Posts Tagged ‘kit whitfield’
It is getting towards the time of year when I am being asked for contributions to best of round ups and In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield is featuring prominently. My thanks to Abigail Nussbaum for pointing me in the direction of another wonderful mermaid story published by a British writer this year: ‘A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc’ by Helen Keeble. I actually prefer its subtitle, ‘A Lullaby’:
Hush my babes, hush; sleep soundly in your shells. Do not open your eyes, not yet. Sleep softly, dreaming of blood.
If you feel a swaying, surely it is but the gentle tumble of the waves. If you feel a current, surely it is but the ripple of my fins around you. If you see a shadow, surely it is but a passing darkness. I am here, sweet spawnlings, little eggs. I am here, your father, wrapping you in the soft tides of my song. I am here, Sunlight-Reaching-Deep is here, warming you like my namesake. I promise you, when you awaken, you will see the sun. You will see the sun, and laugh.
But not yet, not yet. Curl tightly; fold your fins over your eyes. It is not time to wake. Sleep, o my small loves, sleep fearlessly, and let my voice rock you in your dreams. Surely no harm will come to you while your father sings.
I liked In Great Waters so much that I immediately ordered Kit Whitfield’s debut, Bareback. My heart sunk a little when it arrived because it is a big bastard book at well over 500 pages. In Great Waters is an elegant novel but Bareback looked more like a potboiler. And that is pretty much what it turned out to be.
Those writers who dabble in non-genre science fiction tend to stick to the polite areas: dystopia, post-apocalypse, alternate history. Whitfield is much more radical in her approach and is happy to fundamentally muck around with reality in a way a lot of mainstream writers – even SF sympathetic ones – would shy away from. Bareback envisages a world were werewolves make up the majority of humanity just as In Great Waters depicts a world where merepeople make up a powerful minority. In fact, it is probably wrong to describe Whitfield as “non-genre” but this is how she is published (in the UK anyway, in America she seems to have been typecast as a fangfucker). The non-genre label is wrong in two different ways: you can’t really apply it to someone who hasn’t written anything but SF and also Bareback is very much in thrall to the American police procedural novel.
Bareback is actually set in a nameless city in a nameless country but it is so strongly redolent of these American thrillers that the frequent Britishisms seem jarringly intrusive. Most of the problems with the novel – its length, its familar characters and situations, its escalating cliffhangers – stem from this. At the same time Whitfield’s central novum is breath of fresh air in an increasingly silly genre. These mass market US thrillers have found themselves caught in a type of arms race which means that for the authors to have any impact on a jaded palatte their baddies must be a serial killers, paedophiles, terrorists or – preferably – a combination of all three. The result of this is a proliferation of ever more preposterous plotting.
This is not to say Whitfield entirely escapes silliness, duff plotting, generic prose. At the start of her review Abigail Nussbaum – who later goes on to accurately summarise the novel as “slow-paced, overlong, rather poorly written, and not doing nearly as much as it should with its excellent premise” – says:
Now I need someone who’s read both books to tell me that Whitfield has improved substantially as a writer in the three years gap between producing them
The answer is unequivocably yes. Coming to the novel after In Great Waters is a disappointment because the difference in quality, particularly in terms of prose, is profound. The worldbuilding in Bareback is fundamentally broken and this is thrown into sharp relief by the writing; in contrast, quibbles about the plausibilty of In Great Waters – and several reviewers have had then – are rendered immaterial by the precision and power of her prose. So I look forward to both Whitfield’s next book and Abigail’s thoughts on In Great Waters.
My review of In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield is up now at SF Site.
I loved this book. A side effect of this is that I had a bit of trouble ordering my thoughts about it so I’d suggest reading Nic Clarke’s excellent review as well.
In Great Waters is definitely a work of speculative fiction but what sort wasn’t immeditaely clear to me. I didn’t want to go into this in the review because taxonomy is a bit wanky but it is something that interests me. It is something I also came across when I read Cold Skin by Albert Sánchez Piñol. Do undiscovered species in the real world make a book SF or fantasy? I am indebted to Tom Anderson for showing me the way through the taxonomical minefield:
New species of shrimp: SF
New species of dragon: fantasy
New species of dragon shrimp: horror
My review of Biohell by Andy Remic is up now at SF Site. It is a very long time since I have written a review for them and I chose an absolutely shocking novel to return with. As I conclude:
When I opened this book I was hoping for something like David Gunn’s Deaths Head series: gung ho adventure SF with the wit to know its strengths and weaknesses. Unfortunately this is just witless.
Fortunately, my next book for SF Site – In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield – seems infinitely better.