Monday, November 30, 2020

Supernatural Tales 45

Supernatural Tales, issue no. 45, is kind of like a small anthology, edited by David Longhorn. It contains eight stories, none especially long, with a broad range of topics that do fit under the title's rubric.  Most are well-written, but a few of them are oddly structured and less satisfying than they might have been. Mark Valentine's story "And Maybe the Parakeet Was Correct" is arguably the best story in the issue, but it meanders around various locales of European football before it finally jells into something intriguing near its end. Iain Rowan's "The Wildness" is a story of a woman's dissolution via her own "wildness," but it seemed a bit too short. William Curnow's "The Roundabout" is not the best written tale, but the most interesting story-wise, about how a man processes his grief over his wife's death via terrifying visions on a roundabout. In "Stricken," by Carrie Vaccaro Nelkin, a woman with a feverish illness has to face monsters, while in "The Terminal Testimony of David Balfour," Malcolm Laughton gives a tale of enacted revenge.  Rosalie Parker's "The Decision" concerns a woman wavering over whether to keep her inherited childhood home (and her boyfriend) or leaving it (and him) to go to London.  As she decides, she is haunted by the sound of laughter that no one else hears. Charles Wilkinson's "The Harmony of the Stares" concerns a musicians attempt to reproduce a version of the sounds of starlings in a "murmuration," though this cloaks some murkier happenings too. The only dissatisfying story (for me) was Tim Foley's "The Ghost of Niles Canyon," which is a nested double-vanishing hitchhiker-tale whose ending was telegraphed far in advance.  A worthy and enjoyable issue overall.  Order via Lulu,  or see more details via the blog

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Cheek by Jowl, by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is a slim collection of eight talks and essays, as the cover notes, "on how & why fantasy matters."  But the book is dominated by the title essay, "Cheek by Jowl," which takes up almost half the volume and is a thoughtful and critical study of the roles of animals in children's literature. As with most of Le Guin's essays, there are many insightful and quotable observations. I'll cite just one here, "To conflate fantasy with immaturity is a rather sizable error."  The collection came out in 2009.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

This book, published in 2015, was filmed as Love, Simon in 2018.  It's a teen rom-com with a twist: the boy is gay. It worked nicely as a two-hour film, so I wondered how the book might be different. It turns out it differs by a lot.  The basic story is still there in both versions, but in the film the details and scenes are all amped up to simplistic Hollywood movie proportions, sometimes at the expense of logic and character motivations. The book is more real to life, but it is very simplistically written. It's all plot and little art, but it's at least readable. (The "bonus" materials in the copy I read are all insignificant, the author and friends gushing over meeting Actors, and two teasers for other books by Albertalli that aren't very interesting.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

The Darkling Wood by Brian Stableford

The Darkling Wood (2016), by Brian Stableford, is expanded from the novella "Tenebrio" which appeared in Ellen Datlow's anthology, Vanishing Acts (2000). In book form it is subtitled "A Scientific Fantasy" and that's what it is. A few academics (two scientists and one historian) are roped into a fight between a developer and an eco-warrior who hopes to find some reason to champion the preservation of the ages-old Tenebrion Wood. They are joined by a Fortean Times reporter. It makes for a motley set of characters, who are well brought to life, but the mystery that unfolds, concerning a supposed liquid form of life, is rather a let-down. In the end, the Fortean Times reporter sums it all up accurately:  "I can't get a viable handle on it . . . I can't make it plausible as a series of deductions, in such a ways  that our readers would be able to grasp it." The book is heavy on dialogue, both in the witty repartee and in the biological speculations.  I enjoyed the book, but  really wished for something more in terms of story. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The King of the Hummingbirds and Other Tales by John Gardner

This is the third of Gardner's three volumes of fairy tales. It is also the least successful of the three--one feels that Gardner was tiring of the form. Though he lived another five years after the publication of this book, it contains his last four fairy tales. Like the second collection, it is illustrated by Michael Sporn. Again, the illustrations add nothing to the stories, which are a bit less focused than previous ones, and which move outside the circumference of usual fairy tale subjects, dealing at times both reverentially and later sarcastically with religion. Gardner seems to be going through the motions, occasionally cackling to himself and forgetting about the reader.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Gudgekin the Thistle Girl and Other Tales by John Gardner

Gudgekin the Thistle Girl and Other Tales
(1976) is John Gardner's second collection of modern-styled fairy tales. Like his first collection, Dragon, Dragon and Other Tales, it contains only four tales. The title story is about a girl named Gudgeklin who collects thistles for her never-to-be-satisfied step-mother. She is aided by the queen of the fairies. Other stories concern a kingdom threatened by a griffin, and an emperor threatened by shape-shifters. The final story, "The Sea Gulls," is about a king who makes unfortunate bargains. Like Gardner's first collection of fairy tales, this one is also illustrated, this time by Michael Sporn. Save for the colored cover, they are all ink drawings, and while interesting in their own right, they don't seem to me to artistically compatible with the stories. But the stories are well worth reading.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Dragon, Dragon and Other Tales by John Gardner

John Gardner was a larger-than-life literary figure in the U.S. in the 1970s and early 1980s, until his untimely death at the age of 49 in a motorcycle accident in September 1982. He published around a dozen novels, a few collections, some nonfiction books (on writing), some translations (The Complete Works of the Gawain Poet; The Alliterative Morte Arthur and Other Middle English Poems, and Gilgamesh), and one biography (The Life and Times of Chaucer).  Gardner also published some books of modern-styled fairy tales. Dragon, Dragon and Other Tales (1975) came out from the distinguish literary publisher Alfred A. Knopf. It collects four fairly short tales, and is illustrated by Charles Shields.  The illustrations, excepting the cover, look dated and are unappealing. The tales are pretty good. The title story and the second one ("The Tailor and the Giant") concern kingdoms preyed upon by a dragon in the first, and a giant in the second. They are well-done, and refreshingly not what the reader might expect them to be. The remaining two stories are a bit more original. In the third, a deceitful miller's mule tries to get his owner killed; and in the fourth, the final tale in the book, a young chimney-sweep saves the last piece of daylight before the world goes dark. I enjoyed the collection and will continue reading more of Gardner's fairy tales.