so i dithered a bit about writing posts for this week, particularly after pondering in my post on repo men last week — another rip of which can be found on tor.com if you’re into that sort of thing — about why genre fans insist on getting respect, yet refuse to play nice with their own genre.
and i dithered because, really, my temptation for this week was to write at least one juicy good rip of a movie, but that seemed a bit hypocritical, so we’re starting instead with the book review which is at least slightly more positive.
a few weeks ago, i wrote about steve cash’s the meq and made a subsequently totally unjustified comment about the second book being due out this year. it isn’t. it’s been out for several years. i’m a dork and should have checked my facts more thoroughly first! i swear that i did read something about a new book of his being out sometime this year — perhaps it’s the third in the series since the second volume ends with a cliff-hanger so blatant it barely justifies being called one. it’s so obvious by about half-way through the book that nothing whatever is going to be resolved in this volume that the cliff-hanger is more anti-climactic than anything else.
as sequels go, time dancers isn’t bad. but that’s about as far as it goes. it isn’t bad. i was really hoping for quite a lot more. since the first novel, the meq, was a pretty ambitious gambit with quite a lot of charm to it, i was willing, so to speak, to give cash quite a lot of rope to hang himself. after all, not everyone can write heart-shaped box, neverwhere, or garden of iden right out of the gate.
the story for time dancers is pretty basic: without giving away anything critical, i can say that it takes the characters from 1919 to 1945; they’re still searching for answers about “the Remembering” (which also has some rather spiffy sound meq word that i can’t recall); the villain is still out there being villainous; and there’s an awful lot of running around. seriously. these people do more transatlantic/pacific travel in about two months than most of us do in a friggin’ lifetime. and they do it fast, too. no storms, no customs hold-ups, no lost luggage, nothing. you want to go to paris from st. louis? boom. fastest trip you ever had in your life. and in 1923, too!
what i really wanted from time dancers was character development. some enlargement on the plot would have been nice; a sense of where the meq stand — or have stood — in terms of the regular human history of the world would have been good, too, but what i really wanted out of this book was to see zianno and his other meq companions do some growing up even if they can’t grow up.
i wanted to see them deal with watching their human friends age and die; with their own inter-relationships; with sex, for heaven’s sake! there was this big deal made in the meq about the “one for one” nature of relationships between the meq — is that it? is that the only type of long-term “adult” relationship they ever have? never a passing fling with the odd regular human? and, if that’s the case, then how does that work? how do two twelve-year-olds go through the world as lovers when the rest of the world sees them as children? are they actual lovers or just “good friends” until they decide to end “the Itxaron” and enter the real flow of time to have children? and just how lame is that: you have to choose to die in order to reproduce? don’t we have enough stories about immortal characters who have to do that already? and there were just enough almost-answers to my questions to keep me reading, but they were thin enough to leave me disappointed.
instead of character development — or even deeper plot development — time dancers is really one long rush of action in which nothing really happens. some characters we’ve been familiar with since the meq die — but since they haven’t been fleshed out at all since the meq and since zianno’s narrative voice hasn’t changed at all in how he describes or relates to them, it’s a little hard to get worked up about it. the characters seem to have retreated to be bad caricatures of themselves: carolina is always caring and welcoming; sailor is always mysterious and serious; owen is always helpful and competent. characters become more like strings of unchanging adjectives and physical characteristics than actual people. it’s a shame, really, because cash had some great characters and he doesn’t do much with them.
the rush of the action is almost enough to let you forget this for about half the book; then i, at least, started to find it really annoying. that, and the habit almost all the characters developed of never answering a straight question: “well, what happened with [fill in the blank]?” “now is not the time for you to know that.” i wanted just one person to say, “well, obviously i think it is, you doorknob, so how ’bout we try it my way for once and see what the hell happens?!” and, as a trick to increase tension and delay revelation, it got to be obvious when it happened in every.
so, yes. i wasn’t unreservedly thrilled with time dancers. cash’s trick of dropping in historical figure to spice up the action got old more quickly this time. more than that, though, i was really disappointed that the characters were still essentially the same as they had been in the first volume. i was hoping for some deepening of the vision, some sense that perhaps not all of the meq zianno hangs out with are trustworthy (there’s a couple i wouldn’t trust as far as i can throw a dead rat), or even a feeling that perhaps not everyone tells the truth all the time.
i’ll read the third volume, but i’ll read it for the villain. so far, he’s the one i’m still most interested in!
on the other hand, cash does just get a whole crap-ton of points for lugging in — almost entirely without reason or need — leon bismarcke “bix” beiderbecke, a 1920s jazz musician, a cornet player. and why is this, you ask? it is because i am a complete devotee of the alan plater beiderbecke series: affair, tapes, and connection. i tried to find a youtube clip of the opening or even a decent trailer but all i could find is what you see below which is a rather random collection of clips from the first series, the beiderbecke affair. if you like what you see — and, really, what’s not to like? — i strongly suggest finding the series to watch; they’re all about equally weird, random, and charming, but i personally like the first series best.