Better yet, the novel is as well-written as it is well-imagined: full of nice phrases—”the vandalized Bibi Eybat oil wells burned non-stop in the night, in true Zoroastrian fashion” (p. 153); a blizzard “whirls madly like a trapped wolf” (p. 174)—and Valtat handles his cod-nineteenth-century tone sweetly (“he beheld, almost miragenous through the whirling snowflakes, four hooded shapes hurrying away down the back alley” (p. 197)). North Pole politics are “poletics”; people travel around not in taxis but “taxsleighs”; and the prose approaches the business of swearing with a degree of propriety (“. . . they were against the Council then, and now those phoque-in-iceholes work hand in hand” (p. 69)). Although, at the same time, the writing sometimes falls into the uncanny valley between the formal idiom of Victorian prose and the unidiomatic stiffness of a non-native speaker (“‘This is very kind of you. But it happens that one likes to hunt for oneself, even if one is a bad hunter,’ he said” (p. 41)). I don’t mean to be a neat-piquer. That Valtat, a French national, wrote this long, accomplished novel in his second language represents an almost Conradian achievement. So if I gracelessly note that sometimes the style doesn’t quite hit the bull (“It would, Gabriel thought, enlighten his return home . . . provided he would not go alone” (p. 68; “provided he didn’t go home alone” would be more idiomatic); or “as he hurried he could perceive rooms whose open doors revealed the strangest scenes” (p. 160; “perceive” isn’t the right word there, I think)—then I must also declare that Valtat’s command of English is better than many published Anglophone authors I could mention. Overall, this is a very good novel indeed. – read the full review.
More reviews are coming in for French author Pierre Pevel‘s novel, The Cardinal’s Blades (translated from the French by Tom Clegg). Here is author and critic Adam Roberts:
The result is an enormously thigh-slapping, cheering, toasting, roaring, puking, bawling, galloping, adventuring hearty piece of fiction. If it were any heartier, it would actually suffer from inflammatory cardiomegaly. Perhaps I might have liked a little more about the dragons themselves, if only to justify the decision to write the book as Fantasy rather than straight historical melodrama; but the novel instead chooses to focus mostly on Captain Fog’s varied crew, and the scrapes they get into. And into scrapes they do get indeed. Scrapes they do get in—they do get themselves scraped-up in … um.
They get into scrapes.
There’s lots and lots of swordfighting, but it’s rather more cliché than touché (aha! ha! you see what I did there?). The whole book, in fact, is prodigiously, momentously clichéd; but so energetically, so forcefully does Pevel inhabit these clichés, and with such aplomb, that you don’t mind. It’s all melodrama, all the time; everything is turned up to onze. Moments that would, in another novel, break the tension through sheer ludicrousness (‘“Dead?” Belle-Trogne asked, to put his mind at rest. “Yes. Strangled while he shat.”’, 221) here only endear the reader to the novel. – read the rest of the review.
The Black Mirror & Other Stories is a 2008 anthology of German and Austrian science fiction short stories, edited by Franz Rottensteiner and translated by Mike Mitchell. It is published by the Wesleyan Press. Adam Roberts reviews it this week over at Strange Horizons, beginning his review with:
Being raised Anglophone in a world that tends to use English as its lingua franca (lingua commercia, lingua pedagogica, and of course not forgetting lingua imperia Americanae) can result in complacency. It’ll easily slip a person’s mind that there’s nothing natural or inevitable about this state of affairs. Worse, books that contrive to get themselves written in languages other than English can acquire the air of poor relations—competitors at a sort of cultural paralympics whilst English-language titles thrash it out at the main Olympics event elsewhere.
As you can probably tell from that opening paragraph, with its apologetic tone and its mannered lapsings into that other, now-superceded lingua franca, Latin, I’m edging towards a mea culpa. That I don’t speak German, a state of affairs about which I used to feel blithe indifference, is increasingly, as I grow older, a matter of great shame to me. I ought to be able speak German. I ought to be able to do so in a general sense, as a twenty-first century European; but I ought to be able to do so in a more specialized sense, as somebody interested in the history of science fiction. Because German writers have played a crucial role in the development of that genre. – Continue reading.