Ladies and Gentlemen ! Mesdames et Messieurs ! The checkup of the newly installed TJE and refueling has finished. So please take your seats and fasten the seatbelts, as we will shortly continue our excursion through time with another short jump, and well it might get a bit bumpy. Are you all ready ? Well then, here we go !
Though the main focus of 2015 was british fiction, the books I revied in the last post were not the only ones I read. There were other projects, themes of interest, and the “diversification” thing. So lets see some of the more notable titles of these Others.
The first real surprise – and a treat – was The Lies of Locke Lamora penned by Scott Lynch. A fantasy adventure in the modern gritty, realistic sense, though this one does not portrait a conflict of epic scale, but rather gives us a heist story, something that is probably similar to Fritz Leiber´s Grey Mouser and Fafahrd stories. We start out in a 15th-16th century Venice like city, and follow the exploits of one Locke Lamora – a young con artist – and his merry band, the Gentlemen Bastards. The chapters alternate between the present and past, where the past chapters always center on one of the members of the gang. It´s a nice structure, as we get a bit of a relief from all the action happening right now and the characters get fleshed out, we get to know their past, without getting bogged down. I liked this very much. And for a thing there was not much magic involved in the story. Magic does exist in this universe, but it is a very potent resource, and is monopolized by a small and powerfull group, so it remains rare in application. And as the story progresses, the things escalate, even then when you think that they cant escalate any more. Well done mister Lynch. And one another strong point of this book is that though it is a first book in a series, it finishes on a note as if it is a stand alone book: there is a chance to continue the adventures of the merry gang, but you don´t have to. It was a chapter in the life of the gang, and it ends there on a perfect note as the gang leaves the town and sails into the sunset. Complete story from start to begin, and a one off book. You don´t have the guilty pleasure like craving, where you have the need to know what happens next. It is perfectly satisfactory to part the ways with the characters here. So it mitigates my main concern with the modern genre fiction works, which I expressed in earlier posts. So this is gonna be one of those books I will keep recommending to others.
The next book that left me impressed last year – and was not part of the british fiction project, although the author is an englishman – was Waterloo by Tim Clayton. So history it is, another of my points of interest. And instead of focusing on the First World War, like I did in 2014, I rather opted to focus this time a bit on the Napoleonic era, as it was the 200th anniversary of the end of it, marked by an ultimate last ditch effort of Napoleon after all already ended for him once. And this effort culminated in the Waterloo campaign. The work of Tim Clayton is superb: it does manages to capture the minutiae of the whole campaign, and to vivdly describe not only the crucial moments, but also the many actors who partaked in it; not only the notable commanders, but also the lowly grunts, and the spectatorcivilians alike. It was written in the vein of living history, including many details hailing from personal correspondence and diary entrances, capturing the moments of the day. And I like this approach. Thank god for the work of modern historians who have seen the potential of telling deeply dramatic stories of the everyday man of the time, which due to it´s personal nature manage to connect to the todays men, and so convey the knowledge, the experience in a more personal, involving tone. We need more works in this vein, and thank God that there are plenty historians that are willing to indulge me.
The next stop of remarkable radings of 2015 was the Chess novel (?) – Schachnovella – penned by the austrian author Stefan Zweig. Firstly it picked my interest as the theme involves chess, one of my loved hobbies, and secondly it was by a german language author, and as I now live in Germany it is another deliberation of mine to expand on reading books originally written in german, and thirdly it is high literature, so expanding my horizons in multiple ways. It is a short book, a fine sunday afternoon read. A story of a man´s descent into Hell and returning from there. A man´s struggle to maintain his sanity in harsh conditions of involuntary imprisonment, just to lose this battle, and to be able to recuperate thanks to others. And later an experiment revisiting that personal Hell that led to his ultimate demise. A story involving the viles of the Nazis in the wake of Anschluss of 1938. It was a personal experience for me on multiple levels: firstly as it involved chess, a cherished hobby of mine, secondly the protagonists experience of incarceration that resonates strongly with mine, and thirdly the cultural background, as we both hail from regions that formerly belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire/culture – which was finally destroyed by the violent act of Anschluss – a sense of lost history.
And so came October, and with it Ancillary Mercy the final book in Ann Leckie´s Imperial Radch trilogy. An end to journey started back in 2013. And what a journey it was. A new exceptional voice in genre fiction, managing to improve on the premises of the already exceptional first bok with the subsequent sequels, an act managed by only few authors. Delving into the themes of imperialism, colonisation, gender roles in a new fashion. Not to mention that there are also musings on life, regarding what we tend to call “human rights”: who, or what is to be acknowledged as an autonomous intelligent being, who is to be treated as a living person, only biological creatures, or also artificial ones, that are able to act autonomously, make autonomous decisions ? Many things are involved in this trilogy. I would say that Ann Leckie is kind of a female Iain M Banks, so that makes it certain I will continue to follow her work. And I urge you to do the same.
For the next read I chose the second book in Terry Brooks´ Shannarra series: The Elfstones of Shannara. A book I decided to want to read after I have seen the trailer for the now airing TV show Chronicles of Shannara. As I found out that it was based on he second book of the series, rather than the first, with which I had a dissapointing run in early in my genre reading carreer, I decided to have a second look at the series, and to so do maybe justice to it. I mean the first book of the series was practically a pure copy of the narrative of the Lord of the Rings, and although it was intended as such, it did leave me with a sour taste in my mouth, and dissapointed, as I didn´t want to read more or less the same thing, i wanted something new in the same vein. This unfortunate experience created a prejudice in my mind against the works of Terry Brooks, probably rightly so, but maybe not; and I certainly don´t want to be that person whois shunning something on a pure gut feeling, not even trying to make an educated guess. And so I read The Elfstones. And i must say that I was surprised. Though not all of my misgivings were lifted, it did contain originality at last, something that is Brooks´ own. And that changed the feel about the series also. I didn´t become a convert, I didn´t enjoy the book enough to continue reading the series, more so that the ones who read the series also tend to say that the second volume is the best; and the characters didn´t impress me that much, for me to want to know about their further fates knowing that I might enjoy the subsequent books less. So that´s it for me. Goodbye Shannara ! We might see eacch other on small screen …
And there was one more great surprise to the 2015 at this point: The Builders by Daniel Polansky. A novelett, or novella, but a meaty one at that. It involves a motley crew ensemble of antropomorphic animals – mice, rats, snakes, badgers, weasels, owls etc. – where the archetypes of the characters are reinforced by the attributes we usually tend to connect to these animals. A story of a band of mercenaries who are out for a revenge, culminating in a Dirty Dozenesque action. A story that deconstructs tropes, archetypes, just to put them together in another form, a fun experiment, and due to it a refreshing experience. Nice job Daniel, you put yourself on my radar.
And though it would be nice to finish off here the post with a nice bang, I can´t ommit a slight dissapointment that entailed the last year, I wouldn´t be honest if I didn´t write about it. A it happens 2015 was the year where the presently last installment of John Scalzy´s Old Man´s War series was published. I already mentioned tha Scalzy might not be a big calliber writer like Banks, or Bradbury, but rather just a decent craftsman of his trade ( he is saying the same thing too ). So the dissapointment was not all that big and surprising when I got through The End of All Things. But it was a dissapointment nonetheless, as there was a slight hope that Scalzy might find the strength, the power to overcome himself and his writing reflexes. But no, the book wa just more of the same. The life of the old friends, characters just goes on, they don´t develop. There is a slight shift in the universe, but that is also a question if Scalzy will be able to capitalise on it, as new stories in the universe have been announced. I simply don´t see it in him, to be able to evolve further. He will stay a guiloty pleasure of mine, but that makes me sad, to see that he doesn´t even try anymore to go further, but rather complacently stays where he is, as at the beginning it really seemed that he is capable of so more. But whatever, there are others to be looked out for, so I will leave him be. It was nice seeing you again mister.
And that´s it Ladies and gentlemen. I must say that the TJE works just fine. The test run ends here, and I say we return to the base for a change of pace. Do you agree ? Oh, not all of you ? Well that can´t be helped. But lets see what we can do about it next time. Till then have fun and take care ! Captain over and out !