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Posts Tagged ‘Glasshouse’

The gang at http://www.sfsignal.com/ have launched another one of those irresistible SF-themed memes, what they’re calling a ” 17-question science fiction book meme for a lazy Sunday”.  I wrestled over a few of my responses, struggling with the relative worthiness of some of the titles, and finally decided to solve the problem by adding four extra questions to the meme (17 to 20) to round it out to an even twenty.  Er, plus one.

What follows are my responses.  Answer as many of the following as you can, in the comments section of this blog and over here: http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2013/07/a-17-question-science-fiction-book-meme/#more-79721.  They’d love to read your feeback!

1. My favorite alien invasion book or series is…?

1

The Ophiuchi Hotline by John Varley

It’s not an alien invasion story in the traditional sense of the term but an alien invasion does precipitate the events leading up to another (indirect) alien invasion in this thoroughly engaging novel about cloning, restored memories, and a mysterious radio signal from distant space.

2. My favorite alternate history book or series is…?

1

Watchmen by Alan Moore.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of Alt. History scifi and yet, Alan Moore’s non-linear, iconoclastic take on the superhero genre stands out as one of my favorite works crossing several genres.

3. My favorite cyberpunk book or series is…?

1

Glasshouse by Charles Stross

Okay, it includes enough cyberpunk elements for me to make it my selection in this category.  A twisty, turny, scifi thriller with plenty of humor and suspense.

4. My favorite Dystopian book or series is…?

1

Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Unrelentingly grim yet possessed of a spirit and hope embodied by its determined protagonist.  I’d recommend it over the similar-themed, better-known The Road.

5. My favorite Golden-Age sf book or series is…?

1

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

When I was a kid, my mother encouraged me to read by buying me a bunch of classic SF – Asimov, Ellison, Niven – but my favorite was Arthur C. Clarke,  and Childhood’s End is my favorite Arthur C. Clarke book.  A race of mysterious extraterrestrials visit Earth.  They bring an end to war, poverty, disease, and help usher in a golden age of peace and prosperity.  But what future plans do these alien, dubbed The Overlords, have for humanity?

6. My favorite hard sf book or series is…?

1

House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

I could have just as easily placed this novel in the space opera category and Iain M. Banks’s Culture series here as the works of both authors share common elements: breathtaking narratives spanning the universe peopled with colorful characters, fantastic alien races,  and mind-bending technologies. Big, brilliant ideas.

7. My favorite military sf book or series is…?

1

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.

Not only my favorite military SF book or one of my favorite SF books in general but one of my very favorite books.  Period.  Every person I’ve recommended this novel to has become a John Scalzi fan.

8. My favorite near-future book or series is…?

1

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon.

Maybe a bit of a cheat in that it may not have enough scifi elements to please the average SF enthusiast, but it’s got enough – the near future setting and medical breakthroughs – for me to include this poignant, inspiring, beautifully written novel here.

9. My favorite post-apocalyptic book or series is…?

1

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

A “far down the road” post-apocalyptic science fiction novel in the guise of a fantasy novel chock full of allegory, literary allusions, and elusive subtext.  A challenging read, but well worth the time and effort.

10. My favorite robot/android book or series is…?

1

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker.

Not robot or androids per se but immortal cyborgs, employees of The Company, charged with the task of traveling back in time in order to locate and safeguard (read: hide) artifacts and valuable items for sale in the 24th century (when/where they will be discovered). Complications arise when our heroine, Mendoza, falls in love with a 16th century Englishman.  And mortal no less!

11. My favorite space opera book or series is…

1

Iain M Banks’ Culture series.

Grand, brilliant, staggeringly inventive and, yes, operatic, the Culture Series stands out as a marvelous literary accomplishment.

12. My favorite steampunk book or series is…?

1The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A washed-up illusionist and his imposing assistant battle to save London from dark forces in Jonathan Barnes’ witty, macabre, and all-out-bizarre novel.  There are surprises a plenty in a book in which no one can be trusted, least of all our narrator.

13. My favorite superhero book or series is…?

1The Superior Foes of Spiderman by Nick Spencer

Hmmm.  Though.  This changes week to week but, right now, coming off a highly entertaining first issue, this is the series I’m most excited about.

14. My favorite time travel book or series is…?

1

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman.

An exceptional treatment of time dilation makes this one the runaway winner in this category.

15. My favorite young adult sf book or series is…?

1

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

A seminal work of science fiction whose appeal extends well beyond young adult readers, this coming-of-age tale is set at a Battle School where, amid the training, the games, and the youthful interrelations, not all is as it seems…

16. My favorite zombie book or series is…?

1

Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead.

Before The Walking Dead television series became a breakout hit, there was the comic book series – smarter, grimmer and far more character-driven than the show.

17. My favorite ship-based sf book or series is…?

1

The Dark Beyond the Stars by Frank M. Robinson

Having grown up on ship-based science fiction (and worked on a ship-based SF series for two years), I couldn’t help but include this category – and this delightfully engaging novel centered on a shocking shipboard mystery.

18. My favorite New Wave sf book or series is…?

1

Camp Concentration by Thomas M. Disch

If we’re going to have a Golden Age category, I only think it fair we include a New Wave category as well and, as much as I loved Flowers for Algernon, Camp Concentration gets the nod here.  His refusal to enlist in military service lands our protagonist, a poet and pacifist, in a prison whose inmates are subjected to bizarre, brain-altering experiments.

19. My favorite Future Tech sf book or series is…?

1

Heroes Die by Matthew Woodring Stover

Science fiction AND fantasy.  Heroes Die offers the best of both worlds in a rip-roaring adventure that explores the effects of developed entertainment technology on eager consumers – and, in turn, the media conglomerates calling the shots.

20. My favorite Otherworldly sf book or series is…?

1

Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny

By “otherworldly”, I mean a story that takes place on a planet other than Earth – like, for instance, the colony world setting of this novel that gets taken over by the power mad former crew of a spaceship who use technological and physical enhancements to transform themselves into gods.  Fans of Stargate, take note!

21. The 3 books at the top of my sf/f/h to-be-read pile are…?

Okay.  One of each…

1

The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang

One of my favorite SF writers.  He’s not all that prolific but his work is consistently great.

1Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

If you like your fantasy dark, darkly humorous, and action-packed, then look no further than the works of Joe Abercrombie.

1A Terror by Jeffrey Ford.

A new release by one of the most wildly imaginative authors writing today.

Okay, those were my answers.  Let’s see yours!

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Alaina Huffman (T.J) and Julia Anderson (James) are dispatched to deal with the bear that wandered onto the lot this morning.

Alaina Huffman (T.J) and Julia Anderson (James) are dispatched to deal with the bear that wandered onto the lot this morning.

 
Hey, everybody! It’s time to play “Guess the Upcoming Episode Names!”

Episode #14 shares a title with a song by God Module.

Episode #15 shares a title with a song by The Beastie Boys.

Episode #16 shares a title with a song by Coldplay.

Another round of clues tomorrow. In the meantime, knock yourselves out.

Well, damn. Even though we’re a couple of weeks away from the beginning of summer, you wouldn’t know it by the beautiful weather. Sunny and HOT! At lunch, the circus is transformed into party central with the actors and crew members lounging outside the trailers, chatting, laughing, and listening to the booming tunes compliments of Mr. Robert Carlyle. It’s like Woodstock North, a laidback and fun atmosphere. I bet if Jason Momoa were around, he’d have his guitar out and be strumming right along. At least actress Elyse Levesque got to cool off in the dunk tank.

After lunch, Paul and I had the big conference call in which we pitched out our vision for the comic book series. They’ve already read the pilot (which I pitched out as a double-issue because I think that final WTF?! revelation is key), so I gave them a rundown of how the opening story wraps up and sets the stage for the rest of the series. We discussed thematic elements, the moral conflict at the heart of the story, the search for answers, and the surprises in store, then moved onto a brief overview of the seven main characters, their stories, relationships, and respective journeys. It seemed to go very well but I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.

Exec. Producer Brad Wright came into my office this afternoon and started scanning the shelves in search of a good hiatus read. I recommended Charlie Stross’ Glasshouse, one of my fave reads of 2009.

Speaking of reading – Okay, readers, let’s finish up Elric: The Stealer of Souls. Discussion begins Monday and, later in the week, we’ll be joined by legendary author Michael Moorcock for a little Q&A.

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Well, July is behind us and, as promised, I looked over all the books I read over the past month and come up with a list of My Top 5 Favorite Reads for that period. The various Book of the Month Club selections had already been given the spotlight on this blog, so they were deemed ineligible for consideration. Instead, I picked from among the almost 20 non-BOTMC books I read in July and came up with following favorites…

When You Are Engulfed in Flames

by David Sedaris

The title refers to part of the hotel safety instructions author David Sedaris encountered during a trip to Japan. It’s just one of the countless humorous observations that pepper the author’s hilarious anecdotal reflections. From his awkward encounters with a neighborhood pariah in the French countryside to his hapless attempts at learning Japanese, Sedaris offers up a collection of tales that is both uproarious and occasionally very touching. The stand-out for me was That’s Amore which details his love/hate relationship with a colorfully crotchety neighbor named Helen.

Glasshouse

by Charles Stross

It’s the 27th century and our protagonist, Robin, has very little on his mind, the result of a mindwipe that effectively erased his traumatic memories of the recent Censorship Wars. Unfortunately, Robin’s rehabilitation is complicated by an attempt on his life. Who is trying to kill him and why? Alas, those memories he lost would have certainly helped answer those questions. Faced with the prospect of further assassination attempts, Robin volunteers for an experiment intended to recreate the dark ages of 21st century society. The next thing he knows, HE is now a SHE, a suburban housewife, and one of hundreds of subjects in an isolated three-year trial where the dangers Robin sought refuge from may well reside.

Chocky

by John Wyndham

When their adopted son Matthew forms a friendship with an imaginary companion named Chocky, his parents are understandably concerned. Even more so when Chocky’s influence begins to manifest in eleven year old Matthew’s sudden fascination with binary code and interstellar travel. Is their son suffering from an overly active imagination? Is he exhibiting signs of mental illness? Or is something decidedly otherworldly at play here? Chocky is a whimsical little story that, interestingly enough given that it was written in the 60’s, turns out to be a critique of our dependence of foreign oil. The whole is made all the more enjoyable by Wyndham’s polished Brit writing style.

Make Room! Make Room!

by Harry Harrison

Years before Charlton Heston discovered the horrifying origin of that mysterious food ration known as Soylent Green, author Harry Harrison published this book which became the basis of the aforementioned movie. The film deviates greatly from the source material which focuses on the lives of the various inhabitants of a dystopian, overcrowded New York. The murder of a gangster named Big Mike sets the stage for an investigation headed by police detective Andy Rausch. Complications arise in the form of the dead man’s mistress, a Taiwanese boy on the run, a corrupt judge, and the unrelentingly grim backdrop of future New York. A terrific noir SF thriller.

The Ophiuchi Hotline

by John Varley

In the five hundred years since an alien invasion destroyed all Earth technology in 2050, humanity has made great scientific strides thanks to a mysterious data stream from the Ophiuchius constellation. The source of the transmission is a mystery but Earth’s leaders haven’t felt necessarily inclined to find out more about their alien benefactors. Until the day they send a message demanding payment for a half centuries’ worth of information. Enter Lilo, a rebel geneticist sentenced to death who, in exchange for her life, agrees to assist the enigmatic Boss Tweed in investigating the matter. Along the way, she discovers that she is a pawn in an attempt to strike back against the alien invaders that attacked the planet hundreds of years ago.

If you’re looking to supplement your Book of the Month Club selections with some additional reading material, I highly recommend any of the above. And, if you do end up checking out any of the titles, let me know how you enjoyed them.

Also, a reminder that writer-Supervising Producer Alan McCullough has agreed to come by and submit to your grilling. If you have any questions about tonight’s episode The Daedalus Variations, past McCullough episodes, or anything Stargate-related or of a highly personal nature, make sure to post them this weekend because come Monday, it’ll be too late!

Today’s blog entry is dedicated birthday boy Jason Momoa, birthday girl Andria (my sister), and a stranded Patricia.

Inpa writes: “Will you or do you get any hints from the network about what their future plans are for the series (I.e. new series, cancellation ect) or do they just ‘wait’ until they tell you officially what the decision is. Are there any ratings for episode 2 or 3 that you know of yet either?”

Answer: No hints until they make the decision. As for the ratings, the early numbers had The Seed matching last season’s premiere with a 1.1 (not bad considering we were up against the biggest box office opening in history) and Broken Ties upticked to a 1.2 (matching last season’s higher back-half average). Yes, to date, season 5 has been outperforming season four. All very heartening but, again, I caution fans from assuming a decision on the show’s sixth season will be solely ratings-based.

A. loquita writes: “1. Why is it that both Mitchell and Carter are listed as Lt. Colonel in the credits?”

Answer: That was a mistake. They are both full-bird Colonels.

A. loquita also writes: “Daniel exists in an alternate reality where another Daniel is still alive. Why doesn’t entropic cascade failure happen?!?”

Answer: A distinction is being made here between an AU (alternate reality) Daniel, and a time-traveling Daniel from the same reality. Of course this opens up a can of worms about the rules of time travel. Some past musings on the subject here: https://josephmallozzi.wordpress.com/2008/04/07/april-7-2008-timescape-by-gregory-benford-whatd-you-think/

Telikeneticforceblast writes: “That should also be asked when in atlantis when “Rod” came from the alternate reality where the exotic particles got came in. Now that you mention it, I can remember quite a few instances in Stargate where entropic cascade failure doesn’t occur…”

Answer: Check out Ripple Effect for further discussion on this topic.

Linda Gagne writes: “As a writer do you put yourself into the character shoes a lot if at all? or am I just imagining it?”

Answer: When I’m writing dialogue for them? All the time.

Jenks writes: “On the subject of the back story of Col. Cam Mitchell that was written and narrated by Ben Browder, is that to be considered canon?”

Answer: I suppose you can consider it canon – until we decide otherwise.

Masterchief writes: “I thought the back half of season 5 was supposed to air next year. Am I wrong?”

Answer: All indications are that, yes, you’re wrong.

AnnaLeo writes: “Dr. Beckett has a family back home right? Wouldn’t he want to let them know that he’s not dead, even though he won’t know how long he may live?”

Answer: There a bit of dialogue I wrote for Whispers that touches on this very subject – Beckett’s improbable return from the dead and the reaction back home. Off the top of my head, I can’t recall if it survived the cut. If it didn’t, I’ll be sure to include it was part of the post-episode wrap-up.

Davidd writes: “Will you ever do an episode which features a specific Earth holiday? Like Christmas or Halloween?”

Answer: Nope.

Khalidur writes: “are you purposefully planning the season finale to also take the place for a series finale if needs be, or do you plan on making a movie/feature length episode to tie up loose ends?”

Answer: I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again – the end of the series will not spell the end of Stargate Atlantis.

Michelle writes: “Joe, will you be going to Vegas along with Rob and the gang?”

Answer: Alas, I will not. We’re just going to have to trust that Rob will be able to control himself and not blow the show’s budget on all the spectacular sequences he has in mind – or on 22 black.

Tim Gaffney writes: “Does anyone know why there is no Atlantis next week(August 8th)? Is Sci-Fi trying to avoid going up against the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, or is it something else?”

Answer: If I was to make an educated guess, that would be the reason.

DownUnder writes: “As Teyla introduced herself in season 1 as “Teyla Emmagan, daughter of Tegan” I assumed Tagan was her father’s name…. so how is Torren named after Tagan?”

Answer: Of course she could have been referring to her mother.

Ganymede writes: “ If Jason Momoa is on the Lot tomorrow [Friday] and if you read this tonight [Thurs], please, start baking! It’s his birthday! There is a select group of us that lurk around this blog who would like to see a birthday photo of him!”

Answer: Sorry. Company day off today. Jason is back home with his family.

AnneTeldy writes: “I’ve started an online petition in the form of a letter to Mr. Flanigan to see if we can get him to change his mind about a Special Features Profile…”

Answer: Good luck with that.

JimFromJersey writes: “The Atlantis teams do not have designations ie: SG-1/SG-11 etc. Why is that?”

Answer: Hate to say it, but I’ve answered this question before. The Atlantis teams are numbered. Sheppard’s team is First Atlantis Reconnaissance Team. Lorne’s team is Second Atlantis Reconnaissance Team. And so on.

SmileyFace_06 writes: “Where will Stargate’s People’s Choice Award go?”

Answer: To be fair to everyone, the award was paraded around the lot and then subsequently destroyed.

Fran writes: “When the gang films in parks, forests, and such do you have to get permission or a permit from the city and province?”

Answer: Always.

Jessica writes: “Why is McKay allowed to fall for a different woman each season.”

Answer: For a grand total of two?

TBA writes: “Any clues, or cryptic hints, to this ‘guest star that will have boards buzzing’ of #518, Identity?”

Answer: A guest star that will have boards buzzing? Beats me. Let me know though.

Trish writes: “When the vet came, though, Sebastian still could not walk or even sit up. The vet said it was time to put him down. So all four of us sat around him and told him we loved him and said good-bye.”

Answer: Hey, Trish, this is really heartbreaking. Hope you and Allie are okay and know that a lot of people are thinking of you right now.

Stan writes: “Mr. M are you telling us that 2008-2009 will be the final season of SGA?”

Answer: Nope because at this point I honestly don’t know.

Alainaross writes: “In the seed, when Carson said “I’m scheduled to leave this afternoon.” To what was he refering, returning to earth or returning to stasis, and will he be comming back in the near future?”

Answer: Beckett returned to Earth for some much-needed R&R after the events of The Seed. He’ll be making his triumphant return to the Pegasus Galaxy in Whispers.

Morjana writes: “IGN had very nice comments about The Daedalus Variations.”

Answer: I love those guys!

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I’d like to begin today’s blog entry by once again thanking K.J. Bishop for stopping by to spend time with us. As expected, her novel, The Etched City, engendered some fairly strong and wide-ranging opinions. According to Kirsten, she was “just amazed at the detail and thoughtfulness of the responses”. So, kudos to all those who took part in the discussion, offering up some very interesting thoughts and interpretations. Besides answering our questions, Kirsten also made it a point to throw a few questions our way…

“We’re all readers here, and I’m interested in what makes us readers,”she wrote. “What do we look for in books; why do we give them hours and days of our time?”

I already dedicated a blog entry to the reasoning behind my new-found passion for books so, to avoid repeating myself suffice it to say reading is one of my few non-guilty pleasures.

“Given the length of time it takes to read a book, is there something you as a reader expect in return that you wouldn’t expect from, say, a painting?”

Ideally, I would like to have my mind opened to new ideas, fresh ways of thinking, or arguments I’ve never considered. For the time I invest in reading a novel, all I ask for in return is a character or two I can care about and a story I can invest in.

“Do you read novels for insight into the human condition, to immerse yourself in another world, to live out fantasies vicariously?”

Both. In that respect, reading is not all that different from going to see a good movie or enjoying a well-written television series.

“Could you read a book that took abstract expressionism or cubism as its inspiration?”

Hey, like I said, if the characters are interesting and the story is engaging, why not?

“Is there anything you’d like to say about your relationship with these strange long lies called novels?”

Well, this is one relationship in which I strive to maintain an adventurous and promiscuous attitude.

Next, I’d like direct everyone’s attention to the image that accompanies today’s entry. It is award-winning illustrator John Picacio’s cover for Fast Forward 2, the follow-up to Fast Forward 1: Future Fiction from the Cutting Edge. FF1 was, of course, our SF Book of the Month Club selection back in February and the week of its discussion saw a visit from editor Lou Anders, our very first guests from the literary world. According to my sources (a.k.a. the search function on Amazon.com), FF2 hits the shelves on October 21, 2008. Don’t worry. I’ll remind you. In the meantime, enjoy the cover art. According to Lou: “this iteration of Fast Forward was very much influenced by the wonderful discussion with your readers, as well as by a joint sense, on both John and my part, that SF is very relevant to today’s world and has a very important job to play in it. That being said, the opening story, by Doctor Who’s Paul Cornell, about a sort of alt. history James Bond in a weird British-dominated solar system, is just pure wacky goodness and one of the most fun stories I’ve read in ages.” BTW, Lou’s latest anthology, a collection of alternate history crime fiction titled Sideways in Crime, was just released. Check it out.

John, meanwhile, had this to say about his work on FF2: “Covers like Lou’s FAST FORWARD 2 are dream assignments. What’s fun about them is the stories respond to the evolving state of science fiction and therefore, the covers should do the same. It’s an amazing collection of stories, and I’m proud to be associated with it. I studied posters about revolution and protest when I was working on this cover and that was certainly a conscious influence. There’s an awesome quote by Paul McAuley that you’ll find in Lou’s FF2 introduction, and it stuck in my head while I was creating this cover, “(Science fiction) not only shows us what could happen if things carry on the way they are, but it pushes what’s going on to the extremes of absurdity. That’s not its job: that’s its nature. And what’s happened to science fiction lately, it isn’t natural. It’s pale and lank and kind of out of focus. It needs to straighten up and fly right. It needs to reconnect with the world’s weather, and get medieval on reality’s ass.”

I think that people tend to overlook the importance of cover art. In all honesty, I probably would not have discovered the works of some of my favorite authors (Abercrombie, Lynch, Banks to name a few) if it weren’t for how damn good their books looked. It’s amazing how an eye-catching cover can tip the balance in favor of picking up a title while a garish or hideous cover can pretty much deep-six a purchase. What are your thoughts? Have you ever picked up a book based solely on the cover art? On the other hand, have you been so turned off by the look of a book that it actually dissuaded you from buying it? In my opinion, this is a seriously underappreciated but very important part of publishing. Agree? Disagree? What do you think? What does an illustrator like John Picacio think? Well, why don’t we ask him ourselves since he has graciously agreed to swing by and do his own guest Q&A on this blog.

Mosey on over here to check out some of John’s work (http://www.johnpicacio.com/index2.html), then come up with some hard-hitting questions for our very first guest-artist/illustrator/designer .

Next, I’d like to thank everyone for weighing in with their thoughts on Search and Rescue, our fifth season premiere. Fab director Andy Mikita continues his winning ways while Golden Boy Marty G. did a great job writing and producing what was, in my opinion, our best opener to date. Congrats to cast and crew on a job well done.

Finally, I’d like to wrap up today’s entry with a book recommendation. Or, more accurately, a re-recommendation. I already mentioned Glasshouse by Charles Stross last week when I finished reading it, but I wanted to make it a point to INSIST you pick it up. What’s it about? Well, Publisher’s Weekly offers the following write-up:

“The censorship wars”during which the Curious Yellow virus devastated the network of wormhole gates connecting humanity across the cosmos”are finally over at the start of Hugo-winner Stross’s brilliant new novel, set in the same far-future universe as 2005’s Accelerando. Robin is one of millions who have had a mind wipe, to forget wartime memories that are too painful”or too dangerously inconvenient for someone else. To evade the enemies who don’t think his mind wipe was enough, Robin volunteers to live in the experimental Glasshouse, a former prison for deranged war criminals that will recreate Earth’s “dark ages” (c. 1950″2040). Entering the community as a female, Robin is initially appalled by life as a suburban housewife, then he realizes the other participants are all either retired spies or soldiers. Worse yet, fragments of old memories return”extremely dangerous in the Glasshouse, where the experimenters’ intentions are as murky as Robin’s grasp of his own identity. With nods to Kafka, James Tiptree and others, Stross’s wry SF thriller satisfies on all levels, with memorable characters and enough brain-twisting extrapolation for five novels.”

 

Yep. Brain-twistingly brilliant.

Oh, and quick reminder to finish up Unwelcome Bodies. Discussion on this unsettling and no doubt controversial collection of short fiction begins Monday and author Jennifer Pelland will be dropping by to field our questions.

Today’s video: Search and Rescue.  Rehearse and shoot.

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It has drawn comparisons to the Dark Tower series and Perdido Street Station, yet The Etched City owes far less to King and Mieville than it does to ancient lore, Eastern mythology, spaghetti westerns, and the works of Hieronymous Bosch. At turns fascinating, frustrating, yet ultimately rewarding, this first novel by Aussie author K.J. Bishop defies attempts to pigeonhole it into a specific sub-genre. Steampunk, new weird, and supernatural western are just a couple of the terms used to describe it, but I prefer “literate dark fantasy”, a phrase that neatly encapsulates its lushly imaginative, incredibly captivating, and occasionally bewildering narrative.

Our story opens on Raule, a survivor of a civil war in which she had the misfortune of aligning herself with the losing side. She meets up with a former colleague and veteran of the conflict, Gwynne, a fellow drifter who is suffering his own spot of bad luck in the form of a mercenary posse, The Army of Heroes, hot on his dusty trail. Reunited by circumstances, the two ex-rebels flee across the unforgiving Salt Desert in a desperate bid to reach the safety of a distant bridge before frontier justice can catch up with them.

This first quarter of the book is riveting as we follow Raule and Gwynne’s attempts to outpace their pursuers. We are offered insight into their characters, their thought-processes, but little in the way of their respective pasts. They are Eastwood’s Man with No Name riding on camelback through an inhospitable wasteland that is equal parts Gobi, Sahara, and Mojave. A series of dispiriting setbacks culminates in a longshot forty on two last stand. But our protagonists prove themselves determined, strategically apt, and necessarily merciless in turning the tables on the enemy, ultimately leaving them matched against their sole remaining foe: the desert itself.

Eventually, the two find refuge in the city of Ashamoil where they attempt to build new lives for themselves, Raule as a doctor to the city’s needy, Gwynne as a mercenary enforcer for the slave-trading Society of the Horn Fan. Their divergent paths leads to an unspoken falling-out between them and as their uneasy friendship drifts, so does the narrative, growing more diffuse as Raule seeks redemption amidst the squalid environs of the city’s destitute and dying, while a fallen priest takes it upon himself to seek redemption for the seemingly unredeemable Gwynne. There is a sudden and inexplicable shift in POV, from Raule to Gwynne, as we focus on the mercenary’s rise through the city underworld, his religious and philosophical debates with the sinning Rev, and a burgeoning relationship with an enigmatic artist named Beth. Occasionally, we check in with a struggling Raule, juxtaposing the horrors of her job with Gwynne’s, and things take a bizarre, hallucinatory turn as the line between fantasy and reality wavers and fades. Sphinxes, minotaurs, artwork come alive, stories within stories within stories. I’ll admit to losing focus myself at this point, struggling with the narrative diffuseness, trying to piece together a plot from the bizarre elements introduced.

And yet, my frustration was short-lived as sudden dark developments within The Society of the Horn springboard the story back into its initial brisk pace. Hopelessness, despair, revenge, art, magic, and love all come together in the book’s final act to offer a conclusion that is paradoxically satisfying yet baffling.

The Etched City is beautiful written, filled with richly realized scenes and characters. It is a novel that seems to question our objective reality, using the noition of duality to explore its various themes: Raule as life-giver vs. Gwynne and death-dealer, the sun-scorched barrenness of the Salt Desert vs. the dank squalor of Ashamoil, the beauty of art and the grotesqueries of nature.

In the end, I was left with many questions but that didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of The Etched City. That said, I think it has the potential to be a polarizing book and those who prefer their storytelling grounded and ambiguous are bound to come away disappointed. So I really look forward to hearing the various opinions on this one.

As for me – I found The Etched City complex and compelling, a sophisticated and satisfying novel.

Well, no sooner do I get into town than my wife is heads out of town, leaving me to my dogs, my books, my chores, and you, dear readers. It’ll be a somewhat relaxing final week of hiatus marked by home repairs (I’m assuming the company we hired to work on our basement will be calling me up any day now), some episode #20 spinning with Paul, the special Michel Cluizel chocolate tasting I’ve been invited to on Wednesday, and more thought given to Project Twilight. I had some ideas for the latter that I sent Paul, Brad, and Robert’s way. It seems a long way off now but these things have a way of sneaking up on you.

Hey, if you haven’t already read it (thought I assume you probably have since it was a 2007 Hugo Award finalist for best novel), check out Glasshouse by Charles Stross. Great mind-bending fun!

Finally – Get your questions and comments in for K.J. Bishop who will be visiting us later in the week.

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