Jack Vance's The Dying Earth is a singular work, a creation of such astonishing originality and style that Vance himself never matched it. This is not...moreJack Vance's The Dying Earth is a singular work, a creation of such astonishing originality and style that Vance himself never matched it. This is not to dismiss his later works in the same setting: The Eyes of the Overworld in particular could be placed within the same covers as the first set of stories. But his world of loss, fatalism and melancholy is also thick with beauty, peril, horror, and adventure. No wonder that an all-star lineup of writers would be eager to try to meet the challenge of writing their own stories there, some even making so bold as to use Vance's characters.
Like any anthology, some of these efforts are more successful than others. Only a couple managed to faithfully (or slavishly, if you're going to be negative about it) reproduce the elements, especially the dialogue, that set The Dying Earth apart.
My favorites in the volume are The Copsy Door by Terry Dowling, Walter Jon Williams' Abrizonde, The Green Bird by the late, lamented Kage Baker - possibly the closest in overall tone, structure and voice to Vance - and Dan Simmons' The Guiding Nose of Ulfant Banderoz. This is not to say the others aren't worthwhile, simply that I didn't enjoy them as much. The most interesting of the remainder is possibly Jeff Vandermeer's The Final Quest of The Wizard Sarnod, primarily because now I'm reading a collection of his short works and he seems to return to Lake Baikal (Bakeel in this story) rather frequently.
Overall this is an excellent addition to the canon. Highly recommended.(less)
**Warning - in terms of plot, this is the first part (probably half) of a longer work.**
Read another review to find out about the plot of this book. I...more**Warning - in terms of plot, this is the first part (probably half) of a longer work.**
Read another review to find out about the plot of this book. I want to write about the milieu, the world that Higgins shows us in Wolfhound Century.
The Vlast lies between the sea in the west, and far to the east, the forest. This story runs from Podchornok under the forest eaves to the capital of Mirgorod close by where the Mir reaches the ocean. Its leader is the Novozhd, who has no other name. Aside from a few vague references to the south and the Archipelago out on the sea, there are no other nations.
When I began reading this book, I thought it would be about Russia - a mythologized and magical Russia, but nonetheless a Motherland analogous to the one we know. But Higgins has done something more. The world of the Vlast has a different conceptual shape. Everything else is vague like the Archipelago, legendary like the forest, or perhaps even nonexistant - jungles, deserts, polar regions? Never mentioned.
But there is magic. The Vlast is almost literally built on the bodies of fallen angels, angels whose wars broke the moon in two. There are giants and russalka and mudjhiks. The head of the secret police can send a magical creature to attack a foe, and the foe can defend himself with his own magic.
And yet at the same time there are pogroms and secret police and informers and men with pistols. There are factories full of workers, there are revolutionaries, there are marches in the streets with banners and pamphlets and slogans that face the guns of the militia.
At once strange and recognizable, the world of Wolfhound Century reminds me of nothing so much as Felix Gilman's The Half-Made World. Higgins has done with Russia what Gilman did with the American West. Both authors have extracted the culture, the names and mores and manners and stories, using the real as a jumping-off point to something more essential. Gilman focuses on the clash between the raw violence of unfettered individualism and the land- and soul-crushing march of material progress personified as the Gun and the Line. Higgins, I think, wants to show a country choosing its future, whether moving from its present into a sort of 1984-cum-Metropolis, or one that draws on a long-lost history of pastoral freedom.
Alas, as I indicated above, there is no resolution to be had here. The long chase scenes in the last quarter of the book end with the protagonists preparing to return to Mirgorod to try to conclude the quest. Apparently we get to wait until next March to find out.(less)
The twists and turns of the stories are challenging and entertaining, but the characters sort of move thr...moreNo, not much stranger that this, they don't.
The twists and turns of the stories are challenging and entertaining, but the characters sort of move through them in an affectless way, their feelings and reactions never really available to the reader. Fortunately, Link gets better in Magic for Beginners.(less)
Comparing this to her previous collection is inevitable for anyone who's read both, as there isn't much else out there to compare Link's work to. She'...moreComparing this to her previous collection is inevitable for anyone who's read both, as there isn't much else out there to compare Link's work to. She's not just a fantasy writer, she's a surrealist, as I (probably mis-) understand the term. But these stories are more grounded in human experience than Stranger Things Happen. A couple of the stories have characters who seem emotionally disconnected from their surroundings - Lull, Stone Animals - but for the most part the people in the stories are somewhat accessible. The standout as far as I'm concerned is the title story. Magic for Beginners, containing a teenager whose friends and family are fans of a bizarre fantasy TV program called The Library, was a perfectly appropriate story to read while I was hanging around MomoCon - a place full of people who are fans of more-or-less bizarre fantasy TV programs, movies, and games.
Since this was published eight years ago, I have plenty of catching up to do with Kelly Link. This collection has me looking forward to it.(less)
The most Irish book I've ever read. Every bit of dialogue scans better if you imagine it with an Irish accent. It is every bit as bizarre as any other...moreThe most Irish book I've ever read. Every bit of dialogue scans better if you imagine it with an Irish accent. It is every bit as bizarre as any other reviewer has indicated. The protagonist's obsession, the utterly eccentric 'savant' de Selby, reminded me of Woody Allen's short piece "Remembering Needleman" and the extensive footnotes about de Selby put me in mind of David Foster Wallace.(less)
Messy, sloppy, and uneven, but what do you want for a buck? This seems to be Kindle-only so far, and that's why I got it.
The selections I found most w...moreMessy, sloppy, and uneven, but what do you want for a buck? This seems to be Kindle-only so far, and that's why I got it.
The selections I found most worthwhile were Eric Brown's odd SF/fantasy "Bukowski on Mars" and Jeffry Thomas' story of an angel trapped in a semi-destroyed Hell in "The Lost Family". Some of the stories, true to the blurbs are gross, or horrifying, or macabre, but then you hit the cute little intelligent machine story "Wind Project NX104" by Jordan Reyne and the sort of Gernsbackian time travel/alt history "Wunderwaffe". The overall feel is that the editor(s) stuffed whatever they could get into the volume pretty much just to meet a deadline or a planned page count. The stories by Remic (who wrote the Introduction) and Smith (the editor) in particular read like the first chapters of longer works - all setup and no payoff. (less)
How can you write a book about a kid who abruptly finds himself whisked off to a school for magicians and not spend all your time dealing with Harry P...moreHow can you write a book about a kid who abruptly finds himself whisked off to a school for magicians and not spend all your time dealing with Harry Potter comparisons? Grossman mostly ignores the elephant in the library, but he does have a couple of characters dropping Potter references. A curious choice, since I would assume the first thing the kid would want to know would be just how similar his new world is to Rowling's.
Let's keep this relatively spoiler-free. There are points of similarity, but the differences are more important. Quentin Coldwater is not The Chosen One; he's a brilliant but depressive and alienated Brooklyn kid. There's no Dark Lord and the Wizarding World is mostly notable for its absence. Quentin is spirited off to Brakebills College at 17 and spends four years there - a career that takes up about 2/3 of the book, not a small library. This is an adult novel. There is none of the childhood whimsy of the early Potter books, nor the stark black and white of Good Guys and Villains.
What is in this book is a profound disaffection and dissatisfaction, mostly Quentin's, but visible from other characters. As Quentin hit his second and third years at the college, I was reminded more and more of a couple of other books based on life at an exclusive New England private school - Brett Easton Ellis's The Rules of Attraction and Donna Tartt's The Secret History. Grossman draws a bunch of young people engaging in pointless debauchery similar to Ellis', although Grossman isn't writing about moral ciphers but people flailing about as they try to figure out what to do with themselves. And Quentin certainly partakes of the outsider status of Tartt's protagonist, an intellectually gifted young man who finds himself among equally (often more) gifted students who also are also more socially capable.
This is an excellent piece of work. I wouldn't call it urban fantasy, since the fantasy and mundane elements really don't commingle, especially in the Brooklyn and New York scenes. I must confess I'm a bit worried about The Magician King. Following Quentin can be hard work. He's one of those characters you want to occasionally grab by the lapels and scream helpful advice at. But I'll give it a chance. I don't know if Grossman will get Quentin to a good end or even a 'reasonably-satisfactory-ever-after', but the journey should be worthwhile.(less)
Another piece of Warhammer 40K from the entirely competent Dan Abnett. It's pure popcorn reading, not intended to engage much of your brain. The middl...moreAnother piece of Warhammer 40K from the entirely competent Dan Abnett. It's pure popcorn reading, not intended to engage much of your brain. The middle piece of a trilogy, it does reasonably well as a standalone.(less)
A fun take on the Potterverse from someone obsessed with all the ways that humans fail to behave in ways that make sense - for a rather strict meaning...moreA fun take on the Potterverse from someone obsessed with all the ways that humans fail to behave in ways that make sense - for a rather strict meaning of "make sense". Leaving aside the usual fights over the legitimacy of fanfic in general, the big question is how much Yudkowsky's Potter is an idealized author stand-in (a "Mary Sue", or "Marty Stu" in the parlance). My answer: Quite a lot, but not fatally. On the minus side, this Harry Potter talks and thinks quite a lot like someone in his late twenties with a lot of education and an obsession with science and rationality. On the plus side, the entire point of the book is to inject someone who is aware of the flaws and fallacies in most human thinking and see what havoc it plays with the Potterverse. E.g. On his first encounter with Quidditch, Harry immediately observes that the Seekers are a stupid wild card that ruins the rest of the game. His relationships with the Slytherins (and really with almost everyone except Hermione and Ron) are much more complex and interesting than the originals.
The biggest failing is the plot. With over 700 pages Yudkowsky could have brought something to a close, but spends so much time on the various scheming and counter-scheming among virtually all the characters that he never resolves even the short term questions. He probably intended to write more (and may have, but I haven't come across it) but never got to it. Forgivable, as far as I'm concerned. How many people can churn out a serviceable 700 pages even if it doesn't finish?(less)
There is something appealing in McKillip's depiction of a realm where princes brew beer and patch roofs, a princess whiles away an afternoon with a pi...moreThere is something appealing in McKillip's depiction of a realm where princes brew beer and patch roofs, a princess whiles away an afternoon with a pig herder, and thousand-year-old kings seem no more socially elevated than a well-to-do uncle. But this humility emphasizes that the world of Riddle-Master is small. At times the entire population seems to be no more than a few thousand. But it may only be that McKillip wasn't really concerned with details of her world except to sketch a background for the story. Nothing wrong with that, except that the sketch is a bit too thin in some places. A sense of more story being left untold would have been welcome.
There are three main elements to Riddle-Master. First is the story of Prince Morgon of Hed coming to terms with an unexpected and unwanted destiny. Second is the mysterious nature of that destiny, and third is a kind of love story between Morgon and Raederle, a princess and the second-most beautiful woman in the kingdom of An. All three parts are competently told and well arranged, but the story suffers a bit from a couple of big confrontation scenes that occur too late and take away the effect of the final battle. Raederle is the focus of much of the second book, but the third shifts too much away from her; we never really understand how she reconciles her two very different and conflicting birthrights. And finally the mystery is undermined by the 'small world' problem. There just aren't enough characters to sustain hidden identities.
One gripe, not relevant to anything in particular: Ghisteslwchlohm? Really? Was that tongue-twister really necessary?(less)
Not my favorite Miéville by any means. It's a murder mystery and a detective story set in a distinctly odd set of places. The story and the primary ch...moreNot my favorite Miéville by any means. It's a murder mystery and a detective story set in a distinctly odd set of places. The story and the primary character are engaging enough, but I was hoping for more weirdness to bubble up throughout. Instead the reader is immersed in the nuts and bolts of how one uses "unseeing" to navigate through Besźel or Ul Quoma, two very different cities that share the same space. Perhaps it's my age showing, but I imagine these two cities as a topological transformation of East and West Berlin before the Wall went down. Instead of two areas separated by a wall, the two are physically merged and psychically (not in a paranormal or supernatural sense) separate. Usually Miéville sprinkles his books liberally with fascinating concepts, often tossed off with short mentions or brief descriptions, that let us glimpse a world much stranger than our own. In this book, the strangeness that I look for is fixed tightly to the one conceit.(less)
Well-done historical fantasy. Clarke's presentation of magic gives the delightful impression that there is much more to her vision than she reveals. A...moreWell-done historical fantasy. Clarke's presentation of magic gives the delightful impression that there is much more to her vision than she reveals. A couple of characters are shortchanged, but the title figures are well-built.(less)
Interesting in that it treads the line between fantasy and science fiction, and does some interesting things with the idea of gods whose power is deri...moreInteresting in that it treads the line between fantasy and science fiction, and does some interesting things with the idea of gods whose power is derived from faith. Scalzi deliberately omits describing the real nature of these gods and at least one other significant character. But his treatment of the good/evil nature of the gods and humans is heavy-handed. Seeing characters confronted with big, obvious everything-I-believed-is-WRONG moments can have a powerful effect, but in the long run doesn't do much for me.(less)
The striking thing about the stories (it's really three short stories and a novella) is how firmly they are rooted in the time they were written. Part...moreThe striking thing about the stories (it's really three short stories and a novella) is how firmly they are rooted in the time they were written. Part one is very obviously a post-WWII story, part two is a mid-fifties 'veterans in college' setting, part three a newlywed piece from the same era, and part four is set in a late '60s civil unrest milieu.
The net effect to me was jarring. These stories are set in a world where magic is (re)discovered somewhere in the first half of the twentieth century, leading to some divergences in history (WWII is very different) and technology, but the exact same set of social roles and relationships in Middle America that we had in our world.
Picked this up a year ago as a library discard, so it was certainly worth the money.(less)
Hallucinatory and difficult. Burroughs swaps out names, identities, times, and locations so constantly and generally without warning in the text that...moreHallucinatory and difficult. Burroughs swaps out names, identities, times, and locations so constantly and generally without warning in the text that he nearly obliterates any narrative thread.
I knew that drug use and gay sex were big themes for Burroughs, but I was rather taken aback by their nonstop presence in the text. (less)
At least three chapters of this book have appeared as separate short stories, and in two cases they seem shoehorned in. And though the ending felt rus...moreAt least three chapters of this book have appeared as separate short stories, and in two cases they seem shoehorned in. And though the ending felt rushed, with some loose ends just left laying about, it was still a worthwhile read. No one writes a gritty urban Faerie like Swanwick.(less)