Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves

Somewhere Beneath Those Waves by Sarah Monette

The first non-themed collection of critically acclaimed author Sarah Monette''s best short fiction. To paraphrase Hugo-award winner Elizabeth Bear's introduction: '"onette's prose is lapidary, her ideas are fantastical and chilling. She has studied the craft of fantastic fiction from the pens of masters and mistresses of the genre. She is a poet of the awkward and the uncertain, exalter of the outcast, the outre, and the downright weird. There is nothing else quite like Sarah Monette's fiction." -Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

Ok, so this isn't YA. I was getting desperate for another post, and I know there are people who may read this blog occasionally who would love this one. Before this one I had read The Bone Key, her collection of short stories about Kyle Murchison Booth, a sort of supernatural detective. She really captured the feel of Lovecraft's horror in some of those stories, without getting bogged down in the prose or offering faceless narrators. She also has the detective story thing down, and I'd love to see a Mystery! production of Booth's stories, in the same vein as Miss Marple or Poirot. 

Both these points, while true, don't do any justice to Monette's own voice as an author, which is distinct, memorable, and masterful. These stories will creep up on you- the language is evocative and conjures up images that will stick with you. The other thing that sets Monette apart, and that many other reviewers have commented on, is the feeling of Otherness embodied by most of her narrators. Her protagonists are, for the most part, outsiders, people who find themselves treading boundaries. To call them quirky would be an insult- they aren't stock characters with a twist, or exploding with irritating eccentricities. They are three-dimensional people, drawn believably but with surprisingly few strokes. Some, like the cops in "A Night in Electric Squidland" and "Impostors," and the aforementioned Booth, are recurring characters. Others, like the courtesan/spy from "Amante Doree" or the heartbroken musician from "Katabasis: Seraphic Trains" (possibly my favorite story), you'll only see for a few brief pages but are unlikely to forget. 

I'd recommend this, and The Bone Key, for fans of Neil Gaiman, Margo Lanagan, Charles DeLint, Catherynne M. Valente (the Seraphic Trains story really reminded me of Palimpsest), Lovecraft, Hellboy, Supernatural (not only are there paranormal cop buddies, there's a naive but tetchy angel), urban fantasy, horror, and magic realism. 

*A caveat: some of these stories are extremely dark, and not just in the sense that they deal with supernatural beings and gothic situations ("The Séance at Chisholm End" is a fantastic period piece about spirit mediums). No, some of these stories deal openly with some heavy stuff, like the loss of an older brother to Vietnam ("Letters from a Teddy Bear on Veterans Day"), surviving conquest ("A Light in Troy") and trauma ("After the Dragon"), and the horrors of war ("No Man's Land"). Serious trigger warnings for these, especially the last.   

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Why the lack of posts?

Poor blog, I haven't been posting much lately. I haven't been reading as many teen books as I did last year- this is partially because I've been away, or there have been adult books I've wanted to read. But, here's a bit of a confession:

Sometimes I get a bit tired of reading young adult books.


Before I go any further, let me say a few things clearly and emphatically.

Not all teen books are the same.

It's not a genre, it's just a target age group.


SERIOUSLY. NOT A GENRE. So there aren't set guidelines as to tone, content, setting, violence, characterization, voice, perspective, length, complexity, intelligence, competence or style. There are scads of of important, meaningful, technically skilled works of literature that also happen to be aimed at a teenage audience.

Are we clear?

Ok, good.

With that in mind.... there are certain popular trends in teen lit right now, namely dystopian novels and paranormal romances. As one would expect, publishers are fully aware that these are popular marketable themes, and are flogging the hell out of any book they can get away with claiming might be the next Hunger Games or Twilight. This means that there are soooooooooo many books which, on the surface, appeal to my interests, but were written hastily, accepted for their perceived money-grabbing potential, and add nothing to the already teetering heap. I'm pretty burned out on those, and haven't been reading as many books that don't already have some serious buzz surrounding them (or if I just can't resist the summary). In some ways this is good, as I am becoming more selective, but it also leads to a bit of a rut wherein I find myself mostly picking up sequels or things that seem like pretty sure bets anyway.

There's also a bit of an issue that really is not an issue- teen books are aimed at teens. And I'm not a teen. One way to look at this is in terms of romance. Many teen books are dealing with first loves, and often idealized ones. Big, sweeping, tragic, epic PERFECT romances. Which is perfectly fine. But sometimes I want to read something a bit more complex, or edgier, than fluttery, sweet, will they-won't they soulmatey crap. To put it in vampire terms (as you do), sometimes I want Buffy and Angel making eyes at each other in the Bronze, and sometimes I want Buffy and Spike wrecking house.

Or maybe I want to read about someone else struggling with their job, not math class.

(Again, this is not an issue of genre. Someone could reasonably suggest that I look to, say, modern literary fiction, but I would be just as happy reading about, say, a demon hunter being frustrated with her crappy midlevel position in the research and development department of a paranormal defense organization. It's a stage of life thing, not a setting thing).

None of these are complaints, I'm just putting down some thoughts that have to do with the lack of entries. I still love teen media, and have dozens of young adult books on my to-read pile that I can't wait to get my hands on. Maybe I'll post more about movies here, or branch out? I've been keeping it pretty YA-specific in the name of job-hunting, but I don't know.

Any thoughts, guys?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Unnatural Creatures

Unnatural Creatures edited by Neil Gaiman

Unnatural Creatures is a collection of short stories about the fantastical things that exist only in our minds—collected and introduced by beloved New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman.

The sixteen stories gathered by Gaiman, winner of the Hugo and Nebula Awards, range from the whimsical to the terrifying. The magical creatures range from werewolves to sunbirds to beings never before classified. E. Nesbit, Diana Wynne Jones, Gahan Wilson, and other literary luminaries contribute to the anthology.

Sales of Unnatural Creatures benefit 826DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students in their creative and expository writing, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.
-Plot summary borrowed from Goodreads

It's a good time to be a Gaiman fan. Good Omens might finally get its long awaited adaptation, and HBO is developing a multi-season American Gods Series (I'm actively restraining myself from getting too excited about my own casting choices. "Benedict is too busy, don't get your hopes up" is a new mantra). On top of that, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was better than I had expected- while Gaiman builds on themes he's been exploring his whole career, the book never feels stale and if anything, the pseudo-autobiographical elements add weight to the narrative voice. Check out Tor's excellent review here. Add to that an anthology of stories about mythical creatures and you've got one happy fantasy fan. 

For one thing, how great is the cover design? I love the sketchy antler-tentacle design, and the longer you look the more things you see. I like the font, too, and the contrasty blue text (graphic design people, feel free to weigh in here!). As for the stories themselves, well, most were good, a few were boring, and one or two I loved. Some I had read in other collections, including Gaiman's- which turned out to be one of my favorites. It's not brilliant, but it's got a good variety and plenty of shelf appeal. Plus, the proceeds go to a very cool charity!