I am a naughty, naughty reader. Even knowing that, these days, it takes me a looong time to reach the end of a novel, I’m apparently incapable of resisting the urge to have more than one book on the go at any given time. Sometimes three or four, in fact. As a result, books often languish for months on my bedside table, silently bemoaning their misfortune of having fallen into the hands of such a reckless reader.
Still, perhaps a couple of them might be comforted if I go public with my affection for them. (And to be fair, I didn’t actually start reading them until December, so I’m not in exactly flagrant breach of article 3.2 of the Responsible Reader’s Code: Timely Completion of Books Once Begun). As I’ve not finished either of them, it’s possible they’ll go horribly wrong in their latter stages, but I think it’s unlikely.
Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding is the kind of book I find myself more and more drawn to as I get older, and ever poorer in available time. It’s energetic, entertaining stuff that carries you along very comfortably at a decent pace. A sort of blend of fantasy, steampunkish sf and pirate romp, it’s got a faintly indiosycrantic vibe to it that makes it almost, but not quite, like stuff you’ve read before (as did the other Wooding book I read and enjoyed, The Fade). Airships, golems, daemons, guns and swords abound in this tale of piracy gone wrong and brigands on the run. The characters flirt with being unsympathetically selfish and hard-nosed, but so far Wooding’s kept them just on the right side of that line, for me at least.
The Dervish House by Ian McDonald hardly needs me to trumpet its worth, since it’s been praised hither and yon from the moment of its publication. But I’m going to do it anyway, because when he’s firing on all cylinders – as he seems to be here, so far – I find Ian McDonald to be a quite extraordinarily good writer.
On a word to word, sentence to sentence, scene to scene basis he’s just brilliant. If anyone wants to know what science fiction looks like when it’s produced by someone who absolutely knows and understands the genre, but also has a mastery of written English to match almost any author of literary fiction, this is it. I’ve always believed that you might be able to teach someone to write fiction competently, but you can never instil in someone an instinctive ear for the intricate ebb and flow of prose, and the rhythms of description. An author’s either got that somewhere inside them or they haven’t, and McDonald’s got it in spades.
Near-future Istanbul is the setting for this multi-viewpoint exploration of nanotechnology, urban history, terrorism and old mysticism. On balance, I think it’s the best stuff I’ve ever read from McDonald, and that’s saying a whole lot.
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