The Dark Tower: A Constant Reader worries

Last week’s release of the trailer for Stephen King’s The Dark Tower movie just about broke the internet, with fevered and passionate discussion about just how right or wrong the director had got things. Widely recognised as the most important of King’s works, The Dark Tower series is a ridiculously huge tale, with nearly 4300 words in eight novels, written over the course of 30 years. Simply put, it’s the story of Roland, the last gunslinger, who is working his way to the Dark Tower to take down the Crimson King. He is pursued by the man in black.

As a longtime Constant Reader, I have spent much of my grown-up life reading and rereading Stephen King novels.  My bookshelves are full of scary clowns, weird alien invasions, alcoholic hotel caretakers and needful things. I own all the books, have seen all the movies, and have definite thoughts on best and worst novels. I’ve downloaded the reading maps, sought out the editorials, and even fallen in love with the works of his son Joe.

Every reader who has a favourite author can feel nervous when books are turned into movies.  And it must be said that King’s movie adaptations can vary wildly in success, from the heady heights of The Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me, through the disturbing Misery, to the adorable but kind of dorky 1408, and the downright embarrassing Langoliers.

So you will understand when I say that I am not alone right now in feeling VERY nervous about the upcoming release of two of King’s most well-loved works. The trailer for It was released a few weeks ago, and in less than 3 minutes managed to scare the pants off most of the western world.  I have yet to watch it without covering my eyes every few seconds. And the Dark Tower trailer is mesmerising for different reasons. How can one movie even begin to show us a world that is described not only in the eight Tower books, but also appears in countless other of his tales, from The Talisman, to Insomnia, to Black House, The Stand and The Shining and more.

Cover of Black house Cover of The Stand Cover of The Talisman Cover of The Shining

There’s totally no time to go back and reread the whole series before the movie is out, and King has already told us that this particular story is not one of the original ones from the novels, but another of Roland’s journeys. So all I have to do now is sit, and wait, and like countless other Constant Readers, hope that this movie is at least good, and hopefully great, that Roland Deschain is a true gunslinger and that the man in black is every bit as dreadful and mesmerising as he is in the books.

And try to figure out if I will EVER be brave enough to watch IT.

Further reading

The WORD on Time Travel with James Gleick

“Quid est ergo tempus?” “What then is time?” (Augustine)

When did Time begin? Was it the Creation, or Big Bang? Is it just an Illusion, a construct of man? Who coined the phrase “Time Travel?”

Cover of Time Travel by James GleickFor the answers to these and many other questions on Time Travel, James Gleick is your man. Come along to his WORD Christchurch session at the Piano on Tuesday 16 May, 6pm to hear him talk about his book, Time Travel: A history.

I’m so excited. I’ve always wanted to find out how to Time Travel. I could get so much more done.

My first memory of a Time Travel story would have to be the Time Tunnel. Yet as I look back it’s an element in so many stories – the Pevensies always came back to the same moment they left (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe), The guys in Land of the Lost travelled, and then I read The Time Machine.

H.G. Wells is arguably the master, although he was no Newton. Yet he raises a theory (mirrored by Ben Elton in Time and Time Again) that Time exists only in the memory: “There is no difference between Time and any of the three dimensions of Space except that our consciousness moves along it.” (p.8).

Susan’s student, Penelope, in Terry Pratchett’s The Thief of Time, asserts that “Its always now everywhere, Miss.”

Cover of Isaac NewtonGleick, a Harvard graduate, explores not just story in his book, but scientific theory also, from the concept of Time to the idea of travelling at will through it. He has also written a book on Isaac Newton.

Time Travel: A history, has a formidable index, and an indispensable book list of stories, anthologies and scientific works on the nature of time and travel.

After a small survey of colleagues and friends I’ve come up with some questions for Mr Gleick. Feel free to ask one at the event. (They won’t let me ask them all!)

  1. Can you meet yourself in Time and not cause a temporal reaction?
  2. Can you move through Space as well as Time?
  3. Did the Time Tunnel guys EVER make it home?
  4. What was the outcome of Predestination?
  5. If you kill yourself in time will you cease to exist in other dimensions?
  6. Can you kill your mother/father yourself and not cause 1.
  7. Why can’t Dr Who fall in love?
  8. If the future hasn’t happened yet, can you only travel backwards?
  9. Can you travel back/forward to wipe someone out and change the future?
  10. If light can split into particles and waves, can a person be at two places in Time?

Time travel fans will want to check out my lists of –

Roverandom: J. R. R. Tolkien

I thought I’d read all of Tolkien‘s works. I even have the Children of Hurin. Then I discovered this little gem.

Cover of RoverandomWritten for children, Roverandom is the story of a naughty little dog and a grumpy old wizard. When the Wizard takes his ball, Roverandom bites him on the bottom and…

…Roverandom is magicked into a tiny, begging, toy dog.

Tolkien delightfully relates this tale, adding all sorts of weird and wonderful creatures, a trip to the moon, and some dragons for good measure.

I recommend this story for Tolkien purists (there are some great colour plates), and also for those who like to read aloud to children. Great for that Pizza Wheel Reading Challenge!

Find out more

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

y648This doesn’t happen nearly as often as I would like, but I can honestly say that I loved this book! I’ve only ever really thought of Jackie French in terms of children’s and young adult fiction so was pleasantly surprised to see her grown up offering – If Blood Should Stain the Wattle.

Now it is probably the Australian in me, but I especially loved how Jackie uses famous Australian poetry and folklore that brought a ‘familiar’ spark to the story for me.

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle is full of wonderful, well established characters that have appeared in Jackie French’s earlier ‘Matilda’ series. I haven’t read any of these books yet but this didn’t detract from my enjoyment of this one; instead it made me want to experience them all.

There are fabulous strong female characters who are making their mark in Gibber’s Creek, finding love and setting their sights on conquering the world. Okay, maybe just Australia. Then we have the odd spiritual moment where they converse with ghosts and even manage to peek through time itself. But this is the seventies so the story wouldn’t be complete if there wasn’t a hippy commune on the edge of Gibber’s Creek and a ‘cult leader’ who is receiving messages from aliens. Did I mention that this is also the story of the Whitlam government coming to power?

Stop, come back! Don’t be put off by the inclusion of politicians and their shenanigans within the pages. Jackie French has cleverly woven the information into short excerpts from newspaper reports, and by having characters Jed Kelly and Matilda campaigning to support a Labor government. No boring political twaddle in sight; instead we get to experience first hand what it was like when the Whitlam Government came to power in early 1970s Australia and the subsequent historic dismissal of Gough Whitlam by then Governor-General Sir John Kerr.
This book really does have something for everyone and it won’t disappoint.

The Matilda series began as a trilogy, became a quartet. It was meant to be a history of our nation told from one country town, and the viewpoints of those who had no political voice in 1892, when the series begins: women, indigenous people, Chinese, Afghans.
But, by book four, I realised that history didn’t stop just because I was born, and that the series will continue as long as I live.” (Jackie French)

The quartet Jackie French is referring to is now a sextet – and who knows how many more there may be. So if you want to start at the very beginning the titles in order are:

  1. A Waltz for Matilda
  2. The Girl From Snowy River
  3. The Road to Gundagai
  4. To Love a Sunburnt Country
  5. The Ghost by the Billabong
  6. If Blood Should Stain the Wattle

Cover of A waltz for MatildaCover of the girl from Snowy Riverimage_proxy[3]Cover of To love a sunburnt countryCover of The ghost by the billabongCover of If Blood should stain the wattle

If Blood Should Stain the Wattle
by Jackie French
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9781460753118

Caraval: Magical fantasy

If George R. R. Martin’s Westeros of the Game of Thrones series is a magical take on an historical Britain, then the world of Stephanie Garber’s Caraval is a similarly fantastical Italy.

The story starts on a sun-soaked isle, the home of heroine Scarlett Dragna and her sister Donatella, but inevitably progresses to the home of Caraval, where potions, wishes and magic are real and wind through it like its twisting canals (making it suggestive of an imaginary, fairy tale Venice).

Cover of Caraval

Scarlett and Tella are the daughters of the local governor, a murderous, manipulative brute from whom both sisters would love to escape. Scarlett, the elder cautious sister, hopes to do just that via an arranged marriage… but Tella has other, somewhat more adventurous ideas, involving a trip to the mysterious, magical game of Caraval.

The game is like a murder mystery dinner, but one that takes place over 5 days, involves a whole town as the set, and is infused with magic. It’s all just a game and nothing is real… but Scarlett, who is drawn into the game by her sister and is forced to hunt for her when she is abducted, comes to believe otherwise.

There are clues, chases, shadowy menacing figures, false leads, magically transforming clothes, revelatory backstories and more than a little bit of heady, romantic entanglement. Perfect, escapist, young adult, fantasy reading for a rainy weekend.

But there’s also character progression as the reader watches Scarlett discover her self-worth over the course of the book, starting out as a fearful, somewhat downtrodden character but eventually, through love for her sister and dogged determination, finding strength and confidence in her own choices.

As far as mysteries go, this one kept me guessing (and most of my guesses were wrong). The story is a bit slow to start, and if you look too closely you’ll start to find plot holes, but that said once the main characters are in the game, the pacing is such that it’s a diverting, page-turning ride to the dramatic conclusion.

Though, be warned, a couple of intriguing plot points are left deliberately open, suggesting a sequel may be in the works…

Caraval
by Stephanie Garber
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781473629158

Armageddon – No, not the end of the world…

“Woo-hoo,” I said to my friend “Armageddon’s happening 11th and 12th March, yayee!”

Inexplicably she looked worried, “But I’m not ready for the end of the world yet!”

Ooh, we are obviously talking about two different events – the one I want to go to is the Armageddon Entertainment Expo which is happening in Christchurch at the Horncastle Arena, costs $15 to get in (or $6 for children aged 5-12 years), and involves lots of fun, not the one talked about in the Book of Revelations…

The Guest list shows some great people will be there:

Cover of The Scions of Shannara Cover of The Fellowship of the Ring Cover of A song of Ice and fire Cover of Snowglobe 7, Doctor Who

Or try the following –

Enjoy!

Dragon Springs Road – Janie Chang

Cover of Dragon Springs RoadDragon Springs Road by Janie Chang has as many layers as a Chinese puzzle. This beautifully painted tale is a saga containing a mystery, with elements of romance, fantasy, fairy tale and Chinese spiritualism. The story is set against the dramatic backdrop of the 1911 Chinese Revolution; the last reign of the Xing Dynasty.

Jialing is a young hun xue (mixed breed) girl abandoned by her mother. The other word used to describe her isn’t very nice. Jialing’s mother was Chinese, her father British. Her plight highlights the status of women and those of mixed race in a changing society. Women at this time were regarded as property, with little options for independence.

Grandmother Yang, the Matriarch of a well respected family, takes Jialing in as a Bond Servant. She is property of the family until she can buy her freedom. Unfortunately for Jialing, her options as an adult are limited. Although educated, discrimination against her Eurasian appearance makes her almost unemployable.

When a family finds itself in financial difficulty, even wives can be sold; or as servants, or worse, into brothels. Jialing can only hope to be a mistress or a prostitute, unless she is lucky. Aided and protected by a Fox Spirit, Jialing attempts to find a home, friendship, her mother, independence and love.

Janie Chang is also the author of Three Souls.

This is the perfect book to read during Lunar New Year!

Dragon Springs Road
by Janie Chang
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062388957

Lunar New Year events

All about China

Salman Rushdie: Storytelling as Scheherazade

I love reading Salman Rushdie. He weaves the most colourful and beautiful stories, with a little magic shining through like gold threads. Transporting the reader to different cultures, countries and times, his stories often address current issues through the medium of fantasy.

Cover of Two years eight months and twenty eight nightsTwo Years Eight Months & Twenty Eight Nights is a fabulous tale of a War of the Worlds. If you can do the maths, this adds up to 1,001 nights in the Arabian Nights legends. The gates between  Earth and Peristan (Fairyland) have reopened after thousands of years. Mischievous Jinn (Genies as we know them) are messing with human lives in terrible ways, in order to subjugate humans, or ultimately destroy us.

Rushdie adopts the role of Scheherazade, unfolding many stories like the Chinese box sent to poison the King of Qaf. Dark Jinn, creatures of fire, visit curses on mankind – rising curses to make people float above the atmosphere, crushing curses to kill us with gravity, infectious diseases and open attacks.

But Humankind have someone on their side. The Princess of Peristan, Aasmaan Peri; Skyfairy the Lightning Princess. Naming herself Dunia (The World), she fell in love with a human; the philosopher Ibn Rushd, the last time the gates were open. Dunia becomes mother to a race of humans who are part Jinn and part human, with latent powers waiting to be whispered into action to save the human race.

Ibn Rushd was a philosopher in ancient times. He really did have a feud with Ghazali of Iran (a champion of Islam). Ibn Rushd, an Aristotelian rationalist, believed in a kinder God and a less fanatical faith. Salman Rushdie’s father changed the family name to Rushdie to align himself with Rushd and his arguments against Islamic literal interpretation of the Koran.

This is the first book of Rushdie’s that I have really noticed an undercurrent of parable, between the fantasy story and the world of today. Rushdie’s narrator writes from a future Earth a thousand years after this historic battle: without religion, discrimination and war; making clear that the world has no use for “murderous gangs of ignoramuses (whose aim) is “forbidding things.”

Further reading

Mortal Engines rule!

CoverIf you haven’t read Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve, you’d better get on to it. Or you won’t be able to compare it with the movie – our very own Peter Jackson will begin shooting on this film in March 2017!

Written for young adults, Carnegie Medal winning Mortal Engines is a fast-paced tale of good and evil. The first of four stories, Mortal Engines is set in a dystopian, steampunk future where cities and townships have become portable, driven by machines; and predatory.

The Traction City of London has chased down and eaten a small town. Eaten!!? As celebrations begin, fifteen year old Tom Natsworthy, a third-class apprentice in the Historian’s Guild, discovers corruption in the heart of the city.

The man he respects most, Thaddeus Valentine, is not what he appears to be. Tainted with this knowledge, Tom is ejected from London: pushed down a waste tube and out into the Hunting Grounds of Europe. Aided by a scar-faced girl intent on murdering his mentor, Tom must find his way back to his city, to fight for its future.

Philip Reeve creates great characters and scenes. The book is so visual that it reads like a movie. I’m excited to see how Phillip Reeve’s Steampunk ideas of huge metal and cog cities, driven by steam, will translate to the big screen.

Read more in the Making the Mortal Engines Movie website

I do not like Fantasy, I do not like it Anywhere

But I’m reading Fantasy novels and worse (despite my carefully nurtured prejudiced convictions) I’m really getting into some of it. How the heck did that happen? I mean, Lord of the Rings was a once read and never watched. I gave it a go though and never got round to reading Harry Potter and don’t feel the need.

Enough! You get the drift I am not a fan, so how is it that the cover of Ben Aaronovitch‘s fantasy novel Rivers of London was constantly appearing either at the returns desk or on the shelves at different libraries and became a siren call? Great cover obviously, and the blurb on the back suggested humour and magic, contemporary and a mystery. So I gave in, read it and loved it.

Here’s a taster of the start. PC Peter Grant a probationary constable, looking likely for a placement in the Case Progression Unit (shuffling paper, not real copper work) is guarding a murder scene on a cold London night. His fellow PC Lesley – supposedly guarding the other side of the square – has gone for coffees when a strange looking geezer sidles up to Peter whispering that he knows whodunnit. Something about him makes Peter pretty sure he’s a ghost and when he vanishes at the sight of Lesley with the coffees he knows he’s onto it.

The next night he’s back in his own time, to see if there’s any further signs of spooks. No ghost but he does meet his future boss, Inspector Nightingale the last Wizard in England. Don’t be put off by the wizard bit, Aaronovitch makes the magic stuff seem perfectly normal and the upper Echelons of the Force use Nightingale and Peter when necessary but no-one’s allowed to use the M…. word. Rivers is written with lovely satirical wit and great imagination. Highly recommended.

shades of greyAgain with humour, and a suitably bizarre idea of a future, post apocalyptic world is Jasper Fforde‘s Shades of Grey. We of the here and now are “those who went before” and the leadership’s cunning plans including “great leaps backward” leaves this colourtocracy carless except for a Model A, severely short of spoons and with acronyms forbidden.

But there’s more rules of course and your status is defined by being able to see the higher end of a particular colour spectrum, purple denotes a higher social standing. Our hero Eddie Russett (sees red) has been banished to High Saffron due to a variety of misdemeanours. Depending on the results of his upcoming colour test though, he is destined to marry Violet.

But then he meets Jane, a Grey and with her smarts and attitude. It dawns on him that all is not as well as he thinks in a world he considers just and fair and has never questioned. A highly entertaining read. Ever since I read this I’ve been checking to see where the very slow to follow up Mr Fforde is with the sequel. He’s left a whole lot of us waiting impatiently for a good follow up to an original that’s got a nice tight plot, is cleverly satirical and laugh out loud. I may even read it again. In fact I know I will.