Galveston, Sean Stewart
(Ace 0-441-00686-8, $23.95, 454pp, hc, March 2000, cover by Victor Stabin)
Sean Stewart's new novel is third in a loose series about a 21st century awash in magic. The book is set in the eponymous Texas coastal city, mostly in 2028, midway between earlier novels Resurrection Man (1995) and The Night Watch (1997) that depicted an alternate reality in which magic began to reappear sometime around the end of World War II. In this world, writes Gary K. Wolfe in the February 2000 Locus,
''the 'flood' of magic has all but wiped out the technological and political infrastructures of society. ... Galveston develops its narrative along the lines of a classic post-catastrophe tale, only the catastrophe is not drawn from SF -- nuclear war or universal plague or purple clouds -- but from fantasy.''
The story follows pharmacist Joshua Cane, reduced to making crude medicines from local plants and herbs, and performing operations without anesthetics. His involvement with a local debutante leaves him in danger from a corrupt local sheriff, just as a massive hurricane threatens the Texas coast.
''The hurricane is the novel’s big setpiece and main plot accelerator, and it’s handled with robust high spirits... Galveston spins toward an energetic and satisfying payoff, with plenty of crashing chords and sputtering comeuppances, but it’s only one of a whole series of such satisfying moments in the novel, which may come closer to pure operatic melodrama than anything Stewart has written, but which also has more things actually happening in it than anything he’s done to date. It easily cements his growing reputation as one of the field’s young writers most worth watching, and most able to deliver.''
Faren Miller and Jonathan Strahan also review the book in the February Locus. Miller:
During the main characters’ worst travails, in mid-book, I began to wonder if reading Galveston was the equivalent of watching a couple of acquaintances losing far too much money in a series of disastrous poker games... By book’s end, things have grown considerably less grim, and Stewart’s evocative prose can deal with something like a winning hand.''
And Jonathan Strahan notes:
''Stewart deliberately doesn’t make it clear whether Galveston is part of a series with Resurrection Man and The Night Watch, though those novels also feature magic rising in a similar way and at a similar times. Ultimately though, that’s not all that important. What is, though, is that Stewart has proved himself one of our finest fantasists.''
Midnight Robber, Nalo Hopkinson
(Warner Aspect 0-446-67560-1, $13.95, 329pp, tpb, March 2000, cover by Leo & Diane Dillon)
Nalo Hopkinson's second novel, like her debut Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), mixes SF with Caribbean folklore and patois, but this book, writes Faren Miller in the February Locus,
''ventures much further in time and space: to a future where Caribbean people and their ways have been transplanted to Toussaint, a new world far from Earth, where even high tech has taken on a homey air -- not nanotech but Granny Nanny, controlling human behavior with a general lightness and nonchalance.''
And there's a second planet...
''New Half-Way Tree, on the other side of a dimensional fold from Toussaint, lacking the amenities of terraforming and Granny Nanny -- just the place for a futuristic version of early Australia, the old penal colony, land of exile.''
The story takes its young heroine Tan-Tan and her father away from the tropical Carnival setting of Toussaint to Half-Way Tree, where she comes to realize what a privileged life she led.
''All the ancient horrors of slavery, prejudice, hatred, human sin and tragedy, still thrive on New Half-Way Tree; though the Creole argot may seem almost the same, Tan-Tan is as out of place here as an aristocrat’s daughter thrust into a slum on the edge of a fetid swamp. ... Hopkinson take[s] potentially downbeat material and compel[s] the reader’s attention with vigorous narrative, vividly eloquent prose, and forms of magic which may really be SF -- the indigenes on New Half-Way Tree have a form of pantheism whose roots in reality satisfy the sense of wonder, even if the human need for gods evokes fewer manifestations here than in Brown Girl.''
Gary K. Wolfe, also in the February Locus, makes particular note of the author's language, after noting the convention of SF to use contemporary American speech patterns even in the far, far future.
''Hopkinson, however, reminds us that most of the world does not speak contemporary American middle class vernacular, and never has. Instead, she adapts the convention of unchanging language to her own variety of Caribbeanized Creole, so that the characters in her indefinitely distant future -- the planet Toussaint has already been colonized for two centuries when the novel begins -- still say things like ‘‘It ain’t have no doux-doux here’’ while sprinkling their speech with references to ‘‘dimension veils’’ and ‘‘nanomites.’’ The resulting dissonance is only one of Hopkinson’s techniques for making us question the hegemony of American culture in SF worlds, but it’s the most immediately striking. ... [Hopkinson has] in the short space of two novels, become one of the most distinctive and original of the field’s newer voices.''