First Impressions – Vector #263
First things first: hello! This is my first issue as reviews editor, having taken over from Kari at the beginning of the year. You probably won’t see much difference; the reviews will continue to cover the entire range of speculative and fantastic fiction and attendant non-fiction. One change you will notice is this column. I’m going to allow myself some space each issue to chat about recent releases and to review a book that has recently caught me eye, ideally one that has managed to slip through the cracks. In this instance, I thought I would take my cue from the theme of the issue.
I had a good year for children’s novels in 2009. The Ask And The Answer, Patrick Ness’s follow up to The Knife Of Never Letting Go, was everything I hoped it would be. I also belatedly read Conor Kostick’s excellent debut novel, Epic, following a mention on Farah Mendlesohn’s The Inter-Galactic Playground. (If only the sequel, Saga, had lived up to its promise.) I dipped into the back catalogue of MT Anderson – best known for his superb Octavian Nothing duology – and found that he’d pulled off that rarest thing in Thirsty: an original vampire novel.
And it has continued. The first novel I read this year was The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. The plot will be familiar from Battle Royale, albeit with the (now inevitable) twist that here the children’s fight for survival is televised. I wolfed it down in one sitting and, although its manipulation of the reader leaves a slight aftertaste, the literary equivalent of fast food is what you need in January.
I’ve just finished reading Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve, a prequel to his wonderful Mortal Engines quartet (2001-6). I was actually in two minds about reading this novel. Yes, I was hungry for more but, at the same time, A Darkling Plain was the perfect end to the series. Would re-visiting his world only tarnish it? Certainly there are two things that make Fever Crumb a pretty hard to stomach in the early stages: the rush and the jokes.
Fever is a foundling in a ruined future London which is still the distant past for the protagonists of Mortal Engines. Raised by the Order of Engineers, who believe that emotionless is the same as logical and shave their heads every day, on the grounds that hair is a “vestige of our animal past”, she has had a sheltered upbringing. Reeve turns her out into the mess of the city, straight into danger, and from that point she doesn’t stop. Pace is often a virtue of children’s fiction but here the breathless accumulation of increasingly unlikely plot leaves the reader desperate for a bit less action and a bit more reflection.
Characterisation is brusquer than we are used to from Reeve. Our young heroine is so named because:
“During the Scriven era there was a fashion for women to name their children after whatever ailments they suffered from while they were pregnant. I have heard of people names ‘Backache’, ‘Diarrhoea’…”
“I knew a man once called Craving-For- Pickled-Onions McNee,” agreed Kit Solent. Ruan giggled and Fever looked disapprovingly at his father. Was he joking? She didn’t see the purpose of jokes.
The reader might similarly squint disapprovingly at Reeve. This is sub-Pratchett but there is plenty worse. For example, the chief baddie is, of all things, a publican and we are told that:
As well as the Mott and Hoople he had two other pubs, the Blogger’s Arms on ‘Bankmentside and the Polished Turd in B@ersea.
True, there were puns like this – generally of a similarly ahistorical nature – in his previous novels but I don’t remember them being so common. Or, indeed, so rotten. In this London manufactured scents take the place of records and these puns reach their nadir with a truly weird aside about gangsta smell artists called Prince Nez and Sniffa Dogg.
At around the halfway mark it does ease up a bit, or rather, the ride becomes smoother, even if the pace of revelation continues unabated (after the globetrotting of Reeve’s earlier novels, I naively thought things might be simpler in a static city). At this point there is a long flashback which provides some of the emotional power which is a trademark of his work. In general though, this weight is missing, and instead of deepening his world, he is only trading off it. The ending is abrupt and open ended and apparently a sequel to this prequel, A Web of Air, is due out later this year. I’m afraid I won’t be following Fever any further though.
Right, see you next issue when I will be discussing how to suppress women’s writing. Prior to that I will need to spend some time on eBay because I can already tell that being reviews editor is going to necessitate a radical increase in my shelf space. Particularly since the editor of Vector was recently making me feel inadequate by boasting about having 3557cm.
- And God Created Zombies by Andrew Hook (Newcon Press, 2009) and The Push by Dave Hutchinson (Newcon Press, 2009) – Reviewed by Mark Harding
- The Kingdom Beyond the Waves by Stephen Hunt (Tor, 2009) – Reviewed by Donna Scott
- Fathom by Cherie Priest (Tor, 2008) – Reviewed by Tanya Brown
- Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber (Orb/Tom Doherty, 2009) – Reviewed by L J Hurst
- White Is For Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (Picador, 2009) – Reviewed by Nic Clarke
- Red Claw by Philip Palmer (Orbit, 2009) – Reviewed by Stuart Carter
- Moxyland by Lauren Beukes (Angry Robot Books, 2009) – Reviewed by Niall Harrison
- The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington (Orbit, 2009) – Reviewed by Simon Guerrier
- Elfland by Freda Warrington (Tor, 2009) – Reviewed by Lynne Bispham
- Soulless by Gail Carriger (Orbit, 2009) and Indigo Springs by AM Dellamonica (Tor, 2009) – Reviewed by Penny Hill
- Small Miracles by Edward M. Lerner (Tor, 2009) – Reviewed by Mark Harding
- Flashforward by Robert J Sawyer (Gollancz, 2009) – Reviewed by Terry Jackman
- Retribution Falls by Chris Wooding (Gollancz, 2009) – Reviewed by Jonathan McCalmont
- A Matter Of Blood by Sarah Pinborough (Gollancz, 2010) – Reviewed by Dave M. Roberts
- Into Your Tent: The Life, Work and Family Background of Eric Frank Russell by John L. Ingham (Plantech, 2010) – Reviewed by Paul Kincaid
- GM Fiction, edited by Pippa Goldschmidt (ESRC Genomics Network / University of Edinburgh, 2009) – Reviewed by Gary Dalkin