Three Monkeys - Ten Minutes : #6 - July 2002
I have a couple of book reviews to give you this month. I got these books at Con With The Wind. One as a review copy from a small publisher and one I bought direct from the author. Both are situations which are sometimes a bit uncomfortable for a reviewer because of the subtle pressure to give a good review. Luckily for me, both works turned out to be very readable clearly written modern fantasies which proved to be well worth the time spent reading them. Not that the time spent was very long as these books clocked in at a reasonable couple of hundred pages, complete in one volume. In the modern publishing scene, that is an achievement by itself. On the downside this means that they do not have much presence on bookstore shelves devoted to "extruded fantasy product" (Alan Robson should trademark this term, its so useful that he could market it).
Kokopu Dreams is written by Chris Baker and put out by Huia - an independent Maori publishing company. The story is set in a post-holocaust New Zealand where most of the population has been wiped out my a mutated calicivirus and the old magics are returning to the land. The main character embarks on a journey through the country seeking something that will allow people to continue existing as the remaining population is not able to have children.
It is a common flaw of post-holocaust novels that the landscape that the author creates is radically different from the here and now. In practice the end of the world event is just an excuse to create a totally new landscape. There are very few writers who are able to emulate George R Stewart's archetypical Earth Abides and fully connect the "now" to the time after "the end", but Chris Baker makes a very good fist of it. Its all part of the strong feeling of connection with reality that Kokopu Dreams evokes even though it is a fantasy. As the hero travels from place to place you get the feeling that this is a landscape that Baker is at home in and closely identifies with. The clean and uncomplicated writing style ensures that fantastic story elements fit seamlessly into the narrative. As you might expect, those fantastic elements come from Maori mythology - hence the involvement of Huia.
For somebody confined these days to a wheelchair, Baker gives the impression that he has spent a lot of time travelling around the New Zealand. I suspect that the largest proportion of this travel was in the top half of the North Island however. My only real criticism of this work is that the feeling of connection with the country slips away a bit as the story moves south. In particular, the South Island high country is not as well drawn as other places. But he does pull it back as he returns to the southern coast - perhaps itís a mountain thing. This is not a big enough problem to impact on the overall impact of the book however.
So if you can handle a fantasy that does not weigh down your hands, is not medieval in technology, has no dragons, no elves and most importantly no likely sequel then this may be something for you to check out. If your local bookstore does not stock it, I suggest you hassle them to get it in and encourage good New Zealand Fantasy. If you need more details, hit the Huia web site at www.huia.co.nz.
So what can I say about The Art of Arrow Cutting by Stephen Dedman. Let me see, clean uncomplicated writing, a Fantasy set in modern times, no dragons, no elves, under 300 pages with no sequel in sight. Does this sound familiar. Well actually it shouldn't really. Dedman is a West Australian who has turned out a fast paced thriller of a novel set in LA, Los Vegas and bits of Canada incorporating Japanese mythology elements. It may seem a bit unusual, but it all fits together well in a story about a person who by chance receives a talisman which gives him powers. Of course there are criminal elements which want to get hold of those powers as well. Nothing out of the ordinary there plot-wise but Dedman writes with pace and verve while incorporating magic elements unusual enough to add a little extra spice.
So add to this a little dash of humour and a dollop of character development and you have a real blast. I tried hard to think of a comparison to help you gauge what this book is like but I drew a bit of a blank. I think the closest I came was Tim Powers or some of the Lackey/Dixon modern fantasy novels but they don't have the excitement levels that the author manages in this work. As you can tell, I really enjoyed this book so naturally there are no Stephen Dedman books anywhere on the shelves of the bookstores. Luckily I bought two of his books at CWTW so maybe there is another blast to come.