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

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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.

Deal Me In, Week 38 ~ “The Day of an American Journalist in 2889”

DealMeIn

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

“The Day of an American Journalist in 2889” by Jules Verne (or maybe Michel Verne)

Card picked: 10
Found at: East of the Web

Little though they seem to think of it, the people of this twenty-ninth century live continually in fairyland. Surfeited as they are with marvels, they are indifferent in presence of each new marvel. To them all seems natural. Could they but duly appreciate the refinements of civilization in our day; could they but compare the present with the past, and so better comprehend the advance we have made!

The Story
Less a story and more of a flight of fancy, Jules Verne (or maybe his son Michel) walks us through a day in the life of “newspaper” magnate, Fritz Napoleon Smith. More than a simple journalist. Verne (whichever one) posits some semi-accurate things about a focused, on-demand form of news delivery service that a cross between 24-hour TV news channels and online news aggregation.

Other things, though… It’s hard to read about technology when it’s so far off from reality. For every impressive leap, there’s a lapse. And of course there’s the issue of our current technology, in mere 2018, being in most ways quite beyond Verne’s 2889. I think Verne would be impressed at how far we’ve gotten in 120 years.

And, yes, as our narrator observes in the opening, how often do we forget how much of a wonderland we live in?

Deal Me In, Week 35 ~ “The Enemy of All the World”

DealMeIn

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

“The Enemy of All the World” by Jack London

Card picked: J
Found at: East of the Web

It was Silas Bannerman who finally ran down that scientific wizard and arch-enemy of mankind, Emil Gluck. Gluck’s confession, before he went to the electric chair, threw much light upon the series of mysterious events, many apparently unrelated, that so perturbed the world between the years 1933 and 1941. It was not until that remarkable document was made public that the world dreamed of there being any connection between the assassination of the King and Queen of Portugal and the murders of the New York City police officers.

I was intrigued by a Jack London story with a “sci-fi” designation. London doesn’t really spring to mind when I think of speculative fiction. But then I remembered, in the early 20th century *everyone* was excited by science and technology. It wasn’t until years later that “genre” fiction became an ill-regarded thing.

London presents us with Emil Gluck, mad scientist. But other than the introduction above, before we get to Emil’s crimes, we are given Emil’s background and London is definitely in the “nurture” camp when it comes to behavior. Emil’s parents died when he was young, he was sent to live with a cruel aunt, and his early scientific theories are lambasted by the press. Despite this, he has a multiple degrees and successful electroplating concern. After Emil is framed(?) for the murder of a woman who scorned him, he spends his time in jail plotting his revenge, the crux of which is reliant on a strange thing that once happened at his  electroplating plant.

Published in 1908, this story is set in the future relied on some scientific speculation on London’s part. It does remind me somewhat of Edward Page Mitchell’s “The Ablest Man in the World,” the protagonist of which was worried about the fate of the world when in the hands of a competent (not entirely human) genius. Neither story has a particularly optimistic outlook.

Mini Reviews, Vol. 14

The Black Dove cover The Black Dove by Steve Hockensmith

Holmes On the Range Mystery #3 – I know, look at me reading all the series!

Big Red and Old Red Amlingmeyer end up “deducifying” in Gold Rush San Francisco, looking to solve the mystery of Dr. Chan’s death. Hockensmith does a good job of keeping these mysteries fresh; changing up the settings while staying true to the Old West. I listened to this on audio; the dialog shines with William Dufris.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea cover Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Think of every ocean/undersea adventure ever. Toothy whales? Check. Giant squids? Check. Antarctic sailing? Check. Atlantis? Check. Island of savages? Well, check. Generally, I really enjoyed this book. Published in 1870 (1872 in English), Verne revels in science. The submarine, the underwater breathing apparatuses, the natural classifications of so much aquatic life—all of it gets good press. Honestly, the only bits I glazed over during were discussions of where the Nautilus was and where it was going. Seaman, I ain’t.

alt text Lizzie: The Letters of Elizabeth Chester Fisk 1864-1893, edited by Rex C. Myers

I bought this last summer at The Old Sage Bookshop in Prescott.

I’ve read a few memoirs and collections of letters by 19th century pioneer women. Usually, they are from the prairie or southwest. In this case, Lizzie Fisk lived in Helena, Montana. Instead of a farmer or a rancher, her husband was a newspaper man. Many of her letters are about the Herald, her husband’s, newspaper and the politics of the city and the state. Fisk was an abolitionist and a suffragette, but she was also terribly judgemental and, as a woman of her time, selectively racist. In all, her letters filled out my notion of the American frontier, but honestly, Fisk isn’t someone I would have liked to spend time with. (And I doubt she would have thought much of me either…)

hosted by Nick @ One Catholic Life

20 15 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy @ 746 Books

Deal Me In, Week 31 ~ “The Touch of Love”

DealMeIn

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

“The Touch of Love” by Day Al-Mohamed

Card picked: K
Found at: Daily Science Fiction

The Story
There is a content warning at the top of this story and, yeah, it’s appropriate. Soft science fiction asks questions. If you can make companion robots, could you (or should you) make robots that are tolerant of abusive relationships? But what about machine learning, that “deep” knowledge gained by experience? What would a companion robot in an abusive relationship learn about love? All that in a flash fiction piece!

Deal Me In, Week 13 ~ “The Dust Enclosed Here”

DealMeIn

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

“The Dust Enclosed Here” by Kage Baker

Card picked: 7
Found at: Infinity Plus

The Story
Will Shakespeare is a holographic educational entertainment exhibit at Southwark Museum’s Globe Restored. He is programmed to recite certain sonnets and soliloquies that are still allowed by the Tri-World Council for Integrity, to marvel at the technology of the modern world, and to encourage patrons to visit the Gifte Shoppe on their way out. But unlike a simple program trained with the works of the Bard and some scholar-agreed-upon personality traits, Will yearns to create new material and remembers a time when he had the freedom to do so. Will’s programming, it would seem, is different and maybe even illegal. And it might just take the hacking efforts of a strange and equally improbable boy, Alec, to let Shakespeare write again.

I’ve enjoyed just about everything I’ve read by Kage Baker, which makes me wonder why I haven’t read more of her work. This story was included in the collection Black Projects, White Knights: The Company Dossiers, so I assume that it’s part of Baker’s Company series. Now, I’ve only read a different collection of Company stories, In the Company of Thieves, back in 2013. I’ve found that you really don’t have to be familiar with the world to enjoy any of the related stories, though it probably helps. I kind of imagine that Shakespeare’s memories being part of the holo-program and Alec “setting him free” is a sideways plot to undermine whatever totalitarian government had put something like the Council for Integrity in place.