Jessica Reisman – The Z Radiant
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. A treat of a character-driven planetary SF novel, with an intensely flavorful sense of place. I liked this a ton. I borrowed it from the library last year, and just bought the ebook for a re-read. You can read the first chapter here.
I’m pretty sure I found this via a recommendation from Martha Wells.
The plot is solid — revenge, human experimentation, psychic powers, family secrets, and a once-a-generation planetary trade festival for the backdrop — but the characters and their relationships and the setting and the feel of it all were what made the book for me. I liked life on Nentesh; it had a lovely and comfortable rhythm to it. You’ll see what I mean by the end of that first chapter — I love that sequence of Aren’s motorbike errand in the rain, his dazed arrival at Juven’s house, Juven helping him to bed in the quiet after the card game; such a perfect read for the start of a Northwest winter.
The language is good. Reisman has a deft touch with smell and texture, which is always nice. Occasional bouts of infodump, but not enough to rankle.
A bunch of the characters are bi or of ambiguous sexuality, which I appreciate. And I have a thought about this, but it isn’t fully baked yet. So, I’ve spent a bunch of time reading Dykes to Watch Out For and Bitter Girl, both of which are long-running cast-of-dozens comic strip soap operas populated almost entirely by lesbians, and I noticed something hard to pin down about them. My vague theory that when everyone in the core cast is (at least theoretically) fair game for any other member of the core cast, it fundamentally changes the function of romance and sex in the story. Changes it into something I think I like better. And getting a bunch of bisexuals into the mix moves a story closer to that. I can’t quite tell you HOW things change, but I did warn you this was half-baked.
Finally: I spend a lot of time thinking about Ninuel’s awesome psychic-construct dog whenever I remember this book.
Finally finally: Sir. THAT COVER. Not the ebook cover! That one’s fine. It’s a bit amateurish, but not risible; no real need to rag on it. But the original hardback is TRULY NEXT-LEVEL. I mean oh my god. Friends, I carried that around in public for a week.
(Unnecessary sidebar: I had never heard of the original publisher, Five Star, so I looked into them and was fascinated by their weird ecological niche. It looks — FROM WHAT I CAN TELL — like they publish high build-quality hardback fiction and then don’t even try to sell into trade bookstores, focusing totally on the library market. Is that even possible? Like, can you sustain an SF small press like that??? Well, apparently! Who knew. This thread at Absolute Write was enlightening; see especially Keltora’s reply about halfway down.)
Kelly Link – Pretty Monsters
Oct 7, 2014
I was stalled out in the book I was reading (Froi of the Exiles; I enjoyed Finnikin of the Rock a LOT, but just couldn’t get into this one), and wondering what I should switch to, and then Brenna tweeted about doing a Halloween re-read of Kelly Link and I was like yesssss. And it so happened that I had a stash of unread Link stories squirreled away!
Pretty Monsters has six new* stories and three reprints from Stranger Things and M4B. I’d already read “The Wizards of Perfil” and “The Wrong Grave,” and buried the other four to dig up come winter. I tend to do this with collections of short stories, and also with essays. Sometimes with chocolate, very rarely with dried fruit; I can control myself with essays, but dried fruit just tends to vanish when my attention wanders.
* (Well, uncollected. There’s only one “new” one.)
Anyway, I dunno what you want me to say about Kelly Link, dude. If you aren’t reading Kelly Link, you need to be. That’s pretty much the end of the review; the rest of this is going to be me just jamming with other people in the know.
- I think “Wizards of Perfil” gets my vote for sleeper hit of this collection. I am like ANGRY at how many things it gets right.
- “Constable of Abal” has very good texture in parts, but I think it flubs the ending a bit. It’s doing a similar “BUT ALL ALONG,…” twist as “Perfil,” but it’s leaning too heavily on said twist, whereas in Perfil half the point is that the twist is almost beside the point.
- “Monster” made me laugh, but it’s definitely the kind of story you only get to do once.
- “The Wrong Grave” is ROCK SOLID. I guess it could have used a bit of a trim at the end, but wow, that story is exactly the sort of thing you cannot get from any other writer today.
- I’m still thinking about “Pretty Monsters.” Isaac thinks the meta-ness of the structure didn’t stitch the parts into a satisfying whole; I might agree, but I’m not sure yet. But certainly any given section of it was GREAT just in the experience of reading it. Would it have held up better as two separate but similar stories? Maybe. Dunno yet.
- “The Surfer” pulled zero punches and I liked it a lot. It has more worldbuilding (which I use here to mean self-consistent and systematic divergences or extrapolations from contemporary consensus reality) than almost any of her stories (see p. much only “Valley of the Girls” for other contenders), but is essentially a pure character piece, where the pleasure is in seeing the past and present revealed, and you end with a feeling of “Okay, I’ve caught up! What next?”
- And of course, “M4B,” “The Specialist’s Hat,” and “The Faery Handbag” are exactly as superb as they were last time around. (Isaac’s take on “M4B” is similar to his take on “Pretty Monsters,” and I totally disagree; I think the nested and then de-nested meta-structure actually adds emotional and thematic heft.)