OVERLOOKED BOOKS: 2004
There are all kinds of overlooked books. Books reviewed but misunderstood. Books that hit the marketplace and readers at just the wrong time and are ignored. Books that are poorly publicized and sink without a trace, only to re-emerge years or decades later as part of a shadow cabinet of essential titles. Books so strange and encrusted with the lesions and scars of their creators' imaginations that we must wait a hundred years for our culture and our mores to curve and entwine in such a way as to permit complete epiphany. (Granted, these last are rare and may look to us today like utter rubbish. Certainly, Mr. Kenji Siratori hopes this is so--and in a few years time, who knows? I may join him in this wish as well!)
The Right Honorable Matthew Cheney addressed the issue of the most neglected book of the year on his blog recently, but since it's The Labyrinth, a book I wrote an introduction for and posted about, as well as interviewed the author about, it's hardly been neglected by me!
However, two books this year do appear to have received less attention than they perhaps deserve. (Aside: Getting a review in the widely circulated Publishers Weekly has a lot to do with sales, but not as much to do with creating PR buzz. For example, to address the "But-but..." rising on your lips this very moment.)
I've read neither of them (you may understandably look askance at this confession; please, bear with me), but they look enticing and I hope to get to them soon.
By saying they deserve more attention despite not having read them, I mean that the first story collection, Swiftly, from a notable UK author, Adam Roberts, with five novels under his belt (one an Arthur C. Clarke Award finalist) should certainly warrant a few more reviews than I've been seeing...
...And when one of the acknowledged masters of Canadian SF/Fantasy, Elisabeth Vonarburg, has a book widely considered one of her best, Dreams of the Sea, translated into English, then I would think that also warranted some respect, and more reviews than I've been seeing.
Both books operate under some external constraints. Swiftly is from indie publisher Night Shade Books, which has been putting out a plethora of short story collections and novels recently, with the result, I think, that they've been unable to give it all an equal push (which does, granted, require being able to find something in the story behind the book or the author with which to apply leverage). In the case of indie publisher Tesseract Books, which put out Dreams of the Sea, the problem is different: Their PR efforts in general tend to be subpar and unimaginative, which only compounds the problem of promoting translated fiction. (Not to mention the eccentric refusal of at least one of her relatively widely published book reviewin' C.ountrymenL. to review translated fiction.)
But none of this has anything to do with the possible quality of the books, and Swiftly and Dreams from the Sea both exist pristine and perfect on my bookshelf--their titles an unintended ironic juxtaposition, promising entirely opposite pleasures--waiting for me to barge in at some point and destroy their potential with my fumbling thumbs and readerly prejudices. Nevertheless, I will get to them soon, if only because they do seem unduly neglected...