Lovely, sinister stories of dislocation. As someone who often feels out of place, I had an almost-instant kinship with the thematic bent of Rucker's sLovely, sinister stories of dislocation. As someone who often feels out of place, I had an almost-instant kinship with the thematic bent of Rucker's stories. It doesn't hurt that I once spent several soggy days stalled out in a decrepit hostel on the west coast of Ireland, as does the narrator in "No More A-Roving," or that I also found the Czech Republic to be a chilly, disorienting place, like the expat English teacher in "The Chance Walker." ("This whole country is haunted. Can't you feel it?")...more
"I can't believe you just quoted a Steve Miller tune to the leader of an alien race."
Scalzi says, in his Author's Note, that Agent to the Stars was hi"I can't believe you just quoted a Steve Miller tune to the leader of an alien race."
Scalzi says, in his Author's Note, that Agent to the Stars was his "practice novel," a revelation that makes me squirm with jealousy. Rarely is a first novel so well fleshed out, or a first contact story so goofily appealing. AttS, while not a deep work of literature, is full of snappy dialogue and memorable characters and is the perfect choice for a a breezy, quirky summer read. I honestly laughed, even snorted, out loud. Couldn't ask for more....more
I'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus materiI'm always swearing I'm not going to start any new series, but when I read the first chapter of this book, "The Red Empress," included as bonus material in Unseaming, I was instantly hooked. (Proof: I haven't reviewed Unseaming yet.)
Dark, disturbing, and inventively disgusting, The Black Fire Concerto envisions a post-apocalyptic America where The Storms, otherworldly and deadly, have mutated the land and its people. They also brought magic, new and powerful and sometimes very black. Here there be ghouls -- and worse than ghouls: cannibal cultists and megalomaniac magicians who aren't afraid to harness the horrors the Storms left for their own ends.
This book really is unflinchingly gory and body-horror heavy, but there's also something that is bright and refreshing about The Black Fire Concerto: its two protagonists. Erzelle, a young harpist in servitude as house musician at a gruesome gastronome's club, and Olyssa, the imposing, mysterious traveler that rescues her -- are both women. So rarely do we see women cast as epic heroes that Allen's tale took me by surprise.
And it certainly is something different. When Erzelle joins the majestic Olyssa (think King's Gunslinger crossed with the goddess Athena in a bad mood) on a quest to find Olyssa's missing sister, they face events and obstacles by turns magical and utterly nightmarish. But it's their master-and-apprentice pairing that makes the story pure gold. I don't usually get exerted over lack of adequate female representation in fantasy, but I guess it must be pretty bad for me to react so strongly to seeing it done right.
Not for everybody, and definitely not for the squeamish, The Black Fire Concerto is luxuriously nightmarish dark fantasy, and I'm going to be tapping my foot impatiently for the next book in "The Stormblight Symphony." Now, please, Mr. Allen....more
I have a long and devout love affair with hungry, haunted house stories, from classics like The Turn of the Screw to Ki Longfellow's pomo weird-out HoI have a long and devout love affair with hungry, haunted house stories, from classics like The Turn of the Screw to Ki Longfellow's pomo weird-out Houdini Heart. I love them (almost) all. But these kinds of tales have evolved a great deal since Burnt Offerings was written in the early Seventies, which makes it seem stylistically dated in certain key points. That's such a backward view, though, because it's also immediately obvious how much influence this book had on tales yet to come.
On the plus side, the narrative is fast-paced -- I was surprised at how short the book felt -- and the dread builds, steady and sneaky, until you almost don't want to see what, literally, is behind that door. In the minus column, I don't feel like I got to know the characters particularly well. I see symbolic echoes of Hill House's Eleanor in Marian (though the acquisitive weakness is all Mrs. Rolfe), and seeds of Jack and Danny Torrance in Ben and David. But, unlike the more contemplative pace of The Shining, Burnt Offerings doesn't allow a lot of time to get to know, or build sympathy for, the Rolfes before things conspire to turn them into different people. (Though I feel like I know the house pretty well, which is something.)
Ultimately, though, it's a lush, creepy tale, and it stands the test of time and literary hindsight far better than Richard Matheson's Hell House, which I found quite disappointing. ...more
This is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am baThis is the second Christianity-themed book by Michael Faber I've read this year. (The other was The Fire Gospel, which was far more cynical). I am basically a devout agnostic, because it's as arrogant to assume you know there's nothing as it is to assume you know there's something. So why do these tales fascinate me? In the case of The Book of Strange New Things, maybe it's because Faber's story gives the reader access to the mind of a true believer -- not a blathering fundamentalist, mind you, just a decent man who has found real joy in religion after an early life of excess. Sometimes I envy the ease and succor genuine faith seems to give . . . but Faber deftly shows how that comfort and safety can sometimes be woefully misleading.
When Peter, a minister happily married to Bea, the woman who "saved" him, agrees to take on the open-ended position of chaplain for a corporation settlement and the nearby indigenous beings on the distant planet Oasis, he and his wife are both thrilled and terrified: thrilled he will be spreading God's word to new worlds, terrified of the months-long separation ahead. Arriving on Oasis, Peter is astonished and excited by the devout nature of the local, "alien," populace. Already prepared by the previous chaplain (now AWOL), many have rechristened themselves "Jesus Lover," followed by a number. (For example Peter's first interaction is with Jesus Lover One. Jesus Lover Five becomes a good friend. Etc.) So ecstatic are these "Oasans" to learn more of what they call "The Book of Strange New Things," they welcome him warmly and begin building him a church, which Peter makes his home between short visits to the base. He feels blessed to be granted such a perfect opportunity to do God's work. He's also more comfortable with the small, peaceful locals than most of the cynical humans back at base.
But there are deeper issues hiding under his blithe good works. Does Peter's new flock truly understand the teachings of Christ? How can he know what they make of his sermons, try as he does to make the metaphors clear for them? And will his email-only relationship with Bea, who is unexpectedly pregnant and sending alarming news of chaos on planet Earth daily, survive this mission? Less gut-punchingly painful than The Sparrow, another good-intentions-gone-wrong tale you should read if you haven't, The Book of Strange New Things is most concerned with the things we take for granted, and the small misunderstandings in communication that can easily grow into gulfs.
I hope I haven't given the impression this book is a downer -- it's really not. The indigenous culture Faber imagines is genuinely compelling and wonderful, as is his depiction of a faith not imperious or crazed, but warm and accepting. Not exactly action-packed, but truly thoughtful speculative fiction.
I really liked this book. I wanted to really love it. It had all the hallmarks of the sort of philoso-satire I tend to enjoy. The idea of an earnest,I really liked this book. I wanted to really love it. It had all the hallmarks of the sort of philoso-satire I tend to enjoy. The idea of an earnest, if a little duplicitous, academic causing a history-exploding breach in the world's major (and most troublesome) faiths is awesome. "The Fifth Gospel," the newly-discovered and translated Aramaic book-within-the-book that starts all the hubbub is both funny and humane. The satiric skewering of fanatics (of both the religious and Dan-Brown-loving variety) is snort-aloud funny.
But then, it kind of just . . . ended. The story was complete, I suppose, but the denouement came all in a rush and I was like "wait, that's it?" Maybe I wanted it to be longer because I was enjoying beleaguered (and bewildered) Aramaic scholar Theo's nutty adventures in publishing enormously. But it felt more novella than novel, and I felt a bit cheated of potential deeper content. Leave 'em wanting more doesn't always leave 'em entirely pleased....more
In picking up an older anthology, one runs the risk of already having encountered some of the stories. Unfortunately, I was familiar with about a thirIn picking up an older anthology, one runs the risk of already having encountered some of the stories. Unfortunately, I was familiar with about a third of these (among which are great tales by Laird Barron, Glen Hirschberg, Norman Partridge, and Joe Lansdale), but I picked it up for $1.99 on Kindle, so what the hey.
The good news is, most of the new (to me) stories blew me away. The collection opens with Cody Goodfellow's brilliant and utterly perverse "At the Riding School," of which the less said the better; it hits a good midpoint stride with Richard Harland's "The Fear," an ode to cult horror films and maniacal directors; then introduces an unprecedented apocalyptic event in Tanith Lee's "Black and White Sky"; and closes with John Langan's tour-de-force werewolf tale, "The Revel." (Langan is so awesome he's represented twice: his new-Lovecraftian "City of the Dog," already familiar to me, was nevertheless a chilling reread.) There are also stories about what happens to children who pull the wings off things, a boy who can draw events into existence, and even a couple zombie apocalypse tales that felt surprisingly fresh.
Over all, I find you can't really lose with any of Datlow's collections. She's a maestro....more