Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"More Detail on Three Upcoming Novels of the Highest Interest: Lawrence Norfolk, K.J. Parker and Peter Hamilton" (by Liviu Suciu)

 A little bit to my surprise I have recently been extremely lucky to obtain advance reading copies of three of my most awaited books for 2012 and as they cover the 3 areas of English language fiction that is of most interest to me today - sumptuous historical fiction, secondary world fantasy that is closer to historical fiction than to traditional lots of magic genre and modern space opera - I decided to talk a little about each below with reviews to come later in the year.


In September, Lawrence Norfolk returns to fiction after many years with John Saturnall's Feast. I read this book a few weeks ago, essentially the day I obtained my e-arc and I talked a little about both the author and the book on Goodreads. For now I will just present my final point from that "raw thoughts" mini-review.

"The novel is also very visual - I was picturing quite a lot of it as a Peter Greenaway movie, more precisely the mixture of the period of The Draughtsman's Contract and the feasting of The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover - both movies that I've watched a number of times. Though now the cook is the lover too and he does not end on the dinner table..."

Since my first two readings, the novel kept staying with me and  I plan at least one more end-to-end read later this year. The blurb below is reasonably accurate though it does not convey the richness of the book.

"A beautiful, rich and sensuous historical novel, John Saturnall’s Feast tells the story of a young orphan who becomes a kitchen boy at a manor house, and rises through the ranks to become the greatest Cook of his generation. It is a story of food, star-crossed lovers, ancient myths and one boy’s rise from outcast to hero.

Orphaned when his mother dies of starvation, having been cast out of her village as a witch, John is taken in at the kitchens at Buckland Manor, where he quickly rises from kitchen-boy to Cook, and is known for his uniquely keen palate and natural cooking ability. However, he quickly gets on the wrong side of Lady Lucretia, the aristocratic daughter of the Lord of the Manor. In order to inherit the estate, Lucretia must wed, but her fiancé is an arrogant buffoon. When Lucretia takes on a vow of hunger until her father calls off her engagement to her insipid husband-to-be, it falls to John to try to cook her delicious foods that might tempt her to break her fast.

Reminiscent of
Wolf Hall and Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, John Saturnall’s Feast is a brilliant work and a delight for all the senses."


 In July, K.J. Parker's novel Sharps will be out and as two days ago I have just received a bound galley which I plan to enjoy with my usual "read 100 pages, reread them, read another 100, then read the first 200 again" that KJ Parker's novels deserve in order to tease all their subtleties before being hit with the expected hammer of unbelievable twists and turns, I can only say that so far it is just vintage author with the darkly ironic view of human nature and the generic world building and naming conventions familiar from earlier novels.

For a discussion of K.J. Parker's earlier work here on FBC you can look at my review of The Hammer and the links there - to date I have done 7 review posts about the author's work. The blurb below seems accurate from what I see.

"For the first time in nearly forty years, an uneasy truce has been called between two neighbouring kingdoms. The war has been long and brutal, fought over the usual things: resources, land, money...

Now, there is a chance for peace. Diplomatic talks have begun and with them, the games. Two teams of fencers represent their nations at this pivotal moment.

When the future of the world lies balanced on the point of a rapier, one misstep could mean ruin for all. Human nature being what it is, does peace really have a chance?"


                                               (click to enlarge for full enjoyment)

In  September (UK), Peter Hamilton's new standalone mammoth space opera Great North Road will be published and just yesterday a limited edition trade paperback review copy that stands at 1087 (!!) pages arrived in my mailbox. While the text is nicely large so the published book may stand at somewhat less, it still should clock close to 1000 pages. 

 I have only browsed a few pages so far but the book seems vintage Hamilton with the usual exuberant, sense of wonder style that justly made him one of the premier voices of today's SF. I will present the blurb below, while the image above should be seen at full resolution (click on it) for full enjoyment as it conveys what one expects from a P. F. Hamilton novel!

"In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never waivered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra. Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo. But the expedition is cut off, deep within St Libra’s rainforests. Then the murders begin. Someone or something is picking off the team one by one. Angela insists it’s the alien, but her new colleagues aren’t so sure. Maybe she did see an alien, or maybe she has other reasons for being on St Libra "

Edit: A reader using Internet Explorer noticed that earlier versions of the covers here and in a few other posts were not displayed in that browser and I looked into it and fixed the problem. I think there are some compatibility problems between the new Blogger interface and IE that led to that, but as I use Mozilla and have not been using IE for many years now, please notify us with a comment or email of any such display problems in any browser you use.

Thank you!

"No Going Back" by Mark Van Name (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS Mark Van Name's debut "One Jump Ahead" introduced Jon Moore mercenary ex-soldier and a man of many secrets that are so dangerous that he must live alone and make no attachments, and partner Lobo, personal AI warship (PCAV) mooning as park statue/exhibition on an obscure world, an AI ship of many secrets of its own, secrets that would not do for anyone to know either.

"No Going Back" is the 5th Jon and Lobo adventure and it came two years after the previous installment rather than at the one year schedule of the first 4. The novel returned to the more classic adventure feel of the first three books and while the darker and weightier Children No More was very good, I think the original tone works better especially now that the author has it down pitch perfect.

What makes No Going Back stand out is precisely what the title literally means, namely that from now on it is no going back to the older days as the series finds here focus and a narrative pillar. The super-competent hero with extraordinary powers trope revived so well in this series gets one more dimension, a clear goal and I am really interested to see how the author handles it.

Of course Jon and Lobo are such great characters as the first person narration of which Lobo gets a little share here in this book, has worked so well to have established and any new series installment is still a huge asap, get the e-arc on the spot and read it immediately notwithstanding how many other books I have in the queue.

As style goes, the novel is a gripping read from the first pages when Jon is in the process of trying to crash a party of rich old pedophiles - party where 10 children are auctioned off - on an obscure planet with great natural beauty but harsh physical characteristics. In the link above you can read the first 15 chapters on Baen's site and see how smooth everything goes.

 The structure of No Going Back is a bit different from its predecessors, with chapters numbered "x days from the end" mixed with the 100+ year old backstory that continues Jon's memories from long ago, now from the time in his youth immediately after escaping the hell of his native - now quarantined - planet when he was not understanding his powers and trying to get the time needed to do so, while Lobo's interludes offer more insight into the AI's special human-like personality, the why's of which having been set-up in "Overthrowing Heaven".

 No Going Back functions well as a standalone as all earlier books' story lines are recounted briefly here and there, while the salient facts about Jon and Lobo are also gone through, so you can start delving in the saga here, though from the way things end, I suspect the next volumes will become much more tightly connected in both plot and secondary characters.

As my usual, positional rankings go, this series is in my top tier, get/read asap any installment, while No Going Back is probably the best executed to date, though Children No More was "more serious". The clear series focus established here should only add to the pluses in the future when new Jon and Lobo adventures will appear.

Overall No Going Back still remains a pretty classical
space adventure sf novel with modern style and sensibilities and with the the generally expected stuff implied by such, very well done but nothing previously not seen and it is one of my highly recommended novels of 2012.