Punch Them Nazis

Contrasts are somewhat insane when you actually sit down and analyze them.  There are days I struggle to make it through a dinky two hundred page book and days when I burn through close to eight hundred pages.  While working a full day.  I mention in my “About” page that I might be addicted to reading.  See, back in highschool when I was going through a barrage of testing – standardized tests, AP tests, a lot of important stuff in just a few weeks – I wouldn’t let myself free-read.  To better study and focus on the material, you see.

By the end of those weeks I was literally vibrating in place, just itching to get my hands and brain on a book, any book.

I think I was getting pretty close to that point last week, between my busy schedule and poor choice of reading material that just…wasn’t interesting me.  Or wasn’t what I wanted to read so very badly.  Whatever, the point is that today I burned through all of Revolution, the third Secret World chronicle book by Mercedes Lackey, Dennis Lee, and Veronica Giguere.

Invasion, being the first book, had the job of setting the stage, creating the inflammatory incident, and introducing the main characters out of the vast cast.  World Divided then picked up by developing those characters further, creating additional threats, and showing that the main threat was not going to vanish save in terms of attempting to track it down.  Revolution is a third book, yes, but makes it clear that this is not, in any way, a trilogy.  Here we see reminders that yes, this was a roleplay and yes this is Mercedes Lackey.  Romances that have been gradually set up over the preceeding novels are finally coming to fruition.  There’s also major changes in power structure, as well as numerous deaths, betrayals, changes of sides, and more.

And if you think you can predict the climax of this book…have I got news for you…but no spoilers.

When I initially gave in to curiosity and gave the series a shot, I think it was finishing Revolution that completely hooked me.  I’ve mentioned that, because these stories are character-driven, every reader is going to have their favorites whom they’d like to follow more closely than others.  And this book provides a huge twist and turning point for some of my favorite characters that, on reflection, had been hinted at, but I hadn’t realized the first time through.  So it was a sucker punch to the gut and it hurt so good when I read it the first time.

Rereading these books now, in today’s environment, is rather interesting.  Someone at least four years ago typed “it’s always good to punch a Nazi” with the confidence that this would always be true.  In my view, it’s always going to be true, but to look at the media today and see that statement questioned…!  It really does always come back to Nazis.  They were, for the world at large, the absolutely perfect embodiment of Evil in human form.  Not just the greater evil of sadism and science and everything else horrible in the world, but in the lesser and passive evil of the every day person ignoring what is plain to see.  Their imagery and memory has been used in so many forms of media to represent Evil over the years that it really is sickening to see these things defended.

I read in a textbook once that the reason why people started to talk about the Holocaust and their horrific experiences was because the Neo-Nazis announced that they’d march through Skokie, Illinois in the seventies.  For those outside the area, Skokie is a suburb just north of Chicago with a very high Jewish population, especially at that time.  (Since then much of the population has grown up or retired and moved elsewhere.)  I’ve been to the Holocaust museum in Skokie – before and after they got their shiny new building, and it sickens me to think of just how close to home this really was.  Which was, after all, the point.  Hate crimes and antisemitism have been up ever since the election results came in.  People who want to remake the world in their image by wiping out everything different feel no compunction or guilt about violently shoving their opinions in everyone’s face and most of us…just watch.

That’s what makes a hero, especially like those in our books and media.  That’s what makes the characters in Secret World worth reading about.  They don’t just stand and watch, they rise up and say “no.”  They stand and fight to make a difference in the world, to make it better.

Judaism calls us to heal and repair the world, Tikkun Olam.  It’s the charge to leave the world a better place than we found it.  And just because things are backsliding right now doesn’t mean that this is inevitable.  We just have to grit our teeth and fight back, knowing that too much of the world doesn’t actually want to go back into the box.  That we have the power to make a difference.  They just don’t want us to realize it and use that power.

I’m sorry this post kind of deviated into a soapbox, but I’m not sorry for my opinions.  I may be as guilty as you of just standing and watching, but I’m a registered voter and I believe in my Constitutional duty and right to cast a vote this fall.  I’m told there could be a lesbian representative in my district someday soon, and I’m happy to help make it happen.

I’m also happy to keep reading this series and watching Nazis get punched in the face.  A lot.  Also punched from space.  That one had to hurt even more.  And yes, I’m classing these books as fantasy instead of science fiction.  Superpowers kind of blur the line, but given Lackey’s forte and the fact that magic is a fact in this world, I’m going with fantasy.

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Pass the Squirrel Test

I’ve been busy, as you might guess.  It’s been a number of days since my last post and I really have only finished one book in that time.  But I’ve also been out of the house for twelve or more hours on each of the past few days, so I swear I have good excuses.  Also the book I’d initially started to read just…wasn’t grabbing me.  It was an anthology too, so I still haven’t finished the first story.  There’s just something about the Vietnam War that is more repellent to read than any other conflict I’ve encountered in literature.  I’m not saying that war was any better or worse than any other – hell, I’ve had a rather in-depth education about the Holocaust – but it is not one I care to read about at the best of times.  I did keep The Things They Carried after reading it in school and it’s somewhere in my library, but there’s just…something about ‘Nam.  I really can’t elaborate any better at this time.

I’ve been busy, like I said.  I went to the comic shop for the new Doomsday Clock and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers (Go Go Power Rangers isn’t out until this coming Wednesday, so I might hold off on the comic books until I get that in my hands) but I haven’t read them yet.  The Newberry Library’s book sale is this weekend, so I went to that yesterday.  I found a variety of things there, as usual, including Jirel of Jorey.  Since I discovered the original publication dates of those short stories, I really have felt bad about how I misjudged C.L. Moore’s writing.  For the time period, they really are enjoyable and worth owning.

I only found one book this year at the Women and Children First used book sale (part of the Andersonville sidewalk sale), but it was certainly intriguing enough.  I do keep meaning to read more Elizabeth Moon, and a solo book seems like as good a place to start as any, especially given the coauthored books with McCaffrey on my shelves.  Overall it wasn’t a huge haul, but it never is for me.  I tend to be picky, trying to reserve my cash for books that I actually want to read.  And even then, sometimes I get overly excited and get books that I later can’t bring myself to touch.  We’ll see what happens with those.

Now, the book I finished today is one that’s been increasingly dominant in my thoughts.  Sure, part of that is probably because of the new volume out next month.  That would be the fifth book, and it’s been four years coming.  That’s quite a gap in time, considering that the first book was published in 2011.

This is Invasion, book one of the Secret World Chronicles and proof that you just need to know somebody to get a book published.  Written by Mercedes Lackey, with contributions from Steve Libbey, Cody Martin, and Dennis Lee, the contents therein are the prose versions of a series of roleplays our authors created within City of Heroes, an MMORPG.  And yes, you can tell that these chapters were created from roleplays, just as it’s quite clear which characters were played by Lackey.  Self-insert indeed.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing.  I’ll admit, when I first read about the new book Invasion, I was skeptical.  I didn’t want to spend money on it because it just looked like…like really?  I was going to read someone’s roleplays?  And it’s an alien invasion of Earth too, for good measure.  But then I’d go to the library and they’d be on shelf, always on shelf, every book in the series.  So around the time the third book came out, I gave in and checked out the lot.

And I was hooked.  Oh sure, there’s some rough edges, especially in the first book.  But there was good, solid storytelling, memorable and likable characters, and so many little mysteries and subplots coming back to haunt you when you least expected it…I couldn’t put it down.  I determined to own the books for myself…but only in paperback.  I had waited long enough to get them that I could get the whole series (at that time) in mass market, and I’d much rather be patient enough to add them to my shelves in such a way that I can keep them all together.

That doesn’t mean that I haven’t asked my mom to put the new one on hold at the library, because hers still has the complete series and mine doesn’t have a single volume.  But it’s not the first hold, so who knows how long it’ll be before I actually get my hands on it.

I know, I know.  Enough about the background, let’s talk content.

During WWII, metahumans first appeared.  They showed up exclusively for the Axis powers…at first.  However, time and time again when the Axis attacked, one of the Allied soliders would suddenly pop powers and fight back.  The metahumans would duke it out like gladiators while the armies fought a more conventional war.  Then, after the war, most of the German metahumans disappeared.  For the rest of the world though, they became much more common.  They work with governments and people alike in a variety of fashions, the most common being Echo.  Based in Atlanta, Georgia (much like the CDED) and run by a descendant of Nikola Tesla, Echo is the metahuman organization across the world.  They rank their members according to power levels, ranging from supporting and OpOnes all the way up to the near-mythical OpFours.  You know, the kind of people who are so powerful that countries might make emergency plans just in case they go rogue.

It’s just a normal day in 2010 when the Invasion starts.  The first thing most people know is that there’s 8-foot tall powered armor walking around shooting everything and everyone.  The second thing they might notice are the swastikas proudly born on the armor’s arms.  It’s a worldwide attack, and anyone with any kind of understanding realizes that this is just the beginning of a new war.  The Nazis are back, and gods only know what happens next.

Most of this first book is a standard assembly of characters including Belladonna Blue (psychic healing & telepathy), Red Saviour II (plasma blasts, superstrength, flight), Victoria Nagy (magic), Red Djinni (limited shape-shifting), John Murdock (fire), and Seraphym (angel).  There’s numerous side characters who will become more significant as time goes on and more pages are devoted to their growth and development as well, which isn’t surprising given the already large cast of characters.

Like any good roleplay, what really grabs me and keeps me reading are the characters.  In fact, the greatest compliment anyone can give me concerning roleplays is that they actively follow my characters and genuinely want to know what happens next.  Roleplays may be creating stories with one or more other people, but they’re only made by bringing interesting characters to the table.  Books can work without being character driven – though it’s hard and generally doesn’t lead to good stories – but a roleplay doesn’t exist without characters.

And in case you weren’t clear on how much I’ve been wanting to reread this series, I also got through all of World Divided today.  All of these books are around six hundred pages long and while yes, it does exemplify how much time I had to dick around with today as opposed to the past three, I think it also shows how much I’ve been looking forward to burying myself in this world again.

World Divided is the book that makes it clear this is a real war, not just a one-time attack.  It also sees several other issues closer to home and introduces the villain Dominic Verdigris III.  The man is a sociopathic billionaire genius who is too self-centered to think of anyone else save how they can serve or screw him.  And he wants Echo.

In the meantime, our heroes are putting together a competent crew and getting their organization field-tested against future need because they are smart enough to realize that the Thulians/Nazis/whatever you want to call them are not going away until either they win or our heroes manage to crush them entirely.

World Divided is a fairly standard second book in every way.  Now that we know our main characters, we get to watch them grow and learn in the environment that’s been created.  We see new challanges thrown up in front of them to be overcome, and additional characters and plots introduced for resolution at a later date.  There’s new threats, but also new tech and techniques to combat it.  Not to mention making progress on several characters getting over their very real mental issues.  It’s almost a shame, because the mental issues on display here are almost all the result of some sort of trauma.  I mean, it’s good to show that these things exist, are very real, and can be overcome, but it’s not the same as those mental issues that disable people from the get-go.  The characters in the Secret World chronicles can operate at 100% capacity if those little issues are taken care of.  But we don’t really have any characters whose problems arise from deeper levels, disabilities that prevent them from ever operating at 100%.  I’m not complaining about how the authors show mental issues, I’m just pointing out that representation matters.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with today.  Reading over a thousand pages of the series I’ve been increasingly desperate to reread for no good reason has made me a very happy camper.  And I didn’t wander around the city on aching legs two days in a row which helps somewhat.  You can bet on what my next two books will be, of course, though I may mix in some other short bits depending on my mood.  I mentioned those new comic books, and one of my finds from the Newberry is quite short.  A very silly thing for me to buy unless if you know what’s in that childhood section of my library, but also short.

On that note, I’m off to start a Revolution.  You’re welcome to join me…so long as you pass the squirrel test.  But do not ask what that means.  You’ve got to read it for yourself.

Short on Science

After the young adult mush fest that ended Ann Veronica, I found myself hankering for something harder nad more violent.  And it just so happened that there was a book all about killing in my Pile.  This is Assassin’s Creed: The Secret Crusade, The Untold Story of Altaïr – the Master Assassin by Oliver Bowden.  Yes, I was very disappointed by Heresy, the last Assassin’s Creed book I read, but to be fair, that one had a number of things against it.  At the very least, The Secret Crusade is a professionally published (though weirdly tall) book just like the movie novelization was.  In fact, this is an Ace novel, which is an imprint of Penguin publishing, and anyone who notices publishers at all knows Penguin.

So yeah, this was a real book whereas Heresy needed a little more work.  Another spell check.

The biggest difference between The Secret Crusade and the other two books is that there is no Animus here.  In fact, there are three stories.  The Prologue and Epilogue feature an Assassin sailing…somewhere.  I feel like this character and his destination are a big reveal if you’re familiar with the games, so this is lost on me.  As it turns out, he has an old journal, which is the next story we encounter.  In fact, the journalist is the father of the famous Marco Polo and an Assassin.  He recounts telling a series of stories to his brother.  And it is these stories which are the main book itself, that of Altaïr.

Personally, I would knock off the prologue and epilogue.  There is such a thing as making your story too complicated with too many layers.  But again, I don’t play the games.  I don’t know how big an impact that epilogue would make with players.

A good half the book is devoted to the Third Crusade, taking place in the Middle East, focused in the region containing Jerusalem which is, of course, hotly contested whenever the subject arises.  Altaïr is a Master Assassin and, as such, assigned a number of key targets by his Master.  However, each kill raises more and more questions, leading to a true obstacle…

And yet that’s just the halfway point.  There’s still a goodly portion of story left, and the journal’s present, with the Polo brothers, features Altaïr as their ancient instructor.  So there’s quite a bit of history to go through, though the latter half is severely compressed in comparison.

It’s an engaging and compelling read, and easily shows how Templars and Assassins can be thoroughly entangled with each other, and have been for centuries.  And it’s Altaïr who shaped the Creed into what I saw when I first watched the movie, which is pretty cool to think about.

I’m pleased that I opted to give these tie-ins another chance, because I would be sad to realize how I was missing out otherwise.  I am thinking that I may limit future selections to those which are professionally published, and not those which look like self-published books regardless of the major media name on the cover.  I put up with enough self-published books that I don’t really want to waste my time on something that no one cared enough to spell check.  Not to mention that The Secret Crusade is a far stronger story in all aspects than Heresy.

I do wish that there had been science fiction aspects with the Animus in the present, but only for two reasons.  Firstly, because I really would’ve liked some hard sci-fi next (I have doubts about what’s in my Pile).  Secondly, because I really do find the whole concept fascinating.  But I can overlook those for a good book, which this definitely is.

As for what’s next, I am not certain.  I’m still hoping for something less soft and easy, but I’m not sure if I want to reread anything.  On a different note, I’m pleased to say that I finally got off my ass and got some Jack London into my library.  I’ve been reflecting lately on the fact that I didn’t have copies of The Call of the Wild or White Fang, both of which I’ve read and loved.  So, I was able to pick up a nice omnibus of the two.  Given the age of the books and the numerous editions in print, I opted for a nice copy as opposed to the first and cheapest available.  It isn’t often that I go this route (the last time being American Gods and Anansi Boys in one of those Barnes & Noble classic editions), but some books justify it.  Especially when you consider that these Jack London books are not especially long and getting two individual novels would be needlessly expensive when even a nice edition would be cheaper than two books.

I do hope to further deepen my Pile this weekend.  There’s the Newberry’s book sale opening to members tomorrow and the public the rest of the weekend.  And Women and Children First is having their used book sale as part of the Andersonville sidewalk sale.  Plus there’s Wicker Park Fest as an excuse to go to Myopic and Quimby’s.  And I really should get to my local comic shop to pick up the new issue of Doomsday Clock plus whatever I’m missing in Power Rangers.

It should be a great weekend for books.

A Victorian Novel

Reading Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells gave me a hankering to read an actual Victorian novel.  I know it’s kind of left field for me, given that I generally don’t even read sci-fi from the fifties or sixties outside random anthologies.  But, I do own some books published more than a hundred years ago.  And since the Victorian era is considered to end with WWI, it’s a rather long span of time to encompass.

So, who’s a good author from the Victorian era?  I though H.G. Wells sounded like a decent choice.  But I’ve never read The Time Machine.  Or even The War of the Worlds, though I adore my musical version on vinyl and have seen the Tom Cruise remake.  I haven’t even read The Invisible Man.

What, therefore, could I possibly pull off my shelves and not out of my Pile, by H.G. Wells?

Well, I’ve got a little more backstory first.  When I was a senior in college, majoring in graphic design, I had to do a senior project.  The class was provided with a list of prompts from a prestigious British design contest (one of our professors was a native of England) that we had to choose from.  For me, it was obvious which option was best: the one with books.

The prompt was to take at least three of five lesser-known works of H.G. Wells and design covers for them that were contemporary, but hinted at the fact that these now qualified as classics by being about a century old, and unified the group into a set in some way.  Me being me, I went online to find myself copies of the lot, and settled in to read.

Let’s be clear, I got through two and a half of these books before I gave up entirely on reading.  Though that might just have been Kipps itself, the third book I tried reading.  I didn’t keep it, nor Love and Mr. Lewisham, nor Tono Bungay.  I did hang onto The History of Mr. Polly as well as today’s book, Ann Veronica.

If you’re inerested in science fiction, you may note that none of these titles has anything to do with that field, and that they are literature or general fiction.  So what, then, is Ann Veronica about?

The title character is not yet twenty-two when the book opens, a sheltered suburban maiden of the early twentieth century.  She lives at home with her father and maiden aunt, and takes the train to her biology classes at the women’s college.  Her father keeps her, as his youngest child and daughter, protected from and ignorant of the outside world.  One of her older sisters has already disappointed him by eloping with a less than favorable man, while the other married as he preferred.  Both being at least a decade older than Ann Veronica, they are distant and neither present her with active role models.

The first hint of conflict arises over an art ball being thrown by students and attended by friends of Ann Veronica’s, who have invited her.  But her father absolutely refuses to allow it.  This spurs our young heroine to run away from home.  However, being young and inexperienced, Ann Veronica really has no idea to do once she accomplishes that first big step.  She is ill-prepared for the real world, and must not only get her feet, but figure out what on earth she wants to do now that she’s arrived.  This is the story of her adventures.

It’s a soft book, just over two and a half hundred pages, and would be such a hit in the young adult section if it was written today…or even just rewritten with modern language to appeal to our self-entitled youngsters who seem far too lazy to put in the effort necessary to read an older generation’s prose style.  Aside from the fact that Ann Veronic is twenty-one instead of fifteen or sixteen, it’s a very common sort of story.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not boring and I do thoroughly enjoy it.  Of course, part of what I enjoy is the setting, which was modern at the time of publication, back in 1909.  Ann Veronica becomes involved in the suffragette movement, visits museums, rides the train and in hacksoms – it’s quite fascinating to think of these old-fashioned things as being new and current, hence part of my own interest.

As I said, I like the book.  I think Ann Veronica is a likable protagonist, even if she tends to be self-centered and doesn’t even realize enough to think beyond her own needs and desires.  She’s intelligent, has interests in science and politics, and is so naive it’s amazing when her own innocence comes crashing down.  She’s a strong, independently-minded woman who will do what she wants and perceives as best for herself, and heaven help the men who try to stand in her way.  She can be loving and understanding…but only when she thinks of it.  She’s a flawed, human character, which is really the most interesting sort.

My only real complaints about the book are the sections where the flowery Victorian prose goes a bit overboard – you know the places.  Paragraphs that last for half a page or more are the usual culprits, though you can find it elsewhere.  Still, I’ve kept it this long and I see no reason to get rid of it now.

Some day I probably will read more H.G. Wells, and probably his science fiction works at that.  But for the moment I’ll take pride in these “lesser-known” books and hopefully illuminate their existence to a larger portion of the world.

Light Reading

I’ve been thinking about rereading A Spoonful of Magic for a while now.  Maybe it’s because some time has passed or, more likely, because I knew to expect it, but the fundamentalist Christians bothered me less this time and I was able to enjoy Daffy’s exploration of her new world with her family.  Like I said when I first read this book, it only came out last year, so some of the political aspects, sidelined though they may be, can hit home a little hard.

Irene Radford opens the book on Daffy and G’s unlucky thirteenth anniversary, out at a nice restaurant.  And drops the first bomb that Daffy wants a divorce after someone sent her an incriminating photo of her husband’s infidelity.  In many books, that would be more than enough to get the story started, but this is Irene Radford and this is a fantasy.  Once the two get outside the restaurant, they’re set on by would-be muggers and G not only defeats them, he magically compels them to do community service.  All in full view of Daffy.

It’s a little much for the poor woman, you understand.  She went to dinner thinking just that he was unfaithful.  The fact that he’s a practicing wizard, that this is his job, and that their three kids are also going to be wizards?  Far more than she was expecting.

But, it’s not so bad.  This is Eugene, Oregon which is essentially Salem West.  It’s a nexus of magical power and many of the residents, though they may not know it, have fairy ancestors.  (Which is something never really brought up because I would be very interested to know if the fairies are still around and what happened to them if not.)  Daffy long ago cut ties to her own Christian fundamentalist family and pastor father, remembering the love she had for her grandmother with the second sight.  She’s now one of the owners of Magical Brews, a coffee shop in the downtown area of Eugene.

They say never to get between a mother and her kids, and that’s exactly what it seems someone is trying to do.  So while Daffy has to deal with the divorce and what to do about her ex, she also must protect her family and friends, all while learning that magic is far more deeply ingrained in her life than she ever realized.

A Spoonful of Magic is a fairly light read (aside from political subplots that evoke stronger worries from readers) and just what I needed at the end of the week.  It’s not what I had planned on reading next…but I forgot that until I was already a third in.  Oh well.

Then I was further distracted by the Gerber Hart Library & Archives book sale.  I think I mentioned yesterday that this is the LGBT+ library, and if that wasn’t clear enough before, or when I saw the fabulous people in line before the sale opened, it was made abundantly clear once I made it into the room.  The two largest sections were, of course, Fiction and Non-Fiction.  There were also tables of Straight Fiction and Straight Non-Fiction, a tiny Kids section, and a separate Erotica area.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much nonstraight literature before.  Oh sure, I’ve been to that one bookstore…I can’t remember the name offhand…where they have an LGBT+ section in the back and it’s a decent-sized space.  But as with so many bookstores today, the shelves are not as stuffed full as they could be, with a great many books piled cover-out, instead of spine-out.  More display than volume.  I suppose overall there would be a comparable amount as this was a fairly small sale, but still, having everything mushed together and books on the floor makes it look like so much more.

I found a few books in the main fiction section.  Actually I found one that looked like sci-fi (okay, it does say right on the front cover that it’s science fiction) and it was in between two other books by the same author.  Since I’ve never heard of her, I figured I might as well grab all three.  Worst comes to worst, I dispose of the ones I don’t want later.  I found two books on the straight fiction table, one of which I thrust at a friend who came by later (he likes cats a lot) and one I kept for myself.

The real find was the kids’ section, where the friend I traveled with found Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall.

Now, I don’t read a lot of picture books anymore.  I’m not the target audience and I don’t spend much time with small children.  My friend used to work at a daycare and does work with special needs kids, so knows a lot more of these books.  They said Red was something they’ve wanted for years.  So, we read it on the bus back.

I could immediately see why this book would be found at Gerber Hart.  It’s the story of a crayon, Red, who is…blue.  Everyone keeps trying to get Red to color red, but it’s physically impossible, because it’s a blue crayon, even though the factory screwed up and put a red wrapper on.  Until, one day, another crayon asks it to color something blue.  It’s a story about labels and acceptance, about identity and being yourself.  My friend said its about being transgender but I say, why should transgender people alone be able to claim Red?  It’s a book for anyone who has been told to be something they’re not, whether it’s gender, sexuality, romantic orientation, etc.  I’m glad my friend was able to find it, and I’m even gladder that I got to read it.

As for myself, my quick read (of today’s finds) is Cat Love Letters: Collected Correspondence of Cats in Love by Leigh W. Rutledge.  It’s an utterly adorable read, as you explore the relationships (or lack thereof) between Miss Tonya Gabbeldoff & Mr. Peaches L. Keen, Snowball & Spitfire, Shasta & Mr. J.B. White Socks, Nefertiti & Boo, Miss Mindy Softpaw & D.W.Y. (Desolate Without You), Mabel Lightfoot & Mr. Grouch. Each story is a different take on love as seen though the eyes of the cats in question and they’re all entertaining and most are quite touching.

There’s young love, hatred, desperation, forbidden love, and old age to deal with.  Some stories have happier endings than others, but mostly things end well.  The entire premise is somewhat ridiculously hilarious, but it works and I truly enjoy it.  It’s no surprise to hear that the author is a crazy cat lady, but I’ll admit that thirty is a bit much.  Still, if it inspires such entertaining work, who am I to object?

I grabbed this on a whim and instead of passing it on to my cat-loving friend, opted to keep it for myself, at least long enough to read it.  Unfortunately for him, I’m not giving it up, it’s just too wonderful.  True, my copy has long since lost its dust jacket, but what do I care?  The inside is intact.  And what I thought to be a random childish stamp on one page turned out to be the cat’s letterhead, so it’s in good condition.  I should note that each cat has their own specific paper, font, and writing style, the better to distinguish them visually.  Each page also denotes who is writing to whom.  Except for the news clipping pages which are, well, obvious.  Suffice to say, I am so glad I found this little book as it’s helped brighten my day.

As for that other book I meant to read after Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells, that is definitely happening next.  For real this time.

Gaslamp

After an anthology edited by the lovely Ellen Datlow, I decided to follow it up with a second anthology, this time adding her partner-in-crime Terri Windling.  Fun fact: it’s been close to twenty years since I first read an anthology from this pair.  They edited A Wolf at the Door, a set of retold fairy tales I picked up through a Scholastic Book Fair.  (Ah, those halcyon days when books came to you and all you had to do was take the catalogue home and show your parents everything you wanted.)

These stories, however, are not fairy tales.  Indeed, this is the oft-overlooked very small subgenre of “gaslamp” fantasy.  Not steampunk (well, only one story is steampunk), but the Victorian era, generally speaking.  To the point where the book is titled Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells.  It’s actually the title of the first (and one of the best) stories of the lot, by the ever-talented Delia Sherman.  Although the story itself is set in modern times as the dedicated scholar examines the title volume, seeking the secrets of the great Queen’s life.

Some of the stories are far more fantastic than others, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  After all, fantasy encompasses that “left of center” reality that cannot be proven to be one thing or another.  And then there’s stories like Tanith Lee’s steampunk contribution that retells Frankenstein in a different manner.  That was one where I asked myself if that was really where this was going and well, yes, that’s exactly what she chose to do.  Of course, the end is far less predictable, but one does wonder.

Then again, I’ve read a number of Alice in Wonderland retellings, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  Indeed, I should be shocked at how rarely I spot Frankenstein.

Another notable entry is “Phosphorous” by Veronica Schanoes, an author I am wholly unfamiliar with.  Of all the stories here, this is the true horror tale.  It, combined with one of the stories from Blood is Not Enough reminds me that the most horrific stories are the ones with the most minimal elements of the fantastic.  The more rooted they are in reality, the scarier they are.  And it’s terrifying to think what kind of working conditions factory employees endured before they birthed the unions to argue for better conditions and pay.  It’s the downside to the picturesque Victorian upper-class we usually think of.

The last story worth mentioning in detail would be “The Vital Importance of the Superficial” by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer.  Told entirely through letters, it’s a charming and compelling tale of lost property, magical mishaps, and a bit of sappy romance.  I always have mixed opinions on stories told in this fashion, through supporting documents.  Some are incredibly well done, and others just read as bland as you can imagine.  This is one of the better ones, and is interestingly enough, not the only example in this volume.

We’ve also got stories from Elizabeth Bear, Gregory Maguire, and Jane Yolen, for names I’ve seen before.  I do like the note where Yolen is often called “the American Hans Christian Andersen” but says it’s more “Hans Jewish Andersen”.

Overall, it’s a decent anthology.  There’s only the three stories that truly stand out for me, but each of them alone would be worth keeping the book, and that’s no bad thing.

I may have stolen a couple more books from my parents’ house last night (not that they’d deny me any, especially books that neither has any intention of reading or rereading), but neither of them is striking me as something that must be next.  I’m heading into the city tomorrow for the Gerbert Hart Library’s book sale, although I don’t honestly know how I’ll fare there.  It’s a LGBT+ library, which is awesome, though I can’t be sure how that’ll affect a fundraiser like this.  After all, library book sales aren’t entirely or even mostly books removed from circulation.  They tend to be made up of donations, and the proceeds help support the library and its programs in the coming year.  So while I know the collection is rather specific, the sale is not limited in the same way.  Eh, we’ll see.  Hopefully it won’t be pouring all day long.

I am expecting a box to arrive sometime today, and it does have books in it.  One of them I know I’m not at all ready for yet, and the other is…a possibility.  A standalone by an author I’ve enjoyed in the past.  Although I’m considering rereading a different standalone…hmm.  Decisions, decisions.

Plus chores.  So I better finish up this post and be (semi) productive.

A Little Horror

There’s something very saitsfying about picking up a book out of the Pile and finding it just as good as you hoped it would be.  This is one of my newest acquisitions, from Half Price the Thursday before I left for the weekend, and one of the books I’d stuffed in my bag against finishing Spinning Silver.

Some names I just take note of, even if they seem to come in pairs.  In this case, I was surprised to find an anthology (of course it’s an anthology) edited by Ellen Datlow, missing her partner in crime Terri Windling.  Then again, I was looking in the horror section, which probably explains the lack.  Yes, the two together have a tendency towards horrific fairy tales, but Windling is more fantasy and Datlow is more horror.  And if you know anything about me at all, you know that this anthology I pulled from the horror section is about vampires.

The title, Blood is Not Enough, is a dead giveaway there, but that and the editor alone weren’t why I picked it up.  The cover said I’d find stories from (the late great) Harlan Ellison and Fritz Leiber, and the inside cover added Tanith Lee, as well as that other standard pairing of Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois, whom I hadn’t realized also wrote fiction, in addition to editing anthologies.  Oh, and Joe Haldeman also contributed.

I’ve read more authors here than that, of course, and it was very interesting to see which names are in my database multiple times as I went though, including Gahan Wilson (whom I last encountered in a fascinatingly visual story that started off Unnatural Creatures, edited by Neil Gaiman), Garry Kilworth, Harvey Jacobs, Edward Bryant (someone I originally read in Immortal Unicorn), and Steve Rasnic Tem.  That’s ten out of seventeen stories, and a fairly normal percentage for me.  Enough to have familiarity, but still room to find new names.  After all, every one of the authors I listed was new to me at one point and, as you know, the more I see a name the more likely I am to actually reach out and pick up a book based on that strength.  Well, maybe not a novel in most cases, but still, it adds weight to an anthology I’m considering.

As the title implies, Blood is Not Enough features more than just the traditional vampires.  Vampirism can take many forms, and there are stories here to showcase a multitude.  In fact, while most of the tales were written for this anthology, several are earlier works – much earlier in one case.  No date is provided to Leonid Andreyev’s “Lazarus”, which paints that Christian miracle in a much darker light.  The second oldest story is Fritz Leiber’s “The Girl With the Hungry Eyes” from 1949 which captures a mediocre photographer’s growing fascination and horror with his model.  “Try a Dull Knife” by Harlan Ellison dates back to 1968 and it, in contrast, manages to capture one man’s panic and frenzy as he tries to lose the shadows in his mind.

The other older stories are all from the eighties, including Gardner Dozois and Jack Dann’s contribution, “Down Among the Dead Men”.  Now that is a story that I will almost certainly remember forever for its chilling imagery and impposible question of right and wrong morality.  Datlow’s note preceeding the story mentions that this story was rejected by the major science fiction magazines of the time (1982) because of the subject matter.  I can understand that, but I feel this is a tale that shouldn’t be forgotten.  It is a vampire story, true, but it’s also a Holocaust story, and kudos to the men who wrote it.

Another tale that stuck with me is “The Silver Collar” by Garry Kilworth.  It may have been inspired by his daughter’s wedding jitters dream, but he wrote a hauntingly compelling tale around it that evokes Dracula in almost every scene.  I do appreciate that in addition to the editor’s note introducing each story, there’s also an author’s note following, talking about where the idea came from, what the author sought to accomplish, or just what comes to mind as they revisit a story years later for this collection.  A real best of both worlds scenario for me.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Harvey Jacobs’ “L’Chaim!” being the Jew that I am.  He may call his vampires “yuppies”, but the story was still good even when I saw what was coming.  It’s on the shorter side, but well worth the inclusion.

It was “A Child of Darkness” by Susan Casper that gave me flashbacks to Sabella by Tanith Lee, rather than that own worthy’s contribution.  Scott Baker’s “Varicose Worms” was as disgusting as promised and Edward Bryant’s “Good Kids” took a turn for the interesting as I read.

I suppose I could go on with a sentence about each and every inclusion, but I’ve hit all the high points by now.  The fact is that I do like a well-written vampire story and it’s a creature that works as well if not better in short fiction as in long.  I just need to keep reminding myself that not all horror exists to make you jump up and scream, that much of it’s psychological and knows how to tell a good story.  I’ve never liked scaring myself just to feel fear and I can’t stand horror movies.  But literature is a different creature and I need to be better about remembering that.

Mostly I’ll just sit back tonight and appreciate the wonder of reading a book of stories I’ve never experienced before and thoroughly enjoying myself.

And no, I’m not adding a horror category.  It may be listed as a separate genre in bookstores, but for me it falls under the banner of science fiction/fantasy.

Back into Books

I started reading comic books in college for a few reasons.  This included having Watchmen and Sandman foisted on me in digital format as well as discovering the original V for Vendetta.  And someone in the school’s library acquisitions had good taste, because that’s where I first read Green Lantern: Blackest Night, one of the major events in the DC universe.

So when I came across Blackest Night: Tales of the Corps last night, I thought it the best possible book to use my 50% off coupon on.  I didn’t bother rereading the other two Blackest Night books I have because I know the basics.  More importantly, it’s often hard to tell ahead of time, when looking at the trade collections, where everything fits in.  Oh sure, I could turn to the internet, but that takes effort and I can be very lazy.

As implied by the title, Tales of the Corps is an anthology book with stories from each of the various lantern groups.  Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and black are all found here to a greater or lesser extent.  Some of these tales are backstories that dedicated fans had probably long desired to see.  Others read as prequels to the actual event.

I’ll be the first to admit that a lot of this goes over my head, just because I don’t have an especially deep understanding of the DC multiverse.  And the very idea of the multiverse can be, well, brain-breaking.  Similar to how I have issues with time travel.  But I can follow enough to get through the stories.  Although I do have to wonder if some of this was altered when compiled into trade from the individual issues.  There’s a section of William Hand’s thoughts (aka Black Hand) about the various aspects of the emotional spectrum that would probably make the most sense if inserted at the end of the related short stories, instead of being a separate section.  Watchmen (and now Doomsday Clock) does that, with the miscellaneous papers, advertisements, articles, etc. at the end of each comic issue relating to what just happened and foreshadowing what is to come.

Overall, it’s not a bad collection.  It just suffers from my being more interested in the plot of Blackest Night than the multitudes of characters involved.  One shot comics are very short, which makes it difficult for me personally to have much investment in them.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m still keeping Tales of the Corps, it’s just much less likely to be reread than my other Blackest Night trades.

I’m Tired

After the disaster that was Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh, I felt I deserved something better.  Something I knew I’d enjoy.  So I gave in to temptation and reread Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik.

Yes, it took me a lot longer this time.  It’s been a busy weekend, I was out of town and, more importantly, I was the one driving.  So not nearly as much time to read as you might think, especially when you figure in actually socializing.  But that’s not a bad thing.  I already adore this book, so it was a decent choice in every way…except format.  I could’ve done without the added weight of a hardcover.

I have even less idea of what I’m reading next than I did on Friday, when I arbitrarily shoved a couple of the books I bought at Half price on Thursday into my bag.  (I had a coupon and an excuse to be in the area.  So sue me.  I was back there today with an even better coupon.)  I’m sure I will read them at some point, I just have no idea if any of my newest books will be next.

Well, there are some books new to me that won’t be next.  Or even read.  I was at my parents’ house briefly today, and I came away with a set of antiques.  Three old prayerbooks and an old bible.  I don’t know dates on everything, but the pair – a prayerbook and the bible – are both from the late fifties.  The prayerbook that’s mostly in its original shrinkwrap is probably from the same trip, as I’m quite certain all three of those are souveniers from a trip to Israel.  The other prayerbook has a publication date of 1897 and is the most fragile of the lot by far.

So the one with the (probably) fake ivory is The Form of Prayers for the Feast of the New Year According to the Customers of German and Polish Jews, ie a Rosh Hashanah prayerbook.  The set is a bible and an everyday prayerbook (only the bible still has a box), and I’m assuming the last is another everyday prayerbook.  The ones I’ve actually seen and handled outside of boxes are lovely, especially in comparison to the rather plain and undetailed ones I know today.  I do seem to have something of a prayerbook collection at this point, as a way of further connecting with my heritage. I am finally getting a set of High Holy Days Mishkan T’filah soon, so I’ll have that to pair with my old Gates of Repentence.  I don’t have an everyday copy in that set, but that’s mostly because I’ll have to spend actual money if I want one.

Anyway, I don’t really have much else to say because my mind is wavering between going everywhere at once and desperately wanting to fall into bed.  I’ll probably figure out my next book in the morning.

Try Something New

It’s called Foreigner, and did I ever feel it whilst reading.

After a lot of fantasy, I wanted some science fiction.  And after a conversation at RenFaire this past weekend, my vague sci-fi yearnings settled on a book that’s been in the pile for over two years; Foreigner by C.J. Cherryh.

It’s a lengthy series, with new books still coming out last I noticed.  I picked up this first volume at the SFWA event in Chicago.  That is to say, the Science Fiction Writers of America, who give out the Nebula awards.  Cherryh was made a Grand Master, so she was obliged to be present, even if that meant traveling halfway across the country.  And, of course, signing a number of books.  She had a few on the table that we could take as freebies, and as Foreigner was the only one of the lot I didn’t already own, the choice was obvious.

You know, I never actually read the synopsis on this one.  But it never really called out to me with interest, a feeling that hasn’t much changed since finishing the book.  You can tell how much it didn’t engage me by how many days it’s taken me to read a mere four hundred twenty-three page novel.

I think my first problem is the fact that there are two prologues.  Technically, the novel is divided into three books and the first two are very short.  I feel like the events of one or both could have been summarized in an exposition dump and then things would be less…random?  Confusing?  Let’s look at the actual book.

The first section is that of the ship Phoenix as something goes horribly wrong on their journey to establish a space station by a distant star.  They come out of…ftl, whatever it’s called in this universe…at a very wrong destination where they can’t actually stay.  After refueling, they continue onwards.

Book two is some unknown number of years later.  Enough for there to be grandparents at least.  There is a space station above a habitable world, and people have just begun moving down to the surface.  A surface which is already inhabited by sentient beings who have steam power.  This is the story of first contact, although it’s very brief and abruptly cuts itself off.

Some two hundred years later are the events of book three.  And it’s not until about forty-five pages into this third section that we get a brief overview of the events between – talking about the abandoned space station, humans limited to a single island on the planet, the treaty, the war, etc.  I can understand the desire to throw a reader directly into action with the assassination attempt that seems to kick off the entire plot, but I was already flailing around with two time jumps and then to have a third combined with a very alien culture and mindset that our human protagonist Bren Cameron is surrounded by?  It was a bit much to swallow.

And because the atevi remain so incredibly alien throughout, it remains difficult to read.  Again, credit where credit is due, other sentient species have no reason to think as we do and their culture and instincts are likely to vary greatly from ours.  It just makes it very difficult to get a grip on the people Bren is surrounded by.  Let me make it clear: there are no other humans in the third book.  It is Bren’s job to be an interpreter; not just of language but of culture and intent.  As such he’s one of the very few humans to live off the island and he often walks a thin rope.

At the end of the day, I still have very mixed feelings about Foreigner.  I can’t say that I liked it because it made me feel the foreigner to a point that I don’t know I can ever fully appreciate the book.  I can’t say that I hated it because I could always follow what was going on and even if I didn’t always understand it, I knew there was always logic to it, even if I couldn’t see it.  But I’m reminded of the unspoken rule: I never enjoy everything an author has produced, unless if they haven’t written much.

Usually, I add books to my database when I finish them, before I write the blog post.  However, I’ve been known to put that off in cases like this one, where I’m not certain whether or not I actually want to keep the book.  I was hoping that rambling on about Foreigner would help me clear up my feelings towards it.  Unfortunately, nothing has really coalesced for me.

I will admit to a mild curiosity about the second book.  I wonder if it picks up right where this one leaves off.  If so, I might be interested to see what happens next.  According to isfdb.org, book two is Invader, and the synopsis indicates that it probably does pick up roughly where Foreigner ends.  So there I have it, what I asked for on a silver plate.  I can go and see if the library has a copy and read it for myself.

But I don’t think I want to.  I don’t think I want to struggle through yet another one of these books, even though there’s likely to be more humans in the next.  And that’s telling.  Subconsciously, I don’t think it’s going to be worth the time investment to actually find out what happens next…and I don’t think I care about those events.

I’m not certain I can say this is a disappointment, because I didn’t have much interest in this series in the first place.  I picked up the book because it was free and I was there.  I hadn’t had any interest in reading the books in all the previous years I’d seen them around, and I still don’t.  I’ll put this in a pile to be sold at some point in the future, or given to a friend.  May they have more joy of it than I did.