Posts Tagged ‘Fantasy novels’

(The Delirium Brief, by Charles Stross. Tor, 2017, 381 pp., $25.99)

After the last two Laundry Files novels, I thought the series was floundering. I was wrong.

The previous two books in this genre bending (sci-fi/fantasy/horror) series, The Annihilation Score and The Nightmare Stacks, marked a fairly sharp break from the five previous books in the series (not counting novellas and story collections), in that the primary narrator changed, and with it came a change of tone. The characteristic dark humor of the sardonic narrator, “applied computational demonologist” Bob Howard, was largely though not entirely absent, as was much of the pointed political and social commentary that marked the previous books in the series.

In The Delirium Brief, Bob Howard is back as the first-person primary narrator, and with him some of the humor. (There are also third-person passages from the p.o.v. of other characters.)  The tale is so dark, though, that the humor is somewhat muted. But it’s there nonetheless, as is the pointed political/social commentary, which was largely absent from the previous two books. At one point early in The Delirium Brief, Stross devotes nearly a full page to a wonderfully precise description of how privatization of public services screws the public, which is reminiscent of his description of how the banks screw the public in his very funny The Rhesus Chart.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the plot of The Delirium Brief is so dependent on back story, so dependent on the reader understanding the references to events and characters from the previous books in the series, that The Delirium Chart does not work as a stand-alone novel.

I’ve read all of the previous Laundry Files books, plus much of the subsidiary material, and I had trouble remembering some of the essential references. It doesn’t help that the novels have been spread out over more than a decade, and that I’ve read at least 500 other sci-fi novels since the first Laundry Files book, The Atrocity Archives, came out in 2004, but still….. The upshot is that only readers fresh to the series who read all of the books in a fairly short period, or readers willing to reread the previous ones, will fully appreciate this very dark tale that leaves the reader hanging, eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

And damn it! I want it now!

Recommended with the above provisos.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia (pdf sample here). He’s currently working on the sequel, a nonfiction book skewering Christianity, a translation of a nonfiction anarchist history book, and an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time.

Free Radicals, by Zeke Teflon front cover



1001(Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights, by Salman Rushdie. Random House, 2015, 290 pp., $28.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon


There’s no other word for it, Salman Rushdie’s new novel is charming. That starts with the title, which is the equivalent of “A Thousand and One Nights.”

Two Years takes its premise from the perennial religious argument that the universe is controlled by the whims of god(s) rather than by immutable natural laws. Where does this lead? There are an almost infinite number of answers to that question, but the one Rushdie gives us is a world controlled by mischievous jinn (genies), some good, some bad.

The book’s two central characters are Dunia, a well intentioned female jinn who’s in love with a medieval liberal muslim philosopher, Ibn Rushd (whose family is known as the Rushdi), and a modern-day gardener, Geronimo Manezes, who’s a descendant of Rushd and Dunia. The secondary characters are mostly other jinn, good and evil, and other descendants of Dunia and Rushd, who like Geronimo, have latent supernatural powers.

The plot revolves around the attempts of the evil jinn to wipe humanity off the face of the Earth, and in the process inflict various miseries on humanity. These include the floating curse, which causes Geronimo and countless others to find themselves untethered from the Earth, and its counterpart, the crushing curse, which causes people to be crushed to death. The bulk of the book involves Dunia, Geronimo, and Dunia’s other awakened half-human, half-jinn ancestors battling the evil jinn inflicting these miseries on humanity during the thousand and one nights of “the strangeness.”

Along the way, there are numerous references to writers and artists, including Conrad, Bunuel, Magritte, Beckett, and many others. These references are great fun when you catch them, but irritating when you can’t think of whom they refer to; there’s also quite a bit of dry humor in the book.

The lightness of Two Years’ tone, however, contrasts with its serious philosophical examination of which is preferable, rationality or irrationality, reason or religion. If you’re familiar at all with Rushdie’s other works, it’s not hard to predict which side he comes down on. In his own words, the alternatives are supernatural incoherence or “a world ruled by reason, tolerance, magnanimity, knowledge, and restraint.”

Lest this sound too sappy, Rushdie concludes the book with a twist in the final paragraph, a twist that induces both a wry smile and a shudder.

Highly recommended.

* * *

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel.

Free Radicals front cover