Tales of Two Cities

Tuesday 8th July: A few years ago, at about the time that Amazon was becoming popular and before I discovered Locus (the magazine of the science fiction and fantasy field), I was sent to Los Angeles on a course. I say “sent” but I had the choice of L.A. in September or London in November and was told to do a cost comparison – strangely, L.A. came up cheaper… But I digress.

While I was there, I wandered into the local Borders (unheard of in York at that point) to see whether I could find some U.S.-published science fiction that hadn’t found its way across the Atlantic or, at least, out of the speciality bookshops found in larger cities. Eventually I bought enough books to warrant buying another bag to bring them home in. I’ve still got some to read but recently finished two of them.

City of Diamond (Jane Emerson, 1996)

Reading City of Diamond, I couldn’t help but think that it would work equally well as a fantasy, rather than the science fiction it has been written as. The titular city is one of three gifted to humanity by a dying alien race in order for them to spread the aliens’ Truth across the galaxy. In effect, they are huge spaceships. However, for the whole of this novel, diamond stays in one place so, apart from having to take shuttles off to the station and planet it is orbiting, there is little to distinguish it from a planet-bound city. The story starts with the death of the current Protector of Diamond and takes his successor through a political marriage and its associated spies from rival city Opal, while his (half alien) aide and his own band of “acquaintances” search for a mysterious person called Belleraphon. The cover blurb also mentions the search for religious artifact the Sawyer Crown, but it is only about on hundred pages from the end of the book that this plot picks up pace.

It was because of that fact that I began to worry that what I thought was a standalone novel was actually the beginning of a series. Indeed, there seems to be so much back-story that is hinted at rather than explained that, at one point, I even wondered whether I had started reading mid-series. A bit of research showed me that Emerson is actually a pen-name of Doris Egan, who has written three other books and been involved in many T.V. shows under her real name. City of Diamond was meant to be the first part of a trilogy but bad health and memory problems have prevented the rest being written. The first chapter of book two was published on her web-site back in 1998, but nothing since. Despite her working on T.V. shows since then.

Disappointing, really, City of Diamond is a good read – the plots moves along at a good pace, the characters are likable (those that are meant to be liked – others you just can’t wait to see get their comeuppance) and the whole city set-up is believable and well thought-out. The class system on Diamond, together with the descriptions of the less well-off areas on Opal, bring both cities to life (and help give the impression that this would work as a fantasy.) There is a lot crammed into the 600 pages, but the book never feels rushed and even the romance sections, not something I would normally read, worked for me. It’s a shame but, after ten years, I doubt this story will ever get finished.

Anvil (Nicolas van Pallandt, 1998)

The city of Kyara, home to about four million people, is the only haven on a planetoid with a gravity thirty-seven times that of Earth. It is to this city that Gabriel Kylie comes to learn the truth of his sister’s death.

If City of Diamond was SF masquerading as fantasy, Anvil is SF masquerading as a noir crime thriller. To start with, it had me gripped as friendships were formed, secrets found and thrilling escapes made. Then, however, dead-ends started appearing and the set-pieces became more and more unbelievable and, about halfway through I found myself losing interest, only finding it again towards the end of the book, when all the plot-points (including why the novel was set where it was) started coming together for the big reveal. Still, I must have missed something as one, late-developing thread about the discovery of life on the planetoid seemed to go nowhere.

The characters aren’t exactly unlikeable but I didn’t find myself enjoying reading about them as much as I did about those in City of Diamond. Overall the book felt like one of those that had been written with one eye on a possible screenplay/blockbuster film and, overall, it was a less satisfying read than Diamond, despite the story in Anvil definitely being stand-alone.

The cover proclaims van Pallandt to be a “brilliant new name in science fiction”. Strangely, this seems to be his only book. I can find little on the internet about him and the bio on the inside back cover just tells us that he was born in Switzerland in 1961, has been a professional illustrator and T.V. screenwriter. He has written and illustrated four children’s books and Anvil is his first and, apparently only, novel.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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