Drifting in and out of consciousness (oxfordhacker) wrote,
Drifting in and out of consciousness

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Review 5: 'Song Of Time' by Ian MacLeod

Synopsis: Roushana is an aging violinist, dying of a degenerative disease in her cottage on the Cornish coast. She's preparing for the end by looking through her keepsakes, mentally arranging and reassessing the memories that they summon. Also, she just found a buff, naked, amnesiac dude on the beach and he's hanging out in her house, listening to her talk and play, and cooking her food.

Review: I know, it sounds bloody awful: the sort of tiresome novel that's all emotion and no action, beautifully told and cleverly constructed, no doubt, probably even symbolic in a somewhat nebulous fashion, but ultimately just a worthy fun-free mope towards the inevitable. Fortunately this one has a redeeming feature: the universally improving ingredient that is science fiction! Our heroine appears to have been born in about 2000 AD, she's survived a century of race riots, nuclear exchanges, killer diseases and environmental catastrophes, and she's now living in a world where dying need not be the last thing that you do. And yes, she's also experienced love and loss, complicated relationships with friends and family, obsession, ecstasy and remorse. And it is all meticulously put together, with vivid characterisation and evocative scene-setting. And while the framing device does distance one from the action, the sense of melancholy inevitability that it imparts is entirely appropriate given the circumstances.
I'm given to understand that this is 'Literary SF', which I generally take to mean 'SF from which one could excise the SF elements without materially affecting the story'. That's not quite true in this case, yet the narrative inevitably focuses on Roushana's experiences and reactions, and hence the constants of the human condition rather than the more superficial changes. Coupled with the bleakly unobtrusive plausibility of the extrapolated history, this keeps the world of the future very much in the background. While you may gather that this style is not to my usual taste, it really is a very well written book; to the extent that I genuinely enjoyed it rather than simply being forced to acknowledge that it was Good. I hope I've done it justice.

Suggested pull quotes for the next edition:

If you like meditative, moving SF, don't let the dreadful cover, blurb or concept put you off!
A old lady with nerve damage and a young man with brain damage? They're the original odd couple!

Illustrative excerpt from Amazon reviews:
* * * *
...it really is very well done, to the extent that I genuinely enjoyed it rather than simply acknowledging that it was Good.

[Yes, once again I've found myself having to upload and quote my own review...]
Tags: books, reading week, reviews

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