I’ve been saying for a while that we need more stories that fall into the overlap between country noir and speculative fiction. The hollers and dark dirt roads that host country noir yarns have their own rich tradition of myths and folk tales. And speculative elements, perhaps especially horror, dovetail well with the bones of a country noir story—better than, certainly, romance or even mystery. In his novel The Only Good Indians, Stephen Graham Jones combines supernatural horror and rez noir (a kissing cousin to country noir). Four young Blackfeet Indians committed some great sin on an elk hunt years ago, and an angry spirit of sorts is looking for bloody restitution.
Firestarter is the story of Andy McGee, possessing mild powers of mind domination, and his young daughter, Charlie McGee, possessing very un-mild powers of pyrokinesis. The story begins with Andy and Charlie on the run from agents of a mysterious government intelligence agency called the Shop. We learn how Andy and his wife got their powers and how she died from flashbacks interspersed with the main story. The antagonist the government, as represented by the Shop, and the primary antagonist from the Shop is Rainbird, kind of a poor man’s Anton Chigurh, so loaded with traits and quirks something the whole is less than the sum.
It has been some quarter. If it seems like posting has been slow across both blogs, I have a good excuse! Our son was born in early February. Which has kept me real busy, but I managed to still do some reading and writing (and a lot more TV watching than normal).
Glen Cook’s The Black Company was a milestone work that had an outsized influence on the fantasy genre. Which is probably why Tor decided to reissue it (as a handsome trade paperback with a bland cover) for their “Tor Essentials” line this past Tuesday. That reissue got me to finally read it. I had long since owned The Black Company in mass-market paperback, but I finally cracked it open after Tor sent me a review copy of their new edition, complete with new introduction by Malazan author Steven Erikson.
First published in 1984, The Black Company technically falls after my arbitrary cutoff for Vintage SF. But it isn’t like I was reading much adult fantasy at my tender age in 1984, so it and its peers are as new to me as a book from 1964 or 1944. Also I was lazy and didn’t post a review on Tuesday when the book was released like I should have.
It’s not exactly Vintage Science Fiction Month anymore, but just because I let this one slip last week doesn’t mean I’m not going to post a review of Poul Anderson’s Fire Time. As I remember it, I picked up Fire Time at a used bookstore a few years ago thinking it was a fantasy or sword and planet. It is not, being rather very much hard science fiction. (The High Crusade is the only other Poul Anderson I’ve read, but apparently Anderson wrote fantasy, space opera, and hard science fiction all.)
I’ve said before that John Maddox Roberts is neck-and-neck with Robert Jordan for best writer of Conan pastiches, but that he gets Conan better than any other writer of pastiches I have read. Conan the Valorous helps firm up my conclusion. Setting a Conan story in Cimmeria is a ballsy move, but Roberts is the right writer to pull it off.
Goodreads used to give you nifty little pie charts divvying up your books read in a year by genre or however you categorized your books in shelving them. Google (as Google does) discontinued the tool they used to generate the pie charts, though, and Goodreads never bothered to replace them. I didn’t get around to counting up my books by category until after I published my year-in-review. When I finally did get around to it, I was shocked to learn that I only read one(!) vintage speculative fiction book in 2021. That simply will not do. At least I have a book resolution for 2022 now. I kicked things off with A Fighting Man of Mars, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ seventh Barsoom novel.
(January, of course, is an ideal month to read vintage speculative fiction, because it is Vintage SF Month.)
Seven books in, and Edgar Rice Burroughs has still got it. A Fighting Man of Mars clocks in as my third favorite Barsoom book. Its plot doesn’t crackle with the same energy as The Gods of Mars, and it isn’t as wildly (and effectively) inventive as The Chessmen of Mars, but both plot and worldbuilding is superlative, with an immense amount of each squeezed into just 200 pages.
Our long national nightmare is over. 2021 has passed and 2022 begins. Only, on one hand, the word “over” doesn’t really fit when we are facing another wave of COVID, and, on the other hand, I actually had a really good year. Work is going well, my daughter continues to be the light of my life in the interstitial spaces between tantrums, we are getting settled into our new house, I am home in the mountains, and—for the really big news—we have a son on the way in the very near future.
What Friday would be complete without a Wheel of Time post? I’m not quite ready to give up on writing about the show yet. I recapped and reacted to each and every episode in basically real-time, but an episode-by-episode analysis and evaluation doesn’t necessarily line up with a whole-season analysis and evaluation. Sometimes a season is greater than the sum of its parts, sometimes it is less. I liked 6 of the 8 episodes in season 1, but I am sour on the season as a whole. Worse, I don’t have faith in the show team for fix its issues in season 2. Let’s break things down.