Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

March books 1) On, 2) Changing Planes, 3) Maul

A train to Paris, followed by a trans-Atlantic flight, is a good way to make further inroads into the books bought the other week in London. I'm typing this up on my laptop during a stopover in JFK; it's approaching 10 pm here, which is 4 am by the European clock. I slept very badly last night (Sunday night, that is) in Paris, and didn't get a lot of sleep on the plane either (though I did have the luxury of three seats to myself to stretch across). So once I finally get to my hotel in Washington I will tuck in for a damn good night's sleep, even though it will be my usual getting-up time. (Who knows when I will be able to post this? I hope the hotel has broadband in the bedrooms - the modem on this laptop is pretty dodgy.) I also still have a stinking cold (see lj entries for the last week or so) which should help the sleep process, though it didn't really facilitate my participation in the Paris conference and won't really help me in DC.

Anyway, to the books:

1) On, by Adam Roberts

A rather wacky setting this: a world where gravity goes parallel to the ground rather than perpendicular to it, so its inhabitants perceive it as a huge wall, with settlements clinging to ledges and everyone perpetually terrified of falling off (as indeed many do). We have some great scene-setting in the hero's small home village; he then arrives in a much bigger civilisation, gets embroiled in a war, and eventually comes close to finding out the Secret Behind It All. But I was a bit disappointed; there wasn't really much closure for any of the plot threads, and I rather felt the author had given up trying to think of things to do. I much preferred his earlier book, Salt; both are written in the same sparse style that I associate with English sf writers like Brian Aldiss, Christopher Priest and Stephen Baxter.

2) Changing Planes, by Ursula Le Guin

This collection of short stories by one of my favourite authors is, of course, simply superb. (And I hate to carp on prices, but excellent value too, a 200-page hardback for £8.95.) The very first story reveals that "changing planes" in this case means changing between different planes of existence, which on our world can apparently be only done in airports. I'd read a couple of these before in other collections, but they do make for a good unified whole. Best of the bunch perhaps is "Seasons of the Ansarac", tying in all the great Le Guin themes of unusual socialisations of sexuality, the dangers of meddling with technology, and damn good old-fashioned story-telling. Some of the others are just straight parables or satires, but no less effective for that; I particularly smiled at "The Royals of Hegn".

The author comments that "this book was written when the miseries of air travel seemed to be entirely the doing of the corporations that ran the airports and the airlines, without any help from bigots with beards in caves". Sitting here in New York it's impossible to be unaware of the massive psychic gap in the architecture at the southern end of Manhattan. Security was fairly tight on the first leg of this trip - the flight from Paris I think is one where they have had specific threats recently (I called Anne once we were safely in the air, to reassure myself as much as her, as this was my first flight since poor Boris Trajkovski last week). But once I got here I was checked into the Washington flight by a real incompetent; he tore off my visa waiver form so now it's loose in my passport, which will no doubt create problems in due course (especially if I lose it), and then failed to take my case off me as I checked in, no I am now sitting in the departure lounge waiting to bring it on by hand. It has already attracted the attention of three separate airport security staff as something that is clearly in the Wrong Place.

OK, am on the Washington plane now; the woman in the seat in front looks strangely like Chelsea Clinton. Just got time to write up:

3) Maul, by Tricia Sullivan

Shortlisted for both BSFA and Arthur C Clarke awards; I must be jetlagged (heck, let's face it, I am jetlagged) but I couldn't see the connection between the two storylines, one of a savage gun battle between girl-gangs in a contemporary shopping mall, and the other a future setting of women experimenting on one of the few remaining men in the world. There was a sort of hint that the contemporary setting was in some way an artifact of the nanobots in the body of the hero of the future setting, but it didn't really hang together for me. Having said that, the two storylines taken separately are convincingly and breathlessly written. The teenage angsty one in particular can be found echoed in many livejournals (though I except present company). I honestly don't see this book as a prizewinner though. Right, plane is about to take off, and the bloke sitting beside Chelsea Clinton is having a loud and disagreeable conversation on his phone. He'll be asked to turn it off in a moment, but I'll have to turn this off first.

[Final edit: The hotel does indeed have broadband, and almost drinkable Guinness. But much more excitingly, it turned out that Chelsea Clinton's double was on the plane because she works for one of the other passengers, a man who looked strangely like Senator Edward Kennedy because he is Senator Edward Kennedy. I briefly considered flagging our mutual acquaintance in his former chief of staff, but decided it was far too late at night.]
Tags: bookblog 2004, history: us, world: france, world: usa, writer: adam roberts, writer: ursula le guin

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