Earlier in the year, Angry Robot very kindly sent a copy of Winter Song to all members of the BSFA. Ah ha, I thought, this represents an opportunity. (I’m not Niall, by the way; I’m Martin Lewis, the new reviews editor for Vector.)
I imagine most people reading this like to talk about books and talking is best when it is a conversation, as was proved by the success of last year’s Torque Control short story club. However, one of the things most reviewers like to see (but rarely get) is engagement with their reviews. The problem is that there are a lot of books out there which means that – unless a book has a real buzz about it – it is unlikely that a lot of people will be reading a particular novel at the same time. Regardless of how you feel about the Harry Potter series, there was something quite exciting about the sheer density of debate every time the latest book came out.
So I thought I would try and take advantage of the unusual situation of a large group of SF fans all having the same book at the same time to try and recreate that sort of debate.
Winter Song is Colin Harvey’s fifth novel – his sixth, Damage Time is out at the end of the month – and Angry Robot have given it an uncompromising tagline: “Rock-hard SF adventure. No one here gets out alive.” They further suggested you file it under [Starship Crash / Abandoned Colonists / Alien Slaughter / Hell Planet] hammering home the impression that this is going to be a very grim story. So what did the reviewers think?
Mark Chitty at Walker Of Worlds:
Winter Song is another title in the strong list Angry Robot Books has released since it’s inception earlier this year. The new imprint has had good reviews for its titles and when I saw this one coming up for an October release I was very interested – any sci-fi set in a future where humanity has expanded across the galaxy is something I want to hear more about. Winter Song was not quite what I expected, but it delivered an entertaining read in an unforgiving environment. Following Karl Allman as he crash lands on a forgotten and primitive colony world where the terraforming looks like it’s going backwards, Winter Song is a novel that has more than a few surprises up its sleeve. I was expecting to walk into this with a more typical human vs alien world theme where there were many strange and wonderful creatures. What I got was a story focused on human characters that developed and grew with each situation they face.
Jared at Pornokitsch
Although Winter Song still isn’t the cutting-edge science fiction that the imprint promises, it is a genuinely solid effort that made my morning commute a lot shorter. Literature, it ain’t – but Winter Song combines good storytelling and strong (but not overwhelming) world-building to make for an entertaining read. It doesn’t push any boundaries – if anything, this is a throwback to the Ace or DAW era. But that’s no bad thing… For a small paperback, this is a book with some big topics. Between the front and the back covers, Karl stumbles across a second tribe of lost colonists, conducts a detailed exploration of space-Viking culture, gets mauled by a wild bestiary of alien critters, hikes across a frozen wilderness and saves the world from magnetic mangling. Makes for a long day. And, in the breaks, Karl explains the rest of the universe to his Girl Friday.
Anthony G Williams on the BSFA Forum:
The first three-quarters of the story is unremittingly grim as Allman first struggles to resolve his inner conflict while working with the settlers and then tracks across a bleak wilderness, at risk from wild animals and trolls and pursued by a posse led by an angry head man. Although the SF background is always there, this part of the story has more of the flavour of a fantasy. The pace and mood change when he arrives at the beacon and discovers what it is, and the tale then becomes a tense SF drama with a spectacular, if open-ended, conclusion. The story is well-enough written, and the complex relationships between Allman, Loki and the settlers sufficiently intriguing, to carry me through a grimness which could otherwise have become tiresome.
James Maxey at Intergalactic Medicine Show:
First, let me get my big gripe out of my system. Winter Song by Colin Harvey has one of the least inviting opening chapters to a novel that I’ve ever encountered… It’s a very busy chapter, tossing out a lot of information about the ship, about Karl’s biological and technological enhancements that make his survival likely, and a brief data dump on the solar system he’s in and the planet he’s going to try to reach. The one thing it utterly lacks is anything more than a hint of who Karl is or any reason anyone should care that any of this is happening to him. I was pretty much ready to give up and move on to the next novel in my stack, but I happened to read on a few pages into the second chapter, and, lo, I was interested… On the whole, a fun read, if you make it past the clunky first chapter.
Shivari on Amazon:
I felt that the early stages where Karl is struggling with psychosis simply weren’t very convincing. It was all rather simplistic, mostly repetitions of references to Oedipus; the sex & mothering theme was a bit too obvious and heavy-handed. I started to get rather irritated by it, and was very happy when Karl reached some kind of stability. The book then presents with another issue of identity, before turning into a rather cliched space-opera. I think it was basically a good idea, but I don’t think that the author quite had the skill to pull it off. He wanted to pack too much in, perhaps?
Keith Harvey at Red Rook Review:
In conclusion, I was duly impressed with Winter Song. The prose is direct, strong, and serviceable; the characters are clearly drawn, the world of Isheimur completely realized, and the narrative convincing and satisfying. Ultimately, I was struck by the complexity of the novel. Its complexity, however, does not arise from the plot; it is rather simple. Instead, it is the magnitude of detail that supports the world-building. Harvey has succeeded in creating a fascinating planet with a unique environment, exotic fauna and flora, a medieval culture with its social constructs, traditions, and structures, and three humanoid species, not to mention several off-world cultures.
Now it’s over to you. If you aren’t a BSFA member but have read the novel please come and join in. If you aren’t a BSFA member, haven’t read it but want to get an idea about the book, Angry Robot have made a series of extracts available on blogs like Grasping For The Wind.