Sunday, 27 November 2011

Books Received | The BoSS for 27/11/11

In The BoSS this week - the last edition, I think, or the last-edition-but-one before the holidays, depending on what books present themselves for inspection over the next seven days - myths, origins, wicked trains, time-tripping whales... and end to Oz!


All Clear
by Connie Willis

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 20/10/11
by Gollancz

Review Priority
4 (Pretty Bloody Likely)

The Blurb: Traveling back in time, from Oxford circa 2060 into the thick of World War II, was a routine excursion for three British historians eager to study firsthand the heroism and horrors of the Dunkirk evacuation and the London Blitz. But getting marooned in war-torn 1940 England has turned Michael Davies, Merope Ward, and Polly Churchill from temporal tourists into besieged citizens struggling to survive Hitler’s devastating onslaught. And now there’s more to worry about than just getting back home: The impossibility of altering past events has always been a core belief of time-travel theory—but it may be tragically wrong. When discrepancies in the historical record begin cropping up, it suggests that one or all of the future visitors have somehow changed the past—and, ultimately, the outcome of the war. Meanwhile, in 2060 Oxford, the stranded historians’ supervisor, Mr. Dunworthy, frantically confronts the seemingly impossible task of rescuing his students—three missing needles in the haystack of history.

The thrilling time-tripping adventure that began with Blackout now hurtles to its stunning resolution in All Clear.

My Thoughts: When Blackout hit here, earlier in the year, I couldn't quite decide whether or not to read it immediately or wait, as patiently as possible, for All Clear to come out too, because I understood that these two books were in fact one larger novel, split down the middle, and I'd heard many a sad story from US-based bloggers about how the wait for the second part had been excruciating. I didn't want to put myself through that. On the other hand, however, what with all the awards the latest from Connie Willis has won, I had a hard time restraining myself.

In the end, my indecision made my decision for me.

But now All Clear is here. This means war: one man's struggle to read something like 1600 pages within the next ten days. I very much doubt I'll come out of this conflict on top, but by gum I'm gonna try!

Out of Oz
by Gregory McGuire

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 01/11/11
by Headline Review

Review Priority
2 (It Could Happen)

The Blurb: The marvelous land of Oz is knotted with social unrest: The Emerald City is mounting an invasion of Munchkinland, Glinda is under house arrest, and the Cowardly Lion is on the run from the law. And look who's knocking at the door. It's none other than Dorothy. Yes, that Dorothy.

Amid all this chaos, Elphaba's granddaughter, the tiny green baby born at the close of Son of a Witch, has come of age. Now, Rain will take up her broom in an Oz wracked by war.

Out of Oz is a magical journey rife with revelations and reversals, reprisals and surprises - the hallmarks of the brilliant and unique imagination of Gregory Maguire.

My Thoughts: It began with Wicked. It all ends with Out of Oz.

Secretly I've always really wanted to see Wicked. I haven't had the chance yet: musicals take ages to work their way up to Edinburgh. Hell, I'm still waiting to see The Lion King!

Saying that, the books on which I understand the musical was based, of which this is apparently the last in the line, well... they don't exactly appeal. Who would do the singing? Me?

So it's not particularly likely I'll read Out of Oz. Certainly not anytime soon, and not, if I'm honest, likely anytime ever. Still, this book is really a very pretty thing, to look at and to touch, and that in itself is worth its weight.

Myths of Origins: Four Short Novels

by Catherynne M. Valente

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 06/12/11
by Wyrm Publishing

Review Priority
5 (A Sure Thing)

The Blurb: Live the Myth! New York Times best-seller Catherynne M. Valente is the single most compelling voice to emerge in fantasy fiction in decades. Collected here for the first time, her early short novels explore, deconstruct, and ultimately explode the seminal myths of both East and West, casting them in ways you've never read before and may never read again.

In "The Labyrinth," a woman wanderer, a Maze like no other, a Monkey and a Minotaur and a world full of secrets leading down to the Center of it All. In "Yume No Hon: The Book of Dreams," an aged woman named Ayako lives in medieval Japan, but dreams in mythical worlds that beggar the imagination... including our own modern world. When a hero challenges a great and evil serpent in "The Grass-Cutting Sword," who speaks for the snake? In this version of a myth from the ancient chronicle Kojiki, the serpent speaks for himself. Finally, in "Under in the Mere," Arthur and Lancelot, Mordred and le Fay. The saga has been told a thousand times, but never in the poetic polyphony of this novella, a story far deeper than it is long.

My Thoughts: Last year, at the last minute, I declared The Habitation of the Blessed my favourite book of 2010. Fully twelve months on, I'm still not sure if that was the right decision, but then these sorts of decisions are never easy, and rarely clear, and it seemed like the right decision at the time.
What there is no doubt about is that I stand in abject awe of Cat Valente. She's a wordsmith unlike any other, and I've had occasion to read two of her other books this year - Deathless and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In A Ship Of Her Own Making - neither of which gave me cause to question that assertion.

So this opportunity to catch up on her very earliest work - the four short novels collection in Myths of Origin - is both welcome and a little worrying, because what if these stories don't hold up?
In any event I can guarantee you a review of this book. It's a sure thing, sure... but I'd like to take my time with it, so don't anyone hold their breath.

 Hell Train
by Christopher Fowler

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 05/01/12
by Solaris

Review Priority
3 (We'll See)

The Blurb: Imagine there was a supernatural chiller that Hammer Films never made. A grand epic produced at the studio's peak, which played like a cross between the Dracula and Frankenstein films and Dr Terror's House Of Horrors...

Four passengers meet on a train journeying through Eastern Europe during the First World War, and face a mystery that must be solved if they are to survive. As the Arkangel races through the war-torn countryside, they must find out: what is in the casket that everyone is so afraid of? What is the tragic secret of the veiled Red Countess who travels with them? Why is their fellow passenger the army brigadier so feared by his own men? And what exactly is the devilish secret of the Arkangel itself? Bizarre creatures, satanic rites, terrified passengers and the romance of travelling by train, all in a classically styled horror novel.

My Thoughts: Am I wrong to be getting a Strangers on a Train vibe from this thing?

Probably. And I sincerely doubt that Hell Train is apt to take itself anything like so seriously as that short Patricia Highsmith story did. But between that and the Hammer Horror reference in the blurb, this recent arrival is certainly making all the right moves; at least it is from where I'm sitting, back in economy class of course.

Thus, this could be fun. And between Blackout and All Clear, Myths of Origins and this next new arrival, I would wager I'm about to be in real need of something so easygoing.

In the Mouth of the Whale
by Paul McAuley

Vital Statistics
Published in the UK
on 19/01/12
by Gollancz

Review Priority
4 (Pretty Bloody Likely)

The Blurb: Fomalhaut was first colonised by the posthuman Quick, who established an archipelago of thistledown cities and edenic worldlets within the star's vast dust belt. Their peaceful, decadent civilisation was swiftly conquered by a band of ruthless, aggressive, unreconstructed humans who call themselves the True, then, a century before, the True beat back an advance party of Ghosts, a posthuman cult which colonised the nearby system of Beta Hydri after being driven from the Solar System a thousand years ago.

Now the Ghosts have returned to Fomalhaut, to begin their endgame: the conquest of its single gas giant planet, a captured interstellar wanderer far older than the rest of Fomalhaut's system. At its core is a sphere of hot metallic hydrogen with strange and powerful properties based on exotic quantum physics. The Quick believe it is inhabited by an ancient alien Mind; the True believe it can be developed into a weapon; and the Ghosts believe it can be transformed into a computational system so powerful it can reach into their past, collapse timelines, and fulfill the ancient prophecies of their founder.

My Thoughts: Is this another space opera set in the same universe as The Quiet War and Gardens of the Sun? Could it be?

Why yes, I think it could. Though I'm not 100% sure.

But let's say that. Let's also say that I look back on my time with The Quiet War very fondly - the review is here - and furthermore that Gardens of the Sun has had pride of place in my tower of books To Be Read ever since.

Still, that counts for all of squat; I can mean to read a book for years and be no closer to the actual experience it. But this is getting silly. I really enjoyed The Quiet War, and by all accounts Gardens of the Sun is its equal, so I shall endeavour to get caught up on my Paul McAuley over the holidays, the better to have a review of In the Mouth of the Whale ready in time for its publication in mid-January.


And with that, The BoSS takes its final bow... until next time.

Which will either be next Sunday, as ever, if anything awesome arrives in the mail between now and then, or early in the new year.

In the interim, what do you mean to read over the holidays? For my part, I have grand designs - already doomed for failure, I dare say - on several entire series.

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