Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews) Book reviews compiled by David Howe
From Starburst's monthly Reviews section
selected from Starburst #260

Selected this month: the latest fantasy novels from Steve Aylett and
Robin Hobb

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The Inflatable Volunteer
by Steve Aylett
Published by Phoenix House • 166pp • paperback
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Steve Aylett's Inflatable Volunteer

‘This novel mixes black comedy and dark Fantasy with philosophical wit’

This short but strikingly well written novel mixes black comedy and dark Fantasy with philosophical wit, and features chapters with such titles as What I Told the Firing Squad and Trouble With the Devil that are irresistibly intriguing.

It tells us about Eddie, who ‘knew he was possessed until his teeth were punched out from the inside,’ about a man named Empty Fred, a woman called Ruby Thunderhead, and Minotaur Babs, a man-beast out of childhood nightmare. The narrator presents himself as a slacker character, explaining that the last time he went for a job he had to turn back because ‘there was a dog in the way.’

Many scenes are centred on an improbable pub where bizarre sculptures are displayed and ‘core creatures’ from Hell erupt from the walls. There’s also a sinister ‘underlab’ in Eddie’s cellar where he grows talking-ape oracles. Despite generating a pervasive feeling that something evil lurks in the background, this book is not so much about a pact with the Devil as it is a negotiated settlement after which Satan has to lay off the booze.

When it comes to upholding genre conventions and the traditional literary rules of storytelling, Steve Aylett clearly prefers the ‘euphoria of disobedience.’ At times, he ignores standard grammar, and he’s adept at the one sentence paragraph. There’s a lot of waffle here but most of it is funny, and so precise in its intention to amuse that it’s quite agreeable waffle, really. On the giving of gifts, Aylett offers “a gilded invitation to sample ‘the immortal caviar of God’s brain’.”

The Inflatable Volunteer is blocked out in passages of creative writing, often stunning the reader’s common sense into submission in the very best style of much maligned sub-genre, the stream-of-consciousness narrative.

Starburst rating: 8
Tony Lee

Ship of Destiny
by Robin Hobb
Published 6th March by Voyager • 688pp • hardback
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Robin Hobb's Ship of Destiny

This final volume of Robin Hobb’s superb The Liveship Traders trilogy is packed with action and romance, swashbuckling pirates and testy dragons, and of course ‘liveships’.

Times have been hard for the Vestrit family. At the end of book two, The Mad Ship, they had been split apart and were in dire straits.

Now Ronica is struggling to salvage property and reputation in a devastated Bingtown; Althea is gaining on the liveship Vivacia, captained by Pirate King Kennit; and Malta, stranded on the corrosive Rain Wild River with the obnoxious Satrap, is mutating. Young Selden, meanwhile has formed a special relationship with a dragon, and Wintrow has been ensnared by Kennit’s charisma.

Others beside the Vestrits have problems. The sea serpents are still searching for ‘something’ they have no memory of, and the newly released dragon Tintaglia is coming to terms with a changed world and her fears that she’s the last of dragonkind.

Ship of Destiny ties up the trilogy’s numerous plot threads in unexpected, sometimes chilling, but ultimately satisfying ways. From the first, Hobb has been dropping hints about her planet’s ecology and the interconnectedness of things; now she reveals the true nature of ‘wizardwood’ and the link between it and the serpents, dragons, Rain Wild mutations, and vanished Elderling race.

Two recurring themes – confrontation vs negotiation, and Memory and its effects – shape Hobb’s plot and characterization. Her protagonists are faced with learning from their traumas or being limited by them. Unfortunately, the book’s pivotal character Kennit, who is simultaneously monstrous and tragic – no mean feat of characterization on Hobb’s part – opts for the latter course.

Providing you’ve read the preceding volumes first, this is an absorbing and very enjoyable read.

Starburst rating: 10
Barbara Davies

Reviews © Visual Imagination 2000. Not for reproduction