A Detailed Mirage: Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett and Ken Mitchroney

Fata Morgana by Steven R. Boyett and Ken Mitchroney

Published: June 13, 2017
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Genre(s): Adventure, War, Science Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Length: 12 hrs and 9 mins

I think what drew me to Fata Morgana was the promise of an old-fashioned adventure with a bit of romance: a WW2 bomber plane flies through a portal to another world and the crew has to learn how to deal with extreme culture shock while their captain falls in love with a mysterious woman. However, I wasn’t expecting that it would also include an obsessive attention to detail about the intricacies of flying and crewing a bomber.

Fata Morgana does deliver on that initial promise of adventure, but I have to admit that it required a bit of patience on my part to get invested in the story. I don’t generally enjoy it when an author has clearly gone out of their way to get every little detail right and wants to make for damn sure that you know about it. If you want to read an exhaustive catalog of the US Army Air Force bomber crew experience during WW2, you’ll probably love this book, but if you aren’t into that level of minutiae, you might have to give it some room to grow on you.

It doesn’t help that the characters are all fairly one-dimensional archetypes and they never rise above their first impressions. They wisecrack, they make earnest speeches, they sacrifice for the good of the crew, they’re generally stand-up guys. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, per se, because the story well-executed and there isn’t a false note throughout, but I can barely remember any of their names.

There is one interesting sequence late in the book where reality comes unstuck and things get a little surreal, but it goes on for long enough that it started feeling repetitive. The best parts of the book are when the crew has to do their job and fight back against their enemies, be they Nazis or otherwise. These sequences are thrilling and evocative, and are part of what brought the book home for me. There are a few action sequences full of heart-pounding moments and thrills, especially late in the book.

I did like Fata Morgana, but it feels like this review landed a bit more on the negative side than I intended. I think this a book for a certain type of reader laser-focused on verisimilitude, even in their science fiction. I don’t generally fall into that category, but I can still appreciate a story well-told.

REALLY LIKED IT

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Unexpected Connections: The Tsar of Love and Techno

Tsar of Love and TechnoThe Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Published: October 6, 2015
Publisher: Hogarth
Genre(s): Fiction, Short Stories, History
Format: e-book
Length: 354 pages

The Tsar of Love and Techno is a hilarious and affecting novel masquerading as a short story collection. It has a lot in common with David Mitchell’s genre-hopping patchwork masterpieces, but here the linked stories don’t feel so much like a stylistic exercise (and I say that as a huge fan of Mitchell’s work).

Instead, Marra uses a fairly consistent style throughout, and the shifts in perspective serve more to reframe familiar characters and situations in a new light. The only real stylistic flourish is the collective narrator in “Granddaughters”, but the conceit is never distracting.

It definitely helps that The Tsar of Love and Techno has a great title and an eye-catching cover, because the summary sounds a lot like an Important Novel About Sad Europeans. Luckily, it’s actually laugh-out-loud funny and full of sharply drawn characters who are simultaneously comical, ruthless, tragic and sympathetic.

The first story takes place in 1937 and focuses on a government censor who modifies photos and paintings to remove dissidents and insert party officials. One of the paintings he modifies – an unremarkable hillside somewhere in Chechnya – becomes far more significant with each story, eventually serving as the through-line that ties the book together.

One of my most favorite parts of this book is the way that Marra parcels out revelations and undermines expectations. The truth is mutable, and memory is suspect, but with the benefit of a novel’s roving eye, we discover the sympathetic hearts hidden in villains and the histories thought lost to time.

The book feels so authentic that I had to check the author’s Wikipedia page to find out if he was born in the region. It turns out that he’s actually an American obsessed with Chechnya. It makes me wonder if people in Chechnya read his books and if Marra even has a publisher in the region.

In any case, I loved this book, and I can’t recommend it enough. The Tsar of Love and Techno was an absolute revelation, and I’m glad I decided to pick it up.

LOVED IT

Full disclosure: I received a free review copy of this book from NetGalley.

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