Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yiddish tattoos

Oy, have we got a bargain for you: two reviews for the price of one! First up is "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" by Michael Chabon. (My apologies to my large(ly imaginary) Jewish readers for my first line. I've never met anyone that talks like that, but I've seen them on tv and tv would never lie to me)

Meyer Landsman is a detective in an alternative future where the Jewish homeland is in Alaska. He's investigating the murder of a heroin-addicted, chess-playing, deadbeat who may have been the Messiah. Or just a very naughty boy.

Excellent writing, as always from Mr Chabon, that perfectly immerses you in Sitka, Alaska. A good plot, twisty and turny just like a good detective story should be. Loved it, great book.

Next, Bradbury's classic collection of short stories, "The Illustrated Man". I found this in the 50% off pile at Reader's Feast in Melbourne (thanks Tessa). I don't think I'd have picked it up if it wasn't a bargain - sf short stories don't always age well. Written between 1947 and 1951, these do describe a 1980 where every man still smokes like a chimney, takes the rocket to New York to work, after having had their wives programme the robot butler to dispense their coffee and bacon. Mars is a green and pleasant land, Venus is just a bit rainy.

Once you get past the superficial, jarring weirdness of having your own past described as the future, the stories themselves are outstanding. My favourite was the last in the collection, about a scrap dealer that can only afford for one member of his family to take a once-in-a-lifetime trip into space on a rocket, and how they decide who it should be. There's also Edgar Allan Poe on Mars; a gruesome tale of a city out for revenge; children helping invaders from another dimension. And lots of smoking.

If I had read this in its time, I would have been floored. Now, the 50s future detracts slightly, making it harder to get into, but it still compares very well with the best short sf today.





    Can't wait!

  2. Oh, wow. I didn't know about that - awesome!