April was another annoying month for getting stuff done. The bronchitis knocked me out for the better part of three weeks, on top of entertaining more often than is usual around here and my (admittedly minimal) preparations for the wedding siphoned off a little creative juice as well. Still, I did manage to finish the first draft of the novel (which I have yet to think of a good codename for, sorry) and I tinkered a little with a few other short pieces that might turn into halfway decent stories with a bit more care and attention.
What I did manage to do was to find a fair amount of time to read. Several bedridden days contributed handily. It was good that I got something out of that deal, because the coughing sucked (and continues to do so).
The Final Empire: Mistborn Book One by Brandon Sanderson – A fantasy epic that starts from the premise that the all-powerful Dark Lord won the final battle between good and evil, and now rules over a blighted slave world with an iron fist. All good grist for the fantasy mill, and a concept explored well in the outstanding Midnight campaign setting for D20 from a few (oops, nearly 10) years ago. Sanderson does a great job of pulling together the characters – a collection of rebellious criminals intent on overthrowing the Empire by means of an elaborate heist – and the setting elements, including a well-thought-out and lavishly detailed magic system.
But I could not for the life of me love this book. The pace plodded, several rather interesting events were pushed to the background and the author detailed every single thought that passed through his POV characters’ heads. That last one in particular drove me nuts. Despite the admirable intricacy with which all the moving parts interacted, it wasn’t until nearly three-quarters of the way through that I finally thought the book hit its stride. By the end (which felt oddly rushed, although probably only by comparison to the rest of it) I was almost keen to move onto the next volume in the trilogy. But…well, I haven’t yet, and there are a lot of other books on my shelves with a more enticing claim on my attention.
Waltz of Shadows by Joe R. Lansdale – Joe Lansdale writes beautiful prose about the most ugly human behaviour he can think of. This is a fairly typical grim crime drama, in which an honest hard working family man is drawn unwittingly into depravity and horror, distinguished by the beguiling language Lansdale employs to describe the stomach-churning excesses of his vile antagonists. I can’t really recommend it – there are better examples of Lansdale out there where he doesn’t feel the need to constantly one-up himself on the grue factor – but it is an entirely successful work on its own terms. I enjoyed it, for what that’s worth.
Charmed Life (The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Volume 1) by Diana Wynne Jones – By a strange oversight, I had never read any DWJ before now (though happily regular correspondents Andrea and Doctor Clam were on hand to correct my error). Charmed Life is a warm and charming tale of magic and loyalty with a surprisingly grim core. The rags to riches adventures of orphans Eric ‘Cat’ Chant and his sister Gwendolen as they are drawn into the world of magicians is light and inventive. I confess to becoming somewhat frustrated by Cat’s rather muleish failure to recognise where his best interests lie, in the face of increasingly weighty evidence, but that’s a small complaint. Another book in the series The Lives of Christopher Chant, was bundled with this one. I shall attack it soon.
Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey – I like supernatural crime noir. Sandman Slim starts with James Stark crawling out of Hell to wreak vengeance on the cabal of vicious sorcerors who sent him there. There’s a decapitation in the first couple of chapters. Sports cars are wrecked, fireballs are thrown and an awful lot of people are killed with something that sounds like Monkey’s magic wishing staff but adorned with gratuitous spikes. This is violent supernatural mayhem with some clever additions to the usual War-twixt-Heaven’n'Hell cosmology, which I won’t spoil. I was pretty confident I would enjoy this book and it did not let me down.
The Last Days of Kali Yuga by Paul Haines – I have promised a full review of this. I *will* get to it. Right after I get to the full review of Bad Power, which has been waiting in line for longer. It’s great, though, so I will understand if you can’t old out for the full review before rushing off to read it for yourself.
Fireside Magazine Spring 2012 Issue 1 – I picked this one up as a reward for backing the launch of a short story periodical through Kickstarter. I came in on the promise of the Chuck Wendig story – ‘Emerald Lakes’ is a prequel to Wendig’s not-safe-for-young-adults YA-noir Shotgun Gravy – but all four prose stories were excellent. There was also a short comic, about which – despite containing both ninjas and a yeti god-king – I was somewhat more ambivalent. Whatever, four out of five ain’t bad. The Atlanta Burns story carries the same unrelentingly harsh tone of its longer successor, so obviously I felt I got my money’s worth there (and it has a kickarse punchline). Tobias Buckell’s ‘Press Enter to Execute’ is a nice little speculative thriller, Christie Yant’s ‘Temperance’ is a very odd comment on how communities change, and – probably my pick for the lot – Ken Liu’s ‘To the Moon’ juxtaposes the plight of the modern asylum seeker with the tricks of the Monkey King. It’s elegant and sad and I loved it.
No new entries in April for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge – my reading list included only one woman and only one Australian, but they weren’t the same person. Not quite as much short fiction as the previous couple of months, though I did make up for it there towards the end. The tone was dialled around to the crime/noir side of things, with a good helping of the supernatural and fantasy. Still no science fiction. For the pick of the month I would probably go with The Last Days of Kali Yuga over Charmed Life (Sandman Slim pulled a close third).
Resolutions for next month – more women, more Australians and some non-fiction.