Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Books - Part One

Except for the Norton Critical Edition of The Pilgrim's Progress which only exists as a physical book, I put all e-books on my Christmas wish list. First, I just don't have room for anymore real books. Our shelves are packed, even doubled in a few places. Secondly, I've gotten really comfortable reading on my various kindles. Between changing the background/text colors and the brightness I'm pretty much able to read easily wherever I am.

I only got one actual book off my wish list, Howard Andrew Jones' The Bones of the Old Ones. Everything else I got was as generic Amazon kindle credits. So I had a few decisions to make. Some of my picks were things I've been too cheap to buy and others were things that caught my eye tooling around Amazon tonight.

I've been meaning to read this one and its predecessor for some time now. I was totally taken by the short story collection The Waters of Eternity. Now I can read the whole saga as it now stands.

I first read Ty's work in The Return of the Sword and really dug it. I've been meaning to read more and at $4.99 for an omnibus collection how could I not get this one?

I'm way too cheap to buy these collections most days of the week. With "free" Christmas credit things are different. I've been told this is the best overall introduction to Lamb's vivid adventure stories. We'll see.

I'm a big fan of Milton Davis, the ceaseless engine behind much sword & soul action. Nice to see this get a solid review on Black Gate last month.

If you gamed in the seventies and early eighties you should remember David Hargrave's utterly bonkers D&D supplement Arduin. For its sheer scale and crazed ingenuity the first volume of this series, Seven Princes, brought that to mind. I'm really looking forward to digging into these.

My first knowledge of this book was from Leo Grin's bracing essay "The Bankrupt Nihilism of Our Fallen Fantasists." I've read numerous other commentary attacking it as well as defending it in the years since Grin's article. It's reached a point where if I'm going to hold myself up as any sort of authority on heroic fiction
I've got to give Abercrombie a go at least once.

This one, well, lots of people have gone on about it being top notch, so, I figured I'd check it out. Sounds fun.

I have got so many freakin' books to read right now. I'm still in the middle of the second Gonji book with the third staring over my shoulder. Then there's a backlog of magazine short stories to plow through. Then, I just don't know. Maybe Carole McDonnell's Wind Follower. Or something else.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Long Books, Short Stories

  Just finished my monthly roundup of S&S and heroic fantasy short stories for Black Gate. Some good yarns (and poems) this month. Go check out HFQ and S&S Magazine for yourself and read some good, new stories.
I just picked Gonji: The Soul Within the Steel back up and noticed that's it's pretty long compared to most of what I've been reading for the past few months (making myself read a book a week for Black Gate's encouraged me to read shorter books). One of the things about e-books is that unless you pay attention to the location number at the bottom of the screen and have an understanding of what it means you don't really know how long it is in pages. That's still what defines a book's length to me.  Looking at the ISFDB, Gonji:TSWtS is over 425 pages long and most of the books I've been reading lately are only 200+ or so.
 I just picked
   I've harped about the ridiculous length of fantasy books these days many times.  It's a rare book that needs to be longer that long. Now at 425 pages or so, the Gonji books are longer than I often read these days (if only DAW's 200+ page books were the norm again), but they don't feel padded or rambling. Same for James Enge's Morlock books. Very different writers, but both kept me riveted. Neither slapped on side plot after side plot or gave me the life story of the ratcatcher's mother's second-cousin who once saw a dragon do something nasty in the woodshed.
   On the other hand, look at Tad William's Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. In paperback its four volumes (and it's four 'cause they had to cut #3 in half!), average 780 pages for a grand total of 3117 pages. I liked the series, even reading it when stuck riding the outside deck of the SI Ferry in the cold. At some point, though, I felt like one of Napoleon's grognards staggering out of Moscow.

   Unless Williams was so in love with his world that he couldn't bear to leave it, in which case I'll forgive the man his obsession, there's no real excuse for that length. The book reads like LotR might if Tolkien had fully developed every part of the appendices and added them to the text. Too much plot, too many characters, and too distracting.
   There are too many other series like that. Fantasy seems to create them
like so many maggots out of roadkill. Alright, so that's harsh, but more than a few are by writers who might be great at a shorter length but feel compelled by market to drone on for ten volumes. Instead of sharpening their storytelling skills, they spin things out like Scheherazade struggling to stave off execution. Every grain of sand needs to be catalogued, every horse shod described and all the thoughts of everybody who might be involved in the plot to steal the emperor's treasure.
   I admit, it's a matter of taste. I don't really want "epic fantasy that I can get lost in for days, not hours" (as Locus wrote of William's tril(quadrol)ogy). I prefer my escapist reading to move and a with story anchored to four 800-page books it gets a little tough to build up any momentum. Put one down for more than a day or two and you're going to start asking who was that character again.  There's too much stuff getting in the way.
   It'd be silly to say there's no good doorstoppers.  Personally, I like big chunks of Steven Erikson's Malazan stuff.  Based on sales of it and similarly thick books, they're what a majority of readers want (unless places like HFQ are getting some sort of monstrous level of readership they're keeping secret). The contemporary fantasy audience wants to get lost for days on end. I remember reading about someone at Black Gate, the writer Howard Andrew Jones I think, having the magazine dismissed at a con by some fans because they only read fat books not short stories. Somewhere anthologists like Lin Carter must have shed a tear.
   I'm always surprised when I read negative review of books I like such as Glen Cook's Black Company series or Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion series citing a lack of character development when compared to Game of Thrones or the Wheel of Time books. There's this misconception that mere length means better character development. I always thought it was the quality, not quantity, of the writing that did that. 
   I've also just thought that maybe gaming is to blame for some of the changed expectations of younger readers. In Michael Moorcock's The Vanishing Tower there's a battle between two summoned races, the female Elenoin and the male Grahluk. If memory serves there's barely a paragraph of explanation about them and then they're gone, never to be mentioned again. Now, 
   I believe gamers want to understand all the nuts and bolts operations behind every monster and character. As RPG gaming became less and less free-form, players and refs wanted everything to "make sense". Games require magic to be systematized so it's predictable and consistent. Just look at the Steven Erikson's RPG-derived magic. Every bit is mapped out and explained. Each component fits into a larger scheme. His wizards might as well have level numbers stamped on their heads. 
   I fell under this spell myself back when I still gamed. When I reffed I had to know the populations, the economies, everything, about every part of my world. When I played, I expected a similar level of detail, so I'm no stranger to this phenomenon myself. 

At some point this became the normal expectation from many readers and many writers were more than ready to fulfill it.  I suspect the epic-quest template from Tolkien also helped bloat books. It wasn't enough that Conan faces some lions, climbs a tower, fights a spider, and talks to an alien. Now it has to involve an epic slog across thousands of miles of landscape, a struggle to overthrow a corrupt ruler and numerous flashbacks to the hero's childhood running with wolves or something. Bigger is better. 
   All of this was hammered home, for the gazillionth time, when I was finishing off the short story review for Black Gate. There's so much good, even great, writing being done these days. Some of it's from brand spanking new writers with no credits to their name and some's from grizzled old hands like Joe Bonadonna (what, you haven't you heard me exclaim how much fun Dorgo the Dowser is and bought it already?). 
   If you like fantasy, and heroic stuff in particular, there's no, let me I repeat, absolutely no reason to limit yourself as a reader. If you're hesitant then dip your toes in with a single-character collection like Mad Shadows or Dossouye. Pretend it's an actual novel, not a fix-up. The next time you can read a themed anthology like Return of the Sword or Swords & Dark Magics. Finally, and I understand this might take some time, a magazine. Trust me, it's worth the work.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The Northern Thing and Me

   My first contact with the myths of my Scandinavian heritage was my maternal grandmother telling me a story about seeing a tomtegubbe on her father's farm in Närpes, Finland. She was a Swede Finn who spent several of her teenage years in Finland and my maternal grandfather was Norwegian and Danish and grew up in Sweden.
   The D'aulaires' Book of Norse Myths (originally called The Book of Gods and Giants) was the next, and still most effecting, exposure to the stories my ancestors. (True story - A few hours after I wrote the preceding sentence I went to a bookstore in Kutztown, PA and my wife pointed out a hardcover copy of the book and said Do you want to get it?". She didn't know I'd been writing about it and is pretty discouraging of me buying anymore physical books. I kind of had to buy it at that point.)

   The first, and still most appealing, part of the book are the illustrations. The D'aulaires' vivid lithographs are the bedrock of my mental images of the Norse myths. I read this book before I read a Thor comic. Let me tell you, when I did my disappointment was intense. I'm a huge Jack Kirby fan, but, c'mon, do I really have to tell you which is cooler?

     They have a great simplicity that sends a shot straight to my Norse monkey brain. The majesty of Odin, the fury of Thor, and the canniness of Loki are shown to perfection in this book. I can smell the ozone from the lightning crackling off Mjolnir and I can hear Tanngrisnir's and Tanngnjóstr's hooves cracking the stones under their hooves in the picture of Thor. A northern chill runs through even the loveliest pictures in the book.
   The book's stories, adapted from the Snorri Sturluson's Prose Eddahave the right mix of fairy tale magic and mythic power to sweep away any kid susceptible to the power of Story and I was definitely (still am) one of those. The tales range from the gigantic-in-scope creation and destruction of the world to the smaller events like Skaði's unfortunate marriage to Njörðr. Thor and Loki's escapades are still funny.  The death of Balder and refusal of Thokk (Loki in disguise) to weep for him continues to move me.  Awe, epic courage and horror are all present in the Norse legends and they filled me with wonder.
   As an adult I've tried to fix on what it is that still draws me to the Norse myths instead of the Greek or any others, say, Egyptian or Babylonian. Once I read the D'aulaires' book I was always bummed out that the books my English teachers gave me with myths in them always skewed to the Greek stories. Something in the Norse stories grabs me a way no other culture's myths have.

 The first part, is the simple "coolness" of the stories. Odin kills a giant big enough to build the world out of, gives up his eye and later hangs himself to gain knowledge, and rides across the sky on an eight-legged horse. That's just pure awesome smothered in more awesome. Even though Zeus fought the Titans he just seems like a cheap Lothario in a dress flinging around lightning bolts.  Add world-circumferencing serpents, scheming Jotuns and ships made from dead mens' nails and it just awesome slathered in AWESOME!  I'm still a fanboy and these things sing (often in very loud heavy metal stylings) to me.
   The second part is the deeper nature of the myths; the world is a dark and
inimical place and no one gets out the other side, and yet, the heroes and gods
stand tall. I was a nerdy kid and I'm still a fairly nerdy guy. My opportunities for acts of heroism were and are pretty limited. Heroic refusal to submit to despair is even more appealing than just facing monsters (though they do that too).
   I'm also drawn to the mist hidden fjords and dark pine forests of the sagas. Sunlight rarely pierces these myths and the unceasing chill that blankets the North never lifts. I find myself moved by this world. Perhaps because it matches so many of my grandparents' recollections of their homelands, it calls me.
   A few years ago I travelled through Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. If you don't know, let me tell you, it's filled with Scandinavians. One town had fifteen different Lutheran churches. The only Scandinavians I grew up with were my immediate family. Most of Staten Island's Swedes and many of its Norwegians had left for New Jersey by the time I was growing up. And in the middle of Bemidji, Minnesota I felt like I was home. It was a very strange sensation. My point is, if being surrounded by people I have only some distant geographic connection with evoked that reaction in me, why shouldn't my ancestors' myths have a similar reaction?

   So that's my long-winded, rambling take on the Norse myths and why I like them. I'd love to hear other folk's take on these stories or what myths capture their imagination. If anybody's a writer, do they have any noticeable influence on what your write?  Let me know.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Crime Fiction

   So I lied. Instead of Megan Lindholm's Harpy's Flight, I read and reviewed Steven Brust's Jhereg, first in his long and ongoing Vlad Taltos series (it came in the mail and Lindholm's book didn't). If you haven't read it you should - it's a blast. On the surface it's a nice bit of hardboiled fantasy, complete with snazzy banter and witty rejoinders and set in the criminal demimonde. In reality it's more a Golden Age mystery, more concerned with the puzzle than any sort of existential dread or moody, tough-guy antics.

  The only genre fiction I read with any sort of regularity besides fantasy is crime. I grew up in a house surrounded by mystery books but I didn't start reading anything in the field until I picked up James Ellroy's The Black Dahlia because I was a little too interested in the actual murder. I liked it and figured since I'd always watched mystery tv-shows and movies I'd probably like other crime writing as well. I did and began a quick review most of the classic authors in the field - Christie, Sayers, Hammet, Chandler, etc. - before moving on to newer authors. This happened at a time when I was becoming bored with sci-fi and not encountering much fantasy that caught my eye so I was ready for something new.
   All of that's a long winded way of saying I really like mysteries and crime fiction and Steven Brust did  a great job creating a fantasy version of that. It's not as hardboiled as Glen Cook's Garrett series. In fact I was a little surprised when I started writing my review (way too late in the day and way too quickly - the crap my wife/editor is subjected to by my writing when I work like that is ridiculous) that I was thinking of the book as light and breezy. Maybe it's because when I think of heavy duty hardboiled crime stories it's from the likes of James Ellroy (and by the by, if that sort of stuff interests you AND you have a strong stomach, check out his Lloyd Hopkins Trilogy or the psychotically brilliant L.A. Quartet - Extra warning - Just because you liked the movie L.A. Confidential does not mean you'll like the book - all the really disturbing stuff was left out) or Ross MacDonald. There's something magnitudes beyond bleak in their books that Jhereg doesn't have. It's not a bad or good thing, just a thing, but Brust's book is definitely written with a lighter touch.
   By those standards, Jhereg's much more like the American Golden Age style crime fiction of Rex Stout and a thousand movies and tv shows. Like the UK's Agatha Christie or Margery Allingham, it's really about the sharp, tightly plotted events but everybody gets to make wisecracks, not just the working-class characters. 
   The problem with Golden Age mysteries is that their star characters usually exist in a state of stasis, never really changing and always exhibiting the same set of traits and tics. From what I've read about the later books they do become tougher and more character driven so I'm looking forward to the rest of the series. In an interview with Brust, I read he realized that if Vlad didn't grow and change there was really no point to continue the books. So between the Vlad Taltos and a half dozen or so related books, that's a nice stack of new things to read in the future.
   Prog and heavy music seemed inappropriate to the mostly urban swashbuckling of Jhereg. I decided on a mix of power pop (early Cheap Trick and the first Knack album - the latter's practically perfect despite its lurid smuttiness), and oddball post-punk rock (Camper van Beethoven and Cracker). It was a nice mix of stuff I haven't tuned into for awhile.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Historical Adventure

   From its beginnings , swords & sorcery has been closely tied to historical adventure stories. Robert E. Howard showed it was really only a short step from Harold Lamb's stories to his own Hyborian tales. Broadly speaking, both genres are action and adventure oriented and usually set in some exotic or war torn land.
   Two of my most recent Black Gate posts were about historical novels (ok, Battle in the Dawn's caveman stories are pushing it a little). I've really enjoyed them and have been hoping to read more of them for some time now. That's got me thinking I'll probably read one every month or so. It'll mix things up and give me an excuse to catch up on a lot of books I really should have read already.

   In a recent e-mail conversation this very subject came up as did number of titles that I would like to read over the next year or so. Last summer, M Harold Page had a great post about the books of Ronald Welch. Paul R. McNamee recommended Tim Willock's Tannhauser books and I know lots of people love Bernard Cornwell's various series.  And of course it doesn't only have to be Crusaders and Vikings. There's plenty of reputedly great swashbuckling novels I haven't read either as well as some old Howard Pyle I've got sitting around.

So here's my prospective list for the next twelve months.

Frans G. Bengtsson - The Long Ships
H. Rider Haggard - Eric Brighteyes 
Harold Lamb - Swords from the West
Robert Low - The Whale Road
Talbot Mundy - Tros of Samothrace
Henry Treece - The Invaders, The Dark Island and Red Queen, White Queen
Arturo Perez-Reverte - Captain Alatriste
Tom Willocks - The Religion
Rafael Sabatini - Captain Blood

   Looking at the list, it's a lot of Vikings (and I'm planning to reread Hrolf Kraki's Saga pretty soon, so that's even more Norsemen in my future), so I think I need to mix it up a bit. Let me hear any titles you recommend or comments on any of the above.

 This week I'm reading Harpy's Flight by Megan Lindholm, aka Robin Hobb. I really liked the story "Bones for Dulath" featuring the novel's heroes, Ki and Vandien, and I thoroughly enjoyed her Soldier's Son trilogy, so I've got my hopes up.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


   While I have no musical ability of own, music is incredibly important to me. In the car or at home, particularly when writing, there's music. My tastes are incredibly wide, from orchestral and jazz to stoner metal and hardcore.
   Lately, a lot of what I've been listening to can, very broadly, be considered progressive rock. Some is very genre traditional, like Yes or 70s Jethro Tull. Some is contemporary prog metal, like Dream Theater or later Blind Guardian. 
   Some has lots of time changes and complex rhythms. Some of it's got roots in folk music. The lyrics range from Jon Anderson's inscrutable musings to Blind Guardian's version of the Silmarillion. All of it, while still maintaining a foot in the rock music camp, tends to be more deliberately "artistic" and "complex" that standard pop music. While this can lead to a lot of self important and self indulgent crap, it can lead down some amazing paths as well.
   I only recently started wondering why I've always been drawn to prog rock. Part of it's because of mindblowing cover art like this,

but mostly it's because of the music. I suspect much of my susceptibility to long, complex music come from my youth.

   First, my dad listened to classical music (on the original WQXR here in NYC).  Most of my childhood I heard nothing but classical instrumental music and opera. The only variation was the QXR folk show "Woody's Children" on Saturday night. With those genres, my ears were ready to handle Tull's A Passion Play.
   Thinking back I realized my introduction to a lot of actual prog rock came because of this one man:

   Andrew Maginley was a buddy of mine from childhood to about my freshman year in college. He's a couple of years older than I am and I totally looked up to him when it came to music. As a kid, he took up guitar and was soon playing all sorts of stringed instruments. I don't know how may hours I listened to him play but it was a lot.
   His own tastes at the time were for all things complex, particularly Yes and Queen. Later he was listening to early Dixie Dregs (he also introduced me to Motorhead, but that's another story). I was introduced to all those bands, and many more, in his house. Lots of my friends' musical tastes were built from what their older brothers listened to and Andrew filled that same role for me and effects me to this day.

That being said, here's two very different examples of prog in action

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Mail Bag

   Cheap books from Amazon almost make up for lost used book stores my friends and I used to haunt. It took me several years to find a copy of K. W. Jeter's Morlock Night in a real store. Now, one-click and it's mine.
   The downside of not having physical book stores anymore is I don't just chance upon something and buy it because the blurb on the back makes it sound great or the cover calls out tome.
   Books at the now-closed Book Pit in Red Bank, NJ went for under $2. I always walked out with a bag of books at least half by people I had never read before. It was great when there were a dozen different stores I could visit regularly with similar results.
   Even with Amazon Prime, the cheapest a book at Amazon costs me is $4. At that price, if I'm going to buy something by an author I'm not familiar with I need to know a little about a book from reviews or recommendations before I spend my cash.

This I bought because Bill Ward recommended it. I'd been curious about Brust but never bought it. Now I have.

I read "Bones for Dulath", the first Ki and Vandien story in Amazons! and really liked it. This $.01 omnibus (plus $3.99 S/H) gets me the original trilogy.

Read some good things about this someplace I can't remember and that was good enough for me.

Bill Ward reminded me about first volume, The Oblivion Hand, which reminded me I never got these. So I did.

Finally, the Deep Down Genre Hound himself sent me some of his latest collections. I've already read the three Shan and Bao stories and they're a blast. Further proof of the ongoing S&S renaissance. Note the very cool colophon.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Hic iacet Arthurus, rex quondam, rexque futurus

Just reviewed Henry Treece's The Great Captains over at Black Gate. My dad had Treece's The Crusades lying around, but it was only when I got Moorcock and Cawthorn's Fantasy: 100 Greatest Books that I had any sort of real understanding of who Treece was. 

Great Britain has a vast literature, much of it fantastic, that examines the island's real and mythical history. Sometimes it's about the very land itself and how the actions of the waves of people migrating to or invading Britain have left imprints that still resonate today.  I'm not totally sure why it appeals to me as much as it does. I trace a quarter of my ancestry to England, so maybe there's something going on there, some part of my deepest Jungian-type race memory's being tickled. When I read Robert Holdstock's Mythago Wood I felt like I was reading the pre-history of my own English antecedents. I was brought up deeply aware of my English roots. If my Dutch background had been emphasized would these stories hold the same appeal?

   Much of the literature specifically called the Matter of Britain and deals with the mythic (or at least mythic versions of) the kings of Britain. I'm not that familiar with the older stuff like the Historia Brittonum, only the modern. 

I'm a big fan of the Arthur stories. I love T. H White's The Once and Future King as well as its spin-off, Camelot. I also find that magnificent wreck, Excalibur, riveting. The whole struggle to fight against "might makes right" and stave off the impending long night appeals to our hope to see justice done. One claim about all the kingly literature is that it was written to establish a body of patriotic myths for the land. Well, you really can't do better than Arthur Pendragon. The Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle makes the story more poignant, humanizing a potentially demi-god-like character. 

   Other authors who've dug into Britain's past that I can recommend include Alan Garner and Susan Cooper. Garner, more than any other author I'm familiar with, has dug the deepest into the mythic history of Britain. Keith Robert's Pavane and The Chalk Giants are also favorites, exploring some of the same subjects, but in sci-fi settings.

Being a fairly young country with no real
connection between the original myths of this continent, America doesn't have the same sort of body of literature. That we're also immigrants from all corners of the world only makes the a unifying myth harder to create (you could argue about the Founding Fathers holding that place, but I don't think the deist ones would appreciate it). Maybe that's why I'm so enthralled by these stories. While my roots go back to this country's founding, they really go back much further, to another land. Maybe there's something buried deep in the bedrock of my cultural/genetic past that calls to me from back down the years.

   Reading The Great Captains put me in the mood to cue up some Jethro Tull albums. In particular, Thick as a Brick and Songs from the Wood got lots of play. I haven't listened to the latter that much in a long time. Does liking Jethro Tull make me hopelessly uncool?

My next Black Gate post will be a review of October's short stories from the usual suspects. After that I it's either de Camp's The Fallible Fiend or the new Deepest, Darkest Eden from Miskatonic River Press. As to music, I just put on Manowar's Battle Hymns. Overused as it is, the only word is AWESOME!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Magic Goes Away and "Rational" Fantasy

   I can't believe I've never read Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away sequence ("Not Long Before the End", "What Good Is a Glass Dagger?" and The Magic Goes Away). I went through a big Niven phase in the eighties and most of my friends read these stories. I know somebody told me the plot of Glass Dagger at some time. Still, never read them till last week.  As usual, there's a review over at Black Gate.

   They're not bad, just not overly engaging. I found 
the stories, like with most of my experience with Niven's writing, were better than the novel. His characters tend to be a little flat and he's given to lots of talk-talk-talk. I remember the last time I read Ringworld and realizing something like half the book (well, it felt like that) involved Louis Wu and his motley crew flying and yakking. If his concepts grab you they can sweep you up and over the longueurs and thin characters. .

   Sandra Meisel's essay at the back of The Magic Goes Away is a nice in-depth look at the Niven's fantasy stories and what he was trying to accomplish - rational fantasy. He himself referred to it as "rivets & sorcery". It's a great idea but I don't think he was totally successful at it. Not the concepts mind you, only the results.

The only other writers who tried to do the same thing that jump to mind
are Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt. I've read a lot of the former but only Pratt's collaborative works. 
I remember liking de Camp's Novarian stories a lot but they're also played pretty much for laughs. I think as much as he intellectually loved fantasy, de Camp, in his heart, couldn't take it seriously and couldn't help trying to take the piss out of it. I suspect it's why his Conan stories are such slack affairs.
The Niven stories are played straight but they're fairly soulless, settling for bigger ideas than emotion. I think the only book of his that ever really moved me, and I say this a huge Known Space fan, was Inferno, and that's a Pournelle collaboration.
So, does anyone known of any other efforts to create totally rational fantasy? I know I must be missing some obvious ones ('cause that's the way my brain works). Let me know as well as you're take on the whole idea of rational fantasy.

This past week's music was indeed a healthy dose of Ocean Colour Scene, perhaps the lone survivor of England's trad-rock phase from the mid-nineties (Paul Weller doesn't count, being much of the inspiration for the whole genre itself).  This came to an end with John Fultz's post at Black Gate about metal band Conan.  Not digging them so much, but some interesting other bands got mentioned and I'm checking them out now. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

God Stalk by P. C. Hodgell and other ramblings

Just reread P. C. Hodgell's God Stalk for the, I dunno, seventh or eight time.  I enjoyed it so much that I think I'm going to make the effort to finish reading the rest of the series. I've read half of it leaving me one long book and two short ones to go.  If you haven't, go read the review at Black Gate, then go read the book.

Reading the book got me to thinking about what makes a book one that draws me back to it again and again over the years. The books I reread every few years include God Stalk (duh), The Master and Margarita, LotR, the Disc World Series (several at a time).  Maybe I'm exposing myself as a shallow reader with poor taste, but I don't care.  I've read them at various stages in my life, as a teenager and an adult and never been disappointed.
Do these books possess something in common that makes me love them? Well, yes, all are fantastic. Not a mundane plot in the bunch.  The imagination invested in all these books is staggering. Whether it's Tolkien's reworking the themes of Northern European myths, Pratchett and Hodgell playing with the tropes of modern fantasy fiction, or Bulgakov's meshing together ancient history with grim Soviet reality into a blackly comical tapestry, I'm astounded each time I read these books.
I think that's not it, though.  It's the characters that grab me an hold me. Jame's curiosity and determination to make a place for herself, Margarita's struggle to save the Master and Pilate's to do the right thing and save Yeshua and the travails of all the Ring Party.  These characters resonate with me in ways that I'm not sure I fully understand.  I love Life: A User's Manual and Dune but I don't pull them off the shelf every few years for a reread. Maybe if I was a closer critic of the texts I could figure out exactly how each author captures my attention, but I'm not sure I want to.

Right now I'm reading Larry Niven's The Magic Goes Away and the two earlier linked short stories, "Not Long Before the End" and "What Good Is a Glass Dagger?".  More interesting than really good, they're still fun enough to not make me feel like I'm wasting my time.  Also, totally cool Esteban Maroto pictures in TMGA.

No music was consumed during the reading or writing of the God Stalk post.  Sometimes it just goes down that way.  Now, I'm digging out my Ocean Colour Scene stuff and going all British trad-revival rock.  Next comes Paul Weller probably.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Some Books Are Only OK (and I'm cool with that)

   So I just read and reviewed Daughter of the Bright Moon by Lynn Abbey over at Black Gate. I've meant to read it for years but didn't. Overall, it's a decent book. Nothing special but I didn't feel like I'd wasted the five or six hours I spent on it.

   In fact the story of how it came to be is even better than the book. According to Abbey, she was going to pick up Gordon Dickson for a convention had a bad accident. He felt bad and that someone just trying to get him to the show on time got hurt, so he offered to read anything she had. With his advice she turned her ideas into a finished book.  Then he helped her get it published. Pretty cool.

   When I finished reading DotBM my initial reaction was, okay, that's done. I was sad that it was over. I hadn't rushed through it because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next but because I didn't want to miss my deadline at Black Gate.

   Only when I started describing the book to the luminous Mrs. V did I realized how many thing about it that I really liked. There's some good things going on in it and Rifkind is a great hero. In a genre that has way too many wish-fulfillment characters, she's pretty believable. I admit to having problems with a lot of the amazonian characters I've come across in some modern heroic fantasy. Few women are going to be able to go head to head with a man in physical combat for an extended period of time. That's not the case here. Rifkind's victories are hard and smartly bought. In retrospect, I had really sort of enjoyed the book.

   Most books I finish are just like that. Not great, but a good way to pass the time. I read for entertainment. Now it can be at a more sophisticated level of entertainment like The Master and Margarita or at a simpler one like Beyond the Black River, but most books aren't going to be that good.
   And that's ok, it doesn't make them bad books. Heck, the law of averages says most of what I read is going to be, well, average. And I'm cool with that.  Sometimes I just want a little adventure or humor. Maybe a some mystery.   Is every football game you watch or album you listen to the greatest? Nope, but you still enjoy them.  Same thing with books.  If a book delivers what it says on the cover then I'm happy.

Next week, provided an essay I'm working on about why I blog doesn't come together (which I'm can safely guarantee it won't), I'm going to review the fricking awesome God Stalk by the fricking awesome P. C. Hodgell.  It's one of my all time favorite books and I hope I'm able to convey some of that love.

This past week's music (and at least the coming week's as well) was various live Led Zeppelin recordings the studio albums Presence and In Through the Out Door.