Book Review: Trigger Warning, by Neil Gaiman

635495819668785757-Trigger-cSo, I was going to write a review of Neil Gaiman’s book Trigger Warning, a collection of previously published short fiction (plus one new piece, from the American Gods universe).  I was going to say how immersive his writing is, how much it feels like entering a dream, how
I can only read one story at a time and then I have to go away for a while and think it over.  I would say that while many people I know feel the title is dismissive, I found the opening essay to be quite reflective and interesting.  I would point out that I’m not that crazy about the Doctor Who story but “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” made me cry, which was awkward because I was in public when I read it.  I would point out that it’s very disappointing that “Black Dog”, the American Gods story, isn’t included in the ARC – I can’t tell you if the story is any good although I love American Gods.

Then I read this review, and it’s so good that I’m going to link to it and say, “well, my work here is done”.  The New Statesman’s reviewer, Frank Cottrell Boyce, wrote a brilliant review and essay called “Distraction Techniques: Neil Gaiman’s New Book Proves You Can’t Read a Short Story Online”.   It’s fantastic review of the book, Gaiman’s expertise as a master of social media and multiple forms of storytelling, and the experience of reading in the digital age.   Well played, Boyce, well played!

I Resolve Not To Make Late Resolutions Next Year

calvin-hobbes-new-years-resolutionsLast week many of you may have been surprised to get alerts about posts on Monday night that clearly belonged elsewhere. That is because instead of going to bed when I was sick, I tried working on my blog posts for January.  Let this be a lesson to you.  GO TO BED WHEN YOU ARE SICK.  I’d make that a resolution, but since I’m sick now and working on my blog, I think it’s clear that the whole resolution thing is just not going to happen over here.

Since I’m not so good at resolutions, personally, here’s a lovely one from Neil Gaiman, from 2001:

May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art — write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.

And here’s his resolution for this year:

Be kind to yourself in the year ahead.
Remember to forgive yourself, and to forgive others. It’s too easy to be outraged these days, so much harder to change things, to reach out, to understand.
Try to make your time matter: minutes and hours and days and weeks can blow away like dead leaves, with nothing to show but time you spent not quite ever doing things, or time you spent waiting to begin.
Meet new people and talk to them. Make new things and show them to people who might enjoy them.
Hug too much. Smile too much. And, when you can, love.
You can find more at Neil Gaiman’s Journal.  For my writer friends, be sure to check out a wonderful post, “2015 Resolution for Writers: Be Big, and then be Small”, by Chuck Wendig from his blog, Terrible Minds.  It’s so good.   I hope you are all enjoying 2015 so far and that your year is full of great things!

Gateway Drugs: Fantasy

door opening onto poppiesIt’s been a while since we had an edition of Gateway Drugs over here on Geek Girl In Love.  This is the feature where we talk about what books you would recommend to someone who wants to try out a genre for the first time.  Today’s feature is on Fantasy.  Hop on the comments, or on Facebook or Twitter, and tell us what got you into fantasy, or what you’d recommend to someone who was trying out Fantasy for the very first time.

Here’s my pics for some things to try.  Let’s start with some obvious categories:

The Ultimate Fantasy Classic:  The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Please.  Like I’m not going to suggest Lord of the Rings.  Everyone reads Lord of the Rings.  start with the Hobbit, but be aware that it was written for a younger audience.  Frankly, I prefer the Hobbit.  I enjoy the simplicity of the storytelling.  But for the real stuff, you have to read the trilogy that follows.  By the way, to my complete astonishment, I loved the Peter Jackson film adaptation for LotR, although I was less thrilled by the first Hobbit movie.

It’s For Kids, but not Really:  C.S. Lewis, Phillip Pullman, and J.K. Rowling

This category also applies to The Hobbit.  Some of the most popular fantasy has kids as characters, and is marketed as being for kids, but has themes that attract adults.  The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, is of course incredibly important to the genre.  This series has strong Christian undertones which, as a child, bothered me not a whit.  Even as an adult, I’d argue that the only book in the series in which the Christian Allegory becomes obvious and invasive is in the last book in the series, The Last Battle.  I loathe The Last Battle and my ten-year old consultant agrees with me.  But the other books in the series are wonderful.

More recently, Phillip Pullman came out with the series His Dark Materials.  This series, which starts with The Golden Compass, tends to end up on children’s shelves, but I’d argue that it’s much more for teens and adults as the material is both intense in terms of violence and intense in terms of complicated themes.  Phillip Pullman is an atheist and just as Christian allegory shows up  in the Narnia books, there’s a lot of atheist allegory in the His Dark Materials Book – but not enough to be oppressive or mess up the story in a heavy-handed way.

And of course, let us not forget Harry Potter, by J.K. Rowling.  J.K. Rowling released about one book a year for seven years, with the expectation that her audience would grow up with the books.  As a result, the first book feels very much like a book for kids age 8-10 but the last book deals with much darker stuff.  Anyone who says “The Harry Potter Books are for kids” clearly hasn’t read Book 7.

Not for Kids, Nope, Not At All:  Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

Disclaimer:  I tried to read Game of Thrones.  I really did.  But I had been spoiled so I read the first chapter about Ned Stark’s happy family and became so horribly depressed that I gave it up.  The Game of Thrones phenomenon is huge thanks to the HBO series.  Game of Thrones took epic fantasy and made it gritty, realistic, and political.  Expect lots of violence, lots of sex, and lots of scheming.

OK, that’s the basics.  But what are some less obvious fantasy choices for a newcomer?  Here’s a handful of titles that are marketed for adults and which have attracted a lot of attention both within and without the genre community:

Modern Gems

American Gods, by Neil Gaiman

This is a modern fantasy, in which a man, Shadow, becomes involved in the lives of the Gods that people brought to America with them when they emigrated.  The book is famous for its clever and poetical premise, its attachment to the American landscape, and its language, which is beautiful but modern, unlike the ornate language of most high fantasy.

War for the Oaks, by Emma Bull

This is one of my favorite books, ever.  One of the first urban fantasy books, it tells the story of rock musician Edie who becomes involved in the Faerie Wars.  The sense of day-to-day life and the sense of magic and magical creatures are equally vivid.  This book also features one of my favorite romances.  It’s exciting and funny and scary and exhilarating.  You can find my full-length review of this novel at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed

Fantasy has a reputation of being by and about white people by Saladin Ahmed removes fantasy from the realm of European mythology and sets his story in a fantastical version of the Middle East.   Great characters, great world-building, great plot.  you can find my full-length review here on Geek girl In Love.

 What got you into fantasy, and what would you suggest to a friend?

LOTR_book_covers

 

 

 

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

OceanLane_HC_cI imagine that if you’re reading a blog called “Geek Girl In Love”, you probably are already a Neil Gaiman fan – but if you’re not, this book is a great place to start.  In English major parlance:  it uses the tropes of mythology, horror, and coming of age to produce a lyrical vision of metaphor made actual.  In normal language:  it’s scary as shit.

Ocean tells the story of an unnamed man who is home for a funeral and takes a side trip to his childhood home.  Past his old home is a farmhouse and a road that leads to a pond.  At the pond, the man begins to remember long-buried memories from his childhood, when he was menaced by occult forces and aided by the Hempstock family.

This book is deeply creepy.  In some ways it resembles Coraline, with its child narrator who sees a world grown-ups can’t, and in which the family members who are supposed to take care of you are dark and terrifying shadows of themselves.  The book is also beautiful, with the Hempstock farmhouse representing all that is comforting and safe, and the natural world being both terrifying and lovely.  Here’s the boy eating dinner with the Hempstocks, following a harrowing night and about to face more terrors still:

I do not miss childhood, but I miss the way I took pleasure in small things, even as I could not control the world I was in.  I could not walk away from things or people or moments that hurt, but I found joy in the things that made me happy.  The custard was sweet and creamy in my mouth, the dark swollen currants in the spotted dick were tangy in the cake-thick chewy blandness of the pudding, and perhaps I was going to die that night and perhaps I would never go home again, but it was a good dinner, and I had faith in Lettie Hempstock.

Ocean is a bittersweet story.  It’s about discovering that there are worlds within worlds – not just ones of magic versus the mundane, but ones inside people’s minds, ones in which adults are thinking thoughts and wanting and fearing things that have nothing to do with you, the child.  The narrator takes the horrors he encounters more in stride than other children might, because he already believes that the world is not safe (he has no friends, and no one comes to his birthday party).  This isn’t a book about the truth setting you free – too much knowledge is seen to be a dangerous thing, and indeed, our narrator seems to be unsettled and vaguely unhappy as an adult, perhaps because he was always a sad person, perhaps because of a trace of the supernatural remains inside him, or perhaps because he was exposed to too much knowledge too soon.

quote from Ocean at end of Lane

Quote, designed by Lakshani Surnaga

Neil Gaiman has a remarkable ability to inspire others.  People don’t just read his books, they inhabit them, and they interpret them with their own drawings and poetry and music.  Maybe this is because he creates a sense that the world he’s portraying is deeply layered.  For everything he describes, and he describes things vividly, there’s a suggestion of a whole host of other things not described.  So there’s room for everybody and every thing in it.  I highly recommend a visit to Zen Comics for this interpretation of Gaiman’s speech, “Make Good Art”.  I also recommend that if you are going to read Ocean, you set some serious time aside.  It’s a small book, but you’ll have to read it in one sitting.  Then, you’ll want to read it again – once for “what happens next”, once for the imagery and themes.