Tag Archive | fantasy

Book review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2003 Review

Neil Gaiman is one of the most original writers currently publishing. He defies category: how does one classify an author whose work ranges from SF to horror to social commentary to parable and back, all within the pages of one book? His style is reminiscent of Clive Barker and Harlan Ellison, perhaps with a touch of Lovecraft thrown in for seasoning.

AMERICAN GODS tells the story of the war brewing between the “old” gods of the United States — the piskies and brownies and vrokolaks brought over from the Old Country by immigrant believers — and the “new” gods of technology and progress worshipped by the descendants of those immigrants. One human, an ex-con called Shadow, is enlisted by a man calling himself Wednesday to help unite the old gods in resisting the new. Shadow, at loose ends after the sudden loss of his wife, agrees to work for Wednesday, and is plunged headlong into intrigue and strangeness, where people are not who they appear, time does not track, and even the dead do not stay in their graves.

A haunting tone poem of a novel. Highly recommended.

2017 Re-read

Although I had been intending to re-read this book for years, the impending debut of the Starz series (April 30!) finally got this book down from the shelf and into my hands in mid-April.

Seasons of ReadingIt’s funny how time can distort the memory of a once-read novel. I remembered this story as being mostly a road trip with Shadow and Wednesday. While there is definitely a great deal of travel involved, I had completely forgotten the events that take place in sleepy, quiet, wintry Lakeside. I had also forgotten the outcome of Wednesday’s machinations, and how truly noble Shadow turns out to be.

Now I’m prepared for the TV show. It better not be awful.

2017SFFReadingChallenge(Side observation: I expect researching this novel is what eventually led Gaiman to write Norse Mythology.)

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Read as part of the Spring Into Horror read-a-thon.  This is the only book I managed to finish during the time frame.  Join us next time!

Also read for the 2017 Award Winning SF/F Challenge.  You can still join in on that one.

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Book review: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It isn’t often I run across a novel that I almost literally cannot put down.

The Fifth Season is such a novel. I resented the time I had to spend away from it.

On a planet that might be Earth, a giant rift opened in the ground near the capital city Yemenes, creating volcanic eruptions and violent earthquakes that ripple across the land. In some areas of the planet’s single land mass, these eruptions and earthquakes have been mitigated by Orogenes, people with a special ability to quell the land and harness its power. Orogenes are despised and feared, even persecuted and murdered, by the ordinary folk, unless they wear the uniform of the Fulcrum — the school where Orogenes are trained to use their power in a constructive and controlled fashion.

But no Orogene can prevent the destructive atmospheric fallout from the Rift. The eruption has instigated a Season — ash coats the world, sunlight is obscured, plants and animals die off, and human life becomes increasingly precarious.

The story follows three women:

  • Essun, a middle-aged mother who hid her Orogene abilities from her fellow villagers, including her husband, but passed them along to her children
  • Damaya, a young trainee at the Fulcrum
  • Seyenite, a graduate of the Fulcrum, on her first big mission

These women live their lives, follow their orders, and try their best to stay safe. But their lives have an unexpected convergence; what one does in her youth severely impacts the life of another some ten years later.

Scattered throughout the novel are hints of the underpinnings and history of the cultural socioeconomics and societal structure. Pieces of lost technology (or “deadciv” artifacts) turn up now and then; some are benign, some are deadly. And just what are those large crystalline structures occasionally seen floating through the air?

2017SFFReadingChallengeFabulous world-building. Intriguing characters. Fascinating plot. Within 10 minutes of finishing this book, I bought the second of the series and pre-ordered the third. Yes, it’s that good. Yes, you should read it.

Why are you still here? Go get it now.

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This book was read as part of the 2017 Award-Winning Science Fiction/Fantasy Reading Challenge.  Click that badge on the right to see what other participants have read.

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Further musing on this year’s SF/F Reading Challenge

Because I’m doing my best to “shop” my bookshelves and the public library, I’ve reviewed the awards lists carefully to find books already in hand, so to speak, to meet this challenge.  So far, I’ve found these here at home:

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2006 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2006 Locus Awards.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman.  Nominated for 2002 World Fantasy Awards. Nominated for the 2002 British SF Association Awards.  Winner of the 2002 Hugo.  Winner of the 2002 Bram Stoker Award.  Winner of the 2002 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards). Winner of the 2002 Locus Awards. Winner of the 2003 Nebula. This would be a re-read in preparation for the TV series that debuts on Starz in April 2017.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman.  Winner of the 2009 Hugo.  Nominated for the 2009 World Fantasy Award.  Nominated for the 2009 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards).

(Aside:  This is only a partial list of the nearly uncountable awards Neil Gaiman has been nominated for or won.  Why isn’t he a Grand Master already?)

The Wooden Sea by Jonathan Carroll.  Nominated best novel for 2002 World Fantasy Awards.

Ilium and Olympos by Dan Simmons.  Simmons was voted a Grand Master of Horror in 2013, so any of his works will qualify.  Ilium was nominated for the 2004 Hugo; and Olympos was nominated for the 2006 Locus Award.  Also on my shelf are Lovedeath, nominated for the 1994 Bram Stoker Award and 1994 Locus; Phases of Gravity, 1990 Locus nominee; Drood, 2010 Locus nominee; Worlds Enough and Time, 2003 Locus nominee; and The Terror, 2008 Shirley Jackson Award nominee.  Can you tell I like Dan Simmons?  A lot?

From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury.  Bradbury is a Grand Master of long standing in several categories so, again, any of his works will qualify.  From the Dust Returned was nominated for several awards in 2002: World Fantasy; Bram Stoker; and Locus.  I have lots more Bradbury on the shelf, but this one, Farewell Summer, and A Pleasure to Burn are the only titles I haven’t already read.

Horns by Joe Hill.  2011 Bram Stoker nominee.  Currently reading NOS4A2, winner of the 2014 August Derleth Award (British Fantasy Awards), and nominee for the 2014 Bram Stoker and Locus Awards.

Shadow and Claw by Gene Wolfe.  Another Grand Master.

Embassytown by China Miéville.  2012 Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke award nominee.

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.  2016 Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy winner; 2016 Locus nominee; and so far the only female author on this list.  I have other female authors on my library wishlist, such as Elizabeth Moon, Lauren Beukes, and Octavia Butler.  I must make a point of checking out those books.

2017SFFReadingChallengeOkay, that’s 19 named books and three authors without named books, so let’s try for the Hydra Category (21+ novels).

Care to join us in this reading challenge?  Click the badge to the left to be taken to the sign up page.

Award Winning SF/F Reading Challenge

2017SFFReadingChallengeRemember last year when Shaunesay of The Space Between hosted the fabulous 2016 Award Winning SF/F reading challenge?  She’s doing it again this year.  You can post your sign-up blog entry here.  I’ll be posting a link to this blog entry as my official yet belated notice of participation.  Yes, belated, because the challenge actually began January 1.  Oops.

If you are looking for some award-winning books to read, here’s a link to the Science Fiction Awards Database, where you will find everything you could ever possibly want in the way of lists.

Join us!

Book review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King

The Dark Tower (The Dark Tower #7)The Dark Tower by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh boy, how to review this without spoilers.

*thinks*

Roland’s quest for the Dark Tower drives him forward relentlessly and, as in the previous installments, people fall victim along the way. You’ll need a tissue. Maybe even a box of tissues.

Still, with the tears, we get grand resolutions, climactic confrontations, a few  gag-inducing gross-out moments, and an intriguing explanation for the presence of Character King (as opposed to Author King) within the narrative.

In the end, ka is truly a wheel.

My main quibble isn’t the presence of Character King, as seems to stick in the craw of other readers. Once that was explained, it made sense in context and I accepted it for what it was. No, my chief gripe was Mordred, as Susannah’s baby was named. As a concept, he was excellent: a child conceived from the line of Arthur for the purpose of destroying his father. As a character, he was pointless: simply a bootless boogieman, the promised confrontation with whom turned out to be…well, less than satisfying.

Said quibble aside, I enjoyed the time spent here, traveling with Roland and ka-tet, as we reached the Tower together, at last.

Safe travels, Roland. I’ll visit you again someday.

(NOTE: I read the Scribner first edition trade paperback published in 2005. This review links to the hardcover so it shows the correct cover art.)

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2016SFFChallengeThis review was written as part of the 2016 Award-Winning SFF Challenge. This challenge is now over, but you can find the sign-up for the 2017 Challenge right here.

Book review: Song of Susannah by Stephen King

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, #6)Song of Susannah by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

2016 Re-read

The sixth volume in The Dark Tower series begins moments after the events that end the fifth volume. Our heroes and the townfolk of Calla Bryn Sturgis are weary, shell-shocked, and uncertain of their future. Susannah has disappeared, Eddie is frantic, Jake is grieving, and Roland is desperate to discern their next steps.

Roland, Eddie, and Jake eventually figure out they must separate: with the aid of the Manni, Roland and Eddie will go through the door in the Cave of Voices to 1977 Maine, contact Calvin Tower and Aaron Deepneau, and make arrangements to protect The Rose; Jake and Father Callahan (and Oy) will use the same door to journey to 1999 New York in search of Susannah.

In New York, Susannah and Mia struggle for control of their shared body while Mia’s pregnancy advances at an accelerated pace.

Also in New York, Jake, Oy, and Father Callahan are hot on the trail of the combined Susannah-Mio, hoping to find them before the baby is born.

In Maine, Roland and Eddie encounter good guys, bad guys, bullets, and Stephen King.

Even though its subject matter may be more suited for a melancholy folk ballad, Song of Susannah is a techno dancetrack that unfolds at a breakneck hellbent-for-leather pace. In the end, new life and more than one death follow our heroes into the final volume.

Again, I’m glad to have re-read this, because once more I had forgotten not only the details but the main events of this novel, including the extended metafictional encounter with Stephen King. For reasons that spoilers prohibit me from revealing, King wrote himself into his own novel, not as a measure of vanity but as a unique plot twist that won’t make sense until much much later. (EDITORIAL NOTE: This review was written after finishing Book VII. So trust me on this.)

Author King views Character King with the dispassion of distance, and does not shy away from a frank discussion of his younger self’s shortcomings. In truth, I found this section of the book weirdly therapeutic. How many of us now in late middle age would NOT jump at the opportunity to speak to our younger selves with the benefit of experience and 20/20 hindsight? Metafictional therapy aside, Character King’s presence serves rather than detracts from the plot and sets up critical events for the final volume.

2016SFFChallengeNicely done, Author King.

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This review was written for the Award Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge, hosted by Shaunesay at The Space Between. Click the badge to learn more about this challenge, and maybe even join in! There’s still plenty of time left to read some award winners of your own.

Book review, sort of: Wizard and Glass by Stephen King

RIP 9 Peril the Second

Call this a testament to the reason I keep books I love and re-read them again and again.

1081372For R.I.P. XI, I intended to read, finally, The Dark Tower, the last volume of Stephen King’s epic Gunslinger* series.  I got 65 pages into it and realized I remembered next to nothing about its immediate predecessor, Song of Susannah.  Okay, let’s get that one down off the shelf.  41 pages into Susannah, I realized I remembered nothing about its predecessor, Wolves of the Calla.  I picked Wolves up, turned to the last few pages and recognized….nothing.

Oh bother.

So I went all the way back to Wizard and Glass, looked at its last few pages, shook my head in dismay and started at the beginning.  After re-reading the first section, the nightmare trip with Blaine the Mono, and reading enough of the middle section, the flashback to Roland’s teenage travels, to sufficiently reacquaint myself with the high and low points, I then skipped ahead to join up with the ka-tet once more, where they sit by the side of I-70 outside Topeka, after the end of Roland’s tale of young love, loss, and exile.  A quick trip to Oz later (read it: you’ll see what I mean), and now we’re back on the Path of the Beam.

I love Wizard and Glass.  I love it.  And I love it for all the reasons other readers of this series hate it:  that novel-length interlude where Roland tells the story of his trip West to the Barony of Mejis when he was 14 years old, where he fell in love for the first time, and how that love led to unexpected consequences and set his foot on the path that will lead inexorably to the Dark Tower.  I don’t want to say much more about it because of spoilers, but here’s the truth:  Roland is who he is because of that fateful journey and the story of the Tower couldn’t be told without it.

RIP 11This non-review was written for the R.I.P. XI Reading Challenge.  Click that badge to learn more about it.  You’ve got a few more days to join in, if you haven’t joined us already.

2016SFFChallengeAnd it’s also part of the Award-Winning SF/Fantasy Challenge.  Click that other badge to find out about that challenge.  You have until the end of 2016 to join in.

*Yes, I know, it’s really “The Dark Tower” series, but I’ve always called it the “Gunslinger” series after the title of the first volume and the mythic characters King brought to life.

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Book review: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

The Bone ClocksThe Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When we first meet Holly Sykes, it’s the mid-80s and she is a sullen teenager who discovered her boyfriend, with whom she had planned to live after running away from home, cheated on her with her “best mate”. When we last meet her, it’s the 2040s, and she’s trying to figure out a way to save her granddaughter from a living hell. In between is a ramble through the world of late 20th, early 21st Century, peopled with narcissistic, entitled English schoolmates and other people of consequence, some of whom manage to grow up and become decent people, but most of whom don’t. And lurking behind the scenes, manipulating people and events, are creatures with special abilities who snatch people with special abilities out of the world and use them for…nourishment? Entertainment? All of the above. It sounds like a mess, but it’s glorious and frightening and altogether wonderful.

The Bone Clocks is my second David Mitchell novel. Cloud Atlas was the first. Often when I read a second novel by a new-to-me author, I’m disappointed because it doesn’t match up to the excellence of the first novel I read. Not so in this case. The Bone Clocks is every bit as magical as Cloud Atlas. I’ll definitely be getting more David Mitchell from the library.

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Book review: After Alice by Gregory Maguire

After AliceAfter Alice by Gregory Maguire
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Normally, I’m enthusiastic and giddy over Gregory Maguire’s take on familiar stories. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister and Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West just knocked me out. So I especially looked forward to reading Maguire’s version of one of my favorites, “Alice In Wonderland”.

Note the three lonely stars above. So, this one? Not so much.

The title is clever. Ada, whose purpose in life seems to be to run after her neighbor and friend, Alice, somehow manages to fall into Wonderland after Alice tumbled through. Everywhere Ada goes, Alice has already been. It’s as if Alice drained all the color and wonder from Wonderland by her mere presence; and Ada sees only the minutest bit of the whimsy and magic. A tragedy for Ada, if she only knew. And a tragedy for the reader, as well. The Cheshire Cat is merely an annoyance rather than a menace; the Caterpillar is stoned out of his mind; and the Tea Party is breaking up by the time Ada arrives.

Perhaps Maguire was making some metaphorical point. If so, I missed it. His writing is a treat, as always, but this story was a slog.

I think I’ll go read the original again, to clear my palate.

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Book reviews: Dreamsongs, Vol. 1, by George R. R. Martin

Dreamsongs Volume I (Dreamsongs, #1)Dreamsongs Volume I by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every time I read an anthology, I kick myself for not making notes along the way of the stories that kick me in the teeth. And it would have been so easy to do so in this one because I read it as an e-book…

Regardless, here’s the gist. George R.R. Martin is gifted. The stuff he published in his early 20s is far better than anything I could write at that age (or today, even, and better than stuff some of his contemporaries publish today, as well). It’s enlightening and just plain fun to read these stories in the (more or less) chronological order of their publication; the chance to study the evolution of Martin’s talent is priceless.

Although I didn’t make notes, I do recall the titles of a few stories that really struck me. “With Morning Comes Mistfall” and its capitalist-vs-environmentalist theme is still relevant 40+ years later; “A Song for Lya” broke my heart; “The Ice Dragon” sets a new bar for the children’s “fairy tale”; and “Nightflyers” is simply stunning.

I picked this up from Amazon a few weeks ago because the Kindle edition was on sale for $1.99. Of course that means I must now pay full price for Volume 2.

It will be worth every penny.

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