I is for Intriguing: Shapes, History, Evolution, Letters and Jonathan Creek

Intriguing: ‘to arouse the curiosity or interest of by unusual, new, or otherwise fascinating or compelling qualities’

I’ve written about things that intrigue me before.

File:NautilusCutawayLogarithmicSpiral.jpgIn What Pleases The Human Eye, I wrote about my fascination with certain mathematical shapes, and how I find the fact that we humans find certain shapes pleasing to the eye (even when there seems no good evolutionary reason why) even more intriguing. Plus of course historical mysteries like The Shell Grotto in Margate, which I wrote about in A is for Amazing.

Then there’s this fact: no.1 of the 7 ‘Things You Never Knew About Me‘, which I wrote as part of a blog chain:

  1. I’ve no idea who one of my great-grandfathers was. His name is missing from my late grandmother’s birth certificate, whilst the man her marriage certificate names as her father has the same surname as her mother’s maiden name…This is either a)fake b)a coincidence, because the surname is very common d)suggests incest as it is the name of a fairly close family member. a) is most likely.

That’s pretty intriguing. I’ve had help from the local archivist, too. No luck. I’ll probably never know who my great-grandfather was.

What else do I find intriguing? Anthropology. Human evolution, which I even studied it at degree level for a while. Some of the earliest hominid fossils discovered look nothing like each other, yet both have features that indicate they’re possibly our ancestors. You can discover more about this here on the Smithsonian site. How can that be? So much for the missing link…

Other things that have ‘fascinating or compelling’ qualities for me are Jonathan Creek (not thTalk to us!e last mini series though; what was going on there?!) and the new Sherlock Holmes. I like a good mystery with twists and turns. And Jodi Picoult novels (oooh, she’s so good).

I love letters, postcards and diaries from the past too – I sometimes get my fix from the brilliant website Letters of Note. And finally, I’m constantly intrigued by the plethora of facts, references and articles offered to my tiny little brain via the marvellous skills of the Qi Elves (via Twitter and on the website – you can find out more about the Elves themselves here) and Maria Popova’s fabulous Brain Pickings website.

In fact, I may not be intriguing, but I’m pretty darn intrigued on a daily basis. So there.

H is for Horrible: Noah’s Ark (the novel) and Giant Killer Crabs

Just a short post today about two things I find horrible.

First up: Barbara Trapido’s Noah’s Ark
I tried, I really did. But a few chapters in I was finding it all very whiny and unpleasant to read in that ‘deliberately arty’ kind of way. Most of all, my dislike of both the main characters was turning into out and out repugnance. There was nothing likeable, admirable or even a teensy bit charismatic about them at all (again, that came across as a deliberate trendy effect) . We can cheer for a super-villain if he has charisma, but these two… not only did I not care what happened to them, I felt I’d rather not know (or waste more of my life finding out). It was destined only for the charity shop, I’m afraid. To be fair, I haven’t read any other Barbara Trapido novels; her others might be brilliant (and I’m sure lots of people think this one is).

Second (and lastly – told you it was short): Giant Crabs. More specifically. books about Giant Crabs. Not just normal giant crabs like these on Cracked.com, although they’re freaky enough…

They are still just normal crabs, scary and huge as though they may be; they’re meant to exist. And don’t eat people (probably).

No, I’m talking about the kind of crabs that you should never meet on the beach (or indeed behind your bin). I’m talking Giant, Mutated, Killer Crabs. I’m fairly sure it must have been one of Guy N. Smith’s books that scared me senseless, but I’m not sure which one. Night of the Crabs? Killer Crabs? Crabs on the Rampage? I think it was Night of the Crabs, but the actual story is immaterial because whichever of his books it was, the crabs were always giant, evil. and regularly sliced and diced people before munching away on the fillets.

Killer Crabs by Guy N. Smith - Click for detailsNight of the Crabs by Guy N. Smith - Click for detailsCrabs On The Rampage by Guy N. Smith - Click for detailsCrabs Unleashed by Guy N. Smith - Click for detailsCrabs' Fury by Guy N. Smith - Click for detailsCrabs Moon by Guy N. Smith - Click for detailsThe Origin of the Crabs by Guy N. Smith - Click for details




The only difference that I can see is the body of water involved. I know that in the one that gave me nightmares, there was sea and beach involved, so it wasn’t whichever one featured murderous super-size crabs coming out of a Scottish Loch.
As I’m going on holiday to Scotland this year and plan to visit a Loch or two, I’m quite grateful for that.

G is for Goofy: Because Fantasy Can Be Funny

Don’t worry, we will get to the goofy part. Yes, it was a bit tenuous. But I wanted to finish off the whole fantasy books thing, ok? Just settle down…

I know a lot of the time scales have overlapped, because from around age 12 -25 I read a lot of these series simultaneously. Sorry; of course if I’d looked into the future, I would have bought all the books and then started on them as each series was complete – just to make it easier.

So we’re back around age 13 again, and I start on:
Raymond Feist: The Riftwar Saga, The Empire Trilogy, Krondor’s Sons, The Serpentwar Saga, The Riftwar Legacy, Legends of the Riftwar, Conclave of Shadows, The Darkwar Saga, The Demonwar Saga, The Chaoswar Saga

File:Riftwar.JPGFor a long time I’d have named Raymond Feist as my favourite fantasy author, and I’m still following this never-ending, spin-off producing series of series which all started with Magician. 
But he should have stopped around two series ago. There are still mysteries to be solved and it’s enjoyable enough, but it’s getting repetitive. There aren’t enough new characters or twists, and it feels thin. Also the writing is getting sloppy. In the last one I read, a paragraph of description (of a specific demon, if you’re curious) sounded far too familiar. I went back a chapter or two and found the identical paragraph. Identical! Ouch.

Tad Williams: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn seriesThe Dragonbone Chair, first novel in the epic saga of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn.
I think I must have read these in my mid-twenties. Just like Raymond Feist’s series, this starts with a young boy who’s apprenticed to a magician. The rules aren’t as complex, but the action is compelling, the characters are likeable (where appropriate!) and well-drawn, and unlike Feist he knew where to stop – with a trilogy (although the last book often appears as two volumes, as it’s a bit weighty). No insights into the meaning of life here – just a darn good trio of fantasy books: The Dragonbone Chair, Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower. Thanks Tad. And thanks to the editors of the Legends anthologies (short stories that are spin-offs from major fantasy series by various authors), because you introduced me to Tad and Robert Silverberg, jsut down the page there. Although I may never forgive you for starting me off on Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time. Oh, those wasted years…

Robert Silverberg: The Majipoor Series
Love, love, love Robert Silverberg. I think we’ve reached my mid to late twenties now. I love all the different races, a huge world that’s so similar to ours in some ways and so different in others.  Some intriguing ideas (having your morals tweaked in your dreams?) and the sense that he’s making subtle statements about real life (something I enjoy in TV sci-fi and fantasy as well. I’m often surprised the USA aired the Canadian produced Stargate – some of the criticism wasn’t that well-hidden!).
He’s written dozens of other novels and short stories under dozens of pen names and is still writing, although unfortunately he seems to have pretty much finished with Majipoor (although I notice he’s recently produced a ‘Tales’ book I don’t have – *reaches for birthday list*).

Now as promised: the goofy side of fantasy. Please welcome the Right Honourable…

Sir Terry Pratchett: the Discworld Series, The Nome Trilogy, The Johnny Maxwell Trilogy10.12.12TerryPratchettByLuigiNovi1.jpg
I was probably around 18 when I read the first Discworld book, The Colour of Magic, and met the most-definitely-goofy wizard, Rincewind. I was well and tuly hooked from the start and now of course, Rincewind is an old friend – as are Mort, Death, the Three Witches and Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler. What can you say? The man’s a genius, whether he’s wandering into out-and-out parody (the classic ‘When shall we three meet again?’  “Well, I can do next Tuesday…” still makes me grin) or weaving in satire so subtle it’s hard to spot (I’m thinking the recent non-Discworld novels here: Nation, The Long Earth). He can handle fantasy and sci-fi with equal ability, and has produced some of the funniest material I’ve ever read. Long may he reign!

I still read Feist and Pratchett, and I don’t plan to leave Williams and Silverberg behind either. I’ve got my eye on them, but so many books, so little time… Alongside these, most of the fantasy and sci-fi I’ve read in the past 10 years or so has been aimed at 10-18 year olds. But I’ll save those for a future post.

F is for Fascinating: My Teenage Fantasy (Novels!) and Beyond

In which we carry on with our trip through the fantasy (novel) loves of my youth 😉

I’m 12 now, and I’ve read The Hobbit, but we’ll get to Tolkien in a bit because I won’t read Lord of the Rings until much later.

David (and Leigh) Eddings: The Belgariad, The Malloreon ( follow-up series) and the 3 ‘Prequels’/Spin-offs
Pawn of Prophecy cover.jpg
I think I was 13ish when I started reading these, and 28 when I stopped with the publication of the last one, The Rivan Codex, in 1999. I loved them, particularly the last 3 (I prefer ‘spin-offs’ to prequels, as they also cover events you’ve already read about, just from a different point of view – a bit like Lion King 3!) The characters were well-portrayed and the books were full of humour, although sometimes Eddings did seem to lose his way a little. One day, I’ll read them all again (if I can wrest them from ArtyDaughter). I tried a couple of books from his next series but felt he’d lost it – as though he’d created all the characters he ever could and was just presenting them again, re-jigged and renamed. I was mad with him when he eventually revealed that his wife co-wrote them; she finally got her name on the cover in 1995,  with the first spin-off, Belgarath the Sorcerer.

JRR Tolkien: Lord of the RingsJrrt lotr cover design.jpg
My English teacher gave me her own copy of The Hobbit in 1983, but I didn’t read LOTR until I was 17. I borrowed it from my cousin. I say ‘it’ because he had a huge paperback that had all three books within and a very distressed spine without. Now I know the elves keep bursting into song (ArtyDaughter’s main gripe; she prefers the films), but Tolkien is the king of atmosphere. The sense of threat when Frodo and his friends first flee and are hunted by the Nazgul is overwhelming. I’m sure I held my breath when I read it for the first time. I think everything else has been said many times before…

Julian May: The Saga of the Exiles and the follow-up (kind of…yet also a prequel *taps nose*), Galactic Milieu Series
Brilliant.  Read right through to the end and I guarantee you many ‘er…what?’ and ‘OMG!’ moments. It starts off a a simple tale of human outcasts from the near future travelling through a time gate to the Pliocene era to start again and live the simple life. Enter early hominids, aliens, funky mind powers, betrayal and enough twists and turns to make your head spin as though you’ve been sleep-walking and accidentally drunk all the Scotch again. These series truly hover on the sci-fi/fantasy border, but her other famous series (yes, ‘she’s’ a girl and Julian is her real name) are a little easier; The Rampart Worlds books are sci-fi and the Boreal Moon trilogy is fantasy. But they’re all…  brilliant! Oh… I already said that. These four series took me from 14 to 35.

Katherine Kerr: The Deverry Cycle
Daggerspell Cover.jpg
21 to 27ish. I think these are one of the few sets of fantasy novels I’ve turfed out as some point – or perhaps they’re in the loft. There are fifteen novels but I think I only read the first 10 or 11. They zip back and forth between different incarnations of the characters – similar events happening again and again until things were put right. Fascinating stories, but I think it started to feel a bit long and drawn out – perhaps that’s why I stopped reading them?

What next? I think we’ll save that for tomorrow with G 🙂


E is for Enthralling: The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books that Got Me Hooked

The inspiration for today’s post comes from the ‘chat’ (i.e. blog comment exchange) I had yesterday with Roland Clarke, fellow writer, A to Zer and 100kin100days member (you could visit his blog next…). I mused about fantasy and sci-fi – about how I’d loved it but then spent a long period avoiding it, because everything I picked up seemed derivative; same old, same old. But it was the genre that inspired a devotion which carried me through to my teens and beyond, long after other genres (school, pony and mystery stories) had been left behind.To discover where this love started, we’re going back, back… no, I mean we’re REALLY going back..

Blyton blue plaque.jpg
Plaque near Dulwich library

Enid Blyton: The Far-Away Tree series
Three children climbed a huge tree inhabited by a host of fascinating, vaguely humanoid creatures – Saucepan Man, Moonface and Silky the Fairy. Were there others? There was a helter-skelter that went right down through the middle of the tree, AND different magical lands were on a rota to appear at the top of the tree. Some lands were fun, some were scary (to someone of 6 or 7). What’s not to love?

C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
I get twitchy when people refer to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the ‘first’ Narnia book. It was written first, but please don’t give it to anyone to read first; in the Chronicles it’s book 2. The confusion comes from Lewis’ writing order (2,4,5,6,3,1,7), but if you don’t read the Magician’s Nephew first, you’ll never discover how Narnia came into being – or where the wardrobe came from in the first place.

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  3. The Horse and his Boy
  4. Prince Caspian
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

Despite – or as well as, depending on your leaning – being Christian allegory, the Chronicles are a darn good read. Yes, the language and mannerisms are dated now, but for the time, the girls are portrayed as relatively strong characters who do not stay out of the fighting. Battles, magic, rescues, betrayal, super-villains, loveable animal comrades that  talk, the notion of a different world just round the corner from ours and the heady idea that one day I might be called upon, just as Peter, Edward, Susan and Lucy were, to go and ‘make a difference: marvellous!
The Horse and His Boy is hard-going and a little lacking in Lewis magic. It only really relates to The Last Battle,  and can be left out altogether without much impact. As for The Last Battle – by now I was 8 or 9 and had already lost two of the three grandparents I started with. It made me cry.

Lloyd Alexander.jpg
Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander: The Chronicles of Prydain
They’re brilliant, and based on Welsh mythology. Never heard of them? Er… ever heard of the Disney film, The Black Cauldron? That’s not that surprising either. Taking its title from the 2nd book, yet loosely based on books 1 and 2, it was “the first Disney animated theatrical feature to receive a PG rating. It even had to be edited twice to avoid being released with a PG-13 or R rating” (IMDB).  It’s popularly known as ‘the film that nearly finished Disney’. I’ll explain why in my ‘U for Underrated’ blog post. That aside, the books are well worth a read. The character development is great, as are the moral dilemmas; there’s an interesting heroine and a pig-keeper who comes into his own. But as is often the case, the ending is bitter sweet. Here I am in tears again at the end of book 5: 10 years old.

  1. The Book of Three
  2. The Black Cauldron
  3. The Castle of Llyr
  4. Taran Wanderer
  5. The High King

More Fantasy talk on Monday in F is for Fascinating 🙂