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Topic: 2011 Fantasy Challenge -- JANUARY DISCUSSION THREAD

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Subject: 2011 Fantasy Challenge -- JANUARY DISCUSSION THREAD
Date Posted: 1/1/2011 2:02 PM ET
Member Since: 4/18/2009
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Previous, related posts:

2011 Fantasy Challenge -- LISTS ONLY THREAD

2010/2011 Fantasy Challenge -- DECEMBER DISCUSSION THREAD


Welcome to January 2011! Hope your new year is starting off well! So what are the first titles you're planning on reading for this year's challenge? And please come back as you finish them to let us know how they are! :)

Date Posted: 1/1/2011 2:07 PM ET
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This month I'm planning to get to my Anthology category with The Dragon Book, ed. by Jack Dann & Gardner Dozois; my Non-Genre category with Fever Season, by Barbara Hambly; my Steampunk category with Mainspring, by Jay Lake; my William L. Crawford Fantasy Award winner with The Fox Woman, by Kij Johnson; and my Matter of Britain category with The King's Peace, by Jo Walton.

Date Posted: 1/1/2011 6:12 PM ET
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Last Edited on: 1/16/11 4:59 PM ET - Total times edited: 5
Date Posted: 1/1/2011 7:00 PM ET
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I didn't realize King's Peace was a Matter of Brittian story.  I'll have to add that to my list of possibe books since I have a copy.

I'm going to be starting The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch in audio book.  It is a World Fantasy Award nominee. 

I picked up a lit crit book called Fairy Tales Reimagined Essays on New Retellings  earlier this week.  It's a series of essays talking about various authors/books of fairy tale type stories.  It has essays about works by big names like Robin McKinley, Neil Gaiman, Jane Yolen and Shannon Hale as well as some more obscure authors I've never heard of.  It'll fill my non-fiction category - maybe even the non fiction extra credit one.  Hopefully, it'll also introduce me to new authors!

I really want to finally read Perdido Street Station by Mieville.  It was nominated for the World Fantasy, Hugo and the Nebula awards, won the Brittish Fantasy Society's awards, and from what I've heard of it, might also fill the Weird Fiction and Steampunk categories.

Anything beyond that, though, I really don't have a plan.


Date Posted: 1/1/2011 8:40 PM ET
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Melanti -- That criticism book sounds fascinating! Be sure to let us know if it delivers! ;)

Date Posted: 1/1/2011 11:36 PM ET
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My first read is going to be Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris for the Fantasy Mystery category.

I'm doing the SF Challenge too and spent most of today choosing books for that. So, it looks like I'll be reading some of those first.

I read more Fantasy then anything so I thought it would be easy to pick books for this challenge. I misled myself! Haaahaa. I'll have to come back later and figure out my Fantasy titles.

Happy New Year Everyone!


Last Edited on: 1/15/11 8:46 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/2/2011 8:37 AM ET
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Finished a collection of short stories by an author known for fantasy novels:  The Gorgon and Other Beastly Tales by Tanith Lee, which I borrowed from my daughter.  I chose this one for its brief length to get me moving on the challenge.  It was an ok read.  I liked the title story best, "The Gorgon," but  "Because Our Skins Are Shiny" has a poignant reminder about saving the creatures of our earth and "Monkey's Stagger," a tale about a man defeating a demon, was quite entertaining.  Lee won an award for "The Gorgon," rightfully so.

Myths of the southern hemisphere: The Sunbird by Wilbur Smith is an exciting book which deals with a curse called the Curse of the White Ghost.  Dr. Benjamin Kazan, an archeologist, discovers a lost city that he has been searching for all his professional life.  The belief has others in his field ridiculing his efforts but despite this he finds the lost city of Opet.  Strangely parallel to his own life, the king of the city and his patron and good friend are remarkably alike in appearance.  In addition, the king had a friend like Benjamin himself.  That friend loved a woman who was like the woman that Benjamin loved.  In addition, a man named Xhai, a little black man has identical skills and name to one who lived in Opet.  Coincidence or are they the same people who once lived in the lost city of Opet.  An exciting read that ends with a great battle.  This is an unpostable that I will send to anyone wanting to read it if you order another book from my shelf.

Themed anthology:  The Fairy's Return by Gail Carson Levine (a retelling of several fairy tales).  Quite a fun little book with a different take on old stories by giving them new twists.  Most entertaining!

Modern-day retelling of a fairy tale:  The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson.  What an intriguing little book.  I loved the lyrical writing, the fascinating story and the tale itself.  Johnson shows how a Japanese man and woman communicate with poetry.  As the story unfolds one realizes that this is a story of one man and two women (one a fox-woman?) and a crisis that often occurs within a marriage when two people lose touch with each other.  Which woman will he choose?  Only Kaya no Yoshifuji himself knows, or does he?

Lambda Literary Award:  Palimpsest by Catherynne M. Valente:  Just finished this one.  Can't tell you how many times I almost stopped reading it.  I just did not like it.  Far too many sexual encounters.  It seemed like there was one or more in every other chapter, many of which were only 3-6 pages in length.  Beyond that I just didn't get what the author was trying to do with this book.  Imagine a city of fantasy and the only way you can get to it is to have sex with another person who has a map of the city on their body.  If you don't have the map you will have it after you have sex with someone who does.  Strange things happen in this city - violent, extremely strange and good.  My advice is don't bother.  Since it was a library book and I read it for the fantasy reading challenge I thought it might get better as the story progressed.  For me, it never did.

Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel:  Abhorsen by Garth Nix is a wonderful book - the third in a trilogy that began with Sabriel.  I can only say that this a book that is fun for both young adults and adults alike to read.  It is exciting, imaginative, and so very creative.  The characters and creatures take on a reality that thrill the reader.  All I can say is put this trilogy on your list to read soon - very soon.  I do think you will enjoy it.

Graphic novel:  Coraline by Neil Gaiman:  While some readers have felt that this is a very dark novel, I enjoyed it.  Of course, losing one's parents who are trapped by a (witch?) is negative, i liked the story.  For a little girl, interested in exploring , rescuing them becmes a brave and mandatory thing to do.  The graphics are very well done.  It's much better than reading a comic book.   fun read!

Last Edited on: 2/4/11 8:17 PM ET - Total times edited: 29
Date Posted: 1/2/2011 10:09 PM ET
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I read the intro of the lit crit book before buying it.  It is interesting so far.  I'll let you know more once I've actually read some of the essays.

I started off the year with Charles de Lint's The Harp of the Grey Rose for my William C. Crawford award winner no particular reason.  It's incredibly 80's!  I just finished Diana Wynne Jones's Tough Guide to Fantasyland yesterday, which satirizes commonly used fantasy plot elements - especially plot elements of epic fantasy, and it was interesting to see how many of these elements showed up in The Harp of the Grey Rose.  Everything from finding abandoned dwarf caverns to cursed daggers, to dream prophecies got included.  It's very similar to other 80's epic stories, and very obviously a first novel.  I could see little hints of his current writing style now and then, but for the most part it was nothing at all like his current work.

Next up was the second volume of the Sandman graphic novel - The Doll's House by Gaiman.  I know lots of people absolutely love this series, but it's just not living up to the hype for me at all!  What's weird is that it's written by an author I really enjoy, subject matter that I'd normally like if it were in print form, but I just can't get into them as graphic novels.


Edit - Some places are saying Harp of the Grey Rose was de Lint's first novel.  Others are saying it's Riddle of the Wren.  Maybe one was written first but the other published before that?  Guess I'll just read both.  Edit 2:  Moonheart is what won de Lint the William C. Crawford award.

Last Edited on: 1/12/11 4:05 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Davies -
Date Posted: 1/3/2011 11:51 AM ET
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I have been planning out my books for Part C - the award winners.  I should have most of them in my TBR pile at home, but I just ordered a couple more from PBS, and they should be here before too long.  However, I don't think I will start with them, I think I will start with one of my extra credit books.  I am going to read The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe (Nebula runner-up in 1980).  I have heard too many good things about this book, and it has sat on my shelf for too long.  Doubly long if you consider that I apparently own two copies.  Time to buckle down and get to reading. 

Last Edited on: 1/3/11 10:29 PM ET - Total times edited: 4
Date Posted: 1/4/2011 2:59 PM ET
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I read Fire by Kristin Cashore already - I got it for xmas and I loved it.  I'm just not quite sure where to put it.

Date Posted: 1/6/2011 2:06 AM ET
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I just finished Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear for my secret history category.  It's complex, complicated and beautiful.  It goes beyond the usual stereotypes and nobody has only one reason for what they do.   Its fae seem closer to the truth of the old stories and its magic is not the endless cornucopia of a lot of current fantasy.  There is a cost for everything.  I'm definately getting the other books in the series.

Date Posted: 1/6/2011 1:15 PM ET
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Lisa -- I'm planning on reading the third book, Ink and Steel, for that category. You're absolutely right about Blood and Iron; I especially love the way there is a cost for everything.

Date Posted: 1/6/2011 10:33 PM ET
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Well, I haven't updated my list yet, but I do have a few books ready to read for the challenge. I started Blood and Iron by Elizabeth Bear last night and I have the entire series checked out from the library to read.

I also recently purchased Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. I'm sure I will use all of them for the challenge.

Date Posted: 1/7/2011 4:32 PM ET
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Too many books!  I am reading Windup girl (steampunk). REALLY enjoying it, and was not expecting to get past the first chapter.

I've several Tom Holt books that need to be read in order and I am sure will fit into one of the slots for the challenge.

I've to read the next book in the Kushiels Dart series (forget the proper series name). 

I am looking for a book of good fantasy short stories, and have yet to find one I have not yet read..LOL Sometimes being well read is not a good thing.


Oh and I know a few Australian fantasy book, mostly childrens one but I think that still counts..   My favorite is Snuggle Pot and Cuddle pie By May Gibbs (I got a copy from PBS last year). Its cute, set in australia with australian animals and plants.

There is also one that is a time slip (character goes back in time via non scifi means) Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park. (not sure if this one counts as true fantasy). 

Last Edited on: 1/7/11 5:01 PM ET - Total times edited: 2
Date Posted: 1/7/2011 10:38 PM ET
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I'm reporting back on Fairy Tales Reimagined:  Essays on New Retellings (Susan Bobby ed.) as requested. 

This was an interesting read.  Obviously, I got the most out of the articles about books/authors I've read.  The others made sense, but just didn't make as much of an impact.

I did add a few books to my wish list from it, and one that I was on the fence about reading (Fables) is off my list now.

A reviewer on Amazon posted the index, and here is a essay by essay summary, so I won't repeat those but here's the general overview and what books they're using for the big-name authors. 

The first section was regarding Feminism.  Each essay varied, but a common theme was how what things got added in/left out or what things changed entirely  affected what was being said about the role of the female.
Jane Yolen - Sister Emily's Lightship (Just "Lost Girls")
Neil Gaiman -Stardust, and Smoke and Mirrors (Just "Troll Bridge" and "Snow, Glass, Apples")

Next section was on narrative forms.  In general, this focused on how the method of telling the tale changed the interpretation.  For instance, is one person in the story telling it to another, or is it portrayed as a dream, etc.
A.S. Byatt - Possession and/or Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye (3/5 of the stories in Djinn discussed, but these are also incorporated into Possession so you can read either book)
Robin McKinley - Beauty, Outlaws of Sherwood, Deerskin, Rose Daughter, and Spindle's End.

The Third section was on trauma/dystopia.  A common theme here was that with traumatic events, framing things as a fairy tale gives a bit of distance from the tale, where either the reader, the characters or both might try to block out the actual events.
Jane Yolen - Briar Rose

The last section was on politics/ culture   This is my least favorite section.  There isn't any cohesive theme between these essays like there is in the other sections, and the books are really analyzed more on their own merits rather than in relation to and part of the body of fairy tales.  Not necessarially a bad thing, but they seem a bit out of place in this collection
Bill Willingham - Fables Graphic novels
Phillip Pullman - I Was a Rat!
Gregory Maguire - Wicked
Shannon Hale - Goose Girl and The Princess Academy

Robin McKinley (because I know PheonixFalls is a fan)
The Robin McKinley essay was in the section on narrative forms, but to me it didn't quite seem to fit.  The point of this essay is that in her earliest books (Beauty in particular) her females have few if any choices about their role in life.  Beauty chooses to go with the beast, but due to her dreams, it's not really much of a choice.  In The Blue Sword, the heroine is kidnapped, then caught up in the magic surrounding the sword, so again, no real choices made.
As her career progresses, McKinley gives her heroines more and more choices and control over the story, until with Rose Daughter and Spindle's End, they have so many choices and so much control they're able to break out of the typical fairy tale ending.

Jane Yolen (Briar Rose, My favorite essay from the book)
Here, they're talking about how one of the problems of trying to write about the Holocaust is that it's so horrible that it's hard to give an accurate portrayal as fiction.  Either one puts so much in that it becomes a true story, or they leave so much out that it doesn't portray the Holocaust properly.  Another problem would be that any complete, accurate version is going to be so horrific that one stands a chance of alienating the readers or the story being beyond their ability to cope with emotionally, especially if they're looking for a fictional account.

But with things being cloaked as a fairy tale, plot elements can act as a sort of shorthand.  Sleeping Beauty's sleep becomes a gas chamber, the wall of brambles around the castle are the barbed wire fences around the camps, the oven the witch is pushed into in Hansel & Gretel is the camps' furnaces.  Since we're familiar with the original stories, we already emotionally associate the witch who cursed Sleeping Beauty with evil, the years of sleep as bad, the oven as something terrible.  Therefore, the author doesn't have to explain the horrors in detail to invoke an emotional reaction.  We know the witch is wicked and evil without having to be told point by point why.  It gives the author (and the characters) just a little bit of distance from the events, and frames something too terrible to comprehend unless you've lived it as something that you can comprehend, at least a little.


One thing to note is that because it's meant for a scholarly audience, it makes quite a few assumptions about what you know.

First, most (if not all) of the essays assumes that you've read multiple unedited "original" fairy tale collections.  (Grimms, Anderson, Perrault, etc.)  If all you've read is the kiddified version of fairy tales and aren't familiar with older, less sanitized versions, you'll have a surprise when they start talking about Cinderella's sisters cutting off their toes to fit into a fur slipper or Sleeping Beauty waking up during childbirth.  If you've read at least one of the "original" collections, then you'd be ok, I think.  And if you haven't but are interested enough in fairy/folk fairy tales to read this book --- go read one!

In a couple of the essays, they start mentioning about repetition with variation which is something that comes up a lot in folkloric studies.  You can follow what they're talking about without knowing the details, but you might be wondering why it keeps getting mentioned.   (And a major gripe - repeating the begining sounds of words is NOT repetition with variation. That's called alliteration!  Two separate things!)

In one of the essays, they start talking about one of the folktales and refer to it as AT 451 without even saying what the AT index was.  If I hadn't already known, then may have gotten lost.  The Aarne-Thompson (AT) index is a large catalog that assigns common folk and fairy tale motifs with a particular number.  For instance, Cinderella's AT number is 410.  You can look up those numbers in the index and find a brief summary of the motif, then a listing of all the folk/fairy tales with that particular motif and where/when they were published.  So if someone is referring to AT 410, they're not referring to just one version of Cinderella, they're talking about all the different versions of Cinderella as a whole.

Last and least of a problem, it does assume that you have at least a basic knowledge about literary theories - deconstruction, post-modernism, etc.

Date Posted: 1/8/2011 2:53 AM ET
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 Hehe, thanks for the report Melanti! But I have to know. . . what'd it say about Fables that made you remove it from your list?

Date Posted: 1/8/2011 8:04 AM ET
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There were a few things, actually.  Keep in mind this is all coming third hand - I may be completely off base for some or all of this.

One of the things that interested me was that the characters were all fairy tale characters.  But when the essay started talking about how the characters were portrayed, some made sense (Prince Charming & Snow White as divorced) but others made no sense at all (Big Bad Wolf as a private investigator, with a nickname of Bigby).  A few more characters' stories were mentioned.  I got the impression that some, if not most of the characters were going to be so changed by the whims of the plot that any fairy tale connections were going to be tenuous at best.  And especially with none of the plots being fairy tale like in style, that just removes one of the major reasons I was thinking about reading the series.

The essay was all about models of masculinity and the glorification of war, along with the political correlations to the wars in Iraq and Vietnam.  It just left me with the impression that it was something that might appeal a lot more to the friends who've been prodding me to read it than it would appeal to me.  Of course, one of those friends says I'm way off base on my assumptions, that the war and the masculinity are just a small part, and I will love it, so who knows.

My judgment isn't all that great on graphic novels.  I thought I'd love The Sandman.  I was highly disappointed in it.  I thought I'd hate The Watchman.  I ended up loving it.  I was kind of meh about reading the Serenity series.  I liked it.  I thought I'd like Buffy, but it was just sort of blah.  I obviously don't know what I like and don't like in a comic!


Date Posted: 1/8/2011 8:02 PM ET
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I just finished my themed anthology - Zombies Vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine LarbalestierThis is a really fun book featuring stories by a number of YA writers, each representing either Team Zombie or Team Unicorn.  I'm not a big fan of zombie stories, and I haven't read a book featuring unicorns in years, but it was fun to read about baby killer unicorns and child zombies. 

Date Posted: 1/8/2011 10:18 PM ET
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I've read Strange Brew edited by P N Elrod for my themed anthology.  It's fairly strong anthology by several well known authors.  Seeing Eye by Patricia Briggs and Bacon by Charlaine Harris are good stand alone stories set in their respective universes.  Vegas Odds by Karen Chance and Last Call by John Butcher were also good but people new to their worlds might have difficulty with them.  Out of the five remaining stories, only one, Dark Sins by Jenna Maclaine, was less than interesting.

Subject: What I'm reading and a Question
Date Posted: 1/10/2011 11:41 AM ET
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I am reading One by Conrad Williams (British Fantasy Award) and  will be reading The Seventh Witch  by Shirley Damsgaard (Fantasy Mystery).  A question: do the Otherland books by Tad Williams fit the Weird Fiction/New Weird category? I'm reading the first one now, and just wondered if it would fit in this challenge.

Date Posted: 1/10/2011 11:52 AM ET
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I think I'm at slight loss as to what to read. Many of the books that people said they were planning on reading, I've already read. Many books I thought would be great for a category.. I've already read. So now its a matter of finding books I'm interested in. 

Date Posted: 1/10/2011 4:16 PM ET
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Allyson - What categories are you looking for books in? And what authors do you like?  We might be able to suggest something.

Ceil -  I wouldn't really classify the Otherland books as New Weird.  They're technically straight Sci Fi, not quite cyber punk.  Since it uses a lot of fantasy settings, it reads a lot like a fantasy.    But it just doesn't have that atmosphere that I'd associate with Weird Fantasy -- not that I'm an expert on it by any means.  It is a great series though.

Last Edited on: 1/10/11 4:42 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/10/2011 9:02 PM ET
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My three recent reads:

The Coyote Road, edited by Datlow:  Used for my themed anthology.  A couple of good stories, but overall just average.  I guess I was just expecting something a bit different.  I associate most traditional trickster stories and Coyote stories especially, with learning or morals, and there was precious little of that in this collection.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman:  Used for a  Newberry Award Winner, but is also a World Fantasy Nominee.  It has a gentle sort of creepiness, especially compared to the very frightening Coraline.  A boy is raised by ghosts in the graveyard to keep him safe.   I can see where it's popularity comes from, but it's a bit simple, since it's written for kids.  I wish he'd come out with another book targeted at adults rather than children.

The Riddle and the Wren by Charles de Lint:  Used for my William C Crawford award winner nothing, apparently.  This book was written after Harp of the Grey Rose, but the Harp of the Grey Rose was originally published in novella form before Riddle and the Wren, and published in book form after, so Riddle and the Wren is his first published novel.  MUCH better than Harp of the Grey Rose.  His writing noticeably improved between Harp and Wren but it's still a bit derivative and nowhere near as good as his current books.  The physically abused heroine rather irked me though.  I guess he started that trend VERY early in his career, but where it tends to at least make sense in his Newford books, it just sticks out like a sore thumb in this one.  It just seems rather needless IMO.  

Edit:  Moonheart is what won de Lint the William C. Crawford award.

Last Edited on: 1/12/11 4:06 PM ET - Total times edited: 1
Date Posted: 1/10/2011 11:13 PM ET
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Melanti -- I thought pretty much the same thing about The Coyote Road; I spent the whole time going "but. . . where's the lesson?" :D

And agreed on de Lint's propensity for abused heroines. . . it's why I tend to take loooooooooong breaks from his writing. Too many back to back and you see all the stuff that just occurs OVER and OVER again in his stories. . .

Date Posted: 1/11/2011 12:26 AM ET
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Hey, not all of de Lint's books have abused heroines.  You have that one heroine that's an amnesiac computer program!

I think I just lucked out with the haphazard order I've read his books.  I usually go back and forth between his Newford books and his plain fantasy ones.  And with breaks in between too.  It's mostly just his Newford books with the abused characters.  I think this is the first non-Newford book I've read where that occurs. 

From what I've heard, he's not going to write about Newford anymore.  He's moving on to the desert.  Maybe he'll leave the abused heroines in the city.