Friday, April 27, 2012

A Friday Post! 4/27/2012

Three books.

Christopher Priest - The Separation

Priest, you may note, is the author whose rant about the Clark Awards resulted in some notoriety recently. Having not read any of his work prior to that, I decided to see how it was. It's not bad - but I'm not sure I would class this book as science fiction. Spec fic, certainly, but there's no science here.

The premise is this - Stuart Gratton is an historian. He is famous for his histories of World War Two, which draw heavily on first person interviews - oral history. He is doing research for his latest work, focusing on a singular mystery - one J.L. Sawyer, who was both a conscientious objector and a bomber pilot. Gratton has found a reference to this in some works by Winston Churchill, and decides to track down the mystery.

It soon becomes apparent that J.L. Sawyer is two different people, twins, with the same initials. (This is all on the dust jacket, so I'm not going to tag it as a spoiler - it's only really a mystery to Gratton). It also becomes apparent that Gratton is not writing history in our version of reality, because in his reality, the war between Germany and England ended in a peace treaty in 1941. (Germany and the US subsequently slug it out over the Soviet Union; Germany voluntarily de-Nazifies, and the US plunges into a lengthy depression. But this is largely unimportant.) As we read further in the book, we learn that the brothers exist in both Gratton's history and in ours, with the key difference being that, in our history, the bomber pilot survives a plane crash, and in Gratton's history he does not.

So far, so good. Were this science fiction, there would be some effort to resolve this rift, but Priest doesn't do that. Indeed, at the end of the book, matters are much more muddled than they were at the beginning. This is a shame, because it makes the book feel unfinished (or worse, finished in a rush), and the rest of book is entirely delightful. Priest's writing is clear and light, his historians sound like historians, and his historical figures sound like historical figures - all very good. Ending the book in an unresolved way may be avant garde (or something), but it spoiled the work for me.

Terry Pratchett - Snuff

Pratchett presents the topic of slavery in his own particular style. Goblins feature. It's a Sam Vimes novel. I haven't really loved the Vimes novels since Night Watch, which was phenomenal and deeply moving. Since then, the books have focused too much on Vimes and not enough on the Watch - a shift from a police procedural to a lone detective type situation. This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't radiant, and that's a shame.

I think there were two flaws, primarily. I think the book took too long to get to the action, and then took too long after the action was done. However, the action was very good, the jokes were funny, and the writing was, for the most part, pretty strong.

A final thought - Pratchett is dying, which is very sad. I think everything by him suddenly gets dropped into the context of "if this is the last novel by Terry Pratchett, will I be happy?" Which isn't really fair, because I certainly don't apply that metric to any other author, but it's entirely possible that any novel I read will be the last novel a particular novelist produces. Hmmm. Anyway, if this is the last Pratchett novel ever, I'm a little sad, because it isn't as strong as some of his less recent works.

Quentin Dodd - Princess of Neptune

This book was zany. The whole thing felt like one of those round robin works, where the story is passed from author to author, which each author trying to leave the next author in the most awkward position possible. It features a punk girl drummer, her bratty brother, some highly dubious scientists (their motto is "Knowing Things is Good!"), giant cockroaches from the moon, and a whole host of aliens from all over the place. And a talking fern. And a battle of the bands. On Neptune. Because, why not? It was good fun, with some slap-stick action, and it was zany. Good for after some heavy works - otherwise, too fluffy for words.