Wolfwinter by Thomas Burnett Swann—1972

WolfwinterWolfwinter by Thomas Burnett Swann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I read Wolfwinter on the advice of the myth-master Charles de Lint. He implied that Thomas Burnett Swann had a muse-ic effect on his works.

In Swann I have discovered another great author who makes the ancient stories and beliefs and cultures come to life. He writes spare, but melodic prose, laced with humor and having bittersweet edges. Swann is a modern prose poet. He harkens back to the Nine Lyric Poets of Hellenistic Greece in his prose and his tales. I cannot give enough accolades to the beauty of his writings. I would there be a renaissance of his works for modern readers to discover.

Wolfwinter is the story of Errina a friend of the famous Sappho of Lesbos where she was born. She falls in love with a satyr during Lesbian rites, conceives a child by him, but is given as wife to a Sybaritic cousin of her father. Husband, outraged at the birth of a hybrid boy exposes him on the Field of Wolves. Thus begins Errina’s effort to save her son with the help of her Goddess and mythic creatures of the forests of Magna Graecia.

The golden age of Fantasy shines brightly from this novel.

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The Space Machine by Christopher Priest

The Space Machine: A Scientific RomanceThe Space Machine: A Scientific Romance by Christopher Priest
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A clever and enjoyable conflation of HG Wells’ War of the Worlds and his The Time Machine. At first it read like a Victorian comedy of manners, but as it moved into SF adventure, became a 70’s SF action-adventure. I wish Priest has kept up the Victorian sound of the prose. I found no other allegorical elements in the story, as some reviewers have suggested. Priest has expanded the Wellsian universe, but has not improved upon it. Read the originals first.

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Moonheart by Charles de Lint, book #1 of the Ottawa and the Valley Series

MoonheartMoonheart by Charles de Lint
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Great read of a modern Mythic Fiction based on Celtic mythology, primarily from Welsh sources interlaced with North American Indigene mythos (Ottawa). Many would consider it an Urban Fantasy today, but I found its use of its ancient sources most compelling. It is filled with inside jokes and literary illusions. Moonheart can be read on several levels from teen/YA to adult. It would be a great book for group discussion for sharing Celtic and Ottawa mythos and discovering the jokes and illusions.

Book 1 of the Ottawa and the Valley series.

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Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card & Aaron Johnson (The 1st Formic War, book 1)

Earth Unaware (The First Formic War, #1)Earth Unaware by Orson Scott Card
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ender’s Game is one of the Masterpieces of Science Fiction space opera literature. This novel, the 1st in a trilogy of prequels expands on the Formic wars, mentioned in Ender’s Game.

This 1st prequel is a disappointment. My take is that it was only written to line the pockets of the authors and publishers, esp with it and its sequels coming out with the EG movie. Even this 1st book ends without being a standalone. I suspect the prequels are a single book split into 3 just to make more money.

All of the EG ephemera, including comics and all sorts of collectibles underscores this opinion. Ender’s Game will end up being trivialized by all the marketing and PR as was LOTR. Pity those who see the movie before reading EG and Speaker for the Dead…

As ordinary Solar System space opera it is readable, just nothing special. It requires no thought and lacks the gray ethical/moral conflicts in the original novel. ‘Tis sad.

An aside— Since learning of Card’s extreme homophobia, I only have acquired used books to avoid giving any money to Card and will do so when used DVD’s of the movie become available, even if more expensive.

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Mordred, Bastard Son by Douglas Clegg

Mordred, Bastard Son: Book One Of The Mordred TrilogyMordred, Bastard Son: Book One Of The Mordred Trilogy by Douglas Clegg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve read much of the modern Arthurian fiction as well as much of the early sources and thoroughly enjoyed this take on Mordred. I only wish Clegg had finished (will finish) the trilogy. I’d like to know where he’s taking us.

The action of this 1st book takes place in the Amorican peninsula, specifically in the great and mysterious Forest of Brocéliande. In Clegg’s world this ancient, mythic forest separates those practicing the Old religions from the surrounding Romano-Christian interlopers. It’s hard to place the time of the action as we have pre-Roman Celts mixed with Druid remnants and Roman and Christian culture as well as neo-Pagan spiritual ideas. Still I have a feeling of 5th to 6th century life.

But this doesn’t really matter. The story is interesting the characters engaging and the prose professional with numerous ideas and conflicts encountered. And, Mordred is gray and complex enough for us not to know how he will turn out in relation to the Arthurian mythos.

I really hope the author is not too removed from this work to continue the Mordred Trilogy.

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Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier

Wildwood Dancing (Wildwood, #1)Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wildwood Dancing is a Fairy Tale for all family readers.

Juliet’s great strength is transforming a locale and people’s myths and legends into wonderful fiction involving the reader in the culture of her interest. She succeeds wonderfully in this book about medieval Transylvania near the city of Brașov in central Romania.

We moderns have a feeling of mystery about Transylvania since Bram Stoker defined it for us. The reality is much different of course as Juliet shows us. I developed a need to explore more deeply the mythology of the area since it was controlled by pre-Christian Dacian tribes.

Sorry PNR aficionados, it’s not about vampires. But…

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Stalking Tender Prey by Storm Constantine

Stalking Tender Prey (The Grigori Trilogy, #1)Stalking Tender Prey by Storm Constantine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel has all of the characteristics that make Storm Constantine such a compelling author. The world she creates is conflated from the Sumarian creation myth of Enlil and Ninlil with the ancient Kabbalah and more recent Christian Cabbalistic apocryphal influences, especially the myths of Shemyaza and the Grigori and even Enochian magic. Without any knowledge of these myths, the world seems real and almost likely. It would make a great neo-pagan spiritual system! With basic knowledge of these myths it is an amazing accomplishment bringing them alive in modern Britain.

Her characters are delightful and most could easily find one or more to identify with. The prose or word-smithing it typical of Storm, that is flowing, exciting, well-paced and with enough esoterica to allow for googling and wiki-ing for those so inclined. It works on multiple levels and can be read as a great story, as a great story with allegorical themes or—This 1st book of this trilogy can open an entire new world for you to explore from our historical and mythic past, right back to the beginning of human writing. Best, IMO, to read it all all levels.

I had trouble genre-izing the novel. It typically falls into fantasy or dark or gothic fantasy. But I think it more than those so included it as mythic fantasy where I think it best fits. It is very much about our historical and mythic basis.

I’d suggest that at he very least one read a translation of Enlil and Ninlil— http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1… —look up Grigori and Shemyaza

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Solar by Ian McEwan

SolarSolar by Ian McEwan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was disappointed and surprised with this novel. I was disappointed since I expected much more from McEwan’s prose and because this novel spent so much time on Beard’s love life and gluttony, which bored me. It surprised me as the science and the problems of a scientist’s career peaking early were done so well by someone with McEwan’s apparent background. This was the 1st of his books I’ve read, but was familiar with his reputation.

The book has 2 threads—anthropomorphic climate change and Beard’s trivial human life (all individuals are trivial in Nature’s face). About three quarters of the book was concerned with Beard’s activities of daily life, the rest about climate change and his attempt to create a new system of clean energy beyond nuclear. The latter is most important, the former is least. Yet McEwan did a much better with his ecoFIction, than with his human relationships fiction. The latter seemed like a B-romantic comedy,

Perhaps the point of the book is that in the face of catastrophic climate change, catastrophic for human civilization, humans remain most concerned with their little lives, comforts, eating, screwing… sleeping, showering… playing political games, messing with lawyers and bureaucrats… As Beard’s hope of re-achieving breakthrough science fails, so does humanities hope of avoiding the climate catastrophe. It will be too late when the problem becomes short term.

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The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

The Yiddish Policemen's UnionThe Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An endgame in progress forever awaiting resolution, the trap of beliefs, The Yid is fucking brilliant. It’s a mystery that’s solved about a mystery whose solution forever remains elusive. It’s an alternative history that’s is more real than history. It’s not Sci-Fi in any sense I can find. So how did it win a Hugo? I can see another Pulitzer for Chabon or a Rhor but never a Hugo. I guess the Hugo Yids were campaigning for a literary sense in SF. I don’t consider Alt-His to be Sci-Fi per se. It can be, but this isn’t. Maybe it’s all considered high fantasy by the Hugo-goys.

And it’s a comedy, black for sure, but for me there many LOL moments and would probably have been many more if I understood all of the allusions. Having Wikipedia at hand and an Yiddish-English dictionary is almost essential (try nechvenin). You do want to know whose real and who’s fictional, no? Emanuel Lasker, eg. I didn’t use these references, but will for the next read.

And it has so much to teach. The Tzadik Ha-Dor, eg, a phrase I had never heard, but being a Sci-Fi master myself thought immediately of the Kwisatz Haderach. And, the concept of The Tzadik Ha-Dor helped me understand The Golden Path just a bit better and why 10,000 years later humans were still trapped my their mythology in Dune.

I give this a 9.7 and not a 10, only because I found Kavalier and Clay more fun and personal.

This pix is a clue:

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The Sisterhood of Dune

Sisterhood of DuneSisterhood of Dune by Brian Herbert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

IMO, this is the best book so far of the Dune prequels or expanded universe, whichever you prefer. It is a nexus in the Dune universe, a node from which many branches remain to be explored. I wanted to give it 5*, but only Dune gets that in this universe. It approaches 4.5*.

The book is about beginnings—beginnings of the major powers of Dune. The title is somewhat deceptive. Though it does explore the Bene Gesserit’s beginnings (here called The Sisterhood) and the 1st Reverent Mothers, it gives almost equal time to the beginnings of the Mentats, the Suk doctors and hints about imperial conditioning, the Emperium, The Laandstrad, the Thulaxu, The Navigators, the Fremen and Spice Mining, the Atreides-Harkonnan feud… All of these join in this nexus and I can imagine each being explored in more depth in further novels. It is quite an exciting prospect.

Further, the book is about the Butlerian Jihad, not against the Thinking Machines, they’re dead and gone, but against humans who would use any technology to enhance their lives. In exploring this thing, the authors create a scathing polemic against the forces of fundamentalism, conservatism and theocracy that plague our own civilization today. They show that exploring the future can be like exploring the past, that humans will always be doomed to destruction and chaos by the righteous.

Many give short shrift to the Dune prequels by Brian and Kevin. I have enjoyed them, agree they have not maintained the literary quality of Frank’s seminal novels, but I most strongly recommend this novel to Dune lover’s, even if one has not read the other prequels. The Sisterhood of Dune can stand on it’s own with perhaps a little help from The Dune Wiki

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