book review: hogfather

Hogfather is a Discworld novel about Xmas. But more importantly to me the first time I read it 13 or so years ago, it’s about belief. For me that makes it one of my favourite Discworld novels (beside Small Gods). I remember it being very important to me when I was still in my X-Files stage of life, where the Mulder/Scully dynamic between skepticism and faith was what I lived for in my fiction. This Xmas, reading the book again, I could read it a bit more as a straight-up novel, not a culmination of philosophy.

In the story the Hogfather (like Santa Claus, but with four pigs flying his sleigh) has disappeared and Death has taken over the role for Hogswatch Eve. Death isn’t a very convincing Hogfather and he manipulates his granddaughter Susan into figuring out what’s happened to the real Hogfather and put things right.

I’d forgotten huge chunks of the plot (though I remembered the Tooth Fairy being important somehow) but the bits about belief and the need to believe in little lies like the Hogfather as practice for believing in big lies like justice stuck with me. But it felt like there was a lot of padding to the story. I guess my estimation of it went down a little bit on this rereading but it remains one of my favourite Xmas stories (along with the original The Nightmare Before Christmas).

book review: johnny and the dead

Johnny and the Dead is a book about a boy who can see and talk to the deceased folks in his local graveyard. Terry Pratchett uses this short kids’ novel to deal with the importance for living people to remember the dead (and the dead people to forget the living). The basic plot is that the village council wants to put in a new condo development on the graveyard and the dead people tell Johnny to stop them. Johnny gets his friends together and (this is where the book really shines) do not organize a protest or anything big and outside the scope of what a bunch of 11-year-olds could conceivably do, they just ask questions about the people who are in the graveyard.

Now, it’s Terry Pratchett writing this, so the characters are funny, but the situations never really are. Even though it’s a bit dated (it’s from the ’90s), it’s a pretty excellent story for Remembrance Day, especially since it talks about how sad it is that soldiers go off and die (instead of doing some bullshit celebratory thing about their noble sacrifices or whatever). Also, it’s the middle book of the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, but I haven’t read the first one and did not feel like I was missing anything.

book review: the pirates! in an adventure with whaling

My friend Jamie had recently told me about the Pirates! In An Adventure With… series. While I couldn’t find An Adventure With Scientists at the library when I remembered it the other day, I did find The Pirates! in an Adventure with Whaling (aka in an Adventure with Ahab), and I do love me some Moby Dick, so off I went.

The basic plot of the story is there are a bunch of pirates (known as The Pirate in Red, or The Pirate Captain or The Pirate With a Hook for a Hand) and they need a new ship. They go to Nantucket and buy a huge fancy one on credit (in order not to look silly in front of the Pirate Captain’s archnemesis) but then they need to raise the money to make the payments. So they sail to Las Vegas and try to do a variety show, and then they try a few other things (including actual piracy) before they turn their hands to whaling so they can get the reward Ahab has posted.

That summary only glances on the funniness of the book. It’s very Terry Pratchett-esque and doesn’t really have too much respect for reality in any form. It’s a light funny story (and in a small package, too – the hardcover book fits in a not-unreasonable-sized pocket) and I’ll gladly read more in the series.

stranger in a strange land children’s literature conference recap

I hadn’t been on an organizing committee before last year, when I joined up to be the Website Coordinator for the Stranger in a Strange Land Children’s Literature Conference. It was kind of a funny situation, since I was in Australia when I signed up, but being the web person meant I could do all my work remotely anyway. I set up the website, found us a Creative Commons licensed graphic to use, got the web registration forms set up to work with the Vancouver Children’s Literature Roundtable PayPal account, and generally made things accessible to the internet. It worked pretty well. I also did some techy stuff at the conference, helping to make sure people’s presentations worked okay.

On a more personal note, at the conference I presented my first paper. It’s called Unreliable Instructions and I made the slides for my presentation public. We only had fifteen minutes to present our work, so I had to bail out before I reached the “librarians have to change the world!” bits, but it went okay. I tend to have more passion than clarity when I’m presenting something to people, especially if there’s a time limit and I’m not being asked questions. I need to know what the audience gets and what they’re confused by so I don’t waste words explaining what everyone knows. Nobody asked any questions in the session, since my critical literacy stuff ended up being much less practical or theoretical than the other presenters. I was primarily talking about stories by China Mieville and Terry Pratchett and how they encourage critical literacy.

My favourite part of the conference was actually afterwards talking about YA books with one of the Creative Writing presenters. We talked about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Ship Breaker and man, reader advisory is my favourite thing in the world.

Happily, I get to use that love next week at the BCLA conference, where I’ll be on the “Ain’t on the Globe and Mail Bestseller List” panel. We’ll be talking about books that don’t get much attention from libraries. That’s restricted to 90 seconds per book, which suits my presentation style quite well. I’ll be presenting indie comics and games, because that’s the kind of thing I do. It should be fun and it’s cool that Shirley thought of me for it.

book review: the wee free men

The Wee Free Men isn’t the best title for Terry Pratchett’s excellent book about a girl, Tiffany Aching, who becomes a witch-hero.

Like The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents this is an excellent younger readers-focused book set in the Discworld but kind of off to the side somewhere. It has less to do with storybook tropes, and more with analysis of what a witch actually does.

Basically Tiffany Aching is a ten-year-old badass through her careful paying of attention to things and when her little brother (who she doesn’t really like) is kidnapped by otherworldly creatures she goes off to save him because who can wait for the “real witches” to show up? She’s got help from a toad (a bit) and the titular Wee Free Men, who are pictsies that fight and steal and cuss. They’re kind of awesome and stuff, but it bugs me that the book is named after the assistants, rather than the hero. I guess there are a lot of them, and they may have intimidated Sir Pratchett.

book review: nation

Terry Pratchett’s Nation isn’t a Discworld novel. It might be better than a Discworld novel though. It’s about a boy in the South Pelagic (like the Pacific but different so the futzing around with history doesn’t get the geeks too annoyed) in the 17th(?) century. He’s an island boy on his way back from the island where he’s gone to do the rituals to get his man soul when a tidal wave sweeps through, killing everyone on his island and wrecking a ship well inland. Not everyone is dead though. There’s a British girl who’s the ship’s sole survivor.

I’d thought it was going to be a Robinson Crusoe type tale of these two kids surviving on the island but it’s about rebuilding a society after catastrophe. Other castaways and such keep on washing up on shore and the boy/man has to become a leader even though he doesn’t have a soul. He rages against the gods and finds the girl to be a rational scientific ally. It’s great. It’s funny, but not as silly as a Discworld book can be. Great stuff. For some reason our library has it in the YA section, but it doesn’t need to be.

book review: guards! guards!

A friend gave me Guards! Guards! for my birthday. Thanks! It’s the first Discworld novel about Vimes, the first of the Watch novels, and as such it kind of bugged me. I like my Commander Vimes to be in charge of things, an established kind of guy. This starts with him a drunk in a tavern and not being the competent guy I like. Now on some level it’s nice to see where he started, but other than that the whole thing didn’t really turn my crank. There were dragons though. And the familiar Guardsmen, and adventure and million to one chances and it was funny and I liked it fine, but it seemed to lack some of the incisiveness that the later Discworld novels have. The ones about interesting issues.

Maybe that’s my problem: I can’t hang this one on a hook like “The Journalism One” or “The Christmas One” or “The Religion One” or “The China One” or whatever. This is just “The First One About the Watch.” Fit in a box, Discworld books!