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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Time Stoppers by Carrie Jones. Sydney: Bloomsbury, 2016

Annie and Jamie are both abused children. Annie has been taken from one dreadful foster home to another as long as she can remember, while Jamie is living with his horrible father and grandmother. They're basically what in the US is known as "white trash" and, incidentally, are trolls, as he discovers for certain when his grandmother comes after him with a knife and fork. Annie's latest foster home is in a trailer with - well, more white trash, of the human variety. While they aren't planning to eat her, they do lock her out in the snowy back yard with their wolf-dogs, ordering her to teach them tricks before they will let her back in, as they watch TV all day.

When Annie is rescued from trolls by a dwarf girl in a magic snowmobile,  she learns that she has powerful abilities that might help her to save the magical town of Aurora. Jamie is rescued at the same time. He's not, as far as he knows, magical, and he might turn into a troll some time after his thirteenth birthday, a worry that hovers over him the whole novel.

 The novel, incidentally ends on a cliffhanger, which  should mean a sequel. No guarantee - if a sequel was committed to, there would be a blurb for it at the end. Even the author's web site doesn't mention when a sequel to this one is likely, though it does call it the first in a series, so be warned!

Carrie Jones is better known as a YA novelist; I read one of her novels, After Obsession, years ago, and remember liking it, but not what it was about. We do have some of her other books in my library. This middle-grade novel was her first, which I'm assuming was left in the bottom drawer till now.

It is entertaining and has the odd in-joke, such as calling a teenage elf boy Bloom(as in Orlando?). The humour is over-the-top, as are most of the characters. I thought it interesting that trolls can live in the regular human world without anyone noticing, because they can do a Hulk and change into green monsters when they feel like it. The elf boy can go to school and play baseball in the small town of Mount Desert, where the town librarian is also a magical being, who lives on both sides of the border, with a Brounie wife in Aurora and a house in town. There's no Hogwarts or H.I.V.E for the kids to attend. I quite like that.

However... here are some things that didn't quite work for me.

Aurora is in danger from a sort of dark lord who has been exiled, but now his minions are getting through the barrier because the protective garden gnome has been stolen. Yes, the magical refuge of the witches, Brounies, dwarfs, etc. is protected by a garden gnome! We're never told why, either. Did Miss Cornelia, owner of Aquarius House, perhaps enchant it to protect her people? Is it more than it seems? We don't know.

But I think I do know who stole it.

The odd thing is that it takes most of the novel and an encounter with an evil blood-sucking book before Jamie suddenly connects the stolen garden gnome with one his grandmother brought back from a troll hunting-party.

I was hoping to find out why so many of Annie's former foster homes burned down, but we're not told - if it was to do with her powers, we never find out. We do know that when she draws a rabbit it comes to life, which got her into trouble in various former homes, but that's all.

Characters who are knocked unconscious snore. In other words, if you faint or are knocked out, you go to sleep? And, in some cases, have to be woken up?  Unlikely, I'm afraid.

Still, I think there's enough action, adventure and humour to keep children from about nine to twelve reading and enjoying. It has an endearing silliness about it that makes it worth reading, despite the oddities.

Monday, June 27, 2016

June 28 On This Day - Happy Birthday, Mary!

Taken from Wikimedia Commons

Today is my sister Mary's birthday. Mary is a writer too, though mostly articles. She has been published in newspapers and magazines over the years and once got a prize in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards for crime fiction. 

Here are some people with whom you share a birthday, Mary, and some events that happened On This Day over the centuries.

Oh, and by the way, here's a link to an article written by Eleanor Roosevelt on the day you were born: 

Popular film of the year was Easter Parade

On This Day: 

Two coronations in England

1461 – Edward IV - and Wars Of The Roses continue.

1838 – Queen Victoria

Two artsy things: 

1841 – The Paris Opera Ballet premieres Giselle. Lovely ballet! I've seen in several times and I saw the Paris Opera Ballet when they were in Melbourne, as a birthday present from Mary's best friend.

1846 – Adolphe Sax patents the saxophone - and gives us a wonderful jazz instrument! 

1880 –  Ned Kelly is captured at Glenrowan. Had to have something Aussie. 

1914 – Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie are assassinated in Sarajevo, starting World War I. It nearly didn't happen. They went the wrong way in the car and the despairing assassin saw them. 


1491 – Henry VIII of England. I can't leave him out of the list. Besides, he composed a bit, played music, sang, danced, wrote some lyrics. Pity about the wives. 

1577 – Peter Paul Rubens, Flemish painter; he painted a lot of large ladies, giving rise to the term "Rubenesque"

1734 – Jean-Jacques Beauvarlet-Charpentier, French organist and composer. I have some Charpentier music on CD. Lovely!

1867 – Luigi Pirandello, Italian author, poet, and playwright, Nobel Prize laureate. 

1891 - Esther Forbes, children's writer. Author of Johnny Tremain(made into a Disney movie)

1902 – Richard Rodgers, American playwright and composer. Half of the team Rodgers and Hammerstein, of course. Do I need to list their amazing musicals for you? 

1926 – Mel Brooks, American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter. Did a lot of very funny films and responsible for that classic, Get Smart. 1946 – Robert Asprin, American author, who did all those "Myth" fantasy novels, full of puns. I have read about two. I think my sister may have read the lot. 

Well, that's it for June 28th. Happy birthday, Mary!

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Back To Slush Reading

This morning I've been tweeting a number of posts I've written over the years on the subject of slushing. Good posts, all of them, but they got very few hits, for some reason, apart from the ones labelled "ASIM needs YOU to Slush!" or some such. 

I am going to write another one, anyway, and maybe this time there will even be a comment or two? 

Having dropped off the ASIM team for personal reasons, I've decided to continue with the slush reading, for which you don't need to be a member, but they paused for some months in reading submissions. Now it's back to business and over the last four weeks I have read twenty stories and passed on one to the next round. And I'm not sure that I should have passed that one on. The fact that I can't remember what it was about should tell you something about it. 

You see, I'm being more picky these days. Or maybe I've just been sent worse stories. The guy doing slush these days, with the retirement of Lucy Z, assures me I'm doing the right thing. Another friend still on the committee tells me they're being more picky too - perhaps too picky if, as she thought, a story now has to get a score of 3 to get into the slushpool - I told her that I couldn't remember ever seeing a story get a score better than 4! Three readers all giving it the top score of 1 is highly unlikely. I rarely gave even a wonderful story better than 2. It had to be something I thought would be an award-winner to get a 1 from me. 

 I do wish we had more people subscribing than submitting, instead of the other way around. That way, the magazine would be selling better and people would have a better idea of what's publishable and what isn't. Even if they just buy one ebook as a sample! 

But no. I sometimes suspect that many American stories we receive, from that country of many SF publications, are trying us because they were rejected - rightly! -  by all of the magazines back home. They get rejected here too. It would be nice to think they take the hint and retire those stories and try writing something else. 

 This isn't always the case. We've published early stories by the likes of Jim Hines 

and Ann Leckie and others who went on to win Hugos and Nebulas. Early fiction, mind you. Once they can get paid lots more back home, they sell there - and I don't blame them for that. But still - good writers do send us stuff that might possibly have been published in their own country. And our local international bestseller, Sean Williams, sent us a very short story set in his Twinmaker universe and was happy to do so. He mentioned it somewhere on line. And I published some wonderful stories by U.S. submitters in ASIM 60. They just aren't established writers; perhaps they will do well in future. I hope so.

Again, I'm reading in hopes of feeling the way I did when I opened, say, "The Wine Endures" by Anthony Panegyres(I published that in ASIM 50)or "What The Carp Saw(And Could Not Tell While Alive)" by Christine Lukas(I published that in ASIM 56, along with a terrific story by Lyn Battersby which I chose because we needed an extra story)or that beautiful story "Return Of The Queen" by an author whose name I've forgotten, as it was so long ago and he has never made any further sales, alas!

I keep hoping! 

So, just a little advice for future submitters whose stories may end up in my inbox, if you want to get to Round 2.

1. Get your grammar right. It's not the editor's job to fix it for you, unless you're paying someone to do it, and sending a story that is full of grammatical errors, as opposed to the odd typo, just shows the lack of professionalism of the author. 

2. If sending from outside Australia, don't make local jokes and references and assume readers overseas will understand them. If I don't know what they are, I'll reject the story out of hand. 

3. Kill your darlings. If a story is long, every bit of it needs to move the story on. If it doesn't, get rid of it.  I should add that when I have been sent several stories to read, guess which one has to wait longest to hear from me? Right! The longest one. It's a practical way for me to get through all of them as quickly as possible. And you know what? I have rarely read a story nine or ten thousand words long that didn't need a lot of pruning. While ASIM will occasionally take a longer story, it has to be brilliant. There is a limit to the wordage for each issue and if you're a subscriber who hated the longest story, you'd feel cheated, right? 

4. Don't submit a story that is number 6 in a so-far unpublished series which makes reference to things that happened in previous stories. And absolutely don't offer the whole series! Each issue is edited by a different person who can't be expected to commit a section of their issue to the latest episode of your magnum opus. Put the damned things together and try selling them as a novel somewhere. Don't try selling them to a magazine unless it does series and says so on its web site. If it turns up in my inbox, I am likely to reject it. If it's good, perhaps I'll reject it regretfully - but if it can't stand alone, I'll reject it. 

5. Ask someone to look at your story before submitting it anywhere and see if it makes sense. I've read a lot of stories in the last few weeks which made no sense to me. I said so, and why, in my comments.

6. Finally, check your market, even if it means shelling out a bit of money to read a magazine. If you sell, you can claim these things on tax. If not, at least you'll have had an enjoyable read or decided that this magazine is not for you. 

Well, now, off to read this week's slush - four short pieces, one long one. Fingers crossed I will be weeping at the beauty of at least one of them! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Shopping At Dymock's - First Of The Year!

I'm now sitting at Ganache, a lovely chocolate and tea shop, having a well earned cuppa and three choccies. It's my usual reward for going out to buy books for the kids.

It was hard enough to get them to request what they felt like reading next - I have had more enthusiastic book clubbers in previous years. I mean, yes, they turn up at meetings and chat quite happily about things bookish, but there aren't the same cries of joy as they dive into a box of new books and too many of them read one book at a time and firmly refuse to borrow another one till it's finished.

But in the end, I had a decent shopping list from them - and, oddly, from some non members who turned up today, just in time, asking for such things as the next Magisterium novel(Holly Black and Cassndra Clare) and a series by a Polish gentleman which inspired a video game. And I found both! I bought the first novel in the series, and Book 2 of Magisterium(it was in the children's section instead of the YA and the Polish novel was in the SF). In the SF also I easily found a Terry Goodkind book for one of my book clubbers who wanted to read it because she had seen a TV show based on it. Fine. I imagine some of my spec fic lovers will read it after her.

There was a request for "more Diary of A Wimpy Kid, miss" from a Year 7 - I bought the latest,  which we don't have.

I'm afraid the vampire fans will miss out yet again. I did find a couple of the requested books, but not all, and the only Morganville Vampire book they had was the first, which we have. I must ask our bookseller if she can get hold of some more. I keep disappointing that young lady.

My young history lover, who was in my class in Year 8 the other year, asked for "anything about war."  I found a couple of books about WWI which he should find of interest but which Year 9 students can also use after him. One of them was actually on the CBCA short list a few years ago, but I must have missed it - I mostly read and buy the Older Readers books.

Speaking of which, I suddenly realised that they had some of this Year's Short List which I had missed. Two were Younger Reader books, but I bought them anyway. It's surprising what turns up there.

Anyway, time for tea and we will have some lovely new books early next term!

    Creative Commons image

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Calling All Aussie and Brit Spec Fic Fans!

Received in my email yesterday the following request from a lady doing her Masters thesis on diversity in speculative fiction. This is a subject that is being much discussed recently and it will be interesting to see what results she comes up with in her thesis. I'm going to do it.

Sorry, Australian and British fans only this time.

Take it away, Rachel Aitken!

Calling all science fiction and fantasy literature fans! I'm Rachel, and I'm a student from Scotland studying the MSc Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. I'm currently conducting research for my dissertation, which aims to critically analyse racial and gender diversity within sci fi and fantasy fiction, specifically in the UK and Australia. I'm looking for participants to complete the following survey, where you will be asked about yourself, your opinions on diversity in the genre, with some case study questions regarding book cover decisions as well. The survey itself shouldn't take longer than 20 minutes, and I will be extremely grateful if you could complete it! It's for British and Australian participants only, as I am investigating differences in the genre between these two countries. The deadline for answers is July 17th. You can contact myself, if you have any questions, on Twitter (@rh_aitken) and you can access the survey here. Thank you again! 

Friday, June 17, 2016

Forgetting Foster By Dianne Touchell. Allen and Unwin: Crows Nest, 2016

Foster Sumner is seven years old. He likes toy soldiers, tadpole hunting, going to school and the beach. Best of all, he likes listening to his dad's stories.

But then Foster's dad starts forgetting things. No one is too worried at first. Foster and Dad giggle about it. But the forgetting gets worse. And suddenly no one is laughing anymore.

This is Dianne Touchell's third novel. The first, Creepy And Maud, was on that year's CBCA shortlist. I admit to not having got around to reading that one, so this is my first experience with this author's writing. 

This story, about a family's having to deal with early onset Alzheimer's Disease in the father, is certainly not going to make its readers cheerful. Like the young hero, we know it's not going to go away, ever. Foster misses his funny, gentle, wise father and we miss him too, with all the flashbacks and memories of the delightful, ridiculous stories he used to tell. 

It's painful, watching the father deteriorate and the mother being frustrated and angry and constantly telling Foster to go play in his room when the adults have to discuss things. It's painful seeing how Foster tries to cope at school when word gets around. 

Clearly the author has done her research on what happens when Alzheimer's arrives, or perhaps her family has been through it; an afterword might have been interesting here. 

The story is poignant, yes, but... at whom is it aimed? The blurb says from thirteen up and it's slotted into "young adult" on the publisher's web site, but the hero is seven years old. Teenagers tend not to read books about characters that much younger than themselves. At the same time, the average seven year old is unlikely to get it. I understand that a lot of this couldn't happen if Foster had been thirteen or older; much of it depends on his not understanding quite what's going on, and the reader knowing.  But I think it might have worked better if he had been a little older, perhaps ten or eleven, and the language a little simpler, to make it more suitable for a younger age range. 

Available from June 22nd at all good bookshops and online. You can order it from Booktopia here

Just Started Rereading... Gilgamesh The King by Robert Silverberg

I do have a copy of this in paperback on my overflowing shelves, somewhere, but bought the ebook on an impulse after reading and reviewing Two Tales Of Brothers From Ancient Mesopotamia. Robert Silverberg is best known for his science fiction, but this is historical fiction lalong the lines of Mary Renault's The King Must Die, ie taking a character from mythology and asking how you can fit him into real history. And, I have read, Gilgamesh was a real person who had myths and legends wound into his life, a bit like Charlemagne, whom we know existed, rather than Arthur, whom we would like to think existed, but don't know. 

 I'm enjoying the reread so far. I'd forgotten a lot of it. This Gilgamesh starts to think of death, and how he definitely doesn't want it, when he is only six and attends his father's funeral.

 It's certainly based on the royal burial excavated by Leonard Wooolley, in which he had the theory that all those people who went with the king were there voluntarily. If you believed without question that the afterlife for most people was darkness and dust and you had the chance to go to heaven and party with the gods instead, in exchange for taking poison and lying down with the king in his grave, you might just do it, yes? Woolley gave some reasons for his theory; the layout was too neat, nobody seemed to have struggled and one handmaiden had her silver headdress in her pocket instead of on her head; maybe, he suggests, she was a bit late getting dressed for the funeral and forgot to put it on? It's a fascinating read, by the way, a book called Ur Of The Chaldees, which Penguin published many years ago; I was given it along with a number of other classics by a teacher who was clearing his shelves and knew I loved history. I used the book in my research for my book Time Travellers: Adventures In Archaeology(my one and only bestseller - still in print in the U.S., still bringing me royalties after 14 years).

At this point in my reading, Gilgamesh is not much past twelve and already a huge young man and sexually experienced. He discovered girls early and when his uncle takes him to the temple of Inanna to have his supposed first experience with a sacred prostitute, he has to pretend to be a virgin. 

I'm looking forward to rereading the rest. I always enjoy a book which has taken a myth or legend and shown me how it could work as history. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two Tales Of Brothers From Mesopotamia by John Heffernan.Ill. by Kate Durack. Armidale: Christmas Press, 2016

Here is yet another beautiful picture story book from the wonderful Christmas Press. Christmas Press is a fine example of Australian small press publishing, springing up to fill a niche that the large publishing houses have left open. It only does a few books a year, but all of them are carefully and exquisitely produced, retelling folk and fairytales from various countries. 

This latest book is by John Heffernan, better known as a YA novelist. It retells, in language young readers can follow, part of the story of Gilgamesh, King of Uruk, and his friend Enkidu, who are as close as brothers. The two stories are "The King And The Wild Man" and "Brothers Battle The Beast." In the first story, the two men meet, fight and find themselves admiring each other. Gilgamesh has been a bad king, making the lives of his subjects a misery in his arrogance. The gods answer his subjects' prayers by creating a wild man, Enkidu, to match him, since he won't pay any attention to a lesser being. Then, in the second story, the two battle the monster Humbaba, the Bull of Heaven. 

Both stories are beautifully illustrated by Kate Durack, who uses ancient Mesopotamian styles as her starting point and gives them a cartoon-like flavour which, oddly, works. The stories and the artwork match well. The ancient Mesopotamian style will also give children some idea of the history behind the story. That's a good thing, because I don't think anyone does Mesopotamia in history any more; our Year 7 students study Egypt, Greece, Rome and China. 

Young readers might also follow up the stories told here. 

Just one thing: the author changes the ending, making it happier than in the original "Epic of Gilgamesh". But the original ending of this part of the story leads to the next part, in which Gilgamesh, upset by his friend's death, goes on his quest for immortality. And there's only so much you can fit into a picture story book, only so complex you can make it. That was recognised by Ursula Dubosarsky in her story about Romulus and Remus, in which she finishes by saying that she wishes she could give it a happy ending, but does say that Rome was founded as a result of this story. If children want to know more, they can always look it up. 

Suitable for children from about middle primary school upwards.

Available from the Christmas Press web site. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Captain Jimmy Cook Discovers Third Grade By Kate and Jol Temple, Jon Faye. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2016

Jimmy Cook is finding History Week a bit boring until Ms Fennel starts banging on about Captain Cook. Then - bingo! Turns out he and Captain Cook have a lot in common. Here are three of the big ones: they are both named James Cook; they are both great explorers; and they both look great in a tricorn hat.

So, he makes a tricorn hat for History Week, which goes over very well, until it's clear he is going to keep right on wearing it, which his teacher and his mother don't like. Jimmy insists he is descended from Captain Cook, although Cook has no known descendants, and his goal is to go to Hawaii, despite all the dangers(volcanoes, scary animals and people who are rioting) to retrieve Cook's stuff, to use in his own exploration. There's a competition with a family trip to Hawaii as the prize, but it means buying a lot of a certain brand of breakfast cereal. Like hundreds of boxes - if he can get there before his rival Alice Toolie...

This is a gentle, humorous book in the style of the popular Diary Of A Wimpy Kid series,  with a delightful hero who just doesn't get that he may be confused about some things - and refuses to believe what he is told, even if it it right under his nose, if he is focused on something. He interprets things his way, always. There are plenty of references to various products with a slight name change, but which young readers will recognise and have a giggle over.

The illustrations are amusing, reminiscent of Andrew Weldon.

Suited for children from seven years up.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Continuum 2016 Begins!

I won't be going till this afternoon, and only because I'm on a panel. It clashes with a theatre ticket; I'd have changed it if I was going on my own, but I'm going with my sister and we have dinner booked afterwards, with our mother and my sister's husband, too much to fiddle with.

This afternoon's panel(after which I'm going straight to the theatre) is on the topic of the Mary Sue. I've offered to be moderator, because I have a feeling that one of us in particular has a lot to say on the matter and it might be simplest just to introduce the panel and throw a few questions at them. One of the other panellists is one of our two GoHs, who writes martial arts fantasies centred around Asian gods and a young woman who would probably dislike, and be disliked by, Buffy. I've only read the first of them, when it first came out. One comment on my review described the heroine as a Mary Sue, so it will be interesting to hear her own thoughts on the matter. People tend to bristle when their heroines are accused of Mary Suedom.

As a collector of fanzines for many years before they all went online, losing their quality filters, I have read the original story that coined the term "Mary Sue", my old pen pal Paula Smith's "A Trekkie's Tale" and found it on line, connected with an interview with Paula by the TV Tropes web site. I do have the zine, but it's too hard to find and just about everything is online these days. If you're a librarian, with the skill of using the right search terms, you can find what you're after. Incidentally, Paula entered the opening line, slightly rewritten, for the Bulwer Lytton competition for dreadful opening lines and won a place in the annual collection of entries, though not the competition itself.

I've read a lot of Mary Sue stories, even written a couple for fun, both in the Robin Of Sherwood universe, back in the days before people were paying me to write, and both were with collaborators. These days there are a lot of people complaining that any competent and strong female character is accused of being a Mary Sue. To some extent, that's true, but not entirely. And there is also complaint that male characters don't get hit with the same accusation. Not quite true; there is even an official name for such males, either Marty or Gary Stu(for many years I called him Mark Sam). But it is true that it doesn't happen as often, and my guess is that it's because mostly women write this stuff and naturally they want to write about female characters. And in my own area of YA fiction, there are quite a few Mary Sues, because the main audience for them is female. The girls I work with might laugh about the love triangles, but they enjoy them. Grab a random book from the YA section of a bookshop and it's likely to be about a girl who saves the world while having to decide between two very attractive boys. 

 Personally, I think Suzanne Collins made the right decision in letting her heroine marry the boy who had suffered along with her instead of the childhood sweetheart, but there are plenty of girls arguing about it and supporting the other one. Does this make Katniss a Mary Sue? Possibly, but not in a derogatory sense. She's not Supergirl. She is just someone who does what she has to do and would really rather not have to do it, and when it's all over, she's not ruling the world or a Queen or a President. 

Can you have a canon Mary Sue? I think so. Think of Miramanee in Star Trek TOS. She fits into a category I'd describe as the Sweet Young Thing. She's a Native American priestess in a society which was set up by a mysterious race called the Preservers, who went around dropping endangered species on other planets to let them survive somewhere else. And she has the misfortune of being Captain Kirk's love interest - even worse, being married to him and pregnant with his child. You might as well hand her a red shirt to wear; she's going to be dead by the end of the episode.  There were a lot like her in fan fiction. 

I know one of our panellists wants to discuss Rey from the latest Star Wars movie, who has been called a Mary Sue. I was surprised to hear that; as far as I'm concerned, she is just the Luke Skywalker of this trilogy, and novpbody, as far as I know, ever called him a Gary Stu/Mark Sam. She's just the protagonist of the Hero's Journey, just like Luke. 

Anyway, we'll see how the panel goes. I'm doing two more on Monday, one on the YA love triangle, the final one on children's fiction. Those should be fun! 

Monday, June 06, 2016

Found On My Shelves While Looking For Something Else.. Fritz Leiber Classic

So, last night I finished my reread of Terry Prachett's Mort and went to the shelves to look for another Pratchett to reread. I couldn't find the one I wanted and looked at the back layer of books, where I found Fritz Leiber's two horror classics Conjure Wife and Our Lady Of Darkeness, under the one cover, a Tor edition.

I bought the book years ago and it had been sitting there unread all this time! It isn't the only one by any means, and while I feel just a bit guilty another part of me says, "Yes, but that means I have a pleasant surprise every now and then, something new to read when I need it." It served me well back when I was unemployed and a trip to the bookshop was not an option. Yes, there's always the library,  but these were books I had chosen.

And there was that Twilight Zone episode which was based on a Harlan Ellison story, in which a young man rescues an older man, played by Danny Kaye, and goes back to his home, where there are shelves and shelves of books. On being asked whether he has read them all, the old man says, what's the point of having all those books if you've read them all.

I discovered Fritz Leiber through his fantasy tales of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, who live and have adventures in a place called Lankhmar. The stories have the kind of humour missing from a lot of other swords and sorcery fiction of the time - and, let's face it, from a lot of more recent fantasy fiction. Unlike recent writers, Leiber didn't write multi-volume sagas, and good on him! There were a lot of short stories about his two heroes, but you didn't have to read the lot to be able to follow the series. I think he actually coined the term "swords and sorcery", though not, of course, the genre. 

But he did a lot more. In recent years I've read two novellas, The Big Time and No Great Magic, set during something called the Change War, where agents from two competing organisations are travelling through time, changing things. 

He started life as an actor, as both his parents were actors; you'll see his father in a lot of very old movies, and I have this niggling feeling he might have done a few himself, must look it up. 

Anyway, off to read my new find, and hopefully let you know all about it!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Just Started Rereading...Mort by Terry Pratchett

I've just finished my reread of Wyrd Sisters, the first novel about the three witches, and had intended to reread the next, Witches Abroad, in which Nanny, Granny and Magrat head for Genua, the Discworld New Orleans, which is currently being ruled by Granny's horrible sister Lily, now calling herself Lilith, who is determined to make fairytales come true ... and if you remember some of those fairytales ... Urk!

But my paperback copy of that book is missing till I tidy up(I have it in ebook, but by bedtime the iPad really needs charging) so I picked up Mort, the first of the Discworld novels in which Death had developed into the loveable character he remains for the rest of the series. In the first couple of books, he was just pursuing Rincewind the klutzy wizard who has embroidered the word "wizzard" on his hat in case you hadn't picked up what he is, and you were just happy Rincewind managed to elude him.

In this book, though, which was the first of the Discworld books I bought, he has decided to take an apprentice, to be company for the daughter he adopted, Ysabell. She is seventeen and now he doesn't know what to do with her.

This is the novel in which you discover he loves cats, enjoys the occasional curry and has a horse called Binky. Binky looks an awful lot like Shadowfax of Lord Of The Rings fame. Death also lives in a cottage that's bigger on the inside than the outside, with Ysabell and his manservant Albert, and has an umbrella stand, although it never rains there. 

Death is fascinated by humans, especially  by their ability to invent boredom, and actually cares about them, though, as he says himself, he never gets to see them at their best. By Hogfather, he is posing as the Discworld Santa Claus himself, as someone has made the real Hogfather disappear by removing children's belief in him. Death puts on the suit, with a pillow to pad himself out, takes up the sack and the sleigh and goes out to deliver the toys, to hold a space for the real Hogfather when his granddaughter Susan has managed to find out what's going on and save the Hogfather from the Auditors, the personification of dreary bureaucracy, who want the universe to be rocks floating in circles in space so they can get on with their filing. 

Actually, it has just occurred to me - who else do we know who has a home bigger on the inside than out, cares about humans and has a granddaughter called Susan? Just a thought, we can't ask the author any more, though I hope when he left us he met his own version of Death. He would have liked that. 

In this one, Death goes missing for a while himself, taking a holiday as a short order cook and leaving the Duty to his apprentice, Mort, who stuffs it up, of course, or there would be no story. 

It is the first time he does this in the series, though it won't be the last. In Reaper Man he is sacked from his job as Death and gets a job on a farm, calling himself Bill Door. In Soul Music Susan has to take over the Duty for a time while Albert searches for him. He is making an effort to learn to forget, doing everything from joining the Klatchian Foreign Legion to getting drunk. That novel became an animated film with the wonderful Christopher Lee voicing Death. 

He also appears in some non-Discworld novels, such as Good Omens, which has a scene in a cafe, while the Horsemen are gathering for the Apocalypse. There's a trivia slot machine in the cafe and in response to "Which year did Elvis Presley die?" he protests, "I never laid a hand on him!" (Elvis appears in a fast food joint, flipping burgers and singing to himself)

Who would have thought you could take the end of life and personify it into such a delightful character? 

I will be carrying my copy of Mort with me and reading it at bedtime, even as I make my way through the huge TBR pile of review copies. 

So, who else loves the Discworld Death? Any thoughts? Agreement, disagreement?


Friday, June 03, 2016

Nearly Finished... Soon by Morris Gleitzman

It has taken me a while to get hold of this because the book was always out from my school library. It's interesting, really - my school, in Melbourne's western suburbs, is very multicultural, with quite a few Muslim kids in the mix, yet everyone is fascinated by Holocaust era fiction, and this series is much loved. Even a young man I know is capable of reading much more difficult fiction - I've just lent him Melina Marchetta's The Piper's Son - wanted to read this series(or "family of books" as the author calls it). He is a refugee himself and it resonated with him.

We now have two copies; I have one and I saw one of my students yesterday with the other copy, lent to her by the literacy co-ordinator. I suggested we could discuss it on Monday. I'm nearly finished and know, just know, that our hero Felix is heading for yet another tragedy. It's only comforting to know that he ends up in Australia as a well respected and much loved doctor, adored by his granddaughter. Not a spoiler, as we learned this two books ago. Right now, though, he's a thirteen year old boy who is trying to survive, with his friend Gabriek, a man who saved his life, and an orphaned baby thrust into his arms by a despairing mother just before she was killed. And it hurts to read.

Now that it's on the CBCA short list, I can add it to my display.

As far as I'm concerned, if it doesn't win this year's Younger Reader prize, there's no justice. How does Morris Gleitzman  do it, time after time? How does he manage to draw you in and make you cheer for his characters and care what happens to them, smile at the gentle humour - and then break your heart again, as he breaks theirs? Damn you, Gleitzman!

If you haven't read this series yet, go and do it - immediately! The author says you don't have to read it from the beginning, you can read it in any order, but I do recommend you at least start with Once, or when you go back to read it, you will already know what happens to Felix's friends and that might spoil it for you. 

But make sure you have a good supply of tissues!