Monday, October 01, 2007


Book Report

It's book report Monday, yet again. Unfortunately, though, another week went by without me finishing a new book. I'm still elbow-deep in GRRM's A Game of Thrones and loving it, but it'll be another week or so before I'm able to finish it. (And, tangentially, I'm on the horns of a dilemma because of it. I've adopted a policy the last couple of years of only reading the first installment of a series when I have other things still on my To Read list, and since I have loads of books on my To Read list, I can't in good conscience commit another untold number of weeks to reading the rest of the Song of Ice and Fire. My philosophy is to read the first installment of series to get a feel for what they're about, and to learn what I can about how the author is putting things together, and then wait for the series to end before sitting down and reading the rest. The problem comes in with the fact that the Martin book is so good that it's tempting me to keep going.)

In any event, I'm dipping into some of my earlier summer reading again for today's report, which I'd have mentioned at the time if I hadn't been entirely underwater.

Brian Francis Slattery's Spaceman Blue: A Love Story

The first I heard of this book was when Irene Gallo raved about it on her blog, in connection with discussing the cover. Then when I was at BEA this last spring I briefly met the author in the company of his editor, my pal Liz Gorinsky. She was kind enough to give me a review copy of the book, which I read more or less immediately after coming home.

Slattery has been praised to the rafters for this book, and all of it deserved. There is an immediacy and relentless lyricism to his prose that really got into my head and messed me up for a few days. From time to time I'll read a book with such a strong sense of style that it deforms and distorts my own writing for a brief time, infected with the author's own rhythms. That's what happened with this one, and for the span of about a week the work I was doing was a strange hybrid of my own voice and this strange interloper that had set up shop in my head, engendered by my fevered reading of Spaceman Blues. Fortunately for the work in question, my editors at Solaris talked me out of it, since while the style Slattery uses fits his story perfectly, it was an ill-suited choice for my alternate history future war story.

So, on to the story itself. It's almost impossible to synopsize. There are strange cults, underground cities, martial arts, and aliens. It reminded me of nothing so much as a mature version of one of Danny Pinkwater's young adult novels (I was thinking in particular of Lizard Music, or the underground culture bits of the Snarkout Boys novels), and considering how highly I rate Pinkwater, that's high praise indeed.

It's not a perfect novel. I have one or two quibbles with it. It's a world that appears on its surface to be the "real world," until these stranger layers beneath are revealed... except that the doomsday monks float around a few inches above ground and no one seems alarmed by them. It's a great bit of business, and beautifully written, but it pushes the baseline reality of the world into already absurd territory, undercutting a bit the strangeness of what follows. And if the book's ending somewhat fails to deliver the grand heights up to which the rest of the book was building, it can hardly be blamed; this is the kind of book that promises the secrets of life and the universe, and it would be a rare book indeed that could deliver on all counts.

But these are fairly minor quibbles. Otherwise, the book is near flawless. The things that the narrative does "wrong," like shifting POV at a maddening rate, dropping into infodumps at a moment's notice, and so on, are actually strengths and not weaknesses. In the hands of a lesser writer I think the novel would have ended up an irredeemable mess, but it's a testament to Slattery's prowess that he's able not only to make it all hang together, but to make it sing.

Highly recommended for anyone who thinks the phrase "Pinkwater for grownups" is an appealing one. And for everyone who doesn't, for that matter.


Talk about synchronicity. I just got to meet Brian Francis Slattery at the New England Booksellers Association trade show this past weekend, and he's delightful. [And a musician, which just clinches my predisposition to like him.]

Your name did come up in conversation, in a most complimentary sense.

The cover to SPACEMAN BLUES is my current wallpaper, and I'll be reviewing it over at Bookseller By Night sometime this month.
I'm afraid I only had a chance to chat with him briefly across a crowded dinner table (at a loud restaurant), but he seemed like a right guy to me.
We've been reading some of the same books lately. I just read Spaceman Blues a few weeks ago and enjoyed it quite a bit; I read Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible earlier this summer and loved it.

Just yesterday I finished Set the Seas On Fire and wanted you to know that I liked it a lot. I guess after reading Paragaea and now this that I really need to go back and read Here, There, & Everywhere too. I'll try to do it soon.
Glad to hear you liked STSoF, Justin. if you get around to HT&E, hope it doesn't disappoint.
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