Note: My read but “waiting to be reviewed pile” is growing. Short rumination/tangents are a way to get through the stack before the new year and my memory/will fades. Unfortunately, I left two of my favorite reads of the year for last. Stay tuned for more detailed and analytical reviews.
1. Where Time Winds Blow, Robert Holdstock (1981)
I cannot properly review Where Time Winds Blow (1981). Sometimes, while perambulating the interwebs, I encounter a singular encapsulation of a text’s brilliance that defeats all my own attempts to write constructively about a book. I blame Andrew Darlington’s brilliant review/article on Robert Holdstock contextualizing the novel within his early oeuvre. The short paragraph below–an attempt to convince you to procure a copy–is indebted to his review. Please read his review! There are fan writers and then there are fan writers. Darlington should receive a Hugo nod.
We are plunged into a truly alien world. A planet, with an uncertain/shifting name, is possessed by time winds that flow down a massive valley. Strange shapes (perhaps from previous of future explorations) and mechanism are ejected by the winds. An unusual group of individuals willing to risk everything to shift through the jetsam knowning that the winds could possess them too.
Holdstock’s vision is a well-wrought cavalcade of my favorite SF themes–the shifting sands of time, the pernicious maw of trauma that threatens to bite down, unreliable narrators trying to trek their own paths, a profoundly alien planet that compels humanity to construct an entirely distinct society… It’s a slow novel that initially masquerades as something entirely different. Just like the planet itself.
Gorgeous. Highly recommended.
2. Dawn, Octavia E. Butler (1987)
Dawn (1987) is the second Octavia E. Novel I’ve read after Kindred (1979). I prefer the latter.
The premise: Lilith Iyapo awakes on aboard a huge alien spaceship. The Oankali saved the human survivors from Earth. They repair the earth and healed many human ailments. In return they expect to collect humanity’s genetic material–and to take their humanity.
I struggled with the stark prose and Butler’s complete refusal to use metaphor. Both are deliberate choices designed to highlight the horror and moral conundrum of the scenario. However, humans interpret their worlds and communicate with each other metaphorically. This disconnect frustrated me as pages went by without metaphor or metaphoric interpretation. In an exchange with a friend, we discussed how the Oankali have transformed the surviving humans before Iyapo awoke on the ship into something else–something slightly inhuman. That is a valid point. My artistic sensibilities (I enjoy a gorgeous image, a delightful turn of phrase, a relevant reference)–especially at novel length–clash with Butler’s strategic way of telling. Hence, I struggled with a more extensive review.
The background themes Butler’s novel explores–the disturbing alien view that the value of humanity is tied entirely up in the genetics and the ability to reproduce–resonate. I found myself deeply invested in the travails and agonies of the survivors trying to chart their paths in the bizarre new world they find themselves in. I enjoyed the novel enough to pick up a copy of the sequel–Adulthood Rites (1988)
Recommended despite my quibble.
3. Brave Old World, Phillipe Curval (1976, trans. by Steve Cox, 1981)
Philippe Curval’s 1950s photo collage cover art for the French SF magazine Fiction are top-notch. I featured them in 2017 (Part I, II). Brave Old World is the only one of Curval’s 20 odd novels available in English translation. Of his many short stories, only “Heavier Than Sleep” received an English translation–it appeared in Maxim Jakubowski’s anthology Twenty Houses of the Zodiac (1979). Here’s his bibliography.
Unfortunately, I struggled to finish Brave Old World. A dystopia emerges between the totalitarian Marcom (Common Market) polity and the rest of the world (the Devna League). The technologically advanced Marcom deployed a shield between the two political entities preventing any exchange. Leo Deryme, possessed by extraordinary psychological powers, manages to transmit a message to the Devna League asking for an agent to infiltrate the barrier. The novel follows Belgacen Attia as he manages to penetrate the barrier–in addition to his quest to commit technological espionage, he seeks to find his lost son.
Yes, this is a Cold War parable of the East vs. the West. Yes, there are intriguing scenes of dissident society within Marcom. I found nothing else memorable. Recommended only for completist fans of French SF in translation. If French-language dystopia is something you want to explore, check out Jean-Louis Curtis’ The Neon Halo (1956, trans. 1958) and Jacques Sternberg’s Future Without Future (1971, trans. 1972)
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