I first read the Viriconium stories many years ago but this is the first time I have read them all in one block, in the author's preferred order. ThatI first read the Viriconium stories many years ago but this is the first time I have read them all in one block, in the author's preferred order. That makes it sound like there is some kind of "correct" chronology to these stories, but Harrison has said they can be read in any order provided that the final story, A Young Man's Journey to Viriconium, is read last.
Reading them as a complete set of stories does reveal some interesting quirks though. Insects, both small and large and alien, are a running theme, especially in the novel A Storm of Wings; Dwarfs feature prominently in almost all the stories; certain names get reused in slightly altered forms for characters that may or may not be the same person. Indeed, in Wings, one of the main protagonists has to insist several times that he is not the hero of the first novel, The Pastel City. That's the thing with the Viriconium stories, they spiral in on themselves, each iteration revealing a different facet.
Viriconium belongs to the dying earth strand of fantasy stories. A far future (the Evening of the Earth) after the so-called Afternoon Cultures have destroyed themselves. Much is lost. Parts of the earth are a wasteland. Old technology is dug up from the wastes, but no-one knows how to maintain it, or how it works. But Harrison grounds this in a very European, 19th Century feeling city. Art, poetry and theatre dominate the lives of his characters. The hero of The Pastel City, tegeus-Cromis, is a warrior poet. The final novel, In Viriconium, features two painters. This gives the whole thing a strange familiar yet unfamiliar feel. Like peering into the past to see the future.
The first story, Viriconium Knights, is key. The protagonist, escaping those who would kill him, stumbles into the home of an old man who shows him moving tapestries which seem to show him as different heroes, in different times. The point is that all these stories explore different facets of the city. And the final story is also important, revealing that Viriconium is more a state of mind than a real destination.
If you like your fantasy full of elves, quests and tidy endings, then maybe Viriconium isn't a place you should visit. But if you have an open mind, are willing to go with it, then sit down in the Bistro Californium and have a look around. You may be lucky enough to hear Ansel Verdigris perform a new poem, or see Paulinus Rack in conversation with Audsley King as they talk about art and theatre. But stay out of the plague zone.
Gaiman returns to the character that made his name to tell the tale of what happened to Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, one of the Endless, before issue #1Gaiman returns to the character that made his name to tell the tale of what happened to Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, one of the Endless, before issue #1 of Sandman.
With glorious artwork by J.H. Williams III this six issue mini-series is everything you'd want it to be. Magical, grand, doomed, tinged with madness. We have cameos by Dreams' sibling, the other members of The Endless, as well as characters, such as The Corinthian, who play a part later in the story of Sandman.
All in all a stunning return. Anyone who loves the original Sandman comics will enjoy this....more
Gaiman's third collection of short fiction is, as usual, a delight. There's no over-arching theme just a collection of great stories, oddments and poeGaiman's third collection of short fiction is, as usual, a delight. There's no over-arching theme just a collection of great stories, oddments and poetry from the last six or seven years. Gaiman has been doing this a long time now and is a master storyteller, so if you've read him before, you'll know what to expect. If you haven't, a collection like this is a great place to dip your toe in the water.
So what do we have? Gaiman has always liked to play with form, twisting well known tropes to breathe fresh life into old stories. He does that here with The Sleeper and The Spindle, which posits the question "what if the story of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty happened at the same time....?"
Elsewhere there are tributes to the works of Ray Bradbury and Jack Vance, A Calendar of Tales wher Gaiman wrote a story for each month of the year inspired by tweets, and best of all a new American Gods story featuring Shadow (if you haven't read American Gods go order it now, stop reading this and come back when you have!).
Bought on a whim due to a review on the Page45 website, this little gem of a story is one of the best comic books I have read in a long time.
Taking thBought on a whim due to a review on the Page45 website, this little gem of a story is one of the best comic books I have read in a long time.
Taking the traditional star-crossed lovers story and giving it a new twist, Brian K Vaughan has crafted a sharp, witty, action packed tale. Marok and Alana are soldiers on opposing sides of a pan-galactic war, who end up falling in love and having a baby. In fact the book open with Alana giving birth. Chased by both sides, who want them dead, but want the child alive, they set off on a mad dash to get off the planet Cleave. On the way we meet ghosts, robot royalty, freelance hit men and women, magic and a planet full of prostitutes.
The artwork by Fiona Staples is a thing of beauty, and the pace never let's up. I look forward to Volume 2!...more
I first read The Bridge 25 years ago and thought it one of the best books I had ever read. Coming back to it after all this time I did wonder if it woI first read The Bridge 25 years ago and thought it one of the best books I had ever read. Coming back to it after all this time I did wonder if it would hold up. Banks has always been one of my favourite authors and thankfully this novel is as strange, moving and funny as it was all those years ago.
The book takes place on a vast bridge where society is strictly regimented based on job, class and dialect. It soon becomes apparent that John Orr, as our protagonist is named by his doctor, is an amnesiac, memory last after an accident. He is under the care of a Doctor Joyce who analyses dreams as a form of treatment. But Orr has no dreams, so makes them up. The bridge is Kafkaesque in it's convoluted bureaucracy and once Orr stops playing the game he finds himself demoted, cast aside. Yesterday's news. His only ally is the Chief Engineer's daughter, Abberlaine Arrol - a decadent, confident young woman who takes Orr to bed as well as under her wing.
There are many layers to this book. It is soon obvious that all of this is inside the head of an unnamed coma patient. Strands of his personality, such as the huge barbarian warrior who speaks in broad Glaswegian and travels a fantasy land peopled with mythical characters such as Charon the Ferryman and Prometheus, are struggling to knit themselves back into a whole.
The novel becomes darker. War breaks out. Orr travels the length of the bridge, stowing away on an express. The imagery becomes more surreal, the horror more explicit.
But interspersed amongst the fantasy there are passages where a life is remembered. A man grows up in Scotland, meets the love of his life, experiences loss, success and all the things that come with love. It is here that Banks flies, foreshadowing the prose of such Scottish sagas as The Crow Road, Espedair Street and even The Quarry. There is a sweet melancholy to these passages and they are my favourite part of the book.
Some might say that Banks never reached these heights again and maybe his decision to split his writing into SF and contemporary fiction robbed him of something. Certainly he never attempted this hybrid again until Transition, many years later, and that book is bonkers, but not a patch on The Bridge. Fiercely inventive, brilliantly written and utterly human, this is a book you need to read....more
It has been a while since I read a long, epic fantasy novel. The sheer size of some of these books can be offputting and, to be frank, too many borrowIt has been a while since I read a long, epic fantasy novel. The sheer size of some of these books can be offputting and, to be frank, too many borrow from Tolkien and other past masters to make them anything other than retreads. But once in a while an author manages to wring something new from the old familiar tropes. Patrick Rothfuss just about manages the trick with The Name of The Wind.
This is the story of Kvothe, told by the man himself to the Chronicler, Devan Lochees, over the space of three days. Hence the first book's subtitle "Day One". Kvothe is no ordinary mortal. He's some kind of savant, good at everything he turns his hand to, be that acting, music, magic or fighting. This could make for a very smug, irritating character, but the genius of Rothfuss is to keep throwing tragedy at Kvothe, pulling the rug from under both his protagonist and the reader's feet.
Kvothe's family of travelling troupers are killed, he lives as a street urchin for a few years before showing up at The University to learn magic (or sympathy, as Rothfuss calls it). In some ways (well, quite a lot of ways actually) the majority of the book reads like an adult version of Harry Potter - young boy goes to wizarding school and has all kinds of adventures.
But Rothfuss (whisper it quietly) is a better writer than Rowling. His characters are more rounded, the emotional resonances deeper. The short chapters keep you turning the pages and the prose is fluid, easy to read. There is humour here as well as tragedy and action. The framing sequence, where Kvothe is an innkeeper in some out of the way village, hints at some huge fall from grace to come, and you want to keep reading to find out how he got there.
My only reservation is that Rothfuss keeps sending his hero out on side plots that don't really advance the crux of the plot - who killed his parents and why. So that's why it's only four stars and not five.
Volume three is currently being written so the end of the story is some way off, but I'll certainly be reading Day Two. How is the road to Tinuë?...more
Harrison's first collection of short stories is a prime example of the 'new wave' of fantasy and SF writing that emerged during the sixties and earlyHarrison's first collection of short stories is a prime example of the 'new wave' of fantasy and SF writing that emerged during the sixties and early seventies.
Subverting the conventions of genre, these stories exist on a plane of unease and decay, where nothing is certain. It begins with the title story, The Machine in Shaft Ten. A machine buried at the earth's core is the target of one scientists obsessive, destructive madness. It's a minor piece but sets the tone for the rest of the book.
The early classic Running Down features some of Harrison's favourite tropes: the strange loner, the devastating effects of decay, the old friend as narrator. It's a brilliant story.
Elsewhere we have three stories from the Viriconium cycle, including the very first (Lamia Mutable, here called The Bringer with The Window). A world away from Tolkienesque fantasy, these unsettling stories are full of vivid imagery and characters whose motives are hard to fathom.
The whole tone of the book is dark and filled with unease. Decay is everywhere, nothing is certain. In many cases a character's actions lead to disaster. Catastrophes beset the Earth, in some stories the invader is insectile, a trope that Harrison would revisit in the second Viriconium novel, A Storm of Wings.
This style of fiction won't be to everyone's taste, but I'm a fan, so it's been interesting to read Harrison's earliest works. I'd recommend all of his fictions. He really is a great writer....more
The Ocean at the End of The Lane is, I think, Gaiman's most personal novel to date. A hauntingly beautiful tale of a seven year old boy and his brushThe Ocean at the End of The Lane is, I think, Gaiman's most personal novel to date. A hauntingly beautiful tale of a seven year old boy and his brush with the nightmare world that lives just below the surface of reality, this is the type of book that will stay with you for ages after you have finished it.
The protagonist revisits his old childhood haunts after a funeral and finds himself remembering a half-forgotten episode from his childhood. We meet the Hempstocks, three women (well, a girl and two women who are obvious representations of the Maid, Mother, Crone triple goddess beloved of our pagan ancestors) who seem to live out of time, yet are as old, if not older than time itself. There is a death which sets off a chain reaction of events with our seven year old hero at the centre. It is a simple story of sacrifice and the way an innocent action can unleash a whirlwind of consequences.
The prose has a dreamlike, even nightmare quality to it at times, as the things that live on the shadowy borders of our imaginations come rushing in. Gaiman has the ability to tell the tale through a young boy's eyes and make it work. It is wonderful writing.
I used to say that American Gods was his masterpiece. I think he has just surpassed himself.
As a child I read, and loved, Garner's Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath. Many thought there should have been a third book,As a child I read, and loved, Garner's Weirdstone of Brisingamen and its sequel The Moon of Gomrath. Many thought there should have been a third book, completing the stories, but Garner resisted and moved on to books aimed at older children and adults. I reread Stone and Moon a couple of years ago and they were as good as I remembered. Wonderful fantasies set in and around Alderley Edge in Cheshire.
So when I discovered that Garner had finally written a third book in the series I didn't know what to expect. A children's book in the same vein? Or something else?
What we get is a concise novel about loss and grief, about blame and self-doubt, about mystery and myth. This is not a children's book, but rather a book for the adults who remember the first two books. It is by turns oblique, poetic, strange and cathartic.
Colin Whisterfield, the boy protagonist of the first two books is all grown up, a professor no less, who works at a radio telescope. He is brilliant and troubled with mounting psychological problems caused by a childhood trauma that means he can remember nothing before the age of 13. Living alone in a hut in a quarry by the Edge, Colin is eventually forced to seek the help of psychologist Meg, who, with several doses of tough love, makes him confront his greatest fears and his deep sense of loss.
The tone of this book is very different. Mixing poetic, mythic passages of prose that read like a description of a dream, with vivid descriptions of the broken Colin, Garner creates a story that fills in some of the blanks and ties up some of the loose ends left at the end of The Moon of Gomrath.
The twist at the end is well handled, the finale both moving and satisfying. Alan Garner is one of our greatest, and probably most underrated, writers and this is a fine example of his work and a fitting end to the Weirdstone trilogy. Bravo sir, bravo....more
So, a 12 year old boy, dark haired, bespectacled, finds himself inducted into the world of Magic, picking up a pet owl on the way.....sound familiar?So, a 12 year old boy, dark haired, bespectacled, finds himself inducted into the world of Magic, picking up a pet owl on the way.....sound familiar? But Neil Gaiman's tale of the boy wizard, Timothy Hunter, was published seven years before JK Rowling's Harry Potter tales. While similarities exist it is more a case that both authors were playing with archetypes rather than out and out plagiarism.
Gaiman was asked by DC Comics to come up with a story that featured some of their mystical, magical characters. What he eventually produced was a four issue mini-series that explored the very nature of magic itself, through the eyes of Timothy, who has the potential to be the greatest wizard of his age. Four men serve as his guides : John Constantine, Mister E, The Phantom Stranger and Doctor Occult. Magic, past, present and future is explored as Timothy is faced with a choice between the magic world, and cold, rational science.
Gaiman's imagination is as powerful as ever, and there are the inevitable cameos from The Endless from the pages of The Sandman, his ongoing series at the time. The imagery is sometimes brutal, disturbing, the subtext that Magic is a very dangerous thing. Timothy's guides are enigmatic, ambivalent presences, and there is the added problem that someone wants Timothy dead.
Though well written and cunningly constructed, this is still a minor work in the Gaiman canon. Indeed the character was taken up by other writers after the initial four issues. But don't let that put you off. Minor Gaiman is still well worth reading....more
Richard Monaco's Parsival is, it seems, rather forgotten these days when it comes to Arthurian fiction, which is strange, since it is a very well writRichard Monaco's Parsival is, it seems, rather forgotten these days when it comes to Arthurian fiction, which is strange, since it is a very well written, dreamlike story.
This is partly based on the epic Arthurian romance Parzival, by Wolfram Von Eschenbach, a German knight and poet who himself based it on an unfinished tale by Chretien de Troyes. The story of Parsival is that of the Holy Fool, the innocent who seeks, and finds, the Grail Castle.
Monaco is a good writer and this tale features some familiar names (Arthur, Merlin, Lancelot, Gawain) in a slightly unfamiliar setting. England (or Albion) is never mentioned, so the story unfolds in an unnamed land as we follow the entirely innocent, unworldly (otherworldly?) Parsival as he leaves his home and experiences the world for the first time. His progress from innocent to Knight to weary melancholy is handled in a series of dreamlike sequences, full of horror and blood. There is war here, unremitting, gruesome war. The bodies are literally piled high.
Monaco, as a counterpoint to his protagonist, also follows three "peasants", Broaditch, Waleis and Alienor, as they move through a landscape of horror and death trying to find Parsival. The narrative leaps forward twenty years at one point to find Broaditch telling the tale to his children.
It's a classic good versus evil story, with the dark wizard Clinschor seeking the Grail and Merlin trying to guide Parsival with cryptic, rather unhelpful, hints. Chivalry is nowhere to be found here.
What the Grail actually is is never defined and it is only at the end that Parsival comes to realise what he's been seeking. And also the point that Broaditch, after a question from his son regarding Parsival's fate, sets out to find him, thus setting the scene for a sequel.
A strange, unsettling book well worth your time....more