Weeknotes: Doctorow, Powers, Dolamore and Mieville read

It has been a quiet week bookwise since returning to work (which has been anything other the quiet).

Cory Doctorow's For the win cover image

For The Win jacket image

I read the new Cory Doctorow novel, For the Win (Harper Collins, £14.99). Each of Cory’s novels gets stronger for me and this one develops not only his style but also the arguments of Little Brother and Makers. In For the Win, the gold farming workers begin to realise their creative power and form a union to take control of their own work, sometimes with disastrous personal consequences. Their struggle to create the union and to use the ‘net to link together allows Doctorow to muse on the ways that games (and artefacts) can be used in ways that the original makers didn’t intend. It is a less viciously angry novel than Little Brother but it still has an anger about the new injustices where corporations / big bosses use the passion of their workers to their ends. I found it to be far more positive and reasoned (and I vaguely remember a conversation with him a while ago mentioning that he wanted to write a book with an Indian setting in it). Its a less polemical book and builds on the reasoning in Makers. His argument has perhaps become more political than earlier novels with the Street finding that technology is not necessarily apolitical or about change. The geek optimism is already lustreless with the wider adoption of technologies.

There is, as ever, a free download of the novel as well as the physical version.

Corvus Books, an imprint of Grove Atlantic, are (re)publishing some fine novels in the next couple of months, such as Chris Beckett‘s debut novel, Holy Machine, and Jeff Vandermeer‘s Finch. In June, they are re-publishing Tim Power‘s captivating novel, Declare. Its another book that I thought I dip into but found I couldn’t stop reading it. Ostensibly a spy thriller with time lines in the 1940s and 1960s, it echoed a sense of dislocation or end of narratives that Gibson plumbed into in Pattern Recognition. Andrew Hale, an agent who moves between departments, is involved in an ultra secret series of the operations to defeat the guiding angel of the Soviet Union. In the split times, we follow his journeys into the bellies of the secret services and its denizens each of whom watch the others with idle curiosity and patience. Powers links his novel to the unmasking of Kim Philby as a Soviet agent and Hale as his twin.

Kraken cover

Kraken cover image

I’ve also started reading China Miéville‘s Kraken which feels like a return to the age where he was mining and exploring fantasies. In SFX #196 (July 2010 issue edited by Terry Pratchett), he describes it as the “last piece of archaeology from a very difficult time” and Kraken does feel a little like that. It looks lovingly at the Lovecraftian Cthulu mythos and the notions of deities and belief in general (though with less levity than Pratchett in Small Gods) and also returns to, perhaps completing, his debut King Rat. As Damian Walter says in his Guardian review, China loves London but I disagree with his assessment that “alongside the exuberant displays of imaginative vigour, Kraken is Miéville both paying homage to and poking fun at urban fantasy” (Guardian, 15 May 2010). I’m not sure that urban fantasy is so much the target as the notion of deities and beliefs. Its a sense of China getting squids out of his system… In the SFX piece, he mentioned that there is one more novel in with Macmillan from this period so perhaps we’re coming to the end of the exploration of the central tenets of the fantastic that he started and is moving on as The City and The City suggested into other weird areas. It feels like the end of adolescence and something new, equally cool is going to appear.

I’ve also been reading Jaclyn Dolamore‘s debut Magic Under Glass which is a fabulous YA novel. It came to my attention through a children’s lit mailing list and its cover portraying the heroine as white when she is not but I’m glad that the library got the book in stock. What really comes out is the nature of being a prisoner through gender and race and how each protagonist needs to find a way of freeing themselves. In  a sense it develops the automato conversation that Pullman perhaps started through his references to Heine’s essay and Jeremy de Quidt (earlier review) took in his novel, The Toymaker. Where de Quidt is perhaps quiet and reserved, Dolamore encourages (or expects) Nimira, her heroine, to take on her position and fashion it to her own ends. The romance doesn’t get pushed too hard either but it is there.

There are other books that I got into but I’d better carry on rewriting my own into one , ahem, coherent style.

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