Saturday, April 11, 2009

A find

I'd not heard of Maria Quinn before her first novel The Gene Thieves turned up chez moi for review, but I spent the first hour of this morning reading the first 50 pages of it while my coffee went cold and I've sure as hell heard of her now. Go check out that link, if you haven't already.

I usually read a little faster than that, but it's small print (= more words per page. You'd be amazed, if you ever get down to actually counting them, which most people have no reason to do, at the variation in number of words per page from book to book), and I needed to read some passages twice in order to make sure I fully understood what was going on.

In this job I read a lot of genre fiction and the awful truth is that I prefer some genres to others, with crime of the variety that Val McDermid's Tony Hill calls 'messy heads' a long way up the top of the list. If spec fic and fantasy come lower down, it's partly because you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. The facts that (a) with these genres the central idea is often valued way above fiction-writing skills, and (b) both genres have a large and hungry readership (read: 'market') means that a lot of what gets published in these genres is virtually unreadable to someone outside the fan base. And many novels in both these genres are reminiscent of A.S. Byatt's (now that's what I call a novelist) Frederica Potter and her reader's reports for the publisher in Babel Tower: 'It is a curiously vacant work, whose driving force appears paradoxically to be the desire to create and people an imaginary world.'

Many fans of fantasy and spec fic are understandably defensive about these tastes so I hope they are still with me thus far, because the corollary is that when novels in these genres are good, they're very very good and some of them are mind-bogglingly fabulous, in both senses of that word. (Please note that by 'good' in this instance I mean 'couldn't put it down and neither could most other people', so let's not get into dreary backlash quibbles about Harry Potter and so on.)

This particular futuristic novel rises above the pack partly because of the many long, fat, juicy, healthy roots it has in the fertile soil of the present. Much, indeed most, of the science and technology is already with us, as are many of the ethical concerns and the directions in which they seem to be going. There's a magnificent imagining of a not-too-distantly-future Sydney featuring among other things a 'vertical sky garden' that produces fruit and veg for self-sustainability, a taken-for-granted reliance on geothermal energy among other kinds, and this particularly fabulous idea:
Years before, over a million ceramic tiles were overlaid with transparent photovoltaic cells, painstakingly matched to the profile of the unique originals on the amazing pre-cast concrete 'sails' of the roof. Jørn Utzon's masterpiece now powered much of the city that worshipped it.

Memo to HarperCollinsPublishers: Maria Quinn has an excellent website (see above). Why is it not mentioned in the media release?

Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat

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