Werthead

Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

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I haven't read this yet, but it is only a couple of books down the queue (after Night Without Stars and Assassin's Quest). There's a lot of building buzz about this indie novel, where the premise is that a man and his wife go on a honeymoon to the Tower of Babel (why not?) and things go seriously askew from there.

The book originally came out in 2013 and the sequel, Arm of the Sphinx, is already out. A third book is due next year in a series with the title The Books of Babel.

Reviews I've seen so far from Publisher's Weekley:

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Bancroft succeeds amazingly in creating a baffling world that offers little tenderness or hope, but in which the pursuit of instinct and love, dedication and shared sacrifice can overcome barriers. If he sustains the tone of quirky menace in his planned sequel, the reader will find much to applaud.

 

San Francisco Chronicle

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Senlin Ascends starts off with a bang, and it never slows down. With its breathtaking pace, this book will appeal to a wide variety of readers.

 

Mark Lawrence

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It has truly excellent prose. So many lines made me deeply jealous. Clever, literary, insightful lines that cut to the quick of the matter.
The story is compelling. It unfolds and unfolds. Because the characters are excellently drawn I cared very much about where it was all going.
The imagination is unbound and intriguing. This has a strong Jack Vance, Dying Earth vibe, mixed in with overtones of Kafka, but it's also very much its own thing with hope and defiance to offset the cynicism.

Pornokitsch

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Senlin Ascends is set up as an iridescent New Wave weirdscape, complete with Central Biblical Metaphor™. It doesn't disappoint - the bonkers, farcical explorations throughout the Tower highlight one Ballardian weirdness after another. Individually, here be metaphors - primarily, as a tower would encourage, of class. (The working classes pedal for beer! Aristocrats dabble in the arts! There's no difference between artist and audience!) It is lyrical and peripatetic and seemingly random.

But, then it coalesces. As Senlin figures the Tower out (in what is a very sneakily muted internal climax), everything does makes sense. There's of network in place that, once perceived, turns the Tower from a series of disconnected events into a still mysterious, but holistic, entity. The book, naturally, is the same way - fragments that grow in size and coherence as Senlin gains in agency and perception. The narrative adapts to suit, beginning as isolated, almost lyrical, encounters, but becoming increasingly linear and prosaic (not in a bad way) as it goes on. 

I suppose, to be critical, this sort of thing isn't unique (see 'For readers of...' as well as some obvious comparisons like M. John Harrison and Christopher Priest), but it is certainly unusual, and the fusion of lyrical wrapping and surprisingly swashbuckling adventure makes it all the more unique.

 

Anyone read it? What did they think?

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Actually you often see things like this might be the best thing i've ever read on goodreads, because goodreads. But a lot of my GR friends love this so it's probably legit.

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23 hours ago, Darth Richard II said:

Actually you often see things like this might be the best thing i've ever read on goodreads, because goodreads. But a lot of my GR friends love this so it's probably legit.

I don't think it's _that_ common outside YA books and perhaps Rothfuss/GRRM, but ok, I direct your attention to the commendably high average rating instead. But mostly to the fact you have a lot of GR friends who love it!

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50 pages in and it's very weird and wonderful. Like a merging of Christopher Priest and China Mieville. Remarkable.

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I've been trying to get through it ever since Mark Lawrence (or he who shall not be named in Westeros.org) recommended it on his page.  

 

Can't say I've had a whole lot of success.  The beginning is a little weak.  

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Senlin Ascends by Josiah Bancroft

Senlin and his new wife, Marya, have decided to visit the fabled Tower of Babel for their honeymoon. The vast tower, miles wide and unfathomably tall, is divided into many different levels or "ringdoms", each level controlled by a different force and fulfilling a different function. Reaching the tower, Senlin loses his wife in the crowds and desperately tries to find her. This requires him to begin an ascent of the tower, searching for clues to her whereabouts and learning more about the powers that control it...and learning more about what he is capable of.



Senlin Ascends is the first novel in a trilogy called The Books of Babel, followed by Arm of the Sphinx (out now) and The Hod King (working title, due next year). This is fantasy, but not quite as you may know it. It's a steampunk romance with airships and sky-pirates. It's a character-focused slice of the New Weird. It's a Biblical allegory (...maybe?). It's a science fiction novel set inside a Big Dumb Object created by peoples unknown for scientific purposes (...perhaps?). It's a black comedy of manners, a dashing adventure, and a devastating deconstruction of people, places and tropes. It's what you'd get if China Mieville and Christopher Priest collaborated on a novel and both brought their A-game, and it was then adapted for film by Studio Ghibli. It's quite possibly the most striking debut work of speculative fiction published in the last decade.

Senlin Ascends is the story of a man who visits the Tower of Babel - which may or may not be "our" mythological tower - on honeymoon only to lose his wife. He ventures into the miles-wide, miles-tall tower in search of help, only to find most people indifferent to his plight and out to rob or enslave him. Initially he proceeds with optimism and reason, but as he suffers repeated setbacks he becomes more willing to manipulate and deceive people to achieve his ends. At key moments he realises the danger of what he is becoming and resolves to find his wife and escape before the tower batters him down from the man of integrity he used to be.

In the course of this first novel, Senlin only ascends the lower four (of over forty) ringdoms of the tower. Each ringdom is an impressive feat of worldbuilding, complete with its own rulers, function and cast of characters. The Basement is a place of squalour and robbery. The Parlour is a bizarre place where guests have to take part in insane plays for the amusement of its rulers. The Baths is a vast spa resort where deadly politics play out and Senlin is blackmailed into becoming an art robber. New Babel is a collection of docks and markets where people toil in labour. Each location is painted in rich detail, each fulfilling a function that Senlin tries to grasp (and, late in the novel, manages to do so in an intriguing moment of revelation about the tower's purpose) and each being compelling enough for entire novels to be set there.

What makes Senlin Ascends work so well is a combination of literary ambition - Bancroft's prose is evocative, exciting and occasionally beautiful - with a relentless pace. Chapters are short and punchy, Senlin's adventures rich and compelling, and Bancroft peppers the book with comic interludes, excerpts from quite ludicrously misleading tourist guides to the tower and, later on, Senlin's own journal about what is going on. A supporting cast of players is subtly put in place, ranging from the redoubtable painter Ogier to the fantastically violent warrior-woman Iren to Edith, a fellow lost traveller who inadvertently runs afoul of the tower's harsh and arbitrary justice system. There's also a genuinely unsettling and terrifying villain, of sorts, in the Red Hand, a literate and erudite enforcer with a tremendous capacity for violence. The supporting cast is small, but fantastically well-drawn.

The novel builds over the course of its reasonable, focused length (350 pages) to an action-packed climax which sets the scene wonderfully for Arm of the Sphinx.

In another universe, Senlin Ascends, which was originally published in 2013, would have already won the Campbell, Hugo, Nebula and Arthur C. Clarke Award. In this one, however, the author chose to not only self-publish it, but self-edit it as well. He did exactly the stuff that you're not supposed to do as a self-published writer and has done with tremendous skill, restraint and self-awareness. To date self-publishing has given us some very fine light adventure novels from the likes of Michael J. Sullivan and a reasonably strong epic fantasy from Anthony Ryan, but now it has given us SFF's first genuinely evocative work of self-published literature (that has broken through to mainstream attention, anyway). It may mark a serious turning-point in the field.

Senlin Ascends (*****) is available now in the UK and USA. The sequel, Arm of the Sphinx, is already available. The author's website is here and you can follow him on Twitter here.

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Unfortunately, it only appears to be available electronically on Kindle. Which is shit.

Edited by polishgenius

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3 minutes ago, polishgenius said:

Unfortunately, it only appears to be available electronically on Kindle. Which is shit.

I got the paperback on Amazon.

Edit: Email or tweet the author. I bet he can hook you up.

 

Edited by Blank

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2 minutes ago, Blank said:

I got the paperback on Amazon.



Last I checked, paperbacks aren't electronic.


But even if I was going to go paper, I still don't like buying on Amazon, so it's still shit.

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3 minutes ago, polishgenius said:



Last I checked, paperbacks aren't electronic.


But even if I was going to go paper, I still don't like buying on Amazon, so it's still shit.

See my edit.

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1 minute ago, Blank said:

See my edit.



Can't I just ask you here? :P


I may do.

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4 minutes ago, polishgenius said:



Can't I just ask you here? :P


I may do.

I think the author showing up as themself will always make a better impression than a glove puppet. I am not him :)

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Just now, Blank said:

I think the author showing up as themself will always make a better impression than a glove puppet. I am not him :)


I know, I was yanking your chain.

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It was published through the Amazon Publishing Programme and wouldn't exist without it (well, not with this widespread a distribution network), so that's a limitation built into the system. And no, I don't think the author can break the Amazon T&Cs himself.

At the rate this is picking up traction, I wouldn't be surprised if a major publisher took an interest soon though.

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Was he intending to self-publish from the get-go, or did he decide to self-publish after publisher and agent rejection?

Edited by Roose Boltons Pet Leech

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5 hours ago, Roose Boltons Pet Leech said:

Was he intending to self-publish from the get-go, or did he decide to self-publish after publisher and agent rejection?

He's been professionally published before, for short stories and poetry. I think he just decided to self-publish as the best way forward. I have a very hard time believing that this would not have been accepted for publication if it had been submitted professionally.

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Here's a Reddit thread about Bankcroft, started by Mark Lawrence and also featuring Django Wexler.  It sounds like Bankcroft has had trouble marketing the books because they're not easy to categorize.

https://www.reddit.com/r/Fantasy/comments/55uovw/quite_possibly_the_most_striking_debut_work_of/

Edit: I didn't realize until now that the original post is a link to Wert's review.

Edited by End of Disc One

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On 04/10/2016 at 8:02 PM, polishgenius said:

Unfortunately, it only appears to be available electronically on Kindle. Which is shit.

Further to the above, on the Reddit thread (see last entry) Josiah does say he'll hook up anyone who asks with the book in an alternative format. Although he'll also get no revenue from that, but he's happy to do that to spread the word.

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14 hours ago, Werthead said:

He's been professionally published before, for short stories and poetry. I think he just decided to self-publish as the best way forward. I have a very hard time believing that this would not have been accepted for publication if it had been submitted professionally.

Sweet summer child...

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