(Crossposted from Goodreads)
I really need to post more reviews of books I’ve read, don’t I? I’m reading them far faster than I can review them. But I’m going to try to do more.
To start with, here’s the sequel to last year’s Tales Of The City, and so I have to add my obligatory disclaimer:
I am not only friendly with the editor of this book, but also with some of the writers in it and the publisher. I have a novel coming out from this publisher at some point late this year or early next, and both the editor of the book and one of the authors in it have bought stories off me for forthcoming anthologies. It would not be right for me to review this book without mentioning that.
But it also wouldn’t be right for me to do it without pointing out that I *became* friendly with them because I admire their work and share something of their aesthetic, so I personally believe that rather than my friendship with these people causing my enjoyment of their work, rather my enjoyment of the work affects the friendship.
For those who don’t know, the City Of The Saved is a fictional environment, established in The Book of the War and Of the City of the Saved…, in which every human being from the first Australopithicene to the last posthuman demigod has been resurrected after the end of the universe. Not only that, but the technology exists to ‘resurrect’ fictional characters as well, so there’s a detective agency staffed entirely by different versions of Sherlock Holmes, for example.
As a setting it’s quite brilliant, and I loved Of The City Of The Saved… , but that was largely because Philip Purser-Hallard himself is such an excellent writer. What surprised me was last year when Tales of the City came out and showed that the City is an extraordinarily good playground for a whole variety of different types of storytelling, not just Purser-Hallard’s eschatological SF, but everything from Regency pastiche to dark horror (and that was just in one story).
More Tales Of The City is, if anything, better than that first volume. Possibly I think that because while the earlier collection was loosely based on the theme of Greek myth, this is a collection of stories that are, in one way or another, mysteries, and I prefer that genre, but either way, this is an astonishingly good, varied collection.
I won’t talk about everything in it, but just briefly discuss two stories I particularly enjoyed. The first is Double Trouble At The Parasites On The Proletariat Club by Simon Bucher-Jones. This is a Wodehouse pastiche, and anyone who’s ever read one of these knows they’re notoriously hard to do — Wodehouse was the greatest prose stylist in the English language, which pretty much by definition none of his imitators are. This means it’s very, very easy indeed for even a writer as good as Alan Moore to fall flat on his face and come across looking like an idiot.
Bucher-Jones has, happily, come up with a rather ingenious solution to this problem, which is to have his narrator be an idiot who is attempting to pattern his life on Wodehouse’s characters — thus the character is *meant* to be narrating in Wodehouse-pastiche rather than in Wodehouse’s actual voice. This allows him to play with Wodehouse’s style without having to match it exactly, and the result is a rather lovely mystery-farce which hinges on a character note from some of Wodehouse’s early work.
The other stand-out story is The Mystery Of The Rose by Richard Wright, who’s not a writer I’d noticed before, though he has stories in some Iris Wildthyme collections. It’s another literary pastiche, and an astonishing tour de force, as he does Raymond Chandler and William Shakespeare simultaneously. Here, a recreated version of Shakespeare’s Richard III (as played by Ian McKellen), now working as a private detective, is hired by Elizabeth Woodville to discover if the real Richard III actually killed her children. He narrates the entire thing in first person, of course:
The patter of my speech confirms the truth –
my author’s revered voice is known to all.
A son of York, the plotting king, the fiend,
Richard third, the deformed, dethroned, deceased.
Yet never walked I through the world you knew.
Pentameter crossed not that monarch’s lips:
his northern tongue could scarce concoct such verse.
A Remake I, a story given flesh.
A fictive being pinned to humanity’s
understanding of itself so surely
that I have earned a place at the end of Time.
And the introspection of the Chandleresque mystery works perfectly with the Shakespearean soliloquising, as Wright tells a story of power, guilt, morality, free will and responsibility. It’s a rare pastiche that manages to evoke two very different authors simultaneously and bring their similarities into focus, while still remaining a worthwhile and inventive story in its own right.
While I’m not going to review every story in that much detail, the other four stories in the book all rise to this level as well, as does Purser-Hallard’s linking material. I can’t imagine an SF/F reader who wouldn’t enjoy this collection.