Just found a typo in my diss: ‘Jeff the sandman,’ instead of soundman. Should probably be two words, ‘sound man,’ but anyway, an unexpected @NeilHimself-esque touch.
A re-read of Pratchett & Gaiman’s comedy-horror masterpiece, prior to the forthcoming TV series.
I remembered little, and/but enjoyed it immensely. Probably more this time than whenever it was I last read it. You don’t have to have read The Omen to enjoy this, just in case you thought that.
Oh, turns out it was in 2007: the twelfth book I read that year. I’m starting to repeat myself.
Gaiman takes on Thor, Loki, Odin, and the rest. Most of my knowledge of the Norse gods comes from Marvel Comics, with a bit of general cultural osmosis (for example, everyone has heard of Yggdrasil the World Tree, right?)1
I enjoyed it, but it feels like a slight work. That’s a shame, because these are mighty tales, or should be. I guess it’s a book meant at least partly for children, but it’s not marketed that way. And even if It’s meant for kids, the telling should be strong.
I suspect that if you already know the tales, this won’t offer much new to you. And that’s where the problem lies, I think. Instead of turning them into real narratives with proper characters, each story is not much more than a summary of the events. So he’s telling us the story of the story, rather than really telling (showing) the story. It’s a shame, because I know Gaiman could have done something much more interesting with these.
I’m probably being too harsh, though. It’s not like it’s bad. I enjoyed reading it.
Gaiman returns to the character and story that made him famous (and wins the graphic story Hugo award by doing so).
This is a prequel to the original story. In that, you’ll recall (or if you don’t you should go and read them), Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams, starts by being captured by a wizard as he returns exhausted from an earlier adventure.
This is that earlier adventure. And it’s right up there with the rest of the Sandman stories. Highly recommended.
The first three books of 2014 were:
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman’s fantasy inspired by his own childhood experiences is fun. It is short, however, and strangely unmemorable after just a couple of months.
It by Stephen King
I read some King when I was younger, but hadn’t in several years apart from On Writing, until a couple of years ago when my beloved gave me 11.22.63, his time-travel fantasy about going back to save JFK. I throughly enjoyed that, and was reminded that he had a vast back-catalogue that I could catch up on.
A significant portion of that catalogue is contained in the single volume of It. It is a monolith, a vast behemoth of a book, at around 1300 pages.
It’s good, though, and I shouldn’t fixate on its size. King uses the space to let his characters breathe and grow. They have the strange limitation as adults that they have almost totally forgotten their childhoods, as a direct result of their encounter with the titular creature. Though not, as you might suppose, because they were traumatised. Rather it seems to be a feature of interacting with the supernatural entity that haunts the town of Derry, Maine, in the primary guise of a scary clown, that, if you face it and live (few do) you forget the encounter.
I had met Derry before: in 11.22.63 the protagonist spends some time in this strange town, and the effect in the book was so jarring – it felt obvious that here was a place with a history – that I looked it up. Turns out he’s used the fictional town as the setting for several stories (and presumably couldn’t resist routing his time-traveller through it).
Anyway, getting back to the book at hand: I spent weeks embroiled in King’s small-town America, its characters and its horrors. And I thoroughly enjoyed it, but am in no hurry to go back there soon.
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
Wow. Just wow. This is an awesome book. Atkinson manages to tell the same woman’s life story again and again and keep it interesting and gripping every time (well, there’s a slight longueur during a German period in one iteration, but the undercurrent of terror – she is living in the Führer’s holiday home – keeps it from being a problem).
As you probably know, it’s the tale of a woman who was born in 1910 and died – at various times, and in various ways. We are told the story of her life as she repeats it, again and again – or through multiple parallel timestreams. As the iterations go on, she starts to have some awareness of her past lives. She doesn’t understand what they are at first, of course, especially as a child. At first she’ll just have a sense of dread as she nears an event that killed her before. Later they are clearer memories of the future.
It is utterly fascinating and a joy. And not SF, though if I had read it soon enough I’d have nominated it for the BSFA Award.
I read Kate Atkinson’s first, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, years ago, and likened it to Iain Banks’s The Crow Road (hard to to think of higher praise). I read one other, but wasn’t so impressed, and rather lost track of her, apart from watching the TV adaptations of her detective stories. I think maybe I need to go back and catch up on her work.
I realise that I said I would report back from Eastercon. It already seems like quite a long time ago. I had a great time, though I missed out on the Saturday night and Sunday morning and early afternoon, as I went to collect my son from his grandparents'.
It was his first convention, and I think he quite enjoyed it; though the next time we’ll need to ensure that there are some other kids there who like Yu-Gi-Oh! (mental trading card game beloved of ten-year-old boys).
I saw some old friends and had a fine time. I was very restrained in comparison with my old conventioneering days. Early(ish) nights, the lot. It was quite refreshing to come home on the Monday and not feel at all rough.
The guests of honour were great, those of them that I saw, at least. I missed “Charlie Stross’s”:www.antipope.org/charlie/b… speech because of being away for a while, but he was by far the most visible of them all around the con. China Miéville gave a great speech about how it doesn’t spoil stories to read more into them than the author consciously intended; or than our interlocutor might say we should (you know, the kind who say, “You’re reading too much into it! It’s just a story!").
And Neil Gaiman (the net’s no. 1 Neil) was lovely. He read a short story, and talked for a bit, and then read the start of his new novel The Graveyard Book. Later on, he did a kids-only reading of The Wolves in the Walls. The best part of that was that parents and carers were allowed in too. He really knows how to handle an audience; even one of the most demanding kind, such as this.
And my boy got his books signed without having to join the apparently-mad queues for the official signing sessions.
Then there was a performance of my friend Andrew’s play, The Terminal Zone, which I wrote about when I read the chapbook, It’s a fine work. This particular performance could have done with more rehearsal, but of course, these are amateurs, fitting it all into the rest of their lives, and doing a damn fine job.
That was followed by a live set from Mitch Benn, who I’ve been a fan of for some time from his performances on Radio 4’s The Now Show, and live, he was absolutely fantastic, especially, I think, since the audience got all his SF references (you don’t say) without any prompting.
All in all, a great weekend, in a fine hotel (pity it’s lost its swimming pool, though).
A collection of some of Neil's shorter comics work. All fine and dandy, but far from essential. The most interesting one for me was a Swamp Thing story for which they had reunited the old art team ('old' in the sense of, from the days when Alan Moore was writing it) of Steve Bissette and John Totleben. So that it looked 'right', even for me, who has always paid much more attention to story than artwork. I've never bought a comic because of its artists, but often have because of its writer. That's why it was mainly Alan Moore who brought me back to comics as an adult: he's a great storyteller.
Indeed, I fairly often find myself annoyed or frustrated with sections of comics where the story is told entirely or mainly visually, and for reasons of poor reproduction, or just the artist(s) not being as good as they think they are, it’s hard to work out what’s supposed to be going on.
That happened to a small extent in one of the stories here, in which Gaiman uses the ‘old’ Sandman character, who was published by DC long ago, and was in abeyance when he reimagined the character as the Lord of Dreams that we know today. The old Sandman is a masked adventurer in the intra-war years. His mask is a gas mask, and his weapon is a gun that fires sleeping gas.
This story is a kind of crossover between the two versions of The Sandman. The old one has cause to visit the house in England where an old wizard has the Lord of Dreams captured - as at the very start of Gaiman’s Sandman, in other words.
All in all, reading this was not time wasted, but it wasn’t that great.
The last of my three recent graphic borrowings from the library, and the one I expected to like most. But it's a bit lightweight for Gaiman's work, and for my taste.
It’s based on work that Gaiman did with Alice Cooper for a concept album that the latter released in 1994. I didn’t know that people still made concept albums, but there you go.
Also there is one theme in particular that Gaiman was to revisit in American Gods; namely that of the town where children disappear periodically. In American Gods the periodic disappearance (and murder, let’s face it) of the child acts a kind of spell, which protects a town from the encroachment of the rest of the world and the forces of modernity and ‘development’. In this work, there’s no suggestion that the children’s absorption into the ‘Theater of the Real’ brings advantage to anyone other than the the semi-mythical ‘Showman’. Gaiman was perhaps using this work to develop some of the ideas that he would return to later.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, but as I say, the work as a whole seems shallow and perhaps incomplete, compared to, say, The Sandman.
But I hadn’t actually read the book until now. I had read the first chapter online, and I had an idea roughly what it was about: real gods (maybe all gods) walking the Earth in the present day.
And it’s a stormer of a book. The pages just keep turning, the quotes are quotable (girl-Sam’s “I believe” speech is particularly fine) and myths are mashed up in glorious style.
It’s shortcomings are, perhaps, that it slows down a bit too much in the middle section; and Wednesday and Shadow make perhaps too many visits to down-at-heel gods without anything very specific happening during them. It reads like a road movie in places (which is fine), and it would probably make a good one.
There are surprises right up to the end, though, and I’m sure I’ll read it again in the future.