Tag Archives: Fantasy

At the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

beesAt the Mouth of the River of Bees by Kij Johnson

Small Beer Press, Easthampton, MA 2012

From my TBR pile.  Kij Johnson has won the Theodore Sturgeon, World Fantasy and Nebula awards.  This is an odd and moving collection by one of my favorite authors and goes onto my Best of 2013 list.

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.

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Filed under 2013 Challenges, DarkFantasy, Fantasy, Once Upon A Time VII, StoryCollection

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

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – A Banned Book

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Scholastic Books, New York, 1999

Borrowed from my friend Alex, who is ten.  Winner of so many awards I can’t list them all.

Okay, so most of you know the story.  As an infant Harry is left with his Aunt and Uncle and their nasty son, Dudley.  For ten years he is ignored, harassed and forced to live under the stairs.  Then shortly before his eleventh birthday letters delivered by owls start to arrive and all hell breaks loose.

Harry is invited to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, learns his parents were magicians, killed by “he who must not be named” and that he somehow survived that deadly attack.  He finds acceptance, friendship and self-worth along with amazing skills at Quiddich.  This series honors friendship, encourages stepping beyond one’s comfort zone and taking responsibility for one’s actions.   All the while it is filled with action, excitement, ghosts and mythical monsters.

So why is it at the top of this list?   There are, of course, many arguments on the literary value of these books.  I have seen many children who disliked reading drawn into this series and, through them, learn to love the written word.   So, even though I find some of those arguments valid, I believe J.K. Rowling has done a great thing by writing them.  I also think she did an excellent job following Harry and his friends into young adulthood.

Discussing intellectual merit, and challenging or banning a book because of content, are two very different things.  Many challenges have come from Christian fundamentalists or churches, claiming that the books promote an interest in witchcraft and the occult.  These books are fantasy, not true stories, and offer a great opportunity for discussions about the history of folktales and fairy tales  and the transmission of knowledge and ethics through generations of storytellers.

There are those that feel Harry lies, cheats and struggles against authority figures, thereby promoting “bad behavior”.  I have never known an adolescent who doesn’t question the adults around her, along with many of the rules of the prevalent culture.  These questions and arguments often work to keep adults honest, with young people and with each other.  This is one way a culture expands and evolves into something greater, more empathetic and ethical.

I think wanting to ban the Harry Potter books is just silly.  If a parent or educator honors the children around them, works to foster trust and communication and is willing to take the time to listen, brilliant and thought-provoking discussions can happen when reading Harry Potter.  It might even be a good thing to read the books together.

I won’t even attempt to discuss the movies…

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Filed under BannedBooksWeek, Books, Fantasy, Thoughts

A More Diverse Universe – Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

This amazing reading event has been organized by several bloggers, including Aarti and Natasha.  What started as a simple suggestion has turned into something that I hope will have wide impact across the book blogging community, introducing readers to speculative fiction written by people of color.

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Riverhead Books, New York, 2011

Borrowed from my public library.  This is the first novel I have read by Helen Oyeyemi.  Oyeyemi is  a young British author whose parents moved to London from Nigeria in the late 1980’s.    She won the Somerset Maugham Award for her third novel, White is for Witching.

Mr Fox is made up of short stories, letters, vignettes and folktales based around the relationships between St John Fox, his wife Daphne and his imaginary (or is she really/) muse, Mary Foxe.  The main theme come from fairy tales that feature women who have been ordered by men to follow certain rules and who, after breaking these restrictions, are murdered and dismembered.  Think of  Bluebeard, The Robber Bridegroom or Joseph Jacob’s Mr. Fox.

Mr Fox starts out lightly, with banter and teasing between St John Fox and his imaginary muse, but eventually Mary becomes angry at his need to kill off the women in his novels.  Does this distance him from truly engaging in his relationships, with his wife and with the world?

Eventually S.J. and Mary agree to write different kinds of stories, ones which delve deeper into what make up true connections.  We never know who writes what, but here is where  Oyeyemi’s abilities as a writer begin to shine.  Whether is is telling a story of Mary’s time as a nanny and the role her charge is forced to play as she grows up, or the tale of a Yoruba woman who falls in love with an Englishman and then grows bored with him, eventually rebuilding the relationship and finding herself renewed,  I was enthralled.  There is often violence woven in these stories, violence against women,  their struggle to be free of it, and their struggle to create.  And foxes, there are many foxes.

She’d thought she didn’t have any stories, but in fact she had too many.

She put down things she didn’t know she knew.  She wrote about a girl who babysat herself while both her parents worked and worked for not enough pay.  The girl didn’t answer the door or the telephone because no one was meant to know she babysat herself, and besides, it might be the Home Office, and then they’d all be deported.  So that she would not be scared, she pretended she was a spy and wrote secret spy notes on pink paper.  She posted the spy notes out of the living room window, she sent them spinning down onto the heads of passersby, who picked them up and didn’t understand them.  They’d look up, but the girl has disappeared from the window – no one was supposed to know she was there.  From pages 106/107

All the time Daphne Fox is floating around the edges of the novel, filmy and a bit bubble-headed.  It is when she begins to believe S.J. is having an affair with Mary that she becomes solid and real, and begins to think of a different life.  And Mary Foxe becomes real for her, Daphne gives her form and, in doing so, gives a new form to her own life.

Mr Fox is not an easy read.  It has no true shape, there are parts that drift, that don’t seem to connect to the whole, but by struggling through I found it all makes sense.  After a time I would like to read it again and I am definitely going to read more of Helen Oyeyemi’s work.  I am so grateful to the organizers of this event for bringing me to this author, and allowing me this opportunity to be part of an important blogging event.

For a brilliant discussions on diversity in fantasy and speculative fiction and please go here and here, and make sure to visit other blogs on this tour.  You can find a list here.

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Filed under Books, Diverse Universe, Fantasy, R.I.P. VII, Thoughts

Books for R.I.P. VII and A More Diverse Universe

I’m not one for making book lists (other than my 500+ to-be-read list) but I thought it would be fun to make a list  of possible books for R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII and include some for A More Diverse Universe along with them:

Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig

Bloodchild and Other Stories by Octavia Butler

Collected Ghost Stories by M. R. James

Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction from the African Diaspora Ed: Sheree R. Thomas

Feed by Mira Grant

Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow and Nick Mamatas

Mr Fox by Helen Oyeyemi

Of Tales and Enigmas by Minsoo Kang

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Last Kind Words by Tom Piccirilli

The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett

Those Across The River by Christopher Buehlman

and I’d like to reread The Graveyard Book for the group read.  I also have an interesting looking non-fiction book, Monsters in America by W. Scott Poole.  I know I won’t get to all of these!

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Filed under Books, Events, R.I.P. VII

A More Diverse Universe – Sept 23-29 2012

Thanks to Aarti at Booklust for announcing A More Diverse Universe, a reading event and blog tour celebrating diversity in fantasy fiction. I’m not usually one for blog tours but I think this is and extremely important event.  And with R.I.P. VII happening the timing is just perfect.

From Aarti’s post:

For one week in September (the week of the 23rd), we want ALL OF YOU fantasy readers (with blogs and without) to read a fantasy novel written by a person of color.  And to write a review of that book.  You know as well as I do that books succeed based on word of mouth and mentions and conversation, and this is where bloggers can help the MOST.  Just read one book.  And share your thoughts on that one book.

I plan on reading several books written by people of color for R.I.P. VII.  There are links to a wide selection of authors and book titles in Aarti’s post.  Please join us and spread the word.

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Filed under Blog Tour, Books, DarkFantasy, Diversity, Events, Fantasy, PoC