I finished reading _The Book of Lost Things_ yesterday. It left a bad taste in my mouth (which I am currently wiping out with _Gabriela, Clove, and Cinnamon_ ;). A bit like Narnia Meets Fractured Fairytales Meets Clive Barker--I appreciate where he was going with it, but it was a little too blatantly horrific for me once it got rolling. And about 1/2 through I was getting tired of the misogyny; when *every* female who shows up is monstrous in either form or character (with the exception of a passing reference to Gretel), it gets a little annoying. From reading the interview at the back of the book it was clear that was intentional because the main character, the little boy David, was working through his issues with his stepmother. But as an adult female, it irked me and made me want to say denigrating things about the author. Plus, it wasn't at all clear to me exactly how he DID work through his issues with his stepmother. There weren't any positive female characters in the book that he was shown as having a good relationship with (with the exception of a ghost of a girl in a bottle who'd died by having her heart ripped out, who showed up briefly to play a key role at the end and then was left on a windowsill).

Mind you, I rather liked the coming of age thread in the book. I thought David was a really believable little kid, and he handled these truly fantastic (and horrific) adventures in a way that I could see some kids of 12-13 actually doing. His development was a thread of gold running through the book.

The Narnia overtones were just weird, though, from the "kid outside London during WWII bombing raids goes through magic portal to enter a land where some people think he will be king" to the "evil person wants you to bring your brother to them" to "when you die you end up back here" idea. The resemblance ends there, though. The only talking beasts in this story were the bad guys, and the author went on and on in several places about the insanity that would come from mixing animals with anything close to humanity, whether it's mixed-breed human-wolves or actual surgically-created chimeras (I told you it was horrific). And the so-thinly-veiled slam against Christianity that happens at one point in the story, while warranted in the abstract I admit, was really unnecessary in the plotline of the story, IMHO. Jarring. I guess I should be grateful no lions were ever mentioned.

So yeah, I think the author has a few issues. ;) It gets a 3.8 for inventiveness, and the writing was fine. It gets dinged for leaving me feeling a little vitiated.
mmmm... I read Emma Bull's War for the Oaks, based on the comments on the cover (Neil Gaiman saying she was wonderful). I wasn't that taken with it--usually I'm all for women writers in SF&F, but by halfway through I was thinking this would be a much deeper story if Charles de Lint wrote it. It was basically just like some of his stories but set in Minneapolis (yay! that was fun); but somehow his women characters are grittier and more complex. This one was cute (both the story and the main character), but way way way too obvious and predictable. I am not known for my subtlety, and when *I* can see the plot twists and predict what comes next, you know it's not particularly deep.

Good for young'uns, I'd say. If I'd read it at 16 I'd have been ga-ga for it. 2.5 stars.

I also read a Best of SF book from 1955 (foreward by Orson Welles! who referred to it throughout as science fantasy, which I can appreciate), all short stories I'd never seen before (except probably I'd read the one by Shirley Jackson, An Ordinary Day with Peanuts--I recognized the title but remembered not a whit of the story), which was very cool indeed. And about a quarter to a third by women authors, for those of you keeping score at home, and one written by a husband-wife couple.

I was surprised by the lack of angst in the first half of the stories--I'm used to post-war, fear of the bomb stories from that period. But these were actually fairly positive or just kind of wacky. The angst came in during some of the stories in the 2nd half of the book, but generally speaking it was a celebration of what humans are capable of and the good things in their nature.

4.2 stars, both for technique and historical value. :) There was also a list at the end of honorable mention stories--of which I recognized many of the titles and authors, surprisngly. There were certainly some authors I had pegged as writing in the 70s who were getting listed in a 1955 anthology. My sf historical knowledge is all agley... ;)



August 2015

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