The oldest trick in the literary book is to re-write somebody else's story. And of course, it helps to steal from really good stories.
This month's selection, James Lovegrove's The Age of Odin, is the third in his non-trilogy threesome of godpunk/military scifi retellings of ancient mythological stories. Here, it is Ragnarök with M16s and RPGs.
I was suckered into purchasing this number by the back-cover blurb from The Guardian (actually about another of the three books), "The kind of complex, action-oriented SF Dan Brown would write if Dan Brown could write."
Seriously. I was so amused that the publisher (Solaris Books) had the balls to take such a swipe at another writer on the cover of the book that I gave this one a chance. Now that I have, I will offer my own version of the plug: "The kind of pulpy, shallow action-oriented SF that Neil Gaiman would write if he were 15."
Ok, that's a bit harsh. I found this book mildly entertaining, if derivative (some of the ideas appear to be lifted from -- err, homages to -- Gaiman's fantastic American Gods; in both, the protagonists meet up with more-than-he-seems-to-be old man after a car accident; Gaiman's kills the protagonist's wife; Lovegrove's kills his ex-army buddy; etc. etc.). Lovegrove isn't overly interested in developing either story or character, but he seems to be pretty good at writing blood-and-gore fight scenes. Pretty much the whole book is fight scenes.
This is beach reading, perfect for a teenage boy who has already seen Thor and X-Men: First Class, waiting eagerly for Green Lantern to open. Disposable, largely devoid of any effort to raise Big Ideas, and somewhat hampered by a rather clumsily done development of the bad guy (Loki) as a thinly veiled Sarah Palin. Oooh, so topical! But it reads quickly for its 585 pages. And, perhaps most importantly, it got me in the mood to start George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series.
So far, I am through the first volume and ~200 pages deep into the second (A Clash of Kings). Now there is some good action writing. Martin is a brave writer, killing off principal characters at a fever pitch. I found myself thoroughly engrossed in the first volume, which is almost devoid of the "sorcery" side of the "swords and sorcery" fantasy genre, although I suppose this stuff properly should be treated as high fantasy, closer to Tolkien than to Robert E. Howard.
The world Martin draws is juuust alien enough to keep the reader from getting two comfortable, while his take on middle age politicking is plausible enough, and his characters engaging enough to really draw the reader into his world. I'm very impressed. So far, I'd rank Martin's writing ahead, or in some cases, well ahead of that of other major contemporary figures in this genre, such as Robert Jordan, Katherine Kurtz (Chronicles of the Deryni), Marion Zimmer Bradley (Darkover novels and a tremendous retelling of Arthurian legend from a feminist perspective in The Mists of Avalon). I am eager for more.
What are you reading?