Friday, September 21, 2012
I'd never read any H.P Lovecraft. I know about Cthulu and have a basic idea of what he wrote. I think most fantophiles, do, although Lovecraft tends to be classified as horror more than fantasy. That's one very good thing about the list. It gives me the opportunity to read and try classic authors that I may otherwise never get to. That it provides the suggestion of what work to read is also useful.
At the Mountains of Madness, while it was written after a lot of the Cthulu work had already been published, is a good entry to the concept of the Old Ones, who Lovecraft's writings credit with creating a pre human civilisation on this planet.
At 113 pages At the Mountains of Madness is more of a novella than a full length novel. It doesn't actually read like a novel, either.
It's presented as an account of a group of explorers looking for our prehistoric heritage in the Antarctic. There's very little dialog and this does make it a little hard to get to know or empathise with the characters.
I have to admit that working with in the constraints of how he chose to write the piece Lovecraft did an amazing job in two respects. He really gives the impression of a scientific exploration, it gets a little technical and dry in parts, but it creates the fantasy very well.
The other thing was the feeling that things were all going to go badly very quickly. He just kept ratcheting up the tension until I was almost reading through my fingers. Of course things did turn to complete and utter terror, but it was so well well built.
I liked the descriptions and ideas behind the Old Ones and their servants, too.
Although I know it's science fiction and set on another planet I kept thinking of the recent film Prometheus, it's rather like that in concept and execution. The one novelised idea that it also recalled for me was Julian May's Saga of the Exiles, which also deals with how our civilisation 'really' began.
Monday, September 17, 2012
Friday, September 14, 2012
A few months ago I read a new urban fantasy by Chuck Wendig called Blackbirds. Blackbirds was the story of Miriam Black, a young woman cursed with the ability to see a person's moment of death simply from skin to skin contact.
Blackbirds took the reader by the throat and dragged them on a harrowing journey through life's seamy underbelly. It was narrated in 3rd person present tense by the foul mouthed Miriam, and it did not pull it's punches. It wasn't an easy book to read, but it was quick purely from the fact that it compelled you to read on.
Because of the impact Blackbirds made on me, Mockingbird was on my must buy list as soon as I heard about it. I was overjoyed recently to wander into my local SFF bookstore and see Mockingbird with Joey HiFi's striking cover art on it. I'm really pleased that they retained Blackbirds' cover artist and that he went with the same style; Miriam's wild hairstyle being composed largely of birds. You have to be careful with the covers, a close inspection reveals things about what lays within the pages, so if you don't want to be spoiled, don't really examine it until you've finished the book. Mockingbird isn't quite as eye catching as Blackbirds was, but I think that's largely because I preferred the hairstyle on the first book.
It's been some time since the events of Blackbirds and Miriam is trying to settle down to a more normal life with her truck driver boyfriend with the heart of gold and patience of a saint; Louis. Miriam is not by nature a pleasant person, and her curse makes it hard for her to even pretend to be normal. Soon enough her temper gets the better of her, costs her a job and leads to a vision of impending murder. Once again Miriam manages to thwart destiny.
Because she's out of a job Louis arranges her to use her ability with a friend of his to foretell her death. The woman works as a teacher at a private school for girls, girls with troubled lives, the school is as much a reformatory as it is a place of learning. Miriam sees a bleak future for a girl in the school, this twelve year old will die quite horribly unless Miriam does something about it. It's going to take every bit of ingenuity and all of Miriam's fighting spirit to put this one right.
Blackbirds and Mockingbird both have Wendig's marvelously raw and descriptive way of looking at general life. While the subject matter is by it's very nature and the bleak outlook of the protagonist, fairly depressing, there's still a macabre sort of humour about it. Miriam's take no prisoners style of talking is frequently funny, and it's just part of her character.
While Blackbirds was largely a one hander, Miriam gets some allies in Mockingbird. There's Louis of course, Lauren the girl from Caldecotts, who starts Miriam on her mission, is also prominent and I think Miriam can see a lot of her in the smart mouthed pre teen. The teacher from Caldecotts; Katey, who doesn't look like a Katey according to Miriam, is also a welcome addition and ally.
Mockingbird finishes on a high note, sort of, and if there were no more Miriam Black stories this could have ended them, but happily there are and Cormorant is due out in 2013.
If you enjoyed Blackbirds then you will love Mockingbird and if you haven't read Blackbirds then you should do so immediately and then read Mockingbird. Both books are among the best, rawest urban fantasy I have ever read and will keep you turning the pages until the very end, then wish there was some more.