Different Dragons

I can’t actually remember if I was the one who bought The Last Dragonlord or if it was my mom.  Either way, it was back around 1999 or so when I was first enfolded into Joanne Bertin’s world.  There’s a quote on the book from Judith Tarr about it being “a new take on dragons” and I really haven’t read another series quite like it.

In this world, we have truehumans, truedragons, and Dragonlords.  The last are weredragons, possessing a human soul and a dragon soul living together in a single body.  The humans have no idea of what they truly are until their momentous First Change, at which point they can access their dragon form.  They also become immune to all fire but dragonfire, stronger, faster, with sharper senses, and possess a bit of magic including telepathy with other similarly gifted individuals.

The title character of The Last Dragonlord is Linden Rathan.  Linden is the name of the humansoul, and Rathan the dragonsoul.  The latter, like all dragonsouls, is asleep for the most part and will only come into his own when Linden chooses to let his own soul pass on into death.  He’s so known not because it’s been more than six hundred years since his own First Change (and he is the youngest of the Dragonlords) but because the truedragons have not sensed the birth of any new Dragonlords since his own.

He’s also without a soultwin.  You see, when you have this mess of unborn souls floating around, a humansoul and a dragonsoul become combined.  But no one body needs two complete souls, and the combined soul splits in two, to be born into two different bodies.  Soultwins are, quite literally, the other halves of each others’ souls.

But all of this is just background information on the world and the type of dragons we’re spending our time with.  The story itself starts when Linden is chosen to be a judge for a regency debate along with two other Dragonlords.  They all live apart from the world at Dragonskeep, and their duty to truehumans is as peacekeepers and mediators.  So when there’s some question as to which of the young prince’s uncles should become his regent, the Cassorin Council opts to have a third party decide.  Regency debates are boring affairs, enough so that one almost wishes for some excitement…

I have always loved The Last Dragonlord, and am always happy to reread it.  Joanne Bertin is very skilled at guiding readers through her world, not answering questions too early or too late, and of planting seeds that will bloom in later chapters…or books! Her writing style is easy for me to immerse myself in, and her world is well-constructed and unique, while not being too alien to follow.  It’s not the most extensive series by far, but I think it well worth reading.

Story Origins

I had hoped to finish this book yesterday, to add to the number of anthologies I’d read that day.  But, that didn’t happen, and so we’re back here again.  This is, however, a different book than any I’ve read before.

Let’s back up a bit.  Back when I had gotten completely caught up on all the Valdemar books in existence at the time, I met a number of other people who were as big fans of Lackey as I, or even bigger.  And they told me that she wrote filk songs.  Folk-type songs that were about books or movies or tv shows or games.  And those lyrics in the back of several of the Valdemar books?  There were actual recordings of those songs.

So I went over to the Firebird Arts website and got myself a CD or two.  One of those was Magic, Moondust & Melancholy. I think I bought that one mostly because it had Kerowyn’s Ride on it, probably my favorite song I’d seen written.  But this particular CD was different because most of the songs were unrelated to the series, including a number of fan songs for other authors’ works.  I won’t complain, since it’s what got me to pick those books up in the first place.

One of my least favorite songs on the disc is Lammas Night, a haunting mystery.  It’s a simple story: a wandering wizard is asked to stay permanently in a village that no longer has one.  She agrees, and then discovers that the dead wizard is still bound to the house.  His spirit begins courting her.  She looks up a spell to banish him, and he shows her another spell, different by a single word, that would allow him to live again.  Both spells have to be cast on Lammas Night, and the listener is left wondering which spell she chose.  Here is a link to the song, with text, if you’d like to listen for yourself.

Anyway, apparently a number of people were intrigued by this unresolved story and wanted to offer up their own version of what she chose, and how it all came about.  And so we have In Celebration of Lammas Night, eighteen stories, including one by Lackey herself, exploring that very song.  Lackey’s tale, of course, has no resolution, which means that there is still no “right” answer.

There are a number of talented authors here, including Ru Emerson, Jody Lynn Nye, Josepha Sherman, S.M. Stirling, and Diana L. Paxson, to name a few.  And I liked a number of these stories.  However I find it fairly wearing to read the same premise over and over again, which is probably why I failed to finish this book yesterday.  It got so that any time we had a notable deviation from the formula, I took immediate note and paid more attention to that variant.

I’m not saying any of these stories were bad just because they followed the trend.  I’m just saying that repetition is not your friend in this case.

I do also want to note that this particular volume was a gift from a friend, who is as much a fan as I am.  She invited me to go to World Fantasy this year, where Mercedes Lackey was a guest, but unfortunately too close to the date for me to really find it feasible, what with that trip to Florida already planned.  Even so, she had a couple spare books that she got signed and offered to me.  So my Lammas Night is signed by one of my very favorite authors!  I hope to be able to meet her myself one day…and bring the rest of my collection to be likewise adorned.  For the time being, I’ll just poorly shelve this one.  I am really starting to run out of space.

Even More Anthologies

You’d think I’d be bored of anthologies by now.  We all know that anthologies are close to a tenth of my collection and, as I have over a thousand books, that’s up near 100 anthologies.  It’s true that not every short story can be great and, unfortunately, I do find a number which are mediocre or worse.

But I’m starting to think there’s a reason why DAW’s series of anthologies is …Fantastic.  Because, to be honest, they are.  The stories don’t even dip down to mediocre in today’s Castle Fantastic and I find myself still musing on some of them even now; the sign of a good read.  This is the second of the three books I found at the flea market, and the last of those I’ll be reading for now.  The third is a sequel and I don’t yet have the first book, so I’ll be sitting on that until I manage to track it down.

Castle Fantastic is edited by John DeChancie and Martin H. Greenberg, two men I know nothing about. But my glee in the flea market grew beyond finding another of these anthologies when I saw some of the names inside.  People such as Jane Yolen, Nancy Springer, Mike Resnick, and Charles de Lint.  And let’s not forget Roger Zelazny.  Now, I’ve not read a lot of Zelazny’s work and I haven’t read Amber (I know, add it to the pile along with Foundation and many others), but I couldn’t help being touched by reading the last-written Amber story, “Hall of Mirrors.”  The editor’s introduction explains how he’d spoken to Zelazny about this particular story on the phone, and that was their last conversation, for the renowned author died a mere eight days later.  As for the story itself, I know that most of it slipped over my head, but it was still an enjoyable read.  Perhaps I’ll get around to actually reading the Chronicles of Amber one day.

I’ll call out S.N. Dyer’s “Knight Squadron” as one of the stories that I found particularly intriguing, as well as Jane Yolen’s incredbly short “Castle Collapse.”  “The Garrison” by Lawrence Watt-Evans was another fascinting glimpse and “Death Swatch” was pretty hilarious.  Actually, I might go on and on until I’ve named all sixteen stories if I don’t stop here.  Suffice to say, I think the term “fantastic” is wholly warranted by this array of authors.

I do want to give special recognition to “Brigbuffoon” by David Bischoff, for utilizing platonic love over romantic for the climax of his story.  I’m always happy to see moments where authors choose not to go for the “easy” Forced Romantic Interest.

Today’s an airport day, so you can guess what that means as far as reading goes.  It’s also an anthology day, because I had a number of those in my bag.  The other book I finished today was Eyes of Amber, a collection of short fiction by Joan D. Vinge.  This is the first time I’ve read anything from her outside The Snow Queen and its sequels, so I really didn’t know what to expect.

I found her work to be much more cerebral than the other stories I’ve read lately, but that didn’t stop the tales from gripping me just as strongly as anything else.  In fact, I wasn’t really comparing the stories to others while I was reading them, just when I paused to reflect on them afterwards.  I do appreciate her commentary on each of the stories, especially since it’s after each one, meaning you already know any spoilers and she’s free to talk about whatever she chooses.

Eyes of Amber was sitting in my Pile for several weeks, and was picked up from one of the used bookstores in Chicago.  Since I landed at O’Hare today, let’s review my reading from my trip!  I took eleven books with me, and bought four more in Florida.  Of those fifteen books, three are untouched as of this writing – two of those acquired before Florida, one during.  That last is the one mentioned earlier, a sequel to a book I don’t (yet) have.  So I’ve completed eleven books, including one relatively short picture book.  I think that’s a decent number for how busy I was some of those days.  For the curious, my Pile is currently down to eleven.  That really seems to be the number today for some reason.

Maybe I can get it down a bit more before my holiday vacation is over.

I Shouldn’t Have Worried

I keep talking about Mercedes Lackey as a “gateway” author, whose work has led me to so many other talented writers over the years.  I’ve also learned that she has collaborated with a ridiculous number of them, not simply been in the same anthologies and collections.  Some of these partnerships are more mindboggling than others.

Last week my family wandered over to a massive flea market not too far away.  Of course I was pleased to find booksellers, but most of them had little or no science fiction or fantasy for sale.  However, there was one.  More to the point, that seller in particular only carried used books.  I’ve seen larger sci-fi/fantasy sections, but this was goodsized for the place and you can bet I examined it thoroughly.  I found three books there, which is actually a lot for some random place I’ve never heard of before.

One of these was If I Pay Thee Not In Gold by Piers Anthony and Mercedes Lackey.

It’s been a long time since I read anything by Piers Anthony.  My dad has a bunch of his work including every single Xanth novel.  The guy’s one of his favorite authors, so you can imagine that the first thing I did after finding this book was ask if my dad had any knowledge of it whatsoever.  Which he didn’t – he’d never heard of it before.  This isn’t entirely surprising; I’ve managed to find a number of books like that.  Many of them are best forgotten or overlooked.

This is not one of those.

Anthony and Lackey enfold us in the country of Mazonia which, as you might guess, is something of a fantastical Amazonian culture where women rule and men are slaves.  Not even second-class citizens, but chattel and property.  The story is rich and immersive and we do eventually venture beyond Mazonia’s borders into different and stranger lands.  I can even see some commentary about going too far with some ideals (veganism and PETA in that case).

I’ll had admit I had some misgivings about this given my last exposure to Piers Anthony.  At my dad’s urging, I read the quintet consisting of Dragon’s GoldSerpent’s SilverChimaera’s CopperOrc’s Opal, and Mouvar’s Magic.  It was cliche, the books became repetitive and less believable as they went on, and then the end of the final book just…ugh!  It was like when the TV series Lost finally ended and it turned out that everyone had been dead from the first episode.  I was supremely pissed off with what I’d read, as if Piers Anthony was Lucy pulling the football away from me as Charlie Brown.

Needless to say, this is the first time since then I’ve read anything with his name on it.  So, the first time in more than fifteen years, to give you a rough idea of how long ago that was.

Given that Lackey’s name is also on the cover, I needn’t have feared.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I enjoy almost all of her work that I’ve read.  It’s wonderful that she is so prolific that I can still turn up more books I had no idea she’d written.  Oh sure, I’ve occassionally visited her page on isfdb.org, but there’s so much on it I’m not going to sit down and check off everything I’ve read.  It’s far more fun to just see what the world throws at me.

Another Anthology

I may have an unhealthy interest in anthologies.  Today’s was Familiars, edited by Denise Little.  I always check for anthologies in the sci-fi/fantasy sections of used bookstores because I’ve found an increasing awareness of these collections in my reading.  I didn’t always seek them out the way I do now, despite the way I’ve read Immortal Unicorn to pieces over the years.  I think I can blame Mercedes Lackey for this again, because I am fairly on top of her Valdemar anthologies.  (Yes, I am aware that the new one is out.  I preordered it from amazon, but it wasn’t the only preorder I had in that set, so they aren’t planning on shipping it for a while yet.)

Regardless, of the fifteen stories inside, I was drawn in by recognition of Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Jody Lynn Nye, Laura Resnick, Josepha Sherman, Michelle West, and the great Andre Norton.  Yes, it’s less than half of the authors, but these are good ones, and more than worth taking a chance on the rest.  Actually, this anthology was one of the best I’ve read in quite a while.  I don’t think I actively disliked any of the stories within, which is rather notable.  Sure, some were better than others, but all were good.

The stories range from pure fantasy to pure science fiction and everything in between, including a couple rather mundane ones.  Please remember that that “mundane” in this sense refers to a rather real-world setting in the present, as opposed to the story being boring or uninteresting.  I don’t want to disparage a single story in here because I enjoyed them all.

I am not certain why I put off reading some books as long as I do, but this wasn’t the first time and certainly won’t be the last.  At least this time it ended up as a pleasant surprise.

Not Disappointing!

You may recall that the last time I actually got something from my Book of the Month subscription it was…painful.  But, I was given a six month subscription and it keeps rolling over until I’ve gotten six books from it, so I do take a peek every month.  This month something caught my eye and I wrestled with the website until it would function properly and accept it as my selection.  That was The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.

This book takes place over the course of a single day (save for the epilogue) and it is a romance.  I don’t really read romances.  Oh sure, there’s often a romantic element in the books I do read and you’ll notice that I refer to the obvious love interest and the like.  But I like more from my books than just romance.

You could say that this was a change of pace, and that’s true.  It speaks to current issues, it speaks to current trends, it speaks to real people dealing with both.  We get to see inside the heads of both Natasha and Daniel, our main characters, but we also get glimpses into the pasts, futures, and motivations of our peripheral figures.  The book is about how random and unknowable life is, and yet you can’t help but feel that much of it is predestined.  Poetry versus science; it’s an ongoing theme.

The Sun is Also a Star goes by quickly, an easy and simple read.  It’s all to the good – not much to get in the way of the reader’s experience of the simple immediacy of the story.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is able to understand teenagers today, and even to some who don’t.  Who knows, maybe I’ll even get my mom to read it.

So Much Humor

“Humor is hard to write.  You have to take it seriously when you’re writing, otherwise the absurd situation isn’t believable,” Jody Lynn Nye said on a snowy Thursday in February a few years back.  It was supposed to be a panel of women writers, one of the first panels of Capricon that year.  However, due to the weather, we only had Nye and it became a session of “about Jody Lynn Nye as an author.”  It was fascinating, and I often remember her words on both humor and believability.

It’s the humor portion that applies today to The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.  This slim volume is essentially a glossary of fantasy tropes.  Not only is it hilarious, but the more I read the more I thought “oh man, that’s this book!  And this other book!  And how did I not notice this before?”  Some items appear to be references to specific books, but my feeling is that I only perceive them that way due to not having read other books using the same device.  Below is a sample entry:

CAPITAL LETTERS (cliche) at the beginning of words are used liberally by the Management according to Rules that transcend human understanding and may under no circumstances be questioned (see TABOO).

The entries are listed in alphabetical order, separated by letter, and may have icons indicating pertinent information about them.  Some icons include Person, Landmark, Magic, and Cliche.  Any separate entries cited will be listed in all caps the first time they appear, and any common phraseology will be shown in italics with a note that it’s an Official Management Term.  These are things such as AMBUSHES being in a rocky defile or places being shrouded in MIST.

It’s books like this, which completely lack disagreeable children, that remind me why I do like Diana Wynne Jones.  It is a shame that she passed away in 2011 after a long illness, but her work will live on.  I haven’t yet read everything she produced in her life, so there is more to look forward to.

That and the three books I bought today.  Of the seven places at the flea market selling books (yes, I counted), only one had a decent sci-fi/fantasy section.  All used, but I like it better that way.  If they’re new, well, I have B&N giftcards to use.  I found three books I hadn’t known before, though one appears to be a sequel.  I don’t mind holding off until I manage to get a copy of the first book – again, it’s not like I don’t have plenty to read.

For those of you trying to keep track, I brought eleven books on vacation.  I have thus far read six books and purchased four, and so I have nine unread books with me.  There’s going to be a long car ride tomorrow (four hours give or take) and another on Monday, so I’ll be taking several books with me for the weekend.  Not all nine, because even I don’t read that fast and I’ve already been informed that I’m baking as soon as we arrive tomorrow.  Plus family.  Lots of family.  Like almost all of my mom’s siblings and a bunch of my dad’s relatives that I see infrequently.

My New Treasure

Some days vacation is about taking it slow and reading one or more books.  Some days it’s about doing all the things and only getting reading done in the car, on the way to the things, because on the way back the sun has set and you can’t see shit.  You can guess that’s where I’ve been for the past couple days.

Today I finished The Fair Folk, an anthology of six stories edited by Marvin Kaye.  The authors are Tanith Lee (the main selling point when I saw this one at the used bookstore), Megan Lindholm, Kim Newman, Patricia McKillip, Craig Shaw Gardner, and Jane Yolen (secondary selling point) & Miori Snyder.  And, of course, the subject appealed to me: the darker side of the Fey as they interact with humans.

I could talk about each story – considering there’s only six – but I’d rather not.  So, highlights.  “An Embarrassment of Elves” from Gardner is my least favorite of the tales.  It is part of his book series featuring the wizard Ebenezum, who apparently has an allergy to magic.  Except by the time this story takes place, he’s been cured and it’s his apprentice Wuntvor.  As I’ve mentioned previously, I have a harder time with short stories that are clearly part of a preexisting series that I’ve never heard of or read.  And then there’s the elves in this one.  I just really truly despise them.

My favorite in this book, which more than makes up for the tale mentioned above (which directly precedes it), is “Except the Queen” by Jane Yolen & Midori Snyder.  This story is unconventionally told by two fae sisters who have been exiled to the mortal world and separated.  They are, however, allowed to write, and the entire tale is told through their letters to one another.  It’s rather hilarious to imagine these formerly gorgeous women reduced to old, but knowledgeable, biddies thoroughly confused by our modern world and yet still able to do what they must.

The Fair Folk is mostly acceptable, with one real standout that justifies my keeping it.  However, that’s not the only book I finished today.

Even though I visited the “world famous” Haslam’s Books (Florida’s largest bookstore) in St. Petersburg (yes, there’s one in Florida too.  You know I’m not in Russisa.) I didn’t buy anything there.  However, before we went out there, I made my family stop in the shop of the Museum of Fine Arts.  Last time I was there, they had some nice stuff on the clearance table, so I figured it was worth checking out.  The clearance tables were clear today, but I browsed the shop anyway.  It’s like the museum itself: not exceptionally large, though they do have quality items.

In the kid’s section I found If I Were a Book, written by Jose Jorge Letria and illustrated by Andre Letria.  Before I even opened it, I knew I had to have this book.  The back cover describes it as “a…love poem to a reader’s best companion” and it is so true.  This book is about how reading educates us, encourages us, and comforts us.  It is every wonderful thing ever said about any book anywhere.  It is a book of why I love books.

And, in case you forgot, it is a children’s book.  A tool to, hopefully, instill that same love in the kids who are exposed to it.

If it had been cheaper, I probably would’ve spent a lot more money buying copies for so many of my friends who I think would be touched by it the same way I was.  As it was, I think $12.95 is a pretty decent price for an 6.5″ x 8.5″ 64 page hardcover color-printed children’s book.  And I’m happy to pay list price at a small museum’s store – plus amazon is not that much cheaper at $12.11.  I cannot reccomend this one enough for readers of all ages.  If you’re anything like me, you’ll treasure it.

No Dragons Here

Today’s book is Uprooted by Naomi Novik, who is best known for her Temeraire series. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s Napoleonic Wars with dragons. Uprooted is also fantasy, but much less historical. Based on the names, I’d say Russian, or someplace near there.

The setup is similar to Beauty and the Beast, with our heroine being taken away from her home by a mysterious and unwelcome man. Who is, of course, the obvious love interest. What makes this different is the Wood.

The Wood is a presence throughout the entire book. Attributed with sentience, it becomes clear that the Wood itself is the opponent the heroes must overcome.

I love fairy tales, so it’s no wonder I am pleased to have read this book. After reading Novik’s contribution to the Warriors anthology and greatly enjoying it, I looked her up to see if she had any books besides Temeraire. Uprooted was the only one, so I put it on my amazon wishlist.

Then, when I was wandering around a quaint downtown the day after Black Friday, I found a copy in the used bookstore. Upon arriving home I went to take it off my wishlist, but couldn’t find it. Trust me, the list isn’t so long that it’s hard to find things, but I just chalked it up to my not adding it originally.

Things got clarified when we celebrated an early Hannukah and I found myself with a brand new copy. All I could do was not tell my mom I’d bought it myself a few weeks earlier and hope the book would be good enough that I could give away the other copy in good conscience and with a recommendation.

Needless to say, I am quite confident about finding a good home for the second copy, and I look forward to what else Novik will create outside of her Temeraire books.

Disagreeable Turds

A Tale of Time City is a standalone young adult novel by Diana Wynne Jones. This is, if you were unaware, the woman who wrote Howl’s Moving Castle, the book Miyazaki’s movie was based off of. Howl’s Moving Castle and its sequels were the first Diana Wynne Jones books I read, but I never really sought out others until years later. It’s only in the past couple years that I’ve really been looking for her work…and it’s been a mixed bag, to be honest. The last new (to me) books I read from her were the Chrestomanci ones. I was less than thrilled, given that most of the children were disagreeable little turds and I found the books less than unified as a set.

I think Jones specialized in writing children as disagreeable turds, because that was the first problem I had with A Tale of Time City. Vivian Smith grew on me as the book progressed, but I never did like Jonathan or especially Sam. I do get that most eight year olds are not ideal examples of humanity, but that doesn’t mean I have to like reading about them as main characters.

I think I’ve mentioned recently that time travel can be confusing and it’s an easy plot device to screw up. After I read the Acorna and Acorna’s Children books, I swore off any new (to me) McCaffrey series involving time travel. This is also why I pulled Last Chance For Magic off my shelf – it really doesn’t deal with the time travel aspect and how it affects the timeline.

Jones does show evidence of small changes can quickly add up and accelerate when you start screwing with time itself. She also introduces some concepts that I had not seen before. And let me remind you that this is a book targeting readers 10-13 years old, based on the protagonist’s age. The fact that she can do something so new and make it accessible to young readers is remarkable.

I think, in the end, that I might not have had such a negative initial reaction to this book if I’d read it when I was in middle school. I am glad that A Tale of Time City was able to overcome my initial distaste, as it reaffirms that I was right to buy this book at the convention, and encourages me to read the other two Diana Wynne Jones books I bought with it.

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll be finishing books now that I’ve arrived at my destination and will no longer have full days of driving during which to read. I did bring enough books that I could technically read one every day of my vacation, but I wouldn’t expect that to actually happen. These are simply the books I was intrigued enough to possibly read in the near future.