Friday, May 30, 2008

Forgotten Fridays: Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock

Brian over at FantasyBookSpot turned me on to this not exactly a meme series going on where every Friday a bunch of different bloggers highlight a book that has been overlooked, forgotten, or otherwise not seen the recent attention that it deserves. I can’t commit to every Friday, but this sounds like my kind of thing, so for my first Forgotten Friday, I bring you Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock.

Mythago Wood won the World Fantasy Award in 1985, so it clearly has garnered some attention in the past. However, as with many award-winning novels, as time has passed, the book has fallen a bit under the radar.

Mythago Wood represents a departure from the traditional epic fantasy of its day with elements of science fiction and historical fiction while imbuing an atmosphere all its own. Defying easy categorization, it explores the mythos of humanity in a setting eerily recognizable and reminiscent of something more primal in origin.

The mystery of Ryhope Wood, Britain's last fragment of primeval forest, consumed George Huxley's entire long life. Now, after his death, his sons have taken up his work. But what they discover is numinous and perilous beyond all expectation.

For the Wood, larger inside than out, is a labyrinth full of myths come to life, "mythagos" that can change you forever. A labyrinth where love and beauty haunt your dreams. . .and may drive you insane.
This book hooked me right from the beginning and kept me mesmerized to the end. It’s a timeless tale and one that I hope you won’t overlook.

Related Post: Review of Mythago Wood

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Tobias Buckell on Early Reviews

Somone asked Tobias Buckell a very interesting question about his take on early reviews and pre-release buzz. His response is even more interesting.

Interesting Survey on Book Buying

This is a very interesting survey on book buying trends and I recommend spending some time looking at the questions and responses (via this discussion at Westeros). The stat below seems to sum up things pretty well, but there is much more interesting stuff at the link.

Inspiration for book purchasing

In store displays - 26%
Newspaper and magazine reviews - 14%
Mentions on television or radio - 13%
Recommended by family/friends - 12%
Internet recommendations - 9%
Advice of shop staff/librarian - 2%
Source: Reading the Future Survey: The Bookseller (May 2008)

My reaction/comments:

  • I wonder what the definition of a friend is. If someone buys a book based on a forum or blog from someone they consider themselves friendly with is it an internet recommendation or a one from a friend. If two friends who live on the other side of the state/country/world and are on Facebook (or any other social network) and one mentions a book, is that an internet or friend recommendation?

  • As the above comment indicates, I'm skeptical about how one separates out the internet in a time when it's increasing a part of more and more aspects of our lives.

  • Survey methodology - how was the survey conducted? Was it given in bookshops, on-line, through mailers? What was the age range of these people? Other demographics? I would love to know what the inherent bias is - I suspect that since it says it's a Bookseller Association survey that it was done mostly in actual bookstores which significantly skews the results toward bookstores.

  • I see no mention of cover art which is often said to have a huge influence on at least initially picking up books. It seems lost in store displays (which also seems to indicate a Bookseller-bias in the survey). What about title - I would love to see a rigorous study on cover art vs. titles, especially considering the internet world where a buyer may not even see the cover art until after purchase - it may just be title and blurb.

Also of note - this article in the Guardian about blurbs, which I found much less interesting.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow (in May?)

So, I’m enjoying the wonderful view from my home office of a rare late-May snowstorm (a snowplow just drove by). A week and a half ago, we had about 4 inches of snow overnight. While any given year I’m told there’s a 40% chance of snow in May, it’s generally light, so 4 inches was a big deal. Now, a second storm that looks to be even bigger in the end of the month is an even bigger surprise. We had about 2 inches overnight that didn’t really stick, but we since I’ve been working this morning, another 2 inches have fallen and it’s stuck a lot more. Snow at my house is still novelty to me since I’ve really never lived in a place where it snows more than once every decade or two. Funny weather - two days earlier this week were record high temps (in the mid-80s, ~24C) and today's high temp will likely be a record low (around 40, ~4C)

Memorial Day weekend is a big camping weekend around here – I wonder how that’ll work out, especially since higher elevations have had up to a foot so far and it’s supposed to keep snowing today and tonight.

/end randomness

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Review: The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

What happens when you mix Victorian England, sentient robot ‘life’, Aztec sacrificial rituals, and a shadow organization in the sky in a pot full of (for lack of a better word) magic? In the case of Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air, the result is an eclectic mix that fails more often than it succeeds.

The plot follows the separate journeys of two adolescent orphans. Oliver is a boy tainted by the mysterious fey mists that infect and change humans in magical and horrendous ways, though his ‘gifts’ have not (yet) manifested themselves. Ostracized by society, he lives with a reclusive uncle. His life is turned upside down when a group of assassins murder his uncle and Oliver finds himself confused and on the run with the disreputable Harry Stave, who knows much more than he lets on.

Molly Templar lives in a poorhouse of a great city reminiscent of Dickens’ London. Not content with her place in life, Molly finds herself in a job that just may hold a future in spite of the wares she is actually selling – things change forever when an assassin shows up and she finds herself on the run through the city’s underbelly.

Both plots follow a rather standard orphaned adolescent quest with a few interesting twists and turns through Hunt’s imaginative world. It seems the world building is where Hunt chose to concentrate – and he throws everything he has into it, for better and worse. The over-bombardment of clever ideas ultimately causes confusion, watering down a world of potential and needlessly increasing the page count. The steampunk setting takes obvious and intentional inspiration from the Victorian British Empire and its surrounding world, while throwing more varied influences from ideas of faerie and Aztec sacrificial rituals. Humans aren’t the only sentient beings, with the most interesting others being the steammen – essentially sentient robots who have gained the equivalent of life. Hunt struggles as he resists explaining his world, instead attempting to show it, while still falling into clumsily integrated information dumps. When mixed with his efforts of characterization, the resulting inconsistent voice annoys as much as it confuses.

Both Oliver and Molly start as interesting characters with potential – though I always found Molly the more interesting of the two. As the book proceeds, the characterization fails to grow with the scope of events around them, resulting in my not caring a whit about them. Hunt attempts to remedy this with both Oliver and Molly unrealistically growing in power, maturity and knowledge while in the end, they both earn the Mary Sue stigma, with Oliver the more egregious of the two. In something of a surprise, the supporting characters are generally presented quite well, and become infinitively more interesting than our two orphans.

Another disappointment is the Court of the Air itself, a seemingly all-powerful, shadow organization pulling the puppet strings from far above that lends its name to the novel itself. Its role is both central to everything and fringe enough that I can’t place it in the end. This bit of ambiguity distracts from the punch that things could have had.

Hunt manages to salvage things a bit by telling what becomes an engaging story that stands well on its own with an ending that satisfies. For all the flaws I mention above, The Court of the Air contains flashes of brilliant writing and by the end of the story I found myself eagerly flipping the pages. It’s this final bit that will encourage me to give Hunt another try in the future – perhaps the sequel, The Kingdom of the Waves. 6/10

Friday, May 09, 2008

Link Soup

It’s been a very busy few weeks with the move and a bit of work travel, but things are seemingly starting to calm down a bit to almost manageable levels. So, here are few things that have caught my eye lately.

  • Cory Doctorow has an interesting article over at Locus – with the main point seemingly being that advance reviews on the internet do little for sales. I’m not sure I entirely agree on the point – for example, I believe that a fair amount of Patrick Rothfuss’ success is due to the effective building of pre-release buzz by Daw’s marketing group. I also get a bit defensive in his bit about blogs, which wasn’t entirely negative, but still felt like a low blow – I know I my technorati ranking is well above 4 (I think its 52 at the moment, though it’s been as high as the mid-90s in the past). Then, I’m not a hug fan of the way technorati does things since it doesn’t account for message boards and other ‘regular’ website links and I’ve found it often doesn’t count international links, but I digress.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Winners of Amber and Blood by Margaret Weis

With the help of, I have the winners of a copy of Amber and Blood by Margaret Weis that I had up for grabs. Congratulations to Gustav from Lund, Sweden, Buddy from Gauteng, South Africa, Zsolt from Gyomro, Hungary and Antoine from Roslindale, Massachusetts USA. Thanks again to the folks over at Wizards of the Coast for making this happen.


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