Last year I tried reading Joe Hill’s first novel Heart-Shaped Box and couldn’t finish it. It was horror but to me felt like an Eli Roth movie or part of the Saw franchise where it was just sort of unremittingly shitty to its characters, kind of revelling in the power that the writer has to play god with the shits under their command. I hated that book.
I love Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Locke and Key.
Maybe there’s a bit of a softening to how Hill portrays people, but damn did I ever give a shit about the Locke family and their myriad not-great decisions that let terrible supernatural things happen to them.
The story starts off with the violent death of the father of the Locke family. He dies trying to protect his wife and kids from a murderer. He’d always said though that if anything happened to him the family should move back to his family home in Lovecraft County.
In the first volume (which I’d read a few years ago without following up) that kind of cutesy naming thing (“See, it’s in New England and it’s horror, so the county is Lovecraft! Like the writer! Get it? Eh?”) bugged me. Everything felt very on the nose and wink-nudge nerdculture nodding (the gym teacher named Whedon and stuff). It was a little less annoying this time (especially after having recently dealt with all the Dark Tower self-referential bullshit) and once you get past the first volume the story really settles into itself and gets good.
The hook to the story is that in this family home there are all these magickal keys and locks and doors that the kids find and have to protect from nefarious forces. It’s a great hook and as it goes along the “stupid rules” make sense. The villain has an actually interesting endgame and uses one of the traditional horror tropes that gives me the screaming habublies to achieve it.
So yes. It won Eisners and all that so the book isn’t some undiscovered gem; it doesn’t need my praise but it has it.
Lauren Beukes’ sf noir novel Zoo City is set in an alternate 21st century South Africa where magic works and those who kill get marked by an animal companion (kind of like Pullman’s daemons, but they don’t talk and they’re a signifier of antisocial behaviour). I’m not sure it makes much sense as far as worldbuilding goes, but the characters get you right into things so it doesn’t matter much.
Zinzi is our hero who works 419 scams for shady dangerous people and finds lost things, not people. As befits a good noir story she breaks her rule and takes a good-paying missing persons case and everything goes sideways. There’s violence and lying and the sinister machinations of pop music.
The book reminded me of George Alec Effinger’s Marid Audran stories, which I also quite like. The main difference is that what makes it not a straight up crime story is less about technology & politics, instead Zoo City is our world infused with a bit of magic.
The Farthest Shore is the conclusion to Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy (which was added to later). Sparrowhawk/Ged is now the archmage and he’s approached by a young prince who says magic is weakening. The two of them go on a quest to discover the truth of what is happening and set it right.
I love these beautiful little books. I think there’s something magnificent about these worlds that are conjured through these character studies hanging on bits of plot. I mean, the Kingkiller chronicle is great, but this series scratches a similar itch for the epic grand coming-of-age story without the length. Like the epic nature of these tiny paperbacks is folded in on itself, they feel so much bigger because they’re the length of a Robert Jordan prologue. It’s just great, and if you have any interest in fantasy literature there is no reason to not read it.
Every so often I get far enough behind in my book blogging I just declare bankruptcy and start fresh. This is one of those times. Here’s what I’ve read since my last book review:
- The Dog Stars by Peter Heller: Good post-apocalypse stuff. Realistic but not too depressing.
- Time and the Batman by Grant Morrison: Kind of bullshit. Can’t remember why.
- Zoo Station by David Downing: A cold war spy novel set in Berlin. I think I’ve now conflated an article I read by LeCarre into the plot, but I liked it.
- Lost Dogs by Jeff Lemire: Good rough early work, but man is his current stuff ever better.
- Poor Yorick by Ryan North: Good, but not as crazy as To Be or Not To Be, which is gonads-out amazing and will get its own review.
- 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa: I loved this 22 volume manga, even if the end is a little abrupt.
- Nanjing Requiem by Ha Jin: It took me forever to read this book, but that’s just because it’s oppressive and painful like the history it’s based on.
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Really good. Different from Mechanique, more grown-up, but I can’t hold that against it.
- The Boy Detective Fails by Joe Meno: Not as Encyclopedia Brown grows up as I wanted deep in my heart, but still more than decent.
- The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling: Kidbrarian confession time. Before September I’d only read the first Harry Potter book and only knew the rest of them through Wikipedia. I have rectified that (and think the Prisoner of Azkaban was my favourite) (and was a little chagrinned that my MBTI says I’m Hermione when I wanted to be Sirius Black).
Harry Potter MBTI – makani.deviantart.com | simbaga.tumblr.com
- The History of White People by Nell Irvin Painter: The earlier stuff was more interesting before it got to the states.
- The Dewey Decimal System by Nathan Larson: A sort of post apocalyptic noir thing in a similar vein to Gun Machine, but not quite as good. Still decently readable.
- Sorry, Please, Thank You: Stories by Charles Yu: Very good George Saunders-esque short stories. Highly recommended.
- Penguin: Pride and Prejudice by Gregg Hurwitz: A comic depicting Gotham’s Penguin as a tragic villain. Much better than I expected, but not amazing.
- The Children of the Sky by Vernor Vinge: I love love love the Tines (pack mind aliens. The story was fine but the politics got me angry. Totally worth it if you’ve read A Fire Upon the Deep.
- By the Balls: Jim Pascoe & Tom Fassbender: Noir stories set in Nevada in the late-90s. Good pulpy stuff.
The last book I read is one I really liked and will get a full review later this week.
I really liked W.D. Valgardson’s What the Bear Said: Skald Tales of New Iceland. It’s a collection of short stories about Icelanders, most of whom are living on the edge of Lake Winnipeg, but some happen back in Iceland. There are faeries and a sturgeon that looks out for the woman who saved it and good deeds going unnoticed by all but the being who matters and bad deeds being punished.
It was like a fairy tale book, but one set in the world I recognize. (I wish Mennonites had a tradition of magical tales so I could be digging these out of my own heritage. I guess martyrs’ stories are our equivalent? Lame.)
I’ve been hearing about Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind for years it feels like, but maybe that’s just because I read the blogs of writers who are friends of his. It’s a good fantasy novel that reminded me a lot of Ender’s Game, or a less postmodern The Magicians.
This is the first volume in a series about Kvothe, who is now an innkeeper named Kote, but was once much more. There’s an elaborate framing device wherein Kote is telling his story, the true story, to a Chronicler over three days. This first book is the first day of the story, and covers his boyhood to attending the magickal university. In the frame though we know that the Skraelings are being seen again and that people in his chosen hideyhole are ill-prepared to deal with them.
It’s all well-told, even if young Kvothe is a showoff asshole who has to assert his superiority at every turn. It’s a self-aggrandizing tale even as the innkeeper is trying to tell it warts and all, which is less than exciting to me. I just have a bit less patience for stories of people who are so obviously “better” than everyone surrounding them. And the flaw of pride in being awesome is an annoying kind of flaw in my books. The gender politics are really traditional, and though there are a few interesting economic interactions in the society fuelled by magic, the world doesn’t feel that fantastical.
But whatever. The story is engrossing enough, and in the end of this volume the idea of encouraging Kote to tell the story of his old self as heroically as possible is revealed to be part of the larger tale, which I found intriguing (I am a sucker for metatextual elements, I guess). This’d be a great book for a reader who’s read the Ranger’s Apprentice series and wants something a bit more sophisticated (and isn’t put off by the word-count of the tome).
The Tombs of Atuan is one of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea books, and I have the vague feeling that it’s one she was less than pleased with decades later, which is why the main character returns in Tehanu. I confess I don’t know exactly why I think this is the case. It’s one of those things I read out in the digital wilds, I guess.
In this story, Tenar is a young girl who is raised to be a priestess of shadowy death in a nation ruled by god-kings (who are in competition with her older and more ineffable deities). She learns the ways of power and her labyrinth domain to such a degree that when Sparrowhawk the sorceror arrives looking for treasure and blundering into their traps she is in a much more powerful position than he is. But she abandons her life in the tombs and in the end she escapes.
Reading the story, I could see why LeGuin would want to revisit it later. Politically there’s a lot of reification of colonial and patriarchical themes in this story. Her backward ways are overturned by encountering the rational mage who liberates a girl who would remain trapped for all her life if he hadn’t happened along. This is happening to a heroine who’s already had her name stripped from her. I mean Tenar is a fine character but if you’re interested in feminism she’s not exactly an aspirational model.
It still strikes me oddly that I’m only reading these books as a 30-something-year-old person. I wonder why these weren’t part of my early sf education. They should be for kids today.