Friday, January 28, 2011

I haven't finished another book...

...yet, but I am close.

I just popped in to post a link to a short story over at Subterranean Press by Caitlin Kiernan. Consider it a small taste of her art if you are unfamiliar with her.

I'm currently reading; "The Road to Madness" by H.P. Lovecraft. It's a collection of short fiction that I believe is all considered his early work. I think the next book I read will be; "City of Dreams & Nightmare" by Ian Whates, a little break from dark fiction for once, a little jaunt into fantasy.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Ghost Map (4)

Let me just say that this was not a fast read; I started reading it a long time ago and finally finished it this morning. "The Ghost Map" was written by Steven Johnson and is the story of a cholera outbreak in London in the late 1800s. It is also the story of two amazing men; John Snow and Henry Whitehead who painstakingly tracked down the source of the disease, basically uncovering the very idea of water-borne illness.

They had a terrible, uphill battle fighting for acknowledgment of their theory against the current notion of "miasma" which essentially meant that most Victorians believed in a sort of vapor and odor that transmitted disease and scoffed openly at the idea that cholera or anything else could be caught from drinking contaminated water. As I said; it is not a quick read. I can be rather technical at times and there were some long passages that honestly made me sleepy but I suggest that you give this book a chance anyway because the subject is fascinating and enlightening. There were times when I couldn't put it down, and I think if I had more of a background in science I would find it far more compelling. At the very least I think this book has a couple of merits no matter what your background; 1. it sings the praises of two heroes of history who by their dogged persistence saved London from future outbreaks of a deadly and deeply unpleasant disease, and; 2. On nights when sleep eludes but one is in fact tired; it will not fail in some of it's longer, more technical passages to lower one's eyelids slowly but surely.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Watchers Out of Time (3)

I finished; The Watchers Out of Time; by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth a few days ago, making it the 3rd book I have finished this year. It is a collection of short stories and I am not entirely sure which of them, save the last one, are by Mr. Derleth as opposed to Mr. Lovecraft. I thought it was an excellent collection and it is easy to see why Mr. Lovecraft is credited with influencing so many modern writers of Horror and Dark Fantasy. His style is obviously a bit old fashioned and he uses some peculiar words that I had to stop and look up; rugose, for instance, which merely means wrinkled. But I love old words especially when they are new to me. His old-fashioned style aside; H.P. Lovecraft was really onto something.

His tales are creepy and tense, his protagonists are isolated and their sanity usually on the wane. They often find themselves in increasingly desperate situations or struggles sometimes fighting their own ill-considered impulses. Places, buildings and objects can all be permeated with evil, with will and desire; their malice can influence or even possess the unwary. Even the most rational, most scientifically minded of his characters can fall prey to the insidious influences of restless spirits or vastly intelligent, otherworldly beings. The stories manage very well being both quaint relics of a simpler, more mannered age and masterpieces of terror. The terror here is quieter than that found in most modern tales; it is a terror born of dread whisperings, dark hints and sudden, horrible realizations.

Highly recommended and best read on a lonely, stormy night.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Swords and Dark Magic (2)

I just finished "Swords & Dark Magic" an anthology of sword and sorcery stories edited by Johnathan Stroud and Lou Anders. It contains 16 short stories by various authors and a new Elric novella by Michael Moorcock and it does not disappoint. Contributing authors include; Steven Erikson, Glen Cook, Gene Wolfe, James Enge, C. J. Cherryh, K.J. Parker, Garth Nix, Michael Moorcock, Tim Lebbon, Robert Silverberg, Greg Keyes, Michael Shea, Scott Lynch, Tanith Lee, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Bill Willingham and Joe Abercrombie.

Not surprisingly, I bought it in anticipation of the Caitlin Kiernan story; "The Sea Troll's Daughter" and was surprised when it was not my favorite story in the anthology. C.R.K. is probably my favorite living author and I enjoyed her contribution very much. I think the real surprise was that the story I liked best was Mr. Moorcock's; "Red Pearls:an Elric Story." I have never had any especial fondness for Moorcock's writing and never made it through even the the first of the Elric books, but Red Pearls was a beautifully wrought tale that pulled me straight in and kept me captive till the end. The Sea Troll's daughter was a close second, being the story of a heroine who tries to claim a reward for ridding a town of a menacing monster but finds herself in a kind of stalemate with the town leaders because she did not have proof of the kill. As always, Ms. Kiernan's words evoke a real and gritty sense of the rather bleak town where her tale takes place. Her heroine is also real; flawed and sometimes less than heroic, she is a character I would gladly read more about.

For Biliophiles like myself, lovers of books old and new, "In The Stacks" by Scott Lynch is another excellent story. It concerns the library at a magical college and the quest of a small group of students facing the most harrowing test thus far in the whole of their studies; they must return a library book. The library is full of grimoires; the journals of wizards, and over the centuries the accumulated magics have turned the library into something of a dangerous jungle filled with hazards I found both novel and clever. I highly recommend it.

There are too many tales for me to comment on all of them, but I think that anyone interested in fantasy will find something to their liking. There is enough variety here that it was hard to put down and it was certainly never boring. Available at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

New Year's Resolution: 1

I've made a number of resolutions this year but only one of them is relevant to this blog; I have decided to push myself to read 50 books this year and write some sort of review for each of them. I think the best place I have to that is here though I may cross post some reviews over at To start the year off right I woke up early and finished this lovely book: The Historian; by Elizabeth Kostova.

This book was a best-seller and received tons of praise from critics and readers alike. I picked it up through and I was not disappointed. It was not at all a quick read for me, not one of those "can't put it down" books that I must devour as quickly as I can. It was a meditative book that I put aside frequently for other books. Nonetheless; I kept going back to it. It tells a meandering story that wanders back and forth through medieval and modern history in almost a dreamlike way. It is the story of a young girl who hears many stories from her father, stories that drag her into the past and lead her on a strange and dangerous journey; a journey her father shares and one she discovers is something of a family tradition. It is also the story of a man, the girl's father, and how his life, and later his daughter's life, came to be connected to that of Vlad the Impaler; the rumored vampire, Dracula.

Although this book is clearly a work of fiction; it is rich in detail of time and place, the descriptions of old and modern Europe made me want even more to travel there some day. The supernatural aspects of the story are handled very well and do not disrupt the flow of the story nor distract from it by straining one's imagination. The supernatural in this book is a spice that adds the subtle flavor of danger and mystery. At times it is a wonderfully creepy read; suspenseful and compelling. The author did her research and forced me to pause several times in order to look up dates, places and unfamiliar words; just as I love to. That said, it was not an overly demanding read but, as I said before, a meditative one.

I recommend this book to lovers of history, suspense and to those who like their vampires the way vampires ought to be.