the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘new weird

Viriconium, by M. John Harrison

published in 2005

where I got it:  library
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I first read M John Harrison’s Viriconium about 5 years ago. I was browsing the library, and the silvery book leapt off the shelf and into my arms. If it could have spoken, I imagine it would have confidently told me to read it. No pleading, no begging, no “if you please”, just simply “I have to be read”. And I did. And at the time, I thought it was the most incredible thing I had ever read, and I said so loudly to anyone who would listen. Brimming with gorgeous metaphors, and populated by multiple versions of recurring characters, Harrison’s stories of the ever changing city of Viriconium are considered sci-fantasy/ new weird gold.

Good books deserve to be reread, and although I own copies of a few other Harrison titles, Viriconium still lives at the library. So I got it. and read it. From the introduction by Neil Gaiman to the final story in the collection, I was surprised at how much  I remembered, nearly word for word: the sunsets that bled to death, the making of dwarves, the artist’s quarter, the masked abduction attempt, and the search for the mirror that will take you there. Harrison’s surreal and dreamy style is science fiction that reads like fantasy.

An author known to abhor the idea of world building, it’s the world he creates, and how he presents it that is the most intriguing part of this book. An unknown number of generations after we have destroyed the Earth, either through over mining of resources or nuclear holocaust (or most likely both), humanity still survives. It is not a pretty place, but Harrison makes  Viriconium reflect his prose: beautiful, alluring, seductive, and manipulative.

when I say beautiful and alluring language, this is what I’m talking about:

“East and South of Monar runs a string of heathland whose name, when it still had one, was a handful of primitive syllables scattered like a question in the damp wind. It is a deserted and superceded country, that one, full of the monuments and inarticulate ghosts of a race older than Viriconium, younger than the Afternoon Cultures, and possibly more naive than either.”

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Embassytown, by China Mieville

published in May, 2011

Where I got it: the library

Why I read it: I is a Mieville fangirl.


This article got way too long, way too fast.  and then it got spoilery.  And then I edited the crap  out of it. So stay tuned for a super spoilery part 3 that talks more about Mieville’s worldbuiling and how truly imaginative this novel is, and possibly a part 4 as well. Embassytown is turning into that kind of book.  blame Mieville. it’s his fault.

In the far future, humanity has discovered a not-hyperspace and not-lightspeed style travel (I was temped to liken it to how the Spacing Guild pilots of Herbert’s Dune travel) and we’ve started colonizing both empty and alien planets.

Avice is the narrator of our story, and she is the first admit there is nothing special about her life.  A local Embassytown girl who makes good after her 15 minutes of fame, she leaves her home town to explore the world and returns years later, husband in tow, marriage in shambles.  Suddenly awkward, Avice is no longer native, but not foreigner either.

A colony of Bremen, on the planet Arieke, Embassytown in a ghetto on the edge of the Ariekei city. There have been occasional whispers of a revolution for independence, but the Embassytowners know they depend on the financial support of Bremen, and the bio-tech support of the Ariekei.  Embassytown exists on the sufferance of their Bremen governors and the hospitality of the Ariekei, known colloquially as The Hosts.

It’s not that The Hosts can’t lie per se, it’s that their language has no method for allusion, or metaphor, or reference in general.  Their methods of verbal communication refer to the literal only.  The humans believe that since they have figured out a way to communicate with the Hosts, that they understand them.  The entirety of Embassytown is an unforgiving metaphor of the risks of getting lost in translation.

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I’m about ⅔ of the way through China Mieville’s newest novel Embassytown, and although I truly haven’t a clue how this book will end, I feel the need to talk about the way this book is written, and Mieville’s writing style in general. That way, my review of Embassytown can actually focus on the wonderfulness that is the book, instead of the everything else.

Over the years I’ve heard fans and critics alike describe Mieville’s habit of using 50-cent and sometimes overly obscure words in his novels as a not-so-subtle “fuck you, ignorant uneducated peasant”. His word choice has caused many a reader (myself included) to wonder if some of these are real words used for  cultural effect, or made up words, also used for cultural effect. It’s narrative interruptus until a dictionary is found. But for once, I choose to be the optimist.  I choose to believe Mieville’s not-so-subtle message is one telling me that having a dictionary at hand will only add to my literary experience, not detract from it.  I choose to believe that he’s saying “don’t know what this word means? the only thing stopping you from grabbing a dictionary is you”.    Enticing me, inviting me, seducing me into learning,  into building my own confidence? China Mieville, you are one brilliant fucking bastard.
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Infernal Devices, by K.W. Jeter

copyright 1987, republished in 2011 with a new introduction and afterword

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: it’s the April book club book for my local SF reading club. and who doesn’t like Steampunk?

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Interested in Steampunk but not sure where to start?  Looking for some adventure?  I’ll save you the trouble of reading this entire review by simply saying that K. W Jeter’s Infernal Devices is one of the best executed novels I’ve read in a long time, and I easily expect it to be one of my top reads for the year.  I guarantee you will enjoy it.

In a handful of recently published “steampunks” that I’ve read, the steampunk elements are simply window dressing. The story is an adventure, a mystery, and in more cases than not a thinly veiled romance, with a handful of gears, airships, and steam engines thrown in so it can be called steampunk. I’m an elitist snob: pulling shit like that is a major turn off.  So, as an elitist snob, it thrills me to say that Infernal Devices is the genuine article.  No window dressing, no airships just for the sake of airships, no thinly veiled anything. Infernal Devices drips with authenticity, invokes a proper Victorian gentleman’s strong dislike of the unknown, reeks of dank dark drinking dens, and invites you to get lost in a watchmaker’s workshop brimming with beautifully constructed clockwork devices.

George Dower never knew his father well. Raised outside the city by an Aunt, he knows his father, the famous inventor, through reputation only. After a churchly disaster, George keeps his head down and merely attempts to keep his father’s workshop in business.  This proves difficult, as although George can fix a basic watch that needs nothing more than winding, the workshop collects more dust than commissions.

When a strange looking man delivers a complex clockwork device that needs fixing, and offers payment in advance with a strange gold coin, George takes the man’s money before realizing this commission is far beyond his understanding, and that the dark skinned man never gave his name. Read the rest of this entry »

Finch, by Jeff Vandermeer

Published in 2009

Where I got it: purchased new

why I read it:  have enjoyed previous Vandermeer books

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John Finch hates his job.  Hates watching his beautiful city of Ambergris crumble, destroyed, looted, rebuilt into something it shouldn’t be.  He hates his “detective work”, informing on his friends and neighbors to his grey cap boss whose smile is all teeth, the Partials who follow him everywhere, recording everything he says and does with their fungally recording eyes. Hates what a fungal parasite is slowly but irrevocably doing to his best friend Wyte, the only man who knows all of Finch’s secrets. Hates how he always falls back to playing both sides, in hopes he can keep his friends and loved ones alive.

But most of all, Finch hates that there is no escape. Not from Ambergris, not from the grey caps, and not from who and what he is.

His latest cast, a double murder, defies description.  Found in a nondescript apartment: One dead adult human male, one very dead grey cap of undetermined sex or age (if such a thing can ever be determined), amputated at the waist.  Grey caps are pretty hard to kill, maybe he should take notes.  The memory bulbs of the dead are useless, offering only hallucinations and impossible places.  Through his network of spies and snitches, Finch learns who the dead man was. Someone impossible.  Someone who couldn’t have been there because he’s been dead for a hundred years.

Finch and Wyte investigate and learn the mystery is about much more than  just the dead man, it’s about what the dead man can do.  Wyte is dying, has exacted a promise from Finch to help him, when the time comes. Wyte can’t fight the thing inside him much longer, and they both know he won’t go quietly.

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Grey, by Jon Armstrong

published in 2007

where I got it:  bought

why I read it:  been hearing good things about it.

Heir to the Rivergroup company, Michael Rivers is in love with the beautiful Nora.  Every date and detail of their romance was organized, choreographed and directed by the PR departments of their companies,  down to Michael’s hairstyle and Nora’s earrings. That they fell in love with each other was never part of the corporate plan.  For the wealthy company families who run the world in this frantic future, everything is PR.   Every moment is planned, directed, blocked and recorded just to be dissected and discussed ad nauseum later. And there is no such thing as bad PR.

This is a future where style is everything.  The wealthy live it up with 24/7 parties, lethally thumping bass,  and cosplay their favorite bands, while bands and hanger-ons  battle for who can be stranger. Success means faster, louder, brighter, more over the top, and more more more of everything than your competition. Privacy is unheard of, and who would want it, when privacy would stop your every move from being broadcast and talked about all over the channels?    

When every moment is garish, loud, brash and bright, the rebels crave quiet and monochromatic. Michael and Nora are two such people.  They dress in muted tones,  and have even gone so far to have the cones in one eye illegally destroyed, making them each color blind in one eye.  Followers of the minimalist fashion and photography magazine Pure H, Michael and Nora send secret messages to each other by quoting partial lines from the magazine.

Grey is frantic, insane, completely over the top, hilarious, refreshing, and at times completely sick.  

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Because I have a digital camera and I know how to use it!  (Ok, I sort of know how to use it)

I’ve still got The Wolf Age by James Enge and Mountains of Majipoor by Robert Silverberg topping the TBR list,  but here are some new goodies on deck, double deck, and triple deck for the next little while:

There’s something in that photo that I’m super crazy excited about, can you guess what it is?  Hint: It’s from the friendly folks at PYR.

I hadn’t planned on buying Grey, but I recently read some good reviews of it, and it was on the dollar table at Bargain Books because the cover was a bit marked up.  Also from Bargain Books, the Ai Yazawa.  I’m undecided on Bargain Books – no service, but tons of random cheap stuff that’s usually in mint condition.   A consumer’s dream, or a nail in the coffin of my favorite independent bookseller?

Oh, and I got seduced by this too:

I just can’t help myself when it comes to Robin Hobb.  You’re looking at the Soldier Son trilogy,  book 1 of which I’m about 150 pages into.   I probably won’t read these books one right after the other, but I hope to get to all of them, eventually.

So If I don’t get (too) distracted by anything else in the next week or so, you should expect to see reviews of at least a handful of the stuff mentioned or  pictured in this post.


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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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