Saturday, June 30, 2012
Jo Walton's Nebula award winning and Hugo nominated novel Among Others is not the sort of book I would generally read. It came to my attention because it was nominated for the Hugo and as someone who is eligible to vote for the award I thought I should read all the nominated novels.
It's a very personal story and it's hard to classify. The inclusion of the fairies and the magic makes it fantasy, but their existence is rather ambiguous and the reader is left at the end of the book wondering if in fact they do exist or they were something that the story's protagonist; Morwenna Phelps, came up with as some sort of coping mechanism in order to deal with the loss of her twin sister, her mother's descent into insanity and the rather joyless existence she has at her strict and anachronistic boarding school.
Among Others is extraordinary for a fantasy novel, it doesn't concern any great quest or really have a conventional plot, there are no heroes or heroines as such. The book is presented as Mor's diary written between September 1979 and February 1980 (with the exception of the prologue which is set in May 1975).
Mor is a precocious, bookish girl, she's highly intelligent and reads voraciously, almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy. During the period the diary covers Mor tries to deal with the loss of her twin sister Morganna, an injury which leaves her lame in one leg and the life at her school, which she hates. Most of the students don't much like her and those that she is close with she really only tolerates because they're outsiders like her.
Aside from the fairies, which only Mor can see, and the magic that only Mor knows how to perform, she escapes into books, largely classic science fiction and fantasy. I saw a lot of myself in Mor, which may be why I connected so much with Among Others. I read a lot of science fiction and fantasy at her age. It was weird enough for me to read unassigned work for pleasure, but to compound it by reading SFF, well that just made me into an oddball. Even my parents; keen readers themselves, always referred to SFF as 'that stuff you read.' Mor's in a very similar situation, although her estranged father, with whom she is trying to build a relationship, is also a fan and understand's his daughter's interest.
When the town library tells Mor that they have a Tuesday night book club, and that they discuss SF work, the girl's life changes and for the better.
Among Others is a love letter to classic SF and to the libraries and librarians that stock it and recommend it to people. It is a book written by a reader for readers. I hadn't read a lot of the books that Mor had and talked about in rapturous tones, but I understood where she was coming from and her love of reading and books.
This is one for the fans and I encourage anyone who likes reading, and especially SFF fans, to read this and fall in love with it as I did.
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
Monday, June 18, 2012
Saturday, June 16, 2012
After I finished Howl's Moving Castle I had a look at the list in the book that started me doing this and it was the 50th book, so I'm halfway to my original goal of reading 100 Must-Read Fantasy Novels. I have actually read more than 50, because I reread A Game of Thrones last year in preparation for the release of A Dance with Dragons, and A Game of Thrones is on the list under the M's.
So halfway there, have I learned anything? How do I feel about the list in general? Some of this stuff I never would have touched, some of it I'm glad I never did, but I would have also missed on reading some excellent work, and it has given me an all around better grounding in the genre.
I do occasionally question the selections and the fantasy credentials of some of the books. Some of the older more classic works seems to suffer from age and the improvements later writers have made on them.
Up to this point the list seems to be heavily skewed to work predominantly aimed at younger readers, that may change as I read through the latter half of the alphabet.
I hope to read the second half of the list a little quicker than the first. I do think this far in that the project has been well worth doing, and I am for the most part, enjoying the reads. There are a few notable exceptions, but then there's others thai I wouldn't have read otherwise and I would have missed out. Plus some of the rereads have proven to be really fun, and in one case forced me to reassess my original view of the book.
50 down! 50 still to come!
I was pleased to see Diana Wynne Jones' name pop up on the list, because I haven't read anywhere near enough of this wonderful writer. I read at least one of the Dalemark series when I was a kid (Cart and Cwidder, spent ages trying to work out exactly what a cwidder was too), and then I read The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin, followed by the work that inspired them; The Tough Guide to Fantasyland.
I'd seen the film of Howl's Moving Castle, but not read the book. I don't remember the film particularly well, mostly Billy Crystal's performance as the fire demon; Calcifer, although I do remember liking it. I had been told the book was very different.
What Diana Wynne Jones has done in Howl's Moving Castle is take many of the elements from a classic fairytale (rather idealised medieval setting, an evil witch, a good wizard, a plucky heroine, a magical assistant and various magical items including seven league boots and a moving castle), mixed them up and added in some elements of her own, then bound them all in to a totally delightful and thoroughly enjoyable confection of a story.
One of Jones' strengths is her heroines; and Sophie Hatter is a great one. She's a practical and intelligent young woman who strangely enough seems more at home in the appearance of a crotchety old lady than she ever was as the young woman who ran her late father's hat shop, in the process raising her younger sisters and ensuring that her stepmother had a decent life. She goes from doing that to finding herself in the company of the fearsome wizard Howl, who despite his power and reputation is really rather like a teenage boy that never properly grew up. In the course of the book Sophie will have to sort out Howl's love life and that of his young apprentice Michael, lift curses from Calcifer, a dog who is an enchanted man, and herself, all while trying to defeat the Witch of the Waste and restore order to the fairytale kingdoms in which Howl lives and operates in.
The idea of making the castle itself a sort of inter dimensional portal which enables Howl to easily move between kingdoms on Sophie's world, that are really many miles apart and in between that world and our own. Howl is actually a young Welshman, and while this was never covered in the film I really wish it had been, because it was one of the most enchanting parts of the book.
Howl's Moving Castle, like all good fairytales, has a happy ending, but there were a couple of sequels written. I don't believe they're necessary to read, but Jones was a wonderful writer and any of her work is hugely readable by all ages. Classic fairytales, if you hadn't already read them are in a very similar vein, and part of the fun of reading Howl's Moving Castle is trying to work out where Diana Wynne Jones got many of the elements in the book from. The aforementioned Tough Guide to Fantasyland, The Dark Lord of Derkholm and Year of the Griffin also deal with the concept of people from this world going to a magical world. Frank L. Baum's classic Oz series has the same idea at it's heart, too. Some of Enid Blyton's work (The Faraway Tree and Wishing Chair series) also does this, although for much younger readers.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
As I'm sure I've stated before I'm not really a science fiction reader, and when I do read it, it tends to be things like Feed or Ready Player One, which aren't what you'd call traditional science fiction. Leviathan Wakes is old school space opera, so for me that's a different thing to read. It came onto may radar largely because of the author. James S.A Corey is a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham (the author of, amongst other things, The Dagger and the Coin series, which I'm loving the heck out of) and Ty Franck (who tends to be better known as the assistant of George R.R Martin, Leviathan Wakes may change that). Being a fan of Abraham and Martin, the collaborative effort held some interest for me. Then it got nominated for a Hugo. The Hugo's have become a subject near and dear to me over the last couple of years and I like to be involved in some small way in the nomination and award process by voting. To make an informed vote I read at least all of the nominated novels. I'd already read A Dance with Dragons and Deadline, the other three are Leviathan Wakes, Embassytown and Among Others. I'd wanted to read Leviathan Wakes, so having it as a Hugo nomination and included in the voter package was ideal for me.
Leviathan Wakes is set in the future, Earth has colonised Mars and even set up communities amongst hollowed out asteroids. The people that live and work in the space stations on those moons are known as 'belters', and lifetimes spent under low gravity tend to make them physically different to the Earthers and the Martians.
The story in Leviathan Wakes is filtered through the PoV's of two people: the idealistic, womanising ice miner Jim Holden, mostly based out in space, and the world weary, cynical 'belter' detective Miller. Holden is trying to find out who blasted his ship and why and if possible bring them to justice, while Miller is searching for missing heiress Julie Mao and has fallen in love with the memory of a girl he never knew. Eventually the two men's lives will intersect, and when they do that's when Leviathan Wakes really takes off.
While Miller and Holden are multi dimensional wonderfully written and explored characters and dominate the book (that's got Abraham and his fantastic characters written all over it), the other characters are also well drawn. Holden's XO Naomi, the foul mouthed and often very funny mechanic Amos, Miller's boss Shaddid, and even Julie Mao. The story is also highly involving. The discoveries that Miller and Holden make in a quest for justice will bring Earth, Mars and the Belt to the brink of an all out self destructive war and could change the course of humanity.
While Leviathan Wakes is very much a space opera, there's also some very noirish elements to it, especially when Miller's the focus of the story, he could have been written by Dashiell Hammet or Raymond Chandler if they'd set their stories in outer space. I've been getting into Babylon 5 recently, and I kept flashing on the show, especially during the sequences on the stations. It's becoming rather redundant to compare science fiction crews to Joss Whedon's short lived, but much loved science fiction western series Firefly, but it's true of Leviathan Wakes; Holden, Naomi and Amos all recalled crew members of Serenity, Jim Holden and Mal Reynolds would have been great mates, although Holden's better with the ladies.
Leviathan Wakes is a ripping read, it's a worthy Hugo nomination, and I wouldn't be surprised it's sequel Caliban's War is up there for the rocket ship again next year.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Monday, June 4, 2012
Friday, June 1, 2012
When Hounded; the first of Kevin Hearne's Iron Druid chronicles first hit the shelves last year, to be quickly followed by Hexed and Hammered, it created a bit of a stir. This technique had worked with a couple of epic fantasy trilogies, the most notable being Brent Weeks' Night Angel. I have to admit I liked what I heard about Hounded, and the idea of an ancient druid masquerading as a twenty something hip Irish lad in Arizona was pretty clever and appealing. Various things prevented me from reading Hounded until now.
I'm very glad I took the plunge, though. Atticus O'Sullivan, the hero of Hounded, and the Iron Druid of the series title is not dissimilar to Jim Butcher's wise cracking wizard Harry Dresden. On the face of it the two are vastly different. Atticus is over 2,000 years old and he seems to have a better handle on his magic than Harry Dresden ever has, he also runs an occult bookshop, not a magical detective agency, but they do have a lot in common. Mostly it comes from the pop culture references, which Hounded is littered with, and something that I've always appreciated about the Harry Dresden books.
The story is a lot of fun, too. The sword Atticus wields; Fragarach, is coveted by the Celtic god Aenghus Og, and he'll stop at nothing to get it. The easiest way is to kill Atticus, and it's going to take every dirty trick the druid has up his sleeve to get out of this one alive. Fortunately he's got allies like the Morrigan, a law firm composed of vampires and werewolves, a Hindu witch of great power and his wolfhound Oberon.
There's a lot of set up in Hounded, as you'd expect from the opener in an urban fantasy series. I actually kind of preferred Atticus' stories about his past, complete with references to Thor as a 'major asshat', and his interactions with the Morrigan, Flidais, the sexy possessed bartender Granuaile and of course Oberon (in fact I think Oberon is my new favourite urban fantasy sidekick) to the actual story about Atticus' fight with Aenghus Og and his attempts to hang onto his sword. Honestly, Hexed could be entirely about Oberon and there'd be no complaints from me. It's also kind of different for the wizard/witch to have a dog familiar rather than a cat, and it may appeal to me because I am very definitely a dog person.
The book has a few problems, at times some of the situations Atticus found himself getting into and out of verged on the farcical, and there was a feeling that the author was stretching credibility to breaking point and a little beyond on at least one occasion involving a shooting. Some of this is expected of a debut novel, and it was easy enough to get past, although it wouldn't want to become a trend.
Kevin Hearne's got me in and I'll be looking for Hexed once I've kicked a hole in the TBR pile. If you like Harry Dresden and you're looking for something to pass the time in between installments, then make the acquaintance of Atticus O'Sullivan.