Book Review: Big Planet by Jack Vance #VintageSciFi

Claude Glystra rose towards consciousness like a water-logged timber. He opened his eyes; vision reached his brain.

He lay on a low bed at the rear of a plank-walled cottage. With a feverish movement he propped himself on an elbow, stared out the open door; and it seemed that he was seeing the most wonderful sight of his life.

He looked out on a green slope, spangled with yellow and red flowers, which rose to a forest. The gables of a village showed through the foliage-quaint gables of dark brown timber. The entire landscape was drenched in a tingling golden-white radiance; every colour shone with jewel-like clarity.

Jack Vance – Big Planet

That’s right – two Vance reviews in a single day! And why not – he’s well known, amazing prolific, and his books are hella short. Given my goal of 70 books this year, I’m seriously appreciative of Jack’s brevity :).

That said…I’m sorry Mr Vance, this one just wasn’t very satisfying.

Big Planet – 3 out of 5 stars

Synopsis

Big Planet: a huge planet two or three times the size of Earth, has an atmosphere and gravity similar to Earth’s (apparently it is almost devoid of metals and is correspondingly less dense). Principally occupied by the indigenous plants and animals, Big Planet has been gradually settled by the flotsam and jetsam of mankind. Too big and too far away for Earth to directly control, and without metals or other resources to otherwise make the place valuable, fringe societies and extremist groups have headed to Big Planet for hundreds of years, each seeking to carve out a little slice of their concept of freedom. Many of these have devolved into small kingdoms and empires run by tyrants and despots.

A group of nine Earthlings lead by Claude Glystra have headed to stop the arms and slave trade on Big Planet, but crash land in the territory of one of worst of these despots – the Barjarnum of Beaujolais – and are forced to attempt a 40,000 mile trek across the dangerous planet to the Earth zone for safety.

Review

This book was fine – OK even – but there were some real flaws.

Firstly, Big Planet is the LAZIEST naming of a fictional place since Mt Doom. Big Planet might be what it’s called by the uneducated masses, or maybe as a nickname, but apparently this planet is listed as ‘Big Planet’ in the star charts. I’m sure this leads to no confusion at all. Ugh, I just couldn’t take it seriously. (Of course, I live in Australia where we literally have a desert called ‘The Great Sandy Desert‘, so perhaps I’ll just shut up about lazy place names…)

Actually, now I think about my last review…Joe Smith? Vance wasn’t one for stretching when it came to naming anything!

Its not a hard scifi story so I didn’t expect Martian levels of science or believability, but even so the basic plot got me offside from the beginning. Trek 40,000 miles? Earth is just over 24,000 miles around. These guys formed a serious plan to effectively circumnavigate the globe. Twice. On foot. This isn’t a typo either – Vance makes this twice-round-the-Earth comparison himself in the book, and yet still went ‘Yep. Sounds like a reasonable plan, and totally not the ravings of an insane person’.

Perhaps needless to say, this really blew a hole in the suspension of disbelief for me.

Moving past this, Big Planet is a fascinating place with an interesting clash of imaginative cultures and creatures…each of which we see for two or three pages before they move on, generally after killing one of the party members. I know I criticized monoculture scifi in the previous review, but the opposite extreme wasn’t any better. There was no identifiable focus, no substance to any interaction with these multitudes of peoples. We see a single feature (which then defines them) and we keep walking. I think this was my main issue here – the book is only 150 odd pages, and Vance just introduced too many tribes/gangs/villages where the people were immediately antagonistic to our sorry little band. They wash past the reader without leaving impact or furthering the plot (which is pretty simple in the first place). I think that cutting the number of these interactions by half and exploring those left in more detail would have been a significant improvement.

Regarding the characters; they are almost all male with one single young, woman who is (surprise surprise) the love interest. Midway through the book a few more attractive young women bargain their way into the group, basically offering themselves as slaves…Which was a bit weird in my opinion. And most of the male characters are empty shirts as well, with only our hero Glystra taking any real actions or holding any conversations. Everyone else seems content to walk around, follow Glystra, and wait patiently for the planet to murder them.

I suppose I am being a little hard on Vance with this one, as he has a writing style I like, and his stories, (including this one) have some very good moments. But honestly Big Planet is just an ordinary scifi tale, with too little plot to hang its creative alien dressing on.


Another submission into the Vintage SciFi Not-a-Challenge hosted by Little Red Reviewer. If you’re interested in checking some other vintage scifi reviews out, I suggest that you check out some of the links she has posted!

Cheers

KT

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Book Review: Son of the Tree & Houses of Iszm by Jack Vance #VintageSciFi

My first Jack Vance reading, I found these two fun, classic, scifi stories, each being quite different from the other but with a thin connecting botanical theme. Both soft sci-fi stories, these were creative and imaginative tales with some deeper political aspects I was pleasantly surprised by (given their brevity). Some quality vintage sci-fi (that I picked up for $2.50 in a second hand sale – win!).

I wanted to get at least one review into Little Red Reviewer’s Vintage Sci-Fi month that finishes at the end of January, and this certainly qualifies. Houses was published first in 1954, whilst Son was published in 1951. Classic pulpy American scifi, I can see why Vance has his adherents – these are a couple of well-written, well-paced, space operas, each with a touch of mystery whodunnit included for flavour.

Heads up though – I thought the characters and plot were far better in Son than those in Houses.

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Eternity in E♭

Each discordant note briefly hangs in the air before falling to shatter on the ground. Shards of sharps and semi-quavers shred the Maestro’s bare feet as his soul continues its endless march around the accursed harpsichord. Eternally bound by the shackles of his sins, the miscarried melodies and tainted tunes saw through his incorporeal existence, spirit broken and broken again by every butchered ballad.

“Forgive me,” the Maestro cries out. “It is too much to bear!”

“Well done Elizabeth,” says the music teacher, the only response the Maestro ever hears. “Now try ‘Greensleeves’.”

Damnation begins anew; in the wrong key.


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Book Review: Lament for the Afterlife – Lisa L Hannett

“Ma,” Peyt snaps, swatting the letters away, squirming at their intimate touch. For Daken’s sake, Peytr sighs. Rolls his eyes. Puffs his chest and peppers his wordwind with curses. You’re fuckin’ killing me here, Ma….Let’s go, let’s go, lets fuckin’ go…. The words lilt up to the bare bulb dangling overhead, ugly petals on an unfelt breeze. They circle once or twice, then gasp and deflate, sinking within seconds. Peyt glowers. He wants the cyclone of sentences to rage round his head, to drip sweat and testosterone, to beef up with speed. He wants it to be like Daken’s; a cluster of contempt easily floating, corded with confidence and muscle. Daken’s wind skims his forehead and gropes the back of his thick neck like a mullet. It’s slick and dark and anxiety-free. It’s eighteen and macho.

Peyter tries to match him. Always has. But his thoughts are weak. Florid. Frilly. They pirouette on his shoulders. They hiccup on cocksucker, intentionally misspell faggit. His air-letters shimmer, now pink, now yellow, now puce. In places, the words aren’t even legible. When Daken snorts at the sight of them, Peytr’s paragraphs crumble.

Lisa L Hannett – Lament for the Afterlife

Blending the weird wonder from VanderMeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy with the grim relentless grey of McCarthy’s The Road, this is a beautifully written, almost poetic, piece of imaginative and surreal war-fiction. I absolutely loved Lament For The Afterlife, but I fear its unusual structure, difficult characters, and inexplicable weirdness of the setting may mean it struggles to find an appreciative audience.

If you like novels to have artistry and enjoy strolling through someone else’s dreams and nightmares, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.


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The Australian Women Writers Challenge #AWW2016

2016 AWW Badge

There’s no point in throwing your hands up and saying you believe in gender equality, you actually have to go out and look for it.

Rob Spillman, Editor Tin House, The Guardian 7/4/15.

Another year, and I debate with myself as to whether to do another reading challenge. In 2015 I attempted the 2015 BookRiot Read Harder challenge, and did…ok. Not perfect, but not bad. I briefly considered doing the BookRiot challenge again this again, but I want to do something a bit different, whilst still diversifying my reading. I decided I would read more Australian authors, and more women authors, and with this in mind…this year I am doing the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2016.

This is an interesting challenge, designed to help address the imbalance between critical reviews of male and female authors work (with an added Australian focus). I increased the number of Australian authors I read and reviewed last year; Ben Peek, Rjurik Davidson, Stephen Orr, Sean Williams, Alan Baxter…all men. The only Australian women author I read and reviewed last year was Amanda Bridgeman. So I figure this year will be different! In the meantime of course, I hope to continue to improve my book reviews.

If you’re interested, I recommend you follow this link to read through the background to the challenge.

As this is my first year, I’m aiming pretty low: Miles level (I expect named after Miles Franklin)- read 6 books by Australian women, review at least 4 of them. Shouldn’t be too tough (I hope), considering that I’ve already got one review down and another on the way.

Anyway, enough said. If you have any suggested authors or books, leave a comment and let me know and I’ll add them to my list.

Cheers

KT

No ash no guilt

PHOTO PROMPT © Amy Reese

 

Every morning she sweeps the steps, clearing the ash settled overnight. Carefully. Completely. No ash rests on her doorstep. No guilt.

“This place is far better without those people!” they exclaim. She nods along, but outside her door she shakes her jacket, dusts her skirt. No ash coats her floor.

“The property prices are going up,” they say. She says it too, but every evening she shutters her windows. No ash dusts her curtains.

“It’s…just the soldier’s campfires, that’s all…” they mutter. But she wonders…and every night she washes her hair.

No ash on her pillow.

No guilt. Continue reading

Brief Book Review: The Female Factory (Twelve Planets Book 11) – Lisa L Hannett & Angela Slatter

Skin, flesh and fat parted, a layer cake of white, red and yellow. The Matron was enlisted to sponge any seepage while Dr Dalkeith snipped and sliced and sawed, though what liquids Miss Habel once had inside her were now thickened, sludges in varying shades of expiration. The notes he took in his own scruffy journal, mid-dissection, were of little interest to Avice, but she watched avidly as he created the accompanying sketches. Unless she was mistaken, the good doctor would soon submit another article to The Lancet, since the Royal Society in London had, thus far, consistently rejected his treatises on the theory and practice of surgery. But a paper detailing the physiognomy of transported criminals? That, surely, would one day see his name printed in the Society’s Philosophical Transactions.

The Female Factory: Lisa L Hannett & Angela Slatter

Fascinating and entertaining, bizarre and grotesque, this is a great collection of four speculative fiction short stories from two Australian authors. Touching on topics that some may find challenging, this book explores aspects of body horror and dark fantasy from a very female perspective. Continue reading