Monday, December 28, 2009

The Smell of Telescopes

I was having a hard time getting into The Smell of Telescopes by Rhys Hughes, reading it downstairs just a couple of pages at a time. So I moved it upstairs and was able to enjoy it much more, plowing through it's 461 pages for longer stretches at a time and giving it the attention required to keep up.

I began the book believing it was a novel, but then thought it was a collection of short stories since each chapter read as a self-contained story. While the stories seemed to possibly be set in the same, strange, world, they were each about different characters. Then as I got further into the book characters started to reappear, sometimes with characters from other chapters and I realized that the book, novel if you will, is a collection of interconnected stories.

In a way this book is a microcosm of Rhys' full body of work where he states his goal is to write 1000 interconnected stories. I did note some connections in Telescopes to his earlier novel The Eyeliad. (By the way Rhys, I hope you are keeping an index of all these connections and not leaving it to readers to drive themselves crazy trying to map out.)

If you have not read any of Rhys' books yet (I've read six novels and collections so I'm starting to get a feel for him), they could best be described as fantasy. Not fantasy as in Sword and Scorcery, but more like Peter Pan. State an idea like, "if children live on this island they never grow old," make that the underlying logic of your story, and run wild with it. But the most enjoyable thing about reading Rhys, besides trying to keep up with the whimsical logic of the stories, is the joy of reading the writing itself. Here is an example:

"All I require" the blue dwarf cried, as he placed his hand on my knee, "are your trousers and your soul."

"Oh, little man," said I, "this is a foolish request! They are both too large for you. They would flap in the wind and set up a commotion. Who would want to be your friend then? You would have to shout above the noise: 'Blueberry pie at my house.' Even so no-one would come to visit. You would have to sit alone, absurdly attired.

"But let me tell you of the time I bartered both. The world was a younger place then; we did not value so highly such things as trousers and souls. The former were objects merely to be worn; the latter were baubles brought out over dinner to amuse guests. Neither had pride of place in the wardobe, as they do now."

And as you try to follow the logic of this chapter, I'll warn you now the most important part of that excerpt, as the book unfolds, is the blueberry pie! I don't think I've ever read anyone with an imagination quite like Rhys Hughes, and that's saying something. I'm looking forward to reading Stories from a Lost Anthology next.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Neil Gaiman book signing

The local indie bookstore Little Shop of Stories won a contest to have Neil Gaiman come to their store and do a book signing. Since their store is, I'm guessing, only about 300 square feet, the event was actually held in Presser Hall at nearby Agnes Scott College. It was a wild success. According to Neil's twitter, 1050 fans showed up.

Neil started about 10 minutes late, spoke for a little while and clearly had the audience in the palm of his hand. He then read chapters 2 and 3 from Odd and the Frost Giants and lived up to his reputation as a great public reader. Next he answered questions that had been pre-submitted, which he didn't get to look at until he was on stage. This wasn't a problem as they were all pretty standard questions...until the last one (I think) asking if he would tell us the meaning of life. He then read chapter 17 from The Graveyard Book, and around 7:30 the bane of all writers, the book signing, began.

The organizers were brilliant and the audience was spectacular. You have never seen such a patient crowd. They started by letting anyone with kids come up and get their books signed first. Then they started taking people out of their seats by rows. I was about 20 rows back and didn't get my books signed until 11:30. Even that late there were more smiles in the audience than scowls, well, on the faces of those still awake anyway.

During my four hour wait I went to the back of the auditorium and bought a pre-signed copy of The Graveyard Book, even though it was a 19th printing and I almost never bother to get anything other than first printings signed. I also read most of Fragile Things, all but finishing it when my row was finally called.

You could only get one book signed, or two if you bought at least one book from Little Shop of Stories. I brought a book I bought from the store, a hardcover first printing of Fragile Things and a hardcover of Robert Bloch: Appreciations of the Master; the latter being the only book in my collection signed by Philip José Farmer that Neil also appears in (I'm still kicking myself for not realizing Joe R. Lansdale is in the book and not getting him to sign it at Farmercon a few years ago). When my turn came I gave Neil a copy of
Farmerphile #11 (January 2008), the 90th Birthday Issue, and explained I had tried to contact Neil to get him to write a birthday wish for Phil, but he was on a tour at the time. He seemed interested in the magazine and said he wished he had been able to contribute. Very gracious I thought. I hope he finds time to read it.

Prior to the announcement of Neil coming I had only read two of his books, American Gods and Anansi Boys. I'm now looking forward to reading more, especially Good Omens, but I don't know if I'll be getting into the comics and graphic novels. As for what I'm reading next...

I don't really think of myself as having an issue with Attention Deficit Disorder, until I stop and examine some of the things I do. I have a stack of books on my night stand all jumping up and down waving their pages shouting, "Me, me, pick me!" These are all books I recently decided are at the top of my "What to read next list." But yesterday I got a package in the mail from Subterranean Press containing a book I had pre-ordered over a year ago and which was all but forgotten. But when I opened the package my brain went, "Ooh, it's shiny, it's new," and so now I'm reading Nick and the Glimmung by Philip K. Dick

I'm not an active member of the
Atlanta Science Fiction Society, but I did sign up on their yahoo group so I get an email every time someone posts a message and that is how I learned that Neil Gaiman was coming to town. As for Little Shop of Stories, I never even new they existed until this happened. They do have a charming little store, with friendly staff and a table in the back with books signed by at least a dozen authors (the one time I went to the store to get my ticket). It is mostly a children's book store, but I plan on checking them out every few months to see if they have any new signed books. They did a great job and I hope they reap long term benefits from Neil's visit.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I finished The Gathering Storm last night and I have nothing but praise for the book, begun by Robert Jordan and finished by Brandon Sanderson. At no point did I feel like I wasn't reading Jordan's words. Sanderson seemlessly wrote his parts (from Jordan's notes) into the text Jordan wrote.

It is probably because the log jam is clearing and the series is finally winding towards a conclusion, but I think I enjoyed this book more than I did the last five, which all run together for me.

So bravo to Brandon Sanderson. I commend him for putting his life on hold for much longer than originally anticipated and deciding to conclude the series in three books instead of one. Had he done it in one, it certainly would have seemed rushed and not "felt" like it was written by Jordan at all.

Next up on the reading que: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman.