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Thursday, July 9, 2020
Nanoreviews: In the Shadows of Men, Goldilocks, Endgames
Bennett, Robert Jackson. In the Shadows of Men [Subterranean]
I wish I was more familiar with Bennett's earliest work (Mr. Shivers, American Elsewhere, The Company Man) because I don't quite know if In the Shadows of Men is more of a return to Bennett's origins or a stretching in bold new directions. Readers who primarily know Robert Jackson Bennett from his Divine Cities trilogy will be in quite a surprise for realistically bleak this novella is.
Set in our world, in the wreckage of the modern oil boom, In the Shadows of Men is story of brothers and a past almost better left buried. This isn't a novella to read before bed because the combination of how Bennett hints at the supernatural and reveals an absolutely horrific family history is, well, not to overuse the word brutal, but brutal.
If it matters, it is never quite clear if this is fully in genre or if it is straddling a line in ways that some of Stephen King's work does - and the comparison to King is particularly apt.
Lam, Laura. Goldilocks [Orbit]
It's interesting and always fun when you go into a novel knowing not much more than "space" and "that's a nice cover" only to find that it exceeded your most optimistic hopes. Folks, Goldilocks is fantastic! If you like rogue missions to colonize another planet, long space journeys, dying Earth stories, feminist dystopias, and just more space - you're likely to love Goldilocks as much as I did.
The publisher describes Goldilocks as a "bold and thought provoking new thriller for readers of The Martian and The Handmaid's Tale" and while the Andy Weir comparison seems more to say "spaaaaaace" and not much more, it is really the feminist dystopia that is the underpinning of Goldilocks, of the rights and expectations gradually stripped away day by day. Margaret Atwood is the big budget comparison, but Goldilocks hits the power and fear of more modern dystopias such as Red Clocks and Before She Sleeps (among many others). We can see how close we are to the edge, how few nudges it would take for the United States to start stripping rights away - and that's what Laura Lam is working around, why it was important for those women to steal the spaceship.
Goldilocks flips between the voyage and various events back before the launch. It's absolutely engrossing and I highly recommend Goldilocks.
Modesitt, Jr, L.E. Endgames [Tor]
While I would not normally recommend starting a series at Book 9 (Madness in Solidar) and then continuing on without ever going back to the first eight, Modesitt has a trend in his long running series to write particular story arcs set at different times in a world's history - so Madness in Solidar through Endgames has formed an extended story arc set fairly well in the middle of the overall Imager chronology. I just don't know what references from the earlier and later set novels these books are expanding on, what little miscellany might be given richer detail.
After plots and shenanigans, the new ruler of Solidar is a young man who hadn't expected to ascend to the position for many years, but assassination waits for no man. The core of Endgames is Charyn, the new Rex of Solidar, working desperately to do his best for Solidar and quell the simmering anger between workers and manufacturing owners - and in the process, save his own life. If that sounds overly political and down in the weeds, well, Endgames is not the place to begin reading Modesitt's Imager novels. There are numerous starting points (Imager, Scholar, Madness in Solidar, heck - even Assassin's Price), but this is not one. Endgames is the conclusion of both a four book arc as well as a slightly tighter two novel arc focused on Charyn.
Readers familiar with Modesitt's slow build know what to expect here. Endgames lives on characterization and gradual reveals, on the reader willing to dive deeply into the politics of not only a city, but into the ethics of choice and of action, on a good man trying to do the right thing in the face of increasingly impossible odds that might cost his life but is worth doing all the same because there really is no choice. Endgames is pure Modesitt, and that is a delight indeed.
POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 4x Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan. He / Him.