Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Summer Tree

I recently finished reading Guy Gavriel Kay's The Summer Tree. Ok, I know I'm decades late. But . . . wow! Why didn't anyone tell me about Kay before? The book is incredible. A lot of times I pick up a book and, although I might enjoy the first in a series, I'm not hooked enough to finish reading the rest. Let me assure you I'll be reading *all* of the Fionavar series, and I'll probably give at least one of his standalone books a shot as well.

I don't know how I missed out on Kay for so long. I just ran across his name for the first time last year, and when I started looking at his books, I saw that they were loosely based on real places. That was an instant turn-off for me. I can still remember seeing Sailing to Sarantium, remembering the Yeats poem, and immediately thinking, "I will never read that." But somehow, after seeing Kay's name once, I started seeing it pop up all over the place. So, finally, I decided to check out one of his books. I will never regret it.

What's wonderful about The Summer Tree is how incredibly beautiful it is. In particular, the story of Paul and his grief, but in general as well. Kay's economy, the precision and beauty of his language--it's unmatched by almost any author I can think of. In addition to the language, the story's thematics are fascinating. I can easily see the links between Kay and Tolkien, but whereas most authors suffer by comparison, Kay just takes on added shine. The pacing of the book is excellent, the characters engaging--even Dave, whom I thought I hated. It was just a breathtaking performance. I can't wait to read more. If you haven't read anything by Guy Gavriel Kay, I highly recommend him to you (at least The Summer Tree).

On a side note, reading Kay makes me think of Brandon Sanderson's idea of one generation of authors as the 'children' of Tolkien (I believe he names Robert Jordan as the exemplar of this period) and then the next generation (Sanderson himself) as 'grandchildren' of Tolkien. It's interesting to think about how the types of stories that are popular shift with time, and such a shift will be apparent to those who read Kay now, a good twenty years after The Summer Tree was originally published. This distinction also makes me think of those people who are eager to claim the label of postmodernism for contemporary fantasy--whether for good or for ill. Sanderson's distinction to me seems much more tenable, precisely because it locates the difference as a type of growth of the genre, or an evolutionary process. This seems reasonable, that any genre will develop and change over time. However, I remain unconvinced that most postmodern fantasy has anything to do with the intellectual and aesthetic movement(s) of postmodernism (although there might be a few exceptions). In any case, these are just a few thoughts about how Kay might seem outdated to some readers. As far as I am concerned, however, there is no way that beautiful, compelling writing can be outdated. Just a thought.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Flood update

Just wanted to let you know that Flood is moving along as planned. I'm about 1/3 of the way through the first draft--a nice step forward from October 1, when I posted that I was about 1/8 of the way done. So, progress is being made slowly and steadily--the way writing is almost always done.

The story is coming together very nicely; I believe I've mentioned before that I feel this is a very different book than Fold Thunder, but it does address some of the same storylines. I can't remember if I've mentioned whom it follows. The story picks up with Sammeen, Coi's right-hand man whom Dag tortured for information, arriving in Akiivka, a city in distant Mane. It follows Adence and Erlandr as they hunt down Corian, Brech's sister, who had been tracking them for Brech. And, of course, we see Joaquim struggling to deal with the sliver of the Rent that is trapped inside him as he looks for answers from Adence and Erlandr.

Other things are in there too, of course, including maybe a surprise or two about people from Fold Thunder who, although they aren't main characters in this book, nevertheless have an important role to play in the events of the third book.

Indifferent is still in revisions; at this point, it will probably be up for sale in mid-November, but I'm going to qualify that by saying it may be as late as the beginning of December. It's just too hard to judge right now, especially with other things in my life picking up pace to complicate my time management. I think you'll love Indifferent, though--it's very different from Fold Thunder and The Dew of Flesh, but also very compelling.

As a last item, The Dew of Flesh is available everywhere now, including a free copy on this website under the Books tab, so if you haven't had a chance to read it, I'd like to suggest that you take a look at the copy here, or a free sample elsewhere, and give it a chance.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Shades of Milk and Honey

This is the last (or penultimate, perhaps) book review for the next little while. I read Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of Milk and Honey before many of the other books I've written about, but I've had a hard time deciding what I want to say about it. My experience of the book was mixed.

What impressed me:
Kowal's ability to imitate 18th century prose
the structure of the novel, in terms of plot and resolution and pacing
how very different this book is from many fantasy novels

I think that this would be a good book to look at if only for the drastic contrast between it and much of what is being written today. It is very slow paced, and there is relatively little action. These are by no means bad things; the story is still engaging. However, readers should be aware of this before buying the book; it's much more a romance novel than an adventure.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

I Am Not A Serial Killer

So to continue the series of posts on books that I've read over the last few months: I just finished a few days ago Dan Wells's book, I Am Not A Serial Killer. What a great title!

I had mixed feelings about the book. Or rather, I loved the idea of the book, I loved the voice. Dan Wells does some amazing things with the narrative; the way he shows things through John's point of view is astounding at times. Since I have the book at hand, here is an example: "Old skin was my favorite--dry and wrinkled, with a texture like antique paper." This is on the second page of the book, buried in a description of a corpse. It's just a stellar example of 'show-don't-tell,' because this one sentence lets us know *so* much about John without actually 'telling' it.

What I didn't love: John himself. I think he's a fascinating character, but for me, he was a bit burdensome as a main character. What I mean is that there was very little relief from his sociopathy. Now, in its own way, that's a tribute to Dan Wells. He does a wonderful job of getting inside John's head, showing us what he's like. Perhaps he does it too well. I think it's clear that this experience is meant to be disturbing, and Dan Wells does it to perfection. And I think therein lies the problem. Even as I found myself rooting for John, wanting him to win against the demon, wanting him to win against his own demons, I could never fully like him. I'm still not sure why this was such a problem for me; I've read a lot of books with characters I don't particularly like. I think, though, that the problem here is that the book is so heavily character based, there is nothing to save the book from its own success.

In any case, a wonderful read for anyone doing first person, although with the caveat that it can be (well, I think it is) a disturbing reading experience. I'm undecided about reading the next two; most likely I will, if only because I'm professionally interested in how Dan Wells manages to pull this off.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

In my tradition of always being a little bit behind the curve, I recently read N. K. Jemisin's The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Here's what I liked about it:

--very well done narrative: Jemisin is not afraid to think that her readers are smart enough to follow a complex narrative style, instead of the much more traditional, spoon-fed approach to telling a story that dominates fantasy writing; this includes not only the narration of action and description, but also the willingness to tell the story in a non-linear fashion (at points)
--good setting: although I'm not convinced that her setting is quite as unique as reviews make it sound, I still really enjoyed it, and I thought it was interesting and well-developed
--good characters: I thought the characters were fairly well-rounded and engaging, although I had a rather difficult time with the protagonist; I liked the narrator-protagonist *so much more* than the protagonist I had to read about most of the time

Again, this is a great place to look if you want to see an author treating her readers as intelligent human beings (Steven Erikson is another example of this, or George R. R. Martin). While I enjoyed the book quite a bit, I could have done with a bit less on the sexuality of the gods (I think I was supposed to feel shocked and/or titillated that the gods were bisexual, but it just felt like I was being forced to feel that way, and I didn't appreciate it--frankly, I just didn't care), and as I said, I had a hard time with a dominant version of the protagonist. Still, definitely worth a read for seeing how Jemisin tells a smart, enjoyable story. I'm glad I read this book.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Update + The Lies of Locke Lamora

I believe I mentioned earlier that I recently finished reading The Lies of Locke Lamora. It was an interesting book; I didn't care for the swearing, although it seemed appropriate for the characters. That's really my only complaint, though. The book itself is wonderful. The characters are engaging and likeable, the plot is entertaining and well-paced, and the voice is wonderful. I loved the narration of this book--it's a wonderful balance of dry humor and beautiful writing, and it certainly gave me some new goals for my own work. I highly recommend this book (I know, it's been out for years), but remember: if you are offended by swearing, this is not the book for you. People who follow this blog know that I'm a pretty big fan of Brandon Sanderson's work, and I think Scott Lynch's writing is substantially different from Sanderson's. For those interested in thinking about how they write, I think reading a Sanderson book next to Scott Lynch's work might be very illuminating.

Things are moving along smoothly. Flood is on track; at this point, it's perhaps 1/8 drafted. Maybe a bit more. It's always hard to say how long a book will be from an outline, but this feels like it will be about the length of Fold Thunder or The Dew of Flesh, and if that's the case, then I'm about 1/8 of the way through it. This book is taking on a very different tone from Fold Thunder or The Dew of Flesh. It continues to examine a lot of the themes present in Fold Thunder, but from new, and I hope profitable, directions. Structurally, it's substantially different from the other books as well, and it's turning out to be very effective (at least, up to this point).

Indifferent is still moving along through revision; I'd like to predict end of November for this book, but it may be as late as early December. It's hard to say right now. Regardless, it will be up by the end of the year.

And I think that's all for now.