reading had to take a backseat to other things in the past few weeks since i did the real-time-review of Jeff VanderMeer's Shriek: An Afterword. when i get distracted the way i was in the past few weeks, reading becomes sporadic, and it becomes harder for any one book to hold down my attention for a sufficient period of time for me to actually wrap my head around it enough to actually say/write something worth hearing/reading about the book.
still, i managed to slog through about a bit(ish) more than half of Justina Robson's Natural History before i had to admit that i was just not getting into it enough to continue, much less to write a real-time-review of it.
thankfully, that doesn't really say much about the book. i went through the same sort of thing several times over the course of about three years with M. John Harrison's The Course of the Heart, until i started it up again about a month ago and surprised myself by getting to the end right before Shriek hit our shores.
Course is now currently one of my all time favorite books, and has, in fact, surpassed Viriconium in my mind.
that said, Natural History is still worth a few brief comments (though i have to say, these will be rather facile compared to the reading i did with Shriek as my head just hasn't been in it).
there are moments in Natural History that i can only describe as Kirbyesque. History's universe is one that is rife with magnificent visions of, of all things, people. it's the sort of bizarrely grandized reimagining of mankind that i myself utterly dig (and which i put down to writing, more or less successfuly, in my short story Generations). and it is at these moments that the book truly scintillates in my mind.
the Forged are akin to New Crobuzon's "remade" in China Mieville's Bas-Lag books; as with Mr Mieville and his remade, there seem to be no limit to the possible shapes and permutations of the Forged other than Ms Robson's imagination. however, unlike that bizarre subgroup of New Crobuzon's population, the Forged are people "remade" from birth for utilitarian, rather than punitive reasons. they are thus "enslaved" by the dictates of "Form" on "Function", an enslavement from which some Forged are actively seeking release.
unfortunately, it is in the smaller, more intimate moments that i feel Natural History loses me. "unfortunately" because, as far as i can tell, it's these "small things" that History, for all the jarring opulence of "big ideas" in the book, is really all about. the concept of Uluru, for instance, leaves me cold for various reasons. and the stories of Zephyr Duquesne and the Forged Corvax (disappointingly, a Forged human who seems to be trying to understand what it means to be "unevolved", or, one may put it, "unForged") just don't hold my attention. i could be wrong: for all its fecundity of incident (sorry, i just love that phrase, clunky as it is), i get the feeling that the first half of the book is nothing more than a set-up for the latter half, and the latter half may be all i need to turn me around on the book.
it may be some time before i get back to it, however, so i wouldn't recommend that you hold your breath for me to pick it up again.
in the meantime, i've dipped into a couple pages of Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop (rich, darkly beautiful faerie tale-esque writing, though at times a bit too melodramatic for my taste; i do love it when Ms Carter suddenly drops such throwaway, tongue-in-cheek lines as [paraphrasing] "she had to watch over her little sister in the garden to make sure she did not kill herself"), the entirety of Mervyn Peake's Boy In Darkness (a lovely little nightmare-or-not story of one of young Titus Groan's brief escapes from the castle, featuring one of the most chilling literary villains i've ever read: the Lamb), a couple pages again of Jon Courteney Grimwood's Stamping Butterflies (promising start, but left no real impression in my state of mind), and, most recently, and probably the book i'll stick with for now, M. John Harrison's Light. this will be my second reading of the last book, which i'm doing in preparation for the arrival of Nova Swing.
right. that's it for updates. will see if i can come up with a real-time-review of my second reading of Light. for now it's off to some coffeeshop or other to do an entirely different sort of writing altogether...