Category Archives: 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare

Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

derkholmDark 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.

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Filed under 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, British, Fantasy, Once Upon A Time VII, Young Adult

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

grossmanThe 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.

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Filed under 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, DarkFantasy, Fantasy, LiteraryFiction, Once Upon A Time VII

Synners by Pat Cadigan

synnersSynners 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?

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Filed under 2013 Science Fiction Experience, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, 2013 Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, Books, SciFi, Thoughts

Fountain of Age by Nancy Kress

Fountain of Age by Nancy Kresskress,jpg

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.

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Filed under 2013 Challenges, 2013 Science Fiction Experience, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, 2013 Women of Genre Fiction Challenge, Books, SciFi, StoryCollection

Pure by Julianna Baggott

purebaggettPure 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.

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Filed under 2013 Challenges, 2013 Science Fiction Experience, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, Books, Dystopian, SciFi, Thoughts, Young Adult

Ivyland by Miles Klee

ivyIvyland 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.

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Filed under 2013 Science Fiction Experience, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, Books, SciFi, SpeculativeFiction, Thoughts

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

bodiesBring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2012

Winner of  Hilary Mantel’s second Man Booker Prize.  Wolf Hall, the first book in Mantel’s proposed trilogy, won the Booker in 2009. My first Long-Awaited Reads novel and the first book for the 2013 Historical Fiction Challenge.  If you were to ask me right now I would say that Hilary Mantel is my favorite author.

Katherine of Aragon is shuttled off to the country.  Anne Boleyn is Queen.  King Henry grows distant from his second wife and, when Anne fails to give him a son, the King’s minister, Thomas Cromwell, senses change.  It is Cromwell’s knowledge of the past that brings the future into focus.

Bring Up The Bodies is not as densely written as Wolf Hall , but that doesn’t take away from the power of Hilary Mantel’s writing.  This is the second book in the planned trilogy  about Thomas Cromwell’s life and the interweaving of dialogue and description bring all of her characters vibrantly to  life, almost as if I were watching them on stage and not curled up reading with a cup of coffee.  There is drama, action and an almost physical sensation of movement.

Duke Charles Brandon approaching King Henry in front of  Eustache Chapuys, ambassador of Emperor Charles V:

He, Cromwell, follows on the duke’s heels.  If he had a net, he would drop it over him. ‘Leave what you’re doing, Majesty.  You want to hear this, by God.  You’re quit of the old lady.  She is on her deathbed.  You will soon be a widower.  Then you can get rid of the other one, and marry into France, by God, and lay your hands on Normandy as dowry…’ He notices Chapuys.  ‘Oh, Ambassador.  Well, you can take yourself off.  No use you staying for scraps.  Go home and make your own Christmas, we don’t want you here.’

Henry has turned white.  ‘Think what you are saying.’  He approached Brandon as if he might knock him down; which, if he had a poleaxe, he could.  ‘My wife is carrying a child.  I am lawfully married.’  from page 128.

I can hear the bumbling Brandon and feel King Henry’s fury.  Many biographic and fictional accounts of this time period, including A Man For All Seasons and The Tudors (which I have not seen), Thomas Cromwell is portrayed as an evil figure.  Mantel has given him swift intelligence and a conscience, even if he does not hesitate to destroy those the King finds standing in his way.  He had traveled widely in his youth and learned much from what he’d seen and heard.  He constantly applies this knowledge to the changing political environment around him.

He had met an old knight once, in Venice, one of those men who made a career of riding to tournaments all over Europe.  The man described his life to him, crossing frontiers with his band of esquires and his string of horses, always on the move from one prize to the next, til age and the accumulation of injuries put him out of the game.  On his own now, he tried to pick up a living  teaching young lords, enduring mockery and time-wasting; in my day, he had said, the young were taught manners, but now I find myself fettling horses and polishing breastplates for some little tosspot I wouldn’t have let clean my boots in the old days;  for look at me now, reduced to drinking with, what are you, an Englishman?

…How shall I improve, he said to the old knight, how shall I succeed?  These were his instructions: you must sit easy in your saddle, as if you were riding out to take the air.  Hold your reins loosely, but have your horse collected.  In the combat à plaisance, with its fluttering flags,, its garlands, its rebated swords and lances tipped with buffering coronals, ride as if you were out to kill.  In the combat à l’outrance, kill as if it were sport.  Now look, the knight said, and slapped the table, here’s what I’ve seen, more times than I care to count: your man braces himself for the atteint, and at the final moment, the urgency of desire undoes him:  he tightens him muscles, he pulls his lance-arm against his body, the tip tilts up, and he’s off his mark;  if you avoid one fault, avoid that.  Carry your lance a little loose, so when you tense your frame and draw in your arm your point comes exactly on target.  But remember this above all else: defeat your instinct.  Your love of glory must conquer your will to survive; or why fight at all?  Why not be s smith, a brewer, a wool merchant?  Why are you in the contest, if not to win, and if not to win, then to die? from pages 165/167.

A  perfect lesson to take into the court of King Henry the Eight.

Bring Up The Bodies follows Cromwell through the death of Katherine of Aragon, the King’s developing fascination with Jane Seymour and the trial and execution of Anne Boleyn, on of the most chilling scenes I have ever read.  Chilling and beautiful, if that is possible.  I can not wait for the third novel in this trilogy, and anything else Mantel writes in the future.

There is a wonderful column about Mantel’s process of writing Wolf Hall in the Guardian and a fascinating profile of the author in The New Yorker.

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Filed under 2013 Historical Fiction Challenge, 2013 TBR Double Dog Dare, Booker, Hilary Mantel, Historical Fiction, Long Awaited Reads Month