the Little Red Reviewer

Posts Tagged ‘ghost

much thanks to Erewhon Books for providing an ARC!

 

 

The opening pages of On Fragile Waves includes a short visual poem.  

 

At first, I was worried, was the whole book going to be poetry of this style? Because while I respect poetry, I’m not so good at “getting it”.

 

Ah, but this particular visual poem!  As it tap-danced across the page, I “got it”! And in a way, I hoped the entire book would be like this.  

 

The entire book is, and isn’t, like those opening pages.   That opening poem gives sound and texture and context to a small family,  two parents who first have a daughter, and then a son, and then the relief that the war is finally over.  

 

The rest of the book is them realizing they were wrong, and that the only way to escape war is to escape Afghanistan.

 

You know how poetry can by design feel a bit detached, in a good way?  Because words or meter or space is in someway constrained, the poet only puts in what is most important.  Emotion gets put in over exposition, experience gets put in over worldbuilding. Gut punches get put in over grammar.  On Fragile Waves isn’t weighed down by the ornaments of expected story telling grammar, the open and close-quotes around dialog, the verbs that give rise to how the person spoke those words. Yes, they are ornaments that are designed to, among other things, add characterization and impact to dialog, and yes, without them the dialog can float like dreamy clouds.   The only punctuation in On Fragile Waves is the bare minimum necessary to get the story across.  

 

When I’ve come across stories with the bare minimum of punctuation, the bare minimum of worldbuilding, first of all I tend to really like it, and second I tend to wonder what were these characters going through that all they had was the bare minimum? Were they exhausted? Hungry? Terrified of being noticed?   Obviously, writing prose in this manner is nothing more than a deliberate choice the author makes, knowing they’ll just need to do other things to make sure it’s clear who is speaking, and to help the reader get to know the characters better. In a way, writing like this is like writing a huge prose poem – because of preset constraints, you have to remove things that aren’t necessary. 

 

I think readers will either love Yu’s style, or be very turned off by it. 

 

I loved it on the first page, and I was weeping by the end. I found Yu’s writing style, and the story that she told to be very, very effective.   There’s hardly any worldbuilding or visual descriptions in this book, yet I could see everything, I could hear the storms, I could see the fear on people’s faces.  There’s hardly any overt characterization, yet I knew Nour’s yearning to play with other kids, I heard everything their father wasn’t saying.  

On Fragile Waves is a masterwork of negative space,  of using only a few words to communicate everything.  When I find myself unable to express my feelings, I tend to complain that English is worthless, because words aren’t the language that works for what I want to communicate. I have so much in me, and using English means I have to crush all those things into boxy words that don’t mean what I’m trying to say, and so often, in the end, I end up saying nothing, and having people describe me as “quiet”.  In On Fragile Waves,  Yu showed me there is a way to say what I’m feeling, it is possible!  Huh.  sounds like I need to find all the authors that write with minimum punctuation, and read them. Looks like this writing style really, really speaks to me!

 

Most of the story is told by Firuzeh, who I think is around 8 years old at the beginning of the story, and maybe around 10 or 11 by the end. And what’s fascinating about telling most of the chapters from her point of view is that all the adults know what’s going on, and some of them speak quite plainly. And she has absolutely no idea what’s going on. Her younger brother, Nour understands even less.  Her lack of understanding is partly that her parents are trying to shield their children from the horrors of war, and partly because she’s only nine years old!

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m The Bible Repairman and other stories, by Tim Powers

Published in 2011 by Tachyon Publications

where I got it: purchased new

why I read it: if Tim Powers wrote it, I want to read it.

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Tim Powers has long been a favorite speculative fiction writer of mine.  I describe him as a spec fic writer and not a “SF” writer because most of his books take place in the past. For decades, he’s been writing alternate history with a paranormal twist.  Ghosts, voodoo, body switching, trapped souls, ancient demons, and mythological creatures abound. He’s writing what might have happened, what could have happened, what no one will ever tell you happened because no one would ever believe it.  But if it comes from Powers, I’m happy to believe every word.

I’ve read a handful of his novels over the years, my long time favorites being Last Call, The Anubis Gates and On Stranger Tides.  I’m sure I knew he’d written some short fiction, but I’d never come across any of it. When I saw a copy of his collection of short works The Bible Repairman,  it was a no brainer to buy it.  With 6 short stories (two of them really novellas) on the nature of souls and ghosts and things man perhaps was not meant to know, and a little blurb closing out each where he talks about how the story came into being, The Bible Repairman and other stories is a must have for any Powers fan.

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Inspired by the Small Press/ Independent Books posts on Genre Reader and Fantasy Book Critic, I decided to pull my review of Albert Dalia’s Dream of the Dragon Pool out of the archives. Small Press, but readily available, this should be a must read for fans of historical fiction/fantasy or Asian legends. I think this might have been one of the first true fantasy novels I read, so reading the review again, I laugh at my naive opinions on fantasy.

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At first blush, Dream of the Dragon Pool seems a rather simple narrative following the poet Li Bo on his journey into exile after being expelled by the royal court. Stopping at an ancient dream temple, Li falls into a dangerous quest that he must complete, or face the anger of the spirits.

Li Bo was a real person, one of the most famous poets in Chinese literature. Of central Asian descent, Li Bo was often seen as an outsider. After an attempted coup, he was sent into exile to the southern reaches of the empire. Before reaching Burma, he was invited to return to the capital. Dream of the Dragon Pool is what may have happened during his travels south. Although many of the people and places in the novel have historical context, Dalia does a beautiful job of unique  world building. Where some historical background would usually be helpful, it isn’t needed to enjoy this wonderful tale.

Li is told at the dream temple that he must bring the Dragon Pool Sword to Mount Wu, to be protected by the Spirit who resides there. To accomplish this, Li and his swordsman companion Ah Wu travel down the Yangzte River and through the three gorges (also a real place, The Three Gorges is to this day a dangerous area of the Yangzte River). But they aren’t the only ones who know the Dragon Pool Sword is in transit. The sword is an object of power, can it be protected by a mere mortal?

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.