Sunday, January 18, 2009

Scratching the Light Off the Horizon

A Circular Containing an Continuation of Books of Interest Read in the Period 2007 to the Present, by D.D. Tinzeroes, No.3.

The Stars My Destination
Alfred P. Bester

I read this after readings its high recommendation in Michael Moorcock's "Starship Stormtroopers" essay (he categorized it as a truly radical piece of scifi), and then having it "of course, I assumed you had already read it" recommended by Fat. It did not disappoint. Apart from the simple joys of a Count of Monte Cristo retell w/ scifi trappings, a strong protag in Gully Foyle, and the great ending Moorcock is right to put on a pedestal, I think I was most impressed with Bester's use of jaunting, his name for the practice of teleportation, a common practice by humans in his setting. Indeed, the book begins with an account of the origins of this practice, and I have to admit, I was a little skeptical: I mean, a future where not only people can teleport at will, but EVERYONE can teleport at will? It just seemed a bit silly. But lo and behold, a hundred pages or so later and I realized I wasn't even giving this jaunting business a second thought. This is called good writing, because Bester's descriptions and use of jaunting are both so casual and yet rigorously part of a defined system that the reader comes to think as little of it as the act of walking or talking. Bravo.

A Fire in the Sun
George Alec Effinger

The second Marid Audran/Budayeen novel. Marid adjusts to his new life as unwilling servant of mega-gangster Freidlander Bey. Bey buys him his favorite bar. Marid seeks out his birth mother. Good police procedural stuff with Marid partnered with a city police officer. Further exploration of Arab and Islamic customs and concepts. It occurs to me that perhaps the best part of the Budayeen stories is that there's a fairly large cast of characters, who, once introduced in one novel, crop up in the subsequent volumes. Better yet, things to not remain static. Every character is up to something, and even Marid's attitude and station in life changes dramatically from when he met him in the opening pages of the first volume.

Rudy Rucker

The inaugural volume in Rucker's Ware series (followed by Wetware, then Freeware and Realware). Introduces us to the sentient robots, the Boppers, who live on the moon. The boppers invite their creator to visit the moon, so that his mind can be imprinted to file and he may live forever, as it were. For '82 this book has aged very well, both in terms of ideas and writing.

The Drawing of the Dark
Tim Powers

Powers said something about once about getting his ideas from the little things in history that don't quite fit. For example, when the Ottomans reduced Hungary, they pushed on to lay siege to Vienna, even though season for warfare was drawing to a close. Why? After all, heavy rains forced them to leave their heavy siege cannons behind. Powers answer is that the conflict is actually orchestrated by agents of the magical Kings of the West and the East. And a mercenary named Duffy is handpicked to essentially be a bouncer at a very old brewery in Vienna, the dark bock originating from which is suddenly a big deal. Great throw-away line about all religions being based on the brewing of beer (which is a pretty miraculous process, if you really think about, and if a society had never tasted or even conceived of beer before, I suppose it would be pretty awesome if someone suddenly showed you how). As before, strong systems of magic, which are simultaneously loose yet constrained, in the background and yet very central.

Global Head
Bruce Sterling

A collection of Sterling's short stories, and, I must confess, I was not terribly smitten with this omnibus. A Good Old-Fashioned Future (1999) and the Shaper-Mechanist shorts are both more interesting and more entertaining. The first story, about a genetic engineering industrial accident, that causes dogs and cats and other animals to become intelligent on par with humans is pretty good, albeit brief, but is perhaps also indicative of the volume a whole, ideas that can't seem to break free from the cruel gravity of idea and make their way on to story.


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