Book Recommendation: The Walls of Air

0bc8729fd7a0780c456fc010-l

Ah, recommending the second book of a trilogy, that’s a new one for this blog!

The Walls of Air is the second novel in Barbara Hambly’s Darwath trilogy. The second book of a trilogy is always a bit tricky; you have to find a balance between answering some of the questions that the first novel set up while setting up the final stage of the final book.

Barbara Hambly manages to do just that in an admirable way. Our main characters — Ingold, Rudy and Gil — all face considerable challenges and each of them grow and change; some in ways that you’d expect, while others might surprise you. What Ingold goes through at the end of the novel, in particular, changes him into a much darker, more cruel version of himself; a version that was only hinted at, previously.

I won’t go into detail, but it’s an understandable transformation which feels very much ‘earned,’ if you will.  Appropriate. So it is with Gil and Rudy, whose transformations are more gradual and less…contested.

The Walls of Air features two storylines:

The first storyline deals with Rudy and Ingold’s journey to Quo, the Magical Capital/College of the world. I didn’t quite fancy Rudy as much as Ingold or Gil in the first book, but this storyline had me rooting for him time and time again. Our San Fran wizard’s apprentice is quite a charmer, that’s for sure.

Gil has some problems of her own in the Keep, overshadowed only by her proclivity to scholarly work, and her ability to see patterns early enough to make her brilliant but late enough not to resolve the tension over Rudy and Ingold’s quest.

Hambly’s prose is once again splendid. I read it with such ease that it’s a challenge not to lose myself and any notion of time when I’m within the confines of Darwath’s fantastic world.

I could say so much more about it…but I’m afraid to spoil a great experience for you. I’d really rather not do that, so you go ahead and read it!

Book Recommendation: Fahrenheit 451

fcb36e2669486bac5fdcf27e5b181107-books-everyone-should-read-fahrenheit

Ray Bradbury is one of the great American storytellers of the 20th and early 21st century.  I’m currently making my way through his “Zen in the art of writing,” and let me tell you…it does not disappoint.

This post is about Fahrenheit 451, a book that Ray Bradbury wrote with a certain message in mind; a book whose theme transcended Bradbury’s idea that television destroys interest in reading literature. Instead, it has become a quintessential dystopian tale about the dangers of censorship.

Why? Because in Fanhrenheit 451, firemen burn books. That’s right; gone are the good old days when firemen would extinguish fires. Now, their purview is somewhat different; burning books, since those contain dangerous ideas, ideas which one minority or another found offensive; which, it was decided, needed to be purged since they were too dangerous, too prone to cause in-fighting and whatever else nasty business you could imagine.

Gigantic TV sets that cover the walls, and ear shells, which blast entertainment into people’s heads are all that entertains people. They’re never off, not for a moment. Does that sound eerily familiar, perhaps?

One of the best things about books is that you can shut them when you need to think.

Well said, that. Fahrenheit 451 is filled with memorable quotes and haunting descriptions. Written in 1953, it never the less remains deeply relevant to this day.

It’s a short novel, some 200 pages–less, perhaps. Bradbury’s prose is beautiful, poignant and memorable. No surprise, if you’re at all familiar with the author you’re dealing with.

It’s well-worth your time. Go get it! Now!

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: The Man in The High Castle

man-in-the-high-castle

It’s been a long time coming, this. Philip K. Dick’s look at an alternate version of the world where the Germans and the Japanese won World War 2 is nothing short of a spectacular example of speculative fiction.

How does he do it? How does Dick create such a mortifying vision of the world such as it never was, but could’ve been? How does he weave the essence of three differing cultures, so at war with each other; how does he navigate with such ease between philosophy and action, art and suspense; how does he spin it all into such captivating narrative?

Such skill as to leave you breathless. I’m not quite certain how to even begin to approach it, but I shall persevere, none the less!

After the war ended and the Axis won, the Japanese and the Nazis divided the USA amongst themselves, with New York acting as de facto headquarters to the Nazis, and San Francisco — of the Japanese.

The Man in The High Castle follows the lives of several very different individuals, often connected by the barest threads. They come from all sides of life — a Jew; a neutral Swede businessman who is more than he appears; a high-ranking Japanese Trade officer in the Pacific States of America, a puppet state of the Japanese Empire; a waitress, and an antiquary shop owner, amongst others.

To say what these characters go through would be to spoil an interesting read, and so I won’t. I will, however, tell you that a great deal of them read a book inside the novel; it’s a little piece of popular fiction called The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, whose author writes about an alternate reality where the Axis Powers lost World War 2 in a manner that at first seems similar, yet is wildly different to the way in which our own history unraveled.

Is your head spinning from all the alternate realities yet?

Regardless of the answer, Dick’s depiction of a world thoroughly transformed by the Nazis’ victory is worth your time. Paragraphs like these will chill you to the bones; they will force you to ask yourself questions, to face uncomfortable truths and to dig deeper. Into history, into the present, even into the future.

P.S. Fascinating is Philip K. Dick’s use of the I Ching, the ancient “Book of Changes,” originally Chinese, adopted by the Japanese later down the line, is a book of oracles, used for divination by numerous characters across the book, in order to make decisions. I had never heard about it before–shame on me; nevertheless, it pops up time and time again, oftentimes affecting the choices of important characters.

Even more curious is the fact that Dick actually used the I Ching to aid him in writing the book and its outcome.

 

 

 

Book Recommendation: The Time of The Dark

176277

Some time ago, I wrote about an appreciation thread on reddit; it was about author Barbara Hambly and her many works, which include but are not limited to vampiric noir, dark fantasy, world-jumping fun with wizards and much more!

The Time of the Dark was the first amongst these recommendations, and the favourite of the thread’s author. Now that I’ve read it,I can certainly see why.

The novel, which tells us the tale of an ancient foe, long dormant but recently awakened, is a lot darker than its cover might have you think, at first. It’s a wonderful cover, by the way — a wizard wearing his rugged robe and sitting amidst an all too normal 20-century kitchen. I love the spilled chips, the empty can of beer and just about everything in that cover; if posters were sold of the drawing alone, I would be hanging it left and right.

You have to appreciate a wizard drinking beer from a can for the first time, is all I’m saying.

There is humor in this book, even though its themes, if you think about them, are downright terrifying, and could traumatize without too much difficulty. Let’s unpack, shall we?

The Dark are horrifying antagonists; they are not individuals as humans are; rather, they have something akin to a hive mind, allowing them to transfer information instantaneously. They have no form–the Dark are like globs of darkness, capable of changing their form at will, growing from five to twenty five feet nearly as quickly as one could blink. The Dark come at night, but they come; their numbers are enough to overrun any city.

But not the Keeps. The Keeps, these ancient constructs of magic and technology of a by-gone age, allowed humanity to survive the Dark’s last incursion, over three thousand years ago. Now, they will have to aid The Realm’s stragglers and survivors, as these attempt to traverse the road’s dangers, and the attacks by the Dark, all to find safe haven.

Amidst all this, we follow the stories of Ingold Inglorion-the elder wizard on the cover, and a wizard who will remind you of the best traditions in the fantasy genre; and that of his two friends from our Earth, Rudy and Gil. Rudy is a biker and an artist; Gil is a woman after my own heart, a medievalist historian with a very cold streak, and a colder heart, still.

These three main characters of ours are absolute gemstones, and they’re not the only ones. The entire cast of support characters are written in a superb way, as is the rest of the book. Descriptions can be both beautiful and haunting, and my pulse quickened as I read through tense moments that absorbed with such impressive ease as to leave me impressed.

Few books have had one character dominate every scene they’re in as Ingold does it. He might often remind you of Gandalf, as he did to me, but at those times, he’s more of a self-aware Gandalf than anything else. Indeed, lines such as the one below speak of self-awareness that is entertaining and feels like Hambly poking innocent fun at fantasy clichés that we’re all too familiar with.

“She barely hid a smile. “That’s a wizard’s answer if I ever heard one.” “Meaning that mages deal in double talk?” His grin was impish. “That’s one of our two occupational hazards.” “And what’s the other one?” He laughed. “A deplorable tendency to meddle.”

You see what I mean?

The Time of the Dark is another book that is well worth your time; I promise!

You might have some difficulty getting a hold of a physical copy, but the trilogy went digital some time ago and if the next two books are anything like this at all…they’ll be well-worth the read.

What’re you waiting for?!

For me to finish? Alright, alright! I’ll see you next week!

To my regular readers…Sorry for the tread-bare content during the last week; I had a birthday, and then had to travel. At one point, I was awake for about…36 weeks, with two short naps on a plane and bus to make up for it. Content should run more smoothly from here on out, thank you for your patience!

 

Book Recommendation: The Gunslinger

I saw “The Dark Tower” movie today, and it left me with…mixed feelings. Matthew Mchonaghy makes every scene he’s in so much fun, but the adaptation makes everything so much…less. The ideas shown within the movie are a fraction of what The Dark Tower is about.

But this is about the book, not the movie.

“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

Thus begins the first of King’s excellent fantasy series.

It’s a difficult book to get through; or at least the original version was. Made up of five short stories published in a magazine, it’s the shortest of a series of seven (there’s a prequel, too, but I don’t add that one to the main seven.)

The Gunslinger got a revised edition in 2003. It’s good, I hear, and I’m going to read it soon. I could go on and on about the book’s contents, how it’s a slow burner until you get to the very end, and how it sucks you in for several books after that. I could, but I won’t!

Instead, I’ll just say this: The ending of The Gunslinger contains one of the most mind-blowing sections within a novel I have read to date.

“The man in black smiled. “Shall we tell the truth then, you and I? No more lies?”

I thought we had been.”

But the man in black persisted as if Roland hadn’t spoken. “Shall there be truth between us, as two men? Not as friends, but as equals? There is an offer you will get rarely, Roland. Only equals speak the truth, that’s my thought on’t. Friends and lovers lie endlessly, caught in the web of regard. How tiresome!”

The Man in Black has to be one of my favourite characters of King’s. He manages to be clever, insightful and predominantly evil. He is a perfect antithesis to Roland. That last part of the novel–it’s a shiver-inducing conversation between these two men, the culmination to the entire 200-something page book.

“Yet suppose further. Suppose that all worlds, all universes, met at a single nexus, a single pylon, a Tower. And within it, a stairway, perhaps rising to the Godhead itself. Would you dare climb to the top, gunslinger? Could it be that somewhere above all of endless reality, there exists a room?…’

You dare not.’

And in the gunslinger’s mind, those words echoed: You dare not.”

Brrrrr. I’m shivering like a pubescent boy falling down a time vortex.

Those shiver a lot, for the record.

At any rate, it’s been a long day, and I think I’ll punch out for this particular blog post. See you again next time!

 

Book Recommendation: Neuromancer

William Gibson created the “archetypal cyberpunk work,” even if he eventually grew to hate the term which now connotes an entire subgenre of sci-fi. It’s a wonderful, fascinating book, Neuromancer, and I will attempt to persuade you to read it!

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

What a fantastic way to open a book, don’t you think? First lines are important, and this one sets a very particular tone which runs throughout the entirety of Neuromancer. Gibson’s world is a dark place, ran by corporations and their interests, a world of increasingly less relevant national governments, where technological cowboys (hackers, basically) ride through cyberspace, breaking walls of virtual ice to get whatever their corporate overlords want.

What is cyberspace, you ask?

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts… A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”

Quite the description, isn’t it? Reminiscent of something, perhaps?

Note that Neuromancer was published in 1984; Gibson, some will claim, predicted the internet, as well as virtual reality, before either was a thing. Perhaps he saw the blood in the sky, the writings on the wall; and he decided to share his vision.

Or perhaps Neuromancer was influential enough. Could it be that this struck a chord with the right people, the dreamers, those who could translate a vision into reality, and so brought it along?

The Matrix Gibson speaks of has enough differences to our Internet for now. But those continue to melt away. Perhaps they’ll dissipate entirely before too long. The concept fascinates me, and it scares me a little.

Such is the effect of the world of Neuromancer. It’s easy–so easy–to get lost in it.

I have to balance the scales, however. You might not enjoy this particular title if you dislike being thrown into a sea of unfamiliar vocabulary. Some words and concepts are downright alien, at times. For me, that created a greater sense of immersion, but–especially at the beginning–I got confused a few times too many.

It ends a bit too abruptly, perhaps…but it’s never the ending that matters to me; not that much. It’s the journey.

During that journey, you will traverse a different world, neither better nor worse than this one, and described with a watchmaker’s precision, with skill one could envy, if it didn’t summon a degree of awe instead.

Grab it. It’s worth your time.

 

Thank you for reading! See you again next time.

 

 

Fragile Things

Whenever I read Neil Gaiman’s short-form fiction — his poetry and short stories — I feel as if I’m inhaling some alchemical substance, an aroma whose very essence is imagination, refined by years of study and hard work.

Fragile Things is one of several short story collections which might very well be my favorite (althought that’s arguable).  Some of the best stories you’ll discover in it include:

  • A Study in Emerald, a short story that mixes the Cthulhu mythos with Sherlock Holmes…with a major twist. The title is an obvious riff on A Study in Scarlet, where Holmes and Watson first appeared.
  • The Problem of Susan, a short story that acts as something of a study/critique of Susan Pevensie, one of the protagonists of the Narnia series. It’s a haunting story, and you can read it here, if you’ve nowhere to pick the anthology from, or if you need a taste before you commit to a purchase.
  •  Fifteen Painted Cards from a Vampire Tarot is a weird, disconnected tale; a few tales, revolving around the names of tarot cards.
  • The Monarch of the Glen, a novella-sized sequel to American Gods. If you haven’t read American Gods, I’d advise you to do so before touching this.
  • Instructions, a poem that gives instructions (what else) for surviving in a fairy tale land — since that can still happen, occasionally. How else could you explain Neil Gaiman’s hair?
  • Sunbird, which is also in the anthology of short stories prepared by Gaiman–Unnatural Creatures– is all about a club of bored rich people, who seek the most amazing gourmet food; when all else is tasted, they decide to feed on the exotic Sunbird.
  • How to talk to Girls at Parties, which is getting the movie treatment, was nominated for a Hugo, and is an overall fascinating piece of fiction, is about a shy boy going to a party with his best friend, and things getting pretty weird.
    As things are bound to, at parties…which you’d know, if you ever went to parties with me.

There’s more, of course, but these are the ones that left the biggest impact on me. The collection is very much worth your time!