Thursday, November 28, 2013

Proscription List #2: Silverberg, Fast, Anthony

To help defray the expense of the Lafferty and Van Vogt books I recently purchased, and to make space on my book shelves, I have decided to sell eight SF paperbacks which I have read and am not in love with.  I had decent notes on the last four I blogged about, but the notes about today’s four were lost in a computer hard drive related disaster.  (Always back up your files, kids.)  Still, I think I can dredge up something from the old gray matter to say about each of them.

Lord Valentine’s Castle by Robert Silverberg

Like everybody, I like Robert Silverberg; he is one of the heroes of SF, from his fiction to his valuable work as an editor to his interesting descriptions of life as a professional writer to be found in the recent collections of his SF short stories and elsewhere.  But in his prolific career he has written many types of books and tried various different styles, and they aren’t all to my taste.

Lord Valentine’s Castle was a big seller for Silverberg and has been followed by many profitable sequels, but it didn’t move me.  It seems like an homage to Jack Vance; as in various Vance novels, a guy loses and must recover his memory, a guy has a picaresque adventure on a huge planet with many different cultures on it, a guy sparks a revolution.  Unfortunately, Silverberg (in this book at least) fails toi provide much of what makes those Vance books enjoyable: a charming writing style, an interesting point of view, some laughs, and/or a wacky or otherwise interesting character.  Also, Vance’s books are pretty economical; Lord Valentine’s Castle seems to go on forever, and there is never any kind of twist or surprise.  Silverberg also does his thing in which a character achieves an altered state of consciousness and so Silverberg can write a surreal dream-like scene; this is the characteristic of Silverberg’s writing I like least.  In The World Inside he did it at a rock concert, in Shadrach in the Furnace he did it in a drug den, and in Lord Valentine’s Castle the guy goes into an altered state of consciousness while juggling.  These scenes always make my eyes glaze over.

I know a lot of SF fans really enjoyed Lord Valentine’s Castle, and I really wanted to enjoy it myself, but I just couldn’t do it.  Borderline thumbs down.   

Conquerors From the Darkness by Robert Silverberg

This one I remember very little about.  It was not offensively bad, but mediocre; I guess I would give it a weak recommendation.  As I recall, the Earth is ruled by aliens who have raised the seas so almost all of the planet is covered with water.  The main character brings together an army of humans and dolphin people to overthrow the aliens.   

The Secrets of Synchronicity by Jonathan Fast

I bought this one because the back cover blurb claims this book is strongly reminiscent of Heinlein’s work.  I am a sucker for advertising.  This book is a satire on our Western materialist society (I think), and strongly influenced by Vedic mythology (so it says).  The protagonist starts out enslaved in a mine.  Is it just me, or do lots of people in SF get enslaved in mines?  Thank God they always seem to escape.  I enjoyed this book, and thought Fast’s writing style pretty good, but once was enough, so it’s back to Half Price Books for this one.

I have actually found a few lines of notes I penned on Secrets of Synchronicity:

This is a decent adventure story, about a guy living in a corrupt, decadent and perverse society in an interstellar empire, who escapes slavery, participates in a safari, becomes spiritually enlightened, and becomes the leader of a prophesied rebel movement.  As it goes on Fast layers on the satire thicker and thicker, and the book becomes more and more outlandish and silly.

Fast’s author bio on the last page is also interesting: he was a child prodigy, spends several hours a day practicing yoga, and longs for a cogent universe.  Sounds good.

People interested in SF work that is influenced by non-Western religions in particular will want to check out Secrets of Synchronicity, but it’s a worthwhile read for the rest of us as well.

Chaining the Lady by Piers Anthony

I read a ton of Piers Anthony in my youth, but this is one I never got to until recently, when, in my 40s, I got curious about Anthony again.  Chaining the Lady, a space opera full of stuff about the Tarot (which I admit is ridiculous) isn’t bad, but it is way too long.  Each of several different alien races gets an adventure, but these adventures parallel each other, and so get a little repetitious.  There’s a lot of shape-shifting psychic jazz going on as the main character infiltrates the various alien races’ ships and then uses aspects of their biology and culture to get them to side with the good guys in the intergalactic war, or something.  Two hundred pages of this would have been good, 340 pages is too much.  One or two fewer alien races would have been a good idea, but the number of races is probably related somehow to the Tarot, so maybe Anthony was stuck.
The back cover blurb suggests that the book is going to be full of kinky sex, but I don’t remember any erotic sex scenes, though there is a lot about alien reproduction.  Stick with Anais Nin for the kinky sex, people.    

I can't decide if I should give this one a borderline thumbs up or a thumbs down.  It's teetering on that edge.      

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