Sunday Status Update: November 8, 2015

This week, Ron swings at some low-hanging fruit.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Ron: Y’know, it’s funny how when you really think about it, a lot of You-Know-Who’s plans seem awfully… dreadful. I mean, apparently he spent a whole year possessing the back of Professor Quirrell’s head. That seems bloody uncomfortable. What happened to You-Know-Who if Quirrell decided to roll over onto his back while he was asleep? Not a very dramatic end for a dark lord, is it? Smothered by a pillow and some snoring git? Then there was that whole business with the goblet of fire, because apparently they had to get Harry all the way through the Triwizard Tournament to touch the portkey cup. Only, wouldn’t it have been easier for fake-Professor Moody to just sneak up to Gryffindor tower and make a set of Harry’s underwear into the portkey? You-Know-Who would’ve had him before the first week of term was out, and he’d probably have caught him fresh from the showers, too, without his wand or his glasses. Just some poor half-blind teenaged sod in a bath towel, waving around a crumpled pair of tighty-whities like a surrender flag. Anyway, I’ve come to the conclusion that the whole “incapable of love” bit might’ve done its part, but what really did You-Know-Who in was his sense of melodrama.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Brad: This week, I’ve continued to follow Elric’s adventures with Moonglum and with some of the other Eternal Champions. On audio, I’ve continued listening to Fritz Lieber‘s Swords and Deviltry, but before finishing it, I’ve been sidetracked by The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson, which is wonderful and read movingly by an expert narrator. I started The Broken Sword because Michael Moorcock praises the book multiple times in his introductions to Elric and in his dedications and in his essays on fantasy. I now see why. What a great book. I look forward to reading more Anderson. Are there other good books by Anderson or other authors who either came before or followed Moorcock in employing multiple realities and/or Lords of Chaos versus Lords of Law? I’ve never read much fantasy at all, so I’d love to be told the titles of both the obvious and lesser-known works that many of you probably already know. I think I prefer, if possible, older works that are short fantasy stories and novellas/novels instead of the eternally-long fantasy novels that have kept me away from the genre for most of my life (except in comics and YA). I admire, but do not much enjoy Tolkien, so it’s been a wonderful surprise to find I love these few fantasy works I’ve read by Moorcock and Lieber and Anderson. Point me in the right direction so I can read the appropriate reviews on our cite. Thanks!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Jana: This week I’m still working on Kate Elliott‘s latest, Black Wolves. My slow rate of progress is totally my fault and has nothing to do with the novel, which is engaging and interesting in all the right ways. A friend of mine let me borrow some of Charlaine Harris‘s SOOKIE STACKHOUSE/TRUE BLOOD novels, since I’d expressed mild interest in seeing where the TV show came from, and…everyone in this series seems to be awful, but I don’t think that was Harris’ point. I won’t go out of my way to finish the series, since I really don’t care if Terrible Person A ends up with Terrible Person B or if Terrible Person C dies. But I did read a really great short story by Ursula Vernon in Uncanny Magazine, “Wooden Feathers,” which made up for my frustration with my lack of free time to read or get decent sleep.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews João: Been studying pretty much all the time this last two weeks and will most likely only stop as November ends (and even then…) but have managed to start reading Joe Abercrombie’s THE FIRST LAW trilogy and can now see why he is considered one of the most successful fantasy authors of recent times. I had some issues with the pacing of The Blade Itself but other than that the characters are great and the story, particularly the background of it, is much different than I had imagined it would be. I am now 100 pages into Before They Are Hanged and while I do not particularly care for quest-type stories, I want to see where he takes it.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: In my seemingly neverending quest (which began just over a year ago) to finish all the series I’ve started, I continued on with Joseph Delaney’s LAST APPRENTICE saga this week. I loved the first book, Revenge of the Witch, a few years ago. This week I read books two and three, Curse of the Bane and Night of the Soul Stealer. These books are aimed at children, but be warned that they are really dark and scary. Then I read Keeper of the Castle, the fifth book in Juliet Blackwell’s HAUNTED HOME RENOVATION MYSTERIES. The next book, Give up the Ghost, comes out next month. Also, trying to get through my always expanding Audible library, I read three short novels this week. Cloaked in Red is eight short re-tellings of the Red Riding Hood fairytale by Vivian Vande Velde. These were too silly for me. Tanith Lee’s Indigara was disappointingly unrecognizable as a Tanith Lee story. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I thought Andre Norton’s Star Hunter, one of her typical short science fiction adventures, was better.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kate: This week I’ve been reading Mervyn Peake‘s Titus Groan, the first installment in the GORMENGHAST series. I had heard about these novels for years, but was not prepared for what it actually was–a weird, rhapsodical, looping narrative where story is submerged beneath the details of this giant castle. At first, I was completely mystified. At some point, it drew me in, and now I’m just enjoying the amazing language. This is the kind of book for people who really enjoy Dickens for his strange characters and descriptions of Victorian London, but not his plot.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Katie: I decided to focus my brain and start catching up on some trilogies this week. I am a serial “book one reader”. However much I love the first book in a series I have a tendency to leave book two hanging around for so long I forget everything important. So I will be uploading my review of the second book in Katherine Roberts‘ charming ECHORIUM SEQUENCE this weekend. Talking of this weekend I am planning to be particularly autumnal and shall be fully embracing Fireworks Night – but HANG ON – is Fireworks Night an English thing or does it happen elsewhere? In England, Fireworks Night is when we celebrate the fact that a bloke called Guy Fawkes once failed to blow up Parliament. We inexplicably set off a load of fireworks and then we burn straw models of Guy Fawkes on a bonfire – it’s all good wholesome fun. I sincerely hope the rest of the world is not missing out on the singular joy of standing in a muddy field, in the pouring rain, watching sub-par pyrotechnics – that would be most sad.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kevin: I’ve just finished A Spell for Chameleon and The Source of Magic, the first two installments in Piers Anthony’s Xanth series; I’m not sure if I can truthfully claim that I’ve been more disappointed by any series this popular. Fortunately, I’ve moved on to Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Mercy, Kameron Hurley’s Empire Ascendant, Ernest Cline’s Armada, and K. J. Parker’s Devices and Desires, all of which have been refreshing breaks from the epic/high fantasy I usually read. After reading the first few parts of The Two of Swords and now Devices and Desires, I’m still not sure how I feel about Parker’s work. On one hand, I do enjoy his ideas, some of his characters, and the plots and subplots, yet the structure, pacing, setting, and tone of both his works I’ve read don’t quite endear themselves to me. If you’re a K. J. Parker fan – shoot me a tweet at @KWei16 with some thoughts and book recommendations! J As to the Leckie and Cline – I’ve been loving it!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Marion: I finished Rising Tide by Rajan Khanna; a solid sequel to Falling Skies despite some conventional second-book problems. I read few more chapters in Stacy Schiff’s large new book The Witches, and was overwhelmed with a profound sense of gratitude that I do not live in 17th century New England.  Brad R Torgerson’s book The Chaplain’s War arrived from Amazon this week. It wasn’t my usual thing, but I enjoyed it, and it raises thought-provoking questions… although for me, frankly, the first 40 pages, which I think are the original novella, intact, was the most provocative and satisfying part of the book. The used bookstore I work I occasionally opened a second location, and I found a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods there. It was the Morris 10th anniversary “author preferred text,” about 10,000 words longer than the original edition, and I sucked it right down. Now I want to write an essay about American road food as seen by Neil Gaiman.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Skye: Oh man, I’m doing NaNoWriMo! It’s been kind of crazy so far, but I’m counting on catching up this weekend to par with 3,400 words each day. I’ve also been reading and when I’m done NaNo-ing today I’ll put some work into reviewing a few books by Chris Wooding, many of which are some of my favourite stories right now. But back to NaNoWriMo for now (Word count as of Friday November 6th: 6,612).

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Stuart: Having listened to Philip K Dick’s Radio Free Albemuth (1985) and VALIS (1981) and found them moving and bittersweet attempts to make sense of his chaotic and troubled life, I tackled The Divine Invasion (1981) and The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982), both loosely connected titles in the VALIS TRILOGY, and the final novels that PDK wrote before his death in 1982. The Divine Invasion is a dense exploration of the gnostic idea of a separated Godhead, which split into a superior divine being and a lesser creator god that has anamnesis. It is a complex retelling of the second coming of Christ to an Earth dominated by the fallen angel Belial. If you crave deep philosophical and religious discussions of obscure religious mystery cults, you’ll be entranced. Otherwise, you may be completely lost. The Transmigration of Timothy Archer (1982) is a much more controlled, almost mainstream novel narrated by a female in the first person (perhaps the only example in PKD’s books?) about the complex relationships between an eccentric but extremely erudite Catholic Bishop named Timothy Archer, his lover, her schizophrenic son, the Bishop’s son, and his wife. The main themes are despair and suicide, questioning of religious faith, and the damage caused to loved ones who try to save troubled souls. It’s a big departure for PKD, and it’s sad to see that he didn’t have more opportunities to explore this direction.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tadiana: I read two fantasy novels this past week: Dreamer’s Pool by Juliet Marillier, a medieval fantasy/mystery in which a prison escapee painfully tries to resume her work as a healer in a new town and is reluctantly pulled into a mystery involving the local lord and his fiancée, and Moon Called, an urban fantasy by Patricia Briggs inhabited by the usual suspects (werewolves, vampires and fae), which, if not terribly deep, was enough fun that I’ll check out additional books in this MERCY THOMPSON series. I also took a walk on the non-SFF side, reading two older books. The first was I Capture the Castle, an enchanting 1948 coming-of-age by Dodie Smith (best known for penning The 101 Dalmatians) about a young English girl, Cassandra, her quirky family, her romantic interests and her life in a dilapidated castle. The other was a 1914 novella, Benigna Machiavelli by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, an early feminist best known for her short story “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Benigna is another charming young woman narrator but is quite different from Cassandra; she delights in scheming and surreptitious plans, but for the purpose of achieving good rather than evil.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: This week, I read a good portion of Ann Leckie‘s Ancillary Justice. It lives up to its reputation. Otherwise, as in previous years, I find myself slouching into NaNoWriMo several days after I should have started. I haven’t found in past years that the whole “write a novel in a month” thing works particularly well for me personally, but I can’t seem to keep away, so… blergh. On with the quest.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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  1. Skye and Tim — Good for you, doing WriMo! Keep those word-counts growing! I admire both of you.

    Katie — we colonials celebrate Guy Fawkes Day by renting V for Vendetta on Netflix and fixing popcorn. No, seriously, most of our fireworks are in July, but some places do nice ones for New Year’s Eve.

    • Very appreciated :)
      I haven’t yet caught up to par, but it’s only a matter of time. I’m doing better than I’ve ever done before at NaNoWriMo!

  2. And I love I Capture the Castle.

  3. Brad, try Tanith Lee’s Night’s Master. It’s a series of interlinked stories that capture perfectly mythopoeic storytelling – the gravitas of Anderson’s Broken Sword but broken up into smaller pieces. It feels so much like classic fantasy, but was published in the 70s. Might just scratch what’s itching you…

    • Joao Eira /

      Volkhavaar as well.

      • Thank you Jesse and Joao!

        • Joao Eira /

          One of the last books on the Ballantine list is another Icelandic saga retelling, Hrolf Kraki’s Saga, so that might also fit the bill.

          • I think I actually pre-ordered on my kindle this last one you mention. It’s a reissue of a Poul Anderson novel, I think.

            By the way, many of the major the Moorcock novels have been released on the Kindle this past year, and early in the next year, the Jerry Cornelius books are being released. I just ordered my digital copy of the first volume.

  4. Proud of you for keeping the NaNoWriMo dream alive, Tim. We should commiserate re: writing sometime. Also, enjoyed the “slouching into” reference. :)

  5. sandy ferber /

    LAST WEEK, I SENT IN MY WEEKLY UPDATE AND IT SOMEHOW GOT LOST IN THE SAUCE. THIS WEEK, MY E-MAIL WAS DOWN AND SO TIM NEVER RECEIVED THESE IMPORTANT WORDS IN TIME. HERE THEY ARE. BETTER LATE THAN…WELL, YOU KNOW: Moi? Having just finished one book that was chosen for inclusion in the overview volume Horror: Another 100 Best Books (namely, Robert Silverberg’s The Book of Skulls), I am now at the beginning of another: Ray Russell’s 1962 classic The Case Against Satan, which beat William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist to the devilish punch by eight years or so. Out of print for decades, this work has just been rereleased by Penguin Books, and none too soon for me…

  6. Brad, we must be receiving the same phosphene signals from VALIS since I’ve been dying to listen to Anderson’s The Broken Sword and will slot it in pronto (we have an excellent review by Jesse already). Pringle picked it as one of the 100 Best Fantasy Novels along with Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions.
    Kate, glad you are enjoying the Gormenghast books. I devoured them in high school and remember my SAT vocabulary doubled thanks to his incredibly rich and baroque language.
    Kevin, I’m sorry you actually tried Piers Anthony’s Xanth books. I liked them way back when but now realize just how truly awful they are, especially the later ones. The Color of Her Panties??? Nuff said.
    Tim and Skye – all aspiring writers deserve mad props!
    Sandy, you realize The Man is messing with your emails, don’t you?

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