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Down The Bright Way by Robert Reed

I am not ashamed.
This one almost slipped into an In-Betweeners review, harshly so, as it occurred in the space between Imperial Bedrooms and Houellebecq, but on reflection, I would be doing Reed and indeed science fiction a discourtesy by paying only cursory attention to what is in fact a rather good novel.

Sci-Fi - and its cousin Fantasy - too often gets a raw deal. If you can ignore far future science (or in the case of fantasy, magic) and strip back the improbable metallurgy and ample-chested warrior vixens, you will usually (although not always) find a story as engaging as any in the realms of literary, mass market or any other fiction sub-genre. Plus, you get improbable metallurgy and ample-chested warrior vixens. What's not to love? Lack of realism? What about Garcia Marquez, Rushdie and Allende and their brand of magical realism, which is surely as difficult to believe as a woman who is over a million years old in a far-future multi-dimensional universe? Unknown science used to be labelled as magic after all, and who knows what the future may hold for an enquiring species such as ours.

Back to Reed specifically, and although not his strongest book in terms of readability (Marrow certainly tops the pile), Down The Bright Way is a perfectly plotted, thoughtfully composed story of benevolent humanoid races crossing dimensional barriers by the use of a pathway created (or not) by advanced but now absent and presumed benevolent "makers" to spread peace, bestow gentle technological advances, and attempt to track down those who may (or may not) have seeded humanity throughout the various universes. What this boils down to in reality is the story of a young man who wants to be something other than himself, a young girl whose youthful naivety bestows a furious curiosity, a man unsure of his own purpose and an old woman whose firmly held beliefs are tested in the face of compelling reasons to doubt them. Chuck in an errant sociopath and his loyal super-human sidekick and you've got a potent mix for cooking up a multi-stranded narrative that whizzes across space and time and, long boring passages inside the space-time-continuum-traversing device aside, keeps the interest high through 350 pages.

Iain M. Banks may sit smugly at the peak of space opera for the time being, but should Reed continue to impress (and could ramp up his productivity* without damaging his story-telling integrity) then he should be a worthy challenger to Banks' superiority. If you're not a genre fan, but are intrigued, I would advise just giving it a shot. What have you got to lose? Just read it at home where no-one can see you. I jest of course...

*Editor's note: Having researched Bob Reed a little more thoroughly of late (April 2013) it appears he is after all as productive as a bad cough, having written squillions of things over the years. A Billion Eves is a Hugo Award winning short story for example. Just so it looks like I've read it...


How's about that then?

Apochryphal Tales by Karel Čapek

Many (many) years ago, when I first read War With The Newts, after scouring the Waterstones' internal database (whimsically named Ibid, and from which one could print the details of books onto the till roll in light- and so it seems, time-sensitive purple ink which, on the inches thick ream of leaves I printed for future perusal, faded within a few months rendering my catalogued wish list so much locker mulch) for authors with a suitably Czech-sounding name, having put away an entrée of my first slim Hrabal, a palate-cleansing Kundera and in need of a meaty Moravian main course, I think I might have completely and totally missed just how funny it was, bloated as I was by the doughy and Victorian-sounding translation and the rather unlikely ideation of the future political terroir of mankind and their unusual amphibian slaves and, latterly, sappers, the newts.

How's that for a sentence David Foster Wallace? INTERROBANG.

Well, there's no chance that Čapek's typically Czech…

Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …