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July 2000
 
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Charles de Lint
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F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
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Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

LEGENDS WALKING - Jane Lindskold
Avon, 1999; 404pp; $6.99
Mass Market; ISBN 0-380-78850-0

Regular readers of this column already know my feeling about most sequels, trilogies, and series books. The goods ones invariably start out fascinating--fresh characters, fresh settings, creative plots, or at least new takes on old themes--but by the second book, everything that seemed so original the first time out already begins to feel tired, and boredom soon sets in. The enormous sales figures for all those successful multi-book series notwithstanding, I know I'm not alone in my reaction, as it's a complaint that I hear over and over again from other readers.

But there's something seductive for both author and reader about returning to the world and characters and ideas of a particularly successful novel--and I mean successful here in terms of its entertainment values, not its sales. And it can be done well. Everyone will have their own favorites, but it strikes me that there are two ways to go, if you're going to do it right.

The first is what the late Marion Zimmer Bradley did so successfully in her early Darkover books, and that is to make the setting the continuing factor of the series, rather than the characters. Familiar faces might make cameo appearances, but mostly we meet a new cast each time out. It combines the familiar with the new in one package.

The other is to follow a continuing cast, but to have actual character growth from book to book. This breaks the first rule of franchises, of course (which is: no matter what happens in the book, the character must be the same at the end as he or she was when the story began). Too many series ignore the idea of character growth, but even those that do with the first few books, often fall into the trap sooner or later. The trouble is, without character growth, the stories are meaningless.

Which leads us into Legends Walking, Jane Lindskold's sequel to her wonderful novel Changer.

**Spoiler alert. If you haven't read Changer and think you'd like to, you'd better skip to the next review as some of the things I'm going to discuss here will spoil elements in that earlier book.

Lindskold has hedged her bets with Legends Walking. She keeps the delightful premise of Changer for the new book (living among us are athanor, immortal beings that we only know through myths and folktales), but uses much of the cast from the earlier novel. However, while she follows up on plotlines from Changer (we get to watch Shahrazad, Changer's daughter, growing up; we see how the two humans that now work for King Arthur are fitting in; there's more on the theriomorphs--fauns, sasquatchs, etc.--and their attempts to walk among human society), Lindskold does make the wise choice of focusing mostly on secondary characters from the earlier volume.

So while Arthur, Merlin, and Changer do come on stage, they have much smaller roles. Ditto for Lil, Tommy Thunderburst, and a few of the other principal characters. Taking their place is Shahrazad, who was just a coyote pup through the first book. One of the main plotlines centers on her time spent on the ranch of Frank MacDonald (St. Francis), learning how to integrate with the other athanor. Another deals with Anson (the spider-god Anansi) and Arthur's former right-hand man Eddie Zagano in Nigeria, confronting a fanatical would-be ruler who might or might not be one of the athanor, but styles himself as Shopona, the God of Smallpox. The last deals with a new tour by Tommy Thunderburst that plans to include a number of satyrs and fauns in the stage show.

The last one seems like a throwaway to me--present only for some comic relief, I suppose--and never really caught my interest. But happily it appears only briefly and I loved what Lindskold did with the rest of the book. The sections set in Africa are wonderfully evocative, full of fascinating historical, social, and mythological elements, while Shahrazad's adventures on St. Frank's ranch offered never a dull moment. And much as I'm leery of sequels, I'm looking forward to her coming-of-age story, if and when Lindskold decides to write it.

Unlike James Stoddard's recent sequel to The High House (which was only The High House, part two; nothing much new), Lindskold manages to give us all the delightful elements that made Changer the treat it was, while still covering new ground. And in the world of series books, that's having the best of both worlds.

*     *     *
ANGRY YOUNG SPACEMAN - Jim Munroe
No Media Kings, 2000; 256pp; $20.00
Trade paperback; ISBN 0-9686363-0-6

I have a bone to pick with the literary community--actually, I have more than one, but I'm trying to stay focused here--and that's how self-published fiction gets so little respect. Self-published fiction should be judged by the same criteria as that published by conglomerates. Why? Because it's the story that counts. And if the story's good, who cares who published it? But tradition in the literary community holds that, if no one paid you to have your book published, well, then it can't really be any good, now can it?

I see it differently, perhaps because I come to writing from an outside community. Most of my friends are musicians, or involved in the visual arts, as well as those who are writers. When someone in our community produces her own CD, or an artist mounts an exhibition in his studio, we applaud the effort and do as I said above: judge the work by its merits, not by who put up the money to get it produced. Doesn't matter if we know them personally or not.

Because the truth is, original and interesting work doesn't always lend itself to the corporate bottom line. I don't have a problem with that--the big publishing concerns are in business to show a profit, not for altruistic reasons. Still, there are any number of fine writers--even excellent writers--who can't get published by the big guns, or more tellingly, choose not to do so.

Jim Munroe, author of -Flyboy Action Figure Comes with Gasmask (reviewed in the October 1999 issue) is a case in point. His new novel Angry Young Spaceman is self-published. I'll talk a little more about that in a moment, but first: what's the book about? What's it like?

Well, it's your classic novel about the angry young man dissatisfied with his own society, who decides, as much to make a point as to simply get away, to hie himself off to some foreign nation. When you have no income, your choices are limited to various charitable foreign services and teaching English.

So that's what our first person protagonist Sam Breen does. Except this is set in the future and Breen is a pug, a fighter who settles differences with his fists rather than hiring a slander-by-the hour firm. Then the Pug Swindle hits the news--the revelation that pug culture wasn't created by the pugs themselves, but by a company looking to make a profit by creating what appeared to be the first spontaneous youth culture on Earth for a thousand years. Disillusioned, Breen leaves to teach English on a distant planet called Octavia. A world where the atmosphere is so thick it's like water, where he doesn't know the language or culture, but he can reinvent himself.

It's a wonderful book, amusing and serious as it explores the classic stranger in a strange land plot. Unquestionably sf, it isn't written in the usual science fiction voice, and that's part of its charm. Munroe doesn't bother to give us long explanations as to how things work, he just carries on with his story. His prose is conversational, his characters and settings of the future earth and Octavia are fascinating, and the story remains engaging from start to finish.

I'm glad he published it himself, though it turns out it wasn't because he had to do so. Readers can order a hardcopy (US$20.00 postpaid from No Media Kings, 10 Trellanock Ave., Toronto, ON M1C 5B5, Canada), but more intriguingly, the complete text of the book is available for free on the Internet at . This puzzled me enough that I got in touch with the author to ask him why. How did he expect to make any money when he was basically giving the book away?

"In terms of the text version of the book cutting into sales," he wrote back, "so do library copies, and I don't resent that. I've put a lot of effort into making Angry Young Spaceman a beautiful consumer object. I'm betting that people will read the first couple of chapters and then buy the book."

And it turns out he went the self-publishing route because of his convictions, believing that he could do as good a job at producing a book in Canada as could a major company (I guess the name of his imprint makes that plain, right off the bat). The difference is, he has more invested in the product. For him it's not simply one of ten or fifteen other releases this month.

"Ten years ago," he went on in his email response to my questions, "people saw an indie CD and thought, 'Oh, I guess they couldn't get a major label deal.' Now public perception has changed so much that a person who sees an indie CD says, 'Oh, I guess they've got ethical problems with major labels.'

"Indie rock in the '90's, indie press in the '00's. An individual can produce a book as slick and inexpensive as the corporations, plus there's a community of driven, media-savvy zinesters who are hooked on self-publishing. Media consolidation in the print market and the quality of self-published stuff are the mirror versions of what made indie rock a viable alternative to corporate music."

We keep seeing articles on the future of publishing. With books becoming readily available to be read on Palm Pilots, electronic readers and home computers, with print-on-demand and self-publishing exercises such as Munroe has so ably put into practice, it looks as though the future's already here. The question now is, how viable will these alternative publishing methods prove to be in the long-run?

I don't have the answer. All I know is that, in the long run, the good books will stand out the way they always do. Perhaps not immediately, but given time and word-of-mouth, it will happen. And the real difference with all these new methods of bringing a story from writer to readers, is that whenever you hear about a great book available through one of these new media, chances are it'll still be available for purchase, rather than having been remaindered a few months after publication.

*     *     *
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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