Liz Williams is turning into a very prolific
author. As of the turn into 2007, she has turned out 5 stand-alone
novels, another 5 (counting some soon-to-be-published here) in series
with one of the two serials taking from her first novel, The
Ghost Sister, plus at least one collection of her short works.
This is all in less than a decade, with the first novel being published
in 2001. Plus, she turns out an ongoing journal at http://mevennen.livejournal.com/,
titled after a figurehead from the Monde D'Isle world, who is an
outcast because of her “landblindness”. Which is ironic because
about the only thing Ms. Williams doesn't do with gusto if not insight
is return to an outdated website, http://www.arkady.btinternet.co.uk/,
and turn that glaring portrait to the wall. (The yearly grooming chores
reveal this has occurred, as the arkady link is dead, but
the mevennen is still quite active--03/11/12)
Her third novel, The Poison Master, seems diluted
with traditions from past masters like Jack Vance and Philip Jose
Farmer. There is the sense of capturing the things that really
matter; the seminal, the universal, the biggest picture, if you
will. The trials and torments of protagonist Alivet Dee go beyond
the inbound, oppressed world of Latent Emanation, both literally
and figuratively, to mix with the vapors of many worlds, civilizations
and cultures peopled with a vast array of technology and thaumaturgy,
intelligence and personality above and below Alivet's comprehension.
Ms. Williams has laid out her Lego set of world building and invited
you to play. But you can't leave the room; there is containment,
after all. And the necessary pinchings of detail so you won't float
off too far.
I won't bother with the complexities of her plot. For that,
see the SF Site review through this portal.
This potion is not without grimacing tastes, however. Whenever the
jurisdiction of genre is breeched as in the blending of science fiction,
fantasy, and historical fantasy found here, there's always the risk
of spilling the suspension and drowning the reader. The vast majority
of her story takes place on imagined worlds, yet Ms. Williams injects
a narrative sequence unfolding on Earth of the 1500s. It is fascinating
as a running framing device, but too threadbare with details and
conviction for the power and importance of its final hook. It also
lacks the driving curiosity to turn pages, as any astute reader will
penetrate its secret half-way through the episodes. Puzzlingly enough,
you either want more or less of these intrusions.
Another gear grinder is the transportation used between
worlds. The interstellar portals act as docks for a “vast machine . . . of
some burnished metal” (Bantam, ISBN 0553584987, 1st PB printing,
c.2003, p.122) with oval openings and dark swirls called a drift-boat.
I fully expected Captain Nemo to poke his head in and say, “All aboard!
Next stop, Hathes!”
Characterization, and its symbiosis with plot, needs to
be observed, also. Alivet Dee has all the common flushings of heroinism—tenacity
of will and purpose, loyalty, moral standards, self-doubt, physical
charm and spryness, and that enduring if somewhat tumultuous relationship
with competence under pressure. But she also has the room-clearing
characteristics of a motormouth constantly drooling out gossip, me-isms,
and boring, fear-based speculation. For a third-person perspective,
the author spends way too much time in her head. She's like a Chatty
Cathy doll with a broken pull chord. Fortunately, Ghairen, the Poison
Master of the title, doesn't hear this mental spew, or there'd be
little lovebond between them. Somehow he reminds me of the character
played by actor Victor Garber as Sydny Bristow 's father in TV's Alias series.
Always furrowing his brow, his personality seems as devoid and uninteresting
as his pasty, dinnerplate-sized face. All the intrigue, slippery-yet-fascinating
mental formulations of a rogue, the assassian with soul, or the
fiery mystique of a lover are mere imagined manipulations blatantly
exploited for plot sustenance. Ghairen ends up Alivet's Milquetoast
Melvin doll—an unlikely overseer of the Dark Lords' dismissal.
These are certainly stereotypical servings filled with unsuspected
flairs of personality, although, I suspect, more common in Romance
novel formulations. However, since the flavor of this novel is not
cynically tinged in anti-heroism or black comedy, you'd hope the
main players should be at least likeable and consuming enough to
hang with for a week or so.
Ms. Williams seems to possess all the ingredients to stir us with
grand adventures. Personally, I'd like to see her slow down, as copious
production can bake up more pulp than profundity. But, I surmise,
she's still teasing us with the possibility of greatness to come.