Retribution Falls

March 10th, 2009

For the last three or four years I’ve barely been reading at all, mostly because the times I would once have spent with a book (tube journeys to and from work mostly) I’ve tended to spend on my own writing – either staring into space and thinking about things or slashing at print-outs with a red pen. In an effort to redress this shameful situation and recharge the batteries of inspiration somewhat I’ve been reading quite a bit since the new year, mostly non-fiction about WAR by way of research and inspiration for my next project.

However, my editor would not stop GOING ON about this book she’d been working on, and my disgust knew no boundaries when I realised it wasn’t one of mine. Naturally I consider praise for any other author a wounding betrayal, particularly since I know the author in question, Chris Wooding, pretty well and run my life thoroughly according to Gore Vidal’s principle of, “every time a friend succeeds a little part of me dies.” So I picked up a proof with the intention of skimming a chapter or two and in the ardent hope of debunking the inflated myth of Wooding’s talent. It hurts me, oh how it hurts me to have to grudgingly lend my mumbling voice to the choir of approval.

The book in question is his forthcoming Retribution Falls. I guess in rough outline you could say it’s something like Firefly (something very like, really, though that’s no bad thing) but with a little steampunky victoriana replacing the wild-west elements of the setting and a sprinkling of magical demon-dust on the top. The Firefly comparison is apt for me, not just in the general outline of “Charming reprobate ship’s Captain tries to scrape a semi-criminal living from a messed-up world in a patched together heap-of-junk ship with the help of a mismatched reprobate crew each with their own demons in the closet (sometimes literally)” but also in the neat combination of swashbuckling excitement and wisecracking patter with sometimes surprisingly hard-edged violence, moral ambiguity, and a cumulative depth. Not depth of a universal point-making kind, necessarily, but depth in terms of its depiction and investigation of a set of flawed characters and the relationships between them. Like Firefly, it pulls the neat trick of sucking you in with pure entertainment value, and delivering substance while you’re not looking.

Usually there will be things that will jerk me out of a reading experience, events or dialogue or constructions that get me thinking, “Yeah? Really? I dunno…” with my eyebrows all slanted. Not so here, really. Each element works well and adds to the whole. It’s smoooooth, like the Commodores. I guess you could criticise it for things it isn’t, if that’s your bag. It isn’t dark and heavy. It isn’t massively original. It isn’t immensely surprising. But that’d be a bit like criticising Usain Bolt for being not that great with a discuss. Erm, he’s a sprinter. Retribution Falls picks you up, and it whisks you swiftly and entertainingly along, and it sets you down with a big smile on your face.

Can’t say fairer than that.

Posted in reading by Joe Abercrombie on March 10th, 2009.

13 comments so far

  • marky says:

    You had me at Firefly.

  • Ditto.

    I think the correct term to use in such a situation would be ‘Shiny’.

  • Colinhead says:

    Damn but my wishlist is getting large on Amazon. Not as big as my ‘to read’ pile at home, though. Sigh. I’m starting to think I’ll never make it to the end of it.

    This sounds like a good book! I could use another quick read.

  • Joe, thanks for the book recommendation. Sounds like a killer book and with the Firefly similarities, I’m in. Massive Firefly fan here… And is that cover just dynamite or is it just me? Love it…

  • Casey says:

    You got me all excited and wanting to read it…then when I go to Amazon I see it’s not coming out until June 18th, the same day as your new book coincidentally. I may have to read/buy Retribution Falls first to bruise your fragile ego for getting my hopes up for something tasty to read now.

  • Bamf! says:

    Man, I just love you. I visited London a month ago (I’m from Spain) and went to Forbidden Planet just to get the Guinnes World Record in book/comic buying (I had to sell some organs in order to afford it).

    I usually pick a book just for its cover and the name of the author, and let myself be surprised (greet your surname, “Abercrombie” is extremaly rare in Spain, even funny, and that is the reason why I bought the book).

    Thank you for creating Glokta. Just that. Fucking neatly developed characters. I am writing my second novel at the moment(nothing serious, I will not go anywhere…) and finishing the last chapter of “The blade itself”. I hate you a bit already. Go on, you fucking-future-Pratchett (that is a compliment, at least translated to Spanish), I wish you the best.

  • It is a really excellent book which I would have recommended to everyone in sight if it wasn’t for the slight fact it’s not out for three months. I am storing up a lot of recommendations for it though.

    Good thing there’s nothing else of note coming out in June, eh?

  • Marky, Authentic,
    And why not?

    For sure. I can’t stand those great long fantasy doorstoppers…

    Alexander Field,
    Indeed, the cover is fantastic. Stephan Martiniere is quite an excellent artist…

    As long as you buy both, my ego can take the hit.

    Why thank you. I love and hate you too, I guess…

    Oooooooh you…

  • Leiali says:

    discuss?! Usain Bolt throwing around a conversation?

    I only usually take heed of recommendations from sffworld as there isn’t enough time in the world to read, work and study – but since you and Adam say its great I’ll stick it in my amazon basket.

    And not to say you are manipulating us al but you know perfectly well that if you say ‘like firefly’ then you’ve guaranteed many sales :).

    P.S Now addicted to The Wire.

  • Den says:

    Just snagged a copy of this to review… recognised the cover from your blog. Good to see you on Sunday.


  • Pepster says:

    Joe, what is going on?

    Retribution falls is an awful book, boring and badly written.

    If you want something good to read, grab "Sandman Slim". It seems William Gibson can still be trusted.

  • […] I said it was good, I did, and now my opinion has been vindicated by those high-brow literary genre critic types at the Arthur C. Clarke award, no less, who have nominated Retribution Falls for the UK’s most prestigious science fiction award.  “Congratulations, Chris,” forced spittily through tightly clenched teeth with eyes that say, “I shall destroy you.” Category:appearances […]

  • […] So Retribution Falls is perhaps the good solid action-adventure sf recently sought by Dan Hartland and Jonathan McCalmont, and for that reason welcome as a Clarke Award nominee, even if I wouldn’t give it the prize. It succeeds, in part, as the opening of this review should suggest, by following the narrative model that has come to dominate genre television. It is not at all a surprise to find that it inaugurates a series of books: the characters are established as ongoing entities, which means their arcs in this novel are rather limited things, interesting as much or more for where they will go next as what happens now; and its themes are broad, “universal” ones, the challenges of leadership and loyalty, not particularly inflected by the book’s sfness. Following a specific narrative model, indeed, that may seem overly familiar to fans of contemporary genre TV; which is a roundabout way of acknowledging that if there’s one thing people know about Retribution Falls, it’s that it’s a bit like Firefly. […]

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