Book log: Robert Silverberg — To The Land of the Living

Sequel to Silverberg’s “Gilgamesh the King”. I don’t own a copy of the first book, and hadn’t read either for over a decade, so my memory of the first is pretty hazy at this point. However, the all seeing eye of Google confirms my impression that this one is different in tone to the first. It’s set in a shared universe used by several writers, but I’ve never read any of the works by other authors, so from my perspective this is simply a sequel to a previous stand-alone.

The novel is set in the Afterworld, the dream-like place where everyone goes when they die. There is no escape from the Afterworld — one can be killed there, but only to be revived again, sometimes within minutes and sometimes not for decades. For some, the Afterworld is Hell; for others, it is simply the place where they are now, different to life, better in some ways and worse in others.

The novel is set in the present day, so Gilgamesh the Sumerian has been in the Afterworld for a very long time indeed. The novel follows his wanderings in his quest to be re-united with his friend Enkidu, a journey that turns out to be as much about self-discovery as anything he had intended to do. But there are rumours that there exists a way back to the Land of the Living, and Gilgamesh is gradually drawn into the attempts to find that way. Along the way he meets a good many other historical figures, and one of the themes of the novel is the way in which history distorts real people and turns them into myths they barely recognise as themselves.

There’s a lot of philosophy in this novel, but it’s by no means dry. Indeed, it’s often very funny. And it works well as a stand-alone, without knowledge of the first book. Definitely worth trying.

at LibraryThing
To the Land of the Living at Amazon UK
To the Land of the Living at Amazon US

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Book log: James Anderson — The Affair of the Mutilated Mink

Second in Anderson’s series of affectionate parodies of the classic 1930s country house murder mystery. I thought this one was better constructed than the first, with enough there to make it possible to deduce who the killer was if you were paying attention. I did work out who the killer probably was fairly early on, but not his motive, which is very cleverly hidden. I missed some of the clues and was distracted by some of the red herrings, so wasn’t certain until close to the end.

Earl Burford has discovered the joys of the talkies, and is having a wonderful time being a starstruck fan. So wonderful that he can’t believe his luck when a Hollywood film producer wants to hire Alderley as a setting for his latest film, starring the Earl’s favourite actor. Naturally, the producer wishes to assess the building and grounds for practicality first, and to encourage the Earl to agree asks if he can bring his star along as well. Thus starts a weekend house party which snowballs, continually acquiring invited and uninvited guests until the house is full of people — many of whom are not quite what they seem on the surface. And when one of them ends up shot dead in the middle of the night, Inspector Wilkins has a job on his hands untangling the many motives which have brought the characters to Alderley.

Great fun to read, with some appealing characters. I’m being more ruthless about getting rid of books now, and this one isn’t a keeper for me, but it was well worth the time spent reading it.

LibraryThing entry
The Affair of the Mutilated Mink at Amazon UK
Affair of the Mutilated Mink Coat at Amazon US

November book log

My reading in November was rather erratic. One from October finished, and one complete book, but I also started several without finishing them before the end of the month.

Fred Pohl, editor — Galaxy Volume 1
First part of a two part anthology celebrating 30 years of Galaxy magazine. Wonderful book, both for the stories and for the short but frequently not sweet essays by the authors on working with the various editors.
LibraryThing entry

Daniel Fox — Jade Man’s Skin
Second part of the trilogy started in “Dragon in Chains”. Reviewed earlier today, executive summary “Go and buy this book. Now.”

Started but not finished in November:

Robert Silverberg — To the Land of the Living
Sequel to Silverberg’s earlier fantasy “Gilgamesh the King”. I hadn’t read either for years, and don’t own a copy of the first one. My copy of TtLotL has just come out of long-term storage, and I’ve almost finished re-reading it. I’ve been enjoying it a lot, but I’m trying to be more ruthless about weeding books that aren’t “can’t bear to be parted from it”, and will probably dispose of it once I’ve finished it.

John Carnell, editor — New Writings in SF 12
One of the 1968 volumes in the anthology series. Highlights for me were a Sector General story from James White, and a novella from Colin Kapp that was definitely not an Unorthodox Engineers story, but which pressed some of the same buttons (at least for me).

Terry Pratchett — Making Money
I’ve missed the releases in the last couple of years because of General Upheaval. Spotted the hardback on discount in the remainder shop, and grabbed it. Started reading it on the bus on the way home, then exerted some discipline and put it away until I’d finished the other part-read books. Lots of fun so far.

John Barrowman — Anything Goes
I’m not so much of a fangirl that I’d have paid more than remainder price for this, but well-written actor memoirs can be entertaining in their own right even if you’re not a fangirl desperate to know all the details about a specific actor — the first ones I read were those by David Niven, and at the time I’d never seen anything of his and knew nothing about him other than what was in the memoirs. Barrowman’s isn’t as good as those, but it’s still entertaining. I’m reading it on and off as my light reading book for when I don’t want to focus on something that requires the level of concentration that a novel does so not yet finished.

Book review: Daniel Fox — Jade Man’s Skin

Disclaimer: Daniel Fox is a friend of mine. However, I didn’t review the book just because he’s a friend — I whined shamelessly for an ARC because having read the first book in the trilogy, I very badly wanted to read the next one as soon as it was available in edited form, rather than waiting until it was on sale.

Daniel Fox — Jade Man’s Skin
ISBN: 978-0345503046

Daniel Fox keeps up the quality and the pace in the second volume of his fantasy trilogy inspired by mediaeval China. The first volume, “Dragon In Chains”, told the tale of the boy Emperor’s flight from a rebel army, and the stories of some of those touched by the war. Now the Emperor has reached safety on the remote island of Taishu on the very fringe of the Empire.

Taishu may be remote, but no would-be usurper can afford to leave the Emperor there in exile. The island holds the jade mines that are the source of imperial power — and in this world, that isn’t just symbolic. This volume explores in greater depth the subtle magic that underpins imperial rule. And there is more than imperial magic. There are other intelligences in this world, and the human forces which are arrayed against one another are starting to learn just what it means to tangle such creatures into human battles.

It’s hard to review this book in any depth without giving major spoilers for the first one (which I’ve reviewed previously), because this trilogy really is a single novel in three volumes, not a series of three interlinked novels. But what I can say is that it follows each of the major characters and threads from the first volume, developing each strand of the story in a satisfying way. This is no wish-fulfillment story wherein the Hero is noble simply because he is the Hero, but a careful consideration of the cumulative effects of power — on those who have it, whether in name only or in reality, on those who desire it, and on those who are simply in its path. And like the first volume, it neither flinches from showing the horror of war, nor wallows in gratuituous gore.

This is a complex story with equally complex characters, which genuinely needs the three volumes to do justice to the tales it has to tell. But it’s beautifully constructed, and told in stunningly good prose. If you’ve not read the first book, don’t start with this one. It really is worth your while finding “Dragon in Chains” and reading that first, not least because part of the pleasure is watching how the characters are changing and growing in response to the upheavals in their world. But there’s no need to wait for the final book to come out, as “Jade Man’s Skin” offers enough intermediate resolution of plot threads to leave a reader feeling satisfied while still wanting to hear the end of the story. Go buy them now — this series is breathtaking, in concepts, in story and in prose.

LibraryThing entry
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon UK
Jade Man’s Skin at Amazon US

My review of Dragon in Chains (volume 1)
Dragon in Chains LibraryThing entry
Dragon in Chains at Amazon UK
Dragon in Chains at Amazon US