“Sword at Sunset” by Rosemary Sutcliff (Chicago Review Press, 2008)

Sword at Sunsetstarstarstar

The late Rosemary Sutcliff was a prolific writer from the 1950s through the 1970s, publishing a number of children’s books, including the Eagle of the Ninth series and a series of Arthurian novels, as well as over twenty other children’s books on historical subjects.  She also penned nonfiction works and adult fiction, including Sword at Sunset, originally published in 1963 and re-released on May 1st of this year.

Sword at Sunset features an introduction by Canadian author Jack Whyte, writer of the successful Camulod Chronicles, a nine-book series beginning several generations before Arthur was born.  Whyte freely admits that when he first discovered Sword at Sunset it changed his life, which becomes all too clear when one has read both authors.  The characterization, the tone, and the painstaking attention to historical detail and accuracy are prevalent in both works, to the point where one might think Whyte owes Sutcliff more than an introduction and homage.

In Sword at Sunset, Sutcliff creates a world where the Roman legions have left Britain, yet the sense of Romanitas remains strong, especially in the noble characters of Ambrosius and Artos the Bear. They retain not just the armor, style of combat, and the Roman military organization, but a superior, almost arrogant sense of belonging to something that was once great and could be again.  Sutcliff’s early medieval world is not as “dark age” as normally depicted in fiction, but thriving with trade and societal infrastructure across Europe still seemingly intact.  Artos the Bear spends the beginning of the book traveling to southern France where he looks to purchase strong breeds of horses to bring back to Britain to create a strong cavalry force to fight against the invading Anglo Saxons and maintain the British control and rule.

While it is not completely clear how Artos the Bear has risen to such great prominence, he nevertheless has the backing of the people, which spurs him on to defeat the Saxons in many battles.  Sutcliff introduces many familiar characters from the Arthurian world, though there is no Merlin or Lancelot (the latter originally an addition made by Chrétien de Troyes in the twelfth century), but an important appearance is made by Arthur’s incestuous sister Medraut (or Morgan). Sword at Sunset reads like a historical military text with its calculated and descriptive battle scenes that make the world come alive, to the point where the reader may indeed believe such events transpired in the fifth century, leaving the common storylines of romance and chivalry out completely, much as they were in the original time of Arthur.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on July 11th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Hyperion” by Dan Simmons (Doubleday, 1989)

Hyperionstarstarstarstarstar

Hyperion is the first book in Dan Simmons’ epic Hyperion Cantos tetralogy.  In this opening tale, seven unique travelers are brought together on a journey, a pilgrimage to the distant and mysterious planet of Hyperion, where they will face the Time Tombs and perhaps the dreaded Shrike.  The galaxy is on the brink of Armageddon, and the pilgrims hope to somehow save it, and ultimately find their destinies on Hyperion.

Employing the structure of the Canterbury Tales, Simmons brings seven very different characters together.  It is some centuries in the future, Planet Earth is no more, having been destroyed in a science experiment now known as the “Great Mistake.”  But humanity has conquered the stars and traveled far throughout the galaxy.  It is a great age, when one can skip across thousands of light years in the blink of an eye with the use of a Farcaster: a teleportation door that takes you where you want to go, created and developed by the AI TechnoCore.

But the Ousters are coming.  A distant alien civilization about which little is known, except that they are hostile and a grave threat.  It could all end now.  The important vantage point is the distant planet of Hyperion, not even a member of the Hegemony of Man, where there are the Time Tombs.  These ancient tombs are shrouded in mystery and suspicion; all that remains of an ancient race known as the Shrike, but they may be the salvation that humanity has been waiting for.  And now these seven travelers hope to somehow activate these Time Tombs and save civilization.

Simmons begins the story in medias res, introducing the reader to these seven strangers in a world about which nothing is known, but he skillfully reveals everything through the minds, imaginations, and stories of these seven characters.  There is Het Masteen, a member of the Templars, a tall and proud but quiet race who created and control the powerful Treeships that possess the Hawking Drive which is able to send ships across the stars at astonishing speeds; Masteen is the captain of the Yggdrasill, the ship that will take the pilgrims to Hyperion; he is also one of the pilgrims with his own unique story to tell.  There is Father Lenar Hoyt, whose story is The Priest’s Tale, about the Catholic world and existence of the parasite known as the cruciform which can reincarnate life.  Colonel Fedmahn Kassad, a member of the FORCE military who is searching for a supernatural figure that has come to him many times in his dreams in The Soldier’s Tale.  Martin Silenus, in The Poet’s Tale, tells of his life as a failed poet who nearly loses his life and then begins his opus that will make him remembered throughout the centuries.

The Scholar’s Tale from Sol Weintraub is the most moving story from the pilgrims as he recounts how his daughter, Rachel, was an archaeologist studying the Time Tombs and after a strange accident begins to grow younger each day.  She returns to her family to live with them as she decreases in age, needing to have her story recounted to her each day as she no longer remembers.  Eventually a short and easy version is made to be told by Sol each morning to her.  Sol and his wife, Sarai, relive the raising of their daughter backwards through time.  And now it is up to Sol to return to the Time Tombs with baby Rachel who is now just weeks old and will soon simply disappear.

Tge Detective’s Tale from Brawne Lamia is a noir tale of her job as a private eye with a client who is a cybrid: a cloned human with electronic implants controlled by the TechnoCore.  Someone is trying to kill him and destroy his memory, and it’s up to Lamia to figure out who is behind it all.  In the final story, The Consul’s Tale, as the Consul talks of his grandparents on the planet of Maui-Covenant which was once a paradise but when the first Farcaster was opened, became a tourist destination and its beauty was destroyed forever.  The Consul also talks about his work as a secret agent for the Hegemony in infiltrating the Ousters.

The book ends with the pilgrims finally reaching the Time Tombs.  While the sequel, Fall of Hyperion, is the book which explains a lot more of the world and everything that eventually happens, there is a specialty about Hyperion, a uniqueness with it’s original characters and their incredible stories.  Simmons epic universe employs multiple forms of the science fiction genre, making it a complex and fascinating world in which most people would like to live in.  In a way, Simmons has essentially rewritten the Canterbury Tales of the far future, with some incredible stories that stand out as moving novellas on their own, and a cast of characters readers won’t soon forget.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 5th 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Dan Simmons check out BookBanter Episode 4.

“After Dark” by Haruki Murakami (Knopf, 2007)

After Darkstarstarstarstar

In Haruki Murakami’s latest novel, After Dark, he tells a unique and compelling story of what goes on after midnight on the streets of Tokyo. It is a very different world from that of the daytime, with very different people. Murakami makes this clear by revealing that the rules of physics and reality don’t necessarily apply.

The story begins with a young girl, Mari Asai, reading a book at Denny’s after midnight, but it immediately jumps to the unusual, as Mari is greeted by a boy she hasn’t seen in a while who sits opposite her and begins conversing. She admits she plans on spending the night out, doing anything other than sleeping. The boy, Tetsuya Takahashi, tells her about his late night band practices – he is a trombonist. After he leaves for his practice, a short while passes before a strange, rough looking woman comes into Denny’s and walks straight up to Mari, telling her she is the manager of a love hotel and has found a beaten girl who only speaks Chinese in one of her rooms; Takahashi told her Mari speaks Chinese. So begins an adventurous – and at times dark and morbid – night.

After Dark tells of various characters who all go about their lives during the early morning hours in Tokyo, but who are intrinsically linked and will cross paths one or more times during the night. At the heart of the story is Mari and her love for her beautiful sister, to whom she is no longer close. Eri Asai was a girl born with a special beauty, but recently gave up on life and now spends her days and nights in a deep, almost catatonic sleep. But she is just one cast member whose life is affected on this particular night.

Murakami uses a floating camera narrator to take the reader everywhere and anywhere, where there are no bounds, where things are dark and scary. After Dark is a short, but haunting tale with some special characters who will stay with you long after you have closed the book and put it aside.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 1st 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Boys Are Back in Town” by Christopher Golden (Spectra, 2008)

The Boys Are Back in Townstarstarstarstarstar

Christopher Golden has established himself as a talented writer within the horror genre. In The Boys Are Back in Town, he tells an incredible story, one that reminds readers there are still great books being written that will suck you in from the first page, and make you want to shut off from your life and commitments until you get to that last page.

Will James is in his late twenties and while he hasn’t necessarily managed to follow his dreams, he is a journalist working for a newspaper and is happy with the life he has. He suffers suspicion from others due to his pursuit of the supernatural and any story involving magic. However, he considers it his job to debunk these people and reveal them as the frauds they are. The high point for his weekend is his ten-year high school reunion, which begins Friday night with a meeting with Stacy, a former friend who has become an interesting and beautiful woman. But when Will asks where his best high school friend Mike is, he is greeted with anger and furious stares, and a short while later memories surface of Mike dying in a horrific hit-and-run accident during their senior year. Will is confused, for he has vaguer memories – shadows in his mind – of knowing Mike through college and receiving an e-mail from him just the week before about coming to the reunion.

The next day at the Homecoming game, Will makes a comment to another close friend, Ashleigh, about the Homecoming Queen during their senior year, but then is corrected by her. She says that it was a different person because the girl was raped the night before. Before his eyes, Will watches Ashleigh visibly change, as she recounts how she was also raped, which is why she can’t have children. Will feels his mind splitting, since he recalls visiting Ashleigh and her husband last Christmas, and seeing their beautiful twins. He knows there is something very wrong going on here, not just someone playing a prank on him; someone is messing with his timeline, his reality, changing events. He has some ideas about who is involved, but he’s going to have to go back to the life of magic that he had deliberately forgotten; it will require using a spell that will take him back to his high school years. He’s going to have to stop whoever is doing this, whoever is rewriting history, and changing his life before his very eyes.

The Boys Are Back in Town will horrify and astound, as well as bring back memories of your high school era. Golden writes with a skill and emotion that brings these years to life on the page, while adding a deadly element – for memories are meant to stay the same, and are not supposed to change on the fly.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on May 1st 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

For an interview with Christopher Golden check out BookBanter Episode 12.

“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf, 2008)

Unaccustomed Earthstarstarstar

Jhumpa Lahiri, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Interpreter of Maladies, and author of The Namesake, returns after five years with Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of eight stories that are longer than short stories but not quite novella length. It’s split into two parts. The first consists of five individual stories, while the second part consists of the last three tales, each involving the same two characters: Hema and Kaushik.

The first story, “Unaccustomed Earth,” involves a family who recently moved to Seattle. After the death of Ruma’s mother, she is left feeling guilty over the decision of whether or not to invite her aging Baba (father), to live with them. Not sure how to handle this, she invites him to stay with her for a week. Over the course of their time together, father and daughter rekindle their relationship, while secrets are revealed about their separate lives. Baba also meets and falls in love with Ruma’s son, Akash, looking after him, teaching him some Bengali, and treating him like a grandfather should – giving him more respect and attention than he has ever given Ruma. At the end of the week, Baba goes back home to his secret girlfriend and life of travel, leaving Ruma unsure, and the reader wanting more. “Unaccustomed Earth” sets the tone for the book, which offers stories of lives with problems and decisions and changes that affect all the characters. But it is those of Indian descent who have to deal with how much of their original culture they hold on to in their American lives.

“A Choice of Accommodations” is an interesting story about an interracial couple who are having problems with their marriage. During a weekend attending a friend’s wedding, they rediscover their love and respect for each other. The most compelling story of the collection is “Nobody’s Business,” involving a young Indian girl, Sangeeta, who is involved with an Egyptian man, but continuously has suitors calling her with the hope of a meeting and eventual marriage. What makes the story interesting is that it is told from the perspective of the roommate, Paul, who has a crush on Sang, and finds himself unavoidably involved in her romantic and personal life while trying to complete his doctorate. At first the story seems to go in an obvious direction, it eventually moves off on a new tangent as things change in Sang’s relationship and she ends up moving back to England, with Paul having to deal with the leftover pieces.

Lahiri continues to do what she does best, creating strong, unique characters who stay with readers after the story is over. Sadly, Lahiri fails to take risks with her writing, always portraying Indian characters who – like herself – come from an affluent, upper class upbringing, in most cases in New York or New England. Perhaps in her next work, Lahiri will branch out from her write what you know world and venture into new territory. Nevertheless, Unaccustomed Earth is a fascinating collection of stories involving Indian characters struggling with issues involved in being American, but at the same time keeping their original heritage and culture alive.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 25th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Works by Speculative Fiction’s Finest Voices” Edited by Ellen Datlow (Del Rey, 2008)

Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasystarstarstar

One of the most important and prolific editors of science fiction and fantasy anthologies today returns with The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Sixteen Works by Speculative Fiction’s Finest Voices. The key term here is speculative, for while most of these shorts lack the science fiction and fantasy elements that have come to define such stories for genre readers, they are all set in seemingly ordinary worlds with outlandish and incredible plots that defy the imagination.

After an inspiring introduction from Datlow on the importance of short stories in the genre of fantastical fiction, the collection begins with “The Elephant Ironclads,” set in an alternate 20th century world, where a Navajo nation aims to become a recognized world power, but at the same time wants to maintain its unique culture. Pat Cadigan’s “Jimmy” is a supernatural story set just a short time after the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Elizabeth Bear’s “Sonny Liston Takes the Fall” takes readers on an emotional and moving journey about the famous heavyweight fighter’s life and death. The high point of the collection is Margo Lanagan’s “The Goosle,” a dark and twisted Hansel and Gretel retelling, involving mass murder, the bubonic plague, and sexual slavery.

The perfect choice for science fiction and fantasy fans looking for new authors and truly original ideas, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy offers up sixteen special stories from today’s freshest voices.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on April 25th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Infected” by Scott Sigler (Crown, 2008)

Infectedstarstarstar

Scott Sigler is a special, new kind of writer to join the publishing world; one might even call him an author of the twenty-first century.  He wanted to bring his work to the people of the world, for free.  He began on March, 2005, by podcasting his book Earthcore a bit at a time, with continuous updates.  Earthcore was branded as “the world’s first podcast-only novel,” and Sigler started off with three listeners; at the end he had over ten thousand subscribers.  He followed this with Ancestor, Infection, and The Rookie, and currently has over thirty thousands subscribers.  And now, with a big name publisher, Sigler brings Infected to the people of the world in book form (a free version is also available on podcast).

In Infected, something is seriously wrong with the world.  Something is making people crazy, crazy to the point where they are driven to kill others, their family, and then to horribly mutilate themselves, finally taking their own lives.  The government is trying its best to keep this whole thing a secret, and at the same time trying to find out what’s making people do this and find a solution as fast as possible.  CDC is working non-stop, the big problem is once they get to one of the bodies of these “special” people, the rate of decomposition is so rapid that they don’t have enough time to perform autopsies and fully examine the bodies before they are left with nothing more than a black murky puddle.

Sigler has done his research, giving the novel a classic Michael Crichton feel, going into the science and the biology as members of the CDC try to find out what sort of “infection” is making people kill others, and more importantly how contagious it is.  While there is a lot of “head jumping” from various characters that can leave the reader a little disoriented, and the writing at times seems to need some editing, with the flow being disjointed; Sigler clearly has a unique voice in Infected that will only get better with successive books.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on March 29th, 2008 ©Alex C. Telander.