Buy F&SF • Read F&SF • Contact F&SF • Advertise In F&SF • Blog • Forum

April 2004
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
 
Columns
Curiosities
Plumage from Pegasus
Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
 
Film
Kathi Maio
Lucius Shepard
 
Science
Gregory Benford
Pat Murphy & Paul Doherty
 
Coming Attractions
F&SF Bibliography: 1949-1999
Index of Title, Month and Page sorted by Author

Current Issue • Departments • Bibliography

Books To Look For
by Charles de Lint

lost boy lost girl, by Peter Straub,
Random House, 2003, $24.95.

MAYBE I'M just an old fogey, but I sort of miss the days where it was possible to keep up with pretty much everything that was published in the field. As it stands, with the flood of new releases that fill the shelves of our bookstores, not only do I know that I'm missing out on great new writers, but I find it hard to keep up with the output of old favorites as well.

That said, I also know that I don't want to return to those days because there are far more wonderful books being published these days and just because I can't get to them all doesn't mean the publishing industry should streamline itself to my particular needs. I'll just have to find more reading time.

In the stacks of books that arrived in the past few weeks, I found a copy of this new novel by Peter Straub. Since I knew it would be good, I almost did what I always do with his books: stick it on a shelf and get to it when I was in the mood for something classy and engrossing. The trouble is, I almost never get to those books—or when I do, it's far too late to consider reviewing them.

But this time I opened it up before I shelved it and started to read the first few pages. A half hour later I looked up, blinking, to realize that the story didn't want to let me go.

Now this is the odd sort of occurrence that happens with Straub's books. They're literate and often move at a slower pace than a traditional thriller, but they're no less engrossing for that, and in fact, are often real page-turners in their own right.

lost boy lost girl opens with the aftermath of the death of Tim Underhill's sister-in-law. It goes on to explore ghosts, serial killers, obsessions with deserted houses that have an aura of evil, missing adolescents, and the nature of the soul. I'd like to give you more detail, but part of the joy of the book is uncovering the mysteries and strange occurrences along with the characters.

It's not a particularly graphic book, for all its subject matter, but it certainly deals with disturbing issues that are no less unsettling for taking place off stage. And the characters are beautifully brought to life, be it the teenagers or the adults. But what I liked best about it wasn't so much the language (which is eloquent), the story (which is gripping), or even those characters (so true to and full of life), so much as the questions Straub raises about relationships and place, how their histories connect in sometimes inexplicable but nevertheless influential ways. That, and his explorations into what it means to be human, whether we wear a cage of flesh or not.

*     *     *

Lyra's Oxford, by Philip Pullman,
Knopf, 2003, $10.95.

Lyra's Oxford, by Philip Pullman,
Knopf, 2003, $14.95 (CD.)

Here's an entertaining coda of sorts to Pullman's well-received trilogy His Dark Materials (reviewed in previous installments of this column). It focuses on the plucky Lyra and her demon companion Pantalaimon (who takes the shape of a pine martin), both of whom played important roles in the trilogy.

The story Pullman tells now is a smaller one, though no less engaging. Lyra and Pan come to the aid of a witch's demon searching for an alchemist living in Oxford, and as one might expect, end up in all sorts of trouble.

The small hardcover book is quite delightful, though the map of Oxford glued to one of the pages inside seems awkward and would have been better placed on one of the inside covers—or better yet, in a flap of the cover as it is in the CD package, where one can remove it and easily spread it out.

The CD features the same story as the book, read by Pullman (who has a wonderfully resonant voice), with actors delivering the dialogue of the characters. I read the book first, and certainly enjoyed it, but was utterly charmed by the CD production.

Pick this up for a young friend, but make sure you get a copy for yourself as well.

And if you just can't get enough of this series, Continuum recently published His Dark Materials Trilogy by Claire Squires as part of their reader's guide series. It's a slim volume but does a fine job of providing an author's biography, an exploration of the trilogy, and then has a look at how both fit into literature as a whole. And happily, for a scholarly work, it's all very readable.

*     *     *

Mr. Golightly's Holiday, by Salley Vickers,
Fourth Estate, 2003, £16.99.

A word of warning: I'm going to spoil a hidden premise of this book, right from the start, so if you're already thinking of reading it and don't want to hear anything about it beforehand, please skip on to another review.

Vickers has made what some might consider a bold move by having the Christian God be her principal character. Portrayed by Vickers, Mr. Golightly is a somewhat befuddled older gentleman, on holiday from the big business he runs to rewrite his one big book, hoping to make it more relevant for a contemporary audience. And so he comes to rent Spring Cottage, in the small Devon village of Great Calne on the edge of Dartmoor.

Reading the book without the foreknowledge that Mr. Golightly is, in fact, the Almighty, will in no way spoil what is a charming and discerning character study of the inhabitants of this village. Vickers spends as much time with the entwined lives of its inhabitants as she does with Golightly as he finds himself getting caught up in the nets of their gossip and complications.

And I suppose once you've figured it out you could go back and reread it. But I preferred knowing before I started (the premise was why I picked the book up in the store in the first place) and thoroughly enjoyed knowing "the secret." It was much like a second viewing of The Sixth Sense, filled with so many delicious ah-ha moments, from humorous to heartbreaking to just eerie.

Vickers stays true to the Biblical interpretations of Golightly (Old and New Testaments), but also does a tremendous job of humanizing the character. I've heard that there has been some protest over the book in her native England, but those protesters are making a mistake if they want to broaden their influence. For this reader, Vickers's Golightly is a much more attractive being than the one depicted in the Big Book.

*     *     *

The Life Eaters, by David Brin & Scott Hampton,
Wildstorm/DC Comics, 2003, $29.95.

Building on "Thor Meets Captain America" which originally appeared in the July 1986 issue of this magazine, David Brin expands on that novella of his to present a world where…well, let me quote the dust jacket, since it does such a succinct job of summing it up:

"Roused by sorcery and a stench of holocaust, Norse gods have returned to the mortal plane, tilting the scales of World War II and cheating the Allies of victory.

"Nearly a generation later the war still rages, this time in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The tide has been set for a final battle as a few heroes gather their courage—and their most advanced technology—for a final stand against the Nazis and their Aesir partners."

The Life Eaters has all the drama, scope, and power of one of the old Norse sagas, for Brin is working on a grand scale here, juggling many balls, and not dropping any. There is thoughtful—and dark—speculation on how things might have turned out if the story's premise had actually played out, how technology we take for granted now was developed in different circumstances, how world politics would have adjusted. There's a gripping storyline, and dialogue that suits all the different voices, from the Aesir through to the nationalities of the various humans.

But most importantly, there are real characters, who develop and change, who attempt and fail and sometimes succeed in their struggles, all the while trying to understand this strange and dangerous world into which they've been thrust.

Scott Hampton displays some expected comic book art (regular panel breakdowns, outlined figures), but most of the book is painted, magnificently bringing Brin's dark visions to life.

Highly recommended for the strong of heart.

*     *     *

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.

To contact us, send an email to Fantasy & Science Fiction.
If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to sitemaster@fandsf.com.

Copyright © 1998–2014 Fantasy & Science Fiction All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Hosted by:
SF Site spot art