Sunday, 28 April 2019

Books: The Literary Reflection, XVI

Yes, it's time to dig through the recent readings and see what's what.

'The Killing Of Polly Carter' (Death In Paradise) (2015) by Robert Thorogood
This is a major improvement on the first novel in the series, 'A Meditation On Murder', with many more red herrings and less of the television series's gimmicks in evidence. I suspect that it would be fair to say this is more in line with the spirit of the series than the first, by adhering less to the letter of it all, but I've not seen it, so this is all speculation. In 'The Killing Of Polly Carter', Thorogood integrates all the major characters of the Richard Poole era of 'Death In Paradise' in a much better fashion, telegraphs the plotline far less, and incorporates the supremely awkward Poole in a much more natural way. The mystery, the apparent suicide of retired supermodel Polly Carter, leads to an awful lot of drug-related histories, and is quite awkward if you don't like that sort of thing, but is otherwise good. I liked it. Now it's time to wait for the hardback of the third book, as the first two were accidentally in hardback and now it's time to be hideously consistent...

'Unicorn Variations' (1983) by Roger Zelazny
Finally, another set of short stories and fragments over, and this one was nice. I was expecting endlessly gloomy endings, but it was mixed, and there were a few good to hilarious endings. In particular, the titular 'Unicorn Variations' and 'The George Business' are quite fun, and 'Home Is The Hangman' has a surprisingly optimistic ending in the context of a murder mystery. 'My Lady Of The Diodes' was a pretty good romp too. This set seemed more enjoyable than the collection 'The Last Defender Of Camelot', and still needs to be compared with the latter of the two collection titled 'The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth'. Good, veering toward very good.

'Battlestations!' (Star Trek) (1991) by Diane Carey
Yes, it's time for the sequel to 'Dreadnought!', and once again it's time to recuse myself from any sense of impartiality. I read this many, many times while growing up and it still has that connection. Yes, there's a tendency toward lengthy prose and intimations of long communication-filled stares, but it does have a certain something to it. There are some really nice science fiction ideas, a good dose of 'Star Trek' continuity mixed in, some great lines, and a much more interesting dynamic in play as Piper and her gang attempt to pull off their part in a larger operation to avoid a cosmic scramble when the incredible prototype for transwarp drive is stolen and put up for sale to the highest bidder. It's either good, or I'm reading through rose-tinted binoculars, and I don't know which.

I wonder what happened to Piper and her crew after the events pf 'Battlestations!'? It's a little bit of a pity that Carey never returned to this bunch, which manage to succeed despite being a bit of a clone of the main Enterprise crew. Is it okay to copycat like this? Aargh. I do now know what to think! That moment at the very end is priceless, though.

'The Case Of The Constant Suicides' (Gideon Fell) (1941) by John Dickson Carr
This story is quite highly regarded, but it ultimately came off as being a middle of the pack 'Gideon Fell' novel. The gimmick employed was ingenius, though, and one which I never saw coming. That's the magical thing about the Carr novels, that idea that catches you unawares even in the slighter narratives. Yes, the romance between the two historians is lovely, and the crazy Scottish aristocrats are funny, and there are some chilling moments... Oh, maybe it's better than my opinion. Perhaps the central mystery of why that castle owner jumped from the tower window is defused by the long period of time before the second supposed suicide, or perhaps the comedic nature of many of the scenes at the castle unconsciously clash with the life or death perils behind the scenes? Let's call it good. Why not? It is very insubstantial, though. I could go around in circles on this one all day.

'Mystery Mile' (Albert Campion) (1930) by Margery Allingham
This second 'Campion' novel is much better than the first, and finally makes the titular adventurer the protagonist of the story, as we get a partial follow-up to 'The Crime At Black Dudley', hidden in a stand-alone story. Campion is a very interesting character, and the revelations we get on his character, both directly and as revealed by his ex-criminal manservant Lugg, reveal a far more interesting person than you might expect of the time. The question of why exactly he was working for a bunch of crooks in 'Black Dudley' is never explained, though.

Does the book add anything that wasn't present in the television adaptation? The order of events may have been tampered with slightly in the dramatisation, but it's ultimately the exact same story. Campion still has to protect a retired judge, who claims to have the clue that will identify the mysterious man at the head of the Simister gang. He takes the judge and his family to the country house of some friends of his, and events unfold. It's very well written, very character-driven, and very well put together. Would it be as good without Peter Davison's and Brian Glover's shadows falling over proceedings? Probably, yes.

At the moment, after two entries in the series, this is above 'Lord Peter Wimsey', but we shall see.


Saturday, 6 April 2019

Books: 'The Elenium' by David Eddings (1989-1991)

'The Diamond Throne' (1989)

This is actually rather impressive. I've always been a little reluctant to re-read the Elenium due to the ticking timer at its core, and the more adult tone, but courage has been accumulated and the sense of wonder re-stoked. The 'Elenium' and the 'Belgariad' represent the peak of David Eddings, when he was constructing whole worlds with seeming ease, and not merely repeating the same patterns with a twist.

After the raging medievalism/barbarism/whatever-ism of 'The Belgariad', we get a totally different setup in 'The Diamond Throne'. Gone are the various races, each with its own stereotype or cliches, and the innocent naive hero with his soldierly companions and sorcerous mentors. Here we have a battered Knight of the Church, a continent-wide religion which crosses state lines and influences everything to some degree, with its own capital city and leader. However, Sir Sparhawk is also the Champion of his own Queen, and she has been poisoned. It's a very different scenario when your hero is returning from an exile, already knows the ropes and levers of government, and is as cynical as they come. The magic is different too, operating not by the Will and the Word, but by spells and incantations calling on the power of the mysterious Younger Gods of Styricum, a minority race on the continent.

Now, having read this at a formative age and reacting a little negatively at the time, I can't entirely pretend to be impartial about 'The Diamond Throne', but the writing is impressive. That is undeniable. It's not as driven a story as the first part of the 'Belgariad', with protagonists who don't have a clear path to follow, but the meanderings as they work out just what is going on around them are entertaining, and the characterizations are nice. The power is mainly in the world-building and the variations of the kingdoms of the conintent of Eosia, as well as in the complex shenanigans of a world with an overriding Church and occasional ghosts. Fiction wouldn't be fiction without a few ghosts wandering around with things on their minds.

That ticking clock still annoys me, though. It's integral to the whole thing and vexes considerably. Blast it all.

'The Ruby Throne' (1990)

'The Ruby Knight' has a very odd moment, where everything is supposed to turn around, but the effect is that of a handbrake turn toward where the story needs to go. As a consequence, it's a book which is definitely of two halves. To begin, we have the continuation of 'The Sapphire Throne', and then we segue fully into the proper and directed hunt for 'The Bhelliom' and the conclusion that will come in 'The Sapphire Rose'.

We get lots of character work, a segue into horror, some tussles with the hideous creature that is the Seeker, a bit of necromancy, some flirtation, and a lot of intrigue. Mainly, however, 'The Ruby Knight' sets us up for the final part of the story. What will happen once they release Ehlana from her sustaining crystal and heal her? And what has the hideous god Azash got to do with it all? The final book will reveal all. Or will it?

'The Sapphire Rose' (1991)

And so we come to the end of 'The Elenium', and wonder just what we have read. Sparhawk ends up married to his Queen in the opening of the book instead of the end, an emasculated god is killed, a protagonist dies, and we get one of those epic endings. Actually, we also get one of those post-script endings that I enjoy so much, after the main narrative has completed, and everyone settles down into an idyllic life of sorts. Well, it's not quite like that time, as we get a global grieving of sorts, followed by a monumental Spring, but it's still nice. Things do go on, and just as we enter the story 'en media res', so do we also leave it, at a new beginning.

'The Sapphire Rose' is much more cohesive than 'The Ruby Knight', with no need for authorial interventions to turn the story. It does feel oddly disconnected, though, with the absence of the Child Goddess Aphrael, the ever so brief honeymoon, mental manipulations by dark forces, and the confrontation with the twisted God Azash. In between, we have the election of a new Archprelate (Pope) and the siege of the Holy City, so there is a lot going on. The intricacies of papal elections and corrupt ancient democracy are quite nice.

Despite the implied gripes, it's an amazing world construction, and the idea of the Child Goddess is very impressive. It's a bit gruesome, though, and probably unnecessarily so.

Overall, 'The Elenium' is a grand trilogy, which hooks up oddly in the middle. There is a massive amount of dialogue, and sometimes the characters seem a bit interchangeable, but it's a worthwhile read if you liked 'The Belgariad', without really equalling or surpassing it. Oh, the joys of very lengthy narrative!