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August 24th, 2009

Linkspam for 24-8-2009


Three Ian Rankin novels

For reasons which will eventually become clear, we have amassed a large proportion of the writings of Ian Rankin, and I started with the first three Rebus novels on the way back from hols.

August Books 42) Knots and Crosses, by Ian RankinCollapse )
August Books 43) Hide and Seek, by Ian RankinCollapse )
August Books 44) Tooth and Nail, by Ian RankinCollapse )

So I am adding Rankin to my monthly reading list, taking the books more or less in order. It is interesting to read a totally different take on the setting also used by Charles Stross and Ken MacLeod (though of course set in the present day rather than a future independent Scotland).
Problems with my train journeys to and from work today meant that I managed to finish this weighty volume of almost 600 pages, covering the early work of the late, great Roger Zelazny (1937-1995). This is the first of a planned series of six volumes covering his entire literary career, published by the New England Science Fiction Association and edited by David G. Grubbs, Christopher S. Kovacs and Ann Crimmins. Together with volume two, it was launched at Boskone in February which was where I bought it.

I suspect that the book's main audience will be Zelazny fans like myself, hoping for 1) hitherto unpublished literary gems unearthed by the editors' diligence, 2) some insights into those aspects of Zelazny's life and background which made it possible for him to produce his work, and 3) a convenient volume including our favourite pieces. NESFA have delivered on all three. A lot of the uncollected pieces here are rather minor, but there were a couple which jumped out at me as memorable ("Final Dining", "Circe Has Her Problems"). There is a decent amount of explanatory biographical material by co-editor Kovacs, Carl Yoke and a preface by Robert Silverberg. And this first volume includes "A Rose for Ecclesiastes", "The Doors Of His Face, The Lamps Of His Mouth" and "He Who Shapes", Zelazny's best early stories, which is a powerful mixture.

Satisfying those three requirements would just about justify the hefty $29 price of this hardback. But there are several other positive points about it. First, a lot of Zelazny's early poetry is collected here, interspersed through the stories, certainly at a pace where I could appreciate it. Second, and probably deserving to be mentioned before this, there is a brilliant Michael Whelan cover which will apparently span the jackets of all six volumes. Third, each story and poem has, if available, a short epilogue from Zelazny himself explaining his own feelings about it, and also a glossary of literary references (most of which are accurate, though I wouldn't be surprised if the Miller whose writing has emetic effects is Henry rather than Arthur).

So, apart from its obvious appeal to existing fans, I think volume one at least is well-designed as a gateway book to encourage new sf readers to read more Zelazny and just to read more widely. "A Rose for Ecclesiastes" is a really powerful story to begin with - consciously old-fashioned but doing something new as well. "He Who Shapes", drawing as it does on Zelazny's own experience of car accidents and bereavement, is a good ending point for this first selection. The commentary keeps us going through the less memorable stories in the middle. I am looking forward to reading volume two, and to buying the rest as they come out.

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