Well, the bar's over, thankfully, and now I have time to both write and read. Though, actually, I got an entire book read during the bar itself, Donald Westlake's Don't Ask. They at least give you long lunches on the two exam days, and a Dortmunder novel was just right to keep me relaxed during that time. Chad describes it at length on his book log, and the only thing I have to add to his post is that this is also one of my favorite Dortmunders (though I think my favorite is still What's the Worst that Could Happen?).
And now that the bar's over, I get to read for actual long periods of time. Talk about luxury—I read an entire book yesterday, Jasper Fforde's The Eyre Affair, which I'd started over graduation weekend but never had the time to finish.
I really wanted to like this, but it ended up feeling somewhat flat. Granted, that may be my fault; I was really tired, since my grand plan to sleep until noon yesterday was foiled by, first, waking up on the uncomfortable living room couch (apparently it was so hot that night I slept-walked to a room with a ceiling fan), and second, smelling Chad's toast and realizing I was too hungry to sleep, even though I was back in bed. Also, it was still really hot—it's no coincidence I finished this in the doctor's office, which was air-conditioned. At any rate, I think the problem is that the narrator is the wrong kind of deadpan for me to feel involved in the story. There's still great silly bits in the background, but overall I never cared all that much. I'll read the next one when it comes out, but I was still distinctly underwhelmed.
Back when I re-read The Stars Asunder and read A Working of Stars, I decided to re-read the rest of Doyle and Macdonald's Mageworlds books in internal chronological order. Partly, I was curious to see how Arekhon's character changed over time, and partly I wanted to see if I could spot any descendants from or influences of characters in A Working of Stars. Mostly, though, I just like the chronologically-later ones better.
Yesterday I re-read The Gathering Flame, which is the prequel to The Price of the Stars et al. (reviewed elsewhere on this site). Though this is set during the First Magewar, it would be inaccurate to say that it was the story of the war; rather, it's the story of Jos Metadi, Perada Rosselin, and Errec Ransome, who are in some senses the key figures of their generation on their side of the interstellar gap. (Arekhon, in his later persona, isn't that prominent in this volume.) You could probably read this standing alone, but I think it would be a somewhat weird experience; it shows the beginning of the war, and some key events along the way, but ends well before the war does—I think. (That's one of the things I have to look for in my further re-reading.) The arcs of the characters' stories are at a good resting place, and the seeds of the victory have been sown—but if you didn't already care about these people from reading the first three (published) Mageworlds books, I honestly don't know how it would read. Again, I recommend publication order.
It's also more fun reading these in publication order, because The Gathering Flame provides background for the first three, explains a number of mysteries (including one that should have been a mystery to me, had I thought of it, but was blindingly obvious once it showed up in this book), and adds a number of dramatic layers to later events. The Gathering Flame is also a less cheery book than the first three, as might be expected given the description of the plot. I'm quite looking forward to starting in on The Price of the Stars next, for these reasons and because, when all's said and done, I still like the characters in that sub-series the best.
- categories: books » sf and fantasy » Mageworlds
- all posts about Debra Doyle (12 total)
- all posts about James D. Macdonald (13 total)
Just a brief note to say that even when I'm distracted and perpetually short on sleep, Debra Doyle and James Macdonald's The Price of the Stars is still great fun. I remembered much less of it than I thought, particularly the link to A Working of Stars, which rather smacked me in the face once I turned the relevant page. I'm quite looking forward to the next two books, which twist things around even more, but between moving and revisions on my Note [*], I doubt I'll have the chance to get started on it this week.
[*] Law speak for a relatively short, student-authored journal article.
This is, however, the one year anniversary of the book log, so I shall put my revisions aside for another moment in honor of the occasion. Tallying up the index is a bit of a subjective endeavour, but I make it 151 items—a couple short stories and a few multi-novel anthologies, but mostly novels. Which comes out to one book about every two and a half days, though my reading pace hasn't been at all even this year.
Of the new-to-me things I read this past year, the following are my favorites:
- Lois McMaster Bujold, Diplomatic Immunity
- Doris Egan as Jane Emerson, City of Diamond
- A.J. Hall, Lust Over Pendle
- Janet Kagan, Mirabile (which I've already re-read once)
- Ellis Peters' Cadfael novels
- Terry Pratchett, The Last Hero
- Jo Walton, The King's Peace and The King's Name
- Martha Wells, The Element of Fire
(It's much easier to do a best-of-year list than a best-of list, because you're forced to leave so many things off right at the start.)
And yes, I still enjoy keeping a book log, even when my brain is fried. Speaking of which, more revising awaits . . .
- categories: books » sf and fantasy » Mageworlds ; meta & admin
- all posts about Debra Doyle (12 total)
- all posts about James D. Macdonald (13 total)
Re-read the rest of the Mageworlds books, Starpilot's Grave, By Honor Betray'd, and The Long Hunt, all of which pose plot-related problems of various degrees for me. Starpilot's Grave and By Honor Betray'd are the direct sequels to The Price of the Stars, and are the story of the Second Magewar. These are probably my favorite books of the series, space opera at its finest. Doyle and Macdonald are very good at managing suspenseful action on disparate fronts, keeping even minor characters real, and pulling the occasional cool rabbit out of their hats. I have no idea how well-known these books actually are, but I'm sure it's less than they deserve. If I sound insufficiently enthused about them, chalk it up to the lingering effects of moving and go out and get yourself a copy of The Price of the Stars all the same.
The Long Hunt is set a generation later, when some of the initial protagonists' offspring go wandering and find, make, and solve all kinds of trouble—including some left over from the war. I'm quite fond of this one for the characters; while Jens and Faral aren't quite as fun as their parents, it's really nice to see more of Bindweed, Blossom, Mael Taleion, and particularly Klea Santreny, who I really like. However, I started out this post by saying that all of these have plot problems of some sort, and this one's problem is that I can just never remember the plot. This time I even read the end first to see if that would help, and well, it didn't. I have no idea if it's something about the book or just me, but it doesn't interfere with my enjoyment all that much, so I shall not lose any sleep over it.
The plot problems with the other two require serious, book-destroying spoilers to discuss, which I will put in separate files in case anyone who's already read them is curious. In short: the later A Working of Stars is inconsistent with Starpilot's Grave, in a way that could be explained, but requires further information—even more reason to want the story of the intervening years. By Honor Betray'd has an apparent contradiction in a crucial scene at the end that I've just never been able to reconcile, which is a pity, because it's a really cool scene. Obviously these don't ruin my enjoyment of the books, since I've just urged you all to read them, but if anyone wants to explain them to me, that would be great.
Next up: more big chewy space opera, because it's nominally vacation, after all, and I'm still in the mood.
- categories: books » sf and fantasy » Mageworlds
- all posts about Debra Doyle (12 total)
- all posts about James D. Macdonald (13 total)
I'm in the middle of re-reading Sandman, but I must just say that John M. Ford is a genius. But you all knew that already.
From "110 Stories" [edited to say: now pointing to a new link with more bandwidth; please follow suit]:
The steel turns red, the framework starts to go.
Jacks clasp Jills' hands and step onto the sky.
The noise was not like anything you know.
Stand still, he said, and watch a building die.
There's no one you can help above this floor.
We've got to hold our breath. We've got to climb.
Don't give me that; I did this once before.
The firemen look up, and know the time.
[ And please, if you must forward copies (instead of links, as would be proper), don't forward without attribution (as Teresa Nielsen Hayden rightly points out). ]
No space opera after all; I was still a little out of sorts after moving and decided to re-read for some quality melodrama. Had narrowed it down to either Last Call, Look to Windward, or Neil Gaiman's Sandman, and decided on the latter (I've re-read Last Call pretty recently, and Look to Windward was a little more slow-moving than I was in the mood for; also, I read the British version pre-September 11, and I'm not sure how it would read now). It was a good choice; it's been a while since I read the entire series at once, and it's an emotionally rich enough work to allow quality wallowing. [Warning: long post ahead.]
The series begins with the collection Preludes and Nocturnes. The story arc is pretty simple: Dream of the Endless (sometimes called Morpheus) is captured, imprisoned for decades, and then released from his confinement; he must locate tools that were taken from him and re-establish his realm. The early nature of this work is clear, as Gaiman hadn't yet started stretching the boundaries of the genre as he did in later issues. (Also, I dislike the art of the first few issues.) It is interesting to re-read this now; later issues pick up some themes and events in a way that makes clear that, despite being a monthly comic stretching over 75 issues, Sandman is still governed by a coherent overall story arc. And I'd forgotten that parts of this are genuinely scary. Still worth reading, but not necessarily where I'd recommend people start.
The next collection is The Doll's House. (Note that issue 8, "The Sound of Her Wings," is reprinted in both Preludes and Nocturnes and The Doll's House; it's one of the more popular issues and introduces Dream's big sister Death, a cheery goth chick who quotes Mary Poppins and tells Dream to grow up.) This story doesn't really come into focus until near the end, but it involves Dream continuing to rebuild his realm and an external threat to the Dreaming. (It also includes the infamous issue set in a serial killer convention.) There are two stand-alone issues included in this, "Tales in the Sand" and "Men of Good Fortune," which have nothing to do with the arc of The Doll's House proper. They do come at this point in the series for a reason, though: the fundamental story of Sandman is to what extent Morpheus's emotions and ways of relating change as a result of his captivity. The contrast between the two stand-alone issues in The Doll's House, like the resolution of this story arc, begins to suggest this progression.
Next is the first short story collection, Dream Country. This contains four stories, together with a script (what the author actually writes in the process of making a comic). The first, "Calliope," strikes me as something that would be impossible to tell outside of fantasy: a man suffers from writer's block and bargains with an aging writer for his muse. Which is an actual Muse, Calliope, youngest of the nine, captured decades ago in Greece and imprisoned since. If you tried to tell that kind of story in "realistic" fiction, it would be the worst kind of clumsy allegory: but here it's simple drama, as Calliope suffers and is eventually released. It's not the best story in Sandman, but it begins to make more explicit the themes of story, compassion, and imprisonment, boundaries, and rules that run throughout.
Two of the other stories, "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" and "Facade," are enjoyable but not particularly noteworthy. (Okay. "Facade" is noteworthy for being the first issue of Sandman to not feature the Sandman.) The other, though, deserves special mention: "A Midsummer Night's Dream" won a World Fantasy Award for short story (a juried award), after which the rules were changed to exclude comics from consideration. (I believe something similar happened when John M. Ford's poem "Winter Solstice, Camelot Station" won the same award, but I'm not sure.) The strangest people have read this issue: for instance, my Classics professor in college told me that an Elizabethan studies colleague of his brought it in and passed it around the department. It is the tale of the very first performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, played on Wendel's Mound for the faerie court. It's gorgeously illustrated by Charles Vess (who also did the art for Stardust) and entirely an elegant and slightly melancholy telling.
The next story arc is Season of Mists, which in my opinion is where the series really begins to hit its stride. This is where Chad started reading the series, and it's a good place for it, as it stands alone pretty well. Dream has a ten-thousand-year-old mistake thrown in his face: condemning a lover to Hell for eternity because she hurt your pride—not cool. He determines to release Nada (first seen in "Tales in the Sand" in The Doll's House) from Hell, not an easy task since Dream earlier incurred Lucifer's enmity. He goes to Hell, and is . . . somewhat surprised by what he finds there.
Season of Mists has a number of lovely touches, such as the chapter headings (my favorite of which is, " . . . and in which it is demonstrated that while some may fall, others are pushed"), and enjoyable portrayals of different pantheons. It also formally introduces us to the six remaining Endless in a lovely series of half-page pictures overlaid with prose. First we met Desire, who "smells almost subliminally of summer peaches, and casts two shadows: one black and sharp-edged, the other translucent and forever wavering, like heat haze," and Despair, Desire's twin, who "says little, and is patient." Next we are introduced to Destiny, "the oldest of the Endless; in the Beginning was the Word, and it was traced by hand on the first page of his book, before ever it was spoken aloud"; Delirium, who "once was Delight[;] even today her eyes are badly matched: one eye is a vivid emerald green, spattered with silver flecks that move; her other eye is vein blue"; and Dream, who "accumulates names to himself like others make friends; but [who] permits himself few friends." The last panel says, quite simply, "And then there is Death." You can't get that kind of effect with text alone. (I must also note that Death is the only one of the Endless who gets normal, unornamented speech balloons.)
I determined to re-read the series in the order it was published, which took me next to three stories collected in Fables and Reflections, which I mentally dub "the late summer sequence": "Thermidor" (July, in the French Revolutionary calendar), "August," and "Three Septembers and a January." The best of these is "Three Septembers . . . ", which introduced me to the Emperor Norton, but the most significant is "Thermidor," in which we learn that Orpheus (still living as a talking head, centuries after being torn apart by the Bacchante) is Dream's son, though they are estranged.
After that came the sequence A Game of You, which I've always been somewhat ambivalent about. For one, it contains the issue with the worst art in Sandman; it appears to have been done by an emergency replacement for the artist who penciled and inked the rest of the sequence, and it's just bad. Mostly, I'm troubled by the plot in ways that the introduction to the collection touches on but does not, for me, satisfactorily resolve. (Allow me to say here that none of the introductions should be read first if you don't like spoilers.) Events in The Doll's House continue to have repercussions, both for the characters involved in it and for an outpost of the Dreaming; identities are constructed, deconstructed, and painfully shored up against the world; and Dream makes an most unwise acquaintance.
Next are the rest of the stories collected in Fables and Reflections—on no account believe the order listed in the back of some of my collections and read Brief Lives after A Game of You. "The Hunt," "Soft Places," and "The Parliament of Rooks" are all vignettes about story telling (what else?). I particularly like "The Parliament of Rooks," in which Eve, Cain, and Abel take turns telling stories to Daniel, a child gestated in dreams (in The Doll's House). Somewhere in here comes "Orpheus"; it was originally published as a "Sandman Special," so I'm not sure precisely when it was published. As far as I'm aware, it's a fairly straightforward retelling of the myth, except for the appearance of the Endless. Finally, there's my favorite issue of the series, "Ramadan" (which technically comes after Brief Lives); it is an insanely gorgeous tale of Baghdad, city of cities, in the days of its glory, and the bargain its king makes with Morpheus. P. Craig Russell's art is amazing, intricate and jewel-like in its colors, and the tale brims with casual wonders like "the Other Egg of the Phoenix (For the Phoenix when its time comes to die lays two eggs, one black, one white; From the white egg hatches the Phoenix-bird itself, when its time is come, But what hatches from the black egg no one knows)." If anyone had to read just one issue of Sandman, I'd recommend it be this one.
The next story arc is Brief Lives, where we cross over a certain line: before this, a reader could pick up any one of the collections and start reading without problem. Brief Lives starts an arc that runs for the rest of the series and should be read in order, preferably after reading some of the earlier volumes. Delirium, fearful of change, decides to seek out the missing Endless, Destruction, and Dream agrees to accompany her for his own reasons. However, as is pointed out late in the collection, "You cannot seek Destruction and return unscathed." Quite a lot of people are scathed in this quest tale that is also a mediation on change and mortality, and the peak of Sandman's overall story arc; more than that I cannot say, except to note that Delirium is a lot cuter and less scary than in her first appearances. (And very quotable. "Someone brought me a flower once, clandestinely. That means I don't know who it was. And I never saw the flower, either. Maybe they never brought it at all.")
World's End is an anthology of tales told during a reality storm, a fundamental change in time and space and myth that strands travelers from many disparate places in the Inn at the End of All Worlds. The art for these stories is particularly apropos for the tales and works very well. Many of the tales are about cities: a creepy little Lovecraftian thing, very clean and spare; a diplomatic mission of Cluracan of Faerie to the city of Aurelia, sadly fallen from its greatness; and my favorite, a story set in Litharge, the Necropolis, a city devoted entirely to funeral rites. There's also a sea story, in which we see Hob Gadling once again (initially seen in "Men of Good Fortune" all the way back in The Doll's House), and a strange tale about a destined President of America (apparently an old DC character). The collection ends by setting the stage for the final arc, The Kindly Ones. I don't think this has the highest density of really excellent stories, but in a way this is the quintessential Sandman collection in its format of nested stories within stories (I think the most levels it gets up to is four).
And then there is The Kindly Ones, the culmination of the long tale about Morpheus since his release from imprisonment, the changes in his character and the consequences of his actions. Many people hate the art for this, but I think it's quite fitting. This arc is long and brilliant and moving, and that's about all I can say about it without giving away more than I'd want to. The wrapping-up of the series is done in The Wake, which does an excellent job, especially considering the amount of story that has gone before. "Ramadan" is my favorite single issue, but the later volumes of the series just keep getting better and better.
The Dream Hunters is an illustrated novella with Dream, but is not part of the overall Sandman arc, being written several years after the comic's conclusion. It's a fairly faithful retelling of a Japanese fairy tale, gorgeously illustrated by Yoshitaka Amano. However, I'm a Westerner at heart, and so often have trouble with the shape of Asian narratives; this is no exception. I'd say this is only for the die-hard Sandman fan.
What does all of my verbiage boil down to? Neil Gaiman is a fabulously inventive teller of tales, and Sandman currently stands as his masterpiece. I hope he someday does something to match it (American Gods isn't it, in my opinion), but if he doesn't, Sandman is a life work to be proud of. Go read it, unless you know from experience you are completely incapable of reading comics.
Lady Knight, the concluding book in Tamora Pierce's Protector of the Small quartet, is out, and I picked it up earlier this week.
When we left Keladry in Squire, she'd attained her knight's shield and acquired a mission in the process, from whatever disembodied force tests squires for knighthood: find the mage that was killing children to fuel war machines. This is, of course, the ultimate quest for someone whose motivation in becoming a knight was to look out for those less able to defend themselves—so Kel is understandably frustrated when she is assigned to command a refugee camp, not to fight on the front lines where she might encounter the mage. However, being Kel, she recognizes that she has a responsibilty to the refugees as well, and reluctantly takes command. I particularly like this section, which is perhaps just my fondness for practicality/learning-how stories coming through. Anyway, it will surprise no-one that Kel's path eventually crosses the mage's. The circumstances leading up to this are fairly dark, perhaps the darkest in Pierce's writings so far (though considering some of the things that get published as "Young Adult," still within the genre).
Overall, this is a fitting and enjoyable end to the series. I have a couple of quibbles—there are a few minor continuity errors that are annoying, and I didn't like the way one plot thread from previous books was handled (it made sense, but it felt like it was raised and disposed of very perfunctorily). However, I've spent far too long upgrading the comments system tonight (which was inexplicably refusing to work earlier), so I will leave it at that. (Look Ma, a preview function and automatic link rendering!)
[ And if some PHP expert can come up with a way for the "e-mail" and "homepage" links to not appear when someone doesn't enter anything in those fields—I'd love to hear from you. I tried to guess at a hack, but failed miserably. ]
As an unexpected bonus, my trip to get Lady Knight also netted me the new J.D. Robb novel, Purity in Death, which I wasn't expecting to see out for another week or two. I'm used to getting the September Eve/Roarke release while I'm moving into school, and the March on spring break—but this one was out a little early, and I won't ever be in school again, hallelujah.
It's a good thing I read these to enjoy the characters, because this setup is almost absurdly stupid. You can see why, ages ago in a review of an earlier volume, I said these weren't really science fiction: no-one in sf would use a computer virus as a murder weapon without some explanation as to how, exactly, subliminal audio and visual stimuli could transfer a biological virus into a person's brain, which then literally explodes. Yeah, that's what I said.
Ahem. Anyway, characters not plot; fast-paced and snappy; guilty pleasure—check, check, and check. Another Noun/Adjective in Death book under the belt and another couple of hours spent harmlessly. But I think I'm ready for more big chewy space opera after all, for a somewhat less guilty pleasure . . .
To be precise, The Phoenix in Flight, book one of the Exordium series by Sherwood Smith and Dave Trowbridge. I'd seen this recommended in conjunction with the Mageworlds books—to be precise, on the web pages of the Mageworlds authors—as "if you like . . . " And so far, I like very much.
These are all out of print, and a couple of the five volumes are almost legendarily hard to find. With some good luck, I managed to acquire them all over a few months, and now I have the time to read them all at once.
The Phoenix in Flight is precisely what you would want in a big chewy space opera. In the background, there's thousands of years of history, humanity spread across the stars, and a scattering of mysterious alien races and artifacts; in the story, there's betrayals and intricate plots and counter-plots, interesting characters with conflicts of oaths and ambiguous loyalties, space battles and daredevil piloting and things blowing up, and of course fighting in palace corridors (including one of the best uses of household systems I've seen). Whew. There's really nothing like good space opera . . .
The characters also get really cool names. Jerrode Eusabian, Avatar of Dol, Lord of Vengeance and the Kingdoms of Dol'jhar, has sworn, well, vengeance on the Panarch of the Thousand Suns, the ruler of this section of the galaxy. And, after twenty years of planning, has killed two of the Panarch's sons, imprisoned the Panarch, and taken the Emerald Throne. Except that two things have eluded Eusabian's control: a mysterious alien artifact, and the youngest of the Panarch's sons.
To be, as they say, continued . . .
- categories: books » sf and fantasy » Exordium
- all posts about Dave Trowbridge (5 total)
- all posts about Sherwood Smith (8 total)