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.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Voices by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is the second of three volumes of the "Annals of the Western Shore" series.  It begins several years after the end of Gifts, and starts with a new main character, Memer, a young nine-year old girl growing up in a town that was defeated by religious zealots some ten years earlier, now a place where books are banned and burned, and freedoms (especially for women) are unknown. After Memer turns seventeen, Orrec and his wife Gry (of Gifts) come to town to tell stories and perform. The town is rife for rebellion, and Memer helps to bring it about. Like Gifts, this volume is an extended meditation on power and responsibility.  Voices is a more substantial book that Gifts, and both are fine achievements even if they fall short of the majesty Le Guin created in her Earthsea volumes.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Gifts by Ursula K. Le Guin

This is the first volume of a young adult trilogy that has the overall title "Annals of the Western Shore." It is a coming of age novel, about a young boy Orrec and his best friend Gry, a girl of the same age, who are both learning about their inherited "gifts"--certain magical powers that manifest along family lines. The book is also a meditation on power and its uses and abuses. It's a much softer work than Le Guin's deservedly acclaimed Wizard of Earthsea, but it's well-done and engaging. I look forward to the two remaining volumes.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys

It's really hard to believe that this book, published in 1960, could ever have been considered a great work of science fiction, but it has an entry as one in David Pringle's Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels (1985). The passage of time has not sat well on it. All the characters are manipulative and unpleasant people, shackled with the attitudes of the late 1950s. Worse, the characters are incompatible with the psychological drivel they spout at each other in long passages. Their expressed motivations actually do not fit their actions. And then there is the plot--most of which doesn't make any logical sense. Rogue Moon reads like a bad episode of The Twilight Zone, fleshed out a bit more into a cheezy novelization, but lacking in the zinger ending.