Brian Ruckley's News & Views

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Odds and Ends in the Twilight of the Year

A few quick notes as 2008 heads towards its end and 2009 looms on the horizon.

I am one of a great many guest posters on the Fantasy Book Critic blog, offering some brief comments on stuff I read this year and stuff I might read next year.

New for 2009! The latest addition to the universe of prizes for genre books is the David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy. The inaugural winner will be announced in 2009, once it has been chosen by ... you, the public! You can check out the long list of nominated books here (and yes, Bloodheir's one of them), and vote for your favourite here.

For any early-adopting, US-based, ebook geeks out there, Winterbirth has made it onto the Kindle.

Most Shocking Realisation of 2008: I have reached a point - I don't know whether it's age-related, or career-related or just a transitory state of mind - where the single most exciting shopping experience I can have is apparently delivered by ... stationery superstores. The long lines of endlessly but subtly different office chairs (ever single one of them just crying out to be sat upon, and every one of them seeming more welcoming than my current model), the packages of photocopy paper stacked in bricky towers, the notebooks - the notebooks! - of every hue and size and binding. Pens. Even better: pencils! Folders. I have no need of folders - I already have more of the things than I have stuff to put in them - but I can't help but embark on a critical examination of their robustness, their rigidity. It's possible I may need to get some professional help in 2009, to cure me of this strange affliction. I mean, I realise these places are sort of consumerist temples to the business of writing, and therefore bound to be of some interest to the likes of me, but I can't help but feel there's something vaguely unseemly and deeply uncool about finding them so ... exciting.

For those who are Facebookers: you can now follow this blog, or be a part of its network, or something, over there. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what the deal is, but it's available. Whatever it is. And you've already joined the gang on the Winterbirth page, right?

Novels that have come into my possession, in one way or the other, over the course of the festive period so far: Vinland by George Mackay Brown, Tree of Smoke by Denis Johnson, The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers, The Steep Approach to Garbadale by Iain Banks, Black Man by Richard Morgan, Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory. Such bounty! Is any of it going to be any good? Oh, I should think so ...

Etymology! I like a good word, and 'swashbuckling' is a good word. But where, I wondered, did it come from? Thus I discovered the very handy Online Etymology Dictionary. And the quite interesting origins of 'swashbuckling'.

Finally, and most importantly, to all readers and visitors to these parts, all best wishes for the year about to be new. Here's hoping 2009 is good to us all. See you next year.

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Friday, December 19, 2008

Pre-Web Books: The Christmas Edition

The festive season is almost upon us. Ho Ho Ho. The world will soon be awash with book tokens, accumulating in great drifts like so much cardboardy snow. Maybe there are even one or two poor souls still scrabbling about for a gift for some bookish relative. So, I thought, why not pay a brief return visit to the land of Books that Preceded the Web (previously sampled here and here). Think of it as a vain (in both senses of the word) attempt to divert a minuscule fraction of the seasonal bounty towards books I like, and which happened to come out before the internet and its multiplicity of best-of-the-year lists had become ubiquitous.

This edition has an all-star cast: nothing obscure here, just good stuff that has long been recognised as such but which inexplicably still hasn't been read by 100% of the human race. If you've heard of it, but not yet tried it, can I push you over the edge?

Hyperion by Dan Simmons. Depending on my mood, sometimes this is my favourite sf book of all. So widely lauded that I can't really add much to the chorus of praise. But I re-read it this year - not for the first time - and, also not for the first time, thought 'Wow. I really like that book.' So here it is. Mind-stretching sf with a structure based on Canterbury Tales. Far too much going on in it for me to try and summarise what it's about. Clever - it's got far more good ideas in it than seems fair for any one book - and very well-written. Plus, it's got the Shrike, and the Shrike is just ... cool.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller. A classic that fully deserves its status IMHO. Thoughtful post-apocalyptic sf that covers the entire, slow recovery of civilization. It's about religion, but also about science and humanity as a whole. It was first published in the 1950s, but personally I think it still reads as a remarkably fresh and imaginative take on the whole end-of-the-world thing. Which suggests either that it's a very fine book, or that I'm hopelessly out of touch.

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay. That rarest of beasts when it was written (and still not exactly common nowadays): a stand-alone fantasy novel. Not just that, but a very good stand-alone fantasy novel. I've always thought that its publication was one of the key moments in the development of the secondary world fantasy genre; by which I probably just mean that me reading it was a key moment in the shaping of my attitudes towards the genre ... The magic is relatively subtle, the violence is - by today's standards - moderately restrained, but the whole package is just beautifully put together: well-written, evocative, deceptively simple in some ways.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Murders in a medieval monastery. No, it's not speculative fiction. But I've always thought (and I realise I'm probably in a minority of one here) that it's got a distinctly spec fic vibe to it. It's a novel of ideas (and indeed a celebration of ideas and reason and learning) cast as a murder mystery, with sinister (albeit human) forces and conspiracies in the shadows, set in a historical and cultural context that's alien enough to most of us (and vividly enough realised in the book) to be as engaging and immersive as any imagined fantasy world. Reminds me of Neal Stephenson's work - indeed I sort of think of it as literary historical cyberpunk, with books and ideas instead of computers and virtual realities, monks instead of hackers. Top quality stuff.


Friday, December 12, 2008

Proclaimers Day

I went to a musical this week. This is, to say the least, not something that happens very often. You could count the number of musicals I've seen in a theatre on the fingers of one hand; a hand that's suffered some unfortunate partial de-fingering accident, come to that. So what came over me?

Short answer is that this isn't just any musical, it's a particularly Scottish one - an Edinburgh one, in fact. It's called Sunshine on Leith, and is based on the music of Edinburgh's best known pop exports The Proclaimers. (Actually, to be precise they're Leith's best known pop exports: Leith is a formerly separate town that got absorbed into Edinburgh over time and became the city's docks area, but has always had its own distinctive character.)

Now the musical was quite good fun - especially for a Christmas crowd many of whom had stopped off for a wee drink or several on their way to the theatre. More specifically, though, it reminded me how much I like some of The Proclaimers' songs. So I decided to declare (or should that be proclaim?) today to be Proclaimers Day on the blog. Look away now if you dislike simple but catchy Scottish pop tunes.

First off, anyone who knows anything about The Proclaimers will know exactly which song inevitably forms the climax to the musical. And unsurprisingly, as show-ending songs go, this one gets quite a response from a thousand or more mildly intoxicated Edinburgh folk who've been waiting for it to turn up for a couple of hours:

I don't know what proportion of the audience had actually come up from Leith to see the show, but some sure had. So the song that gave the show its name also went down quite well:

And what I think is probably the song with the best (if not always the easiest to actually hear) lyrics - at least if you're Scottish or descended from those who were part of the great Scottish diaspora:

And thus ends Proclaimers Day.

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Monday, December 01, 2008

Interview with the Wolf

I've been doing that interview thing again, this time over at Dark Wolf's Fantasy Reviews.