Archive for the ‘Fantasy’ Category

Library Book Sale Finds: The Goldcamp Vampire

Hooray! Another one off the shelf for your enjoyment. Neither my husband or me cop to buying this. I mean, look at the cover.

This has no elements that would entice my husband. It’s bright. It’s colorful. No one is immediately dying. (My husband tends towards darker fantasy.)

But I dislike vampires. A lot. I so rarely pick up any sort of media that includes them, and there one is, right in the title.

(It probably was me. But what was I thinking?)

Maybe I thought it would be a romp. I do like romps.

Anyway! I bought this book at a library book sale in 2015 and now I have read it, and we can talk about it.

Title: The Goldcamp Vampire
Author: Elizabeth Scarborough
Genre: Historical fantasy
Publication Year: 1987

Pros: Occasional fun capers and no one cares about there being a vampire, not even the Mounties
Cons: Wanting to beat viewpoint character over the head with something

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s fairly ridiculous, and no one’s fooling anyone, and also no one cares and it’s glorious. But I felt like the prose was dense and I admit to skimming when it got bogged down in description, and I wasn’t too fond of the main character, who often couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

(Goodreads includes a longer title: The Goldcamp Vampire, or the Sanguinary Sourdough, though I’m not sure where sourdough comes into it.)

This is also the second book in the series, the first being The Drastic Dragon of Draco, Texas. I have not read that book or this author previously.

Pelagia Harper, also known as Valentine Lovelace (author), has recently lost her father, so when his mistress offers her a chance to make a new life in the Yukon, she goes along with it, thinking she’ll at least have a good story to tell. There is a weird addition to the party, however–they’ll need to escort the coffin of the mistress’s new employer’s former partner with them.

By the time they reach their end destination, several people around them have died seemingly randomly, and Pelagia/Valentine has been implicated in at least one of their murders. So the mistress and her employer insist on hiding her in plain sight by dying her hair and making her a flamenco dancer at their saloon, answering to the name of Corazon and speaking no English.

So you can see what sort of book this is. I wish I had liked Pelagia/Valentine better. Besides the name confusion (as she rarely thinks of herself by name, and those around her have practically half-a-dozen names she’s referred to), she’s older (in her ’30s), an author, has dealt with supernatural creatures previously, and isn’t afraid to go to other people’s rescue. I should like her. But I didn’t. Nor was I too wild about most of the side characters, of which there are a couple dozen, which are sometimes hard to keep track of. I did like Larsson, Lomax, and Jack London, and occasionally Vasily Vladovitch. Oh, and the cat.

I dunno. I’d give it a 3 out of 5 stars. So not good, but not bad. If you like romps involving the Yukon, the Gold Rush, and vampires, hey, here’s a book for you. There’s also a were-moose.

Read anything else by Elizabeth Ann Scarborough? Would you recommend anything?

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The Finnbranch Readalong: Winterking

We’re done! It’s a miracle.

Oh, squiders. This one started out so much better. There were other characters! There was a clear plot! And then it spiraled down into insanity still. Sigh.

Goodreads tells me that this book was nominated for best novel for the World Fantasy Awards in 1986, so I’m just going to assume that 1986 was a bad year for fantasy novels. (Actually, further research tells me books like RedwallHowl’s Moving Castle, and The Light Fantastic came out in 1986, so maybe we were awarding awards based on how smart we thought books were that year. Do you know what I mean? Where something is totally incomprehensible, so it must be because you’re not smart enough to understand it, not that it’s just a mess?)

I feel like we got an incomplete story. At the end of Undersea, Finn/Llugh/Ar Elon had disappeared instead of leading his people to war, as had been foreshadowed through both Yearwood and Undersea. And as it doesn’t seem like Paul Hazel wrote any more books related to this (there seems to be a fourth book, The Wealdwife’s Tale, which is not directly related), apparently that will just never be finished up.

Winterking takes place at some unspecified time which I assume is roughly the 1930s. It’s after WWI (as I assume the “Great War” is referring to) and there are cars, yet if it wasn’t for those clues, I would assume it was earlier, sometime in the 1800s, because despite taking place in New England somewhere, it feels distinctly like Regency-era novels I’ve read in terms of setting/conventions. I had to keep reminding myself that this was supposed to be the New World because it felt like we were in England.

(Of course, it’s not really New England and it could literally be any time, but that leads us into the messy part of this and I’m not ready for that yet.)

SPOILERS AHEAD

We follow Wykeham, whom I originally thought was Finn but I’m pretty sure is actually supposed to be Wyck, who was present for most of Undersea though not seemingly of any import til the end. (Remember when I was talking about allegories about youth?) Finn gave him his cloak early-ish in Undersea which apparently made it so he could never age, and so he’s just gone on, forever, pretending to be his own son, in what’s a fairly standard I’m-immortal-and-this-is-how-I-don’t-seem-too-suspicious way. That part was interesting.

And then it gets messy. So apparently Wykeham has the ability to remake the world, or at least a little section of it, whenever things start to not go his way, or whenever Duinn (the god of death) gets too close. I assuming Duinn is Finn/Llugh/Ar Elon, that this is the name he did not give in the last book, though this is never explicit. So I could be completely wrong.

So Duinn gets too close, and there’s something about Indians burning churches (I really just…did not understand what the Indians ever had to do with anything. They’re in there from the beginning, and at first, before the whole world remaking madness cropped up, I assumed they were just your standard Native Americans handled indelicately because it was the ’80s. But later on I think they’re more of an indicator of how close Duinn is to catching up to Wykeham.) and Wykeham gathers nine men to him to remake the world again, and he uses the memories from himself and the nine to create the world, so it keeps people and conventions and things that people want in it.

And then, and I’m just trying to make sense of the madness, something goes wrong with the new world creation, because it’s snowing, and there’s still Indians, and the stone kings from the first book, and I think the implication is that the women (who left during the actual world remaking) got into the process accidentally, or at least Nora did, since she didn’t get all the way away (distracted by Duinn) during the remaking, and also because she’s Wykeham’s daughter, and maybe somehow has some of the same ability.

AND THEN THE BOOK JUST STOPS so there’s STILL NO RESOLUTION.

AUGH.

Anyway, if you’ve read these along with me, I’m sorry. Also, I hope you followed what happened better than I did.

Have a good weekend, Squiders!

The Finnbranch Readalong: Undersea

Did you read this, squiders? If not, don’t. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a more confusing piece of literature in my life.

Continuing on from Yearwood, we follow Finn (or do we?) as he learns more about who he is and what he’s meant to do. There continues to be a mix of Celtic and Norse mythology (Llugh from the first, Sleipnir from the latter–or at least an eight-legged horse). I suspect Finn is modeled off of Odin, since he only has one eye and had the two crows in the last book (and now has an eight-legged horse). Is it supposed to be a direct analogy? Who the heck knows?

It’s hard to talk about this book because I feel like I couldn’t follow it at all. I like to think I have a decent reading comprehension, even when it comes to things like myths which are often obtuse or contradictory, but I spent a lot of this lost. Finn is also apparently both his father Ar Elon and his son Llugh, and he spends a lot of time in this story in Llugh’s flesh. For some reason Llugh will lead an army of sealmen (never referred to as Selchie in this book despite that terminology in the first one) against Finn on land. Why? Because he’s supposed to? Not sure.

There’s also a lot of obtuse references to an alternative, ultimate form of Finn (one character, after Finn tells him he is Ar Elon, Finn, and Llugh, swear allegiance to him, and when Finn asks which name he recognizes, replies, “The one you did not say.”) as well as the fact that Finn knows what’s happening and what must happen. None of that knowledge ever gets passed on to the reader, however, so don’t get excited.

I feel like this book is mostly a convoluted mess of “Look how mysterious I’m being, oooo, look at all these levels of myth, it’s so cool.” I am annoyed at it. I am also annoyed at the plot progression, or seeming lack of it. (SPOILER, if you care.) It goes something like: Finn has killed Ar Elon (which technically he did at the end of the last book), Finn leaves island and goes back to land where he’s apparently gone back in time and is now his father (at least, that was the implication I got) and meets his mother as a young girl, Finn leaves land, Finn finds random island and fights his dead father, he is his dead father and is barred passage, then he’s Llugh and the island gatekeeper takes care of him for a bit and shows him the fathomless hall he’s been building underground on the island forever, Finn leaves island and finds some sealmen to serve him, Finn returns to island with sealmen and finds a whole bunch of other sealmen who recognize him as Llugh and are ready to go to the war against Finn as preordained. Also everyone on the island is dead? And then Finn/Llugh disappears and there’s some allegory about youth and ugh. I am so done.

I’m still trying to remember why I put this book on my Amazon wishlist. It was probably on some list of mythology-based fantasy somewhere and someone made it sound way more awesome than it is.

Part of me wants to give the trilogy up at this point, but from what I understand, the third book, Winterking, undergoes some sort of time jump, and I guess I’m intrigued enough to continue on with this madness. So we’ll discuss Winterking on Aug 24 (this is the longest of the three books, so that should give us a little more time to slog through it).

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think? Help me on what happened because I’m really confused.

The Finnbranch Readalong: Yearwood

Hey hey, Squiders! Only one day late, which, considering how this week has gone, is a freaking miracle.

So, Yearwood, book one of the Finnbranch trilogy. Did you guys read this? It’s so very ’80s fantasy it almost hurts.

We’ve discussed previously how you can see very obvious trends in epic fantasy from the “classic” fantasy of the ’50s and ’60s ala Tolkien to the modern character-driven fantasy of today. The ’80s fall somewhere in the middle, where the characters have begun to be more important than the plot, but generally not to the extent you find today.

Yearwood follows Finn, a teenage boy growing up in an isolated mountain community. His mother is married to the lord, but the lord is not his father, and, indeed, he’s never been given a real name, so his sisters have each made up their own for him. There are no other men in the community aside from his mother’s servant, the lord’s obsession on trying to figure out his father’s name having driven the community into decline.

If that sounds like a convoluted mess, you’re not wrong. The prose here is pretty dense, though it is in first person. Yet Finn is not actively telling his story, but telling it in retrospect, an adult telling the story of when he was young. Yearwood seems to be half of an origin story, with the other half continuing into the second book, Undersea.

Finn’s kind of a hard person to ride along with. He’s egotistical and sometimes cruel in that way that most teenagers get. He’s angry at his mother, who has never shown him any affection, and at his absent, unknown father. Even when he begins to learn how he was begat and who his father is, the anger stays with him.

There’s a weird mix up of mythology here. There are two crows which Finn arguably owns which he gives names meaning Thought and Memory, a clear connection to Odin, who likewise has crows named the same, but that seems to be the only Norse mythology here. The rest feels more Celtic, especially with several references to Dagda and the fact the Finn’s community is called Morrigan. There are also references to Selchie, which is another spelling of selkie, though the mythology doesn’t translate directly here. Still, it seems like the setting is supposed to be its own world rather than a version of our own. Not sure if that was the intention, however.

This is fantasy in the way legends and myths are—nothing is distinctly fantastical, merely accepted as how the world works, whether it’s giant death crows or walking stone kings.

So, tl;dr—this feels like a modern retelling of a legend, with the same sort of story structure and dense language. Yet it was oddly readable despite that. But I can see why more modern readers on Goodreads aren’t terribly fond of it.

Did you read this, squiders? What did you think?

We’ll read Undersea for next month and do a discussion on July 18.

Language Barriers in Speculative Fiction

Hey hey, so apparently I was going to write this post two years ago, got as far as “WOO” and never went back to it. Good job on focusing, me.

Language barriers are something common that you find in science fiction and fantasy stories. It makes sense, especially if you’ve got cultures that have never met before, and it can make for interesting conflict if characters can’t understand each other. Especially when dealing with alien races, you can even make up new ways of communication that may be impossible for other species to learn.

On the other hand, sometimes you need characters to be able to communicate, even if you’ve set things up so they shouldn’t be able to because of whatever reason.

Let’s go over some of the most common ways to get around language barriers. And feel free to let me know your favorite and least favorite examples of overcoming barriers and what worked (or didn’t) in the comments.

Common Language

The idea here is that there’s a common language that different species all learn so they can communicate with each other, even if they have their own language otherwise. This is your “Galactic Standard,” as it were. Of course, for this to work, your various species need to similar enough that it makes sense that they’d all be able to make the same linguistic sounds, etc.

One Person Understands

This is where you have a character that speaks its own language which is incomprehensible to the reader/viewer, but luckily there’s that one other character who knows that language and can translate or have one-sided conversations that essentially get the meaning across. Han Solo with Chewbacca, for example, or Rocket with Groot.

Universal Translator

These are magic devices that automatically translate any language it comes in contact with, as long as said language has been encountered before (to add some leeway for when you want a plot that hinges on miscommunication). A lot of the time, these can also pick up new languages after a few minutes of listening. A LOT of science fiction uses this idea, though you do occasionally come across the fantasy equivalent (such as a spell of understanding).

Telepathy

Maybe characters can’t understand each other, but hey, using telepathy can help even the most disparate of species communicate! (Assuming, of course, that their patterns of thought are at all similar.) This mode can often rely a lot on visuals and emotions rather than words.

Immersion/Building Understanding Over Time

For a more realistic approach, if your cultures aren’t meeting for the first time, you can assume they have had interactions for a while and might have started to pick up each other’s language. (Some people show this through some characters/species speaking with an odd grammar, though be aware this can get tedious to read.) Alternately, people can pick up languages through immersion, which is where you’re immersed in another language for a long period of time. This forces you to learn the language through everyday interactions, and also helps you learn how to convey ideas when you don’t have the vocabulary yet.

Of course, both of these methods require time, and if you need two characters to be able to interact to stop the universe from imploding in the next week, well.

Do you have a method I’ve left out, Squiders? Examples, good or bad? Thoughts on storytelling that relies on disparate characters being able to understand each other?

Introducing the Finnbranch Readalong

Howdy, Squiders! Let’s do a readalong, since it’s been a while. I’ve scoured my book shelves for series of the appropriate genres (which also aren’t massive) and have found Paul Hazel’s Finnbranch trilogy (Yearwood, Undersea, and Winterking) from the early ’80s. (I have a omnibus of all three from the later ’80s.)

I’ve never read it, but I’m pretty sure somebody bought this for me off my Amazon wishlist, so I must have had it recommended to me somewhere, or read something about it and thought it sounded like a good time.

Interestingly, it seems like while the trilogy was well-received back in the day, the reviews on Goodreads are all over the place. If nothing else, it should be an interesting look at how storytelling changes through generations, as I’ve previously noted somewhere in the archives that there’s a pretty obvious change in the fantasy genre in the ’80s. I wonder where this trilogy will fall on it?

Let’s do one book a month, since that seems to work the best for everyone who wants to read along being able to do so. So let’s read Yearwood by June 15th. And if you have any thoughts on this or potential future readalongs, please let me know, either in the comments or by contacting me directly.

Happy reading, squiders!

Let’s Talk About Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Afternoon/evening, Squiders. As you guys know, I was a major Potterphile back in the day. Still, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out in July, I didn’t pick it up. There seemed to be a lot of mixed thoughts on both the idea of revisiting Harry Potter years later as well as the plotline itself. There’s also the fact that Cursed Child is a screenplay and not a prose novel, and the fact that it wasn’t even really written by J.K. Rowling.

I could understand those fears and anxieties and so I just…didn’t touch the thing.

But my husband took the small, mobile ones to the library while I was at MileHiCon a few weeks back and picked the book up for me. Still, I resisted. I stared at it for a week before I touched it. And then I was very slow about it, reading maybe ten pages a day, afraid to get too caught up in it, just in case.

And then last night I read the last of it in one go, so here we are.

I liked it, in the end. It feels like it fits. Adult Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Draco read like believable adult versions of the kids from the books. The story mainly revolves around the younger generation, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (♥ Scorpius, poor kid), and deals with them trying to break out of their fathers’ shadows (and shenanigans along those lines). There were some really nice moments.

There was also one key scene where I will swear part of it was missing. I flipped back and re-read it a couple of times, and it still didn’t make sense. And I felt like some of the less major characters were occasionally out of character.

But still, it was nice to revisit that world, to see what had changed over the years. Also, technically, to see the future, because if you recall, the Battle for Hogwarts happened in 1998, and so the story starts 19 years later, in 2017. It was nice to see Harry (even if he is not the greatest parent), to see Ron and Hermione’s relationship, to see the kids as their own characters.

So, if you’ve been holding out–there’s no reason to. It’s not going to destroy the characters you love or the stories you grew up with.

I gotta say, the stage version must be something. Some of the stage directions…plus there’s a section with polyjuice potion, and another with transfiguration–I’d like to see those pulled off. It’s probably awesome. The Internet tells me that there’s talk of moving the show to Broadway, or starting a separate showing on Broadway, or something along those lines, and if we get a Broadway show, maybe we’ll get a traveling show, and then maybe I can go and see it.

Read Cursed Child, Squiders? Like or dislike? Favorite new character? (Mine’s Scorpius, as noted above.) Plus McGonagall, right? You can never go wrong with Professor McGonagall. ♥