Launch of Show Me A Hero

I was a bit leery of today’s event – for one thing, the book in question has a giant cricket ball on the cover, with a batsman silhouetted against it mid-stroke. I am one of those unfortunate bigots who not only does not like cricket but switches off intellectually every time it is mentioned in conversation. (It also doesn’t help that the author looks like a wee fresher in college and I wanted to pinch his cheeks, but I contained myself and didn’t mention it. At all. Ever.) But I feel a sort of TFA solidarity nowadays, and I do feel a little, well, like I should go and read and buy newer authors even if they’re crap or talk about cricket.

Cover design by "omendu"

Show Me a Hero is Aditya Sudarshan‘s second novel. It’s described as a murder mystery and a coming-of-age novel (my personal favourite sort), and follows two young men, just out of college, as they attempt to document the life of an excellent but unloved batsman. (Sudarshan likened him to Sachin Tendulkar in terms of skill, but his complete opposite in terms of respectability.)

There was some awkwardness with the “launching” – how does one launch a book, anyway? Arul Mani recollected someone who literally threw the book at the audience, which seems the closest to appropriate to me, but apparently will not actually do. Mani waved the book embarrassedly in the air, and that did for us.

Based on the two extracts Sudarshan read out, and the ten pages I have just read myself, I wouldn’t say that Sudarshan has fabulous prose – but he is functional, accessible, and peppers his otherwise slightly flat narrative with little gems of insight (someone help me un-cliché that!) that make the reading surprisingly enjoyable.

Arul Mani chaired the discussion, and we had some interesting back and forth. Mani points out that Show Me a Hero makes for a very good coming-of-age novel because its aging, its arrival, is based not on plotted epiphanies but on a more “normal, every day sort of reaching”.

There was some talk about dualities, both in the narrator and in The Writer – something about the common sensical balancing out the naïve, the unadulterated, and open-eyed, the searching for magic. Sudarshan made a Terry Pratchett reference: +5 points.

I’m skipping over a lot of cricket wittering. It was cricket, it was deep and shit, but made little to no sense to me, except for the bit where Sudarshan declared that people worship, romanticise cricket because they make of it a practically metaphysical conceit for their hopes and dreams for the nation as a whole. (I’m paraphrasing. It was cricket!)

Then there were audience questions, when I didn’t take notes – I did pay attention enough to note that Sudarshan has had two books published by two different houses, and has some but not much control over editing and packaging. Which is only to be expected.

Sudarshan gives me the feeling of someone who has read and absorbed a great deal of mature thought, and while intelligent, charming, witty and evocative, is not yet, well, old enough to be the best sort of him he could be. (With apologies to Sudarshan, I am probably the same age as he is.) I’m not sure how Show Me a Hero will appeal to me, but I’ll probably read him for the next few years. I certainly liked short stories of his [that I read just now].)

Anyway. C. K. Meena, ebullient as ever, wrapped things up, and I went home.

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Spin State by Chris Moriarty

Cover by Stephen Youll

Spin State (2003) is the first in Chris Moriarty’s SPIN series, and it was a finalist for quite a few awards (winning none).

The SPIN series is set in a far future where Earth has suffered ecological decay to the extent that most of humanity moved off-planet, “Ringside”. Specific nations, peoples of specific religions, stayed behind on Earth, and were the only ones to do so, and allowed to do so. Ringside and Earth enjoy a shaky unity under the aegis of UNSec (a creepy descendant of today’s UN). Outside of this human political entity are the Syndicates, nations made up of and producing large sets of ever-perfect and perfected clones. Travel and instant communication over the vast distances of space are made possible by “Bose-Einstein condensate”, which is found only on Compson’s World.

Spin State begins by setting up for us the weaknesses in Major Catherine Li’s life, the things that make her vulnerable. As a member of UNSec forces she is riddles with wetware technology that monitors and sometimes reconstructs her memory – some of which she loses with each “jump” through space. She is a Construct, a clone, hiding her overly sculpted features behind the flawed sculpture of plastic surgery. As as army grunt she is at the mercy of her superiors, as a War Hero she is at the mercy of her brutal, horrible reputation – and she doesn’t remember what she did to earn it.

It’s a little hard to get in tune with Li, because in Spin State Moriarty spends an extraordinary amount of time explaining the technology that Li lives with, and in. Her wetware regulates her hormones, backs-up her memories (she then hacks them), her adrenal rushes in fight-or-flight scenes. Her hidden, constructed advantages are treated in some sense as though they are as mechanical and externally sourced as the wetware. Her access to future-internet, which is constantly accessible, allows a surreal “the world-next door” feeling, particularly in her conversations with people planets away, and with Cohen (a sentient AI, ex-lover, friend) whose nature makes him mutable, flexible and simultaneously transient and eternal, ancient. The quantum technobabble is dense, inflexible and utterly necessary to help us understand what the hell is going on, and to my mind Moriarty does not handle it with as much grace as other aspects of the novel. The extraordinary technicality of her every move confines me as a reader, makes it harder for me to focus on the story as opposed to the nuts-and-bolts.

After a mission goes disastrously wrong, losing Li some of her team, shaking her trust in Cohen as a partner and ally, General Nguyen posts Li to Compson’s World to investigate the death of Hannah Sharifi, a construct-clone, a major scientist, who discovered/formulated Einstein-Bose transport among other things. Sharifi died in a flash fire that broke out in the AMC Einstein-Bose mines. Sharifi’s data is lost and the station’s field AI is incommunicado – Li must solve the mystery, find Sharifi’s data (she was looking for a way to make E-B synthetically, off Compson’s World).

It’s not easy. When Li gets to Compson’s World she must deal with: the miner’s unions (more on this later), her forgotten past self, her tricky relationship with Cohen (who is fighting for Emergent AI rights), her still-healing body, the AMC representatives, the Syndicates, the miners themselves, Vi (a construct working to locate mineable ore), the Bore-Einstein ore itself – and none of these people have the same agenda; none of them can be trusted. All Li wants to get out with her job done and her skin in one piece, and she might not get either.

It’s very very wrong to say that you’re sad the Cold War is over, since it produced the best spy novels, but I am so. Spin State, with its unrelentingly paranoid, lonely Li, fits quite comfortably alongside my old favourites. With potential ally-enemies on every side, Li fumbles her way through a classic “Everyone knows what’s going on but you” police procedural.

Separate from Li’s angsts are the miners’ – the miners work hard at a job that they are underpaid to do. It kills them, slowly. It kills them slower if they’re constructs or have construct genealogy, but that just means they’ll work longer for worse.  The people who benefit from their hard work live Ringside in luxury, and are trying desperately to find ways to shut down the condensate entirely and remove a potential hazard. Their option hopes are to leave the planet entirely – nearly impossible – or love the condensates they work to mine. Given that half these miners come from Belfast, the total effect is again of something set in the ’70s and ’80s, perhaps in Thatcher-led Britain. Of all the causes, the sides, in the novel, the miners’ are the ones I was rooting for.

And love. Spin State contains an unforgettable declaration of love, one that is quietly, blatantly, sincerely visualised. So much of the plot is driven by the actions of love, but the novel is never overwhelmed by this, never allows the sentiment more than a few moments of centre-stage.

[Someone has noted already – who? who? I cannot remember! – that Spin State and Elizabeth Bear’s Undertow share several elements – a Doohickey that fuels interstellar travel and communication is only available on one planet. The people responsible for the collection of said Doohickey work under terrible working conditions. Everything is quantum. Someone dies, this death instigates large amounts of the following plot. So if you’ve read Undertow and liked it, or read it and hated it, you should try Spin State.]

Spin State‘s pacing is hampered by its technobabble burden, but it manages nonetheless to race headlong into further half-glimpses of truth and lies. One has a building sense of hopelessness, for Li, for Compson’s World. But last  climactic moments  are superbly done – by this point Moriarty’s hard work with the technicalities has allowed her to transcend them, giving us a plausible tying up of most of the threads. The ending is, well, justifiable and well-anticipated wish-fulfilment, and satisfies one for the story in its entire, whatever one might feel for the individual sub-plots.

As a stand-alone novel, Spin State is an engrossing, sometimes awkward read. As the first in a series, it has great potential and is in fact fantastic. I recommend it highly to those of you who’re looking either for new agent fiction or hard SF.

Writers from Slovenia! :O In Bangalore!

Before I begin, here:

Free PDF: Anthologies of Slovenian literature in translation

I wouldn’t have known about this if I hadn’t gone to yesterday’s Good As You meeting, where we met Suzana Tratnik and Brane Mozetič. We gathered that Tratnik and Mozetič were in the country to meet Mamta Sagar, who translates their work into Kannada (via the English translation, which must be amusing to all of them, and such hard work!). They came armed with nicely-packaged anthologies of contemporary Slovenian poetry and short stories, both published by the Center For Slovenian Literature. I had time for a read through the short stories, and immediately marked down Tratnik, Andrej Blatnik and Maja Novak for further stalking.

It was a great meeting, but Tratnik and Mozetič did not read out from their work, and so it was really good to hear that they, and two other Slovenian writers, would be doing a reading at 1.Shanthiroad on Friday (yesterday) at 6:30.

When I got there, we beelined (well, circled determinedly) until I found Suzana Tratnik and talked with her for a while. She introduced me to Veronika Dintinjana (poet) and pointed out Andrej Blatnik in another corner. I did some mental hoorays that Blatnik was there and wandered around some more. I did the “I am a writer” thing, which is a very heady thing to do, and we discussed writing across forms: Tratnik apparently wrote poetry a long time ago but says she can’t do it now. Dintinjana writes only poetry, very empathically. 🙂

Andrej Blatnik read first, five short shorts from a slim anthology of his stories in English translation. “Separation” was, at first hearing, about demarcations, tidiness, all leading to loneliness. “Sunday Dinners” was a powerful piece about family, about routines, and the disruptions caused by war. (Apparently it was begun before the Slovenian Short War, and finished much after.) “The Power of Words” is either about vegetarianism or about the power of human reasoning and rhetoric, I was a bit iffy about that. It had a very nice tiger. “Old Stories” was nostalgic, and optimistic. Something whose title I do not remember was an unhappy story, and it made me think of caring and uncaring as twin burdens we juggle all the time.

Veronika Dintinjana read some poems, which she told me later she translated in collaboration. She read them in the original Slovenian from a slim volume of her own, and then the translations from printed sheets. Her voice was even, with that faint fuzziness I gather from many European accents. Across “The Orange Tree”, “Cathedral Lines”, “St. Francis”, “A Visit to the Crematorium”, “Exercising Automatic Breathing”, I got a sense of an extended, pre-emptive farewell, quietly and matter-of-factly bowing to the demands and ravages of time, of inevitable absence.

Brane Mozetič read his poems in the original, while Josha translated. Joshua has a robust reading style, while Mozetič has an extraordinarily soft voice. I was as interested in the poetic content as in the reading contrast. Mozetič’s poems are untitled, and I think sometimes Joshua read poems out without Mozetič reading the originals, so it is hard to tell: I think we heard around 5 poems in all. With wry and understated humour Mozetič seemed to be speaking of fear, of isolation, of a wariness of being alert to a harsh world; the barrenness of urbanity and the yearning and denial of intimacy.

Suzana Tratnik at last, with Mamta Sagar and Suresh Jayaram (who runs Suzana Tratnik1.Shanthiroad) alternately translating. (I like SJ, but I am sorry to say he is a terrible reader. Next time, please, no matter how much we’d like to honour him, give the task to someone who does it right!) We got three shorts, “Kind of Rat”, which is about faith as opposed to denomination, funny and sad all at once; “Key to the Restroom”, which is about boundaries (spatial, social, personal, intimate. I found it simultaneously strong and bittersweet – surprisingly hopeful); “A Letter to a Vietnamese Friend” which was difficult for me to get a handle on, set as it is in a classroom where activities are dictated by a larger Communist, international, and perhaps humane agenda – I’d need to read it again to know what I felt.

The Center for Slovenian Literature aims to create quality translations of Slovenian works, to showcase Slovenian literature to an international audience, and I think the translations here were very good.  Assuming their adherence to the originals, of course. They read well, and I for one want to read more.

Afterwards there was punch. I busied myself saying hi to all of them – Andrej Blatnik got pinned by another audience member who did not leave him alone for the rest of the evening, or so it seemed to me. I did tell him I’d read his “Electric Guitar” (not that I remembered the title) and loved it. I mentioned Maja Novak, and he told me she is now busy with translation rather than new writings of her own, which is very sad news for me. I spent a lot of time talking with Dintinjana, who is a surgeon, a poet, and organises an annual poetry festival for young writers. In some ways, it seems like no matter how different our nations are, no matter how differently the norms play out, they are at th core very similar. Half the time when she was speaking something Slovenian, something that hasn’t changed yet, I was thinking/saying, Yes! that happens here too! Shouldn’t this be a thing of the past by now? (Feminists REPRESENT!)

Joshua and a few other, Mozetič included, were discussing queer literature in India – the publication markets in India are exploding, and publishers are scrambling to offer target demographics whatever they’ll pay for. For Joshua this means that a great deal of UTTER RUBBISH is published, just because the authors can wave around their queer ticket. Mozetič reminded us that a lot of what is published/written will of necessity be crap, and I was cynical and suspicious, but Joshua is a more idealistic soul, and this was not a line of argument he could accept.

Mamta Sagar! It behoves me to speak of her too. Mamta Sagar writes in Kannada, and is a poet and possibly a dramatist. She’s the one who translated Mozetič and Tratnik into Kannada, and possibly she will do more in time. I find her interesting, though I have not read anything by her. I shall lead my dad to her poetry and browse through her translated works myself. She teaches at Bangalore University, and therefore has some academic articles lying around somewhere – I shall find them!

At this point, I must admit I walked out now because I was hungry, and I shall end this post just as abruptly.

TFA meet yesterday

Sampurna Chattarji and Samhita Arni read out extracts from – wait, let’s start over.

Sampurna Chattarji read out poems from her latest collections, Absent Muses. I have bought said collection, and liked large portions of it, and so I link you here:

Absent Muses

Samhita Arni, who has an impressive writerly resume, read out an excerpt from a single short story, neither the beginning nor the end.

If you don’t see what my problem with this is, you probably don’t have the same problem, and wouldn’t even if I told you.

I like TFA, and Samhita Arni seemed to have oodles and oodles of fun reading her excerpt, and it seems likely she gave us exactly what she wanted to give us. So I am not complaining. What I shall do instead is pretend to redress the balance.

This is Samhita Arni’s website.

This is Samhita Arni’s blog.

This is Samhita Arni

I was not really thrilled with the discussion that followed, since it was not as rooted in the readings as I would have liked. I shall do a little research before the next TFA meet, and see if I can read the writers’ work before I get there, so I can ask them questions based in the text, as opposed to general questions about identities, labels, and the writer’s life, none of which I am more than mildly interested in, because in some ways they feel irrelevant or redundant.

But! Now I have two shiny new authors to stalk. Ill winds etc.

Toto Awards 2011

The Toto Awards 2011 were announced on the 8th of January. I haven’t had the time for a long post about it, but the TFA folks are not as remiss as I am, and so.

Click the pic-link to see the results of TFA’s Toto Awards for 2011:

Above the Snowline by Steph Swainston

Eye copyright David Thurston

Steph Swainston‘s  Circle Trilogy examined, over the course of three books (well, obviously) and fifteen years an important period in the Insect Wars. The Circle of Immortals, given immortality by San (representative of God in the Fourlands) on the basis of supreme skill in their chosen area, work with the nobility and drafted soldiers to keep the Insects at bay – with varying success.

Jant Shira is the Messenger, designated Comet. Half-Rhydanne, half-Awian (which makes him a cat-boy with wings), Jant’s peculiar unique mongrelitude makes him the only being in the Fourlands – and farther afield – capable of regular flight. I haven’t spoken about this much in the reviews for the previous three books, but Swainston spends some amount of time making the possibility of flight in Jant’s body nearly plausible to the average, biologically uneducated reader. Jant’s sexy angel-boy good looks, immortal youth, facility with languages and fresh cynicism are balanced out by his impetuous stupidity, his drug addiction, his other addictions, his desperate desire for approval and status, his conflicted dual-self. Above the Snowline jumps centuries back instead of five years ahead, covering in greater detail ground mentioned in passing in the original trilogy.

Shira Dellin, a Rhydanne woman from the Dakaling borders, comes to the Castle to solicit San’s aid. Awians are encroaching on Rhydanne hunting grounds, making it impossible for Rhydanne to hunt, and not taking it too well when the Rhydanne steal their horses. There is a vast cultural disconnect here, one that remains unbridged for the forseeable future. San sends Jant with Dellin to find out what is going on, and to handle it as much as he can. Jant has been immortal less than a century: this is an opportunity for him to prove that he is worthy of his exalted status.

With Dellin, Jant faces his own past in the Rhydanne lands, and is forced to acknowledge that his upbringing left him unacquainted with his Rhydanne people, not just his Awian. Further he must deal with Raven Rachiswater, who intends to use his illegal fortress as a base of operations to gain the Awian throne. (To be honest, Jant’s final solution to the Raven problem should have been applied right at the beginning. I spent most of the narrative wondering why the hell he was being so dense, and why Lightning went along with him.) His own loyalties are conflicted, torn between the obvious exploitation of Rhydanne land and peoples (there is a somewhat obvious but as yet un-stale White Man vs. Indigenous peoples of Pick-Your-Continent parallel, but it works well enough and is not harped on). The novel moves between each agenda, each passion fluidly (save for one particular sequence near the end which is too blatant in its attempt to ramp up the anticipation); I think I felt more for each character than I did for anyone in the Circle Trilogy.

In some ways Above the Snowline is a better read for the newcomer to Swainston’s work, as opposed to the old faithful. While the novel shows us a younger, more insecure and thankfully clean Jant Shira, the original trilogy is so focussed on Shira’s involvement in Castle, Circle, Fourland politics and the immediate tactics and strategies of war against a literally alien enemy that it seems futile to send us back in time – we already know what the future holds. The reader who starts with Above the Snowline will take an easier understanding of Jant’s difficult, sometimes intolerable character with hir into the trilogy – this as well as some insight into the way the Circle is viewed by the mortals around them, which is something the other books lack. Most importantly,the novel is narrated from several perspectives, Jant’s most obviously, Lightning Micah Shearwater most importantly. Lightning is a character with a great deal of emotional importance in the trilogy, and in Above the Snowline one can see why Jant relies on him so very much, and why he might be kindly disposed to Jant in return.

There is a freshness to the prequel, peopled as it is by ruthless,

Don't ask me about this cover, it's not the one you're getting.

passionate people who can’t see beyond their own desires, rights and ambitions; the young and the experienced; the well-intentioned and the not-so-nice; mortal and immortal; “high” and “low” (take that both literally and metaphorically). I recommend it highly to fans and new readers, and mellowly to those of you who want more background into Fourlands people and Jant’s own history. I liked it!

The Modern World by Steph Swainston

Steph Swainston returns (returned, actually, given that The Modern World was released back in 2008) with another Circle novel, set five years after No Present Like Time (itself set five years after The Year of Our War, which allows the Circle Trilogy to cover approximately a decade of regular unrest in the Fourlands). At the end of No Present Like Time, we were promised that Jant would be weaned off his regular intake of “cat“, which provides both narrative and character relief. The Modern World shows us the Fourlands in greater details and wider scope than either of the earlier novels – The Year of Our War concerned the Insect incursions and Circle in-fighting; No Present Like Time with outside influences (and neo-Imperialism, so exciting) and the effects and machinations of Circle politics as it affects the people under the Castle’s wardship.

Five years since the scorched earth victory on the isolated Island Tris, the Circle architect, Frost, is nearing the completion of an immense dam at Lowespass, where the invading, ravenous Insects are held at bay (a tedious, centuries-long stalemate). The idea is to drown the Insect hordes and end the war. Frost is a fascinating character, a perfectionist: intelligent, creative and filtered through Jant’s mostly-sober perspective she takes on a presence she might not have had from an older or more socially adept character.

The completion of the dam is to be a military and media event – the near-guaranteed victory, or least tactical and strategic advantage, will change the face of Circle-Fourland power dynamics, allow the Fourlands to recover from a decade of bloody unrest and lay out the field for God to return, taking the world back from Emperor San’s tender care.

Meanwhile, Lightning’s daughter Cyan has disappeared. Lightning remains the presence he has been in the Circle , filtered through Jant’s admiration, suppressed resentment and annoyed respect to an unchanging, dignified tower of history and honour – and for Lightning, Jant takes off to seedy Hacilith to find Cyan and either rescue her or convince her to come to Lowespass where she can watch her father at his work.

Whatever else once may say about Swainston’s work – and I still feel like she spares us the tedium of info-dump at the cost of some economic world-building – she excels at capturing the feel of a location. Hacilith was where Jant lived as a half-grown adolescent, running wild in street gangs and apprenticed to an apothecary. Centuries later Cyan has come here to slum it in the Real World. Cyan is extraordinarily immature – nearly unbelievably so, though I suppose there are no analogues for the daughter of an immortal, a girl who shall inherit lands and has not been educated in her duties and privileges forthcoming, stifled and overprotected and spoiled spoiled spoiled. Cyan’s bad behaviour fulfills the dual purpose of character development for an unexpectedly large number of people, and of a mirror to Jant’s own life and nature. Lightning is Cyan’s father, and he also has the dubious honour of being Jant’s unofficial mentor.

So. Cyan runs away to Hacilith, runs around with seedy men in seedy bars, has an overdose of cat and has a near-death experience in the Shift – a parallel world only reachable through cat overdose or an as-yet unexplained meditative process. Enter the Vermiform, a hive-mind of worms. I kid you not. An all-too-hasty rescue mission and chase scene through too many locations in the Shift later, Cyan is rescued, Jant has seen too many lands destroyed by Insects, and the Vermiform is still around.

The Modern World is mostly narrated by Comet Jant Shira, Messenger for the Circle. Through his jaded, tired, shallow but perspective eyes we see a nation that has lain stagnant for too long, with economies centred around mor and more efficient forms of warfare – medieval to our eyes, and entirely brutal. It’s possible to read The Modern World as a stand alone novel, but I wouldn’t recommend it. As with The Year of Our War and No Present Like Time, the material plot exists as a vehicle for exploring overarching questions of the nature of the multiverse that more and more of the Fivelanders are in contact with, and now beginning to be conscious of said contact. More universal (as opposed to in-novel multi-versal) issues of religion (more precisely, faith), the generational divide, power in the hands of women – more on this later – function following form and the dangers of submitting to your benevolent tyrant.

I’ve skimmed over the concept that Jant embodies the vulnerable male body as written by a female author before, but not in detail. To examine: Jant is a Rhydanne-Awian hybrid, the only one that exists. Think of the Rhydanne as human-shaped people with a LOT of cat mixed in; the Awians have human-shaped but have vestigial wings. In Jant, these combine to give you a man who can, with a lot of training (self-researched), work and more wear-and-tear than seems advisable, fly. A long-limbed, lean, boy with wings is our Jant. The prologue shows us his recurring nightmares of his first major wounding after he joined the Circle and became immortal. It took him a year to recover, under the experienced, incomparable Rayne, the Circle Healer. (Rayne has more of a presence in this novel, but her contributions are more to atmosphere than to plot.) In a strange flashback set before No Present Like Time, Queen Eleonora of Awia ties Jant down and violates him with inanimate objects. The section serves no obvious purpose, unless we’re to be impressed with the idea that Women Can Be Evil And Powerfuller Than Men, Who Moon About Being Sentimental And/Or Useless. It isn’t required to display Jant’s desperate need for control and security, nor is it required as an “explanation” for his habits and character.

It follows, in fact, a rather worrying trend: there are very few women in the Circle novels who are written as positive characters. At their jobs, at their skills, at their life’s work these women are all competent, accomplished, skilled and even excellent. And yet I give you:

  • Cyan, when she uses her teenaged brain (not often) shows the beginnings of a woman to be reckoned with. But for the most part she whinges around saying she wants to be free, make her own decisions, have her dad pay more attention to her, take up her duties, do anything but her duties, and everyone is mean to her.
  • Eleonora, a practical, pragmatic ruler who has rationally and systematically oversaw the reconstruction of her kingdom after two separate incursions. She is an excellent character, and it’s too bad she rapes immortals to sate her pervesrity and reputedly is behaving badly with the castle maids.
  • Mist Ata (last seen in No Present Like Time) – incomparable Sailor for the Castle who uses her body and her femininity to manipulate the men around her, who has no tact, respect, delicacy for anyone but herself and uses her family to extend her power. She killed her last husband, became pregnant to get Lightning (not her husband) under her thumb, and blackmails people as cheerfully as Jant does.
  • Frost, who may have been normal once, but locked in her grieving for her dead husband is a pale cipher surrounded by blind perfectionism. She is sensible and determined and not annoying or in any way malicious, and Swainston does not reward her overmuch.
  • The woman Jant may or may not have raped (it’s a cultural thing) and his cheating wife whom we don’t see much of. (The only wife-of-an-immortal who may have deserved outright respect is dead. There are trends here!
The only female character with any straightforward decency is Rayne, ancient, lonely, a healer, and little to no plot agency. Swainston has been very clear that she does not want to draw pristine characters for us to admire, but I think it strange that
It’s annoying, so sue me.
And yet.  Despite these flaws. The mysteries of San in the multiverse, the vermiform, the Insects, the Fivelands. The politics, the infighting, the Immortals and the mortals. The children. The battles! I have been careful not to say anything about the battles – read and find out! – but the unfolding of that plotline is fantastic, completely inevitable in hindsight and yet completely unexpected. The final chapter-cum epilogue shows us a HUGE character event that will shake the political, Circle, and personal relationships in the Fivelands for years. It’s scnadalous, exciting, frightening and very, very brave.

I like The Modern World. Descriptive, vast, with little to no drag, it’s a must-read for every Swainston reader (even if you were a bit drained by No Present Like Time).  There’s been no word (that I can see) of a sequel, though Swainston had out a prequel this year – I want very badly to see what happens next. Not for the Insects, but for the world, and the people in it.