Monday, September 20, 2010

Weird Histories.....

Over the last several months I have purchased or received a great number of novels that fall into a particular sweet spot for me.  Most of these would comfortably be called Steampunk which I happen to have liked for quite a while but I guess I really see them as Alternate Historical Fiction.  The First of these that I have read is Mark Hodder's presents Burton and Swineburne in the Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack  published by Pyr and soon to get a full and glowing review from me here. I will say that it is one of the best looking books on the shelves these days and renews my desire to support the continuance or print media.

The next book that I read in this particular area is one that snuck up on me and I am very happy to have noticed at Borderlands in San Francisco in early September. MK Hobson who is one of the editors and narrators at Podcastle is the writer of The Native Star, a weird western novel that I hope will get some notice.  The Weird West to me is a offshoot of the Steampunk movement that gets little attention and needs its due. I have loved the idea of mixing westerns with something a little different since the TV series Wild Wild West, the RPG Deadlands and Joe Landsdale's Jonah Hex.  I plan to get this review up on the heels of Spring Heeled Jack. Hobson has written a great Weird West Romance Adventure here.

     The third is the one I have been looking forward to for months and the one you will be seeing more then one post about; Mary Robinette Kowal's regency era novel Shades of Milk and Honey. The elevator pitch for the novel is ..."its the novel that Jane Austin would have written had magic existed". I think this is one of those novels that has deserved all the good blurbs and reviews that it has gotten. It is well researched and written and I cant wait to get further through it. Mary in addition read the version that is available as an audiobook and did her best to have era correct pronunciation.  Its a great thing to hear an author read their own work.

     I have also just started reading The Cardinal's Blades by Pierre Pevel.  This is a fantasy novel set in 17th century France from a well established award winning French author. I am a few chapters in and can tell I'm on for a good ride here. This novel has the feel of the Dumas Musketeers adventures with added scheming dragons and subtle magic.

     The last of this group is Mike Resnick's The Buntline Special.  Here we return again to the american west in 1881 with a mixture of native magic, weird technology, a great mixture of westen legendary figures some of which appear to be beyond dead. Seems we will be seeing Edison, the Clantons, the Earps, Geronimo  and the "thing" that once was Johnny Ringo. All this in the hands of Mike Resnick can't help but be a great romp. 

I had forgotten how much I enjoy historical fiction. I was a great fan of the Sharpe's novels of Bernard Cornwall, the naval books of CL Forrester and the alterante histories of Harry Turtledove and the "Soldier" books of Gene Wolfe.  There was also a trilogy of books about Josephine Bonaparte written by Sandra Gulland that was an excellent read.  You can look forward to reviews of the novels mentioned above and probably a combined post about the weird west since I have taken a like to that idea again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Quote of the day....

"Its in the British Empires interest to portray other cultures as barbarous and uncivilized that way there is less of an outcry when we conquer them and steal their resources. Lies have to be propagated if we are to retain the moral high ground" - Sir Richard Francis Burton ....

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack
Mark Hodder

Thursday, September 2, 2010

If you see Death on the side of the Road....

Trent Jamieson’s first novel Death Most Definite came out last month from Orbit Books US/UK;. In a summer of many Urban Fantasy releases and doorstop sized fantasy volumes this unassuming book with the man in the suit and tie on the cover may have escaped your notice. Trent’s name may too not drwan you; he is not well known outside his native Australia where he is an award winning short fiction writer and editor in SF/fantasy and horror genres. I knew about his work from listening to his short stories read on Psuedopod over the last couple of years and when I saw he had his first novel coming out I was overjoyed. 
Death Most Definite brings the personification of Death into the modern corporate world. Trent has been inspired from stories that gave death a face and voice like Piers Anthony’s classic On A Pale Horse, Terry Pratchet’s Diskworld novels,  Fritz Leiber’s Sword and Sorcery novels and Neil Gaimen’s Sandman series along with multiple mythological and a movie interpretations to come up with his own twisted setting. Spirits of the dead need a person a Psychopomp or pomp for short to be their gateway to the land of the dead. Mortmax is a conpany who’s real purpose is to employ people to be one part gateway to the otherside one part councilor of the confused departed and one part exorcist. The company tends to be nepotistic insular hiring from the families that already know the score. L  
The story starts with an assassination attempt on Steven de Selby’s life in a food court in broad daylight; he is warned by the spirit of a very pretty dead woman who was not scheduled to be there and who also thwarts his attempts to “pomp” her into the afterworld after his escape. Once the second attenpt on him happens its is a cat and mouse game, a noirish Jason Bourne suspense thriller running from Brisbane to the country and back.  Steven tells the tale, first person and has a tendency towards interior monologue much like the original cut of Blade Runner; sometimes it brakes the flow of the story but the information was necessary to understand the setting. Steven has no flashy fancy magical powers at his command other then those of his trade and they take blood and occasional preparation. He was not the only one on the hit list of these assassins, the ghost who saved him was another Mortmax pomp as are lots of people that die in the course of the novel. Steven has to go on the run from his safe if morbid and lonely life  never really sure who he can trust.
He thinks he can trust the spirit of Lissa  the girl who saved him. He turns also the his “black sheep”cousin Tim, who turned his back on the “family” profession, and gets help from another black sheep Alex (a really handy friend to have in the police force). He has to hide out with other Psychopomps also on the run and pray he can trust them and the contacts he has with the remains of the company.  Someone wants to replace Mr D, the local regional manager, and gain all the powers that come with the job; and they were willing to kill a whole lot of coworkers and friends to do it too. 
I found it really easy to like  and identify with Steven. He is a self confessed genre geek going as far to name is dog…. Oh but that would be telling. He is an outcast among his peers even in the company. He is really just coasting in life and no that is not what I liked about him but it made him easier to be place myself in his shoes. He goes through a lot in this novel that sets up Trents series; hell he even take a trip or two to the spiritworld and wait till you get a load of that.
The urban fantasy elements of this book are pretty subtle and the Stirrers (recall the exorcist comment) and their nature create an even more paranoia inducing setting. They can inhabit the bodies of the recently departed and could be anyone. I suspect . Trent is doing something different here and morbid the setting may be he had a good deal of humor in this story, oh and there is some romance too along with all the running suspicion and Death.  He’s an entertaining writer and has a great grasp of the things that are existentially frightening and that is one of the things that I liked about his short fiction. Death Most Definite is not the big summer blockbuster event its kind of a sleeper with  something a little different, darkly humorous with heart. I hope it catches on; I want to see the characters he hinted at in the climax of the story and there is a much larger darkness on the horizon.
I received my copy from Orbit Books for review. 
Find Trent Here
Look for Orbit Publishing here
And Trents two Pseudopod stories here and here
The Novel is available in paperback  and on iBooks, Kindle, Nook