Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, January 1, 2016

Lazy Book Reviews of December 2015

#77: Marîd Audran 2: A Fire in the Sun (1989) – George Alec Effinger (4/5)

Much like the first book in the trilogy, this book takes places exclusively in the detailed world of the Middle Eastern/North African city that holds the tarnished gem known as the Budayeen. Marîd has inherited/assumed more responsibilities from a local godfather names Friedlander Bey; some of these tasks are burdensome and irk Marîd’s nostalgia for his past life, while others allow him to move and operate without hindrance. Behind the wealth of Friedlander Bey, something that spreads beyond the confines of the Budayeen becomes known to Marîd: international affairs. This lies heavily on his mind while a whole host of troubles plague Marîd and the city, which involve family, corruption, deceit, and the all-too-familiar stench of murder. A Fire in the Sun complicates the series through an effective means and appetizers the palate of the reader for the remaining novel.

#78: Marîd Audran 3: An Exile Kiss (1991) – George Alec Effinger (3/5)

This third book in the trilogy isn’t actually the end. Sadly, Effinger died before the series could continue, so The Exile Kiss has an open ending that leaves the reader somewhat unsatisfied. This satisfaction stems from the deviation of plot: where the first two novels took place in the fantastically detailed city, half of The Exile Kiss takes place in the desert—a quite abrupt departure from the norm. The follow-thru is interesting in itself, but weakly links with the remaining half as the plot makes a return to the city where business seems to continue as normal. Effinger capitalizes on the first half’s long segue by infusing the latter half with savagery and malintent. Regardless of the desert segue, the novel would act as a great springboard for another one or two novels… Word of Night was going to be the fourth. If the trilogy doesn’t whet your appetite for 23rd-century cranial wetware and ubiquitous sex changes, Budayeen Nights (2008) has a nine-story collection of cyberpunk.

#79: Gormenghast 1: Titus Groan (1946) – Mervyn Peake (4/5)

She’s a hefty novel filled with imagination and detail that doesn’t open itself very easily to interpretation. It’s bizarre most of the time as it’s filled with digressions of imaginative fancy, characters that never break their idiosyncratic molds, and a castle that refuses to remained chained in the mind as a comprehendible entity. After seventy-six generations of Earls of Gormenghast, the seventy-seventh is born to a despondent king, a hermetic queen and her hoard of cats, a rebellious and spoiled princess who hates everyone, and the king’s two very dull-witted sisters… along with a slew of servants that support the rituals and routine tasks of the castle. Placing himself in the center of yet-to-be-developed friction, Steerpike sees opportunities everywhere to advance himself through manipulation and sheer cunning. Once a mere kitchen assistant, he soon snakes his way to the higher tiers of servants, royalty, and even making himself aware to the king. His actions aren’t only selfish as they become more destructive—physically, mentally, and dynastically. All in all, an amazing flight of imagination with overtones of regret for history repeating itself: the Law is blind power, it is truth, it is Destiny, and it has been forged through generations of regal ritual.

#80: No Doors, No Windows (1975) – Harlan Ellison (3/5)

I’ve read five of Ellison’s SF work only really liked one, honestly—“Life Hutch”), so this collection is my first exposure to him as a writer at large. Hopefully, I’ll enjoy the other collection on my shelf much more—Paingod (1965). What starts as a collection of suspense, borderline terror, and dread soon tapers off into repeated tales of sexism: women who are emotionally unstable, women portrayed as victims or sex objects (or both, in some cases)—in the end, women are just convenient vehicles to convey the manliness of the male characters. I don’t often rant over this kind of thing, but it is prevalent throughout the collection. There are 173 pages of stories in this collection in addition to an indulgent and often straying 32-page introduction. Ten of these pages are scattered with comments about the involved stories, but like the remaining 22 pages in the introduction, the words course through the relevant and the irrelevant like a slalom skier between gates. Way too much digression to read through, so I had to skim and skip much of it… comments that also ring true for many of the introductions for the stories in Dangerous Visions. Among the best: “Status Quo at Troyden’s” and “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”. (full review)

#81: Hellflower (1953) – George O. Smith (1/5)

George O. Smith is notable for his Venus Equilateral collection in which a team of engineers create outlandishly technological uses for vacuum tubes—a brief synopsis that shows it’s early age from 1947. Regardless of its age, the book was zany and fun, if plausibility could be dampened as they shoot about the solar system and beam themselves about. This same aged fun cannot be attributed to Hellflower, however. A down-in-the-dirt man whose space pilot license had been revoked gets a second chance as an undercover agent for Solar Anti-Narcotic Department. As he assumes the shady role, our hero—Farradyne—attracts madmen and maidens with equal measure. The hellflower is an woman-specific addictive drug that acts like an aphrodisiac, but its origins are a mystery. Soon, Farradyne nears its source, but also comes close to finding another secret: Who caused the deaths that caused his license to be revoked. All in all, it’s cheesy, ham-fisted at times, and hard to swallow with so many abrupt revelations and abilities… just read the last line and you’ll understand: “Arm in arm they went out into the bright sunshine” (160).

1 comment:

  1. Have you read Budayeen Nights? I've read two of the stories in other collections, and they were better than the one novel from the series I read (the first). It's significantly newer, but you might also try Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Arabesk trilogy. It has relatively the same premise/setting, but with better style and storytelling. Though I do suppose style is a matter of taste...