Magical History Tour #7: Gandhi, Soldier Of Peace by Fabrice Erre & Sylvain Savoia

I’ve found the Magical History Tour series to be incredibly intelligent and moving to date, but I did not expect to cry quite as much as I did while reading this seventh installment, and particularly over the life and times of a figure who’s become so familiar, I almost take for granted that I already know everything I need to about him.

Clearly I did not, as Fabrice Erre and Sylvain Savoia bring to life the kid-friendly biography of one of the greatest figures of the 20th century. It’s no mean feat to distil the Indian subcontinent’s complicated tangle of social and political systems into one fifty-page illustrated volume but the authors do so with aplomb through the lens of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi’s life, covering his birth, upbringing, education and political awakening on his way to leading political movements both in South Africa and India, before his death at the hands of extremists. While Mssr Erre’s gentle narrative voice (in the form of calm, wise Annie advising her more excitable little brother Nico on how to deal with a school bully using Gandhi’s teachings) presents events as neutrally as possible, Mssr Savoia’s illustrations infuse the words with all the emotion necessary. Just seeing a round-faced Gandhi as a child grow up into a straight-backed young man in European dress before becoming the ascetic figure most recognizable to people round the globe felt like a sucker punch to this middle-aged mom, who thinks of mortality and the innocence of childhood far more often than I used to. Children reading this graphic novel probably won’t see the pathos, and that’s okay. Books (and media) that can be appreciated on many levels by readers of all and different ages are a good and precious thing.

To be perfectly honest, the parts that felt most wild and wonderful to me were the parts describing the actions Gandhi took to rebel against unjust rule. In a sense, his historical struggle against colonialism was easier because it had an easy enemy to define: the exploitative British government that refused local self-determination was fairly simple to identify and reject. It’s harder for modern movements that cannot rely on obvious identity signifiers to see who genuinely cares about democracy vs a creeping authoritarianism that adopts the language of unity when all it really seeks is dominion.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/26/magical-history-tour-7-gandhi-soldier-of-peace-by-fabrice-erre-sylvain-savoia/

Good Rich People by Eliza Jane Brazier

This was a really excellent examination of poverty and class that was somewhat marred by an under-explored ending. I suppose one could argue that everything that needed to be said was contained in the preceding pages but I, for one, wanted to know what happened to Helen next.

Good Rich People is the story of Lyla, a moneyed young woman whose father lost everything, so decided to claw back her rightful place in society by fascinating the handsome and obscenely wealthy Graham Herschel. Even tho she suspected that he wasn’t a good person, she didn’t particularly care — or, as she begins to suspect towards the end of the book, she subconsciously thought she could change him. But as her marriage begins to falter, she finds herself drawn further and further into the sick games Graham and his mother Margo play with the tenants they specially select to live in the guesthouse below her own home, just across the street from Margo’s palatial estate.

Demi Golding is their latest tenant, and Lyla can’t figure out whether she’s just stubbornly solitary or, worse, a plant brought there by Margo to ensure that Lyla doesn’t win. For it’s Lyla’s turn to play the game, to prove herself to her husband and mother-in-law, to show that she deserves to stay in their rarefied circles. But she’s already broken the rules once, when everything went wrong with their former tenant. Will she be able to break the rules again in order to save herself, and possibly the lives of others?

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/25/good-rich-people-by-eliza-jane-brazier/

Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber gave the name “swords and sorcery” to the genre that his heroes, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, did so much to define. Both elements are plentiful in the third collection of their tales Swords in the Mist, which was first published in 1968. Four stories comprise the bulk of the volume. “Adept’s Gambit,” the longest and last, was published first, in 1947. “Lean Times in Lankhmar” is from 1959; “When the Sea-King’s Away” is from 1960; and “The Cloud of Hate,” which opens the volume, is the newest, from 1963. The remaining two bits are very short pieces that were written to smooth over what would otherwise be very abrupt transitions.

Swords in the Mist by Fritz Leiber

Three of the four main stories were still familiar to me forty years since I read them the first time, and probably at least twenty since I read them last. What gives these tales such staying power? Three things, I think. First, their directness. They are straight-up what-happens-next stories of suspense, daring and danger. They are other things, too, but first of all readers want to find out what happens and how the heroes get out of the scrapes they have gotten themselves into. In contrast to some of the stories in Swords Against Death, the stories in Swords in the Mist are not written as if Fafhrd or the Mouser might actually die, but there is still tension in finding out just how they will escape the latest predicament.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/24/swords-in-the-mist-by-fritz-leiber/

Say Goodbye by Lewis Shiner

Twenty years before his magnum opus on life and music and bands and fame, Lewis Shiner published Say Goodbye a shorter novel on the same themes, set in the mid-1990s rather than the 1960s. The books share more than just themes: Laurie Moss, the central character of Say Goodbye is the daughter of Mike Moss, a singer in a high-school band that appears early in Outside the Gates of Eden. She gets her guitar from him, and much more.

Say Goodbye by Lewis Shiner

Shiner initially approaches Laurie’s story sideways, with an unnamed first-person narrator who’s a freelance music journalist in an unhappy marriage. The reporter interviews people who knew Laurie Moss when she was new in Los Angeles, yet another person drawn into the bright California sunshine for their chance at the even brighter lights of fame and fortune. There’s the guy from a music store who sold her her first four-track recorder and wound up getting her on stage for the first time in LA. “She was quiet sitting around the table, but onstage she had this, like eagerness. Like at the end of each song she couldn’t wait to get to the next one. It was some very contagious shit. … You could really see the energy happening [onstage] between Summer and Laurie. It’s like…it was enough for me to have done that, to have introduced them. I’m happy just being around the buss, I don’t have to be the buzz, if you know what I mean. Not Laurie, though. She had that bone-deep hunger. I liked her from the first, but that hunger made me scared for her too.” (pp. 3–4)

There’s Bobbi, who owns the restaurant where Laurie worked for a while part-time. Bobbi had come out to LA in the mid-1960s, starstruck and sure that “Destiny had her hand on the telephone, about to dial my number. I was something then, you wouldn’t believe it to look at me now. Smart, good-looking, ambitious. I stuck it out for two years. All I ever got were walk-ons, which I took, and propositions, which I didn’t.” (pp. 4–5) Destiny never called.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/21/say-goodbye-by-lewis-shiner/

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt

The Long Sunset is the eighth book in Jack McDevitt’s series named after the Academy of Science and Technology, whose central character is Priscilla Hutchins, a pilot of interstellar craft generally known by her nickname “Hutch.” Six years ago, when I read Cauldron, I wrote:

The universe that McDevitt has shown through Hutch’s … eyes is a grand one: enough faster-than-light travel to make the space opera work, but enough of the limitations of lightspeed, the immensity of the galaxy, and the implacability of deep time to show that even an earth-based civilization capable of sending ships regularly through interstellar distances is a mere speck in space and time. One of the recurring motifs of the series is that intelligent life and civilizations, even those that reach the stars, don’t last long on a galactic scale. Xenoarchaeologists appear in several books, and some of the most affecting scenes involve civilizations that have been and gone by the time that humans show up. Not all of the civilizations that the archaeologists explore died natural deaths, however; over the course of the series, evidence mounts of something (or rather, somethings) moving through our part of the galaxy at a significant fraction of c, and laying waste to any place with sufficiently high technology.

The Long Sunset by Jack McDevitt

McDevitt is also particularly good at capturing the grandeur of the universe. Previous books in the series have drawn their tension and conflict from the combination of characters and setting, with the unexpected on alien worlds tripping up Hutch and her companions. I read the first five between early 2008 and mid-2010. I remember enjoying them thoroughly even as I admired the tightness of their construction and McDevitt’s inventiveness with settings that felt both real and alien. Following Hutch’s progress from just another skilled pilot to someone who was also good with guiding people was a deeper pleasure of the series. Cauldron answered some long-running questions but also sketched the end of an era, as the Academy was slipping from its place in people’s priorities.

Between the events in Cauldron and the beginning of The Long Sunset, humanity has continued to lose interest in interstellar exploration. Humanity has not found a peer species, just traces of a few who made it to the stars and then succumbed, in some way, to the ravages of uncounted aeons.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/17/the-long-sunset-by-jack-mcdevitt/

Looking Back on 2021

I read and reviewed over 300 books last year. I honestly do not know how I did that, and I’m hoping I won’t have to continue that patently absurd rate of reading this year, especially since I’ve started designing tabletop games and would like to spend more time and effort doing that instead. Ofc, I’ve already read (and mostly enjoyed!) ten books so far this year, so my forecast is admittedly less than encouraging. I shouldn’t complain when it’s my own greed that has me reading so much tho. One day, I’ll learn how to say no to the wonderful new books coming out so constantly, or at least to having to review them on a schedule.

That said, it’s been discouraging to read some of the absolute crap critics have been getting across the board in 2021, almost as if the fan culture wars happening in primarily film have spilled over to book criticism. I can understand creators wanting to hear only from fans instead of receiving honest critique — and no one needs to hear the dumbshit trashing some people substitute for reasoned discussion — but the cult-like mentality from some of those fans, ready to jump down the throats of anyone who disagrees with them, even as the creators they’re stanning for smarmily encourage this silencing… it’s a big eh. I’ve lost a lot of respect for a lot of people over this past year, and that’s even before watching people react in truly childish, insufferable ways to actually important things like the pandemic and politics. I don’t have a lot of sympathy for people whose instinct in the face of adversity is to regress to immaturity. Grow up.

Rant aside, I fully acknowledge that there was lots to enjoy and be grateful for. Of the books I read in 2021 (that also came out in 2021,) I’ve selected these 12 as my very best:

1. Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley — By far my best book of the year, this vital narrative follows the life of Daunis Fontaine, a biracial, unenrolled member of the Ojibwe who often struggles to reconcile the many different aspects of her life as an 18 year-old in Michigan. When she’s recruited by the FBI to help foil a drug ring targeting her people, her struggle to keep theme safe imperils everything she holds dear. This labor of love was Ms Boulley’s debut novel, and the amount of craft and heart poured into it are both palpable and outstanding.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/13/looking-back-on-2021/

The Ivory Key (The Ivory Key Duology #1) by Akshaya Raman

This was a very interesting tale of four squabbling royal siblings who must come together to save their country, marred by some weird instances of under-writing. It’s certainly a page turner in the back half, and who doesn’t love a non-generic fantasy setting? Inspired by Indian mythology, with a distinct matrilineal bent, this is an inclusive fantasy that also features queer characters and, even more unusually in the YA genre, strict but not in-your-face vegetarianism.

Vira is the young maharani of Ashoka, thrust onto the throne after her mother’s death in battle less than two years earlier. As the eldest daughter, she always knew that the weight of responsibility lay on her head. Even so, she’s unprepared for how her council of twelve advisors, representatives of her various states and ministries, strive to bully her into following their edicts. The first of these, unfortunately, was for the immediate arrest and imprisonment of her older brother Kaleb, for conspiracy to assassinate the former maharani.

Kaleb willingly accepts imprisonment despite protesting his innocence. While his father was the former maharani’s consort, his mother was a noblewoman of Lyria (think Ancient Greece,) who died when he was a toddler. With Lyria aggressing on Ashoka’s borders, it’s easy to paint him as the scapegoat, despite the fact that his entire worldly ambitions have been to become as accomplished a scholar and mayaka (essentially a magic smith) as his late father.

Ronak, Vira’s twin brother, is deeply unhappy with her treatment of Kaleb. A devoted historian, he ventures way out of his comfort zone in an effort to free his brother, getting in touch with a criminal element in order to secure enough funds to both break Kaleb out of prison and start a new life for them somewhere far away from his sister’s realm. But will the price he’s expected to pay in return break not only him but Ashoka itself?

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/12/the-ivory-key-the-ivory-key-duology-1-by-akshaya-raman/

The Smurf Tales Vol 3: The Crow In Smurfy Grove And Other Stories by Peyo

This latest volume in Peyo’s translated oeuvre certainly shows how far we’ve come since the days when borderline offensive jokes about Smurfette were considered, if not outright hilarious, then certainly acceptable consumption for young children. Behold how in the 50 or so intervening years, the Smurfs universe has acquired an entire other village of female Smurfs, each with their own personality and specialty, and watch how the vague objectification of Smurfette falls away as other vital, interesting female characters get their time in the spotlight. There is a moral here about female solidarity being a tide that lifts all boats. But even if you don’t care for feminist discourse, however mild or subtle, there’s a lot to enjoy in this third volume of the Papercutz series.

While on an expedition in the Forbidden Forest, Smurfette, Brainy Smurf, Hefty Smurf and Clumsy Smurf come across the hidden village of Smurfy Grove, populated entirely by female Smurfs. The villagers are initially suspicious of the newcomers but quickly befriend them, a process helped in large part by Smurfette’s sunny disposition. This volume actually begins after the Smurfs of Smurf Village have been accepted by the inhabitants of the grove. The first story, Brainy Smurf’s Walk, is an introduction to the many ways that Smurfy Grove differs from Smurf Village. The next tale, Challenges For Hefty Smurf, sets up a rivalry between the strongest Smurf and Smurfy Grove’s most accomplished warrior/huntress. Clumsy Smurf’s Dragonfly details how that hapless Smurf trains an insect friend, while the next three stories showcase the external threats facing Smurfy Grove. The last of these, as well as the final Smurfs tale in this volume, examine as well the internal threats to Smurfy Grove, and point to a new direction for our tribe of female Smurfs.

Also included here are two bonus throwback stories of the Smurfs facing off against Gargamel’s magic, as well as a tale of Johan and Peewit that, while brief, is chock-full of humor and surprises, particularly for those hoping to relieve Peewit of the musical instrument he plays so badly. Overall, the stories are extremely strong, bringing fresh plots and humor with their expanded cast of characters, tho emphasizing always the value of friendship and adaptability. I was really pleasantly surprised by the vivid color palette used for Smurfy Grove, too. While Smurf Village tends toward primary colors, Smurfy Grove loves its oranges, hot pinks and jungle greens, making for a lovely, lush contrast to the usual tones I’ve come to expect from illustrations of the Smurfs.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/11/the-smurf-tales-vol-3-the-crow-in-smurfy-grove-and-other-stories-by-peyo/

Cinder The Fireplace Boy: And Other Gayly Grimm Tales (Rewoven Tales) by Ana Mardoll

Oh, man, the punctuation in that title sets my teeth on edge. It also bothers me that it’s part of a series but there’s no numbering for said series which, as of writing, consists of a novel and two short story collections. I suppose it doesn’t matter if the books are read out of order, but there’s value in knowing at a glance what was written when in an author’s career, without having to research publication years.

That said, the content of this book is a lot of fun. Ana Mardoll grabbed a bunch of Grimm’s Fairy Tales straight from Project Gutenburg and re-wrote them to be inclusive of trans and queer characters, while excising anti-Semitic and other questionably religious messaging. The introduction talks about how fundamental fairy tales often are to the early career of a reader, and the importance of seeing yourself represented within their pages. To that end, this book succeeds tremendously. Whether it be having the classic tale of Cinderella feature an AFAB boy named Cinder who enthralls the King’s son during local festivities, to the Brave Little Tailor being a young cis woman who understands the power of marketing, the selection is well-curated for all genders, with significant disability rep as well. I was also pleased that the villains aren’t predominantly female either, with a good balance of evil parents and rulers as foils for our protagonists.

Helpfully, there are content warnings (which I far prefer as a term to the oddly reader-blaming slant of “trigger warning”) and guides to pronouns at the beginning of each story. While I freely admit to finding many neopronouns cumbersome and arbitrary — and, to be clear, I strongly believe in using people’s preference of he/she/they/no pronouns altogether — this collection is helpful in rubbing the edges off of my dislike and making said neopronouns easier to assimilate into one’s reading.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/10/cinder-the-fireplace-boy-and-other-gayly-grimm-tales-rewoven-tales-by-ana-mardoll/

Taking Stock of 2021

For a year that started out with a struggle to read much of anything at all, 2021 brought numerous books that made me very happy to read, to have read, to browse repeatedly, and to go back and read bits of them again and again. Both Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins and Fletcher and Zenobia are children’s picture books, and they delight me every time. Dungeons & Dragons Art & Arcana: A Visual History is a picture book of a different sort; the time I spend with it on re-reading is a mix of remembering and imagining, and it is a wonderful book for both.

Hershel and a goblin

I read two large books about rock bands from the 1960s, and I loved them both. Outside the Gates of Eden was written by Lewis Shiner, who was there for the ’60s; Utopia Avenue was written by David Mitchell, who was born in 1969 and thus has a different perspective. Shiner is a Texan, Mitchell is an Englishman, both have their characters start bands locally but then pass through New York and San Francisco where they encounter well-known personalities of the era. Mitchell ends the main story still in the ’60s, with the bridge to the 21st century sketched out in a touching epilogue. Shiner follows his characters all the way through to a slightly alternate version of the 2010s. Both books are brilliant and worth the long ride.

Other books that were long on delight and make me smile again just thinking about them: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison, a second book set in the world of The Goblin Emperor; All Systems Red by Martha Wells, since I finally got around to the first Murderbot novella; All-American Muslim Girl by Nadine Jolie Courtney, exactly what it says; and A Wizard’s Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher, which is not so much a guide but would probably be helpful all the same under certain circumstances.

In 2021, I read nine books in translation: four from Japanese (manga not reviewed here), plus one each from Polish, Icelandic, Turkish, Spanish and Italian. I read five books in German, all from the series “München erlesen” (“Munich selections” with a pun on the German verb for reading). One of them was terrible, another was meh at best, and none of the other three was really great, so on the whole it was a so-so year for reading in German. I did better with poetry: seven book-length collections, which is definitely the most in many years. Four from Seamus Heaney, all terrific. I think of North and Station Island with particular pleasure. I did not connect nearly as well with Louise Glück. Part of the reason could be that I started with her first published collection about which she wrote, “Toward the poems of Firstborn, some written nearly 35 [now more than 50] years ago, I try to cultivate an attitude of embarrassed tenderness.”

The Refrigerator Monologues

Thirty-five of the books I read this year were written or co-written by men. Twenty-six of the books I read this year were written or co-written by women. I read three books (plus the excerpt from Cemetery Boys that was in the Hugo voter’s packet but which did not move me to get the rest of the book) by people who are publicly non-binary and/or trans. Wikipedia says that the gender of the author of The Promised Neverland is not known to the general public. A lot more of the books, especially the Hugo finalists, had characters who were non-binary or trans, but I did not keep specific count.

Eight of this year’s books were re-reads, including three of the first four books I read in 2021. It was that kind of a January. I’ll probably re-read all of them again, except for Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was nevertheless worth re-visiting. Now that I have a proper copy, I keep Fletcher and Zenobia close at hand for those moments when it’s the very thing.

Best deconstruction of tropes: The Refrigerator Monologues by Catherynne M. Valente. Best trilogy by a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford: Do I even have to name this one? Best romp not yet mentioned: The Left-Handed Booksellers of London by Garth Nix. Scariest book: The Man Without a Face by Masha Gessen. Best book of big ideas and best bits about Ethiopia: Gnomon (twice) by Nick Harkaway. Best example of entirely too much: The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño. Best encounter with the numinous: Piranesi (redux) by Susanna Clarke. Best encounter with theology, possibly best mid-book twist, and best year-ending review: Lent by Jo Walton.

Full list, roughly in order read, is under the fold with links to my reviews and other writing about the authors here at Frumious.

Continue reading

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2022/01/07/taking-stock-of-2021/