Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

Reviews by Evelyn C. Leeper

All reviews copyright 1984-2017 Evelyn C. Leeper.


CHILDHOOD'S END by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/05/2003]

As I hinted last week, I was reading Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END. This was selected for our library's science fiction reading group and turned out to be almost exactly fifty years old when we discussed it. (It was published August 23, 1953; our discussion was September 25, 2003.) The first part had been published previously in a slightly different form, as "Guardian Angel" (which is how I best remember it). Interestingly, just about everyone agreed that they liked that part, but found the rest a bit of a letdown.

I want to comment particularly on the predictive aspects of it, and on the Overlords' advanced technology. Two predictions struck me as being well off the mark. In chapter 6, Clarke predicts that "the patterns of sexual mores [would] be virtually shattered by two inventions, which were, ironically enough, of purely human origin and owed nothing to the Overlords." These were "a completely reliable oral contraceptive" and "an equally infallible method of identifying the father of any child." Clarke describes the effect of these as "they had swept away the last remnants of the Puritan aberration." Clarke seemed to see the sole purposes of "Puritanism" as a method of preventing unwanted pregnancies and verifying paternity. But that view doesn't explain the opposition to homosexuality that is very much a part of this Puritanism, and indeed, though we have both these inventions now, Puritanism is still around, albeit somewhat diminished.

His other prediction that struck me was in chapter 15 someone complains that "every day something like five hundred hours of radio and TV pour out over the various channels." That's the equivalent of only twenty cable channels, which these days is considered even less than just basic cable. (And note that Clarke lists radio first.) As someone pointed out at the discussion, this may have been because Clarke didn't think about the technology that would make all our cable channels possible--like the synchronous communications satellite. :-)

The other point is about the Overlords' technology. Clarke seems to provide them with whatever they happen to need for his literary and philosophical purposes. They don't have faster-than-light travel, but they do have some viewer that lets one see any place and time in history. And Clarke claims that in the space of a few days the Overlords could show everyone "the true beginnings of all the world's great faiths." This supposedly would lead to the almost instantaneous abandonment of religion by mankind. As someone pointed out, this seems to imply proving a negative--one would, for example, have not just to show Paul (or whoever) laying down rules of Christianity, but also to not show the Crucifixion and Resurrection. But no matter what you show, people could claim that you just failed to show the scenes that happened that would support your belief. There are also a lot of other devices and inventions, many of which are fairly unbelievable. My theory is that Clarke might claim it was just an application of his Third Law ("any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") but that it's closer to the converse (of his Third Law ("any sufficiently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology").

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/18/2004]

I read Arthur C. Clarke's CHILDHOOD'S END (ISBN 0-345-34795-1) last October and commented on it then (MT VOID, 10/05/2003). In particular, I have already noted the incorrect predictions for sexual mores and for broadcast media, and the rather unbelievable claims for the Overlords' technology (one is reminded that "any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). So I'll comment now on other aspects that bothered me this time around. First, Clarke has this magical technology as a way to enforce world peace. However, given its limitations even in the book I suspect it would not be very useful against a group of terrorists. He also sees the "time-viewing" as putting an end to the world's religions, but many of those religions do not really depend on specific events in history. Clarke also talks about theft disappearing because no one lacks anything--this was obviously written before the corporate scandals of the last couple of decades. The reference to Israel as the last independent country and to the state of race relations in South Africa at the time of the arrival stick out as having missed the mark; when Clarke temporarily updated the first chapter, I don't think he went through and changed any of these, and the first chapter is now restored to its original state anyway.

To order Childhood's End from amazon.com, click here.


EXPEDITION TO EARTH by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/13/2012]

EXPEDITION TO EARTH by Arthur C. Clarke (ISBN 978-1-857-23918-8) was this month's book discussion choice. It is not easy to pick classic books for our library's discussions. Theoretically, the book should be available to people from the library system, but since they have culled the vast majority of their older science fiction, we have some difficulty. In this case, they had no copies of EXPEDITION TO EARTH, which was published in 1953, but they did have eleven copies of Clarke's COLLECTED STORIES, which contains all the stories in EXPEDITION TO EARTH.

"Second Dawn" (1951) is an interesting idea, though the inclusion of the menace seems egregious.

"'If I Forget Thee, O Earth...'" (1951) is the first of the two stories in this book that refer to Babylon, and Clarke has written at least one more ("I Remember Babylon").

"Breaking Strain" (a.k.a. "Thirty Seconds--Thirty Days") (1949) sets up a classic situation: two people in a spaceship thirty days from their destination when something goes wrong and they are left with only enough oxygen to last both of them twenty days. Even if this is the first science fiction story like this, it has been done many times before (usually with water, sometimes with food). But my problem is not the plot, it is the writing. I do not normally notice point-of-view issues, but in this case they were jarring. Clarke writes about twenty pages from Grant's point-of-view, then suddenly throws in two paragraphs that are either omniscient narrator or McNeil's point-of-view, then jumps back to Grant. At the end, there are a couple more changes of point-of-view that are not as problematic, because they occur during scene changes as well. But the earlier one is just jarring.

"History Lesson" (1949) is a story that today's young readers will probably make no sense of, because the "punch-line" ending relies on a knowledge of sixty-year-old pop culture.

"Superiority" (1951) seems oddly prescient of the war in Vietnam, in the sense that all the advanced technology seemed to cause as many problems as it solved. But there are also some lines that remind one of how much has changed since 1951, such as, "The Analyzer contained just short of a million vacuum tubes..."

In the preface to later editions, Clarke claims "Superiority" was inspired by the V2 program, but the fact that the Chief of the Research Staff was named Norden led at least one group member to suggest that the Norden bomb sight was at least a partial inspiration.

"Exile of the Eons" (1950) is a "deep time" story, with most of it taking place in the far future, part "between the fall of the Ninety-seventh Dynasty and the rise of the Fifth Galactic Empire" and part even further in the future, when there is no life--plant or animal--left on Earth. As such Clarke follows in the footsteps of H. G. Wells's THE TIME MACHINE and presages his own AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT (1953), later re-written as THE CITY AND THE STARS (in 1956). (This was apparently retitled as "Nemesis", and then retitled it back in future editions. Also, editions after 1998 seem to have had a preface added to them.)

Not surprisingly, "Hide and Seek" (1949) first appeared in ASTOUNDING (now ANALOG). At one time, I think I liked this sort of "physics-problem-with lots-of-equations" thing, but nowadays I am looking for more in a story.

Whatever possessed Clarke to retitle "Encounter in the Dawn" (1953) as "Expedition to Earth"? With its original title, it is clear that the last line (heck, the last word) was supposed to pack a punch. After the retitling, we know the ending even before we get there. (Of course, these days this sort of story is pretty obvious early on, but in 1953 it was probably still fresh.) Adding to the confusion is that "History Lesson", another story in this collection, was also at one point titled "Expedition to Earth", and the two stories are totally unrelated. The older Ballantine editions indicate that "Expedition to Earth" was originally titled as "Encounter in the Dawn". Later editions no longer mention this, but do say that "History Lesson" was also alternatively titled "Expedition to Earth"!

"Loophole" (1946) is yet another "Earthmen are so clever" story, which theme was already old when it was written.

I could not figure out what the point of "Inheritance" (1948) is. One person thought it was reminiscent of THE TWELVE MONKEYS.

As the inspiration for 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, "The Sentinel" (1951) has had enough said about it that I cannot think of anything to add. But as evidence that bad proof-reading is nothing new, the page headings on it spell it "Sentinal". (Some future editions correct this; others have Clarke's name as a page header instead of the story title.)

To order Expedition to Earth from amazon.com, click here.


GREETINGS, CARBON-BASED BIPEDS! by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/28/2003 and 05/09/03]

I'm in the process of reading GREETINGS, CARBON-BASED BIPEDS!, Sir Arthur C. Clarke's collected essays from 1934 through 1998. It is a bit confusing to read: at the start of each essay is an introductory paragraph, printed in centered italics and presumably written by editor Ian T. Macauley. This followed not by the essay itself, but another introductory few paragraphs by Clarke, written in the same typeface as the article. There is then a two-line break, followed by the article itself. Unfortunately, one finds similar breaks within the introductory paragraphs (which sometimes go on for a couple of pages), so one isn't always sure when one has actually started the essay. And to make it worse, sometimes there is no introductory paragraph at all! Better editing or different typeface choice or even different font size would have made it easier going.

Anyway, I was struck by one thing he said in his review of Chesley Bonestell and Willy Ley's "The Conquest of Space". In reference to Bonestell's color plates, he says, "We have known cases of people who mistook them for actual color photos taken on the spot and were mildly surprised that they had read nothing about the matter in the papers!"

Another selection I just read was a speech that Clarke gave to the Smithsonian Institution on April 24, 1990, for the Marconi Symposium. Speaking of innovation, he said, "I'm even tempted to say that large organizations not only can't make major innovations, but shouldn't attempt to . . . . Of course, there are exceptions--see for example Bell Labs and the transistor. . . . But Bell Labs was deliberately set up to encourage creativity, not to manufacture things."

How hath the mighty fallen!

To order Greetings, Carbon-Based Bipeds! from amazon.com, click here.


"Hate" by Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/08/2016]

In the 07/25/03 issue of the MT VOID, I wrote about how Arthur C. Clarke's "I Remember Babylon" predicted the televising of such outrageous things as images of the sexually explicit carvings on Indian temples and scenes of execution and torture--all supposedly as educational documentaries. At that time, the History Channel was running "The XY Factor", a series about sex throughout history (and mythology and legend). Since then, we have had videos of beheadings posted on-line (and possibly televised as well). As I noted, all that Clarke got wrong was that it was not the Chinese.

Well, now it's time to re-read Clarke's "Hate", about a diver supposed to be rescuing a cosmonaut whose capsule has crashed into the ocean, but instead causes delays until the cosmonaut dies, all the while talking to the cosmonaut about how he hates the Russians because he is Hungarian, etc. At the end it turns out that 1) the cosmonaut is a young woman, and 2) she has recorded everything the diver said and he will be shown to be a murderer. This too has proven quite prescient, with the many police (and private) videocameras recording shootings by police that show the actual events to be somewhat more damning than the accounts given by the police regarding them.

To order "Hate" from amazon.com in The Collected Stories of Arthur C. Clarke, click here.


"How We Went to Mars" by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/20/2014]

"How We Went to Mars", Arthur C. Clarke (Amateur Science Stories, March 1938; COLLECTED STORIES OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE): This was Clarke's third published story, and nominated either because it was an Arthur C. Clarke story that was eligible, or because the British convention members have a different sense of humor than I do. By that I mean that the humor in it seems distinctly British, and the problem I have is that there is just too much of it. What was funny for a page or two wore a bit thin after seven pages. Then again, the British like Benny Hill. The story is written in that "we are all buffoons, but we don't know it" style. (I am reminded of a Bertie Wooster, only more so.)


"I Remember Babylon" by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/25/2003]

A couple of years ago, when The History Channel starting running "The XY Factor", a series about sex throughout history (and mythology and legend), I re-read Arthur C. Clarke's "I Remember Babylon". In that, it is suggested that if the Chinese managed to put up a communications satellite, they could undermine Western civilization by broadcasting all sorts of shows then unavailable, including such outrageous things as images of the sexually explicit carvings on Indian temples and scenes of torture--all supposedly as educational documentaries. Well, it was when "The XY Factor" ran its show on sex in Asia and did show those carvings that I re-read the story, and now I see that The History Channel has a documentary on "punishment" through the ages. Clarke was wrong about only one thing--it isn't the Chinese.


"The Nine Billion Names of God" by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 07/16/2004]

Some people think "The Nine Billion Names of God" by Arthur C. Clarke is too thin a story, but the concept is interesting and the ending perfect.


RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/17/2015]

The movie-and-book discussion group watched THE EUROPA REPORT and read RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke (ISBN 978-0-553-28789-9). No, the movie was not based on the book, but they have similar themes.

I realize that if you read enough books, weird coincidences will arise, but I still found it interesting that the "disaster asteroid" hit on 9/11 (2077, though, not 2001). Eunomia is actually the 8th- to 12th-largest asteroid, not the 5th. According to Wikipedia, the largest asteroids (in decreasing size by mass) are 1 Ceres, 4 Vesta, 2 Pallas, 10 Hygiea, 21 Euphrosyne, 704 Interamnia, 511 Davida, 532 Herculina, 15 Eunomia. (The numbers indicate the order in which they were found.) The last four are all reasonably close to each other in size. I presume in 1973 the masses were not as accurately known, since it seems like a mistake Clarke would never make. Persephone had been proposed as a name for a trans-Neptunian (formerly trans-Plutonian) planet, but given that there already was an asteroid 399 Persephone, this seems like it would have been a lost cause. So far, the major trans-Neptunian bodies have been named Pluto, Eris, Sedna, Makemake, Quaoar, Varuna, and Haumea.

Apparently in this book's 2130 there is still considerable argument over the "Big Bang" theory. Since the most important evidence for it was discovered after Clarke wrote RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA in 1973, this is not too surprising.

Norton is concerned about the total annihilation of ten thousand tons when Endeavour lands if Rama is anti-matter. But you would get the total annihilation of only the mass of the spaceship. (If you got the mass of Rama, the same would have been true of the test of a few milligrams of vapor, which would sort of defeat the purpose of even doing the test.)

"After a century of determined effort, Earth had still failed to get its population below the target of one billion..." In 1973, the world population was about four billion; it is currently about seven billion. Any attempt to get it below one billion would have to have been fairly drastic even if it started in 1973, let alone in 2030 (when earth is projected to have a population of well over eight billion). China's "one-child" policy, for example, seems to have been much stronger than whatever Earth was implementing in RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA, yet even that did not do more that slow the growth of China's population, not decrease it.

Of the superchimps (which seems like an unnecessary addition to an already full enough plot), Clarke writes, "Being cloned, they were also sexless..." Earlier he describes them as having "family trees whose branches included the most intelligent of the Old and New World monkeys, plus synthetic genes that had never existed in nature." This is not cloning, although one can argue that all the rest were cloned from the first "genetically-engineered" one. But it would have been the genetic engineering that made them sexless, not the cloning. (Indeed, animals that have been cloned in the last few decades are fertile and have had offspring.) In any case, the superchimps strike a negative note in the book--it seems as though humanity had decided to create a race of intelligent slaves: they are "docile, obedient, and uninquisitive," had an IQ of sixty, and "were quite happy to work fifteen hours a day." Would we decide that humans with an IQ of sixty should be used as menial labor for fifteen hours a day, especially if there was a good chance that there would be some situation in their workplace where they would have to be euthanized?

Clarke seems to have felt he needed something with drama and tension near the end of the novel, but frankly, that too seems slapped on. The concept of Rama itself is drama enough.

To order Rendezvous with Rama from amazon.com, click here.


"The Star" and "Nine Billion Names of God" by Sir Arthur C. Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 06/18/2010]

In "The Star", Arthur C. Clarke has the Jesuit take the speed of light into account when calculating when the light of the nova would have reached Earth, yet at the end of "The Nine Billion Names of God" he writes, "Overhead, without any fuss, one by one the stars were going out," without any acknowledgement that they must actually have gone out millennia ages. In the former, one might assume that God knew when the Nativity would be and set the nova in motion the right number of millennia earlier. In the latter, though, while there is a God, one might presume it is not the omniscient God of the former and so one might ask how the stars happened to know to go out millennia ago so that they disappeared from the Earth at the right time.


TIME'S EYE by Sir Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 02/20/2004]

Sir Arthur C. Clarke & Stephen Baxter's TIME'S EYE at least has the advantage of being the first in a trilogy. But the premise seems so artificial that I cannot work up much enthusiasm for it. The premise is that something (from "out there") has patched together a new Earth by taking wedges from various time periods of the old one. (The question of what has happened to the area/volume occupied by these wedges on the original Earth--or Earths, depending on your point of view--is pretty much ignored.) So we have a peace-keeping force from 21st century Afghanistan ending up only a few miles from an 1890s British frontier station on the Northwest frontier of India, along with the crew of a 1980s Soviet space capsule that happened to be orbiting over a wedge that was selected in its time frame. And they all end up tangled up with Alexander and Genghis Khan, who just happened to be in the wedges selected from their respective time periods. And perhaps in response to such series as Stirling's "Nantucket Trilogy" and Eric Flint's "1632" series, Clarke and Baxter recognize that their 20th and 21st century castaways cannot build an industrial society in a couple of weeks. Indeed, the best they can do is to use their knowledge of the historical "surprise" tactics of Alexander and Genghis Khan to come up with ways to counter them. But as I said, the whole premise seems so contrived that even I had a hard time suspending my disbelief.

To order Time's Eye from amazon.com, click here.


THE LAST THEOREM by Sir Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/14/2008]

I wanted to like THE LAST THEOREM by Arthur C. Clarke and Frederik Pohl (ISBN-13 978-0-345-47021-8, ISBN-10 0-345-47021-4)--I really did. I've been reading Clarke and Pohl since Hector was a pup, and was hoping for the old magic. Plus of course it was about mathematics, and that's pretty darn rare. Alas, either their writing or my tastes have changed. What is wrong? Well, first of all, there's an awful lot of expository lumps. And there's an awful lot of convenient occurrences and coincidences. And of course Sri Lanka is great and the United States isn't. And I cannot say that I find either the mathematical or the socio-political premises very likely.

To order The Last Theorem from amazon.com, click here.


THE ARSONIST'S GUIDE TO WRITERS' HOMES IN NEW ENGLAND by Brock Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 01/18/2008]

I picked up THE ARSONIST'S GUIDE TO WRITERS' HOMES IN NEW ENGLAND by Brock Clarke (ISBN-13 978-1-565-12551-3, ISBN-10 1-565-12551-7) in part because it was set in Amherst, Massachusetts, and the surrounding area. Since I come from there (Chicopee, with four years at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst), I thought the local setting would make it more interesting. There are two sorts of ways to use local settings for color. One is to get all the minutiae correct. Allen Steele has done this with the same area. When he mentions characters going to a barbecue place on the Route 116 bypass, for example, you know he means Bub's. The other way is to mention a few main roads, and make up the rest. That seems to be Clarke's method. The result is that instead of enjoying the local references, I found myself constantly saying, "What is he talking about?"

There is no Chicopee Street in Amherst, and no state prison in Holyoke. There is an Our Lady of the Lake College, but it is in Louisiana, not Springfield, Massachusetts. (Clarke may be modeling this on Elms College in Chicopee, formerly Our Lady of the Elms College.) Similarly, there is a Pioneer Packaging, but not in Agawam. The Student Prince is indeed a German restaurant in Springfield, but not owned by anyone named Goerman (the owner's name is Scherff). Also, the Student Prince is at least five blocks from Court Square, so the entrance to it could not be in an alley just off Court Square.

There are no superstores on Route 116 near Amherst (they are all on Route 9), and no Book Warehouse or Pioneer Valley Mall. It is not a half-hour commute from Amherst to Agawam (even the optimistic Google says it is 41 minutes). There is no Super Stop-N-Shop in Chicopee, and the ordinary Stop-N-Shop is not in a neighborhood of older homes, and is a mile and a half from the Edward Bellamy House, not just a few blocks.

An even more interesting question is when this is taking place. The narrator supposedly burned down the Emily Dickinson House, served ten years in (the non-existent Holyoke) prison, and has been out of prison for another ten years, yet the technology, cars, and so on are present-day. So is this some alternate history (since in our present world the Emily Dickinson House was not burned down)? I suppose that would explain some of the differences from our reality, but not really why there would be a Super Stop-N-Shop right near the Edward Bellamy House in Chicopee. The Paramount Theater in Springfield stopped showing movies around 1970.

Now I'm sure that many people would consider all of this beside the point, that I am missing the main ideas of the book for this trivia. It may be an attempt to bring science fiction reading protocols to a mainstream literary work. In science fiction, one is expected to get one's facts right. If someone gets in a rocketship and flies away from the sun, they should not arrive on Venus. But while a mainstream author is allowed to make up some details of setting, he is still supposed to maintain a certain level of accuracy. A character in Manhattan should not cross the East River to reach New Jersey. I think my feeling here is that if Clarke has chosen to use a very particular real town as his setting, he should hew as closely to that town as possible.

To order The Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England from amazon.com, click here.


ENGLAND UNDER HITLER by Comer Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 03/28/2003]

A few months ago, there ran on some PBS stations something called "Hitler's Victory." It was promoted as alternate history, but there was only about twenty minutes of fictional alternate history. The rest (over an hour) was an discussion of documents discovered describing the German plans for after a successful invasion, and interviews with people about what plans had been laid in place on both sides. Well, the whole thing could have been based on Comer Clarke's ENGLAND UNDER HITLER, though it apparently wasn't. Clarke's book is precisely this discussion of documents, interviews, and extrapolations from German actions in other conquered countries, and in the occupied Channel Islands. Clarke's book is over forty years old, but it didn't seem like the TV movie/documentary added much new to the story.

To order England Under Hitler from amazon.com, click here.


WAR FILMS by James Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 04/14/2017]

WAR FILMS by James Clarke (ISBN 978-0-7535-1094-0) covers a set of specific films, examining their themes as well as a lot of detail about their conception and production, rather than providing an overview of all war films. It also covers science fiction "war films", such as ALIENS. which makes sense from a thematic point of view, if not from a historical one.

Clarke introduces the first section by saying, "It is often considered inaccurate to refer to the 1914-1918 war as World War One, as it is felt that other wars preceding it had a claim to be the first global conflict. It is often referred to, more appropriately, especially by those who fought in it, as the Great War." This does not stop him, however, from referring to the war of 1939-1945 as "World War Two", which means either the 1914-1918 war was not a "World War" worth numbering (clearly wrong), or someone cannot count.

(One can also claim it is inaccurate to refer to World War Two as running from 1939 to 1945, since the start of it could arguably be as early as 1931 (Japan's seizure of Manchuria from China). The most commonly cited date is of course 1 September 1939; the second most commonly cited is 7 July 1937, when Japan's aggression towards China turned into an all-out continuous war rather than a series of unconnected incidents.)

[Clarke's use of the present tense in reference to "those who fought in it" was still grammatical when he wrote this in 2006. By now [2017], however, all soldiers who served in that war have died.]

To order War Films from amazon.com, click here.


JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL by Susanna Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 10/15/2004]

The main book I read this week was Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL (ISBN 1-58234-416-7). (At 800 pages, it is not surprising that it is the main book I read.) This has gotten a lot of press, almost all positive. It was even mentioned as a shoo-in for nomination for Britain's Booker Prize. (It didn't make it.) I will say that it is a shoo-in for Hugo nomination next year, especially since the convention is being held in Glasgow, giving a much higher number of British nominators.

So I will undoubtedly seem like a bit of a spoil-sport when I say that I do not think this is a great book. That may be because I am not a big fan of Regency novels and this has been described as a fantasy Regency novel. The premise is that at one time magic was rife in England, but has fallen into disuse. At the start of the novel Mr. Norrell seems determined to prove that magic still exists, but only he can do it. Then Jonathan Strange comes along to challenge him, and to try to train new magicians. (This is, I suppose, a thinly veiled parallel to the general conflict between the notions of aristocracy and democracy that was occurring at that time.) But for all the magic, not much seems to happen, or rather, things happen at a much slower pace than in most books. This is fine if you want the texture of the era, the Napoleanic Wars, magic, and everything else, but not if you are looking for a story.

Now all this probably sounds as though I'm looking for all "all-action" plot with only the barest layer of characterization and writing over it. This is not the case, but I will admit to preferring poetry in smaller doses than this book. (Russell Hoban's work, for example, usually has more emphasis on poetic writing and atmosphere--but HER NAME WAS LOLA was only 207 pages long.) But I will acknowledge that for people who read the huge fantasy series coming out these days, the length will not be an issue, and JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL is a well-written novel set in a fascinating world.

(Along with others, I have to wonder at Clarke's division of Britain into England, Scotland, Wales, and Elsewhere [Faerie]--where is Wales in all this? And why is it called "English magic" when it clearly includes Scotland? And does anyone else have magic?)

And one final note: this is being marketed as mainstream, not fantasy, so 1) it will be in a different section of the bookstore, and 2) it will be priced a little higher than most fantasy novels. The chains have pretty much decided that they will not stock mid-list fantasy priced above $25, but mainstream novels do not have any such ceiling that I know of. This is priced at $27.95, certainly a good price when compared with a lot of the EFP ("Extruded Fantasy Product") selling for $24.95 these days, or for that matter when compared to mainstream pricing in general. (Note: I just saw it at Costco for $15.99, so it is probably being heavily discounted elsewhere as well.)

To order Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell from amazon.com, click here.


THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU by Susanna Clarke:

[From "This Week's Reading", MT VOID, 11/24/2006]

THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU by Susanna Clarke (ISBN 1-596-91251-0) is a collection of stories by the author of JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR NORRELL. The stories are set in the same milieu as that novel, with some of the same characters. If you liked the novel, you will like these, and if you found the novel too intimidating due to its size, these provide a more manageable introduction to that world.

To order The Ladies of Grace Adieu from amazon.com, click here.


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