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Archive for August 2nd, 2009

Two Thumbs Up

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The Guardian Weekend had another fiction special yesterday:

I’ve read the Mitchell and the Boyd, neither of which are very special; they are both character studies of mild existential crisis. I might read the others, although probably not the Myerson.

Elsewhere in the paper, Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels gets a rave review from Meg Rosoff and Eric Brown provides his pointless monthly round up of recent SF titles. It is a thankless task: four hundred words on four novels, striking a balance that manages to avoid being either comprehensive or informative. Even given this though, the column is not as useful as it could be. Consider this review of Child of a Dead God by Barb Hendee and JC Hendee which I will quote in full:

Magiere the dhampire (half human, half vampire) and Leesil the elf, accompanied by Wynn the sage and Chap the canine protector, leave the elven territories on a quest to discover a mysterious artifact concealed in a castle in the ice-bound southern mountains. The object in question – a magical orb – is a powerful relic from the times of Forgotten History, and Magiere must find it before it falls into the clutches of her evil vampire half-brother Welstiel, who follows her with a pack of feral vampires.

Already half the word count has disappeared in synopsis but, fair enough, Brown conveys not just the plot but its essential lameness. Who is this review aimed at though? “Chap the canine protector”? How many Guardian readers were likely to have any interest in this novel? With such limited space available for SF it would be nice if the coverage was more target at books that might conveicably hold some interest to anyone beyond the most generic of genre readers. Next we get a sentence of criticism:

Book six in the Noble Dead series treads standard fantasy territory, with cliché piled on cliché, and too much travelogue between set-piece confrontations.

An almost text book assessment of the problems of commercial fantasy and one that is already evoked in the reader’s mind as soon as they have read the synopsis. It is unusually negative for Brown but only reinforces the lack of any need to review this book in the first place. Book six, indeed. There is just time for one more sentence of analysis:

But the Hendees go about their business with obvious affection for Magiere and Leesil, who are portrayed with a depth rare in formula fantasy.

For the first time I must take issue with Brown himself, rather than his editors. Obvious affection I can ignore as irrelevant but rare depth? Considering the previous three sentences, does anyone believe this? I don’t, even taking into account the slightly paradoxical “formula fantasy” caveat. This reads like the false evenhandedness that says every piece of criticism must be tempered with a piece of praise. This sort of “fair and balanced” assessment is common in SF reviewing but here, as usual, it rings false.

Written by Martin

2 August 2009 at 12:32