Working Hard

I mentioned previously that the first time I read anything by Tanith Lee, I was too young and she was above my reading level.  Today, I very nearly missed comprehending the second of the books I found at the Gallery, Delusion’s Master.

It seems this too is part of a series, so sayeth isfdb.org, though I honestly couldn’t tell based on what I read.  I would assume that the other books allow for more focus on the other demons referred to here, as it says early on that there are five Lords of Darkness and here only two are main characters.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The story begins with a retelling of the Tower of Babel, save that the demon lord Chuz, master of madness, is responsible in part.  After the fall of the Tower, a holy city arises from the ashes and it is there that most of the story takes place, especially that of Azhrarn, Lord of Darkness.  There is religion, there is madness, there is love, etc.  There are men and they are human.

Despite the fact that there is indeed a story and the book being only 206 pages long, this did take me three days to read.  As I mentioned, I had a fair bit of trouble getting started.  I feel that Tanith Lee’s writing is some of the most challenging fiction I’ve read in years, especially considering that it’s not challenging in the ways I’ve become accustomed to.  I don’t need to know the contents of every preceeding book in the series (though that might have helped), nor do I need to keep track of a massive cast of characters who often bear bizarre names.

Comparing Tanith Lee’s writing to that of other authors makes me think that even the books I read normally are dumbed-down, allowing readers to be lazier and exercise their minds less.  Delusion’s Master made me work in ways I haven’t stretched my mind in years.  The mere fact that I considered – more than once! – putting the book down because it was simply too challenging ought to attest to that.  Also the fact that my writing here has taken on a distinctly older style, with a vocabulary to suit.

Let us not forget that, in the end, Delusion’s Master is every bit as powerful as Sabella, even if I enjoyed it less.  I may have toyed with not keeping this book.  I was determined not to retain it, given my seemingly futile struggle.  And then…everything I was trying to keep track of came together in such a way that I had to admit that this book too is quite powerful.  Not nearly as pleasant a read for me personally, but worth keeping.  Something that even makes me look back on other books I’ve retained this year and wonder if I should reconsider their spots on my shelves.  Not the big books or the ones I’ve adored, of course, but the books that I was lukewarm at best on, and kept more because it’s easier than making a pile to sell or give away somewhere.

Obviously I’ll have to look out for more of this series, but I won’t complain if it takes a while to turn up through my usual channels.  It’s not something I’m in a hurry to read more of.

On the subject of working hard to read books, I do have the manuscript for Haunted by the Keres by Lauren Jankowski in my inbox.  This one’s on a bit of a time crunch, so I honestly don’t know how much I’ll get through before the due date, though gods all know I’ll do my best.  I’m also not certain if I’ll finish the book for myself even if I don’t get through it before the date.  We’ll see what happens.

Advertisements

Just Okay

This was the first time I read one of my Book of the Month selections within twenty-four hours of receiving it.  I even finished it less than twenty-six hours after arriving home to find it waiting.  This isn’t difficult when it’s an easy read and about 350 pages long.

I liked it better than The Wonder.

Today’s book was Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang.  It’s fantasy, and when I looked at October’s five options, I kept coming back to it, which seemed like a good reason to choose it.  The book is okay.

Frankly, I’m starting to get annoyed with this sort of setup.  I don’t care that you’re telling me who the viewpoint character is at the start of every chapter, just please don’t write the entire book in first person and use multiple viewpoint characters!  It can be done, and well, but most people just…ugh.  Essentially, it’s very easy to get lost and forget who’s telling the story at a given moment and the extra work just makes the book as a whole less satsifying.

Not that the story couldn’t use some work either.

The basic story is that we have a boy who was raised by wolves trying to fit back into human society through a total of three main anchors – a love interest, an adopted sister, and a mother figure.  He also has some unspecified abilities that include understanding animals and weather reflecting his emotional state.  And he just seems to attract strange things, events, and people.

And yet for all the book is written in first person, the only segment written from Weylyn’s (the boy’s) point of view is the penultimate section.  I suppose it’s reasonable when you consider that he is not only strange to society at large, but also that sometimes it can be hard for him to understand why the rest of the world finds him so bizarre.  But I still draw the line at having more than one person narrating the story in first person.  The most acceptable way is to have a single narrator for most of the book, then the epilogue is the successor in whatever way the book requires.  But I’m just frustrating myself again with this point.

The framing story is fine, the segments are engaging, but I just don’t find Beasts of Extraordingary Circumstance to be a truly satisfying read.  I spent too much of the book frustrated with the author’s choices, I felt like narrating characters were introduced merely as vehicles to tell the story when they could have been left out and the tale told in third person.  And several segements seemed to end rather abruptly.  Not to mention that at least one section seems to be reflecting on events that happened years before the date appended?  I like to get my timelines straight in any book or series I read, so that just frustrates me further.

Again, I liked this better than The Wonder, but I think it’s on the same level as Clockwork Dynasty.  Just…something I’ve read, and a book that I won’t be keeping.

I’m not sure what book to start next.  I haven’t really been dwelling on anything I might reread, and I still have a decent selection in my Pile.  Since a number of those were bought purely on the strength of the author’s name, I have higher hopes for them.  But we’ll see what happens.

The Return

“I think you’d like this book,” I told my coworker after lunch.
“Oh?  What’s it about?” she asked me.
“It’s about someone our age [a young professional] who is torn between the analog and the digital.  Which isn’t really what it’s about, but that’s the best summary I can do in a single sentence.”

The book in question was Sourdough, Robin Sloan’s second book.  You may recall I was rather excited to see it as one of last month’s Book of the Month selections and had no reservations about choosing it for myself.  Of course, once I had it on my shelf I was in no hurry to touch it.  I mean…it was about bread?  I do love me some bread, and usually with butter, but as excited as I’d been for the book, I didn’t want to pick it up.  At least, not until last night when it struck me as something that would probably be every bit as light as I wanted after the weight of Dragonlance.

Like Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour BookstoreSourdough is one of those books that starts off slow and continues to accelerate its pace the further you go until you’re racing the text to the end.  In fact, I think you could say that the two are different versions of the same book and the same story.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing – not yet at least – but they had the same rhythm and flow.

In both books, you have a young professional; Lois Clary in the case of Sourdough.  Something unexpected and mysterious happens to change their life in a seemingly small way, but ends up altering the course of said life and taking over entirely.  Then everything implodes and yet afterwards there are still enough pieces intact to start a fresh new direction in life.

What makes these books different from the many other variants I’ve seen on this story is the way they emphasize the digital and the analog together.  Being “old” or “new” doesn’t make something inherently “good” or “bad.”  And on its own, each is weak.  It’s when we combine them together and make something new for ourselves that we truly begin to live, or at least, that’s what Robin Sloan seems to say through his books.  Regardless, the books have a thorough understanding of modern technology mixed with the almost fantastical elements of those hands-on objects and methods of the past.

It’s a dichotomy that speaks to me personally.  Anyone reading this blog knows that I adore books – the physical objects, that is.  I prefer not to read on my screen for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I work on a computer all day.  I am a designer and most of my day is working in Adobe Illustrator and I love it.  This is what I trained to do, this is what my degree is in, this is something I find easy and pleasurable, even if I do complain about specifics throughout the day.  (I love to complain.)  But contrast a job where every update Adobe makes to its programs is an eye-opener of delight to my personal preferences at home.  I have my books, I have my movies on disc and cassette, my music on CDs, cassettes, and records, I wear analog watches, etc.

Part of this may be because I understand how fragile computers can be.  An electromagnet can wipe them clean.  Data is lost to decay over time – just ask NASA about how much they’ve lost over the decades.  The internet isn’t completely secure even if I practice safe browsing habits.  On the other hand, if my home burned down in a fire, anything I had online I could still access but my physical possessions would be questionable and probably destroyed.  There’s pros and cons on both sides of the argument, but the fact is that both are a part of my life and I need to accept them both in order to be content with my lot.

I feel that is the core of Sloan’s books – to find the balance between new and old, digital and analog, work and play.  Too much of anything is unhealthy, regardless of what that thing may be.  A good message in this day and age where it’s not unheard of to hear about people working 60 and 80-hour weeks.

I like the books, even if I feel they’re telling the same story.  The details are different enough between the two that the similarity is in feel and tone, as opposed to content.  I compare them to the two Dan Brown books I read: The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.  Yes, I know Angels & Demons technically happens first, but I was caught up in the hype of The Da Vinci Code like everyone else, so that was my first exposure.  I enjoyed The Da Vinci Code even if I understood that I couldn’t take it as fact, and looked forward to more by Dan Brown.  Then I read Angels & Demons and realized that the two books were nearly identical, and not in a good way.  The Da Vinci Code took the story from Angels & Demons, rehashed it a bit and refined it to create a stronger piece of work, and changed a few details.  It was an utter disappointment to realize and I never touched a book by Dan Brown again.  For some reason my father persisted with another book or two after that, though I’ve no clue why.  Of course, the same thing happened with the Temeraire books by Naomi Novak, but I digress.

Essentially, I hope that Robin Sloan knows how to write more than one story, or that he can disguise it enough that I don’t get bored reading it.  That’s the trick Mercedes Lackey employs: I’m reasonably certain that most of her books are the same story, but I’d have to sit down and dissect them all to a degree I’d rather avoid in order to prove it.

Sloan’s style of writing meshes well with my style of reading, and he has a remarkable ability to incorporate modern technology in a way that most can’t quite grasp, even though they live with it every day.  I’ve enjoyed reading both of his books and will patiently await his third.

Point of fact, I caught a reference to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore in Sourdough.  Always a happy moment for a returning reader.

I haven’t yet decided what to read next, but I think I’m in a Book of the Month mood, and my latest box did arrive today.  As I recall, this new book is much more firmly designated as fantasy in comparison to Sourdough, which can slip it’s fantastical elements under the heading of General Fiction.  And we all know how much I love to read fantasy.

Ah, the Doorstops

At a convention, I could be seen standing in the dealer’s room, facing an older woman across a table.  She was in the process of signing a modest stack of mass market paperbacks for me when I bent down again and, with effort, placed another pair of books before her.

“Ah, the doorstops,” she observed, reaching for the two.  So it was that Margaret Weis signed my Dragonlance books, The Annotated Chronicles and The Annotated Legends.

It says a lot that even one of the authors (the other being Tracy Hickman) refers to them as “doorstops.”  I usually call them “bricks” or even “doom.”  The two are omnibi of trilogies.  Chronicles is hardcover, weighing 3-4lbs and I did not want to reread it for this reason.  However, my brain decided to try hurting my back.  I could also blame the errant sunbeam that shone upon the two books just as I happened to look up last weekend.  Or maybe the fact that the story has been on my mind more in the past months than in the several preceeding years.  But let’s back up a bit.

My dad had a subscription to the SciFi Book Club for several years, and they would have a sign-up deal for new and returning members – get five books for $1.00, so long as you pay full price for five more throughout the year.  Between the two of us, my dad and I could usually make it work as long as we found a full five books to start off.  On a whim one year, I picked out The Annotated Chronicles.  Not only was I intrigued by the synopsis, but the book would count as two of the five, meaning we’d only have to find three more.

It made a lot more sense, counting as two instead of just one, when the books arrived and I saw just how thick it was.  As a result, Chronicles gathered dust for several years.  It wasn’t until one summer break during college, after I had first played Dungeons & Dragons, that I actually determined to actually read the damned thing.  By that time I knew of Dragonlance by reputation – how not to?  It took up enough space in bookstores, and was known to have more than a hundred volumes at that point.  I had spoken to enough people to have learned that I had the first books written in the world, from which the rest all sprang, and so I wouldn’t be obligated to read any of the myriad others.  It was “classic” enough that I felt I should at least find out what the fuss was about.

Even if I wasn’t reading an annotated version – and reading said notes as I went instead of going back through or anything like that – I don’t think I ever would have been completely absorbed into the world of Dragonlance.  So I read through Dragons of Autumn TwilightDragons of Winter Night, and Dragons of Spring Dawning, and relatively quickly at that; I think it took me maybe two days at the time.  Sure, the book is some thirteen hundred pages, but I was on summer break and had time to spare.  I do recall that once I finished Chronicles I found that The Annotated Legends was on shelf at one of the local libraries, and went to check it out.  I’d explained to a friend (who was a big fan of the series) that I was curious about Raitslin and Caramon’s story and what happened next and she (who had insisted that I also read Legends) said “that’s exactly what Legends is!”

Even then, I think I recognized a great many of the tropes used to construct the world, the characters, and the plot.  I don’t think the annotations really made things worse to my mind, as they often added comedic observations that I greatly enjoyed.  Actually, the notes which explained how Dragonlance was created in tandem with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons were fascinating, giving me insight into the history of a game I’d only just begun to play.  The problem is that the basic story is fairly typical of the genre, game and book, and I think I found myself somewhat bored at points.

Still, it’s been long enough since then that I had forgotten much of the details and was able to (mostly) enjoy the books again, or at least enjoy them as much as I had the first time.  While the notes about D&D and party balance had excited me before, allowing me to recognize what I’d played in a different context, this time I caught other bits, and not always from the annotations.  For example, I had to stop and laugh when I realized that this is where the Red Dragon Inn came from, and the board game of the same name likely pays homage to these books.  Or a side character named Little Rogar, whom I suspect to have some relation to Rogar the Barbarian in the movie The Gamers.

Personal opinions aside, I can easily understand how these books garnered such a following, and not just from the gamers playing the parallel modules.  It doesn’t matter if the stories are a bit rough and trite, or that the poems and songs are trying just a bit too hard, there’s still heart and emotion waiting to carry a reader away.  Just because I’m jaded and cynical doesn’t mean I would deny the power within.  It just means that I have reasons other than my poor, aching back to avoid rereading Chronicles and its companion Legends very often.

For the record, I’m not even going to try to summarize the events here.  It’s a futile effort, consideirng how much happens in less than a year, and I don’t see a reason to spoil things for those who haven’t had a chance to explore the world of Dragonlance for themselves.  I will say that, if you want the best possible experience, don’t read the annotated versions first.  The notes do contain major spoilers fairly early on.

I am not going to follow this up with The Annotated Legends.  True, I may remember less about those books than I did about Chronicles, but I’m mentally exhausted from burning through the brick in three days.  I want – need – something lighter and easier to read next.  I’m not sure what it will be, but it’s going to be shorter.  Much, much shorter.

It’s Not DBZ

Today saw me finish the rest of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.  That would be volumes 11-25.  It’s a good story, as I said, that continually builds on itself and incorporates elements from the early chapters into the later ones like any well-planned story should.  Unlike other fighting stories, this one never reaches ridiculous levels (“It’s over 9000!”) and relies on narrative instead of action.  There are fights and they’re well done, but this is manga and so it’s hard to truly appreciate an action scene in flat drawings.  The anime of course does a good job of translating combat into movement, but that’s not what I read today.

Over the course of the twenty-five volumes, not only does Rikuo Nura, the main character, grown and devlop, but so do his close friends, his allies, and even his enemies.  We also get a chance to explore backstories of many secondary characters as well, gaining a better understanding of their motivations and what they are to Rikuo.  Oftentimes, these backstories futher the overall plot as well, which is just good storytelling.

One thing I find quite impressive is the planning of the physical manga volumes.  A character is featured on the spine of each volume, and no character is repeated.  Even more amazing is the front cover of the manga.  You can line up the entire series to reveal a single image spanning the storyline of the whole.  There are characters repeated in this case, but it’s still a nice piece of work.  I took some pictures to show you, just please excuse my first time trying to do panoramic shots on my phone.

 

I like a series that, by the end, I’m laughing at little asides and character moments that pop up during the climax, denoument, and bonus stories.  Moments that are just so typical and perfect of the character in question and beautifully sum up how far we’ve come.  Including that final bonus story which may answer the question of which of Rikuo’s lady friends he is most interested in…

It’s a shonen manga, so of course there’s no love triangle going on.  Just several close friends who happen to be female and, as is the case for girls of that age, are trying to figure out their feelings at the strnagest possible times.  There’s nothing wrong with including those elements.  After all, Rikuo insists on going to school like a normal kid and young love is a classic element of a school story.  But because this isn’t a shojou manga, it’s only a focus sometimes and is used to further the plot (and confuse the readers about what will be the canon pairing).

Nura isn’t one of those stories that’s an instant classic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes one of the many manga/anime series that in ten years people will say “Oh yeah, that existed” but little else.  There’s nothing wrong with that, because it’s a good and solid story that allows those instant classics to contrast against when they are revealed.  I have no regrets about owning the whole series, nor about rereading it.  I’ll just consider it to be a different version of most of my Mercedes Lackey books: fluff.  Enjoyable fluff, well-written fluff, but still just fluff in the end.

Maybe next time I revisit Nura I’ll go in-depth about the actual plot and its many twists, like I did for Claymore.  There is a lovely bit about the climax that is an amazing callback when you see it and it says a lot about the forces that made Rikuo Nura into the person he’s become by the end.  But I don’t have the time to deal with that many spoilers right now.

As for what I’ll start tomorrow…I haven’t yet decided.  But there’s still a number of books in the Pile and I think it may be one of those.

Change of Pace

I need a break from new books.  But I couldn’t think what to reread.  And then I thought about how long it’s been since I sat down and read through a manga series.  The last time was Claymore, and the most I’ve done since then is catch up on Blue Exorcist.  So I figured I’d look to something else.

Today I read volumes 1-10 of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.  This is yet another shonen (boys manga) title from Viz as previewed in Shonen Jump.  The main character is Rikuo Nura, the grandson of the demon Nurarihyon who leads the Night Parade of 100 Demons.  Essentially a yokai (demon) yakuza (gang/mafia).  And Rikuo stands to inherit his position.  Or at least, he would if he wasn’t so human.

The first ten volumes take us from the introduction to this world to Rikuo’s acceptance of the fact that he is only three-quarters human to his quest to improve his skills that he can better protect his friends.  At this point, the end of volume ten, he’s just arrived in Kyoto.  As the former capital of the country, Kyoto’s been a focal point for yokai in the past as well.  And we’ve seen how, in this ancient city, Rikuo’s grandfather and grandmother first met and fell in love.

This is definitely a “tournament” manga, even if there’s no formal competition and everyone’s playing for keeps.  The enemies get successively stronger, requiring that Rikuo and his allies do the same as the story goes on.  However, it’s not just about combat.  There is a strong story of how Rikuo seeks to mold his world into one that has room for everyone and everything he values.

It’s also a manga that, for the first two thirds or so, I find myself envisioning and remembering the corresponding anime episodes as I go.  There are two seasons of Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan.  The first covers the initial arc and that of the 88 Demons of Shikoku.  The second season, Demon Capital, is the Kyoto story I’m currently in the middle of rereading.  This does mean that there should be (or should have been?) at least one more season for what happens after this concludes, but it wouldn’t be the first time that’s happened.  The anime is a good adaptation, remaining quite true to the manga it covers.  In fact, the biggest difference I can think of is during the Shikoku arc – the anime goes into more detail on defeating the Seven Phantom Travelers than the manga and it’s not a bad choice at all.  I’d skip the recap episodes though, those are just a waste of time.

Hopefully I’ll finish the rest of the series tomorrow.  If not, I’ll wrap up the last few volumes Monday.

A Look Back

There was an introduction to Angelfire.  And I read it, as I read all things in my books, save glossaries and casts of characters.  I peruse those lists, but rarely read the whole thing through.  Anyway, in the introduction Marc Zicree says that Angelfire was written by Maya Kathryn Bohnhoff.  That Angelfire was written nigh simultaneously with Magic Time.  I didn’t pay much attention to this explanation at the time, being more interested in resuming the story.  This was a foolish decision.

Now I wonder if I should have read those words as an apology because, on reflection, they explain so very much.  Namely, why Angelfire sucks in comparison to Magic Time and Magic Time: Ghostlands.  Now, I’m not saying an author can’t write multiple books in a series at once.  In fact, such a choice can often make their life easier.  But it’s clear looking back that Bohnhoff did not have a good grasp on what was going into Magic Time.  Or she may just be an inferior author, particularly when compared to Barbara Hambly.  Or both.  It doesn’t really matter.  The point is that, because I didn’t stop to reread Magic Time, I allowed Angelfire to make me think the first book was less engaging than I had remembered.  This is not at all true.  There was just such a dip in quality that it had me questioning my memory.

Thankfully, Robert Charles Wilson, the coauthor of Magic Time: Ghostlands, has a great deal more skill.  And the final volume was everything I wanted from a thrilling climax.  We picked up characters from the first book who were “mysteriously” absent from the second, met new characters, and had a number of thrilling battles along the way.  Like the first book, Ghostlands returns to a third person narrative, instead of the first that Angelfire used.  (People, please don’t switch the type of narrative within your series!)  It also builds on everything we’ve seen and learned in the first two books, melding them together in new, yet logical, ways.  And, of course, secrets are revealed.

I love the underlying theme that the Change which has so altered our world is giving us the opportunity to be ourselves – our true selves, independent of the roles society attempts to force us into.  The characters are strongest when they trust their instincts, give in to their deepest selves, and ignore their doubts.  Now, we here may not be transforming into strange creatures or displaying unnatural abilities, but that doesn’t make this advice any less valuable for us.  They say that if you do what you love, it’s not a job.  People who are happy live longer.  Etc.

I still question why I found Magic Time in the horror section.  I think this is fantasy, or if you must subdivide, dystopia, and damned good stuff at that.  In fact, I personally could see these books shelved in the young adult section.  Aside from swearing and some hints at sex, they’re rather tame and thoroughly optimistic.  Not to mention much better (overall) than a lot of the books on those shelves.  I am glad that Barbara Hambly’s name caught my eye on the first volume, else I would never have read these books.

Interestingly enough, the three books are not marketed as a trilogy.  Given how many books try to sell themselves on that strength, it is a very interesting oversight.  As I mentioned, the story certainly qualifies as a trilogy in that it follows the same set of characters throughout, successively builds on its events, and comes to an overall conclusion.  Maybe if they’re reprinted the publisher will take advantage of those traits.

There’s still a number of books in my Pile as of yet, and I haven’t had any strong urges to reread one of the older books in the past few days.  On the other hand, I’ll admit that I’m still reflecting on Sabella by Tanith Lee and the absolutely amazing twist that I did not see coming.  So that may be blocking up my mind a bit.  In the mean time, I have more reorganizing to do.  I had moved my Hambly to the opposite wall where more of the fantasy lives, and obviously Zicree has to be next to her so that Magic Time can be in both sets of books.  (This same arrangement sees David Weber next to the Bolo series, for example.)  But, because I have a lot more fantasy books than science fiction, this means I have some reorganizing to do in order to fit Ghostlands in.  So I’m off to do that while I can still keep my eyes open.

Lukewarm

I honestly did not expect to be writing this blog post tonight.  The book isn’t as long as The Madness Season, true, but it’s still longer than I can guarantee I’ll finish in a single day.  But, here we are.  Today I read Magic Time: Angelfire, this time written by Marc Scott Zicree and Maya Kaathryn Bonhoff.  It seems that Zicree wrote each book with a different person which is an unusual choice, particularly for someone I had never heard of before.  It makes sense to have a separate coauthor for each book in series like Anne McCaffrey’s Planet Pirates or C.J. Cherryh’s The Sword of Knowledge. In both of those cases, the more experienced and famous author works with three up-and-coming writers to give them exposure and practice.  That’s not the case here, but I really can’t figure what the idea was anyway.

I probably should have reread Magic Time first.  There are details in the first book that I needed to recall and I didn’t.  I knew it was a risk when I picked Angelfire out of the pile because Magic Time wasn’t nearly as clear in my mind as it could’ve been. But, while I was interested enough to find the other two volumes, I just couldn’t drum up the interest to reread the first book at this time.  It’s easy to see that while these books aren’t bad, they’re nowhere near the level of what I’ve been reading recently.

Angelfire sees our party of heroes continuing their journey towards the Source, which we continue to presume is located in the Badlands of South Dakota.  The group still consists of Cal Griffin, the leader, Herman Goldman, the crazy Jewish seer/wizard/lunatic, Doc (yes, he’s a real doctor), and Colleen.  And the ultimate destination of this particular book is Chicago, which of course perked my interest.  Especially once they made it into Illinois and discovered that the Fox River is a rather terrifying expanse now.  This strikes home in a few ways, given the major flooding in the region earlier this year.  I think the Fox crested a good six feet or more over its flood level?

Of course, this also led to one of those moments where I get some serious nerd rage.  You see, crossing the Fox River they took route 14.  County Route 14, the book says.  Well, I hate to break it to you, but that is a state route.  Not a county route.  Illinois county routes have weirder numbers, like A39 and V14.  I’m sorry, but I have to point  out a major error that anyone from around here would know.  It’s like the movie Mean Girls, which I think was based on New Trier High School?  There’s a scene in the movie where they go to the mall, and they call it Old Orchard.  This is a crime, as anyone from the area knows.  The mall in the movie is clearly Woodfield instead.  How do we know?  Simple.  Old Orchard is an outdoor mall.  Woodfield, like the mall shown in the movie, is an indoor mall.  Nobody cares that New Trier is closer to Old Orchard.  If you’re not going to show an outdoor mall, don’t call it by the name of one!

Anyway.  Our heroes journey ever onwards, growing and learning as they go.  We’ve been aware that not all of them are mundane humans anymore, but Angelfire makes it perfectly clear that there’s only one mundane in the group.  Which is interesting, as there’s one very obvious non-mundane, one somewhat obvious, and one that I don’t think has been shown with any abilities or changes whatsoever.  Because that wasn’t fleshed out in this book, I suspect it will come into play more in the next.  Or perhaps there’s already been signs but nothing overt or spelled out to the reader.

It’s not easy to remember a lot about Magic Time, but I think I’ve had a similar reaction to Angelfire.  Both books contain interesting things, but I feel like there’s a fair bit of tedium, of standing around and talking when we could be reading something more interesting.  I was counting down the pages as I drew closer to the end tonight, which is not a great sign.  I guess I feel like…the authors spend a lot of time on things that are less important and then the climax felt somewhat rushed.  Or maybe I was rushing through it, trying to finish.  Or maybe it just wasn’t as engaging as I want a climax to be.  Regardless, I’m still fairly lukewarm on these books.  On the warmer side of luke, sure, but nowhere near hot.

But there’s still one more book to go and as it’s the last one, it should be more rewarding than the other two.  Theoretically.  We’ll see how this goes.

Short’s Not Bad

One day, my mom bought me a book.  Yes, I’m starting yet another blog post this way.

The book was Gold Unicorn by Tanith Lee and I read it.  I also found Black Unicorn and Red Unicorn and read those too.  But I no longer own any of them.  They weren’t particularly long books as I recall – I was reading Brian Jacques at that time and those were far longer.  But Tanith Lee’s writing style required more maturity and understanding than I possessed at that age.  I finished the books knowing they were…something.  But I didn’t understand them and so I decided I didn’t like them.  Even now, I can’t recall more than a few scattered impressions from any of the three, and possess no accurate memory of how I truly felt.  All I can say for certain is that I was too young to be reading them.

However, Tanith Lee has popped up in anthologies now and again and I’ve enjoyed those stories.  Because I didn’t start reading anthologies until I was older, there was less of a disconnect than I’d had with the unicorn books.  And so when I was browsing in the Gallery recently, I decided that it was time and past to give her another chance.  It wasn’t her fault I’d been too young.

Of the three books I picked up, I chose to go with Sabella or The Blood Stone, continuing the science fiction theme I’ve been going with lately.  (Of course it turns out that this wasn’t the only continuing concept…but that’s all I’ll say about that.  No spoilers here if I can avoid it!)  It’s an old DAW yellow spine book from 1980, only about 150 pages long.  And yet…does it really need to be longer?  A lot of books today are filled with seemingly endless prose and description, often taken to an unnecessary extreme that just clutters up the novel with details that simply aren’t essential.  I won’t say that there aren’t books that justify their length – there most definitely are – but some people think that “length” equals “quality” which is not at all true.

Sabella is the story of a vampire.  On a distant planet known as Novo Mars, or New Mars, she lives quietly as she must, until her aunt dies and Sabella is invited to the funeral.  If not for this single event, she might have lived in the boonies quietly for the rest of her life.  But, of course, that would not be nearly as interesting to read.  The resultant adventures cause Sabella to step beyond the comfort zone she’s known her entire life and allow her to understand who and what she truly is.  I’ll admit, I did not see that twist coming, but I definitely approve.

The book is divided into three parts, each with a different focus.  In the first, we see Sabella as she has seen herself for years: calm, confident, and dangerous.  Here I saw this book as a fairly normal product of a female science fiction writer, showing a strong, independent woman.  In the second, we see her shaken, tormented and driven.  This section bothered me a great deal after the first, because of Sabella’s male torturer completely overpowering her, despite what we know from the first third.  Here I was prepared to be ultimately disappointed in the book.  In the last, she is running from everything, and trying desperately to find some kernel of faith or salvation with which to repair her mind and soul.  And this is where Tanith Lee took the first two thirds of her book and showed the readers how they are merely two halves of a whole, and the third portion shows that there are no seams between them, that they are two halves of a single coin.  This is when I understood why the book was in a plastic cover, and not just for being a first edition mass market paperback.

For all the trouble I had with the middle segment, I ended up not only pleased with Sabella but also awed by the power I felt in it.  Because I reread a lot and because a lot of the books I read can be fluff, I don’t have strong reactions to most of the books I read.  This of course makes me pay more attention to the books I do feel something for.  And I’m not talking about when I want to shout at the characters or laugh or anything like that.  I’m just talking about that moment when you finish a book, close it, and pause for a moment.  Sometimes all I can do in that moment is sit and say “wow.”  Sabella gave me one of those moments.

It also drove me to go reread the last thirty pages or so and look up a scene from the second section to doublecheck my memory.  The former happens in two situations: either because the climax is not totally clear and I need to reread it to figure out how exactly things resolved the way they did, or because that was so amazing and transcendant that I simply have to relive it again.  The latter tends to happen only in books I’m enjoying; I don’t need to go reread a foreshadowing moment if I just want to finish this thing and get to something better.

When I was looking Sabella or The Blood Stone up on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (it’s much easier to add to my personal database if I have the ISBN number), I happened to notice that there is is a sequel.  Or possibly just another book in that world, I’m not going to spoil for myself which it is.  But I will definitely keep an eye out for it.

To finish up tonight’s post, I will mention that isfdb.org is a great resource when it comes to looking up a lot of the older works I read.  It may not have the short summaries you can find on some authors’ wikipedia bibliographies, but it will have everything they’ve written (which led to a lot of scrolling for Tanith Lee – the woman wrote a massive pile of short fiction).  Not only that, but each book has a page that lists its entire publication history.  And those are just the easy things I use the site for.  Mad props to the people who maintain and update the site so that anyone who wants to can use it.

Mad Musings

When I sit back after finishing a reread of The Madness Season, my first reflection is always “wow, that was twisted.”  Which is not actually the case for most of the book.  It’s only the end where we see what can be called twisted.  The majority of the story is a fairly straightforward hero’s journey of discovery and courage.

Daetrin Ungashak To-Alym Haal was very carefully minding his own business on a Subjugated Earth when the Honn-Tyr come for him.  These near-silent warriors bring him to the Kuol-Tyr that serves as planetary governor and he is taken from his homeworld, never to be allowed to return.  The Tyr found evidence to suspect him, but even they cannot begin to understand just what it is they’ve found…because Daetrin has been concealing his true nature, even from himself, for years.

But that name.  That’s not actually a name, and it’s just one example of how thoroughly the human race was defeated by the Tyr.  Daetrin’s name is actually just a number in an alien language, fully as demeaning as a Holocaust survivor’s tattoo.  Not a lot of time is spent dwelling on that fact, certainly not drawing that actual comparison, but it does explain the careful emphasis by those humans who bear actual human names.  By using real names, they declare themselves to be individuals, people, and more than just census entries for their overlords.  Really, given the amount of action and creative thought C.S. Friedman put into this book, she doesn’t spend a lot of time examining what the Subjugation has done to humanity as a whole.  Yes, the docile humans are boring and not worth wasting space on, but I think perhaps a little more detail could have helped.

On an unrelated note, I’m always inteterested to note what books or stories come to mind as I read.  Sometimes it’s more logical, that I might read one of Orson Scott Card’s prequel books about the First Formic War, which starts off in a family spaceship in the outer solar system, and compare what I find there to the merchanter ships in C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe.  Other times it’s the similarities in story, such as the ones which prompted me to follow Out of the Dark with The Madness Season.  Then there’s comparisons which are less about content and more about tone and feel.

So I’ve been thinking about “The Only Death in the City” from C.J. Cherryh’s Sunfall.  Eventually our sun will begin its shift into a red giant, and by that time one hopes that most of humanity will have moved to other worlds.  But, humans being humans, there are those who will refuse to leave the homeworld and remain behind.  And they’ll live in the same cities that exist today.  “The Only Death in the City” is a tale of Paris in that far-flung future.  It’s the first story in the collection and is probably the strongest and most memorable.  One of these days I’ll reread the book and give a more thorough breakdown, but I assure you this is one powerful short story.  (Also I have discovered that I am not a huge fan of C.J. Cherryh’s short fiction overall.  Sunfall works because there is an overall concept behind the collection, even though each individual story has no connection to any of the others.)  My point here is that both The Madness Season and “The Only Death in the City” are stories I find particularly powerful and poignant, and very very good reads.

At this point, I could read more science fiction.  I don’t think I’m quite ready to dive back into pure fantasy, but I have some older books in my Pile that would be classed as science fiction simply because fantasy was not yet a separate genre.  Or I could continue rereading science fiction.  There’s another book by David Weber that’s popped into my mind a few times recently, but it’s also much longer and I’m not sure I’m ready to reread something that…intense.  It’s a good book, but I think I want to avoid military books for the moment.  The Madness Season involves war, yes, but not to the extent and amount of detail Weber considers sufficient.

Ugh, this book is so good.  How else would I have read almost five hundred pages in a single day and why else would I stay up later than I should writing this post?