Friday, June 30, 2006


I just finished Elen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer. The main reason I picked it up was because of the cover. It says in big letters that it won the World Fantasy award, and it has a nice blurb by Neil Gaiman. I'm glad I got it.

The book is are telling of the classic True Thomas story. The basic version runs along the following lines: Thomas is wandering the hills and meets the Elf Queen. He kisses her, and she takes him away to Elfland. He stays there for seven years. When he returns, he has the gift of prophecy. He never dies, but returns to Fairy many years later.

The book is told from the first person viewpoints of four different characters. The beginning of the tale (up to Thomas's trip to Elfland) is told by the crofter Gavin. The Elfland part is narrated by Thomas. His return is told by Meg, Gavin's wife. Thomas's death is told by Elspeth, his wife.

The story is very much character driven. In the beginning, Thomas seems to be something of a wastrel and a womanizer--though he isn't a bad person. His trip to Elfland teaches him something of nobility and compassion for his fellow men (and women). When he return he has "the tongue that cannot lie," which makes him something of a prophet, and along with his experiences in Elfland, makes him somewhat otherworldly. Finally, he settles down and raises a family, which helps be come somewhat less otherworldly.

This is a great book. I highly recommend it. I give it 5 yo-yos.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

A Good Distraction

Well, I still haven't finished Thomas the Rhymer. I've gotten distracted again. I have a good excuse this time, though. I just got a new issue of Fortean Times yesterday and I spent most of my time reading it.

If you've never read Fortean Times, your missing out on a great thing. I don't mind saying that I think Fortean Times is the greatest magazine in the world. Sure other magazines have stuff going for them too. Playboy has naked women. Weird Tales has weird fiction. People has stupid celebrity gossip. Fortean Times doesn't have any of that stuff (Ok, there might be the occasional naked woman).

This magazine is all about strange phenomena. This issue, number 211, isn't actually the current issue. It's a British import, so it takes a while to make its way to the States. There's an article on the theory that flying saucers are demons. There's another one on the lake monster Ogopogo. There's a piece on those lame ass Christian fundamentalists who keep trying to push "Intelligent Design" by trying to discredit evolution. There's a report on a recent trip to find the mysterious Mongolian Death Worm. Is it just me or would Mongolian Death Worm make a really cool name for a band?

Besides all that, there are tons of regular features. There's the hilarious Hierophant. The Phenomenomox comic strip is pretty funny too. I've always loved "Strange Days," which is a selection of odd and unusual news stories. As always, there are letters and book reviews.

I can't recommend this magazine enough. Pick up an issue at your local comic book store--unfortunately most bookstores and news agents don't seem to carry it. If you like it, buy a subscription. The only bad thing about the magazine is the price; it's currently $10.50 an issue in the U.S. Still it gets 5 yo-yos from me.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Mirror Mirror on My Face...

I picked up a copy of the Mirrormask DVD at K-Mart the other day, and I finally got around to watching it. Seeing as how Neil Gaiman, Dave McKean, and the Jim Henson Company were involved, I expected to be stunned, and I was--visually anyway. I'm not so sure about the plot.

The opening scenes, set in the real world, were very boring. Sure, they set up the plot, but still, I just kept hoping the movie would hurry up and get to the good stuff. Once we get to the dream world, or whatever it was, things do pick up. People get attacked by shadows and sphinxes. There are flying books and flying towers. There are queens and evil twins.

I really didn't like the ending at all. Sorry, Neil, but "She woke up and found that it had all been a dream," is never a good ending. Tacking on an "or was it?" doesn't really improve things at all.

Still, as I said, the movie is visually stunning. This makes it well worth seeing despite the surprisingly weak plot. I'll give it 3.5 out of 5 helpful books.

Old MacDonald Wrote Some Books, EIEIO

Well, I finished The Light Princess last night, and now I'm finally getting around to writing about it. This isn't the first book by George MacDonald that I've read. I've also read Lilith, Phantasies, The Wise Woman, and maybe one or two others I can't remember offhand.

If you don't know, George MacDonald was one of the pioneers of fantasy fiction. He began did his writing in the 18th Century when other pioneers, like William Morris were still writing. He was way before Tolkien or Howard.

That said, his books--the ones I've read anyway--are very similar to fairy tales, especially this one. It follows one of the standard fairy tale plots:

King forgets to invite which to child's christening. Witch curses child. Prince arrives to break curse. Witch dies. Prince and Princess are married. They all live happily ever after.

Despite the fairly formulaic plot, the book has some very original elements. The princess is cursed with a lack of gravity, both literally and figuratively. Instead of having to climb a glass mountain or slay a dragon, the prince must sacrifice himself to break the curse. There are also two metaphysicians named Hum-Drum and Kopy-Keck, who provide some very good comic relief.

If you've never read MacDonald's work, you should. I give the Light Princess 5 yo-yos. Up next, I'm reading Ellen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Two In One Day

Maybe I should read children's books more often. I managed to finish Norton Jusher's The Phantom Tollbooth very quickly. So now, I actually have two posts in one day. I'm so happy.

That happiness stems, at least partly, from the book. It has to be one of the most imaginative stories I've ever read. It's about an ordinary, and rather bored, boy who travels to kingdom where figures of speech--and those sorts of things--are real and have lessons to teach. Important lessons too, not things like "always eat your vegetables" but "see things as they really are, not just as they seem to be."

While I would definitely call this book educational, it doesn't talk down to its readers, and it's not boring. It's full of interesting, oddball characters like the awful DYNNE and Canby--who is brave as can be and cowardly as can be among other things. There are also terrifying demons like the Terrible Trivium, demon of petty tasks and worthless jobs.

Overall, the book could be described as a sort of cross between L. Frank Baum's Oz books and Piers Anthony's Xanth books (though it predates Xanth by decades). In any case, I loved this one. I give The Phantom Tollbooth 5 yo-yos. Up next, will be the final children's book I got from Amazon, George MacDonald's The Light Princess.


Not surprisingly, seeing as how it's a children's book and very short, I finished Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in a matter of hours. It also helped that it is a good book. I know I'm way older than this book's intended audience, but I still liked it.

I've never actually read any of Dahl's books before, though I have seen both of the movies. I must say that I thought the original was way better. Normally, I like Johnny Depp, but I thought his Willy Wonka was just creepy--almost Michael Jackson creepy.

Anyway, as for the book, if you've seen either of the movies, you know the basic plot, which is pretty darn good. There is also some good dialogue, especially from Wonka, like:

And oh, what a terrible country it is! Nothing but thick jungles infested by the most dangerous beasts in the entire world--hornswogglers and snozzwangers and those terrible wicked wangdoodles. A wangdoodle would eat ten Oompa-Loompas for breakfast and come galloping back for a second helping.

About the only thing I didn't like were the Oompa-Loompa songs. They just didn't sound all that singable to me. For example:

Augustus Gloop! Augustus Gloop!
That great big greedy nincompoop!
How long could we allow this beast
To gorge and guzzle, feed and feast
On everything he wanted to?

Not that good, is it? The songs from the first movie were much better.

Despite that, it is an excellent book for the young and the youg at heart. I give Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 5 yo-yos Up next is another children's book, The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. What can I say, Amazon was having a sale on children's books and I stocked up on fantasy related ones.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Garret Files

Okay, you probably know how much I like omnibuses, and if you've read my other posts, you know that I've liked the other Garrett books I've read. The Garrett Files, by Glen Cook, is no exception. I'm especially pleased with this one because it's the first three books in the series, so now I'm finally filled in on the back story from the other novels.

They novels are fantasy mysteries. While the fantasy elements are important, Garrett hangs out with a lot of non-human types, they don't use the "standard" fantasy plot elements. There are no quests to find the magical thingamajig needed to defeat the evil Lord Whatshisname. There are no valiant knights, though Garrett does like to play the knight errant. Basically, if all the fantasy elements were removed, the books could still stand as mystery.

I'm not particularly into mystery. Don't get me wrong; I've read Arthur Conan Doyle, and I like G. K. Chesterton's mysteries, and I've read a few others. It's just that for years fantasy (and to a lesser extent science fiction) has been my primary reading material. That said these novels were enough to keep me guessing, especially the second one.

I would definitely recommend this book, though I must admit the ending of the third novel was somewhat disappointing. I give The Garrett Files 4.5 yo-yos. Though, if you do buy it, I also recommend joining Zooba or the Science Fiction Book Club so you can save money on the omnibus. Up next, I'm reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.

Monday, June 19, 2006

I See

I've decided that updating my blog about once a week or so isn't really often enough, and since I can't read much faster, I've decided to do more reviews in the "Stuff I Like" category. Today, I'm going to talk about my favorite web comic, Dominic Deegan: Oracle For Hire.

This is one excellent comic. Mookie, the writer/artist, must be some kind of genius. He does an excellent job of creating believable characters and story lines. While I'm no art critic, I'd have to say that his artistic abilities are on par with those of professional comic strip/comic book artists. Not only that, but, unlike many other web comics, his site updates every day (unless he's at a convention, it's a holiday, or he's spending time with his lady friend).

As you might guess from the title, the comic is fantasy themed. The older strips tended to be more comic. Often Dominic would be asked to use his seers abilities to answer stupid questions, then he'd make fun of the client. The stories became more serious after the introduction of Luna, Dominic's girlfriend. Since then, he's gone on to save a dryad from an Infernomancer, battle an evil called the Storm of souls, rebuild a small town, and lots of other stuff.

This is one of the best web comics around. I definitely recommend that you go and start reading it right now. I give Dominic Deegan: Oracle For Hire 5 yo-yos. There's also a print book containing the first 100 strips available. I've ordered it from Amazon, though they are taking a Hell of a long time to ship.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

I've got to Han it to you...

It certainly took me a while, but I've finally finished with C. J. Cherryh's The Chanur Saga. Not the actual entire saga, just the omnibus containing the first three novels. I must say that it is a great read.

Of course, most of Cherryh's stuff is great. I've read and loved the Morgaine books and the omnibus The Faded Sun Trilogy. Cherryh is a great writer.

The Chanur books are centered around a race of aliens called the Hani. In fact the books are largely told from the perspective of the Hani captain of the ship Pride of Chanur, Pyanfar. This is a remarkable achievement, because the Hani are very believable aliens, unlike many other SF aliens who are the literary equivalent of the people with bits glued on their heads you see on tv shows.

I found the story to be exciting and interesting. It was also complicated, which isn't a bad thing, but made for slow reading. The other alien races, besides the Hani, are also very well done, especially the Kif, who aren't quite the complete villains they seem to be (at least that's what I think).

I can't be sure though, because of the publisher's blunder. The first book in this omnibus is a stand-alone novel, but the other two are part of a trilogy. Unfortunately, this means that I have no idea how the story ends. I'll have to buy Chanur's Homecoming if I want to find out. Not that I mind having to buy it, but I think the publishers would have been better of including Chanur's Homecoming, even if it meant cutting out The Pride of Chanur.

I give The Chanur Saga 4.5 yo-yos.
I'd give it 5 if it wasn't for the publishing business. Anyway, I just got my latest book from Zooba, which is The Garret Files by Glenn Cook.