THE LIGHT FANTASTIC by Terry Pratchett

light fantasticThe second in the monumental Discworld series is a true sequel to The Colour of Magic,  which ends with our fav Failed Wizard and the world’s first Tourist going over the edge of the world to certain death.  But the death is not to be.  The Spell that our wizard Rincewind carries inside his head, which had jumped in unbidden when he opened the forbidden spell book of The Eight Great Spells, seems to want to keep him alive, and he catches on some branches, and is saved.  His traveling buddy, Twoflower and the intrepid Luggage also are saved, and they meet up again heading hubward together.  And that spell?

The spell wasn’t a demanding lodger.  It just sat there like an old toad at the bottom of a pond.  But whenever Rincewind was feeling really tired or very afraid it tried to get itself said.  No one knew what would happen if one of the Eight Great Spells was said by itself, but the general agreement was that the best place from which to watch the effects would be the next universe.

As the three head toward Rincewind’s home city, they look for shelter in a forest, where they meet up with a gnome living in a toadstool.

Twoflower says: “But there’s some big mushrooms under it. Can you eat them?”  There was nothing for it but to go out in the rain and look at them.  He knelt down in the leafmold and peered under the cap.  After a while, he said weakly, “No, no good to eat at all.”  “Why?” called Twoflower.  Rincewind coughed.  “It’s the little doors and windows,” he said wretchedly.  “It’s a dead giveaway”

He wanted to say:”The life of gnomes and goblins is nasty, brutish and short.  So are they.”

This is one of the things I love about Pratchett’s books:  they are filled with allusions to other literary works and cultural references.  This one alludes to Thomas Hobbes writing in Leviathan:   “… every man is Enemy to every man; the same is consequent to the time, wherein men live without other security, than what their own strength, and their own invention shall furnish them withall. In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.’

The gnome shows them a cottage where they can shelter from the rain.

Twoflower touched a wall gingerly.  “It’s all sticky!” “Nougat,” said Swires [the gnome].  “Good grief! A real gingerbread cottage! Rincewind, a real –”  Rincwind nodded glumly.  “Yeah, the Confectionary School of Architecture,” he said.  “It never caught on.”   Swires said, “Marvelous, really.  You just don’t get this sort of place nowadays, you just can’t get the gingerbread.”

Further on, we learn of the library of the Unseen University,

Like many other parts of the Unseen University the library occupied rather more space than its outside dimensions would suggest, because magic distorts space in strange ways, and it was probably the only library in the universe with Mobius shelves.

Tardis, anyone?

The basic plot is that a star of some sort is moving on a direct collision course with Discworld, and the legend is that all 8 of the Eight Great Spells must be said in order to avert the ending of the world.   As Rincewind and friend (and Luggage) travel to his city to give up that eighth spell, they come upon a mysterious shop.  It comes and goes, a spell because the shop keeper didn’t keep something special in stock for a wizard customer.  The shopkeeper calls the world of Rincewind

Ah, here we are. This is your universe.  Very bijou, I always think.  A sort of universette….

They also meet up with Cohen the Barbarian, a toothless, aging hero, and Bethan, a sacrificial virgin saved by Cohen, with assistance from Rincewind and Twoflower.   And off they go, hopefully to save the world.

Just another wonderful, fun and funny book.  I think I am addicted to Rincewind, the Tourist and the Luggage, and to Discworld.

 

THE CASE OF THE NOT-SO-FAIR TRADER by Jim Stevens

Not so fair traderThis is another in the Richard Sherlock Whodunit series.  You remember him, right?  I talked about him here.   The Not-So-Fair Trader is earlier in the series, but just as much fun, with just as cool a mystery plot.

In this book, we have a couple of detectives who are close, very close, to retirement, and they are quite happy to have ex-detective Sherlock, now working as a P.I. for a large insurance company, do their investigating for them.  That works out just swell, as he is probably the better detective, anyway.

We have the over-indulged adult daughter, rich daughter, of the owner of the insurance company, Tiffany, hanging around with Sherlock ostensibly to keep an eye on daddy’s money.  (Daddy hates to pay out on claims.)  Tiffany has found that in between spa appointments, her night life life, and her naps, she is really getting to like this detective business, even though the smell of dead bodies is a bit off-putting.

Sherlock’s two girls, a little younger here, are the proud owners — no, not owners, renters — of a horse, because the ex has visions of upscale living.  And the oldest, Kelly, is learning a lesson about status and personal integrity, via seating arrangements in the school cafeteria.  You know, the cool table, and the next-cool table, and the dweebs and so forth.

So what’s the mystery?  Look out!  Rock slide!   A very unpleasant, and unliked kabillionaire stock trader is found buried in a pile of rocks which seems to have tumbled upon him from some rock sculpture thing in his rock garden.  Think of the irony.  But come on, people, this is a murder mystery.  It is soon obvious that he was murdered.   Just not murdered there in the rock garden.  Lots of interesting drugs were found in his system, including Rohypnol.  Yeah, Rohypnol.  You know Rohypnol — the date rape drug.  Try to stay current.  The guy’s in his 60s.  You think someone needs to drug him to get laid?  Not terribly likely.

So as far as suspects go, oh golly, we pretty much have the whole world.  The detectives can’t find anyone at all who liked him.  There is Doris, the third and current wife, who got cut off the credit cards and is out of cash.  His son by that wife, Brewster, an unlikeable boozer whom Dad was supporting by investing in his business and then cleaned him out.  There is Clayton, the son by the second wife, also being or formerly being supported by dad’s investment and now broke, and his mother, the second wife, who got very little in her divorce settlement.  There was daughter Caroline, lesbian and unloved by dear old dad, and her mother, the first wife, who is now living in poverty in Boston.  Let’s see.  Oh, yeah, the accountant who worked for him for years.  Some other employees.  A couple of upscale prostitutes, of whom the Dead Guy was a regular customer.   The girlfriend of the daughter.  Oh. And the guy who shot AT the deceased while said deceased was in his library.  The assassin missed!  By about two feet above his head.  What kind of paid assassin misses?  A cut-rate one, apparently.

When our boy Sherlock figures it all out, he gathers together in the office of the family lawyer all of those having some part in this, in an Agatha Christie-like final denouement, and spends a couple of pages explaining it all to them (and to us).

You want to know who dunnit?  Think The Orient Express.  That’s all the hint you are getting.

NEVER LET ME GO by Kazuo Ishiguro

neverThis novel by Kazuo Ishiguro (yeah, The Remains of the Day Ishiguro, that guy) is billed as a dystopian science fiction novel.  But, really, it is more about relationships, friends, growing up, our notion of what is reality, and, OK, and about clones.

There.  I said it and I’m glad.  So now you get the idea there will be nothing of Downton Abby in this book;  no butlers, no formal dinner parties, no Upstairs, Downstairs.

It stars a group of young people growing up at an exclusive boarding school in England, and narrated in the first person by one of the young women, Kathy, told as a reminiscence as she, now 31,looks back on her life and the special school, where the staff were referred to amiably as Guardians.  She speaks of when they would grow up and be donors and carers. Donors?  Carers?  Oh dear.

That whole idea is what makes this considered to be dystopian,  but in reality, it is only a background for the story of the personalities of the young people and the several Guardians who administer the school.

I found the method of telling the story somewhat tedious in places;  the narrator is constantly going back to some earlier incident in order to clarify a current episode she is telling us.  The first few times, it was an interesting device.  It became annoying after a while, but since I know nothing about writing techniques, I have tried to rethink this  and discover why this would be more effective than a simple, straight-line telling.  But it began to feel like how a little kid tells you a movie plot:  “then they ran out of the building and jumped in the car and drove away.  Oh, wait!  I forgot to tell you first that before they left the building they had a big fight.  And then they arrived at, no wait.  Before that, they drove around for a while……”   like that. It got kind of irritating.  I wanted to say to the author “Maybe if you made an outline first we wouldn’t have to keep going back to previous scenes.”   But what do I know.  He’s a big deal author.  I just read a lot.

In spite of all that, I really liked the book.  I found it a page turner, with a lot of the reveal dribbling out in tiny bits and pieces, and it isn’t until near the end that we get this big picture and see that yeah, it is a dystopian novel.

Dolly,  the first animal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer.

Dolly, the first animal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell, using the process of nuclear transfer.

 

THE COLOUR OF MAGIC by Terry Prachett

The_Colour_of_Magic_(cover_art)The Colour of Magic is a 1983 comic fantasy novel by Terry Pratchett.  As I told you in Good Omens,  I had not heard of Terry Pratchett or his work before learning of his death, so having tried out Good Omens which he wrote with Neil Gaiman, and having liked it immensely, I figured I should start reading his major opus, the Discworld series.

The Colour of Magic is the first book of the Discworld series, and it is amazing.  And fun.  Let me tell you a bit about Discworld.  In Pratchett’s words:

Great A’Tuin the turtle comes, swimming slowly through the interstellar gulf, hydrogen frost on his ponderous limbs, his huge and ancient shell pocked with meteor craters.  Through sea-sized eyes that are crusted with rheum and asteroid dust He stares fixedly at the Destination.

In a brain bigger than a city, with geological slowness, He thinks only of the Weight.

Most of the weight is of course accounted for by Berilia, Tubul, Great T’Phon and Jerakeen, the four giant elephants upon whose broad and startanned shoulders the disc of the World rests, garlanded by the long waterfall at its vast circumference and domed by the baby-blue vault of Heaven.

There was the theory that A’Tuin had come from nowhere and would continue at a uniform crawl, or steady gait, into nowhere, for all time.  An alternative was that A’Tuin was crawling from the Birthplace to the Time of Mating, as were all the stars in the sky which were, obviously, also carried by giant turtles.  When they arrived they would briefly and passionately mate, for the first and only time, and from that fiery union new turtles would be born to carry a new pattern of worlds.  This was known as the Big Bang hypothesis.

This volume stars Rincewind, a failed wizard.  He could not remember any spells, because he opened a magic book where a fierce and powerful spell jumped off the page into his mind, crowding out all other spells. It is the story of his journey with the Tourist, a small man from across the Disc who wanted to see all the World. the Tourist traveled with his Luggage, a wooden trunk made of sapient pearwood which had a mind of its own and followed the Tourist everywhere on what seemed like hundreds of little feet.  In the trunk, among his laundry and food supplies, was a little box which took pictures.

Rincewind got down on one knee, the better to arrange the picture, and pressed the enchanted lever.

The box said, “It’s no good.  I’ve run out of pink.”

A hitherto unnoticed door opened in front of his eyes.  A small, green and hideously warty humanoid figure leaned out, pointed at a colour-encrusted palette in one clawed hand, and screamed at him.  “No pink, see?” screeched the homunculus.

In one dim corner of the little box, Rincewind thought he could see an easel, and a tiny unmade bed.  He hoped he couldn’t.

Now this is exactly how I feel about cameras, and computers, and TVs.  They are filled with little homunculi.  We all know this.  We are just too embarrassed to admit it.

Discworld has a pantheon of gods, two of which are playing dice, which creates a lot of the storyline,  it has wizards, Death, monsters, dragons, all kinds of odd and eccentric creatures, and of course, that sentient pearwood Luggage which also seems at time to have teeth when it opens its lid.

I love the giant turtle and the four giant elephants carrying the world.  It is a reference to the  infinite regress problem in cosmology posed by the “unmoved mover” paradox. This represents a popular notion of the myth that Earth is actually flat and is supported on the back of a World Turtle, which itself is propped up by a chain of larger and larger turtles.

A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy.

At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. “But it’s turtles all the way down!”

turtles The_Cosmology_of_a_Flat_Earth_by_CaptainZammo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell

swamplandiaThis book was recommended  to me when I was grouching about books touted as ‘zany’.   While I really liked this book very much, I did not find it at all zany, but rather sad and melancholy.  OK, that doesn’t make any sense, does it, liking a book with those kinds of tones.

It is set in the Ten Thousand Islands, off the southwest coast of Florida, and is the story of the Bigtree family of alligator wrestlers who live on Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling theme park.

This delightful family is a pseudo Native American clan, who brought together a number of cultural tidbits from the Seminoles and other tribes to create their own tribe, the Bigtrees.   They own a 1,000 acre island in the southern Florida swampland, accessible only by ferry, and have created a theme park of sorts where the Chief (dad) and 11 year old Ava wrestle alligators, and mom dives into the murky depths and swims with them to the gasping astonishment of the show’s onlookers.

It is sad in that we meet the family at a time when things are changing:  a new attraction on the mainland had begun syphoning off customers.  It had the advantage of more elaborate attractions, and didn’t need a 45 minute ferry ride to get to it.  Then the mother is diagnosed with cancer, and Swamplandia!’s star event lost its star.  Fewer and fewer people were coming, until at last, there were no customers at all.

It is told in the first person by Ava, the youngest, alternating with the third person perspective of Kiwi, the eldest, not quite 18, who desperately wants to leave the island where they had been homeschooled and go to school on the mainland.  After the mother’s death, the middle girl, Osceola decides she is in love with a ghost, a young man who died on a swamp dredge back in the thirties when they were trying to drain the swamp.

Chief leaves the island on one of his ‘trips’ to find investors for what he hopes will be rejuvinating upgrades for the facilities, Kiwi leaves the island in an attempt to find a job to help pay the huge debt the family owes, Ossie leaves to marry her ghost, and Ava leaves in the company of a weird Bird Man to try to find Ossie deep in the swampland.

It is a story of growing up, of how things change, of a time in Florida life that I don’t believe exists any more.  It is melancholy, and heartbreaking, and although it has its chuckle-y moments,  I did not find it at all whacky or madcap.  Just the story of an eccentric and loving family and its trials.   I hope you like it as much as I did.

 

CRITICAL DAWN by Wearmouth and Barnes

Critical dawnA ‘Post-Apocalyptic Survivors Against Colonizing Aliens’ story.  What was I thinking selecting this to read?  Good writing; terrible retro story.  I’m thinking 80’s maybe?

It started off good.  Archeologists working a dig in Roanoake Virginia find some bodies pegged at about the 1600s or thereabouts. With a nifty bead on a string necklace.  But!!!!   Hold onto your seats!!!  The bead seems to have a microchip in it.  Oooooh, how could that be?

Then the dig area suffers a huge sinkhole, into which has fallen one of the young workers.  Our hero protagonist, an experienced rock climber, insists on going down to rescue the dude.  He gets really far down into the sinkhole and a giant dome starts to rise up from the center of the sinkhole.  Yeah, it’s that old dome rising up from a sinkhole thing.  Been done.

The whole story goes downhill from there.

We then are plunked down in the middle of 2054 (I think.  Mercifully I have forgotten a lot of the details.)  We are in deep space with a handful of the members of a generation ship set to touch down in about 100 years.  but then terrible things begin to happen, and they have to escape out of the ship when it apparently crashes.

But, get this, they aren’t really on a generation ship as they believed.  They are some kind of crew running a giant harvester machine for some aliens who have taken over the planet.  And the story goes even further downhill from there.  You know, the whole humans as slaves for the conquering aliens thing.  Been done.

The aliens have been buried underground for centuries waiting for just the right moment to emerge.   The ombudsman between the aliens and the few humans working for them is a guy named Augustus.  And turns out — please, I am only the messenger here — he is really Caesar Augustus, yeah, the Roman emperor dude.  Time traveling.  And a lot of hooey about how time is all just one big blob that is all happening at once.  Been done.

Just because there is a so-called mystery woven through it about what happened to the disappeared Roanoke Colony does not make this wornout saga any more fresh than adding more chopped tomatoes to four-day-old salsa makes that palatable.

And you know what the most depressing thing is?  This is the first of a series.  Oh, my great aunt matilda.  Kill me now.

I checked Goodreads reviews to see how many other people hated this book and was astounded to find that NOBODY posting there hated it.  They all loved it!!!  Overused trope,  overdone evil aliens and overripe plot and all.  The review section was aglow with five stars, and 4 stars.  Oh, well, no accounting for taste.

Well, what do I know.  I’m just a girl.

 

GOOD OMENS by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

good-omensI am ashamed to admit that I had never read anything by Terry Pratchett, although he had written something like 70 books before his very recent death, so I looked up his oeuvre, and discovered this little beauty written with Neil Gaiman back before he (Pratchett) started his Discworld sprawling series.

Pratchett and Gaiman are both fantasy authors of the first water, so I figured it was worth a read, and wowser, was I right.  If fantasy fries your enchiladas, you will love this book.

The tag on this title is The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch.   As we learn in the book,  ‘nice’ is used in the old sense of ‘precise’.  Not ‘nice’ in the sense of, well, nice,  because the book is all about the End of the World, Armageddon, the Apocalypse, which is definitely not nice in the modern sense.

It stars two ancient beings, one an Angel, Aziraphale, who had been stationed on Earth since, well, almost the beginning, and his opposite number, Crawly, a serpent-like demon who had assumed a human shape and who had been around for about the same length of time.  There was some danger that these two, although strictly speaking enemies but were actually quite palsy, had gone somewhat ‘native’.  They liked Earth and its civilizations and flawed human population, and neither were in any hurry to return to their headquarters.

Heaven and Hell were about to embark on a war and to that end, had sent a newborn to start the process.  But earth creatures being what they are, they messed up when three babies were born at the same time, and it seems like the creature meant to be raised to start the war by appropriate parents, actually got put with some rather nice folks, and the demon seed was raised by  normal people who didn’t quite understand him but did their best to keep him in line, and the whole plan got seriously messed up.  Even the Hound of Hell sent to help him, a great dark beast with red eyes and drooling saliva, on the desire of his young master, turned himself into a small happy cheerful dog, so the whole thing was going down the tubes.

Just a delightful book filled with delightful characters and odd items, not the least of which was this book of prophecy by the Witch, Agnes Nutter, written some far century ago, but in a random fashion, and it was not really clear which prophecy applied to which incident in history.  We have witchhunters, and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who were really the Four Motorcyclists of the Apocalypse, with Pestilence giving way to Pollution, since the Plague had pretty much been eradicated back in the umm 1300s,  a gang of eleven-year-old boys in a small village, and you may well wonder what they might have to do with the Coming of the End of the World, when there were Angels and Demons involved, but really, it is all just too complicated for me to condense for you, so if you want to see how the End of the World turns out, you will have to read it for yourself.

Just a tidbit for you, to whet your appetite:  the demon Crawley drives a vintage 1926 black Bentley, one owner from new, and that owner had been Crowley.  It was his treasure, his pride and joy. So much better than that black steed of yore.

Aziraphale was the owner of a book shop specializing in rare, used books.   Of the type that contained spells and such.

See?  Isn’t that fun?  Of course it is.  Enjoy, my pretties.  The End of the World Is Nigh.

SIDE NOTE, OR POSSIBLY TOP NOTE:   I bet you don’t know where the expression “of the first water” originated.  Yeah, neither did I, so in the interests of broadening all of our horizons, I looked it up.  [I am a river to my people.]  Wiki, my bestest friend, says:

First water means “highest quality” and is a term which originates from the gemstone trade. The clarity of diamonds is assessed by their translucence; the more like water, the higher the quality. The 1753 edition of Chambers’ Encyclopedia states “The first water in Diamonds means the greatest purity and perfection of their complexion, which ought to be that of the clearest drop of water. When Diamonds fall short of this perfection, they are said to be of the second or third water, &c. till the stone may be properly called a coloured one.”

And Shakespeare even alludes to it in Pericles:

Heavenly jewels which Pericles hath lost,
Begin to part their fringes of bright gold.
The diamonds of a most praisèd water
Doth appear, to make the world twice rich.