Monday, June 8, 2015

After these messages....

For that thimbleful of readers who regularly make their way to my blog, Speculiction will be on a 3-week hiatus whilst I gallivant about the globe. Be back in July!

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Review of Zoo City by Lauren Beukes

It was a brisk autumn afternoon in the grungy backstreets of Johannesburg.  Moving in fits and starts, a draft manuscript of Charles Stross’ latest Laundry Files novel danced along the pavement, buffeted by the wind.  The margins full of notes, he was undecided how heavy to lay on the tech and magic. Should I go all out, from www brain implants to wizards, or keep things relaxed, just a little social media and a touch of voodoo?  At the same time and place, Philip Pullman, pique on his tongue and time to kill, was looking for a place to relax into a pint or two.  But just as he spied a promising pub, the draft manuscript whipped up and slapped him in the face.  Peeling the papers away and holding them at arm’s length, he entered and sat down, ordered a glass of bitter, and took a look at what fate had sent his way.  Immediately intrigued, he didn’t notice when the beer arrived.  So absorbed, in fact, he began scribbling his own notes—character needs animal familiar,a strong, toothy one—but which? Crocodile? Alligator?... And this one? Mongoose?  Sloth?  Pullman so deep in concentration, it took the man sitting at a nearby table several tries to get his attention.  “Hi, my name is Bill Gibson.  Looks like you’ve got some run ons, hanging clauses, and more than a few over-indulgent metaphors there.  Let me see if I can’t help you tighten up that story a little—give it an edge you can cut with, you know?” The rest, as they say, is Lauren Beukes’ 2010 Zoo City.

The above introduction would seem to render Zoo City imitative rather than original. That was only half the intention.  By setting her story in a fully realized, near-future version of Johannesburg, giving her main characters singular voices, and having her own thematic aims, Beukes transforms the tropes and styles of Stross, Pullman, and Gibson into a combination of her own making.  The influences are readily apparent, but the creation is of its own design—at least mostly. 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Review of The Stars Seem So Far Away by Margret Helgadottir

I am far from the most knowledgeable person on the subject, but in my web wandering and scattered reading it has certainly come to my attention that post-apocalyptic YA fiction is ‘a thing’ (or at least recently was ‘a thing’).  A sub-genre niche publishers and authors have rushed to capitalize on, the number of titles in the sphere has risen sharply.  But as with all such rushes, one must pick and choose carefully; quality requires weeding from quantity.

Margret Helgadottir The Stars Seem So Far Away (2015, Fox Spirit Books) is post-apocalyptic YA fiction.  Part of the third-wave of such texts, it wears its taxonomy on its sleeve.   But the devil is in the details. 

The Stars Seem So Far Away is ostensibly a collection.  But it quickly becomes apparent that the stories function more like point-of-view chapters, creating a cycle that rolls toward an all-inclusive conclusion.  A handful of teens anchoring this overarching story, Aida, Bjorn, Simik, Nora, Zaki, and a couple of others start at different points in a Europe torn apart by catastrophe and plague, but eventually wind up together in the same plight.  Foregoing the sensationalist details that many other post-ap YA novels seem to focus on (looking at you, Bacigalupi), Helgadottir keeps the spotlight on the young people, their interrelationships and emotional stances, and their reactions to the events they experience traversing the scarred landscape, trying to stay alive and find a better life.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Review of Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner

Ellen Kushner’s delightful little 1987 fantasy snack Swordspoint is a difficult book to review.  Plot-centric, review content could be a simple rehash of the storyline.  To avoid this, I will suffice at saying the novel is a theatrically-moded story centering on swordsmen and the surrounding lords and ladies in an unnamed Renaissance-ish land.  Character appropriately (even uniquely) built and located in a larger web of intrigue and personal strife, Kushner does a fine job unveiling her story, suspense and subsequent revelation in keeping quality-wise.  From a plot point of view, the novel is wholly enjoyable and best to be discovered by the reader.

But where Swordspoint is deserving of further commentary starts with the subtitle: A Melodrama of Manners.  Pleasingly underscoring the story in a phrase, the comedic elements are indeed tucked inside a subtly tongue-in-cheek tale that purposefully and delicately treads the line between maudlin and mimetic.  Kushner finding a fitting pseudo-Victorian tone and holding tight to it from the beginning to end, the arrogant nobles and desperate rogues are given voices that uphold an outlay to be enjoyed for its humor and paid attention to for plotting.  In other words, the reader knows what they are reading is not intended as serious literature, but at the same time wants to keep reading for the wit inherent to the text and the obvious intelligence guiding the undercurrents of character and plot.