four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
user_rating: 
0

A-AuroraramaFrench author Jean-Christophe Valtat's previous works include two novels and a collection of short stories, only one of which--the novel 03 (2010)--has been translated into English. Aurorarama, originally written in English rather than in Valtat's native French, is the first installment in a planned series.

The Story: In 1908 New Venice, a magnificent utopian city located near the Arctic Circle, the increasingly tyrannical Council of Seven has begun to distance itself from the city's founding principles, bullying the populace and suppressing such time-honored traditions as psychedelic drug use and casual sex. The Gentlemen of the Night, the Council's suave but sinister secret police force, have been assigned to track down the anonymous author of an anarchist pamphlet, and their investigation soon leads them to two men resolutely determined to preserve New Venice: Brentford Orsini, the keeper of the city's greenhouses, and his lecherous friend Professor Gabriel d'Allier. Meanwhile, a mysterious black airship hovers silently overhead.
Melville House. 416 pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9781935554134

Fantasy Book Critic 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Aurorarama is modern speculative fiction at its best--an ‘ice punk' adventure in an alt-history setting. ... Aurorarama (A++ and possibly best sf of 2010 for me) is fun, compelling and full of gems; the biggest positive surprise for me in sf for 2010 though as noted above, the novel should appeal to both fantasy and literary fans." Liviu Suciu

Guardian (UK) 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Aurorarama is a magnificent achievement, balancing serious intent with arch humour. It's also beautifully stylish, replete with inventive steampunk iconography and fantastical characters in a stunning polar setting." Eric Brown

Barnes & Noble Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Melding the droll, rococo politesse of Jack Vance with the phantasmagorical realpolitik of China Miéville, Valtat conjures up an exotic, polychromatic world too real not to exist somewhere, if only in a luckier, more delirious and glorious universe adjacent to ours. ... Accompanying [Brentford Orsini and Gabriel d'Allier] in alternating chapters, the reader will visit dozens of bizarre venues and experience plenty of weird technology, delightfully eccentric characters, consummated and frustrated romances, much mystery and many thrills." Paul Di Filippo

Paste Magazine 4 of 5 Stars
"A terrific storyteller, Valtat mixes humor and poetry, romance and politics into a surprisingly thoughtful page-turner about social revolution, complete with a mythical polar kangaroo and puns like commedia dell'arctic. Characters hurt and bleed and love in this inventive realm of magical possibilities." Matthew Jakubowski

National 3.5 of 5 Stars
"If a reader is willing to deal with some inconsistencies, some references to events or people that may not be adequately explained, as well as a hefty dose of the Inuit language, this is an enjoyable amalgam of thriller, fantasy, and polar adventure, topped off with a sprinkling of anarchist intrigue. Its late-in-the-game twists are conventional and its ending improbably rosy, but Valtat's world is ingeniously imagined and peopled with an alluring cast." Jacob Silverman

Salon.com 3.5 of 5 Stars
"True, the novel is not without flaws: At times, the evident and unfortunate influence of Thomas Pynchon's recent fiction can be hard to ignore. The female characters are uniformly empty, and every scene involving them is infested with the excruciating sexual banter that so often made Against the Day resemble a bad bedroom farce performed by dimestore marionettes. Still, New Venice is irresistible." Laura Miller

Critical Summary

Described as "gloriously retro literary steampunk" (Guardian), something like "what Jules Verne would write if woken from the dead and offered a dose of mushrooms" (National), Aurorarama captivated the critics from start to end. As it slowly unravels its secrets through Orsini's and d'Allier's alternating perspectives, the narrative "glides on silver skates from the surreal to the absurd to the languorously decadent" (Salon.com), balancing a stylish, suspenseful thriller with eccentric characters, sly humor, and a vivid and alluring setting. Salon.com bemoaned Valtat's flat female characters and the National cited some of the pitfalls of world building, but these complaints didn't diminish the charms of New Venice. A sophisticated and literate page-turner, Aurorarama should have a wide appeal among many readers.