May 2009

Booking Through Thursday

What book would you love to be able to read again for the first time?

Any of my favorite books, really (notice the plural). Bujold’s Vorkosigan sci-fi series, Brust’s Vlad Taltos fantasy series, Anne Logston’s Shadow fantasy series… On the comic front, my perennial favorites Sandman and Elfquest.

Of course, I’m hoping that I will be reading new books in the future which will come favorites.

Booking Through Thursday

Book Gluttony! Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them? Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?

Yes, I have a bad habit of getting more books than I have the time to read. Some of them I get through BookMooch and during various sales at (when they kindly allow us foreigners to buy their ebooks), though, so I don’t spend as much money on books as I used to.

In recent years I’ve tried to curb by buying because my income has decreased (or rather it has stayed the same while food and rent gets pricier every year) and because I really do have books in my to-read-pile which I’d very much like to read.

But then the next Fictionwise sale rolls along… (Currently, they have their Anniversary sale going on.)

This is a hefty tome of short stories about the Tricksters. The book contains 27 stories and poems, and a list of trickster books for further reading, both fiction and folktales. I was delighted to see those lists and I’m certainly going to put them to good use.

After every story there’s also a short introduction of the writer and an author’s note about the story.

All the stories are good and most are set in the USA although not necessarily among the white folk. Only in one story the trickster is the main character. In other stories, the main character or someone close to him or her is mixed into the machinations of the trickster. Often enough they are asking the trickster’s help in a difficult situation. The trickster is rarely a completely benevolent being or even terribly compassionate. Sometimes he can be even right down mean. Often enough he’s just looking for entertainment or some advantage to himself. I guess that’s why we humans like tales about the trickster so much.

I did have five favorite stories:
Nina Kiriki Hoffman: the Listeners. This one is set in the ancient Rome and the main character, Nysa, is a young girl slave. A friend of her master has noticed her and Nysa knows that she will at the very least have to go to his bed. In desperation she turns to Hermes. The results aren’t what she expects.

Richard Bowes: A Day for the Short Days. This time we see briefly the point-of-view of the God of Thieves who views a diamond he wants and so gets involved with a mortal family for three times during the years.

Kelly Link: Constable of Abal. One of the longest stories in the book. The girl Ozama and her mother Zilla make their living trapping ghosts to rich peoples’ clothing and doing some blackmail from time to time. Some of the ghosts they keep to themselves, though. They travel from town to town until one day Zilla decides to stay in a city and become respectable.

Jedediah Berry: The Other Labyrinth. In which Jacques Cordon, the emissary of the Marquise, tries to reach the labyrinthmaker in order to place the Marquise’s order. However, going through all of the labyrinths isn’t the easiest thing in the world – especially when you start to slowly realize why you are there in the first place.

Kij Johnson: The Evolution of Trickster Stories among the Dogs of North Park after the Change. Linna is one of the few humans who can still bear the company of dogs after they gained the power of speech. Every night she goes to North Park to listen to their stories. She also tries to help the dogs who aren’t welcome anymore with the human families who used to love them.

Overall: I enjoyed the collection and I’m looking forward to reading Faery Reel from the same editors.

Booking Through Thursday

Last Saturday (May 2nd) is Free Comic Book Day! In celebration of comics and graphic novels, some suggestions:

– Do you read graphic novels/comics? Why do/don’t you enjoy them?
– How would you describe the difference between “graphic novel” and “comic”? Is there a difference at all?
– Say you have a friend who’s never encountered graphic novels. Recommend some titles you consider landmark/”canonical”.

1. I’ve been a proud comics reader for over thirty years.

1b. … Why do you like to read? Seriously, I’ve read comics all my life: started with Donald Duck, read Asterix, Tintin, then X-Men, Elfquest, then Sandman etc. Just like I get different things from different books, I get different things from different comics. Donald Duck is mostly a nostalgia trip these days although Don Rosa’s DDs are pretty good storywise. From most superhero comics I get (usually) a simpler world view which can be a relief in today’s world. (You might note that I really don’t much care for the darker, grittier superheros. I get dark and gritty from the news, thanks.) Some comics I read for laughs. I like fantasy and so I read fantasy comics. I like science fiction but there aren’t really that many sf comics out there. Granted, some superhero comics have cosmic story lines every now and then, and all of the major superhero universes do have non-human space empires (for example, Marvel has Kree, Skrull, and Shi’Ar Empires). So, anyway, my enjoyment depends on the comic. I also have favorite artists.

2. First off, I’m not a native English speaker so they might see things differently. Anyway, IMHO, the difference is snobbery. When you (general you) can’t admit that you still like reading comics, you change the name to “graphic novels” and presto! You’ve got something that you can talk about in public without feeling ashamed.

3. I’d need to know a lot more about that friend’s reading preferences. Anyway, a short recommendation list for different things:

Fantasy: 1, Elfquest, which is available for free at their website here. Start with the Original Quest # 1.
2, Bone by Jeff Smith. More of a humorous comic but with a complex storyline. Start with Out from Boneville.

Fairy tales set in the modern times: Fables, starting with vol. 1, Legends in Exile.

History, fantasy, mythologies all mixed together: 1, Sandman, starting with Preludes and Nocturnes. The first is, by the way, the worst of them. It gets better with every album but it’s an ongoing story so it would be confusing to start anywhere else.

2, I’d put in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen here, too, although it draws more from 1800c literature than mythologies. Main characters include Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Allan Quartermain, Dr Jekyll, and the Invisible Man (from the book of the same name by H. G. Wells).

Humor: 1, Asterix which tells about a little Gallic town which is still fighting against the conquering Romans.

2, Donald Duck. The stories done by Don Rosa and Carl Barks are the best.

3, If you want superhero humor: “Formerly Known as the Justice League” and “I can’t believe it’s not the Justice League” are very, very good.

Westerns: Tex Willer is the obvious choice here. They’re not continuous stories so you can pick up almost any album.

Spy/adventure: Modesty Blaise is the obvious choice again. The movies are terrible, by the way. Again, the story lines aren’t continuous so any album will do.

Social commentary: V for Vendetta

TV and movie tie-ins: if you’re a fan of a scifi or fantasy show, there’s almost bound to be a comic about it. Buffy the vampire slayer and Angel are the most obvious choices here. Xena the Warrior Princess comics has been produced for a while (and are very hard to get hold of here), all the Star Trek incarnations have or have had their own comics, Dark Horse have been publishing Star Wars comics for ages, and there are, of course, Heroes comics based on the TV show.

Various games have also got comic adaptations from Final Fantasy to Halo.

By the way, if you want to try out some classic books made into comics, Marvel has adapted Pride and Prejudice in a comic form.

This is part of the Promethean Age –series and the first book in the Stratford Man duology.

I read first the two Promethean Age books which were set in the modern US and Faerie (“Blood and Iron” and “Whiskey and Water”) because I’m, well, anal about reading order and these two were released before Stratford Man duology. Now I kind of regret it because “Ink and Steel” gives a lot of background to the world and some of the characters in the other duology.

I liked this book probably even more than the previous two. Its atmosphere is just as dark and the characters go through horrible events and suffer a lot. So, it should be a book I don’t like but there’s something there that can make me continue to read and even enjoy it. Maybe it’s my fascination with faeries and the cold, heartless Court they have here. Maybe it’s the lush writing. I know I like the historical period but I don’t know enough about the reign of Elizabeth I to really get the most out of it. Probably it’s the combination of characters, writing style, and setting.

The main characters are William Shakespeare and Kit Marley who is also known as Christofer Marlowe. Here, Will is a poor playwright and actor who works in London and struggles with the beginning of palsy. His wife and three children live in Stratford. His wife Annie isn’t happy about it but has no other choice. Will is also Kit’s very good friend and they help each other to write.

Kit almost dies from a dagger blade to his eye. He wakes up with a dark haired woman whom he slowly realizes is Morgan Le Fay. Morgan is a Queen of Faery and the sister of the reigning Queen, the Mebd. Even though Kit has been saved, he can’t return to a mortal life. Instead he is bound to Morgan and gets an immortal life in the heartless Faerie Court. But he can travel for a short time to mortal world and influence things there. Kit was a spy and a witch to Elizabeth’s loyal men, the Queen’s Men, who battle their enemies anyway they can. Publicly with words and with plays, and not so publicly with steel, blackmail, and spying. Kit feels that he still has a lot to do. But since he’s gone, so to speak, the Queen’s Men have to find another playwright to work his magic to the hearts of the audience. Kit guesses that they will try to recruit Will and he would very much like to prevent that because he thinks that Will doesn’t have the ruthlessness needed for the job.

But Kit is already too late. One of Will’s friends introduces him to Elizabeth’s spymaster, who is publicly thought to be dead, and his inner circle. Will has no choice but join. A whole new world of magic and espionage opens up to him.

Kit visits Will and gives him advice. They also send letters to each other about the sensitive political situation with an elderly Queen without an heir, and about the plays. Kit becomes the lover of both Morgan and her son Murchaud the Black, and is sucked in the complex machinations of the Court.

Bear has made a wonderful mix of fact and fiction, history and fairy tale, plays and mythologies. The book is littered with short quotes from both Shakespeare and Marlow which work well to establish the historical context and feel as well as a feel of the characters who wrote them. The whole time I wished that I knew more about the time period than what I could find in Wikipedia.

There a send of sadness and perhaps even doom around the characters. And yet they have choices and they do what their heart tells them to do. Well, the human characters have, at any case.

I believe most of the human characters are historical ones: Elizabeth I, Earl of Essex, spymaster Walsingham. Some of the mythological characters have also appeared elsewhere first. Morgan Le Fay is, of course, from the Arthurian legends. The Puck from Shakespeare. I also got the feel that Bear don’t like Lancelot much. 🙂

The strength of the story lies in the strength of the raw emotions of the characters. Love, hate, jealousy, lust, willingness to sacrifice oneself for another. They are contrasted against the cold Fae who seem to be able to feel only pain, if even that.

Bear uses somewhat archaic English with lots of “thees” and “thous”. Thankfully, it’s still understandable even to a foreigner like me.

Overall: I can’t wait to read the next one. I hope Bear can continue the series.

Oh, yes. The book contains romance and sex between men.

This is the first book in the science fiction (or perhaps science fantasy) trilogy about Virga. It was a free book from Tor last year.

Sun of Suns shines in the world building and yet, it’s a fast-paced, swashbuckling pirate story. The story is set on Virga which is a pressurized air planet. Many artificial suns give light and warmth to the different nations that hang in the gravityless air. The towns have to generate their own gravity and in some towns only the rich can afford to live in gravity. But without gravity, the people will grow thin, almost weightless, and weak.

At the center of the air planet is the main sun, Candesce or Sun of Suns which stars in many tales. The other suns are artificial and the people, who control the technology to create and maintain the artificial suns, can rule over others.

Slipstream is one of the most powerful nations currently and it wants to conquer other towns. A small resistance group in the town of Aerie has managed to steal the secrets of building suns. They want to use it to build their own sun and be free of Slipstream. The project isn’t quick or easy. Unfortunately, just as the rebels are about to ignite their own sun, a military force from Slipstream descends on Aerie and destroys the sun and the town.

The only survivor is Haydon Griffin, the young son of the two rebel scientists who died with their sun. He’s forced to live in the winter parts of the air planet for years, building his hatred and his dreams of revenge on the man he thinks is responsible: Admiral Chaison Fanning who lead the attack.

Years later, Hayden manages to infiltrate the Fanning household with the intent of murdering the Admiral. But he’s promptly recruited by the Admiral’s wife, Venera, as her personal pilot. Much to Hayden’s surprise, he also finds out that some of the other citizens of Aerie have survived and would like to recruit him to their resistance. Unfortunately, his and their aims aren’t the same.

Venera Fanning grew up in a palace full of cutthroat intrigue and she even had to use all of her own skills so that she could marry a man of her own choosing. But afterwards, she found it a bit hard to adjust to living in a nation where people aren’t constantly trying to murder each other for better positions. She was also horrified to find out that her new homeland didn’t have an espionage division. So, she founded it.

Now, her spies have brought her information about a new, powerful ship that could conquer Slipstream. Finally, it’s time for her to tell her Admiral husband what she has been up to all these years. But Venera is determined to do what it best for her. Even a bullet to her jaw years ago didn’t stop her. However, the bullet did bring her dreams about strange places which plague her.

Admiral Chaison Fanning is a loyal subject of Slipstream. However, even he can see that the current ruler, called a Pilot, isn’t a good ruler. Still, he will do anything he can to protect his home.

When seven military ships leave on a secret mission that could mean the life or death to the whole nation of Slipstrem, Venera makes sure that she and her new pilot are on board even though her husband isn’t thrilled about it. In fact, Venera has to blackmail him to get onboard. The ships head out to winter parts, which is a colder and wilder frontier and home to the pirate fleets.

The setting of the book is intriguing: normal wooden ships which sail through the air in three-dimensional space. Fighting is also three-dimensional. In the cities, there can be gravity in the houses but not on the streets. The streets are rope ladders that lash the houses together into a town. You can also use bikes to fly between the houses. The towns aren’t, of course, anchored into anything and so also drift through the air. The descriptions in the book about the places are quite stunning.

I didn’t like the characters as much, though. They weren’t really original as such although it was interesting to see Hayden working for the man he wants to murder. Hayden is still rather a standard young male who does a lot of growing up during the story. On the other hand, Venera is a ruthless schemer who doesn’t care about anybody else, and her types of characters are usually seen only as villains in the stories. Here she’s a point-of-view character although even then her ruthlessness could be quite shocking and unexpected. I guess I still tend to expect that POV characters don’t do certain things. Chaison was in charge of the operation and wasn’t really colorful himself.

There were a few good minor characters. Aubri Mahallan is the small fleet’s armorer and she’s from outside Virga. She tells a bit about the artificial worlds outside the air planet and her life there. Hayden grows quite fond of her during the story. Lyle Carrier is Venera’s minion and servant. He seems quite aloof and distant, and Hayden thinks that Carrier is a killer.

The plot is fast and is very much a sea fearing pirate adventure but in the air. Light and quick read.