The Stars Look Very Different Today

 

bowie

I woke up to sad news this morning, as did everyone else in the world. David Bowie has died of cancer at age 69.

If you’d have asked me, yesterday, if I’d have felt compelled to write a blog post if David Bowie died, I’d have shrugged and said, “I like his music. He was a hell of an entertainer. But he doesn’t really have anything to do with me.”

I’d have been wrong. The minute I read the news, I felt like I was kicked in the gut and it took me a couple of hours to understand why.

The short answer… the easy answer… is Labyrinth. It was, in my recollection, my very first taste of fantasy. We weren’t a family that dwelled in the land of wizards and warriors, of swords and sorcerers. We were a family that watched Westerns. Later, I would bond with my dad over Star Trek and Star Wars, and even Beastmaster, but my earliest movie memories were The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly and Gunsmoke. And while I can see the way that those stories, too, have touched my work, nothing shook me by the shoulders the way that Labyrinth did.

From the moment we watched Labyrinth, it changed the way I thought. I remember, in winter, a huge puddle formed downtown, and the top layer would crust over with ice. My sister and I discovered that if you broke the crust in the middle, then stepped on the edge, it would bubble — our very own Bog of Eternal Stench. I’ve forgotten whole years of my childhood, but I remember that puddle like it was yesterday.

And David Bowie was a part of that. Jareth was a force of nature, a celestial being, a kind of immortal that I had not yet known. He was the kind of beast that stole babies from their cribs and tried to seduce the heroine to the dark side. He was evil, but in a way that made you want to be evil, too.

As I got older, and my musical tastes diverged from my parents’ love of all things Country and Western, I heard Space Oddity. I heard Heroes. I heard Rebel Rebel. I heard him play the part of Ziggy Stardust, and he was so charismatic, so otherworldly. He was experiencing the earth as if from somewhere else, and that spoke to me. As the kind of person who has always questioned where they belonged, I got David Bowie. I felt like he got me.

I didn’t know David Bowie. He was an entertainer and an artist. He was a father and a husband. There are those in this world who truly mourn his loss, today, in a way that I cannot, and my heart goes out to them. I hope that they find peace.

But, for me… this world glitters a little less, today, than it did yesterday. There is less Stardust in our sky. There is a little less magic. The Goblin King is dead. All hail the King.

Commencing countdown, engines on

Check ignition and may God’s love be with you

Book Review – HOUNDED by Kevin Hearne

I haven’t read much Urban Fantasy, and as such, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. HOUNDED might have spoiled me, since it was absolutely hilarious. A fun, quick, incredibly engaging and entertaining read, I devoured it in about a day and a half. 

Atticus is old–21 centuries old, in fact. But he looks like a 21-year-old hipster playing at magic in his occult bookstore. Seriously, that might be the best, simplest premise I’ve ever heard. Add to it his Irish Wolfhound who is laugh-out-loud hilarious, a healthy dose of pop culture references, and some pissed off Celtic gods and you have a story that sucks you in and keeps you reading.

I liked everything about this book–the depth of the setting, the obvious research that Hearne put into it, the humor and juxtaposition between Old World and New-all of it. EXCEPT I didn’t love Hearne’s treatment of his female characters, and that kept me from giving HOUNDED five stars. I felt as though every woman (mortal or not) got the “super sexy movie star” treatment, and that Atticus had a hard time concentrating when they spoke because all he wanted to do was jump their bones. We’re talking about seriously powerful women, who can manipulate your perceptions of them. Why would they all choose sex as their manipulation of choice–Why not intimidation? Why not terror? Why not groveling respect? I’ve got no problem with a sexy female character, but I felt like it was a little one-noted.

I look forward to reading more of the IRON DRUID CHRONICLES, as the story was clever and funny and greatly entertaining, and I hope that Mr. Hearne has found a way to flesh out his female characters in later volumes.

Next Up: THE MIRROR EMPIRE by Kameron Hurley. You know I’m excited about this one. 🙂

Book Review – ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE by Robin Hobb

 

 

In an effort to broaden my horizons in Fantasy, I have been keeping my ears open for recommendations from authors that I respect and admire. A few months ago, Chuck Wendig posted on Twitter that ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE was a must read, and (I’m paraphrasing) a beautiful, brutal book. If you’ve read anything by Wendig, you’ll be interested to know what he sees as brutal. So, I put it on my to-read list and (when I couldn’t find it locally) ordered it online. 

In the meantime, several other authors and reviewers that I follow brought up the glory that is ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, and I learned more about Robin Hobb. Here’s the thing–I love Fantasy. I think it, and write it, and breathe it, and worship the very ground that it bleeds on. But I didn’t find it until I was an adult, really. So I am behind the times. This book–I should have read it almost 20 years ago. I should have, by this time, been wrapped up in an obsession with this series, and the others that follow it, for most of my adult life. I should have already been as obsessed with this world as I am with Westeros. Hell–even GRRM blurbed about ASSASSIN’S APPRENTICE, “Fantasy as it ought to be written.”

Those are great big words from a great big author, and I doubt that I have anything to add that others haven’t already said, but I’ll try.

The first thing that drew me into this book was the age of the protagonist, Fitz, at the opening of the novel. He is six years old. I have a six year old, and as Fitz went about some truly life-altering experiences, in my mind, he was my little guy. And that’s where the brutality of this book lies. Fitz, throughout this first book, is a child. This is not the gruesome, bloody savagery of Martin’s Westeros. This is the terrible alone-ness of a little boy, thrust into a world that will only ever see him as a tool.

Hobb is brilliant in her weaving of the tale. Not too gentle, yet not too barbaric. We are dipped, lovingly, into the Six Duchies. Cradled in the warmth of the stables, drawn out, into the intrigues of Buckkeep. We, as readers, are granted the indulgence of seeing the adult characters through adult eyes, while simultaneously viewing them through the hooded, shadowed lenses that Fitz sees them through. Fitz is a remarkable child–observant and kind, intelligent and gifted. But he is also a child. We are given the gift of seeing those around him as he cannot–the silent, secretive protectors, the adroit handlers that do all that they can, including risking themselves, for the love of Fitz’s father who cannot acknowledge his bastard son.

Because I know, so intimately, a six year old boy–I instantly fell in love with Fitz. As he grew, in my mind, he became my older son (now twelve) and full of his own ideas of what a man is. Fitz is flawed in only the way a child can be–beautifully. Brutally. 

In the end, the story left me gasping for more–so clearly is there so much more to tell, and I am infinitely grateful that the next books are readily available. This is a hero’s quest, flawed and damaged as our hero may be, and it has become clear to me that I have only scratched the surface. Robin Hobb has done something stunningly complex–building a man from the skin and bones of a tiny boy. Fitz comes to life, on the pages. Her words breathe into him the stuff of life. Not just the heroics, the kindness and the brilliance, but also the failings, the weaknesses, the hubris. 

I also ADORE the gentle gender-politics that play out, throughout its pages. Certainly there are women that are mistreated and abused, dismissed and ignored. But also, there are men, just as maligned. Beautifully entwined, are women of power and strength. There are leaders among them, there are teachers and masters and Queens. There are petty women, women of integrity, and every sort of women in between. Just like the men. And not a damsel in distress among them.

There was truth to what Wendig said. The book is beautiful and brutal, but it is much more than that. It is not the grim darkness that we’ve come to expect from Martin and Abercrombie, nor the bantering heroics of Rothfuss. It is something different. Something special, a vicious hopefulness. With this book, I have come to understand why Robin Hobb’s name is spoken amongst the greats of Fantasy. She has certainly, in my estimation, earned every fair word.

Why Fantasy?

I’ve been thinking a lot, since last night, about why I love the books that I do, and more importantly, what has driven me to write the books that I am writing. As I wrote the post about Reading Month, and I was noting what my kids were reading, I started to think about the books that I read, as a kid.

You wouldn’t know it by looking at my shelves, these days, but as a kid, I didn’t read much fantasy, and I never read SciFi. I read a great deal of realistic fiction, quite a bit of magical realism, and a boatload of “teen” book (most by the time I was in third grade, or so). It’s a good thing that old school YA was a bit tamer than today’s YA. Sweet Valley High was a favorite, and that was gentler than Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Then, I skipped right on to adult literature–I read my first Stephen King book in sixth grade, Robin Cook was a favorite in fifth. I was all over the place, and I LOVED to read, but I didn’t have a home genre.

One of my early favorites was The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, and although it was a realistic fiction book, there was a bit of the fantastical in Mary’s home in India and again, at Craven Manor. Dickon, who could speak to the animals was, by far, my favorite character, and I loved the sense of fate that had sent Mary to the garden. Another all time favorite was The Velvet Room, by Zilpha Snyder. I barely remember this book, but I remember reading it multiple times, and finding a sense of comfort within its pages. Reading its Amazon description, I guess it makes sense. A girl finds a safe place to hide from her doubts, in a hidden, secret library. Right up my alley.

But it still begs the question–Why do I cling so much to Fantasy and SciFi, now?

The first answer to that question is pretty easy to answer. My dad–biologically, he was my stepdad, but he raised me–was a big fan of Star Trek and Star Wars. We watched a lot of re-showings of The Beastmaster and Conan. There wasn’t a lot that he and I could talk about and agree on, when I was a teenager, but we both admired the hell out of Jean Luc Picard and we both knew that Han shot, first. That was enough. My dad passed away, a few years ago, but every once in a while, when I write a really kick ass fight scene or create a character that I know he’d identify with, I know that he’d have enjoyed my stories. It is enough.

So, I grew up on a steady diet of words about people I didn’t really understand, and a T.V. diet of characters that made things happen. That was the crux of it, for me, I think. In so many books that I read as a kid, the events of the story weren’t shaped and molded by the character–they were formed AROUND the character. But a lot of those Fantasy and SciFi characters MADE things happen. They shaped their own destiny. They took charge.

I’m a sucker for a sword or a wizard, any day, but what I love most is the sense of fate that you get in genre fiction. Yes, bad stuff happens. But a great genre protagonist is going to wrap their arms around that bad stuff and choke the life out of it. They take their destiny by the horns.

About 15 years ago, I met a guy, and he suggested that I read The Mists of Avalon. It’s a big, slow book–and it rocked my world. Girls who took charge of their own destiny. Women who shaped the world. The female heros that were hidden behind King Arthur’s throne. That same man handed me The Wheel of Time, The Lord of the Rings and A Song of Ice and Fire, and eventually a wedding ring (But that’s a whole different sort of tale) and in doing so, he nudged me toward my destiny.

There are countless stories, out there, and there are a million ways to tell them. But this is the one that I was born to tell.