Mind the Legions

Legions of Hell.  In most cases when you say that phrase, it means a host of demons or creatures like them, swarming over the land to decimate our heroes.  But here it’s meant a bit more literally.  Specifically we’re mostly dealing with the tenth and twelfth legions of Rome.  After all, the Romans have been a major force throughout the series thus far, since I’m back to reading more Heroes in Hell.

This particular book is wholly from C.J. Cherryh, and it’s a “novel”.  Somewhat.  The earlier chapters are shorts we’ve seen in previous volumes going all the way back to the original Heroes in Hell when Brutus first shows up at Julius Caesar’s door.  And because this is a novel, I’ve been somewhat leery of revisiting it.  Of course, I should have remembered that since we’re done with Troy, I really don’t have much to be afraid of.  Especially because this book is all about Brutus.

We know Brutus of course.  Marcus Junius Brutus, “et tu Brute” Brutus, Caesar’s murderer.  Except that this Brutus is seventeen years old, last remembers himself on a horse to Baiae, and certainly has no memory of dying let alone killing the great Julius.  So when he shows up seeking his father, innocent as any creature can be, only someone with a heart of stone could turn him away.  And while Caesar is a great many things, he has a soft spot for the boy.

And because Brutus is so lovable, so innocent, he refuses to tell the boy what he did in life.  Nor will he let anyone else spoil the boy’s innocence.  Julius knows it falls to him to tell Brutus about his death, but he doesn’t know how to say it.

So Brutus is an average seventeen year old boy.  He wants to be involved, to earn displays of trust and affection from his father, even when events are far over his head.  Then Welch demands him as a hostage while he goes to rescue Caesarion, Julius’ half Egyptian youngest son, from the Dissident camp.  But all of this was in previous volumes.

Things really start moving when Caesarion escape’s Julius’ villa and Brutus goes after him.  The two boys, both seventeen, are a study in contrasts.  Caesarion has lived in Hell, truly lived it, with all his memories intact.  Brutus is as innocent as he appears…although he’s not stupid or naive.  A distinction that Caesarion will come to appreciate as the two get into far more trouble than they ever dreamed possible.

Given how long it’s been since I last touched the series and how I’ve been taking my time about rereading it, I don’t begrudge Cherryh for the repeated sections from previous volumes.  They proved a good refresher on the situation in Roman Hell before escalating it almost to the breaking point.  Certainly there will be a great deal of fallout from this book, moreso than some of the earlier volumes.  And that does make me want to continue reading the series right away…or at least one more book for the time being.  I do have plenty of things in the Pile, but they’re not as interesting at this moment.

Surprise: Superheroes

As I turned today’s book over to slip the back end of my cover on it, I smiled to see the “Official Movie Merchandise” logo on it.  My, how things have changed, I thought.    After all, I was reading a book from 2002, the novelization of Spider-Man by Peter David.  I was also getting ready to go see Avengers: Endgame and this was the book I would read as I arrived early to get a good seat, since this theater does not have assigned seating.  I figured it was appropriate, to read a superhero book while going to a superhero movie.  After all, Spider-Man was one of the comic book movies that started to change how people viewed comic book movies.  Not to mention that a mass market paperback can fit in my purse if I choose wisely and remove a few items I knew I wouldn’t need.

Things have changed a lot in the seventeen years since this book was published.  Not only did I graduate high school and college, but superhero movies have become one of the biggest moneymakers.  I remember one high school summer when Spider-Man 2 came out and I convinced my dad to see it on IMAX opening weekend.  We bought the tickets in person and were suprised to discover they came with promotional t-shirts.  The theater itself was not particularly full – maybe twenty or thirty people.  And this would have been the Saturday or Sunday morning.  Today, they would’ve run out of shirts Thursday night and if the theater hadn’t been completely full, it still would’ve been mostly full.  Depending on how early in the day, we might’ve been able to buy tickets at the door, but the later it got the less likely that would be.

Let me make this clear.  I will always love Tobey Maguire as Spiderman.  I have nothing against Tom Holland and think he’s also very good, but I was a lot older when he started playing the role.  I saw a youtuber say that Spiderverse was the best Spiderman movie since Spider-Man 2 and I agree.  Don’t ask me which I prefer of Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 because I think they’re about equal.  Although I will say, seeing the second in IMAX…when Doc Ock is climbing up the outside of the building, I could feel the vibrations from the sound system through the floor and seat.  It was a great experience.

Anyway, I found the novelization of the first movie at Windy City Pulp & Paper.  This is appropriate because you may recall the day after that I got about four inches of snow.  There aren’t four inches outside yet…but I definitely seem to be in the area getting the worst of this late season snowstorm.  I’ve actually seen this particular book around before, but I couldn’t resist it for the price of a dollar.

What I’ve found, in my reading of novelizations, is that if I liked the movie, I generally like the book too.  Sometimes it’s hard to say which version I prefer, although I do seem to go with the visual over the textual.  And I think in this case I will continue that trend.  The scene between Willem DaFoe and Willem DaFoe loses a lot without the great performance.  However, there are a lot (seriously, a LOT) of elements and scenes that didn’t make it into the movie.  Some of them didn’t for obvious reasons – mentions of other Marvel characters for example.  And there was a lot of Daredevil foreshadowing in this book – I loved it, but I’m sure they were obliged to cut it from the movie long before it got to the cutting room.

There was, surprisingly, a bit of the Spiderman story that I’ve known from the time I started watching the cartoon on Fox Kids but have never actually seen.  That being when a newly orphaned Peter Parker is brought to live with his aunt and uncle, whom he has no recollection of ever meeting before.  It’s a cute and touching set of scenes that plays with foreshadowing.

I also appreciated how Peter David approached the fact that Spiderman narrates.  A lot.  Instead of writing the book in first person, he incorporated a diary element.  In fact, Ben Parker presents the young Peter with his very first notebook and explains how he can use it to write letters to his parents.  And so all of the diary entries throughout the book are addressed to Mom and Dad.  From what I can see, Peter seems to assume that they can see everything he does anyway, but I think he finds it cathartic to actually write it down.

There were some great lines and exchanges in this book.  Some I remember clearly from the movie, others are new.  And some are too subtle to actually be in the movie.  Like this one:

‘“Nothing makes people remember a name like alliteration!” J. Jonah Jameson said.
“Do you really think so?” Peter Parker asked the nearest bystander.
“I wouldn’t know,” Robbie Robertson commented. Then J.J.’s secretary, Betty Brant, informed him that he had a conference call with noted scientists Bruce Banner and Reed Richards.’

On its own, Spider-Man is a cute enough book.  I mean, it’s not wholly believable – Peter David knows nothing about kids and school buses for example.  The two rearmost seats are in fact highly desirable because you feel every single bump in the road, thereby making it seem like a knockoff rollercoaster.  No way would they be the only ones left and Peter forced to sit there.  I also had to remind myself what Harry Osborn’s cell phone would have looked like in 2002; a little phone that was mostly dialpad and probably didn’t even support SMS messages…if he even had anyone other than his dad to text.

Like the best novelizations, it only increases my appreciation for the story.  It adds more viewpoints and those scenes which explain so much but weren’t actually necessary to keep in the movie.

More than anything, it makes me want to watch the movie.  And while I may cringe a bit, I’ll still have fun.

I won’t be checking my watch.  That’s something this has over Endgame.

That was Mediocre

You know, I did say it would be at least two days to finish this book.  Maybe I could’ve done it in only two, but sometimes life just refuses to let you read.  And also sometimes you get super frustrated and decide it’s not too soon after Easter (and before the Orthodox holiday) to watch your favorite movie for that celebration, Rise of the Guardians.  Which I still prefer to the books, although the books are pretty good despite being far below my reading level.  But that’s not what I finished today.

No, today I finished the nearly eight hundred page conclusion to the disaster know as the Demon Cycle by Peter V. Brett.  Titled The Core, this is where our heroes finally take the fight to the demons.  Oh, and things up top get worse but also better.

I’ve mentioned reading these books to some of my friends and have gotten some interesting reactions.  One said they were terrible and had some serious hate for Renna.  This I later found is because this friend has met a lot of Rennas in person and now refuses to deal with the breed in books.  Another friend said they were unable to get very far into the first and asked if I was hurt because I was trying to read them.  No, I’m not in physical anguish since I do have a fairly high tolerance for crap fantasy.  I’ll just mourn the death of the book that could have been.

There’s a number of issues I have with Brett’s books.  Some I’ve mentioned before, some I haven’t.  But it’s a lot of things, some of which are minor and some are fairly major.  Things like the parodies of Islam and Christianity that don’t manage to find enough substance to exist on their own.  The absolute obsession with sex.  The insistance on focusing almost every single woman’s life in all five books around having children…or the inability to do so.  The senseless violence and cruelty most clearly denoted by Hasik.  The pointless politicking.  Too many viewpoint characters. Too many characters we’re expected to remember (who the hell is Derek again?).  Too many flashbacks on secondary characters in the first four books.  (Thank goodness there are no flashbacks in the fifth books save as most would use them – that is to say, showing a character remembering a moment but not going back in time and detailing it.)  Too many things happening at the same time, requiring the author to go back over those few days once for each location.  The Jesus archetypes.  The “revelation” about the Core.  The weird powers/abilities/benefits of killing demons.  How the hell does that relate to what Arlen discovers about how wards work?  Characters who exist to be awful people.  “Revelations” about who’s really in charge of politics.  How this world relates to our own – they had electricity and firearms in the distant past, and books detailing such things, but no real indicators of how such things vanished.  The fact that homosexual relationships are brought up simply because the author wants to show that he’s not opposed to such things – only one has any real bearing on the story and the rest are largely irrelevant.  The fact that one character is intersex, but nothing is done with it except to conceal the fact from “the world at large” even though all the primary, secondary, and many tertiary characters know it.  There may be more but I’ve gone blank for the moment.

The point is, Brett had a concept for a story but not an epic.  He tried to make this big and encompassing (overlooking the fact that this takes place on a portion of a single continent with no concept of the rest of the planet) but wasn’t able to balance the different elements of the story enough to allow it to come together.  It kind of makes me want to reread something like Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive to see why those bricks, half again as long as this one, work and this doesn’t.

Here’s an example of how uninterested I was in the various “countries” (read: cities and surrounding territory) of Brett’s world: the books have maps in them, and I have barely glanced at them.  If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you’ll note that I usually love my books to have maps, that I want to know exactly where the characters are going and where they’ve been and how those two relate to each other.  You’ve seen me lamenting the lack of the right maps in David Weber’s Safehold books, and long for a nice, full color atlas.  And here I am telling you that I gave no shits about the maps in these books.  I have glanced at them.  Frankly, the only reason I think journeys between these cities take so long is because Brett doesn’t have a good sense of how long or short they really are.  Admittedly, the demons coming every night do have an effect, but the distances just don’t look that bad.  Part of that perception may be the lack of a coastline, and another part may be the little illustrations representing some of the cities.  But it doesn’t change the fact that nothing about this story feels vast.

I’ve read the annotated Chronicles and Legends of Dragonlance, and there was a comment about how these trilogies take place on a single continent of the planet.  And reading those books, Chronicles in particular, it definitely feels like our heroes trekked across an entire continent.  Whereas Brett was finding ways to shortcut his distances quite heavily by the end and therefore rendering them meaningless.

Finishing The Core was overall disappointing.  I requested it through interlibrary loan because I didn’t think it was worth asking my library to spend money on it…and I was right.  The only reason I actually put forth that effort was just that I wanted to know how the story ended.  What can I say, if I can get through four books I can get through the fifth.  And at least I won’t look back later and wonder what did happen.  Instead I get to mourn the death of the story that could have been.

For example, I mentioned that one character is intersex.  This has been on my mind of late given the startling revelations about one of our American Revolutionary War heroes, Casimir Pulaski.  Don’t know who he was?  Well, before I saw the episode about him, I could’ve told you he was Polish.  There’s a lot of Poles that emigrated to Chicagoland and so Pulaski Day is a thing here every year.  I don’t get off work like I did school, but yes, it’s a real holiday.  I didn’t know that he was a fierce (and short!) cavalry commander and I certainly wouldn’t have guessed him to be intersex.  The episode on Smithsonian treated it as a cold case, since they were trying to confirm that the bones in the Pulaski monument were indeed his.  It was pretty interesting.  But the fact that the intersex characteristics in The Core are treated as undesirable and to be concealed just…rubs me wrong after watching that.  Especially because I actually was reading the Demon Cycle when it aired.  The book’s only two years old and I feel like it should do better when discussing issues of sex and gender.

Oh wait, I forgot what series I was talking about.  This is the one that tries to have both firm gender roles for cultures and also break them because “women are people too, you know”.  It really reads as an attempt to appeal to a broader audience while refusing to actually embrace the ideals being espoused.

Which then begs the question of why include these elements if you don’t actually care?  Oh I understand the need and demand for representation, but bad representations are worse than none.  Bad representations reinforce harmful stereotypes as well as the thinking that created them in the first place.  If you’re just going to half-ass them to appease people, I’d rather you didn’t bother.

And again, there really was a germ of a real story here.  It got bogged down with too many characters, trying to focus on too many locations at once, insisting on us knowing backstory for all primary and secondary characters, and spending large chunks of time ignoring what should be the main plot.  It is possible that there’s too much story in the series to be limited to a single book as I previously suggested, but I still don’t see even enough for three books here.  But you know, there’ve been series of two books before.  Stories that were too long for a single volume but not quite long enough for three.  But I guess duologies aren’t salable the way trilogies and series are.  But what do I know?  I’m just the experienced reader.

Bah, enough of the terrible series.

I’m not sure what I’ll be reading next.  I have a ticket for The Movie tomorrow morning, so I’ll probably leave that choice for when I get home and decide to curl up and watch the snow.  (Yes, snow.  We’re expecting 4-8″ starting early tomorrow afternoon.  Welcome to Chicago.)  I of course have numerous options in my Pile as per usual, as well as the whole of my personal library.  I should also get to the actual library at some point and return the ILL book, but that may get put off due to weather, and also because I’ve got a couple weeks before said novel is due.

I just hope I find something more satisfying to read next.

More Unicorns

Ten years after the classic team of Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois brought Unicorns! to the world, they came back with Unicorns II, which was oh so conveniently on shelf next to the preceding volume when I was at Half Price.  So of course I picked it up as well.  And I can tell you right away that I had not read this book before, which is always good for something I’ve just bought on the premise that it’s new to me.  I don’t know if it’s because it was a new book or not, but I had a lot more fun reading Unicorns II than its predecessor.  I don’t want to bash the very skilled authors in the first volume, but there is something magical about discovering a book for the first time that no subsequent reading can restore.

There aren’t as many stories in the second volume, but that’s not a bad thing.  And there is a preface this time about unicorns and a brief overview of how they vary.  It’s not very long, and then we’re into the first story, “The Calling of Paisley Coldpony” by Michael Bishop.  Paisley is an Ute maiden who is dream-called to the Sun Dance.  There are two parts to the story, the dance and waking up from the dream.  It’s a very interesting story, but the very subject matter raises questions in today’s world that were likely silenced back in 1988, such as whether or not Michael Bishop can and should write this story.  Of course, I’ve seen a variety of cultures written by authors from North America, it just seems to be squidgier when it’s Native Americans.

Second is “Unicornucopia” by Lawrence Watt-Evans and it revels in the absurd.  A man discovers that magic has returned to the world in quantity.  To impress a girl, he summons a unicorn.  Except he’s not a particularly skilled wizard (possibly because he hasn’t had much magic to experiment with, possibly not) and his spell summons one of every kind of unicorn.  Suddenly all those varieties from the preface seem more important.  But it’s an entertaining sort of mistake at least.

Jack Dann contributes a story in addition to his role as editor, offering “The Black Horn”.  And…of course I have managed to find a Passover story.  During Passover.  Because I’m just that Jewish.  I suppose I should be grateful it’s not a Holocaust story.

Then comes “The Hole in Edgar’s Hillside” by Gregory Frost which is…fine.  Except for the fact that I’ve already read a story almost exactly like this.  It’s called “The Harder They Fall” by Tanya Huff and gave the title to the collection I read it in, What Ho, Magic!.  It’s true that Frost’s 1991 story is four years older than Huff’s, but it doesn’t change the fact of which I read first.  Although Frost’s does have a better ending.  But, as you’ve noticed, I generally prefer whichever I’m exposed to first unless there is a very clear difference in quality.

Tanith Lee is always an interesting author.  Her contribution here is “The Hunting of Death: The Unicorn”, a story that probably has the most religious overtones of any in this book.  Admittedly, you can put religious overtones on anything and some of them I won’t necessarily pick up on.  Michael Bishop’s story, for example, could have real religious undertones to it, but I only read it as “spiritual” because I am not Ute or any other type of Native American.  Although I’m kind of annoyed that I picked up where Lee was going when a man sold a unicorn for thirty pieces of silver.  I am Jewish and I should not know how much Judas was paid for selling out Jesus.  I’ll blame Hellsing for that one.

On a much more irreverant note, Mike Resnick offers a great deal of irreverant advice to would-be hunters in “Stalking the Unicorn with Gun and Camera”.  In this world, unicorns are wild animals, probably getting close to that endangered species list despite all the inherent difficulties in getting close to them.

After that is “The Boy Who Drew Unicorns” from Jane Yolen.  She is not especially forthocming in all of the boy’s difficulties, but it’s enough to know that he has not had an easy childhood.  And doesn’t talk.  Also it’s impressive how I have nearly twenty stories by Jane Yolen, yet only own the Pit Dragon trilogy and Except the Queen for novels.  I don’t even have a single short story collection.  Maybe I should look into that…although the question then would be how many of those stories would be duplicates?

Following is “Ghost Town” by Jack C. Haldeman II.  One day I may look into figuring out who all the Haldemans are and how they relate to each other.  But that requires effort and attention and I have none for it right now.  “Ghost Town” is a story of second chances, of the opportunity to be a better self, if you’re willing to take it.

“The Stray” is Gardner Dozois’ contribution, coauthored with Susan Casper.  It’s a cute story of a unicorn that could be just like a dog or cat found roaming free.  Of all the stories in this book, this is one that I could easily see being adapted to other media.

“The Shade of Lo Man Gong” by William F. Fu is, like all stories here, preceded by a short biography of the author and a hint of what is to come in the tale.  And in this case, there’s a note that all Jack Hong stories, including this one, were soon to be collected and presented in timeline order.  I might have to look into finding this book.  My impression is that this may be the first of Jack Hong’s stories, as it distinctly feels like a beginning.  But I don’t want to make assumptions.

Now, even though I had never even heard of Unicorns II, it wouldn’t be my luck if there wasn’t a story I’d already read.  And to make matters even more special, that story is “The Princess, The Cat, and The Unicorn” by Patricia C. Wrede.  You know, one of the stories I read out of Book of Enchantments nine days ago.  Because of course.  Needless to say, I don’t feel it necessary to talk content on this again so soon.

The final tale is “Naked Wish-Fulfillment” by Janet Kagan.  And it’s one of the most…interesting unicorn stories I’ve read in quite a while.  You see, it almost entirely takes place on the set of a porno.  So there’s a lot of double entendres and ridiculousness.  Nothing against those who work on these movies, after all, it’s a paycheck, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t lend itself to the absurd.  And yet, I’d have to say this is one of the most powerful stories in the book, and well-deserves its position as the last thing you read.

It’s always satisfying to add a book like this to my collection.  I’m sure I’ll continue enjoying it for years to come.  As for what I’m reading next…my inter-library loan came in.  Sure I’ve got it for three weeks, but why put off ’til next week what you can read tomorrow?  Well, probably tomorrow and Thursday at the very least.  We’ll see how quickly this goes, but on length alone I estimate at least two days of reading.  And then…we’ll see how much of that post is a rant.

Unicorns Everywhere

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t even touch a book yesterday.  My mind was still dealing with Saturday and then I had commitments yesterday as well.  So I could have read, but I just couldn’t focus enough for it.  And I still couldn’t focus when it came to choosing a new book to read, so I decided to go for one of my new ones, an anthology.  Light, easy reading.

It’s called Unicorns!, edited by the old team of Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois.  I may not care for Year’s Best collections, but I do respect good editors.  Anyway, the book is from 1982 and I assumed that I’d probably have read some of these before.  More than one, I guessed when I looked at the copyright page and found a wide variety of dates.  Not that this is a bad thing.

In fact, I seemed to recognize every single story as I read on, which seemed unusual. So I started checking my database but could find only one story in it.  Then I picked one of the more memorable stories and took it to isfdb.org.  There I discovered that this particular story had been published in magazines, in this anthology, and something that looked French.  Which led me to the surprising conclusion that, despite not owning this book previously, I have read it before.  I haven’t the faintest idea when or where, but there’s no other way I could so clearly remember every single story in this collection.

But let’s talk turkey.  There’s no introduction to the book as a whole – somewhat unusual for an anthology.  To be fair, each author and story has an introduction ranging from brief to lengthy, but it’s still surprising that the book lacks one.  Which means we go into Avram Davidson’s essay contribution “The Spoor of the Unicorn”.  Which, I finally remembered, I found impossible to finish last time because it’s a mixture of lies, truths, half-truths, and pretentious vocabulary and sentence structure.  It’s about unicorns and it’s about nothing.  I know it’s meant to poke fun, but this is the sort of essay I despised having to read for school.

Theodore Sturgeon’s “The Silken Swift” takes us to an isolated village with a ruling manor where everybody has secrets and no one wants to display them.  It’s sort of a love triangle, but nobody wins in the end.

“Eudoric’s Unicorn” is a comedy from L. Sprague de Camp.  It’s just modern enough to provide some anachronisms when you add in magic and unicorns, but still doesn’t feel like it’s meant to be present day anywhere.  In many ways, it’s “Two Yards of Dragon” all over again.  I suppose that’s not a bad thing, but it does make de Camp seem a bit of a one trick pony.

“The Flight of the Horse” is the only story here I own a second copy of, that in Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman.  In some bizarre future, the ruling family is so inbred as to be idiots and yet they’re still suitable figureheads.  They see our protagonist sent back in time to catpure creatures that have been found in old picture books.  In this case, a horse.  Hanville Svetz has never seen one before, so he doesn’t know why this one has a horn on its head while the picture book didn’t, but he’s going to do his job nonetheless.

Harlan Ellison contributed “On the Downhill Side”, a short tour of New Orleans while two strangers try to work through their own personal difficulties to find something more in their existence.  I think this was the point where I decided I really didn’t want to look up which of the authors in this book are alive and which were dead.  Considering that several of them had passed before Unicorns! was published, I know it would have to be a fairly depressing percentage today.

“The Night of the Unicorn” is Thomas Burnett Swann’s story.  Set in Central America, it reminds us that the unicorn mythos is not always as simple as it seems.  Namely, that viriginity can be as much a state of mind as it is a state of body.

Of all the stories I remembered, “Mythological Beast” by Stephen R. Donaldson is one of them.  Set in what seems like a future utopia, it’s become somewhat more terrifying of late.  Everyone has implanted monitors, biomitters, that exist to keep them docile and content.  This preserves the peace and no one thinks twice about doing whatever the biomitter says.  In fact, aside from reading the biomitter, people aren’t being taught to read anymore.  It’s only a fluke that Norman, our protagonist, does have such a skill.  This is definitely one of my favorite stories from the book.

“The Final Quarry” from Eric Norden is another tragedy, but in the sense of the past shaping the future, rather than a future that might come.  Here the death of a unicorn is equated with innocence, hopes, and dreams leaving the world a little more until nothing is left but anger, violence, and pain.  It’s a question of what a person feels is more important, and if they’re even willing to consider self-sacrifice.

Vonda N. McIntyre contributed “Elfleda”.  It’s another science fiction tale of the future.  Here people with more money than is good for them combine human and animal DNA to create their own mythological creatures.  Then they entertain themselves with them in a variety of ways.  They probably don’t even care that many of these creatures are still every bit as intelligent as they are…

“The White Donkey” comes from Ursula K. Le Guin.  Set in India, it’s a simple and sad story of a young woman discovering beauty and wonder just before she’s to be married.

Then there’s Roger Zelazny’s “Unicorn Variation” about a chess game for the fate of the world.  No, seriously.  Apparently mythological creatures like chess.

“The Sacrifice” by Gardner Dozois is a shorter tale, but one that turns the story you expected to read on its head.  I think that last time I managed to overlook the one line that explains it all because my eyes grew wide tonight when I finished it.

Frank Owen’s “The Unicorn” is set in the Far East, possibly China based on names.  It’s a story that can be summarized as “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”.  Not that this is a bad thing.  It’s still a good tale.

“The Woman the Unicorn Loved” comes from Gene Wolfe and is set on a college campus.  One gets the feeling Wolfe was having fun discussing various historical sources on unicorns and other mythology as the protagonist ran down the clock.

Bev Evans’ “The Forsaken” was the story written specifically for this anthology.  It’s another tale of people blinding themselves to reality, to the possibilities the unicorn represents.

The last story is “The Unicorn” by T.H. White, a short story that stands on its own but is also a chapter from The Once and Future King.  Morgause is hosting a trio of knights and going out with them daily to hunt a unicorn.  How she, a mother of four, is supposed to serve as unicorn bait is beyond me, but as she’s not the focus it’s not incredibly important.  What is vital is that her four boys decide that they will go hunt the unicorn.  It’s more like playing pretend for them, as they decide which boy will play which knight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a real adventure nonetheless.

I would really love to remember where I got the last copy of this book I read.  There’s some great stories here, as well as some I find less interesting, plus that essay that I doubt I’ll ever read again.  I’m glad that I at least have it now.

Comics

Chag Pesach to everybody and what do you know, here I am again.  Some of the comics I picked up were ones I knew I’d be interested in, although I hadn’t made any provisions ahead of time.  After all, they’ve only been building up to this for a few years at least.  Yes, today I read The War of the Realms #1-2, the first issues of Marvel’s massive event.  Now, I’ve known for months how huge this would be.  There are so many tie-in issues that it’s a significant portion of Marvel’s previews.  After all, there are ten realms and dozens of characters and so many moving parts that it’s hard to keep track of everything.  And while I don’t actively keep pace with most comics, I’ve been aware this was coming.  After all, one of the lady Thor graphic novels showed a dead light elf floating in orbit above the Earth, with the words “THE WAR OF THE REALMS IS COMING” carved into his chest.  When I first read that, it took me a bit to realize that this comic, which was more than a year or two old, was still directly connected to the comics being published at that very moment.

I mean, yes, of course they’re connected, we all talk about how the comic universes have continuity going back decades, but that’s not the same.  As I’ve said, I don’t keep up with individual issues for very many series.  I’d rather wait and read the graphic novels…assuming I was even aware of these stories when they were first being serialized.  Because that’s how I’m accustomed to finding these stories, it was something of a shock to realize the graphic novels I’d found were talking about an upcoming event that had not yet been released.  Being on top of things is, needless to say, something of a surprise.

So we come to the actual event at last, that’s been foreshadowed and discussed and previewed.  It starts off with Malekith sending dark elf assassination teams against people he deems the biggest threats.  So we’re talking Odin, Freyja, and Jane Foster, weirdly enough.  Her cancer is in remission by the way, so she’s not a walking skeleton anymore (sorry Ghost Rider – he’s in this too).  Anyway, it was a normal enough night, followed by dark elf hit squads and then, on the heels of those attacks, comes the full invasion of Midgard.  Heroes all over fight back valiantly, but there’s more than just armies of Norse mythology crashing through the streets.  There’s simultaneous magical and technological attacks meant to cripple and disable options beyond combat.

At the end of issue two, the main group is taking a breather back at Avengers HQ.  They’re realizing that there’s a lot to do.  Thor needs to be brought back from Jotunheim, Malekith’s Black Bifrost needs to be destroyed, Odin and Freyja’s baby daughter is still missing, and Midgard (Earth) is still taking the brunt of the invasion. As anyone paying attention to the previews and solicitations knows, the time has come for different groups to be spun off into several event miniseries.

Even though I haven’t been copmletely up to date in terms of the current Marvel universe, I’ve read enough of the right things to have the gist of what’s going on.  And, of course, I recognize a huge number of the characters from all the various forms of exposure I’ve had over the years.  So while I’ve never read a Punisher comic, I know who Frank Castle is and what he does.  Or Captain Marvel, or Enchantress.  The list goes on.  And it helps that comics try to ensure that even their redesigned heroes and costumes are still recognizeable even so.

For all this is a giant event, I am not expecting a huge amount from it.  Not like when I finished the last of the lady Thor graphic novels.  But I had a lot more investment in that story.  So, we’ll see what happens.  If I’m right about the timing, I’ll be buying the next issue on Free Comic Book Day, which means I have to decide which store will get that part of my money.

Moving on to the comics everyone knows I’ve been collecting, today I read Go Go Power Rangers #17-19 and Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers #36-37.  In our prequel series Rita is still gearing up to bring the sixth power coin into play.  However it requires her to do something utterly incredible – delve into her own past.  We get to meet her mother for the first time and gain some insight as to the powers that produced her and shaped her into the person she is today.  On the other hand, there’s a reason Zordon’s assisstant is called Alpha-5, and the unfolding mystery for the rangers is how this came to be.

Back Beyond the Grid, the rangers from various teams have been helping the Void’s people find hope and light in their lives following a surprising defeat for the Praetor.  However, the villain’s not out yet and as the rangers draw ever closer to solving the mystery of the Solarix, the Praetor reaches out with that time-honored power all villains possess: temptation.

One thing I will note is that while MMPR #36 saw the conclusion of Ninjor and Blue Senturion’s adventures, issue 37 does not introduce a new backup story.  While I will miss the comedic endnotes, I can’t deny that I’ve been steadily losing interest in those stories.  Bulk and Skull were classic and valued.  Baboo and Squatt were…fine, but stupid.  And I never did care about Ninjor in the series, nor have I seen the series Blue Senturion is from.  So reclaiming those two pages for story is not a bad call after three years.

Miscellaneous Comparisons

I suppose I should be mildly grateful for the overwhelming power Christianity impresses the United States with.  It gave me the day off which was a perfect opportunity to take the car in for service.  And, me being me, I of course brought Werehunter and the last five short stories within, along with a second book for when I should inevitably finish the anthology.  Originally I had thought I might skip some of these stories simply because they’re not quite to my taste most of the time.  They’re not bad of course, just…stories I have no qualms about skipping.  It’s happened before.  But given that they estimated 1.5-2 hours, I figured better safe than sorry, read it all.

First up of the remainder of the book was “Stolen Silver”, the story Lackey once claimed would be the only Valdemar short she wrote because she saw no reason in wasting a good idea on short fiction when it could be expanded into a novel.  (And it was, “Stolen Silver” became the prologue to Exile’s Honor, detailing Herald Alberich’s early days in Valdemar.)  Obviously Werehunter was published before the Valdemar anthologies became annual events.  Sword of Ice, the original Valdemar anthology, had been published two years prior, but if you check the credits you’ll find that Lackey is coauthor on two stories, having contributed nothing on her own but the position of editor.  It wasn’t until Sun In Glory came out four years after Werehunter that she offered up an all new short story on her own, a tradition that has continued.  So, she didn’t know when she wrote the blurb preceding “Stolen Silver” that she would become a liar.  But there you have it.

“Roadkill” is a creepy story.  That’s what it’s meant to be and it does the job.  It’s only eight pages long, but there’s no reason to make a tale longer than necessary to do the job, especially in horror.

I know I’ve talked about “Operation Desert Fox” before.  It’s the one that introduced me to Bolos and sparked me to find the first two books in the basement as well as buy the first of those anthologies.  At some point I will get through the entire fifteen book series on this blog.

The last two stories are “Grey” and “Grey’s Ghost”.  They are theoretically about the parrot Grey, but much more about the children of the British Empire sent to the homeland for safety and schooling.  The environment you might recall from classics such as The Secret Garden or Sara Crewe (aka A Little Princess).  They’re nothing kind of stories, which is why I wouldn’t have cared if I skipped them on this reread.  But again, I had too much time to ignore them.

The other book I brought with me is one of my finds from Windy City Pulp & Paper.  It’s been a while since I first turned up a Crossroads adventure, and I hadn’t thought to find a second from the same world.  In fact, this one’s older.  You see, this is Dragonharper by Jody Lynn Nye, another Choose Your Own Adventure book set in the world of Pern.  The other book, Dragonfire (also by Jody Lynn Nye), stars Mirrim, rider of Path, and not one of my favorite characters.  So I was not wholly engaged when playing through it.

But Dragonharper puts the reader in the shoes of Robinton.  Now, whereas Dragonfire took place a bit after the original trilogy (it’s on the Southern Continent for example), Dragonharper takes place before.  After all, Robinton’s older than Lessa and F’lar, so his adventurous days predate theirs.  He was the Masterharper at the time Dragonflight opened, but Dragonharper takes the timeline back to his own Journeyman days.

Yes, I know what you’re thinking, if you’ve any real familiarity with the series.  There’s already a book about this, The Masterharper of Pern.  And you’re not wrong, but there’s a key difference here.  Dragonharper was published in 1987 and The Masterharper of Pern was not released until 1998.  I actually remember reading that book when it was brand new (and being so very excited to find out more about one of the most beloved figures of the entire series).  In fact, I’m tempted to go reread it now just to compare how Nye’s interpretations differ from what McCaffrey finally laid down as canon.  It’s been a while since I reread the novel, but I do believe the relationships within Robinton’s family were distinctly different, although his friendship with Domick might have been the same.  I also know that the boy’s names were not Felar and Fenor before they Impressed – I can’t quite recall what F’lar’s was, but I know F’nor was originally Famanoran.  And yes, I legitimately remember that off the top of my head for no good reason.

As far as CYOA go, I found that Dragonharper reminded me a lot of playing through The Witchfires of Leth, the Crosscroads companion by Dan Greenberg for C.J. Cherryh’s Morgaine Cycle.  As long as you have a good feel for the protagonist and what he’d do in a given situation, you’ll find your way to the end with few missteps.  Although I do feel Dragonharper has suffered a great deal over time, simply because McCaffrey did release The Masterharper of Pern.  I feel that in the decade before that publication, Dragonharper was probably reasonably popular simply because Robinton has always been such a great character.  Certainly he’s one of my favorites, which is why I enjoy both the Harper Hall trilogy and The Masterharper of Pern as some of my favorite rereads in the series.

I probably won’t go reread The Masterharper of Pern though.  Not at this time.  I remember that series far better than Witch World and would only want to revisit the book so I could compare details with Dragonharper.  I am much more intrigued by the thought of revisiting Norton’s classic series.

So, last night I stopped by the comic shop.  It’s been about a month, so I knew I’d have to have at least two issues waiting for me.  I was in the area for game night at the library, but had some time to kill first.  And then my eye fell on What If?: With Great Power.  You may recall a while back I read a comic called What If? Flash Thompson Became Spider-Man.  Well, that was one of a small series of possibilities released at the time, and this particular graphic novel collects the whole group.  I knew I had the one story already, but I was intrigued enough by at least one other to pick up the book.  Plus it was only $10 with one of the shop’s nigh-constant sales.

This was definitely worth $10.  The first story was Flash Thompson as I’ve already read and discussed, so I don’t feel the need to go into any more detail today.

Second up is What If? The X-Men Were .EXE/men, which is probably the weakest and least interesting of the lot.  In this alternate reality, cyberspace is where everything happens.  Everyone spends a huge portion of their time online.  It should be safe…but some people have the inborn ability to break the rules and protocols.  They have the .exe gene.  In this story, Charles Xavier asks mercenaries Domino and Cable to protect Eric Lehnsherr from a virus that would remake him into a true force to be feared.  You know, it’s Magneto and Professor X and it’s cyberspace and it’s just…too foreign to really grasp onto and care about.  Although instead of mutant powers, all the abilities have to do with being in cyberspace, so that’s somewhat well thought out.  But like I said, this is definitely the weakest of the group.

Then there’s What If? Peter Parker Became The Punisher which is a bizarre combination to say the least.  It’s kind of like if Peter became Batman, or Tony Stark when he’s at his most isolated and focused.  A little bizarre.  But, the ending is intriguing, allowing for some commonalities between this alternate version and the normal canon.  I did see this particular comic in stores and passed it over, mostly because I’m not hugely interested in the Punisher.  He makes a good cameo but as a main character seems somewhat predictable.  What makes this story one of the stronger ones is that it hits a number of normal Spiderman highlights, just twisted to account for a different attitude on Peter’s part.

Then the book goes out a bit into left field with What If? Marvel Comics Went Metal With Ghost Rider.  And this is one of the most bizarre and metatextual stories I’ve read in a while.  Like, we’re talking Superboy Prime reading Superman comics meta. So, most of this story takes place at Marvel Comics, and I’m sure that if I knew anything about people who actually work for Marvel, or did at the time this was written, I’d catch a lot of cameos and caricatures.  There’s this bizarre death metal band that are comic book fans, so they come to the office and our Ghost Rider is the intern who gets to show them around.  But the band seems like pretty normal people.  The only weird thing is that they want their special promo comic to be printed with their blood in the ink.  And then the story goes completely off the rails.  But I’m pretty sure I liked it.  I think.  This got weird.

The story that got me curious enough to pick up the book comes next, What If? Thor Was Raised By Frost Giants.  It’s a reversal of the story we know, where Laufey slew Odin and took his son to raise as his own.  But of course Jotun culture is much starker and harsher than Asgardian, so there are key differences between the two.  But there’s also some similarities, often between Thor and Loki.  It’s definitely an interesting take, and one I wouldn’t mind reading more of if they chose to write it.

Last is What If? Magik Became Sorcerer Supreme.  I have to preface this by saying I have absolutely no idea who Magik is.  Like most of the what if? stories here, the issue opens with a summary of who Magik, Illyana Rasputin, is and what happened to make her this person.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t actually give me an understanding or appreciation of the character.  The story itself is decent.  It’s a complete tale, allows Dr. Strange to have his snark, and has a satisfying conclusion for what it is.  I’m just unable to appreciate this as a what if story because I don’t know anything about the protagonist.

Overall, the book is pretty solid.  The stories are mostly well-told and realized, and there’s the thrill of seeing “reality” as we know it twisted another way that’s just as plausible in many aspects.  I don’t know that I would encourage Marvel to do these very often, but I might consider looking into other What If?s they’ve done previously.  The inside front cover is an ad for volume one of the classic What If?s, so I imagine I could very well stumble across it at some point.  Especially in two weeks when I run around on Free Comic Book Day.

As per usual, my bag from the comic shop had some extras thrown in.  A couple issues of Comic Shop News (including the Free Comic Book Day special) and an extra comic.  Surprisingly, one with a cover, so I know it’s Wizard Beach #1 (of 5), from this past December.  It’s the story of a teenage wizard named Hexley Daggert Ragbottom. He’s a studious, conscientious, and responsible young man whose world is in grave danger.  Magic is dying out and it looks like all those whose lives depend on it are fighting each other over the withering remains.  Hexley’s father is uninterested in getting involved and refuses to let the boy do anything about it either.  Hexley then decides to go to his uncle, who vanished long ago into the human world.  His uncle Salazar was a better wizard than his father anyway.

However, when he finds Salazar, who tells him to call him Uncle Sally, Hexley is even more disappointed.  Salazar, along with a large number of other wizards and creatures of magic, has become a beach bum.  Nothing Hexley says stirs any of them to help and he keeps seeing new lows they’ve sunk to.  How can he stir a beach full of lazy wizards to save their world?  Will he ever chill out and relax?  I have no idea because I wasn’t interested enough to consider picking up the other four issues.  It’s not a terrible story thus far, and the art’s decent for the most part and highly impressive when using large spreads to show a densely packed landscape of combatants, but there’s something slightly off about it for my taste.  I might’ve seen an ad for it since it’s from BOOM! Studios, the same people publishing Power Rangers, but I don’t always read through the ads.

It’s late enough that I don’t think I’m going to read anything else today.  Or rather, the other short things I have to read, like the comics I bought, don’t quite appeal to me at the moment.  To keep with some form of tradition, I should probably watch Prince of Egypt.  Or the Rugrats Passover.  Or both, though not at once.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll put Ten Commandments on while I bustle around and just leave it playing.  For anyone who’s complaining about seeing Endgame in theaters because of the three hour runtime, please note that I watch Ten Commandments, a movie covering three hours and forty minutes of time, every single year.  And I usually just…sit there.  And watch it straight.  And count how many times they use the word “bondage” because the actors place such an emphasis on it.

I mean, I also own the extended editions of The Lord of the Rings, but ridiculously long movies are not a new phenomenon.  Although movies like Ten Commandments did actually have an intermission when they were originally shown in theaters.  I know because that, along with Cecil B. DeMille’s introduction before the credits (old movie, credits precede content), is included intact as part of the movie on my discs.

So, that’s it for today’s post.  And in addition to not knowing what I’m reading next, I can’t begin to guess when I’ll post next.  It could be tomorrow or Sunday if I have enough downtime.  It could be Monday if not, or Tuesday if I pick something too long to finish in one day.  Only time will tell.

Storied Day

Today has certainly been A Day.  I have spent a lot of time out of the house today – at work, at the library, etc.  So I didn’t really want to make a major commitment to reading today.  Oh, there was no doubt I’d read and plenty of it, but they’re not the same thing.  And there was a short story I was in the mood to revisit…from a mass market paperback.  But, given how brief short stories can be, I opted to finally finish the Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede first.

As you may recall, I was so incredibly busy last week that I could only get through the first three stories in the book, leaving the rest on something of a cliffhanger, as I wasn’t sure I’d get back to the book or not.  Which means that today I finished the other seven tales.  I’m not going to touch on all of them in today’s post, but they were all read.

“Earthwitch”, Wrede writes later in the volume, is the oldest of these stories.  Or at least, the concept and original work is oldest.  It was rewritten later to add the clarity of a second viewpoint.  The story arose from an inexplicable mental image she conceived one day, that of an army sinking into the earth.  It’s the story of two people caught up in struggles far greater than themselves and trying to reconcile who they thought they were and who they might become with those struggles.

“The Sword-Seller” also features magic that, like in “Earthwitch”, cares little for the individual humans it affects.  This is Wrede’s Witch World contribution.  After reading Glen Cook’s The Swordbearer, I realized that I really should take the time to sit down and consider this story’s title.  The swordbearer in the tale, Auridan, is the main character.  Yet it’s the man who provides his sword that is featured in the title.  His name is Sympas, though we don’t find that out until twenty-three pages into the thirty-one page story.  In many ways he’s not even a character in the story, just an archetype to stand in the background.  I almost feel like I shouldn’t be examining a short story in such depth, but that’s a ridiculous notion.  Short stories have ever been on the forefront of pushing the boundaries of convention and thought.  To disallow a tale that kind of merit merely based on length is discrimination of the highest degree.

There’s a type of song that you may not have heard of and probably should.  It’s called a “murder ballad” and the most well-known of these is “The Twa’ Sisters”.  A version of the tale is retold here in “Cruel Sisters”.  Inspired by a version of the song that opens with “Three sisters in a bower”, Wrede writes the classic tale from that third sibling’s point of view.

So, that other story I wanted to read that would require moving my book cover to a new volume?  That would be “Werehunter”, Mercedes Lackey’s Witch World tale and first entry in her collection, also titled Werehunter.  Where Wrede’s story seems to take place in the heart of the Dales, Lackey’s is placed more on the edge, near the Waste.  And as I reread Glenda’s tale of discovery and self-realization, I considered just how long it’s been since I last really read Witch World.  The series as a whole, not just the original novel.  Obviously I haven’t touched Norton’s universe in depth since starting this blog, but I think the last time I revisited those books may have been in high school, which was not recently.  None of them are particularly long, at least not until you get to the absolute latest as I recall, but there’s definitely a fair number of them.  Since it’s been so long I might just have to pull a series listing to determine what order I should read them in after the first three.

I should note that I did not finish all of Werehunter today.  But I wanted to talk some specifics on the stories, so today’s post includes (whether detailed or not) the nine stories I did get through.

The next four stories are a set, “SKitty”, “A Tail of Two SKitties”, “SCat”, and “A Better Mousetrap”.  I thought it ironic when I saw a friend advertising someone’s book today about cats in space.  Because I’d just read these four stories about cats in space.  Very intelligent cats, trained to accompany humans into space.  Sometimes I wonder what would happen if Lackey opted to expand these stories into a novel.  But then I remember, these stories aren’t about our protagonist Dick White.  These stories are about SKitty, and she gets her happy ending.

“Satanic, Versus” was the very first Diana Tregarde story I ever read.  I distinctly recall that the first time I read Children of the Night I said to myself “oh, that’s how she met Andre!”  I also have started to wonder what would happen if I had one of my author friends read this.  Would they empathize a great deal, or is it too eighties?  Of course, none of my friends write romances…

I found Werehunter in high school.  There was a used bookstore near the eye doctor, and I was happy to browse before, after, or while my eyes were dilating.  I remember being so excited to find Werehunter on the shelf.  I knew nothing about it, just that I liked Mercedes Lackey.  And yet this is the book that would introduce me to Diana Tregarde and Bolos, just the tip of the iceberg of how Lackey would open so many doors for me.

In the Mind

It’s an odd feeling, to open up your mailbox and see the distinctively sized packaging that can only be a book.  Especially because I was not expecting a book when I got home yesterday.  I checked to see if it was for me, as my sister has been accumulating packages here of late, and yes, it was mine.  Any day that has an unexpected book should be good though.

Upon opening the envelope, the book stood revealed as Unlocking the Magic, edited by Vivian Caethe.  Which I did remember backing on kickstarter last year.  I think this was the book that prompted me to pay more attention to the possiblity of finding actual literature on the site.  I backed it because, as a campaign, they had already secured Elizabeth Ann Scarborough and Jody Lynn Nye to contribute stories.  And the premise was intriguing.  I figured I’d give it a shot.

Caethe’s concept is that while mental illness is portrayed in various fantasy stories, it’s not often to the benefit of the afflicted.  It’s an easily solved problem, it’s an outside influence, etc.  Unlocking the Magic is not only meant to portray mental issues in a more realistic way, but also more positive and not necessarily tied in to magic.  A similar idea to Blake Charlton’s Spellwright and sequels.

Now, I knew I couldn’t expect the world of a self-published anthology funded through kickstarter.  I expected quality out of Scarborough and Nye, but I knew the rest of the stories would come from an open call for submissions that I myself helped draw attention to.  But here is where it becomes clear that Vivian Caethe is every bit as good an editor as Marvin Kaye is bad.  The twelve stories in a two hundred page book are overall pretty good, better by far than The Fair Folk.  Plus none of them is so long that I started counting down until it was over.  Seriously though, she put a call out on the internet for stories and only chose the best out of the many received.  I don’t know what Kaye had to work with, but as he was in the pay of the Science Fiction Book Club I have to imagine he had resources.  After all, he got Margaret Weis, Tanith Lee, and Peter S. Beagle to contribute.

One of the most interesting things I noticed about Unlocking the Magic as I opened it was on the table of contents.  Caethe has thoughtfully listed trigger warnings for stories touching on suicidal thoughts and actions, war horrors, alcoholism, and self-harm.  I personally tend to ignore trigger warnings for my own reading as I don’t have a problem 99% of the time.  Visuals are a bigger issue for me, but that’s nothing to worry about in a book.  Still, it’s a very nice touch for those who need it.

I was impressed right out of the gate with A. Merc Rustad’s “Through Dark and Clearest Glass” because the main character is nonbinary, with they/them pronouns.  This is the only such character in the book, but by starring in the first story, you’re sure to notice.  And I appreciated that Azyae’s gender nonconformity is never actually addressed.  We’re just given their pronouns and the story is told as if it’s unimportant – because it is.  It’s not Rustad’s job to meet with our approval as readers for every little detail.  It’s their job to tell a good story, which they do.

Ferrett Steinmetz writes ‘”So what medications are you on?” was a good conversation-starter in both psych wards and magicians’ circles” in the final story, “Madness is a Skill”.  It’s an interesting statement, considering that medication comes up in most of the stories, along with the recurring theme that it’s okay to seek help.  That you do not have to go through these things alone, and that help is just a word away.  This story in particular is about learning to balance the madness and the sanity, the magic and the mundane.  But the support network is real.  You’re only as alone as you let yourself be.

Some stories seem to be about utter nonsense, like Jennifer Shelby’s “The Night Janitor”.  But maybe it’s just that you need the background of nonsense to make the reality all the stronger.  Others, like Jody Lynn Nye’s “Away with the Fairies” take on the more traditional format of the hero’s journey, wherein he learns what is most important to him.

I don’t really know that many stories in this book stood out to me as warranting more than a line or two, but I didn’t dislike any of them.  I simply don’t have much to say about them.  There are characters with ADHD, characters with OCD, and characters who simply don’t want to see their friends suffer.  There are healers and killers and people who are both, there are mages and priests, teachers and students, living and dead.  There’s something for everyone.

I’m glad I backed this book on Kickstarter.  It was well worth the money and the world needs more stories like these.  If I saw another anthology edited by Vivian Caethe, I’d be inclined to pick it up even if I recognized none of the authors.  The woman knows what she’s doing, even if I did catch a couple grammatical mistakes, probably typos.  But with a self-published book, I can let a couple typos slide.  Even my continual distaste for non-justified text.  It’s the content that matters most.

Mixed Bag

I have not gone back to Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede yet.  I also have not reshelved it.  I’m as yet undecided concerning that anthology and the unfinished reread, especially knowing that while “Roses By Moonlight” resonates so strongly, some of the other best stories are still to come if I keep reading.  But I also haven’t started any other mass market paperbacks in this time so I might as well leave it on that one for now.

Today I finished one of my newest acquisitions, a book I found over the weekend.  I’d gone to Windy City Pulp & Paper, as well as Half Price Books.  While there were a nigh overwhelming number of books for sale at the con, ranging from fifty cents to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars, I myself only picked up four in that room.  I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t want to buy books simply because they’re cheap, but because I’m interested in reading them.  And there were only four books I found that I was genuinely intrigued by.

But I felt that wasn’t nearly enough to take home from such a show, so I stopped at the Half Price books in the same town.  (Less than a mile away.  Walkable, except the temperature was dropping as prelude to the five inches of snow we got the next day.) There I found another four books, all slightly more expensive of course, but still reasonably priced.  Today’s book is one of those, and it’s once again an anthology.

I think it’s become clear at this point that I purchase most anthologies on the strength of the names within.  So you can imagine that a book featuring Margaret Weis, Tanith Lee, Peter S. Beagle, and Patricia A. McKillip caught my attention.  It wasn’t until I started reading the introduction that I realized I should also recognize Kim Newman and the editor, Marvin Kaye.  See, I’ve read the anthology he assembled before this one.  It’s called The Fair Folk and you may remember that I kept it because of one decent story.  Out of six.  I later turned up the novel it had been expanded into, but still opted to retain the anthology.

Let’s just say, this wasn’t a great start because The Fair Folk wasn’t a great book.

So when I started the first story in A Book of Wizards, I was prepared to be disappointed.  And, well, my expectations were met.  Kim Newman started off the collection with “Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch”.  It’s a sequel to his story in The Fair Folk, “The Gypsies in the Wood”, which was…sort of Holmesian.  And I do not do Sherlock.  I burned myself out on mysteries and I do not do dry British stuff like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  Also this story was one hundred forty pages long, which was a lot more time than I ever want to spend on something like this again.

I looked to the next story for some relief.  From Margaret Weis and Robert Krammes, “The Day Is Ours” showcases a time of change.  Dragon riders are considered an outmoded part of war as airships are the next big thing.  The protagonist loves his dragon dearly, and would happily show the airship captains how great they are as his talon overflies the fortress they’re laying siege to.  Inside, a young and inexperienced officer leans on a grizzled mercenary sergeant to hold things together while he fears for his life.  Kaye tells us up front that this is from an upcoming book the pair are putting together and…yeah, I can tell.  This is almost certainly a straight-up excerpt from the manuscript, because there’s too many threads leading away from the focus of the story.  I’ve read a number of short stories that are condensed versions of novels, often written at the same time, and what they tend to do is cut out excess viewpoints and baggage.  By narrowing the focus of the story, they create something that is just as good as the book within a much reduced length.  And then when a reader stumbles across the book, they find there was so much more to the story than they ever suspected.  Needless to say, this was also a disappointment.

The third story is from Holly Phillips, the only author (aside from Robert Krammes) I’d never read before.  Titled “Proving the Rule”, it reads as something of a horror story.  A remarkably average man is met by his friend who is incredibly out of his league.  They talk, she goes home to do research and then has a dream that scares the shit out of her.  Paranoid, she packages up her notes and posts them to her friend, then gets out.  He is drawn into the mystery after she vanishes, and both of them find themselves confronting secrets some would rather they forgot and others would bring into the light.  After finishing the story I definitely had more questions about the world, but I didn’t doubt that I’d just read a decent tale and enjoyed it.

Then came “My Life as a Swan” by Tanith Lee and it shows Holly Phillips to be a perfectly average writer who simply seemed better because of the crap preceding her.  It’s a take on the swan princess fairy tale of course, and I was utterly riveted.  Yes, the protagonist seems to be relatively reactive like many of Lee’s other main characters, but that didn’t stop me from being sucked in to the story.  This was the experience I wanted out of White As Snow and never got and I couldn’t be happier.

For the one-two punch, that story was followed by “What Tune the Enchantress Plays” by Peter S. Beagle.  It’s a tale of love and self-discovery, of reflection and a lack of mercy.  But some kindness all the same.  Like Tanith Lee’s story, Beagle’s has a cost to pay and the question is whether or not it was worthwhile.  To each their own, and I’m glad to have read it.

Rounding out the book is “Knight of the Well” by Patricia McKillip.  Since I’ve had some mixed results from her in the past months, I was a bit leery of starting this story.  Thankfully, I think her short stories tend more to be actual stories.  A friend of mine told me that her books are often more about the journey than telling a conventional story – which is definitely true – and so I’m not surprised that I’d find so many of her novels hard to like.  This one at least had a real ending so I was satisfied, even if not blown away like the previous two tales.

Luckily A Book of Wizards is better overall than The Fair Folk, simply by having two great stories and two decent ones instead of one decent and five ranging from meh to exerable.  I’m not particularly impressed by Marvin Kaye, having now formulated the impression that this anthology was good because he had better authors than because of anything he in particular did.  It’s wholly possible I’ll pick up more anthologies he’s edited simply because I’m interested in the authors, but if I don’t recognize a single one I’ll probably put the book back.

As for what’s next, I’m not sure.  There’s no telling how long it’ll take that inter-library loan request to come through, so I won’t rely on it.  But there’s plenty of other books in my Pile and my personal library to see me through this short work week.  I doubt I’ll have much time to read over the weekend, but Friday’s certainly a possibility.  However there’s still a couple days to go before then.