Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: Medicine Road by Charles de Lint

On a recent morning I found myself in the desert outside of Phoenix, Arizona – a place where development meets the desert with a view most would consider desolate. I enjoyed the temporary solitude, the cactus wren, scurrying lizards, and the covey of Gambel’s Quail with the adorable babies in tow before I turned back to the construction site I was inspecting. Over the weekend my son and I enjoyed a quite hike into a canyon outside of Flagstaff that defies the stereotype of an arid Arizona where I respectfully patted the biggest of the ancient trees I passed (so did my 2-year old son). The outdoors has always called to me, and the desert-mountain lands of Arizona could rightly be described as my church.

As someone who has always found magic in wilderness, particularly places that haven’t experienced such a heavy hand from modern man, I find that remarkably few books I read capture this feeling. Not only does Medicine Road by
Charles de Lint capture this magic (US, UK, Canada, Indiebound), but its Arizona setting includes places I’m familiar with, bringing it even closer to heart.

The faeries of the world all seem to live in English moors, Scottish highlands, or Irish bogs – at least they do if you read a lot of ‘traditional’ fantasy. In Medicine Road de Lint reveals a distinctly American faerie land, a spirit world just beyond reach, and shape shifters living among us. This feels both fresh and genuine while broadening the often limited scope of fantastic literature, and intimately connecting with me.

At its heart, Medicine Road is a love story – a mythic love story featuring a shape shifter with a deadline seeking love to avoid the fate of returning permanently to his animal form. Along for the ride are is a long-time friend who will share his fate, even more ancient shape shifters with their own agendas and a pair of twin sisters, traveling folk musicians, with their own past experiences with the spirit world.

de Lint executes the story with his trademark mystical feel of a world where the magical lies around every corner, just out of reach of the majority of people, but easily sensed by those who take the time. In this Medicine Road feels like a modern telling of ancient folk tale – a folk tale that is largely unknown due to its origins in Native American lore. At this level it connects deeply – who hasn’t struggled with love? Who hasn’t seen vindictive and pointless feuding affect that love? Who hasn’t struggled with accepting the person they love as the person that they are (though admittedly, most guys aren’t literally dogs which shows just how sly de Lint’s humor can be).

This new edition of Medicine Road gives fans and readers alike a chance at reading a great novel that was previously only available as a pricey limited edition. Included are some wonderful illustrations by Charles Vess. At 186 pages, it’s also a wonderfully short novel – quick, enjoyable, and touching in a way that few books attain. Not all good novels need to be downers, and I don’t feel I’m revealing too much to say that the warm and fuzzy ending of Medicine Road just feels right.

In short, I cannot recommend Medicine Road highly enough – though please take note that due to the place I am in the world, it reached me at an exceptionally personal level. I’ve been awed by the writing of de Lint in the past and haven’t read him in some time, and now I feel that it would be a terrible shame to go as long before I read him again. 9.5/10

Monday, July 20, 2009

More of the Same

It’s well known that authors really shouldn’t respond to reviews (or at least do so carefully), Joe Abercrombie has become the exception to this with his often snarky, narcissistic responses. He of course took the bait I hung out there with my review of Best Served Cold and showed me that I should be careful what I wish for.

Otherwise, I’m still slammed – last week was work-related travel, this week I’ve got both work-related and personal travel. I did get a bit of reading time in there, so whenever I can find the time to get my thought together and write, I’ll get up reviews of The Affinity Bridge by George Mann (liked it), Medicine Road by Charles de Lint (really liked it), and The Sheriff of Yrnameer by Michael Rubens (didn’t like it).

So, it’ll continue to be rather quite around here for at least another week and maybe until August.

Edit: Since I'm on the topic (somewhat) of Joe Abercrombie - this review of The First Law Trilogy is probably the strangest review I've ever read - the dude has some serious issues.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Links Before the Break

As with quite a few people out there, work has been a bit slow (which explains the number of posts in June being much higher than typical). I’m still gainfully employed and I’m not worried for my job, but it also means I can’t be choosy about the work I accept. So, after all this rambling, I’ll be largely out-of-pocket next week working in the field in the high plains of north-eastern Arizona. Days will be long and internet access is an unknown quantity (though I should have it in the evenings). Combined with my typical quite over the weekends (family time and generally far too hectic for much time on-line), Don’t expect to see much activity around here for a while (the following week I have a family reunion on the back end, so it could be a long while). The good news is that I expect that the field world will allow me a fair bit of reading time as I watch other people do actual work.

Anyway, here are a few links that I’ve found interesting.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Review: Tides from the New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell

Short fiction is something I am woefully under-read in. I don’t read or subscribe to short fiction magazines (or e-zines) and I only rarely read collections and anthologies. The reason why is really quite simple – I don’t have the time. My reading time is very limited these days, so I set boundaries – no comics, no graphic novels, little to no non-fiction, etc. However, in reading Tides from the New Worlds by Tobias S. Buckell (Amazon, Wyrm), I am once again reminded (as I periodically am) of what I’ve been missing.

Since the vast majority of my reading is novels, I generally only get to see one facet of an author’s writing, often one that does not express the breadth and variety that any given author truly possesses. Tides from the New Worlds introduces people like me who are familiar with Buckell’s novels to another side of Buckell – actually several other sides – and a greater vision of the writer as a person. Since this collection literally starts at the beginning of his career, we also get to see Buckell evolve and improve through time.

Many readers are well aware of Buckell’s Caribbean origins and mixed-race, and these influences certainly show up in his novels. However, in reading Buckell’s short fiction, just how strongly these origins influence his writing becomes clear. Two themes at work throughout much of Tides from the New Worlds are the infusion of science fiction and fantasy with a distinctive Caribbean, multi-racial feel (including varied, typically non-Western settings) and the clash of the Western world other parts of the world, particularly the Caribbean. To these aims, Buckell utilizes many standard SFF tropes, adding his distinctive twists, with stories revolving around such varied ideas as first contact, slavery, zombies, ghosts, religion, sailing and the sea, ancient gods, dryads, dwarves, mythology, folklore, etc.

As I’ve become familiar with in his novels, Buckell uses characters to drive his fiction. While he can be (too) light on the description, the setting often comes alive through the characters themselves. In combination with this, I felt Buckell’s strongest stories come with a Caribbean-like setting – whether that setting is the actual Caribbean, Africa, or an imagined world sharing much in common with the Caribbean. “Four Eyes” may have been my favorite of the collection for capturing the side of the Caribbean that tourists don’t see. “Toy Planes”, “Spurn Babylon”, “Trinkets”, “The Duel”, “Necahual” and the dark, allegorical tale of “Death’s Dreadlocks” all capture another side of the Caribbean and its people.

Buckell also reveals a fascination with history that caught me off-guard. I suppose it makes sense to explore the past to understand the present, but it serves a reminder to me that the history of the USA is thoroughly entwined with that of the Caribbean, no matter how hard we try to forget that up here. “In Orbite Medievali”, “Trinkets”, and “The Duel” all explore this relationship in one way or another.

Attempting to comment on each of the 21 stories would be madness and not all can be easily lumped with other stories. But, I simply cannot pass by without mentioning “The Shackles of Freedom” (written with Mike Resnick). In this story, Amish colonists on an alien (and deadly world) struggle to survive and a doctor seeking freedom from the greater society agrees to minister to the colony – only the Amish generally choose not to accept his healing technology. The resulting exploration of freedom, technology, and love left me wanting to chuck the computer and cell phone out the window (though to be honest, this isn’t exactly an isolated feeling).

The best anthologies and collections introduce each story and in Tides from the New Worlds, Buckell does just that. We get a brief view into his mind as he explains things from intent and motivations to it being fun to write. It also allows us to see the mentoring and guidance that Buckell has seen from such writers as Mike Resnick and Nalo Hopkinson. And the introduction by Mike Resnick can only be described as fatherly.

All of this is presented in a beautiful, high-quality package by Wyrm publishing in a signed limited-edition. With the limited print, this book is aimed at Buckell’s existing fanbase, but people looking for a bit Caribbean spice injected into their SFF should not allow this one to pass by. If you’re on the fence, check out some of the free stories available on
Buckell’s website – as expected there are strong and weak stories and just which one is which will depend on your own perspective, but I enjoyed the look into the whole of Buckell’s writing. 7.5/10

Related Posts:
Review of Crystal Rain, Review of Ragamuffin, Interview with Tobias Buckell

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Links Seeking Independence

A 3-day weekend approaches for the US and I’m sure I’ll be off-line for most of that time. So, I figure I’ll share some links that have found my eye over the past few days.

  • It shouldn’t be a surprise that some SFF authors are suffering the same sort of troubles as many around the world. Two of them have reached a point of desperation to keep food on the table that leads to inspiration – they are publishing stories on-line and asking for donations to support their efforts. If you can, do them a favor, read the stories and donate. Catherynne Valente – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland and Tim Pratt – Bone Shop.

  • Libraries often sell books for the benefit of charity, but have problems getting the word out to people who happily give those books a home. BookSaleManager aims to make this easier.

  • Most people never realize that around the world at any given time there are some spectacular volcanic eruptions occurring. Saraychev in the Kuril Islands (part of Russia, and north of Japan) has been blowing its top off lately – messing up air travel in that part of the world and emitting enough sulfur dioxide to make sunsets look nice world-wide. Anyway, NASA caught some incredible images of the eruption a few weeks ago. Enjoy!


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