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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

“Mutant”, by Michael Montoure

December 21, 2015 Leave a comment

“Mutant” is a story about a familiar figure from song and story, told very differently.

[Updates, two:  I forgot to mention that I know Michael Montoure personally, although this story was a complete surprise to me when I found it, and that the web page I link to below has broken headers, as of 12/21/15.  The story is present on the page and perfectly readable.]

Non-Spoiler Summary

Ever wonder if Rudolph actually liked saving the day, that Christmas?  He didn’t.  Oh, how he didn’t.

Why should you read it?

Because in about a page, Montoure can make you look at a story you’ve known your whole life a new way, teach you some things about inclusion and exclusion, and make you fear for next Christmas.

Where to find “Mutant”

This story is available freely on Montoure’s website, Bloodletters.  Find it here.

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“Travels with My Cats”, by Mike Resnick

“Travels with My Cats” is a 2004 fantasy short story by Mike Resnick.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2005.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Travels with My Cats” is the story of a man living a bit of a wasted life; he started with dreams, but they slowly grew further and further out of his reach.  When he rediscovers a travel book he purchased and enjoyed as a child, the long-dead author and her cats appear.  She reignites his passion for life.

Why should you read it?

There’s a bit of a problem here.  Mike Resnick is going to show up a lot on this list, because he’s been nominated for an award every year for the last six hundred year.  Perhaps a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much: he’s the most nominated author ever.

This story starts with a very disillusioning life.  It then moves on to a very enchanting relationship, and ends with a man changed.  The story is very effective and very enjoyable.  It’s far from science fiction or high fantasy–the Wikipedia article calls this magic realism, and I’d have to agree.  Beautifully written, and an emotional journey.  Not all of it is a fun journey, but a real one.

Where to find “Travels with My Cats”

Asimov’s has a copy of the text online.  Escape Pod has also done a lovely audio version.


“A Study In Emerald”, by Neil Gaiman

“A Study In Emerald” is a 2003 science fiction short story by Neil Gaiman.  It won the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2004.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“A Study In Emerald” is the story of a murder investigation, conducted by a consulting detective who lives on Baker Street.  The murder victim is the nephew of the Queen of England.  And not human at all.  He’s an Old One, as is the Queen.

Why should you read it?

As one expects from Gaiman, the writing is brilliant.  The characters are layered, the dialog is crisp and appropriate to the time, and the style is both modern and matching the writing of the time.  The world-building is solid, although unlikely, as the Old Ones have replaced the crowned heads of Europe in this alternate world, where England is Albion, instead.  The powers of the consulting detective are, as they should be, amazing until explained, and then obvious–a trick many pastiches of Holmes do not carry off.  I would rate this as my favorite Holmes-derived work, and also my favorite spin of the Cthulhu mythos.

Where to find “A Study In Emerald”

This story is available online, courtesy of Neil Gaiman himself.  Normally, I’m not a fan of fiction in PDF’s, as it makes it hard to get on my Kindle, but this one comes with lovely layout and little dropped-in ads for dark Victorian products, such as medical exsanguination by V. Tepes.  Well worth printing out and reading in this form for the bonuses alone.

“Ponies”, by Kij Johnson

March 20, 2013 Leave a comment

“Ponies” is a 2010 fantasy short story by Kij Johnson.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Short Story of 2011.

Non-Spoiler Summary

“Ponies” is the story of a party held by some popular girls, the less popular girl who is invited, and the damage they cause to their ponies, who seem to be created, yet intelligent, creatures

Why should you read it?

I’m not sure you should.  You’ve heard me wax rhapsodic about Kij Johnson’s work before–I adore “The evolution of trickster stories among the dogs of North Park after the Change” and “26 Monkeys, Also The Abyss”.  However, this story is about pain that’s inflicted on innocent friends–the ponies.  While I understand the nomination, and I appreciate the craftsmanship, I’ve now read “Ponies” three times and I still don’t like it at all.  It reminds me of watching one ten-year-old beat up another, and wishing I could intervene.

I’m  not completely against innocents being harmed in fiction.  I read horror; I live in the world.  I can take this type of plot.  What I object to, I think, is the fact that the ponies are hurt. . . as a result of peer pressure.  Because the girls want to either maintain their status, or gain new status.  This makes me uncomfortable, intensely.

It’s quite possible that that’s the point.  If so, it’s brilliant.  I still don’t think it’s any fun.  I started this blog to recommend stories that I enjoyed, and I knew when I turned the corner to reading and posting about Hugo nominated stories, I might find some stuff I didn’t like. I’m not sure I expected it to come from an author whose skill I admire so much and whose work I have so enjoyed.

New rating: Well done, no fun.

Where to find “Ponies”

It’s available online on Tor.com.  It doesn’t appear to have been collected yet, but there is also a podcast on Tor.com.

 

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

February 3, 2013 Leave a comment

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is a 2001 fantasy movie.  It won the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation of 2002.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Eight assorted people help a short guy go on a trip to get rid of some jewelry.  (Seriously, I’m not summarizing this one.)

Why should you watch it?

I’ve recently watched most of this series with my boy, who is eight, so I’m focussed on a lot of details that I wasn’t absorbing in 2001, when I first saw it.  Joshua makes a lot of “why?” questions, that really help me see the movie for what it is.

And what that is, is an introduction to a larger story.  There is so much to set up in this movie that it is almost entirely prelude to the events of The Two Towers and The Return of the King.

However, it is so lovely.  To see these characters visualized and inhabited so vitally by the actors. . . there is no hint in my mind of machete’ing this movie out of the trilogy.  It is lovely, even though it is largely setup for the events of the later movies.

And to see Bilbo’s 111th birthday party visualized, to see Gandalf on the screen for the first time, were delights as WETA and Peter Jackson proved that this movie wasn’t going to be a disaster.  That it was going to be a delight.

Where to find The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

The movie is not available freely, but at this point, even the expanded editions can be had on Amazon.com used for $8.

Being John Malkovich

January 12, 2013 Leave a comment

Being John Malkovich is a 1999 . . . slipstream movie, written by Charlie Kaufman and directed by Spike Jonze.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Dramatic Presentation of 2000.

My first movie review!

Non-Spoiler Summary

A puppeteer with an. . . odd filing job discovers a portal, a literal door, into the brain of the actor John Malkovich.

Why should you watch it?

This movie contains ideas and moments that are not, and actually can not be, examined in any other movie.  The nature of the conceit is absolutely unique in fiction as far as I know, and the fact that they were able to get John Malkovich to star is amazing, considering the script was written focussing on him on spec, without having him on contract.

This was one of the very first movies I ever saw twice on opening weekend–the material was that compelling.  I had spent enough of my first viewing with my jaw dropped that I wanted to see it again immediately, and my partner felt the same.  I have seen it a couple of times since, making this perhaps my fifth viewing.  I continue to watch the mixture of humor, deadpan delivery, and . . . insanity with amazement.

That said, I have enough distance now to see that this is a very flawed movie, that in my opinion should have been recut and the entire first half hour to forty-five minutes either removed or integrated into the body of the movie.  And many parts that are, sadly, just not very good.  But the parts that are good are so, so good.

The portal allows the puppeteer Craig Schwartz to first experience what Malkovich is experiencing, quietly riding along for fifteen minutes, before being ejected.  He and a partner start a business using Malkovich as a “thrill ride”, selling fifteen minutes in Malkovich for $200.  However, Schwartz and his wife both experience time in Malkovich, and begin a very odd relationship with Maxine, his partner.  During this time, Schwartz discovers that his skill as a puppeteer actually allows him to control Malkovich, and not to be ejected.  And he steals Malkovich’s body and life, using his new host’s fame to further his own agenda and make puppeteering a vital, popular art-form.

(I am deliberately not summarizing the last third of the movie, as I can neither do it justice nor do I think a description would increase your interest in the movie.  While it’s fascinating, it’s as much about the delivery as the ideas.)

Where to find Being John Malkovich

The movie is not available freely.  It is available on Netflix and several other streaming services.

Categories: Recommendations Tags: , ,

_Shadrach in the Furnace_, by Robert Silverberg

January 1, 2013 Leave a comment

Shadrach In The Furnace is a 1976 science-fiction novel by Robert Silverberg.  It was nominated for the Hugo for Best Novel of 1977 and the 1976 Nebula Award.

Non-Spoiler Summary

Robert Silverberg was one of my favorite authors, at the time that I read this–about 1983.  He had an immense body of work that I was tearing through, much of which I still value.  Among those, Shadrach is one of the few I’ve been back to in the past twenty-five years.  The obvious question of whether the work holds up is nullified by the fact that I seem to have been too young to grasp what the book was about, the first time through, and may as well have been reading it for the first time now.

Oddly enough, this reread suffered from what Jina Chan brilliantly called Skynet Syndrome: I was reading the book during its supposed “far future” timeframe.  In other words, during November 2012 when I was reading it, I was reading words written sometime in 1975 about November of 2012.

Shadrach Mordecai is the personal physician to Genghis II Mao IV Khan, the ruler of the world.  He is implanted with subdermal activators that allow him to perceive Genghis Mao’s health at any time and from a distance.  And he is the overall head of the three projects that are in place to make sure that Genghis Mao, already old, lives long enough to complete the work of his Permanent Revolution.  That is to say, these projects are intended to assure that Genghis Mao lives forever.

Why should you read it?

As a child, I thought this book was about the relationship of a man and his physician, when that physician is a very tight part of the health care feedback cycle.  I completely missed the story of Genghis Mao’s loss of his own humanity, of the horror of his acceptance–championship!–of the three immortality projects, and of Shadrach’s walk about the world while he contemplates his place in Genghis Mao’s plans.

Virtually nothing happens in this book–Genghis Mao has a kidney transplant, the immortality projects are introduced, Shadrach goes walkabout, and then returns home to resume his duties as physician.  But the story isn’t about what happens.  Several times, Shadrach and various friends or lovers go to several different styles of temple, to meditate, work, or have drug experiences.  The book is actually _about_ Shadrach’s states during these meditations, as much as it is about his peregrinations.

Overall, I would call the book dated, but far from obsolete–it still addresses ideas in ways that have either never been done better or have never been done before or since at all.

Where to find Shadrach in The Furnace

Unfortunately, the book is not available freely.  It is trivially but not inexpensively available for the Kindle, and well-stocked libraries still have it.  I have not seen a copy available in used book stores in several years.