AMONG OTHERS by Jo Walton

 The blurb says:  this is the compelling story of a young woman struggling to escape a troubled childhood, a brilliant diary of first encounters with the great novels of modern fantasy and SF, and a spellbinding tale of escape from ancient enchantment.

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

OK, enough from blurbville.   This is set in England in 1979, and if you like fantasy lite, and sci fi, and reading and witches, you are going to kvell over this book.  Growing up in Wales with a whacko witch mother who is really nasty, our gal and her sister see, cavort and speak with fairies, which are not like any fairies you are familiar with.   At one point, she muses, “I wondered if fairies are a sentient manifestation of the magical interconnectedness of the world.”   Yeah, I often muse that, too.  Even 

She is a voracious reader of sci fi, and throughout the book we are treated (subjected to, if you are not a sci fi fan) of innumerable mentions of the classic sci fi canon from the fifties on.  When she escapes the viscousness of her mother after her sister dies, she goes to live with her strange father, who seems to be under the spell of his two wealthy sisters, with whom he lives.  Our gal comes to the conclusion that these women have a hold over him because they, too, are witches, but of the more benign variety.

Well, me being the sci fi aficionado that I am, loved the references, and had to agree with her when she says, at one point,

Did you ever read so much SF that you start thinking you don’t know quite what’s impossible any more?

The lines blur so much these days between sci fi and reality, and fantasy and reality, that you just have to wonder, don’t you.

I believe this book falls into the category of fabulism, which is a form of magic realism in which fantastical elements are placed into an everyday setting.

It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed it immensely.  Because I have never seen a fairy and consider that totally unjust. If the subject of fairies et al interests you, you might take a gander at DAIMONIC REALITY – A FIELD GUIDE TO THE OTHERWORDLY by Patrick Harpur.  I wrote about it here,  but what the gist of what he says about fairies is:

His basic premise is that our psyche extends beyond our physical human bodies.  He leans heavily on Jung’s Archetypes of the collective unconscious,  suggesting that visions and apparitions might well be the projection of those unconscious Archetypes.

He calls all these various paranormal phenomena collectively the daimonic reality, and tells us that although this stuff may have some physical reality, such as crop circles, or Yeti footprints or UFO landing traces, it is not literally real.  It is literally metaphor.  He believes that our modern society has no room for the irrational and the incomprehensible, and that instead of fairy folk myths, or origin tales, we are compelled to convert all that anomalous phenomena into scientificism – scientific and technical explanations.  He points out that even physics, with its ever diminishing size of the foundation of matter – molecules, atoms, quarks, down to claimed entities that have never actually been seen, only postulated, the dual nature of some particles as waves/particles, are really simply more daimonic reality covered over by quasi science.

See what reading fiction does for you?  Sends you off into some other very fascinating non-fiction paths, where your mind can expand on ideas that you haven’t come across before.

 

 

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THE SCAR by China Miéville

The second volume in the Bas-Lag fantasy series.  Aboard a vast seafaring vessel, a band of prisoners and slaves, their bodies remade into grotesque biological oddities, is being transported to the fledgling colony of New Crobuzon. But the journey is not theirs alone. They are joined by a handful of travelers, each with a reason for fleeing the city. Among them is Bellis Coldwine, a renowned linguist whose services as an interpreter grant her passage—and escape from horrific punishment. For she is linked to Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin, the brilliant renegade scientist who has unwittingly unleashed a nightmare upon New Crobuzon.

For Bellis, the plan is clear: live among the new frontiersmen of the colony until it is safe to return home. But when the ship is besieged by pirates on the Swollen Ocean, the senior officers are summarily executed. The surviving passengers are brought to Armada, a city constructed from the hulls of pirated ships, a floating, landless mass ruled by the bizarre duality called the Lovers. On Armada, everyone is given work, and even Remades live as equals to humans, Cactae, and Cray. Yet no one may ever leave.

Lonely and embittered in her captivity, Bellis knows that to show dissent is a death sentence. Instead, she must furtively seek information about Armada’s agenda. The answer lies in the dark, amorphous shapes that float undetected miles below the waters—terrifying entities with a singular, chilling mission.

I told you when I was talking about the first book in the series, Perdido Street Station,  that each was a stand alone book.  Our protagonist in this book, Bellis Coldwine, was mentioned VERY briefly in Perdido Street Station,  and in this book, the explanation for her having to leave the city is her tenuous association with Isaac Dan  de Grimmebulin, who is the protagonist of that book.

The Scar is a place in the deeps of the ocean where there is tremendous energy source.  When the ship Bellis is on is taken by pirates, and she and the remaining crew, passengers and slaves are transported to the floating city, I just about went into raptures.  The city is comprised of hundreds of ships of all types and sizes lashed and fastened together, and it covers miles.  I was so taken with this notion!

Armada is ruled by a coupled referred to as the Lovers, and they have matching facial scars, which change almost daily.   Many creatures on this city have scars, both physical and psychological.  It is a great title, with so many layers.

Lots of action, lots of intrigue, lots of lying and betrayal.  You know, all the everyday stuff of Real Life.  And vampires.  Armada has a sub city of vampires.  Just in case the remades, the Cactae and the Cray aren’t weird and fantastical enough for you.

The imagination of the man is just astounding, and his ability to convey what he sees in his mind is well, mind-boggling.

 

THE INVISIBLE LIBRARY by Genevieve Cogman

The official blurb:  Irene is a professional spy for the mysterious Library, which harvests fiction from different realities. And along with her enigmatic assistant Kai, she’s posted to an alternative London. Their mission – to retrieve a dangerous book. But when they arrive, it’s already been stolen. London’s underground factions seem prepared to fight to the very death to find her book.

Adding to the jeopardy, this world is chaos-infested – the laws of nature bent to allow supernatural creatures and unpredictable magic. Irene’s new assistant is also hiding secrets of his own.

Soon, she’s up to her eyebrows in a heady mix of danger, clues and secret societies. Yet failure is not an option – the nature of reality itself is at stake.

OK, you know me.  If it has anything to do with books, bookstores, libraries, I’m THERE!   Well, here we have Librarians who travel to different dimensions to retrieve special books which are to be kept in the Library which exists out of time and space, or between time and space, or something like that, so that those books will not be lost.  The Library is so vast that it can take days to travel from one section to another.  Kind of puts me in mind of The Library of Babel by Argentine author and librarian Jorge Luis Borges.  Yeah.  So anyway, our Librarian, who is really just a trainee, although an advanced trainee, is sent on a somewhat dangerous assignment to ahem acquire a special book.  Her sub-trainee who is foisted on her, is a strange, but terribly handsome, dude.  Turns out he is a dragon.  Yeah, dragons have all kinds of powers.  They don’t just breathe fire and smell like char.

Anyway, a fun book, fantasy, of course, interesting and clever premise, and it is the first of a trilogy.  I doubt I will search out the other two books.  Once all the fun surprises are revealed in this volume, I think remaining volumes would only be storylines.  I enjoyed learning about the Library and its world, but one is enough.

PERDIDO STREET STATION by China Miéville

China Miéville is a weird fantasy author.  No, really, that’s what he calls himself:  an author of weird fantasy.  He is also a damn competent sci fi author, (see Embassytown here,)  and a workman of the  odd genre tale (see The Census-Taker  here.)  In his New Crobuzon series, we are introduced to the world of Bas-Lag, a fantasy world full of weird and wonderful creatures and environments.

Each volume in the series is a completely stand alone book.  The only link is the Bas-Lag universe world.  It is fantasy, fantabulism, and yeah, OK, downright weird, but oh, so readable!  I mean, really, who doesn’t get caught up in the world of humans, remades, which are humans being punished by grafting on mechanical devices, or part of other species, which then suits them for various specific jobs.  Or not.  There are frog people who can craft golem made of water, and cactus people, spiny dudes, grumpy and prickly, flying people of various types, and some hybrid bug-human creatures.

So what is Perdido Street Station about?  Um, well, umm,  it’s set in a city called New Krobuzon where there are humans, but other races like I said,  as well as steam-powered robots and cyborgs, though there are also magicians and scientists. The story is about a scientist who is asked to help a crippled bird man fly again but by accident releases a plague of trans-dimensional moths onto the city that eat people’s minds. Oh, and the scientist is involved with a woman who’s head is a scarab beetle and who makes sculptures out of her own spit!”

Yeah, steam punk set in 1799.  Of course, it is not clear whether that 1799 is our universe’s calendar year, or New Crobuzon time, but really, when steam powered machinery work arm-in-arm with magic, but they STILL don’t have indoor plumbing, who cares, right?

Really long work, but the writing is pearlescent.  Description after description, without it feeling like information dump, we come to really know this place.  Maybe more than we wish.

Yep, I am really a fan of Miéville.

AURARIA by Tim Westover

Fantasy.  Fabulism.  Mythic fantasy.  Magical realism.  I so miss the old simple genre categories: mystery, romance, adventure, thriller.  You know what I mean?  Because where the heck do I slot this book, where water spirits take over the river and springs,, moon maidens swim at night, haunted pianos play on their own, headless revenants haunt the highways and byways, and there is an invincible terrapin that lives under the mountains and tells stories and sings songs.

Actually, Auraria is a real place, (a ghost town, now) which has been turned upsidedown in this piece of fiction.   The story is based on much of the local folklore and superstitions. Auraria, Georgia had a very brief gold rush in the early to mid-1800s; then most of the people left again.

In the novel, after the gold rush,  some stayed, running pharmacies and bars and hotels. They farmed and were turkey drovers and, no matter what their regular work was, most of them sought gold.

A land speculator sends his assistant to the town to buy up all the land.  He plans to build a dam, thereby flooding the town, and resell the land above the water line of the newly formed lake.  He also wishes to build a luxury resort hotel, and inveigles  a couple of railroad speculators into building a railroad to the town, which formerly only had a semi passable road as access.

The story is all about greed, gold lust, broken dreams, secrets, lies and what happens when you plan for the future.   Like I said, it is littered with ghosts, spirits, and lots of strange creatures.

I liked it well enough, although fabulism/mythic fantasy/magical realism are not really my thing.

HERO FOR HIRE by C. B. Pratt

hero-for-hireYou know, sometimes ya just gotta read a book about a Thracian dude in ancient Greece because, well,  Greek mythology!  That’s why.

Eno is a big guy.  No, really, a B.I.G. guy, rough, tough, and his services are available for a fee to get rid of mythical beasts (well, mythical to us, but to those guys back in the day, they were pretty non-mythical and in your face), spells, goddesses both minor and major, and all kinds of annoyances.  So when he wasn’t busy heroing, he was busy…. well, actually he was always heroing, you know, one of those A-type personalities.

It was a really fun read, witty, and just chock full of Greek mythology lite, and really, you just have to love the way people turn into beasts, and vice versa, and goddesses are just the way they are today, bossy and provincial.

It ends with a lengthy episode in the underworld, which seems to be de rigueur for anything remotely having to do with mythology, or even as I recall, witchy people, etc. , but really, you can’t say it was formulaic.  hahaha

I think there are a couple of further volumes, but maybe they were only in the planning stages.

Great writing, fun characters, interesting setting.  What’s not to like?

FAT VAMPIRE by Johnny B. Truant

fat-vampireI know I shouted from the rooftops that I would never read another vampire book, that the genre was played out, yada yada yada.  But….. a FAT vampire?   How can you resist?  Well, you can’t, and neither could I.

Reginald, and please don’t call him Reggie, he hates that,  is tipping the scales at about 350 pounds.  No friends, no lovers, no nada, just an IT job with coworkers who tease and bully him.   But there is one coworker who doesn’t do these things.  His name is Maurice, he wears a black hoodie all the time, and a cape, for pete’s sake, and a sword.  He works the night shift, but he and Reginald pass in the break room from time to time, say hello, and eventually decide to like hang out together one night before Maurice has to go to work.  They agree to meet at the local bowling alley.

While there, three strange characters walk in looking for Maurice, and they and Maurice have a confrontational conversation, and all end up out back, where the two very strange woman attack Reginald.  There is blood everywhere and just as he is about to die,  Maurice saves him by turning him into a vampire.  Yes.  In case you haven’t guessed it, Maurice is a many thousand year old vampire.

Vampire life is very different these days.  It is total bureaucracy,  there are rules, and not just anyone can be a vampire.  The days of randomly turning mortals is over.  They have to apply, take tests, study, prepare, and go through a physical boot camp, because as a vampire, you spend eternity in the age and shape you were when you were turned.  And now here we have this unauthorized obese person as a new vampire, out of shape, and clueless as to what to do.  Thank goodness for Maurice, who is working to overthrow the current head of the vampires.

It is all very funny, and even if there is a torture scene near the end, we readers don’t take it all that seriously, because there are something like six more books in the series, and how could the story go on if they all die right in the first volume?   And anyway, this is a vampire tale that doesn’t take itself all that seriously, either.  It is fun, clever, and makes you think….. as you are about to bite into your second chocolate covered doughnut of the morning…. about having to spend eternity in clothes that don’t fit and being out of breath all the time.

You will love the other titles in the series: Value Meal; Tastes Like Chicken; All You Can Eat; Harder Better Fatter Stronger,