#2: The Land Across (Gene Wolfe)

For the first time in a long time, I’m just stymied as to what to write about a book. Disjoint thoughts: this is definitely a Gene Wolfe of a piece with the others in this, his current period. Dense and unknowable things happen behind the scenes. There are not one but two persons that only the narrator ever sees or acknowledges, until those rules are broken. Some of it didn’t work well for me; the book it reminded me the most of, The City & the City, was much better at setting up an alien country with sideways rules.

Unreviewable, unratable. If you like Gene Wolfe, it’s worth a read, but then again, if you like Gene Wolfe, you already knew that.(

#32: The Long Tomorrow (Leigh Brackett)

A couple of generations after fire fell from the skies, a young New Mennonite begins to wonder if there’s more to the world than he’s been told. He hears of a place where men are free to think, to learn, and his heart begins to yearn for that freedom…

Now, post-apocalyptic stuff is usually not my thing. This novel is beautifully written, and the prose sets everything up beautifully. In the end, the SF elements are just that, elements; this ends up the story of how one person grows and changes his thinking in different ways.

Definitely the best of the 50s SF anthology so far.

#31: Espedair Street (Iain Banks)

A musician who was once in a world-famous band now lives incognito in a church folly in Glasgow. Something terrible happened to break up the band, and Dave Weir hasn’t gotten over it yet. The story unfolds, half as things come apart in the present, half building up to them coming apart in the past…

I had trouble remembering if I’d read Espedair Street or not. I eventually came down on the side of “have read it” — I think I must’ve gotten it on intra-library loan at some point before I started the book blog. I definitely remembered several things from the later parts of the book, including the meaning of the title.

One reason I was having trouble, though, is that this book is structurally so similar to The Wasp Factory — main character reminisces, goes through a present-day story that includes drinking with strange friends, a revelation, a twist, an epiphany. It almost feels like Banks was trying to show that he could write a novel without any fantastical elements at all — even though the fantastic elements of his first three books were the best parts.

Ending status: this book, as well as his other one published the same year (Consider Phlebas), show that Banks at this point still hadn’t figured out how to stick an ending.

#30: The Bridge (Iain Banks)

** spoiler alert ** (It turns out that the prospect of actually having to write something means a delayed review. Hm.)

In The Bridge a man is in an automobile accident and awakes, without his memory, on the eponymous Bridge. There, as John Orr (a friendlier variation on John Doe), he is undergoing therapy, trying to uncover his memories and exploring the world he’s found himself in.

The Bridge finds Banks further exploring some of the more successful bits of Walking on Glass — the fantasy chapters, with a character exploring an environment he knows very little about. Whereas in Walking on Glass, that structure was an ever-changing castle built of glass and books, here it is a vast suspension bridge, running from the City to the Kingdom, over the course of hundreds of sections. As Orr explores the bridge, he finds it changeable and uncooperative. For example, a library he feels might hold some answers as to his identity and history proves especially elusive; nobody can direct him to it, even though they acknowledge its existence; he finds his way there once, only to find it missing and the general area on fire, and after that, cannot retrace his steps to find it again.

To go along with this flight of fancy, there are other, shorter ones; dreams that Orr has or hasn’t had — odd, detailed, different. Here, instead of calling back to an earlier novel, it’s almost as if banks is calling forward; a recurring dream is told first-person in a Scots accent, something Banks would revisit in Feersum Endjinn, and there’s more than one explicit Culture reference, even though Consider Phlebas hadn’t yet been published.

Some part of Orr is complacent, happy to be anonymously lost, and so both his conscious and subconscious conspire to shake up that complacency; here the book becomes fragmented — a love story, a travelogue, a dream journal, all leading somewhere.

I felt on this re-read the same way I felt originally, that the second half of the book, on getting away from the conceit of the Bridge, became a bit muddled, and the ending was a bit overwrought. Still an excellent read, showing Banks’ progress as a writer, and compelling all the way through.

#29: Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey (Sandra Scoppettone)

** spoiler alert ** I’ve always been a little disappointed that the series ends here, without Cecchi ever getting involved in a New York case, with Kip and Lauren just on the edge of a reconciliation… guess I’m into these more for the characters than the mysteries. I don’t really read that many mysteries, maybe because I often feel they don’t play fair with the narrative; things have to be extra-twisty and odd to keep readers interested and mystery buffs from figuring the whole thing out right away. Just my opinion, and I’m not really leveling those charges against this particular book.

Well, much.

Still, I am awfully glad to have gone back and read this series. I might not have done it again if Scoppetone hadn’t had them scanned and put them up on the Kindle store. I own them, but the lion’s share of my books have been packed away for quite some time, and I’m always getting the urge to go back and read something while new books are piling up all around me…

#27: My Sweet Untraceable You (Sandra Scoppettone)

I’m kind of burning through these, caught up in an excellent narrative voice, twisty plots and intense nostalgia. I thought I’d break away after each one, and now I’m in the fifth, without even reviewing them. I think they’re kind of impossible for me to review, at this point, so I’ll just give it a star rating and move on…