THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern is a mysterious carnival that likes to pop up out of nowhere and dazzle the locals—but the real point of the show is as a backdrop for the struggle of two apprentice magicians whose mentors have pitted them against each other in a Clash of Titans (given that one apprentice is male, the other female, you can imagine what happens to throw this off course). Morgenstern seems to be shooting for literary fantasy here, but I found her writing style more self-consciously arty than anything (the use of present tense is really annoying, and unlike Hunger Games, where it adds to the tension, it doesn’t bring anything to the table here).
I was predisposed to loathe Elizabeth Bear’s SHOGGOTHS IN BLOOM short-story collection simply because of the over-the-top gushing in the intro (by her husband Scott Lynch) proclaiming that the stories Reveal Deep Hidden Truths and Exquisitely Painful Understanding of Existence, etc., etc., blah, blah. As it turns out, while some stories are forgettable (“Tidelines” could have been a Keith Laumer Bolo story half a century ago), there are also lots of good ones, including the title tale in which a biologist contemplates using shoggoths as weapons in World War II, and the urban fantasy “Cryptic Coloration.” Still, none of these grabbed me as much as Bear’s excellent novel Range of Ghosts did.
To lighten my packing, I decided to rely on my iPad for some of my vacation reading, though the only book I got to was
MARTIN HEWITT, INVESTIGATOR, Victorian writer Arthur Morrison’s first collection about a Holmesian knockoff herein investigating missing jockeys, stolen rubies and the case of an obvious suicide (or … is it?). These stories have worked for me in anthologies, but not, it seems, as a main course: The puzzles are fine, but Hewitt has no personality besides being brilliant, and his Watson is a cipher, barely playing any role (in short, it makes me appreciate how good Arthur Conan Doyle really was). That said, I do like that Hewitt’s more bottom-line than Holmes, refusing one case, for instance, because he won’t get paid up front.
I love Mark Hodder’s Swinburne and Burton steampunk novels, but A RED SUN ALSO RISES has none of their charm (or any of its own). The story of two Victorians (a troubled priest and a handicapped female engineer) transported to another world (which remodels itself on quasi-Victorian lines in response) is flat, dull and talky, the kind where the leads wander around marveling at things rather than actually taking action. I’ll still check out his next novel, but this was very disappointing.


Filed under Reading

3 responses to “Books

  1. Pingback: Books | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Difficult characters (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: Sherlock Holmes: “The emotional qualities are antagonistic to clear reasoning.” | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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