BOOK REVIEW: Rotten Row by Chaz Brenchley

REVIEW SUMMARY: An intriguing novella that strongly explores the themes of art, form and identity.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A relatively famous artist named duLane, seeking a new challenge, journeys to the wildest world in the Upshot, only to find his very identity and art challenged and confronted.

MY REVIEW:
PROS: Strong pair of main characters; clever worldbuilding; interesting prose style; very strongly evoked themes.
CONS: The denouement of the story doesn’t quite pay off the promise of the opening; infodumping sometimes stops the action in its tracks.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting novella that explores some thorny issues in an entertaining way.

Imagine a series of worlds interconnected by a network that mandates that to travel from world to world, you must give up your original body, your original flesh, and take on new flesh, a new random looking body at the destination. In such a world, where identity is of the mind and not the body, how would society change? How would relations change? And what taboos would still remain?

Now, imagine a world in this society that is the sink of experimentation, wildness, changeability and decadence. Where the nature of humanity and the flesh are put on display in an endless carnival and parade of augmented and changed bodies. Hawk-men and mimickers of Prometheus. Centaurs and Angels. Where people, rich and poor, strive to continually refine and reinvent themselves in an endless loop of body modification, using a repurposed form of the Upshot system as a way to decant into newer and better forms.

That is Rotten Row, the eponymous world in Chaz Brenchley’s novella.
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Interview with Chaz Brenchley

British Fantasy Award winning author Chaz Brenchley is the author of nine thrillers, most recently Shelter and two fantasy series, The Books of Outremer and Selling Water by the River. As Daniel Fox he has published a Chinese-based fantasy series, beginning with Dragon in Chains, as Ben Macallan, an urban fantasy, Desdæmona. I talked to Chaz about his many hats, and his writing.

Photo by Donna-Lisa Healy.

Paul Weimer: So let’s begin with a deceptively easy question. Who is Chaz Brenchley?

Chaz Brenchley: Chaz Brenchley is a British novelist and short story writer. He sold his first stories when he was eighteen, and he’s never had another job: which means he’s been making a living from his keyboard for thirty-five years now. He’s published short fiction in almost every genre except Westerns (and that may change). His novels range from mysteries through supernatural thrillers to fantasies and SF. He likes to say he lives down the dirty end of genre fiction; in fact, after thirty years in Newcastle on Tyne, he’s just moved to Silicon Valley with two fractious cats and an unconscionable quantity of books.

Also, Chaz Brenchley is Daniel Fox. Who went to Taiwan for the millennium, as a guest of the government; went back as a guest of his interpreter; studied classical Mandarin for six years after that and then wrote a trilogy set in an analogue world, transposing contemporary Taiwan – loosely – onto imperial China.

Also, Chaz Brenchley is Ben Macallan. Who began life as the narrator of two Chaz Brenchley novels, Dead of Light and Light Errant, but then branched out into writing fiction of his own. His first book, Desdaemona, is an urban fantasy set in an England saturated with mythic figures; the sequel, Pandaemonium, has just been published.

Away from the keyboard, he has been described as “the finest cook in this room”. That isn’t always true.

He has also been described as “the only man we know – apart from Christopher Lee – who’s met both Tolkien and Gandalf.” As far as we know, that one is true.

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MIND MELD: Holding out for a Hero

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

On SF Signal Mind Melds, we’ve discussed Anti-Heroes, Villains, and
Sidekicks. It’s been a while since we tackled straight up heroes.So, this week we asked about heroes:

What makes a hero (or heroine) a hero instead of merely a protagonist? Is the idea of a straight up hero old fashioned or out of date in this day and age?

This is what they had to say…

Emma Newman
Emma lives in Somerset, England and drinks far too much tea. She writes dark short stories, post-apocalyptic and urban fantasy novels and records audiobooks in all genres. Her debut short-story collection From Dark Places was published in 2011 and 20 Years Later, her debut post-apocalyptic novel for young adults, was released early 2012. The first book of Emma’s new Split Worlds urban fantasy series called Between Two Thorns will be published by Angry Robot Books in 2013. She is represented by Jennifer Udden at DMLA. Her hobbies include dressmaking and playing RPGs. She blogs at www.enewman.co.uk, rarely gets enough sleep and refuses to eat mushrooms.

For me, a hero is someone who actively works to achieve a goal for the good of others when there is a risk of losing something, ranging from a peaceful existence to their own life. Perseverance is critical; a hero persists in their heroic endeavour far beyond the point where most people would give up. Most wouldn’t even try in the first place.

As for whether a hero is old-fashioned; no. The portrayal of heroes (i.e massively flawed as opposed to nothing more than bravery in a bap) changes to fit the needs and sophistication of the audience. However, the basic need to see someone being more than we are – but everything we could be – is eternal.

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