Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kencyrath Madness, or a Foolish Promise

One of my favorite, and I'd add one of the best, fantasy novels in the past thirty-five years, is P.C. Hodgell's God Stalk (read my review at Black Gate), first in her Kencyrath series. Since it came out in 1983 I've read it half a dozen times or more. The sequel, Dark of the Moon (look for my BG review next week barring any disasters at my buddy's 50th Birthday Pig Roast this Saturday), I've read only a time or two less.

Hodgell is one of the unfairly recognized truly good authors toiling away in the fantasy Dark of the Moon in 1985 she didn't publish the next novel, Seeker's Mask, until 1995. After that she was silent until 2006 with To Ride a Rathorn.
fields. Aside from the hit-or-miss nature of any book's popularity, she fell off the scene for a while. After

From what she's written, it was a combination of an academic career, family obligations, and the unfortunate collapse of two publishers out from under her. Fortunately, since 2006, she's been writing like a fiend and moving the story forward.

Every time a new book's come out I've ordered it at once. But I haven't read four of
the seven novels yet. Everytime a new one comes out I've felt compelled to go back and start at the beginning. Hodgell's books are complex, filled with intricate relationships, and slathered with crazy invention and I want to be up to speed.

The latest book, The Sea of Time, just came in the mail this past Sunday. Putting it on the shelf and not knowing when I was going to read it ticked me off enough to start in at once on Dark of the Moon. Which made me promise myself to read the rest this summer. Once and for all, I'm going to get to the end of the books before anymore are published.

Now, I've got a bunch of things I have to read this summer. I've got a Sacred Band book to read and I've got to read Changa's Safari II before III is released. There's a pair of James Enge and Howard Andrew Jones books staring at me along. Then there're the books I'm still in the middle of reading. And I've got my aunt's house to clean out. Oh, well.

It's fascinating, and more than a tad depressing, to watch the changing covers over thirty years. The first, for God Stalk, is perfect. Dark, mysterious, and fantastically detailed. Things are bearable until the two Baen covers for Bound in Blood and Honor's Paradox. Hodgell's character is a flat-chested teenage girl, not some inflated pinup girl. Fortunately, the newest cover is much better, even if not perfect.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Constant Tower and The Proposition

My review of Carole McDonnell's The Constant Tower is live at Black Gate. It's a story of about suffering, sacrifice, and restoration that contains elements of sci-fi and fantasy. I love the two stories, "Changeling" and "The Night Wife" that McDonnell wrote for the two Griots anthologies edited by Milton Davis and Charles Saunders (they've already got a third, YA-themed, one in the works). Not heroic fiction, instead, her two tales are folklore styled stories of obligations, love, and jealousy.

McDonnell is a Christian (Protestant, Pentecostal subdivision) and there are studies of suffering, service, and sacrifice in the novel. This is all skillfully done so the book never reads like something you'd find on the spinner in the church bookstore. If you aren't religious don't be put off either, there's no proselytizing in The Constant Tower.

There's also enough sex and violence here to keep it off of that same spinner. They're important parts of the world she's created that labors under unending warfare, sexual domination and scarcity. It's a dark broken world in The Constant Tower, much like our own is.

Too many Christian artists I've read (don't get me started on most Christian films) show the messy, painful realities of the world being solved way too easily. As works of art many just stink. Instead of mirroring life in all its hues, dark and light alike, they settle for bright and shiny colors.

I'm not saying this is the best written or most profound novel I've read, but McDonnell has engaged the real world with her art. Christianity is supposed to be challenging and this book definitely doesn't go for the easy outs. I don't read a lot of fiction with anything deeper going on than adventure these days but every now and then I pick up something with a little more going on. This was one of those books. Good, good stuff.

I just watched The Proposition, an Australian Western from 2005. It was written by musician Nick Cave, directed by John Hillcoat, and stars Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, and Emily Watson. It's dirty, grim, and extra, extra bloody. It's well shot and well acted but in the end I'm not sure what purpose those things serve. It takes itself very seriously but the story's point seems to be little more than it's hard to tame a dangerous land. The relationships between Guy Pearce's characters and his two brothers isn't developed much but that's half of what's driving the story. It's slow moving and the dialogue's a bit ponderous so it's not exactly exciting. I didn't dislike it but I can't imagine ever watching it again. Now, I did just pick up a copy of The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford the other day, so maybe I'll watch that again tomorrow.

I'm still listening to a lot of Dramarama though a little power pop in the form of Fountains of Wayne, Cheap Trick, Enuff Znuff is getting thrown into the hopper.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mail Bag plus

My review of Warlock of the Witch World, second of the triplets trilogy, by Andre Norton went live at Black Gate. If you have listened to me before, do yourself a favor and check the series out.
She spins great tales, no bones about it. Maybe they aren't as bloody or as sexy as today's fantasy novels, but that doesn't matter to me. Too often those things are served up to distract the reader from the lackluster story or hammer home the same tired points about the "real world" I'm usually reading fantasy to escape from for a little while. There's a glorious and pulp creativity to these books that would put to shame a lot of writers cranking out the same, tired Fantasyland® stuff everyone should be tired of by now.

I made a few new purchases over the last month or so. I've already dipped into the two spook story collections and they look great. I've started the Peter Heather book and it's fascinating. The newest Gonji book will have to a bit but I'm itching to dig into it.

I'm continuing to dive back into the fantastic songwriting of John Easdale and his compatriots of Dramarama. I also dug out the one completely solid Soul Asylum album, Hang Time.