Monday, January 24, 2011

Reviewing the Mail: Week of 1/22

I've sometimes thought that, if I were really smart and organized, I could manage to only get in books for review that I really wanted to read, and at the same time get all of the books I wanted to read. That's an ideal that will never be met in the real world -- since there are publishers that don't consider Antick Musings to be one of the great media outlets of the world, on the one hand, and publishers that are enthusiastic enough to send me books that I haven't heard of, on the other. But, still, it lives as a dream: to get all of the books I want, effortlessly, in the mail.

This week came really close to that dream -- I can't say how many books that I would have loved didn't come to me, since it's always hard to prove a negative, or know what else is whizzing through the mail to luckier reviewers -- with three books arriving, two of them things I've been looking forward to for months now. (Though, as always, I need to point out here that I haven't read any of these books yet -- and there's still two library books ahead of them in the hopper -- so what I have to say below is based on prior knowledge and a quick glance.)

First is Jo Walton's new novel Among Others, a fantasy version of her own life, about a teenage SF-reading girl in Wales in 1979 and her struggles with finding a place for herself in the world and with her half-mad magic-dabbling mother. All early accounts are that it's absolutely brilliant, and Walton can certainly do brilliant -- she wrote both the exceptional alternate history Farthing and the World Fantasy-winning Victorian dragon-dramedy Tooth and Claw, among several other major books. It comes with impressive quotes from Cory Doctorow, Patrick Rothfuss, Suzy McKee Charnas, Robert Charles Wilson, Ellen Kushner, Harry Turtledove, and Steven Brust, and was heralded by a very rare please-look-at-this post by her editor, Patrick Nielsen Hayden. [1] Walton is one of the best and most incisive writers in the SFF field, so this is likely to be one of the best books of the year -- and you have most of the year to read it. Among Others was published in hardcover by Tor earlier this week.

Next I'd like to turn to the book I didn't know about ahead of time, because we have to make room for surprises in our lives. Col Buchanan's first novel is Farlander, the first in a fantasy series that looks to be more gritty-dark than epic-bright (with an assassin hero and a brewing war that doesn't seem to have a "bad guy"), and it's got a great cover with both a cool airship and a tough figure with notably darker skin than we usually see on fantasy covers. Farlander was also published by Tor this week, after a British edition from Tor UK a few months back.

And last for this week is the new Gene Wolfe novel, Home Fires. It's somewhat of a riff on The Forever War -- a young couple agree to be married, but one of them has to serve a tour of duty in the military, fighting aliens around some far-off star, before they can be together. Twenty years later, that soldier returns, still a young woman, while her husband is a rich, settled man in his forties. So of course they go on a Caribbean cruise, where, the flap copy says, they meet with "a complex of challenges, not the least of which are spies, aliens, and battles with pirates." Wolfe has been one of the must-read writers of the SFF field for thirty years now, with even his minor novels like An Evil Guest (my review) and The Sorcerer's House (my review) rewarding close attention, and his best works, like the multifarious New Sun/Long Sun/Short Sun sequence, are signposts of the best that SFF can achieve. So it's wonderful to have a new Wolfe around the house -- this one was also published by Tor, which is having a great week.

[1] Such things have to be very rare, or all authors start expecting them, for one thing.

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