Fantasy/SF Book Reviews

The Internet Writing Journal, April 2000
Page One of Two

The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

HarperCollins, April, 2000.
Hardcover, 321 pages.
ISBN: 0061051578
Ordering information:
Amazon.com. | Amazon.co.uk


Cover of The Fifth Elephant
by Terry Pratchett Everyone knows that Discworld is held up by four elephants standing on the back of a large turtle who is flying through space. Now it turns out that there actually was a fifth elephant, which came hurtling to the ground. The resulting crash created immense deposits of minerals and fat, especially in the land of Überwald which is peopled by dwarves, werewolves and vampires. The ruler of the city of Ankh-Morpork, Lord Vetinari, sends able Captain of the Watch Samuel Vimes to Uberwald with his wife and an assortment of companions. Vimes' mission is to assist the dwarves in finding the missing Stone of Scone, the emblem of kingship which must be found before the next king can be installed. He also must try to avert the civil war that has been brewing there for some time -- and solve a murder while he's at it. Naturally, should Vimes also return home with some valuable mining rights that would be all for the better.

The Fifth Elephant is Pratchett at his best. The art of satire is a difficult one, and Pratchett truly is a master of the form. His latest work parodies everything from diplomacy, royalty, werewolves, vampires, communications, and traffic cops -- just to name a few. The scene where a naked and freezing Vimes is hunted by the werewolves through a wintry forest in Überwald (think The Most Dangerous Game set in a Chekov play) is the kind of macabre yet hilarious scene that only Pratchett could pull off. It's laugh out loud funny and immensely entertaining. If you haven't made the acquaintance of Terry Pratchett, by all means remedy the situation immediately. For longtime fans, you're in for a treat. Highly recommended.

--Claire E. White


The Annunciate by Severna Park

Eos, Nov., 1999
Hardcover, 294 pages
ISBN: 0380977370
Ordering information:
Amazon.com. | Amazon.co.uk


The Annunciate
by Severna Park Eleven inhabited planets orbit each of the three stars of the ThreeSys star system. The society of the system is literally falling apart. A caste system of sorts has developed over time, consisting of the Meshed, the Jacked and the Jackless. The Meshed are the elite; they are neurally linked to a sensory and information network which runs throughout all the worlds. Consequentially, the Meshed have great power over their environment. The Jacked have a standard computer interface, and the Jackless are the untouchables -- they have no access to information at all, other than what they pick up with their five senses. The Jacked and the Jackless have overthrown their rulers, and very few Meshed survived. But three Meshed did survive. The trio make an incredibly addictive drug called Staze which they sell to people in the name of maintaining the peace. But they stumble onto an alien intelligence which moves between virtual and real worlds with no trouble, and intends to enter the ThreeSys system as a newborn child. Is the new creature really the Chosen One who will deliver humans into a brave new world, or is it just a predator who will destroy mankind once and for all?

Severna Park, author of Hand of Prophecy, explores the worlds of nanotechnology, drug addiction and human emotion in her latest work of literary SF. Park excels at taking relationships apart and seeing what makes them work -- or not work, as the case may be. The protagonist of the story is Eve, a young woman who has spent her life under the tutelage of the manipulative and brilliant Anne Marie. Eve's struggles to become her own person are the centerpiece of the book and hold it together, even when the plot becomes a bit abstruse. Park's writing is lyrical and literate; her prose conjures up the most amazing new worlds and ideas. The Annunciate is a fascinating and enigmatic work which will linger in your thoughts long after you've finished reading.


Crescent City Rhapsody by Kathleen Ann Goonan

Eos, Feb., 2000.
Hardcover, 430 pages.
ISBN: 0380977117.
Ordering information:
Amazon.com. | Amazon.co.uk


Cover of Crescent City Rhapsody
by Kathleen Ann Goonan When a powerful electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) hits the Earth from outer space, communications satellites, computers and electronics all over the world are blacked out. The pulses keep coming every couple of months or so, setting the stage for a complete change of Earth's society, as scientists turn to nanotechnology and biology-based science to restore communications and infrastructure to a world badly damaged by the EMPs. Meanwhile, Zeb Aberly, a brilliant astronomer who is on medication for bipolar disorder, has discovered an alien message in the EMPs. Zeb is forced to go underground when government agents want to keep Zeb from sharing his findings with the world. Without access to his medication, Zeb swings from deep depression to manic highs in which he can do incredible work on his theories about the source and meaning of the EMPs. The evolution of our society is also told from the point of view of Marie Laveau, a brilliant and wealthy descendant of the famous voodoo priestess who has her body regenerated after she is murdered; a young Japanese scientist who steals the specs for the Universal Assembler, a nanotechnology device which could destroy our entire world; and of several of the children born at the start of the EMPs who are exhibiting some very strange symptoms -- to the alarm of the general populace.

Crescent City Rhapsody is the third book in the Nanotech Cycle, started with Queen City Jazz and Mississippi Blues. It is a prequel to the other two books in the series, and explains how our world became the nanotechnology-based world described in those books. Goonan has an incredible talent for suspense, character development and poetic description which draws the reader in to the story. Although the numerous shifting points of view might seem a bit difficult to follow, the chapter headings such as "Prelude -- swiftly with gravity," "Break with four sections" and "Divine Horsemen Glissando" give the clues as to the relevance of the chapter in the overall context of the story, which is treated as a musical composition. In any event, Goonan neatly ties all the threads of the story together by the end of the book. With a breathtaking scope and imaginative and inventive ideas, Crescent City Rhapsody is as complex and beautiful as the perfect jazz melody. Highly Recommended.

--Claire E. White


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