Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Book Review: A Handful of Coppers

So for my fortieth birthday my lovely wife tracked down a large number of hardcover Charles de Lint books for me, including a number I had missed out on while reading my way through his work.

Case in point A Handful of Coppers: The Early Works of Charles de Lint vol 1: High Fantasy - the book follows four separate characters through a number of short stories (and one novella), that range from straight Conan the Barbarian/Farfd and the Gray Mouser worlds through to Arthurian legend and beyond, including one book I've read before, but in context with three other stories about the character.

I'll admit some of the earliest stories are pretty rough, but with each of them you can read and watch a master storyteller develop through his early days, and for that alone it is well worth the read.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Book Review: The Physiognomy

Jeffrey Ford's The Physiognomy (1997) has been on my "To Read" list and my "Used Bookstore" list for almost a decade, and over the holiday break I managed to find an ebook copy through my local library and was able to read this, the last best novel winner of the World Fantasy Award from the 1990s on my Award Winners list.

The novel focuses on a witchfinder general type named Physiognomist Cley, who has been sent from "The Well-Built City" to an outlying village to track down a theif, using his mastery of the skill of physiognomy (the now outdated science of tracking peoples attributes and abilities based on lumps and bumps on their skulls). Cley is a pretty awful, unsympathetic character, I haven't disliked a protagonist so much at the begning of a novel since reading S.M. Stirling's The Domination, but as with that book, Cley is meant to be disliked and even hated at first; he's a drug user, a rapist, a bully and pretty much a monster by any normal standard.

His problems begin when he meets a woman who also claims the ability to perform physiognomy just as he loses his own ability to perform his art as well. If I had to find a sub-genre for the novel it gets close to Steampunk in a number of ways, but equally moves towards high fantasy in a number of places.

In the end I found the book to be a good read, but I'm not sure I would continue to explore the followup titles in Ford's Well-Built City Trilogy.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book Review: Gates of Fire

Finishing my first year of reading historical fiction set in Ancient Greece, I read my second Steven Pressfield novel, Gates of Fire. This one focused on the Battle of Thermopylae between Sparta and the Persian Empire. Similar to Gary Jenning's 1980 novel Aztec, Gates of Fire is told from the point of view of the victors of the battle interviewing a lone survivor, and works to paint a view of a society in the era leading up to the battle in question.

In Pressfield's book, the character is Xeones, a volunteer in the Spartan army (which would mean he wasn't a true citizen of Sparta), who is able to tell his own life story, as well as why he volunteered to join with a city that would never consider him to be a full citizen and further, why he would join the Three Hundred Spartan in a battle that was sure to end in their deaths.

The novel was incredibly immersive and powerful, and left me with no question as to why this book was so well received and sits on the recommended reading lists of so many military forces throughout the world.

As much as I've enjoyed every one of the twelve novels I've read off this list to date, Gates of Fire alone would have made reading the list worthwhile.

A great book.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

I just finished a list it took me eight years to complete

Think of some long term goals you've had in life; marriage, wealth, kids, fantasy vacations, retire by 55, you know the type. Those sort of goals that sit just over the horizon waiting for you to catch up, and most of them feeling like there's not much you can do but wait and hope for the best.

Then think of those medium length goals, the sort of five-year-plan goals we have more often that require some work; propose marriage, get a degree, or even pay off your car.

Back in 2008 I had a dose of reality hit me when I heard about David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Books Published in English between 1949 and 1984. The book began with George Orwell' s 1984 and ended with William Gibson's Nueromancer. As a huge science fiction fan and a voracious reader, I was fairly certain I would have read at least half of the novels he wrote about. Unfortunately for me; a then 32-year-old Canadian who counted the dozens of Star Trek and movie tie-in novels as a lot, Pringle's UK-focused list left me with a disappointing nine titles in total (four of which I had read as novel studies in Junior and Senior High School).

That left me with ninety-one books between where I thought I would be when I picked up the book, and where I found myself when I put it down.

So, I decided to start with the second book, Earth Abides (which would end up becoming one of my favourite novels period), by George R. Stewart, and try to read a book off of the list each month.

Two weeks ago, nearly eight years after I picked up Pringle's book, I finished John Calvin Bachelor's The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica (As a Canadian SF fan, I had read Nueromancer in my teens).

Here's what I learned along the way.

1) As my wife put it to me when I suggested starting a University degree part-time, "you'll be seven years older whether you do the work or not", and she was absolutely right.

2) I've now read my way through a list of books that were pretty good at the worst, and mind-blowing at their best, and honestly, I probably wouldn't have heard of half of these titles had I simply stuck to the SF section of my local bookstore.

3) I found the simple and yet amazing fact that if you take something big, break it down into manageable chunks, and consistently work at it, you can do all sorts of things - even if it takes you the better part of a decade.

BTW - my reward? Knowing that this is the kind of thing I can do with clear goals, consistent work, and a supportive network of friends and family.

What a great way to start a new year!

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Happy 2017!


Happy New Year's Everyone!

Hoping 2017 will be a great year for us all!

Your old pal,
Bookmonkey

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Review: Perdido Street Station

When reviewing a China Mieville novel I often find it's pretty hard to find an easy place to begin...

Should I begin with the city, New Crobuzan, and it's bizarre collection of neighbourhoods, rail stations, victorian-era technology, mangic, and a large number of aliens?

Maybe with the novel's protagonists; the scientist, the artist, and the exile?

Or perhaps with the villains of the piece, an ancient race of creatures that quickly found their way around my understanding of the term "vampire" and left me literally shuddering as I read how they feed...

Although only his second novel, this was my fifth novel by Mieville, after The City and the City, King Rat, Kraken, and Embassytown.

As with the others I can best describe the novel as immersive; while reading it I found myself staggered by the amount of world-building that had to go into it and the characters all felt like living, breathing people, with their own hopes, desires and fears.

This novel is actually the first of three set in Bas-Lag, the world in which New Crobuzan exists, and it definitely has me looking forward to reading it's two follow ups, The Scar and Inron Council.

Simply put, books like this are why I read fantasy fiction.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Book Review: The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica

John Calvin Bachelor's 1983 Science Fiction novel The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica is a strange mishmash of old Norse and English sagas, largely focusing on Beowulf and stories of Thor and Odin, with a world on the brink of destruction and the promise of a new society.

The novel follows Grim Fiddle, a Swede destined to become the ruler of a nation at the southernmost pole of the planet and follows him from conception through to old age. Much of the novel takes place at sea, and Bachelor does an interesting thing for science fiction, in that he sets the majority of the novel away from society or in smaller locales where the inhabitants live in a traditional manner, deftly sidestepping both descriptions of futuristic cities, the causes of the the destruction of global civilization and any chance to see our narrator's world through any lens but his own.

The narrative works quite well as saga, following Grim's journey across the years and the globe, moving ever southward and painting a darker and darker picture of the societies he leaves behind, but with little description of the titular republic until the final fifty pages.

An intriguing read.