A Cold Night

I was out shopping on one of the coldest days last year, and we went to a bookstore.  Well, there was more than one bookstore, and nobody is surprised when any number of bookstores show up and I enter.  But at The Dial, in the Fine Arts Building, on a bitterly cold day, I bought The Bear and the Nightingale, book one of the Winternight Trilogy.  And, it still being winter and having been fairly cold recently, I felt it would be a good time to thoroughly investigate my purchase.

Katherine Arden, the author, draws on Russian fairy tales and folklore for her inspiration and setting, a nice relief from the endless iterations of Western European stock I’ve become familiar with.  That’s not to say that I’ve never read Russian-rooted stories before – Mercedes Lackey seems to love the story of Katschei the Deathless as well as the Firebird – just that I’ve read a lot more versions of Cinderella than either of those.  Or both put together, now that I think about it…

Because I am less familiar with Russian tales, I cannot say as much for certain about them, their telling, their accuracy, or so many other aspects.  But my impression is that Arden is drawing upon the old legends and combining them into something new and wholly original, not simply a retelling of an old tale.

The setting is Russia, at a time when Russia bowed to the Khan…although that time may soon be ending.  In an isolated northern village lives Vasiliya Petrovna, our main character.  She is the boyar’s youngest daughter by his first wife, and her mother died in the birthing.  Vasya, as she is affectionately known, has the Sight, and can see, among other things, the household and forest spirits, whom she is happy to befriend.  Of course, her mother’s blood may have more power than that…although no one really knows too much about Marina Ivonovna or her mother before her.

I spent a lot of this book considering the fact that this is the first entry in a trilogy.  Based on my experience with Russian stories, this one seems overly long.  But I suppose this is what happens when I compare traditional oral tales to books – the book always seems long in comparison.  Do we need to understand how daily life worked?  No…but it helps to establish the characters in their roles and relationships without telling us how Anna Ivanovna and her stepdaughter fail to get along.  Do we need to cover some fifteen years of time?  No…but it keeps us from rushing too quickly from point a to point b.

At the very least, Katherine Arden is a good author and there’s nothing wrong with the book itself.  I just need to overcome the fact that most of the Russian-based stories I’ve read before were shorter fairy tales, and the Winternight Trilogy clearly aims to expand from mere folklore into a larger fantasy.  As for why it spends so much time in such a small setting with such mundane tasks…it’s obvious.  Vasya is a young woman in her father’s house, and as such does not have nearly the same amount of freedom a son might.  Her life is fairly restrictive even if she is granted more freedom than many.  So even though she is the heroine, she first needs to step out of the cage life has wrought for her.

I’ll definitely be keeping up with the trilogy, based on this beginning, although I’ll wait for The Girl in the Tower to be released in paperback.  It was available in hardcover when I bought the first book, and I actually glanced at that one first, until I realized it was a sequel.  I do try to avoid starting series in the middle if I can help it.

On that note, do you really need to say your book is a novel if it’s in a trilogy?  I’ve been wondering this for a month now and just…fail to understand why both statements are on this cover.

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More Novelization

I grew up loving The Dark Crystal.  I think I’ve made that clear in my posts about Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal and Shadows of the Dark Crystal.  However, I never saw Labyrinth until I was in college and somebody sat me down and stuck the disc in.  I thought it was…okay.  I would always prefer The Dark Crystal because of nostalgia, but I also like it better smply because it has no relationship to the real world.

Well, as you may recall, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth was another book in that lovely box set I got for Hannukah and it wouldn’t be fair to avoid reading it simply because the movie isn’t my favorite.  And I had high hopes because this too was written by A.C.H. Smith, who did a great job expanding on the imagery and dialogue of The Dark Crystal for that novelization.  Perhaps this would finally get me on board with Labyrinth.

Well, it didn’t quite do that.

I’ll admit, I didn’t find Sarah quite as annoying in the book as I did in the movie, but that could just be my higher tolerance for low quality fantasy books.  And trust me, especially if you haven’t read some of my rants on this blog, I have a fairly high tolerance for low quality fantasy books.  I have read a lot of crap and there are so many I’ve read and thought “but it could have been so good!” despite understanding that it is most definitely a shitty book.

Labyrinth, for the record, is not a shitty book.  It just isn’t telling a story that I find exceedingly compelling.  I think that the main character is stronger for me in the novelization, but the book does suffer from not having the engaging visuals or David Bowie and his music.  Unlike The Dark Crystal, the concept sketches are shoved in the back of the book, along with a reprinting of Jim Henson’s Laybrinth notebook (which is actually very cool), so the story has no illustrations whatsoever and I found myself trying to recall the visuals of a movie I half-enjoyed.

I think, in the end, I can’t really say that I prefer one format to the other, for Labyrinth.  I guess I’d probably pick watching the movie over reading the book because I can do something else while giving the screen half my attention.  Also because it would take less time to watch the movie than to read the book.  And then I’d get those visuals and David Bowie and his music.  Either way though, I’d much rather pick The Dark Crystal in any form over Labyrinth.

Return to the First Contact Cafe

If I had a convention this weekend I shouldn’t be posting this much, right?  Right.  Except for the part where I got so lucky and came down with the flu.  Very down on Friday night, which is why my Blue Exorcist post was so short – I just wanted to get a post written to commemorate the books I’d read that day and then go crash into bed. Then go to the doctor in the morning.  Where I officially found out that I have a textbook case of influenza.  Between that, sadness over missing my gaming weekend, and general misery before the meds started helping, I didn’t get a lot of reading done yesterday.  Movies yes, books no.

So, after I finished watching an old anime series this morning (and consequently crying a lot), I turned back to my Pile of unread books and pulled Mourner by C.F. Bentley, aka Irene Radford.  This is the third in the Confederated Star Systems series…which may not be over yet.  After all, just because there’s been a heavy trend towards trilogies lately doesn’t mean everyone is obligated to format their series that way.  Radford’s never been limited like that, making each series as long as she needs it to be for the characters to develop and get to their happy endings.

Not to mention that Mourner was released less than a year ago.  Given that the publication dates on Harmony and Enigma are 2015 and 2016 respectively, it’s entirely likely that a fourth book could come out this year.

The majority of the story in Mourner takes place on the First Contact Cafe space station, and Radford has introduced yet another new species.  And it’s a doozy for sure.  Because the author of the Dragon Nimbus books has given us…space dragons.  No really, that’s what almost everyone calls them.  They call themselves D’Or, but whatever.  We can be humanocentric here and call them space dragons.

There’s also the plot thread that discusses the title of the book, mostly about the missing corpse of a character who died in Enigma.  What’s interesting to me is that each successive book discusses more of the supernatural than the previous installment, introducing new ideas and concepts.  And, of course, we get to watch our main family of characters grow and develop, becoming who they were meant to be from the start.  Which is much more enjoyable than all those nasty politics and betrayals in the background.

I continue to enjoy this series and I’m very glad to have found it.  I know we’re not yet at the end of this story, so I look forward to getting there one day.

Now, I want to change gears a bit and talk about some movies.  Weird, I know, but I woke up this morning thinking about it and I wanted to share some thoughts, and what better place than here?

Neil Gaiman wrote a short story some years back entitled “The Problem of Susan.”  This, of course, only makes real sense if you’ve read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, because Susan is the only character who, once she grows out of her adventures there, never returns.  There’s a great deal of discussion about it, but that’s not what I want to talk about.

You see, yesterday I rewatched My Neighbor Totoro, showing it to my sister for the first time.  And I kept trying to determine how old the main characters are.  Mae, the younger sister is about five, which is all well and good.  Based on her height and build, I would have to guess that older sister Satsuki is about ten.  Which is still young enough to believe in magic and go along with all the craziness that entails, like riding a catbus.

At the end of Prince Caspian, Aslan talks to Peter and Susan separately from the rest of the people.  These two are the eldest siblings, and he tells them that this will be their last trip to Narnia.  They’ve…outgrown their need for it?  Something like that.  Whatever.  Bottom line is, the adventure stories in the series are for younger kids and so the older protagonists are stepping aside.

I imagine that Satsuki doesn’t have too many more years left of seeing and interacting with spirits, based on this kind of attitude.  But then I saw the scene with the parents at the end again, where the mom briefly glimpses the girls sitting in the tree, and the dad says it might not be so far-fetched, based on the words etched into an ear of corn.  Both parents seem quite willing to believe in spirits and magic.

Which then makes me wonder if this is a cultural difference.  After all, the Japanese seem to revere a number of things and attitudes that Westerners seem to ignore, such as nature.  Of course, living in the United States, I get a lot of shafts in those terms.  After all, this country was built on Puritanical standards, and that permeates all the way into our literature.  Even European stories draw on a rich history of mythology, legend, and lore that is otherwise lacking in America, because so many of us have abandoned our roots.

I don’t really have a thesis or anything in mind with all of this, I just wanted a chance to get it all down and out of my head.  But speaking of roots, I’d love to point out that my copy of “The Problem of Susan” comes from People of the Book, a collection of stories from Jewish science fiction and fantasy authors.  It’s one of those books that speaks to me more strongly on a personal level because there’s a lot more I can relate to than say…The Dragon and the Stars, the anthology written by people of Asian descent.

Which makes things really strange when you think about it.  Here’s this Jewish anthology with a story about a Christian character, originally created by a very Christian author for his religious allegory series to serve a very specific purpose.  I don’t even know what to make of it all.

Maybe I’ll just go find whatever I’m reading next.

Shorter Reads

Today I reread Blue Exorcist volume 17 and the brand-new volume 18.  Spanning both is a story discussing Shura Kirigakure’s backstory at last, the origin of her snake sword, and her relationship with the sadly-deceased Father Fujimoto.  It’s rather epic and sad all at the same time, with a bit of humor thrown in as the Okumura brothers do their best to help against something Shura’s been bound to all her life.

Then the focus shifts over to Bon in his role as Lewin Light’s apprentice, as they begin to delve into the mysteries of the Blue Night, a time about sixteen years ago when numerous exorcists the world over were consumed by blue flames, the mark of Satan himself.  Bon follows Lightning out of awe and loyalty, but he’s not stupid and can clearly see that there is a larger picture being formed, even if he doesn’t yet have the same amount of information as his mentor.

There’s a bit of nice character development, and some people we haven’t seen in a while show up as well.

I don’t have much more to say because I’m going to bed now.

A Snapshot of 1970

Well, there’s still overtime at work, but that’s nothing surprising at this point.  So I’ve been reading an anthology…which is even less surprising, I’m sure.  I know I’ve mentioned that my favorite anthologies seem to be from the 1990s – there’s just something about the short stories of that era that I find more to my taste than any other date range.  A lot of today’s stories are horrifically depressing.  And as for older stories…well, let’s talk about that.

Alchemy & Academe was published in 1970 and edited by no less a personage than Anne McCaffrey herself.  So you can imagine what motivated me to pick up the book.  I didn’t recognize that many of the authors inside…but this is hardly surprising given that I don’t read a huge amount from the sixties and seventies.  To be honest, I didn’t have very high hopes for this anthology simply due to the age.  And…it met my expectations.

The environment that produced Alchemy & Academe for the science fiction genre was vastly different from today.  In those days, short fiction was as common or moreso than novels, and it’s quite likely that most if not all of the works within were originally published in magazines.  Also noteworthy is the inclusion of several poems, something that has become fairly uncommon today.  Hell, when I was building my short story database originally, I was surprised by the amount of poetry included in my Andre Norton anthologies.

There’s also a very different feel and tone to these stories.  They are very high-concept, fairly philosophical, and downright artsy at times.  You aren’t supposed to read these pieces to take up time, rather you’re supposed to think about them and consider what realms of possibility they’ve opened to you.  Short stories today are generally trying to make the book worth your money.

Alchemy & Academe seemed, to me, to be a snapshot of what science fiction was in the late sixties and early seventies.  It took me a while to force myself through the first half of the book, then I found several stories that were more engaging than their predecessors and not so elevated that I had trouble grasping the basics of plot and character.

I don’t think I could ever truly enjoy a book like this one.  I can appreciate it and see that it has value, but there’s not a lot that I’ll ever want to revisit.  I feel obligated to hang onto it for the moment, but that’s probably me acting like a hoarder of books than anything else.  But, again, this is exactly what I expected from Alchemy & Academe.

I’ll have to pick something better for tomorrow, although I do need to be careful.  There’s another convention (of sorts) this weekend and I will have very little time to read.  Especially since I won’t be eating meals at home given that real food is available at this one – and why not play a slow-paced game at the same time?

I do have a new volume of manga though.  That might be a good bet for tomorrow…

Quite Compelling

If not for the fact that I had work today, I would definitely have stayed up even later last night just to finish this book.

As you may know, I have a tendency to pick up books by authors I know.  Yes, there’s an unwritten rule that I never like everything an author has written – and if I’ve liked everything that only means that they haven’t written much or I haven’t read enough to find the one or more I dislike.  But despite the rule, I won’t find those unlikeable books if I don’t read every single one that comes across my path.

Some authors I’m more enthusiastic about collecting than others.  You might recall that I am more lukewarm when recognizing names in anthologies than when I grab full-length novels.  But there’s an author whose name has always excited me, from the moment I first saw a book with her name on it.  That was, I’ll remind you, Beauty by Robin McKinley.  With that book, everything coalesced into perfection.  One of my favorite fairy tales, retold in a new and interesting fashion that I hadn’t yet read, and the price was great too.  So when I found The Blue Sword sitting on a bookstore’s shelf, I grabbed it excitedly.

I had no idea how very happy I’d be for that split-second decision.

This book is older, and it reads that way.  It’s from 1982 and a Newberry Honor, which means it is aimed at kids.  Which makes sense, even if there’s war and violence, it’s a very…clean sort of violence.  No real gory details, even though McKinley does not hold back, even unto the tents of the dying afterwards.

And I loved every second of it.  Like I said, I would have stayed up until midnight finishing it, if only I hadn’t had to get up for work at 5:30 this morning.

The book has two main groups, the cowboys and the indians.  The cowboys, here called Homelanders, are essentially Europeans, and I’d peg their culture as being Victorian, pre-electricity.  Their outpost is on the verge of the indian (better known as Hillfolk) territory, and these people are a mixture.  Most of them are plains type: horsemen.  But there are forest archers and others as well, some mixed in, some not.  There’s a third group too, but they are most assuredly not human and the enemy.

The main character is Harry, which is short for Angharad, and she is a Homelander newly come to the outpost of Istan.  It’s a nice enough place, but she’s not wholly content.  But she doesn’t know what to change or how to fix it.  Then, one day, everything changes and suddenly Harry is living a life unlike anything she could have ever imagined…

The Blue Sword was utterly engrossing and I loved every minute of it.  Did it shy away from some of the darkest aspects?  Yes.  Was the mode a bit old-fashioned, even for the eighties?  Yes.  Could it have been further fleshed out and elaborated in places?  Yes.  Do I love it anyway?  You bet I do.  Like I said, I have no idea why this book in particular is so compelling.  Maybe it’s a bit of kelar cast by Robin McKinley.  I honestly couldn’t say.  But I am very pleased to have found this novel and brought it into my collection.  May every future reread be as thrilling as the first.

Nontraditional Novella

“I was planning on rereading the rest of the series first,” I told my friend a couple weeks ago as we discussed books to be read.  “It’s been long enough that I don’t remember a lot.”

“I did that, but I wish I hadn’t,” he told me.  “I think this one works best on its own.”

“Okay,” I said.  “I’ll try it your way.”

And that’s why today I read Patrick Rothfuss’ The Slow Regard of Silent Things even though it’s been years since I last touched the Kingkiller Chronicles.  This novella stars Auri, one of the side characters (as best I recall) from said series, but really, you don’t have to know a thing about Kvothe or his world in order to appreciate this story.  As such, I’m barely going to talk about the series proper, but partially because, as I’ve said, I don’t remember enough to do a good job.

There’s a University in the world of the Kingkiller and that’s where Kvothe learned a great deal.  There’s also a mysterious girl named Auri who lives beneath the University, in a dark, sprawling, and dusty web of passages she knows as the Underthing.  But Auri has little to do with the world above, living her life exploring her world and seeking to help the places and objects she finds achieve perfection.

Auri works hard each and every day, although some days are a battle against herself as well as the world around her.  She has problems to overcome in her quest for perfection, as well as more minor complaints such as food and cleanliness.  And yes, I definitely read Auri as a nonsocietal norm, not just for living almost completely apart from normal people.  She has some mental issues which might have always been a part of her, which might have been brought on by scarring incidents in her past…it doesn’t matter.  What matters is that she’s a little odd, and that’s no bad thing.

Truly, The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a fascinating and engrossing read.  You get utterly sucked in to Auri’s seemingly simple life and are cheering right alongside her as she finally helps rooms find perfetion, discovers the name of a stairwell, and gets the perfect gift for him.  I don’t even remember who “he” is, but it many ways it doesn’t actually matter.  “He” is the only thing actually tying this novella to the Kingkiller chronicles and without him, this work does still stand on its own.  Or rather, it stands on its own even with “he” being some nebulous figure that is never properly explained.

The title of the book is accurate as well.  “Silent” is rather literal – there is not a single word of dialogue in the entire story.  The most sound Auri makes with her voice is laughter or a whistle.  The most sound made is when a large, heavy object hits the floor.  Otherwise, the novella is silent as Auri flits around through the Underthing like a ghost, barely leaving any trace of her presence.

In his endnote, Rothfuss talks about the story’s road to publication.  He mentions that just about everyone he’s spoken to about it says that The Slow Regard of Silent Things touches a chord inside, even if it has so little in common with a traditional story.  It’s the novella he never thought would be published, and yet his publisher wanted it at first sight.  He’s so amazed by how much everyone likes this strange not-so-little story that he completely forgets to talk about the illustrations by Nathan Taylor until the very end, where he’s run out of space.  Which was absolutely hilarious to read.

I think that no matter what I thought the Kingkiller chronicles, I would have enjoyed The Slow Regard of Silent Things.  In fact, I think a number of people who would never read said series should read this novella.  It’s just a fascinating look inside the mind of someone who is different, and yet not so different from any of us at all.

Image Heavy

I was going to mention that I got a box from amazon yesterday, but I felt the post had reached a good wrap point and I didn’t want to spoil it by rambling on.  There were a number of books in the box, and a DVD, and a roll of contact paper (shush I get to do arty things), and today seemed like a good day to quickly get through some of the shorter books I’d bought.

So today started off with Descendants, the Disney manga about the children of four major villains from the animated films.  I reread the first book not because I thought I’d forgotten anything, but because they’re all so short that it seemed justifiable.  After all, the other two parts of the trilogy had just arrived and there’s something satisfying about reading straight through everything.

Let’s just say that there is absolutely nothing surprising about this manga.  Every plot twist, every story point, everything is laid out in big red glowing letters.  It’s predictable.  It’s trite.  It’s…perfectly acceptable for seven year olds.  Which I am demonstrably not, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still enjoy reading something for kids.  At the end of the trilogy it’s not a terrible message, it’s not a terrible story it’s just…exactly what you’d expect for the concept.  Maybe in five or ten years I’ll foist it off on my cousin’s daughters because they’d probably appreciate it at that time.  In the meantime, I’ll hang onto them because, again, they’re not that bad.  Just a bit disappointing considering all you could have done with the concept.

I did recently find out that the movie this was based on is some kind of musical thing, a la High School Musical.  Let’s just say I think the manga benefits from having none of that crap.

Continuing my day of reading shorter, image-based material, I reread The Spectrum War, the Star Trek/Green Lantern crossover that I first spoke of last year.  You see, also in my amazon box was Stranger Worlds, the sequel to the original miniseries.

I don’t consider myself a Trekkie per se, but maybe I should.  Because I definitely felt like a fangirl not only as I reread my favorite moments from The Spectrum War, but as I watched events play out in Stranger Worlds in ways I could and couldn’t imagine ahead of time.  There may have been squeeing.

The Spectrum War, to recap, is when the last remaining Lanterns of all colors are transported to the rebooted Star Trek universe by Ganthet, the last of the Guardians of the Universe.  Nekron, the entity responsible for the Black Lanterns, figured out that instead of going for individuals who would offer the most impact as Black Lanterns, he should just go for numbers because frankly, there’s a lot more dead people in the universe than living.  And he had just about won when Ganthet activated the Last Light protocol.  Essentially, he ran away and took the remaining Lanterns with him.

Fast forward to the Enterprise discovering Ganthet’s skeleton on a dead planet, a line of rings lying next to him.  Since there’s absolutely no living anything around, there’s no worries about breaking the Prime Directive, and the crew takes the body and rings back to the ship for examination.  Scotty manages to reactivate the rings, which fly off to choose new bearers from among the Star Trek characters and peoples we know.  Some hilarity ensues, as well as drama and politics.

But Nekron is also a force of entropy and this exists in all universes.  Bottom line, Nekron survived and came to the Trekverse and now the Lanterns must unite once again and stop him…if they can.

Fast-forward to Stranger Worlds.  The friendly Lanterns, such as the last Star Sapphire, the last Blue Lantern, and the last four Green Lanterns, are working with Starfleet and/or living relatively normal lives.  This is necessitated in part by the fact that the batteries which once recharged their rings were left behind in the Lanterns’ original universe, and so they’ve started cutting out now and again as their power levels drip ever lower.

However, Sinestro has never been one to sit quietly and he discovers something major, which could enable him and all the other ringbearers to fight at full strength once again.  Being the villain he is, Sinestro plots to get to this power source before anyone else, to take it for himself and deny its strength to his enemies.

Let’s just say, I called it, and I loved it, and I fangirled a bit.  Also, they definitely set this up in such a way that we can hope to see more sequels in this series.  I can only hope that there’s enough demand to see them made.

There was one more series represented in graphic form in my box yesterday, and it didn’t seem right to end the day without reading it too.  After all, graphic novels like this just aren’t worth it to read them anywhere but home because they’re so short in comparison to normal novels, as well as being a larger and more unwieldly format.  There’s nothing wrong with these attributes, I’m just explaining why I tend to read comic books only when I’m not leaving the house for a while.

This last book was White Sand Volume 1 by Brandon Sanderson.  I got to read the first chapter when I checked out Arcanum Unbounded from the library a while back, and I had to recognize that while it was super cool that one of the short stories was actually a comic book, it was a good thing the library had a fullsize hardcover.  I do not want to think of how much of a pain it’ll be to try reading something that visually detailed in a mass market paperback.  Plus the story wasn’t bad at all, so I figured I’d order the first volume of the graphic novel.  At the very least, the images would be even larger than in Arcanum Unbounded, as well as being in color.

White Sand is yet another different world of Sanderson’s, though one which is fairly unique as far as created worlds by any author go.  This planet is set in space such that one side is always day and one side is always night.  The story thus far has only taken place on the Dayside, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually shifts over to the Nightside at some future point in time.

Our main character is a sand master known as Kenton.  And, to be honest, he’s not much of a sand master by normal standards.  He doesn’t have very much power and tries to make up for it with skill and physical ability, which mostly works.  Oh, and he tends to butt heads with authority, most notably his father, who is Lord Mastrell, chief of the sand masters.

As protagonists go, Kenton’s far from the worst, but he fluctuates between “standard main character” and “oh god he’s a teenager.”  The world itself is interesting and this first volume was just long enough for me to begin picking up on the threads that Sanderson will eventually weave together in formation of as intricate a narrative as he ever does.  I doubt this will be anywhere near as intense as the Stormlight Archive, but I assume that were this a novel as originally intended, White Sand would probably be at least four hundred pages long, most likely around six hundred.

Regardless, I shall have to remember to keep up with the series.  The second volume is being released in hardcover late February, but I think I’ll continue waiting until it’s available in paperback.  We’ll see if the library picks it up.  They have the first volume, but I had enough faith in Sanderson and what I’d already read to be willing to outright buy it.  My faith is justified and I have yet another comic series to keep track of.

I haven’t decided what to read next though.  There are several choices and a nice variety of options for me.  Only time will tell!

More Nostalgia

After reading Shadows of the Dark Crystal, there was absolutely only one choice for my next book.  A Hannukah present.  Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal: The Novelization.  It came in a nice slipcase with Labyrinth and The Storyteller, Boom! Studio’s reprinted box set.  I sent my mom the link on thinkgeek as a whim – I always like getting books as presents and I don’t often buy pretty editions like this.  Not that I owned any of these before, but as I said last time, I am such a sucker for anything Dark Crystal.

I have got to say though, this may be the best novelization I’ve ever read.  Read: novelization.  That’s a movie adapted into a book, not the other way around as usual.  I’ve read some novelizations before like Ghost RiderThe 10th Kingdom, and Power Rangers and they range from acceptable down to “I really shouldn’t keep this but I am.”  Those books mostly exist to profit off of people who fall in love with the movie (or miniseries) and were pretty much written from the script by authors with nothing more to say.

The Dark Crystal is different.  Written by A.C.H. Smith, it was clear from the start that this author took his job seriously.  Smith understood that the point of a novelization is to take what audiences see in the movie and expand upon it.  Getting into the characters’ heads, pointing out details we may have missed noticing, and generally discussing behind-the-scenes elements of the world that the movie doesn’t have time to elaborate on.  In fact, the book is forcing me to reconsider how I view the movie!

Let me explain.  The Dark Crystal is an epic fantasy story of good and evil and all the grey in between trying to survive in a different world from any we know.  And yet, when you read the book, you find that there’s a very scientific understanding about many of the more fantastical elements.  It’s like Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey’s very first Pern book.  If you ignore the prologue discussing how humans found and colonized this planet, it reads like straight-up fantasy.  But it’s not.  And until today, I never once thought that The Dark Crystal might also operate on those blurred lines between what have become two very defined genres.

Part of what makes this novel so good, while being true to its source material, is that Jim Henson had a lot of input on it.  The final portion of the book is actually a copy of Henson’s notes on the first draft, helping Smith to get a better handle on what works and doesn’t for this world, where things are located in relation to each other, and the kind of changes being made on set that would affect his manuscript.  I get the feeling that not nearly as many directors would take that kind of time and effort to make the novelization a credit to their work.

As you can tell, I truly enjoyed reliving a childhood classic in a different format.  Unlike with Mirrormask, I don’t feel compelled to immediately put in the DVD, but I might choose to do so, if only to prolong that warm fuzzy feeling inside.  Of course, I think I might be more inclined to pull up the special features on all the amazing puppets they built than the actual movie, if only because I’ve watched those fewer times.

Allow me to reiterate that if you haven’t seen The Dark Crystal, you should definitely look it up.  It’s one of my childhood favorites and while you might not love it as much as I do, I think it’s still worth seeing.  Just remember while watching it that everything you see onscreen is a puppet…including a lot of the plants.  It doesn’t matter then that the story is kind of basic and there’s not much else going on.  The sheer artistry of Henson’s puppets, Brian Froud’s designs, and the puppeteers bringing it all to life is absolutely amazing.

Nostalgia

Right now, a significant portion of pop culture is based on nostalgia.  Nostalgia for the eighties, the nineties, and other eras is rampant as the consumerist economy urges us to buy things we remember from our childhoods.  My dad finally took the time to sell his Hot Wheels collection last year, and I think he made over $4000 on a bit over 100 cars bought as a child in the sixties and seventies.  It’s not just that these things are collectible, it’s also the fact that people who are now adults with disposable income wish to have or reposses objects that allow them to relive their childhood.

Which is why, when my friend found Jim Henson’s Shadows of the Dark Crystal in the used bookstore in the basement of Block 37, I had to buy it.  I mean, the price was great but I could tell just looking at it that this was a young adult book at best, and was probably going to be utterly disappointing as it geared itself towards a younger audience.  But…The Dark Crystal.  I had to have it.  And, since it looked so light, it seemed like a good choice of reading material given my life right now.

I was absolutely correct about Shadows of the Dark Crystal skewing young.  There’s something very…juvenile about it.  At least at first.  After that, either the writing got better or I got sucked in enough to completely ignore whatever was bothering me through the first few chapters.  But before I start talking about this story, I should take the time to talk about the world.

I grew up watching The Dark Crystal and to this day it is still one of the most beloved movies of my childhood.  It’s a fairly epic story, set in a lush and fascinating world inhabited solely by puppets.  (Except for the long-range shots where they used child stand-ins.)  Jen, a Gelfling, is sent on a quest by his Mystic master to heal the Dark Crystal.  He finds allies and friends along the way as he sets off to heal the Crystal and the world itself.  And just as interesting, if you have a DVD, are the behind-the-scenes features talking about how they brought all these fascinating puppets to life.  And then there’s that artist that sometimes is a guest of honor and what at conventions who created Skeksis…they are so amazingly detailed..

So the movie itself is the end of the timeline, the conclusion of something that has been going on for years beyond counting.  Then there’s a set of comics that I have two trades from the series: The Dark Crystal Creation Myths.  This is exactly what it sounds like, talking about the origins of the world as we know it, that the conclusion of the movie brings us closer to.

Shadows of the Dark Crystal takes place between those two parts of the timeline.  The Crystal has already cracked here, but things are nowhere near what they will be in the movie, although we can clearly see the force of the world’s narrative leaning that way.

Our protagonist is Naia, a Gelfling from the Swamp of Sog.  Her life is turned upside down one day when a stranger from the Silverling clan of Gelfling comes to summon her away.  However, nothing is as it seems and Naia has a lot to learn not only about the outside world, but about herself, her twin brother, the Skeksis, and the Crystal of Thra.  And this book is only the beginning of her journey.  There is a second entry, Song of the Dark Crystal, which will be out in paperback later this year.  I suspect, given trends, that this is meant to be a trilogy in the end.

Like I said, I was pleasantly surprised by how engrossing the story became.  Oh sure, I knew what was going on a lot sooner than Naia, but I’ve seen the movie and read two thirds of the Creation Myths.  Yes, the writing style skewed younger and I know I am a fair bit older than the target audience, but I’m glad I was able to pick up this book.  I will definitely buy the second one when it’s in paperback, and I’ll be willing to pay full price for it.  (This as compared to something like Compass Rose which I refuse to pay full price for the rest of that series, although I admit to enough curiosity that I’m willing to spend some money on it.)

I do have to ask who in the world puts their map in the back of the book!?  Admittedly, you don’t really need a map for this kind of story, but if you’re going to have one, at least put it somewhere useful.  Maps in front, glossaries and appendices in back.  Hopefully they won’t screw that one up twice.

I hadn’t decided what to read next earlier, since I do have quite a number of books to choose from, but given the mood I’m in from Shadows of the Dark Crystal, I think my next book is a rather obvious choice.  You’ll see.