Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Nov- Sept 2003

November 2003

Ah, another one of the Bright New Things of Brit SF this month – the excellent China Mieville and his remarkably unusual fantasy, Perdido Street Station. The novel begins in a seemingly normal fantasy setting, following predictable lines. A melting-pot city of different races and professions, from scientists and artists to criminals and politicians (if there is a difference between those two professions of course), with a medieval-meets-weird-science feel to it, almost like a very adult version of Pratchett’s great Discworld settings. However, the novel starts to take unusual, unpredictable turns after a while and you can’t take it for granted. In fact, don’t let the size of this novel put you off, because it travels off very unusual and remarkable directions, genuinely surprising even those of us who read an awful lot of SF&F books. The prose is sharp and the descriptive power of China’s writing is awesome – there are times when you not only picture his city scenes but can almost smell those streets (which is not always advisable in some areas of the city!). This was China’s breakout novel, although he had previously published King Rat and has since published The Scar, which is set on the same world as Perdido but in a different city.

October 2003

As the ancient Celtic festival of Sahmain beckoned (that’s Halloween to you Sassenachs!) we naturally settled on a scary novel to read. Combining SF and Horror genres we discussed Richard Mattheson’s classic novel I Am Legend. The last man in the world is besieged in his fortified home by night by gangs of vampires. Except these are scientifically-created vampires, not the legendary variety, caused by a mutation among the survivors of world war. This compact novel is horrific on large-scales (world war, end of civilisation) and on the personal level (a man alone and under nightly attack) but it is also a novel which explores what defines a society (do the vampires, now being in the majority, constitute a society? Would that make our hero the villain since he kills them?), notions of alienation and mythology, old and new. A classic slice of Cold War paranoia from a writer who also worked in film, scripting, among many others, some of the famous Corman’s Edgar Alan Poe series of films with the great Vincent Price. Several decades on this book remains one of the most inventive and clever re-workings of the old vampire genre.

September 2003

Our first meeting discussed one of my personal favourites and one of the fast-rising lights in the new wave of Brit SF firmament, Richard Morgan and his hard-boiled debut, Altered Carbon. It is a very gritty and inventive tale with a former special forces agent now hired as a private eye to solve the murder of his rich employer. When downloaded into his new clone body (called ‘re-sleeving’) this man hires Kovacs to find out who killed him. The police say it was suicide, but why kill yourself when you know you will be brought back via cloning and backup memory? This is as much a classic detective Noir as it is an SF novel. Mark Millar, one of Marvel Comics’ top writers recently referred to it as one of the best contemporary novels he had read.

Since this debut he has published Falling Angels (a second Kovacs novel, although quite different from AC, drawing on the likes of 2000 AD’s Bad Company for inspiration) and Market Forces in the spring of 2004 (not a Kovacs novel but a meditation on violence, ethics – or the lack of – and rampant capitalism in an almost J G Ballardesque kind of way). Richard is currently working on his fourth book which will mark a return to Kovacs and is also working on a Black Widow comic series for Marvel – not bad for a man who didn’t read a lot of comics until his college days!

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