Book News: Faeries, Nanobots, Naked Underwater Drumming

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I’m in the middle of Susanna “No H in My Name” Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu, which is pummeling me relentlessly with its greatness. Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell is one of the best fantasy novels I’ve read in years, though her publisher savvily packaged it like straight literary fiction, so non-nerds won’t feel the shame of carrying around a paperback with an embossed cover (they weren’t fooling anybody, apparently, since it won the 2005 Hugo and was up for the Nebula). The stories in Ladies are set in the same world as Strange, and they each follow the same arc, beginning as arch Victorian drawing-room farce, and then — I never see it coming — taking a curious 90-degree turn into Clarke’s sad, sinister version of Faery. Apparently she’s down with Neil Gaiman’s crue, since one of the stories puts the Duke of Wellington into Gaiman’s Stardust continuity.

I only wish she’d given the book a different title. It sounds like a cozy mystery translated from the French.

In other book news, Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is going to be a Sci-Fi Channel miniseries, produced by George Clooney’s company (they did Good Night & Good Luck). This was his first book after Snow Crash, and I remember the sick, febrile excitement I felt when I bought it (I was a grad student at the time and definitely couldn’t afford to be buying hardcovers), and the delicious pleasure of some conspicuously brilliant passages (the fine black dust that condenses out of the air, that tells you that nano-bots are fighting and dying) but in the end it left me a little cold — Stephenson lost me somewhere in the naked underwater drumming tunnels. I realize any decent hero must descend into the underworld, as Juanita did in Snow Crash, but golly.

Or maybe I was just too cool and single to get into a novel that is, essentially, about parenting. I didn’t rekindle my sick lit-crush on Stephenson till Cryptonomicon. It smolders still.

Strange but true: one of Stephenson’s rare short stories appeared in this very magazine. How cool are we.