|Scale of Dragon Tooth of Wolf (Sue Isle, Hodder Headline, p/b)|
|Sue Isle rang a bell, I'm still not exactly sure from where, but it was enough to get me to read the story and see what would eventuate. I'm not normally a reader of Fantasy, but have found myself reading considerably more recently.
Some of this may be due to that being all that was readily passing through the hands of the various people handing out review books, or it could be that my tastes have changed (heaven forbid!!). However, I will not let a personal preference in the type of genre I read get in the way of a good story. In this case, it was well worth starting the book.
In Scale of the Dragon Tool, young Amber flees her home and an arranged marriage to a likely lad who believes he is doing the best for both of them. Considerably younger than her siblings, and female, Amber is an inconvenience to her family. Being rebellious and reasonably intelligent are not helping Amber either.
So Amber takes off for the big city having read somewhere about adventures and that running away from home was relatively simple. Once there, she ekes out a precarious existence as a pick-pocket until she breaks into a carriage that becomes very frightening.
The end of the book was somewhat surprising. I had really gotten into the story, it was moving along a quite a clip, and then it finished .quite unexpectedly, as if this was only the first book in a series. At least I hope it is the first book in a series, I'd definitely like to see more of this world, its people and where things are going to go.|
All in all, an enjoyable book. It left me wanting more and if Sue can produce more of this standard, I'll be quite happy to BUY it rather than just receive review copies.
|Richard Hryckiewicz, September, 1996|
|The Mask of Caliban|
Michael Pryor (Hodder SF/Fantasy 1996 ISBN 0 7336 0290 8 RRP $11.95)
|The Mask of Caliban is a novel which does not have a clear focus. It contains all of the hard sf references that could fit it into the Cyberpunk sub-genre - we find Cyberspace, Artificial Intelligences, an overcrowded future run by machines and Virtual Reality games, but it never really gells.|
Within the cyber framework, Pryor has built an old-fashioned quest story, which reads like Jason and the Argonauts meets Odysseus. The rationale is that his protagonist is working through a computer game, designed by two competing Artificial Intelligences. Within each scene is some good writing, but the pieces do not make a coherent whole. It is as if the author had a series of interesting images but couldn't work out a way to bring them all together.|
The Mask of Caliban suffers from that aspect of "first novel syndrome" in which the novelist tries to prove how well read he is by incorporating all kinds of classical and literary allusions but without integrating them adequately. The title itself shows this. Yes, Caliban is a character from Shakespeare's The Tempest, but the protagonist has no real similarities to the Shakespearean character. There are also allusions to T.S. Elliot, the Harryhausen Jason And The Argonauts, King Lear, Dylan Thomas and Gilbert & Sullivan for those who like to play spot the reference. Pryor's science is not so good. His supposedly all-knowing AIs complain that not even DDT will touch the nematodes infesting a cassava plantation - given that DDT was never designed to combat nematodes, but rather to kill insects, that doesn't come as a great surprise. All of these make this a plum pudding of a novel, with occasional sultanas, but a lot of stodge.
Some of the stodge comes from the "hit them over the head with the metaphors" such as, in the game, Caliban's task is to go to the heart of Australia to find his heart, and, as his guide, he wears his heart on his sleeve - well, not quite - it is a black heart tattooed on his arm, but you get the idea. Other stodgy bits include the role names of the AIs; the speaker is called The Speaker, the witness is called The Witness, the adversary is called The Adversary and the technique is called The Cliche.
As a character, Caliban is not wholly convincing. There are elements of the street kid, but not enough and there is far too much literate intelligence in him. One cannot clearly see him as a member of the underclass which Pryor posits. To complicate this further we have the fact that Caliban isn't quite himself, sharing his head with two other entities. One cannot blame the character for being confused, but why confuse the reader as well? The most interesting character in the book is an implant in Caliban's mind - Corby - and here Pryor cannot decide if she is real or construct.
The book is advertised as being for young adults and it has its share of ideas that would appeal, but the degree of confusion in plot and characterisation and the unnecessarily baroque subplots would make it hard going for any but the best read young readers, who would be better off reading fully adult science fiction. A teenage protagonist is not enough to make a book "young adult."
Marc Ortlieb, October 1996
Who still supports the Minneapolis in '73 WorldCon bid.
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