Tuesday 18 June 2013

Orleans by Sherri L. Smith


I don't do full reviews of books. Partly this is because I don't believe that one's subjective and emotional response to a work of fiction can be explained through a misguided and futile process of deconstruction but mostly it's because I'm too lazy.

So here is my review of Orleans by Sherri L. Smith --- It's bloody brilliant and you should read it. Smith has created a world of terrifying beauty and populated it with characters and stories of such intensity that they will drag you screaming through the landscape until they deposit you breathless and emotional on the final page.


Now, as a writer, I have a craftsperson's appreciation for a skilful piece of work and one of the many outstanding aspects of Orleans is it's world building.

All storytellers create worlds regardless of their setting, the 87th Precinct is as much an act of secondary creation as Middle Earth or Westeros, the London of Bridget Jones is just as imaginary as New Crobuzon. Any author claiming that they don't concern themselves with worldbuilding is either talking bollocks or trying to distract from a lack of craft. That's not to say every writer needs to create their own languages and six thousand years of history in order to write a good book but it does mean that the so-called dichotomy between worldbuilding and story is every bit as false as the canard(1) of plot versus character.

It is not a zero sum game, all stories take place in a world created by the story teller and character and plot are the same thing seen from different angles.

So what is it that Sherri L. Smith does so well that impressed you - I hear you cry(2).

For a start Smith conveys her world in vivid prose, there's no point creating a world if you're too inarticulate to describe it or, worse, bury your reader under a metric ton of exposition to do so.

For the thing-after-the-start she's obviously done lots of research and then, and this is the really crucial bit, considered how every bit might interact with every other bit. What happens when industrial contaminants leach into the roots of the trees that have started to repopulate an urban area? What groups will be best placed to exploit the dangerous ground created when houses are covered over with silt?

And thing-the-last Smith has made the societies that populate her drowned city realistically complex. Often in a post-apocalyptic setting the author slips into the fallacy that low technology cultures lack both moral and structural complexity. Smith, with her blood group tribes, her vestiges of ‘civilisation’ – the nuns, the scientists, Mr Go, the churches – her freesteaders and bloodhunters has thought about the complex ways groups within a larger society interact. This is not simplistic end of the world wish fulfilment it is a fully realised complex society.

(1) as in an untruth not as in a duck or a pair of small control surfaces placed ahead of the main wings on an aeroplane.
(2) Or words to that effect


Anonymous said...

The duck of plot and character is very important! I relate it to the great spacefaring duck postulated during J. Michael Straczynski's creation of Babylon 5 - which doubtless owes much to Great A'Tuin. Are not avians the descendants of the dinosaurs who are also ancestors of turtles?

Obviously the next step is spacefaring t-rexes. (Dinosaurs In A Spaceship doesn't count, they weren't flying the ship or exposed to space. Good first step though!)

Reading something where the author has really thought out something and come up with some really good interaction I haven't thought of is great. Feed by Mira Grant (Seanan McGuire) is really good with regard to that, when the narrator started talking about the effects of zombie existence and formation on common American foodways I squee'd. (I.e., if anything over 40lbs automatically zombifies on death, do you really want to be eating red meat? How about keeping household pets?)

E J Frost said...

Thanks very much for the review. Exactly what I was looking for and not something I'd come across browsing the usual suspects.