What I’m Reading

A couple of Canadian authors from the last library haul!

Minister Faust, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad (2004)

Don’t let the barrage of science fiction references (from Watchmen to 90’s DS9-vs.-B5 debates to John M. Ford Star Trek novelizations) fool you. This is urban fantasy, inspired by the clubs and comic-book shops and grimy underpasses of Edmonton, Alberta as well as the myths of ancient Egypt and Sudan. Our heroes are a couple of socially-conscious nerds: Hamza, a failed English major turned dishwasher, and Yehat, an engineer who’d rather work in a video store than sell out to the Man. They get dragged into the hunt for an ancient magical artifact that also has something to do with the powerful drug known only as cream and also taking over the world and some sinister Norse cult.

The characters I really liked, however, were the exquisitely and hilariously depicted douchebags (and there’s a lot of them in this book). Ex-jock Dulles Allen, “TRIVIA DEXTERITY: NHL/CFL +100/+200, ALIGNMENT: Son of a bitch (certified level 12)”; the spectacularly pretentious and WASPy Meaney brothers; pompous steampunker Digaestus Caesar (the kind of guy who says “Zounds!” and “my good fellow” in daily life). This list is by no means exhaustive.

With its breakneck pace and dizzying array of perspectives, Coyote Kings is a little reminiscent of Snow Crash…but Canadian and considerably more intense. What more do you need?

Karl Schroeder, Lady of Mazes (2005)

I really, really wanted to like this book—not so much because of the ringworlds and spaceships, but the pervasive augmented and virtual reality. In this far future, everyone can tailor their perceived environments, creating distinct societies that are invisible to each other, and call up a host of virtualized friends (or their simulated stand-ins). Cool, eh? But the problem with such a radically different setting is that it’s difficult to understand. To our eyes, it would look like magic—a world of sorcerers and gods. It’s hard to explain the science without turning the book into a dry, boring infodump, which was what Lady of Mazes was to me. (The convoluted plot didn’t help.)

For example, here’s the character Aaron meeting a messageboard acquaintance for the first time:

…the elevator doors opened and Veronique stepped out.

There were six of her. All greeted Aaron warmly, in minutely different ways. He’d been warned about this aspect of his new friend: she maintained numerous artificial bodies, and flipped her sensorium between them at will. Those bodies not currently inhabited by her were run by the Archipelagic equivalent of animas.

Every page is like that. The exposition never lets up. Schroeder mitigates a bit of it with fantasy shorthand: individual life-support systems are “angels”, simulated assistants appear as fairies, there’s a posthuman who’s referred to as a god. But it’s not nearly enough. I’ll be glad to return this one to the library.

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