2/13 On the Bookshelf . . .

Penny Arcade

Just received a copy of The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11 1/2 Anniversary Edition.  If you haven’t heart of the web comic Penny Arcade, then you’re in for a treat.  Also found out the the guys – Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins – will be in San Mateo on the 24th as part of the book tour.  I was originally planning to interview them for Bookbanter in June, but maybe if I can get it set up now, I’ll be able to do it in person, which is always better for interviewing.

“Dreamsongs, Volume I” by George R. R. Martin (Bantam, 2007)

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The two great mysteries of this world are when scientists will come up with a unification theory for quantum mechanics and relativity, and when George R. R. Martin will release the very long-awaited fifth book in his “Song of Ice and Fire” series, A Dance With Dragons.  With a hopeful but doubtful release some time next year, for the time being there is thankfully Dreamsongs, a two-volume collection featuring George R. R. Martin’s short stories and novellas spanning his career.

This first volume is split into five parts, separating periods of Martin’s life from the sixties and on through the seventies.  At the beginning of each part, Martin gives an introduction, telling his life story at this particular moment, and what were the circumstances that led up to each particularly story and how they were published.  He begins from the beginning, writing and publishing at a young age, when one would expect the work to be simple and undeveloped, and yet it is clear that George R. R. Martin was a talented writer from the start.  In each story are unique and memorable characters that stick with the reader long after the tale is over.  In “The Exit to San Breta,” the main character is driving his classic, ancient Jaguar along the old and disused freeways of North America.  It is on a particular road in Arizona that he runs into an even more ancient Edsel in incredible condition riding a perfectly flat and unblemished road.  Soon he becomes part of a horrific haunting accident set to continuously play itself out for all eternity.

In Martin’s science fiction, he establishes himself in a unique way, using the same world each time, but different planets, a distinct plot, and unforgettable characters that just add much more meaning to the story.  In the last two parts, Martin reveals his love for first fantasy and his development as a fantasy writer, and finally as a horror writer.  His most well-known story that won him the most prestigious science fiction awards involves a combination of these genres, in “Sandkings.”  Kress is a collector of the unusual, whatever the cost, until the day he buys a terrarium of sandkings: small insect-like creatures that form alliances and coalitions, fight wars over land and food, living in peace when able; even worshiping their owner, if he feeds them and takes good care of them.  Kress seeks to control and make them his playthings, until they become too intelligent and powerful, breaking free of the terrarium, increasing in size, until Kress has no form of escape.

In this first collection, one sees where the writer George R. R. Martin came from, and what events and stories led him to becoming an important writer in the growing science fiction genre, the barely-begun fantasy genre, and the growing popularity of the horror genre.  It is in these stories that one sees the beginning characters and story complexities that would later lead to the epic “Song of Ice and Fire” series.  In Dreamsongs Volume I, Martin confesses that he would never be able to write as well as one of his childhood idols, J. R. R. Tolkien, and yet has now been labeled as the “American Tolkien” of our time.  Clearly, Martin is destined to become one of the most important fantasy (as well as science fiction and horror) writers of our time.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 16th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.

“Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure” by Michael Chabon (Del Rey, 2007)

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Michael Chabon fans are in for a treat this year with a second novel from the bestselling author of The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and now The Yiddish Policemen’s Union.  Originally serialized in The New York Times over 2006 and 2007, each issue is now collected in a small and wonderfully designed edition, with illustrations by Gary Gianni, artist of the syndicated newspaper strip Prince Valiant.

This is the unlikely tale of Zelikman, a tall, thin Jewish physician from the distant Frankish lands, most noticeable for his long blond hair; and Amram, a giant of a man from the distant land of Abyssinia who incites fear in all who gaze upon him, and yet possesses a calculating mind.  The time is circa A.D. 950.  This entertaining duo are out to make a quick amount of gold through almost any means necessary.  They go where the pathways of the world take them, for they are gentlemen of the road.

After befriending a mysterious person known as Filaq, who turns out to be the unlikable heir of the recently deposed war king of the Khazars, they found themselves caught in larger invents involving war and the overthrowing of monarchies and the taking of nations.  Balanced with some jocular humor and written in the author’s unique style: “A plume of dust half a mile tall moved against the southern sky, slow and menacing, a quill scribing oaths of rebellion along the shores of the Khazar Sea”; and Chabon originally wanting to name the book “Jews With Swords,” Gentlemen the Men is a quick but thoughtful read that recalls the days of high adventure.

If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.

Originally written on November 12th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.