. It's certainly one of the better fantasy novels I've read in a while. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Ombria in Shadow at ]Ombria in Shadow at LibraryThing ]

Vellum was pretty amazing. Ink picks up the pieces where Vellum left, ready to blast the reader through a heavy mist of literary references, stylistic experimentation and archetypical characters playing their roles, repeated through the many-folded landscape of Vellum.

Ink is a clever book, so clever it hurts sometimes. I don't pretend I got most of it, but nevertheless, I enjoyed it a lot. The plot is interesting, though once again, probably not in the leading role after all. The parodies of literary genres, the play within a play structure, all the adventure, sex and violence - it's a delicious book, all in all.

This time the storylines wander through the mess of World War II, the Palestine in 1929, futuristic Kentigern, who knows where. Jack is Jack, Joey is Joey and so on, despite the setting and the characters they seem to play. I quite liked that. The ending is less stale than the last time, yet still not... perfect? Hard to say. I'm reasonably satisfied, and looking forward to reading these two again later. [ Ink: The Book of All Hours (Book of All Hours 2) at ]Ink : The Book of All Hours at LibraryThing ]

John Brunner is probably best known for his Stand on Zanzibar. This one's somewhat less known, but I just had to read it because of the title. The book's about Godwin Harpinshield, who leads a sweet life. He has all he wants, and the price is cheap: he has to do small missions to an unknown employer, and he doesn't even remember anything about the missions after he's done with them.

The book starts in a very confusing way, but gets a grip and becomes interesting fairly quickly. Harpinshield's life gets interesting, when he first recruits a girl to share his style of life and then meets the girl's mother and has to reflect on his life a bit.

If you like to hear explanations, avoid this book: Brunner doesn't explain much and leaves plenty of interesting details in the dark. Players at the Game of People isn't a brilliant book, not even a very good one, but perhaps still worth reading.

This poetical book tells of Pam and Lucas, who the nameless narrator knows from their time in Cambridge. Something mystical happened back then - none of them remembers what, but whatever happened, left deep scars. There's also the strange Yaxley, who has something to do with this all.

Pam and Lucas obsess about Cœur, a lost kingdom, and the destinies of its heirs. There's also Pleroma, existing and not existing, yet worthy of plenty of effort to find.

The narrator observers the stormy relationship between Pam and Lucas, sometimes mediating between the couple. The book is full of mysteries and sometimes quite hard to figure out, but the beautiful language Harrison uses is worth the efforts. Mystical, yet enchanting book. [ The Course of the Heart at ]The Course of the Heart at LibraryThing ]

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