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June 2000
 
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Charles de Lint
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F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

SHELTER - Chaz Brenchley
Hodder & Stoughton, 1999; 295pp; L16.99
Hardcover; ISBN 0-340-70809-3

From the moment you open this book, you are steeped in a mood of darkness and danger, of November frost and cold rain, of high lonely moorlands and dark wet English woods, of deep still waters and gray skies. The landscape and settings are the first real characters, from a smoky pub to the craggy hills. The human characters, when they saunter on stage, are born of that landscape and reflect it. They seem dangerous only when sharing a few drinks, casting shadows of trouble and bravado and fear. Outside of the pubs and their homes, they are diminished, small cogs in an enormous machine.

Rowan Coffey has come home from studying at Cambridge on a scholarship, fleeing the death of a socially-inept acquaintance who drowned in a river. A suspect at first, Coffey is freed from suspicion and immediately retreats to the world he knows, the rural valley of his childhood haunts. It's territory he knows well, but also made strange by his mother's stories of the Greenfolk--wild woodland spirits not always amenable to mankind. She's a professional storyteller. Coffey knows they're only stories. And yet . . . and yet.

But woodland spirits don't change Coffey's familiar world and take away its ability to shelter him from the outside. That begins with the arrival of the Ride, a caravan of nomads that set up a camp of cars and trucks near his mother's cottage. In short order: the caravan is violently broken up by the police and some of its more militant members go hiding in the woods; an amoral child molester known as Root connects with them; and the guiser, a mysterious and deadly trickster who could have stepped out of one of the tales Coffey's mother tells, arrives in the woods. Every time somebody else dies, the finger of guilt always seems to point at Coffey.

Shelter is a dark and impassioned book. You won't necessarily like Coffey--the novel's somewhat self-absorbed first person narrator--but he tells the story so well, in language earthy and evocative, that it seems impossible to turn away. And it's such a fascinating story, growing out of--when it isn't playing against--that resonant landscape and leaving us to shiver with ever-deepening chills.

*     *     *

FALSE MEMORY - Dean Koontz
Bantam, 1999;627pp;
Hardcover; ISBN

According to a poll I read a few years ago that I like to quote, the number one fear in North Americans is public speaking, followed by death. (Which begs the immediate joke that we'd rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.)

I can empathize with both, but would hazard that right up there would be the fear of losing control of one's self. It's why some people won't do drugs or overindulge with alcohol; doing so is giving over control of yourself to the drugs or the drink. And it's why phobias are so frightening.

A phobia is an unreasonable fear. Those afflicted know it's unreasonable, yet their reaction will still range from general uneasiness to outright, debilitating terror. Many of us have a vague phobia about heights. But what if you're too afraid to venture out of your own home? (Agoraphobia.) Or of insects? (Entomophobia)

False Memory opens with Martie Rhodes discovering she has developed autophobia--a fear of herself. The sight of her own shadow makes her uneasy. Her reflection in a mirror makes her more so. Viewing a sharp implement (a fork, a pair of scissors) sends her into an outright panic attack when she considers what she might do with the object, who she could hurt and how she would do it.

That's a crushing enough discovery. But then she and her husband Dusty realize that the phobia has been planted in her. That the same people who did it have also killed her best friend, have tried to kill Dusty's brother, and have something terrible in mind for all of them.

The only real disappointment with False Memory is that it appears when readers were expecting the third and final installment of Koontz's first trilogy. The first two books, Fear Nothing and Seize the Night, were his last two published novels and one might forgive a reader for thinking the third book would immediately follow.

Regular readers of this column might remember that I wasn't overly enthusiastic with Seize the Night, but that's often the case with the middle offering of a trilogy. I'm still dying to find out how it all works out.

What happened to the third book? Who knows? But I highly doubt that Koontz simply gave up on the trilogy. I think he did what any good writer will do and that is write the book he had to write now, never mind what the publisher's contract says. This can be a risky business, but a good writer works on what excites him now and damn the consequences. Makes sense, too, since if it excites him, then it has that much better a chance of exciting the reader.

And False Memory pays off big time. It's Koontz's longest book in a while, with one of his best casts of engaging (not to mention despicable) characters and an intriguing premise. Or perhaps I should say, it's how that premise impacts upon the characters that's so intriguing. There isn't a dull minute here, from when Rhodes first falls victim to her phobia, though the slow unraveling of the conspiracy behind it, and how she and her small group of friends struggle against it. And if it starts well (it does), by half way through, the book is next to impossible to put it down.

Given that, I can certainly forgive Koontz making us wait another year before he completes the Fear Nothing trilogy.

*     *     *

IN THE BEGINNING . . . WAS THE COMMAND LINE - Neal Stephenson
Avon, 1999; 151pp; $10.00
Trade paperback; ISBN 0-380-81593-1

We get so used to technological advances nowadays that it's sometimes hard to remember how, only a little more than twenty years ago, computers were huge mainframes, usually found in government offices or at universities. Connecting with them was a laborious process and it certainly wasn't something just anybody could do. (Though at the time, without email and the Internet, the regular joes and jills outside of academia weren't all that interested anyway.)

What Stephenson (the author of such wonderful novels as Snow Crash and Cryptonomicon) does in this longish essay is talk a bit about the history of the personal computer, how it grew out of those unwieldy mainframes to become the omnipresent fixture it is today. I mean, I'm writing this on an HP palmtop while sitting on my couch. Later, I'll sync the palmtop to my principle computer, clean the file up, and email it to my editor who will in turn email suggested changes back to me. It probably won't get to paper until it's actually published and even then portions are available on-line at the F&SF site .

We live in an electronic world, an sf world in many ways, and it's fascinating to see how it all came about in such a short time. Stephenson delineates much of that history for us here, compares the various operating systems, and basically sets the record straight as to why the big two (Macintosh and Microsoft) have come to be what they are today.

Does the book sound dry, or only for computer geeks? Hardly. While it's certainly informative, and even eye-opening in places, In the Beginning . . . also had me laughing out loud with some of his analogies. And since I don't doubt that many of the readers of this column use a computer, either at home or the office, or both, I'm sure you'll be able to relate to a great deal of what you'll find here.

And you know, the more I read about Linux, that outlaw maverick of operating systems, the sweeter it sounds . . .

*     *     *
Material to be considered for review in this column should be sent to Charles de Lint, P.O. Box 9480, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1G 3V2.

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