Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jon Courtenay Grimwood: 9tail Fox

Hmm. Where to begin?

Let's start with the man's life. Jon Courtenay Grimwood's official web site has a very short biography, but there is a much more interesting one on the fantasticfiction web site. From the latter we learn that he was born twelve weeks premature, and was not expected to live; and, during the first few days of his life, the ghost of a black-robed priest was seen bending over his crib. A sign of things to come, it seems, because the bio also tells us that, at a later stage in life, Grimwood spent two years dead, for tax reasons.

In between, Grimwood seems to have spent most of his time working for UK publishers and magazines, and doing rather well at it. He has certainly had wide experience of the media, and is married to the UK editor of Cosmopolitan, which must open one's eyes a bit.

In between all of this, Grimwood has written a number of novels. Some would describe them as science fiction, but I think that 'speculative fiction' is the term which best describes his current one, 9tail Fox.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot. Let's just say that it's a story about Detective Sergeant Bobby Zha, of the San Francisco police department, investigating a murder. And it's a thriller/whodunit/what are they up to kind of plot. Hard-edged but not gory. That should be enough.

The main point I want to make is that, if you're interested in learning how to write a novel, you could do a lot worse than read the first 32 pages of this book. They are textbook stuff. We have six short chapters, which introduce the main characters. The main elements of the plot are laid out. We are given plenty to encourage us to continue reading. Viewpoint is well handled. And we get a big surprise on page 30. And all like that.

Page 33 takes us back more than sixty years, which seems at first an irrelevance but isn't really. And then on page 41 the author provides us with a twist which will, I am sure, cause some readers to hurl the book into a far corner of the room with a cry of 'Ridiculous!' That's if they're not used to this genre.

Those who are more accustomed to speculative fiction will stick with it. But if I have a criticism of the book it is that the author could have added a line or two, somewhere in chapter 8, say, which makes his central proposition more credible in terms of the book's own terms of reference. So so speak. Which is a bit cryptic, but will make sense if you ever read the book.

The rest of the book doesn't quite live up to the outstanding quality of the start, but by most people's standards this is excellent stuff. And if you're really smart you may think you have guessed how things are going to work out, but I doubt that you will be quite smart enough to anticipate everything. Well I wasn't, anyway.

And if you wonder why a Brit is writing a novel about a Chinese policeman in America -- well, his childhood summers were spent in the Far East. And I guess it's a world market. Or something.

And by the way, the acknowledgements at the end show that Grimwood is backed by an excellent team of agent, editor, et cetera.


Fence said...

But isn't speculative fiction simply a term people use when they don't want to admit to writing sci-fi?
Like Margaret Atwood once said that she didn't right sci-fi, she wrote speculative fiction, because she didn't have guns and aliens. But Oryx and Crake is very def. sci-fi.

Anonymous said...

"Speculative fiction" is a quite popular umbrella term that includes the science fiction and fantasy genre. The idea is that the borders between the two genres can get so diluted that a new term seemed more appropriate on the whole.

I believe horror fiction often falls under it as well.