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The Requisite Halloween Post

Halloween. Not sure it was ever my holiday. Sure I like dressing up but I grew up outside of town; door to door trick or treating was something other kids did. I also don’t have a lot of knowledge of horror films. If I started listing my favorites you would get a couple of Hitchcock films and the realization I don’t really know any others. I like Young Frankenstein and Nightmare Before Christmas, but that would be a boring post.

This being a book blog I should post a few scary reads. But much like in cinema I just don’t read horror. Because scary books scare me, duh. But I think doing a Halloween post is pretty much a requirement if you have a blog. So why not?

Here are a couple of my favorite non-horror books that still somewhat fit the typical Halloween parameters. Read them. Or be plagued by malevolent spirits. Your choice really.

The Circus of Dr Lao by Charles G. Finney –I have shouted the praises of this book out on The Circus of Dr. Laojust about every internet forum I have ever been part of. I have a confession, I didn’t like Something Wicked This Way Comes. Too simplistic, too transparent, too much Power of Love(queue Huey Lewis). No when it comes to carnival’s of the strange I much prefer that of the incredible Dr Lao.

Start your day off with a parade consisting of three floats. It would be laughable if anyone could agree on what they saw. Was that a bear or a man in the cage? Just how big can a snake be? What else should a sleepy Arizona town do but turn out and check this strange man’s carnival out?

The Circus of Dr Lao is a wonderful little book that shows a town true wonders – and watches them go back to their daily lives. Imaginative and fun, full of wonder and just a hint of melancholy. Infuriating at what it won’t show you, this book can be a bit of a tease. Name another book that has an appendix pointing out irregularities and obvious errors.

It was written in 1935 but if I tagged Neil Gaiman’s name on a copy and passed it around I bet it would fool more than one.

The Necromancer (Johannes Cabal, #1)Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L Howard- We just keep coming back to Something Wicked This Way Comes comparisons don’t we? Another evil traveling carnival but this time from the viewpoint of a truly despicable man. Johannes wants something and the only who can help him get it is Satin. Easy enough.

To enjoy this story you have to be okay with following around a horrible person as he tries to bag souls for the man downstairs. The joy comes from the inventive way he uses his carnival to suck in rubes; and watching him play games with hell along the way.

The series takes a bit of a steampunk turn in the second book, then goes right back to horror in a journey through the Lovecraftian Dreamlands. But with more humor than scary tentacled monsters; always a plus.

A Dirty Job or Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore- I have read a lot of Moore A Dirty Job (Grim Reaper, #1)and he has a couple of books that fit the Halloween them. Both are absurd, hilarious, and slightly demented. A Dirty Job is about a man trying his best to raise a baby girl who just might be the living incarnation of Death. The first half of the book is one of the funniest things I have ever read (though like many of Moore’s works it starts to bog down in the end).

Bloodsucking Fiends is a vampire parody that is actually funny. It has it all, even if the things that go bump in the night are frozen turkeys being used as bowling balls during the night shift. And it has the better ending of the two books. It was followed by two sequels though, I would recommend avoiding those.

 

Tough Travels – Monsters

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is MONSTERS

MONSTERS are likely to lie in waste areas, caves, and old ruined cities. You can usually detect their presence by smell.

And of course I totally picked this topic for Halloween. I swear, I saw what week it was and picked this one on purpose. That is how I roll.

The UnicornLords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett – Used the same Pratchett book two weeks in a row, what are the odds? (One in forty would be a starting point I guess). Now I know what the thought process is here, Unicorn? Really? Nobody thinks unicorns are evil monsters do they? They are playful, and frolicky, and ya maybe they ignored Noah and didn’t get on the arc but that is not a sign of evil.

But look at is closely. It is a large wild horse, which can be intimidating enough. And then some nut job decided to add a single large spike to the top of its head. Take it out of the elves’ realm and surround it by rocks filled with iron and now you got one pissed off, nasty monster roaming the countryside.

Clawbaby Gleam by Tom Fletcher – I have no idea what this thing is and never quite Perdido Street Station (Bas-Lag, #1)figured out what it wanted but it totally counts because it is a nasty thing that fits in any horror film. All sharp edges and determination, the Clawbaby follows around the protagonists group leaving death around it. Oh, and it cries like a baby. Because that isn’t scarey at all.

Slate MothsPerdido Street Station by China Miéville– What is the statute of limitations on spoilers in this book? Can we talk about slate moths yet? Their crazy wings, the terror they spread their inter-dimensional presence that makes them next to impossible to kill? The most feared insect within a city since fleas (and most people didn’t know to blame the fleas when plague was sweeping through).

Objectively The Scar is the better book of the series but my heart always goes to Perdido Street Station because it has fucking slate moths.

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy CoveLust LizardThe Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore- Look, all I am saying is if you don’t want your tanker trucks to blow up on the outskirts of town then you shouldn’t make them so seductive. How is a sea monster supposed to help itself?

Museum Monster –Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child- Trips to the museum are supposed to be fun. They should not lead to disappearances and bones with all the marrow sucked out of them.

Never quite sure how these types of books should be classified. Obviously it is labeled as a thriller and it is, but it has those sci-fi elements in it a la Michael Chrichton and James Rollins. I kinda like these modern day science gone amok thrillers. .

Fluffy – Harry Potter – What are you doing?

Trying to think of monsters for this week’s list.

Fluffy?

Well why not?

White RabbitMonty Python and the Holy Grail – A beast so horrible, so disgusting, so deadly, only a hand grenade can properly take care of it. A HOLY hand grenade. Count to three, then throw it. Not four, nor two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out…

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Ok, I have a new topic picked for next week and there will be plenty more from Jones book. But it is becoming harder to pick each week and ensure I get a topic with a variety of answers. So soon we will have to expand beyond the book. I’ll get a suggestion box up in the next couple of weeks but until then start thinking of a few topics you may want to see. Anyway…

Join us next week as we look at NOVICES

Novice is a term in frequent use. There are not only Novice Priests and Priestesses and nuns: you will also encounter novice healers and bards, and sometimes also novice mages…Novices are always young, frequently skinny and undernourished, and clad in robes.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Review: ‘We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves’ by Karen Joy Fowler

There have been studies, and I completely agree based on my own history, that spoilers We Are All Completely Beside Ourselvesdon’t really affect enjoyment of media. Red Wedding? Knew it was coming. I can tell you a little something about Kaiser Soze and I don’t think it would change your opinion of the movie. I plan on quizzing my kid about the major aspects of Star Wars before letting him watch it for the first time. But I think I have found a book that I was absolutely better off not knowing a thing about before picking it up. One positive review and the book showing up first page on my library’s catalog the same day was all it took.

Which leads to the question of what the hell do I say about a book that almost can’t be talked about at all without spoiling some small part of it? Hell even the back cover blurb tells me more than I wish I had known; giving me the answer to one revelation once I was given a different one. But give this one to Fowler, she must have known that little details would get out. Because even if the major reveal had been spoiled beforehand this wasn’t actually a book that relies on a cheap reveal to work.

Meet the Cooke family. Our narrator is Rosemary Cooke. As a child, she never stopped talking; as a young woman, she has wrapped herself in silence: the silence of intentional forgetting, of protective cover. Something happened, something so awful she has buried it in the recesses of her mind.

There, I have posted the part of the blurb that doesn’t spoil anything. But it is completely worthless. Makes the book sound like a bad thriller (or a good episode of Gravity Falls). Like the big reveal will involve an assault in the past that then gets milked for all the faux emotion it can, or perhaps a mummified body falling out of a closet just as a PI is snooping around. In short, everything this book isn’t.

Fact is this is a wonderful introspective look through a fairly regular life that has a couple of unique facets. Rosemary tells it as spoken stories are often told; not by following any chronological order but rather by tying important details together no matter when they happened to take place. Reveal a major fact and then go back and fill in holes that she realized she left in earlier portions of the story that said fact affected.

Rosemary is never in danger, other than typical college or childhood dangers involving large trees or copious amounts of alcohol (with the large trees belonging to the childhood danger side of the diagram, this ain’t that kind of story either). Nor is she ever doing something so important that others will want to follower her; at least nothing that others will ever understand to be as important as she does. An incredibly serious subject manor lies through the narrative yet a ventriloquist’s dummy being taken out for drinks takes as much page time as some of the important people in Rosemary’s story. Being told the story by Rosemary of now (adult, looking backward) takes out some of the urgency certain scenes no doubt had at the time they happened (childhood or college days), but in no way took away from how much I grew to care.

No matter how many times she seems to go on a tangent I was riveted; by the halfway point it was clear we wouldn’t see the full picture until all the pieces were put into their proper place. There is where the genius lies, with a timeline that involves childhood, college days and the present each little gem Rosemary drops could affect each piece of the timeline in a different way.

But no, that isn’t where the genius lies; what a stupid thing to say. Because as important as piecing the puzzle together was this book is not a mystery—we were going to get to the final picture eventually because Rosemary already knows where the story goes. No the genius comes from how much Rosemary sucked me into her story. I cared about her, I wanted to know about her family (even those not always seen in the best of light), and I was just begging for a happy ending. I thought the book would make me cry (caution, it might cause a few tears). Then I thought it would end with Hollywood cheese. Then I realized I should stop over thinking things as Fowler was a step ahead of me all through the book and I just let the only ending I would have accepted come my way as it should. Melancholy, hopeful and sad all together. Just like the rest of the book.

(I got to assume my readership is smart enough to figure this out but just in case; not a speculative fiction book that I am talking about here).

Dystopia Review: ‘Gleam’ by Tom Fletcher

Gleam (The Factory Trilogy, #1)I will tell you the truth about Gleam. I got through the first chapter and was downright pissed at the main character already. I was willing to continue on only reluctantly because the casual way this seemingly nice guy was willing to leave his child behind without a fight grated hard. Yes, I understand fighting against a seeming Utopia that others don’t question but to leave behind your son without a second thought? I don’t think so.

But I read on, and I am glad I read on, because what lies beneath the surface eventually comes to light. See, it turns out our protagonist is an asshole with a conscious. And that is the type of character I can read about gladly. Gleam is a bit of post apocalypse, a bit of dystopia, and a whole lot of weird. It is also strangely compelling, a bit more fun that its dark themes should provide, and a damn fine read.

Alan has spent most of his life in the Pyramid, something that appears to be the lone point (oh hey there unintentional pun) of civilization in a world slowly being taken over by a growing swamp. Life is simple here; work your station, give a little blood, and eventually retire in comfort in the pyramid’s garden. But Alan isn’t from the factory and always holds a bit of resentment. Something in his past doesn’t sit right. And when he mouths off a few too many times the Pyramid makes it clear that he can leave into the Discard, lest his family be punished for his actions.

What follows is the tale of a quest. A short, but eventful, messed up quest.   A little bit of coercion has Alan in desperate need of the most scarce of mushrooms. The choices are few; dealing with the so called Mushroom Queen (a character who can get her own sequel anytime the author wants to give us one) or track it to the source. Alan, as mentioned, is an asshole who knows how to burn bridges. Asking nicely for the object of his geis probably won’t turn out well so it is team freak show assemble!

A person’s tolerance for Gleam will be tied to their love of quirky characters. I am not sure any of them have that depth thing that makes feel like real people but almost all of them are a kick to read about. Alan’s oldest friend and partner in the Discard has a history that left him without eyelids. A tattoo artist that seems to live on hallucinogenics joins the little journey to probable death without a second though. Alan’s newest squeeze sets up the little party for Alan but obviously has plans of her own. And to top it off the party is joined by a Mapmaker. Mapmakers make people in the discard, people who live with daily violence without blinking, shake in their lack of boots. To visualize this team’s mapmaker think River from Firefly with a whole lot more sadism; yet at time she is the kindest character in the book.

I am also thrilled to have a dystopian future that breaks from the current trend of forcing people into false factions. Barely recognizable as something earth-like this is a world to dig in to.   Ancient factory is the best guess but whatever it is this is a land covered in decaying human construction. The people in the Pyramid consider themselves to be the sole point of civilization left; and for all the pride those outside it show there is very little to prove them wrong. Like the best of dystopias this one deals with what themes like the price for security, the price of anarchy, and everything in-between—and doesn’t pretend to give an answer as to who has things right.

A very impressive book and sure to be enjoyed by those who like their world dark and their characters insane.

4 Stars

Copy for review provided by publisher.

Tough Travels – Elves

tough-traveling

Each Thursday, our copy of ‘The Tough Guide to Fantasyland’ in hand, we shall tour the mystical countryside looking for adventure and fun (and tropes) from all over fantasy.

This week’s topic is … ELVES

ELVES claims to have been the first people in Fantasyland. They are called the Elder Race. They did not evolve like humans, but sprang into being just as they are now.

Damn, that was easy. I could have done another four or five without breaking a sweat. Sometimes it is nice to get one like this.

The Lords and Ladies -Lords and Ladies by Terry Pratchett- Let’s get the requisite Discworld reference in early. And let Sir Terry say it himself.

Elves are wonderful. They provoke wonder.
Elves are marvellous. They cause marvels.
Elves are fantastic. They create fantasies.
Elves are glamorous. They project glamour.
Elves are enchanting. They weave enchantment.
Elves are terrific. They beget terror.
The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake, and if you want to find snakes look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.
No one ever said elves are nice.

Thraxas (Thraxas, #1)Makri- Thraxas by Martin Scott- Half Orc, half Elf. Wears a chain mail bikini, but never where she actual fights because that would be completely impractical (it sadly helps gather in extra tips and school is expensive). Barmaid at a barbarian themed bar by day, leather armor wearing bad-ass by trade. Her mixed heritage makes her an outsider all around but it is the proud elves that truly look down on her.

She is also very active in the guild for women’s advancement in the city of Turai and a loyal friend to Thraxas (and one of the main reasons he manages to get anything done). Quite an interesting character considering she is introduced in a book that is only 150 pages long, isn’t the protagonist, and still has to leave time for her schooling.

Cetagandians Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold – Stretching things? Not by much. The Cetagandians are human but doing their damnest not to be. Obsession with physical perfection and longevity along with a breeding program designed to continue that perfection are their trademarks. Their women cause the quick witted Miles to stumble over his toungue the first couple of times he sees one, and every last one of them project a type of power that screams ‘ELF, ELF, THERE IS A DAMN ELF HERE!’

VariousIron Night by M.L. Brennen – All right smart ass, there is no character called Iron Night (American Vampire, #2)Various. I wrote various because it was Elves as a group that were in this book (though there was one half-elf love interest for protagonist Fortitude in there but I am not focusing on her, Ok?)

Brennen has a urban fantasy series going that takes old familiar tropes and makes them unique enough to stand out. Her elves are no different. They are powerful, mystical, and nasty like many other elves (the more I think about this elves and fairies often cross tropes, kinda interesting now that I think about it). They are not, however, the top of the pecking order. They bow to the vampires like anyone else does, and if they don’t then we can watch them explain themselves to Prudence.

Have I mentioned how much I love Prudence? Read Brennen if you have not and ignore the horrible covers.

The Green and the GrayThe GreenThe Green and the Gray by Timothy Zahn – I am going barebones on the info for this one because I have not read this book since it came out in…2004, at least according to Goodreads. But I know that the Green were very definatly Elves while the The Gray were Dwarfs; and they had been at each other’s throats for a LONG time.

EldarWarhammer 40k – Space Elves. Literally, they do all the things elves do in Warhammer but in space.  Look back up at the description of Elves from the Tough Guide; elder is right there in it.  Not a coincidence. And if video games are more your thing then just call them Protoss.   Same thing, different name.

Join us next week as we look at MONSTERS

MONSTERS are likely to lie in waste areas, caves, and old ruined cities. You can usually detect their presence by smell.

That could change things up, let’s see what people come up with.

As always thanks for joining, feel free to join along at any time, and please check out my fellow travelers!

Fantasy Review: ‘The Fifth Elephant’ by Terry Pratchett

Part 24 of The Complete Discworld RereadThe Fifth Elephant (Discworld, #24)

And just like that the series starts to change. Opens up, shows signs that Discworld is not just a series of random places where things happen but is instead a living, breathing world. People interact, and not just for war. ‘Foreign places’ are not just places to visit and fix; they are places where people live and cultures thrive. The signs that Pratchett’s series is going to start exploring the effects of some major technological changes are present but not yet running in full. Perhaps The Fifth Elephant was just the author’s way of easing into where the series goes from here. For better or worse I think this book represents a turning point, an attempt to avoid becoming stale. And while it isn’t the best book of the series, or the best watch book, or really all the memorable on its own for story alone; while it is none of these things it does seem to represent an important point in the Discworld journey.

Ah but perhaps I get ahead of myself. After all I am not supposed to know all this yet; I am reading these in order, ain’t I? No peaking ahead, even though I know that the next Vimes’ book is considered by many to be the best of the series. I can’t look at the clacks and know that technology is about to make this big, big world a lot smaller for all involved. All I know is Vimes is off for another adventure, and I have to look at the book solely on those merits.

Or not, I haven’t decided yet.

Does anyone know the name of the city with the largest dwarf population? Thinking of that town in Uberwald? Everyone starts off saying that, but in reality the answer is Anhk-Morpork, a town we are all familiar with by now. But a dwarf will always find their heart back in the mine no matter where they live. Because of this the ascension of a new king back home (home being where the heart is, not where the dwarf is) can get quite political. Who better to take care of the political front than the Duke Samuel Vimes?

Along with a delegation designed to piss off everyone by including everyone Vimes stumbles his way through diplomatic meetings, bull headedly takes charge of things he has no actual control over, and tries to find the connection between a couple of murders in his city and the politics of Dwarven royalty. While he is gone a field promotion takes Sargent Colon well past anything covered in the Peter Principle and moves the city into a strange tranquility as the various crime organizations stay well away until things implodes on itself.

Highlights are many. Colon’s strange thought process that starts to relate everything to stolen lumps of sugar is both funny and telling. Gaspode has thrived as a minor character who brings out personality in those around him; not bad for a talking dog. In this case he proves to be the only one who can pull the wool over Carrot’s eyes in this series—though only in the minor, non-important issues. And Lady Sybil shows up in this one; when she points out the cultural significance of something through a Dwarven opera I wanted to shout hooray! This, despite not really knowing what she was singing about at all and only seeing the results.

This doesn’t rate as a favorite of mine but it isn’t weak; just a bit stale. It actually holds a bit better as I have been reading them in order than it did in the random order I read the books in the past. Because despite yet another mystery for Vimes to only kinda solve as events play out around him I can see where the world is going. From here on out the people of Discworld are going to stop pushing their very human issues under the rug and actual be forced to deal with them. The world is growing connected, technology is taking over, and thousand year fights over who attacked who are no longer going to fly when looked at by the world’s eye.

It is not that Pratchett hasn’t dealt with issues before within the Discworld series; but for the first time they seem to be tied to a larger story. If the first half of the series was a set of loosely connected standalones there is a bit more of a meta-story line starting now. So while Granny kicked ass and took names in forcing the male dominated University to accept a female student it was a one off thing; all the students of the university in later books were still male. And while some racial barriers were broken down on the individual level in Jingo (specifically in everyone’s favorite sergeant) the largest racial fight of the series has been left unchallenged.

That changes here. A dwarf who wants to be known as female in society that only sees male gains some acceptance. A troll is allowed into the dwarven caverns (well, entry is forced by the great weapon of diplomacy), traditionally the hated enemy. The winds of change is the major theme of the whole tale and is evident everywhere. A powerful vampire gives up blood. Werewolves give up a game played over centuries. Even Vimes is affected. By now the pattern of a Vimes book is almost stale; solve the crime, get another unwanted promotion. Credit Pratchett on the ending here; technically he gains a promotion of a sort at the end(keeping with tradition) but it doesn’t come from his boss. More importantly, and unlike the previous promotions that led to little change in his overall routine, this one will dramatically change the live Vimes is living in a way that sets the series out for what may be the best book in Discworld. Yes I am talking Night Watch; the story within could not be told without the events of The Fifth Elephant.

4 Stars