Friday, November 16, 2007

WFC Books.

So, of course at WFC, we got giant goodie bags full of books, and actually I guess I should be saying "duffle bags" of books, because that's actually what the goodie bags were--giant duffle bags. This was a nice change from all the book bags that I have gotten over the years and which I have never had much use for. I would have much use indeed for the duffle bag, except that I couldn't bring it back me and stick to my "carry-on only" policy. So I filled it full of the books that I did not want, and then dropped it off at the Saratoga Library on the way out of town, feeling oh-so-virtuous for recycling.

But the books inside the bag. Some I had no interest in, and promptly put in the give away pile. Others that were intriguing until I got a few pages in. For eg. there was a book (no names please) about a family that could shape-shift into dragons, set in the 18th century. It started out strong, but then it quickly turned into a what I call a "woman-breaking" book. Which is to say, a book about a man takes a strong independent woman and breaks her down into a subservient domestic wife. If you saw this story on American Justice you'd be out-raged at the misogyny of it all--but somehow with dragons and romance, it's okay.

No, it's not.

Jay Lake's Trial of Flowers, with its gorgeous Nightshade Books cover. I've only read a few pages in, but I'll definitely keep going. The City Imperishable is weird and grotesquely wonderful, and full of quirky darkness. Plus, I'm a sucker for Salammbo-esque world, and The Trial of Flowers is decadent all the way. It's crying out to be illustrated by Mahlon Blaine.

Also kept, and now on my stack to read:

The Electric Church by Jeff Somers, which appears to be a dystopian futuristic cyber-hardboiler. Which is the way I like my hard-boilers, for the most part. (See Richard K. Morgan.)

Acacia by David Anthony Durham, whom I had a lovely chat with at the Orbit party. A fantasy set in a sort of pre-Classical world. Looks like some of the standard fantasy tropes--kings, rebellions, revenge--but from the first twenty pages or so, definitely better done than most of this genre. I hope that doesn't sound like damning with faint praise.

Black Ships by Jo Graham. I read this one is one sitting--while deadly ill with a deadly cold--which tells you something about how engrossing it was! A retelling of The Aeneid, with characters that the reader can empathize with, and yet which retain a sense of historical "otherness". This book is set a long long time ago. People were the same then as they are today, but they were also very different. Narrated by Sibyl, a priestess of the dead, the story follows the last survivors of Wilusa (Troy), as they travel through the Mediterranean looking for a new home. Graham mixes legend with history to good effect, and though she adds a dollop of fantasy here and there, for the most part the book is set in the realm of the historical Classical World. Conveying an authentic historical voice without straying into modernism is a hard trick to pull off, but Graham succeeds beautifully. Her characters are compelling, achingly real, and, despite, the horrors they witness, hopeful. She deals with the harsh reality of warfare in the Ancient World directly and without flinching, and yet her story never strays into melodrama or sentimentalism. Graham's handling of some of the more difficult aspects of Classical life--including sex and rape--is deft. The people of the Classical world had dramatically different attitudes towards these things than we do today, and Graham presents these attitudes in a straight-forward way that is neither judgmental nor sleazy. A great book and one that I highly recommend.

Later, books I read last week that did not come out of the Duffle Bag!

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