I came across John Guy Collick’s Thumb (1) in a random Facebook exchange. You get a lot of books thrown around on FB, and many of them sound quite mad, and after a while that ceases to be much of an inducement to read them. Thumb does indeed sound quite mad, but a sufficiently refined and innovative strain of madness that I took the plunge and ordered it. Whereupon it sat on my shelves for a while because I mistrust my own impulses. But I was wrong to do so, because Thumb is a superb book, one that makes the madness work. The setup is that it’s the end of the universe, and all the other sentient races have passed through to the new creation, carried by their gods. Humanity, godless, is stuck in a dying reality and so, with a little help, it sets out to build a god that can carry the species to a fresh start. The book is so named because our heroes live in a town whose historical work has been to complete the last joint of one of God’s thumbs, because humanity has made god in its own image, just much, much bigger. Thumb is a story of political intrigue, action adventure, daring escapes, terrible weapons, and some truly heart-rending pathos towards the end. The setting should be instantly ludicrous (there is an Empire of the Ear) and yet it isn’t. The vast, Byzantine, humanoid world of Thumb is a dying earth setting taken to its extremes – in the age since God was built – and with no sign of Him getting up – everything has fallen apart. Feudal societies jostle elbows with relics of vastly advanced technology, and the whole concept has a weird dignity and gravitas to it. It is a very good, engaging read.
Next up: Kameron Hurley’s new fantasy, Mirror Empire. I was lucky enough to get an early peek at this when they tapped me for a cover quote, and I stand by my quote. Hurley is already established as a gifted SF writer, but Mirror Empire is something else again – a grand and multi-stranded epic fantasy narrative combined with, hands down, the most original and interesting fantasy setting I’ve come across in a long time. Hurley takes nothing for granted: every bit of her setting – her nations, cultures, mores, magics and histories – all of it is intricately thought through and used to devastating effect. There are numerous POV characters, some sympathetic, others rendered alien and unpleasant by the cultures that have shaped them. This is a book that doesn’t take prisoners, and that goes plenty of places that fantasy novels traditionally don’t, but probably should. Also, look at that cover! I think this is the most striking and beautiful cover I’ve seen this year. Big thumbs up to, I think, Richard Anderson for the art.
I’ve sung the praises of Frances Hardinge before, and will, I suspect, again. Hardinge is a YA writer, and her style is one I am perennially envious of: she has a rare gift for the English language, coupled with a fiendish imagination. Her latest is Cuckoo Song, and such is the nature of this book that – damn her! – I cannot really talk about it. It’s set in the early 20th century, and the heroine wakes up after an illness to discover that everything around her – and within her – is going wrong in a genuinely creepy way (for Hardinge aficionados, this one is more Verdigris Deep territory than Fly By Night) . I can’t say much more than that, as the finding out is the true joy of the book, but Hardinge does her usual dab hand at creating a world – both the real and the fantastical parts – and the urban fantasy elements have a particularly interesting slant. I wanted to talk about this book on at least two panels this year, but couldn’t say much because I didn’t want to spoil it. But I recommend it.
PS Publishing performs many useful functions in the book world – from its hardbound short story anthologies Postscripts, to taking a punt on something experimental like Tidhar’s acclaimed Obama, to producing collections from some of the biggest and most respected names in SF. Last year I very much enjoyed their Paul McAuley collection, A Very British History, and this year they have produced The Uncollected Ian Watson. Ian – as well as being one of the most congenial people in the business – is a writer with an enormously long pedigree, a man who has helped shape the genre as we know it, and still going strong. This collection bringing together a wide-ranging selection of his work not previously netted, some of them stories relating to his most popular long fiction, together with some insightful essays about science and science fiction from a man who knows what he’s talking about.
Another purveyor of insight is Adam Roberts, and my final thumbs up this time round goes not to one of his many superb novels, but to a collection of reviews from his website, Sibilant Fricative – meaning, if I have this right, not reviews actually on his blog Sibilant Fricative, but reviews from a previous website of his now released under the title of the new website, and in general following the theme of that website, but not actually… This is starting to sound a little like a Robertsian novel, actually. But anyway: Roberts as a reviewer is a hard, hard man. He does not at any point hold back in finding fault. He is also a very witty, entertaining writer, but at the same time his fault-finding manages to entertain without coming over as schadenfreude – a gift that some other SF writer/reviewers lack. The other side of the coin is, of course, that when Roberts gives something the nod, you can be assured of getting your dime’s worth from it. Sibilant Fricative (the book(2)) is a fascinating medical examination of the genre’s highs and lows over the years. Also, I love the image I’ve found for this one, which appears to show an angry mob of Sibilant Fricatives looking for a book to review.
Finally, something I’ve not had a chance to read yet, but that I am very eagerly awaiting: along with Ian Watson and Adam Roberts, another great genre name to conjure with is Tricia Sullivan, whose mind-stretching Lightborn I greatly enjoyed a while back. Her new book, Shadowboxer, is due out on the 28th of this month, and looks to be a martial arts-based supernatural thriller. One to look out for.
(1) Always an added bonus talking about this book: it makes it sound as though poor Mr Collick has been dismembered.
(2) And the ongoing blog, for that matter.