Review: Lamentation by Ken Scholes
Lamentation is Ken Scholes‘ first novel. It’s the first chapter of the 5 book Psalms of Isack series expanded from the short story Of Metal Men and Scarlet Thread and Dancing with the Sunrise which appeared in the August 2006 issue of Realms of Fantasy. (be warned that that link doesn’t include the full text of the original story) I find myself comparing it to Dune and some Asimov with a tinge of Dying Earth in the mix. Someone who’d read more extensively in the traditional fantasy space might very well make other connections. I was drawn to this series because it promised a group of characters that believe they’re in a fantasy world, which over time gets revealed to be more and more of a science fictional setting.
My default method of analyzing fiction has become one of dissecting what I read into the various tags I’d use to describe it. (I blame my TagShadow project) The list that I jotted down for Lamentation included the following: Fantasy, Weapon of Mass Destruction, Non-Verbal Communication, Stealth, Robots, Steampunk, Religion, Science, Shifting Alliances, Drug Use, War, Carrier Pigeon, Cryptography, Third Person, Past Tense, Multiple Points of View, Glossolalia, Artificial Intelligence, Series. All of these were fascinating in one way or another, but I particularly liked how often multiple conversations were described simultaneously. It heightened the dramatic irony and amplified some of the core mysteries. This density of ideas coupled with an intrigue laden plot straddling the line between fantasy and science fiction is what brings Dune to mind.
The story deals with epic ideas and happenings but relates to us via highly nuanced and continuously developing characters and relationships. Thousands of years before the destruction which opens the book the world had descended into madness. I assume this cycle of knowledge and civilization waxing and waning in the world will be a driving force for the series. Considering that you know most of that in the first few pages of the book, you might expect a crazy dense tome and while there are plenty of engaging ideas, history, and description, the pace is brisk and the overall length quite comfortable. Chess and modern psychology are given their own terminology by Scholes, but are recognizable and used to great effect to describe complex personal interactions.
Similar to the future posited by much of Asimov’s writing where humanity is alone in the galaxy, we’re given a fantasy world with no elves or dwarves or original creatures. Similar to Asimov’s robots, the mechanical men in Lamentation play a crucial role, particularly Isack who lends his name to the series. This humanity centered world where most magical elements could be explained as forgotten science appeals to me. The central theme of the book is knowledge. The lengths some will go to to protect it is contrasted with the ease with which others dismiss it. In that way, it kept reminding me of Anathem which I never managed to finish. No such problem with Lamentation. I find myself hoping the tone will darken a bit, but I seriously doubt the Name Lands have reached rock bottom yet.
I have a signed copy of Canticle, the sequel to Lamentation, and I look forward to starting it. I suspect I’ll feel a bit more free to discuss the plot of Lamentation when I review Canticle and I’m glad there’s another story in this setting to hold me over till the third book is published.