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June 2002
 
Book Reviews
Charles de Lint
Elizabeth Hand
Michelle West
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Chris Moriarty
 
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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

Harlequin Valentine - Neil Gaiman & John Bolton,
Dark Horse Books, 2001; 40pp; $10.95

Trust Neil Gaiman not only to find an obscure mythological footnote (the story of Harlequin and Columbine with its roots in British pantomime and older traditions still), but also find a way to weave it into a contemporary story that resonates both for its depiction of human alienation in present-day society as well as for its folkloric roots.

It's a bittersweet, rather short story with more than a few surprises, so I don't want to discuss it too much for fear of spoiling your pleasure in the story. Let me just say that it will appeal to fans of Gaiman's earlier illustrated work on The Sandman, to readers who have come to him through his novels such as last year's American Gods, and also to those who have never read a word he's written.

The art chores are handled by John Bolton, featuring a style that appears to be a mix of painting and photo-collage--perhaps paint on photo-collage, or photos that have been manipulated in Photoshop or a similar computer program. Some panels work better than others--I question the black outlining of the characters in many of them--but overall, he has done a wonderful job of suiting his art to the mood of Gaiman's story.

For those interested in learning more about the pantomime tradition, Gaiman includes a brief but comprehensive overview, presented in the form of a Q&A.

All in all, it's a lovely package and fine addition to Gaiman's ever-growing body of work.

*     *     *

Fantasy of the 20th Century - Randy Broecker,
Collectors Press, 2001; 256pp; $60.00

Here is the perfect book for anyone unfamiliar with, but interested in, the history of our field.

Fantasy of the 20th Century doesn't provide a real in-depth history, but Broecker does give enough information about the various authors that the book could prove to be an extremely useful stepping stone for you to find the sorts of books you think you might like to try. I know that if this book had appeared in the late sixties when my own interests were switching from mythology and folklore to fantasy novels, I would have been in heaven with the information it has to offer.

For those who already have a solid background in the field, you might still be taken with the profusion of book and magazine covers reproduced herein--from fairly contemporary work through to some of the earliest in the field.

It's the perfect coffee table book for a fantasy lover's living room, and wouldn't be out of place in any serious library either.

*     *     *

Hal Foster - Brian M. Kane,
Vanguard Productions, 2001; no page count; $29.95

Although I'd long been drifting towards the fantasy field as a teenager, before I actually discovered Tolkien and had my eyes opened by Lin Carter's editing at Ballantine books, I was already enthralled with Hal Foster's Prince Valiant. I used to clip out the strips and the Sunday color installments and paste them in scrapbooks which, sadly, have long gone the way of too many youthful treasures. But these days it's possible to get bound books of Prince Valiant and I have more than a few of them on my bookshelves.

The stories were, of course, fascinating, but what drew me to the strip, what still draws me, was Foster's art. I love his line work and the details of ancient times that he so ably brought to life in his drawings. This new biography of Foster reproduces a large number of his paintings and strips, but I wouldn't recommend it to you for that reason. There are many other collections of his art that will serve you better, if that's your only interest.

What Hal Foster does contain, however, is the full breadth of his artistic endeavors--reproductions of paintings, editorial cartoons, calendar work, sketches, and such, as well as a profusion of photographs, and a very well-detailed history of his life. So while I can't recommend it to the general reader, I can do so whole-heartedly to other aficionados of this man's genius.

He might not have invented the adventure strip, but he certainly gave it an innovation and class that it would have lacked without his presence.

*     *     *

The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature - edited by Philip Martin,
The Writer Books, 2002; 240pp; $16.95

I remember reading somewhere that ten percent of the readers of our genre also write, or have ambitions to write. That being the case, this particular book will be of interest to at least ten percent of the readers of this magazine, though I'd hazard more would also find it of interest, if they were to give it a try.

Now the first thing I need to say, just as I do at the beginning of any workshop I've given, is that no one can teach you how to write. One of my favorite quotes comes from Somerset Maugham: "There are only three rules to writing a novel; unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

That being the case, how can anyone teach you?

Perhaps more depressing to new writers (though I prefer to think of it as challenging) is a truth to be found in another favorite quote of mine, this time from Candas Jane Dorsey, a more contemporary writer than Maugham: "You don't learn how to write a novel; you learn how to write the one you're writing. Then the next novel, you learn how to write that, because it's always different."

So not only can no one teach you how to write, but each project presents its own individual hurdles.

That doesn't mean you can't learn from workshops, how-to books, or if you're lucky, a one-on-one relationship with a mentor. You just have to remember that what they tell you isn't gospel. It's only what works for them. There really are as many different ways to write as there are writers. But the other thing to remember is that some things that work for other writers will work for you. The trick is to be open to them.

One last aside, here. By the above, I don't mean that you can't, or shouldn't, learn the basics of grammar, story structure, and the like. There are certain mechanics that you have to know--if only to understand which rules you're breaking.

All of which is to say that the book in hand, with its subtitles of "From Dragon's Lair to Hero's Quest" and "How to Write Fantasy Stories of Lasting Value," not to mention the promise blazoned across the back cover of "If You've Got Imagination, You can Write Fantasy!", doesn't hold the magic answers some might hope it would.

It does, however, offer all sorts of possible solutions to problems you might be having with everything from dialogue and characterization, to writer's block and the particular difficulties inherent in the writing of fantasy. Better yet, it offers that advice in a practical and undogmatic manner, using many voices.

And here is where readers uninterested in writing their own stories will still find something worth their time in the book. The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature is full of lengthy quotes from authors and examples of what does work. There are also a number of fascinating essays by, and interviews with, the likes of Patricia A. McKillip, Jane Yolen, Ursula K. Le Guin, Terry Pratchett, Ray Bradbury, and many more. Yes, some of what's discussed is certainly about getting the words on paper, but much of it will appeal to anyone interested in the creative process, particularly how it applies to some of his or her favorite writers.

I have a short list of books that I recommend to anyone who comes to me with questions about writing fantasy. These include The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King, poemcrazy by Susan G. Wooldridge, and The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones.

The Writer's Guide to Fantasy Literature is so well done that my recommended list just got one book longer.

*     *     *

I have a correction that needs to be made to my review of The Book of Counted Sorrows by Dean Koontz which appeared in the March 2002 issue. It turns out that this e-book is available in a format that can be read on Palm OS and PocketPC devices and you can get it at www.peanutpress.com.

And since I've mentioned Koontz, I'd be remiss to not give a quick head's-up for his new book One Door Away from Heaven (Bantam). Having reviewed three of his books in the past year, I felt I should devote my limited column space to some other writers. But this might be my favorite of his books since Watchers and will especially appeal to dog lovers.

*     *     *

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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