Sunday, October 15, 2006

Scar Night by Alan Campbell

Scar Night is the first book of The Deepgate Codex, and the debut from Scottish author Alan Campbell. It is billed as the second-coming of China Mieville; the latest from the country that has brought us Ken MacLeod and Charlie Stross and Hal Duncan. In fact, the hype surrounding this title has been somewhat deafening, but unlike some earlier releases this year, Scar Night fails to live up to the reputation it has garnered.

Set in a deeply religious city that appears to be chained precariously over, well, Hell, we are introduced to an angel who is not allowed to fly.

I'm a fantasy reader, see that's what I do, but despite years of experience in the suspension of disbelief, I could not get past the preposterous nature of this setting. Everything is chained down, because if it weren't, well, it might fall down.

Err.
Campbell never actually gets into what everything is chained to, exactly, except everything else. But they worship the god of chains, so it's ok, I suppose.

There's also a war with a lesser and evil race. The Angels used to lead the war against these savage hordes, but the Church now has dirigibles, and so no longer need risk their holy ones.

Except, they treat their last surviving Angel as if he were the prototypical pigboy of fantasy yore. (But they give him a young female assassin to pal around with.)

Oh, and if you bleed too much, your soul is gone, and so go to hell. (Unless you're a General.)

This book is preposterous. I wanted to like it. I was set to fall in love with it. What I found myself immersed in was no doubt a wonderful imagining in Campbell's head which he was distressingly unable to convey to paper.

There is a flood of quality books and stories surging out of the United Kingdom these days, but unfortunately Scar Night is not worthy to be numbered among such.

4/10

Collector's Notes:

Scar Night has only been released in the UK thus far, but is recieving a very big push from Bantam for release here in January. If the book becomes popular, and lesser works with less hoopla certainly have, the UK first would be the copy to have.

But if you pass on this title, you're not missing much.

Comments on "Scar Night by Alan Campbell"

 

Blogger Alice said ... (5:09 AM) : 

That cover artist has a lot to answer for, with his inaccurate picture of chains going straight up into the sky - I know a lot of people have commented on the "what are the chains attached to?" question, but it is answered in the text, it's just swamped by preconceptions caused by the cover. Maybe the problem won't arise with the US release which has very different cover art. Sorry you didn't like the rest of it though!

 

Anonymous Niall said ... (4:11 PM) : 

"As the day faded, the city seemed to exhale. A breeze from the abyss sighed upwards through the sunken mass of stone and chain, spilled over Deepgate's collar of rock, and whistled through rusted groynes half-buried in sand. Dust-devils rose in the Deadsands beyond, dancing wildly under the darkening sky, before dissolving to nothing." (p.13)

"It was said that once you could have stood on the lip of the abyss and peered into the darkness below the city with nothing but the foundation chains between you and the fathomless depths. A sightglass, perhaps, might have offered views of the ghosts far below -- but not now. The great chains were still down there, somewhere, hidden beneath the city that a hundred generations of pilgrims had built. But time had seen cross-chains, cables, ropes, girders, struts and beams grow like roots through those ancient links. Buildings had been raised or hung, bridges and walkways suspended, until Deepgate had smothered its own foundations." (p.16)

It may just be me, but I get a fairly clear idea of Deepgate's architecture from those two paragraphs alone, and they're far from the only such descriptive paragraphs in the book. (If you were really struggling, for instance, I find it hard to imagine how the Tooth doing its thing late on didn't resolve the question.) Mind you, the rest of your review didn't exactly convince me you were paying close attention to the book. "Lesser and evil race"?

 

Blogger William Lexner said ... (5:00 PM) : 

You got me there, Niall.

Wait, no you didn't. The architecture is clear? Now granted, I'm only an engineer, but explain to me how this absurd premise of chains from an abyss (going where? A precipice?) supports a city.

Yes, yes, there are great chains. What is it attached to? Do you have any idea how thick this chain would have to be to support the church alone? Do they not have corrosion in this world? Because while perhaps there is a corrosion control team working around the clock, I assume they don't venture into the abyss.

How strong would this 'collar of rock' (What's a collar of rock?) have to be to act as a brace for this city? Is it granite? Is it Wolverinesque adamantium?

 

Anonymous Niall said ... (6:31 PM) : 

absurd premise of chains from an abyss

By all means point me to the sentence or phrase in what I quoted, or indeed anywhere else in the book, that indicates that the chains are coming out of the abyss.

How strong would this 'collar of rock' (What's a collar of rock?) have to be to act as a brace for this city?

Improbably strong, I would think. Perhaps even impossibly strong, according to the physical laws of our universe; but fortunately, the book is almost certainly not set in our universe. Not that physical impossibility really matters here, any more than it matters that the aliens in Starship Troopers are physically impossible.

 

Blogger William Lexner said ... (7:41 PM) : 

"It was said that once you could have stood on the lip of the abyss and peered into the darkness below the city with nothing but the foundation chains between you and the fathomless depths."

This says exactly what you question. The chains are between you and the abyss, are they not? On rereading it I can understand how you could construe that this does not mean the chains reach into the abyss, but I believe it was made clear that they do ineed go far past viewing into the abyss elsewhere in the book.

I am not willing to find quotations however; there are far too many wonderful books out there for me to waste time cracking this one open again.

And you are not *really* bringing a classic like Starship Troopers into this argument, are you?

Come now. Don't go there.

 

Anonymous Niall said ... (9:10 PM) : 

The chains are between you and the abyss, are they not?

Yes. Between. How you get from there to them coming out of the abyss, I'm honestly not sure -- I mean, characters go down into the abyss, and they look up and see the web of chains criss-crossing the abyss above them! -- but there's not much point pursuing this further. I've provided a couple of quotes that I think back up my point; you've provided some assertions without evidence; everyone else can decide which side of the argument they find more convincing.

And you are not *really* bringing a classic like Starship Troopers into this argument, are you?

I'm trying to establish whether you apply consistent standards, and whether you can back up the assertions you make. So far my impressions are that you don't and can't, respectively.

 

Blogger William Lexner said ... (8:42 PM) : 

Niall,

You are trying your damndest to make me open that book once more and I refuse. It's simply not worth my time.

As for your absurd assertion that about Starship Troopers, it's just patently foolish, and I ought not dignify it.

However, I feel that Bob deserves the defense, and I ought humor you for being so passionate.

What makes you think that arachnids are impossible? Or is it hive mind creatures you think impossible? Is it aliens you believe impossible? The first two exist on our very own planet, and one would have to be very close-minded indeed to call the possibility of life on other planets to be impossible.

I find nothing to be even remotely *improbable* about his alien species. As we have seen millions of such species evolve on our own planet, it is hardly inconcievable that such a species may exist elsewhere -- and be multiple-millenia's more advanced than those on our planet.

As for the science in the rest of the novel -- it's not only reasonable but prophetic, as I stated.

But this isn't about Heinlein, and we both know it. I insulted your binky.

If you're willing to write a response to my thoughts on the book or a review of your own, I'd be happy to post it front page on my site for the world to see.

williamlexner @ gmail.com

 

Anonymous Niall said ... (4:21 AM) : 

What makes you think that arachnids are impossible?

Knowledge of the of invertebrate biology and the square-cube law, mostly.

I insulted your binky.

Oh, believe me, you didn't; I just don't like factual inaccuracies in reviews.

 

Blogger omnina├»f said ... (7:18 PM) : 

I've provided a couple of quotes that I think back up my point; you've provided some assertions without evidence; everyone else can decide which side of the argument they find more convincing.

What? I have to pick sides now? The Theroy of Chains? Interesting no doubt, but not helpful. Is the plot so interwoven around these chains that without understanding the complexity of them, the plot runs of course? I hope not.

Anyway, I'm glad this is a negative review. I will and still am going to pick up the book. But I'm also glad to know that not everybodys going to the 'Hype Party'.

 

Blogger meika said ... (7:50 PM) : 

how do I contact you?

 

Blogger William Lexner said ... (6:03 AM) : 

williamlexner @ gmail.com

 

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