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February 2009
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
James Sallis
Chris Moriarty
 
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Off On a Tangent: F&SF Style
 
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Coming Attractions
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

Breaking Dawn, by Stephenie Meyer,
Little, Brown, 2008, $22.99.

THIS IS a splendid conclusion to Meyer's ongoing Twilight series and that's all I'm going to say until I've let you know that there are spoilers ahead (it's hard to avoid them when you're talking about the last book in a series). So read on with that in mind.

There, that's done.

If you've been reading the Twilight books you already know that Bella (our heroine) has been pressing Edward Cullen (her romantic interest, a vampire) to turn her into a vampire so that they can be together forever. This infuriates Jacob Black (her best friend, a werewolf) because a) he loves Bella, b) for her to become a vampire she has to die first, and c) vampires and werewolves are mortal enemies, so there goes their friendship and any hopes Jacob has that Edward might conveniently die, or at least disappear, so that he can press his case with Bella again.

At the end of the last book, Edward finally gave in to Bella, but only on his own terms: they had to be married first. So this final book opens with the wedding preparations, the wedding itself, the honeymoon, and then—literally within days, and before Edward can change her—Bella becomes pregnant. The unborn child grows at an alarming rate and within weeks, Bella's already showing.

Now, in Meyer's world, vampire children are anathema. Upon their discovery, they and their creator are both immediately destroyed by the ruling vampires, the Volturi. Bella and Edward's child was conceived, rather than created (by being bitten), but that won't make any difference to the Volturi if they find out, because they've just been looking for an opportunity to take down Edward's family. They'll simply kill first and ask questions later.

Yes, I know. This is all rather complicated, which is why it took Meyer some 2100 pages in the first three books to set everything up, but it's actually not all that hard to follow if you've been reading them.

Anyway, first Bella has to survive the birth of the child, which is now feeding on her and will probably kill her. Then she has to survive being turned into a vampire, which involves a couple of years of raging bloodlust. She won't have time to adjust, however, because Edward's sister Alice (who can see flashes of the future) has a vision that the Volturi are on their way and will arrive at the Cullens' house with the first snowfall—which is expected in a few weeks.

Breaking Dawn has none of the excessive (and some might say endless) pining for one's true love to be found in the first three books, though to be fair, her target audience (teenage girls, or anyone who can access the teenage girl inside them) had no complaints. The reason for the change is simple enough. Meyer hasn't suddenly "grown up" as a writer; rather the story doesn't need it anymore because Bella and Edward are together now. Instead, they have a whole new set of problems.

How it all plays out brings the series to a wonderful and satisfying conclusion, and throughout, Meyer's imagination stays in high gear. From Bella's child, through the gifts that certain vampires have, to the revelation of what the werewolves really are, she springs surprise after surprise upon us, but as we come to each, we see the seeds were laid down long before in the story.

The pacing is brisk (though I could have done with a little less in the honeymoon section) and keeps the reader guessing. For the most part. I mean, sure, we all know Alice would never turn her back on the rest of her family, but maybe she did, and if she didn't, why did she leave them when they needed her most?

As I mentioned in the reviews of the previous installments, the Twilight books aren't for everyone, but I have no trouble understanding why they're as popular as they are. With the different, and adult, novel The Host under her belt now, it's going to be very interesting to see what Meyer does next.

*     *     *

How to Make Friends with Demons, by Graham Joyce,
Night Shade Books, 2008, $24.95.

This new novel from Graham Joyce is pure genius. It's one of those books that can be read as a fascinating character study in which some of the participants have hyperactive imaginations, or as a supernatural novel, but either way, it's a terrific read. That's because Joyce is one of those writers who totally inhabits his characters, which makes us believe in them completely. I can't explain it, exactly. It's not just the details, or even how the story is laid out, so much as the voice itself—especially when it's in first person. The tone is always right.

In How to Make Friends with Demons our narrator (for the most part) is literate and world-weary William Heaney, a man successful in his working life as well as the one he conducts in the shadows (forging rare books, ghost-writing poetry, with all the proceeds going to a homeless shelter), but not so good at maintaining relationships or managing his life. His ex-wife has made a new life with a celebrity chef, his teenage son is a stuck-up twit, he has a drinking problem, and he hates his government job.

The problem is that he sees the demons that haunt us and push us toward doing the things that we do—all one thousand five hundred and sixty-seven of them. He knows too well which ones haunt him. And he knows where they came from. But he's become very good at compartmentalizing troubles from his past and keeping people at arm's length.

Still, as we all know, from the books we read as well as our own lives, what hasn't been dealt with in the past has a way of showing up again—usually when we least want or expect it. In Heaney's case it's a beautiful young woman, a homeless Desert Storm veteran, and a smarmy university acquaintance who's now a successful author.

Adding to his problems, Heaney goes deeply into debt bailing out the homeless shelter he supports, hoping to cover it with the money from his latest rare book scam, except the scam seems to be falling through.

Heaney thinks he just needs some time and space to get himself together again. But what he really needs is redemption.

I mentioned above the two ways you can look at this book. The beautiful thing is, it doesn't matter which you choose. Either way, How to Make Friends with Demons is a terrific book.

*     *     *

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: The Long Way Home, by Joss Whedon & Georges Jeanty,
Dark Horse Books, 2008, $15.95.

Echo: Moon Lake, by Terry Moore,
Abstract Studio, 2008, $15.95.

I've mentioned the Echo and "Season Eight" Buffy comics in previous installments of this column. When I did, I only had one issue of each in hand, but enough time has now gone by that I can assure you that both comics are living up to the promise of those first issues.

That isn't always a given. Like the pilots for TV series, lots of energy, commitment and (in the case of TV) money goes into the production of a first issue/pilot. The problem is that all too often, there isn't a follow-through of commitment and quality. The audience drops and the comic or new TV show disappears, often in the middle of the story.

Now Terry Moore has already proved he can stay the course with his long-running Strangers in Paradise series, and since he also self-publishes, you can be pretty sure some bean-counter in the accounting department of a big firm isn't going to pull the plug on him. Which is great because now that he's tackled a contemporary sf story—bringing to it all the humanity, humor, and drama that he brought to Strangers in Paradise—it would be a shame not to see this through to the end.

Brief recap: Photographer Julie Martin is out in the California desert when she observes an explosion in the sky. In the aftermath, she's showered with liquid metal pellets that adhere to her skin, forming a mysterious chest plate that can't be removed and zaps anyone who tries to do so. Now the government (or at least the part of it involved in the explosion) wants her dead and the only person who can help her is the woman who died in the explosion.

Moore is building a fascinating cast to support an already gripping story and you can catch up on it all with this trade paperback that collects the first five issues. Try it and I guarantee you'll be hooked.

The Long Way Home collects the first story arc and a stand-alone from what the creators are calling "Season Eight" of the Buffy the Vampire Killer story since it follows Joss Whedon's vision of where the series would have gone if it had stayed on the air—with a lot bigger budget, mind you, since the special effects required to tell this story would strain the money available to a TV series. But here, all you have to do is make sure the artist gets his paycheck.

It's not just whiz-bang special effects, however—and some of them are low-key, yet integral to the story (I'd tell you just what, but why spoil your surprise when, for instance, you turn the page and get your first view of Buffy's sister Dawn?) At the heart of this comic, what stands out is Whedon's gift for characterization. He has an incredible ear for dialogue, and paints a deep portrait with very few strokes.

As for the story, maybe you'll be disappointed, maybe you won't (Buffy fans, like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Star Trek fans, have always had strong opinions). But I love what he's done with the idea of so many slayers now populating the world.

*     *     *

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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