May 17, 2008

Quickie reviews, Sunday, May 19, 2008

Well, it's been awhile. Let's talk about about books. Or rather, me write about, you read about. Today's menu is all Canadian, and all offbeat.
Yellowknife, by Steve Zipp
Res Telluris, 2007

I admit to trepidation on this one. Yes, consider me part of that ignorant mass of literati that assumes that books from tiny publishers with no advertising budget are probably not worth the time or effort. Kind of stupid to think that, considering how awful some of the stuff that leaks out onto the shelves of better bookstores near you is, but there you have it. But I felt I had to. The author had contacted me, sent me a free copy, and liked my novel (no accounting for taste). So, deep breath taken, I waded in.

Consider me gobsmacked. What a terrific novel.

Yellowknife, if I can find a suitable genre to label it by, falls under the classification of Strange Town With Mysterious Happenings and Characters. I'm not saying the city of Yellowknife is up there with the glorious weirdness that was Twin Peaks, but if any of this stuff is even remotely true, I'm booking a flight up there forthwith.

The plot defies easy categorization, but hey, try and sum up Twin Peaks in ten words or less. Go on, I'll wait. Thought so. Suffice to say, there are strange lake monsters, underground caribou herds, fishermen, dogs, budget detectives, miners, artists, government officials, and dissertations on the quality of dry dog food. There are parades, diamonds, missiles, dentists, hoboes, and computer geniuses. Actually, in overall strangeness, Yellowknife is in a dead heat with Twin Peaks, and it is only my love of all things Lynchian which gives Peaks the edge. Although Inland Empire continues to thwart my efforts to sit through the whole thing.

Despite what this may all sound like, Yellowknife is not simply a list of grostequeries, or weird for the sake of weird. There is an underlying sense of order to the absurdity, and if Zipp tosses a hint of magical realism into the mix, well, so much the better. Zipp's writing is solid and assured, and if the plot may be sometimes confounding, it's never boring. I don't claim to understand exactly what happens in Yellowknife, as some of the seemingly hundreds of plot points bend and weave and break off altogether, but I certainly enjoyed myself.


Everyone in Silico, by Jim Munroe
No Media Kings, 2002

I love the work of Philip K. Dick. Even in his lesser works (Our Friends from Frolix 8), there is a weird freshness to the sci-fi happenings that very few have been able to emulate, intentionally or not. I don't believe Jim Munroe meant to follow PKD's style, but Everyone in Silico reminded me of nothing so much as Dick in his most lighthearted mode. In case you're wondering, this is a good thing.

Set in the very near future, Silico posits a world that is rapidly decreasing its physical human population through a vast virtual network that allows a person to download themselves whole into the computerized world. This new life allows the individual to interact with the physical world through cameras and projectors, yet live a life free of problems such as hunger or sleep. But what happens to the world when people start leaving it? And what happens to the bodies?

The concept of living virtually is nothing new; Neal Stephenson's ground-breaking Snow Crash pretty much defined the metaverse, to say nothing of the Matrix movies. Munroe brings a zippy freshness to the technobabble, as well as some lovely theories as to how such a new economic model might function. I love the idea that those who can only afford the 'bronze' package are constantly inundated with advertisements and jingle-spewing avatars during their day-today operations, while people of the 'gold' class can channel such irritants out of their perceptions. Meanwhile, as those who cannot afford the new life adapt to the new population implosion, steps are being taken to reclaim the planet through bio-engineering and sheer chutzpah.

It's a goofy world Munroe creates, equal parts William Gibson and Cory Doctorow, but a unique creation in its own right. Everyone in Silico is Munroe's best work to date.


The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, by Minister Faust
Del Ray, 2004

After Minister Faust's second novel From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain blew me away as pound-for-pound one of the most sheerly entertaining books I'd read in quite awhile, I awaited eagerly for a library-loaned copy of his first effort, the intriguingly-titled Coyote Kings.

No disappointment on first efforts here. Kings is definitely a first novel in that it is sprawling, ungainly, goofy, and so full of ideas that it can't contain them all and ends up spilling themes all over the floor. But it is alive with vitality and verve, a jumping jive of energy juice that never stops moving. I loved every moment of it.

The Coyote Kings are Hamza and Yehat, two friends who expertly travel the streets of Edmonton, Alberta in search of love and adventure. A mysterious woman named Sheremnefer brings the promise of fresh love into Hamza's life, but a bizarre subplot involving ancient gods and a street-drug code-named Cream threatens to tear the intrepid duo apart.

What distinguished Faust's work (apart from the outlandish premise) is his gift for language and nuance. The story is told from the perspective of several narrators, and while it does become confusing at times, Faust manages the not-inconsiderable feat of keeping all the characters distinct in tone and mood. Coyote Kings is not for everyone, but if you love the odd, you may have found your holy grail.


1 comment:

John Mutford said...

Congrats on finishing the Canadian Challenge... and with 3 great notes to end on. I admit to having similar concerns with Zipp's novel. He's been so supportive with the challenge, that to say anything negative would have felt ungrateful. So just in case, I put off reading it. But I've heard so many good things now that I've decided to read it in the 2nd edition of the challenge. It'll be especially interesting to read it then as I'll be living in Yellowknife by that point.

I left a note over at my blog about your offer of Shelf Monkey as a prize. I would love to use it as a prize for the last update (before the grand finale) coming up in June. When I pick a winner, I'll email you with their mailing address. Is that okay?

I mentioned Steve Zipp's support above. In case I haven't thanked you enough, I really appreciate all that you've done for the challenge as well-- promoting, participating and now prizing (I know prizing is not a word, but I felt I needed another "p" word).

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