After plodding through some of the last few Star Wars books and then tearing through the last few non-Star Wars books (five in less than two weeks), IAfter plodding through some of the last few Star Wars books and then tearing through the last few non-Star Wars books (five in less than two weeks), I decided I needed to start mixing things up with my Star Wars reading project. I'd forgotten what it felt like to be helpless to a story, but Cronin and King reminded me that it's pretty dang awesome. So I'm going to start flip-flopping between projects, reading one Star Wars book and then reading a random book from my backlog. At the very least, it should keep things interesting; at best, it will keep that backlog from getting too big while I finish up the Star Wars books.
The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral isn't quite a random book. It went on sale through Amazon a few weeks back, and since I enjoyed Michael McDowell's The Elementals, and since this book has the same publisher, I decided to give it a go. It turns out that it's a very short book (129 pages), so I made the executive decision to read this one first. I had some slight reservations -- Gothic stories tend to take me a bit longer to read, as they require more attention -- but they were unfounded. The narrative is modern (the book was originally published in 1991, later than I expected), and the tension in the stories is palpable. Pausing in the middle of the story ... well, it isn't impossible, but it's not easy.
The book is comprised of two stories, "The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral" and "Brangwyn Gardens". The first is about a steeplejack, Joe Clarke, a laborer who works in stone high above the ground. Think chimneys and smokestacks and, yes, cathedral towers. He's accepted a job to repair a tower at the local cathedral, one with an unusual history. Joe finds stone crumbling long before its time, and gets strange feelings whenever he passes a gargoyle high above the ground. Westall gives us plenty of time and space to get as uncomfortable with this place as Joe, and once that's in place, he starts to give us the tragedy and history of the tower.
Westall excels at creating the atmosphere of the place, imbibing the setting with that uncomfortable feeling and menace most associated with Gothic fiction. He eschews the darkness and claustrophobia, though, instead using the height and isolation of the steeplejacks as the source of that feeling. Joe tells us that steeplejacks are a unique breed, but that once one of them loses his nerve, that's it. There's no coming back from it. Of course, when Joe first tells us this bit of information, he's talking about folks gaining a fear of heights, but we find out as the story progresses that other factors can lead to one losing his nerve.
Of note here is that Westall may not have been a steeplejack in his life, but he'll make you think he was. I don't even know if the details he includes in the story are factual, but they may as well be, as genuinely as they feel. Either he did a lot of research, or his insights toward such a job were keen. Either way, it's convincing.
"Brangwyn Gardens" is a gentler story, but not without its effects. It introduces us to Harry Shaftoe, a college student in the 1950s. He's a misanthrope, a clearly unlikable fellow, but Westall still manages to make him sympathetic as he gets caught up in the story of a woman whose diary he finds, whom he presumes dead because of the suddenness of the ending of her entries. He's haunted by her, in mind and in spirit, as he hears voices, finds anachronistic mementos, and discovers other evidence of her trying to break through the divide between them. The story is effective, even if the ending is easy to guess, and somewhat ridiculous.
Regardless, this was my first introduction to Westall, and while I may not rush out to find everything he wrote, I'll certainly not turn down reading more of his work. His voice is natural and engaging, and he captures atmosphere effortlessly. I'm surprised to see that his fiction was considered juvenile fiction, not only because his choice of language in the two stories suggests he was writing for an older audience, but also because the eeriness of them suggests it, too. Regardless, the stories are effective, and well told, and this collection helps me to trust Valancourt as a publisher....more
I'd heard about this Deadpool guy on the Internet and through other friends, and I decided to give him a try a few months back. I thought I had trackeI'd heard about this Deadpool guy on the Internet and through other friends, and I decided to give him a try a few months back. I thought I had tracked down the best place to start, but I somehow started here, which seems to be further into the Deadpool series than I realized. "The Complete Collection" is a bit misleading, since I wanted to start at the beginning of the character's run in Marvel; instead, I got the beginning of Daniel Way's run on the character.
I like wacky humor, which was what I understood the character to be, but it still had a level of seriousness to it that I wasn't expecting. I came into the series expecting Ambush Bug, but what I discovered was more Lobo. To be fair, it was more like Lobo meets Ambush Bug, but it was more serious and violent than I was expecting. The opening story, where Wolverine uses Deadpool as bait for drawing out his son, veered into some pretty heavy territory, and while I admire the emotional impact of the end of that story, it was at odds with how I expected the story to play out.
I'm not sure if I want to keep reading this series. Sure, the jokes are funny when they work (the last story in this collection featured Deadpool "working with" Bullseye, and they played off of each other pretty well), but it just wasn't what I thought it would be. I'll chalk this up to another case of having my expectations too high to fully enjoy what I was reading....more
I know I can't be the only one who's annoyed with the title of this book. It's not that it's misleading (the two stories in the book are titled "The GI know I can't be the only one who's annoyed with the title of this book. It's not that it's misleading (the two stories in the book are titled "The Great Bazaar" and "Brayan's Gold"), but the dang stories are published in the other order! Why not just call the book Brayan's Gold & The Great Bazaar? Was it because the fancy, embossed cover art would be all askew and not fit into the circle?
As mentioned, this book is a collection of two short stories, each of which could have been chapters out of The Warded Man, the first book in Brett's Demon Cycle. Each is a self-contained story featuring new characters, new locations, and new demons (the snow demons and clay demons, respectively), with their own plots, and each story features a little more about Arlen Bales. "Brayan's Gold" presents us with his first trip out as a messenger, long before he tattoos himself with the wards, and before he meets the Krasians, while "The Great Bazaar" presents us with how Arlen got the map to Anoch Sun, which was where he found the fighting wards and the spear. While they both could have fit into the novel, they would have felt a little out of place, so I can see why they weren't included there, but I also wonder if this small collection is really necessary.
The stories feel like deleted scenes from a movie that were added into the director's cut DVD release, in that they're kind of interesting, but not crucial to the overall story. The stories don't expand the character of Arlen at all, and there's not enough time in either story to really develop the new characters who are presented to us. As is typical with Brett's stories, the action sequences are done very well, with the fight scenes being particularly notable, but there's nothing necessary in either of these stories. "Brayan's Gold" shows us how honorable and principled Arlen is, but we've already discovered that if we've read The Warded Man. "The Great Bazaar" shows us how duplicitous and manipulative Abban can be, but again, we already know that if we've read The Desert Spear. Some of the character development is compacted to the point of not being believable (the character who runs the supply store in "Brayan's Gold" changes his mind pretty swiftly to accommodate the story, and the way Abban frames his competition strains credibility), but I think that's more an issue with the length of the stories than anything else. Brett usually takes a good chunk of a single novel to develop these characters, but here he only has about fifty pages, and I think he relies on our familiarity with the main characters to drive the rest of the story. I mean, Arlen and Abban feel fully realized, while the rest of the characters do not.
It's obvious that this collection is geared toward people who are already fans of the series, but even then, they just aren't good enough to hold up against what Brett can do when he has the freedom of an entire novel to develop his stories. It's a short read, and I doubt I'd be able to convince fans of the series not to read it, but if you're waffling over whether or not to read these stories, as I was, rest assured that you won't be missing anything significant if you decide against it....more
So, Stephen King. He’s still a fantastic storyteller, and even if he’s just rehashing the same five or six characters over and over again, at least heSo, Stephen King. He’s still a fantastic storyteller, and even if he’s just rehashing the same five or six characters over and over again, at least he tells stories that are interesting enough to keep a person interested in continuing to read his stuff. I’m not the diehard fanboy that I used to be for King, but the fact that this book’s release prompted me to finally get through the other two books I was slogging through to read this one should tell you that I still hold out a small bit of hope that he’s still got one more awesome book to write. Is this one it? Well, that’s hard to say.
Whatever criticisms you might levy against King, it’s hard to deny that he tells a good story. Sure, he cycles through the same five or six characters in every story he tells, and it’s no lie that some of his stories are so thin as to be insubstantial, but once I start reading one of his stories, it’s hard to stop. Part of it is his characterization, which is always in top form. With this book, though, I noticed that it also has a lot to do with his pacing. It’s not a secret that his stories run long, but it’s not necessarily wasted space; he takes the time to slowly draw the story from the pages, through his characterization and the subtle creation of atmosphere. I think that atmosphere gets overlooked sometimes (I’m not sure that I’ve ever credited him for that in any of my past reviews), but with this collection of short novels, I finally noticed it.
Specifically, I noticed his subtle art of creating atmosphere with the opening story, “1922,” which is about a man telling the story of what happened in 1922 when he murdered his wife. On the surface, the story isn’t anything spectacular, but the way King slowly creates the relationship of his main character, his wife, and his son, building it up and then tearing it down, is truly artistic. And the way he gently imbues the story with a sense of menace, both by fooling with our expectations of what’s happening, and by introducing some grim, graphic scenes of minor but significant horror, completes the atmosphere that’s required of the story. In fact, the major failing of the story came in the last quarter of the story, where King drops the atmosphere to fill in some blanks of the plot. Once he moves away from creating that sense of impending dread, the story loses its momentum, but as soon as he returns to it, it all comes back. It’s brilliant, and effective, and it reminds me why I liked “N.” and From a Buick 8 so much.
“Big Driver” is less atmospheric, but still has that slow buildup that I like so much. King excels at taking a rather ordinary day and developing it into something ominous, taking us one minute step at a time to show us how easily it can happen. The story is rather bland, though it’s a good example of an exciting, plot-driven story of revenge. It’s not a story that will linger in your mind, save possibly for a few choice pieces of imagery, but it’s a story that will keep your attention. I’ve read better stories of this type — Ed Bryant’s “While She Was Out” is probably the best example, since it has an interesting theme — but that’s not to say I found myself in a position where I could stop reading the story.
“Fair Extension” is the shortest story in this collection, and lacks a lot of atmosphere. There are a few key scenes where King plays with the details of the setting in a way to really set the mood, but the atmosphere isn’t as present here as it is in “1922.” The story is probably the darkest of the lot, not because of what happens to the characters, or even because of the apparent glee that one character gets at the suffering of another, but because the reader gets in a position where he asks himself, “Is there anyone I know that I would do that to?” This, I think, is another key to King’s success. He manages to tap into those things that we can all relate to, and asks us to question our own consciences. That he also confronts us with the darkest parts of ourselves is no small part of why he continues to be a successful author.
That being said, the final story, “A Good Marriage,” follows that same line of thinking, this time applying it to an entire family and not just to one individual. It’s an achievement that King can make his characters sympathetic, even as they do some terrible things. I think it has to do to some degree with the choices that his characters make and what leads them to their final destinations in his stories. It’s not hard to relate to someone who deals with the same kinds of stuff we do, and then see how they react to extreme situations. King himself says in his afterword that he finds stories about ordinary people in extraordinary situations to be far more interesting, and because most of his readers are ordinary people, it means that they’ll relate to his characters more effectively.
The title certainly has relevance, since the stories included here are, in fact, dark, in that they show how some people are capable of doing terrible things. I’ve always preferred King’s collections over his full novels (at least recently; his later novels have been full of a lot of bloat, and I believe he does his best work when succinct), and while not all of the stories here will be as memorable as those in Different Seasons, I think they will all get people thinking about themselves and the world around them....more
So, if you read the back of this book, you get a pretty good sense of what you’re getting into. This is a collection of two long short stories, one thSo, if you read the back of this book, you get a pretty good sense of what you’re getting into. This is a collection of two long short stories, one the story of Blockade Billy, a catcher for a baseball team that has been OMG ERASED FROM HISTORY because he did an OMG HORRIBLE THING, which was so bad that even he was OMG ERASED FROM HISTORY. Not literally, so much as the history books just didn’t mention him, but dang if you don’t get this sense of dread reading the story, waiting to see what this OMG HORRIBLE THING is going to be.
So, if you didn’t catch it from my comments up there, let’s just say that the payout doesn’t really live up to the expectations. I mean, the guy did a bad thing, but it certainly wasn’t an OMG HORRIBLE THING that would justify erasing his history — as well as the existence of an entire Major League Baseball team — from the record. I was expecting some Cthulhu-ian sort of thing, or some other sort of association that was just too disturbing or otherwise unbelievable to put in the history books.
Stephen King is known for creating a great setup, and then being unable to pull it off in the end (It), but in this case, it wasn’t really his fault. The buildup in the story itself justifies the end, though it still doesn’t make the story interesting enough to justify it being published by itself; it was the publisher blurb that raised the expectations too high. Interestingly, the other story in this book — “Morality” — was much more satisfying, possibly because the publisher didn’t make it some sort of OMG HORRIBLE THING story. Though the events described in that story are pretty horrible, more so than in the title story.
Like any Stephen King story, it will pull you along and keep you reading. Unfortunately, a lot of the stories King has written lately, the stories themselves just aren’t all that interesting to read. Check this one out from the library if you absolutely must read it, but don’t expect too much out of it. Maybe it will be a better experience that way....more