Just a short update on what i'm going to be doing here over the next few days...
I've been reading The Vagrant by Peter Newman for Shiny New Books - don't want to anticipate that but I have say a little: this is a book you must read if you're into SFF, or if you're not: it is a really clever twist on what you might imagine is routine fantasy.
The Vagrant is homeless, outcast, a scavenger. And he has a quest. But as he strides through the demon-infested wasteland, he also has a baby to care for: to feed (he acquires a goat to supply milk), to clean, to entertain and (when she becomes ill) to find medicine for. And he does not (cannot?) speak. In this debut novel, Newman doesn't make it easy for himself - or his protagonist - how DO you get out of a tricky situation when you can’t draw your sword for fear of dropping Baby and you can’t talk your way out because you can’t talk? - but the risk pays off.
Battling against demons on the one hand and desperate, shattered people on the other, the Vagrant's resourcefulness and compassion are tested again and again. Everywhere, the struggle for survival taints the spirit as the demon-stuff taints the body. The tone and setting reminded me somewhat of a Western: the Man With No Name comes into town, standing up against the outlaws and improbably rallying the townsfolk – but always risks losing his way, becoming one of his enemies.
And like the best Westerns, the book doesn’t deal in black and white. There are no rescuers, no army of eagles or simple, if difficult salvation, only the working through of the Vagrants's struggle among the fallen remnants of humanity. Newman explores prejudice and redemption, the need for compassion set against the drive for survival, even the treatment of refugees (regarded by one side as at best useless mouths, by the other as a source of body parts and slaves).
It is really good and you mustn't miss it.
I'll be posting a review in a couple of days of A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson's follow up to Life After Life. I think it is as good, or even better. A God in Ruins revisits some of the same characters, and in dwelling on the choices made during one life, and their consequences, it perhaps digs deeper than the earlier book.
And I'll be reviewing Hannu Rajaniemi's collected fiction, published on 19 May, as soon as I can process the stories in my head and come to conclusions. They're much wider ranging than his three novels published so far, but that makes them hard to sum up.
After that, next book to start will be All That Outer Space Allows, the 4th and final part of Ian Sales' Apollo Quartet. These books, exploring alternate timelines, outcomes and extrapolations of the Apollo space programme, are short but packed with juicy, hard-SF detail and plausible speculation.