“’I’m fine,’ she said again, her whole body shaking. She reached out a hand to the plants growing in their neat rows and saw with wonder that she had slumped next to a tomato plant. There were tomatoes growing on it, tight in their skins and perfectly red. After A moment, she reached out a trembling hand and plucked one from its stem, jerking a little as she did so. […]”
In “The Ninth Rain” by Jen Williams.
The great city of Ebora didn’t seem so alien after all…If I were reading a physical book, this would probably be the only book that I’d purposefully abandon at a train station, hoping that it would go to some "Lost Items" limbo. I'm an old-school SF fan, and I hate the way the SF shelves in the bookshops are increasingly dominated by great slabs of swords'n'sorcery, usually endless volumes of the same stuff by the same author, like they're paid by the meter. And the covers are astonishingly awful - like SF covers were in about 1968. Yech. My point is that the fantastic genre has always been with us ever since the first bard sat at the hearth and sang his songs. Think of the Greek heroic myths - Odysseus, Theseus et al and the Celtic tales of magic and questing knights. Today's SF literature is just a continuation of what is hardwired into our psyches. By contrast Dr. Who for instance just doesn't cut it. I can remember when the Daleks looked like giant pepper pots that threatened to knock over the flimsy stage scenery every time they were on the warpath. I thought it was daft then and I haven't changed my opinion. “The Ninth Rain” is also daft epic fantasy. At the end of the day, what is important in literature is having something interesting to say and being able to say it well. The genre, really, is just scenery. And add only that a genre is more implicated in an author's choices than "just scenery", but not so much that compelling, well-written stories aren't plentiful, or at least "findable", in almost any genre I've tried. And don’t start with same all story that all Fantasy is crap. Two names: George R. R. Martin and Steven Erikson. Martin is a swords-n-dragon’s medievalist, and Erikson is, over 1000s of pages, uneven (there are parts that, for me, drag), but they're fine writers with smart ideas, good sentences (sometimes), characters and plots with plenty of unpredictable 'reality'. Jen Williams milks the same epic fantasy field others have already milked more successfully; it's the usual story of “Horrible Things from the Other Side” trying to break through and destroy everything, but unfortunately she hasn’t got the knack for writing both memorable characters and good action scenes; it's all very fluffy, too. Going from the evil priestess/sexy seraglio girl of the Conan series, to Melanie Rawn's vision of a matriarchal world (“The Ruins of Ambrai”) and Erikson's female marines, Lady Vincenza 'Vintage' de Grazon just seems odd even in a fantasy context. With fantasy, in this day and age, one either has the choice of a Tolkien rip-off or a bloviated, multi-volume saga that goes seemingly nowhere a la Robert Jordan. Yet sometimes from the past comes a true gem like the Fahferd and Grey Mouser series by Fritz Leiber and all is well once again with fantasy. One can only hope that more in this vein will out and not the crap like the one I’ve just read.
SF = Speculative Fiction.