A lot of recommendations of Gankutsuou play up, and at the same time try to excuse, its oddities; it is a strange-looking adaptation of Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo that starts partway in and focuses on a side-character and is in the future, as if these are things that need excusing or offering as some kind of caveat. There is a preoccupation on the fact it is a slightly non-standard adaptation of a classic novel which I think does the series as a disservice, because whether or not one cares particularly for Dumas Gankutsuou is a very solid piece of television. And, indeed, once one gets past the aesthetics, it is not a particularly non-standard adaptation at all and one that abridges ably to tell a focused, thrilling story.
In my previous article, concerning the genre of what is ultimately pulp, soapish historical fiction, I discussed the idea that it is impossible for a work dealing with an elite and a dispossessed to be be apolitical. By extension, a work which downplays or mocks the downfall of an elite for comic value – by presenting socialists or reformists as figures of fun and inconveniences – can not unreasonably be read as sympathetic to that elite. Downton Abbey, the aristocratic soap popular on British television of late, is a good example; modernity, and a world where the landed gentry are no longer so comfortable, is presented as something annoying and the humour is drawn from how the most posh members of the society are inconvenienced by it.
The science-fiction author John Scalzi is currently highly regarded and popular within the science-fiction community, and, from reading his novel The Last Colony I can see why. I did not particularly rate The Last Colony myself, for reasons I will try to set out in this review, but at the same time it is by no means a bad book and as a piece of science-fiction I would not hesitate to recommend it to a fan of the genre. Scalzi is a science-fiction writer for science-fiction fans, if this novel is anything to go by; literate within the genre, aware of the pitfalls of writing science-fiction and generally able to avoid them, he writes with an enthusiastic and quite readable prose style that feels like a modern equivalent to the brisk, at times methodical prose of science-fiction greats. The Last Colony is, perhaps, as a result the epitome of the science-fiction novel – and yet as a result hard to recommend to anyone other than diehard fans looking for more solid, unremarkable science-fiction.
Reading Stella Gibbons’ novel “Conference at Cold Comfort Farm” from a position of ignorance of her previous work divorces it from its position in a series – preventing comparison or thematic contrast with “Cold Comfort Farm” or discussion of continuity – and considers it as a discrete text. This gives the novel’s own themes room to speak for themselves, and any continuity consideration must be implied. Taken on its own in this way, the novel is a critical depiction of modernity that does not hesitate to condemn both the artistic world and those who ignorantly criticise modern art. It is superficially an anti-intellectual novel parodying pretentious intellectuals, and similarly a criticism of anti-intellectualism. Comprised as it is of a series of lampoons of modernist and postmodernist political, philosophical and cultural thought, Gibbons’ deftness of wit disorients the reader and invites scepticism.
Ann Leckie’s 2013 novel Ancillary Justice is a good piece of science-fiction, a space opera novel that innovates within its subgenre by adapting elements of other science-fiction subgenres. In its more philosophical plot it evokes classic science-fiction in the vein of Pohl or Simak, as interested in presenting an alien, experimental future as telling an all-action story. Most interestingly to me, it is a story about the aftermath of a war of occupation and the ethics of occupation, from the perspective of a protagonist detached from emotional and moral norms in a society whose norms are themselves distant to the reader’s. That one can read the novel and at times wonder if the society being described is human in any understandable sense – or indeed “good” from a modern perspective – without it falling into caricaturish acts of exaggerated cruelty sets it apart from many of its peers.
It’s been a while since I wrote an article in this series and it’s because I wanted to write something positive. However I have until very recently been unable to find any genre fiction that didn’t fill me with a crushing sense of disappointment; I went from the underwhelming books of Joe Abercrombie to the unremarkable but at least interesting in terms of setting Nylon Angel by Marianne de Pierres, and from there tried the Malazan series. The latter showed the most promise but fell too far into the traps of other fantasy in that its setting was so reliant on explanations of things, exposition (some of which was only made really clear in glossaries and appendices) and chunks of verse that weren’t naturalistically slotted into the writing to be truly enjoyable. Once you got over the terminology and the central conceit (that humans resented, rather than welcomed, the interference of the pantheon in their affairs), what was left was a very ordinary fantasy setting to my mind.