Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Reviewing The Mail: 7/24

Even at the rate I'm going, there's no way I can read everything I have -- and certainly not in a timely way. So, assuming I keep getting things in the mail, I'm going to point out some items of particular interest more-or-less as I get them.

For this first installment, these books have been sitting around for a couple of weeks, for example, and I've been poking through them, but I don't want to wait to write about them.

So this will be "Reviewing the Mail" -- a quick overview of the good and interesting stuff that I've gotten recently. The title is from Chuck Klosterman's description of what a rock critic really does.

Ross Macdonald, The Way Some People Die, Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, July 2007, $12.95

Ross Macdonald's "Lew Archer" novels are the third, and least lauded, leg of the modern detective fiction stool, along with the better-known Hammett and Chandler. Macdonald took the expansive, socially engaged plots of Chandler but pulled back from Chandler's "soiled knight" hero to a more remote, detached detective in Lew Archer. Nearly all of the novels in this series are great; The Underground Man, his masterpiece, is one of the five or so best detective novels ever written. Underground Man, however, was already in print as a stylist trade paperback from Vintage -- The Way Some People Die, on the other hand, has been out of print for the past ten years.

Vintage sent me their new edition of The Way Some People Dies, the third Lew Archer novel, which was originally published in 1951. The design sense is impeccable, as always with Vintage -- though I suppose I could complain that they always change the design for a series in the middle. (I have ten or so Macdonald books from Vintage, with a very different look -- and Vintage's run of Jim Thompson also changed gears five or six times before it was done.) People like me do want the books to look like they belong next to each other on the shelf. But that's the only thing I could complain about.

The first two Lew Archer books were good, but in The Way Some People Die everything Macdonald was trying to do crystallized, and he seized control of his two great locations: the great American dreamland of California and the often-unbridgeable spaces between people. He's essential reading for anyone who likes serious mystery novels, and this is a perfect place to start.

Sheila Williams, editor, Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine: 30th Anniversary Anthology, Tachyon Publications, 2007, $14.95

I don't think I need say much about this book, which collects some of the best stories from the first thirty years of a great science fiction magazine. Maybe just listing a few of the titles will do the job for me: John Varley's "Air Raid." Octavia E. Butler's "Speech Sounds." Bruce Sterling's "Dinner in Audoghast." Kelly Link's "Flying Lessons." Charles Stross's "Lobsters." Stephen Baxter's "The Children of Time."

Not impressed? OK -- you're hard to please. But the other stories in this book are by Robert Silverberg, Isaac Asimov, Kim Stanley Robinson, Connie Willis, Jonathan Lethem, Mike Resnick, Ursula K. Le Guin, James Patrick Kelly, Michael Swanwick, Lucius Shepard, and Robert Reed. I dare to you find an anthology of stories from the same venue, covering the past thirty years, as strong as that.

If you already have a long shelf of Year's Best anthologies and single-author collections, you might just have everything in this book already. For the rest of you, this is an easy way to get a lot of good stuff all in one place.

Brian Ruckley, Winterbirth, Orbit, September 2007, $14.99

I'm currently on a hiatus from beginning new multi-volume series of big fat secondary world fantasy novels, but this one looks pretty impressive, so I should note it. Winterbirth is the first novel from Scots author Brian Ruckley, and the big launch title for Orbit US, a major new SF/Fantasy imprint from the same people who created the exceptionally successful Orbit line in the UK.

It looks dark, bloody, and pseudo-Scottish, and the series title has "Trilogy" built right into it, so there's very little chance of serious multi-book bloat. I'd say this is for fans of George R.R. Martin, Steven Erikson, and David Gemmell. Any UK folks out there already read it, and willing to give an opinion?


Chris, The Book Swede said...

I've read it and it's excellent :) You were quite right in your comparison to GRRM. Grim, dark, and Ruckley is not averse to killing his characters. It's a very good read.

I'll be conducting an interview with Brian sometime in August to promote the US launch and the UK paperback release. Questions can actually be submitted on the blog if you want :)

I'll also be reviewing it soon, too.


Johan Larson said...

I don't know how Winterbirth reads, but the Amazon book description is a frakkin' parody of high fantasy.

Anonymous said...

Johan: don't worry, there's not much that's 'High' about the fantasy in Winterbirth.

Check out the Prologue at www.BrianRuckley.com - that should give you a pretty good idea of the flavour of the book.

Graeme Flory said...

I'm reading it at the moment, it was slow to start off but things are beginning to heat up nicely! There's a real sense of ambiguity about who the bad guys are and that's quite refreshing to see...

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