Monday, September 10, 2018
Nanoreviews: The Skaar Invasion, Phoresis, The Expert System's Brother
Brooks, Terry. The Skaar Invasion [Del Rey]
With The Skaar Invasion, readers are in a headlong rush to the really, truly final ending of Terry Brooks' long running Shannara series. If we count the Word / Void novels (and I do), The Skaar Invasion is the 30th Shannara novel. It is the second of four volumes in The Fall of Shannara. There's a significant weight of expectation and history here. The novel mostly holds up to what it needs to do.
It is completely not fair to compare the latest novels from Terry Brooks to his earliest. Elfstones, Wishsong, and his four volume Heritage of Shannara are by far the high point of his oeuvre (though his Dark Legacy novels are the best of his later books). For a number of years now Brooks has sacrificed detail, worldbuilding, and atmosphere for a breakneck pace and quick references to the past. The Skaar Invasion, like The Black Elfstone before it, bridges that gap as best as Brooks is currently able or willing to do.
It took me all of The Black Elfstone and a decent way into The Skaar Invasion to realize the titular invasion wasn't yet another breaking of the Forbidding and a demon attack, but rather an expansion of the world (even though the action all takes place in the Four Lands. This is a fantastic decision because despite all the callbacks in this novel (Cogline, Walker Boh, Shea Ohmsford), this invasion isn't a retreading of ground Brooks has covered several times before. To make a comparison to other fantasy novels, the Skaar feel somewhat more like the Seanchan from Robert Jordan's novels or the invaders from Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire. The comparison is not exact, but I think it's on point. The Skaar Invasion may not be among the best of Terry Brooks, but it is a fully entertaining ride.
Egan, Greg. Phoresis [Subterranean Press]
I typically hesitate before picking up one of Greg Egan's stories. At least of the ones I've read, there is often a coldness there - as if the story is a vehicle for Egan to work out his ideas and perhaps a problem he would like to solve. They're intellectually interesting, sometimes, but I bounce off of them. That was the case early on in Phoresis, but much to my surprise - the deeper I got into Phoresis, the more I enjoyed and appreciated it.
It's a story of twin frozen worlds, one of which has inhabitants eking out lives that to call hardscrabble might be too generous. It is on that world (the names don't really matter) that a plan is made to build a tower so high that people might jump from the top and land on the other world in order to colonize it and hope for a better / easier / more stable life. Something about Egan's storytelling is compelling, even if the central conceit of the tower is a bit absurd an unwieldy. The passion and tension of the tower and the crossing the gulf between worlds is the heart of Phoresis, so long as you don't think too deeply on it. Phoresis is a three part story and multi generational. Phoresis is increasingly compelling and engaging.
Tchaikovsky, Adrian. The Expert System's Brother [Tor.com Publishing]
Our own Paul Weimer reviewed The Expert System's Brother at length over at Tor.com and one thing that Paul touched on that I appreciated is the idea of a fantasy story morphing into a science fiction one. It is perhaps the most interesting idea going on in this novella. While I'm not overly well read in Tchaikovsky's oeuvre, I have the idea that a common theme is an opening of "what the hell is going on" that has the reader working through not just figuring out the story, but also scrambling to keep up with the underpinnings of the world itself.
The ideas running through novella are interesting, about what it means to be cast out from a community and the intersection of technology with an otherwise low tech existence. There's enough packed into The Expert System's Brother that it easily could have been (and perhaps should have been) a full length novel.
POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.