Sunday, October 31, 2004

I'm not sure why I haven't kept up with posting. Heaven knows I've had enough time, and I've certainly been reading plenty as well. It's harder than it sounds not to have a schedule--the day sort of melts away when there's nothing one has to do. But I'll soon be back in the workforce, and most likely looking back longingly to these days of lounging about and reading fantasy novels.

I recently re-read The Gathering Storm, the fifth book in Kate Elliott's "Crown of Stars" series, and am now even more anxious for the sixth and last to appear. Much as I generally dislike getting into long fantasy series (even with my speed reading ability, a shelf-ful of two-inch thick mass markets is daunting, to say the least), with their convoluted plots and reams of characters, this one is actually worthwhile. I do think Ms. Elliott could have spared her readers some of the details and subplots, since 6000 pages is a lot to demand from any fan, and it's quite difficult to remember what has happened to each of the fifteen essential characters, but the skill with which she has brought each thread into her weaving is remarkable. And actually, the last book should be much easier to follow, since quite a few of the characters were either killed off or their stories resolved in The Gathering Storm.

I'm not going to attempt to explain the plot, since it would either take too long or be too generic to excite anyone (stalwart characters go on various quests to save their world), but Amazon might help if you're interested. Apparently some readers don't share my enthusiasm, but as I said, 6000 pages is a lot to demand.

Friday, October 15, 2004

I've been immersing myself in short stories lately, mainly because of our recent jaunts to Powell's and the number of bad anthologies I picked up there. Yesterday, however, I found the library (my wallet breathes a sigh of relief), and while our tax money seems to have gone to the building before the collection, I was able to find several things I'd been wanting to read. One was the latest from A.S. Byatt, a collection of stories called Little Black Book of Stories, which I read more or less in one sitting. Of course I inhaled them too fast, and will probably have to go back and savor them more carefully, but it's difficult not to gobble when the fare is so wonderfully tasty. There is a definite knack to short stories that, for lack of a better word, I call snarkiness--a sort of sly, wry humor that turns around at the end and elbows the reader in the back--and Byatt possesses it beyond a doubt. Someday, maybe, if I ever get to practicing, you'll see something from me like that.

Anyway, every story in this book is a gem. I particularly liked the first one, where two young girls sent away from their homes during WWII discover something bizarre and old and earth-shattering in a forest, and are forever after secretly affected by it; if ever anyone had an excuse for psychological hangups in later life caused by childhood nastiness, it was these two girls. Another story follows a doctor's concern for a young artist who is hired to decorate the hospital for Christmas and stays on afterwards, living in corners and creating strange and frightening sculptures with medical artifacts from the basement, and their disastrous but compelling love affair. The last story gives account of a husband dealing with the last stages of his wife's descent into Alzheimer's, detailing the small harmless ways in which he exacts revenge for her tantrums and messes, and the curious late-night visits of a beautiful woman who seems to know all about him and his wife. Every one made me shudder a little, and at the same time yearn for such talent.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Nina Kiriki Hoffman is a terrific writer. Unfortunately, however, it seems most fantasy readers don't agree with me, since few of her books are still in print and only one is readily available in bookstores (the newly-released mass market A Fistful of Sky). I just spent an irritatingly long time trying to find used copies of her short story collections online, but apparently they were published by a small press and have, even in this age of wonders and eBay, vanished from the reading sphere. So I suppose I must resign myself to continue my search for anthologies that contain her stories, though it's so much more difficult to appreciate them when sandwiched between authors who by some chance of blind luck became well-known and have all of their books still in print and stocked in bookstores. Not that I'm bitter.

During recent forays to Powell's, I picked up several anthologies for the sole reason that Hoffman's stories appeared in them (not, I must admit, that I scorned to read the rest of the stories!), and one in particular was really excellent. I enjoyed nearly all of the stories in Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City (edited by Martin H. Greenberg and John Helfers), but Hoffman's was especially charming--a tale of that strange entity known to society as a mall. In fact, I think I have to quote from the beginning of it, as I found myself quite tickled.

Gwen hated the mall. It had eaten her three best friends when they were all in sixth grade, and even though it threw them up later, they had come back partially digested by shopping acid and were never the same. --"Mallificent"

Friday, October 08, 2004

Well, we made it to Oregon. We're happily settled into suburbia, in a cute little house with blue trim, a porch, and roses on the back patio. It'll do. Things are mostly unpacked and arranged, including all the books. We spent a happy day sorting and organizing, which has never really been done before and was desperately needed--now we actually have a nice library in our front room with everything arranged by subject (more or less arbitrarily). During this undertaking, of course, both Odious and I made new stacks of things to read, that had been buried or forgotten. One of them for me was Ellen Kushner's The Fall of the Kings, which I'd been meaning to read since we picked it up at a library book sale. Odious said he found it boring, as well as a little heavy on the buggery (which bothered me about its prequel, Swordspoint, also!), but I gave it a try anyway, and found myself completely immersed. I was disappointed by the ending, which seemed a bit of a cop-out, but the characters were well-developed and interesting and the plot fascinating (until it fell apart at the end, sadly). So I'm recommending it with reservations, if you liked Kushner's other two books.

This weekend we'll be heading into Portland for, among other things, a pleasant visit to Powell's Books. Now that we've moved, I feel liberated to buy books again!