Mini-review: Ted Chiang is probably one of, if not the, most interesting writers in contemporary speculative fiction. Yes, speculative fiction. That i...moreMini-review: Ted Chiang is probably one of, if not the, most interesting writers in contemporary speculative fiction. Yes, speculative fiction. That is really the only term that does any justice to Chiang's stories, which take cues from, but ultimately transcend both science fiction and fantasy. He is anything but prolific, but he replaces quantity with an astonishing quality. His stories are carefully crafted in all respects: each story revolves around a well though-out philosophical idea, which Chiang presents with characters, plots and use of language crafted to the purpose. There are many writers who can piece together an engaging story, some who can present an interesting idea, and a few who can turn language into art and shape it to their purpose, but there are very few indeed who consistently succeed in doing all three at once. Ted Chiang is one of them.(less)
Mini-review: A classic of the fantasy genre as it was before Tolkien (The Broken Sword was released the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring), and...moreMini-review: A classic of the fantasy genre as it was before Tolkien (The Broken Sword was released the same year as The Fellowship of the Ring), and certainly a must-read for any fan of the genre, and a good romp over all. Throw in one part Shakespearean tragedy, one part Greek ditto, one part Norse saga, two parts mixed folklore and a generous measure violence and dark fantasy. Shake well, recline in your favourite chair by the fireplace and enjoy. Anderson serves us no surprises; indeed he follows in the tradition of the tragedies, where after the first chapters we can see all the way to the bitter end and the interest is really in how the storyteller takes us there. Anderson might have gone a bit easier with the stilted faux-old-fashioned language. The next time someone smites mightily with his sword, I think I might just smite right back. And leave the verse-writing to Tolkien. Deep intellectual fare this is not, but a jolly good ride to be thoroughly enjoyed, preferably in a single sitting or two, and Anderson makes intelligent use of his various mythological sources to good effect.(less)
It has been too long since I read Bradley's take on the Arthur myth for me to write a proper review of the book. However, I will make a couple of shor...moreIt has been too long since I read Bradley's take on the Arthur myth for me to write a proper review of the book. However, I will make a couple of short observations.
This is one of those novels that are much more well-known than I was aware of at the time of reading the book. Only later did it become clear to me that this is not only a much-read fixture of the modern fantasy genre, but to an even greater extent considered a feminist-fantasy milestone.
I must confess that I did not perceive the novel as at all feminist when reading it. It's "feminist" message consists more in recasting the classic story of King Arthur into a story of some of the women figuring in and around his life, rather than in presenting any particular philosophical or political standpoint. In more than one way, it says something very sad about one or both of the society in which this book was conceived and the feminist movement of the time, that merely retelling a classic story from the point of view of a few female characters, or merely telling a story about women, is perceived as a strong statement.
However, political and philosophical considerations aside, Bradley does more than simply change the storyteller's point of view: she turns the entire story to a story about a handful of very different, and yet very similar, women, in particular Morgaine. It is in this complete change of both perspective and subject that Bradley is able to turn the Arthur myth into a new, powerful fantasy.(less)
Part of what makes Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels an interesting series of books is Pratchett's play with taking ideas seriously, in a very litera...morePart of what makes Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels an interesting series of books is Pratchett's play with taking ideas seriously, in a very literal sense. Consequently, Death, The Grim Reaper, the familiar anthropomorphic personification of the concept of death, is of course a factually existing person on Discworld. Pratchett likes to examine and bring to our attention the cultural concepts we live with and take for granted, by showing them to us reflected in a fun-house mirror, thus forcing us to look at them and see them, and not merely subconsciously recognise them. The character of Death is a prime example of this technique in Pratchett's works. The Discworld Death becomes a person, in fact quite an amiable old chap.
In Reaper Man, Death unexpectedly retires and takes up a job as a farmhand in the middle of nowhere. This leaves the Discworld without anyone doing the important job of actually taking care of all the finished lives, and so Life is literally piling up in the streets of Ankh-Morpork. Meanwhile, Death is learning that there's a lot more to being human than having time on your hands, but also that having a finite amount of time is fundamental to what it means to be human.
The idea is great. If there is one book in the Discworld series that really has the potential to become both funny and profound merely based on the premises of its story, this is it. Unfortunately, Pratchett fails miserably to cash in on that potential. The entire book is a dud, full of false starts and failed launches. No idea ever really comes to fruition. There are two parallel storylines: one about Death and one about a bunch of assorted characters in Ankh-Morpork experiencing the mayhem resulting from Life not being properly taken away after it expires. The Death storyline rolls along nicely and is what keeps the book alive, but it never really takes flight as it is constantly interrupted by the chaotic Ankh-Morpork storyline.
The part of the story set in Ankh-Morpork mostly resembles one of those old comedy shows that seem to consist of nothing but people running around without aim or meaning slipping on banana skins that happen to be there only for the purpose of tripping up a character, and we are expected to laugh at all the silliness. The reason that doesn't work is that people falling over isn't inherently funny. When everyone is falling over all the time, for no apparent reason, and without any meaning to anything, we end up bored rather than entertained. The substance that is there, in the form of a well-deserved swipe at certain aspects of minority-rights movements, and a depiction of the shopping mall as an autonomous life form, is drowned under a flood of slapstick that never really was Pratchett's strong suite anyway.(less)