No (Known) NDE for Sir Terry

Some six weeks ago pHantaBlog republished Jim McPherson’s review of “Raising Steam”, a Discworld novel by Terry Pratchett. In it he expresses the sentiment, shared by a great many in the reading world, that it read like a valedictory.

Last week (12 March 2015), sad to say, that proved prescient. The tweets his daughter sent out to mark his passing deserve preserving here as well as multiple elsewheres.

Terry Pratchett death tweets

Evidently Death tweets, which might be a good thing even though Blogmeister pHantaJIm doesn’t

Apparently Pratchett left us so comparatively young (at 66) because he was trying to avoid the rush.

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Too bad most have to be victims before they can become dangerous

Dangerous Women 2Dangerous Women 2 by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Needing a break from Terry Brooks I took a chance on a collection of short stories. I tend to avoid the format but this one was in part edited by George RR Martin so I bought it anyhow.

He wrote the best vampire book I can recall reading, “Fevre Dream”, and “Armageddon Rag”, which I seem to recall combined Jim Morrison with Robert Johnson in terms of having one of those perhaps spurious crossroads connections. Plus, he’s the main man behind the Wild Cards series, which I’ve been reading since its inception howsoever many years ago now (1987, according to his website).

None of his stories are in this collection but there is a Wild Cards sequence. It features the Amazing Bubbles, Hoodoo Mama and the former’s daughter Pumpkin. (Sorry, Adesina, who seems to an insectoid version of Gustave Moreau’s Sphinx in New York’s Met Museum.) Too bad it lacks a proper ending but, hey, that lack leads me to suspect it’s deliberate, a teaser; that there’s a new series of Wild Card books on the way, which I’d welcome.

The title suggests what I’m loathe to repeat for fear of spoilers. However, one theme seems to be that before they became dangerous women they had to have been victims. This can get a little tiresome as it’s very Biblical. Do bad to me and I’ll do bad to you; except that’ll make me a hero whereas you’ll deserve what you get, you swine. No less than 5 of the 7 stories involves rape, so be warned.

Even the novella-length Diana Gabaldon Outlander prequel, the best of not a bad lot, loses its oddly good-natured, semi-swashbuckling, having a romp in pre-revolutionary France, quality by resolving some unfinished business that I didn’t realize was unfinished until it got finished.

There are a couple of misses. I’d forgotten I’d come across S.M. Stirling’s work before. He’s a competent writer but his attitude toward capital punishment is appalling. Can never be justified, as far as I’m concerned. The Sam Sykes story strives too hard for a twist ending and the contribution from Sharon Kay Penman is mostly a straightforward rendition of Britannica history, more essay than story.

I might consider picking up Dangerous Women 1 someday. Lev Grossman’s Magicians might also be worth looking at judging from the humourous piece in this collection. Not sure the world needs an American Harry Potter, though, albeit one written by a man and featuring a female college student studying magic at an Unseen University, but if the tone holds it might not hurt it either.

Not a high recommendation, somewhat disappointing given it’s got Martin’s name on the cover, but might be worthy of a purchase at a used bookstore.

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Supra-doings genre review 1 — “The Violent Century”

Back in mid July 2014 (http://phantacea.com/blog/?p=1012 – Mixed Swag, Point 2) Jim McPherson made mention of a detectable rise in the popularity of a Fantasy/SciFi sub-genre he called supranormal storytelling.

While he’d no doubt want to claim credit for inventing it with his Phantacea Mythos, it goes back multiple centuries. For what is mythology except supranormal storytelling?

Here’s a review he put online of one of the books he noted back in July. Comments welcome at bottom of page:

The Violent CenturyThe Violent Century by Lavie Tidhar

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A step up from last book of his I read (“Osama”). More comprehensible, with at least a degree of action. Loses some of its (potential) impact because it’s mostly told in flashbacks. At least there’s no first person narration, time travel or trans-dimensional crossover nonsense.

Does take chances in that he features actual people acting as they might have if they lived in a world with actual ‘ubermenschen’ (‘over’ or ‘supermen’) in the howsoever dim public spotlight. Occasionally uses point form (which I like) and avoids quotation marks, despite there being a lot of dialogue. This last, the lack of quotation marks, takes some getting used to but for the most part works.

Of a seemingly increasingly popular fantasy genre, what might be termed “real world super heroes”. (My own Phantacea Mythos might fall within a similar category, except it’s set in a world that doesn’t realize they’re out there.) Has an appreciable, international perspective, albeit with a mostly European focus, that strays into Southeast Asia, Afghanistan and Middle East territory for short periods.

(Tidhar apparently lives in Israel but does strive for nonreligious impartiality. The Polish betrayal, Nazi Death Camps, Air America, CIA intrigues, opium production, Bin Laden and extreme Islamism feature as backdrops to some of the set piece action sequences. Then again the innate Jewishness of comic book icons Joe Shuster, Jerry Siegel and Stan Lee are are also noted a couple of times.)

Borrows somewhat from George RR Martin’s Wild Cards series, especially when it comes to depictions of Americanisms like flashy costumes, brassy exuberance and over-the-top egocentricity,. Also postulates an event, some sort of occasionally transformative worldwide wave, that results in an exceptional few, unaging, though hardly undying, supranormals, to use the Phantacea term.

Unfortunately there’s nothing particularly remarkable about the characters he’s come up with, imaginative in terms of the abilities he’s given them or exciting about the situations he places them in. Indeed, there’s more than just an element of plodding, world-weariness about the whole novel.

Overall I suppose it’s meant as something of a parable. He’s saying that, even if there were super heroes, it would have still been a violent century. That’s a single sentence, not a book. What we have here could have, should have, been said with a whole lot more verve.

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Supra-doings genre review 2 – “Necessary Evil”

Jim McPherson reviews the other book he mentioned in the Mixed Swag post back in July (http://phantacea.com/blog/?p=1012, point 2). Straight copy from Goodreads. Lynx to more on bottom, though might have to be a member in order to read.

Comments welcome here on pHantaBlog at bottom.

Necessary Evil (Milkweed Triptych, #3)Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Be warned. Features time travel. Also at least partially written in the first person. Note the ‘at least partially’ proviso. Note also that the time travel is a onetime thing, not an ‘if at first you don’t succeed in killing Hitler simply go back and try again’ ridiculousness.
Despite two personal no-nos and a couple of other strong reservations I’m recommending it — and not just because I liked the first two books and pretty much had to like the finale or acknowledge wasting time reading the series.
“Necessary Evil” does have a precognitive character in a major role. That’s one reservation. Fortunately, she isn’t perfect, otherwise there would have been no book to write. The other major reservation are some near-omnipotent characters known as Eidola (plural of ‘edolon’, meaning an insubstantial phantom — my Phantacea Mythos has eidola too, only they’re very much substantial).
I’m always wary of the all-powerful but in this case both the precog and the eidola are, um, necessary evils. Wouldn’t have a series without them. And it is a good book, a fitting end to a good series.
The writer, an American to judge from where he lives, sets the action in World War II England and Europe. He’s done some research, so handles the time and place aspects nicely. He deals with that old bugaboo, ‘characterization’, unobtrusively; thankfully manages to avoid triteness, over-familiarity, which is a definite plus given the genre.
Superheroes in the real world is the easy way of identifying the type. As a genre it’s becoming increasingly popular in books as well as on the screen. It’s not really comic book stuff either. Despite the first person narration there is a sense of menace and threat. There are also a couple of really effective set pieces.
We’re not talking about Superman or Batman, there are no costumes, there are no bullet proof guys and gals, and the amazing escapes are not altogether due to gals and guys who can’t shoot straight. Maybe the fact that it works is what make this series worth reading.

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