Wednesday, August 3, 2005

More Books

The Last Hurrah of the Golden Horde, by Norman Spinrad, is a collection of short stories from over thirty years ago. Spinrad's one of the odder new-wave sf writers I know of. At his best he mixes gutter idealism with fucked-up humour and radical politics. No wonder he's one of Warren Ellis' favourites. Anyway, this isn't Spinrad at his best; you can see him working through standard sf tropes, conventional short stories with Twilight Zone-style twists. That said, the collection gets better as it goes along, including the weirdest Superman story I've ever read ("It's a bird! It's a plane!"), until it reaches the final and title story. It's a sample of Spinrad's "mature" style, starring Michael Moorcock's multiversal assassin, Jerry Cornelius.

Still, the weirdest sensation I got reading the book came during an otherwise-unremarkable story named "The Equalizer", in which a doveish Israeli scientist invents an easily portable, easily concealed, doomsday bomb which any country in the world would be capable of building. He wants to destroy the device. A hawkish Israeli army colonel insists that he turn it over to the government of Israel, believing that of course it's pefectly okay for Israel to have the ability to destroy everybody else on the planet.

The colonel's name? Ariah Sharet.

I have no idea if Spinrad was thinking of Ariel Sharon when he named this character; the story would have been written in the 60s, when Sharon was still in the army. It's possible, I guess. But it gives an odd resonance to an otherwise workmanlike tale.

The Monsters of Morley Manor, by Bruce Coville, is a wild ride of a children's book in which a boy buys a box at a garage sale held in a supposedly-haunted house, discovers a group of half-foot high monsters in said box, and accidentally brings said monsters to life. Turns out they're friendly. In fact, they're a family, a group of adventurers shrunk by an evil genius who is also their greatest enemy. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because you've read the same issues of Fantastic Four as I have (the leader of the monsters, who is — no lie — a genius-level scientist who was once attracted to a woman several years younger than himself, shouts out at one point during the story "Family Morleskievich! Assemble!" — which is one of those other Marvel super-team, but, you know, close enough for government work). Anyway, the resemblance to classic Marvel comics follows through nicely, resulting in a wild ride full of ghosts and aliens and sorcery and super-science. Not classic stuff, maybe, but a fun fast read.

Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Briefly Noted ...


Three books completed today.

The Ill-Made Mute, by Cecilia Dart-Thornton, is the first book of a fantasy-adventure trilogy. It's not bad. The characters are very broad, and the action bits aren't terribly thrilling, but there's a better-than-average sense of reality to the world brought on by the judicious use of an extensive vocabulary. On the other hand, there's also the occasional use of modern scientific terminology in the narration, which is somewhat jarring. Dart-Thornton uses Celtic myth and fairy lore a lot in this book, and while the story themselves are fine things, it does tend to undermine the feel of a true original fantasy world. That is, the myths and tales of this world don't seem integrated into the fantasy world; they're not re-imagined strongly enough. Still, it does make the book stand out from the hosts of other fantasy trilogies out there.

The Revenge of the Rose, by Michael Moorcock, is one of the later-day Elric books, an insertion into the original run of stories. It works well enough; Moorcock brings in characters from other series and books of his, connecting up his works in one great multiversal crossover. The writing's not terribly sharp or well-honed, as is often the case with Moorcock's fantasy fiction, and the philosophy the characters spout really isn't very well-integrated into the action. That is, the philosophies are in character, but I find that the fantastic elements don't go far enough towards reflecting or synthesising them into a meaningful myth. But the characters do come across as convincingly intelligent, too intelligent for the story in which they find themselves; as to compensate they become knowingly melodramatic. It's a lot of fun, in its way.

Last Chance to See... , by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine, was published back in 1990. I hadn't read it in fifteen years. It's a survey of some of the most endangered species on the planet. It's interesting in its own right, but also interesting as an example of how Adams could make anything interesting. His style was incredibly well-honed and easy to read, extremely funny and incredibly informative at the same time. In a way, it seems that Adams missed his calling. He could have made a mint as a non-fiction writer, making difficult topics accessible and amusing. Mind you, the Hitchhiker's books are nothing to sneeze at, either.