• Books

    Among Others, by Jo Walton

    I’m in the middle of Among Others and absolutely loving it. I’ll try to do a proper review later on, but I just wanted to say that this novel deserves all of the applause that it has received.

    In an odd way, it makes me nostalgic, although not for a place but for the kid that I used to be. I wasn’t British, am not crippled, attended public school but not in the English sense  (which we call private schools in the States), but aside from that I was Mor. I was fiercely independent, difficult and shy, most people bored me and I loved books better than people. I treasured the same books that she reads, from Dhalgren by Samuel L. Delany to the Pern novels, Aszimov and so on. I loved -and still love- the public library as a place of magic and endless possibility, totally unmitigated by the fact that it continually let me down by not having enough books to feed my constant hunger.

    Periodically I’ll remember a book or author that I loved as a child or teen, and think that I really must start collecting all of those old novels so I can re-read them. It’s a strange feeling to suddenly remember Darkover, for instance, for the first time in decades. How could I forget Darkover? All of these books were important to me, they formed the person that I am today, and I’ve lost them all along the way.

    I need my old friends again.

  • Books

    Let the Wild Rumpus Begin

    But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”

    And Max said, “No!”

    The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.

    Rest in peace, Maurice Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are was a book that I loved as a child, and one that my daughter loved in turn. I still have her copy, complete with crayon scribbles. We all have wanted to be the King of all Wild Things now and then.

  • Books,  Personal

    Fierce Creatures

    I’ve always had an affinity for fierce creatures, predators and animals that have to be handled carefully. I adore ferrets and the twinned playful/bloodthirsty sides of their nature. Had I both the financial resources and the time, I would love to study falconry with the intent of someday having my own hawk. I once lived with a hybrid wolf (and I will never do that again), who was gorgeous and not socialised at all. I’ve owned and trained stallions, one lovely, gentlemanly Arabian stallion and one devil of a black Thoroughbred stallion who almost killed me. Something about the fierce hunter nature of difficult animals resonates with me.

    The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater was a book that made me remember how much I loved working with stallions and difficult horses. I wrote a review of it here which talks a lot more about the book, the romance and bleakness of the island, and the relationship between the main characters and their horses. It’s well worth buying and reading, I loved it. It is about the capaill uisce, the dangerous water horses that sweep in from the sea every November, prowling the night and killing the unwary. The capaill uisce are captured, tamed and trained for the yearly Scorpio Races, which keep the island alive as tourists flock to watch. Every year there are deaths, and the sand is washed with blood.

    The relationship between Sean and Corr, the great red water horse that he loves, was perfect. It made me remember a certain stallion that I once owned and tried to love, but he had been too badly damaged to accept it. It was during the period in my life when I would ride anything (I was evidently under the impression that I was immortal and unbreakable). I bought young horses to back and train and sell on, and also problem horses which I could buy cheap. Most problem horses have been made that way by stupid, cruel, ignorant or frightened people – such as the mare I bought after she had put her owner in the hospital. (If you saw on a horse’s mouth long enough, you will have it finally rear up and fall over on you, crushing your pelvis.) The biggest project that I ever attempted was the black stallion Salute.

    He was a very tall black Thoroughbred colt who had been bred by a husband and wife for racing. The wife died, and the husband lost heart and all interest in the horses, leaving them to be cared for by the Mexican workers on the farm. When I went to look at him, he had been not broken in the normal sense but used for rodeos by the ranch hands. It took four guys to put a saddle on him and then he threw them over and over again until they finally exhausted him enough that one guy could run him around the round pen, whipping him with the ends of the reins. I said that I would buy him if they got off of him immediately and didn’t touch him again.

    Salute was broken irreparably, and almost killed me. Thoroughbreds are bred for competitiveness and the refusal to quit, and that can make the stallions a bit more difficult to handle. The old horseman’s saying is that you “tell a gelding, ask a mare, and discuss it with a stallion,” meaning that there is an ongoing competition to see who is boss. You couldn’t trust him for a second – once when I was bridling him he whipped his head around, grabbed me by the neck and shoulder, shook me like a dog shaking a rat, and threw me to the side of the stall. Thank goodness for wearing a winter leather jacket, as he was faster than thought. Another time I’d turned him out in one of the large arenas and, since he was on the far side, nipped in to move a metal mounting block to the side so he wouldn’t get hurt on it. The next thing I knew, I was on my back and all I could see was a vast, black horse belly as he pawed the air over me. For some reason, he didn’t kill me that day.

    He never learned to trust me, much less love me. I did get him backed, but he was never trustworthy as with the slightest provocation he would buck. And boy, could he ever buck. I could stay in the pad on most horses, but he would leap higher than my head and sunfish (front legs go to one side, hind legs the other). He swapped ends. He bucked so well that there was an old cowboy at the barn that kept saying I should sell him as rodeo stock. So we finally gelded him, and while he was recovering from that he struck out at another horse through a pipe fence and broke a leg. Poor Salute, destined for hardship and heartbreak.

    As hateful as he actually was, I had to love his fierce spirit. He was a pure spirit in his hate, and a primal force of teeth and hooves. He was magnificent. And so, when I read The Scorpio Races, I understood how Sean could love the treacherous, flesh-eating capaill uisce and the red stallion Corr. I can see Salute as a black water horse, satiny coat and snakelike head with sharp teeth reaching for his flimsy human prey. I imagine him out there in the mists and the cold lacework of the waves…it would have suited him perfectly.

  • Books

    La Estrella Book Trailer

    Despite my recent post about not understanding the need to put so much money into book trailers, I saw one recently that I very much liked. The book is a Spanish-language YA fantasy entitled La Estrella (The Star), and the trailer was lovely.

    A young man marked by a curse.
    A village hiding the biggest secret ever to be kept.
    A love as dangerous as it is impossible.
    A world whose surface is forever undergoing changes…when getting lost is the equivalent of death.


  • Books

    Book Trailers

    Book trailers are an odd thing, at least to me. Some of them rival movie trailers in production value, while some…don’t. Basically, a book trailer is marketing for people who don’t read. This is the part which confuses me, since we are talking about a book. Or perhaps I’m just not understanding the whole concept.

    Sara Wilson Etienne had a very nice post recently on the making of a book trailer for Harbinger. In this case, the author says that she was lucky to live in Los Angeles and have professional, skilled friends who work in the movie and game industry, and everyone generously donated time and resources to make the trailer.

    In her post she says “When I watch this trailer, what is clear to me is this: it has a life and momentum of its own. People jumped in with both feet and made it theirs. The Harbinger trailer may have started off as my vision, but it became everyone’s. A fantastic conglomeration of long days and pizza and generosity and so much talent.” My lack of understanding of the value of book trailers aside, it would have been a lovely experience to be part of all of this.

    In 3 Vital Keys to a Book Trailer, Ezra Barany says “A good book trailer triggers an emotional response – The viewer gets the promise of an experience, one they know they will have when they read the book.” Again, I suppose this is true, but I think if words cannot convey the same thing, then the viewer is going to be unlikely to appreciate the book.

    I would also worry about visualising characters and settings for your readers, rather than letting them imagine everything themselves – your mental image of a loved character might be quite different from mine, but once I have seen an actor portray that character, my vision is supplanted. That is the beauty of reading, after all – the book as mirror, which reflects the reader’s imagination. It is a less passive experience than watching a film or TV, and the reader has a creative/imaginative role in the partnership.

    Despite my lack of understanding for the whys of book trailers, I would love to try my hand at actually making one. The artist side of me goes squee at the though of doing one, which is what led to looking at the trailers in this post. After the jump are the trailers that I most enjoyed.

  • Books

    Leviathan Wakes

    I just finished Leviathan Wakes, and thoroughly enjoyed every page of it. It’s been a long time since I read any science fiction, which is odd because through most of my life I have been passionate about the genre. In recent years, I tend to perfer fantasy. Perhaps my desire to escape is focussed more on impossible worlds because I don’t have much hope for the future. I’m not sure.

    But back to the book. As I read it, I kept thinking “I would kill to see this as a movie. This would kick ass.” It was a fast-paced book, and the plot twists caught and held me all the way to the end. The entwined storylines of the main characters, the broken detective Miller and the inflexibly moral Holden, meet and part and meet again against a background of interplanetary conflict between Earth, Mars, and the scattered asteroids of the Belt. This book is quite often termed “space opera,” which to me seems dismissive (but I may not be understanding the term correctly). If space opera means that it is not hard science fiction, then I would agree. This story is about people with flaws and dreams, people who deal with the the consequences of the actions that they are pushed into. It is about real environments, down to the smell of the air in the corridors and the taste of the reconstituted food. This is why I loved science fiction – I was never a fan of hard sci fi, I got bored by pages of involved technical description. Just tell me how it feels, make me feel as though I am really there. So yes, Leviathan Wakes may be space opera in the sense that Firefly or BSG was: solid, suspenseful stories about real people.

    I loved the character of Miller, which is no surprise. I’ve always related to realists more than idealists, and like damaged characters who go on to do heroic things despite knowing how broken the world is. They make the best decisions that they can, and adapt to what they need to be. I related less to Holden, who seemed to want the world to confirm to his moralistic world view. Both characters, though, were extremely well written, with depth, realism and humour (as were more secondary characters, even down to the missing girl who starts Miller on the path to unravelling the mystery).

    All in all, a book that I enjoyed a great deal. It’s made me hunger to read science fiction again, and go back to the days when my favourite authors were Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. And perhaps that comparison is apt; it was Robert Heinlein’s character and plot driven books that addicted me to the genre in the first place. His books were, first and foremost, about people. Ok, to be fair, perhaps his books were first about message, but after that they were about people, and I loved that.

    Buy it. And someone, please, make a movie out of this. :)

  • Books

    Illustrated Books for Adults

    The book project that I’ve been wanting to do for most of my adult life is an illustrated dark fantasy book for adults. There is a story that my parents read to me, and I somehow missed reading to my daughter – written in an overly sentimenal style, at its core is something very surreal, very dark, with a simple but profound message. I think it would work well with all of the original saccharine sweetness stripped away, completely rewritten and illustrated with lush, sensual full colour images throughout.

    Angela Carter is a writer that is the perfect illustration (see what I did there?) of someone whose books are just crying out for full illustration. If you haven’t read her books or stories, you’ve probably seen The Company of Wolves. She is a gorgeous writer, and I would very much recommend picking up The Bloody Chamber, if nothing else.

    Why don’t we see more illustrated books for adults? Of course there are graphic novels, but I’m talking about something that has story at the heart of it, with art to complete the experience. After all, much of the books that people would have read once upon a time were illustrated – Dickens, etc. Why has that fallen totally out of fashion, and would a modern version work?

    One of the old projects that I always wanted to do was a pillow book of sorts…not specifically in the Japanese sense, but as something very dark and romantic that an adult would read (or, more to the point, that a couple would read to each other in bed). Sensual dark-fantasy stories and poems and art – a book that you would give to a lover in hopes of reading it together. That one is still on the list. :)

    So, would a modern illustrated book sink, or swim?

  • Books

    Heathcliff and Cathy, the Early Years

    I was in the bookstore last week (yeah, it’s where I spend a lot of my lunches. My home looks a lot like a second-hand bookstore, but there’s always room for more) and I saw a book which really made me laugh.

    I happened to be in the Teen section. Aside from my lamentable taste in vampire fiction, I am firmly of the belief that you find some of the best fantasy books there, just because they’re afraid to market them to adults. I have no problem whatsoever with buying kids books. And what do I see?  A very, very Twilight-esque cover. On Wuthering Heights.

    Oh, come on – that’s funny. The Amazon blurb (because I yoinked the cover image from them) was also very funny: 

    One of the greatest love stories ever told, beautifully repackaged for a modern teen audience. Love the Twilight books? Then you’ll adore Wuthering Heights, one of the greatest love stories ever told. Cathy and Heathcliff, childhood friends, are cruelly separated by class, fate and the actions of others. But uniting them is something even stronger: an all-consuming passion that sweeps away everything that comes between them. Even death!

    Even Death! hahahaha….

  • Books


    Do you know someone who not only isn’t online, but doesn’t understand what value or relevance the internet could have to their lives? I think we all do – probably an older person. That opinion astonishes me, as I can’t imagine living an unconnected life.

    For instance, yesterday I read King Rat by China Miéville for the first time. I think he’s a gorgeous writer, but I haven’t read many of his books – Un Lun Dun and The Scar only so far. King Rat was lovely, with a nice political twist at the end. On the commute in this morning, I mentioned the book, and P. and I had a conversation about the book, Miéville’s left-wing opinions, and socialism. I realised that aside from some vague recollections from school that socialism was “for the workers” or “for the people” or something (hey, I said it was vague!) I didn’t actually know what it was. So I looked it up. According to Wikipedia, Socialism is:

    Socialism refers to the various theories of economic organization advocating public or direct worker ownership and administration of the means of production and allocation of resources, and a society characterized by equal access to resources for all individuals with a method of compensation based on the amount of labor expended.

    Well, there you go. All the reference libraries of the world at our fingertips. This morning I also googled “david lee roth california girls” to settle the question of what familiar voice was featured on that cover on the radio. That kind of information is priceless, I’m telling you!

    Anyway, back to China Miéville – if you haven’t read his books, do so because he’s an extremely talented writer. How can you not love someone who once described Tolkien as “the wen on the arse of fantasy literature”?

  • Books,  Personal

    Kids Books

    Last time I went to the library (we’re much too poor now to buy books, so farewell my Amazon habit), I got an armful of books out of the “Young Readers” section. I’ve found some of the best books that I’ve loved from there: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, the Chris d’Lacey books, Inkheart, and so many more. Of course, we won’t forget my beloved Harry Potter books, re-read so many times.

    I think a lot of good fantasy novels (pre Harry Potter, anyway) were marketed for the teen market because they didn’t think they would be as successful if marketed for the general market. So you make some wonderful finds if you’re not embarrassed to haunt the kids’ section.  :)

    One of the books that I got was Kamira: The Sky Village, a sort of post-apocalypse fantasy of a balloon village floating over a futuristic China where beast, meks and humans fight in epic battles. It’s very much worth reading.

    The other one was Before I Die, which I’m only half way through. It’s a gorgeously written book about a girl who is dying of cancer. She has a List of things that she would like to do before she dies, which so far includes having sex (“I want to feel the weight of a boy’s body on mine”), saying yes to everything all day long on one single day, committing a crime, and so on. It’s a beautiful book.

    It made me think about my own list. There’s a universe of stuff out there that I’ve never done. If I knew that I was dying, what would I do?

    1. Swim nude in a pond or lake at night, under the stars.
    2. See the Northern Lights.
    3. Go to Ireland. I wanted to go with my family for the first time, it would have meant a lot to me – but now I just want to go.
    4. Travel. So many places I want to see. Egypt, for one. Greece. Although that makes me think of Shirley Valentine saying “I want to drink a glass of wine in a country where the grape is grown”.  :)
    5. Compete in a three day event.
    6. Be kissed in Paris.
    7. Write, illustrate and publish a children’s book.
    8. Get the celtic knotwork bands tattooed around my arms just above the wrists which I’ve always planned. They will indicate being bound to a path, and I haven’t been serious enough about it yet.
    9. Do something completely mad…my Thelma and Louise experience. Which hopefully won’t end with a car and a cliff. But even so.

    Ok, I’m going back to reading. Because you know?  Life can’t be ALL horrible when you have good books, a fireplace to read them by, and cats to keep you company. That’s enough for tonight…it’s pretty damn fine, actually.  :)