Tainaron: Mail from Another City – Lena Krohn

What a marvelous book Lena Krohn’s tiny Tainaron is! I admit that I chose it for my train read precisely because of its size. It’s merely 130 pages long, many of them filled with illustrations and the blank spaces that follow the end of chapters, in this case letters. Tainaron consists of thirty letters sent by a woman to her unnamed once-lover, over the huge mass of Oceanus, from the eponymous insect-inhabited city where she has emigrated for an unknown reason. It is not a novel, nor is it really a novella. There is no overarching plot; in fact, most of the novelistic mechanics that is part of our conditioning cannot be found in it. The psychological core of that very Western literary form, rooted in the socio-economic interaction between character and society, is simply not much of a concern for Lena Krohn. We never get to learn why the anonymous author of the letters came to Tainaron, how she makes her living, whether she has a job at all.

Instead, Tainaron is a confession of sorts, albeit an oblique one. It is also a series of metaphysical musings on the nature of life, death, identity. Continue reading

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No Present Like Time – Steph Swainston

Note: This one was written quite a long time ago – certainly more than a year – but I never got around to publishing it anywhere. Maybe I would write it differently now, or maybe not. Anyway, I thought that it might be of interest to some, while I’m trying to find the time to finish and review Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds.

I’ve already reviewed one book by Steph Swainston – the first part of her Castle series, consisting of four published titles (and another one to come): The Year of Our War, No Present Like Time, The Modern World and Above the Snowline. Here is a link to the text, which is in Bulgarian. If you are already familiar with the setting of the series, you can skip the following two paragraphs. If not, I will try to outline briefly the world of the Fourlands, because worldbuilding is certainly one of Swainston’s greatest fortes. The story takes place on a small continent (or a big island, depending on the point of view, I guess), partitioned territorially by the four nations living on it. In this case we can even speak about distinct human species, as the Awians in the north are winged (although flightless) people with hollow bones and the Rhydanne inhabiting the Darkling mountains are also strinkingly different with their thinner, longer limbs and superhuman speed and agility, not to mention their ferocity and seemingly pathological individualism. Continue reading

Railsea – China Mieville

Everybody knows that there are two layers to the sky, four to the world. The downsky goes to two-three miles plus a biscuit above the railsea and after it comes the upsky, prowled by odd alien flyers. It is fortunate that dirt and mist hide that horrible scenery and only sometimes, when the clouds disperse, are you in danger of glimpsing any of those creatures. That Apt Ohm forbid one of them tumbling down dead on your head.

But we are not interested in the skies, we are interested in the four-layered world. The subterrestrial where the digging creatures dig and everything is trying to eat everything else. The mad iron squiggle that is the railsea lying on the flatland, long ago mapped out during the godsquabble, as if by a child scribbling haphazardly on a piece of paper. The third layer of hard rock islands, home to the human cities above the railsea. And above it the mountains, littered with danger and debris from the upsky, the destination of a handful of reckless updivers. Continue reading