I got it into my head that this was a "dying earth" style of book, in either homage to or imitation of Jack Vance, and found myself at odds with the s...moreI got it into my head that this was a "dying earth" style of book, in either homage to or imitation of Jack Vance, and found myself at odds with the style of writing and the way the story plays out. The finely-polished writing is minimalist in comparison, and while the darksiders live in a sort of civilized rivalry of false or real politeness, their language and interactions don't have the same sense of play or ornateness. I missed Vance's embellishment, and found that while there were moments of real effectiveness--Jack imprisoned and dealing with the Lord of Bats, and Jack journeying the strangely populous underworld to the Forbidden Planet-style Great Machine at the center of it all--it simply didn't leap off the page.
Where it lost its charm was the lightside, which by design or default is modeled after the 1960s, with references to punch cards, cigarettes, automobiles, and "computer time" as though using a centralized time-share system. Its sheer mundanity may be styled as a contrast to the mythical/legendary darkside, but I could not bridge the gap between the picture in my head and the supposed future-technology force fields that protect lightside from the unrelenting sun.(less)
I started this book over a week ago, and between then and now I've spent several days on holiday that included a brain-mushing Josh Groban concert (vi...moreI started this book over a week ago, and between then and now I've spent several days on holiday that included a brain-mushing Josh Groban concert (view spoiler)[not my idea (hide spoiler)], contracted a debilitating cold, sold my house, and moved the contents of a four-bedroom home to a short-term rental obtained in a frightful hurry due to a house purchase falling apart at the last minute. To nobody's surprise, during all this the adventures of Whats-His-Name dropped completely out of my mind.
Yet, last night, after figuring out which box contained the bag with my reading material (view spoiler)[it was in with the towels (hide spoiler)], I picked up the story from where it was and knocked off the last 30 pages without a problem. And I suspect that I could have started reading the book from that point with equal success.
"Oh, they're being chased by demon lords and need the Five Magic Whatsits? With you so far. And he fights with a sword? Got it. And her clothes just fell off? Makes sense. Then an evil city gets rebuilt by demon magic across time-and-space to imprison them all in an eternity of hell on Earth? ...I'll take it as a given."["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Fox tries so very hard here, and grapples with some interesting ideas, but I think it never quite lives up to the "warrior and naked green-haired lady...moreFox tries so very hard here, and grapples with some interesting ideas, but I think it never quite lives up to the "warrior and naked green-haired lady riding a pterodactyl in defiance of load balance" cover. (view spoiler)[The pterodactyl doesn't even make an appearance. And who is the warrior (Kyrik) stabbing at, exactly? It doesn't seem like an effective way to attack. (hide spoiler)]
I was excited for the intriguing start: a sorceress effectively resurrects a warrior-king left slumbering for a millennium, and entangles him in her problems. There are a lot of places that this could go, but Fox chooses to go nowhere in particular. His entire concept for Kyrik seems to be in evolution while writing, and he grafts whatever character features are necessary onto the bland "tough barbarian" model in order to keep the story moving, even if they weren't hinted earlier and only cause explanation problems later. On page 138 we learn that Kyrik is indeed a "Warlock" warrior with some magical abilities, which are never needed or mentioned again. His familiarity with his home city is very useful (he was once its king), and it's a good thing that nothing has changed there over the past thousand years.
None of this is particularly fatal or even criminal in a story so plot-driven and fast moving and loosely constructed, but it raises the question of why Fox bothered with such an elaborate set-up when simpler constructions would get the job done. I'm curious what he accomplishes with the character in later books.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
The Empire of the East, represented west of the Broken Mountains by a collection of satraps on the frontier, is your fairly standard evil land-conquer...moreThe Empire of the East, represented west of the Broken Mountains by a collection of satraps on the frontier, is your fairly standard evil land-conquering organization of a type endlessly imitated/replicated by genre fiction. Purpose of conquest and subjugation: check. Evil overlord who hangs rebels by their thumbs outside the pterodactyl roost: check. Smoking hot evil daughter of overlord: check. Evil wizard who secretly loves evil daughter of overlord: check. One wonders if this story or series was the prototype.
And yet the Empire is more interesting than the Free Folk, Ardneh, or the Elephant. After a very entertaining opening with a death-duel of wizards at Ekuman's castle, the action pulls back to Rolf's journey to and with the Free Folk. And the energy leaves the piece and the writing itself seems to suffer, becoming sort of dry and clinical, until the last third or quarter or so, when the Castle comes back into focus and the reader gets to see more about Ekuman and the infighting and intrigue between satraps and within Ekuman's own household (and the leadership of the Empire is only intriguingly teased).(less)
The arching theme involves a maturing of the heroes, first with the revelation, in "Under the Thumbs of Gods", that the women they lightly treat and d...moreThe arching theme involves a maturing of the heroes, first with the revelation, in "Under the Thumbs of Gods", that the women they lightly treat and discard may either harbor ill will, or worse may have discarded the heroes just as lightly. Later, the task set to them in "Rime Isle" requires them to actually undertake responsibility and leadership and build lasting relationships, finally bringing them to a point where they act with concern toward their own futures.
It's a development that is a long time in coming and a conclusion that feels natural, but the execution lacks. "Rime Isle" is a slog of a story with very little marvel to it.(less)
This is the first volume where the reader gets to truly savor the outré, decadent delights of Lankhmar, a city that is wealthy and metropolitan more o...moreThis is the first volume where the reader gets to truly savor the outré, decadent delights of Lankhmar, a city that is wealthy and metropolitan more or less in spite of itself, and this alone is worth the price of admission for the novel.
This type of setting has been done more extensively elsewhere (see New Crobuzon), but I'm curious: was this the first? What came before Lankhmar? (less)
I had associated this book as drawing from or referencing the Shaver Mystery mythos, a statement that on reflection is exaggerated at best. There are...moreI had associated this book as drawing from or referencing the Shaver Mystery mythos, a statement that on reflection is exaggerated at best. There are similarities: evil subhumans living in the secret places under the earth, the implications of their growing influence in the outer world, the unveiling of the secret knowledge to the everyday characters, and a sort of dreamlike paranoia and sense of persecution. But this work seems more drawn from Celtic or Northern European mythology, of the traditional view of elves in an evil gremlin sense combined with the mythological aspects of a visit to the underworld, with all the travails and conditions for entry and departure.
At least for the book's first half. It's not clear what St. Clair had in mind for the remainder. Dick Aldridge emerges from Underearth some years later to find a world unpleasantly changed and bearing some of the miasma and despair that pervades the subsurface. While it is suggested that the influence of Underearth is somehow responsible, and there are indications of machinations of at least one green elf, St. Clair fails to make the connection explicit and meaningful, and to expand upon the themes of the first half. Instead, it loses its way and delivers an unsatisfyingly abrupt ending.
Honestly, an injection of Shaver Mystery would have done the story some good. Are the green elves manipulating society to make the outer world more like their homeland? Is Dick seeing the world through eyes poisoned by Underearth, or perhaps by mental illness? Can we as reader really trust his narration?(less)
The introduction by Donald MacIvers Ph.D. is a strange introduction to a book such as this, name-dropping the obscure Albert Kremnitz (so obscure that...moreThe introduction by Donald MacIvers Ph.D. is a strange introduction to a book such as this, name-dropping the obscure Albert Kremnitz (so obscure that all Internet searches point back to this book) and proceeding with such pompous doubletalk that one starts to suspect a subtle joke.
It contrasts with the material of the stories, which are pure frothy sword-and-sorcery action. From them I picked up tidbits of good ideas: the notion that this is some unimaginably distant future, humanity huddled under guttering stars, sunk into barbarism; a sword cursed such that its owner may never accumulate wealth, and he therefore can never settle down or improve his situation; and a perpetual nemesis that harries him psychologically wherever he goes.
The nemesis in particular was striking: the witch Red Lori, who is intent on not just destroying Kothar but ruining him, so she will actually assist him on occasion, to ensure that no one will rob her of personal vengeance. Her phantomlike presence and roundabout methods form some powerful imagery and situations, especially the intimations that this is an intensely love/hate relationship.
Unfortunately, the stories themselves are hampered by their similarity. Each can be broken down into cases where Kothar is inserted into a mystical situation, meets an alluring woman who is not what she seems, fights one or more adversaries in arena-style combat, and then resolves the situation, leaving Kothar little better and little changed for the experience.(less)
"PARVANIA. I don't know anything about Parvania. It's down here in my notes, but, frankly, I can't remember where in the first four...moreFrom the Appendix:
"PARVANIA. I don't know anything about Parvania. It's down here in my notes, but, frankly, I can't remember where in the first four books of the Epic it's mentioned. The hell with Parvania, anyway."
Some may interpret this as a lighthearted gesture, a private communication between an author who isn't taking this too seriously and an attentive reader. Unfortunately, I found it symptomatic of larger issues: an author who has lost interest and is contractually obligated to bash out the remaining novels.
This book has very little to recommend it, but unfortunately can't even fail in any grand, impressive style. Nothing particularly remarkable occurs, and certainly nothing in terms of the baroque setting of the Eon of the Falling Moon, some seven hundred million years from now.
Its first half is consumed with the story of how Ganelon Silvermane rises from being captive of the Ximchak Horde to becoming Warlord, and the second half is how Ganelon manages to lead this Horde out of a troublesome area and bring the region to relative peace.
The ideas of "captive rises to leader of a war band" and "outsider tries to manage the unruly, politically-infighting, basically hostile army" and "army must move or it will break apart" have been done before, but Carter could have wrung a story out of those elements had he the interest level. Unfortunately, he doesn't, and seems unwilling to take reign of the plot threads available. The story picks up once the Horde mounts up and travels through a variety of lands (from the glass-walled Triple City to the kingdom once ruled by a powerful sorcerer, whose ornate land defenses remain, and to the Marvelous Mountains, wholly carved with gigantic friezes by some unknown sculptors), but none were dwelled upon for any length of time.
In all, the series has clearly broken down, both in terms of story and style.(less)
After reading four of the Gondwane novels, what's clear is that the series as a means for Carter to clean out his idea notebook. The first, The Warrio...moreAfter reading four of the Gondwane novels, what's clear is that the series as a means for Carter to clean out his idea notebook. The first, The Warrior at World's End was crammed full of every sort of notion that the author might think was cute or interesting but couldn't build an entire book out of. It didn't matter if the idea wasn't thought through, wasn't original, or wasn't even particularly good, because it would blow past in short order and you'd be dealing with the next one.
Unfortunately, it feels like Carter either didn't pace himself or plan properly, or the half-life of his attention span was not sufficient to cover the envisioned ten (?) books. By the writing of Immortal, the narrative is taking on water--possibly the notebooks are empty--and he appears to be slipping into bad and lazy habits. The book begins and ends with pitched battles against the same boring barbarian horde, resolved in practically the same way--intervention by a vast floating/flying edifice. The filler-to-action ratio isn't particularly good, and too many pages are wasted with either fireside conferences or with meetings between dignitaries, or with cutesy and overly-clever character embellishments.
The book only picks up when the character arrives at what I consider to be the only interesting idea: a large island city in decay, the outer precincts slipped under water, and whose inhabitants project the illusion of grandeur and lost might. The story wastes entirely too much time before getting there, and once the characters arrive, it seems mismanaged. I would have loved to read a story about having to deal directly with the delusional and scattered citizenry (Convince them to fight? Whip them into a frenzy of even more delusion and hallucination? Trick them into abandoning the city?) or even a pitched battle among the half-submerged buildings, or even, as the story suggests but fails to follow through on, a conspiracy between the protagonists and the horde's envoy to prevent the horde from pointlessly assaulting this valueless place. Something, anything would have been better than what was provided, which was yet another fight scene.
It is the nature of the "good idea wasted" that bugs me.(less)
I didn't realize until later that it belonged to a series. It's economical and self-contained, and now I'm not sure I want to pursue the other books....moreI didn't realize until later that it belonged to a series. It's economical and self-contained, and now I'm not sure I want to pursue the other books. The slots where the previous books fit seem better imagined than actually read.
It takes a little work to get past the Thundarr The Barbarian aspects: postapocalyptic far future, magic works, there are metaphysical demons, etc., all of which add to the cheese factor, but once I got past it, I saw some interesting ideas. Orcus the master demon lord, born of a transformed atomic explosion, while he hates humanity and possibly his own existence, he greatly fears the larger darker forces dimly sensed in the vastness of space and will not leave Earth.
It had one of the more poignant and satisfying endings of any book I've read lately, especially the cataclysm of Ardneh's victory.(less)
**spoiler alert** I think that the narrator's statement at the fourth to last page (152) says it all: "This is the way he had always wanted her."
This...more**spoiler alert** I think that the narrator's statement at the fourth to last page (152) says it all: "This is the way he had always wanted her."
This is the conclusion of an interesting rivalry-slash-war between the barbarian-warrior-thief Kothar and his counterpart, the evil witch-seductress Red Lori. Despite the fireworks and the vows of vengeance (Red Lori) and protestations over being controlled (Kothar), there's this undercurrent between them which in a romantic comedy movie would mean twoo wuv in the making.
But at the same time their relationship is all about domination and control. Kothar is unmanned around her, as she somehow manages to get him to follow along with whatever scheme she has in mind and he slides into some passive servant/bodyguard role, a powerlessness he fears and rejects. And by the same token he had taken away Red Lori's magic, had imprisoned her in a silver cage in some palace, and had sealed her in a dead wizard's tomb, all of which are not just destructive or imprisoning but disempowering.
This part of their story together reaches a new low, in that Red Lori finally uses her body to get compliance from Kothar (though it is implied that despite the multiple-loss of her abilities she is magically making him catch the Idiot Ball and stuff it down his loincloth *) and uses that hold to wheedle him along.
Finally, however, the game comes to a sudden end: a friendly (?) wizard cuts her off not just from her powers, but her memories as well, leaving her a compliant, meek woman. The woman that Kothar might actually marry. The one he had always wanted.
It's a disappointing end, an end that speaks to adolescent male power fantasies of meek, available women who are in no way the man's equal. An end which is supposed to be triumphant but is instead some sort of sick victory, where a noble competitor is not just beaten, but humiliated.
I could have seen them bicker forever. Their enmity was much more interesting.
----- * : Red Lori just so happens to be trapped in the isolated, lost, sealed, and hidden tomb he was searching for? Red Lori, last known to be unbreakably imprisoned and abandoned? And she's overjoyed to see him? And is finally acting upon an attraction to him? And is willing to help him? Really?(less)
The book hews so closely to the prevailing cliches of the genre that there is very little to distinguish it from its peers. It is quite literally forg...moreThe book hews so closely to the prevailing cliches of the genre that there is very little to distinguish it from its peers. It is quite literally forgettable, from the perspective that its impression upon the reader has a half life measured in days if not hours.
One wonders about the author's relationship with women. Again, here the antagonist of interest--the Demon-Queen Candara--is a powerful, deceitful woman who plays both sides, who uses her body as a tool to get what she wants, and who at the last is destroyed by Kothar. Kothar then returns to the submissive and unthreatening woman, a rescued princess.
Bellairs's writing defies simple analysis. There's a dose of fairy-tale wit in the language and some of the styling (at times the narrator speaks dire...moreBellairs's writing defies simple analysis. There's a dose of fairy-tale wit in the language and some of the styling (at times the narrator speaks directly to the reader, as though you are being read to). This would be pleasant in itself, to read of the entertainingly quirky house of a middling-powerful wizard, but then the story takes off with powerful and effective use of a sort of nightmare dream logic where reality becomes malleable. Bellairs avoids gore, vulgarity, and violence and with these limitations builds scenes of real horror: they draw from the kinds of bad dreams that everyone has had.
I had heard the name of this book bandied about as a Dungeons and Dragons inspiration, but was surprised to find such striking similarities to Michael...moreI had heard the name of this book bandied about as a Dungeons and Dragons inspiration, but was surprised to find such striking similarities to Michael Moorcock's writing: an eternal battle of Law and Chaos as metaphysical entities; the idle suggestion of a system of related universes, each a distorted reflection of the others; and a Defender figure fated to walk the worlds, who figures greatly into the Law/Chaos conflict.
Aside from the trappings, the direct Appendix N inspirational value is in the idea of a frontier between civilization and the monstrous wild lands, where life is uncertain and adventure awaits the ambitious. This is practically the introduction to The Keep on the Borderlands.
I was amused to see that Holger Carlsen, to remain incognito, fabricates an identity as a knight of Graustark. It was a clever reference.(less)
This is the first of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series--or the first one I've read so far--where each story seemed to hit the mark. Previous books...moreThis is the first of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series--or the first one I've read so far--where each story seemed to hit the mark. Previous books seemed to contain one or two really good stories, with lesser material filling the rest.
"The Lords of Quarmall" has the distinction of being the best story of the series so far, edging out "Bazaar of the Bizarre" and "Lean Times in Lankhmar". It is all the better for the scaffolding originally written by Harry Otto Fischer, which Leiber filled out and completed many years later. Those portions are the most interesting, and it's a shame that Fischer never produced anything else.
"The Best Thieves in Lankhmar" is intriguing for its implications that for all their talents, in terms of actual thievery Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser are at best skilled amateurs. To get to be the best, you have to approach it as a business.(less)
This second book of the series seem richer than the previous collection, now that it's not burdened by the apparently necessary origin stories. In gen...moreThis second book of the series seem richer than the previous collection, now that it's not burdened by the apparently necessary origin stories. In general this format works better: shorter, punchier stories and a willingness to let some incidental character become the viewpoint briefly.
I'm fascinated by the role that Nehwon and Lankhmar play in the development of popular fantasy: how much of Lankhmar is in New Crobuzon or Viriconium or Adrilankha? There is a miasma of The Weird in all of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, whether in the outré settings or unconventional magic or the hints of otherworldly visitation. (less)
You look at the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories as a long list and realize that they are not collected according to order of publication. In partic...moreYou look at the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories as a long list and realize that they are not collected according to order of publication. In particular the contents of this volume--the stories--were originally published in 1962 and 1970. The contents of Swords Against Death and the three volumes that follow all antedate these works, for the most part.
So at some point, Leiber went back and created origin stories for his heroes. I'm not sure why. If they call for any sort of origin story, it is "Ill Met in Lankhmar" alone, and not the others.
It is remarkable how quickly "Ill Met" turns in tone, from something nearly farcical, and gives it a grim, harrowing twist. It is a strange choice of direction.(less)
The foremost impression is that Fox was putting the story together as he went along. Both novellas have a improvisational quality, of incidents strung...moreThe foremost impression is that Fox was putting the story together as he went along. Both novellas have a improvisational quality, of incidents strung together and veering far from the initial concept and littered with problems of story logic.
For instance, in "The Helix from Beyond", Kothar is employed to steal the titular "helix", which turns out to be both a portal to a pocket universe and the source or generator of such (not clear, and Fox breezes past such details). Having entered the world of the "helix", Kothar is required to bring the artifact back into the world of its generation, which involves liberating an extradimensional demon from a gemstone prison, the gemstone of which is hidden in the body of a huge, magical eagle. And so forth, until the conclusion, which hinges on some spectacularly poor decision making on the part of the original employer, (view spoiler)[namely that he claims ownership of the "helix" in front of a powerful demon tasked to retrieve it...this a moment after refusing to pay Kothar for it, rightly deciding that it was useless to him. (hide spoiler)]
The relationship between Kothar and the sorceress Red Lori seems lifted from a more sophisticated book. There are elements of attraction and of enmity, mostly from Red Lori's side. At the same time, Kothar has a pattern of retreating from assertive, powerful women in favor of those more subservient and decorative (usually in the name of "being his own man").
I wish I could identify the interior illustrator of this edition, who signed as "E. Robbins". The line art is excellently done, although the publisher took no effort to match any piece to the actual story.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I think I understand the Gondwane series a bit more now (while fully admitting that I've had an unhealthy interest in completing the series and of obt...moreI think I understand the Gondwane series a bit more now (while fully admitting that I've had an unhealthy interest in completing the series and of obtaining and reading the wildly uneven Lin Carter in general).
Giant of World's End forms the conclusion of the series, and the rest--planned to be seven--were to build to this point. Unfortunately, this book is complete in itself, and the backstory revealed here would be thin for so many before it.
Taken by itself, I found it very enjoyable, perhaps not as much as Warrior of World's End, but still in that general range. It had many of the same qualities: a sense of motion if not direction, the willingness to change things up when the going gets slightly dull, plenty of set pieces and odd characters, and Carter restrains his narrative voice to keep his authorial presence in check.