Bookburners: Badge, Book and Candle, Max Gladstone Received to review via Netgalley
I like the idea of this serialised novel business; I’ll be checking it out again when Ellen Kushner’s Tremontaine world gets a serialised outing. But Bookburners didn’t really grab me; it doesn’t help that the file that ended up on my Kindle was a mess, of course, with the formatting all over the place, but there was nothing special about the style or set-up, as far as I was concerned. It’s a fairly typical urban fantasy opening, and there’s just not enough to hook me and keep me following it through the serial format.
It’s cool that this isn’t a damsel in distress or ‘fridged’ woman plot, that the victim and motivating factor is in fact a female cop’s brother. And there were some pretty cool details about the world-building, like the idea that demons (essentially) can get into you through anything that links one person to another, like a book. But… not convinced to subscribe and follow this particular story.
This one is just a bunch of vignettes from the point of view of Curran, the love interest of Kate Daniels, written by just one half of the husband-wife team. It’s less textured and Curran’s POV surprised me a little — the tone didn’t seem right for the big lion guy, some of the time. It’s kind of funny and it fills in a couple of gaps, but it’s not necessary to read this to fully understand what’s happening in the books. I did like the light it shone on Curran’s previous partner, Myong, though.
Not bad, but I definitely prefer Kate’s point of view and the format of the books. The missing scene format just isn’t satisfying for me.
Kelly Link’s writing is gorgeous. These stories don’t all have the same tone or theme or setting or anything like that, but they do have that writing style in common, and it’s great. I’m not actually very good at liking short stories — I like developed characters and longer plots — but these are, for the most part, pretty enjoyable. ‘The Surfer’ was, if anything, a little too long for me, because most of what happens is character development.
I was surprised to realise I’d read both ‘The Wizards of Perfil’ and ‘The Constable of Abal’ before; I’m not sure where I read them, but it must’ve been an anthology. They’re probably my favourite of the two for language, setting and worldbuilding — and unsurprisingly, they’re the most secondary-world-fantasy of the bunch.
I was less sure about the alternating stories of ‘Pretty Monsters’; I think I’d have to read them again to really get the whole plot. There’s a great atmosphere with all of these, though: creepy, subtly wrong, and sometimes wry and funny as well.
I don’t normally review short stories and such, but this one caught my eye and I love the cover, so why not? It’s available to read online, for free, here; it’s not a long read, not even really a retelling, but a glimpse behind the scenes. A clever take on a piece of mythology we often take at face value. It answers one simple question.
Why does Penelope weave and unpick a funeral shroud for her husband to delay the suitors?
She’s a clever woman, and this puts her in an active role, taking a hand in her own fate and even her husband and son’s fate. The passive woman of the Homeric epic steps aside to reveal a woman who takes her own fate into her hands.
It helps that the writing is lovely. I can’t pick out a single line or passage: it’s mostly simple, with some of the imagery and phrasing from translations of Homeric verse, maybe a bit of Ovid. It hits just the right note. I do kind of want more, just because I really like the way Brennan interprets the story.
I still need to read A Woman of the Iron People, which is the main work I’ve been recommended by Arnason. But I thought I’d read this on Scribd, since it was available and I find the Outspoken Authors series generally interesting. I was less interested in the interview and essay, though it’s interesting to know where Arnason comes from (in many senses!) and what her preoccupations are. I’m not sure how much general interest the essay has; certainly, if you’re not fond of non-fiction, I can’t imagine you’ll appreciate it.
The story itself is interesting: it’s alternate history, where mammoths survived into the last couple of centuries, and where humans drove them to extinction with hunting and tourism. The background of the Native American characters and customs was particularly cool, especially given the educated and successful Native American women at the heart of the story.
The contemplative tone is a bit Ursula Le Guin-ish, which I think Arnason says herself — and the structure, too, with the story within a story. It’s quite a slow narrative: not about things happening, so much as things that have happened, about the power humans have for good and bad (but usually bad) over our environment. I don’t know enough about Native American culture and belief to judge that aspect of the story: to me the ecological, intimate link with nature stuff seemed a little like an idealisation, more of the ‘noble savage’ persuasion than realism, but it doesn’t do so in a negative way and, like I said, I don’t know enough to judge.
I’ve wanted to get this collection since it came out, so no surprises that I read it as soon as I got chance. I love Huff’s collections of short stories: they’re bite-sized, sure, but there’s enough there to get your teeth into. Especially in this collection, which is a group of stories about the same character/world: Magdalene, the most powerful wizard in the world. I loved that she is literally the most powerful wizard, and that Huff chose to deal with that not by making her less powerful, but by making her essentially her own worst enemy. (Which is particularly true in the last story.)
I like that Magdalene is lazy, indolent, sensual, sexual — and none of this is particularly judged by the stories in any kind of “teach her a lesson” way. She still does what needs to be done, she still cares about the people around her, and she doesn’t care to boast about her. That would take effort.
In fact, arguably the only “lesson” in these stories is that she must accept herself, whole and entire, the good with the bad. Not a bad message at all, if there’s going to be one.
The State of the Art is a collection of short stories, some of which relate to the Culture novels and some of which don’t (or at least, don’t overtly). I actually wasn’t much impressed by Iain M. Banks as a short story writer, it seems: the best of the stories was the titular story itself, which is both a Culture story and rather longer than the other stories in the collection, which gave it more space to interest me, and more space for him to set up the kind of story that’s grabbed me in his novels.
There’s nothing wrong with the stories per se, but they didn’t grab me at all (with the exception of the one already mentioned and ‘A Gift from the Culture’). Where I was interested was when it was closest to Banks’ other SF work, but otherwise the stories seemed fairly unremarkable. There are some interesting bits of humour; wry looks at staples of the genre.
I’m hoping that’s not a reaction to Banks’ work in general, as I know I did enjoy several of his Culture novels and I was looking forward to reading the rest. Perhaps he just isn’t to my taste as a short story writer.
I keep thinking I haven’t read any Tanith Lee, but I think this is my third now. She has an interesting writing style: lush, rich, layered. Insinuating. I’m not always a fan of the darker themes that seem to run through her work (I disliked White As Snowbecause of the rape theme, for instance), but I can’t deny how lovely her writing is. Sometimes it’s a little too much, like a cake that’s too dense and too sweet. It reminds me a bit of Catherynne M. Valente’s work, though more solid.
As you can tell, her language is tactile, sensual; you can’t help describing it as a physical thing.
Some of these stories were just right for me, though. I loved ‘Death Loves Me’, ‘After I Killed Her’ and ‘The Lady-of-Shalott House’, for instance. She does enchantment so well, weaves the plots of her stories so carefully that you can almost see the solution before you get there, and yet it doesn’t feel predictable. Just right.
It’s difficult to rate a book of short stories, for me. They can be so different from each other, so that one is totally to your taste and another is not. Throw in some poetry too, and there’s even more opportunity to leave people cold (I don’t know many people who aren’t picky about poetry). So the good, first: this is pretty typically Gaiman’s work, wry and dark and twisted, rich with implications and things lurking in the shadows. His stories all flow well, so that it all leads logically on to the ending (which is not to say that the endings are predictable, though familiarity with Neil Gaiman’s imagination might give you a pretty good idea).
The bad: I did find it a mite too familiar. That might partially be because I read the introductions to each story first — always something of great interest to me, but it does flavour how you’re going to experience the story. Secondly, Neil Gaiman’s poetry pretty much doesn’t do it for me. And thirdly, the opinions on “trigger warnings”, from which Gaiman took his title, were… fairly typically as though he had not actually discussed them with anyone. I’m a big advocate for them, and I think most quibbles against them are nonsense; sure, life itself doesn’t have trigger warnings. And? Why should that stop us from giving other people notice when we can? “Here be bad things” is something, but triggers are so different for different people… Stick a label on the story like you do nutrition information on food: not everyone will read it, but those who can benefit from the additional knowledge and preparation. And not “this product may contain nuts, soy or dairy products”, but “this product does contain nuts” or “this product was manufactured in a factory which also processes nuts”. Actual, precise information about common triggers. It’s not going to cover every eventuality, and we can’t pretend it will, but it would make sense to try.
And not just by saying “these stories end badly for at least one person in them”.
All in all, that sounds very critical. I did enjoy reading the stories, though, and I think Gaiman does clever things with the form. I’m just a bit too used to his kind of cleverness.
Prickle Moon is a collection of short stories, most of them previously published but five of them new, and I knew I’d have to pick the book up someday because of that hedgehog on the cover. I love hedgehogs; just yesterday we rescued one from our garden which seemed too small to be out, and sent her off to a carer to spend the winter. Last winter we did that with a couple of hedgehogs; one of them died, but the second lived and was even strong enough to make a break for it. He tunnelled out with some friends and is now living under someone’s decking!
So mostly I got this for the title story, Prickle Moon, because I love my hedgehogs. Like most of the stories in this collection, it’s bittersweet; woven with loss and hope, awful tasks and finding your way through them. Some of the stories are fairytale retellings — Rapunzel, Baba Yaga — and some are new stories very much styled as fairytales, with very familiar motifs. Some of the stories are oddly modern, which jars against the more traditional and more fantastical ones. Marillier’s good at putting her characters into awful situations which require compromise with their morality, and then making it work out so that it isn’t so bad after all. She’s good at grief, and especially healed grief — the kind of grief you learn to live with and live in.
The collection also includes a Sevenwaters story. I haven’t read that series, so it took me a little while to get into it and pick up everything that was going on, but the joy in the ending, the hope, is not something you need to have read Daughter of the Forest and the other books to understand. Though, right now, I’m definitely in the mood to read more of Marillier’s work.