REVIEW: August 13, 2018

“Let Death come as Death pleases, whether as man or woman or strange, sexless creature.”

Come Lady Death, by Peter S. Beagle.

Podcastle is once again the host of today’s story–can you tell that I’m a regular listener? This story is a bit special, however, as it’s the first episode they ever hosted. You can find it here if you want to listen.

In London, England, during the rule of one of the King Georges(I don’t know enough English history to know which one), Lady Flora Neville holds the most magnificent parties and balls. Everyone important attends, but there’s one guest that she’s sure will really bring attention and life to her next party: Death himself. Or rather, herself, as Death will be guaranteed to stun everyone with her entrance. That is, if she shows up at all.

This is the first story of Beagle’s that I’ve ever experienced, and I’m glad that’s the case, because it’s absolutely lovely. From the writing to the characters and the themes, this story is extremely endearing and enjoyable. Even the side characters were individual and interesting. That being said, Lady Neville was a fantastic focal point, and an absolutely wonderful character to read about. She had the confidence and grace that I think we should all aspire to have.

It’s really hard to find fault with this story in any capacity, but I do think that the treatment of the hairdresser was a little excessive. It kind of pulled me out of the rest of the story. That scene had a different flow and tone that, while subtle enough that it didn’t really shock me or change the tale, it did just feel a bit off. It was a short enough incident, however, that I didn’t even realize it bothered me until the second time I listened to it.

The ending of this story was truly great. I was mesmerized as I listened, almost knowing exactly what would happen, but still enthralled as each word went by. It was haunting and beautiful, like Death herself, and I felt honoured to be a part of it, like the guests and Lady Neville’s party. Beagle really did an incredible job, writing this story in a way that I felt I was there, in another country and another time.

This gorgeous tale gets 5 out of 5 from me, and I think most anyone could also enjoy it just as thoroughly. It’s beautifully written, beautifully executed, and features a beautiful sense of emotion.

Peter S. Beagle is an author with an extensive bibliography, though his most famous work, by far, is The Last Unicorn. After reading this story, I picked up a modern copy of the Last Unicorn, and am looking forward to reviewing it in the future. He has a Twitter account at @petersbeagle.

What’s the best party you’ve ever been a part of, and what made it so great?

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REVIEW: August 6, 2018

“Tonight, no matter what happened, this place would be lost to him.”

The Last Flight, by Michelle West.

This is yet another tale from the anthology Creature Fantastic, edited by Denise Little, and once again I encourage you to take a look at your local secondhand bookstores. I’ve really enjoyed this collection of stories so far, and I recommend getting your own copy if you like any of my reviews of these short stories. It should be fairly affordable since it was published in 2001, and if you can’t find it in a nearby bookstore, Amazon always has a few copies here.

This piece is about an old man, dying of age in a park, who spends his last few hours with his granddaughter. During this time, she asks him questions and he talks about his very, very long life and history, including the day he met her grandmother in the very same park. As time passes, the old man reveals much more about himself than his granddaughter could ever expect, and while she loves her grandfather, the young girl is left with more concerns than ever before.

The opening few paragraphs really set the tone for this tale. It was sombre and sweet all at once and remained so throughout the telling. I think that’s one of the main reasons I really enjoyed this one: the writing was thoroughly enchanting, and even though I knew very little about the characters, I found their sentimentality endearing.

Speaking of the characters, I found the grandfather strangely relatable, despite his oddities and otherness. I could see myself in the granddaughter’s place, sitting next to my own quirky grandpa, having a similar conversation and not knowing what to feel. I found this story universal enough to be relatable, yet strange enough to be its own story. It was fascinating, and it was done very well.

Perhaps my only criticism is towards the ending, when the old man’s son shows up. I think, though it added to the story itself, including a third character took away from the special and specific tone that had been building between the grandfather and granddaughter. That being said, the presence of the old man’s son opens the conversation to more questions and debate. So I think, while it subtracted from the tone, the son added to the ongoing dialogue and theme.

The Last Flight is a 5 out of 5 for me. It caught me off guard with its depth and meaning, and stole me away with its melancholy mood. I would absolutely recommend this tale to anyone who has a special connection with their own grandfather, and perhaps to those who have lost a grandparent before. It really touched my heartstrings in that regard.

Michelle West also goes by Michelle Sagara West and Michelle Sagara, and is a Canadian author living and selling books in Toronto, Ontario. She has a website here, including a bibliography here, and appears to be on twitter occasionally at @msagara.

What’s one memory you want to pass on to your children, future children, or just those younger than you?

REVIEW: July 9, 2018

“I captured them in oils or watercolous, appropriate to their nature.”

Father Noe’s Bestiary, by Jody Lynn Nye.

The amazing people at my local secondhand bookstore brought in a stack of about a dozen anthologies for me, which made me smile for far too long. Among them was the book containing today’s story: Creature Fantastic, edited by Denise Little. Within the pages are more than fifteen short stories from 2001, all containing some sort of fantastical creature, as the name suggests. It was impossible to hold in in my hands and not buy it. If you would like your own copy, there’s at least one on Amazon here, though I’d recommend you check your own local bookstore, first.

In Father Noe’s Bestiary, Father Noe is a priest who claims he is a very old wizard. Having moved into to a less than favourable part of town, he is loved by all in the neighbourhood for his peaceful demeanour and, of course, his paintings of rare and mythical creatures of all kinds. But there may be more than he’s willing to let on to the protagonist, a young girl named Kinsie that often visits him.

I want to be upfront and say that this story is a bit dated with some of its terms and language–but I don’t think it detracts from the telling at all. It simply sets the times. Actually, it’s rather descriptive without going over the top. The neighbourhood and Father Noe’s shop and home are wonderfully visual, yet reading it, I didn’t get bogged down in any unnecessary details.

The story itself was quite charming. A little predictable–okay, pretty predictable–but nonetheless, it was quaint. It reminded me of the kind of stories I used to enjoy as a kid when I was around Kinsie’s age. If I had read this when it had first come out, I would have been absolutely swept away by it. Reading it now, I don’t think my imagination gets so easily involved these days. Though I think that says something about my own life as an adult reader, rather than Nye’s writing.

I’m still a little torn on the ending, as well. It was cute, hopeful, idealistic. Pretty much everything was resolved, but still, something about it just feels off. I want to make it clear that I did enjoy it, it just felt a little too good, a little too pure. Again, however, maybe I’m just a bit more jaded than I realized in my adulthood.

Overall, I’m going to give this one a 4 out of 5. Even though I am a bitter old man in the brain, I’m an optimistic child at heart, and I really did get a little carried away reading this, as much as my pride doesn’t want me to admit it. I’d recommend this one if you like friendly old wizards that actually are nice, and I especially recommend it to anyone who’s fond of dragons and happy endings.

Jody Lynn Nye has many books, which you can find listed here on her website. She also has a twitter right here.

If there’s one thing you could preserve forever–or at least, for longer than your own lifetime–what would it be?

REVIEW: July 2, 2018

“Something’s in there, crawling around inside.”

Rat King, by Lia Swope Mitchell.

I might be bending the definition of fantasy a little with this horror story, but I’d like to think it’s inexplicable enough to qualify. It comes from Pseudopod, and is the first story in episode 501, with two more stories following it. I may examine the other two in the future, but you can find them all here in the meantime.

In this piece of flash fiction, the narrator speaks to the audience as a character. What he speaks about is the specialized service that he provides: he takes dark secrets and keeps them safe inside of him. He goes into great detail about the process, and, in order to convince the audience to go along with his work, offers evidence.

First things first, I want to take my hat off to Rish Outfield’s narration. His voice, and his cadence, really sell the narrator as a character. Of course, the author’s narrative voice provides the foundation for him to spring from. Without Mitchell’s excellent sense of word choice and flow, I don’t think Outfield’s skill would have stood out as much.

The keystone behind this story’s quality is, I believe, the descriptions the narrator gives. The details are so vivid and grotesque that certain images remain in my mind’s eye, even from when I first listened to this tale over a year ago. And that is something I find impressive. There aren’t many tales that have such strong visual quality to them, but this is definitely one of them.

The plot itself is also done in an interesting way. We only know what the narrator is telling us–and he knows far too much, yet gives just enough information that you know exactly what’s going on and why the audience is there.

Once again, I have to admit my bias as a fan of horror and creepy tales such as this one. But even if you don’t like being scared, I think a lot of people can enjoy this one because it’s not scary. It’s just good, and a bit gross in an effective way. And although it’s short, the length works for it, not the other way around, and so I give it a firm 5 out of 5.

If you enjoyed this tale and want more by Lia Swope Mitchell, you can find her on her website here, and she has a list of where you can find her other works here. She also has a twitter, which you can find and follow here if you’re interested.

Obviously I won’t be asking you what dark secret you’d like to be free of. But would you ever take on someone else’s dark secrets?

REVIEW: June 25, 2018

“He fears me, though I have no strength left.”

The Word of Unbinding, by Ursula K. Le Guin.

Today’s story is actually quite old, first published in 1964 by Fantastic, but I found it in The Way of the Wizard—edited by John Joseph Adams—just like the first story I reviewed. You can find used copies for great prices on Barnes & Noble’s website here, if you’d like the collection for yourself. You can also get the story on its own, in ebook format, here. This tale is the first in the world of Le Guin’s famous Earthsea, and sets as an introduction to both the universe and Le Guin’s writing.

In The Word of Unbinding, there is a malicious wizard known as Voll the Fell. He travels the islands destroying forests and imprisoning mages that dare to stand against him. The protagonist, Festin, is a wizard who lives among and talks to the trees, and finds himself captured one day without warning. Fearing for the forest he’s come to love, he admittedly knows little of Voll the Fell, but what he does know is that he must save his home.

Le Guin was a mastermind of speculative fiction and, reading her early work, it’s clear that this has been a fact for a long time, and will remain so. The language used is smooth, and ideas flow in a logical manner, from one to the next. I believe her voice carried strongly through the story, and, despite the tension of the narrative, I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more at peace while reading. At least, not in a far too long of a time.

The story itself is just as strong. Even nowadays, I don’t think there are many stories that stand out as this one does. It knows where and what it is, and what it needs to do, and then it does it. The main character, Festin, is much the same, which I find refreshing. Sure, he has questions, but he’s clever enough to figure out what’s going on and what action must be taken. Obstacles may wear him down, but they do not stop him. He’s not simply stubborn, or determined; he has a real purpose.

Another thing I really enjoyed, and expect to enjoy in the rest of the Earthsea stories, is how the magic works, especially at the end of this tale when the title comes into play. It enthralled me. It still does. It’s straightforward, but not without complexity, intricacies. There was no overly-detailed explanation shoehorned in, but nor was it all mystery. It simply made sense. It felt like real magic.

This story is a definite 5 out of 5 for me, and I’m eager to get through my reading list and pick up a copy of A Wizard of Earthsea, because I absolutely need to read more with this kind of characterization and magic. I wish I could have appreciated Le Guin’s writing before her passing earlier this year, but life and death can work in strange ways sometimes. I’m glad she’s left a legacy for me to stumble upon, and I hope I can review more of her work in the future.

In this day and age, how connected to nature do you feel? Do you think humanity is moving too far away from the natural world, or is this change for the better?