In my review of Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey, I compare reading it to reading Asimov’s Foundation when I was a kid.
I’m going to make the same comparison with the “Remembrance of Earth’s Past” series by Cixin Liu. Reading this awakens the same sense of discovery and amazement as reading Asimov when I was a child. Liu gifts us a story that’s astounding in scope and vision, with some of a biggest Big Ideas in science fiction.
The English translations of Liu’s work boast an admirable level of stylistic polish. There’s a spare and refreshing lyricism at work here. I’m as impressed with the quality of the translations as I am with Liu’s story.
This is what science fiction should be. I’m in awe of Liu’s imagination and accomplishment.
I’ve had conversations now with a few other people about this book and discovered that I’m in a minority in my opinion. Most people I know couldn’t stand it. Most didn’t finish it. Mostly, they found it too long, too wordy, too self-indulgent. The general reaction is that Moore desperately needed an editor to reel him in.
I get that. On some level, I feel this way, too. I spent quite a lot of the book convinced that he was over-indulgent and lacking writerly discipline.
However, as others have stated (and I quote Library Journal here), Jerusalem is “[m]ore a work of art than a novel.”
The greatest challenge about reviewing Jerusalem by Alan Moore is summarizing what it’s about. This isn’t a traditional novel and it doesn’t deliver a normal story. The plot is meandering, almost vestigial in some sections. Setting is paramount—language, tone, atmosphere, characters: all of these matter far more than mere plot.
I’ve come to think of this book as being akin to the Bayeux Tapestry—a sprawling and artistically audacious account of a place and its people. It’s a love letter to a neighborhood as only Moore can write it.
In general terms, it’s a quasi-fictional history of the Boroughs—the poverty-stricken Northampton neighborhood in England where Alan Moore was born, raised, and still lives—from ancient times through the near future, not told in chronological order, and actively eschewing the concept of linear narrative. It’s the story of a unique family who lives there through several generations, and various persons associated with them. It’s a story of the afterlife and eternity and the Universe. It’s a story about life and death, art and work, obligation and free will, ghosts and angles and builders and demons. Visions and dreams are as real in this world as reality.
If I had to categorize this book, I’d probably call it fantastical realism. Everyone is going to shelve it in their SF sections. But it’s more than just these—it’s philosophical, historical, political, religious.
It’s holy and profane, poetic and pedestrian, beautiful and gritty. It’s deeply human. It’s hard to explain. You really need to read it.
I finally saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this weekend and I’m very happy with it. I enjoyed it immensely and I have many thoughts about it now.
I should point out that I never had much to do with the Expanded Universe—I read a couple of the novels but I never paid much attention to it. I’ve also never watched any of the animated series (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or “Star Wars: Rebels”). My reactions to Rogue One come purely from the perspective of how well it fits in with the other movies.
On paper, there’s a lot I could criticize about The Passage by Justin Cronin.
The plot isn’t terribly original: a virus is unwittingly unleashed by the government which turns people into something very much like vampires. Mr. Cronin presents the standard well-intentioned scientist whose work is hijacked by the military (which, as expected, doesn’t go well). There’s a roster of bad guys, a cop with a conscience, and a Chosen One whose arrival can save mankind. There’s even an oracle of sorts.
It’s a man-made apocalypse story built on fairly generic story tropes. We witness the moment it all goes wrong and then spend the rest of the novel living in the post-apocalyptic world of the few survivors.
We’ve seen all this before. I Am Legend, zombie movies, The Walking Dead, et al. The ending offers a faint wisp of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Even the hive-mind wrinkle the author incorporates into his vampires is a familiar idea.
But none of that is a problem. None of it is a weakness. None of it feels derivative. This is one of the best renditions of all these ideas I’ve read.
Dead Set by Richard Kadrey wasn’t what I expected.
The basic plot summary is very much in keeping with Kadrey’s métier:
A teenage girl starts having strange dreams after her father dies. She’s in turmoil, she and her mom fallen on hard times, their life turned upside down. She discovers a record store with a room full of records which contain the lives of dead people… including her father’s. There’s an imaginary brother she relies on who only appears to her in dreams, and an underground world full of dead people, monsters and myth.
It’s the kind of dark, fantastical setting Kadrey is so good at. Literally underground, too, like most of his settings. Dead Set gives us a compelling main character, a satisfying story, and takes on important themes.
So, too, Dead Set has all the attitude and swagger, the sense of outsiderness, and it drips with a punk aesthetic.