The Blurred Line Between Life and Story

Radiance
Catherynne M. Valente
Hachette
March 2016

Radiance_smHeadline news 1858: Conrad Wernyhora and Carlotta Xanthea launch a rocket, by cannon, into space. By cannon! Can you imagine anything more majestic, more magnificent, more momentously transcendent, than space travel via cannon? The world of Radiance is not the world we know, bound by practical concepts of physics and fusion, but the fantasy of a world we wish could have been. It takes Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon and asks, “What if?” We step back in time, mid-1800s, when the technology of modernity started to bloom. A few tweaks, a snip here, a mod there, and we step forward again.

Behold, the moving image!, but now Hollywood has colonised the moon, and the planets and remaining satellites wave the national flags of pre-WW1 powers. An enforcement of patent law means that colour film and sound have never caught on, and a vaudevillian aesthetic permeates the cultural form. To say that Radiance is set in a sumptuous, theatrical solar system of luscious impossibilities is to put it lightly. Continue reading

An Unrelenting Beauty of Words

The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings
Angela Slatter
Tartarus Press
2014

the_bitterwood_bibleOccasionally, when we are all very good, the story-gods are kind to us, and they send a writer whose voice and vision are so deeply felt, so confident and so intricately imagined, that the whole of their work is a wonderment from end to end. I experienced that electric wonder-shock to the senses on first reading Kelly Link’s Magic for Beginners (for example), or Susanna Clarke’s The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (which I read before reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell for reasons that made sense at the time, but are now forgotten). And now, I find myself experiencing the feeling of wonder-shock anew. The author is Angela Slatter and the work, The Bitterwood Bible and Other Recountings. This collection of interwoven short-stories really is that good. I think even if I had only been allowed one page of this short story collection to use as the basis for my whole review, I’d still be recommending Angela Slatter unreservedly. The prose jumps off the page the way prose does when the person responsible is a master at their craft. Sometimes, you don’t need more than a sentence or two. Sometimes, you can just tell. But as it was, I had the luxury to be drawn in, and to step my way through all the tales within. And what tales they are.

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Find Your Measure, Do What You Will

the_dark_towerIn a not especially festive turn of events, I am undertaking, slowly, the task of rereading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.  I first read it in my early days at university, I can’t remember exactly when.  I wasn’t quite sure if I liked them at first, but I couldn’t stop reading them, so I guess I did.  I certainly liked the genre mash.  The series, as best as I can describe it, is a post-Apocalyptic fantasy western. Continue reading

Imagine All the People

Arcadia
Iain Pears
Allen & Unwin
August 2015

arcadiaIain Pears’ latest novel, Arcadia is not one story but many.  Taking place over several different timelines, with multiple interlocking characters and plots, it is an ambitious and wide-scoped piece.  Pears has also worked to create a complementary app to assist readers in their journey through the book.  Unfortunately, I was unable to access this app on my Android phone for whatever reason, so instead of taking the option of choosing my own adventure through the story, I was more or less forced to read it straight through as it appears in the book.  A perfectly fine way to read any novel, but one that did not take full advantage of Arcadia’s possibilities.

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Truth and Truthability

Newt's Emerald
Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin
September 2015, RRP $18.99

Newts EmeraldMy dearest reader

How much I have to tell you. Oh, but how are you? I trust you have been well?
I have the misfortune to suffer constantly from my nerves and have confined myself, of late, to my chambers. However, this has not prevented me hearing the most scandalous news.

I trust you have heard of Lady Truthful Newington who has come to London for the season. She has been staying with her aunt, Lady Badgery—that notorious virago—and is quite the heiress, and handsome too if the reports are true. No doubt she will attract those young gentlemen in need of a lady of fortune to bolster their own, or lack thereof.
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Over Troubled Water

To Hold the Bridge Book Cover To Hold the Bridge
Garth Nix
Allen & Unwin, RRP $19.99
May 2015

Have you read a Garth Nix before? Have you? Have you?

If you answered yes, you are correct. Well done. There is truly nothing I need to tell you other than – hey, check it out, a book full of short stories by Garth Nix. Huzzah!

If you answered no, then this is me taking you by the shoulders, looking deep into your slightly terrified peepers and trying to convince you to make that positive change in your life.  Continue reading

Squeeze As Lovers Should — O Kiss

A STERKARM KISS

Susan Price (Scholastic, 2003) ISBN: 0 439 96865 8 A Sterkarm kiss

The memories I had of A Sterkarm Kiss, sequel to The Sterkarm Handshake, were hazy and unpleasant, rather like memories of a good night out tainted by a hangover.  Upon rereading, I have discovered that it is indeed an interesting but horrible book.  While just as well-written and more complexly plotted than its predecessor, this novel was rather unpleasant to read.  It is one of the most morally — uh, let’s say “grey” – – books I’ve read.  Yes, that includes the entire Song of Ice and Fire series.

 

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The Bygone Glories Of The Spring

HEAVEN’S NET IS WIDE

Lian Hearn (Hachette, 2007) ISBN: 978 0 7336 2144 4 Heavans net is wide

At last, we’re here, Heaven’s Net is Wide, the prequel to the Tales of the Otori trilogy.  And, it should be added, I am sufficiently backlogged that I feel comfortable in saying my reviews will now be a weekly event.  You may celebrate in whatever way you feel appropriate.

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The Mighty Fall At Last, They Are Dust Before The Wind

THE HARSH CRY OF THE HERON

Lian Hearn (Hachette, 2006) ISBN: 13 978 0 733621 26 0

The Harsh Cry of the Heron is set some 14 years after the close of the original Tales of the Otori trilogy.  The story features Takeo’s three daughters to Kaede, Shigeko, Miki and Maya, and his illegitimate son Hisao, as well as Takeo and several other of the characters we met in the previous trilogy.  Takeo and Kaede have a united the Three Kingdoms as co-rulers, protecting the Hidden from persecution and driving the mercenarial Tribe into hiding.  Unfortunately, the seeds of conflict planted over the past 14 years are coming to a head.  Takeo must tread carefully if he wants to maintain everything he and his wife have struggled for.

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Existing In Heaven And Earth

BRILLIANCE OF THE MOON

Lian Hearn (Hodder, 2004, ISBN: 0-7336-1564-3)

Brilliance of the Moon is the last in Lian Hearn’s original Tales of the Otori trilogy.  It takes place shortly after the conclusion of Grass for his Pillow.  Takeo and Kaede have married in secret, against the wishes of their protector, the warlord Arai Zenko.  Otori and Tribe forces both threaten Takeo and he is forced to flee with Kaede to Maruyama.  Events conspire against them and the pair, after setting up their ambitious plans for the future, are separated.

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The Spring Rain Is A Thread Of Pearls*

GRASS FOR HIS PILLOW

Lian Hearn (Hodder, 2003) ISBN: 0 7336 1563 5

Taking up directly after the events of Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for his Pillow finds Kaede in a state of hypnotic sleep and Takeo working for the ninja-like Tribe which has claimed him for their own.  Neither is now happy with their lot.  Takeo has sworn himself to the Tribe, as well as to an up-and-coming warlord, but desires only to honour Otori Shigeru’s wishes that he should claim leadership of the Otori clan.  Kaede, meanwhile, longs for Takeo.  She is certain he will return to her, yet has her own doubts. Continue reading

This Lone Boy Sets Off On A Journey

ACROSS THE NIGHTINGALE FLOOR (TALES OF THE OTORI BOOK ONE)

Lian Hearn* (Hodder, 2002) ISBN: 0 7336 1565 1

As a child and teenager, for no discernible reason, I was a total weeabo.  I loved Japan.  I loved Japanese clothing, I loved learning about Japanese language and culture, and I was determined to go to Japan as soon as I could.  I don’t know where this obsession originated.  The obvious contenders are Sailor Moon and Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, a tv series and book respectively, which were likely my first encounters with Japan–even though I believe the latter was written by an American.  I’ve been to Japan twice now, and I’ve also made a conscious effort to ramp down my adoration because I’ve learned that fetishising cultures like that is not a cool or respectful thing to do.  Nonetheless, Across the Nightingale Floor, first in the Tales of the Otori trilogy**, represents a perfect union of three of my great loves–Japanese culture and history (albeit in a fictionalised Japan-like society), fantasy, and beautiful writing.

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