Paired Readings: Descriptions

Contributor: Kate Nepveu

The Sparrow, Mary Doria Russell (See also)
Use of Weapons, Iain M. Banks
Narrative structure, in the form of two narrative threads, is crucial to the novels, which focus on a mysterious tragedy and its effects on a central character. The themes are otherwise dissimilar. (A longer review comparing these books was originally posted to rec.arts.sf.written.)
Passion Play, Sean Stewart
The Fortunate Fall, Raphael Carter (See also more books than it's convenient to list here)
Both are set in a future society where some people can touch the minds of others, and use a first person female narrator to examine how "abstractions can be rough on people." Excellent first novels with a substantial emotional impact. (I've also written an essay discussing this further, which contains major spoilers for both books.)
Mirror Dance, Lois McMaster Bujold (See also)
Bone Dance, Emma Bull
Both novels explore themes of identity (particularly somatic identity), humanity, and social interaction/obligation through their protagonists, who were raised in cultures based on The Deal. The titles are just a bonus.
One for the Morning Glory, John Barnes
Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
Worlds where fairy tales have substance and shape events, and where the characters are aware of being in a particular kind of story. In One for the Morning Glory, narrative causality is a natural force much like the weather, sometimes beneficial and sometimes not. The plot of Witches Abroad, however, is an attempt to thwart the traditional Happily Ever After...
Desolation Road, Ian McDonald
The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury (See also)
When recommending Desolation Road to someone, I described it as "The Martian Chronicles as a magic realist novel." The response: "The Martian Chronicles is a magic realist novel." At this point I realized it had been a few years since I'd read Bradbury's novel, and set myself to acquire a copy.

Having refreshed my memory, I still stand by my statement. Some stories are labeled "gentle" magic realism; if I had to put The Martian Chronicles anywhere in the magic realist category, I would put it there. Desolation Road is magic realism of the almost aggressively weird school, with the kinds of events and characters Tim Powers or James Blaylock might create. Yet they both manage to be beautiful and touching, as well as creating the sense that the reader has seen a vast sweep of history in the twenty-odd years the novel covers.

The Face in the Frost, John Bellairs
The Innkeeper's Song, Peter Beagle
Both stories tell of mysterious assaults on magicians by former associates (in one, a former classmate; in the other, a former student). They also have excellent characters, heartening friendships, travel through strange and wonderous worlds, chilling scenes of danger and madness, and ultimately plot resolutions that remain inexplicable—things just happen, and though the plot elements were present all along, it's never entirely clear why or how events came to pass.
"Erase/Record/Play", John M. Ford
Tigana, Guy Gavriel Kay (See also Swordspoint and The Sarantine Mosaic.)
Brilliant imaginings of how the removal of memory could be a crime against humanity, whether employed in concentration camps ("Erase/Record/Play") or against a conquered nation (Tigana).

[Ed. note: I have a separate short review elsewhere of Starlight 1, in which "Erase/Record/Play" originally appeared.]

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