Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Terry Goodkind

 Imaginary Interviewer: It's that time again, or, well, actually a day late, but you know what we mean. Who are we reading for November?

Humble Writer: This month we're doing 'Wizard's First Rule' by Terry Goodkind. I winced when this book came up but I'm really enjoying it.

II: Why did you wince?

HW: I've got this book mentally tagged as a "3S" book. That stands for Swords, Sorcery and Series. This isn't my favorite genre. 

II: Why not? 

HW: It's the third S that gets me. 'Wizard's First Rule' is the first book in the 'Sword of Truth' series. According to Wikipedia the series spans 21 novels and 6 novellas. The first book is over 800 pages. The entire series is probably close to 20,000 pages. If you read 100 pages a day, this would take you nearly 7 months to read. That's a lot.

II: Have you read anything by Goodkind before this?

HW: I had not. I'm sure I saw the books in bookstores but they look very 3S so I avoided them. Looking at Wikipedia, I don't see much to his career outside of the 'Sword of Truth' books. Not that he needed a lot more than them. More than 25 million copies have been sold in the series and it's been translated into more than 20 languages. That alone is a pretty meaty career. 

II: And you're enjoying it?

HW: I am! My personal rule is to give a book at least 100 pages before giving up on it and I'm afraid that the 3S doorstops might hit that rule frequently. But I'm currently about 600 pages into 'Wizard's First Rule' and still going. The story is interesting, the writing is fine (if plain). What really gets me, though, are the characters. The main character is Richard Cypher and he's fascinating. Time and time again, the book puts him in a difficult position where he must untie some knotty problem and he keeps navigating them in surprising and virtuous ways! It's good stuff!

II: So you'd recommend it. 

HW: I very much would. I'd certainly try giving it 100 pages and see if it catches you.

II: And the rest of the series?

HW: Yeah, that's the rub. Absent someone paying me to do it, I can't envision what would compel me to happily commit to 20,000 pages. But the first one, at least, is good and worth your time!

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Peter Beagle

 Imaginary Interviewer: Another month, another new book! What are we reading this time?

Humble Writer: We're reading 'The Last Unicorn' by Peter Beagle. 

II: Was a movie made from this book?

HW: Yes. I watched it recently on Tubi. The movie was also written by Beagle and stays very faithfully to the book.

II: What do you know about Beagle?

HW: Nothing, really. I remembered the title of the movie from the early 80s. That's all.

II: So, you haven't read 'The Last Unicorn' before?

HW: I haven't. I've started it already, though, and I can tell you that it's very good.

II: What else is Beagle known for?

HW: Scanning his Wikipedia page, I see some praise for a book called 'A Fine and Private Place' but I haven't heard of it before. Apparently he did some screenwriting for the Bakshi animated version of 'The Lord of the Rings' and did some writing for Star Trek:TNG. 

II: What can you tell us about 'The Last Unicorn'?

HW: It came out in 1968 and it feels absolutely like fantasy that was written in the 60s or 70s. By which I mean that it is clever and unexpected but not mean or cynical. It has some darkness and some joy. I recommend it.

II: Anything else?

HW: The book isn't that long. Only a couple of hundred pages. Pick it up and give it a try!

Friday, September 2, 2022

Salman Rushdie

 We're on to a new year in the Science Fiction/Fantasy reading. By request we're going to detour just a bit and read some Salman Rushdie. Given the horrific attack on him, this seems appropriate. 

Imaginary Interviewer: What should we know about Salman Rushdie?

Me: He's a very accomplished writer. That's the first thing you should know. His overall story is bigger than his writing, but we shouldn't let that overshadow his writing talent. 

II: And the overall story?

Me: In the late 80's he wrote 'The Satanic Verses'. Some people read parts of the book as an attack on Islam. A price was put on his head and some extremists wanted him dead. As a result, he went into hiding for many years. I'm not familiar enough with Islam to judge the anti-Islam criticism. I strongly feel that authors should be able to punish work that criticizes large subjects such as religion, sex, politics, etc. 

II: Have you read it?

Me: It was the first Rushdie that I read and it was some years back. My memory of it is favorable. 

II: Have you read any of his other books?

Me: Yes, six or eight of them. My favorite is 'Midnight's Children', which I've read three or four times. When it came out it was awarded the Booker Prize and then later judged as the best of the Booker Prize winners. 

II: And what are you reading this month?

Me: We're reading 'Haroun and the Sea of Stories'. It's a little easier than some of his other works and it's a pure fantasy novel, so it fits better with what we're reading. 

II: Anything you'd like to say about it?

Me: Sure. In some ways the book reminds me of 'The Phantom Tollbooth' where a young boy goes to a fantasy world and has to understand it in all of its allegorical wonder. The book is about stories and storytelling. It's about where stories come from and *most importantly* what threatens good storytelling. I highly recommend it. 

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Neal Stephenson

 Imaginary Interviewer: What's the next book?

Humble Writer: It's a book by Neal Stephenson, 'The Diamond Age, or 'A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer'. 

II: Have you read it before?

HW: Several times. It's one of my all time favorites. A genuine classic. This book won both the Hugo and Locus awards when it came out in 1995. 

II: What can you tell us about the author?

HW: Neal Stephenson is one of my favorite living authors. His writing is incredibly intelligent. As a reader, I often have to stop and think about the setting and circumstances that he has put together. He's a tremendous world-builder. His futuristic works seem very possible and his historical works feel like he understood the period better than those inside of it.

II: Historical works?

HW: I first came to Stephenson through a trilogy that he wrote called 'The Baroque Cycle'. The books take place in the late 1600s and early 1700s. They involve everything from the workings of England's natural philosophers, the beginnings of modern finance, cryptography, royal politics and a lovable rogue named Half Cocked Jack. I'm a huge fan. A word of caution though, each book is nearly 1000 pages. 

II: That's a lot. How big is 'The Diamond Age'?

HW: Only about 500 pages. My rule of thumb for books is that I give them 100 pages to hook me. If they fail in that span, then I set them down. I've easily passed that mark in all of Stephenson's works. 

II: Is Stephenson well regarded? 

HW: Uh yes, but he does have his detractors. His last few books have criticized both sides of the culture wars, which I'm guessing did not make him many friends. To go along with that, not everyone appreciates the doorstop size of his works. And to top all of that, several of his books end without a climax. The story stops at a point when it absolutely could have gone forward. This isn't a way to make fans happy. 

II: Anything else we should know?

HW: Yes. The man is an absolute master at writing info-dumps. These happen when an author needs to explain something to the reader. A new concept, a technology, a crucial bit of history, that kind of thing. Stephenson is better at this than virtually any other author that I know of. I've heard it said that reading a different book of his, 'Cryptonomicon', makes you the smartest person in your vicinity. There is something to that. I hope you enjoy 'The Diamond Age'!

Friday, June 3, 2022

H G Wells

 Imaginary Interviewer: Well, now we're on to one of the biggies, HG Wells. What can you tell me about him?

Humble Writer: Wells is indeed one of the biggest names in science fiction. Along with Jules Verne, he developed some of the most popular types of science fiction stories. 

II: Kind of invented them?

HW: Uh...that's not quite how I'd put it. Other people may have written stories about time travelers, for instance, but virtually every time travel story of today owes more to 'The Time Machine' than they do to any earlier work. 

II: His work is that revered?

HW: Without a doubt. Not only because other writers were influenced by him, but also because so many people read him that the value of science fiction, as a genre, was proved. 

II: And what are you reading this month?

HW: We're reading 'The Time Machine', the tale of a time traveler who has built his own time machine and used it...perhaps unwisely. 

II: What else should we know about Wells?

HW: His works are often political in nature, sometimes in a way that isn't obvious to us now because the political discussions have moved on. He was a Socialist, but that term in Great Britain in the 1890s simply didn't mean that same thing that it does now. If he were around today, he would almost certainly be left of center, but I'd hesitate to pin him down more than that. 

II: Have you read any of his work before?

HW: I've read his biggest works, 'The Time Machine', 'War of the Worlds' and 'The Invisible Man'. I've read a large chunk of his 'The Outline of History' but that was a while ago and I don't remember it anymore. 

II: Enjoyable?

HW: Oh yes, I think so. I mean, his writing is 19th century, so be prepared for long paragraphs of text. But he's a very good writer and he makes it work. I remember preferring 'War of the Worlds' to 'The Time Machine' but I don't know how that memory will stand up. 

II: Anything else?

HW: This is one of the shorter works that we'll read. So if you don't enjoy it, at least it won't take that long!  

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Richard Adams

 Imaginary Interviewer: Who is the next author that you'll be reading?

Humble Writer: Next up is Richard Adams, and his novel 'Watership Down'. 

II: Have you read it before?

HW: I have. I read it sometime in the past decade but I don't remember much about it. Only that it involves rabbits and is not a warm and cuddly book at all. 

II: Not cuddly? 

HW: No. It's a very Tolkienesque story that involves a group of rabbits. They're on a quest and they face dangers. The world of rabbits is shown to have very vicious elements. 

II: And it reminds you of Tolkien?

HW: Well, most modern 'quest' books have Tolkien to thank in some part, so yes. This one also has a fairly developed rabbit culture, complete with defined words and concepts that are created as if by rabbits. 

II: Was Adams a Tolkien fan? 

HW: I don't know. After browsing the internet, I can see that I'm not the only one to make the connection, but I don't see any strong evidence either way. 

II: What about Adams other work?

HW: Per Wikipedia, I can see that after 'Watership Down' Adams became a writer and published quite a bit. I don't recognize any of the other titles but that could obviously be my own limitation. I don't see any awards given by science fiction or fantasy groups, so it doesn't look like he had much of a legacy there. Interestingly enough, 'Watership Down' won some awards for children's books. I don't really see it in that category. 

II: But 'Watership Down' is popular?

HW: Yes, very much so. It was a worldwide best seller when it was published. There was a film version and a couple of television versions. It inspired a role playing game. It was *big*. 

II: Does it deserve the acclaim?

HW: Yes. It regularly pops up on lists of best books and I remember enjoying it when I read it a few years back. It's a good read and deserves its place on our reading list.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Jasper Fforde

 (Sorry this is late!)

Interviewer: Who are we reading next?

Humble Writer: 'The Eyre Affair' by Jasper Fforde.

I: Do you know much about Fforde?

HW: No, nothing really. This is the first time I've read any of his works. Maybe the first time I've heard of him. 

I: His last name is interesting. 

HW: Yes. I love the double F!

I: Is he well known in writing circles?

HW: I don't really know. Looking at the Wikipedia page, I don't see a lot of awards or nominations. He did write something that was turned into a TV show, which is a nice accomplishment. 

I: What do you think of the book?

HW: 'The Eyre Affair' is really interesting! It's kind of madcap in the English way, with alternate history, time travel and a world bustling with literary awareness. In many ways it feels like a Dirk Gently story, from the (sadly short) detective series written by Douglas Adams.

I: How do you mean?

HW: Well, you've got a mystery, or at least a crime, that needs to be solved. Nothing travels in a straight line and yet it somehow all makes sense. 

I: So you'd recommend it?

HW: Yes. Unreservedly yes. There are some literary references that will help you though I don't know how needful they are. 

I: Like what?

HW: The main story has quite a bit to do with the novel 'Jane Eyre'. I've read it, but I don't remember much of the particulars of the story. 'The Eyre Affair' clued me in on what I needed to know without feeling clunky or boring. Similarly, there is a plot point about a Dickens novel, 'Martin Chuzzlewit'. I've never read it, but I didn't feel lost about it either.

I: Overall summation?

HW: It's a light and enjoyable read. Perfect holiday fare.