Daily Illuminator

December 5, 2005: Stuff I Read

Over the last week I read two good and very different books, from two authors I had known for very different sorts of things. So I'll share.

The Briar King, by Greg Keyes, is high fantasy, but not easily pigeonholed past that. There are clear hints that its world descends from our own, or is at least connected in some way. There are kings and queens, served by knights, but other aspects of society are original indeed. Some creature names clearly hark back to medieval fantasy, but both names and creatures are interestingly changed. And magic is very important, and we have only the beginning of description here, but it's original and fascinating. Communicating with spirits by writing on lead foil? Gaining powers by "walking the fanes" left by the "saints," who sometimes sound very unsaintly indeed?

Keyes' previous work includes the four fantasy/steampunk "Age of Unreason" books, beginning with the wildly original Newton's Cannon, and a number of media tie-in novels which should NOT be held against him. If they pay the bills to let him do books like The Briar King, blessings on them. Be warned, though: this book doesn't stand alone. A sequel, The Charnel Prince, is already out; I'm going to pick it up soon. Amazon tells me that at least one more is to come.

And then we have Ken MacLeod's Newton's Wake - no relation to Newton's Cannon, of course. This is a space opera . . . it says so, right on the cover. It's got the sort of plot that gets called a "romp" by the sort of critics who like saying "romp." But if it's a space opera, it's a thoroughly posthuman one. It posits that a Vingean "Singularity" happened . . . but a great many people survived, alive and human, after the AIs and post-post-posthumans went off to wherever they go in stories like this. So there they are, poking among the remains, some of them trying to set off another event that they can participate in, and others doing everything they can to prevent that from happening.

If you like themes of posthumanism, but want characters and plots that you can relate to, this one's worth looking at.
-- Steve Jackson

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