Thursday, March 17, 2011

Demons and New Orleans

Several years ago I read an interesting fantasy novel by Tim Lebbon titled Dusk (rating: 7/10).  I noted at the time that I liked Lebbon's style and his imagination, although I thought his descriptions of violence were a bit over the top.  And I found the sexual references unnecessary rather than supportive of the story.  The world he portrays is a very ugly one, but it has the promise of being transformed if the heroes can only protect the boy who can bring magic back into the world.

I never did read the second volume, Dawn, probably because I was afraid that my hopes for seeing everything turn out for good might be dashed.  And I couldn't continue reading of ugliness if I didn't know for sure that beauty would finally return.

Now I've finished a very different book by Christoper Golden and Tim Lebbon, The Map of Moments (rating: 9/10).  An example of the sub-genre now referred to as urban fantasy, the story begins in post-Katrina New Orleans.  Driven to save his dead lover, the main character experiences a number of supernatural episodes showing him the sinister magic that has been controlling New Orleans for some two hundred years.

I found the plot of this novel to be very original and the story kept my interest.  I had to stay with it till the end, and I was rewarded by an ending that simultaneously tied everything together and surprised me both.  The Map of Moments was not marred the way I thought Dusk was (and feared that Dawn would be).  Just enough violence to make the supernatural truly horrifying, and no gratuitous sex.  And perhaps most importantly, the relationship between the main character and the woman he loved and lost to Hurricane Katrina was central to driving the plot.  This book is "A Novel of the Hidden Cities", and I'm eager to see if the other novels in this series (including Mind the Gap [London], The Chamber of Ten [Venice], and The Shadow Men [Boston]) are as good as this novel was.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

40 years of books

This past week, March 8 marked the 40th anniversary of my database of books I've read.  In those 40 years I've read well over 2000 books, averaging one a week.  When I started, I kept the database on index cards and stored the cards in larger and larger boxes until I finally converted it all to an Excel spreadsheet.  But when came out with their Book Collector program, I knew I had to migrate to it.  It was a monumental task because I not only moved the information in the Excel spreadsheet to Book Collector - I cataloged all the books in my collection as well.

As I look back over what I've read, it's hard to characterize what I've read.  I've read non-fiction and fiction of virtually every genre (though I'm not sure I've read a romance novel yet!).  I've read long books, like the Bible, and Tolstoy's War and Peace, as well as short books that are no more than a literary swallow for a bibliovore.  There are few books I've reread, with the exception of The Lord of the Rings, primarily because there are always so many other books waiting to be read I can't spare the time on rereading.  There are books that I'm happy to talk about with other people, and books that are so personal to me I can't comfortably talk about them.

I'm still hungry for more books.  That's why I wind up buying books faster than I can read them.  That's why I consider myself a bibliovore.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Swords are important icons in fantasy literature.  In many cases, a sword is the only thing the hero has to vanquish his enemies - human or inhuman.  Sometimes the value of the sword lies in the strength of its wielder, sometimes in the magic than imbues the blade.  Sometimes a sword is of such importance it actually is named, as anyone familiar with The Lord of the Rings trilogy can tell you.  Glamdring - Gandalf's sword - glows when orcs are near.  Narsil - reforged as Anduril - had symbolic importance in the defeat of Sauron and the rise of Gondor.

Here are some of my favorite named swords:
None of these swords is simply a strong piece of sharpened metal.  In each case they are virtually a character in their own right.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Have Gates, Will Travel

If you wanted to get from one part of the universe to another, would you choose (a) a fast spaceship, (b) a spaceship that uses a wormhole, or (c) a gate that instantaneously transports you?  I would go with option (c).  When it comes to space travel, I'm not sure the journey is more important than the destination.

The theme of gates like these has been quite popular in science fiction.  For example, consider the movie "Stargate", its sequels, and the TV series it spawned.  One simply steps through the gate and arrives in a new location - usually a new planet.  Of course, in fiction one doesn't always know what to expect on the other side ...

One of my favorite series of books is C. J. Cherryh's "Morgaine" saga (Gate of Ivrel, Well of Shiuan, Fires of Azeroth, Exile's Gate).  This series includes both fantasy and science fiction devices - low technology weapons like swords and high technology machines like gates - and a special sword ("Changeling") that controls gates, but the author considered this work as fantasy.  When I learned that Gate of Ivrel was her first published novel, I was amazed.  (I have to admit that I was influenced by Michael Whelan's cover art as well.)

In contrast, I was very disappointed with Jack Williamson's The Stonehenge Gate.  This was another example of a gate (appearing very primitive, despite its power, compared with the gate in "Stargate") transporting people to other places in the universe.  This was the first novel by Williamson I've read, so maybe it's just his style, but I was put off by this book's poor plot development.  Important details were glossed over.  Transitions from one scene or locale to another made it seem like the book itself was going through gates!  I had to give up after the first 30 pages.  To be fair, it appears that this novel, published a year before Williamson's death in 2006 at the age of 98, was his last.  It is likely not representative of the work of this award-winning science fiction author.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Night Before Christmas

Pleased with the art and conception of The Pedlar Lady of Gushing Cross, the ebook app from Moving Tales, I ignored the reviews for the new project from Moving Tales, Twas the Night Before Christmas.  I downloaded the book, expecting a treat, but I find I have to agree with the reviews.  This was not a well-executed book.  It didn't flow well.  There were typographical errors.  The characters were too cartoonish.  Granted, anyone doing their version of this story faces criticism from someone.  But this could've been done much better.

On the other hand, the latest from Padworx, an abridged version of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, I expect will prove to be a worthy successor to their take on Dracula (see my posting).  Already, going through just the first chapter, the artwork is interesting and vibrant, the specters disturbing, the musical score well chosen, the interactive mechanisms on the page clever.  As with Dracula, there are a few typos.  But this is truly an outstanding work.  I will be shocked if my first impression doesn't last through the rest of this short book.  (I can even set aside my feelings toward steampunk.)

Footnote: Not long ago I also downloaded the War of the Worlds ebook app by Smashing Ideas, Inc.  This is not abridged, and may explain why there is only one interactive picture per chapter.  I read War of the Worlds probably 40 years ago.  Unfortunately there's not enough visual excitement in this ebook for me to prioritize reading it over most of the other books I have.  Smashing Ideas is also responsible for the MAC A Tartan Tale ebook app, which, being free, I thought I'd download as well.  Maybe I'm the only male on the planet that doesn't know that this is associated with a line of women's make-up, but the description of the app really does not make that clear.  I'm just glad I didn't pay for it.  After only a few pages, I knew I was not the intended demographic for this product!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Horizontal Books, and other Orientations

I'm not surprised that it's been two weeks since I last posted, what with all the brouhaha going on in our household leading up to Christmas!

One of the things I've noticed with my library in the past few weeks is the increasing number of books that are in a horizontal position.  This is because there's no place to stand them up vertically, so I have to lay new books on top of other books!  Seeing this wouldn't lead anyone to expect that I'm organized.  But think about it ... look at the shelves of books in a law office commercial, how nice and neat and tidy they are, and then look at the shelves of books in someone's home office, someone who reads a lot, maybe writes a lot.  Could be a professor or teacher.  Those shelves are frequently jam-packed with horizontal books.

But these horizontal books are now hiding half the clock in my office so I can't see what time it is for thirty minutes every hour.  Some of these books are horizontal because they simply don't fit on the shelves because of their height.  But a more serious problem is putting a book in vertical on either its spine or the opposite side.  Why?  Because you can't see the title of the book.  And then you do like I did recently and buy a second copy of a book by accident because you didn't realize you already had it, because you couldn't see the title.

Book crowding frequently causes me to start weeding out books to make room for new ones.  But it's getting where I'm having trouble identifying more books to weed out.

Woe is me.  Woe is every other bibliophile out there with not enough room for more books.

UPDATE, December 20:  Take a look at this blog posting:  This gave me some ideas.  If my shelves only went floor-to-ceiling, and then extended to the end of the wall, I could probably get 40% more shelf-space.  But that would mean convincing my wife that we should (a) sell the existing shelves that match the decor and (b) pay someone to build the new shelves.  Is there no way out?  :)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Can a Science Major Appreciate Art?

One of the best illustrators of all time is Frank Frazetta.  This is not about Frank Frazetta.  To do Frazetta justice would require more energy than I feel like applying today.  Instead, this is about books that showcase the work of two other illustrators, Manuel Sanjulian and Jeffrey Jones.

Sword's Edge by Sanjulian (rating: 6/10) is not a comprehensive look at this artist's work but rather a particular segment of his work: illustrations of Robert E. Howard's sword-and-sorcery hero Conan.  Sanjulian's style is much different than Frazetta's, and many people are more familiar with Frazetta's Conan.  Unfortunately this is a short book marred by mislabeled pictures and typographical errors and an introduction that says more about Robert E. Howard than it does Manuel Sanjulian.

I didn't realize until I read The Art of Jeffrey Jones (rating: 7/10) that I had seen paintings of his used to illustrate book covers on fantasy novels.  Like Sanjulian, Jeffrey Jones's style is much different than Frazetta's.  Where Frazetta is detailed Jones is more impressionistic.  And yet energy and dynamics and movement still come through.  This book gives the reader much more of Jones's work than Sword's Edge gives of Sanjulian's work.  And the introduction tells us much much more about the artist.

Frazetta himself gave Jones great praise.  Artist Gerald Brom has said "In the footsteps of Wyeth, Pyle and the Brandywine school, Jeff Jones has kept alive the grand tradition of American illustration as art."  I'm beginning to better understand - me, a science major in college, not an art major! - why the work of Frazetta and Jones and other modern illustrators, as well as that of Wyeth and Pyle and Waterhouse, appeals to me like it does.

Similar books waiting on my shelves:
Knightsbridge: The Art of Keith Parkinson.
Wondrous Strange: The Wyeth Tradition.
Cutler, Laurence S. and Judy A. G. Cutler.  Maxfield Parrish.
Hobson, Anthony.  J W Waterhouse.

Daughter of Hounds

When I recently came across Caitlin R. Kiernan's Daughter of Hounds, I thought I'd give it a try.  It wouldn't be the first novel I'd read about changelings (Keith Donohue's The Stolen Child), but while Kiernan's name was familiar to me, I'd never read any of her novels.

The story started off well, with an interesting scene underground in the lair of the ghouls who steal children.  I found myself caught up in the story (that's a good thing) and appreciating Kiernan's prose, including some very nice turns of phrase (another good thing).  But along the way something happened, and I've decided to give up.

I'd always heard that it's best to use profanity and obscenities sparingly in one's writing.  That they can be useful in giving atmosphere to a situation, or conveying details of someone's character (or lack thereof).  But when used more than sparingly, it suggests a lack of skill on the part of the author in establishing atmosphere or character.  I can forgive an author for this but only up to a point.  Kiernan exceeded my tolerance level.  When it gets to the point where every piece of dialogue is laced with this kind of language, it becomes not only annoying and distracting but tiresome.

Midway through Daughter of Hounds, I realized that not only was I tired of the profanity and obscenities, I was also tired of waiting for at least a tidbit of resolution or explanation to what was going on, and I wasn't getting it.  So this one is getting my "abandoned" label.

Postscript:  Donohue's The Stolen Child (rating: 9/10) was an excellent story - interesting, moving, well-constructed, and a pleasure to read (as long as you don't mind sharing a character's profound sadness).  Highly recommended.