Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Battle of the Books, Fall 2012, First Round :: Further: Beyond the Threshold by Chris Roberson vs. Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson

The Fall 2012 Battle of the Books continues with Further: Beyond the Threshold by Chris Roberson vs. Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson. As always, whichever book I most want to continue reading after 25 pages will advance to the second round.

Further: Beyond the Threshold: 47North trade paperback, May 2012, 343 pages, cover art by Marcel Clemens & Algol. By my count, Chris Roberson has published a dozen original novels and eight tie-in books, as well as a number of short stories in top-notch markets like Asimov's and Subterranean. He is a two-time Sidewise Award winner, was twice nominated for the Campbell Award for best new writer, and has been nominated for the World Fantasy Award as a writer, an editor, and founder of MonkeyBrain Books.

Roberson's original work so far has emphasized alternate histories and secret histories, but Further is all space opera. Captain Ramachandra Jason (RJ) Stone was the leader of the first expedition to another star system. But the automatic systems failed to wake him or his crew from suspended animation. 12,000 years later, post-humans find RJ. The first 25 pages end with an eagle-shaped A.I. taking him through a matter transmitter back to Earth. The back of the book tells us RJ will soon take part in a new interstellar mission.

Royal Street: Tor trade paperback, April 2012, 336 pages, cover art by Cliff Nielsen. Royal Street is Suzanne Johnson's first novel, with a sequel, River Road, that came out in November. It's urban fantasy set in New Orleans, at the time of Hurricane Katrina.

Our heroine is Drusilla Jaco (DJ), a young wizard still learning the ropes. The text describes her as blonde and teal-eyed, and cover artist Cliff Nielsen decided she's actually Nicole Kidman. In the opening chapter, DJ is sent on assignment to tangle with the ghost of notorious pirate Jean Lafitte, who greets her with a six-pack of fruit-flavored condoms. After that encounter, DJ tries to persuade her mentor Gerry that he can start giving her more such high-level assignments, once this little storm heading for New Orleans blows past.

The Battle: Further starts with perhaps the best opening line I've yet encountered in the Battle of the Books:
When I woke up, surrounded by talking dog-people, it was clear we'd strayed pretty far from the mission parameters.
Granted, it's not exactly a novel concept for an author to wake a modern man up far in the future so he can look around with us. But Chris Roberson tells the tale with a lot more flair than Philip Francis Nowlan ever did.

Turning to Royal Street, New Orleans during Katrina is a great setting for an urban fantasy, even if I'm not sure it fits Johnson's light-hearted tone. But too many of the lines that are meant to be clever strike me instead as tired: "A word rhyming with witch," "note to self," "gator bait," etc.

Chris Roberson and Suzanne Johnson are going for a similar fun tone, but through 25 pages RJ is getting better lines than DJ.

THE WINNER: Further: Beyond the Threshold by Chris Roberson

Further advances to the second round, to meet Brian McGreevy's Hemlock Grove.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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