Cold Iron & Rowan-Wood

May 21, 2010

Paradigmatic Fantasy

Filed under: meta — Tags: , , , , , — Sam @ 12:32 am

In the pub earlier, we were discussing Classic Fantasy: or, if we gave you £50 to spend on “the best” fantasy, what would you get?

I’m steadfastly against the notion of a canon, or at least of one core canon. Everyone brings different things to the genre, and everyone takes different things from it. So what I’m doing here is making a list of books that exemplify what I think fantasy is about. It will, of course, be a partial and a biased list, and I want to see other peoples’. I’ll do a parallel list for SF (qua SF) soon, too.

Lord of the Rings

This one’s an unquestioned pick for me. I’m not too fond of the hierarchies, the questionable racial stuff, and the inbuilt sexism, but the themes resonate far too strongly with me not to include.


Again, no possibility I could leave this off the list. It’s about identity, and place, and love, and pain, and the struggle to find yourself when the world denies you. (I did a set of re-read posts a while ago.)

The Curse of Chalion

Lois McMaster Bujold’s story of a curse, a series of betrayals, fidelity beyond death or all reason (the death is the easy part…), self-realization, the struggle to trust in the gods, and the reward of a home unlooked-for.

Tam Lin

Pamela Dean’s retelling of the Child Ballad, set in an American university in the 1970s. Scholarship, feminism, love, and friendship, in a novel which loves literature.

Bridge of Birds

Barry Hughart’s classic fantasy of a Middle Kingdom that never was. It’s quixotic, joyful, and life-affirming, with thrills, spills, and adventure galore.

I can think of a half-dozen others that might deserve a slot, and often for very good reasons—but I think those come more under personal touchstones, the books that shaped my perceptions of the genre, than classics.

February 10, 2010

Quick links: whitewashing in YA fiction

Filed under: meta,sf — Tags: , , — Sam @ 9:27 pm

Two links for you – The narrative we’re told/sold over again by Chally at Feministe, and Kids of Color and the New American Whitewashing by Colleen Mondor at Bookslut.

February 6, 2010

Amazonfail, and the Book Depository

Filed under: meta,sf — Tags: , , , — Sam @ 12:10 am

I’m not going to comment on the recent Amazon/Macmillan flap, because smarter people than I have already said it all, and you can find that anywhere.

What this issue did inspire me to do, on the other hand, is to look at The Book Depository again, and – hey, free delivery worldwide, and equivalent discounts to Amazon on the things I was looking at. I picked up a couple of Steven Brust books I’ve been wanting to catch up on – reading Jhegaala for the first time, and Issola (in which Vlad starts channeling Khaavren) to fill in the one hole in my collection.

I also went over to Webscriptions and got some nice cheap ebooks to read on my phone – Baen’s HTML format books come in multiple files, with sensible length chapters, which are perfect for reading on the screen of a phone which can’t do multitasking and thus won’t let you skip out and keep your place. All of these are re-reads – The Warrior’s Apprentice and The Vor Game by Bujold, and the first three books in the Serrano Legacy sequence. If you haven’t read them, I recommend them – spaceships, sensible engineering stories, and horses. It’s military SF, but bearable.

January 25, 2010


Filed under: meta — Tags: , , , — Sam @ 2:53 pm

Or rather, a few sketchy notes of things I’m going to have to acquire in the near future.

Spellwright, by Blake Charlton. (website) Complex written magic, disability, and murder mystery.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, by NK Jemisin. (website) I’d been planning to pick this up since I first heard about her work, but it went abruptly up the list after reading her short story The Narcomancer on Transcriptase.

Manual of Detection, by Jedediah Berry. (website – annoyance warning: Flash, with embedded sound) The first plug I heard for this was “a reallly cool China Mieville meets Raymond Chandler with a dash of Jasper Fforde fantasy detective story”, and how could that not appeal?

Nights of Villjamur, by Mark Charan Newton. (website) A brief look over the material online – since when I know I want to read something, I prefer to stay away from reviews and extracts till I’ve read the whole thing – gives me the idea that it’s rather like China Mieville or Liz Williams via TS Eliot.

Hm. Most of these seem to be murder mysteries. Perhaps there’s something in the SF/murder mystery intersection for this year, or perhaps it’s just me. Bujold’s GOH speech at Denvention makes a passing reference to a blood type system of genre, where SF is a universal acceptor and mystery a universal donor; I’m still of the opinion that they’re on orthogonal axes, somehow.

January 2, 2010

At the end of the year

Filed under: meta — Tags: — Sam @ 2:31 pm

I started blogging here in the middle of May, and since then I’ve made 58 posts, 26 of which were about books which were new to me. I haven’t written about everything I’ve read, by a long way; I haven’t even written about everything SF-related I’ve read, if I couldn’t find anything I particularly wanted to say, or couldn’t get my thoughts into a suitably coherent order. Now I look back on it, 26 new-and-interesting books over 30ish weeks isn’t nearly enough; I shall have to do much better next year.

The prize for 2009 (this is “out of my 2009 reading”, of course, not “published in 2009″) goes to The Dazzle of Day, by Molly Gloss, while Unnatural History, by Jonathan Green strolls off, nearly unchallenged, with the wooden spoon. Both of those will be a tough contender for any future challengers, but I’m confident we’ll see some.

So where do I see SF going in 2010? – basically, I think that’s a meaningless question. We’ll see more of everything we had this year, and some other things, and the one safe prediction I’ll allow myself is that something new and interesting will happen.

July 22, 2009

Mendlesohn & James – A Short History of Fantasy

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — Sam @ 11:05 pm

This is precisely what it says – a history of the fantastic, beginning with mythology and moving through fairytale and the Gothic novel to the beginnings of Fantasy As We Know It and then forward to the present day.

The first text mentioned (in passing) is the Epic of Gilgamesh; the most recent is Alice in Sunderland (graphic novel, Brian Talbot, 2007). At 280 pages including chronology, glossary, and further reading, there’s little enough space for any particular text, but plenty of them are given a thorough enough discussion that it’s clear where they fit into the braided narrative of fantasy.

An extensive “Chronology of important texts” always invites the reader to tick off what they’ve read, and I’m mildly disappointed by my lack of erudition there; but I’m pleased to find that I’m familiar with most of the texts referenced in the main body, at least until the last chapter (2000-2010).

Clearly, I need to read more heavyweight-recent SF!

June 22, 2009


Filed under: meta,Uncategorized — Tags: — Sam @ 9:23 pm

I decided against continuing with the series; it’s frankly just too depressing right now, and the themes of possession and mental health are really not ones I want to read about for some time yet.

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