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December 31st, 2011, 06:36 PM #1
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- Jul 2001
- Hobbit Towers, England
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January 2012 SF BotM: The January Dancer by Michael Flynn
The book was published in 2008.
Rob reviewed it in October 2008.
Michael Flynn’s space opera The January Dancer is many things, part caper, part future myth, part mosaic novel; all of which come together in a very interesting stew of a novel. The object from which the book’s title is derived is a pre-human artifact first discovered by Captain Amos January on a relatively routine archaeological expedition. Human expansion is very widespread throughout the galaxy and the future is far enough beyond our time that the characters refer to Earth as Old Earth and speak of it in nigh-mythological terms.
Keeping with the mythological tone, Flynn framed and structured the novel in a relatively unique manner for a Space Opera. The novel begins in a bar with a harper trying to sing songs and tell stories. The focus of the stories is the January Dancer, the ancient pre-human artifact that seems to bounce from one owner to the next with the potential to give its owner complete mastery over men. To put the timeline of this universe in focus, while the January Dancer predates humans, humans have been around the galaxy long enough that Newton, Einstein and Darwin are considered gods because they history is so far back. Flynn also named many of the far-future locales and things after places from the 20th/21st Century like the Palisades Parkway.
The mosaic element of the novel made it somewhat difficult for me to completely get a true feel for the novel and story. Once the January Dancer passed out of one person’s hands, it was on to the bar and the harper who would recount the next path the ancient talisman would take. It was only about halfway into the novel that I began to feel ‘settled’ about who was who and what was what. I really thought the opening ‘story’ of January’s crew’s discovery of the artifact was engaging and pulled me into the story, the characters Flynn surrounded January with were pretty well drawn. The only thing that didn’t read to genuine, for the characters in the novel in general, were those that spoke with heavy dialected accents.
Another element that added to the mythic resonance of the novel was the names Flynn gave the characters, they seemed right out of an old pulp SF novel or serial. There’s Amos January, who lends his name to the title and object, a man who goes by the name of Greystoke, another with the name of Grimpen and a character by the name of "Handsome" Jack Garrity. The main setting or hub of the galaxy is named after God, Jehovah. The religious implications of this weren’t touched upon in great detail, but add to the mythic quality of the novel. As I said, this mythic feel of a far future was done very nicely by Flynn.
Ultimately, the novel was a bit too uneven for my tastes. The multiple points of view/mosaic nature of the novel was too jarring for me to really get into the novel and enjoy it. I liked the ideas, I liked the sense of a caper story with which Flynn flavored the novel, but I was unable to connect with the narrative as a whole.
December 31st, 2011, 09:47 PM #2
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- Apr 2007
- Dallas, Tx.
Oh man, Both books of the month I actually read. lol
Technically this was my first scifi, fantasy is my main thing. Yeah, I remember I did enjoy this book.
January 1st, 2012, 09:14 PM #3
January 2nd, 2012, 10:55 AM #4
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January 2nd, 2012, 11:05 AM #5
I've really enjoyed all the Flynn I've read so far: Wreck and Eifelheim. I'm a little behind on reading because of the holidays, but this may be my next book (if I can stick to responsibly reading my book club books instead of diving headfirst into the new Carol Berg...) But for now, since I've liked his other books so much and I haven't read this one to know if I agree in any way with Rob, I'll say that Rob must be wrong and he doesn't know how to read a book the way he's supposed to. So there.
January 13th, 2012, 04:44 PM #6
I finished this one up a few days back and have been thinking a bit on what to say about it.
I came into this as a big fan of Flynn. Some clarification there: I discovered him through The Wreck of The River of Stars, which I loved. I later read Eifelheim, which I also loved. Since then I've acquired a few of his other books here and there but haven't jumped into them.
This book didn't quite do the same thing for me as the previous two books I read. I think part of that was an expectations thing. In both Wreck and Eifelheim, you know coming into the story pretty much what's going to happen. Flynn tells you up front, and they're very much classic tragedies. "I'm going to tell you a story. It's not going to end well, but the journey will be really interesting and you'll probably never guess why it won't end well."
This book didn't have that sort of set-up, which is fine. But it didn't really give me, as a reader, any kind of expectation at all. I had no idea through most of the book where the story was trying to go or what it was about, who was supposed to be important, what the motivations were behind some of the things going on. Given how tightly-controlled the writing was in previous Flynn experiences, I can only think this was part of the plan with this one, to keep the reader off-kilter a little bit. Much like January's dancer (the artifact), the book itself seems to keep shifting shape and focus as it goes along.
I really liked the world-building. I enjoyed almost all of the little bits on their own, but I'm not yet sure what to make of them as a whole.
I didn't actually consider this to be much of a mosaic novel. We had a main cast throughout the book (though not the one we probably expected after reading the first chapter). Maybe I feel that way because last month's book, The Carpet Makers was so very much a mosaic novel (no two chapters were from the same viewpoint (until he copped out near then end and repeated one)) that this book doesn't strike me at all that way.
While this one didn't sink its hooks into me as much as the previous two books did, I'm definitely interested enough in the world and overarching conflict that I'll pick up the next book and see where it goes. Maybe the Michael Flynn bang I've gotten used to is just played out on a longer scale here.
January 13th, 2012, 06:10 PM #7
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- Dec 2005
- Ada, MI, USA
This is a very curious books in many ways but I realized this only with benefit of hindsight after reading books 2 (Up Jim River) which I liked but had some flaws that detracted from my enjoyment and book 3 (In the Lion's Mouth) which is excellent.
Books 2 and 3 clearly focus on 2 main characters and in each another sort of secondary character from The January dancer becomes important too in addition toSpoiler:Donovan and Mearana
The book itself (The January dancer) succeeds very well imho in combining space opera with the archaic celtic language and the subject - artifact chase - is also well done but the true meaning and setup is going to be revealed only later as books 2 and especially 3 just raise the level a lot and change the focus of the series in ways you cannot really guess here; lots of twists and turns too
January 13th, 2012, 08:29 PM #8
January 13th, 2012, 08:44 PM #9
Given what suciel says above, I think Flynn may be playing a longer game with this one. I may end up liking it as much as all the other Flynn I've read once I've got all three books under my belt.