Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’
This is the story of how a monster known as The Butcher came in existence. And it’s got a nice little hook at the beginning: big scary crazy guy walks into a bar, and treats his axe as if she’s a flesh and blood woman. Good hook, followed by tight pacing, we’re off to good start!
All monsters start out as little boys, and as a youth Orsus always felt he was to blame that he couldn’t save his family. Conveniently, he grows up to be about seven feet tall, and he’s got the right combination of body strength and gullibility to be a basic gang thug. The fantasy narrative jumps back and forth in his life, from that horrible day in his childhood when his family was killed in front of him, to his employment with a criminal organization, to the loss of his wife, to his ordering of a slaughter at a border village, to his judgement day in front of the queen.
I think it’s great that tie-in fiction is showing up on the Hugo ballot, but in all the ways that matter, this story just didn’t work for me.
Orsus will pretty much do anything to ensure he can be violent with little to no consequences, and the violence simply became too much for me at a certain point. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read plenty of violent fiction, and I’m usually okay with it, but part of being okay with ultraviolent is understanding *why* the character is doing what they’re doing. you’re buying in to the character’s mentality, sympathizing with them. And i never bought in to Orsus, I never felt like I got inside his head enough to sympathize with what he does during the story. Okay, yes, I understand that he blames himself for his family being killed, and that he blames himself for horrible things happening to his wife. But beyond that, there wasn’t any “there” there. The guy just didn’t have much of a personality and I didn’t find his story to be very compelling. There had to be something else going on here that I was missing.
Feeling lost and confused, I did some research. Turns out this is a tie in piece for the Warhammer 40K library. Dan Wells has been into Warhammer for a long time, and had been invited to write an origin story for Orsus, a character who is a fan favorite. I’m sure if I was into Warhammer 40K, this story would thrill me. Now, if someone would just write a decent origin story for Liet Kynes and get it on the Hugo ballot, I can be one of those people cheering for a story that will have most readers scratching their heads in confusion.
published in 2013
Where I got it: purchased new
Sofia Samatar is nominated for the Campbell Award in this year’s Hugo Awards.
So I’ve got good news and bad news about A Stranger In Olondria. The good news is that this is some of the most beautifully poetic writing I’ve ever come across. Open the book to any random page, choose any random paragraph, and you’ll be floored by the writing. The bad news is that the story had absolutely zero hook for me. It took far too long for me to feel pulled into to what was happening. It was a strange combination of dazzling poetry skillfully disguised as paragraphs, and a muddled plot where the scenes sluggishly melted into each other. I imagine if Guy Gavriel Kay and Catherynne Valente teamed up to rewrite one year of The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, it might read something like A Stranger in Olondria.
Jevick’s family is from the southern island of Tinimavet. His father wants him to grow up to be a merchant of a new generation, so ensures the boy has an Olondrian tutor, someone to teach him the language and customs of that massive country to the north. Lunre teaches Jevick more than just writing and reading, he shares his immense collection of books, and is suspiciously silent about his past. Tinimavet does not have a written language, which makes the learning of a different one even more magical for Jevick. Before taking ship to Olondria, he has already experienced the fountains in the squares, the bustling ports, the languorous rivers, the women who pull in admirers with a flick of the scarf on their wrists. Jevick knows all of this through the books of prose and poetry that Lunre reads to him.
When the time comes for Jevick to go to Olondria, Lunre refuses to go with him. What broke that man’s heart so completely? His love for his homeland the people who reside there is obvious, why does he refuse to return? On the ship, Jevick meets a sickly girl, Jissavet, who is from a neighboring island. They share a common language and religion. Her family has spent everything they have in hopes that healers in Olondria can cure her disease.
I was maybe 20 pages in Six Gun Snow White when I wrote this in an e-mail to a friend: “spending the morning of my first vacation day reading Cat Valente’s “Six Gun Snow White”. the words are so pretty i am afraid if I touch them they will shatter into a million pieces and i will never hear the end of the story . . . e-book words will surely be flatter and soulless, they won’t respond to my petting. might be safer that way.” Those words on those pages, they were pretty, but they were also knife tip sharp, and with every page they clawed their way into me.
If you’re familiar with Catherynne Valente, you already know what she does with words. And if you’ve read other reviews I’ve written of her work, you might know what her words do to me. With every word I read, with every page I turn, a creature takes shape. Something that flies and dreams and takes me with it, a dragon made of velveteen words, and as you read those words, and caress those scales, the dream creature’s shape becomes clearer, this is what you’ve been looking for all this time. And the story is the breath of that dragon.
See? reading Cat Valente makes me talk in ways my vocabulary can’t support.
So, “Six Gun Snow White”. No dragons to be found here. Only a child who is forced to find her own way. Valente takes the traditional Snow White story, and plunges it into the American frontier, the mines of the Dakotas, the mythologies of the Native Americans. A white man takes a crow woman as wife, and a baby daughter is born. For reasons unknown but guessed, the man treats his own flesh and blood daughter as an adopted ward, a novelty native girl, someone the maid can dress in doe skin and trot out for visitors to view and ask “is she real?” “Where did you find her?”. The girl learns how to read, write, and be silent. The name she uses for her father is Mr. H. He doesn’t treat her poorly, or unkindly, he simply doesn’t treat her like anything at all. She doesn’t know any better, she thinks this is love. And then he gets married again.
The new wife, Mrs. H., sees this dark haired, dark skinned girl in braids and leather, and decides to make her into a true lady. Everything that makes the little girl what she is, Mrs. H destroys, even her name. To remind the child of everything pure she’ll never be, Mrs. H. bestows on her the name Snow White. And she doesn’t know any better, so she tries to tell herself that being treated like this is what love is. This is the point you’ll start to recognize the original fairy tale, and this is also where Snow (who doesn’t remember her own name) takes the story in her own hands and refuses to allow it to be told in anyway except hers. Mrs. H is a witch, and Snow can only take so much.
I’m really not sure what to say about this story, so I’ll start by discussing the plot:
In a generic western European low fantasy world, a lone elf pays a visit to a Dioscurine monastery. Abbot Walderan can’t figure out why a soulless elf (a high elf from the royal elven city at that!) would be interested in the simple lives these monks live. Turns out, the elf Bessarias is one of the most talented sorcerers at the elven Collegium. A monk of the Tertullan order had visited the collegium, and before his death the man made a profound impression on Bessarias, who has been searching for the monk’s God ever since.
Walderan allows Bessarias to live in the monastery and study with the monks, with the promise that the elf won’t use his magic. Bessarias finds peace in the library, learns how to do illumination, and offers to create a complex illuminated manuscript for the order. The years pass, and Walderan soon finds it hard to see his elven friend as a soulless savage. The two men have countless conversations on the nature of faith, religion, corruptibility, and the like. I think deep down, Walderan is thrilled to have a friend who challenges him, who forces him to think, instead of just agreeing with everything that’s already been written.
“The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” is available online at Tor.com. Head over, give it a read (don’t worry, it’s quick. and fun!), and come on back and let me know what you think. and if his name sounds familiar, it’s because his novelette “The Boy Who Cast No Shadow” was nominate for a Hugo last year. Interested in what I thought of the rest of the Hugo nom’d short stories? Click here!
My thoughts on “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt:
The story takes place in the Thai village of Doi Saket during the festival of Loi Krathong, when the river is filled with all manner of floating flowers and small boats. Within the floating flowers are the wishes of everyone in Thailand. Good health, long life, revenge, love, you know, the usual. The villagers swim into the river to retrieve the wish filled boats and read the people’s wishes, knowing some of these wishes ARE going to come true, because that’s simply how this festival works. In the cases where the boat has capsized, specially trained monks read the smeared ink, and interpret what the person wanted as best they can.
(In a way, Doi Saket reminded me a little of The North Pole, where every child’s letter to Santa goes. Ask Santa for a video game, you might get it. Ask Santa for a pony, you’ll probably still just get a video game. Did Santa bring you something you asked for, or did you ask for something that was within your parent’s gift buying budget?)
The villagers in Doi Saket also have wishes – to not die, not to have to wait so long for dinner to be ready, to be able to satisfy a lover. you know, the usual things. Young Tangmoo doesn’t really have anything to wish for. He enjoys watching the spectacle, and only at the last possible second does he find something useful to wish for.
There are some shady dealings happening in Doi Saket, and in too many ways that is an inadvertently integral part of the festival. Everything has to happen just so, so something else can happen, so something else can happen. It’s all connected like clockwork, and no one but the reader gets to appreciate all the connections.
The narrative weaves back around and through itself, with some wishes being granted through karma and coincidence, others through supernatural means, and others through, well, other means that I won’t go into. And so much of the writing is just plain funny! With so much of this ballot taking an emotional toll, can I tell you how much of a joy it was to just laugh out loud at a funny scene, or a descriptive nickname, or just the lightness and joy in living of the whole thing?
The Hugo Voter’s Packet was released a little over a week ago. For 24 hours, voters across the globe downloaded, unzipped, transferred to devices, and prioritized.
Out of sheer luck I have already read a few of the Campbell nominees, so down near the bottom you’ll see my links to my reviews of their novels. As I review more Hugo nominated works, I’ll link everything back to this post so it will all be in one place later. Ideally, by July 31, this post will be chock full of links.
Click here for the full ballot, you see how much is on there? holy cow! Ain’t no way I can read all of that by the July 31 voting deadline. Many of these works are available online for free (no Worldcon membership? no problem!), click here for a clickable ballot over at SFSignal. Reading and reviewing wise, here’s what I realistically* think I can get through:
(it goes without saying, but images shown do NOT imply bias, they are just the covers I found quickly)
- The Butcher of Khardov by Dan Wells (Privateer Press)
- “The Chaplain’s Legacy” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jul-Aug 2013)
- “Equoid” by Charles Stross (Tor.com, 09-2013)
- Six-Gun Snow White by Catherynne M. Valente (Subterranean Press)
- “Wakulla Springs” by Andy Duncan and Ellen Klages (Tor.com, 10-2013)
- “The Exchange Officers” by Brad Torgersen (Analog, Jan-Feb 2013)
- “The Lady Astronaut of Mars” by Mary Robinette Kowal (maryrobinettekowal.com/Tor.com, 09-2013)
- “Opera Vita Aeterna” by Vox Day (The Last Witchking, Marcher Lord Hinterlands)
- “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling” by Ted Chiang (Subterranean, Fall 2013)
- “The Waiting Stars” by Aliette de Bodard (The Other Half of the Sky, Candlemark & Gleam)
Best Short Story
- “If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love” by Rachel Swirsky (Apex Magazine, Mar-2013)
- “The Ink Readers of Doi Saket” by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (Tor.com, 04-2013)
- “Selkie Stories Are for Losers” by Sofia Samatar (Strange Horizons, Jan-2013)
- “The Water That Falls on You from Nowhere” by John Chu (Tor.com, 02-2013)
- Queers Dig Time Lords: A Celebration of Doctor Who by the LGBTQ Fans Who Love It Edited by Sigrid Ellis & Michael Damian Thomas (Mad Norwegian Press)
- Speculative Fiction 2012: The Best Online Reviews, Essays and Commentary by Justin Landon & Jared Shurin (Jurassic London)
- “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley (A Dribble of Ink)
- Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer, with Jeremy Zerfoss (Abrams Image)
- Writing Excuses Season 8 by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Jordan Sanderson
- Girl Genius, Volume 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City written by Phil and Kaja Foglio; art by Phil Foglio; colours by Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
- “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who” written by Paul Cornell, illustrated by Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW)
- The Meathouse Man adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
- Saga, Volume 2 written by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
- “Time” by Randall Munroe (XKCD)
An observant reader would notice I have left the very prestigious “best novel” off of my list of Hugo nominated works to read. Why would I do that? Time and interest. Of the five nominated novels, I’ve read one of them, and I wasn’t a fan of it. the rest of the Best Novel nominees includes an author whose works rarely interest me; an author who does interest me, but I don’t much care for the universe in which this nominated novel takes place; a third book in a series I’m not that interested in; and the entire Wheel of Time saga. With Wot, do I read just the first book? just the last book? the first and the last? all of them? I read the first one years ago, and found it decent, but not good enough that I was interested in continuing. Time and interest: two things I have a very finite amount of.
*definition of “realistically” subject to change
** Some of these I may read selections of.
A little bit of everything here: bought new, bought used, received from publishers, gotten from paperbackswap. Some new goodies on the kindle too. Those are much harder to photograph.
What looks good to you?
Goodies from Orbit and Tachyon:
Yesterday’s Kin by Nancy Kress
We Are All Completely Fine by Daryl Gregory
The Girl With All The Gifts by M.R. Carey
The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction Vol 2, edited by Gordon Can Gelder
Bird Box by Josh Malerman – have already read this, and omgIntense! Look for a book review soon. Josh Malerman is doing a booksigning in my city later this week, I am super excited for that!
The Graveyard Book by Kage Baker – book 4 of Baker’s Company series. Looks like this is a Joseph book? sweet.
Life’s Lottery by Kim Newman – randomly saw it at the bookstore, and omg you guys, it’s a choose your own adventure book! it’s a different story every time you read it!!! and hello, it’s a choose your own adventure book! Maybe this time I won’t get eaten by the dragon. Because you know, I am tasty with ketchup.
Purchased used and from paperback swap:
Illusion by Paula Voksly
This Immortal by Roger Zelazny
The Jesus Incident by Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom
Players at the Game of People by John Brunner
And some E-book anthologies, to round out the goodies:
(these were all provided either directly by the publisher, or by other venues I review for)
Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From The Margins of History, edited by Rose Fox and Daniel Jose Older, featuring fiction by Nnedi Okorafor, Nicolette Barischoff, Ken Liu, Tananarive Due, Sofia Samatar, Thoraiya Dyer and more. I’ve already finished reading this one, so look for a review soon!
Apex Book of World SF Vol #3, edited by Lavie Tidhar, featuring fiction by Athena Andreadis, Amal El-Mohtar, Karin Tidbeck, Xia Jia, Benjanun Sridaungkaew and more
Clarkesworld Year 6, edited by Neil Clarke and Sean Wallace. Featuring a boat load of award winning and award nominated fiction, including Catherynne Valente’s Fade to White and Silently and Very Fast, Immersion by Aliette de Bodard, and Mantis Wives by Kij Johnson. Also featuring David Klecha and Tobias Buckell, Suzanne Church, Sarah Stanton, Robert Reed, and a ton more people. This one I think is going to take me a while to get through. But even so…. watch for a review soon!
Lightspeed Magazine special issue Women Destroy Science Fiction, with short stories, flash fiction, essays and interviews. Another one that might take me a while to get through.
Alright kids, what looks good? What should I prioritize? If all of these books were sitting on your coffee table, which would YOU read first?
published Oct 2013
where I got it: received review copy from the publisher (Thanks Alliteration Ink!)
Before last week, I’d only read a few Alethea Kontis stories, mostly what had been published in Apex Magazine. But I’d like what I’d read, and was interested in reading more. Kontis is a writer known for everything from fairy tale retellings, to secret history, to horror stories. She doesn’t let genre boundaries limit what she writes, and many of these stories were inspired by events from her life or her friend’s lives. She lives with one foot in a magical world, where anything is possible.
Her collection, Wild and Wishful, Dark and Dreaming, contains everything mentioned in the title and more. These eighteen short stories and two poems range from dark horror to science fiction, to coming of age, to revenge, often returning to themes of facing our fears, traps and escape, and that we ultimately don’t have to go it alone. Many of these pieces are perfect for reading out loud, and some of them were even designed that way.
What’s nice about single author collections is that the author’s voice can be heard as a constant note through the entire book. And Kontis’s voice is here, loud and strong. this is a woman who wants to take you new place and show you paths you didn’t see before.
Ultimately, Kontis is a woman who knows she’s got a story you want to hear.
I never get caught up on all the stuff I want to read, because I keep buying more stuff. that I want to read. Such is the life of a book-aholic.
Mendoza in Hollywood by Kage Baker – I am slowly filling out my Kage Baker Company collection. She’s one of those authors who I just collect. period.
The Best Japanese Science Fiction Stories – Couldn’t say no to this one! this one is especially interesting because it’s from 1989. It’s a short collection, I read the whole thing in an afternoon. I should probably write a review, yeah?
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle – can you believe I’ve never read this? nope, me neither! I suppose I better see what all the fuss is about.
published in 2011
where I got it: purchased new
This is the third book in N.K. Jemisin’s Inheritance Trilogy. It’s straight up fantasy, but it’s the kind of fantasy that’s tough to categorize, which means it’s the kind of fantasy I really like. You can’t go into this novel blind, you really do need to read the first two books in the series. Each book in the series is told from a different characters point of view. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is Yeine’s story, her journey from mortal heir to goddess. The Broken Kingdoms is Oree’s story, a blind artist who becomes the mother of a demon. This final book is Sieh’s story, that of a godling who refused to grow up.
And why should he “grow up”? Sieh is the godling of childhood, after all. He’s the godling of tricks and white lies, spying, and coming home to loving parents. Above all, Sieh craves loves from his parents. He’ll never admit it, but he’s also the godling of not understanding the consequences of his actions. Not unlike your average ten year old.
The gods have been free of the enslavement of the Arameri family for generations, yet Sieh still finds himself drawn to their palace. This is where he grew up, where hidden caches of toys are mingled with horrible memories. These days, the palace is nearly empty. Sieh meets two young mortal siblings, Shahar and Dekarta, who are lost in the underpalace. He helps them, and befriends them. The kids of course, want to be “friends forever”, like all eight year olds promise to their friends, but to Sieh, this smells of the enslavement of old. “Friends forever” means something different when you are Sieh. But he can’t blame these kids for the sins of their ancestors. What they want from him is completely innocent, right? They seal their agreement with blood, and in a flash, the world ends.