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Thoughts on reading: Corum

I’m working my way through Michael Moorcock’s The Eternal Champion series and recently I read Corum. Elric is one of my favourite characters in literature and I enjoy the self-conscious/aware nature of the multiple worlds cycle that is the Eternal Champion. Although one might argue that Moorcock is simply telling the same story over and over again. Of course, there is an art in that. Multiple interpretations of the same story layer up into a deeper understanding of the themes that are explored.

Corum comprises The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords and The King of the Swords. The language is amazing; the descriptions are lush and full of depth. Characterisation is not so deep, because the characters are ciphers. They perform the function of metaphor. What is happening here is myth not story.

Moorcock is the literary end of science fiction and I think you either like it or you don’t. Or at least, that’s true for me. I usually don’t have much time for literary fiction because it turns out I’m all about the story. However, Moorcock’s worlds are so fantastic and the description so beautiful that I am completely engaged. I find Moorcock much easier to read than most literary fiction.

I also enjoy the links with the other works and in the last volume of Corum, Elric makes an appearance, so that’s good. I enjoy the layer where the story is inviting the reader to compare it with its other versions in the Eternal Champion multiverse.

I enjoyed it. Corum’s not as good as Elric though.

Thoughts on reading: Royal Flash

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser is the second in a series of books following Flashman, the bully from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (which I never read). Naturally, I haven’t read the first in the series.

Well, this is a pretty entertaining romp that doesn’t take itself seriously at any point. Actual history is tweaked to give Flashman a role in world changing events. The characterisation of Flashman is excellent and it’s told in first person from his viewpoint. Characterisation of supporting characters is quite shallow, but this rather suits Flashman’s character so it works.

It’s competently written, dialogue is good, pacing is great, and the story is just fun. It was written in the 1970s and the language does reflect that, but that was the only thing that niggled.

Thoughts on reading: Slights

Slights is the debut novel of Kaaron Warren, published by Angry Robot, that came as part of my welcome pack from joining the British Fantasy Society.

The protagonist is a serial killer and the blurb implies that the story will be a gruesome serial killer horror. Instead it’s somewhat of a hybrid. It’s part psychological horror, part ghost story and part mystery. I enjoy some genre-bending and I was pleasantly surprised that the novel was more complex than the blurb gave it credit for.

It is written in a really engaging voice and over the course of the story the truth about the protagonist’s father is revealed. One of the stand-out features of the book is the way the protag comes to awareness about herself and her relationships. At the end, nothing is what it seemed to be at the beginning and the changes are handled very skillfully.

It’s worth reading, especially if you’re on the lookout for something a bit unusual, and I shall look out for more of Warren’s work.

Thoughts on reading: some non-fiction books

I’m a bit behind on my book posts. I have a tallish pile of books sitting on the desk waiting for me to say something interesting about them. We can only hope…

Several of the books are non-fiction so I thought I’d bundle them all together.

Bad Samaritans: The guilty secrets of rich nations and the threat to global prosperity by Ha-Joon Chang. A good discussion of the real strategies the rich nations used to grow rich and dissection of the myth that free trade encourages econominc development.

The New Rulers of the World by John Pilger. This is a bit old now, having been written in 2002 in the aftermath of 9/11, but it’s interesting to see how many of Pilger’s analyses still hold true.

The Pig that Wants to be Eaten: And 99 other thought experiments by Julian Baggini. This was a freebie with a magazine ages ago. It’s very short essays on philosophical questions applied to everyday life. Very thought-provoking – and potentially full of ideas for speculative fiction stories.

Pilgrims by Paul McDermott. Another freebie, given away by the author on the South Bank. This is the ‘true’ story of a young man who volunteers to spend time with a terminally ill elderly woman. It’s quite moving, but perhaps not as transformational as the author would have us believe.

Thoughts on reading: Twelve

This came to my attention at alt.fiction 2010. During a panel it was held up as an example of a perfectly good novel that couldn’t sell due to the market. With the upswing of the horror market, it found a publisher after having been with an agent for something like four years. I was keen to see what Twelve by Jasper Kent was like.

This is an historical horror; a vampire story set in Russia during the Napoleonic wars. I found the setting quite convincing, in terms of both time and place. Not that I know much about Russian history, so I’m probably quite easy to convince in that regard. The dialogue felt appropriate although I noticed a few conspicuously modern terms slipping into the narration.

The vampires were the opposite of sparkly. They are returned to subhuman killing machines with superior strength and speed, yet seem quite easily dispatched by the hero once he’s convinced of what they are. There are some nice moments of suspicion and betrayal among the hero and his friends.

Unfortunately, I found that the choice of viewpoint flattened the story someone. It is a first person narrator told by the hero, who is a man traumatised by torture in his past and by the choices he has to make in the present. His response is to become shut off from emotion. Which is a realistic response but as he’s the narrator it leads to an emotionally flat story. The reader doesn’t feel the horror because the narrator can’t. It nags at the edge of the consciousness and the narrator acknowledges that he should have more emotional sensation than he does (although this was a bit ‘tell’ for me) but he can’t feel what he should feel because it will overwhelm him. For me, as a reader, this felt distancing. I think it would have benefitted from first person narration by a sidekick or from third person narration.

Having said that, there was an excellent twist at the end, I did enjoy it and I will read the sequel.

Thoughts on reading: For a Few Demons More

Before Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer there was Kim Harrison and the Hallows series. The premise is that a virus wiped out about three-quarters of the human race, thus revealing the supernatural population. For a Few Demons More is the fifth (and so far final) in the series.

All the books in the series have had titles that are plays on Clint Eastwood movies, which I quite like, largely because I liked the movies. But it does set the mood of the books; that is action-orientated, maverick cop (sort of) and not to be taken too seriously. These books are fun and I enjoyed For a Few Demons More.

I don’t have much to say about the writing. Harrison is big on details which makes her world very convincing. She does sex scenes well, dialogue well and there’s absolutely loads of conflict. This was another first person narrator and I find the language did sometimes bother me. There were loads of cliches and naff metaphors which jolted me out of the story.

The plot in this book seemed to take a really long time to get going. I was a good quarter into the book until there was any development on the plot problem that was introduced at the start of the book. Much of it was spent on developments in the relationships between the main characters, which was engaging as these relationships are full of conflict, but leads me on to another thought. It didn’t feel like a final book in the series, but that’s what the website implies.

Kim Harrison’s books are fun, easy to read and I will read more. Even if they annoy me just a little bit. I like them about the same as Charlaine Harris and more than Stephanie Meyer.

Thoughts on reading: Lords of the North

Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell has Vikings in it, so it is automatically brilliant. Also, Cornwell is one of my favourite authors.

One thing that characterizes Cornwell’s writing is a tendency to end a scene or chapter with a snappy short sentence. For example ‘The gods were not happy.’ Sometimes it’s a cliffhanger, sometimes it’s foreshadowing and sometimes it adds drama. It serves to drive the story forward and makes his books hard to put down!

This is written in first person POV. It seems like I’m reading a lot that’s in the first person lately. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or a trend. In this case, the main character is an old man telling the story of his youth. The voice is very strong. It’s confident and self-assured, and well suited to the character. What is different to many first person narrator’s is that there isn’t that much internal monologue or exposition. The story is largely told through scenes with solid description and great action. What internal monologue there is, is very effectively used to show character.

I really enjoyed this and Cornwell has a style of writing that I particularly enjoy.