Mike’s Prattle


Books Received; Fritz Leiber “The Inheritance” aka “The Phantom Slayer;” “The Hill and the Hole;” Connie Willis “The Winds of Marble Arch;” Lucius Shepard “A Spanish Lesson;” “Fire Zone Emerald;” “R&R;” Larry Niven – World of Ptavvs

Posted by Mike on August 1, 2006

  • Neil Gaiman – Coraline
  • Daniel C. Matt, trans. – The Zohar, Pritzker Edition Volume III (it’s amazing to think that Volumes 1-3, in their entirety, consist of a commentary on Genesis)
  • Gene Wolfe – Castle of Days
  • Gene Wolfe – Endangered Species
  • Cao Xuequin – The Crab-Flower Club (The Story of the Stone, Vol. 2)
  • Steve Aylett – Lint (so far this is hysterical)
  • Karel Capek – War With the Newts

I’m probably enjoying the Lint book in small part due to reading some of Fritz Leiber’s early stories. Lint is sort of a fake bio of a pulp-era science fiction writer, so even if Leiber’s stuff is probably better than the average weird tale, it’s reminding me of the era and enhancing the book. But even so, Leiber’s 40s stories, if not the classics to come, are still rather good, “The Phantom Slayer” being about a man who moves into his dead uncle’s apartment. His uncle, a retired policeman was following a certain murder case before he died, a case the protagonist becomes intimately familiar with. “The Hill and the Hole” is very “Weird Tales,” a story of a cartographic anomaly in the midwest, a hill that isn’t really a hill which hides something nasty.

Connie Willis’ Hugo-winning novella, “The Winds of Marble Arch” is about the London subway/underground, which brings back a lot of childhood memories from when I used to visit London when I lived over there. An American tourist starts running into strange winds and sensations travelling all over the London underground and becomes sucked in by the mystery of what is happening. There’s a rather unusual idea at work here, but for the most part this is pretty typical Willis, where characters run around at 100 miles a second. Quite nice though, some great character and relationship thoughts at work.

Shepard’s short work continues to kick ass. “A Spanish Lesson” blurs the lines between reality and magic as it seems Shepard himself is the narrator from a time when he was an expatriate living on the Mediterranean. A strange couple moves to the beach who Shepard and some of the other inhabitants clash with, only to find out a mystery is behind their appearance. The story revisits similar themes to that of “Mengele,” and the story becomes quite science fictional by the end, more so than much of his work.

“Fire Zone Emerald” and “R&R” are stories from the future Salvadorian milieu that would end up in his second novel Life During Wartime. Or to be more specific, “Fire Zone Emerald” is something of a preliminary story for the “universe” where “R&R” is actually the novella that is the first quarter of the book (there’s a section of the book also called “Fire Zone Emerald” but it’s not the story). There’s a war going on in the future with the requisite increase in technology (particularly in relationship to ESP), but the stories all focus on the characters caught up in the war and how they deal with the trauma. All of this takes place in the mystical central America I’m familiar with from many of Shepard’s stories and his skill of blurring the line between the real and occult is at its most impressive here. And as usual, he tackles huge themes, particularly those of responsibility and fate. I’ll be looking forward to reading the rest of Life During Wartime.

In comparison, the Niven book is barely worth mentioning. I wanted to get some background on his “Known Space” universe for some of the early stories, but this book about a powerful, inimical alien coming to earth brings in too many characters and confusing narratives to work too well, at times it was difficult to keep straight what was going on, particularly in that the alien’s strong mental powers turns one human being into something of a copy of the alien, making it difficult to keep things straight at times. But hey, it’s an early Niven book and certainly a dated one with the dominant male characters and military mindset. Thankfully it was short.


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