March 4th, 2005


Good Junk Fiction

I read Science Fiction for relaxation, basically, and because I'm interested in the ideas, and well, reality sucks and it's an escape.
Every so often I read something that has more than usual impact on me, so ...

L E Modesitt Jr's Flash is pretty transparently a technological thriller, but it discusses things that are relevant to the here and now: plutocrats gaming the political system, erosion of civil liberties, use of permanent war footing to manipulate the populace. There are some failures of tone that crop up, but it's certainly a pleasurable page-turner that is actually about something. I won't synopsize, because frankly, every time you synopsize a Science Fiction novel it sounds stupid. But if you want something to read, and you're not in the mood for anything 'serious' I'd recommend it.

Modesitt is an interesting author in the world of Genre fiction. I've read a bunch of his books and they've all been well written and interesting. But, while most people who write genre fiction stick close to one 'mode' he's all over the place. The common thread in what I've read of his stuff is that they're mystery novels. They might happen to also be alternative history ghost stories (his 'Ghost' trilogy), or hard Sci Fi novels, or whatever, but mystery and detection are always part of the formula.

I've stayed away from some of his Fantasy series, since I'm not really that enthralled by medievalist hoo ha. I've never read any of Le Guin's Earthsea books, though I'm a huge fan of her other work.

The one guy who I really liked in the sword and sorcery vein was Roger Zelazny, whose Amber series is everything you'd want in a genre novel -- interesting characters, dry humor, bloody-mindedness, sarcasm. It's a feast, especially since what originally came out as a series of paperback is now in one fat volume.

Which brings me around to Jane Lindskold. I picked out one of her books Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart at the library because she co-wrote -- i.e. finished after he died -- two books with Zelazny, Donnerjack, and Lord Demon. I really liked those -- Donnerjack in particular is a real alien chest burster of a novel, straight up nutso blending of fantasy and hard science fiction. Any William Gibson fans should check it -- where Gibson goes for cool, Zelazny goes for outlandish, goofy, and psycho.

Anyway, Lindskold: Books like "Wolf's Head, Wolf's Heart" are usually anathema to me -- Medievalist fantasy is the domain of all those boffins who hang out at Renaissance Fairs, and a more cringeworthy cohort I can't imagine. The medievalists make Trekkies look cool as the Velvet Underground. But Lindskold can write, and she gets you to care about what happens, even though you have to read through some stuff that's there just to satisfy the genre police -- elaborate descriptions of clothing, crowns and jewels, etc. But she manages a fairly large cast of characters, both sympathetic and not so sympathetic, and has a cool villian, and the premise of the novel -- that there are animals as intelligent as people living on the periphery of human civilisation -- is presented in a way that never seems as absurd and retarded as you might imagine. She's got 4 books in this series, this being the second. No idea about the quality or fun-ness of the others.

And hey, just because it might also appeal to the Furry Cosplayers doesn't mean you can't enjoy it too.