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December Recommendations

clifi-contest

Kicking off the last month of a rotten year with some cool stuff I’ve stumbled across in the last few weeks that I want to share, all available for free:

1. The Imaginary Worlds Podcast

I’ve been listening to episode after episode of this non-stop since I first heard a snippet played on CBC Radio’s Podcast Playlist. Eric Molinsky consistently delivers thoughtful, well-produced audio essays about science fiction and fantasy, often emphasizing the relevance of various popular films and books to the real world and how popular media can reflect and even drive cultural and political discourse. To this end, he interviews an army of scholars, fans and specialists in fields ranging from psychology to history to economics. Really fantastic stuff. A particular standout is the episode on Dracula, putting to rest the common wisdom that Bram Stoker based his vampire on Vlad Tepes and instead pointing to a far more convoluted and yet more thematically relevant inspiration for one of the nineteenth century’s most enduring literary characters. Continue Reading »

Welcome to the CBC

 

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The only times Tatsuhiro Satou ventures out of his tiny apartment are for the basic necessities of life, and even then, he doesn’t go far. 22 years old, a college dropout, unemployed and living off a meagre allowance from his father…Satou seemingly has no hobbies or interests beyond sleeping, staring at the walls, or getting drunk/high. He’s been like this for four years now, and while he berates himself and dreams up various schemes to become a “normal person” again, he inevitably ends up retreating into his constricted existence. The days flow by and his only comfort rests in bizarre conspiracy theories about how the world is out to get him. That is, until he bumps into a young woman named Misaki who makes him sign a contract to take part in a “special project” to reform his life.

The hikikomori phenomenon was starting to get major media attention in Japan when Tatsuhiko Takimoto wrote Welcome to the NHK! (2002). While this manifestation of alienation, social anxiety, and inability to deal with expectations is largely unique to Japan, the problems that lead to it are common enough in the western world. NHK is in part the author’s own attempt to come to grips with these issues, but is clearly also a personal expression of the yawning hopelessness the author himself once felt. The Afterward confirms that NHK is semi-autobiographical, “I felt as though I were taking my own shame and revealing it to the whole world.” Out of all I’ve read, it most closely resembles the middle section of Lanark: both by the main character’s depths of self-loathing and the honesty with which it touches on that character’s less savoury qualities. Continue Reading »

Hype and its Consequences

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Most authors want discussion and buzz to swirl around their books upon release. Understandably so, attention leads to book sales and reaching a larger audience, but the flip side for readers is that the hype around a book can negatively impact the reading experience. As much as I like to think I give each book a chance based on its merits, there are undeniable instances where the articles, reviews, tweets and forum posts I see about a book have changed the way I approach the text. Hype played a big part in my making me dislike Naomi Novik’s Uprooted (2015) more than I probably would have otherwise. Continue Reading »

Fantasy Economics

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One charge often lobbed against secondary-world fantasy novels is that they don’t dwell on the economics of their imagined landscapes. What currency do the people use? Who grows the food? Who manufactured that cloak? The complaint strikes me as a little silly; most realist and historical novels I’ve read are similarly disinterested in these questions if they’re not directly tied to the narrative. I don’t see why the switch to an imaginary place suddenly makes the absence of economic matters a sin. The romantic tradition that influenced fantasy literature involves narratives that don’t, by and large, make economics a primary focus. Maybe our society frowns upon literary creations that seem overtly escapist when they don’t factor in the primary ideologies that run it–in North America, capitalism and economics; similarly, in post-Soviet Eastern Europe, the spectre of Marxism. Or maybe the capitalist focus of our society makes dealing with those issues in fantasy seem like a path to being taken seriously in a genre that still isn’t very respected.

Which isn’t to say that narratives where economics play a huge part are boring or unsuitable for fantasy. I spent this summer reading the Spice & Wolf series by Isuna Hasekura, a 17-book series out of Japan that centres heavily on economics. Hasekura takes the high medieval setting of most western fantasy and makes the stories all about the nuts-and-bolts of trade and commerce that those stories usually elide. Continue Reading »

Radiator Blues

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Not a very comfortable position to relax in—she’ll feel that in the morning.

Drawn with FireAlpaca.

A new author interview with yours truly went up today at Corey Redekop’s website, this time about monsters and the upcoming anthology Those Who Make Us.

Children of Mythago Wood

There are two books I read over the summer/autumn that I meant to write about at some length on this blog, but never actually did. With winter very close and the days shortening at an alarming rate, it seems as good time as any to get my thoughts about both of them out in one go.

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As an aside, I really love the design of this cover.

Children of Earth and Sky – Guy Gavriel Kay (2016)

I should have enjoyed Kay’s latest more than I did, since it once again happens to enter an area of personal historical interest: the eastern Mediterranean in the late fifteenth century. I did enjoy it, for the most part, and the thematic echoes of his earlier Sarantine Mosaic are clear. There, Crispin travelled to Sarantium to create a mosaic commissioned by the Sarantine emperor. Here, Pero travels to then-Sarantium now-Asharias to paint a portrait of the grand khalif of the Osmanli Empire. Seemingly insignificant people put in positions where their decisions have grand historical consequences abound, as is usual for Kay, with a similar sense of crushing weight to history in its uncaring inevitability. That weight is most evident in the Osmanli (Ottoman) attempts to besiege Alternate-Vienna; foiled not by the actions of the brave Senjani soldiers we follow who trek to defend the Jaddite faith, but something as simple and fickle as the weather. The historical content is great, as usual, especially the depictions of a parallel Venetian court as well as in-fighting among the Ottoman sultan’s sons, and unlike Under Heaven or River of Stars, Kay feels free to move aside from “how things really happened” and explore his own scenarios, what-ifs and characters. Of those characters, Danica of Senjan, a female mercenary who wants revenge on the Osmanlis for destroying her family and who is literally haunted by the ghost of her grandfather, is the most compelling. Continue Reading »