Mike’s Prattle


John Holbrook Vance – The House on Lily Street, Michael Shea – “Creative Coverage, Inc.;” Tanith Lee – “Elle est Trois, (La Mort);” Larry Niven – Protector, “The Jigsaw Man;” Steven Brust – Iorich; Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette – “Boojum”

Posted by Mike on January 28, 2010

Since I’m feeling fairly laconic about writing incense reviews this week (been down with a bit of the nasties this week which takes the wind out of my sails), I thought I’d at least try to catch up to current on more book reading…

The first up here is another of the rarer mysteries Jack Vance wrote (under what I believe is his real name). I think this one was done in the 60s some time but not released until a decade later or so on the Underwood-Miller imprint. Now I don’t have access to the Integral Edition anymore, that was the imprint I had to go with, but the important thing is getting a chance to read it at all since all no edition is cheap. Anyway it’s been a little while since I finished it but this is a murder mystery surrounding a social worker whose body is found at the title house and the attempts of the detective to track down the murderer. Vance is an adept hand at this sort of thing, and of all the mysteries I’ve read, I don’t ever end up figuring out who it is and why until it’s revealed, but this plot is quite intricate with the detective interviewing friends, potential love interests and a number of different families visited by the social worker. And this one takes place in Vance’s hometown of Oakland, which I’m familiar enough with to understand not only the geography but the big differences between those who live in the hills and those in the cities. Lots of big larger than life characters here and as always Vance creates a good read.

The next two stories are from one of the Whispers volume (IV if my memory has it right). “Creative Coverage, Inc.” is one of the few stories Shea wrote that didn’t show up in The Autopsy and Other Tales, so I thought I’d give it a read before I forgot about it. It’s a bizarrely written story (switches lots of perspectives and tones throughout) that more or less entails a situation where science gone awry ends up in a coverup that seems to reflect something that might have actually happened. I found it hard to read but the end is severely creepy and the whole situation ends up being relevant even now. Knowing Shea, so far, mostly from the Nifft trilogy, his Vance and Lovecraft pastiches as well as his incredible science fiction novella Polyphemus, I found this amazingly different, just adding to my admiration for his significant if rather small canon.

Also in this volume was Tanith Lee’s atmospheric Parisienne story, one that has remained fairly uncollected even though it won the World Fantasy Award at the time. It expands on a legend of a feminine version of the Death archetype through the story of three friends whose lives have all been affected by the archetype even as far back as childhood. With the little Lee I’ve read there always seems to be just an unusual almost decadent-inspired feel to her stories and a very langurous, just under the level of erotic tone that really sets her work apart, yet another author I’ll be checking more out of.

Nearly at the other end is the decidely Hard SF/Space Opera “Known Space” work by Larry Niven, a book expanded from a story called The Adults (the book was released in 1973, the original story in the late 60s). As it goes I think the story is the first novella of the book, and the second new to Protector. It also shows a writer who had grown a lot in those six years. I found The Adults to be kind of insular and strange, certainly a very interesting idea of an alien and its relationship to the greater scheme of the universe, but the characters all seem a little too lightly drawn and the prose clunky enough that I had trouble getting through it. But the second novella, which takes place later on the timeline yet with one, very changed character being the connection, was a lot more involving and perhaps because the cast was smaller there was a lot more emotional resonance. And all the hints in the first novella really get expressed in the new one, with the Protector ending up having at least a couple of different meanings. Not a great book (often the case for fix ups in my opinion) but maybe the first one in the chronology of Known Space that really opened the concept up and made me wish I hadn’t read Ringworld already.

“The Jigsaw Man” on the other hand was a pretty tight story, often the case for the work in Harlan Ellison’s famous and original Dangerous Visions anthology. This is earlier in the Known Space timeline and covers the era when organlegging was common and criminals were being arrested for insignificant crimes all in the cause of creating more organs. This one starts with two organleggers in jail along with a man whose crime you’re not aware of only for a breakout to occur and a neat conclusion that kind of wraps of the look on the society from a couple ends. Perhaps this is where Niven starts to really get his chops going…

Steven Brust’s Iorich is the nteenth in his long running Vlad Taltos series, one of the only fantasy series I still avidly follow, perhaps because they’re a lot shorter than the usual 800 page epics and, like this one, are often really mysteries in the guise of Zelazny-esque fantasy. This one has Taltos defending one of his old friends, back in town despite the knowledge that assassins are out for him. There’s perhaps too much build up in this book, however as usual it’s the wrly written, witty banter-full build up that makes reading them a breeze and since most of the old gang from the early books make appearances I found it quite enjoyable. Perhaps my favorite parts were his visiting his son and ex-lover, all with the ex obviously being part of the circumstances than anything else. Anyway while Brust keeps writing them, I’ll keep reading them.

Finally a story Ellen Datlow was kind enough to drop by and let me know I missed, which I found in Dozois’ Year’s Best Science Fiction Vol. 26, and was the first in this new Lovecraftian far-future universe “Mongoose” was in. While Mongoose was a longer read and perhaps an improvement on “Boojum” due to more development, I still found the first story excellent, combining a pirate ship who take on an eerie cargo that ends up being related to the Mi-Go from one of the better Lovecraft tales. All I can say is I hope Bear and Monette keep going to this well as they’re far and away some of the best Lovecraft inspired stories ever written.


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