Category Archives: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers

Book Review: I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

I Shall Wear Midnight

Terry Pratchett is one of those authors that I grew up with as a teenager. He was publishing his first books when I was really getting into things like Fantasy fiction and role-playing games, so his parody of that whole genre really hit the button. The subject area combined a typically English sense of humour, similar in many ways to Blackadder, which was a favourite TV series for kids of my age as well, was perfect reading for me at the time.

I probably read his first 13 or so books in the Discworld series – up to Small Gods I think. After that I stopped. I was at University, had other things on my mind, and frankly I was probably a bit bored with the series by then!

But it’s always nice to come back to an old favourite and recently I’ve been doing that – time to get retro I guess. So I’ve been reading some of the Pratchett books I missed. I picked up I Shall Wear Midnight not knowing anything about it really. My fault – it seem this is the fourth book (?) featuring the young witch Tiffany Aching, AND … I see from the frontmatter that the books featuring her are ‘For Younger Readers’.

I wouldn’t describe myself as young! Would this be for me? Had I stumbled across Terry’s imitation of Twilight?

Yes and No. The plot is fairly predictable – a bit disappointing I thought. There’s an ancient evil that is doing nasty things to all witches (witches in Discworld being similar to magical social workers!) Only Tiffany (I was never really clear why only her) can sort it out. Along the way there’s a bit of a love interest – love triangle – hmm I think this is where the YA comes in. This book, I would suggest is for teenage girls – not boys, who presumably would be reading the regular Discworld stuff. It has a female protagonist – who’s clever, a bit lacking in self-confident, feels a bit put upon, and is in love with one guy, but should be in love with someone else. Feels like a combination of a Jane Austen novel and Twilight to me?

That sounds like I’m being really critical. I’m not. It was a good read and I didn’t mind the character, who was interesting, or the love triangle bit – which produced some humorous moments. The humour wasn’t anything special – I’m sure I used to laugh more when I was reading the earlier books, but perhaps that’s because it was newer then – but I think what I felt let down by a bit was the rather limp plot. The ‘ancient evil’ didn’t really make much of an appearance until a quarter of the way through. The first part of the book seemed more about establishing the character – which was OK, but I didn’t need it that much even though I hadn’t read the other books in this mini-series about Tiffany Aching.

I probably won’t read any other of the books ‘for younger readers’/teenage girls, but I am going to try some of his other more recent books – i.e. stuff that was written this Millenium! Monstrous Regiment is next on my list.


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Writers – Heroes

I was thinking about writing heroes the other day. Those writers who inspired a love of reading in me when I was a kid and also, I suppose, have inspired me to write later in life as well. Here are the writers that I would classify as my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien
Michael Moorcock
Robert A. Heinlein
Douglas Reeman
Alastair MacLean
W. E. Johns (creator of Biggles)
Terry Pratchett

I also read a few works by the following when I was a kid and loved them more and more as I got older:

Jack Vance
Gene Wolfe

I would also have give an honourable mention to comics as well. Particularly 2000 AD and Warlord.

Heroes now? There are a lot of writers I admire nowadays, but I’m not sure I would describe them as heroes in the same way. Perhaps hero-worship is something that is more in keeping with childhood?

Free Preview of Robin Hobb’s Blood of Dragons

Blood of DragonsTor have posted a free preview of the prologue for Robin Hobb’s new novel Blood of Dragons.

Interesting to see that this is the fourth book in the series – usually Hobb does things in threes!

Years ago, the magnificent dragon queen Tintaglia forged a bargain with the inhabitants of the treacherous Rain Wilds. In exchange for her protection against enemy invaders, the humans promised to protect an unhatched brood of dragons. But when the dragons emerged as weak and misshapen hatchlings unable to fend for themselves, dragonkind seemed doomed to extinction. When even Tintaglia deserted the crippled young dragons, the Rain Wilders abandoned the burden of caring for the destructive and ravenous creatures. They were banished to a dangerous and grueling journey in search of their ancient dragon homeland, the lost city of Kelsingra, accompanied by a band of young and inexperienced human keepers, also deemed damaged and disposable.

Against all odds they have found the fabled city, yet myriad challenges remain.

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Burning the Books – Lingwe on the dangers of literary executors

J. R. R. Tolkien, 1916
J. R. R. Tolkien, 1916 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fascinating article on how we may so easily have been left with no Unfinished Tales etc from Tolkien.

Go check it out at:

Lingwë – Musings of a Fish: Christopher Tolkien, Warren Hamilton Lewis, and Laurence Housman – The blog of Tolkien scholar and philologist Jason Fisher.

If you know an author, think twice before throwing out their junk when they die!

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My Reading Challenge – Hugo Winning Novels Since 2000

Cover of "The Yiddish Policemen's Union: ...
Cover of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: A Novel

Sometimes I read whatever I feel like, while at other times I try to read books based on a certain theme. So for instance a while ago I wanted to investigate how thrillers worked and read a number of thriller novels by authors I hadn’t read before. The idea was to get a good idea of how thrillers were structured and what made them ‘thrilling’. My historical fantasy novel, Hell has its Demons, has some of the elements of a thriller, so I wanted to make sure I was injecting a little extra thrill juice into it. I also from time to time read a bit of epic fantasy, but more in hope than expectation of finding something to match the range, depth and storytelling of Tolkien. Not much compares unfortunately.

Currently I am reading Hugo Award Winning Novels since 2000. My nagging doubt being that given my unhealthy obsession with things like epic fantasy I’m probably missing out on some really good speculative fiction. I’m tracking my reading over on Goodreads under a shelf called Hugo Award Winning Novels. I might also go the next level down and look at those nominated, and then move onto other awards – although there will be some crossover. I’m actually cheating and listening to an audiobook of a book only nominated – Eifelheim by Michael Flynn. But I’m also reading the paperback of The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon.

Despite these good intentions I will no doubt give up on my challenge at some point and read something completely different!

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Completely Bonkers Comments on Tobias Buckell story A Game of Rats and Dragon

I came across this on Twitter yesterday – Tobias Buckell tweeted about it. I recommend checking out the comments to his story A Game of Rats and Dragon in Lightspeed Magazine – they’re funny, sad an infuriating in equal measure. I do wonder who this Chris Fowler guy is and what his beef is – ostensibly the guy is complaining because he says Buckell is ripping off Cordwainer Smith’s story The Game of Rat and Dragon, whereas Buckell positions it as a homage to Cordwainer Smith’s story. However, the comments section gets out of hand and this chap Chris ends up insulting all and sundry!

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Back to School Fantasy Fiction – Top 5 Fantasy Novels featuring School or College

Cover of "The Shadow of the Torturer"

A bit of fun for those of you going back to school or college soon – or are parents of those who are!

Here’s my top 5 Fantasy Fiction novels featuring school or college!

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

US Liberal Arts College for wizards – a bit like a grown-up Harry Potter.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Did we mention Harry Potter – English boarding school for wizards!

The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

A guild for magicians, but in essence a college where they learn their stuff.

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

The girls try to break into the wizards’ University!

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Not a school or College for wizards at last. The narrator of Wolfe’s book starts off in a Guild for Torturer’s where he is learning his trade.

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The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie Audiobook

The HeroesI’m really enjoying listening to the audiobook version of Joe Abercrombie‘s The Heroes at the moment. I actually signed up for an Audible subscription as I tend to walk about an hour a day to and from work and I thought that it would be a good use of my time – that way I can probably listen to another book or two every month as well as the physical copy that I’m reading.

Seems to be working out quite well. The Heroes is about 21 hours long so quite long for an audiobook, but it’s really well narrated by Michael Page – some really good character voices really bring the story alive, although I’m sure reading it would as well, but you can’t always tell how different the experience would be.

Enough said about that, now about the book itself and why I’m liking it. Well I think partly its the humour – I have actually laughed out loud a few times while listening to it, so probably looked like a complete idiot as I was walking through the streets of London. Also it’s a great subject and probably one that Abercrombie was dying to write about I imagine as I think a lot of men do – basically here we have in great detail the story about a battle – the lead-up, the characters who will take part etc. So far I have only listened to a few hours, and it looks like we’re about to have an initial skirmish between two scouting parties. I think this is a really interesting representation of what war and battle is like – random events escalating to lead to other events, not really in the control of the opposing commanders – see War and Peace for another really good interpretation of this.

I guess this is a boy’s own book in a way – most boy’s being interested in battles after all. And for that it’s great fun and the kind of book that I’m sure a lot of boys/men would love to read or write. Me included.

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Why George RR Martin is NOT an American Tolkien

And I’m not planning to denigrate George RR Martin at all in this post – I’m just pointing out why he’s not as Tolkienesque as some who like to use broad-brush generalizations may say – see,9171,1129596,00.html for instance. This article actually points out that Martin is different from Tolkien, but the tag does seem to have stuck somewhat.

Some similarities first:

  • R. R. – something in the initials perhaps suggests the comparison?
  • Masters of Epic Fantasy – although Tolkien really invented the epic fantasy genre, while George RR Martin to some extent reinvents it
  • The pseudo-Medieval setting – see above

And I would say that is about as far as it goes. Why?

  • Tolkien’s morality is more black and white than Martin’s. There are complicated characters in Tolkien – Frodo, Gollum, Boromir, Sam – they all have doubts and flaws, but in Martin’s work there are perhaps rougher characters, such as Tyrion and Jaime, who are villains, yet we end up on their side.
  • Tolkien would have been appalled at the vulgarity of Martin – there’s way too much sex and gore. Tolkien was a strict Catholic and his morality comes through in his writing. Martin sees the reality of life, while Tolkien compartmentalizes evil into more easily distinguishable boxes – orcs and balrogs.
  • Martin can write from a woman’s point of view, while Tolkien’s women are more like ladies from a medieval romance – beautiful and unobtainable, or in the case of Galadriel a powerful yet benevolent sorceress
  • Tolkien wrote for the love of the language and mythology that he created and the writing was a by-product. In fact you could argue that he only wrote LOTR because of the unexpected success of The Hobbit. Martin is a professional writer and his epic fantasy books do not form a continuum with his earlier novels, whereas Tolkien only wrote about the myth and legend of Middle Earth.
  • Although based on the mythology of our own world, Tolkien’s Middle Earth is remarkably original. Sure there are the men of Harad who are like Saracen’s, but otherwise the standard displacement of medieval geography into a fantasy setting is not what Tolkien did. Modern writers tend to take the short-cut though of having wild-men coming from somewhere like Scotland, sophisticated and deceitful men coming from somewhere like the Middle East etc etc. The comparisons with history are often very blunt and hardly fantastical.
  • Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has, I believe, a more powerful narrative thrust than Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice. The story of The Lord of the Rings is in essence a simple one – to stop Sauron by destroying the Ring. A Song of Fire and Ice is much more complex and is based apparently on Martin’s own reading of the War of the Roses, a less heroic time one could rarely find.
All this begs the question as to whether Tolkien and Martin are actually doing the same thing. Is Epic Fantasy defined by the morality and heroism of its participants or by the scope of its action. Martin’s work certainly has scope and grand scale, but are his characters heroic? I would say yes, and like Tolkien its the “smaller” characters who are the most heroic, such as Arya and Bran, Frodo and Sam.
Not everyone, and very possibly no-one ever again, wants to devote their whole life to a created mythology in the same way as Tolkien did, that is certainly an act of love rather than a way to a writing career. Yet we are lucky to have a master-craftsman such as George RR Martin to prove that Epic Fantasy today can be a mature and well-written genre.
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Tolkien’s Mythology for England and King Arthur

Cover of "The Silmarillion"
Cover of The Silmarillion

I recently listened to the audiobook of Michael White’s Tolkien: A Biography, and I was struck by the fact that he was motivated to write The Silmarrillion as he believed that the English did not have a proper mythology in the same way as perhaps the Celts, Finns or the Norse have with works such as the Mabinogion, Kelevala and the Sagas and Edda.

Beowulf was also mentioned, but I guess that most of the Anglo-Saxon literature only alludes to a pre-Christian past and we are left to guess that they had a similar mythology to the Norse, but that is all. But Tolkien either wishes that such a mythology existed, or perhaps realised that the English were such a disparate culture in many ways – with confusion over Englishness and Britishness, the input of Norman culture etc, that we were left with no unified national mythology in the same way as these other Northern European cultures.

That left me thinking about King Arthur. Surely the Arthurian legends are a pretty strong mythology aren’t they? They tell of a powerful leader who unites the country and makes it great. What more could you ask for?

Well I suspect that Tolkien had a few problems with the Arthur legend. Firstly the legend was probably not English enough for him – the sources being primarily Welsh or Romano-British, with the main opponents being the Anglo-Saxon’s, the very English that Tolkien wanted to mythologize. And the second issue I think was that Arthur was really a Christian King and although there are some allusions to magic and folklore there is very little of the pagan past in the Arthurian legend.

Quite ironic really that Tolkien was so interested in creating an English mythology that relied on paganism, when he was actually a very devout Catholic.

But apart from Tolkien, I would say that the Arthurian legend has been pretty wholeheartedly accepted by the English and the British as a sort of national myth and legend – the Plantagenets and the Tudors were happy to use the legend for its unifying power and the implication that Britain was the source of true chivalry, and of course the Victorians with their Pre-Raphaelite art adored it. And perhaps Arthur is a healthier legend than trying to recreate an Anglo-Saxon myth based on Norse paganism, it certainly allows for a more unified image of a varied British culture, and gets rid of the depressing violence and doom of Germanic myth.

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