Review ~ Wicked Wonders

This book was provided to me by Tachyon Publications via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Cover via Goodreads

Wicked Wonders by Ellen Klages

The Scott O’Dell award-winning author of The Green Glass Sea returns with her second collection: a new decade of lyrical stories with vintage flair.

Inside of these critically-acclaimed tales are memorable characters who are smart, subversive, and singular. A rebellious child identifies with wicked Maleficent instead of Sleeping Beauty. Best friends Anna and Corry share a last melancholy morning before emigration to another planet. A prep-school girl requires more than mere luck to win at dice with a faerie. Ladies who lunch keeping dividing that one last bite of dessert in the paradox of female politeness.

Whether on a habitat on Mars or in a boardinghouse in London, discover Ellen Klages’ wicked, wondrous adventures full of brazenness, wit, empathy, and courage. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I almost didn’t read this book.

I saw it on offer at NetGalley from Tachyon Publications (the only publisher that I’m auto-approved with—why they put up with my grumpy reviews, I don’t know) and I was interested. But then I remembered that I had just purchased a Glen Hirshberg anthology, and I didn’t really need another short story anthology, and I have a never-ending TBR pile mostly because I request too many ARCs and…I let Wicker Wonders pass by.

But then I got an email from Tachyon about widgets or something, and I guess I clicked a request link, and BAM! Wicked Wonders was ready for download. So, I read it, as one does when books show up.

And I’m glad I did.

What Worked
Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite authors. I especially love his tales of childhood: adventures on bicycles to dark carnivals in the midst of summer thunderstorms. Great stuff, but it occurred to me sometime  in my 30s that all of Bradbury’s protagonists were boys. Makes sense since that’s his experience of the world, but I kind of wished that there were some of those kinds of stories with girl protagonists. Because, why not? Girls have adventures too.

Enter Ellen Klages and Wicked Wonders:

She intends to be a good girl, but shrubs and sheds and unlocked cupboards beckon.

Yep, Klages hooked me right there with that line.

The stories range across the spectrum of speculative fiction. “Singing on a Star” and “Friday Night at St. Cecilia’s” are strongly fantastical and “Goodnight Moons” is a straight-up sci-fi tale. On the other end, “The Education of a Witch” is only fantasy tinged and “Amicae Aeternum” is more of a bitter-sweet best-friends(who are girls!)-on-bikes story than space opera. There are even a couple of stories with no fantastic elements what-so-ever, including my favorite “Hey, Presto!” Had I known there was going to be a well-done historical fiction story with magicians I would have never hesitated to request this book!

What Didn’t Work
I am really picky about science fiction. For me, the most science fictiony story of Wicked Wonders, “Goodnight Moons,” was also the least successful. Happily, for me, science fiction is in the minority on this anthology.

Overall
I’m fairly sure that I haven’t read any Ellen Klages in the past. Coincidentally, I had also almost requested her latest novel Passing Strange from NetGalley when it was available, but had decided against it as well on the grounds that my TBR pile was too high. After reading Wicked Wonders…well, that TBR stack is just going to have to get stratospheric. Ms. Klages, you have a new fan.

Publishing info, my copy: Kindle/Adobe Digital Edition, Tachyon Publications, May 23, 2017
Acquired: NetGalley, 3/13/2017
Genre: speculative fiction

Deal Me In, Week 20 ~ “Trust Me”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Trust Me” by Joseph Lyons

Card picked: 7♠
From: The Architecture of Fear, ed. by Kathryn Cramer and Peter D. Pautz

The Story
A few weeks back I read a story in this anthology by a very famous horror writer, but I didn’t post about it. The story was quite long, involved a lot of back story, and really lacked any creepiness or tension. The prestige of the author probably sold copies of this anthology back in 1989 when the mall bookstore had a horror section that was at least a good two sections of shelves.*

I’m guessing that no one bought this anthology for Joseph Lyons’ “Trust Me.” Which is a shame. Weighing in at a mere two pages, it packs more punch than Mr. Big-Time author’s 26 pages. It begins with fed-up parents and a little girl suffering from nightmares…

“That’s right. I don’t believe you.” He glared at her until she looked down. “And I don’t think you were asleep, either.”

After doing some internet searching, “Trust Me” seems to be Joseph Lyons’ only writing credit. Anthologies are great for finding new authors, but sometimes a little depressing when you realize that the rare gem is actually singular.

The Architecture of Fear is available through Open Library.

*And only 33% of those shelves were taken up by Stephen King. He’s not the guy with the long, boring story, btw. King’s short stories are generally very solid.

 

Review ~ Curiosity

Cover via Goodreads

Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood

Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them? Creeping suspense, plenty of mystery, and cameos from Edgar Allan Poe and P. T. Barnum mark Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle grade fiction. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
When I’m at the library, I do subject searches just to see what might come up. On this particular occasion, I searched for “mechanical Turk.” The mechanical Turk and automata in general are something I’ve been interested in since reading about Joseffy’s mechanical creations. Anyway, the search lead to my finding Curiosity, a historical fiction about the Turk. I was game…even if it was middle grade fiction.

What Didn’t Work
What didn’t work for me is the usual stuff that doesn’t work for me when I’m reading fiction aimed at young people. There is often a lack of depth to the plot and themes. The clean-slate “Who am I in this world?” questions don’t generally hold my interest.

What Worked
Despite my reservations, I really enjoyed Curiosity because it was very well done. There are other plot devices in this story that sometimes go awry, but Blackwood uses them with such a light touch.

Rufus is a chess prodigy.  Sometimes I find the kid genius trope hard to swallow because it ends up being a child with a whole suite of specialized skills. Being really good at one thing at a young age (like chess or a musical instrument) is a lot easier for me to believe than being something like a child assassin, which would involve talent and training in many different areas. Rufus’s skills are pretty limited to chess. At all other things, he’s pretty much just a twelve year-old.

I also didn’t realize when I picked up this book that Edgar Allan Poe would have as large of a part in the narrative. If I had, it might have been the thing to make me leave it on the shelf. After reading a few books involving fictional Poes, I decided that they were not a good idea for me. Poe for me is something of a sacred cow: I’m going to get grumpy when an author’s idea of Poe doesn’t match my idea of Poe. Again, Blackwood surprised me with a really good rendering of a slightly obsessed Poe.

The history? Also solid. Sure, there is some literary license taken, but the Turk is done right and I can see Maelzel being villainous.

Overall
This was another perfect read for the Readathon. Great pacing and setting, decent mystery, believable young character.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Dial Books for Young Readers, 2014
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: historical fiction

Deal Me In, Week 18 ~ “The Real Work”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“The Real Work” by Adam Gopnik

Card picked: 2♣ – A Wild Card!
From: The New Yorker, March 17, 2008

The Essay
For today’s wild card pick, I went to my Pocket queue to browse. Alas, I’m still a little hungover from last weekend’s readathon, and none of the short stories I’d bookmarked caught my attention. Instead, I landed on an essay I had come across in the past, but not had the time to read. It was, not surprisingly, an essay about magic and magicians. Adam Gopnik catches a slice of the magic scene in 2008—about a decade after David Blaine came to prominence as a sort of anti-magic magician—but also explores the eternal question of what is the “real work” in regards to magic as an art.

Gopnik’s main subject is close-up magician and historian Jamy Ian Swiss. Swiss is obviously an advocate for the more traditional aspects of magic, but with a deep understanding that magic isn’t just technique. After all, with magic, technique should be completely invisible. Instead, it’s the magician’s job to engage the audience in agreed upon deception.

Gopnik summarizes Swiss’s philosophy:

Magic is imagination working together with dexterity to persuade experience how limited its experience really is, the heart working with the fingers to remind the head how little it knows.

In contrast, David Blaine dosen’t want magic that looks real. Instead, he states:

“What I want are real things that feel like magic.”

Obviously, these two approaches to magic are quite different, but  share much of the same space in the eyes of an audience. Both have a historical pedigree, with Dai Vernon being the patron of Swiss’s effortless sleight of hand, and Houdini the progenitor of Blaine’s death-defying derring-do. The focus though is firmly on Swiss  though with perhaps the question of whether the older philosophies of magic might be on the way out, or at least in danger of being destructively appropriated.

♣ ♣ ♣

Way back when I was first starting to get interested in magic, I had the opportunity to see Jamy Ian Swiss perform and lecture about deception at ASU. And it’s online!

Review ~ Infernal Parade

Cover via Goodreads

Infernal Parade by Clive Barker, illustrated by Bob Eggleton

This astonishing novella, Infernal Parade, perfectly encapsulates Barker’s unique abilities. Like the earlier Tortured Souls, an account of bizarre–and agonizing–transformations, Infernal Parade is tightly focused, intensely imagined, and utterly unlike anything else you will ever read. It begins with the tale of a convicted criminal, Tom Requiem, who returns from the brink of death to restore both fear and a touch of awe to a complacent world. Tom becomes the leader of the eponymous “parade,” which ranges from the familiar precincts of North Dakota to the mythical city of Karantica. Golems, vengeful humans both living and dead, and assorted impossible creatures parade across these pages. The result is a series of highly compressed, interrelated narratives that are memorable, disturbing, and impossible to set aside. (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
This slim little volume caught my eye when I was browsing the new release shelves at the library. I’m a semi Barker fan; my favorite of his works being the also short The Thief of Always.

What Worked
This novella is a collection of shorter works that chain on to each other, as a parade might. Each focuses on a separate member of the Infernal Parade beginning with their leader Tom Requiem. In total, this all reads a little like an inky black and blood-red (and shorter) version of Ray Bradbury’s From the Dust Returned. These characters form a sort of tense family as they march into the world.

What Didn’t Work
Really, the parade just sort of passes by. There isn’t any real ending or conclusion, or much in the way of purpose to this group of stories. Each chapter is accompanied by an illustration, all very well done, by Bob Eggleton. Honestly, I feel like these vignettes would have been better as a series of comics. Rightly or not, I expect more open-ended storytelling from comics than hardback prose.

Overall
None of the “What Didn’t Work” takes away from the fact that the parade is a creepy good time while its there. I read Infernal Parade first during the readathon a couple weekends ago and it was a great choice to kick things off.

Publishing info, my copy: hardback, Subterranean Press, 2017
Acquired: Tempe Public Library
Genre: horror

Review ~ The Island of Dr. Moreau

Cover via Goodreads

The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells

A shipwreck in the South Seas, a palm-tree paradise where a mad doctor conducts vile experiments, animals that become human and then “beastly” in ways they never were before — it’s the stuff of high adventure. It’s also a parable about Darwinian theory, a social satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), and a bloody tale of horror.

As H. G. Wells himself wrote about this story, The Island of Dr. Moreau is an exercise in youthful blasphemy. “Now and then, though I rarely admit it, the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace. It grimaced that time, and I did my best to express my vision of the aimless torture in creation.” (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’ve been reading my way through H. G. Wells oeuvre. I was going to read The Invisible Man next, but The Island of Dr. Moreau has a more horror reputation and I wanted an extra title for Spring into Horror.

What Didn’t Work
The science is, of course, dated. Changing the gross physiology of an animal cannot make it into a more man-like creature. Likewise, the practice of vivisection was very controversial at the time of the novella’s original publication (1896), but the depictions are perhaps less shocking in our era of PETA disseminated photos of animals in labs. So, what does science fiction with outdated science hold for a modern audience?

What Worked
Wells did believe, on some level, that the novel’s premise might be possible, though probably not in the way the novel depicts. The novel is a spinning what-if that begins in science and tumbles into philosophy. The story is more interested in how beasts might gain humanity (through fear of the law) and how human might lose humanity (through giving in to baser nature). Alas, when the Law is chanted, the refrain is “no escape.”

This Law they were ever repeating, I found, and ever breaking.

In a weird way, The Island of Dr. Moreau reminds me of a twisted version of The Tempest: a castaway ruins the tenuous calm of a genius’s retreat from the world. That work too muses on the nature of humanity.

But, also, The Island of Dr. Moreau has some pretty tense moments. Like many classics, the adaptations really aren’t spoilers for the original. I know I’ve seen the 1996 movie with Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer and probably the 1977 version with Burt Lancaster too*, but I really didn’t know what was going to happen next. I know from the literary frame that Prendick will make it off the island, but like the tagline to another horror classic, what will be left of him? What I enjoy most about Wells is that, yes, he’s presenting a lot of his views of the world in his fiction, but, unlike Swift (see the blurb), he also writes a good story. Preach at me if you want, but entertain me too.

* My running playlist includes House of Pain. Two of the tracks on their first album sample the 1977 movie. “Commercial 2” has been the projected 1.5 mile mark on many of my 3K playlists

Overall
I am three for three with Mr. Wells. Looking forward to The Invisible Man.

Publishing info, my copy: ebook – HTML & Kindle, October 14, 2004 [EBook #159]
Acquired: Project Gutenberg
Genre: Horror, Science Fiction

Deal Me In, Week 16 ~ “Iron Eyes and the Watered Down World”

(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)
(Deal Me In logo above created by Mannomoi at Dilettante Artiste)

Hosted by Jay @ Bibliophilopolis
What’s Deal Me In?

“Iron Eyes and the Watered Down World” by Saladin Ahmed

Card picked: 9♣
From: Engraved on the Eye, available for $0 at Amazon!

The Story
With a dual-saber-wielding tough-talking rabbit-woman named Hai Hai, I wish this would have been last week’s story. But, alas, I drew the nine of clubs this week instead. Such is the fickle nature of Deal Me In.

This is mostly a straight-up fantasy tale that feels like it could easily be the upshot of a good table-top gaming session. Zok Iron Eyes is our main character. He’s a tough warrior with an enchanted broadsword. His wife was killed a decade ago by a toad-headed demon and he’s vowed vengeance. He carries one of his wife’s earrings as a token of remembrance. Joining him on his adventures are Hai Hai and Mylovic, a cleric with un-clericly penchants for money and poppy derivatives.

The story is set in motion when the earring is stolen from Zok’s money purse by a young man that seems to be a part of the weak, soft generation that surrounds Zok and his compatriots. There is a little twist to this story which isn’t hard to guess at, but the tale is nicely told, all in all.

Continue reading “Deal Me In, Week 16 ~ “Iron Eyes and the Watered Down World””