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The Word for World is Rainforest: Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer

9 Feb canopy-full-2

 

Unar has always been sure that she will one day be the Goddess Audblayin’s bodyguard. In a world where the thirteen Gods and Goddesses of the rainforest whose treetops she lives in die and are reincarnated in the manner of Tibetan Lamas, Unar is certain in her heart that she was meant not just to be a slave, as her parents intended. She wasn’t even meant just to be a gardener for the Goddess of growth and fertility, as she has managed to become. Unar has striven so hard to get to the garden and her current position; she is convinced that she is meant for much more.

With the death of Audblayin, the Goddess’ reincarnation is certain, although the child of course must be found, brought to the Garden and raised properly. Given the nature of deities, though, Audblayin could be reincarnated as a man. As a man, the deity will need a female bodyguard. That’s the rule. Audblayin has to reincarnate as a Man, and the bodyguard he will need has to be Unar. Unar is convinced of this, and it has been her guiding passion for her entire life.  But in the uncertain environment of the Garden without its Goddess,  Unar is forced out of the garden she has lived years in, and even beyond the barrier that separates the Canopy from the world below it.  Unar’s journey is full of dreams of  finding the reincarnated Goddess and returning to the Garden in triumph and restored station. However, her trip down into the understory of the rainforest dredges up her past, her future, and reveals a force that might upset the order of the entire rainforest.

Crossroads of Canopy is the debut novel from Australian Fantasy author Thoraiya Dyer.

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Book Review: Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli

2 Feb upsidedown001sm_large

 

Tropes get a lot of bad press even as we crave them. People expect the Happily Ever After for a romantic comedy, but the fiftieth inevitable betrayal by the mentor in an action movie gets seen as being cliched. Movie after movie gets made, and makes box office, with a Chosen One, especially as an origin story, and at the same cry decry it as being more of the same. The website TV Tropes is a time suck, as one can get lost for hours following links on various tropes in movies, books and more, falling into a rabbit hole of storytelling conventions.

So what can be said that is new about tropes? How can they be used, subverted, and rearranged? Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling, a diverse anthology and essay collection edited by Jaym Gates and Monica Valentinelli, sets out to do just that. Continue reading

Retro Childhood Review: The Neverending Story

27 Jan theneverendingstory1997edition

Bastian Balthazar Bux’s passion was books. If you’ve never spent whole afternoons with burning ears and rumpled hair, forgetting the world around you over a book, forgetting cold and hunger —

If you’ve never read secretly under the bedclothes with a flashlight, because your father or mother or some other well meaning person has switched off the lamp on the plausible ground that it was time to sleep because you had to get up so early — If you have never wept bitter tears because a wonderful story has come to an end and you must take your leave of the characters with whom you have shared so many adventures, whom you have loved and admired, for whom you have hoped and feared, and without whosecompany life seems empty and meaningless — If such things have not been part of your own experience, you probably won’t understand what Bastian did next.

The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende

When I was 8 years old, my father handed me a book with a magical symbol on the cover, with text in red or green by turn, with a protagonist that for all intents and purposes was ME. I doubt I could ever adequately express what this book meant to me at that particular point in my life, nor in the subsequent years in which I read the book again and again, till the corners of the pages turned soft and the imprint on the cover became something you could only see in the right light at the right angle. I first met the characters of The Neverending Story when the movie was released in 1984. I was enraptured by every aspect of the film, but it was the book that truly captured me. The movie is a near perfect adaptation of the first half of the novel, but it misses some crucial elements that make this book a powerful masterpiece of Children’s fiction.

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Book Review: Galactic Empires, edited by Neil Clarke

26 Jan galactic-empires-600

 

In the 1970s Brian Aldiss published a seminal anthology of SF stories. Called Galactic Empires, it was a two-volume set of over two dozen stories set in such realms, with authors ranging from Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov and Poul Anderson to A.E. Van Vogt and Clifford Simak. The age of the stories spanned from the 1940s to the 1970s, not only showing a wide range of themes and ideas revolving around Galactic Empires, their rises, heights and falls, but also showing the breadth of style changes in the genre over that period. It was not only a snapshot of the subgenre, right at the time that Star Wars was dominating the cinema and changing SF forever, but a look backward to the roots of the subgenre as well.

Now, in 2017, Neil Clarke has stepped into the very large shoes that Aldiss has left, and created his own anthology called Galactic Empires. Clarke’s collection of stories have the same remit as Aldiss’: To show the Galactic Empire, in all of its forms, and with a wide range of voices, styles and authors. Clarke’s choices all date from the 21st century. While this does mean that Clarke’s anthology misses the 1980s and ’90s, he does manage to capture more recent eras in glorious diversity. For all of how important the Aldiss anthology was and is, Aldiss’ general overlook of half of the SF field and having an entirely American/British viewpoint was a weakness in his anthology. Only one female author, Margaret St. Clair, was included in Aldiss’ two-volume collection. By comparison, out of the stories Clarke has gathered, nearly half are by women. Further, Clarke’s choices includes significant contributions from the likes of Yoon Ha Lee, Tobias Buckell, and Aliette de Bodard.  Continue reading

Book Review: Starborn by Lucy Hounsom

19 Jan starborn-small

 

Kyndra is a seemingly ordinary young woman in a nondescript village in the mountains. Her mother runs an inn, and is a sometimes hard woman, even on the day of Kyndra’s Ceremony. This village does have something unusual in it — an ancient artifact, which, when invoked, will tell you your true name and your future. For decades, as children of the town have come of age, the artifact has guided them to their life and future.  When Kyndra is presented to the artifact in her Ceremony, however, the artifact unexpectedly breaks, setting in motion events that will send Kyndra across the continent, and to her true destiny. An initially traditional seeming epic fantasy protagonist and world evolve into a much more nuanced and complex tale in Lucy Hounsom’s debut epic fantasy novel, Starborn.

starborn-smallYears ago, epic fantasy novels such as Robert Jordan’s The Eye of the World began with a pastoral opening reminiscent of Tolkien’s The Shire. The opening of Starborn, and the revelation of secret, unknown power on the part of the protagonist, Kyndra, is reminiscent of classic epic fantasy in the mold of Robert Jordan. As in The Eye of the World, Kyndra is soon swept away from her little village by strangers, who take her into the wider world, to find her destiny and her arcane heritage.  Kyndra is to be brought to Naris, a citadel where her powers, powers that have been mostly out of sight of the world for an entire era, will be tested, measured and taught.

If the novel followed along these lines without variation, Starborn would be a relatively timeworn book in that tradition, well written but not really distinctive.  Shopworn tropes and ideas, any reader who has read a decent helping of Epic Fantasy has seen them before, in authors ranging from Terry Brooks to David Eddings to Sara Douglass to Robert Jordan to Margaret Weis. You, reader, probably have read many such novels, and know their shape well.  The author, however, has ideas far beyond simple emulation of 1980s and ’90s epic fantasy. Kyndra is a young and callow protagonist growing into her power, true. But she is conflicted about herself and her power, often self-centered, complicated in her emotions and feelings, and in general far removed from the generic blank template farm boy that you might expect in a fantasy such as this.

The journey across the landscape is another trope in epic fantasy that the author employs, and then subverts. Rather than simply a hitting-the-sights-across-the-landscape sort of progress long criticized by Diana Wynne Jones’ Tough Guide to Fantasyland, Kyndra’s  journey to Naris is not an easy one, exposing tensions, rifts, and intrigue within and without the denizens of the Citadel. And once Kyndra is there, the very dark underbelly of the citadel, its creators, and the secret of its origins and future, and Kyndra’s part in it, very much break the mold of that traditional epic fantasy. The deeper one gets into the novel, the more the subversion and upending of that surface resemblance to the bog-standard epic fantasy of yore gets upended.

Speaking about Kyndra’s story and the revelations of what is going on the world is difficult to do without being too spoilery, and really, the veils being pulled back on what is going on, and what the author has constructed, is, for me, truly one of the pleasures of the book. Suffice it to say that the world as Hounsom initially depicts, from that little village, is definitely not the entire story of what the world is, and what is happening. Kyndra’s journey in revealing what is going on goes hand in hand with the reader learning at the same time. It braids together wonderfully well, and both leaves the story at a solid ending point and provides a wide opening for the sequel.

Starborn is an interesting, intriguing epic fantasy debut that slowly and inexorably pulls the rug out from the reader’s expectations of a traditional narrative and in so doing creates a memorable protagonist, and story.

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