The week of filler continues with three books that all deserve better treatment. But Farnsworth, Ness and Smythe sounds a bit like a Dickensian lawfirm, which is some small comfort.
Normally I'm not so bothered about shirking my frontlist duties, but last week was one hell of a week for new genre books, and I'm a little upset that I'm slack in reviewing. Whatever sort of science fiction you're in to, last week was packed with red letter days.
I did review Christopher Farnsworth's Red, White and Blood earlier, so this is more a "Hey! Out now!" sort of reminder. Red, White and Blood is the third in the Nathaniel Cade series (which began with Blood Oath and The President's Vampire), but there's certainly no barrier to starting with this installment. Backstory: the President has a vampire. Now you're caught up.
Mr. Farnsworth's series is a cross between Wes Craven and 24 or, uh, True Blood and Tom-Clancy-before-he-jumped-his-own-shark. Funny, witty, silly, smart, the series just keeps getting more and more entertaining - modern pulp at its finest. Read the earlier review for more complete thoughts.
Mr. Smythe came from seemingly nowhere to publish two of last year's most thoughtful, most challenging science fiction thrillers. This year he knocks it up a notch, Elzar-style, and, with The Machine, has written one of the darkest novels - of any genre - that I've ever had the nightmarish 'privilege' of reading. And don't get me wrong, this is a corker, well worth reading and suspiciously, disturbingly easy to read. But the entire book is keyed at a slightly unsettling note that keeps the reader perpetually aware that THINGS ARE NOT RIGHT. And, nor should they be... in a fairly ruined world (the casual apocalypticism is handled with an unbelievably light touch, and, I hope will join Jessie Lamb in benchmarking the post-Wyndhamism contemporary cozy catastrophe) a young wife is experimenting with the Machine. The Machine is a thing - a big scary mechanical thing - it looks suspiciously like your office's scary server closet crossed with the screen that you have to plug the presentation into but you can never get to work on the first try - that does stuff to your memories. Initially used as a cure for PTSD, it does... stuff.
The Machine pokes all the tender places. There are beleaguered teachers and menacing students, long walks across abandoned estates at night, crucifying loneliness, creepy 'friends', oppressive bureaucracies, social isolation, tinkering with minds... all building up to the big question: what is it that makes us human? What's the line? When do we become so lost in ourselves that we aren't people any more? Mr. Smythe clearly refuses to be confined to an easy description, and like its inspiration, Frankenstein, The Machine makes a nonsense of genre definitions. The Machine takes the best of horror - claustrophic, personal terror - and combines it with the frenzied imagination of science fiction and the thoughtful, unanswerable questions of literature.
Speaking of which...