Mittwoch, 8. März 2017

The Day After Tomorrow... THAT time of the month again!
Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club
Friday, March 10th, 7.30 pm in Otherland Bookshop

Samstag, 4. März 2017

Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club

Into the Woods


by Walter Phippeny

Sitting under candle light at the Eselsbrücke’s bar in Prenzlauer Berg, I cracked open Uprooted by Naomi Novik for the first time. From the blurb on the back of the paperback, I knew that I was about to enter a fantasy world and follow the adventures of a young girl, Agnieszka: a world with dark woods and mysterious wizards. And that was about it. After the first few pages, I was deeply hooked and finished the book within a few days. I couldn’t put it down.

In this genre mashup, Novik successfully blends a combination of fairy tale, epic fantasy, and even touches of dark fantasy to weave a gripping narrative. Our charming main character, Agnieszka, is a young girl, coming of age and on a road of self-discovery. In a ritual that takes place every ten years, she is selected to be the serving girl of the Dragon – an enigmatic wizard who lives alone on the edge of the village in an ancient manse – and is forced to leave behind everything she has known. Very quickly, she discovers that she has abilities she never expected. Hearing that, your cliché radar might have immediately gone off. It’s true that there’s nothing new in the bullet points of this story, but it’s what Novik does with this familiar material that makes this book work.  

Dienstag, 28. Februar 2017

Horror Revisited

Near Dark (1987)

by Inci German

"Park your carcass!"

In memory of Bill Paxton


This is awful. I was trying to find a way to weasel out of writing my review on Freddy Krueger (that I have announced I would write next) and was considering alternatives. Not being able to decide, I mentally went back and forth between “An American Werewolf in London” and “Near Dark” for about a month. And now this… I wish it wasn’t this sad sad cause that forced me to come to a decision and Bill Paxton hadn't died. He was one of the greatests to me.

Contains spoilers

Watching or re-watching Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987) is worth your time for many reasons: beautiful, poetic images, the very cool soundtrack, the wicked interplay of soundtrack and plot, amazing cinematography and a marvelous cast. Being probably the sole example of the cross-genre “vampire horror-western-road movie-family tale”, this film inspires nothing but awe in me. Now it’s not easy creating such an outstanding picture if you’re working in such an eccentric genre and with a plot that could at best be described as so-so, but Bigelow surely nails it!

Donnerstag, 23. Februar 2017

Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club

Romance of the Wasteland and the Call of the Ruins

by Walter Phippeny

Born in 1976, I was a child of the 80s, and when I was growing up, the Post-Apocalyptic genre found a lot of popularity in the shadow of the Cold War. We had the Mad Max films, Zelazny’s Damnation Alley, Interplay’s video game “Wasteland” which I played on my Commodore 64, the TSR roleplaying setting “Gamma World”, not to mention the hundreds of knock-offs and cash-grabs that tried to profit from the trend. 

Patton Oswalt, in his book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland carves up the youthful Science-Fiction fandom into three types: each alienated from modern society and drawn to one of the three settings where the world has been destroyed or left behind. These types are: the Zombie who is enthralled with a scourge of undead; the Spaceship who is drawn to space opera and distant worlds; and the Wasteland. Here’s his description of the Wasteland: 

Post-nuke, post–meteor strike, or simply a million years into the future—that’s the perfect environment for the Wasteland’s imagination to gallop through. The wasteland is inhabited by people or, for variety, mutants. At least mutants are outgrowths of humans. Mutants—the main inhabitants of postapocalyptic environments—are more familiar. Variations of the human species grown amok—isn’t that how some teenage outcasts already feel? Mutants bring comfort. You don’t have to figure out alien biology or exotic, inhuman cultures or religions. At the most, mutants will have weird mental powers or practice cannibalism. The heroes are unmutated humans, wandering across deserts (always, weirdly, wearing leather or tattered overcoats—suburban teens are accustomed to air-conditioning, so it’s not until they’re older that they learn the importance of fabrics that breathe) and carrying what they need. Wastelands are great at stocking belt pouches, backpacks, and pockets. At any time, Wastelands suspect they’re going to need to grab whatever’s at hand and head for the horizon.

Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club

No One gets out of Here Alive

by Walter Phippeny

Joanna Russ’s We Who Are About To... doesn’t fit into the category of light Science-Fiction narratives at all; instead of things blowing up, this work is heady and experimental. It’s a short, but fiery, piece about groups in a state of nature, the role of the dissenter in a majority, how quickly patriarchy reasserts itself as things revert to primal, a woman’s right to her own body, different religious concept, and more. It’s a thought experiment, really; and, as such, it ages well, being first published in 1976. It’s not about this technology, or that alien race, but rather about the characters put into Russ’s laboratory of the mind. Watching the thought experiment play out amongst the cast of characters gives us a certain view of human nature that is down right chilling, and provokes us into asking a lot of uncomfortable questions about ourselves and our species.

Sonntag, 12. Februar 2017

Slow, Low Fantasy

A belated review of Cecelia Holland's Dragon Heart

Second in my "books I've been meaning to review for several years but never got around to it" is this low fantasy novel, which I read back then for three reasons: 1, Kim Stanley Robinson has blurbeb it quite favourably, 2. it's a stand-alone with less than 300 pages, and 3., there's a massive sea-dragon radiating power on the cover.

Dragon Heart is about a castle by the sea that has been ruled by one royal line for times immemorial. Well, calling them a royal line might be slightly exaggerated, sine they don't seem to rule much more than three or four villages, one of them by the shore right at the foot of the castle. However, after the king has lost a decisive battle against the big empire ruling pretty much everything around him, Marioza, the queen of Castle Ocean, is forced into marrying the Emperor's brother and thereby wrap her small, backwards realm into the much more civilised empire. Of course, she and her family are not willing to give up that easily ...

Freitag, 10. Februar 2017

Weird Worlds

On Zachary Jernigan's Jeroun

I've been meaning to write something about this book - an omnibus edition of Zachary Jernigan's two novels set on the world of Jeroun - for quite some time. I read both novels shortly after they came out, and I feel that they represent pretty much everything that I want from fantasy and often sorely miss; they have a breathtakingly original setting, characters that aren't reduced to their special skills, quips and some overarching mission, and they are tightly narrated and yet stilistically remarkable. While, in terms of genre, they could be called science fantasy, I think that would be doing them a disservice. The world they are set in is so organic that it feels wrong to describe this book as some kind of genre hybrid. It may sound redundant, but Jeroun really just is what it is; it has poisonous seas and alien, eye-less dragons; it has half-gods that have been poured from a jar; it has ghosts of the dead and decadent sorcerers who use alchemy to travel to space.