September 01, 2007

Recent Reading

by Alan Beatts

It has been a good summer for my reading, so this month I thought I'd talk a little about books that I've read recently that really impressed me.  It's a truism that booksellers are either reading something old or something that hasn't come out yet.  I think it's because we're either working on our stacks (and we all have piles of books to read) of brand news stuff or we're "finally getting to that", fill in the blank, "that I've been meaning to read for months".  Whatever the reason, booksellers are almost always either behind our customers' reading or ahead of them.

Having said that, the first book I'm going to mention is an exception to that rule.  HILLDIGGERS by Neal Asher arrived at the store very recently and I grabbed it.  I've been a fan of Asher's since 1998 or so when I read THE ENGINEER, his first collection of short work that was published by Tanjen (a now sadly defunct UK small press).  I was crazy about that book and bought up the entire supply of copies available in the US.  And I promptly sold every single one at the then-cover price of around $15.  Now I wish I'd saved some copies since they're hard as hell to find and go for at least $100 now.

Fast-forward to 2007 when Asher has more than a half-dozen novels out, is a pretty big deal in the UK and working towards that in the US.  His Polity universe, in which most (if not all, the jury is still out on whether COWL is a Polity novel or not) of his novels and many of his short stories are set, is perhaps the must interesting and fully-imagined future history since Niven's Known Space and Banks' Culture.  HILLDIGGERS is his most recent work and in some ways I liked it better than the last two (POLITY AGENT and THE VOYAGE OF THE SABLE KEECH).  Not that the last two were poor examples of his work but they both are followups to other novels (BRASS MAN and THE SKINNER, respectively).  HILLDIGGERS, however, introduces a completely new cast of characters and is set on the outskirts of the Polity (the Line, as it's called).  It's a solid piece of writing that demonstrates Asher's increasing skill at starting the reader at the beginning of the action and then filling in the back-story bit by bit throughout the course of the novel.  If you haven't tried Asher yet, HILLDIGGERS is a good place to start (though I still think that THE SKINNER is his best work to date).

Next I'm going to jump way forward and tease you a little.  John Meaney may be familiar to some of you from his Nulapeiron Sequence (PARADOX, CONTEXT, and RESOLUTION).  His newest novel, BONE SONG, is a departure from his other work and I think it's his best yet.  It's a noir-ish detective novel set in a world very different from ours where something like magic (or more accurately, Necromancy) takes the place of much of our technology.  Neither science fiction nor fantasy, BONE SONG is the book that I've been waiting years to find.  Combining the aesthetic of Hammett or Robert Parker with a setting reminiscent of China Mieville's New Crobuzon, it's a remarkable entry into the canon of supernatural investigation.  Here's the catch: although the UK edition is out already I strongly suggest that you wait to read the US edition.  There were a few editorial and textural changes to the US edition that make it a stronger novel.  The bad news -- the US edition won't be out 'til February of next year.  So, you'll just have to wait.  Don't worry though, we'll mention it in this newsletter when we get copies.

Finally, I'll jump back in time and mention that I finally got around to reading Glasshouse by Charles Stross.  I know, I know it's been out forever but the paperback just caught my eye.  If there's anyone out there who hasn't gotten to it yet either -- buy it.  I heard mixed reviews right when it came out (which was part of the reason I waited on it) but I thought it was great.  Some of the riffs he's playing have been around for a while (interstellar teleportation, artificial societies, and human/meta-human/trans-human relations) but he does his usual (and remarkable) job of extrapolating and integrating ideas so that they are a seemingly rock-solid basis for the story, instead of being the centerpiece.  And the story is a lovely paranoid thriller where the no-one-is-what-they-seem element is enhanced by technology that allows effectively instant body switching and even multiple instances of the same personality in duplicate bodies.  The damn thing hooked me completely and cost me sleep, not to mention several hours at work!

That's about all for this month.  Have a lovely fall.

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