Brought to us by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set, this is a challenge to read books by Canadian authors or about our neighbors to the north. I am hoping this will get me back into writing about books I love. Information about the challenge and how to join in can be found here.
Category Archives: 2013 Challenges
At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson
Small Beer Press, Easthampton, MA 2012
It is unusual to come across a collection of stories that is emotionally deep and, at the same time, chilling and even horrific. I have loved Johnson’s writing since I read The Fox Woman years ago and ordered this book as soon as I heard about it. Not keeping up with fantasy publications, none of these were familiar to me. I find them difficult to describe. Most feature animals, there are aliens and most feature humans in all their strange and convoluted glory.
All moments are this moment. Past and future jumble together: Jingu cannot say which is which. And because everything — sorrow and anger and love and grief — is equally immediate, she finds herself strangely distanced from her own life. It is as though she listens to a storyteller recite a tale she has heard too many times, the tale of the empress Jingu. From The Empress Jingu Fishes, page 109.
Built with elements of folk and fairy tales, mythology and science fiction, the stories bend and twist out of those forms and enter what I consider the realm of slipstream. Some are are made of memory and there are often stories within stories. Johnson travels to unfamiliar places, even for fantasy. I find myself wanting to follow her, as long as I am sure I know the way back.
Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones
Greenwillow Books, New York, 2001
From my TBR pile. Read for Diana Wynne Jones month and Once Upon A Time VII.
The story takes place in a world of high fantasy, where griffins and young magicians are siblings, pigs fly and the mysterious Mr. Chesney runs Pilgrim Party tour groups from what appears to be our world. Chesney insists on all the familiar scenes, wizards, demons and horrible battles, which include the deaths of some “expendable” tourists. The tours continually wreak havoc throughout the land and destroy many inhabitants livelihoods. These people are tired of being exploited, but are helpless to fight back until the dragons show up. No suprise there.
Dark Lord of Derkholm is a parody, filled with family squabbles, depressed and drunken wizards and adolescents yearling to spread their wings, both figuratively and literally. It is a joy to read. It won the Mythopoetic Fantasy Award for Children’s Literature in 1999. There is a second book in this series, Year of the Griffin, which I hope to read sometime in April.
What a master. I was introduced to Diana Wynne Jones by Ana a couple of years ago, and felt robbed at not having found her sooner. She was a British author who somehow never received the media push granted to J.K. Rowling. I have since tried to convince every Harry Potter fan I know to read her books.
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
Viking Press, New York, 2011
From my TBR pile. My first book for the Once Upon A Time VII challenge.
I read The Magicians last year and found it just okay. Early reviews mentioned “Harry Potter for adults”. The novel is about a New York City teenager, Quinton Coldwater, who while thinking he is applying for university is surprised with an invitation to attend Brakesbills College, a kind of ivy league Hogwarts. Quinton, along with other “Physical” students, spends years in class, learning spell casting, and enjoying first loves, sex, drugs and drinking. Eventually several of the students enter the land of Fillory, an “imaginary” place from a series of beloved children’s book very much like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Maybe it was the referential use of this classic series that made me a bit squeamish.
I found the second book much more satisfying. It centers on two of the characters from the first book, Quinton and Julia, and brings historic depth and clarity to their behavior and their choices. There is better storytelling, more fantasy, with strong roots in folklore and mythology. I think Grossman worked hard to bring his characters to life and strengthen the magic. I am hoping that there will be more books to come because I’d like to know what happens to these young people.
The goddess was warm, even humorous, and loving, but she had a second aspect, terrible in its bleakness: a mourning aspect that she assumed in winter, when she descended into the underworld, away from the light. There were different versions of the story. In some she grew angry at all mankind and hid herself underground half the year out of rage. In some she lost one of her dryad-daughters and retired to Hades in grief. In others the goddess was fooled by some Loki-type trickster-god and bound to spend half the year hiding her warmth and fruitfulness in the underworld, against her will. But in each version her dual nature was clear. She was the goddess of darkness as well as light. A Black Madonna: the blackness of death, but also the blackness of good soil, dark with decay, which gives rise to life. From page 325.
Thursday, March 21st begins the seventh annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Friday, June 21st and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.
The Once Upon a Time VI Challenge has a few rules:
Rule #1: Have fun.
Rule #2: HAVE FUN.
Rule #3: Don’t keep the fun to yourself, share it with us, please!
Rule #4: Do not be put off by the word “challenge”.
There are many ways to participate, I plan on taking The Journey, which means I only need to read one book from any of the categories. I plan one reading many more than that.
I am hoping OUAT VII and Arti’s Proust Read-Along will get me back into blogging about what I am reading.
Synners by Pat Cadigan
Bantam Specta, New York, 1991
A book read for the Science Fiction Experience and the Women of Genre Fiction Challenge. Also for the TBR Double Dog Dare.
Pure cyberpunk. I discovered William Gibson and Bruce Sterling in the 1980s , not sure how I missed Cadigan.
This is a big book crammed with many characters and many ideas that, except for the lack of wireless and smart phones, does not feel dated. The story takes place in LA, the cast of characters includes virtual reality programmers, corporate flunkies, rogue video makers, hackers and a mysterious internet personality named Dr. Fish. A company called EyeTraxx, known for making popular music videos, has developed a new technology that enables a direct connection between the human brain and the internet, opening up all kinds of commercial possibilities. But then things start to go horribly wrong.
Synners moves from one character to another but they are all connected through work or music of life. Most of the changes are easy to follow, but I found myself skimming through some of the chapters, just because I found them distracting from the main story. It was the relationships between characters that really caught me and carried me through ’til the end.
I am now curious about Cadigan’s other work, particularly something called Tea From an Empty Cup. Anybody read it?
Small Beer Press, Easthampton, MA, 2012
From my TBR pile.
This is a collection of stories previously published in magazines like Asimov’s and Fantasy. The opening story,” The Erdmann Nexus,” won the Hugo Award and the title story, “Fountain of Age”, won the Nebula.
I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything by Nancy Kress before and I am now jumping at the chance to read her novels. This collection runs the gamut from illegal genetic modification to alien intervention brilliantly. It is worth the price of admission for “Laws of Survival” alone. Read it.
I just found out one of my all time favorite magical realism tinged novels, Winter’s Tale by Mark Halprin, is being made into a movie starring Colin Farrell and Jessica Brown Findlay (for all you Downton Abbey fans). More here.
I spent most of January reading lots of Science Fiction for the SciFi Experience, but have been loath to write review posts. Instead of forcing myself I thoughts I’d give brief descriptions of some of my favorites.
To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. A wonderful time-travel romp jumping between the mid-Twenty-First century, the 1940’s and 1888 or so. It is sweet and funny and a deeply intelligent book, the questions of time-travel’s possible impact on history had me reeling. I’ve been meaning to read Connie Willis for a while and, having finally done so, am on a mad search for used copies of Blackout and All-Clear.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. A Classic. Aliens mysteriously appear, connect with representatives of the United Nations and help bring humans beyond war and into a Golden Age. I read this one many years ago and it stands up pretty well. I had forgotten the ending, found it surprisingly moving.
Still Forms on Foxfield by Joan Slonczewski. I have a dear friend who has been part of Clarion West and Wiscon for a number of years. When I though to ask him what science fistion book I should read he suggested this one. I had never heard of Slonczewski before, and was thrilled to find a new-to-me women author of science fiction.
A colony of Friends, after escaping from warring earth, has landed on a planet they call Foxfield. Already inhabited by a life-form the humans call Commensals, there is a period of adjustment as the two species learn to live together. Their hard but peaceful co-existence is threatened by the arrival of a ship from earth piloted by representatives of UNI, the world government. Should the colonists rejoin their earthly cousins? Will their faith and way of life be threatened?
I enjoyed this book and found the author using her story to explore society and culture much the way Ursula LeGuin does in her science fiction novels. Slonczewski wrote several other novels including The Children Star and Daughter of Elysium. They are on my used book search list.
All of these books came from my TBR pile so I have managed to stick to the TBR Double Dog Dare as well as join in the 2013 Science Fiction Experience.
Pure by Julianna Baggott
Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2012
From my library hold list. This is the first book in a trilogy.
I read about this one early last year and, being a fan of apocalyptic fiction, was intrigued by the setting and the unusual features of the main characters. As a young adult novel Pure has some of the draws of The Hunger Games, struggle for survival, adventure, evil adults and budding romance. What helps it rise above other modern, young adult, post-apocalyptic novels is the strength of Baggott’s world building and her writing.
Pressia lives in a land destroyed by the Detonations. Like those around her, these deadly explosions have fused her body with other material, in her case, a doll. Something has allowed these fusions to live and, in many ways, thrive. There are areas where people, melded with glass, engine parts and animals, struggle to survive. There are areas where only Beasts survive, beings more animal than human, and places where Dust threatens everything, soil and bits of matter that have taken on a violent life of their own. And there is the Dome, where the Pure live, and wait to reunited with their brethren.
We know you are there, our brothers and sisters,
We will, one day, emerge from the Dome
to join you in peace.
For now, we watch from afar, benevolently.
But are the Pure truly benevolent? A young man, Partridge, the son of one of the original designers of the Dome, escapes to the outside. When he meets Pressia the two of them find a vital connection and, along with others, determine to discover the truth buried in their shared past.
Baggott has created a frightening, nightmarish world containing some of the most bizarre beings in fiction, at least for me. Living Dust, humans fused with engines, animals, each other..
Our Good Mother speaks only to Pressia now. “The Detonations hit and many of us were here, alone, in our houses or trapped in our cars. Some were drawn to our yards to see the sky or, like me, to the windows. We grabbed our children to our chests. The children we could gather. And there were those of us who were imprisoned, dying. We were all left to die. We were the ones who tended the dying. We wrapped the dead…” She sits again in her chair. “They left us to die and we are forced to carry our children, our children who will never outgrow us, and we will do this forever. Our burden is our love.” From pages 286/287.
In her afterword the author states that research for this novel lead her to accounts on the aftereffects of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Having read many of those accounts I can see their influence. I look forward to the next book in this series, Fuse.
Ivyland by Miles Klee
OR Books, New York, 2012
From my TBR pile, given to me by a friend. I think this one fits into the 2013 Sci-Fi experience, but it leans towards the Speculative Fiction end of things. I also just discovered it is in The 2013 Tournament of Books, along with several books I have read and several on my TBR list!
Holy crap..what a strange ride this is.
Based in Ivyland, New Jersey, a town taken over by Endless, a Big-Bio-Pharma company and dotted with MexiLickin’SurfHog fastest food joints, this reads like a nightmare shared by Philip K Dick and Thomas Pynchon with some Kurt Vonnegut thrown in for good measure. Ads run 24/7 on any surface available and through any sound system..The Van Vetchen procedure, a minimally invasive surgery that has saved untold millions of American lives, is now available through mobile immunization centers crisscrossing the country… Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
Traffic that doesn’t move, pharmaceutically- enhanced beverages, cops hired by corporations, a possible American near-future or maybe it is the present?
The chapters jump between characters and time periods so you never quite know where you are, an addictive adrenaline rush that made it hard to put down even though I wondered exactly what was I getting from this book. Klee’s writing was the reward.
He broods on this alternative, steepling his index fingers as glittering eyes sink into the grass. Anastasio shuffles his feet. The narcotic drone of cicadas strings the night like a handful of beads….Henry and Grady have moved on. They walk, weaving back and forth in the road to avoid roadkill and potholes, through another four intersections. I watch. Until they fade from sight, I let the flawed film unreel…Moonlight follows the same path, still touching them when I wipe my eyes and squint, wrapping their bodies like another skin when they finally meet the ink-blotted distance, Henri turning around, one arm still across Grady’s back, and examining the horizon to see if I’m there…
In the end this weird, unsettling novel is about friendship and about love. A strange mix, parts totally out of hand and parts wonderfully lyrical. I don’t know anything about Miles Klee, but think he is an author I need to watch.