December 22, 2015

Book 57: Landfalls

Naomi J. Williams

This book offers a realistic imagined version of a circumnavigational voyage helmed by French Commodore Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse, in the late 18th century. Reading almost like a novel in stories, each chapter offers a different point of view based on one of the expedition's ports of call, following everyone from the voyage's officers and seamen to those waiting for them at home and those whom the expedition encountered along their travels. The mix of perspectives and storytelling techniques keeps the book fresh and rounds out the story, lending it a sense of realism unmatched by many historical novels, particularly those (like this one) that must, by necessity, fill in numerous gaps from the actual historical record. Williams is a deft writer and the reading experience is as engrossing as it is gently educational; clearly based on serious research, the stories never lose sight of the humanity behind the events, and each is compelling while adding to the tapestry of the whole. Landfalls is an excellent fictional introduction to a relatively unknown scientific pursuit, a well-imagined take on what might have been on an ill-fated journey into the unknown.

Grade: A

December 5, 2015

Book 56: The Best of Electric Velocipede

The Best of Electric Velocipede
Edited by John Klima

This collection traces the history of The Electric Velocipede through some of the stories and poetry it published during its run. Though the anthology presents itself as a "best of" edition, the individual stories and poems drastically vary in quality (moreso than in most other collections) even if they do tend to improve as the volume proceeds. This book has its gems, as all of its kind do, but ultimately feels somewhat scattered without a sense of theme to guide it. The focus on speculative fiction is evident throughout, but it's difficult to get a handle on which genre a particular story is in as they flit between various fantasy and science fiction tropes. This is perhaps primarily a fault of the offending authors, but the frenetic reading experience could have been improved by more mindful organization (the effect of chronological ordering here results in a lot of disorienting jumps), effective introductory notes, or other ameliorating editorial factors. That said, the collection does have its high points and surely does not lack for variety; I was particularly surprised to find myself drawn in by some of the poetry. The Best of Electric Velocipede does provide a useful introduction to some lesser-known voices in speculative fiction, but its many misfires lead to a wildly uneven reading experience despite the success of its few gems.

Grade: C