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Mythago-WoodStephen Huxley and his brother Christian grew up in England near a forest, Ryhope Wood. During they childhood the strange people that sometimes passed by their home were dismissed as “travelling gypsies” by their parents. But in 1946 Stephen returns home from service, after healing his war wounds, to find Christian obsessed by the creatures from Ryhope Wood, the mythagos – mythical/legendary characters come true by the Wood. Their recently deceased father seemed to have suffered from the same obsession and eventually Christian also vanishes into the Wood himself. Later Stephen meets the mythago girl Guiwenneth, starting his involvement with the Wood’s mysteries.

Robert Holdstock’s writing is almost poetic in its descriptions, but unsentimental and rather matter-of-fact. The storyline moves at its own speed, which means that it is rather slow and relatively uneventful most of the book. The characters are plainly drawn and their actions are sometimes hard to understand (for instance, why it is so easy for the characters to believe in the Wood’s phenomenon and to have such an accepting behaviour towards the mythagos), but that gives them a charming simplicity and innocence in its own way. The phenomenon of the Wood is described (or undescribed) in a very natural way that seems like the magic of an ununderstood natural phenomenon, like a thunderstorm to a prehistoric man.

Holdstock_Mythago_Wood_Geoff_Taylor

As a traditional novel Mythago Wood has its flaws. Maybe the concerns over the aesthetics and philosophical features of the writing overcome the credibility of some other essential details (the characters, for instance). Also some aspects are a bit dated. The novel was first published in 1984 and the action takes place in 1946-1948, and the author approaches some aspects of the new view of women’s place in society brought by the 2nd World War. Even though the author seems to be approving of equality of rights, the descriptions of women’s characteristics are laughable in today’s standards – a bit like Robert Heinlein when considering equality. However, Mythago Wood is in its own way a dazzlingly beautiful piece of literature, and as soon as I finished it I couldn’t resist getting the two following books of the Ryhope Wood Series. Mythago Wood is followed by Lavondyss but hold very well as a standalone novel. It won the BSFA Award for Best Novel in 1984 and the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1985, among others.

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To your scattered bodies goOne day all humanity wakes up in a river, naked and hairless, remembering all their lives to the day of their death on Earth. Bound to each individual is a recipient nicknamed “grail”, in which food and other resources appear when the “grailstones”, stuctures in the riverbanks, are activated. Whenever someone dies is immediately resurrected somewhere else along the river. The length of the river is beyond imagination. The novel follows Richard Francis Burton, a Victorian adventurer who was mysteriously given some “backstage” view of the resurrection miracle. He attracts a small group of companions which include Kazz (a Neanderthal), Peter Frigate (a 21st century science fiction writer), Alice Liddell (yes, the Victorian lady who inspired Alice in Wonderland) and Monat Grrautut (an alien who disastrously contacted Earth on the 21st century). Burton also creates a nemesis to whom he seems to be attached to, Hermann Goring (leading member of the Nazi Party and founder of the Gestapo, among other delightful activities).

To your scattered bodies go2The exotic premise led to 2 movie adaptations, in 2003 and 2010. The novel, even if published in 1971, is surprisingly fresh. The characters are edgy and three-dimensional, showing incredibly complex personalities, each of them with bleak characteristics as well as very touching moments. The religious, cultural and ethical references are interestingly managed, keeping the reader as expectant as the characters themselves. During Burton’s journey through the Riverworld trying to solve the mystery behind the Resurrection Day, all hints of an answer originate a thousand more questions, a characteristic that usually generates love or hate in readers – similarly to the series “Lost”, I guess. Even though I found it satisfying as an isolated read, the end is left (widely) open.

This is the first book of the Riverworld series, won Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1972, and is followed by The Fabulous Riverboat.

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The killing moonIn the ancient city-state of Gujaareh peace is the only law.” Gujaareh is ruled by its Prince and the Hetawa, the institutional religion of the goddess Hananja. The cult of Hananja is based on dream magic to maintain and defend peace at all costs. Gatherers, high ranking priests of Hananja, visit the corrupt and the sick during their sleep and give them peace, collecting all their dream-blood (life energy) and sending their souls to the dream-world. Sharer priests use the collected energy to heal Gujaareh’s people. But such organized society is an easy prey for corruption. The Gatherer Ehiru and his apprentice come across strange events related with miss-use of dream-magic. Together with Sunandi, an embassador of a neighbouring state who also gets tangled in the situation, they must find out what is behind some heretic murders in Gujaareh.

Gujaareh’s location on a different planet is given away by the presence of several moons. However it shows many similarities with ancient Egypt: the privileged situation following a river and between other cultures, the clothes, the relationship between Prince and religion (including the fact that the Prince becomes King when he joins Hananja after death). Also interesting is the advanced spiritual, commercial and cultural life of Gujaarh in comparison with the neighbouring societies, similarly to the ancient Egypt. The storyline itself is an interesting mystery plot, in which the relationships between the characters are rather complex but given by a cleverly subdued narrative. The reader understands the characters’ feelings, even consummated and unconsummated romantic feelings, in a rather subtle way which gives a much more realistic feel to the narrative.

In spite of the intricate social pattern that the reader has to get into, the fast paced writing doesn’t fail to create suspense, without relying on cliffhangers.

This is the first book of the Dreamblood duology, but it stands alone from the second volume, The Shadowed Sun, which is more a sequel than a continuation.

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“Springtime in Styria. And that means war.”

The general Monza Murcato was the most feared mercenary in Grand Duke Orso’s employ. Her fame and popularity were making the Grand Duke uneasy. When Monza and her brother met the Grand Duke and his closest circle of people they were betrayed, stabbed, their bones crushed and thrown off the Duke’s balcony. However, Monza survived and swore vengeance upon the seven men who were in the room when she was betrayed.

To help in her vengeance, Monza hired a mercenary barbarian who wanted to be a honest man, a treacherous poisoner and his apprentice, a mass murderer obsessed with numbers, an unpredictable ex-general with drinking problems, and a retired torturer.

The story of Best Served Cold has many similarities with The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas. The main character was in her moment of success when she was betrayed by a group of people whom she trusted. When they thought they had gotten rid of her, she comes back, richer and focused on taking revenge. However, Best Served Cold falls short in comparison with Dumas’ work; mainly for the lack of the suspense Duma’s writing creates even if the reader already knows the story. The ending of Best Served Cold can also be a bit disappointing. The details are well treated, but in general it seems rushed in the easy way – it does not stand the comparison with wonderful ending of The Count of Monte Cristo (in content and in style).

What makes Best Served Cold special are the characters. Each character, ally or enemy, is vividly described and attracts the reader’s sympathy for all his/hers psychotic and amoral features. The past of each character is slowly disclosed throughout the book, which turns them progressively more interesting.

As it claims to have “splatterpunk” influences, many scenes with stabbing, violence, torture and lots of blood can be found in Best Served Cold, and there is not the feeling that the main characters are being spared of the worse treatments. However, after the shock of the first violent scenes, the bloody aspect is also mixed with a huge load of dark humor.

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Global warming transformed England into a semitropical country. Advances in genetic engineering cured many diseases, however the human lifespan has been halved as a consequence of extinguishing cancer. Viruses are used to educate children by transferring knowledge. At the age of 10, children’s minds are read by “The Consensus” and their personality and moral values are corrected by viruses.

Milena is a young actress who has never been read and is immune to most viruses. She meets Rolfa, a half-polar bear woman who is also a musician, and falls in love with her. Homosexuality is rare, it is regarded as “bad grammar” and “corrected” with viruses.

Milena has to deal with her own unsocial problems while she attempts to stage a mega-production of an opera composed by Rolfa, based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and keeps wondering why “The Consensus” seems to support her instead of eliminating her.

The Child Garden is a complex novel that deals with many subjects in a rich and poetic manner. Mainly, it deals with the transformation of human beings and human culture to an uniform society and the impact it has in the individual. And the story is entirely given in the point of view of an individual who is not well connected to the tissue of society – Milena.

The Child Garden deals with some of the problems and losses that arise from solving human problems by means that were once considered a problem. Decreasing the lifespan by curing cancer with the viruses was the crudest example given, but the same could be applied for what is lost when individuality is sacrificed to create a completely unified society.

One issue approached was the solitude that can be created in the unification of a group. When a society is an integrated group of individuals, might feel solitude as a lonely animal – which is nothing more than an integrated group of cells (that is believed to have evolved from a group of unicellular organisms).

It is also worth mentioning the rich way the story is told. There is much to tell in this aspect, but what especially caught my attention was:

  • The use of metaphors, which is luxurious and delicious: 1) especially as they come in colourful images and 2) even if morbid meanings are cruelly expressed through beautiful images (or the opposite).
  • The use of music references in the text, as music playing in certain situations or as characters singing their own words with classical music /opera music. This is particularly special as the music referred not only enriches the meaning of the text, but it may give it a second meaning, an ironic meaning or even alter its meaning completely. The music references are inserted in the text with Wagnerian precision, where not a single note is useless, maybe to give an image of how Rolfa’s music was written in the Divine Comedy to be read together with the text.

The Child Garden is no light reading. It is very dense and complex both in its form and content. After reading it I went back to some of its parts and I surely intend to read it again.

The Child Garden was first published in 1989 and won both the Arthur C. Clarke Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award in 1990.

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Harper Connolly is honest, ethical and loyal – and ever since a bolt of lightning zapped her on the head, she’s had an extra-special talent: she can find dead people. It’s not a common-or-garden job. Some people find Harper’s talent useful and fascinating, but she’s getting to most people treating her like a blood-sucking leech. She’s become an expert at getting in, getting paid and getting out, fast.

When Harper and her stepbrother Tolliver travel to the Ozarks to find a local teenager, missing, believed dead, they discover that someone is willing to go to great lengths to bury a secret.

The summary in the back tells quite well what this work is about. Harper Connolly has the ability to sense the last experiences of corpses. Therefore she also perceives when a dead body is near by its last memories. However, she is not able to communicate with dead people, see who murdered them or any other kind of medium abilities. She and her stepbrother travel through the USA, to where they are hired by people who pay for Harper’s services: finding dead bodies and discover the cause of death.

This is an all-American work, about all-American people aimed to all-American readers.

The story is a crime plot, which is told in a direct straight-forward way, without any literary embellishments. The characters are all-American people, and it is hard for a European reader to feel some sort of identification with them. Also, there are no characters deep enough to become really interesting. Even Harper, who the author took great care to remark that was intellectually superior to the other characters, seems quite shallow.

By this book, the Harper Connolly series seems very similar to the Sookie Stackhouse series in the kind of characters, way of writing and sense of humor, but the Sookie series feels more special for the higher amount of fantasy elements, and the way it makes the characters more appealing.

Grave Sight is entertaining, easy and fast to read, but feels too light.

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Karl Glogauer, a time traveler from the 20th century, arrived to Palestine 28AD. The time machine was damaged and he was saved by a group of Essenes, whose leader was John the Baptist.

Glogauer suffered from many neuroses and chronic psychological problems related with childhood traumas, his strong Christian education, the rupture with Christianity in later years, and his messed up views upon sexuality. Although he felt no longer a Christian, he volunteered to test the time machine built by a friend. And so he decided to go to Palestine and witness the crucification of Christ, a decisive event in human History and in his own life.

However, when he arrived (one year before the death of Jesus) John the Baptist’s group never heard about Jesus and they were still waiting for their Savior.  Glogauer was stuck in the past, the “greatest moment” was approaching, and things were not happening as they should… someone had to do something for the sake History!

Behold the Man is a novella with a plot that becomes interesting by the way it is told. The story starts by Glogauer’s arrival in Palestine, and the events before the time travel (London, 20th century) are given by flashbacks and memoirs that come parallel with the events in Palestine. Also, some passages from the Bible are placed in the proper places to offer the alternative description of the events, and to give the final touch to the dark humor of the tale.

Even the main character, Glogauer, becomes interesting by its frailty, as he is the opposite of what is expected in a hero: he is weak, depressed and neurotic, with a personality crushed by the society that, after all, was his own creation.

Behold the Man won the Nebula Award for best novella in 1967.

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