Waterstone's Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

Waterstones Liverpool One Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club

"This is space. It's sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can't have a *final* frontier, because there'd be nothing for it to be a frontier *to*, but as frontiers go, it's pretty penultimate...)"
- Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures

About Us

This is the official blog for the book club held in the book lounge of Waterstones Liverpool One.

The group meet at 6pm on the first Monday of the month to discuss their thoughts and opinions on the books selected. The books range from classic fantasy to brand new science fiction short story collections.

It's a fun and friendly atmosphere and all are welcome: from those who have never read any science fiction or fantasy before, to those who don't read anything else.

The group, and this blog, are administered by Glyn Morgan, the Bookseller responsible for the Science Fiction section of the store and an avid reader of SF who is currently studying for his PhD at the University of Liverpool.

If you would like to comment on any of the books we've read, this month or in the distant past, please feel free to contribute to the comments section of the relevant posts.

Visit this club's little sister: Coffee and Comics

Monday, 2 November 2009

The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan

Plot Synopsis

Ringil, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the lizards he makes a living from telling credulous travellers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade. Where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives. Archeth - pragmatist, cynic and engineer, the last of her race - is called from her work at the whim of the most powerful man in the Empire and sent to its farthest reaches to investigate a demonic incursion against the Empire's borders. Egar Dragonbane, steppe-nomad, one-time fighter for the Empire finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervour. But out in the wider world there is something on the move far more alien than any of his tribe's petty gods. Anti-social, anti-heroic, and decidedly irritated, all three of them are about to be sent unwillingly forth into a vicious, vigorous and thoroughly unsuspecting fantasy world. Called upon by an Empire that owes them everything and gave them nothing.

What did we think?

A novel far more controversial and modern in feel than its predecessor in the book club. The Steel Remains caused some interesting discussions.

The group were impressed by Morgan's vibrant language and the lively imagery employed which ranged from explicit sex scenes to more domestic fare. Tonally, however, the blackly humorous beginning was felt to hint at a book that wasn't there, the humour quickly ebbing away as the novel became very bleak. Whilst this in itself is not necessarily a negative comment, it will be interesting to see how this tonal "evolution" affects the following books in Morgan's fantasy sequence.

The realism of the novel was striking, it almost seemed as much a War novel with dressings of the Fantastic as a Fantasy novel in its own right. Indeed, the idea of soldiers being tossed aside and forgotten by a society who, feeling safe, no longer needs them was felt to be very close to the bone. Another point which gained much praise was Morgan's challenging of the heterosexual norm in Fantasy, and the respect with which he incorporated these elements into the plot, making the sex scenes graphic but significant.

There was much praise garnered by the impressive backstory which Morgan has clearly cultivated. The world felt fully realised and "already lived in", and the sense that the characters and societies had genuine histories, rather than ones grafted on, was definite. Ringil was described as someone 'you might want to go for a pint with... so long as he doesn't kill you in the process' (Al). At the same time, the sheer volume of names and locations bombarding the reader in the initial phases of the novel, particularly with multiple plot-strings to follow, could get confusing. All said, the backstory was so fascinating that it contributes strongly to our desire to revisit the world in future novels, even to the point where it was more interesting in The Steel Remains than the plot.

The quasi-science fiction element of the novel was fascinating and had clear allusions to Arthur C. Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"). This aspect of the book reminded some of us of Jack Vance's Dying Earth series, as well as Michael Moorcock's Dancers at the End of Time. Given the potential of the backstory, and the superb handling of the science-fantasy material, the Dwenda were felt to be disapointing by some. They lacked the threat the novel seemed to bestow upon them, and seemed to diminish as the novel went on (though for some this was a positive rather than negative quality). Comparisons with the Elves in Terry Pratchett's Lords and Ladies were made, not only because they are both "bat-shit crazy" but also because of their intra-dimensional existence.

On the whole the novel was enjoyed for its feel, and its style. If the plot suffered from "first in a series-blues" then those problems were small enough that they didn't hinder the agreement that this is a series worth watching out for in the future.

The average score given to Richard Morgan's The Steel Remains was 8/10

Votes: Abstain, 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5, 8.5

Wow that was a long summation. Agree with the points? Disagree? Care to add some more, or continue a debate from the session. Post below for all that and more. Also: The book's author has kindly agreed to set aside some time to answer any questions you may have regarding the novel, so just send them to me on the usual address and I'll pass them along en-mass. Thanks guys.


  1. The review is as discussed at the club, though would like to expand on the comment, "quasi-science fiction" in such; what then is the definition of science fiction?, in the steel remains we have, the "magic" sword, the quest, the distant land/planet, the mythical opponent, the visitation of gods and various creatures. yet not quite associated sicence fiction

  2. Science Fiction has proved indefinable to generations of readers, academics, writers, publishers and even booksellers. Whole books have been written on the subject and some interesting examples include "Science Fiction: The New Critical Idiom" and Brian Aldiss's "Trillion Year Spree". Both interesting and accessible because of they are written by critics who are also authors in the genre but also because they illustrate their definitions by providing histories of science fiction (Aldiss, for example, cites Mary Shelly's "Frankenstein" as the first science fiction novel as he sees SF as stemming from the Gothic tradition. Other critics like Darko Suvin go right back to works like Swift's "Gulliver's Travels"). I used the term quasi-science fiction as an alternative to “Science Fantasy” a hold-all phrase for work which stands somewhere between science fiction and fantasy. The problem of course is that since no one can agree what is science fiction (or fantasy), the border between the two is equally ill defined. I think we can all agree that “The Steel Remains” is a fantasy novel, its merits as science fiction are far more open to debate and interpretation. Personally I read it as science fiction masquerading as fantasy, this however could be my own bias imposed by a year reading and studying sf.

    That’s quite a tangential reply I’ve posted there but hopefully it sheds some light on my idea of quasi-science fiction. To be honest I think we’re all safer with Damon Knight’s definition of science fiction: “it means what we say when we point to it”.

  3. tangential but worthy an answer, and food for thought, agree with Gulliver as early example of genre, personally thought that would be a given, frankenstein and by association dracula as gothic tradition, i know why they would be, and yet, it borders on the grey area of fantasy and horror. with many a cross over of character quite easily allowed and still recognisable as a particular genre; plus werewolves and mummys galore.
    but in essance if there were no identified book sections in shops and library for convenience of allocation then yes agree, "point to it" quite adequate