Books Read in April, 2019
Maureen Birnbaum Barbarian Swordsperson, The Complete Stories by George Alec Effinger (r)
The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Harrahan
An Ocean of Minutes by Thea Lim
Horizon by Jenn Reese
Legion of Super-Heroes Comics (r)
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman
Buying Time by E.M. Brown
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
March, 2019 Locus
John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook by Richard August, Jennifer Baughman et. al. (RPG)
The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum
The Wicked King by Holly Black
John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game Narrator’s Screen and Narrator’s Toolkit by Jack Norris et. al. (RPG)
Teenagers From the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes edited by Timothy Callahan (r?)
April, 2019 Reader’s Digest
The Leaf Reader by Emily Arsenault
Robert Asprin’s Myth-Quoted by Jody Lynn Nye
April, 2019 Locus
And that was my reading for April, 2019. This past month was a terrific month of reading in terms of quantity of books read, and the quality was also there for the most part. The sore neck is still there, and I've been doing some work to get ready for CanGames 2019, but still managed a good amount of reading somehow in April. Subconsciously, I suspect I realized that May will be a slow reading month for me, what with CanGames and other stuff this month, so... The books I enjoyed the most were:
John Carter of Mars Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook by Richard August, Jennifer Baughman et. al. - This is a lovely 280-page rulebook for the roleplaying game based on the Barsoom stories written in the early 1900s by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The book is a landscape format work, rather than the standard portrait style, and as such makes the rulebook almost a coffee table book. Clean text and a good palette of colours for the backgrounds and text makes this book eminently readable. I’m not going to talk about the rules here, though they are excellent. What makes the book shine for me is the writing of the game and the sheer amount of information about the world of John Carter and the planet of Barsoom (what we know as Mars). With very dense text and lovely illustrations, this game is a very good book, not just a roleplaying game, and offers up the marvels of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s highly inventive and stunning world in a roleplaying game context that is highly readable. The only thing that mars (no pun intended!) the game for me is the landscape format, which is awkward to hold and read. But that’s true for all coffee table books. Fortunately, this book won’t sit on a coffee table for me. I highly recommend this book as a source of material on the John Carter of Mars world and mythos, even if the reader doesn’t intend to use it as a roleplaying game.
The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan - The first book of the Black Iron Legacy series (or perhaps duology), this book is absolutely brilliant, charming, nauseatingly horrific at times, and has a superb climax! I’ve long been a fan of the author’s work in the tabletop roleplaying industry, and have been waiting for this novel for some time. The story is set around four characters. Cari or Carillon is a thief with a checkered past. Cari’s story is often interspersed with visions that allude to this past and slowly paint a picture of what she has experienced in her past life and will yet experience still. She does, however, have two friends in the city. Spar is a Stone Man, afflicted by a plague that is slowly petrifying his body to the point where he finds it extremely painful and difficult to move. Rat is a ghoul, one of the dwellers of the dank undercity who are an homage to H.P. Lovecraft with their animalistic, dead body eating version with almost wolf-like tendencies and behaviours. These three friends live in the fourth character of the book: Guerdon. Guerdon is a haunting and foreboding city of which not much is known at the beginning of the story, though there is a (Gods)war going on outside its borders. While depicted as a neutral territory that profits by selling sorcery-enhanced weapons to both sides of the (Gods)war, the setting of the city itself is extremely dark, filled with underground labyrinths, catacombs, and all type of creatures that stalk its mysterious nooks and crannies. It’s a setting that brings to mind other fantasy cities, but what makes Guerdon so unique is that it feels throughout the course of the book like a living, breathing thing. The characters surrounding the central four, such as Eladora, the scholar Ongent and his son Miren, the saint Aleena, are all fascinating characters in their own right and give this tale flavour and depth beyond what might be expected. Fans of Scott Lynch, China Mieville, Glen Cook, Steven Erikson and Jeff VanderMeer will find a lot to love about this book. This novel is a dark gothic horror-tinged fantasy novel that is innovative and has some remarkable moments, some very gross in the best sense, and I highly recommend this book.
Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman - I've always loved mythology, folktales and legends. They are the original fairy tales of humanity. I’ve also loved the books of Neil Gaiman forever since I read his first book. Given the author’s faerie tale quality of writing, it made perfect sense for him to do a book of Norse mythology tales - and Neil Gaiman delivers in this book! The author recreates Norse mythology with his signature style, with a bit of humour and a lot of complex characters. There’s also a good dose of charm thrown in for good measure. He makes the stories feel modern and fresh, yet still timeless, and while the reader has the impression he or she is reading about millennia-old gods, it's very accessible to today's reader. Norse Mythology is told in short stories. Some of the chapters are very short, only a page or two long, and others are slightly longer. I liked how easy it was to dip in and out of the tales in this book. That said make no mistake: It is a fast-paced and action-packed book, but what shines through the most is how all these stories tie into important aspects of the real world — as stories about gods tend to do, I suppose. This is a fascinating portrait of a time and a people who really truly believed in Odin and Loki and their many escapades. A funny, eye-opening book that was highly enjoyable and readable. Recommended.
Robert Asprin’s Myth-Quoted by Jody Lynn Nye - I've been a fan of the Myth series for years. I was there at the beginning when an apprentice magician named Skeeve witnessed his master’s death at the hands of an assassin, and then the budding relationship between Skeeve and the “demon” Aahz that the deceased master had accidentally summoned. This is the twentieth (!!) book in the series, and the first written solely by Jody Lynn Nye, and while the book starts out well enough, it… lacks what made the early stories special. The focus of this book is a political contest that has gone on for five years. M.Y.T.H. Inc. is asked to bring closure to the campaign and guarantee a fair and honest election. Needless to say, a tale in this vein with a 5-year political campaign ongoing is full of mudslinging, dirty tricks, magic, and spying stuff. Not to mention the role that the journalists of the world play. Naturally, things get even worse (if that’s possible) when a yellow-eyed, green-scaled Pervect with two rows of sharp teeth enters the political contest as a candidate. While the plot is fairly simple, in a lot of ways, things don’t go as expected. However, the chemistry between Skeeve and Bunny is gone, most of the M.Y.T.H. crew don’t appear, but there are foreshadowings of something bubbling behind the scenes with Bunny that may come to light in another book. The author keeps up the tradition of humorous quotes at the beginning of each chapter, and the book is readable. While the book may have been based on a plot that Robert Aspirin and Jody Lynn Nye came up with together while the former was still alive, I realized what’s missing - Asprin’s writing style and panache. It’s a decent book with a batch of wisdom contained within the humour of the story, both political and otherwise, though, so I rather liked it when all is said and done.
Teenagers From the Future: Essays on the Legion of Super-Heroes edited by Timothy Callahan - To be honest, this book has been sitting on my shelves for some years now, but I can’t remember if I’ve read it before or not. That said… I have been a fan of the Legion of Super-Heroes since forever, ever since my dad showed me a comic that he’d bought, Adventure Comics #247, that had Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad induct Superboy into the Legion (cover dated 1958). This book, edited by an obvious Legion fan, is a collection of some eighteen essays (twenty, if you count the preface and epilogue) on the Legion of Super-Heroes. These essays range from studies of specific elements (fashion, utopian architecture, homosexuality) to literary criticism of the books' various eras, sometimes exposing some very interesting, even surprising themes. One thing that shines through in the book as a whole is how the Legion is/was so often in the avant-garde of superhero comics, doing first what we have taken later for granted. It’s an interesting read, though could have used a bit more proofreading in places, but is well organized by the editor who somehow ensured the essays fit the Legion’s actual publication history. My only problem with the book is that someone with very little or no knowledge of the Legion might not be able to follow these essays. That said, it is a fascinating read and sheds much light on some aspects of the Legion of Super-Heroes and its writers and editors that many comics readers may not know about. Highly recommended.
Overall, I managed to read 12 novels, 2 RPGs and RPG product, 3 magazines, 3 comics, and 0 graphic novels in April. This brings the year total in 2019 to a set of numbers that look like this: 28 books, 6 RPGs and RPG products, 8 magazines, 83 comics, and 0 graphic novels.
Anyway, thoughts and comments are always welcome. :)