The introduction was more interesting than the novel itself -- in the first paragraph, Alessio hopefully describes it as "technological sophistication combined with a relatively not-too-turgid prose style", but given how dreadful nineteenth century SF could be, this is faint praise. Still, it is mildly interesting to think of this New Zealand novel as boosterism for New Zealand and therefore a peaceful-exploration novel, an optimists' view of the future because the present was turning out so well. (Is there 19th c. SF from Africa? Algiers? Afghanistan?) It might even have been historically effective as a precursor to , although there's only (lots of) indirect evidence.
Find in a Library: The Great Romance
Obvious in plot and worse in characterization, but interesting to see what parts of modernity had arrived in 1919. Some things are now unintentionally funny; e.g., the New York impresario who looks forward to the California influence on entertainment because he thinks it will raise the tone.
Daviess is, as usual, good on sisterhood (the woman who would in most versions of this be the scheming villainess is admired for the strengths she does have, and allowed a happy ending of her own) and on the importance of work for men and women (and the need to change social mores because men and women need to work together). She's still classbound and race-bound, though I did think the faithful black servant in the South got a lick in:
"Yes, sir. We whipped them Yankees in no time but they jest didn't find it out in time to stop killing us 'for it all ended."
Basically annovel (witch queens, war dukes, intrigue) told by a duke. Silly, but good-tempered enough, and Stuff Happens. Also a version of a locked-room puzzle like Jumpers.
Find in a library: Ill Met in the Arena
The Friendship Pagoda is unassuming to begin with, but the good ones unfold and whir and glow much longer than expected, and sometimes catch on fire. Friendship is underrated.
The Gone-Away World is as perfect as a firework in its outer plot. It's a kung fu science-fiction apocalypse revenge story. I know there are a lot of those, but this one has all the proper virtues well crafted (elegiac tone; training montage; set-pieces on unlikely sets) and shuffles them nicely to keep it lively. Basically the parts, the deaths and trauma and restoration of the civil order, are not in their usual places. Good beach reading.
I thought the writing was good, too; not flashy very often, but often enough to seem restrained rather than simple, with a consistent voice for the main character.
What really makes my knees weak, though, and I love this book so much it's embarassing to say, is the moral structure that underlies just about all the important plot events. Not everyone I've lent the book to noticed this at all, it isn't didactic, so I feel a bit black-beret coffeehouse going on about this, but the moral is handy for our Or Any Other days... and it's used in enough aspects that I'm having trouble picking the best catchphrase. "Only connect the beast and the monk.", definitely; or, you will be what you have done. What you do for a nation, or corporation, or religion, or love, is still your action. But also, lightheartedly, and yet the same theorem; beware bug-eyed alienation of labor; or, keep an eye on the invisible hand. Harkaway doesn't make many of the jokes he could, not explicitly, but since the story reifies reification I'm pretty sure there's some coffeehouse in his temperament too.
It's a manly-man tale, but the women have character and consequence; this is not to be relied on, in either SF or philosophical novels, so it was a relief. It does remind me of Snow Crash, which was also a young man's coming-of-age story but with real female characters. This is a bit worrying, as I think Stephenson's increasingly crackerjack-prize women are a direct response to his worldly success as a writer.
The dust jacket on the (US?) hardback is fuzzy, which is seriously flocked-up, man. Partly fuzzy. Partly glossy. Should be slightly jelly-textured in parts to get across the unnervingness of parts of the story.
Find in a Library: The Gone-Away World.