I have a rather long list of things that I haven’t read, but am always on the lookout for. Recently I ran across a battered collection of the first four Necroscopes. I picked them up for a song, and got ready to cross a few good reads off my list. The Necroscope series, by Brian Lumley has a large “cult” following. Necroscope fans are rabid, almost as bad as Ringworld geeks. For whatever reason, I just never had the chance to read any of the stories, even though they’ve been recommended to me many times. The Necroscope is Harry Keogh, a young Englishman who has a rather peculiar talent. He can speak to the dead. And I don’t mean using a crystal ball and a silly gown. He can carry on a conversation with anyone who has ever died. In fact, that’s one of the major metaphysical conjectures of the novel, that nothing happens after you die, you just sort of go on but without a body. Leaving that aside, Harry is able to learn from the dead, and he uses their expertise to teach himself self defense, languages, mathematics, etc… So, OK, a good concept, enough to draw me in for a good read. The problem is, it just isn’t that good.Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty good, it just didn’t excite me. One of the biggest failings with Necroscope was that it couldn’t decide what it wanted to be. There were lots of attempts at horror, with walking corpses and even some vampire shenanigans, but there was also a lot of science fiction. For instance, Harry contacts August Mobius (creator of the strip that bears his name) and learns a branch of higher math that allows him to manipulate space-time. There’s also the metaphysical aspect in that the dead just lie in their graves and think, frankly they get lonely and they love Harry for the comfort that he brings them.
Aside from all of that, the writing is that typically British, late 70s type of prose. If you’ve ever read any early Frederick Forsythe, then you know what I mean. It’s as if the whole thing is written as a sort of police blotter version of events. The British people that I know don’t actually talk that way, and it’s off-putting. Anyway, for a yard sale find, I could have done much worse. However, I’m not going to waste my time with the rest of the series. I’m actually a bit disappointed, as I’m always ready to latch on to a new series, but it just didn’t happen with Necroscope.
I just started re-reading one of my all time favorite novels. Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
by Steven Pressfield, is an amazing novelization of the battle of Thermopylae. Definitely not Science Fiction or Fantasy, Gates is one of those rare books that pulls you in, makes you fall in love with the characters, and you’ll read it over and over again just to spend more time with them. Told from the viewpoint of a survivor of the battle, Gates of Fire explores the lives, loves and passions of some of the 300 Spartan Knights who resisted Xerxes March on Greece in 480 BC. The same battle that inspired the movie ‘The 300’, it was quite possibly a turning point in the history of Western Civilization. Some might even say it was the beginning of the division between Western & Eastern Civilization. In any case, I leave it to you to do further research on the Battle itself, but for an amazing, emotional, inspiring read, I highly recommend Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae
I know, I know I haven’t posted in, like, a month. Sorry, but I’ve been reading a lot. Plus Kindle: Amazon’s 6″ Wireless Reading Device came out recently, so I’m excited about that. Anyway, I recently picked up Darkness of the Light (The Hidden Earth Chronicles) by Peter David. And it Rocks! Peter David is a big name comic book writer, so he really knows how to toss around some heroic action, and in Darkness he really delivers.
The basic premise is that humanity is virtually extinct, having been wiped out by a group of aliens. The twist here is that the aliens are the monsters and legends from humanity’s past, Minotaurs, Cyclops, Dragons, Mer-people, etc… Apparently they have all visited Earth in the deep past as scouts, and become part of human legend. They are actually exiled from their own planets and refer to the Earth as “The Damned World”.
Now the thing that pisses me off is that Darkness was released as a Mass Market Paperback in 2007, that’s over two years ago people. It’s supposed to be part of a larger series called “The Hidden Earth”, but I haven’t been able to find the second installment. I can’t believe that Tor (the publisher) would just kill a project that has this much merit, but I cannot find any information about it anywhere. Does anyone out there know anything about this? In any case, I’m looking forward to reading the next installment, if it ever happens.
Now there’s a proposition for you. What does a 19th century English novelist have to do with late 20th century Science Fiction? He made it possible, that’s what. Inspired by the recent PBS airing of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles”, I’ve been thinking a lot about how some of the classic works of literature have influenced Science Fiction. Specifically, in Hardy’s case, some of his works prompted some of the most successful anti-censorship activity in history.For those of you who’ve never read “Tess”, you should take a look. The story of a young woman coerced by her poor family into seeking out wealthy relatives, Tess is one of the most tragic characters in all of literature. Raped by her cousin, she is denied love, abused, downtrodden and finally ends as a murderess (You go, girl!). Needless to say, 19th century England was scandalized.”So what in the heck does that have to do with Science Fiction?”, you may be asking yourself. I admit it isn’t a direct connection, but Sci-Fi & Fantasy is all about exploring. Exploring your thoughts, beliefs, wishes and dreams and pretending that the normal boundaries don’t apply. That kind of thinking has allowed us to advance our “hard” sciences, expand the limits of medical possibility, and put a man on the moon. Science fiction is pure unbounded imagination, and in great measure, it owes its freedom to those who have gone before. So, if Thomas Hardy hadn’t refused to cut the objectionable bits out of “Tess”, then we may have never had television’s first inter-racial kiss (Capt. Kirk & Lt. Uhura), and Heinlein certainly wouldn’t have been able to publish “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” (lots of kinky stuff there). So, I say we all owe a great debt to Mr. Hardy for refusing to bow his head in the face of harsh criticism, and you’d do well to pick up a copy of damn near anything that he ever wrote.
I just had to post something on Friday the 13th. I tend to stay away from the horror stuff, although I do enjoy reading about Myth & Mystery. Also, I’m a bit of a history buff and I’ve always thought that the whole Friday the 13th myth arose from Phillip the Fair’s persecution of the Knights Templar, which began on Friday, October 13th, 1307. Lately, however, I’ve read some work that suggests that the belief in an unlucky day goes (how do you spell goes?) back much farther.
Some scholars have suggested that the myth of Friday the 13th can be traced all the way back to the end of the Norse religions when Christianity subsumed the old traditions and demoted the Norse pantheon to the status of Demons. Frigga, the Norse goddess of love & fertility was labeled a witch by the Early church, and it is from Frigga that we get the word Friday. In any case, I’m not particularly superstitious, but I’ll still try to be a little more careful today.
On another note, and in keeping with the mystical aspect of the day. I downloaded Digital Knight, by Ryk Spoor, from the Baen Free library. It’s basically an anthology of stories about Jason Wood, an information specialist, who gets mixed up with the world of the supernatural. Vampires, Werewolves, the usual suspects. It’s a good read so far, but I’ll tell the world what I think when I finish it. Until next time, keep your head down.
I haven’t been posting as often as I should be. It’s just that I’ve been on a rampage of reading lately. After being introduced to David Gemmell’s “Legend”, I pretty much went Drenai crazy. I read basically the whole saga, and man does it rock. One of the very interesting things about the Drenai series in general, is the way Gemmell treats many of his protagonists. A lot of them are older warriors, past their prime but still with plenty of drive. And as any student of kung fu movies knows, old men have the skills and experience to whip the snot out of any young whippersnappers. Still, in a few places, Gemmell almost manages to create something new in literature, a reverse bildungsroman. If a bildungsroman is a youth’s journey into manhood, then I guess a reverse bildungsroman would be a man’s journey into innocence. That’s what happens often in Gemmell’s universe, a hardened warrior sees how his actions have affected the world, and moves from cynicism back into innocence. In any case, Gemmell’s work, at least with the Drenai saga, is powerful and moving. If you aren’t reading it, you should be.
I’ve been on a bit of a fantasy kick lately, and some of the hard stuff can really bring you down. Plus it takes itself so seriously. Really, I feel like every author who’s tried their hand at fantasy over the last 50 years or so, really expects to be the next Tolkien. Is it a law, that all new fantasy novels have to be the beginning of “an epic tale of high adventure” which spans twelve or fifteen books? In any case, I’m always very interested to find a story or a series that doesn’t take itself too seriously. At this point I wanted to mention Terry Pratchett, but Discworld is so satirical and funny, that it goes all the way around and back to serious from the other side. “The Color of Magic” is Profound (I meant to capitalize that).
OK, enough of that, I sort of stumbled across a new series. It’s generally referred to as the Myth Series, by Robert Asprin. They generally center around a young magician’s apprentice named Skeeve, his mentor Aahz (a scaly green fella from the dimension of Perv who is now powerless due to a practical joke), and their various adventures. I’m not going to go into plot summary or character development here, if you want you can read them yourself. What I am trying to get at here, is how humor seems to be a take it or leave it option nowadays. If you’re reading high fantasy, something about a quest to stop a Dark Lord or something, then there’s probably not a single joke or smile in the book. Many author’s tend to get so involved in the epic nature of their story, that they tend to leave out the humanizing bit (or elfizing, or hobbitizing, or whatever). My personal opinion as a reader, is that even dark myths must have their counterpoints, there has to be at least some mood lightening occasionally, else the story becomes oppressive.
Tolkien, himself, interjects entire characters who exist mainly to lighten the mood, or to show us the innocence that his heroes are fighting to save. If you look at Merry and Pippin, they tend to represent a childlike quality that is gone from the lands that Sauron threatens. So in essence, their humor tends to reinforce the story, and to heighten the danger, rather than to minimize it. If more authors recognized this, then we might have a few more stories that are deeply dimensioned and rich, rather than single layered. Oh well, if everyone listened to me then the world would be a better place.
So, I started reading the Vlad Taltos series a few days ago. The first book, Jhereg, was great. A sort of swords and sorcery noir. I liked it a lot. Combining genres always turns me on. If you’re not familiar with the series, Vlad is an assassin cum crimelord (albeit with a heart of gold) in a fantasy universe called Dragaera. It has real overtones of Dashiell Hammett or maybe Mickey Spillane, while being some good fantasy adventure. In any case, the first one was great. It drew me in, I fell in love with the characters, the plotting was smooth, everything I need to be happy with a story. The second book was at least equal to the first in terms of my enjoyment factor. However, then comes book three. The hard nosed, tough guy assassin, is having problems with his love life. He’s suffering a mid life crisis. He doesn’t kill anybody until the last ten pages, and the whole damn book is mostly about his wife. Blech… At this point, I’m completely turned off on the whole series. I might try to read the fourth one, but I don’t know. It’ll be awhile before I can get my courage up again. So, what’s the lesson here authors? Don’t change the formula in the middle of a series. Sure character development and all of that, but come on! Don’t turn an adventure series into a romance. You just lost most of the readership that you’ve carefully built up over the last 2 or 3 books. What a waste…