Well, we all know that when I’m in doubt on what book to read next, it often ends up being something old and well-loved. And I have fewer books more well-loved than Immortal Unicorn: Volume 1. I tell you, having Peter S. Beagle sign these two books was one of the happiest moments of my life. Given that he did sign them, it was almost inevitable that I would think to reread one or both of them. Not to mention how much I love so many of these stories, even the ones that I wasn’t fond of at first.
I should mention that I am sitting here typing this in Dublin’s airport, waiting for boarding to begin for my first flight of the day. It’ll be another long one, with close to eleven hours in the air once more. I had such a difficult time deciding which books would be packed in my carryon and which in my personal item. I’m not going into those overhead bins during the flight, so any exchanges will be happening during my layovers.
Back to the book. But what is there to say? I’ve reread this book at least once since starting this blog. I can tell you that some of my favorite stories are Susan Shwartz’s “The Tenth Worthy” which is immediately followed by another favorite in Lisa Mason’s “Daughter of the Tao”. I will always be amused and entertained by Peter S. Beagle’s “Professor Gottesman and the Indian Rhinoceros”.
Maybe I’m feeling sentimental today, because I could feel my eyes tearing up after Eric Lustbader’s “The Devil on Myrtle Ave.” as well as Lucy Taylor’s “Convergence”. Both stories touch on death, of course, but also hope and a brighter future.
I also want to mention Marina Fitch’s “Stampede of Light” as something that always touches the heart of anyone who’s gone to gradeschool and spent any amount of time feeling isolated from their classmates. Luckily, I was never so far gone as Corey in this tale.
Again, I continually run out of words. I don’t want to spoil the wonderful experiences contained in each and every story here because I think they are well worth reading even twenty years after I first found them. I love this book, and its companion. Peter S. Beagle may not wish to be known as “the unicorn guy”, but there’s a reason these stories remain. They are memorable indeed.
I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this post later in the day. And it’s going to be a very long day. It may be a quarter to ten in the morning GMT time, but I’m landing after 6pm the same day in the GMT-6 timezone. But it looks like boarding is going to start soon and I’d certainly like to start my next book. I think I may not go to Immortal Unicorn: Volume 2, or at least not yet. There’s plenty of time and a number of books I can choose from, and right now I’m feeling something shorter. We’ll see if the plane has taken off by the time I finish.
The plane definitely took off before I finished Manny Man does Revolutionary Ireland 1916-1923. The book, by Youtuber John D. Ruddy, may be a mere one hundred eleven pages in length, but each and every page is jam-packed with information in addition to illustrations. The images don’t necessarily add much overall, save for the maps, but they’re cute and part of why I first subscribed to the Youtube channel several years ago. Ruddy does a number of informative videos on historical conflicts, usually under ten minutes. He speaks quite quickly, but still clearly. At least, I personally have no problem understanding his accent.
I was thrilled when I saw the announcement on Ruddy’s Facebook page that he would be at Worldcon this year. Given that it was in Dublin and he is Irish, I could hope, but I won’t take such things for granted. After all, I know of people who were planning on attending up until the very last minute when they found themselves unable to make it for one reason or another. Anyway, I was able to meet him in person and buy the book. I had intended to go to his show as well, but I never did find that on my marked schedule and it’s possible that it conflicted with something I felt far more strongly about. Or I might simply have decided to skip it if I’d known. I only did get to one performance the entire con, though there were a number of panels I was happy to attend.
Anyway, the book. Revolutionary Ireland is the only Irish souvenir of any kind that I picked up. Which gives me mixed feelings. On the one hand, I don’t feel much like a tourist for buying it because it was literally the only hardcover book on Ruddy’s dealers’ room table. And, you know, sci-fi convention dealers’ room. “Touristy” is not the name of the game. “Nerdy” or “geeky” would be. On the other hand, it is about Irish history and while I’ve heard a lot of bits and pieces about the events described here, this is the most comprehensive literature I’ve read on the subject.
I definitely feel like I’ve learned some things. Oh sure, I’m reasonably certain Ruddy did a video on this subject and as such I would have watched it. But that was several years ago and Ireland is generally not a part of my normal considerations and therefore I am not likely to retain too much of this over an extended period of time. Plus the videos really do go very fast. Blink and you might miss the most important moment.
If I had the opportunity, I’d definitely pick up more Manny Man books. I’m not opposed to history or nonfiction on principle, and between the tone of voice (I can actually hear Ruddy’s voice in my head as I read) and the cute little illustrations, I had a good time.
Which brings me, once again, to the question of what to read next. I’m thinking it probably won’t be Immortal Unicorn: Volume 2. I shall have to peruse the books I’ve stuck in my backpack and make a decision because there’s still two and a half hours left in the air and I’m not interested in watching another movie today. On the flip side, now I’ve seen Aquaman without having to pay for the privilege and, well, it’s a superhero movie. I’ve seen worse and I’ve seen better. I might be willing to buy it for cheap at some point.
The last book I read on my transatlantic flight was The Last Tsar’s Dragons by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple. It’s an expansion of the short story they wrote together; “The Tsar’s Dragons”. This was featured in both The Dragon Book and People of the Book. Seeing an actual novella sitting on the Tachyon table, I immediately inquired if this was simply the short story again or if there was new material. I think we can all figure what the answer was, given that I bought the book.
As you might guess from the title, or remember from the last time I read a version of this story, this is essentially the Bolshevik Revolution with dragons. Because of course. Our narrator is an entirely nameless courtier and functionary. I believe there’s a couple additional viewpoints added to the novella, as well as more details and scenes. And yes, it’s about as historically accurate as His Majesty’s Dragon, so do not take this as straight up fact outside the scaly beasts.
I think what intrigues me most about the novella is the ending. Because the beginning and ending are most definitely new. And you know, I kind of like them. They create a larger framework for the story they bookend, and raise some interesting questions. Certainly the Romanovs get a kinder ending than reality, and there is no chance Anastasia survived here. But what happened to them does fit better with what has happened since the Revolution in the actual world today.
Needless to say, I enjoyed The Last Tsar’s Dragons which is completely unsurprising given one of the authors and my previous exposure. I particularly like the part where Yolen was asked for a contribution to The Dragon Book, though she was done writing dragon stories, and then the first two lines of the short story (the first real chapter of the novella) popped into her head. There are worse ways to end up with a published work.
Which leaves me, once again, with the dilemma of what to read next. There are three books left of what I put in my backpack early this morning, all very different. There are additional books in my carryon, where I’ve been shoving things I’ve completed. And I’ve got several hours before I’m home and able to start putting things away on the shelves. The question, as it always, is “what next?” So I guess I’d better wrap this up for the moment and start working on that.
The last book of the day is an indie author. Maquel A. Jacob wrote Threads of Conceit (as well as other books) and managed to sell it to me on the concept. Basically, some aliens have had their souls separated from their bodies and are now living on earth. Also there’s some treachery in past and future. As a basic premise, it got me to spend money. However the execution…needs work.
There are a lot of problems with the book, starting with the obvious. We’ve got typos, inconsistent numbers, mismatched tenses, poor labelling, and some writing that reads more like messaging. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but it generally looks more professional when you write out numbers instead of using numerals. Unless, of course, there’s a very good reason to use the numerals. But when you write “twenty-four” in one sentence and “48” in the next, we’re going to have a problem.
One of the biggest errors that a beta or proofreader should have caught is the tenses. The story is told in third person past tense. Which means that present tense should only be found in dialogue. But no, the narration often uses present tense.
As for what I mean by “writing that looks like messaging”, there are words placed periodically throughout the book where Jacob clearly wanted additional emphasis. But instead of utilizing italics (which are seen elsewhere in the novel) or bold (not present), she uses all caps. Which, again, does not look professional.
There’s also some very strange and unnecessary hyphenations that look like they may have been manually added for line breaks in a differently-formatted book. Which means here they’re all in the middle of lines of text.
And these are just the aesthetic errors.
The plot is kind of a mess. There is literally no reason to have any part of any of the three books that make up this novel take place on Earth. The whole “aliens stuck on earth who have no idea who they really are” thing is over and done by page forty-two. Out of four hundred thirty-seven.
I get the feel that Jacob is trying to do a big political space opera, but all I feel reading this book is that she doesn’t yet have the skill to pull it off. The story has a lot of time jumps, but as sections are only sometimes marked with a location or any kind of date, it can be very difficult to keep track. And it feels like there’s a lot of plot elements that simply aren’t set up at all before they’re brought in. As a reader, I have no prior understanding of the history and cultures of the Lassa or Azrom peoples. And because these things are never explained until the author wants to utilize an element, it comes off as no preparation.
This does not even get into the weirdly consensual rape scenes nor the physically evident gender fluidity displayed by some characters.
I simply get the feeling that this kind of story was beyond the author when she wrote it and more practice is needed. Again, it’s not the worst I’ve read. It just tries to go in far too many directions for its length and story. Verdict: not a keeper.