Thursday, May 31, 2007

Cross-over Fantasy

Across the Nightingale Floor by Lian Hearn is a great read set in a fictional medieval country that resembles feudal Japan. The story follows young Takeo after he survives the massacre of his family. Rescued by a mysterious lord, Takeo begins to grow up and discover some amazing secrets about himself and the world around him.
This series, the final volume is to be published in late 2007, is usually filed away in young adult fiction in libraries but I am suggesting that adults may like to read this as well. Anyone interested in fantasy should borrow a copy and dip into the wonderful delights of Hearn's writing.
Another great series that is shelved with young adult and children's books is the Redwall books by Brian Jacques. It is easy to dismiss these books as only being fit for kiddies as all the characters are anthropomorphic animals. Good guys are usually mice, badgers, hedgehogs and the like, while the bad guys are foxes, stoats, weasels and cats.
Don't let this fool you though, the stories are great reads that are fun and exciting. Don't be surprised if you find yourself flying through the books as they are easy to read. This doesn't mean that they are poor quality, just that Jacques writes with such a fluent style.
So the moral of this post is don't be afraid to look in the young adult or children's sections of your library for something to read, a lot of good fiction is being published for kids. For example I noticed that David Eddings' fantasy series the Belgariad is now being marketed as young adult fiction.

Bank On It.

Iain M Banks is an amazing author of grand science fiction told within a coherent overarching setting, yet each book can be read independent of the others. Banks also has some of the best space ship names ever committed to paper. (I won't spoil anything by telling you some but Banks is imaginative.) Banks is also good at setting the scene of his stories, and the reader is quickly swept up in the vistas he describes.
A Banks novel is always going to include complex, but not confusing, storyline with politics and war all playing a part in driving the plot forward. When reading it is easy to sit back and let the words flow over you like a river that sweeps you along.
If you don't like the sound of Banks' science fiction, you could try his general fiction published under the name of Iain Banks. These too are well worth reading, with their supernatural twists and family dramas.
In other news Star Wars turned 30 this month. (I can't believe I'm only a few months older than Star Wars.) So Happy Birthday and hopefully people will continue to enjoy watching this landmark film.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Expand your mind!

Grant Morrison is currently one of the leading lights of the comic world. Picking up a story by Morrison ensures that at some point the reader will be taken on a highly philosophical journey that may not always make sense as it slowly slips into the surreal.
Some of Morrison's best work is in series like;
  • Animal Man, where Animal Man eventually meets his creator. Literally Animal Man moves beyond the confines of his comic and gets to meet Morrison.
  • The Invisibles, about a group of psychic freedom fighters led by a tantric assasin who are trying to save humankind from the forces of darkness.
  • Doom Patrol, where a group of failed heroes take on enemies like Mr Nobody and the painting that ate Paris.
  • The Filth, about a group of special agents who protect civilisation from all sorts of threats both seen and unseen.
  • Arkham Asylum, about Batman's journey to mental hell and back inside Gotham's asylum for the criminally insane.

As you can see Morrison likes convaluted plots which manage to weave in and out of reality. For example in The Filth we meet one of the Soviet space monkeys who has been affected by cosmic waves and then brainwashed by the KGB and is responsible for shooting JFK.

If you like your stories to border on the absurd with a heavy dose of the supernatural and surealism then Morrison is one author you should be checking out. Just don't expect it to make sense all of the time, and be prepared for some wild adventures.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Of An Epic Nature

Long running fantasy series seem to be very popular, and three of my favourite authors are currently engaged in writing them. Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson and George R R Martin have all to some degree decided that their own fantasy series is best served by releasing book after book. Jordan's Wheel of Time series is up to book 13 or 14 and does not look like stopping any time soon, he has been quoted as saying he will finish the series when he dies. Erikson is up to volume 8 and Martin has released the first part of volume 4.
These long books which are part of a longer series make it hard to dive in and enjoy. Whenever a new Jordan book is released I feel compelled to read all the others in an attempt to remind myself what has gone before. This goes for the others as well, and it is getting to the point where the catching up is taking longer than actually reading the new release.
But the fan in my wants to keep reading, and I do enjoy reading these series so I suppose I will continue to immerse myself in these writer's worlds, just don't expect to see me for a while, especially when Jordan releases his latest book, it could take months just to catch up.
On a related note I am excited to hear that American company HBO is looking to make a television series out of Martin's Song of Fire and Ice series. This can only be a good thing coming from the company that released The Sopranos, Deadwood, and Rome. I for one will be interested to watch it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Reynolds Rules

Anyone looking for good science fiction and who also likes space-opera then you can not go past Alaister Reynolds. Writing on a grand scale, with world shattering events, Reynolds is a master of action, while making the reader think about philosophical issues. Revelation Space, Absolution Gap, and his latest The Prefect are all great examples of this.
If you pick up one of his books be prepared to be taken on a ride that will leave you breathless, and not just because you had to carry these 500 page tomes home! Don't be afraid by the size of these novels though, trust me, they will fly.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Hit and Amis

I am easily seduced by the elegant prose of Martin Amis, and his latest novel The House of Meetings is no exception to this. As the story unfolds I cannot but be impressed by Amis' ability to write the English language in such an memorable and yet seemingly simple style. Satire and examining the world around him come naturally to Amis, and this ability has not left him at any time during his career. I always think that Amis is the type of writer Bret Easton Ellis aspires to be, but Ellis' inability to create interesting characters stops him from expressing his message in a way that engages the reader.
amis has become quite focussed on the Soviet Union of late, and his last few books have all referenced it to some degree. It is clear that he has been doing a large amount of research on the subject, so I suppose that it is only natural that he puts this research to use.
I can truthfully say that anyone who enjoys the work of Amis will find something to like in The House of Meetings.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

De Ja Vu

I have been reading The First Crusade by Thomas Asbridge and I have been struck by how similar different historical events can be. The conflict between 'the West' and 'Islam' is old and this book highlights the fact that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Is there really much difference between the Pope in the 12th Century calling for the return of the Holy Lands to Christianity, and the current political machinations involving the USA and militant Islam? Asbridge is an engaging writer, and I found myself flying through this book as it builds to its climax. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I was still caught up in the drama of the story and Asbridge's narrative. A book to make you think, as well as enjoy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Reading Tolkien and King

I thought I would change tact today and discuss two books I read recently, one I enjoyed and one I didn't.
The first book I want to talk about is The Tale of the Children of Hurin by Tolkien. I absolutely love Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, but I was shocked by how much this latest book reminded me of all the things I don't like about Tolkien's writing. Long lists of similar sounding names makes my brain go dead, and this book has its fair share of these. Also the book highlights the fact that really Tolkien is not that great a writer, he really loves the sound of his own voice so to speak and this intrudes into the narrative. The story does pick up, though the ending is a bit of a downer. Personally the book comes across as another attempt to cash in on the success of The Lord of the Rings. Hopefully we will not see further attempts to sully the creation of J R R Tolkien.
On the other hand I have been enjoying the Gunslinger series by Stephen King. I have tried to read this series in the past but never really got into it, but for some reason this time I can't put it down. Funnily enough this series was inspired by Tolkien, though King wanted to give the characters a more American feel, and he succeeds quite well at this. Set in a mythical wild west, the sort of place Ford shot his films and John Wayne roams, the story weaves in and out of time and space in a sureal manner. I am really enjoying this and am looking foward to finishing all the books in the series. And seeing if Roland does reach the Black Tower.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Up Up and Away...

I thought I would talk about the wonders of the superhero comic. Not all of them are male power fantasies. In fact some of them are quite intelligent and are powerful comments on society. I mentioned Watchmen in my last post, but this is just one example. Writers like Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, J. Michal Straczynski, Brian Vaughan and others try to explore real world issues in the context of a world where superheroes exist.
Explore the world of superhero comics, visit a public library and browse, you never know what you might find.

Friday, May 18, 2007


The Beginning.
Salutations, and thank you for reading this blog.
I work as a Reader Services Librarian in a public library and thought this would be a great way to promote reading and other interesting things that are a part of my job.
Currently I am trying to encourage people to read graphic novels.
I think that they are an exciting and important medium, which speaks to everyone. Also I really enjoy reading them.
So where do I start?
There have been some great graphic novels published, and I would like to discuss some of them here. They are also great starting points for people interested in this medium.
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore. Alan Moore is one of the creative giants of this field and this tale of superheroes in a world that is slightly different from ours proves this point. Taking its premise from a quote by Juvenal, Moore explores the problems of having super-powered beings loose in society.
  • Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazue Koike. This highly detailed and exquisitely rendered story is set in Edo period Japan. The story follows one man and his young child as they wander around Japan following the path of Ronin. The story does contain large amounts of violence, nudity and sex, but these do not distract from the adventure.
  • Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb. Arghhh, men in tights. I can see some of you switching off now, but hear me out. At its heart this tale is a true detective story, and this suits the character of Batman. (After all his strongest weapon is his brain.) The colourful cast that support any Batman story help to keep the story rolling along, and the quirky art of Tim Sale brings everything to life.
  • Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. This is the place to go if you ever wanted to think more seriously about comics as an art form. McCloud has put a lot of time into this graphic novel, and it shows. One of the leading philosophical works devoted to comics and understanding them. I challenge anyone who reads this not to come away with a different perspective on graphic novels.

This is just a small number of the many graphic novels I have read and enjoyed. Join me next time as I explore some more of my favourites, and who knows I may even discuss some books.