Enter into Neth Space and you will find thoughts and reviews of books and other media that fit the general definition of speculative fiction. This includes the various genres and sub-genres of fantasy, science fiction, epic fantasy, high fantasy, hard sci-fi, soft sci-fi, new weird, magical realism, cyberpunk, urban fantasy, slipstream, horror, alternative history, SF noir, etc. Thoughts are my own, I'm certainly not a professional, just an avid reader avoiding his day job.
seems I’ve been on a bit of an urban fantasy kick. I’ve read some pretty
standard contemporary urban fantasy that simply appeals to me as low-level
entertainment, I’ve read some high-end urban fantasy that invokes an old-school
feel with a fair bit of the mythic and historical thrown in, and I’ve read some
pretty awful urban fantasy, regardless of how you choose to label it. But none
was something that felt ‘new’ to me. And while being something ‘new’ is not
always a great thing and not always something to strive for, when it’s done
right, it stands out. Zoo City by
Lauren Beukes (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) does that – it stands out.
re-imagined modern world, there is a plague, colloquially known as the zoo
plague. Basically, if you kill someone, you end up with a familiar animal
attached to you through some unknown dark magic. The familiar grants you a
magical ability, but it also must accompany you at all times, any pain the
familiar feels, you feel, and if it dies…well, let’s just say death is the
kindest part of what happens to you.
December is a ‘zoo’ living in the Zoo City ghetto of Johannesburg, South
Africa. Her animal is a sloth and her magic is the ability to find lost things.
She’s a recovering drug addict working to pay off her drug-fueled debt and she
makes ends meet by finding lost things and sending African spam emails. You
know what happens next – a case comes along that she doesn’t want, but the pay
it too good to pass up. The mystery is to find a lost person, something she
tries not to do. She ends up over her head as she travels through the
music/club scene of Johannesburg and things dive into the occult.
brilliance of Zoo City is in the
setting and what Beukes does with it. Africa is typically underrepresented in
SFF, especially urban fantasy, so that alone makes it a breath of fresh air.
But the atmosphere Beukes captures makes it great – we see the suffering of an
African ghetto, but its hope and family life too. We get a hint of the truly
terrible past of refuges. We see behind that spam email and see the person
forced into writing it, and the pimp doing the forcing. We see the cost that is
inflicted on the person who takes the life of another – some are the thugs we
all envision, some regret their past, some are simply lost and scared. Beukes
subtly opens our eyes to a world that most never see – intentionally and
get worried that Zoo City is some
heavy-handed social commentary. It’s not, or it’s not just that and I certainly
wouldn’t use the term heavy-handed. At its core is a standard hard-boiled
missing person case, with a far from standard ‘private eye’ doing the digging.
It’s an introduction to Johannesburg and life in South Africa, it has a truly
unique magical ‘plague’ and it is populated by complex characters.
The book is
relatively short and moves along at a generally fast pace, though I had trouble
with some of the uneven pacing towards the middle. These pacing issues, in
combination with the a dive deep into a rather confusing occult plot kept me from
being as fully engaged in the book as I expected to be, which I find
Zoo City was a book that I had high expectations for, and for whatever
reason those expectations weren’t entirely met. As I mentioned above, some of
it is due to the pacing and some due to the direction it takes toward the end,
but from the start there was something holding me back. It’s a good book, and
in retrospect, a very good book that I find deserving of accolades it’s been
receiving. It’s great to see something like this come along and be appreciated.
So, maybe my expectations were just too high, or maybe there is some other
level that it just didn’t quite meet, but for me I can’t say that I enjoyed the
book much beyond the average. I feel like I should have enjoyed it more,
especially in retrospect, but that doesn’t change how I feel. So, I do think
that Zoo City is a great book and I
think that it’s a brilliant addition to an often stale urban fantasy. But while
I can see and appreciate what Beukes does with it, it didn’t entirely work for
me, though I can’t put my finger on exactly why. But, I’ll still happily
If asked I
wouldn’t consider myself a big fan of urban fantasy. Sure, there are plenty of
urban fantasy books that I like, and the last 5 books I’ve read could be
considered urban fantasy, but generally speaking I’m not a huge fan of urban
fantasy as it’s generally defined at this time. However, I tend to love
‘old-school’ urban fantasy – the stuff Emma Bull, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint
and others. As often as not, you’ll hear that sort of urban fantasy called
mythic fiction or something similar.
Of Blood and Honey by Stina Leicht (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) is urban
fantasy in the style of old-school urban fantasy that leans toward mythic
fiction. It’s also has a strong historic feel to it being set in the early
1970s Northern Ireland. Unlike much of the urban fantasy of today, Of Blood and Honey is not some mixture
of up-beat, gritty, humorous ass-kicking protagonist discovering dark supernatural
powers with cardboard characters. Of
Blood and Honey is a deep, moody, truly dark, melancholy, tragic tale.
Characters are constructed with depth, realistically flawed and realistically
heroic. There is pain and despair with fleeting hope. This is not a book to
lift up, entertain, or escape – at least in the most common thought of context.
It is the story of humanity, the cruelty of humanity, love in the face of
adversity, the horrors of war and oppressive government and resiliency when
most of us would have rolled over and died.
Of Blood and Honey takes place at the height of the Troubles in Northern Ireland
during the early 1970s. Liam is a young man who gets caught up in things beyond
his control and ends up in the IRA. He’s also the son of shape-shifting fey
right out of Irish myth, though he doesn’t know it. Throughout the book he’s a
son, husband, prisoner, wheel man for the IRA, and drug addict.
Of Blood and Honey is an unusually strong debut. The prose simply excels – at times
it’s poetic, at times it captures a feel consistent with contemporary urban
fantasy, and it always maintains the tone of Northern Ireland. The time isn’t happy,
some truly horrific things happen to Liam and any decent tale of Irish fey must
invoke melancholy and tragedy. Throughout Leicht seamlessly weaves the supernatural
threads of her tale into the real world of Northern Ireland.
Liam is the perfect
character for Leicht’s story. He’s strong – but not strong in the ‘I kick your
ass while making witty remarks’ of most urban fantasy. Perhaps strong is not
the correct word – resilient fits better. Liam is that typical older teen/young
adult looking to step out and find his place in the world – only he has no
clue. He has a girlfriend that he thinks he loves, he has a loving mother, but
an abusive stepfather. He longs to know who he is, but with his ongoing
confusion and frustration comes anger. And there isn’t much that a young Irish
Catholic man could do in 1970s Londonderry. He gets caught in the wrong place
at the wrong time, he spends time in prison, while unknown to him supernatural
forces are making his life harder and the Catholic Church is watching. Betrayal
hits him from the closest quarters and everything he thinks he knows is turned
inside out. As Liam struggles, it’s the strong arm of government that turns
someone with no political aspirations towards the IRA.
a fascinating thing to watch Liam evolve through this book. We literally see
him grow up – of course it’s aging through tragedy. At the end I can’t say Liam
is left with hope, but it is at least acceptance of a sort.
This is a book
set in violent, political time that many still alive experienced first-hand.
This book focuses on one side of the story – that of repressed Irish Catholics
in Northern Ireland. The IRA is shown in a somewhat positive light and in a
basic sense, the Loyalists and British Government are bad guys. The horror of
the times is well expressed. The violence and loss on both sides is shown. But,
this is one side of the issue. Inevitably those who experienced the other side will
have issues with this. But, on the whole this book does not glorify any
position and shows the horrific, unjust nature of the times, regardless of
Of Blood and Honey is powerfully good book – easily one of the best I’ve read in the
past several years. It strikes the right balance as a work of urban fantasy, (recent)
historical fiction and mythic fiction as it invokes an ‘old-school’ feel while
holding on to a contemporary relativity. Liecht shows the horrors of humanity alongside
its resiliency in way that we can all relate to in one way or another. The
sequel to Of Blood and Honey and next Book of the Fey and the Fallen is
available and from what I’ve heard, just as good – And Blue Skies from Pain (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon).
So, my last
post was back in November and at that time I was predicting a review in about a
week. Well, that obviously didn’t happen. There are reasons of course, there
are always reasons. I could blame it on the near constant sickness in the house
for several weeks and my total lack of sleep during that time. I could also
blame it on crazy work scheduled before the holidays begin. As well as the
onslaught of our usual December visitors. And each is certainly true. Though
the most true reason is that I received my copy of A Memory of Light
by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon) and it consumed me during my
sickness-weakened state. I still managed to read all 900+ pages of it in a
week, but it took a lot out of me doing so. I’ve been waiting for this book since
I first picked up The Eye of the World (Indiebound, Book Depository, Amazon)
back in 1994 and I must say that it ended well and appropriately. I’m still
digesting that and I have numerous posts that I’ll write about A Memory of
Light and The Wheel of Time, but not until January 8 and later.
are a few odds and ends to show that I’m still alive.
Amazing Stories is getting a reboot and is going live soon. There
will be a bunch of different contributors, ranging from well-known authors to
bloggers who never seen to get much attention (I’m referring to myself, though
my involvement won’t be huge – just an occasional post). The press release is
On Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013, I
will be joined by more than 50 other writers from around the blogosphere to
help launch the Beta Test of Phase 1 of the return of Amazing Stories.
Amazing Stories was the world's
first science fiction magazine.Published by Hugo Gernsback, the Father of Science Fiction, the magazine
created the genre's first home and was instrumental in helping to establish
science fiction fandom – the fandom from which all other fandoms have evolved.
The magazine itself ceased
publication in 2005; in 2008 the new publisher, Steve Davidson, discovered that
the trademarks had lapsed and applied for them.The marks were finally granted in 2011.
Phase 1 introduces the social
networking aspects of the site and the Blog Team, more than 50 authors,
artists, collectors, editors, pod casters, designers and bloggers who will
address 14 different subjects on a regular basis – SF, Fantasy & Horror literature, anime, gaming, film,
television, the visual arts, audio works, the pulps, comics, fandom, science
Those wishing to participate in
the Beta Test should request an invite by emailing the publisher, Steve Davidson.