‘Tis the month of Halloween, during which we make light of death, the supernatural, and terror. What fun.
For me, the quintessential Halloween book is Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October. (What, you haven’t read that yet? Go hence and remedy that deficiency post haste.) But is it quintessential by default? Are there other Halloween fantasy/science-fiction novels?
Christmas is behind you. The detritus of wrapping paper, bows, packing material, and boxes has been disposed of. The refrigerator is stuffed with leftovers. You hope to make enough room for party platters and bottles of champagne within a few days. The presents of clothing are washed, folded, and put away.
And now you’re looking forward to utilizing the best of the presents: the bookstore gift cards. What to buy? Relax, dear reader. I’m here to help.
The grey days are here again. The storms roll inland from the Pacific in succession, bringing the seemingly continuous rain. The temperatures drop and coats come out of the closet. The days grow shorter. The nagging bugs commence. My daughter has already picked up a cold from somewhere and has graciously shared it with my wife. I imagine I’ll get to join the fun soon enough.
Goodbye summer. Hello long hours indoors. Those with the time curl up under a warm blanket and read. For the purpose of this web log post I’ll pretend I’m one of those fortunate folks with time on their hands, and not someone with a full-time job, a wife and infant deserving attention, novels to write, and a home to keep clean and maintained. I’m going to pretend I can do more than snatch a few minutes here and there to read.
I think the pages of Sherlock Holmes pastiche I’ve read equals or surpasses the volume of “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” I have on my shelves. And I’m certain I’ve barely scratched the surface of the short stories, novels, comic books, etc. featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. I’ll be able to skip three of the stories in the anthology of Holmes stories I’m currently reading since I read them already in another anthology I own. Has anyone ever performed a count of non-Canon Sherlock Holmes stories? I imagine the tally would be obsolete by the time it was completed. And the number is even larger if we include anonymous appearances by the great detective, e.g., Roger Zelazny’s “A Night in the Lonesome October.”
It is a rare and wonderful feat for a character to outlive its creator. Few characters capture the imagination of large enough swathes of the reading public to inspire new adventures after the original author dies.
I’ve written before about Glen Cook’s fantasy fiction. But with a writer as prolific as Mr. Cook there is always more to say. I’ve not been shy of pointing out that I’m a fan. His – and Steven Brust’s and Roger Zelazny’s – employment of the first-person smart ass school of fiction was influential in the writing of “Reunion.”
I’m currently reading book four of his series “The Instrumentalities of the Night.” It is classic Glen Cook: fast paced, spare in descriptive detail, full of snappy banter between and among characters (often including extensive stretches without identifying the speaker, which can get confusing if you’re reading at speed and not closely tracking the interchange.)
Steven Brust is one of the three masters of the first person smart-ass style. One of the other two, Glen Cook, was a prior subject of a Web Log appreciation. The third is the late, and lamented, Roger Zelazny.
Brust has written a substantial body of work, but is primarily known for his Dragaera novels. These primarily concern the exploits of Vlad Taltos, a human living amid an elaborately imagined civilization of elf analogues – the Dragaera, tall, immensely long-lived creatures. Other novels deal with certain of the Dragaera themselves. In these novels Brust – rather brilliantly – indulges himself by emulating Alexander Dumas’ “Three Musketeers” literary style, complete with flamboyant oaths and and humorously labyrinthine conversations.
Vlad Taltos is his crowing achievement. An assassin, an organized crime sub-boss, a witch, and a narrator delivering his own story with droll wit. Occasionally Brust explores different styles, employing other points of view to deliver Vlad’s tale. These books – for example “Athyra” – tend to suffer in comparison, lacking some of the spark of Vlad’s tongue-in-cheek delivery.
Another criticism: Brust is unabashed about sharing his political opinions. On occasion – notably “Teckla” – these views can be so intrusive as to dominate the narrative. If one – myself for example – is disinclined to be charitable to a Trotskyite viewpoint, then such heavy-handedness can diminish enjoyment of the book. Thankfully the politics are usually camouflaged well enough not to disrupt the reading experience – there if you looking for it, nigh invisible if you are not, or if you make an effort to ignore it.
With Vlad Taltos, Brust has created a seminal character in fantastic literature. Vlad is worthy of entry to the pantheon of such great scoff-laws as the Gray Mouser, Elric, and Conan, glorious rogues all.
Sadly the publisher, Tor, is no longer releasing the books in mass market paperback. This necessitates that I purchase each new volume in trade paperback. The full chronicle, when finally complete, will doubtless be an aesthetic triumph as a literary work, but it won’t fill a seamless, symmetrically pleasing stretch on my shelf.
It is possible that I demand too much.