Thursday, August 23, 2012

Younger Women, by Karen Joy Fowler

A short story this time--Younger Women, a World Fantasy 2011 nominee in the short story category.  Short stories really have to bowl me over to get me to like them, and this one doesn't, quite.  Part of the wave of vampire stories.  This is a more mundane encounter, which is different, but the characters don't get a chance to stand out.  It's nice, but not nearly as strong as the other online nominees--The Paper Menagerie and The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees.  Just two stars, for average.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

A Small Price to Pay For Birdsong, by K. J. Parker

As promised, I am taking a short break from Song of Ice and Fire to look at the World Fantasy Award winners available online, through my favorite website, Free SF Online.  Over the past two days I read A Small Price to Pay for Birdsong, by K. J. Parker, a nominee in the Novella category.  And am really glad of it.

This story is one of the best I have read in a long time, as much as anything because it caught me by surprise.  For the first couple of paragraphs, it reads like a cover of the movie Amadeus, and I was ready to dismiss it.  But it quickly goes far beyond the resemblance.  While our protagonist remains very much Saligheri, his nemesis (Subtilius) is a much more talented and crueler version of Mozart.  His instrument of torture? 

Music comes easily for Subtilius, while it's much more of a chore for P.  Subtilius corrupts P. into helping him by offering him a piece of music written in P's own style--but so much better. 

There are a lot of simple turns this story could have taken and been pretty good.  But Parker resists them all and makes it even better.  We get a very powerful exposition of what plagiarism, and creating one's own work, means.  And as if that weren't enough we get fully developed characters to work through it--they are more than just illustrations of the point, though that would have been enough. 

For another perspective on the ethics of borrowing someone else's talent, see Nothing to Declare, linked from this post on this blog.  Together they make you think very seriously about how we create our own work from the work of others.

Four stars for this one.  Go read.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A Storm of Swords, by George R. R. Martin

I am progressing steadily in the Song of Ice and Fire series, having just finished A Storm of Swords.  The book definitely has the feel of a midpoint in an epic, and it can be hard to sustain the momentum during these spells.  Since Martin eschews sensationalizing the fantasy elements of the story, it ends up reading a lot like history. But really well done history--we move smoothly from viewpoint to viewpoint, with each teller coming forward in turn, moving the plot along and revealing more about themselves in steady measure.  We see the decline of Westeros here, though none of the characters seem all that conscious of it.  This is consistent with their mostly noble positions--there is some concern here and there for the "smallfolk" and how they will get through the winter since the country is squandering several harvests on war, but in the end glory wins out.

And the lives of the players are quite tumultuous--more Starks get killed, and even the Lannisters suffer major losses.  Spoiler alert, am going to talk specifics.  Though I have not spoiled it for myself.  Seems like Tyrion is going to be one of the continuity characters.  Martin seems to be fond of him, it's hard to imagine him dying.  Of course, one fantasy element that DOES appear to be playing a large role is returning from the dead--Berric Dondarrion set that up, then Catelyn Stark does so at the end.  Most of Storm of Swords is chess moves, but at the end things are really hopping.

I am still wondering about the lack of standard progress in Westeros and the world.  Eight thousand years, and they have actually gone backward a bit, at least as regards the Wall.  But no explanations (just a bare hint in that Valyria seems to have been rather advanced before its Doom--no clue of what that is yet).  Are long winters truly that catastrophic?  We shall see.

I will be back shortly, am taking a break from Westeros to catch up on the online World Fantasy Award nominees.