17 June 2005

Two Michaels

Blood of Angels was ultimately disappointing -- a superior but not terribly inspired serial killer / conspiracy thriller. It's well-written, and the prose pulls you giddily along with it; it's undeniably an entertaining way to spend your time, but there's none of the inventiveness and depth of Michael Marshall Smith's slipstream S.F. / fantasy / horror novels, or of The Straw Men itself.

The Straw Men had real intellectual substance to it: it delved into the prehistoric origins of civilisation, drew parallels between humanity's development of concepts of moral and physical boundaries, and thus made some fascinating connections between paleontology and architecture, which were its themes as much as serial killing or conspiracy (both of which it treated with horrific effectiveness) were. I've come to the conclusion that it's a book that should never have had a sequel, unless the sequel had things to say that were just as compelling.

Although The Lonely Dead at least took the palaeontological ideas and did something else interesting with them, it lacked the depth of its predecessor. Blood of Angels unfortunately relegates both palaeontology and architecture to an extremely minor subplot, concluding with a four-page conspiracy-theory infodump which makes The Da Vinci Code look sane. The story at which this small portion of the novel hints is most certainly one I'd have been interested in reading, but it isn't the story the book's about.

Instead, this conspiracy of serial killers which has been secretly attempting to undermine and destroy civilisation since prehistoric times becomes... well, just another terrorist conspiracy, as far as the plot's concerned. The fact that they're terrorists who actually are profoundly ideologically opposed to every value of the civilised world makes them an interesting metaphor for the fears of contemporary America, but even this isn't taken anything like as far as it could be.

Ultimately, Blood of Angels reads as a placeholder for a future novel. I really hope Michael Marshall writes something as exciting and original as Only Forward or The Straw Men again sometime soon, rather than spending the rest of his career turning out these passable imitations.

In other books-related news... some comments, mostly positive, from readers of Peculiar Lives have begun to surface in various forums. It'll probably be a while before there are any formal reviews, though. And Wildthyme on Top still hasn't materialised, despite the official launch date (for this, the first book of a new line from Big Finish) still being listed as May. Knowing as I do that the proofs were finalised back in January, I'm beginning to find this a little irritating. Never mind.

I'd completely stalled on reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, so I've now brought it to work with me, so that I'm persuaded to spend my lunch and coffee breaks reading it. It's good, honestly -- it's just physically unwieldy, bulky and so extremely long that it's difficult to feel as if you're making any progress with it. I've also embarked on The Dancers at the End of Time, which is one of those books I can never quite believe I haven't read already, and am enjoying it very much so far.

I am, however, having my usual pavlovian response to reading Moorcock, which is to have "Dickie Davies Eyes" by Half Man Half Biscuit going through my head:
Mention The Lord of the Rings just once more
and I'll more than likely kill you.
"Moorcock, Moorcock, Michael Moorcock,"
you fervently moan...
It happens whenever anybody mentions The Lord of the Rings, as well. I'm a martyr to my earworms, gentlemen, and that's a fact.

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