Sunday, 16 May 2010

The BoSS for 16/05/10

Some mornings the postman will come lumbering up the little staircase to my front door with three or four packages rubber-banded together and I have to fight back the urge to tear them all apart at once, like a kid at Christmas. Getting proofs in the mail is always a treat, but I know that a surplus of books for review on one day means that there'll be something of a deficit for the rest of the week. This week, there was no one day whereupon all the packages sent for the speculative Scotsman's attention arrived, but rather a slow, steady trickle: one book a day, every day. A perfect pace, if you ask me.

Apropos of which, an odd memory: when I was little, I'd take the time to play with every present I got on Christmas day before opening the next one. Some years, Christmas could last all the way till New Year's. I'd still be working my way through the pile my Mum had put together for me when the bells tolled, while my friends had long since exhausted their gift reserves.

Anyway.

Click through to read Meet the BoSS for an introduction and an explanation as to why you should care about the Bag o' Speculative Swag.

Read on for a sneak peek at some of the books - past, present and future - you can expect to see coverage of here on The Speculative Scotsman in the coming weeks and months.

***

Sacred Treason
by James Forrester


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
05/08/10 by Headline Review

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "London, December 1563. England is a troubled nation. Catholic plots against the young Queen Elizabeth spring up all over the country. At his house in the parish of St Bride, the herald William Harley – known to everyone as Clarenceux - receives a book from his friend and fellow Catholic, Henry Machyn. But Machyn is in fear of his life, claiming that the book is deadly... What secret can it hold? And then Clarenceux is visited by the State in the form of Francis Walsingham and his ruthless enforcers, who will stop at nothing to gain possession of it. If Clarenceux and his family are to survive the terror of Walsingham, and to plead with the queen’s Secretary of State Sir William Cecil for their lives, Clarenceux must solve the clues contained in the book to unlock its dangerous secrets before it’s too late. And when he does, he realises that it's not only his life and the lives of those most dear to him that are at stake..."

Commentary: I talked about this in the inaugural Unbooking a few days ago. Sacred Treason is historical fiction, from the nom-de-plume of a non-fiction author: not usually my cup of tea, perhaps, but the effort the good folks at Headline had gone to to make James Forrester's novel stand out - brown paper and a wax seal - have ensured that despite my reservations, I'll at the very least be giving this one a go before it's release date.


Blonde Bombshell
by Tom Holt


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
06/05/10 by Orbit

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "The third planet out from the star was blue, with green splodges. Dirt. Oh, the bomb thought. And then its courage, determination and nobility-of-spirit subroutines cut in, overriding everything else, adrenalizing its command functions and bypassing its cyberphrenetic nodes. Here goes, said the bomb to itself. Calibrate navigational pod. Engage primary thrusters. Ready auxiliary drive. It knew, in that moment, that its own doom was near; because it was giving itself orders, and it wasn't putting in any 'the's. That was what you did, apparently, when the moment came. You could also turn on a flashing red beacon and a siren, but mercifully these were optional. Oh #/+*! thought the bomb, and surged on towards Dirt like an avenging angel."

Commentary: Science fiction and I have a relationship as changeable as the weather. Mark Chitty was good enough to post a little diatribe on that very subject on Walker of Worlds as part of SFAM last month, and I hate repeating myself, so do forgive me if I don't go into it again here. For all the sci-fi I've read, though, and all the reactions I've had to the genre - love, hate, indifference - I've never read whimsical sci-fi comedy before; truly, before now, I hadn't imagined it even existed. And so, though I haven't heard of Tom Holt, nor read anything too positive about his work in the past, Blonde Bombshell sounds interesting. Something a little different.


Far North
by Marcel Theroux


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
03/06/10 by Faber & Faber

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "Every day I buckle on my guns and go out to patrol this dingy city. Out on the far northern border of a failed state, Makepeace patrols the ruins of a dying city and tries to keep its unruly inhabitants in check. Into this cold, isolated world comes evidence that life is flourishing elsewhere — a refugee from the vast emptiness of forest, whose existence inspires Makepeace to take to the road to reconnect with human society. What Makepeace finds is a world unraveling, stockaded villages enforcing a rough and uncertain justice, mysterious slave camps labouring to harness the little understood technologies of a vanished civilization. But Makepeace’s journey also leads to unexpected human contact, tenderness, and the dark secrets behind this frozen world. FAR NORTH leads the reader on a quest through an unforgettable arctic landscape, from humanity’s origins to its likely end. Bleak, haunting, spare — and yet ultimately hopeful, the novel is suffused with an ecstatic awareness of the world’s fragility and beauty, and its unexpected ability to recover from our worst trespasses."

Commentary: Nominated for the Arthur C. Clarke award that China Mieville took home a few weeks ago, Faber & Faber are reissuing Far North in paperback in a few months - presumably to cotton onto all the acclaim before it dies down - so what better time to dig into a book that's been compared to Under the Skin and intrigued me from the moment I heard about it? It's not exactly timely coverage at this point, but I'm good and excited to get started on my first Marcel Theroux, so suck on that, new releases.


First Lord's Fury
by Jim Butcher


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
06/05/10 by Orbit

Review Priority:
2 (Fair)

Plot Synopsis: "The aging First Lord of Alera has fallen in battle. Yet his people must continue to resist an invading inhuman army. Desperate Alerans even pledge fealty to the Vord Queen to survive, turning the incredible power of Aleran furies back on their own people. And despite all efforts, the Alerans are being ground into dust and pushed to the farthest reaches of their own realm. However, Tavi has returned with vital insights from the Canim Blood Lands. He knows how to counter the Vord and, more importantly, believes human ingenuity can equal fury-born powers. Now events are rushing towards a last stand, where Tavi and the last Aleran legions must formulate a dangerous new strategy, together. For a civilisation is on the brink of extinction."

Commentary: I watched a bit of The Dresden Files when it was on telly a few years back. It was one of those shows that I enjoyed, I suppose, but whose cancellation seemed something of a relief compared to the out-and-out tragedy of before-their-time greats along the lines of Dollhouse and Invasion. Mind you, First Lord's Fury isn't The Dresden Files by any stretch - it's the latest installment in the The Codex Alera, apparently - but not having read any Jim Butcher before, that's the closest touchstone I have to judge it by. I hardly think book six is an appropriate point to start any series, but do let me know, readers, if I'm underestimating this author and this series. Should I be more excited for this one?

Stone Spring
by Stephen Baxter


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
03/06/10 by Gollancz

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "8000 years ago Europe was a very different place. England was linked to Holland by a massive swathe of land. Where the North Sea is now lay the landmass of Northland. And then came a period of global warming, a shifting of continents and, over a few short years, the sea rushed in and our history was set. But what if the sea had been kept at bay? Brythony is a young girl who lives in Northland. Like all her people she is a hunter gatherer, her simple tools fashioned from flint cutting edges lodged in wood and animal bone. When the sea first encroaches on her land her people simply move. Brythony moves further travelling to Asia. Where she sees mankind's first walled cities. And gets an idea. What if you could build a wall to keep the sea out? And so begins a colossal engineering project that will take decades, a wall that stretches for hundreds of miles, a wall that becomes an act of defiance, and containing the bones of the dead, an act of devotion. A wall that will change the geography of the world. And its history.

"Stephen Baxter has become expert at embedding human stories into the grandest sweeps of history and the most mind-blowing of concepts. Stone Spring begins a trilogy that will tell the story of a changed world. It begins in 8,000 BC with an idea and ends in 1500 in a world that never saw the Roman Empire, Christianity or Islam. It is an eye-opening look at what history could so easily have been and an inspiring tale of how we control our future."

Commentary: Perhaps I just haven't been looking in the right places, but given the profile of Xeelee sequence mastermind Stephen Baxter and the impending release of his latest novel, I've heard surprisingly little about Stone Spring. The first in a new trilogy set in a typically imaginative and expansive time, hesitant though I am to lose myself in yet another series novel, this is shaping up to be my next read. Will it be the latest addition to the renaissance of science fiction I've experienced this year? Let's ask the magic 8-ball... which says: "All signs point to yes." I have it on good authority, then!

Tell-All
by Chuck Palahniuk


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
03/06/10 by Jonathan Cape

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: ""Tell-All" is many things: a Sunset Boulevard-inflected homage to Old Hollywood when grand dames like Bette Davis and Joan Crawford ruled the roost. It is a Douglas Sirk-inspired melodrama full of big gestures and muted psychic torment. It is a veritable Tourette's Syndrome of rat-tat-tat name-dropping, from the A-list to the Z-list. It is a merciless send-up of Lillian Hellman's habit of butchering the truth that will have Mary McCarthy cheering from the beyond. Our narrator is Hazie Coogan, who for decades has tended to the outsized needs of Katherine 'Miss Kathie' Kenton, a star of the wattage of Elizabeth Taylor and the emotional torments of Judy Garland. The survivor of multiple marriages, career comebacks and cosmetic surgeries, Miss Kathie lives the way legends should. But danger lurks when gentleman caller Webster Carlton Westward III arrives and worms his way into Miss Kathie's heart and boudoir. Hazie discovers that this bounder has already written his celebrity tell-all memoir and that it foretells her death in a forthcoming Lillian Hellman-penned World War II musical extravaganza "Unconditional Surrender", in which Miss Kathie portrays Lily defeating Japanese forces from Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki. As the body count mounts, Hazie must execute a plan to save Katherine Kenton for her fans - and for posterity. A dark reimagining of "All About Eve" and an hilarious assault on celebrity, "Tell-All" is vintage Palahniuk."

Commentary: And so goes the blurb for the latest in Palahniuk's annual line of releases. What's most remarkable about Tell-All, however, is its idiosyncratic narration. Hazie recounts her faux celebrity expose in a pseudo-script format that I think it's safe to say you'll either love or utterly despise. I've read a little - tough not to when something so very different presents itself - and I'm in. Tell-All is a short one at less than 200 pages, so I expect I'll gobble it up one night and report back. I don't know that we're looking at Palahniuk's next Fight Club here, but his latest effort looks like a great deal of fun nonetheless. I'm hopeful.


Watch
by Robert J. Sawyer


Release Details:
Published in the UK on
20/05/10 by Gollancz

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "Caitlin Decter could never have anticipated what was coming when she first sensed a strange presence on the internet Webmind is an emerging consciousness that has befriended blind mathematics genius Caitlin Decter and has grown eager to learn about her world. But Webmind has also come to the attention of WATCH - the secret government agency that monitors the Internet for any threat to the United States-and they're fully aware of Caitlin's involvement in its awakening. WATCH is convinced that Webmind represents a risk to national security and wants it purged from cyberspace. But Caitlin believes in Webmind's capacity for compassion-and she will do anything and everything necessary to protect her friend."

Commentary: The concisely titled WWW trilogy begun last year continues in Watch. Which is all well and good, except that I haven't read Wake. In fact, as with the Jim Butcher above, my only experience of Robert J. Sawyer's fiction is at least third-hand, in the form of a few episodes of the recently cancelled FlashForward TV series, which I found to be both preposterous and un-fun. Of course, I shouldn't - and I won't - judge the man's writing ability based on some corporate ninny's reiteration of one of Sawyer's ideas, but again, I haven't had the pleasure of the first part of the WWW trilogy, so until I get my hands of a copy of Wake, I wouldn't expect to see anything more here on TSS about Watch. Anyone reading care to recommend the first book? It all sounds a bit hokey if you ask me...

2 comments:

  1. Jim Butcher is a very good writer. His Dresden books blow the TV show out of the water, wasn't very accurate at all. Enjoyable though it was the concept was pretty much the only thing remotely accurate. And even then the character of Harry Dresden is completely dumped by the TV show. Sadly, Harry Dresden's characterization is the best part of the series.

    Don't know about His Codex series though, haven't gotten a chance to dig into it yet.

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  2. Hi Speculative,

    You've got a great blog going. This is my first comment here, but I expect it won't be the last!

    Anyway, I agree with Mandorallen: the Dresden Files books are really superb. I think you should start reading Jim Butcher with that series, not the Codex Alera.

    Oh, and also: thank you for recommending "Under the Skin" by Michel Faber a few weeks back. I picked it up on the strength of your review and the Amazon preview, and oh man, what a bloody excellent read that was.

    RSSN

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