Review ~ The Violent Century

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley for review consideration.

The Violent Century cover

The Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

A bold experiment has mutated a small fraction of humanity. Nations race to harness the gifted, putting them to increasingly dark ends. At the dawn of global war, flashy American superheroes square off against sinister Germans and dissolute Russians. Increasingly depraved scientists conduct despicable research in the name of victory

British agents Fogg and Oblivion, recalled to the Retirement Bureau, have kept a treacherous secret for over forty years. But all heroes must choose when to join the fray, and to whom their allegiance is owed—even for just one perfect summer’s day. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been a fan of Lavie Tidhar’s writings, especially his Century Station stories. The Violent Century is not one of those…

What Worked
There is a small, poignant human story at the heart of this tale of superheroes and superhero-sized espionage. Unfortunately…

What Didn’t Work
The story was buried under a layer of style and structure that kept the characters at a distance.

Instead of quotation marks, dialog is sometimes set off with em dashes and is sometimes subsumed into the surrounding paragraph. The result made all the characters seem flat, like I was overhearing this story through a bad telephone connection or watching it through a screen door. I was too removed to care about the characters.

The narrative is jumbled through places and times. This could work, giving it a woven together feel, but sometimes the time digressions didn’t lead very far. Chapters felt like prologues and vignettes; it was only in the longer chapters that I ever got into a good rhythm with Fogg and Oblivion.

Overall
I don’t mind doing a little work when I read, especially when the subject matter is something that has been done, like superheroes. But reading The Violent Century was arduous. I kept hoping Tidhar would let the readers into the story, but that never happened.

Original Publishing info: Tachyon Publications, July 23, 2019
My Copy: Kindle and ePub ARCs, NetGalley
Genre: science fiction

The Black Cat, No. 10, July 1896

Welcome to the July 1896 issue of The Black Cat and the Black Cat Project!

This issue of The Black Cat features five writers new to magazine—unless there are some pseudonyms among the bunch. We’d have to go back to issue 6, in March, to find the previous issue of “newbie” writers.

Stories

“On the Last Trail” by H. W. Phillips & Rupert Hughes

The local marshal of Rapid City, a frontier town, forbids the possession of guns within town limits (due to the high death rate). This does not go over well—many of the town’s citizens become paranoid about being unarmed when someone *with* a gun comes to town. Bolande is that man. He’s friends with the Marshal, but that doesn’t make any difference. When Bolande refuses to give up his weapon, the Marshal calls him out. They duel, each shooting and mortally wounding the other. But before they die they agree that they’re still friends.

The story ends with “They were Americans… Of such were the builders of the West.” And I really can’t decide if this story is satirical or not.

While H. W. Phillips is noted in a 1908 issue of The New England Magazine as a writer magazine readers are familiar with, I couldn’t find any other credits. Rupert Hughes was a novelist and early filmmaker.

“A Message from Where?” by L. Francis Bishop

A locked trunk in the attic, a gravestone with his name on it, and lovers kept apart by the Civil War. This story was my favorite of the month due to its gloomy Southern Gothic nature. Mostly, it’s just a tale of a young boy discovering the truth of his history, of learning that the people around him all had lives before he was born.

“The Man with the Box” by George W. Tripp

“The Man with the Box” is science fiction-ish story. The box in question, when calibrated and pointed at someone, will make the target believe he is drinking a chosen beverage rather than a mundane one. For example, if the target were to choose Guinness ale from the dial on the box and then point and fire the box at himself, he’d taste Guinness when drinking a glass of water. But there is also a weird “snake” setting on the box… Shenanigans ensue. I also found this story interesting for its use of kodak and kodakist (in lower case form), presumably to denote the fad of photography and those annoyingly obsessed with it.

The only George W. Tripp I was able to locate with Google died as a high priest in the Church of Latter-day Saints. Same guy? Seems odd, but possible.

“What the Moon Saw” by Isabelle Meredith

This is the second sort-of creepy story in this month’s edition. Ned French has bet a large amount of money that Albert Turn will not at midnight pound a nail into the coffin of a recently buried man. The narrator of this story comes upon them as Turner is about to be lowered into the opened grave (dug up by servants), nails in hand. Not surprisingly, things don’t go well.

“In Miss Polly’s Pew” by Ellen Frizzell Wycoff

Jack Harrold returns after many years to the small town that was his childhood home. Many things have changed, and many things haven’t. He finds the initials he carved into a tree when he was a teenager: “J. H. + M. R.” It takes him a while(!) but he finally remembers who M. R. is—a.k.a. Polly—and how much he loved her(!). As luck would have it, Polly still lives in town and is single. And Jack’s still single too!

Ellen Frizzell Wycoff has a few other short story credits and may even show up again in the Black Cat.

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Want to read for yourself?
Here’s the link to Issue No. 10, July 1896

Or find out
More about the Black Cat Project

Sunday Salon, 6/9/19

Sunday Salon

Read & Reading

Didn’t do a lot of reading this week. I’m continuing on with The Count of Monte Cristo and started the June 1896 issue of The Black Cat. I should be further along in reading The History of Soul 2065 by Barbara Krasnoff but I should still have it finished in time for Thursday’s review. I decided not to join 20 Books of Summer. For once making a TBR list just felt stressful to me.

The History of Soul 2065 The Count of Monte Cristo

Deal Me In: For the second week in a row I drew a deuce; this time 2. I consulted my eternal list of bookmarked short stories and picked “STET” by Sarah Gailey from Fireside Magazine.

Since I’ve never been involved in rounds of proofreading, I didn’t know what STET stood for. It is an instruction on a written proof that a correction or deletion should be ignored. This story isn’t a straight narrative. Instead it’s a dialog between Anna, the writer of “Section 5.4 — Autonomous Conscience and Automotive Casualty,” and her editor as it plays out in Anna’s footnotes to the article and her editor’s comments. It’s interesting that an instruction that isn’t really needed in a digital age, stet, is used as Anna’s general reply. The story itself is about the death of Anna’s daughter, the victim of an autonomous vehicle “accident” and how we as humans go about assigning importance to each other.

DealMeIn
Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

Movie of the Week

Dark Phoenix came out this weekend. While I have a certain affection for the X-Men and have liked the “young” cast, I’m not going to see it in theaters. The production was plagued by problems and X-Men: Apocalypse wasn’t so much as bad as forgettable. But I was in the mood to watch some X-Men movies. I’d watched the first not too long ago, so I queued up X2 (2003) and X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) for this weekend. I have to say, X2 is better than I remembered. Part of the reason, I think, is that it takes its time. There’s a lot of plot, but it’s over two hours long. I like The Last Stand, but mainly because it fails while being ambitious. I realized though that, while it maybe has more plot than X2, it’s thirty minutes shorter! I might watch Days of Future Past today too.


The Sunday Salon is a linkup hosted by Deb @ Readerbuzz

#DealMeIn2019 Week 10 ~ “Evil Opposite”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Evil Opposite” by Naomi Kritzer

Card picked: 6
Found at: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, September-October 2017

There is a theory that each choice, each chance, each throw of a die creates a separate parallel universe; that there are infinite universes layered like filo dough in baklava or stacked like an unsteady pile of papers on a desk.

The Story
The “what if” of this story is, what if you could peek at your other layers. Our unnamed narrator, a handy physics post-grad, builds a device posited by his graduate advisor and is able to see other versions of himself in those other universes. In some he’s still a Ph.D. student studying physics, or mathematics, or political science, or business, or law. In some he’s single, in some he’s still with his ex-fiance, in some he’s living in a different state as a new father. In some, he’s murdered his annoying Ph.D. program nemesis Shane…

Playing the alternate lives game is always fun. What if I had pursued an MFA instead of diving into writing? What if I had taken that anatomy class instead of physiology and never met Eric? What is I took the ROTC scholarship and ended up at Creighton? Would I have ended up at as a Bluejays fan??? Okay, maybe the alternate lives game isn’t always fun.

The Author
This is the second story I’ve read by Naomi Kritzer (I believe). The first was the excellent Hugo award-winning “Cat Pictures Please”. I really enjoy her style and I should really read more of her work.

Deal Me In, Week 6 ~ “Marley and Marley”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Marley and Marley” by J. R. Dawson

Card picked: 7
Found at: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, November-December 2017

Before she showed up, she was preceded by this man in a pinstriped suit. A harbinger. He sat me down in his sterile office and said, “Time Law is no joking matter.”

Time travel is a tricky thing to handle. Why bringing Old Marley from the future is easier than putting Little Marley in foster care, I don’t know. It ends up being a sort of scientific MacGuffin that gives characters in science fiction stories something to do. That isn’t to say that “Marley and Marley” doesn’t have its clever points or isn’t well written. By the end, I wondered if the “time cops” knew anything about the future at all. (And the title: a play on Marley and Me?)

Author trivia: J. R. Dawson lives in Omaha, my hometown.

Review ~ Unholy Land

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley for review consideration.

Unholy Land

Unholy Land by Lavie Tidhar

From the bestselling author of Central Station comes an extraordinary new novel recalling China Miéville and Michael Chabon, entertaining and subversive in equal measures.

Lior Tirosh is a semi-successful author of pulp fiction, an inadvertent time traveler, and an ongoing source of disappointment to his father.

Tirosh has returned to his homeland in East Africa. But Palestina—a Jewish state founded in the early 20th century—has grown dangerous. Unrest in Ararat City is growing; the government is building a vast border wall to keep out African refugees. Tirosh has become state security officer Bloom’s prime murder suspect, while rogue agent Nur stalks them through transdimensional rifts—possible futures to prevented only by avoiding the mistakes of the past.

via Goodreads

It is actually really hard to review Unholy Land after reading its afterword by Warren Ellis.

Unholy Land is one of those lovely books that starts out presenting itself as one thing, and mutates into another almost without you seeing it.

In a way, that’s spot on.  This book starts with a “what if.” What if a Jewish state had been founded in Uganda? It was a scheme in the early 1900s, but one that was never acted on. And, if you’re familiar with Lavie Tidhar’s style of writing, this what if is a tasty morsel. Tidhar’s forte is in providing settings that you feel like you’re walking through, sweating in, having dinner and drinks at. It’s even better when the setting is a mash-up of cultures and technologies.

But I disagree that Unholy Land‘s transformation, from an alternate world noir to a more politically charged thriller,  occurs without notice. Tidhar does things that are designed to put the reader off-kilter. Point of view changes happen not only between chapters but within scenes. Memories shift for characters. It’s obvious early on that something more is going on than originally meets the eye. This isn’t a comfortable book despite my wanting to spend time in the world. I enjoyed it, but I also feel like I’m going to need to reread it. And that’s not a bad thing.

Publishing Information: Tachyon Publications, November 2018
My copy: Kindle ARC
Genre: science fiction

Deal Me In, Week 43 ~ “The Fish of Lijiang”

DealMeIn

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Fish of Lijiang” by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu

Card picked: 4
Found at: Clarksworld

It’s the fault of that damned mandatory physical exam. On the last page of the report were the words: PNFD II (Psychogenic Neural-Functional Disorder II). Translated into words normal people can understand, they say that I’m messed up and I must take two weeks off to rehabilitate.

Our narrator is sent to Lijiang to “rehabiliate.” While he is there he is not allowed to have his personal electronics, not even a watch. He’s left to laze about, maybe take in some traditional Nixi music (now played by robot bands), and theorize about the strange, ubiquitous stray dogs. That is until he meets a mysterious woman, a special care nurse who is also doing mandatory rehab.

The science fiction elements in this story are very light. Robots, holograms, time dilation and compression: they’re all used in a sort of depressingly mundane way. I’ll be honest, I’m pretty lukewarm about this story. With an unsympathetic narrator, not enough setting, and an only okay plot, I’m glad it wasn’t longer.