Fiction: February 2008 Archives

The Sarantine Mosaic is one of Kay's historical fantasies. The book is based on history, to some extent. The world of Sarantine Mosaic is based on the Byzantine Empire, with many historical details matching. The results reminds one of ancient Rome with a twist. There are some supernatural elements, but mostly the level of fantasy is low.

The two books tell a story of a mosaic-maker Crispin, summoned from provinces to decorate a new, glorious church with mosaics. In the first book, Sailing to Sarantium, Crispin arrives to Sarantium and is immersed in political intrigues and religious tensions. The court of the Emperor is full of scheming enemies, it seems, and Crispin finds himself part of their plans.

In the second book, Lord of the Emperors, Kay brings in new characters, while continuing Crispin's story. The actions get louder and the tension gets really high. Kay is a master story-teller and spends the first 200 pages or so describing the events of a single day. He goes backward and forward, showing the point of view of all his characters. It's a really wonderful piece of writing and makes the book very hard to put down: you just need to know what happens to this or that character.

The Sarantine Mosaic is definitely one of my favourite fantasy books ever. Any fan of historical fiction should check it out, because despite the invented world, it's really rather low fantasy, the world seems rather real. The book is also full of political scheming and court intrigue for those who cherish that kind of thing. It's really rather excellent book. [ Sailing to Sarantium at ]Lord of Emperors at ]The Sarantine Mosaic at LibraryThing ]

Max Barry: Jennifer Government

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Jennifer Government is a satirical tale of future, where large corporations rule. Sure, there's government, but it's no more a player than the corporations and the mighty corporate alliances are more powerful than any government. People identify to the corporation they work for: one of the main characters, for example, works for Nike and is called Hack Nike.

The idea sounds good, but unfortunately the book doesn't live up to the promise. It starts ok, but gets nowhere. The book is full of uninteresting characters: there are too many of them, and you don't really care about any of them. The dialogue is bland and the many action scenes are just confusing. The plot is at times silly or just uninteresting.

What comes to satire, Ben Elton's books work much better. Jennifer Government isn't a funny and sharp satire, but it's not a gloomy, believable dystopia either. It would've been a much better book, had it been one or the other and done that well. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) Jennifer Government at ]Jennifer Government at LibraryThing ]

M. John Harrison: Light

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Space opera for the quantum age! Light is a beautiful book, written with remarkable skill. It isn't easy, that's for sure, but who cares? Reading it is a pleasure, whether you understand everything or not. Well, to be honest, this is certainly not for everybody: the book has about the same number of five-star and one-star reviews on Amazon.

The book has three threads, one in our time and two in distant future. All are, of course, connected in clever ways. In our time, we follow Michael Kearney, a researcher and a serial killer. He's a curious fellow, unpleasant yet fascinating. In future, we meet K-ship captain Seria Mau, who has given up her humanity in order to command a rather amazing spaceship. Ed Chianese is an ex-pilot turned into a virtual reality addict, a twink. His part of the book is overflowing with interesting ideas, it's an interesting world he lives in.

Kearney's bit reminded me of The Course of the Heart, another novel by Harrison. This one's better, though, as I enjoyed the science fiction parts more. I found Light quite impressive and while most readers will probably agree Harrison's prose is beautiful, many will still find the book unsatisfying or even frustrating. Proceed with care! [ Light at ]Light at LibraryThing ]

City of the Iron Fish cover

In the middle of a desert there's a city with a sense of the sea: there's a smell of the ocean and the city is full of sea gulls. Every twenty years a ritual of the iron fish must be performed to keep the city alive. The city is crumbling down and keeping up the necessary rituals when people just don't care is not that simple.

The city is an odd place, and the citizens aren't quite usual either, living in the middle of nowhere. The protagonist of the book is Tom, a history student with a passion for art like many of his fellow citizens. He ends up as a part of a love triangle, explores the limits of the worlds and just keeps on living, despite the odd things going on in the city.

City of the Iron Fish is an odd book. It doesn't seem to be very popular, which is a shame. Fans of new weird and curious cities would do themselves a favour by finding a copy. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ City of the Iron Fish at ]City Of The Iron Fish at ]City of the Iron Fish at LibraryThing ]

Eternals is an old Marvel comic about immortal beings called Eternals, who protect the mankind from another race, Deviants. Both of these were created by a group called Celestials. Original Eternals was the work of Jack Kirby; this new take has been written by Neil Gaiman.

In this story, the Eternals have forgotten who they are. The memories start to reappear, as surprising events threaten the whole of humanity and Eternals must rise to protect people from this cosmic danger. Let's just say the plot is confusing, bizarre and in the end, not very interesting.

So, this didn't quite catch my fancy. I've never been a fan of superhero comics, and Gaiman's touch isn't enough (and I'm not a huge fan of his comics, either). John Romita Jr.'s art is wonderful, especially the pictures spanning whole pages or spreads. I ended up flicking through the book pretty swiftly; it was nice for a quick bit of entertainment, but not much more. (Review based on the Finnish translation.) [ Eternals at ]Eternals at LibraryThing ]

This dystopian graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd was recently made into a major movie. I loved the movie, so I was obviously interested in reading the original, and I wasn't disappointed: it's slightly different, but good.

There's been a limited nuclear war and England has survived. There's a new rule, the country is ruled by a fascist government that is strictly limiting civil liberties and freedoms. People of wrong colour and sexual orientation are killed and everything's very dystopian and grim. The protagonist of the story, an anarchist called V, sporting a Guy Fawkes mask and full of drama, is fighting against the oppression.

The story is perhaps a tad heavy with dialogue at times, but if you don't mind that, the whole of it is rather impressive. It's an emotional story and the V is an interesting character. David Lloyd's beautiful art works well with Moore's writing. Highly recommended, both the graphic novel and the movie. [ V for Vendetta at ]V for Vendetta at LibraryThing ]

Ursula K. Le Guin is a master storyteller. This book puts together four interconnecting novellas set in the Hainish worlds of Werel and Yeowe. Yeowe used to be Werel's slave colony and Werel was under strict slave economy until very recently. That makes an excellent setting to write about freedom, equality and human rights.

The stories tackle interesting issues. For example, in the liberated Yeowe, the visible divide between masters and slaves, owners and assets, has been broken down, reluctantly, but the invisible divide between men in power and powerless women still survives. This is the topic of the heaviest of the novellas, A Woman's Liberation. The collection opens with much lighter Betrayals and the other two fall somewhere in between.

All are interesting, and I do recommend this collection both to fans of Le Guin's Hainish stories and non-genre readers interested in questions of freedom, equality and slavery. Sure, these are science fiction stories, but the science involved is more sociology than physics. [ Four Ways to Forgiveness at ]Four Ways to Forgiveness at LibraryThing ]

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