Saturday, June 12, 2010


Canticle by Ken Scholes

Rather hard to get into or follow. To an extent I brought this on myself, as I started with this the second volume of a larger series. Undoubtedly I missed a lot understanding of the setting and character relationships with this. Beyond that, though, I think there is a basic frustrating factor in this--there are a half dozen characters and the perspective jumps from one to the other every five pages. Still, getting through all that there's a strong story in here. Not the strongest, but pretty good, lots of rich setting details, interesting ideas and nice plot twists. As well, the specific quality of prose was enough to keep me going. Overall an interesting work, although still somewhat self-limiting. I'll be interested in checking out other things by the author, I believe I've read a short story by him last fall, but that's it. As well, manages a pretty effective blend of SF and fantasy.

Difficult to assess in greater length, but it does benefit from some standout individual description and moments of strong character assertion. What's most attractive about this book is the presence of simultaneously effective prose, an engaging and innovative world, and a strong story that invests in its characters in moving along. What's most problematic is the sense that a lot of characters are in themselves pretty flat, and the layout of perspectives that makes tracking what's happening disorienting. Scholes is willing to put in fairly high stakes in the book, and isn't afraid to demolish and reform his intricately constructed world. This approach makes for some major draw to the narrative, but also risks moving too fast at points--I felt I could have benefited from a slow approach at times, giving more of a chance to figure out these people and have them approach the larger situation. Above everything I'm interesting in the setting, and feel that perhaps it would be better to investigate it with a narrative committed to only a single viewpoint for a bit.

It's interesting to contrast this review with Hylozoic since it's a similar situation in some ways--coming in with the sequel, facing a story that at times seems incoherent. I suppose a major distinction is that I give a lot more trust to Scholes that there is a coherent and well-developed picture that I didn't fully understand, while with Rucker it seemed to be all laid out sufficiently--it was just badly designed. The difference in quality of the prose and the creativity of ideas really makes a difference as well. It also points to a refuting of my old bias on science ficiton relative to fantasy--showing that in fact much of contemporary fantasy is less conventional, better grounded and more plausible than a certain order of science fiction. For a variety of reasons I never intend to read anything by Rucker again but am rather interested in picking up the other volumes by Scholes (particularly the Psalms of Isaac series that Canticle is part of).

Better than: Green by Jay Lake

Worse than: The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

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