They’re Cats

Another day, another new book.  This is the one book I knew I’d buy when I went to the convention because one of my author friends told me about it and I asked him to hold a copy for me.  It’s an anthology and he, of course, has a story featured within.  And, unlike other works he’s produced, there would be no doubt of my interest in this book if only because how can I say no to cats?

From a Cat’s View is a new anthology edited by Robin Praytor.  As the title implies, it’s a series of stories and poems told through a cat’s perspective.  They run the gamut too, from fantasy to science fiction to horror and mere slice of life.  Most of the stories here are decent, which is no bad thing considering I only knew one author’s name before I started the book.  After all, this is clearly self-published, or at least produced by a young company that is not at all in the big leagues.  The format alone tells you that.

Speaking of formatting, that’s where I find most of my issues with From a Cat’s View. As is normal for a collection of any type, there is a table of contents.  However, it is a formatting choice to not have any page numbers on the first page of a story.  Nor on the facing page, on the left side, where there is often an illustration of a cat.  And there are no page numbers on the last page of an author’s section, given over to a quick biography and list of weblinks to investigate them at.  Meaning that it is very difficult to flip to a specific page because the numbers you most want to see are conspicuously absent.  I wouldn’t object to leaving out page numbers on the first page of the story, or on the illustration pages, but to leave them off of all three types is just annoying.  As a designer I will tell you straight up: good design is invisible.  If I, or anyone else, notices your design, it’s probably not going to be in a good way.

This doesn’t even get into the standard self-publishing annoyances of orphans and widows, which show up with irritating frequency.

There’s also an annoying line of type in the table of contents.  The poem “Cat’s Schrödinger” is listed as being by Evil Brain Trust, LTD and Guy Anthony De Marco.  I respect that someone changed the percentage of the text width to fit it on a single line.  However, there’s simply far too much text shown in that space now, especially when compared to anything else listed on the Table of Contents.  Also, what on earth is the “Evil Brain Trust, LTD”?  It’s not listed on De Marco’s bio page at all, and it’s taking up an obscene amount of space, making the line look awful.  Also, this was a poem.  I don’t really see poetry being written by more than one person.

At the convention, one of the panelists was talking about editors not generally being great authors.  Not in a “if they can’t do, teach” sort of way, just that being able to recognize and help an author produce a great story doesn’t necessarily translate to being able to create great stories on your own.  And I couldn’t help thinking of that when I red Robin Praytor’s contribution, “Mau of the Pharaohs”.  It’s essentially a list of events preceeding, including, and following the reign of Tutankhamen.  And even though a cat tells the story…it’s dry.  It reminds me of a similar “story” written by George R. R. Martin, except that in GRRM’s case I could easily see that list of events being expanded out into novels and stories.  Here, I get the impression that Praytor is a fan of Egyptian history and wanted to share it with the world.

I also question the decision to have three separate pieces by Lisa Timpf.  Oh sure, “Moonlight” and “A Cat’s Confession” are both poems and only “The Open Road” is an actual story, but I do have to wonder what motivates an editor to include not one or two but three works by a single author.  I have seen books with two stories by the same person before, but it’s generally been more in the context of collecting works that may not have been written for the current anthology and this writer was just that good.  I’ll admit, “The Open Road” is somewhat notable for being the purest science fiction story in the lot, but other than that it was fairly average.  The novelty of the environment and setting is what made it stand out.  And I’m not big on poetry – it takes something special to really catch my eye.  None of the poems in this book really achieved that.

I won’t hold it against David Chorlton though, to have multiple pieces in From a Cat’s View because in addition to the opening poem “Two Hours”, he also contributed all the illustrations.  They aren’t my preferred style, but at least it is a unified style throughout the whole book simply due to the single artist.  And overall, he’s only taking up the same number of pages as other authors.  I view the poem as a bonus for him that he earned by doing the images.

“The Cemetary Cat” by Jennifer Lee Rossman was the first actual story in the book, and it’s a good choice for a starter being distinctive, memorable, and overall just a good story.  It wasn’t easily predictable, but also didn’t push the bounds of credulity.  Overall just a solid story and a good way to lead off the anthology.

In contrast, “Intrepidus” by Jennifer Loring suffers somewhat by being in this specific anthology.  From a Cat’s View is sold on the premise of stories told by cats.  But here the reader is clearly meant to assume the narrator is a human until Loring reveals otherwise.  So the “surprise” is spoiled just because it has to be a cat simply by being in this book.

There are some interesting concepts and ideas thrown around such as Isobel Horsburgh’s “Tishy” and Jean Graham’s “Cats Are Patient”.  I won’t spoil either of them for you, though I will say the authors have chosen some interesting directions to go.  Frankly, with cats you can believe almost anything for the pages required to create a story.

The reason I bought this book is “Stray Cat Strut” by Neal F. Litherland.  He’d told me the basic premise before, that we’ve got a cat in the hardboiled detective mold.  The tale itself is a simple missing person’s case that introduces us to Leo and his world.  Leo as a narrator can be poetic but brutal in describing his surroundings, fitting himself into the mold easily.  It’s hard to say if he takes on the case because of an owed favor or if he would have helped Duchess out regardless.  But I suppose that’s a question Neal can explore in further tales.  Given the standard detective story, it’s easy enough to create further adventures for the reluctant but competent hero and I wouldn’t object to reading them.

Speaking of stories that lend themselves to further adventures, I would most definitely be interested in the further adventures of Atticus Finch, as introduced to us in “Nice Work if You Can Get It” by Karen Ovér.  This is very clearly an origin story and I can only imagine what sort of fascinating fiascos Atticus and Alejandro Valdez can get into.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the odd interjections of Atticus’ thoughts, but overall I am quite invested in the two.

Wilfred R. Robinson’s “Big Ears” is an interesting take on a particular portion of history, adding more layers to a story that most people have a passing familiarity with.  I’m always impressed with how intriguing people can make the Black Plague, especially since one of the stories in Snow White, Blood Red was about the Pied Piper.

And how is it that in the most random anthologies I find Holocaust stories?  There’s a certain feel to them, where you can sense the horrible acts just out of sight in the text, a sense of the fleetingness of life and the horrors it can encompass.  So as I began reading Jeremy Megargee’s “The Stray” I started to suspect.  It’s a sad, haunting tale, though not as creepy as some others I’ve found.

All things considered, From a Cat’s View is a decent anthology.  It’ll be interesting to see which authors pop up again in the future.  Self-publishing is definitely changing the landscape, but most of my books still come from major publishing houses.

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Lucky Me

Most of the books I brought home after the convention were unlooked for and acquired simply because they intrigued me.  Today’s book is not one of those.  This is a real prize, something I hadn’t thought to find and hadn’t considered it might exist.  Again, yes, I could easily look these things up online, but that takes out half the fun of finding something you never suspected to exist when you’re poring over a selection of used books.

I found Liavek: Wizard’s Row, the third shared world anthology set in the City of Luck.  It’s shorter than the other two, with only eight stories before a pair of appendices, but that’s no matter.  Will Shetterly and Emma Bull knew what they were doing when editing the lot, and the length made it overall perfect for today – another done in one for me.

Several of the stories here build off of previous entries.  For example, we finally see Count Dashif and the urchin Kaloo come face to face with the revelation the reader should have guessed at before now.  There’s some appearances of Snake and her Tiger’s Eye shop, as well as the Order of Responsible Life (the religious suicides).  There’s a new author; I’ve never read anything from Bradley Denton before and his story “Baker’s Dozen” was perfectly fine.

There was one story called “Hypothetical Lizard” and it was written by an Alan Moore.  This I did have to look up because I needed to confirm that it was the Alan Moore, the man who created Watchmen and V for Vendetta.  And…yes.  Yes it is.  I’m not wholly surprised given that this is probably the most twisted and uncomfortable story I’ve ever encountered in any Liavek book, but aside from Neil Gaiman, I don’t see a lot of crossover between authors of prose and writers of comic books.  Oh sure, I’ve seen a few, where comics look to catch other readers by highlighting well-known authors or even adapting books and short stories into a more visual format, but I always viewed those as cash-grabs.

As always, I enjoyed the book and I am grateful again to the friend who first pressed Liavek into my hand in the hopes that I would read and enjoy it as much as they did. It’s an interesting world and a fascinating city, Liavek, especially when one factors in Wizard’s Row – the street you can’t always find.  Which is exactly what you’d expect of a wizard, much less an entire street of them.

I think, overall, Liavek: Wizard’s Row is a more mixed book than the others.  Sure, some stories end in triumph…but there are several here that end in tragedy and depression.  In general, not all stories have a happy ending, but I’ve grown to expect more lightheartedness and comedy from Liavek.  That’s not to say darker endings are a bad thing – they certainly aren’t – just that it’s contrary to expectations.  Don’t make the mistake of thinking this anthology is like Snow White, Blood Red.  That one drowned itself in darkness.  Here the light is simply tempered by darkness, reminding us that not everything is sunshine and roses.

I really don’t have a plan for what I’m reading from day to day at the moment.  I do intend that my next book be something just as easily transportable given that I’ve some busy days in my immediate future and have no intention of lugging bricks around.  Rest assured, I’ve over forty books in my Pile alone to choose from, and more if I don’t want to limit myself to new reads.  All that remains is to actually make a selection.

Have Book, Will Read

Given how long it took to finish my last book, is it any surprise I chose something I knew I could finish in a day?  It’s a kids book, but given the title and one of the two authors, I thought it was worth giving a try when I saw it at the convention on Friday.  Both came from the same bookseller…though I needed to add a third book if I wanted to use my credit card.  They’re cash only under $30, and this was only $8.  (I’ve already talked about the Seussian Cthulhu book that was $20, and we’ll see when that third book turns up on this blog.)

Today’s read was Have Sword, Will Travel by Garth Nix and Sean Williams.  And let’s just start by saying that is an excellent title and would have attracted my attention regardless of authors.  Combine that with Garth Nix of the Old Kingdom books and you have my interest and money.  I did note as I was completing my purchase that the second book is already available in hardcover, but seeing as I prefer my series to be a single format when possible, and not knowing what I would think of this book, I managed to ignore it.

I’ll have to go back and buy it at some point, maybe once it’s released in paperback.

Have Sword, Will Travel is the story of Odo and Eleanor, two thirteen year olds from the village of Lenburh.  They’re hunting eels in the river – it’s been running lower and lower of late – when Odo finds something buried in the mud.  It is…a sword!  More than that, it’s an enchanted talking sword that introduces itself as Hildebrand Shining Foebiter and declares the boy to be a true knight and his new master.  Which is rather awkward considering that Eleanor is the one who dreams of becoming a knight, just like her poor dead mother.

With Biter to prod Odo along, the two start off on an adventure, having decided that their first valorous deed will be to go upstream and figure out why the river is running so low.  But nothing is as simple or straightforward as it looks, and their story has only just begun…

It’s a simple enough premise, but thoroughly engaging throughout, despite being aimed at young readers.  My only plea to the authors is to please not make Odo and Eleanor fall in love at any point in the series.  As things currently stand, they operate much as brother and sister, despite sharing no blood.  They’ve been best friends for years and it’s simply unthinkable that Odo go off without Eleanor just because he’s got a magic sword and she doesn’t.

One thing I did appreciate throughout the book is the fact that, in this world Nix and Williams have created, there are no gender restrictions on knighthood.  The idea is never once questioned – Eleanor wants to be a knight because her mother was a knight.  No one ever suggests that a woman shouldn’t or wouldn’t be a capable knight, and they’re not treated any differently.  This is the sort of thing we need more of not only in literature but in life, where there is no preconceived notion that there’s something only one gender can do.

I’m not sure what I want to read next, considering that I have another busy weekend coming up and starting early.  I may gravitate towards something short again, or another anthology – hopefully easier to get through than the last.  But for the moment, my primary concern is where to shelve Have Sword, Will Travel.  Oh, and starting to ponder when I should preorder upcoming releases…

Unlucky Thirteen?

I finally finished that anthology I started last week before the convention.  The fact that a mere anthology took me so long is not a great sign.  But there are some mitigating circumstances.  Obviously I’ve been busy.  And not had a lot of free time that I would choose to devote to reading, especially considering how many of my con friends I see only once or twice a year.  Then again, let’s take a closer look.

Snow White, Blood Red is, as you might guess from the title, yet another of Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling’s fairy tale anthologies.  There are twenty stories within from various authors, though the only one I’d previously read was Neil Gaiman’s “Troll Bridge”.  Of course, I recognized quite a few writers.  I know Charles de Lint and Nancy Kress, Gahan Wilson is a name I recalled seeing before, as well as Tanith Lee, Kathe Koja, Gregory Frost, Steve Rasnic Tem, Melanie Tem, Esther M. Friesner, Jack Dann, Jane Yolen, and Patricia A. McKillip.  Which adds up to thirteen – a number some call unlucky.

I was somewhat stymied by the fact that most of the stories in this book seemed to delight in sexual overtones and themes.  It’s not my favorite reading material at the best of times, but it just seems so wrong to find with fairy tales.  Yes, I will grant you that I’m much more familiar with the Disneyfied versions that have been cleaned up for a very young audience, although I do understand that the older variants tend to be far darker and more brutal.  But that’s not the sense I got from so many of these stories.  Here it feels like the authors know they’re doing something naughty and reveling in it.  It’s that sensation, more than anything else, that really made this anthology difficult to get through.  The feeling that the editors hadn’t quite found the right balance of stories yet.

Which is less surprising when I followed my hunch and looked up the publication dates for Black Thorn, White Rose and Silver Birch, Blood Moon.  The former was released in 1994 and the latter in 1999.  Looking at the listing of other anthologies in the first, it’s clear that Snow White, Blood Red was the first of this particular set.  And A Wolf at the Door?  That first exposure to this editing pair I ever had, obtained through the Scholastic book fair?  That’s the newest of the lot, published in 2001.  In short, Snow White, Blood Red shows the inexperience of the editors.

To be fair, I don’t hate darkly sensual fairy tales or short stories in general.  But it’s not my preferred reading material, so I need them to be in the minority, surrounded and supplemented by other fare, preferably a bit lighter.  I suppose reading Snow White, Blood Red reminds me a bit of In Celebration of Lammas Night, though not quite as bad.  For those who don’t recall, that anthology was a set of stories trying to answer the question at the end of one of Mercedes Lackey’s filk songs.  Which means every single story in the book has the same basic structure and reading variations on a single tale gets incredibly boring to the point where you exult simply in finding something different, regardless of whether or not it’s actually a better story.

This is probably why I don’t have a lot of clear memories of most of the stories I’ve read lately.  Just memorable images from one or the other.  I remember “Troll Bridge” decently well, but that’s because I’ve read it before.  I remember more of the stories I read today than those I consumed on Thursday.  Which just makes this book disappointing overall.  I’ll still keep it, but I am glad that subsequent entries into this series are far better.

Now I have a choice.  And such a choice!  My Pile now extends almost two entire shelves and I am uncertain what to read next.  I could pick long or short, old or new, anthology, novel, or even series.  Still, I’m sure that whatever it is, I’ll probably enjoy it more than Snow White, Blood Red.

Con Times

Hello from Windycon!  Here I am, Saturday night, taking a break from the endless action and socialization that makes up a convention.  I have acquired numerous books for various prices from multiple people and am looking forward to sharing them with you.  I’ve only gone to one panel which was somewhat disappointing in how they didn’t stick to the topic advertised, but there was something interesting I heard.  One of the panelists, an author, described how someone who’d attended a speaking engagement of his read his first book and left a critical one-star review on amazon.  And, he realized, she was absolutely right about the points she raised.  So he changed how he was writing the second book and later went back to the first and rewrote huge chunks to adapt to the criticism and make both stronger than they would otherwise be.

Generally speaking, I don’t leave a lot of reviews on sites like amazon or goodreads.  I feel obligated to do more formal reviews there, and to not ramble on as I am wont to do.  Plus, the only times I leave reviews on additional websites is at the request of my friends, the authors.  So I feel obligated to avoid mentioning the negatives I may perceive.  After all, I am trying to help them make a living and a negative review won’t help sell books.  But, now that I think about it, I can see how constructive criticism helps even with published novels.  I don’t plan on changing how I operate on my friends’ behalf, but it does make me feel better if I have negative feedback here on my blog.  After all, they are not obliged to listen to me, but it exists if they want it.

But let’s get back to the reason behind this blog post; what I’ve finished reading.  It is not the book I started on Thursday.  Normally I wouldn’t interrupt something, but this con has been distinguished by showing me picture books that I absolutely could not pass up.  It has been a while since I bought a picture book for myself; the last one must have been the Cat Love Letters or whatever the exact title was.  And that was back in May-ish, I think.

This is in a similar vein of probably not being fully understood by any kids who might read it, but there’s no reason kids couldn’t read it.  Titled Life of the Party: The Realities of an RPG’er, Travis Hanson has presented a series of one-panel comics depicting memorable moments from RPG campaigns.  The art style is adorable but still descriptive, with cartoony characters colored that look to be colored with marker.  And it’s pretty much a book of in-jokes.

If you have ever played Dungeons & Dragons and spent a decent amount of time learning about fandom and fan culture, you will understand most of the jokes.  Many are clearly directly out of somebody’s campaign, whether it’s one Hanson played in or not is never mentioned specifically to each comic, but there is a note that some of these stories do come from other people.  And, I have to imagine, some just came from conversations instead of actual roleplay.  But I of course wouldn’t know.

All I need to know is that this is a short and amusingg read for any tabletop gamer who can appreciate the importance of perception checks, looting the bodies, and having the best gear you can wield.  There’s even some strips from the “bad guy’s” point of view for a bit of humorous contrast.  At $20 retail I think it’s a little overpriced for what it is, but I was too curious not to splurge a little.  I have no regrets.

What I really don’t regret spending $20 on, however, is something that truly is intended for young readers, as well as those young at heart.  This is H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Chthulhu for Beginning Readers by R.J. Ivankovic.  It is Lovecraft told and illustrated in a Seussian manner and it is adorable.  Now, I have not actually read any Lovecraft, although I have learned quite a lot through cultural osmosis.  I’ve also read several short stories in Lovecraftian settings.  So while I can’t actually speak to this book as an adaptation, I can still appreciate what it’s doing.  And I do have a soft spot for most things Dr. Seuss as well as the idea of adapting works into the style of classic authors.  Or classic authors into something else…I may never read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies purely because I don’t care for the original book or zombies, but I am entertained by the fact the book exists.

I bought The Call of Cthulhu for Beginning Readers with the understanding that, as I have never opted to dive headfirst into Lovecraft, I might not choose to retain the book once I’d purchased it.  However, I do know that there are undoubtedly multiple friends of mine who would not mind owning such a title and reading it to small children.  However, this does hit enough of my nostalgia buttons that I will definitely be adding it to my library when I get home tomorrow.

Unfortunately, that’s all the short books I’ve bought this weekend and I don’t foresee purchasing more.  The dealer’s room is closed for the night and I’ve seen all the tables in there, so I’m pretty sure I’m good on books.  Well, reasonably sure.  We’ll see what happens.  I chatted with an author for about half an hour and ended up buying his book that I’d had no intention of taking home originally, so things do happen.  Hopefully it will not make me too scared to go into the city again…

…but that will be a blog post for another day.  And not during Windycon.  So on that note, there’s a gaming room that is calling my name.

War and Aftermath

Continuing yesterday’s trend, I reread War of the Green Lanterns and followed it up with War of the Green Lanterns: Aftermath, which I picked up at the comic shop last month.  I do love me some sales.  Now, I have read War of the Green Lanterns before, as I said, making this the third time I’ve gone through these issues (the second time it was part of my brick, the Geoff Johns run on Green Lantern).

After the events of Emerald Warriors for Guy and while Hal and the leaders of the other corps are gallivanting around trying to find the emotional entities, the stage is set.  Krona, the mad guardian, has taken all seven entities and brought them to Oa.  Six he sets on the remaining guardians, to possess them.  The seventh, Parallax, he puts back into the green power battery where it once resided.  (Long story short: Parallax is the entity of fear and it was imprisoned in the green lanterns’ battery.  Sinestro also did a stint there, discovered his cellmate, and freed it.)  With the sudden introduction of the yellow impurity, most lanterns immediately fall under Krona’s mental control.  The only ones who can resist are those who were possessed by Parallax, mostly in the kerfuffle of Hal’s rebirth.  These select few are of course Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, Kyle Rayner, Kilowog, and Ganthet.

The timing isn’t awful, all things considered.  Hal was not arrested by his fellow green lanterns for conspiring with other lantern colors (who are now trapped inside the Book of the Black and their rings in his possession) and Kilowog was captured by enslaved lanterns on their way to Oa, allowing Hal and Guy to meet up at a safe house.  John, Kyle, and Ganthet were on Oa already, and our four human lanterns manage to get their rings off before Krona’s manipulations get them to kill each other.

Of course, this wrinkle means they can’t wear their rings until the situation is dealt with, but how best to solve that?  Well, there’s that rainbow of rings in Hal’s pocket…

War of the Green Lanterns is basically a good action movie.  You can watch (read) it independently of the rest of the series and as long as you have a basic understanding of who’s who, you shouldn’t have much trouble following along.  Some important stuff happens, but not much.  The most significant for Geoff Johns is what happens to Hal at the end of the book.  For Tony Bedard, it’s what John Stewart feels forced to do.

Aftermath is exactly what it sounds like.  More importantly, it’s exactly what I wanted from this book.  There’s some closure and chapters dealing with the events of the war, but also some one-shots featuring John, Guy, and Kyle as they go about their normal lives as green lanterns.  One or two of these issues I’ve read before, collected elsewhere, but most of them were completely new to me.  Overall, a real breath of calm between the storm of events.

My only complaint, and it’s a small one, is that it’s difficult to judge how much time passes between one issue and the next.  Part of that is because it’s writer’s choice – and that time gap can fluctuate.  Some issues follow hard on the heels of their predecessors, others are clearly weeks or months later.  Sometimes we get an actual indication of time passed, but not usually.

One thing I do appreciate is that in most of the graphic novels I’ve been reading and acquiring of late, it’s very clear where one issue ends and the next begins.  The standard cover is shown, textless, and the next page has the basics you’d want: issue title, writer, penciler, inker, etc.  No dates, but that’s on the book’s copyright page anyway.  So even if I’m barely paying attention to the individual issues because I’m caught up in the story, I can still tell when I’m moving into the next.  Assuming there isn’t an abrupt change in art style to inform me.

One more day of work before the convention, so I think I may pull that anthology and start it.  At least that’s off my Pile which can only help considering how much I’ll probably add to it this weekend.

Yes, Again

I imagine you may be getting somewhat tired of me reading and rereading various Green Lantern and spinoff graphic novels.  What can I say, it’s not something that I’ve read a huge amount of before and it has the benefit of taking less time than the vast majority of the books I own.  Which means today I was able to read Green Lantern Corps: Recharge and reread Green Lantern: Emerald Warriors.

The first one I know I haven’t read before…but the same issues have been collected elsewhere that I have read, which is kind of annoying.  The basic summary is that the Green Lanterns are recruiting not up to full strength but double what their full strength used to be.  This is also when Guy Gardner and Kyle Rayner are promoted to their status as Honor Guards – basically they aren’t assigned to their home sector and can go (or be sent) where they’re needed, as well as having a higher rank than most other Latnerns.

There’s some focus on a few of the new recruits who become recurring and notable side characters, such as Soranik Natu of Korugar, a doctor who initially rejects the ring because Sinestro made it a symbol of oppression for their homeworld.  There’s also Isamot Kol and Vath Sarn, who are from opposite sides of the Rann-Thanagar conflict, and if you can’t predict how that setup is going, you clearly haven’t been paying enough attention.

Overall, Recharge is a skinny little book and I’m not certain it’s worth it.  But I am keeping it for the time being.

Then there’s Emerald Warriors, which I’ve revisited numerous times.  Guy Gardner’s on a mission and he manages to conceal it surprisingly well, under layers and layers of intrigue.  It’s more than tracking shipments of a rare material, and it’s more than wondering why no one’s really explored the Unknown Sectors.  As he goes deeper and deeper into space, the plot gets murkier and murkier.  But the end result is that you can’t ever underestimate Guy Gardner.

I remember this particular book intriguing me when I found it at the library because of the red lantern symbol shown on Gardner’s pupils on the cover.  This volume is part of the Brightest Day event, meaning he’s still dealing with the aftereffects of having worn a red ring during Blackest Night.  That may not seem like a crucial element of the story in action, but it’s the impetus for Emerald Warriors entirely.  If not for the red ring, Guy wouldn’t have had premonitions of doom.  If not for his premonitions, he and Ganthet wouldn’t have an agreement with Atrocitus.  And it’s that pact which propels him towards the unknown, or at least in part.

Believe it or not, I am trying to plan my reading somewhat.  There’s a convention this weekend and I refuse to haul anything heavy around for the few minutes of reading I snatch here and there.  I’m thinking about an anthology – I think I only have one new one in mass market paperback at this time – but we’ll have to see how things go over the next couple days.  For the time being, I’m not doing seeing green quite yet.

Find Peace in the Present

After yesterday’s abysmal failure, I could accept no substitutes.  To remember my professor I had to pull the best possible book she introduced me to off the shelf.  This is Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko.  She is a talented writer and poet from the Laguna Pueblo (also part Mexican and part white) and Ceremony may be her most well-known book.

Published in 1977, Ceremony is the story of Tayo, a Native American World War II veteran.  He’s home from the war, having been a Japanese prisoner and spent an unknown amount of time recovering in Los Angeles following the conflict.  But it’s hard for him.  He’s unfocused, sick, and has difficulty finding motivation to do much without others to push him into it.  But his problems didn’t start during the war.

Ceremony is not just about Tayo but about Native Americans.  It’s about how white people changed everything with their coming and their greed and their lies.  Some of Tayo’s problems stem from his war days, others from his childhood, and still others just from being a Native American.  Or at least partially.  His mother was Mexican and so many others on the reservation distrust his half blood.

It’s a story about finding healing and acceptance, about understanding what you can and can’t change, about recognizing lies and truths.  Tayo’s experiences and memories are interspersed with other characters’ moments, with stories told in poem, and all is woven together to create a complete tale, even if it’s not one immediately familiar to a white audience.  There are no chapters as such, though there are breaks.  There is the divide of scene into scene, of story into poem, of present into memory.  And yet, as Tayo experiences one night, it is all one.  There is no past or future, merely the now.

I am certain that Ceremony‘s primary audience is Native Americans.  That, as a white person, I can never fully appreciate this book.  But I don’t think that’s a bad thing.  It’s like when I reread the Dear America book about the Jewish immigrant girl and it’s such a comfortable fit as everything falls into the culture and religion I understand.  Other people can appreciate it, but if they’re not Jewish they won’t get as much out of it as I do.

Even if my understanding of Ceremony is necessarily limited, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate its strength within those bounds.  It’s clear to me that, for Tayo and many other Native Americans, there is no divide between the world we live in and that of the spirits.  The two are and have always been one.  Part of the struggle he and others experience is the decision to listen to white people saying the two are separate or to ignore them and decide for themselves.  There’s a number of instances in this book where things just…seem to happen.  Spiritual things that affect the characters’ lives.  Kind of like in old fairy tales, although I am uncertain if that is the effect Silko means.  But I’m white, and so I do wonder if I’m meant to take this book literally or as a story, when it’s possible the author would simply respond with “yes”.

I don’t want to understand Ceremony.  Because I can never truly understand it, being white.  I can read it, I can analyze it, I can dissect it all I want, but I’ll never be able to read it the way any Native American would.  So I don’t want to try, because all that would do is destroy my ability to enjoy the book.  And even if I can’t understand it, I still like it and want to go on appreciating it.

And maybe, just maybe, my rereading Ceremony is a part of a larger pattern and this offering will please my professor’s spirit.  It’s certainly helped to bring me some closure.

Just No

When I was at Barnes & Noble last month, I decided to grab a book off the bargain cart.  It wasn’t as cheap as I could want, but I figured it could be worthwhile.  Called Voices of the Winds, it’s a collection of Native American legends from Margot Edmonds and Ella E. Clark.  I like folklore and remember my Native American Literature class fondly, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

And I felt like I should read it sooner rather than later because said professor was recently murdered, seemingly out of the blue.  It’s a horrible incident and a tragedy for the university where she and her husband both worked.  I only ever had the one class with her, but it made an impression and I enjoyed her as an instructor.  Not to mention that of the six or so books we read, I still own four.  Probably the most “textbooks” I’ve kept for a class outside of my art history and graphic design books.

Which is why I’m so disappointed to be writing this blog post tonight.  Given that I didn’t spend most of my day at home, it’s nigh impossible that I could have finished it today.  And I’m typing to say that I won’t be completing this book.

My first intimation that this book was on sale for a reason was when I opened to the introduction and saw the phrase “Native American Indians” and the word “Indians” all throughout.  That’s not proper terminology, and makes me pretty certain that Edmonds and Clark are white.  But I’m not going to give up on a book just because the introduction is somewhat tone-deaf.

The book is organized by region, so legends of the Northwest are all together and the same for the Southwest and so on and so forth.  Each regional section is preceded by a blurb of…what I feel would be mostly common knowledge and is somewhat ethnocentric.  The Northwest section starts with a brief mention of the landbridge from Asia and some very basics about migration…then skips on to mention Lewis and Clark because obviously nothing else interesting happened before white people came.  Oh, and the word “Indians” is used extensively again.  But again, I opted to give the book the benefit of the doubt and go on to the stories.

Each story is headed by a title given it, followed by the tribe from whence it came, then a blurb about where the tribe lived.  The stories are…fine.  Not especially well told, but not awful.  The weird part comes when you get to the second and there’s an illustration on page 9.  It’s a sketch of a physical artifact that is probably in a museum somewhere, though it’s not listed with the illustration, which just has a “title” of what it is and a tribal attribution.  And again, the “title” uses the word “Indian.”

The final straw for me is when I noticed stories describing where the characters were traveling to or from in modern terms.  Coyote didn’t walk to Spokane.  He’d have gone to Spokane lands or something else like that.  That information should be in the preceding blurb if you feel its so necessary.  Like saying “the Great River known to the Wasco tribe is known today as the Columbia.”  Then in the story you only refer to it as the Great River and the reader still knows where they are.  It’s really not that hard if you’re paying attention and take proper care.  Which, obviously, these two weren’t.

I don’t want to read a study of stories collected by outsiders.  I would much rather read stories being preserved by those who’ve inherited them, like Two Old Women.  I had hoped to read this book as a tribute to my professor, but this would make a mockery of her class.  I think I shall have to go pull one of her selections off my shelf to get the bad taste of this one out of my mouth and do this whole thing properly.

A Dense Book

It has been a busy week.  I’ve not had a lot of time to devote to books given that anything and everything has been going on and sometimes when I do have a few minutes I’m just…not up for the mental capacity required to return to my book.  Case in point: I should have finished this last night.  But this is not the kind of book you can just whip through.

You may recall last week when I read The Sword & Sorcery Anthology and had one clear favorite story out of the book, to the point where I said I would have to keep an eye out for more stories set in that world.  Well, ask and you shall receive for when I stopped at Half Price Books last Saturday there, on the shelf, was A Cruel Wind: A Chronicle of the Dread Empire.  By Glen Cook, of course.  This is a 2006 omnibus reprinting of A Shadow of All Night FallingOctober’s Baby, and All Darkness Met which were originally published in 1979-1980.  And yes, I was compelled to look up the dates when I realized that half of this 582 page book is the third novel.  The first two are about 160 and 170 pages respectively.  Normal enough for the time period in which they were written.

There is an awful lot that happens over the course of these nearly six hundred pages.  Cook’s chapter headings are rarely found at the top of the page and truly only mark date ranges and locations.  Sometimes they have subheadings or subchapters that offer a succinct description of the overall trend of events contained within; such as “Defeat, Defeat, Defeat”.

In some ways, I think this is what one of my least favorite George R. R. Martin short stories was trying to do.  Cook wastes no words throughout the book.  If an event isn’t important enough to explore outright, it’s mentioned or summarized while we focus on the truly vital scenes for our main characters and plot.  Because while Martin summarized the timeline that led to present day Westeros, Cook is using his characters to summarize the timeline.  It may not sound that dissimilar, but by giving us main characters whose heads we can get into and whose perspective shapes the world for us, what could become a dry recitation of events gains weight and emotional impact.

It’s a very different method of storytelling from what I normally read, but that’s no bad thing.  The characters, particularly Bragi Ragnarson and Varthlokkur, are strong and compelling, even when I’m not yet certain why one is a main character instead of others.  And, at the end of the day, the characters drive the plot enough to keep me engaged and wondering.

In a world of Power (magic) that has some elements in common with our own, there are numerous countries, kingdoms, and even empires.  The Dread Empire, Shinsan, is a nebulous force in the east that no one really wants to deal with, but also no one really has to think about.  It’s been a very long time since the western countries have truly dealt with Shinsan on any kind of scale, so they are something of a bogeyman.  And thus, the western kingdoms would rather fight amongst themselves for their normal stakes, whether it’s the Storm Kings playing a boy’s war with real soldiers, El Murid and his religious war, etc.

The calendar is AFE, After the Founding of the Empire of Ilkazar, which fell after about five or six hundred years.  Present day sections of the books are in the 990s-1010s because no one exerted enough influence on the world to justify changing the calendar.  And the Fall of Ilkazar is significant enough that it is touched upon in A Shadow of All Night Falling.

Essentially, these books are the story of the Dread Empire stepping out from the shadows of their barrier mountains and becoming the threat everyone always knew they were but never dreamed they’d see in person.  The shadow grows over time as we see the main characters grow, age, and change for good and for ill.  And yet, it seems that the shadow of Shinsan is not the only one to be noted and feared.

As I said at the start, these are dense books.  Because there’s no wasted words, a lot happens on every single page.  Very rarely do we delve into a fight or battle with blow by blow narration because it’s the larger picture that Cook tends to focus on.  That’s not to say he overlooks the little things, he simply saves them for truly important moments of character insight and development, granting them all the more impact.

I’m finding it hard to truly elucidate on how the writing of these books differs from the bulk of the ones in my library.  I know it’s different and I can halfway grasp at those vagaries, but not fully.  It’s not as obvious a choice as The Ladies’ Auxiliary being written in first person plural or Rogue Bolo being written through third party sources.  Hell, it’s not even the same writing choice I saw in “Soldier of an Empire Unacquainted with Defeat” which was a more traditionally written story that simply intrigued me based on the world in which it was set.  I am not at all complaining about the writing style in A Cruel Wind, merely saying that it’s something new and different to me, and that it is much denser and time-consuming to read than most of my selections.

I had feared, back on Tuesday when I started this book, that I might not enjoy it as much as the short.  That I was only reading it to find out about the Dread Empire itself and wouldn’t care much for these seemingly unrelated characters.  I had thought that I wouldn’t like the character of Mocker, whom Jeff Vandermeer made a point of mentioning in his introduction, and would only tolerate him for the sake of the story.  (To be fair, I still have many mixed feelings on Mocker.)  In short, I had no real idea of what to expect out of this book and was blown away by what I received.

I will not say that the books in A Cruel Wind form a trilogy.  They obviously go together, using a core cast of characters that is expanded with each successive book and move forward on the timeline from one to another, but I don’t have the feeling of completeness that a trilogy engenders at its conclusion.  There is clearly more to come and I would not be surprised if all other books in this world have different viewpoints from what I’ve read here.  Cook has a great many options and I will certainly have to pick up as many others as I can find.  According to the inside cover, it looks like there’s two more omnibi – each with only two books inside meaning they’re either longer than these three or there’s only two relating to the characters in each – and a novel.  The novel I wonder, based on the title, if it’s an expansion of the short story I read.

Perhaps the Dread Empire is a series in the more traditional sense, where there is a clear order and each book leads into the next but can stand alone for most purposes. I obviously haven’t read enough to judge, but only time and further purchases will tell.  Suffice to say, there will be more Dread Empire in my future.  It’s fantasy and on a large scale (though it doesn’t feel especially epic) and somewhat militaristic (but again, not on the same level as David Weber’s Safehold or Tanya Huff’s Valor books), and most definitely different from my other reading.

And this, my friends, is a great reason to read anthologies.  Because I never would have given this book a second glance otherwise.

In the wake of the mental fortitude required of A Cruel Wind, I finally got around to the freebies from the comic shop last week.  None of them were coverless comics this time, all being actual previews.  There was a Star Wars Reads: Free Previews which lists all the current Star Wars series and has some preview pages from notable upcoming issues…but I’m not a big Star Wars fan.  I’ve seen most of the movies, but that’s more out of a sense of obligation and a sibling who is a far bigger fan insisting that this is how we should spend our Jewish Christmas.

The Marvel previews are as thick as ever with a dizzying array of upcoming titles for the next couple months.  Nothing super exciting save that the trade and collected section reminds me I should look into more of the lady Thor books.  I’m still not sure I want to spend actual money on them, but I do want to read more of the story.

The DC previews are a very different beast though.  This is not a magazine like Marvel produced, but more akin to an actual trade paperback, complete with perfect binding and the same type of cover stock and paper.  (Wow, can you tell I’ve worked in a print shop?)  It advertises the DC Essentials and key parts of all their book lines.  This being an ad for stuff to buy in 2019, I assumed it would be a fairly comprehensive list of what books they’re planning on releasing next year.  Instead, this is mostly rehashing what I already know.  A “greatest hits” type thing, wherein I saw blurbs for the same books two and three times throughout, under different sections.  Like The Dark Knight Returns.  It’s in the Essentials section, in the Batman section, as well as a third.  This doesn’t include the very comprehensive list and suggested reading order (sorted by hero/team) at the back of the book.  Which again is not a list of new books but rather of existing books.  Still, I am intrigued by some of the titles listed around my areas of interest with Green and Red Lanterns, so that is somewhat helpful.

I will also mention how I was absolutely tickled by the comic that opened the DC previews.  It shows Black Manta invading the Atlantean library to steal the very same book I read from.  Aquaman and Mera show up to stop him, Aquaman trying to tell him something very important, but Manta keeps monologuing.  Finally Mera just uses her…magic water powers?…to capture him.  Aquaman shakes his head and explains to his wife how he just wanted to tell Manta that he can’t sell the contents of the book because it’s already free, but Mera tells him to shut up because she’s now reading it herself.  It was very silly, but quite cute and entertaining for what it was.

I don’t know what I’ll be reading next.  Whatever it is, it’s going to be significantly shorter than A Cruel Wind although I’m not sure if I’ll gravitate towards a novel or an anthology.  I do have a series in my Pile too, though since it’s young adult I wouldn’t count it as being anywhere near as dense as the Dread Empire.  Still, we’ll see what the future holds.