Storybook Dalek

Storybook Dalek

This instalment of the Dalek Game is for Fables Vol 3: Storybook Lovewhich, just – I love. I admire the concept and execution of Fables generally, and beyond that I frequently adore (or loathe, or both!) the characters, and those two things aren’t always sides of the same coin. But of course, this also means this drawing is for The Princess Bride, and therefore also for Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid and for Mark Knopfler, and all good things. And for initial capitals in fairytale books, with which I filled far too many pages of old sketchbooks.

In other news: All I’ve been able to manage about the World Fantasy Award ballot (after many tweets of congratulations) is “meep!”

And just today, Ticonderoga Publications announced Midnight and Moonshine , a collection of intertwined stories – cold and cruelly beautiful – by awesome fellow-present-and-past nominees Lisa Hannett and Angela Slatter. And I did the cover :)

December Short Book Reviews

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman. I grew up on The Jungle Book and I really liked the nods Gaiman gave to Kipling’s story in the structure of this book, the echoes of Mowgli’s childhood in that of Nobody, though this is not a retelling. It’s an independent story of a boy brought up by ghosts in a graveyard, and it charmed me. I found myself annoyed that the story didn’t go further or deeper, but although it was the sort of annoyance that reflects well on the book I really wish this could have been a much larger story – a book that starts and ends in the same place but covers much more ground, just like The Jungle Book does, where Mowgli’s story is only part of a much larger world full of stories, some of which link and others of which do not. Gaiman can do this  – he does in Neverwhere and American Gods – and it can be done in (so-called) childrens’ books too. I just bought a copy of T. H. White’s The Sword in the Stone for my nephews, The Hobbit spins off into a bigger world all over the place, even little books like The Book of Three (leaving aside the series) have the feel of being a much bigger story than they are. So I was disappointed that The Graveyard Book was just a little book on its own. It was a very good little book on its own, but knowing what Gaiman and the genre are capable of I am feeling a bit sad for what it might have been.

Size Twelve is not Fat – Meg Cabot. An ex teen pop star working as a deputy dorm supervisor in a college in New York investigates a series of student murders. This was very, very, very light read: fast paced and enjoyable, with Cabot’s breezy first-person style in full evidence, but in retrospect a bit cloying, like something too sweet eaten too quickly. I’m saving the sequel till I’ve recovered. (Aside: My favourite Cabot is still All American Girl – mostly for the horse shampoo).

Fables 9: Sons of Empire – Willingham et al. The art and story both picked up from volume 8. I really like how at times you can see threads that are going to be woven into a larger pattern, or suddenly realise that a consistently minor character is about to become (or always has been) very important. A nice mix of dark and light and mystery in this volume.

Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson. The Hacker Revolution crossed with The Hunt for the Red October meets Little Brother crossed with Between Silk and Cyanide (and I strongly recommend all four of those books to you). With helpful diagrams on the effect sexual activity has on the mathematical ability of cryptographers. Although unrecommendable to mothers, etc, for many passages associated with the last comment (although I read extracts to her), this was an odd, entertaining, elaborate, glittering monster of a book, and I tore through it. It covers codes and the development of computers, programming, hacking, the fall of Singapore, the Kokoda trail, earthquakes, insurance, data havens, data cables, Brisbane during WWII, the role of a glockenspiel player during an air strike, the practicalities of burying treasure and dealing with it once you dig it up, the correct way to eat cereal, how to repair a pipe organ and the idiosyncracies of small fictional British islands.

August Short Book Reviews

Dealing with Dragons – Patricia C Wrede. When I visit Karen, she puts me in the Spare Oom, which is cruel, because it is a tall, thin room with a tall, thin bookcase full of all the books I’ve ever wanted to read but haven’t been able to yet. Last year I started pulling out books that I was interested in, only to find more books behind, and I had the distinct feeling that if I kept going I would find more books behind those and behind those just maybe someplace else altogether. So I stopped, because I didn’t want that not to be the case. Anyway, this year I went down for the Faithful Writer Conference (reviewed last week) and over two evenings read Dealing with Dragons which I have only known because of the more recent cover art featured in Spectrum. It was a fun book, light-hearted and enjoyable, with a touch of “The Ordinary Princess” and “The Paperbag Princess” and “Farmer Giles of Ham”. I liked that the tongue-in-cheek lightness of it never dropped away, and I do like practical heroines.

Fables volume 8: Wolves – Willingham et. al. (graphic novel). I perhaps got my hopes up a little high because of the title. Although I enjoyed this, I did not enjoy it as much as the earlier volumes. The art wasn’t as consistent and it felt very light, with characters I hope become relevant later because they added little here. It was a bridging volume, a breather, and hasn’t diminished my hopes for the next volume.

Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen – Joanne K. Rowling. (That’s the Philosopher’s Stone). I had so much fun reading this. I’m pretty familiar with the original (having read it, read it out loud, written a research essay on it, written part of my thesis on it, etc), so it was an ideal book to read in German because I knew the story well enough that it helped me guess vocab I didn’t know. Although one evening I was running around my house asking, “Does anyone remember the name of the street the Dursleys live on?” because the name had been translated. (It was Privet Drive, translated Ligusterweg which means Privet Way). Rereading a book in another language is enjoyable because you get to enjoy it again almost for the first time, and have the added pleasure of getting some jokes for the first time, discovering new ones, and just laughing at language in general – words in German which are literally the same as English and force you to realise what the English word is, words in German which sound funny or charming: undursleyhaft for instance, or the word to describe cats weaving between people’s ankles: hindurchschlaengelten. It was also very interesting to see some of the characters again for the first time, knowing what they will become and do – hints and clues and foreshadowings fulfilled six books later.

Hellblazer: Joyride (graphic novel). I won’t recommend these for all sorts of reasons, but I really enjoy watching how the character of John Constantine is written. They are horror comics, and I was surprised often in this one by how scenes bothered me which wouldn’t have if they were on screen or in a book. I’ve discussed this with a few friends and we think it is because films usually don’t leave much to the imagination: it all takes place on the screen. Books leave everything to the imagination: it all takes place in your head but is constrained by everything else that goes on in your head. The comic gives enough visual guidance to make sure you interpret things the way the artist/writer intended, and then lets your mind take over from there.

The Ladies of Grace Adieu – Susannah Clarke. I really, really liked this book. In spite of its deliberate archaism and modelling after Regency texts, the stories reminded me most of T. H. White and Mistress Masham’s Repose. Elegant, beautifully-crafted, enjoyable, unashamedly fictional tellings of new and old faery-tales in the England of Jane Austen, the Duke of Wellington, the Raven King and Stardust (there is one story set in the world of Stardust beyond the Wall). And it has a pretty cover and Charles Vess’ otherworldly ink illustration.

The House of Many Ways – Dianne Wynne Jones. Dianne Wynne Jones frustrates me, but in a good way. This story of tangled mythological strands, chaotic and legendary families, quests and paperwork was thrilling and yet worse than most of her books in the sense that there was a very tangible impression of vast reaches of even more wonderful stories just off the edge of the page. It’s closest to Homeward Bounders and Eight Days of Luke. My favourite part was the way the mythological strands are mundane closer to earth, and wilder and more dangerous as they snake out among the stars. [ETA: That was actually a review of The Game. Here is the correct review].

The House of Many Ways – Dianne Wynne Jones. A sequel, insofar as she writes such things, to Howl’s Moving Castle  and Castles in the Air. It takes place in the same world, at least, and Howl and Sophie and Calcifer put in appearances, not always as themselves. I enjoyed this, but (obviously) didn’t find it as memorable as the first two. The main characters were a delightful combination of practical and spoiled, yet both aware of their own flaws (and a little more keenly aware of each others’), and the book felt self-contained as if it had told all the story necessary, rather than spilling out all over the place like some of her books.

The Puffin Book of Nursery Rhymes – Iona and Peter Opie. I don’t usually review reference texts because I don’t usually read them from cover to cover in a sitting (although given a free afternoon and a volume of the Encyclopaedia Brittanica I’m happy to give it a try). I read this in one evening, cover to cover, including the introduction which is written with such a gentle, humorous intelligence that I wish I knew the Opies. It is a slim, fabulous, generous collection of nursery rhymes for personal use – an appetiser for their Oxford Encyclopaedia of Nursery Rhymes which is on my list after Child’s ballads.

The Explosionist – Jenny Davidson. I bought this, unseen, on Kate‘s recommendation from The Book Depository (free! international! shipping!), and it had me at “New Hanseatic League.” I’m not quite sure how to classify it – it is alternate history, set in a 40s Scotland which has split from England, where Spiritualism (a la Arthur Conan Doyle) is influential, war threatens, Scotland’s power is based on its production of dynamite and surgical rationalisation of the emotions is being trialled. The characters are appealling and more than one dimensional, the alternate history is alert but also fun (Oscar Wilde is famous for developing incubators for premature babies and Doctor Freud is a rogue radio operator). I’m quite interested to see where the story goes from here.

May Short Book Reviews

Homelands: Fables Volume 6 – Willingham, et al. Have I mentioned before how much I am enjoying this series?  This volume isconcerned primarily with the departure from New York (in typically flamboyant fashion) of Jack of the tales, and with Boy Blue’s journey into the homelands to rescue his long lost love. Neither course of action goes quite as planned. In spite of confirmation of the identity of the Adversary and mechanics of his rule, this wasn’t the highlight volume for me, probably because of the narrower range of characters. But I enjoyed the adventures of the Black Knight, Boy Blue’s fanatic indefeasibility, and the surprise of seeing the Adversary’s land not as the Mordor-like wasteland I expected but a functioning and corrupt empire and the ending was typically complex – goals achieved but not in the way expected, friends reunited but seeing each other differently. The characters are not bounded by immutable fairytales, but grow and shift and change.

The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin and Spice – Valente. The second half of The Orphan’s Tales and I enjoyed this one just as much as the first volume. It captures the feeling of old tales read for the first time, and in spite of the desert- djinn- and spice-laden character of this volume, the book reminded me of those northern European fairytales that begin as a riff on Cinderella and go east of the sun and west of the moon and into the arctic and change into bears and fall in love with the King of Arabia’s daughter and meander on and on. In the case, the stories go inward, looping around and in on themselves and gradually coming together, repeating names and stories from themselves, and the first volume, changing and shifting perspectives until the goal is revealed. The ending was not earthshattering, and could perhaps have been stronger, but this story was never about the end. Go. Read. Preferably one after the other so you don’t lose the paper-thin subtelty of the connections.

Batman: Black and White – Miller, Gaiman, Lee, Kubert et al. I wandered into Borders and found this on a discount rack and it was good. I said last month that I couldn’t review Batman. This was something else. This was brilliant – an anthology of 8-pagers by different artists and writers, in differing styles. Classic, tight, sketchy, surreal, comedic, metatextual, hilarious, poignant, hard-bitten, bitter. Facets of an iconic character, of a man, of an idea, of a city (“We are Batman” was my favourite line). I recommend this very highly – for the art, for the tales, for the feeling of being let into a world of minds which have been influenced by this story.

Arabian Nights (and Days): Fables Volume 7 – Willingham, et al. Back to New York and the politics of the Woodlands. Still not nearly enough of Snow and Rose Red and Bigby, but they are there – or their influence is – and the old Mayor is put to a new purpose (it took me a while, but I like King Cole). And crawling out from under that influence come the new generation of the government in exile – Charming as much of a cad and a bounder as ever, but realising abruptly what the title he has won means; Beauty and the Beast getting their feet under them and realising that they can’t do their jobs the way Snow and Bigby did, but they just might be able to do them their own way. The main problem I found was the Arabian delegation and I can’t work out whether its treatment could have been different. They are Arabian characters from the Arabian Nights as told in Europe and come with all those ideas and notions and I’m not sure if those will be or are examined. Particularly the women of the harem. But I will wait and see, because so far the series is doing a strong job of developing stock characters into strong individuals, and for all the cardboard villainous viziers, there was Sinbad, who showed promise. Like Baghdad of the two worlds, there may be more than meets the eye.

Batman: Black and White volume 2 – Dini, Ellis, Claremont, Azzarello et al.:Not as deep or multifaceted as the first (although it has received higher reviews on Amazon) but not as bad as I feared it was going to be from my first glimpse. It seemed much lighter and more comic-traditional in feel and I did enjoy it. And I can’t get the story of Batsman (the one that put me off to start with) out of my head. I keep laughing over his cape adorned with flocks of tiny bats. But it didn’t have the extra information about the writers and artists and the pages of sketches and script that the first did. I liked those.


Also: Isaiah; 1,2 and 3 John in German and English; Jude; Philemon in German and English. I am cultivating a low appreciation for paraphrasing and dynamic equivalents, particularly when one parallel translation is just so obviously much worse than the other.

April Short Book Reviews

The Mean Seasons: Fables Vol. 5 – Willingham et. al. I am enjoying this graphic novel series so much. I spent an evening sitting in a cafe composing a post on the awesomeness of one of the main characters. The series is not unproblematic, but it’s better than a lot and it is fairytales not retold but… matured? continued? and thrown into a difficult situation they have to deal with or perish. Snow continues to be amazing, Bigby to be difficult, everyone has their own agendas and jealousies, and they are beginning to be under threat not only from the old world but from elements of the new and from their own rules. Will the triumph of democracy be a deathblow for Fabletown? Will investigative journalists expose the secret at the heart of 21st century New York? Will true love triumph? And will anyone ever cut Snow a break? I wish comics weren’t so expensive. I’m trying to not buy more than one volume of this a month, but I bought vol. 6 a week after this one.

Batman – A Death in the Family . My first actual Batman encounter other than the movies and The Daily Batman, so while I enjoyed reading it (and found the idea of readers “voting Robin off”) I don’t really have any framework within which to review it. But seeing the Joker so much gave me a jawache.

Assorted short comics acquired at Supanova – these were out of context for me, both in terms of the continuing stories and the sort of comics they are, so I won’t review them. Also, I was disconcerted by the artwork being so much weaker than what I am used to seeing and so much better than mine.

Labyrinths – Borges. Finally. And yes, he is gorgeous. He reminds me of Umberto Eco, but perhaps took himself a little more seriously. His short stories, essays and poems tread between fantasy (sometimes reminding me of Lovecraft) and philosophy, theology, impossible hypotheticals, all short enough that they leave you room to go off on thoughts of your own. I would sit on the bus pondering the relationship between his examination of ‘The Argentine Writer and Tradition’ and the cultural cringe and the landscape in Australian speculative fiction until I began to suspect the reason I was having trouble concentrating at work that week was because I was thinking too much outside it. The final poem in the collection was ‘Elegy’ which contained the very lovely line: “to have grown old in so many mirrors” which reminded me of Elliot but is both more beautiful and just as tragic.

The Game – Diana Wynne Jones. As lively and convoluted (plot and story and characters all) as any of her stories, but in other ways just as reserved. The story of the paths of the mythosphere, the interconnectedness of families and stories and myths and legends (the Sysiphus strand which reaches out to the legend of Sysiphus at one end, but closer to home is office workers dealing with never-empty in-trays), the whirling wheeling stars (which reminded me of P. L. Travers at her best) are so rich and ripe and vivid and yet DWJ holds back so much, telling only the barest part of the story and leaving the reader wanting so very much more. Not that the story is untold, but she has shown and hinted at wonders and worlds just over the edge of it and then pared back to only the core of her tale. It is incredibly frustrating. I wrote to the DWJ list that “DWJ is very good at giving the impression that there are stories spilling over the edge of the one you are reading, that there are worlds and events and tales that you can’t quite turn the page to read although you *want* to, and that she probably won’t tell you ever because they aren’t necessary to the (quite wonderful) story at hand. Lately, however, she seems to be developing this to a very fine pitch – as if she has worked out the bare minimum she needs to actually tell to convey the story she wants to tell you, while hinting at an even more voluminous universe. The story she is telling works and is very very good, but as a reader I am convinced that there is *so much more out there* that it becomes a kind of exquisite torture.” The worst part is that I know from experience that even if she does write a sequel, it will probably be about an extremely peripheral character and is unlikely to take place in the same universe.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat – Oliver Sacks. If you ever saw Awakenings with Robin Williams, Williams played Sacks. This is a series of case studies of patients with various neurological anomalies – twin savants, a ‘disembodied’ woman, a musician who ceases to recognise faces (not just the faces of certain individuals but human faces at all), people whose lives are held together with music or who can only walk upright by means of a spirit level attached to their spectacles, who recognise expression but not words or words but not expression. It is fascinating and alarming but most interesting because he treats his patients less as fascinating cases than as interesting, complicated people, whose ‘problems’ may not be problems at all, or part of a continuum of human experience. I was glad I read this after Borges, for Sacks referred to him (and particularly his story ‘The Mnemonist’) several times.

January Short Book Reviews

Bellwether – Connie Willis. This was a reread, aloud to my parents. It’s just a good book – small and light but entertaining and endearing, with scientist and statisticians and sheep and iced tea and 1920s haircuts. I tell people (if they ask) that it isn’t science fiction, because they won’t notice. To science fiction what What’s Up Doc is to musicology, with many laughs and a little romance.

Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi. I thought I’d finished this, but I hadn’t read the last two chapters. This is an autobiographical graphic novel about growing up in Iran and Austria, with a simple, likeable style and covering an emotional range between the very humourous and the very tragic, both rendered more so by the everyday depiction of what (to me) are circumstances very difficult to imagine. My mother had never read a graphic novel, and she cried when she read this one. I laughed aloud, then cried in the bookstore.

Vanishing Acts – Jodi Picoult. Not my style – I was embarrassed to read it on the bus because it might detract from my image : ) An odd book, the settings and styles seem to belong to two different novels which don’t really mesh. The mystic elements intrude rather than complement the rest of the plot, the flowery language used in the depiction of life in gaol jarred and made the attempts at gritty realism seem insincere and unlikely, and the attempts to explore shades of grey sat oddly because it seemed so obvious which way the reader was supposed to read them (a good example of shades of grey is the characters of the adoptive parents in Juno).

The Sunday Philosophy Club – Alexander McCall Smith. Undecided, although I liked the fact that the eponymous club never actually meets. I have decided that Alexander McCall Smith’s books are a Good Thing solely on the basis of their titles, and I am happy that books called The Kalahari Typing School for Men and Morality for Beautiful Girls exist, so he gets a free pass.

The Rum Diary – Hunter S. Thompson. My first encounter with the gonzo journalist. Still not sure what gonzo means (although I am convinced Gonzo comes from Tatooine), but I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would and from my limited experience with journalist the volume of rum consumed rings about right.

The Princess Diaries – Meg Cabot. A reread before consigning the books to Karen. Meg Cabot is very light, but with a hyperactive humour that I enjoy, and The Princess Diaries is a well plotted, enjoyable novel with a story that seems like it was just waiting to be written. The later books hold up (mostly because of Lily and the characters’ many Top 10 Lists), but I don’t like them as much, because they start to become Issues books and part of the charm of The Princess Diaries is that the central issue is one which most people are unlikely to every have to deal with directly – I appreciate outrageous premises, a great glorious What If at the centre of the fiction.

The Morning Gift – Eva Ibbotson. I like Eva Ibbotson. I used several of her fantasy novels (The Secret of Platform 13, etc) in my honours thesis, but only discovered her adult, non-fantasy novels last year. I bought A Song For Summer at a Lifeline Booksale and was very impressed and entertained (and also suspect the book was written around the word defenstration). I lent that to my mother and sister, the precedents manager, another solicitor, and two friends. In America, I bought The Secret Countess (a.k.a. The Countess Downstairs) and it has also done the rounds. I am banned from buying The Star of Kazan because the precedents manager wants to buy it and lend it to me. And then I was delighted to find my little sister, whose tastes in books rarely overlap mine, had bought The Morning Gift. I was third in line. It is not my favourite (that remains in order of reading) but it has the same marvelous light humour, an insight into the situation of the exile, endearing secondary characters, admirable main characters, handsome archaeology professors, musicians and communities being rebuilt. The good end happily and the bad get what they deserve. I wish someone would make miniseries of these novels.

March of the Wooden Soldiers (Fables Vol. 4). The lands of legend and fairytale have been overrun by the mysterious Adversary, and the refugees maintain a community in exile in the middle of New York: Fabletown, where the mayor is King Cole, his deputy is Snow White (my favourite graphic novel heroine at the moment, and the prettiest) and Bigby (as in B.B. Wolf), in human form, is the police department (and shares much of Vime’s appeal). In this volume, the forces of the Adversary reach our world, and there is blood in the streets. I remembered how much I liked this series when I saw how the version of Robin Hood in the battle in the first episode acted exactly like Robin Hood should – cocky and cheeky and arrogant and ultimately bested by Britomart and getting a taste of his own medicine. The losses were heartrending, the characters further developed, and one major relationship outed with a minimum of fanfare.

They’re a Wierd Mob – Nino Culotta. This novel was published in the early ’60s and is the story of Nino Culotta’s arrival in Australia as an Italian journalist, his inability to understand Australian (although his English is excellent), his employment as a brickie’s labourer, his many misunderstandings, friendships and eventual settlement as an Australian with an Australian wife who tries to eat spaghetti with a spoon. I read it out loud to my father and we both enjoyed it a great deal. It’s the Sydney of his childhood and my history lessons, and an Australia that is recognisable but vastly altered (for one thing, non-canned spaghetti is no longer considered an exotic dish!)

Also: Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habbakuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.

Questions? Comments? Disagreements? Serious objections to my style of review?