What I’ve Been… #8

… Reading

I finally finished ‘The Star Pit’ by Samuel R. Delany. It was signed off in October 1965 though as far as I can find out it was Delany’s first published story. It was published in Feb 1967 in Worlds of Tomorrow though I read it in Aye, and Gomorrah, and other stories. I’ve enjoyed his non-fiction in the form of About Writing but this is my first of his fiction. I have Babel-17 (1966) and Dhalgren (1975) on the shelves ready but I worry I’m not going to find them accessible as an introduction. I might just keep working my way through this collection before moving on to his novels.

’The Star Pit’ a longer short story and it tackles polyamorous relationships, human evolution, abandonment, loss, death, and other big themes, which it does by focusing on a mechanic in a spaceport as he confronts what’s happened in his life. As a first published story I can see why Delany is a good writer. It’s definitely a good introduction.

I’m still reading The House of Shattered Wings. It’s gothic, claustrophobic and utterly enchanting. I’m so worried that I’m going to get to the end and be disappointed. But that’s because I’m loving it so much. I’ve seen reviews already which have said good things so I’m very hopeful.

… Thinking About the Hugos

But only for a minute or so. Good sense of the voters prevailed.

Adding the TBR

I’m trying to slow down the amount of books I buy as I always go over my book budget (as I have this month) but I’m still up for a bargain. Resistance Is Futile by Jenny T. Colgan was 99p on Kindle a couple of days ago. I got as far as the prologue and the opening paragraph of chapter one before hitting buy. I’m curious about the mix of SF and humour. Anyone read it yet?

What have you been reading this week?

What I’ve Been Reading #1

I post a lot on twitter but the only books I’ve ended up blogging about recently are ones I’ve finished writing reviews for.  By only posting reviews I  miss out talking about the ones I’ve been dipping into or not got around to reviewing formally. So, I’m going to have a go at  writing about the other books; books that are coming up or books which take my fancy, and see how that works out.

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First up is The Innocence of Father Brown. I’ve only managed to read the first story so far and, to be fair, I was a little bit unconvinced by the farcical nature of it. That was until we got properly introduced to Father Brown at the end. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Speaking of classic crime I’m about a third into The Crime at Black Dudley, it’s my first Margaret Allingham and my introduction to her detective Albert Campion. As so often with her contemporaries she’s using another guest to be the eyes of the investigation and giving an outsiders view of Campion. It’s not the most flattering view though that’s more telling of the narrator than the character of Campion.

I’ve just finished Thief’s Magic by Trudi Canavan, it’s another first, and it joins Jingo by Terry Pratchett and The Incorruptibles by John Hornor Jacobs on the to-be-reviewed pile. I will say of Thief’s Magic that I did and didn’t enjoy it. It’s trying to be different, with a different take on heroes and fantasy worlds and magic but it used two contrasting threads that make it hard to get the weave right and I struggled a bit with the comparison. The ending though is a proper cliffhanger for both characters involved.

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A background fascination in my reading is going back into science fiction’s past. Luckily the SF Gateway makes that such an easy task. For example, I was reading the introduction to In Search of Wonder by Damon Knight, which collects his critical writing from 1950-60-ish, and it mentions the Science-Fiction Handbook by  L. Sprague De Camp & Catherine Crook De Camp. Now in the past, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t have bother tracking down a second-hand copy but a couple of clicks later and there it was, ready to be read. The thing about the De Camp book is it contains an essay giving lots of thought into the embryology of science fiction pre-1900 and it’s something I’d never had read without the SF Gateway, so hats off to them. I’m still working my way through both books but greatly enjoying them.

The last book to mention is my unintentional rereading of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. It might have been seeing the new covers from last year in the shops a couple of weeks ago, which put the idea in the back of my mind, or maybe it’s just one of those things. Anyway, I bought the ebook when Pottermore was first available to test out the online shop and see how it integrated with Amazon (it worked flawlessly btw) but not got round to reading it. I was looking over the books on my kindle trying to figure out my next ebook (I try and keep one paper novel and one electronic novel on the go) and I wondered if it would still be any good so many years later. The answer to that question is YES. Especially as I’m easily over half-way and really want to stay with Harry until the end of this book, though I might have read Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets soon after.

That’s my reading, what about you?

Audiobook Review: The Dark Defiles by Richard Morgan (2014)

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The Dark Defiles is final book of the A Land Fit For Heroes trilogy. It’s also the longest. The audiobook comes in at an impressive twenty-four hours. That’s a lot of story-time though in pages it comes in at 560, so not a doorstopper of a book, but it does allow Morgan space to explore the consequences of the first two books (The Steel Remains and The Cold Commands). The problem for this reviewer is that I can’t talk about most of it without ruining the efforts that Morgan has gone through to create a series of ‘oo’, ‘ah’, ‘fuck’ and ‘hell yes’ moments.

What I can say is that as an ending to an unconventional tale of heroism Morgan manages to keep control and place the reader in the right place but not until right at the end. Ringil Eskiath, Egar the Dragonbane, and kir-Archeth Indamaninarma are definitely back to finish their respective fates.

The narrative is that Archeth has to recover a fallen Helmesman who delivers a warning which sets the trio on a state-sponsored, though mostly privately-financed, mission on the seas far away from home and from there nothing goes quite to plan.

If you’ve read the earlier two books then you’ll know that Ringil and Archeth make unconventional heroes. One is a deviant and outcast and the other is an immortal half-blood abandoned to life amongst the humans. Egar  is the nearest you’ll get to a traditional hero but he more the glue that binds Ringil and Archeth than a hero in his own right. Unlike in The Cold Commands he doesn’t gets his own thread here.

Fate is important as Morgan plays with the idea of perspective. The Grey Places,  where Ringil the Dark-Mage-in-the-making often visits, are timeless and adds a long view perspective which would be missing otherwise, another is (and this is a slight spoiler) that in their absence war is declared, like I said nothing goes to plan. So while we are following a quest of three people they are a nexus to which bigger events are rippling outwards from and reaching towards and spectacularly  colliding.

Morgan is intentionally setting out to take the model of Standard Epic Fantasy© and dismantling it before putting it back together again in his own way. By doing that it feels fresh but won’t alienate people who expect certain things from  Standard Epic Fantasy© like heroes and quests and swords.

Oh the swords, and another mild spoiler, there is another sword which isn’t the Ravensfriend. I like magical swords ever since I read about Elric and his soul-stealing sword the Stormbringer. Morgan definitely gives a nod to that concept on more than one occasion here

But it’s not completely without an injection of technology, as the Kiriath, Archeth’s people who abandoned her, it and the Helmsman to a fate without them. What the technology is ultimately useful for remains unclear but it does have its uses. For example, it resurrects one of the minor characters, making them creeping and disturbing from then on.

Thinking about it The Dark Defiles is an unsettling read. It has lots of disturbing moments, which aren’t in themselves shocking considering the grim nature of the world and the characters, but they culminate, and gain resonance – as mentioned the ripples go out as well as in and they colide at interesting times in interesting ways.

I’m going to restrain from a spoiler to illustrate the point but I was reading another story where one of the characters had said they’d never pick up a gun but at the end circumstances force them to hold and to fire such a weapon. But lets just say that circumstances (or fate) can lead you places you’d never willingly travel.

And that is the heart of A Land Fit For Heroes. You don’t know what you’ll do or where you’ll go until you’re forced into a corner and you have to make a choice. It is also about doing the unexpected when those choices are presented, about defying expectations and about being ‘human’.

I do have a few niggles, mostly with the use of time and how realistic that it is as a timeline for some events mentioned in recent history and the likelyhood for them to be actually  be ‘real’ given the timescales of other things but I can forgive that element of doubt as it’s a story about stories and the myths we create for ourselves. And I guess I’m using that as an excuse to brush those observations out of mind and out of sight.

The other things to mention are the pace and scale. In terms of pace as it is longer Morgan has given us an epic world-crossing tale and we follow characters across a map and even though it’s not a criticism it might help manage your expectations. The other is that it doesn’t build in scale. There are armies but there aren’t two armies on battefields screaming at each other. It’s much quieter than that, which is what I meant about leaving the reveal of the outcome until the very end. It’s frustratingly teasing, surprising and right.

Finally,  as I listened to the audiobook, I’d be remiss not to mention the acting skills of Simon Vance who again did a marvellous job of keeping all the characters sounding different, creepy, and alive.

The Dark Defiles is a masterful end to a rebuilding of the  Standard Epic Fantasy© Model during A Land Fit For Heroes though I’d give anything for an epilogue, even a little one.

2014 Locus Recommended Reading List

This Recommended Reading List, published in Locus Magazine’s February 2015 issue, is a consensus by Locus editors and reviewers:

— Liza Groen Trombi, Gary K. Wolfe, Jonathan Strahan, Faren Miller, Russell Letson, Graham Sleight, Adrienne Martini, Carolyn Cushman, Tim Pratt, Karen Burnham, Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton, Paul Kincaid, and others — with inputs from outside reviewers, other professional critics, other lists, etc. Short fiction selections are based on material from Jonathan Strahan, Gardner Dozois, Rich Horton, Lois Tilton, Ellen Datlow, Alisa Krasnostein, and Paula Guran with some assistance from Karen Burnham, Nisi Shawl, and Mark Kelly.

Essays by many of these contributors, highlighting their particular favorite books and stories, are published in the February issue. –

http://www.locusmag.com/Magazine/2015/02/2014-locus-recommended-reading-list/

2014 had a lot of good speculative fiction published in all categories. Click on the above list and discover something you’ve missed.