Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[books] Recent reading, a few comments thereon

Scourge of the Betrayer, Jeff Salyards, Night Shade Books, May 2012 [ Powells | BN ]

Night Shade sent me this book to read for blurb. I'm still chewing on how to blurb it, so I figure writing a quick pocket review will help. This is Salyards' debut novel, and its the first in a series (though I don't know how many volumes the series is slated to be). It's quest fantasy, of a sort, narrated by a confused scribe named Arkamondos. He is hired to follow and document the activities of a small band of soldiers on extended foreign assignment, led by one Captain Braylar Killcoin. The book started slowly, and I had some trouble getting into the story, but once it caught for me, it was a lot of fun.

I've been trying to figure out why the book didn't take off well for me. I believe the problem is inherent in the set up. The initial confusion and naiveté of the narrator makes it hard for the novel to come into focus early on. In a sense, Salyards has done his job a little too well -- the "what's going on here?" issues that Arkamondos struggles with become the reader's struggles as well. The problem with a quest fantasy narrated by someone in ignorance of the point of the quest is that you wind up fairly literally driving to the story.

My other frustration was that I wasn't expecting this to be a book one of a multivolume story, so I was quite surprised when the manuscript ended without resolution. The story just stopped. That's the bad news. The good news is that I really want to read the next book.

The Man in the Moone and Other Lunar Fantasies, ed. Faith Pizor and T. Allan Comp, Praeger Publishers, January 1971 [ AbeBooks | BN ]

This is a collection of fiction about voyages to the moon, ranging from 1638 to 1841, with an introduction by Isaac Asimov. I bought it because I was interested in reading some very early science fiction. This is very much in parallel with my project last year to read nineteenth century proto-steampunk, in the original Klingon, as it were.

The oldest of these pieces is written with the very curious diction and spelling of 17th century literature. If you can handle Shakespeare, you can handle this, but there is definitely no skimming here. Other stories range from a fantasy by Edgar Allan Poe to a weird little piece about a steam powered duck. The editors provide an introduction to each selection which gives literary, social and political context, and offer occasional footnotes elucidating obscure points within the text. That's especially helpful in the case of the older works.

Of course this work was not self-consciously written as either science fiction or fantasy, as neither of those genres existed when the pieces were published. Most of them are social satire, in fact. Still, it's fascinating to read these premodern visions of how human beings might reach the moon. This is special interest reading, in my opinion. The entertainment value is there, but the going is fairly challenging. On the other hand, I really enjoyed exploring one of the roots of our contemporary genre.

Tags: books, klog, reviews, science

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