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Wednesday, April 8, 2020
Nanoreviews: Mississippi Roll, The Last Emperox, The Ghosts of Sherwood
Martin, George R.R. (editor). Mississippi Roll [Tor]
The twenty fourth volume of the long running Wild Cards series doesn't have as high a barrier to entry as that might seem. While not as perfect an entry point as the eighteenth, Inside Straight, Mississippi Roll doesn't require as much knowledge of the full series. Sure, being familiar with the triad starting with Fort Freak would help - but that gives shading.
Mississippi Roll is a ghost story set on an old mississippi riverboat and it's very effective at the beginning of the story (where we learn the reason for the haunt) and it's effective in the last third - but the storytelling does fall flat a bit in that middle third. I'd have to check again to see which stories are the ones that didn't work as well as the others since this is a mosaic novel, but the overall story is coherent and fits together. There are moments and sections the novel hums along (there should be a riverboat metaphor here), but while the middle section doesn't quite sink the book (there it is), Mississippi Roll doesn't quite achieve the promise of the either the wonderful beginning or the ultimate payoff.
Scalzi, John. The Last Emperox [Tor]
Our own Paul Weimer introduced me to a concept he called "wrong book in the moment", which encapsulates my experience of reading The Last Emperox, which is that perhaps reading a novel dealing with the impending end of civilization as that universe knows it may not play as well during the time of a global pandemic when I am concerned about the future of employment, childcare, of the general state of life right now.
It's not that all literature is to be escapist or that John Scalzi is under any obligation to write the story that he meant to write - but I could never tell while reading The Last Emperox whether the novel didn't quite work for me or if the novel did not work for me now. There's a distinct difference.
Scalzi's writing is typically easy, breezy, and while perhaps not a cover girl it is often a refreshing and delightful reading experience. That is still the case in The Last Emperox, but somehow it doesn't all come together for me in ways that it did in The Collapsing Empire and The Consuming Fire. For a concluding novel The Last Emperox more seems like setting up yet one more book. The storylines here are wrapped up, but it all comes across as a bit of a rush. Also, and this is very much small potatoes, but the profanity in The Last Emperox seems far more excessive and forced here than in the previous two novels. The Last Emperox is better than my criticism suggests, but so many years of reading Scalzi has my expectations set higher. Or maybe I just need to read this again when there is not a perpetual level of stress and gloom overriding everything that I read.
Vaughn, Carrie. The Ghosts of Sherwood [Tor.com Publishing]
Relative to the above idea about reading a book that brings relief from the world and for which the experience of reading it is not overwhelmed by the aforementioned perpetual level of stress and gloom, I present to you The Ghosts of Sherwood, Carrie Vaughn's take on the Robin Hood mythos. Or rather, she continues on years after the standard Robin Hood mythos and answers the questions I never thought to ask - what would Robin and Marion's children be like? What adventures would they get up to?
Readers, The Ghosts of Sherwood was everything I ever wanted in a story and so much more. It's a friggin delight. I've loved Robin Hood stories for decades, whether it is Errol Flynn, Disney, or Kevin Costner (fight me) and what Carrie Vaughn does so well with The Ghosts of Sherwood is get at a raw sense of joy that is present in the best and most iconic Robin Hood stories. Even in the terrible moments of the story, there is still a pervasive sense of joy, wonder, and delight. There are so many more stories to be told with these kids and in and around Sherwood that I can't wait for the next novella (and hopefully the next and the next after that).
POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.