Monday, December 22, 2008
Frolicking in the fields of fantasy fiction
In going over the books that I've been reading this past year,I noticed an increase in one particular genre that usually I've only dabbled in slightly before.
Sure,paranormal romance has been a regular feature on my literary menu and with the last of the Harry Potter books finished(Tales of the Beadle the Bard can wait awhile longer for me),fantasy seemed like it was a done deal for me. However,most of the newer and more intriguing titles in my To Be Read pile are starting to resemble a more mature section of Flourish and Blotts.
Since fantasy is a rather large tent for many types of imaginative writing to huddle under,let's break this down into more easily examinable chunks. The following are books that I've either read,am currently reading or just about to.
THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE
One of the most talked about fantasy novels of the year has been Anathem by Neal Stephenson,who is best known for his Baroque Cycle and the genre hybrid Cyptonomicon,elaborately written tales of codes and cleverness.
In truth,I was a little daunted by the prospect of trying this book but after seeing it featured in Unshelved's Sunday Book Club,I couldn't resist the urge any longer.
The plot of the novel takes place on a planet similar to Earth in a future time,where intellectuals are gathered up to live in isolated communities designed to hone their mental skills. They are selected during their childhood and live like monks,with science and math replacing religious study,and given limited access to the outside world.
That is just fine with Fraa Eramus,a young novice who is content with his lot in life. However,he may have no choice but to go back to the world he left behind due to outside forces causing a shake-up that threatens the existence of everyone. To my surprise and delight,Anathem is very readable and thought provoking at the same time. I'm still in the early stages but this looks to be a ride worth taking:
A little less complicated,Stephenie Meyer's The Host gave the whole "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" theme a new twist by having the alien being who takes over the body of rebellious Earthling Melanie Stryder as a sympathetic lead character.
Meyer wisely chose to stick with what she knows best,developing characters and dealing with issues of blending into a new society rather than techno talk. The storytelling is a tad more mature than her well loved Twilight series but I think fans of those books would enjoy the adventures of Wanderer and Melanie as well as those of Edward and Bella.
FANTASTIC FOLLOW UPS
Many paranormal series get played out after several books,but not Kim Harrison's Hollows titles,which just keep getting better and better. Her latest one,The Outlaw Demon Wails,takes Rachel Morgan to some rather unexpected places,including the always dangerous Ever After,where the link between her powers and forbidden demon magic is seen in a new light.
I love Harrison's wit,especially in the way she titles her books after Clint Eastwood movies. The next Hollows book is due out in February of 2009 and called White Witch,Black Curse. Another great reason to look forward to next year.
Gregory adds a new chapter to his Wicked Years,with A Lion Among Men,that takes a look at the Cowardly Lion(called Brrr in the story)and his part in shaping the land of Oz,as he exchanges information with Yackle,a dying oracle,in order to clear up the mysteries left behind by Elphaba,the infamous Wicked Witch of the West and her son Liir.
Maguire's examination of the Wizard of Oz books is meant to be more than a reinvention of a childhood classic. Rather,they're allegorical takes on society and the nature of good and evil,told in an entertaining way:
Steampunk is a genre that bases it's sci-fi/fantasy elements in the Victorian era of England. It occasionally uses fictional characters created during that time (or alludes to them)as well.
Jonathan Barnes gives us a grand example of that with The Somnambulist,which has Sherlock Holmesian detective and stage magician Edward Moon seek to uncover a growing conspiracy against the city of London involving a secret society,mystics and intelligently enhanced ape men.
Barnes is due to have another steampunk tale come out by the end of January called The Domino Men. If it's as riveting as The Somnambulist was,Jonathan Barnes is destined to have a strong literary following as great as those who have gone before him,like Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore. A duel between good and evil always sounds better with a British accent attached to it:
Technically,The Philosopher's Apprentice is not a steampunk book,since it takes place in modern day society. It does,however,have a number of neo classic themes and allusions to such Victorian tales as Frankenstein and The Island of Dr. Moreau,as author James Morrow plumbs some dark satirical depths about cloning and the development of personality.
Philosophy scholar Mason Ambrose is hired by an eccentric geneticist living on a secluded island to retrain her daughter Londa in morals,claiming that the girl lost her ability to judge right from wrong due to a head injury from a swimming accident. That turns out to be a phony story but the truth behind Londa's behavior and the reason her mother keeps her on that island is really stranger than fiction. This is one book where you can't guess how it's going to end,a rare treat indeed.
STARTING IN WITH THE SAGAS
Fantasy sagas can be pretty intimidating,with lots of different names to keep track of and different locales to be described in painstaking details that tend to sacrifice character development. Yet,I was drawn enough to two of them to give the books a fighting chance at proving those prejudices wrong.
Kushiel's Dart introduced me to Jacqueline Carey's world,where the main rule of conduct is "love as thou wilt" and it's leading lady Phedre does that to the fullest and then some.
While I'm anxious to read more of the Kushiel books,Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth series is also calling me,due to watching episodes of Legend Of The Seeker(which is based on his works).
I am taking my time about reading Wizard's First Rule,mainly so that I'm not too spoiled by prior knowledge to enjoy the show. Fresh episodes will be airing in January and you can catch up on LOTS at Hulu.
It's the characters who have me spellbound here,particularly Kahlan the warrior maiden "Confessor",who is clearly torn between her duty and her desire for the Seeker. There are,no doubt,vast differences from the book here but I suspect in basics,Kahlan on page is as noble as she is on screen:
So,why am I reading so many fantasy titles lately? Could be a number of reasons,like a need to escape reality,to seek out something off the beaten trail to inspire me or just a reaction to all of the current turmoil facing us right now.
In my opinion,it's really just my way of keeping my mental attic freshen up,with some newer sights and sounds to goad my muse into thinking of new things to get me going there. Whatever the reason,these books are perfect for bringing many wonderful fantasy dreams to life:
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