Reread ~ The Last Unicorn

Cover via Goodreads

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

She was magical, beautiful beyond belief — and completely alone…

The unicorn had lived since before memory in a forest where death could touch nothing. Maidens who caught a glimpse of her glory were blessed by enchantment they would never forget. But outside her wondrous realm, dark whispers and rumors carried a message she could not ignore: “Unicorns are gone from the world.”

Aided by a bumbling magician and a indomitable spinster, she set out to learn the truth. but she feared even her immortal wisdom meant nothing in a world where a mad king’s curse and terror incarnate lived only to stalk the last unicorn to her doom… (via Goodreads)

Why was I interested in this book?
I’m currently writing what I’m referring to as “light fantasy”: fantasy with more humorous animals and sly curses than armies and thrones. So, I decided to reread some of my favorites of the genre.

What Worked
During this reread, I noticed the themes of ownership more. I’ve always been intrigued by Mommy Fortuna’s  line “You never could have freed yourselves alone! I held you!” It’s a sentiment that is echoed over and over again as each character gains and loses something, but with attention that can be focused on the fate of that owned thing.

What Didn’t Work
I read aloud the first couple chapters of The Last Unicorn on our way back from Sacramento. I had noticed in Beagle’s last book, In Calabria, that occasionally the use of similes and metaphors is a bit…excessive. I had never really noticed it in Unicorn until I was reading it to Eric. I think our conversation went a bit like this:

Eric: Uh, that prose is a bit purple.
Me: …yeah.

Takeaway, in my own writing, make the similes special.

Overall
Still my favorite book. Peter S. Beagle, still one of my favorite writers. I’ll be reviewing his newest collection The Overneath in a couple month’s time.

Publishing info, my copy: paperback, ROC, 1991
Acquired: UNL’s bookstore, summer of 1993
Genre: fantasy, light fantasy

This is 5/10 Books of Summer!

Deal Me In, Week 24 ~ “The Stoker Memorandum”

(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 Stoker Memorandum” by Lavie Tidhar

Card picked: K
From: Daily Science Fiction, Jan. 20, 2012

I’ve read and enjoyed Lavie Tidhar’s science fiction anthology/novel Central Station, but I hadn’t dipped into what might be more up alley: his Victorian steampunk series the Bookman Histories. Until now…

“The Stoker Memorandum” is connected to this series and introduces an adjacent 19th century populated by characters fictional and real, terrestrial and celestial.

The Queen herself was there, in the Royal Box, stately as ever, with her forked tongue hissing out every so often, to snap a fly out of the air. I remember the prince regent did not come but Victoria’s favorite, that dashing Harry Flashman, the popular Hero of Jalalabad, was beside her. So were many foreign dignitaries and many of the city’s leading figures, from our now-Prime-Minister Mrs. Beeton, my friend and former rival Oscar Wilde, the famed scientists Jekyll and Moreau (before the one’s suspicious death and the other’s exile to the South Seas), the Lord Byron automaton (always a gentleman), Rudolph Rassendyll of Zenda, and many, many others. Your brother, the consulting detective, was there, if I recall rightly, Mr. Holmes.

The Memorandum is, of course, written by Bram Stoker. He’s not yet the writer that we know him to be, but he’s being given the opportunity to write the biography of Charles Babbage, a recluse who has taken up residence in castle beyond the Borgo Pass… There’s a lot of literary allusions and steampunk-ery. Almost maybe too many, but I’ll probably give the first in the series The Bookman a try at some point.

(Aside: Central Station just won the Campbell Award. Congrats, Lavie Tidhar!

Deal Me In, Week 21 ~ “Buffalo”

(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?

“Buffalo” by John Kessel

Card picked: 4
From: Lightspeed Magazine, Issue 57 (Feb. 2015)

The Story
I picked stories from this issue of Lightspeed Magazine for Deal Me In back in October/November-ish of last year. It was an issue I had downloaded at some point in the past and I added the short stories to my list without knowing anything about them other than Lightspeed is a pretty solid mag. Around Thanksgiving I joined a read-through of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, which started me on my current scientific romance kick. So it’s a bit of Deal Me In coincidence magic that brought me to “Buffalo,” a story about a fictional meeting in 1934 between H. G. Wells and Jack Kessel, the author’s father.

Jack Kessel is the son of a Polish immigrant, an itinerant family until they finally settled in Buffalo, NY. When we meet Kessel, he’s working for the Civilian Conservation Corps, clearing trees from the road that will become George Washington Memorial Parkway. On the cusp of age thirty, Kessel has worked half a dozen jobs and lived as many places. He considers himself a step above his blue-collar peers. Kessel is an artist and a reader, fond of fantastic literature, especially the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. G. Wells. His one vow is to never return to Buffalo. For Kessel the city and its culture are a limiter to what he might be able to achieve.

In 1934, H. G. Wells is in the twilight of his career. He’s spent a lifetime attempting to imbue his literature with social consciousness, but he fears that it is for nought. Despite FDR’s New Deal, Wells is concerned that it is the common man who will get in the way of those who know better and can do better. He is also dismayed by the hollow entertainments of those small men, especially the sensational but bankrupt fictions of someone like Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Obviously, when these two men meet, things don’t go well. Each is left disappointed: Wells in that Kessel sees Wells’ writings at the same level as Burroughs; Kessel in that Wells ultimately sees him as just another Polack.

Wells’s weariness has dropped down onto his shoulders again like an iron cloak. “Young man—go away,” he says. “You don’t know what you’re saying. Go back to Buffalo.”

Never meet your idols, they say.

Kessel, the author, doesn’t leave us with entirely without hope. He stages this meeting at a jazz club where these two very different men have incongruously ended up. The headliner is Duke Ellington, and Kessel asks us to ponder: What is art? What is it worth? What can it change?

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 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””

Deal Me In, Week 14 ~ “Bluebeard’s Wife”

(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?

“Bluebeard’s Wife” by T. Kingfisher

Card picked: A
From: Available online!

The Story

He had apparently been a very evil man, but not actually a bad one. Althea had spent the last few months trying to get her mind around how such a thing was possible.

What if Bluebeard’s wife hadn’t looked into the forbidden room? What if, with two boundary-defying sisters in her past, she has no problem letting her husband have a room of his own? It’s not like she’s giving him the key to her diary. A room full of dead bodies isn’t something that can be kept a secret forever, but what if remains truly a secret for twenty-seven years of fairly happy marriage?

The classic story of Bluebeard is a weighty tale. T. Kingfisher (aka Ursula Vernon) handles it with her signature light touch and knowing nods to the original.

Personal Trivia
For many years, I confused the tales of Bluebeard and Blackbeard. I found it very strange that a pirate would keep a room full of dead wives on his ship. The only other things I have a similar problem with are kingfishers and the Fisher King. So, it seems inordinately appropriate that “Bluebeard’s Wife” is written by T. Kingfisher.

Standout Stories from the Fantasy & Science Fiction, Jan-Feb 2017

picture

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, January-February 2017 edited by C. C. Finlay

I reviewed the Nov-Dec issue on January 27th. Here it is only March 22rd and I’ve finished the Jan-Feb issue. Progress! These are the standouts from the issue. Note: I didn’t say favorites.

“Vinegar and Cinnamon” by Nina Kiriki Hoffman

I could lead a comfortable rat-wizard life.

Maura is the golden child of the family; she has some ability with magic and is being taught how to use it. Sam is the good child of the family; he does his chores and then some to help the family get by. One day, by mistake, Maura turns Sam into a rat. And as a rat, Sam could have a very different life… Lovely story full of fairy tale and sibling rivalry.

“Alexandria” by Monica Byrne
This only slightly a science fiction story. Beth is a widower. A native of Kansas, she married a man, Keiji, from Japan. On their honeymoon, they went to Egypt to see the Lighthouse of Alexandria, not realizing it no longer existed. After that, they both “traveled” through their mutual love of books and maps. But now that Keiji is gone, Beth is left with farm land and very little to remember her husband by. So she builds a monument. The sci-fi elements are the sectional epigraphs from the future describing the confusing archaeological artifact found in what was once Kansas. It’s only March, but this might make it to my year end “best of.”

“Wetherfell’s Reef Runics” by Marc Laidlaw
According to the introduction, Marc Laidlaw lives on the island of Kauai. Therefore, I’m going to take his use of Hawaiian culture and slang as genuine and well-intentioned. I hope so, because it’s that Hawaiian flair that gives this light Lovecraftian story some extra omph.

“One Way” by Rick Norwood
Oh man, this story annoyed me. We start out with Harvey (has-been physicist), Jerry (boy genius), and Sam (uh, does the soldering). Together, just the three of them, build a perpetual energy machine…that just might destroy the world. My first objection to this story is the built-in-a-basement style engineering. That isn’t how things are developed and made. To recuse myself, I’m married to an engineer. The majority of my social circle are engineers. I’m a little protective of the fact that it takes many more people that anyone realizes to create the electronic wonders we use daily. And then there was Deloris, Jerry’s girlfriend. Deloris is an English major. Deloris doesn’t know science. Direct quote from Deloris: “That sounds important. I don’t know any science…” Deloris’s only purpose in the story is to have one of the male characters explain to her (and to us, the readers) what’s going on. It really bothered me that a story in one of the more prominent sci-fi literature magazines had such a poorly depicted female character. To further recuse myself, I have a degree in English literature. I also know some science.