Three years have passed since Jonathan Stroud conjured up the last instalment in his diabolically good Bartimaeus Sequence, but our wait for another ripping yarn is soon to end. I was a latecomer to Stroud’s fiction – it wasn’t until the publication of the final novel in the Bartimaeus Sequence that I stumbled across it – and I was instantly captivated by his masterful storytelling and delightful wit and above all his genius for taking desiccated conventions and breathing new life into them.
Kibble. A word coined by the late great Philip K. Dick to describe those useless objects which proliferate in our lives and threaten to overwhelm us over time. Kibble proliferates, it replicates, it accumulates, contributing little of value to our existence. I can think of no better word to describe the vast majority of novels that proliferate in the Fantasy genre, a genre that is endlessly replenished with derivative, unoriginal, uninspiring escapist kibble.
Brian J. Robb’s Steampunk: An Illustrated History of Fantastical Fiction, Fanciful Film and Other Victorian Visions is described by its publisher, Voyager Press, as “the definitive book on the writers, film-makers, artisans and aesthetes who created the extraordinary genre”. It’s a bold claim to make of a work about a literary sub-genre and cultural movement that continues to evolve and which refuses to be pinned down with any single definition, but Brian Robb’s book more than lives up to the hype.
It's not often that SF and Fantasy literature gets the serious attention it deserves from critics and the academies of higher learning, and what attention has been received over the years has tended to dismiss it for a failure to address reality, for being concerned with plot over character, and for any number of other reasons that contrast it unfavourably with realist fiction. Such criticisms are of course true about some SF and Fantasy fiction and patently untrue about much of the rest. But even when these charges are true, they can be virtues in the best literature that these genres have to offer as authors pursue certain kinds of exploration and investigation that are simply not possible within the constraints of realist fiction.
If you’re familiar with Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy, you might be wondering why we’ve chosen to take a look at the first novel, The Amulet of Samarkand, some eight years after it was published. Our only defence is “better late than never”. The trilogy and its prequel, The Ring of Solomon, slipped under our radar until recently, in part perhaps because it’s outwardly young adult fiction and it’s been awhile since any of us at SFW could claim to be a young adult. As it turns out, Stroud’s writing is at least as much a delight for adults as it is for its younger audience, which is often the case with the best YA fiction: there is a wit and easy sophistication to the writing which might be missed by a younger readership but which delighted this older reader. So this review is for those who have not yet had the pleasure of Jonathan Stroud’s beautifully written, frequently witty tale about a 5000 year old djinni, Bartimaeus, and his precocious but impetuous master, Nathaniel, a boy magician growing up in a vaguely familiar Britain.
Over the years we’ve received a lot of novels for review, and it’ll probably come as no surprise that many of them are for first time authors seeking some hard earned exposure. That’s something we can sympathise with and we do our best to read what is sent to us, but more often than not we find ourselves cutting our loses after a few pages, in some cases a few paragraphs, and very occasionally after the first sentence.
The Lament of the Stone, the third and final chapter in Dora Machado’s refreshingly original Stonewiser series, will be available from 28 February 2011. We’ve followed the development of this fantasy series with great interest since the first novel, The Heart of the Stone, landed on our desk for review back in 2008. It's not often that a debut novel grabs our attention as fully as this one did, and it's been particularly satisfying to watch the first and second novels garner praise and a number of awards, including the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for best Debut Novel.
It’s been almost 25 years since Alan Moore’s Watchmen exploded onto the comic book scene. With its three-dimensional characters, moral complexity and more realistic depiction of violence, Watchmen introduced a new paradigm for the superhero graphic novel: Alan Moore took a sledge-hammer to the concept of the superhero and from the shattered pieces built something intelligent and plausible.
If you haven't heard about I Am Number Four consider this a wake up call because the wheels of the marketing machine are spinning fast and picking up speed. Written by Pittacus Lore (if you can believe it, which you can’t), the novel was published this year by Harper Collins and even before the print was dry the property had been snapped up by a film industry eager to find the next big franchise now that the Harry Potter saga is drawing to a close. The novel has more than its fair share of enthusiastic supporters, including director Michael Bay (Transformers) who believes that Number Four is "a hero for our generation", a sentiment shared by The Speculative Scotsman which puts us on notice that "this is the next big thing in genre fiction... I Am Number Four has zeitgeist written all over it". But it’s The Big Issue which best captures the hopes and aspirations of the execs and accountants at Harper Collins and DreamWorks when it confidently asserts that the series is "A franchise set to eclipse all memories of Harry Potter and moody vampires... Pittacus Lore is about to become one of the hottest names on the planet".
Almost any time we write anything about Neil Gaiman, you can be sure that someone will feel the need to post a comment “outing” the man as a Scientologist. While we have a fairly relaxed attitude to comments and will publish almost anything that contributes to an article, you won’t find many comments about Neil Gaiman’s alleged ties to the Church of Scientology published on this site. We simply don’t see the relevance of his religious beliefs to a discussion about how The Graveyard Book won the Hugo Award for Best Novel for instance.
It can’t often be said with anything like a straight face that the hero of a graphic novel has reached out from the page to touch the real world. But here I am with only the hint of a smile to state in all sincerity that Tom Strong saved me from my own worst enemy.
I’m all for mashing up literary classics and reanimating them with some humour and a little horror. Fill their pages with vampires, zombies, mummies or androids, it does them no harm. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Sense and Sensibility, they’ve stood the test of time and can certainly weather a little humorous parody, especially as the current enthusiasm for literary mash-ups strikes me as a passing fad. Once the idea of the mash-up has been established, there isn’t much scope for ongoing originality and the novelty of encountering the unexpected in the familiar pages of a literary classic will wear thin as it becomes the norm.
Robert Paul Holdstock, British fantasy's leading light, died in London on 29 November, aged 61. He was struck down by a severe E.coli infection on 18 November and fought on in intensive care until Sunday. The thoughts of those of us who treasure his writing go out to his family and friends.
It's widely acknowledged that Alan Moore's Watchmen is responsible for introducing a gritty realism to comic books, in part through a more realistic depiction of violence and its consequences, but most importantly in terms of characterisation: Watchmen's characters are elevated from two to three dimensions through Moore's gift to them of an inner, emotional world. Unfortunately, it's the more lurid of these innovations that has been Watchmen's most enduring legacy, driven by the market's appetite for graphic violence and the failure of many writers to appreciate that gratuitous depictions of violence do not in themselves equate with realism.
James Norcliffe’s new novel The Loblolly Boy is a magical, curious and thought provoking story for children about a young boy’s wish to flee the harsh reality of life in a home for abandoned children and the price that he pays to achieve that wish. Both contemporary and suitably timeless, the story is in part a re-imagining of the stories of Peter Pan and Pinocchio for the twenty first century. While the tale is presented from the perspective of the novel’s child characters, Norcliffe’s delightful prose, humour and adult insights ensure that he has written that rare children’s book, as much a joy for adults to read as for children.
Neil Gaiman has just picked up his fourth Hugo Award, the 2009 award for Best Novel for his outstanding young adult fantasy The Graveyard Book. While the novel does get a young adult classification, recognition like this proves once again (as if proof were needed) how well Gaiman's fiction transcends such narrow classifications as age. The Awards Ceremony took place on 9 August at the the 67th Worldcon in Montreal, Québec. A complete list of this year's Hugo Award Winners can be found on the Hugo Awards website.
As a fan of the The Summoner, Book One in Gail Z. Martin's fantasy series The Chronicles of the Necromancer, I was keen to get underway with the second instalment, and when all is said and done I wasn't to be disappointed. Although not as action-packed as its predecessor, The Blood King is rich in detail and provides plenty of opportunity for the characters to develop.
Congratulations to the four winners of our Stonewiser: The Call of the Stone competition: Neville, Jake, Linda and Tamara. Each of you will soon receive your signed copy of Dora Machado's gripping sequel to Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, her award winning debut novel.
SFFMedia congratulates Dora Machado on the nomination of her debut novel, Stonewiser: The Heart of the Stone, for a Benjamin Franklin Award. Dora is one of three finalists in the Franklin's Bill Fisher Award for Best First Book (Fiction) category. The novel is also a finalist in ForeWord's Book of the Year Award, in the SFF category. Winners of the Benjamin Franklin Award will be announced on 28 May, and we wish Dora all the best.
It was with a small amount of trepidation that I picked up The Summoner after being asked to write my first review for SFFMedia.com. I was pleasantly surprised however by this first instalment in Gail Z. Martin's Chronicles of the Necromancer. The Summoner had me hooked early on with its lovable characters and fast-paced action.