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.
Yes, yes, ha ha ha. Very funny title. Anyway, I just finished reading “The Buried Pyramid” by Jane Lindskold. This was the most recent free download from Tor. Being slightly suspicious after the “Spaceman Blues” fracas, I was hesitant to get started on what Tor tells me is “a marvelous ride through Ancient Egyptian myth, legend, and religion”. However, I am always ready for a bit of Ancient Egypt, so I plunged in. In short, this book is acceptably wonderful.”Acceptably Wonderful”, what the hell does that mean? Well, bibliophiles everywhere know about a certain type of book. You may have a different name for this category, but “Acceptably Wonderful” is mine. This type of novel draws you in, it has characters that you wouldn’t mind speaking with in public, pretty good plot, and a couple of twists that you didn’t (quite) see coming. In short, it’s a pretty darn good read. The only trouble is that once you finish, you just know that you probably won’t be coming back to it. And that really is the case with “The Buried Pyramid”. I loved it, but I won’t be reading it again.
“The Buried Pyramid” is a great 1890’s period piece about rich British “Archaeologists”. There’s the absent minded Egyptologist, the dashing former British Army officer with his sweetyettoughAmericancowgirl niece. There is the secret sect of desert Bedouin who will stop at nothing to protect the “Secret In The Desert”. And there is the beautiful but deadly English Noblewoman, intent on finding the treasure for herself. As enjoyable as that is, about 3/4 of the way in, the story just leads us right into Sci-Fi land. I won’t go into any more detail than that as any discussion would be full of spoilers, but it’s definitely a welcome change from mouldy mummies rising from the tomb. In fact, I have to applaud Ms. Lindskold’s creativity, even while I lament the book’s failure to connect with me.
In short, I definitely would recommend this to anyone even remotely interested in Ancient Egypt. The research was obviously intensive, as the descriptions of Egyptian dress, manners, morality & religion are stunningly depicted, and even the late 19th century scenes are impeccable in detail. All in all a most enjoyable read. So much so, that my faith in Tor is restored.
I say a “partial” review, because, frankly, I couldn’t finish the damn thing. Brian Francis Slattery’s “Spaceman Blues” is flat out weird, and I’m not talking about the 1923 magazine. The cover copy calls it a “literary retro-pulp science-fiction–mystery–superhero novel”, but I really couldn’t find much that was retro, pulpy, science fiction related, or even superhero-y. There might be some literary stuff in there, though. I can normally read most anything, but in a very few cases, I find that my time is too valuable to spend it on trying to decipher a steaming pile of crap. The main reason that Slattery’s attempts fail, is not the “stream of conciousness” style which always tends to muddy the waters, but the fact that “Spaceman Blues” is not a science fiction novel. Rather it is a novel about interactions amongst and between various New York City sub-cultures. It’s a Greenwich Village, Annie Hall, gay pride, low-rider story which is couched in a science fiction metaphor. If you consider yourself a part of any of these various cultures, then you might find something redeemable about the novel. The fact is that most of us aren’t achingly hip, gay, living on the Upper East Side (or wherever…), and so we don’t find anything in the novel that speaks to us. I can’t care about the characters, I don’t feel warm nostalgia for the settings, and the tone feels rather jarring to me.
I’m not generally familiar with Slattery’s other works, so I can’t say if this is a typical example, or make any broad statements about his talent and skill. I will say however, that “stream of conciousness” writing is best left to Bob Dylan and ee cummings. Whenever I encounter it from someone who is not an acknowledged master, I immediately know that pain and suffering will ensue. In any case, I wish Mr. Slattery the best of luck with his career, but I would advise most everyone to avoid “Spaceman Blues”.
Stay tuned, because I just got the latest update from Tor. As part of their semi-monthly ebook giveaway, they are offering “The Buried Pyramid” by Jane Lindskold. This one looks interesting and I’ll definitely be reading & reviewing it here soon. The announcement says:
“In The Buried Pyramid , Jane Lindskold sends us on a marvelous ride through Ancient Egyptian myth, legend, and religion and leaves us enlightened and amazed.”
I do so enjoy being enlightened and amazed.
Tor books, that bastion of science fiction, has a new freebie floating around. If you register at their website, then every month, they will send you a free ebook. Awesome! I love free ebooks, so I was pretty excited to get my first one. It actually came some time ago, and I thought it would be a good idea to add a new feature to the blog. So, I’ll be reviewing the ebooks that Tor sends out.
The cyborgelf was originally supposed to be about “Classic” sci-fi, so why all the new stuff lately, why talk about John Carter movies by Disney, and why review new Tor books? Well, frankly because the new stuff is so good. I love Heinlein, but I can only read him in spurts. I like modern stuff, and most modern authors fell in love with SF&F because of the greats, anyway. Honestly, what modern Fantasy writer isn’t influenced by Tolkien (be that good or bad) and what straight SF’er doesn’t know the Three Laws of Robotics.
In any case, I’ve grown to feel that today’s SF is just as powerful, & certainly as good as anything that ever appeared in Analog magazine. So, I’m going to feel free, from now on, to talk as much about the new guys, as I do about the Masters.
So, in anticipation of the first ever CyborgELF review of a free Tor ebook. We will be reading Brian Francis Slattery’s “Spaceman Blues”.
Normally, I’m not a big fan of sci-fi movies. There is very little originality in Hollywood, and they normally just take an existing story, rework it to add some more special effects, and generally tear the hell out of the plot, character development, etc… For a perfect example, see I, Robot with Will Smith. I robot is one of the great all time Asimov books, as it explores man’s relationship with the machines that he has created, but Holywood destroyed it. Anyway, I am actually excited to hear about a new movie in the works.That’s right, Disney/Pixar is slated to release a trilogy of movies based on the John Carter of Mars stories. (Download the first few over at my Free Ebooks page, or buy it for your Kindle here: A Princess of Mars) I haven’t heard anything about who might be playing John Carter, but I have heard that Andrew Stanton is set to direct. He’s the guy who gave us Finding Nemo. In any case, I love the nature of John Carter versus the storytelling skills of Burroughs. John Carter is a true swashbuckling hero who never fails to win through adversity to rescue his beloved Dejah Thoris. It’s pure escapism, and I don’t think Hollywood can screw that up too much. Plus I’ll be interested to see what they do with the Green Martians.
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…
I got an email newsletter from Tor books today. They had a pretty neat program a while back where if you signed up for their newsletter, then they would send you a free e-book (generally a new release) every week. they stopped doing that, but it seems that if you sign up on their website Tor.com then you can get the free ebooks. It doesn’t seem as cool as what Baen has done with their free library, but it sure is great for anyone who’s into ebooks. Give me a free sample and I’m much more likely to actually spend my hard earned money with you.
OK, maybe not completely different, but I really have been ignoring the entire sub-genre of Fantasy. I tend to take a very phase oriented approach to what I read. I get on a hard science fiction kick and stay with it until something moves me in another direction. In any case, one of the reasons that I haven’t posted much lately is that I’ve fallen in love. You heard me, in love, with some guys named Croaker, One-Eye, and Goblin, and a couple of ladies named Lady and Booboo. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then you haven’t read any of Glen Cook’s “>. I guess you can’t really call the Black Company series a classic, but it’s been around for a while, and in my opinion, it is a rocking good read. Swords, sorcery, adventure, intrigue, suspense, humor, basically everything you could ever ask for all wrapped up in 9 books. Yeah, you heard me, 9 books. So, it’s one hell of a long series, it’s worth it.
Basically the Black Company is the story of Croaker, the Annalist or historian, of a group of mercenaries. The Black Companies origins are lost in the mists of time, but they do have their own legends, and over something like 30 years of fighting, Croaker finds out the truth. Along the way, the Company is decimated, built back up, decimated again, and finally marches off the field triumphantly.
The sheer scope of the series is pretty amazing. Croaker is the only member of the Black Company to be in all 9 books, although there are some supporting characters who are as well. Cook deals with the passage of time by developing the Company as an entity of its own. It’s members may change, but they always fall into the mythos of the Company, and the Company itself survives. The office of Annalist is very important to this mythos, as he (or she) is charged with remembering the history of the company, and spreading the Company gospel among the troops. The Company exists as a sort of wandering clan, whose members may be outcasts, but they belong to the Company, and the Company takes care of its own. This aspect of the Company is reminiscent of a religious brotherhood, and as the series progresses, the brotherhood aspect becomes more and more obvious.
I” need some rest after digging straight through all 9 of these books. But this series is going on my bookshelf as an honored favorite. Glen Cook is a highly effective writer who can really move his audience. These characters have found an honored place in my heart.
I love the Amazon Kindle. Of course, I don’t actually have one. However, I have recently published a couple of Edgar Rice Burrough’s John Carter stories on the Amazon Kindle store. Sometime in the next few days, you will be able to purchase “A Princess of Mars” and “Gods of Mars” for your Kindle. Of course, you can get them for free from my download page. Hopefully, publishing these books to the Kindle will allow more readers to enjoy some of ERB’s greatest work. As soon as they are “live” I will post a link to them.
More to come…