On Blue's Waters, Gene Wolfe
(Tor 0-312-86614-3, $24.95, 381pp, hc, October 1999, cover by Jim Burns)
Gene Wolfe's new novel is the first of a three volume sequence, The Book of the Short Sun, that follows earlier sequences published over the past two decades: the four volume The Book of the New Sun and its coda The Urth of the New Sun, and the four volume The Book of the Long Sun. The first volume of the first sequence, The Shadow of the Torturer (1980), was voted 3rd favorite fantasy novel of all time in the 1998 Locus Poll, but though that book resembled a fantasy, the series resolved into far-future SF. The Long Sun sequence was set aboard a generation starship called Whorl. On Blue's Waters is set 20 years later, when the starship's passengers have settled planets called Green and Blue. The book's narrator, Horn, brings Patera Silk, central figure in the events aboard the Whorl, to Blue to help govern its colony. Writes Jonathan Strahan in the March 2000 Locus:
''It leads to a remarkable journey across Blue's oceans with Horn setting out in a small boat to look for Pajarocu, a town that is not on any maps, where one of the starship's landers is being prepared for the return journey. Along the way, Horn becomes the lover of a one-armed siren named Seawrack who may or may not be the daughter of a goddess, befriends a dog-like hus named Babbie, and is forced reluctantly to travel with Krait, one of the vampire-like inhumu native to Green.
On Blue's Waters is not a long novel, but this description barely hints at its depth or complexity. Using remarkably simple and clear prose Wolfe builds a carefully layered and nuanced tale of a man haunted by the mistakes he makes both before and during his journey. ... Wolfe has occasionally been accused of writing difficult books, but it's a charge that would be difficult to make in this case. In On Blue's Waters, the best novel Wolfe has written in over a decade, and the opening part of possibly the finest work he has ever undertaken, he is perfectly clear, perfectly concise.''
Faren Miller's review in the October 1999 Locus observes that
''the journey proves to have some parallels to classical earthly tales of wonder, in particular Homer's Odyssey. Seawrack, one of the ocean-dwelling inhumi (natives of Blue), a meek siren who does the bidding of a far more powerful female entity, recalls some of the supernatural entities whom Odysseus/Ulysses meets in the course of that long voyage. While Horn is a middle-aged, scholarly, relucatant hero, his attempts to make sense of new surroundings and entities mingles logic, ethics, and his particular brand of faith much as Odysseus tried to work his way to an understanding of a remarkable world.''
Crescent City Rhapsody, Kathleen Ann Goonan
(Avon Eos 0-380-97711-7, $24.00, viii+430pp, hc, February 2000, cover by Gregory Bridges)
Kathleen Ann Goonan's new novel is third book in a loose trilogy following Queen City Jazz (1994) and Mississippi Blues (1997), all depicting a future transformed by nanotechnology (''nan''). As the titles suggest there are strong musical themes underlying the books, as noted by Gary K. Wolfe in his review in the January 2000 Locus:
''As in the first two novels, music is the controlling metaphor, and Goonan knows enough about music to use these metaphors in fairly precise ways. If the 'jazz' of the first novel's title was reflected in the antic improvisatory nature of the transformed Cincinnati, and the blues epitomized the searching and loss that the second novel sought to convey, the 'rhapsody' here -- her specific model is Duke Ellington -- is something more composed, more formal, more deliberate: a melding of classical control with jazz-like tonalities.''
In this book Goonan goes back to the beginning and shows how the world of the first two novels came about. The book's central character is Marie Laveau, an assassinated information broker brought back from the dead by ''bionan'', whose goal is to create an artificial nanotech haven called Crescent City. The nan revolution, triggered by electromagnetic pulses that undermine conventional technology, is depicted over the course of a quarter century, across global settings and following numerous
''eccentric and sometimes tragic characters... One of the most appealing is Marie's supercompetent agent and sometime lover Hugo, a dwarf whose assignment is to find and recruit individuals who can help in the design and building of Crescent City. Among those he tracks down are a burned-out astronomer named Zeb, who, if he weren't unstable enough already, learns a dark secret about the origins of the EMP events and is driven into homelessness by sinister government plots which may involve the disappearance of his friend Craig; ... and Illian, a girl from Katmandu, who ends up being the first of the great nan artists, remaking the whole of Paris in something of her own image.''
''Crescent City Rhapsody is a tougher novel than the first two in this series -- there is no likable heroine like Verity to follow through trials and triumphs -- and it's in many ways more ambitious as well, at least in terms of complexity of plot and character ... [I]t's in many ways a far more grounded novel, since nanotech is presented as an historical process and not merely as a convenient anything-machine to rationalize the various spectacles the author has dreamed up. The effect may be to produce less of a phantasmagoria, perhaps, but as a novel, and particularly as an SF novel, this may be Goonan's strongest work yet.''