The Night Sessions, by Ken MacLeod.

Intriguing police procedural, set a few dozen years in the future and predominantly in Scotland. The Earth’s groaning in the wake of some fairly nasty climate change problems, resulting in a pair of massive space elevators being constructed to facilitate vast, floating solar barriers in an effort to mitigate UV radiation. Robots are becoming relatively commonplace and some of them are developing artificial intelligence, which is something of a problem for the general community as they don’t quite know how to deal with it — or integrate them properly into society. Add to this the fallout from the Faith / Oil War, which has effectively banned religions of all kinds, and we have a very interesting world postulated.

Into this mix we have the bombing murder of a man who turns out to be a Catholic priest, a title which has no official standing in this new world and has cause for potential future political ramifications, especially since religious terrorism has effectively been wiped out by the ‘winning’ of the Faith War. Casualties with ‘underground’ religious affiliations begin to mount as the protagonists, a Scottish police inspector and his robot aide-de-camp (once-combat mech) Skulk, desperately try to work out what is going on — and whether extremist religion is making a monstrous comeback as a very significant anniversary approaches…

Enjoyed very much. Particularly liked the fairly harsh, albeit balanced, treatment of religion — it effortlessly segued into an e-mail meme that’s circulating at the moment that’s very resonant and powerful: a picture of the World Trade Centre twin towers with John Lennon’s words: Imagine no religion beneath it. The story isn’t horribly politically correct (it can’t be with that type of subject matter) and doesn’t mince words as it beats down on the religious, the authorities and the fundamentalists alike.

The interaction of robots and people was also compellingly drawn, especially the sensitive and awkward issue of incipient artificial intelligence spreading like a slow virus through otherwise non-sentient machine workers… and the hideous potential for fundamentalist religious extremism to infect even the inhuman.

It becomes a bit chaotic towards the end (and not a little nihilistic either), but in the main MacLeod keeps all of the many balls he’s juggling in the air and the effect is, for the most part, mesmerizing. Definitely recommended.

 

 

 

…unfortunately, unlike the following three:

The Caryatids, by Bruce Sterling.

 

Well, I liked the cover…

This is a mad, sprawling, incoherent future-tech-dying-planet-eco-disaster, er, splat of a novel. One of those books where the ideas outpaced the story — in fact, the story seemed almost nonexistent, or at most very flimsy indeed. Four clone women in different situations, bred to be avatars of now obsolete technology, trying very hard to… nope. Didn’t get it. Doesn’t mean others won’t, but for me The Caryatids fell very, very flat: it was like a future-tech wiki and a Greenpeace screed met in a bar, fell in lust over a few cigarettes and then went home and tried to shag out a story before realising they were sexually incompatible. I applaud the intent, loved some of the ideas, but the whole didn’t work at all…

 

 

…rather like Palimpsest, by Catherynne M. Valente — and I’ll be brief with this one. Style over content, and of the latter there was none. People dream their way into a fantastical world, the trigger to enter (no pun intended) is sex with someone who bears a tattooed map of this oneiric wonderland. And then… nothing happens except a few weird sights, incomprehensible rituals and/or conversations, and a desperate neeed/want, like drug withdrawal, to stay there forever.

Not I. Unfortunately I wanted to leave from the moment I first got there, and am still somewhat surprised I persevered through to the end. If dreamy, poetic but ultimately meaningless prose and ridiculous, improbable characters desperately seeking escape into a world that makes no sense and is drawn about as clearly as a charcoal sketch on a blackboard is your thing, then go for Palimpsest and good luck. I like a little story with my opium musings, thanks….

 

 

 

…and that brings us to the titular ‘urgh’, which I will keep short and sweet:

Brian Keene’s Castaways.

  • Apparently a homage: Jack Ketchum’s Off Season and elements of Richard Laymon’s original ‘Beast House’ trilogy;
  • Apparently a homage: the television game-show Survivor;
  • Has cannibal Neanderthal monkey monster rapists in it;
  • And the most cardboard-cutout characterisation and phoned-in plot, complete with astonishingly out-of-place and romance-novel happy ending I’ve ever had the misfortune to read…

Sorry. Awful. I used to like Brian’s work a lot, but some of his recent work… well, I love horror, but for some reason I don’t seem to be his audience anymore, because his last couple have been indifferent to me, and this one was dire. From someone who absolutely loathes reality shows like Survivor, being unable to give a positive report on something that was essentially panning the TV genre is sad indeed.

 

 

‘Kay then. Next time it will be all good, rather than some good and some urgh, promise. 🙂

The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

The City of Dreaming Books, by Walter Moers

 

An impulse buy that took me completely by surprise, Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books has kind of crashed into the top levels of my favourite books ever and left me blinking, dazed and astonished, in its wake.

Moers is a German author predominantly of childrens’ books whose works are only relatively recently being translated. His main trope is a fantasy world called Zamonia which is populated by a near-infinite variety of weird and wonderful lifeforms and is a world of endless, well, weirdness.

Quoting from Amazon.com via Publisher’s Weekly here, the plot in a very strained nutshell:

German author and cartoonist Moers returns to the mythical lost continent of Zamonia in his uproarious third fantasy adventure to be translated into English (after 2006’s Rumo), a delightfully imaginative mélange of Shel Silverstein zaniness and oddball anthropomorphism à la Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Optimus Yarnspinner, a young saurian novelist, embarks on a quest to track down the anonymous author of the most magnificent piece of writing in the whole of Zamonian literature. Traveling to Bookholm, the legendary City of Dreaming Books, the naïve Yarnspinner falls victim to Pfistomel Smyke, a maggotlike literary scholar who poisons Yarnspinner and abandons him in the treacherous catacombs miles below the city’s surface. Stranded in an underworld steeped in terror-inducing myth and home to more than a few bizarre inhabitants, Yarnspinner undertakes a long and perilous journey back to the world above. Enchanting illustrations by the author compliment a wonderfully whimsical story that will appeal to readers of all ages. (Sept.)
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This is really only scratching the surface. What this book is, is a love letter to literature and books in general, and anyone who loves books, reading, dusty old tomes, libraries and bookshops (hmmm: me) will be transported upon delving in. Amidst these pages you will find cities and buildings composed entirely of books, Booklings that spend their lives memorising the works of authors and speaking only via their words, living books, poisonous and killer books, monstrously armoured BookHunters, Rube Goldbergian steampunk book machines… it goes on and on and on, with every page a mad new idea. Profusely illustrated, too, which is very useful given some of the wildly bizarre denizens Moers has thought up to people his incredible world.

Although it’s technically childrens’ literature, anyone can read it. There are some elements that are quite violent, à la the Brothers Grimm, and it’s a doorstopper of a book (which was marvellous, because I didn’t want to leave the world). Conceptually and linguistically (aside: the translation seems brilliant), there are some elements that small children wouldn’t follow either — which just means more for the rest of us. Do not ignore Bookholm because you might think it’s just for kids: it is so, so not.

Loved it so much I gave away my first paperback copy to another booklover and tracked down a hardback for myself. This is the sort of book that deserves to be a dusty, much-loved old book on an ancient wooden shelf — in the nicest possible way.

Can’t recommend this one enough, and the moment I laid my ink-smudged fingers on it and cracked the first chapter, I immediately began BookHunting the rest of Moers’ translated ouevre — which arrived yesterday. 😀  (Can’t wait… and you shouldn’t either)

Not dead! Really! Just really, really busy. Actual content will appear again soon. Have read many books. Very good ones, too, like the Temeraire series, Dan Simmon’s Drood and Stephen Hunt’s ‘Jackals’ ongoing (Court of the Air, The Kingdom Beneath The Waves and the not-read-yet The Rise of the Iron Moon). And lots more. Yes.

Just busy. I feel guilty now.

To assuage this guilt-ridden feeling, I destroy your brain present you with pictures from the world’s greatest film, which is all about the attack of a giant space mutant chicken: