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Interzones 269 and 270

 The Stars Are Legion cover
Interzone 269 cover

Interzone 269 arrived today.

It contains my review of The Mountains of Parnassus by Czesław Miłosz.

A few days ago I received The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley.

That review is due soon for Interzone 270.

The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

The Worldbreaker Saga Book I. Angry Robot, 2014, 541 p.

 The Mirror Empire cover

In a series of planets with twin hour-glass suns and strange satellites named Para, Sina and Tira from which certain inhabitants can draw power when they are in the ascendant, an invasion from a parallel world is taking place. Transit between the worlds (which have differently coloured skies) is by means of something resembling a mirror but isn’t possible if the companion person is alive on the other side. The most powerful satellite, Oma, has not been ascendant for 2000 years but its influence is being felt more strongly.

Now, this parallel worlds and weird suns scenario could have been an intriguing SF setting but the author lost this reader’s sympathies when it turned out early on that the shedding of blood could also open gates between the worlds. Cue gratuitous bloodshed on a wide scale. I would submit this is laziness on the author’s part. Couldn’t we have had something a bit more inventive, a bit less sanguineous?

Add to this the fact that the characters have very little agency beyond advancing the plot, which itself takes a long time to get going, and you end up with a less than satisfying read. Oh, there is some jiggery-pokery about different gendering and women tend to be in power; but when they behave as powerful men would in our world is there any point?

Plus I really don’t see the point of Fantasy when its characters wield strange powers, even when they do have to endure for a while before growing into them. How does that illuminate the human condition?

It may be that I am committing the error of wishing to read the book that I might have desired Hurley to have written rather than the one she actually has, but when a book revels in so much gratuitous slaughter more or less for its own sake it’s time to call it off. I won’t be taking The Worldbreaker Saga any further.

Pedant’s corner:- Admittedly mine was an advance reading copy – I have my sources – but it was so full of typos, verb/noun disagreements, misspellings, missing words, repeated words, malapropisms (or near malapropisms which are perhaps better described as dyslexisms – scarified for sacrificed anyone?) awry punctuation and errors in lay-out etc that I gave up counting them after page 63. It may be she was under pressure to hand this in quickly but to my mind Hurley’s manuscript hasn’t been looked over critically enough before submission. And did no-one at Angry Robot seek to check it? Such things make the whole more difficult to read you know. I’m left harbouring a sense of disappointment with all concerned. And there was the use of drug as a past tense of drag which may be a niche USian habit but reads absolutely horribly.

God’€™s War by Kameron Hurley

Night Shade Books, 2011, 288 p.

 God’s War cover

God’€™s War is set on an isolated theocratic world named Umayma which has few off-world connections and four main countries, Chenja, Nasheen, Ras Tiega and Mhoria. These are all Islamic type theocracies but with varying degrees of rigour, especially in their attitudes towards women, and alcohol is freely available, at least in Nasheen.

The environment of the planet has altered humans’ make up. Ras Tiegans, for example, can shift shape, though there seems to be no consequence attending this ability, neither energy deficiency nor any other debilitation. Technology is mediated by insects (Hurley usually calls them bugs) controlled by people called magicians.

Chenja and Nasheen have been at war for centuries -€“ most men are at the front (though women are sent there too) and society is dominated by females. A few bitter old men, former soldiers of course, add a touch of background. Nasheen is a monarchy – the current ruler is Queen Zainab – but an organisation whose members are known as bel dames is a rival power in the land.

The protagonist, Nixnyssa, is a former bel dame, disgraced and now turned bounty hunter -€“ she kills deserters and the like and cuts off their heads. The Queen engages Nyx and her team to find and retrieve – or kill – an off-worlder called Nikodem who may be able to provide one side or the other in the war with the crucial advantage to win it. Opposed to Nyx are factions within the bel dames, trying to find Nikodem for their own reasons. Bizarrely, boxing – yes, pugilism – is one of the aspects of the plot.

Hurley has invested a lot in her scenario but less in her characters who frequently amount to no more than one attribute. In addition, at the level of the prose, authorial care can break down. Several times Hurley employs one phrase or other in consecutive sentences, a trait which, to my mind, is clumsy at best and better avoided. Towards the climax typos begin to escalate, as if she was rushing to her conclusion. The novel is also slow to develop.

God’€™s War is a deliberate attempt to reverse the usual gender stereotypes -€“ the profoundly unsympathetic Nyxnissa is said to be a sexual omnivore (but we actually see very little, if any, sex in the novel) and relishes violence while Rhys, one of her male companions, is a God fearing prude and a crap magician to boot. The novel panders to the usual blood-and-guts hungry audience though.

BSFA Awards Short Stories

Over the past few weeks I have read the short stories nominated for this year’s BSFA Awards. I am assuming that, as in the past couple of years, the BSFA will be producing a booklet containing them but since each has been posted on the internet (there is a link from the BSFA’s Awards page to the online versions which is how I managed to read them – though I found off a screen is not the most comfortable of ways to do so) perhaps that might not happen.

The Silver Wind by Nina Allan, from Interzone issue 233, is a kind of time-travel story mixed with parallel worlds. It tells of the encounter of a man from a fascistic future Britain with a genius who makes clocks (which he refers to as time machines.) To begin with there is too much info dumping and throughout a lot is told rather than shown. Perhaps the story needed more space to breathe but I felt the sureness of touch of an accomplished story teller was missing. There is a use of words that is not quite precise – eg “hoping one soldier would not see me” rather than “hoping none of the soldiers would see me” – and twice we are treated to the peculiar phrase, “It was growing dusk,” but at least Allan knows the use of “nor” as in, “not for love nor money nor any of these new-fangled gadgets.”

The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell, from Asimov’s, July2011, is set in an altered future where European monarchies strive to keep the balance of power throughout the Solar System, souls have weight that is aligned to dark matter and Newton came up with a kind of relativity theory which allows space to be folded – all amenable to a tale of espionage and derring-do admixed with betrayals of various sorts. This stretches suspension of disbelief at times but overflows with ideas and is excellently written.

Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley, from Kameron Hurley’s website, is about a woman in a backward-leaning religious society which is engaged in a never-ending war, whose rulers have deliberately cut it off from the stars – originally as an escape from whatever’s out there but now to prosecute the war better. In her forbidden astronomical observations she finds God in a torn filter laid across the night sky. Again there is a fair bit of info dumping – perhaps inevitable in stories of short length.

Covehithe by China Miéville, from The Guardian, 20/4/11, features sunken oil-rigs returning to land to drill into the earth and lay – eggs? seeds? – from which smaller rigs later emerge. Atmospheric, but again info-dumpy. The human involvement in Covehithe – a father and his daughter observing one such landing – doesn’t really overlap with the SF background. Another scenario where society has suffered extreme breakdown and the military has a strong presence.

Of Dawn by Al Robertson, from Interzone 235, has a woman whose soldier brother has been killed being inspired by his poetry, the music of a long neglected composer, an all but forgotten TV documentary and a figure from Greek myth to produce a synthesis of poetry and music by bringing all those strands together. The final part of the jigsaw is provided by a shadowy figure in a village commandeered by the army long ago, but which had inspired both poet and musician. The story contains echoes of the Green Man myth and illustrates that English fascination with the pastoral. The info dumping here is well embedded.

The futures shown by the five stories are all bleak, having in common repressive regimes of either military or religious stamp. SF is never about the future, though. These stories tell us a lot about where we are now.

As stories though, rounded works of fiction, I found most of them unsatisfying. The only truly successful one was Paul Cornell’s. If these represent the best of last year the SF short story is in a bad way.

BSFA Awards Shortlist

It’s that time of year again. The BSFA Award nominations are out.

The full lists can be found here.

The fiction nominees are:-

Best Novel:-

Cyber Circus by Kim Lakin-Smith (Newcon Press)

Embassytown by China Miéville (Macmillan)

The Islanders by Christopher Priest (Gollancz)

By Light Alone by Adam Roberts (Gollancz)

Osama by Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)

Of which I have (so far) read one.

Best Short Fiction:-

The Silver Wind by Nina Allan (Interzone 233, TTA Press)

The Copenhagen Interpretation by Paul Cornell (Asimov’s, July)

Afterbirth by Kameron Hurley (Kameron Hurley’s own website)

Covehithe by China Miéville (The Guardian)

Of Dawn by Al Robertson (Interzone 235, TTA Press)

I have read none of these as yet but only The Copenhagen Interpretation is not available online via the BSFA page linked to above. Presumably the booklet of nominated stories that the BSFA has produced for the past two years will be repeated this time around, too.

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