This book is a bit of a mess, frankly. Characters are introduced and then disappear without explanation, sometimes to turn up again chapters later. ThThis book is a bit of a mess, frankly. Characters are introduced and then disappear without explanation, sometimes to turn up again chapters later. The narration is a mix of first, second and third person, and the tenses are all over the place, which I suppose is due to the fact that it is the product of innumerable authors and sources, and repeated translation.
The cast of characters is huge but, frankly, none of them are likable. The main character in the first half - the Old Testament - is quite seriously the most unpleasant character I've ever come across. This God character is venal, spiteful, petty, self-aggrandising, controlling, dishonest, murderous and constantly demanding. He sets impossible tasks for people and then punishes them for failure; he encourages (even orders!) the genocide of whole peoples that are doing nothing so much as living peacefully on a patch of land that he had promised generations earlier to a different bunch of people; he personally arranges the destruction of whole cities for violating rules that he has set down, even though they are nothing to do with him, the death of children for calling one of his followers names, the execution of an old man for collecting firewood on the wrong day - the list goes on and on.
The second part starts more promisingly. The main character here is God's son, Jesus (although there does seem to be an issue of parentage; Jesus is described as belonging to the bloodline of King David through his 'foster father' Joseph) who, when we rejoin him as an adult, is preaching some pretty nifty ideas about peace and brotherly love - curiously rather consonant with some Buddhist teachings that probably arrived in the Middle East in the first century BCE, but that's another story. Jesus has obviously inherited a few of his dad's less pleasant aspects; he has a temper on him, and can be seriously controlling - he tells his followers that they have to give up (indeed "hate") their families to follow him, in the manner that has been beloved of modern cult leaders, and he reinforces the earlier injunctions ("commandments"), although i was never clear on which set of sometimes contradictory orders he meant. But maybe that's just me.
Then, after Jesus is killed by the Romans for being a trouble maker, it gets seriously weird again. It's interesting that the four witnesses to the execution that write about it give massively contradictory accounts, both of the execution and Jesus life (kind of a Rashomon difference of perception thing going on there, I guess), then it rapidly gets weird and nasty again. Paul, the guy who takes over Jesus' work, is frankly a nutter. I think he's one of these "operating psychopaths" that you sometimes find in senior management positions, with a healthy dose of misogyny and self loathing thrown in. The drugs he must be taking probably don't help. I mean, you can see how bipolar he is in some of his letters to the Corinthians, but then by Revelations he's completely lost it. The apocalyptic rantings here fail as horror, mostly because they just don't make any sense. A decent horror writer knows that terror works when it connects with the reader, touches something in their psyche, but this just seems like random, drug-fuelled imagery.
Perhaps I'm being a little unfair. This book should probably be approached as a massive collection of (sometimes loosely) connected stories. Some of them are obviously meant to be parables - although sometimes you have to wonder just what lesson the reader is meant to take away - and probably not take it too seriously. And the saving grace, in this edition at least, is that some of the language is simply wonderful, he imagery occasionally breathtaking. It's interesting to compare to The Epic of Gilgamesh or the Mahabharata, books from different cultures on similar themes, although I think both of those are told better....more
Definitely one of the best time travel stories I have ever read, The Anubis Gates mixes SF, magic, literary history, Egyptian mythology and herme4.5/5
Definitely one of the best time travel stories I have ever read, The Anubis Gates mixes SF, magic, literary history, Egyptian mythology and hermetic magic into a tale that is superbly plotted and rollickingly told.
Brendan Doyle, a literature professor and expert on the obscure 19th century poet William Ashbless is recruited by reclusive millionaire J. Cochran Darrow for a secret project, which turns out to be a jaunt back to 1810 to see Samuel Taylor Coleridge give a lecture, where Doyle finds himself stranded and involved in plots from all sides.
This is my first read of Tim Powers, and he writes character and action well and his plotting, as I said before, is top-notch - I'd love to see a timeline of the events laid out, in fact. The interactions between those who travel through time and the events that have already happened - either historical or within the story - mesh perfectly without ever seeming forced. The reader does sometimes see these coming, but not in a way that detracts from the enjoyment of reading.
One oddity is that there are points when you feel that this was a much longer book that has had chunks excised - mostly the jumps are unremarkable, but occasionally there is the feeling that the reader could have done with seeing what happened in the gap, such as when Doyle refers to his embarrassing interview in Fleet Street which happened, as it were, off camera.
Minor niggles aside, this is justifiably a part of the Fantasy Masterworks series....more
As with most short story collections, Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors is something of a mixed bag. When he is good he is sublime, and there is plenty in thAs with most short story collections, Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors is something of a mixed bag. When he is good he is sublime, and there is plenty in this volume that fits that description, but there are also a few stories that seem little more than jottings of ideas meant to be fleshed out or perhaps left over from longer works. There is also some laudable inventiveness which, for me, doesn't always quite work - for example his triptych of narrative poems - but nonetheless shows the writer's great talent and shows also how important it is to stretch oneself.
As I say, there are some utterly wonderful stories in this collection. The book closes with two of the best. Murder Mysteries, about the death of an angel during the construction of the universe and Snow, Glass, Apples, a new view on the Snow White story that is both reminiscent of Angela Carter and one of the best of its kind I have read. These and other stand-out stories such as The Goldfish Pool and other stories show, like Angela Carter, a deep connection to and understanding of myth and folklore - both an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject but also a thorough understanding of the workings and themes of the mythic, something that resonates through all his best work, from the Sandman graphic novels to American Gods and Stardust....more
The RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the SecThe RPG I am currently running with my group, in which the players take the parts of British civil servants working for a secret department of the Security Services which is tasked with protecting Her Britannic Majesties Domains and Protectorates - and, incidentally the world - from all manner of unspeakable, tentacled monstrosities from beyond space and time. HP Lovecraft called them The Old Gods, others have called them the Many-Angled Ones, but they are multitudinous and ever hungry for human souls (or quantum thought patterns, as modern terminology has it), and almost always possessed of some deranged cult that feels summoning them to our world is a good idea. Add to this the aspects of the espionage genre that Charles Stross has woven into the novels on which the game is based and the authors make full use of here, and you have a fun game that can be played as any mix of Lovecraft and le Carre that you wish.
The characters are not superheroes, or even necessarily heroes, just ordinary people who have been inducted (often forcefully after being involved in an Incident) into the dark secrets that hide behind our modern, wipe-clean world. Magic has always existed, of course, but the utterance of complex grammatical and mathematical summoning structures (or spells and incantations, if you prefer) was always hit and miss until Alan Turing developed both the computer and the algorithms that made the process a little safer. Hence there is a substantial emphasis on IT and CD (Information Technology and Computational Demonology), with gadgets like the specially adapted Apple product (nicknamed the NecronomiPhone) being a must have for any smart Laundry operative.
The system used is the classic BRPS (Basic Role-Playing System, usually pronounced 'burps'), a nice simple metric that leaves most of the emphasis on role playing rather than dice but offers a good solid backbone for the mechanical aspects of the game. It is also a natural fit for this setting; having been developed from the original Call of Cthulhu RPG system the players should feel right at home as their characters' sanity begins to ebb away when they encounter all manner of squamous, cyclopean terrors....more
Cornwell's retelling of the Arthur tales is, if the other two volumes match up to this, set to become one of my favourites. while he includes4.5 stars
Cornwell's retelling of the Arthur tales is, if the other two volumes match up to this, set to become one of my favourites. while he includes characters that are undoubtedly mythical and, as he admits in his afterword, continues to put together characters from different mythical or semi-historical heritages (such as Arthur and Merlin, only put together by Mallory but now indivisible), I would still class this work as a historical fiction, even a realistic historical fiction.
The author paints an incredibly vivid picture of Britain in the 6th century. A hundred years and more after the Romans have left, the island is awash with battle and intrigue as the ancient tribes seek to defend and expand their territory. The Eastern part of the land is under the control of the invading Saxons, the Irish raid from across the sea, and the efforts to reinstate worship of the Celtic gods clash with those religions brought by the Romans, especially the increasingly prominent and powerful Christianity.
These conflicts form the backbone of the novel. We see the names familiar from our centuries-long love affair with the Arthurian tales - Arthur himself, Guinevere and Merlin, Lancelot, Galahad, Nimue, Mordred, Morgan, and mad king Pellinore - each recognisable from their mythic image and yet quite different. Partly it is the gritty, realistic brutality of the Dark Ages Britain they inhabit, a million miles away from the shining armour and courtly manners of so many classic representations. By the standards of the medieval romances, and the Roman world which they envy as a golden age at the same time as they despise it, the lives of these people are barbarous. And some of them know it, doing their best to live in the crumbling Roman ruins they no longer have the expertise to maintain. But Cornwell also plays with our expectations of the characters. Arthur, as in the original stories before Chretien de Troyes, is neither a king nor a Christian but a Briton warlord, a noble, charismatic leader with the mission of uniting the native tribes against the invading Saxons. Lancelot is a spoilt, foppish, arrogant coward who employs poets to write about his non-existent feats of valour, which soon outlive the reality.
In these events - narrated by Derfel, a Saxon-born captain of Arthur who is recounting events years later after he has converted and become a monk - we see a possible germ of the Arthurian mythology in the warring and politics of this time. As Derfel writes the tale for Queen Igraine (who is too young to have known the people and events first hand) she tries to push him to embellish the facts away from grime and reality toward chivalry and magic, giving an idea of how legends grow in the telling.
The myths we know are medieval tales, and have become heavy with the imagery of Christianity, although Merlin and Nimue of the Lake and the Green Knight usually remain as a connection with the pagan past. I have read version which over-emphasise the Christian aspects or try to reclaim the tales for their pagan origins. In Cornwell's version belief and superstition permeates every page as belief in the 'native' gods of the Celtic Britons vies for dominance with more recent arrivals brought by the Saxons and, especially, the Romans; the cults of Isis, Mithras and of course Christ. This world is uncertain and brutal and so much is dark and unknowable. It is all but impossible to imagine not sharing the faith in supernatural beings having a direct and often malicious effect on every day life in such a condition. Omens and curses threaten to bring down the wrath of the gods, and to deny their existence is unthinkable. Cornwell does not gloss over the brutality of the slavery, human sacrifices and rapes that are prevalent amongst many holding pagan beliefs at the time, but neither does he avoid the hypocrisy and dishonesty in some of those of the early Christian church. Galahad, a Christian, is perhaps the most honest and noble character in the book, yet the self-sainted Bishop Sansum is utterly without merit. The pagan Arthur is heroic, though flawed, yet some of the other pagans are vicious in the extreme. Derfel often writes such things as "I know there is no greater joy than to serve Christ, but sometimes when I think of the times shoulder to shoulder before a battle, I miss my shield brothers", suggesting both an old man's regret at his passed youth and also a religious conversion that is perhaps more judicious than heartfelt.
The Winter King is brutal, noble, thrilling and thoughtful. The vividness of the scene setting is superb and the characters fully fleshed. I would highly recommend this to anyone with the slightest interest in Arthur, or the Dark Ages, or good books in general....more
yes, i know i've just started re-reading The Shadow of the Torturer, but this and Cold Magic have been on hold at the library and were waiting for meyes, i know i've just started re-reading The Shadow of the Torturer, but this and Cold Magic have been on hold at the library and were waiting for me when i took my other books back. guess i'm going to be having something of a fantasy month......more