Sunday 15 November 2015

November Book Reviews at the Nameless Zine

As I mentioned here last month, I write book reviews for The Nameless Zine, an online zine run by the Western Science Fiction Association (WesternSFA), a non-profit fandom group based here in Arizona.

As the Nameless Zine follows a graphical indexing system, I also maintain my own text index of what I've written at my own website. You can find it here at the Reviews at the Nameless Zine page.

Reviews at the Nameless Zine post monthly on the 15th of each month and November's batch are now online. I reviewed three books this month:

Gideon Smith and the Mark of the Ripper

This is the third in the Gideon Smith series and I believe, after one eager read, may be my favourite. Instead of whisking us around the globe, as the first two books did, it keeps us firmly in London, the heart of this alternate British empire, with problems for many of the regulars in the series.

Gideon Smith himself, the Hero of the Empire, is hypnotised by the sinister vaudeville performer, Markus Mesmer, into forgetting who he is and what he's investigating, namely the disappearance of a young lady who looks exactly like Maria, the Mechanical Girl. He finds his way quickly off the streets of London, which are hounded both by the murders of Jack the Ripper and the growing mob mentality of the locals, upset at the inability of the police to keep them safe. What's more, Rowena Fanshawe, the Belle of the Airways, has been arrested and charged with murder.

It therefore falls to Aloysius Bent, Smith's foul mouthed chronicler, and Maria herself, who is trying to come to terms with her growing humanity, to solve all the mysteries of the day, which are more numerous than merely what I've mentioned above. Barnett weaves in many characters from the previous two Gideon Smith books and even from the history that predates them to craft this complex web of a story.

I much prefer Smith in peril to Smith the routine heroic lead and I was happy to see both Bent and Maria grow massively as characters. I'm always in favour of the fictionalisation of new historical or fictional characters, chief amongst which here are Inspector Lestrade, in charge of the Ripper investigations, and the pairing of Dr John Watson and his mental patient, the unnamed 'Great Detective'. The latter alone has already prompted negative reviews on Amazon, which makes it all the more enjoyable a concept for me.

Like the earlier books, this is a fast-paced blitzkrieg of a ride that will no doubt be worth a much more sedate re-read.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine. I also reviewed the first two books at the Nameless Zine: Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl and Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon.

The Drawing of the Dark

I was honoured to appear on a panel with Tim Powers, one of the triumvirate of writers who pioneered steampunk, at the 2015 Gaslight Gathering, and I felt it was about time I read some of his work. For some reason, it was much easier to find books by the other two in England, James P Blaylock and K W Jeter. Fortunately Mysterious Galaxy was happy to sell me a bunch and Powers was happy to sign them.

This 1979 novel is set in the Vienna of 1529, where we discover that the most important place in the entirety of the western world is the Zimmermann Inn where they brew Herzwesten beer. Clearly we're soon going to be let in on historical, fantastic and mystical reasons why, but we're kept completely in the dark (pun not intended but I'll take it) for a while.

Instead we follow an Irishman, Brian Duffy, a mercenary not coincidentally hired to be a bouncer at the Zimmermann, even if he thinks he'd be put to better use fighting the approaching Turks of Suleiman, who are about to lay siege to the city. Of course, he ends up doing both, amongst other things, because, in the tradition of Tim Powers novels, what might appear to be the case to the majority of people, isn't necessarily what's really going behind the scenes and that is fantastic indeed.

I enjoyed this book a great deal, perhaps partly because there aren't too many fantasy novels featuring magical stout. Now I just need to read some more of Powers's work and discover why this highly enjoyable read isn't generally regarded as one of his best. Surely the rest must be pretty astounding. Expect reviews of some of those over the coming months.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine.

The Man of Bronze

I had such a blast at Doc Con, a local Doc Savage convention in its eighteenth year, that I had to go back to reread the original novel. It was turned into an annoyingly camp Hollywood movie forty years ago, an event that was the focal point of this years con, and Ron Ely, the well-cast star, was the highly enjoyable guest of honour.

The book is far superior to the movie, even if Lester Dent, the man writing as Kenneth Robeson, hadn't quite mastered a lot of the writing techniques that would serve him well over hundreds of future books. The sentences often blast out of the page like staccato bullets and the Fabulous Five aren't well featured in this one, but the action is strong and the setup for what was a new pulp magazine in 1933 is superb.

For those who don't know, Doc Savage was the original Superman and the latter stole a lot from the former. The biggest difference between them is that Doc's powers didn't come through being an alien cast adrift onto our planet but through a lifetime of dedicated training which includes two hours of focused mental and physical exercise per day. In other words, we could become a Doc Savage, as unlikely as that is, but we could never become a Superman. That's the primary reason I enjoyed Doc's adventures far more than Clark Kent's.

This first adventure sees him investigate the murder of his father in central America, a trip in which he and his five cohorts survive concerted attacks and experience fantastic events in a lost valley populated by a forgotten tribe of Mayans. How they survive it sets up not only what they do, but how they can continue to do it, because globetrotting is an expensive business and a lifetime supply of mysterious gold is a great way to finance it!

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine.

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