Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Little, Big

Onwards with the challenge! John Crowley is the last of the C's.

I should have liked Little, Big. It was a sprawling family saga about quirky people in upstate New York, who have genuine fairies living on their estate.

The alarm bells started early on when I read that Little, Big inspired Mark Helprin to write Winter's Tale. Winter's Tale remains one of the most boring, pointless books I have ever had the misfortune to open the covers of. By the time I'd read the first chapter of Little, Big, my fears were confirmed.

There's probably not a bad story in this book, but it's author; John Crowley, chose to bury it under bloated paragraphs of overblown prose and reams of nonsensical chatter from his main characters. It's been praised and acclaimed. I found it barely readable.

The story, such as it is, concerns the extended Drinkwater family, from the time Violet Bramble marries John Drinkwater and moves from England to America, somehow bringing the fairies that have been part of the Brambles for some time, with her to the New World. The generations are briefly described and covered, most of the story concerns the inoffensive Smoky Barnable and his marriage into the Drinkwater family by marrying Daily Alice Drinkwater. The Drinkwater family seems to decline from that point on. There's a sub plot involving the awoken Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, now calling himself Russell Augenblick, his election to the office of United States President and the dictatorship that followed, this subplot also introduced the Drinkwater's powerful clairvoyant cousin; Ariel Hawksquill. That whole subplot seemed entirely out of place and probably could have been moved into it's own book.

In all it's 538 pages I only found two passages believable and effective. The slow decline of the Drinkwater family and their unusual house falling into disrepair as Smoky and Alice's offspring seemed to lose their belief in the occasionally malevolent fairies that had overseen the families destiny for over a century. The other passage was Auberon Barnable's descent into alcoholism, although he did recover, that I found one of the more unbelievable parts of the book.

It's always nice to see a writer who knows how to use words and John Crowley certainly knows lots of words, in fact he seemed to think it was a cardinal sin to use the same word twice or use only one word where twenty would easily suffice. By about chapter 3 (Old Law Farm) I was wishing I could confiscate his thesaurus. Then there was the way his main characters spoke and acted. Maybe I don't have enough life experience, but I've never met or heard of anyone who actually talks and acts the way his characters did. Possibly that's the point, but as a reader I like to be able to identify in some small way with the characters and I couldn't do that with any of the rather unusually named characters that peopled the pages of Little, Big.

I'm actually kind of proud of myself for making it through this book with turning it into a 'wallbanger' (that's a book you fling across the room in disgust to smack against the nearest wall).

If anyone really wanted to read something in a similar vein, they could try Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, but I'd only do that as a cure for insomnia. Martin Millar's The Good Fairies of New York has a similar theme of Old World fairies finding themselves interacting with the inhabitants of the United States, it's also a lot shorter and far more entertaining. Raymond Feist's Faerie Tale is another story of Old World faeries in modern day East Coast America, it's a rather Stephen Kingish thriller, but is often well thought of these days and it's an interesting departure from the author's Tolkienesque high fantasy.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


Been a little quieter this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday in the US, but the rest of the world has continued to spin and there are still a few things out there worth looking at.

It's been a big week for the incredibly busy novellist Seanan McGuire. You can see the cover for Deadline, sequel to zombie apocalypse funfest Feed here and get some news about hew newest creation; the Incryptid series being picked up for publications by DAW here

Mark Oshiro (he of Mark Reads Harry Potter notoriety) has moved away from Buzznet and set up his own site, he's just started reading YA smash hit series: Hunger Games. Join in the fun here

Respected blogger James Long has decided to wrap up his successful blog Speculative Horizons. James explains why here

Avagoodweekend and don't forget the Aerogard!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


I don't get the current interest in the whole zombie apocalypse thing, although I did love Zombieland. So why would someone like that pick up a book called Feed, which was set in that very scenario? It's got a lot to do with the author. Mira Grant is the pseudonym of Seanan McGuire (author of the Toby Daye UF series). Seanan was in Australia for Aussiecon and while she was here she went into local SFF bookstore; Minotaur, and signed a number of copies of Feed. I managed to snag the last signed copy, she'd even drawn a little chainsaw in it!

Feed is set in 2040, 26 years after the Kellis-Amberlee virus has created a large population of zombies across North America (they may also be active elsewhere, but they seem to be most prominent in the US). A small band of zombie fighting bloggers accompany the Republican presidential candidate on his tour across the company. I know it sounds absolutely crazy, it did when I first heard it, but it really hangs together well. Two of Seanan's loves are zombies and deadly viruses, so Feed was a labour of love for her.

Since the zombie uprising, people tend to distrust the regular news agencies, and get most of their news from bloggers. Two of the best are adopted brother and sister Shawn and Georgia Mason and their associate Georgette 'Buffy' Meissonier. The three make a good team, Georgia, who tells the story from her point of view, is a Newsie, Shawn is an Irwin (in a nod to the Australian 'adventurer' and crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, Irwins are the crazies of the blogosphere and are most likely to go out and poke a zombie with a stick to get some good footage) and Buffy is a Fictional, as well as being a technical whiz.

As the story and the compaign unfold the coincidences pile up to often to be just bad luck and the group know that they and the candidate; Senator Peter Ryman, are in serious trouble and it's probably from within the Senator's own team.

I found myself getting wound up in the story and the lives of the participants. The dialogue is snappy and funny, the action well described and at times I found myself genuinely sad for what was happening in the story. Feed is a tight, well told tale full of zombie goodness and plenty of pop culture references. It's been given a number of accolades and totally deserves them all.

Feed is actually the first of the Newsflesh trilogy (Deadline is due out on May 2011), but it reads well as a standalone.

Feed. Buy it, read it and survive the Rising!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Over Sea, Under Stone

Over Sea, Under Stone by Susan Cooper is the 1st volume of her children's classic fantasy series The Dark Is Rising. It's also the 21st book in the challenge.

Although there are 5 books in the sequence Over Sea, Under Stone is a little different from the others. It's more of a prologue than anything and it's totally self contained. When they made an attempt to film some of the series they didn't include anything from Over Sea, Under Stone.

The book was written in 1965 and it is quite dated in many ways. The central characters; the Drew siblings: Simon, Barney and Jane, behave like children from a generation earlier and they hold many of the same views and prejudices from that era.

The children and their parents along with the mysterious Great Uncle Merry (full name Merriman Lyon), often referred to playfully by the kids as Gumerry, take a summer holiday to Cornwall.

Simon and Jane look at the trip as a holiday to the seaside, but for the dreamer Barney, fascinated by King Arthur, it's a journey to the land of his dreams. As Great Uncle Merry says Cornwall is Logres (the land of the West and King Arthur). The other two think this is all part of Barney's dreams and Gumerry;s wild stories until they explore the old house they're staying in and find an ancient piece of parchment written in old English with a map.

Once they have the manuscript and the map, which Gumerry translates as being written by an old Cornish knight called Bedwin and tells the story of where he hid the grail of King Arthur, a sinister interest is taken in the family, especially Simon, Barney and Jane, by the Withers, the brother and sister on the big yacht out on the harbour.

With the help of their great uncle the 3 kids find the location of the grail using the map. They do recover it, but not before being nearly caught by the Withers and their menacing master; Mr Hastings.

There's very little magic or fantasy in this opening volume, although the mystery of exactly who or what Great Uncle Merry is, is solved by Barney at the end and there's an indication that Mr Hastings is much more than he seems.

At times I wondered if I was reading an installment of Enid Blyton's Famous Five, the Drew kids even had a dog the same as Blyton's juvenile crime busters. I wouldn't recommend it to any kid looking for an age appropriate fantasy unless they intended to read the following books. There are a number of King Arthur themed books for juveniles and any of these would do just as well. My recommendation would be to go right to the orginal legend and try T.H White's The Once and Future King.

Thursday, November 18, 2010


A few happenings to tell people about this week.

Ty Franck, one half of pseudonym James S.A Corey (the other half is Daniel Abraham), and George R.R Martin's assistant, blogs about the experience of co-authoring their new SF book Leviathan Wakes

Entertainment Weekly have put up 10 shots from the upcoming HBO version of George R.R Martin's A Game of Thrones. These should make prospective viewers and fans of the book alike happy.

Over at The Little Red Reviewer November is graphic novel month, have a look at their take on Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall here

There are a few of the expected 2011 releases (no, not those 3) over at Fantasy Book Critic here

I've recently discovered and become addicted to Mark Reads Harry Potter on buzznet, have a look here. Be warned, it is addictive.

SilentMajority from GRRuMblers attended a Minnesota event at which the object of the blog spoke about his long awaited 5th book of A Song of Ice and Fire, his recounting of the experience is here

An Artificial Night

An Artificial Night is Seanan McGuire's 3rd October Daye novel, featuring the changeling detective October 'Toby' Daye.

Although Toby is a licensed PI, the cases the readers see her tackle in the books all involve her mother's people; the fae, to a large extent. This time a number of fae and mortal children, including Toby's 'niece' and 'nephew', have gone missing. The children have been taken by the powerful firstborn (a faery child born to Oberon and Titania or Maeve) Blind Michael to be part of his Wild Hunt. No one kidnaps those close to Toby and gets away with it. It's not easy getting the best of a creature as old and powerful as Blind Michael and there will a price for Toby and her motley band of friends to regain what is theirs from the master of the Wild Hunt.

As I've already read and reviewed the first 2 Toby books I decided to do something a little different with this one. I'm going to list my Good and my Not So Good points. Note: there won't be a lot of Not So Good, Seanan really brought her A game with this one.

The return of Toby's friend the bridge troll cum cabbie Danny.
We got more Quentin. Yay! I'm a fan of the young Daoine Sidhe fosterling and it was not made clear in the previous book; A Local Habitation whether or not he would play a large role in upcoming volumes.
Toby's rose goblin pet (think of a cat made out of rose thorns) Spike plays a big role in this.
Most of the action took place in a truly wondrous and well realised faery kingdom.
Readers got some more of the history behind Luna, the wife of Toby's liege lord Sylvester Torquill, the Duke of Shadowed Hills.
May Daye; Toby's Fetch, very cool character. She looks like Toby and acts like her a lot of the time, but she's really a part of Toby's personality, not the whole of it.
The Luidaeg, the more we find out about her, the more interesting she gets.
Getting to see Toby interacting with her own kind in the human world and having fun with it. I have to admit that I prefer the 'fun Toby' to the cynical, world weary Toby.

Not So Good:
When Toby needs saving from some bad members of the Hunt who should step in, but Tybalt King of Cats? Tybalt does this a lot and it's becoming a little tired. I would have preferred to see Danny show up unexpectedly with his pack of barghests.
Toby spent a lot of this book looking like a nine year old version of herself. Despite this nearly everyone seemed to know who she was. Sometimes it was explained how and other times it wasn't, I felt it was a minor inconsistency.
Initially Toby met resistance when trying to take charge, as the kids she was rescuing saw her as no older than they were. It was a cat princeling Raj who called her on it, but after that it wasn't mentioned again.
There was an entire chapter where Toby was enslaved by Blind Michael and while her thoughts and how she saw her 'master' during this period was very well written, it made me feel distinctly uncomfortable.

Seanan's got me on the hook well and truly and I'm locked in for Late Eclipses, Toby's 4th adventure, due out in March 2011.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

When I first started the challenge I never actually expected the books themselves to present a challenge.

To explain that I need to provide a bit of history about my original experience with the 20th book (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) in the challenge. I picked Susanna Clarke's debut novel up not all that long after it came out. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell took Susanna Clarke a decade to write, and even before it was published it was eagerly anticipated due to some highly acclaimed short stories set in the same world, that she had already published. People fell over themselves to praise Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and give it awards. I decided to see what all the fuss was about, I'd also read a couple of similarly themed novels and quite enjoyed them. I hated the book, I found it tedious and poorly edited. I only forced myself to complete it because I was convinced that there must be something about it I was missing.

Funnily enough my reaction this time was somewhat different. I decided to read it a little differently. It's a huge book, it weighs in at about anywhere from 800 - 1,000 pages depending on what edition you're reading. Although this is pretty standard length for what is often referred to as Big Fat Fantasy, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell seemed somehow bigger. I decided to break it into 3 books, treating each part as a separate book, and then breaking in between them. This seemed to work, it kept the work a lot fresher for me. I found myself actually enjoying the experience. For me the book still has a few flaws and is not the masterpiece that others have hailed it as. It's in need of a ruthless editor, the narrative could have quite easily lost 100 pages or so and not suffered as a result, in fact it may have been improved by the cutting. The two main characters: Strange and Norrell, are not at all likeable protagonists, in fact Gilbert Norrell seems to delight in being unlikeable, makes it hard to develop any real empathy for either of them. At times there was a distinct lack of focus. Other readers have pointed to the aped Regency style of the book (words such as show and choose are deliberately miss spelled in some sort of homage to Jane Austen and her contemporaries) as a strength, I found it gimmicky, annoying and completely unnecessary. However what I did find myself appreciating was Clarke's worldbuilding. She hadn't just changed something about the world that we knew, as I find many alternate fiction writers do, and forgotten to change other things to fit with her vision, she added working magic into Regency England and as a result completely changed the course of British history, it was an extraordinary achievement. It's done mostly via the extensive footnotes, I know others have confessed to being exasperated by the footnotes, having read a lot of Terry Pratchett, they were something I was used to and I felt they gave the story a real touch of authenticity.

The story is relatively loose and occasionally meanders. It mostly concerns the attempts of two magicians: the prickly Gilbert Norrell and the younger and far more approachable Jonathan Strange to prove whose version of magic is the definitive one and to destroy each other in the process. Hanging over it all is the presence of the greatest of all English magicians, the legendary John Uskglass, also known as the Raven King.

For anyone who liked the concept and wanted to explore similarly themed works, which tend to be more accessible I'd recommend: Naomi Novik's Temeraire series (take Patrick O'Brien and add dragons) and the Cecelia and Kate series by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, there are 3 of those (Sorcery & Cecelia, The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician), the 1st and 3rd are told in epistle form and the middle book is in the form of the diaries kept by cousins Cecelia and Kate.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Base Tranquility

The final chapter of Church & State II.

George gives Cerebus his version of the space race. It's actually quite a complete description and it's current up to when the chapter was written. These chapters, talking about events in the history of the world we know were interesting in that they acknowledge that there is a real world, but they don't say that the world in which Cerebus lives isn't real. Most fantasies create their own worlds, this one seems to have a world that exists in some sort of strange parallel to our own, but never really intrudes upon it.

At the end of this George unleases the kicker. Because Cerebus has been absent from Iest and the deadline he had set for the end of the world came and went without incident his followers deserted him. Cirin and her mercenary forces took Lower Felda and all of Iest, including Cerebus' gold. This is when the line that resonates for years through the books comes: You live only a few more years. You die alone. Unmourned. And unloved. I get a shiver down my spine reading and writing that. How would that feel? Being told that your death is imminent. You will be alone and no one will care. George can't just leave it there, though. He has a parting shot for the former Pope. He'll suffer and if he's ever tempted to consider it unjustified, remember his second marriage. OUCH!

George wanders away into the darkness and Cerebus finds himself standing in the courtyard of the hotel. He is alone. Not a soul there. The giant rock skulls on the mountain above the courtyard have destroyed at least one building and damaged others. They have gouged holes into the courtyard itself.

What happens next?

I always seem to struggle with the last part of Church & State II. I must have read it about 4 times now and it's always a tough read. I'm not sure why, maybe George's endless lecturing doesn't hold a lot of interest for me, possibly it's because of the darkness of the landscape which gives the narrative an oppressing feel. I think the author took a huge chance by 'revealing' the ending. I'm not sure what issue Base Tranquility was, but it was a long way from #300. Readers now know that Cerebus dies alone, unloved and unmourned. What reason is there to keep reading? Of course George could be lying or just plain wrong. Then again is George even real? He could have been some figment of Cerebus' somewhat agitated mind at the time. I know that despite what George tells Cerebus I had no intenttion of stopping reading at that point.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Been an interesting week around the blogs.

One of the holy trinity of epic fantasies has been handed in for a 2011 release. Author Patrick Rothfuss talks about the ARCs for his long awaited follow up to his monster hit The Name of the Wind, Wise Mans Fear, in this blog post. 1 down 2 to go (George RR Martins A Dance with Dragons and Scott Lynch's Republic of Thieves).

Speakng of big selling epic fantasists, Joe Abercrombie shares the UK cover for his 2011 release The Heroes here. I've seen both the UK cover and the US one and as usual I think the UK one stomps all over the US one.

Chris at SFFNews is keeping everyone updated with Towers of Midnight news and has some quick reviews for anyone who is interested.

Over at Tower of the Hand they're 'celebrating' the 5th anniversary of the release of A Feast for Crows (5 years plus! For God's sake George, finish the book!) with some favourite character profiles check them out


I picked up Ariel on a whim. I liked the concept, you don’t see many books featuring unicorns these days and this was the first post apocalyptic book I can ever remember seeing with one.

The best one line description I’ve seen for Ariel comes from author Cory Doctorow: Part post apocalypse, part road trip, part sword-and-sorcery.

The twist on the post apocalyptic setting was that there was no real explanation given for what caused the apocalypse. It just happened. Survivors refer to it as ‘the Change’. One evening all technology on Earth just stopped working and magical creatures started appearing.

Pete Garey is a survivor, ever since ‘the Change’ he’s simply drifted aimlessly across a depopulated USA. One day while bathing in a stream he encounters an injured unicorn. He befriends the creature, helps her heal, names her Ariel and the two of them continue the journey.

Things are fine until they get to Atlanta and other people become aware of Ariel, or more specifically the magical properties of her horn. She becomes the target of a powerful necromancer based in Manhattan. Pete’s friend, the warrior Malachi goes to Manhattan to take the necromancer out and make the world just that little bit safer for everyone. Pete and Ariel aren’t supposed to follow, but since when did teenagers (Pete is probably in his early 20’s, but acts like a teenager and Ariel is very similar in that respect) do what they were told.

As they track Malachi cross country they meet up with other inhabitants of this strange new world, among them are a young man whose idiot father has given him the task of killing a dragon and not returning home with proof that he has done so. Then there is Shaughnessy. Shaughnessy is an attractive university student who has dreamt her whole life of meeting something like Ariel. Her presence and Pete’s attraction to her causes some problems between unicorn and young man, although they are resolved to a certain extent by the time the trio reach Manhattan.

Author Steven R. Boyett does action sequences very well and the climactic face off between Pete and his small band of survivors and the forces of the necromancer, including an assassin who rides a griffin, is very well written and genuinely suspenseful.

This book was published when the author was 21 (in 1983, it was reprinted by ACE in 2009) and there are some things that make the reader wonder: where have all the people gone, how did Pete and Shaughnessy managed to survive for as long as they did when they’re both pretty clueless when they’re originally introduced, how come the shops haven’t been looted more in 4 – 5 years, how has food and other goods managed to keep for that length of time? They’re minor quibbles, but they do take you out of the story at times.

Essentially Ariel is a coming of age story as much as anything and the emotional journey that the two protagonists go on is what keeps the reader turning the pages.

I found Ariel a definite page turner and an easy read, a little lighter than the subject material would initially indicate. Despite its flaws I did enjoy the novel and have no hesitation in recommending that people pick it up and give it a chance.

Boyett has written a sequel; Elegy Beach, set 30 years after the events of Ariel.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

All The Suns Are Daughters

George is still telling his story of creation. Honestly, I don't think he ever stopped talking. Cerebus is standing by, watching the light disappear over the horizon. I'm not sure if the aardvark ever really listened to George, most of the time he seems to watch things and try to make sense out of where he is and what he's seeing. The artwork, panels of Cerebus, intercut with panels of the light disappearing is superb and detailed.

George is now using the meeting of Tarim and Terim as a metaphor for the Big Bang. Tarim was intensely angered that Terim left and could not work out why. He had 2 denial phases, during which he absolved himself of all blame. Then he tried to destroy the light by crushing the stars, but eventually stopped and fell into a depression. He finally accepted that Terim had gone and was not coming back. Only eventually she will, and according to George that time is now, as he says 'she is coming back.'

Part of the void plans their reunion and part of the void plots his revenge. Who is on which side and will either emerge victorious?

A nice chapter, well drawn, great use of light and shade. Not a lot really happened, but it does set things up nicely for the final chapter in Church & State II.

Friday, November 5, 2010


Unless you've been off the planet for the past week you're probably aware that the 13th book in the mammoth Wheel of Time series; Towers of Midnight by Brandon Sanderson came out. Chris at SFFNews has provided some links to the the first reviews here

You can read Wert from the Wertzone's considered opinion here

Pat St Denis has come through again with another great guest review. This time science fiction author Kay Kenyon (The Entire and the Rose) reviews The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K Jemisin.

James at Speculative Horizons sounds off about 1 star reviews at Amazon

Catherynne M. Valente rants about steampunk here, here and here

Seanan McGuire flails (Seanan for rant) about downloading books illegally here and here


Monday, November 1, 2010

Abhorring Vacuums

Cerebus Adventures on the moon continues.

According to George Tarim is a Void, a dark, cold presence. Terim, the female God that the Cirinists worship, the one that Cerebus doesn't believe in, well it's real, too. It's light. Light and heat and yes it is the female half of Tarim. The two exist side by side, one cannot be without the other.

This is beautifully, if sparely drawn, and marvelously described. It is the miracle of creation. Two separate entities, one male, one female joining together to create something new and exciting.

Dave copped a lot of flak throughout the series for his anti feminist attitude. I don't think any of those critics read Abhorring Vacuums. No one who hates women could write this.