Posted by Sari
J.G. Farrell: The Siege of Krishnapur
Farrell won the lost Booker last year with his novel The Troubles, making him a sort of a double winner. His first winner, The Siege of Krishnapur was also on the short-list of Best of Booker's, and though the award went to Salman Rushdie's masterful Midnight's Children, this novel would also have been a worthy winner. It is always wonderful and regrettably rare to find a book that really connects, and this truly was one of them.
Siege of Krishnapur is a novel about the Raj and the Indian rebellion of 1857. In the fictional town of Krishnapur the British elite hunkers down to a four month siege against the rebelling sepoys, and the novel is a depiction of their break-down, disillusionment and for many, death. It is insightful, witty, graphic, sad, grotesque and hilarious. It exposes the folly of victorian jingoism, but manages to do it so that reader retains her sympathy for the characters. It brings up a myriad of ideas and debates from evolution to colonialism, and is written so well, that most reviewers on the net have felt compelled to spice up their reviews with copious quotations. It is a bloody brilliant novel.
Sherwood Smith: Inda
Smith's Inda series is a first fat fantasy series I have finished in a long time. It is set in the same universe as her earlier novels, but much further back in the history. Inda is a second son of a noble with a future all set up according to the traditions of his people. His future wife has been fostered with him from childhood, and he is to be the caretaker of his father's castle and lands for his elder brother. Inda series begins as a school novel, transforms itself into a pirate adventure and again to a novel about political struggles and war when Inda is exiled and becomes a pirate while his friends and family continue to navigate the murky politics of their nation.
There is lots to like In Inda books, especially if you like your fantasy long and world-building detailed. Smith has been developing this world for a very long time and her familiarity with it makes the long and at times convoluted series worth while. We are not talking about Tolkien-level detail, but I found that the novels had a similar feel of background to them: the author does not need to infodump all she knows of the world into the narrative and that makes for a fuller reading experience.
The characters are sympathetic and their difficult relationships well realised. There are some interesting reflections on desire, beauty and gender roles, interesting magical system and some quite detailed action sequences. I do think, though, that stretching the story to four big volumes was unnecessary. This may be just because a) I really have been off fat fantasy for years and don't seem to be able to get into its groove and b) I really don't much care for pirates. Even so, a good series.
Molly Gloss: The Dazzle of Day
If you are not reading Jo Walton at Tor.com you should be. She writes interestingly and intelligently about books she is interested in, and luckily for me, her taste and mine coincide almost perfectly. Thus if she talks about a book I have not yet read, chaches are I try to get it. Which I did with The Dazzle of Day.
The Dazzle of Day is a story of generation starship Dusty Miller, filled with quakers on their way to a new world. Honestly. And it is an intriguing novel. There are multiple point of view characters, mainly from the same extended family, whose life and feelings Gloss depicts at the point of Miller's joyrney when they are breaking and approching slowly their destination.
Gloss writers quintessentially literary science fiction, the kind Margaret Attwood and Rachel Cusk propably would bend over backwards to call something else. This is a very low-tech science fiction novel. The science from solar sails to relativity is present, but it isin't what is important to the characters or to the novelist. Some of them have exciting jobs like mending the solar sails or exploring the new planet, some of them are farmers or maintenance workers. Some of them are active in the meetings where the future of the community is debated, some are not.
Actually, The Dazzle of the Day is a novel about every day life. We get a slice of the life of these characters, their relationships, lives hopes and loves. The fact that they work and live on a generation starship does not define their lives. They do every-day things and have every-day discussions, They go to toilet, have bad sex, work, sing, mourn and die. Even the hopes and fears generated by the approaching end of their journey and the complications rising from their new home planet being barely life-sustaining are handled in a very low-key manner.
We never even find out what happens to our main characters. The book begins with a chapter on earth and ends generations later on the new planet. In the middle we peak into a moment in these characters lives and are left without closure. This is space travel made ordinary, and that is way it was a book I appreciated but did not connect with. This foregrounding of the every day is a default mode of Finnish writing, and it is one I don't much care about. However, it is a mode very rarely succesfully used in SF, and so makes for an interesting reading experience.