On this ‘re-read’ of Eddison’s fantasy classic I listened to the audio version produced by Librivox. Now normally Librivox recordings, given that theyOn this ‘re-read’ of Eddison’s fantasy classic I listened to the audio version produced by Librivox. Now normally Librivox recordings, given that they are free, can be pretty hit-or-miss. This, I am happy to say, is a case where they stumbled upon an excellent reader. Jason Mills tackles Eddison’s delicious, albeit often difficult and certainly archaic, prose with panache and style. For me his accent didn’t hurt either and leant the reading a somewhat exotic flair (for those of us across the pond at least). The reading was smooth and very well paced, with emphasis and inflection exactly where I would expect it and just the right mood injected into each scene…very well done. If you’ve had trouble overcoming Eddison’s prose due to its idiosyncrasy on the page then perhaps listening to this version might be your best gateway into the Worm.
Ah the Worm...how to describe it? I would liken it to an opera scored by Wagner with a libretto written by Shakespeare based on a story cribbed from Homer. I’ll admit that statement is in some ways blatant hyperbole, but I think it still aptly express the ambience of the book. I’ve written a previous review on the Worm so I won’t go into too much of an overview of the story itself and will instead record my impressions of things that struck me from this re-read. One thing to note in general though: this is without a doubt an elitist work. As far as characters go if you are not one of the great and mighty, whether good or evil in disposition, you need not apply (with the possible exceptions of Mivarsh Faz and the single chapter given from the POV of a common soldier of Demonland and his family, but even then they display a distinctly worshipful attitude towards their ‘betters’). So if you cannot abide a fantasy world that does not model itself along the right-thinking ideals of liberal democracy then you might want to give this one a pass.
I’ve mentioned in my previous review how many of the characters are archetypes – supermen striding across the page generally lacking in psychological realism. I’d still generally stand by that statement, but I did notice that with perhaps the exception of a few of the Demon (good guy) princes quite a few of the characters displayed much more complexity than I had previously given them credit for: Lord Gro of course is an interesting character – a philosopher and courtier so in love with lost causes that he is driven to betray his friends and allies when they ascend too highly on Fortune’s wheel, and who is also the hapless lover of two peerless ladies who may admire him but can never return his love; Corund the stalwart general of the Witchland armies who is no hero, but displays a nobility of character and strength of personality that makes him admirable for all his villainy; his wife Prezmyra a lady of peerless beauty and iron strength of will, utterly devoted to her husband and her brother and who will never back down from her convictions once she has set herself a goal. Corund and Prezmyra are fast becoming my favourite characters in the book and who better to express their virtues than Eddison himself through the mouth of Lord Juss, their enemy:
For royal and lordly was Corund, and a mighty man at arms, and a fighter clean of hand, albeit our bitter enemy. Wondrous it is with what cords of love he bound to him this unparagoned Queen of his. Who hath known her like among women for trueness and highness of heart? And sure none was ever more unfortunate.
It is a book chock-full of cinematic moments against which you can almost hear the swelling score as in the return of Lords Juss and Brandoch Daha to Demonland from their expedition to Impland, or the return of the Demons to the steppes of the Moruna as seen through the eyes of Lord Gro. Not to mention the death of Gro: both in its manner and the actions that precipitate it, which are just so apt, so expressive of who he is and the tragedy of his life, that I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry upon reading it. I was struck as well by how much the expedition to Impland made by Juss and Brandoch Daha seemed so similar to something you might read in Malory with its constant procession of tests and marvels that are stumbled upon in the wild and which our heroes must simply accept and overcome. I was also a little surprised to note that Juss’ testing on the mountain of Zora Rach Nam Psarrion had glimmers of the Lovecraftian in its expression of existential horror: “…but that pain was a light thing beside somewhat he now felt within him the like whereof he never before had known: a deathlike horror as of the houseless loneliness of naked space, which gripped him at the heart.” Or again:
The cloud had lifted from the mountain’s peak and hung like a pall above its nakedness. Chill air that was like the breath of the whole world’s grave: vast blank cloud-barriers: dim far forms of snow and ice, silent, solitary, pale, like mountains of the dead: it was as if the bottom of the world were opened and truth laid bare: the ultimate Nothing.
But of course one of the primary reasons to come to this book and fall in love with it is the language. Whether Eddison is describing an epic action of great heroism or villainy, or simply a commonplace occurrence seen with the eyes of glamour he provides the reader with a veritable feast of words. Here are a few choice excerpts I noticed this time around:
On sleeping in:
Corund answered, “Truly I was seldom so uncivil as surprise Madam Aurora in her nightgown. And the thrice or four times I have been forced thereto, taught me it is an hour of crude airs and mists which breed cold dark humours in the body, an hour when the torch of life burns weakest.”
The ambiguity of the fall of night:
Behind them rolled up the ascent of heaven the wheels of quiet Night: holy Night, mother of the Gods, mother of sleep, tender nurse of all little birds and beasts that dwell in the field and all tired hearts and weary: mother besides of strange children, affrights, and rapes, and midnight murders bold.
Sunrise and the hope of morning:
Day goeth up against the tyrant night. How delicate a spirit is she, how like a fawn she footeth it upon the mountains: pale pitiful light matched with the primeval dark. But every sweet hovers in her battalions, and every heavenly influence: coolth of the wayward little winds of morning, flowers awakening, birds a-carol, dews a-sparkle on the fine-drawn webs the tiny spinners hang from fern-frond to thorn, from thorn to wet dainty leaf of the silver birch: the young day laughing in her strength, wild with her own beauty; fire and life and every scent and colour born anew to triumph over chaos and slow darkness and the kinless night.
Dive deeply into Eddison’s fantasy or don’t enter at all. It is like a heady draught of strong wine that pleases the palate as it ennobles the spirit and gosh it’s a lot of fun! ...more
I’m going to say something that sounds unkind, but really it’s a compliment from me: for a long time now I’ve kind of thought of Daryl Gr3 – 3.5 stars
I’m going to say something that sounds unkind, but really it’s a compliment from me: for a long time now I’ve kind of thought of Daryl Gregory as something of a poor man’s Sean Stewart. I must first admit that this happened before I actually read any of his books (this one is my first), and was based on what I could glean of them from the jacket blurbs and comments/reviews. It probably also comes from the fact that I once ran across a posting made by Gregory on a message board or blog somewhere where he bemoaned the fact that Sean Stewart was no longer writing and wished that he could still look forward to more books by him (a desire which I have ardently shared ever since Stewart decided to move on from writing into online game design) and so I thought maybe he was taking the bull by the horns and writing his own in the Stewart mould.
I then started looking a bit more closely at Gregory’s books, of which I had been only peripherally aware, and noticed that hey, they really did seem to cover similar thematic and conceptual areas: both wrote what I suppose would be classified as ‘urban fantasy’ (though I hate the tag and don’t tend to gravitate towards the stuff that normally ends up in that bin); both seemed to centre on a very ‘realist’ approach to character and setting with the major caveat that their worlds were impacted by one major ‘speculative’ element (whether it be magical or ‘scientific’) that introduced the bizarre into our mundane world; both seemed to be concerned not so much with stories about world-shaking battles or larger than life figures as much as about how the significant changes in their worlds impacted the lives of ‘regular’ people: how they struggled to maintain normalcy in the midst of chaos and confusion. Still I had never quite mustered up the desire to pick up one of his books for one reason or another until now. Maybe I was afraid of being disappointed. So how did this one go? In a nutshell I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t blown away.
Gregory’s world-bending conceit in this one is certainly interesting: demonic possession is real, but these demons aren’t satanic minions from hell (or at least we aren’t sure of that – no one quite knows where they come from), but are instead more like semi-Jungian archetypes from the collective unconscious. They are monomaniacal entities obsessed with fulfilling some particular role or action: it might be the Painter who forces the possessed to depict the same picture or set of pictures over and over again in whatever medium happens to be handy whether it be paint, chalk, or the destroyed pieces of a popcorn machine; it might be the Captain, a shield-slinging hero who tends to manifest when people, especially soldiers, are in danger; perhaps it’s the Truth, a much darker ‘hero’ who guns down anyone whose lies have offended his fine sensibilities; or maybe the Hellion, a Denis the Menace-like nuisance whose antics just might literally make you lose an eye. The victims of possession don’t remember what happened while their body was being controlled from without, and many don’t survive the experience. Our hero is Del Pierce, a man who has been drifting through life as little better than a loser, unable to hold down a regular job or maintain normal relationships, ever since he was possessed by the Hellion as a little boy. For many years he has been able to keep the voices in his head at bay, but recently something has been scratching at the back of his mind and he is returning home from a short stay in a mental institution, nearly broke and grasping at his last straws, in the hopes that he will be able to deal with his demons, whether real or imagined, once and for all.
Del is quickly plunged into the bizarre world of ICOP, the international conference of academics and scientists who study the demons, each with their own, usually contradictory, theory of what is happening and how it might be fixed…none of whom have managed to achieve any conclusive result. That is, of course, except for Dr. Ram, a rising star in the world of demonology whose new controversial theories just might give Del a chance at truly living a normal life. Paired with ICOP is the other side of the coin: the unsanctioned ‘conference’ DemoniCon: a mass of cosplaying demon-aficionados each of whom yearns for the ‘glamour’ of being possessed and many of whom see the demons not as a bane on human existence, but as a gift to be revelled in. Now all Del has to do is convince Dr. Ram he is not one of these looney ‘demon groupies’ and that he is in fact the only person who has been able to do the impossible: to trap the demonic entity of his possession in the bowels of his mind.
Gregory populates his novel with an interesting and varied cast of characters, from Del Pierce the tortured possession survivor and his long-suffering brother & mother who have tried to help him deal with his broken life, to the sardonic exorcist-priest Mother Mariette (an obvious direct homage to Sinead O’Connor) and many of the other oddball figures that populate both ICOP and DemoniCon (including a direct analogue to Philip K. Dick and his AI construct/demon VALIS). Despite many of the outlandish things that happen and entities that populate this world it was always believable because it was grounded in these characters who really did feel like real, multifaceted individuals. Gregory also manages to keep the plot moving at a good pace, with enough twists and turns to keep me interested and wraps it all up with a satisfying resolution.
So what more did I want? I don’t know that I could say anything was really missing. It was a fine book that simply didn’t quite blow me away. Maybe it was just a ‘first novel’ thing. I’ll certainly pick up another one of Gregory’s books and see how he tackles his next foray into the real world turned upside down....more
Ok, so that was pretty great. Things are all coming together (or is that all falling apart?) in this part of the storyline in ways that have4.5 stars
Ok, so that was pretty great. Things are all coming together (or is that all falling apart?) in this part of the storyline in ways that have me excited for what’s coming next. I knew I was invested in these characters when I read the lines from Hazel (who I’ve neglected to mention is the overall narrator of the story): (view spoiler)[ “This is the story of how my parents split up" (hide spoiler)]. My shock and disappointment at reading that told me just how much I cared about what happened to Alana and Marko.
Once again we have an arc with a seemingly placid domestic background: some time has passed (I think a year or two) and Marko and Alana have put down roots (literally) on the planet Gardenia where Marko is a stay at home dad and Alana has a job as an actor in the ‘Open Circuit’ (a live-action holographic entertainment where all of the characters are superheroes living out melodramatic soap opera lives). Things are not all white picket fences though: Marko is having a tough time coping with Hazel’s rambunctious ways and both he and Alana are dealing with her long work hours in different ways, both of which may end up driving them apart.
Elsewhere Prince Robot IV is ‘recuperating’ on the pleasure world Sextillion while his wife is murdered and newborn son stolen by a robot commoner who hopes to incite rebellion against the ruling bluebloods. Gwendolyn and Sophie, meanwhile, have now become a team with Lying Cat and are searching for a way to help The Will heal from his apparently permanent vegetative state. Add the ex-wife of an old friend, someone’s sister, and the usual gathering of interstellar misfits and weirdos and you have the recipe for a really great story.
I don’t want to give away too many details (than I already have) and spoil it: suffice it to say that the way things gel (or do they break down?) really worked well for me. When I saw the unexpected image on the last panel of the last page I was like “Alright!” Now can someone please tell me when the next trade is being issued for this?["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
So the adventures of Alana and Marko continue as they try to evade everyone who wants to see them dead and the product of their union hidden away…if nSo the adventures of Alana and Marko continue as they try to evade everyone who wants to see them dead and the product of their union hidden away…if not worse. They find Alana’s author-guru and hole up with him on the planet Quietus with Gramma and the undead nanny. Meanwhile The Will and his expanding team of misfit bounty hunters are temporarily stranded on a seemingly idyllic planet while they await repairs to their ship. A team of tabloid reporters have gotten wind of the scandal that both sides of the war want to keep secret at all costs and Prince Robot Douchebag IV is still on the trail.
This volume of _Saga_ starts off relatively slowly: both Alana & Marko and The Will and his team seem to settle into almost homey routines, getting to know each other better before things start going off the rails…and of course they do. Alana and Marko settle into domestic life with Heist and want to find a way to provide for Hazel that will let them stop living their lives on the run; The Will is starting to think that life after The Stalk may be livable after all, especially now that Slave Girl - er Sophie - and Gwendolyn are in his life. Of course neither group is destined for peace and quiet regardless of what they may want, and both of them will find that their pleasant little corners of paradise are easily disrupted by tensions both within and without their little enclaves.
Vaughan does a good job in using the quiet moments to let us see more of the ‘real’ characters, not just the personae they wear when they’re ‘on the job’ and in the middle of the action. Sufficient twists and turns in the plot occur to keep us interested and Vaughan shows that while he may not quite have George R. R. Martin levels of sadism when it comes to putting his characters through the ringer, he’s still more than willing to drop them down a few mine shafts and see how they land.
I like the pacing that Vaughan has established with this story: enough action and surprises to keep us interested, but enough lulls to allow for expansion on the characters and their relationships. Nothing feels predictable or safe and we still see reasons to root for almost all sides of the story (except for Prince Douchebag who, despite his ‘issues’ is still a douchebag…but at least he’s an interesting douchebag). These characters make mistakes they have to live with as much as they perform daring actions that save their lives. I also like that each member of the teams (or families really) that have formed have shown themselves to be useful. No one is simply a prop or superfluous, though of course that doesn’t mean that they might not end up being offed in the end…they’ll just be missed that much more.
I don’t really see how anyone could be disappointed with this series up to this point unless you don’t like interesting characters, well done storytelling, and really rather nice art. If you’re one of those people I really don’t know how to help you....more
Well, this series is still going strong…lots of fun and highly recommended! This time around we get a glimpse into what filled young Marko with such hWell, this series is still going strong…lots of fun and highly recommended! This time around we get a glimpse into what filled young Marko with such hatred for the Landfallians (hint: mom and dad might have had something to do with it), Alana gets to meet the in-laws (umm, gulp), and we get to see the first meeting between our two love-birds (hey, Marko only lost one tooth by the looks of it!)…oh yeah and Marko’s former fiancée arrives on the scene to team up with one of the Freelancers sent to kill him and his wife. This story is just full of awkward moments isn’t it?
I have to say I think one of this series’ strengths is the way that Vaughan manages to make all of the characters interesting. None of the stories are ones I want to skip over, whether it’s The Will and Gwendolyn attempting the rescue of ‘Slave Girl’ in the midst of tracking down Alana and Marko, Marko’s dad bonding with his granddaughter and daughter-in-law and dropping some heavy-duty news on them, Marko trying to calm down his furious warrior mother while they search for the ghost-nanny that *she* sent MIA, or even that douche Prince Robot IV dealing with his PTSD as he combs the galaxy for his prey. Everyone’s got issues, no one is simply good or evil, and they all display a wide range of strengths and weaknesses that go towards making them interesting people.
The crazy galaxy that Vaughan has come up with is also pretty great. He’s deft at mixing his space opera sci-fi setting with his fantasy tropes in a way that doesn’t seem patchwork. On top of that he throws a hearty helping of weird (planetoids that hatch into galactic monsters, tree ships, teleporting crash helmets, and one-eyed pulp fiction authors that I swear remind me of Samuel R. Delany). In short it’s always an enjoyable trip, both for the company and the scenery. I don’t really know what else to say: details will just ruin the fun for you, so dive in and enjoy it yourself already!...more
Ok, first of all an admission: when I initially read the preview pages for Saga when it first came out I was, well, underwhelmed would be a good word.Ok, first of all an admission: when I initially read the preview pages for Saga when it first came out I was, well, underwhelmed would be a good word. I had already started hearing buzz about the title, but for some reason the preview left me unimpressed. Maybe it just seemed a little too weird to me and I didn’t really think it would gel. Well, mea culpa. After the implicit pressure of all of the good reviews many of my GR friends have given it (some of whose opinions I even trust!) I decided what the hell…might as well give the title an actual shot. I’m glad I did. Let me say I was right though: it is weird. But it’s good weird.
Do I need to give a general run down? Probably not, but here you go anyway: The inhabitants of the planet Landfall and its moon have been waging war against each other since…well, for a long damn time. They have developed such a hatred for one another that the war has spilled out from its initial confines and has now more or less engulfed the galaxy as other planets have been taken over and primarily used as staging grounds for their battles with the inhabitants being forced to ally with one side or the other in the conflict. Oh yeah, and the Landfall natives all have wings of some kind and use sci-fi-ish high technology while the ‘Moonies’ all have horns and can use magic (often referred to as ‘exotic matter’ in the comic). And there is a ‘race’ of TV-headed robots who are part of some sort of royal family allied with the people of Landfall. Weird, right? Yeah, well strap in for the ride.
Marko and Alana are young newlyweds expecting the arrival of their first child. Sweet, right? The only problem is Alana is from Landfall and Marko is a ram-horned Moonie…awkward. Turns out neither of their people are pleased with the possibility of the product of such an unprecedented ‘miscegenation’. Also, Marko was a POW and Alana was one of his guards at the prison camp. Again, awkward. Turns out these two kids decided they didn’t like the war or the irrational racial hatred behind it. Now, unfortunately, they are public enemy number one for both sides who don’t want word of the mixed race baby getting out and causing who knows what trouble. Can you say crazy highjinks as they are on the run trying to stay one step ahead of their pursuers? I knew you could.
Throw in several ‘freelancers’ (read contract bounty hunters) one of whom has a talking cat who can detect lies and the other a half-woman/half-spider ‘centaur’, forests that grow rocket ships, ghost nannies, and all sorts of other craziness and you start getting an idea of the ride you’re in for. Let’s be reductionist for a bit: Romeo & Juliet meets Star Wars meets Smoky and the Bandit meets some mild bizarro. It’s a lot of fun. ...more