COLUMN: To Read, Perchance To Dream…

Ali B and the Forty Spaceships — Part the Third [July 2014]

 “Forest of Doom. This is usually the home of mobile and prehensile Trees. There will be giant SPIDERS too, and Dwellers near the centre who will want to SACRIFICE any stranger to their God. It is best to avoid the place if possible. An OLD RUINED CITY is sometimes situated in the heart of this forest.

See also WOODS.”

—The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Diana Wynne Jones

THINGS THAT GO bump in the night seems a particularly appropriate topic to cover in a SF/Fantasy-themed column, given that Horror is often considered an integral aspect of what I like to term ‘genre fiction’, but before we get into all that malarkey, I did promise an Awards catch-up last time, so here goes…

Ancillary Justice on issue, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie captured various UK awards, and I mentioned it was also up for a Hugo Award and the Nebula Award for Best Novel, awarded by the SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America)… well sure enough, it took that one, too, making it almost a clean sweep this year for Ms Leckie, on both sides of the border.  If she miraculously takes the Hugo Award for Best Novel as well later this year, to be announced at the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention over here in London (aka LonCON 3, Aug 14-18), then I will indeed eat my proverbial hat as there is no precedent for this— surely it’s not THAT good, is it? The term ‘essential reading’ springs to mind…
Doctor Sleep on Kindle
As seems appropriate for a horror-themed issue, the 2013 Bram Stoker Award Winners were announced a while back — Doctor Sleep by Stephen King nabbed the Superior Achievement in a Novel Award this time round, and I’m ashamed to admit that I haven’t read this one yet.  However, I have been fortunate enough to read some of Joe Hill’s work this year (Stephen King’s son), of which NOS4R2 (bizarrely entitled NOS4A2 over there in the US) struck me as quite simply brilliant, frankly.

NOS-4R2 on is a book of horror and psychological terror, and centres around a basic battle of good vs evil, with Vic McQueen as our heroine and the only person to ever have escaped the clutches of Charlie Manx, our child-stealing baddie. At times startlingly witty and scarily grotesque, the author introduces us to a bizarre and corrupt fantasy world called Christmasland, an adjunct to our own but also an alternative reality of the mind where it’s Christmas every day and children are stolen from their parents and forced to stay whether they like it or not. Manx drives a 1938 black Rolls Royce Wraith which is not all it seems, and his child-like psychotic partner in crime is Bing “The Gasmask Man” Partridge, a despicable character who we still somehow manage to understand and feel for by the end. Of course, Vic McQueen has some tricks of her own, including a handy bridge that takes her pretty much wherever she wants to go in a matter of seconds… This is a twisted tale indeed, but it’s also really rather cool and dangerously addictive. A truly fabulous and frightening read if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, but I would recommend avoiding it around the festive season, just saying like…

Poison on on on, I mentioned Sarah Pinborough’s beautifully written The Language of Dying in my last column, and promised to cover more of her work this time round, so please be upstanding for a trilogy with a difference: Poison, Charm, and Beauty is a charming set of twisted fairytales that adopt a modern spin on the old classics, and can be described suitably thus: “Yes, it’s those lovely Disney Princesses, but not as you know them…” — I really liked these, they’re also quite short (200+ pages) and the complete set looks very pretty on any bookshelf if that’s important to you!

Murder on on
Sarah is one of the hardest-working authors I know, and she’s also written for the award-winning BBC TV series, Torchwood, as well as several gory crime thrillers including Murder and Mayhem, the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy, a number of horror novels like London-based Feeding Ground, Tower Hill and The Reckoning, as well as the truly heart-breaking Stay With Me, a story about The Death House, a place where terminally ill children are sent to die. She really is one-of-a-kind, and deserves a much wider audience, so make a point of discovering her work if you haven’t already.

Looking ahead, we have quite a few goodies to look forward to as Summer passes slowly into Autumn (that’s Fall to you guys!), so here’s a quick look-see…

One person getting a revival of sorts, is Andre Norton, a great author of fantasy and science-fiction who died just over a decade ago — her unforgettable Witch World series (begun in 1963 with Witch World) is but one of many she has gifted to the fantasy community, and — in line with her achievements within the industry, including the World Fantasy Life Achievement Award back in 1998, and the Science Fiction Writers of America even naming an award after her — there is heaps of her work due to be republished over the next few months, so do please keep an eye out for them c/o Open Road Media and

Other things to look out for include Larry Niven’s classic Ringworld (published by Tor/Seven Seas, July 2014) making its transition to a graphic novel/comic format, the first part of which has probably already appeared in US comic and bookstores by the time you read this; and a young man called Joe Abercrombie who has unleashed (or rather, reinvented) the concept of so-called ‘grimdark fantasy’ through his grittily hard-hitting First Law series, as well as several other books set in the same universe.

Best Served Cold on favourite Abercrombie novel remains Best Served Cold, published back in 2012 it’s a straightforward fantasy tale of a woman wronged, and an intricate and somewhat gory account of how she exacts revenge on each and every one of those that wronged her. Nasty stuff indeed, but filled to the brim with great characters, a number of sticky ends, and an air of smug satisfaction for the reader…

Half A King on KindleJoe Abercrombie’s new series is a trilogy of YA novels, beginning with Half a King (published by Gollancz, July 2014), and to be followed in due course by Half a World, and Half a War — it’s the tale of a one-armed Prince Yarvi who unexpectedly becomes a king following the untimely death of his father and brother, but who is himself just as unexpectedly unseated by betrayal and deception… you can guess what happens next as he embarks on a quest for vengeance, but despite the predictable outcome you can guarantee that Abercrombie will make it a journey to remember…

No time or space for a classic this time round, but I promise a return to form next time. Toodles…

* This column originally appeared in the Sept/Oct 2014 issue of BTS Book Reviews


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