What have you been reading?

Klibbix!

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I also recently finished Susanna Clarke's Piranesi.
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I can't talk too much about it for fear of spoiling anything but I will say that those who found The Magician's Nephew to be the best of the Narnia books may very well like this one. I've read maybe 90% of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell more than once, but never finished it. This one is admittedly much shorter, but I read Piranesi in record time. There are some, in my opinion, less than stellar bits but I enjoyed it overall and I think it would be fantastic inspiration for anyone planning an Urban Fantasy campaign.
 

Lofgeornost

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I also recently finished Susanna Clarke's Piranesi.

I can't talk too much about it for fear of spoiling anything but I will say that those who found The Magician's Nephew to be the best of the Narnia books may very well like this one. I've read maybe 90% of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell more than once, but never finished it. This one is admittedly much shorter, but I read Piranesi in record time. There are some, in my opinion, less than stellar bits but I enjoyed it overall and I think it would be fantastic inspiration for anyone planning an Urban Fantasy campaign.

I really liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (and I liked the TV adaptation too), but I've never read anything else by Clarke. Piranesi definitely goes on the 'to be read' list.

A week or so ago I read through John Brunner's Compleat Traveller in Black, a collection of short stories he wrote in the 1960s and 1970s. They are really well-written and made me wish that Brunner had done more in the fantasy vein. The titular character, who has 'many names but only one nature' (oddly, we never actually learn those name) is a demi-god (or something similar) tasked with bringing regions and their inhabitants out of Chaos and into the realm of 'rationality' and time. He does this by granting people's wishes, though typically in a 'monkey's paw' sort of way.

Brunner's prose is very fine and the world-building is also arresting. The Traveller makes a circuit of a kind of Mittelmark area between the reality we know and the universe's origins in Chaos, checking up on specific locales, so we get to see them in different stages of their developments from barely-tamed Chaos (lots of magic and intrusive actions by what Brunner calls 'elementals' but Moorcock would have called 'lords of Chaos' or 'Chaos demons') to a more mundane reality. The bizarre customs of some of the communities, rather Vancian in fact, are one of the attractions of the stories. Another is the Traveller's complex (or maybe just contradictory) relationship with morality. At points, it seems that his role is to punish those who are evil or foolish by granting their wishes, but on other occasions it seems that merely the act of wishing itself is the flaw that leads to retribution. There is also an underlying mystery of who set the Traveller on his task and what its end result will be, which is resolved in the last story.

The book is also interesting as an example of fantasy that, well, destroys fantasy. The Traveller's job, after all, is to make the world less fantastic and to eliminate magic from it, replacing it with 'reason.' Magic is generally negative in the stories, and requires various deviant practices or painful sacrifices to make it work--though there are some magical operations that the Traveller himself employs. It reminded me a bit of a section in The City of the Autumn Stars which basically argues that what is wrong with people is their appetite for the fantastic. One remark that the Traveller makes early on in the series (which rather gets dropped later) is that human mages' use of magic in itself is contradictory. Magic draws on the Chaos elementals and their powers, but strives to bind them within set procedures and effects--which makes them less Chaotic. So over time the practice of magic itself weakens Chaos.

As a sidelight, the Rationality vs. Irrationality mechanics that I have complained about in Aquelarre would fit very well into a game for Brunner's imagined world.
 

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Love The Traveller in Black and agree it is a very fine fantasy. Odd that it isn't better known (I discovered it, like a lot of good fantasy, from Moorcock's essays).
 

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I have a bunch of books I am reading at the moment. Focusing on getting back into William Peter Blatty. The exorcist has always been up there with Dracula for me. And re-reading that, reading books of his I haven't before, I am reminded what a great writer he was (and how much his works are filled with humor). Read the Ninth Configuration for the first time. That one is a trip and a half. Definitely recommend watching the movie after reading (the style is intentionally a bit wacky, especially in the first part of the book, and its much easier to appreciate the quality of the dialogue if you also hear it performed). I like the effect though because it is overwhelming and you are supposed to feel surrounded by insanity in the first half. I think Exorcist and Legion are the most enjoyable reads. Perfect horror novels.
 

Klibbix!

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I really liked Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (and I liked the TV adaptation too), but I've never read anything else by Clarke. Piranesi definitely goes on the 'to be read' list.

A week or so ago I read through John Brunner's Compleat Traveller in Black, a collection of short stories he wrote in the 1960s and 1970s. They are really well-written and made me wish that Brunner had done more in the fantasy vein. The titular character, who has 'many names but only one nature' (oddly, we never actually learn those name) is a demi-god (or something similar) tasked with bringing regions and their inhabitants out of Chaos and into the realm of 'rationality' and time. He does this by granting people's wishes, though typically in a 'monkey's paw' sort of way.

Brunner's prose is very fine and the world-building is also arresting. The Traveller makes a circuit of a kind of Mittelmark area between the reality we know and the universe's origins in Chaos, checking up on specific locales, so we get to see them in different stages of their developments from barely-tamed Chaos (lots of magic and intrusive actions by what Brunner calls 'elementals' but Moorcock would have called 'lords of Chaos' or 'Chaos demons') to a more mundane reality. The bizarre customs of some of the communities, rather Vancian in fact, are one of the attractions of the stories. Another is the Traveller's complex (or maybe just contradictory) relationship with morality. At points, it seems that his role is to punish those who are evil or foolish by granting their wishes, but on other occasions it seems that merely the act of wishing itself is the flaw that leads to retribution. There is also an underlying mystery of who set the Traveller on his task and what its end result will be, which is resolved in the last story.

The book is also interesting as an example of fantasy that, well, destroys fantasy. The Traveller's job, after all, is to make the world less fantastic and to eliminate magic from it, replacing it with 'reason.' Magic is generally negative in the stories, and requires various deviant practices or painful sacrifices to make it work--though there are some magical operations that the Traveller himself employs. It reminded me a bit of a section in The City of the Autumn Stars which basically argues that what is wrong with people is their appetite for the fantastic. One remark that the Traveller makes early on in the series (which rather gets dropped later) is that human mages' use of magic in itself is contradictory. Magic draws on the Chaos elementals and their powers, but strives to bind them within set procedures and effects--which makes them less Chaotic. So over time the practice of magic itself weakens Chaos.

As a sidelight, the Rationality vs. Irrationality mechanics that I have complained about in Aquelarre would fit very well into a game for Brunner's imagined world.

I've been meaning to watch the Jonathan series, and now I'm going to have to check out the Traveller in Black too.
 

Lofgeornost

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I wanted to read something to help me understand the current situation in Ukraine and settled on Serhy Yekelchik's Ukraine: What Everyone Needs to Know, 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 2020). I picked it because (1) it was cheap on Kindle, (2) I trust the publisher, and (3) it promised to be introductory--I know very little about Ukraine and almost nothing about events there after 1991.

It's a clear and easy read. The book is set up in almost F.A.Q. style, with section headings like 'How and Why did Russia Annex Crimea from Ukraine' which makes it easy to digest, though I suppose it also makes it hard to sustain a larger argument. The initial chapter introduces the Ukraine crisis as it existed in 2020, then follow short chapters on Ukraine's geography/people and its history up to 1991. The last 4 chapters deal with developments since the fall of communism, with 2 focusing on the events of 2014 and their aftermath.

Though I don't really have the background to judge this, it seemed a balanced account to me, if maybe leaning a bit in the direction of the pro-Western forces in Ukraine. Of course, because it is focused almost entirely on Ukraine, it doesn't, in itself, provide a full account of the background to the current crises. For that, one would need to look more deeply at the situation in Russia, and at the E.U. and U.S.'s relations with Ukraine. But a short book can't do everything.
 

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For a change of pace, I read Roger Zelazny's Dilvish the Damned, a collection of short stories. I think I read it, and even owned a copy, when it came out in the early 1980s, but had no memory of it. This copy was a recent e-book reissue courtesy of Hoopla.

The title character is a half-elf who clashed with a very powerful evil magician and ended up petrified as a statue while his soul was tormented in hell. When the region he defended in his original lifetime was threatened once more centuries later, he returned to the land of the living with some knowledge of hell-magic (in the form of what are called Awful Sayings) and a demonic ally in horse form. Despite some references to elves (and elf-boots), the stories tend more to the sword-and-sorcery vein, especially after the first three. These were written a decade or so before the others and are a bit more Dunsanian in tone, with people saying 'thee' and a focus on Dilvish's mission to save his homeland. Zelazny seems to have lost interest in that plot-line, since we get the build-up to it, but then the actual deliverance occurs off-camera. The other stories follow Dilvish in his travels, as he moves towards his ultimate goal of killing the mage who damned him.

It's not up there with the best of Zelazny's work, but it's still an enjoyable read. My next stop is the Dilvish novel, The Changing Land, also available via Hoopla.
 

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Lofgeornost Lofgeornost Definitely not his best but still a lot of fun to read. :smile: I've been re-reading the Amber books and Leiber's Lankhmar books as well currently. I loved the whole "Awful Sayings" in Dilvish. heh.
 

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When it comes to Zelanzy I really enjoy his early science fantasy but of his pure fantasy I liked Jack of Shadows a lot but found the much touted Amber series underwhelming.

Need to check out more of his later stuff, seems he was less ambitious in his later work but still delivers the pulpy, imaginative fun.
 

Lofgeornost

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When it comes to Zelanzy I really enjoy his early science fantasy but of his pure fantasy I liked Jack of Shadows a lot but found the much touted Amber series underwhelming.

Need to check out more of his later stuff, seems he was less ambitious in his later work but still delivers the pulpy, imaginative fun.
Jack of Shadows made an impression on me when I read it years ago and it's also in my Hoopla reading queue; it was re-issued by Chicago Review Press in their 'Rediscovered Classics' series not too long ago.
 

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Just got into a book club reading Sherlock Holmes. I forgot how dry it was... considering jumping to another
 

Lofgeornost

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I finished Zelazny's The Changing Land, in a recent e-book reissue. It's a novel which picks up the tale of Dilvish the Damned and brings him to another of his arch-enemy Jerelak's fortresses, as his quest for vengeance continues.

In the end, I didn't enjoy it as much as the Dilvish short stories. It has a large cast and is rather intricately plotted--the actions of a lot of different individuals and 'factions' as we'd say nowadays have to come together for the denouement. Despite that, in some places it felt rather padded to me. For example, we get rather detailed multi-page accounts of the movements of Dilvish and some other characters around Castle Timeless which seem a bit pointless, reminding me of similar scenes in old Dr. Who episodes. I also found the resolution fairly anti-climactic. And I'm shallow enough that I was disappointed that Dilvish never really gets to do much with the Awful Sayings he learned in hell.

From an RPG-enthusiast's point of view, one of the more interesting things in the novel was a scene which describes how a mage goes about inspecting, analyzing, and subverting another magician's spell. I don't see any easy way to gamify it, but I'm always interested by descriptions of magic in fantasy that make it more than a plot device or equivalent of a raygun.

So, not one of Zelazny's best, but I'm not sad I read it--or re-read it, since I'm sure I owned the book ages ago.
 
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O'Borg

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I've just finished re-reading Mort by Terry Pratchett for the x-teenth time. It's been a while since I went through my Discworld collection.
Previously I'd got Barbara Hambly's Winterlands quartet on e-book loan. The first book, Dragonsbane was interesting with some novel ideas. Book 2, Dragonshadow, started to lose me a bit with its world building - I can allow for the odd character wearing spectacles with swords and armour, but when they started building hot air balloons and anti-dragon tanklets I couldnt suspend my disbelief any further. Book 3 I gave up in the opening chapter. Not to spoil things, but Book 2 ended with "And the heroes suffered life changing injuries and lived with crippling PTSD and guilt" and Book 3 started the same, and I'm just too depressed to deal with grimdark right now so it went back to the library.
Hence I'm re-reading Discworld.
 

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I also recently read Neal Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, a very dark re-telling of the Snow White story from the point of view of the not-so-wicked stepmother. That sort of thing has become rather routine, I guess, but Gaiman does a fine job with it. I won’t reveal much about the story for fear of spoilers, but let’s just say that if you ever found the prince’s longing for an apparently dead young woman held under glass to have hints of necrophilia, Gaiman would agree with you…

The art, by Colleen Duran, is stylized but lovely. She based it on the work of the Irish artist Harry Clarke; it is somewhat reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley.
 

Nobby-W

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I've just finished re-reading Mort by Terry Pratchett for the x-teenth time. It's been a while since I went through my Discworld collection.
Previously I'd got Barbara Hambly's Winterlands quartet on e-book loan. The first book, Dragonsbane was interesting with some novel ideas. Book 2, Dragonshadow, started to lose me a bit with its world building - I can allow for the odd character wearing spectacles with swords and armour, but when they started building hot air balloons and anti-dragon tanklets I couldnt suspend my disbelief any further. Book 3 I gave up in the opening chapter. Not to spoil things, but Book 2 ended with "And the heroes suffered life changing injuries and lived with crippling PTSD and guilt" and Book 3 started the same, and I'm just too depressed to deal with grimdark right now so it went back to the library.
Hence I'm re-reading Discworld.

There is some historical precedent for wearing spectacles with armour. At one point the Holy Roman emperor gifted the armour below to Henry VIII. As I understand, it was fashioned as a caricature of the sender in a way that was fashionable at the time.

 

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Just got into a book club reading Sherlock Holmes. I forgot how dry it was... considering jumping to another
So I did jump to another... this one is reading Unbecoming by Lesley Wheeler. Never heard of it, but hope it's a better read, especially since I have to finish it in one week!
 

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I've just finished re-reading Mort by Terry Pratchett for the x-teenth time. It's been a while since I went through my Discworld collection.
Previously I'd got Barbara Hambly's Winterlands quartet on e-book loan. The first book, Dragonsbane was interesting with some novel ideas. Book 2, Dragonshadow, started to lose me a bit with its world building - I can allow for the odd character wearing spectacles with swords and armour, but when they started building hot air balloons and anti-dragon tanklets I couldnt suspend my disbelief any further. Book 3 I gave up in the opening chapter. Not to spoil things, but Book 2 ended with "And the heroes suffered life changing injuries and lived with crippling PTSD and guilt" and Book 3 started the same, and I'm just too depressed to deal with grimdark right now so it went back to the library.
Hence I'm re-reading Discworld.

Hambly's first two books about a vampire in 19th century London hiring a human detective to help him are tremendous fun and have a simple but interesting take on vampires that I would import into any vampire rpg: Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling with the Dead.

1241305.jpg
 

Voros

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I also recently read Neal Gaiman’s Snow, Glass, Apples, a very dark re-telling of the Snow White story from the point of view of the not-so-wicked stepmother. That sort of thing has become rather routine, I guess, but Gaiman does a fine job with it. I won’t reveal much about the story for fear of spoilers, but let’s just say that if you ever found the prince’s longing for an apparently dead young woman held under glass to have hints of necrophilia, Gaiman would agree with you…

The art, by Colleen Duran, is stylized but lovely. She based it on the work of the Irish artist Harry Clarke; it is somewhat reminiscent of Aubrey Beardsley.

I believe all thos revisionist fairy tales are derived from Angela Carter's classic short story collection The Bloody Chamber, which often bleeds into horror and the erotic.

41DVpcUG9OL._SL500_.jpg
 

Rob Necronomicon

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Currently reading Earthworm Gods (or the conqueror worms) by Brian Keene. So far it's excellent and gripping, and I love the lead character who's an ex-Vietnam vet in his 80s. It's a post-apocalyptic premise about the Earth being flooded and invaded by Lovecraftian horrors.
 

Lofgeornost

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Over the weekend, I re-read Jack of Shadows, Zelazny's 1971 science-fantasy short novel. It's better than I remembered, if not as good as Lord of Light or Creatures of Light and Darkness. It is set on a tidally-locked world; one side is constantly in daylight and ruled by science, while the other is in darkness and ruled by magic. The title character is one of the 'powers' of the Darkside, beings whose arcane abilities are tied to places on it--or in Jack's case, to any shadowed area. Such powers do not die, at least not permanently--instead, when death comes they are reborn at the 'west pole' of the world, the dung-pits of Glyve, which they then must escape. The novel begins with Jack's execution on suspicions that he is planning a major theft, then follows his quest for vengeance on his enemies. This requires a trip into the day side, where he becomes a university lecturer, a specialist in Darkside anthropology, naturally.

I enjoyed reading it again; I recalled the general setup and some elements of the plot but there was much I had forgotten. Zelazny's portrait of the Darkside is ingenious and the plot takes several unexpected turns--to me, at least. Some of the reviews I've read complain about the emotional coldness of Jack and many of the characters, but I did not find that off-putting. Jack and the other Darksiders are supposed to be inhuman, after all.

When I first read the book, I found its ambiguous ending frustrating, but this time I did not--it seemed pitch-perfect. From what I've read, Zelazny resisted attempts to get him to write a sequel, though he did write several prequels, including the script for a graphic novel that would explain how Jack's world became the way that it was. This was unfortunately unfinished at his death, but has been published in his collected works; I'll have to seek it out someday. The main imaginative flaw in the book, from my perspective, is that the Dayside is simply our familiar world c. 1970; the only real difference seems to be that candles are used instead of electric lights, presumably because they are so seldom needed. It would have been more interesting if Zelazny had created a more different, though still non-magical, world of eternal light.
 

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Lately, I've read Keir Giles, Moscow Rules: What Drives Russia to Confront the West (Brookings/Chatham House 2019). I won't say much about it, since there's no way to discuss it without getting into politics. The author is a policy analyst for Chatham House specializing in Russia--and, apparently, once was an actor.

I will include this tidbit, since it calls out to be used in a modern occult game:
For over two years, listeners to Mayak, a major national radio station, woke to the eerie, robotic preaching of Shoko Asahara, the leader of the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo death cult—eerie and robotic because Asahara, a non-Russian speaker, had recorded a large number of individual Russian words, which were then cut and spliced into sermons by his followers.
 
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Lofgeornost

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A book I got for Christmas, read a while back, but have not mentioned here is Tanith Lee’s The Birthgrave. It was her debut novel, though I’m not sure if it is actually the first that she wrote. I read the fairly recent paperback reissue from DAW, which has a brief foreword by Lee describing how she came to sell the book after many failed attempts.

For an early effort, it’s quite good; well-paced, with an interesting (though often not very sympathetic) protagonist and intriguing world-building. Oddly, the very end of the novel veers from sword-and-sorcery into science fantasy, and offers explanations for things that might better have been left unexplained. It also turns out that the protagonist is an unreliable narrator in some important ways. I’ve got nothing against unreliable narrators in general, but I think they are hard to do well in fantasy, because the reader can’t really tell if a weird feature of the text represents the narrator’s skewed viewpoint or if the imagined world is really supposed to be like that.

Anyway, I’m enjoying reading Lee, whose work I largely missed when it first appeared.
 

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A book I got for Christmas, read a while back, but have not mentioned here is Tanith Lee’s The Birthgrave. It was her debut novel, though I’m not sure if it is actually the first that she wrote. I read the fairly recent paperback reissue from DAW, which has a brief foreword by Lee describing how she came to sell the book after many failed attempts.

For an early effort, it’s quite good; well-paced, with an interesting (though often not very sympathetic) protagonist and intriguing world-building. Oddly, the very end of the novel veers from sword-and-sorcery into science fantasy, and offers explanations for things that might better have been left unexplained. It also turns out that the protagonist is an unreliable narrator in some important ways. I’ve got nothing against unreliable narrators in general, but I think they are hard to do well in fantasy, because the reader can’t really tell if a weird feature of the text represents the narrator’s skewed viewpoint or if the imagined world is really supposed to be like that.

Anyway, I’m enjoying reading Lee, whose work I largely missed when it first appeared.
I loved the "The Birthgrave" when I read it in the mid/late 1970's and the follow up books "Vazkor Son of Vazkor". I even actually stole the name to use for a ttrpg game I was a player later. lol. If I recall there is a third book as well, but I can't recall the name.
 

Lofgeornost

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I loved the "The Birthgrave" when I read it in the mid/late 1970's and the follow up books "Vazkor Son of Vazkor". I even actually stole the name to use for a ttrpg game I was a player later. lol. If I recall there is a third book as well, but I can't recall the name.
Yeah, it's a trilogy. The second book has been retitled Shadowfire for the current reprints, and the last one is Hunting the White Witch. I plan to read all of them and am dithering about whether I want to buy e-copies or paper. Strangely (IMO) DAW sets the same price for e-books as paperbacks.
 

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Yeah, it's a trilogy. The second book has been retitled Shadowfire for the current reprints, and the last one is Hunting the White Witch. I plan to read all of them and am dithering about whether I want to buy e-copies or paper. Strangely (IMO) DAW sets the same price for e-books as paperbacks.
Interesting, yeah now I recall it. I recall the name tho "Hunt for the White Witch". hmm. Have to snag em all in ebook form now. :smile:
 

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I'm about halfway through Courtship Rite, by Donald Kingsbury, a hard-SF novel in which the science involved is mostly ecology. On the whole it is an excellent attempt to tell a story in which almost everyone is very intelligent, though I have to say that at a few points George Smiley would gut and fillet the central characters attempting spycraft. And I think the R&D boffins who branch out into physics and mechanical engineering do more than mere intelligence would allow.
 

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The excellent new miniseries on HBO by the creators of The Wire inspired me to start reading the non-fiction book it is based on.

1650973468-51Vj-FdtXqL._SL500_.jpg

A classic tale of corruption and power: a special unit of Baltimore cops go spetactularly off the rails. Lots of Prince of the City vibes.

This kind of material is like literary crack for me. Can't get enough
 

Lofgeornost

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This weekend I read Barbara F. Walter, How Civil Wars Start and How to Stop Them (Crown, 2022). It's in part a summary of social-science thinking on the nature and causes of recent (i.e. post WW2) civil conflicts and in part an attempt to apply those models to the contemporary U.S. I won't go into the arguments on the latter front, for obvious reasons, except to say I found them thought-provoking but not entirely convincing. As a summary of some specialist work on civil conflicts, though, the book strikes me as well worth reading and could be good fodder for a Twilight 2000 or other modern dystopia game. It's also very readable, in a way that social-science writing often is not.
 
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So I don't recommend Unbecoming by Lesley Wheeler - the idea is good, but the writing leaves something lacking. However, I did enjoy the book club meeting.

This month we're reading Anil's Ghost - definitely delving into genres that I don't normally read.
 

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Over the last several days, I've read the initial chapters of Janet Hartley's Siberia: A History of the People (2014). So far I'm not out of the 17th century. It's an intriguing book, part narrative history, part social history. The scope is so wide, though, that so far at least it spends relatively little space on any particular thing--I really wanted more treatment of the native peoples of Siberia, for instance, though the brief section on what the Muscovite state called Bukharans was interesting. The maps are also way too small, at least in the e-version of the book I'm using.
 

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Over the last several days, I've read the initial chapters of Janet Hartley's Siberia: A History of the People (2014). So far I'm not out of the 17th century. It's an intriguing book, part narrative history, part social history. The scope is so wide, though, that so far at least it spends relatively little space on any particular thing--I really wanted more treatment of the native peoples of Siberia, for instance, though the brief section on what the Muscovite state called Bukharans was interesting. The maps are also way too small, at least in the e-version of the book I'm using.
I'm curious to know if it's worth a read when you're finished.
 

Lofgeornost

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I'm curious to know if it's worth a read when you're finished.
I'll be sure to post about it when I do. Unfortunately, I'm in mental-jackdaw mode currently and am likely to be distracted by the next shiny thing. Which will probably be Paul Stephenson's New Rome: The Empire in the East (2021) which just arrived I.L.L. yesterday. It's a history of the Eastern Roman Empire from c. 400-700 that integrates more traditional material (politics, religion) with new findings from archaeology, environmental history, and the history of disease.
 

Lofgeornost

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I recently finished Robert Price’s Drums of Chaos (2008, but I read the Pickman’s Press reissue from 2021). It's Price’s longest tale of Simon of Gitta (a.k.a. Simon Magus), though Simon himself turns out to be not that pivotal a character in it—he shares the spotlight with many others. Some of these, like his mentor the Samaritan wizard Dositheus and his fellow-apprentice Menander we have met before in the Simon short-stories, but others are new—most notably John Taggart, the nihilistic hero of a separate science-fiction series of Price’s (which I’ve not read).

The basic idea of the novel is the Jesus story meets the Cthulhu mythos meets Gnosticism. Jesus naturally turns out to be the son of a god, but the Yahweh who fathered him is (mixing Gnosticism with the mythos) not really somebody you’d want ruling the earth. His crucifixion is part of an elaborate scheme to open a gate—in fact, a number of schemes, since there are several different factions seeking this for various outcomes, including various races of extraterrestrials. This is then combined with Simon’s quest for vengeance against the Roman authorities (and their collaborators) who destroyed his family some years previous. Oh, and some “Holy Blood-Holy Grail” material for good measure.

Unfortunately, all of this is less intriguing than it probably sounds—or at least I found it so. Part of the problem is that Price is very invested in bringing in all kinds of details from various gospel accounts of Jesus’ last days and recasting and re-interpreting them. Sometimes this works (like Price’s use of Jesus’ encounter with Satan, who turns out to be Taggert), but other times the new version is too obvious to hold much interest (like Price’s version of the famous words from the cross) or simply peripheral. Some of the latter stuff actually gets in the way of the plot, impeding the movement of the tale. For example, the gospel of Mark mentions (14:51) that when Jesus was arrested in Gethsemane, a young man following him abandoned his clothes and fled naked. So Price has to insert an incident explaining this and identifying him.

In fact, the novel is rather slow. A lot of it consists of the main characters—who are soon split up into several different groups—traveling about Palestine to sites associated with Jesus’ mission, re-uniting, etc. Not that the book is a travelogue, but it focuses too much on who is where when. Frequently, too, important events happen off-stage, and what we get is not a direct description of them but an account of them by one of the characters who did witness them.

I also didn’t think the mixture of SF and fantasy/horror worked particularly well in the book. The Simon of Gitta tales tend to be inconsistent in their view of magic: a lot of what Simon does are the tricks of a stage illusionist, but there are also some spells, etc. that really work. In this novel, except for opening wormhole-gates, all apparently magical things have SF explanations. So ‘demons’ are actually a particular kind of extraterrestrial which can inhabit living bodies, and so on. I got rather tired of the ‘locals’ constantly exclaiming on what a great wizard Taggert is when he used one or another element of typical SF tech (flying ship, light-saber-like sword, force-shield, etc.).

In summary, though I liked the short stories about Simon, I found the novel a disappointment.
 

Godfather Punk

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Where I read the 'Tales of the Far West' anthology, so you don't have to.

"It was a long war, and hard-fought. The August Throne was in no hurry, however."

With these lines Gareth opens the Introduction, and also the long wait for the Kickstarter delivery. Some red flags you only recognize after the fact, I guess. Still, the idea sounded good and the motivation genuine at the time. So many dreams of transmedia products and services, of which this volume and an all but abandoned website are the only tangible proof now.

The book is a slim softcover, about 222 pages and contains 12 short stories.

The tales give us a brief glance at the world, a parallel America where apparently the Chinese have done their own conquistadoring and carved out an Empire in the West. We catch glimpses of clockwork, steampunk tech, mystical forces, fated weapons, organisations, strange wildlife, the lay of the land. Details get repeated and expanded a bit across the stories. All the elements paint a common setting, though aside from a reference to the 'Rangers' we get no names of real historical places or events, so this might even be another universe altogether; anyway something you could definitely flesh out and use for an rpg campaign. And as advertised you get a mixture of Far West and Chinese cultures and traditions, but always with a bias in favour of the Far East.

Anyway, first story by Scott Lynch is one of the longest. As usual he manages in a few pages to introduce characters and a setting, and get me interested to know more about them, before killing them off and burning the place to the ground, on to the next chapter. I like Lynch his writing but would have wanted more than the 45 pages we get here. Lowlife gets chosen by a master, follows him around a bit until the master is killed, then is left alone again, with maybe some lessons learned.

There's a story about a travelling musician/herald that felt familiar. Maybe I read it 10 years ago on a blog, as a sample chapter. When our protagonist, who is sworn not to intervene, sees an injustice, he finds a way to circumvent his restrictions and intervenes anyway. Happy End.

One story (A master teaches class, one gifted student challenges the master and swiftly gets his ass kicked) is by Skarka himself, and it will probably surprise you that it is the shortest of the lot. With four pages it is at least a page longer than his Introduction, but still a page less than the 5-pager, by Chuck Wendig (a girl befriends a gunslinger, the gunslinger gets killed and the girl picks up his gun to avenge him (Leon?). As these two have little space between set-up, unfolding and payoff, I can't say they really got me invested.

Then another revenge quest, a murder mystery this time.
And another other revenge quest (this time from the P.O.V. of the fugitive), with an opening scene aboard a crash&burning airship. Really these stories merit more than the novelette or magazine article length they get.
More another revenge plot, this time aboard a moving killer dungeon... I'm sensing a common theme here.
And a story about a samurai-exorcist.
And a Dread Pirate Roberts story.

Two more chapters to go...

In all, a fun series of short stories that fill the half-hour commute each day.
 

Lofgeornost

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The long weekend gave me a chance for some pleasure reading, so I snapped up Ramsey Campbell's Far Away and Never. He's mainly a horror writer, but this is a collection of his fantasy stories, put out by DMR Books; I read an e-copy. The first four stories are sword-and-sorcery tales about a mercenary named Ryre, originally published in Swords Against Darkness back in the 1970s. The first, and longest, "The Sustenance of Hoak," rang a distant bell in my memory, though I suppose I read them all back in the day. The plots are fairly standard--hero encounters supernatural threat and fights or defeats it--but Campbell's skill with horror makes them pretty engaging. Three other tales are earlier efforts and more overtly 'fantastical'; I think I liked them even better. One story is actually a chapter from a round-robin novel in which various fantasy authors expanded on a story fragment written by Howard (the whole was published in 1997 as Ghor, Kin-Slayer: The Saga of Genseric's Fifth-Born Son). It's the weakest, since it is just an incident in the middle of the whole saga, which (based on Campbell's account of it) doesn't sound that good to begin with.

Two of Campbell's stories incorporate an element I found very interesting: the idea that a person's tale and words don't just describe him or her, but carry part of his or her 'soul' or life-force. So in "The Changer of Names" a man gives the names of heroes to others who want more heroic lives (there's more to it than that, but I won't go into more detail for fear of spoilers). One of the earlier-written stories, the lovely "Song at the Hub of the Garden," goes into a similar idea with more depth.
 

Lofgeornost

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Another sword-and-sorcery collection from DMR Books I’ve read recently is Schuyler Hernstrom’s The Eye of Sounnu (2020). It features stories that he first published in Cirsova: Magazine of Thrilling Adventure and Daring Suspense, along with several others appearing for the first time. I’d never heard of that magazine before picking up this book, nor had I read any of Hernstrom’s work before, though I’d seen him referenced as one of the better of the new sword-and-sorcery writers.

That reputation is deserved, IMO. The tales in this book cover a fairly wide range. Some are stories of typical barbarian heroes, like the initial story “The Gift of the Ob-Men,” and the later “The First American,” though in each case with a twist. Others, like the fine “The Law of Wolves” or the very short “The Space Witch” are more fairy-tale-like. A couple are clearly patterned on Jack Vance. In one, “Images of the Goddess” a naïve monk is sent on a mission to find a sacred text and encounters typical Vancian picaresque traveling companions. Though the ‘secret’ of the sacred text was pretty obvious in advance (I guessed it as soon as the thing was mentioned) the story still presents some unexpected twists and its ending is pitch-perfect. It also has a lot of deadpan humor. Another tale, which mixes comedy and action very effectively, is “Mortu and Kyrus in the White City.” This is set in a Mad-Max-esque world, and its title characters are a hulking demi-human mercenary from a genetically-modified race of warriors (Mortu) and an accomplished bureaucrat and monk who has been transmogrified into a monkey (Kyrus). While traveling through the wasteland on Mortu’s ‘steed’ (clearly a motorbike) in search of a cure for Kyrus, they fall in with a mysterious group who inhabit ruins left behind by the aliens who once ruled the planet. Again, it wasn’t hard to guess the secret, but the characters, plotting, and odd mash-up setting (and the jokes) made the tale a lot of fun. I hope there will be more ‘Mortu and Kyrus’ adventures in future.
 
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