MFA adult nominees
- I was going to wait until after May 15 to post my reactions to the
Mythopoeic Fantasy Award nominees (adult fiction), but it was suggested to
me that it would be more interesting to post them before, so I am.
I have yet to read Tamsin, Avalon, and Dark Sister. I will attempt to read
those before May 15.
I�ve put the nominees in four categories: finalists, casual reading, below
average, and publishing mistakes.
Finalists: Here are the ones I would recommend as finalists if I were
sending in my choices today:
The Fathergod Experiment by L. A. Taylor. Bondservant Lilz is suspected of
the murder of an aristocrat. A grand mixture of mystery, science fiction,
The Wild Swans by Peg Kerr. The story of a woman in Puritan England and New
England whose brothers are magically changed into swans, contrasted with
the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s. Well done. (I know Grace wrote in
Mythprint that she thought it would have been better without the modern
story added, but I was also moved by the modern story.)
Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein. A clever and entertaining book
which finds a common theme among classic fantasy children�s stories. Not to
mention �The subway stations of the gods.� Highly recommended.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire. The Cinderella story
told from the viewpoint of one of the ugly stepsisters. Surprisingly good
(particularly considering that I couldn�t stand an earlier novel of his,
called Wicked, about the Wicked Witch of the West of Oz and her alleged
sexual escapades). As in many fairy tale retellings, this story alleges
that the �real� Cinderella story was quite different from the familiar
tale. This one is set in Holland, with the mother and �ugly� stepsisters
fleeing England when the mother is accused of witchcraft. Penniless, they
run into a painter who takes them in as housekeepers, and later are
similarly employed by a merchant who already has a beautiful daughter.
Traitor�s Sun by Marion Zimmer Bradley (though widely acknowledged as being
written by Adrienne Martine-Barnes). A return to the great Darkover stories
of the past.
Casual reading. Pleasant stories that one might take for a day on the
beach, but I wouldn�t recommend them for an award.
Dragon Weather by Lawrence Watt-Evans. This story was characterized by the
main reviewer for Science Fiction Chronicle as being the best fantasy of
1999. While I found it readable and pleasant, I did not find it quite that
outstanding. Still, it does have an interesting premise: a teenager�s
village is destroyed by dragons; the teenager is sold into slavery by
looters. Escaping slavery after several years, the young man pledges to be
an avenger of wrongs and a dispenser of justice--only to find that
vengeance and justice are not as clearly defined as he expected.
The Rainy Season by James P. Blaylock. In the late 1800s, a man sacrifices
his daughter by drowning in order to magically capture her memory in a
crystal, which becomes lost. The man and those opposing him get caught in a
magical well and reappear in the 1900s, and resume the search for the
crystal. This is probably the best of Blaylock�s works I�ve read so far;
though it�s enjoyable, it isn�t quite as good as the works of Tim Powers,
which is what the story reminds me of.
The Book of Knights by Yves Meynard. An adopted boy finds a book in the
attic of his house. The book details the deeds of many knights, and
inspires the boy to become a knight himself. He runs away to be trained,
and finds being a knight isn�t exactly what he thought it might be, but
nonetheless involves many adventures. A pleasant, readable story.
Elementals by A. S. Byatt and Miracle and Other Christmas Stories by Connie
Willis: Pleasant, but not very memorable.
Below average: These books are publishable, I suppose, but I found them
only minimally enjoyable:
A Red Heart of Memories by Nina Kiriki Hoffman. A woman who can see into
the dreams of others and speak to inanimate objects meets a man who can
handle magic, and they both travel to the scene of a tragedy years ago to
handle some unresolved issues. Readable, but little of importance happens.
The Feast, translated by Randy Lee Eickoff. Although this book may have
value for scholars or historians, I found it worthless when it comes to
fantasy. Or: just because a story is old, doesn't mean it's worthwhile.
Bad writers existed in the Middle Ages as well as in the modern era.
There and Back Again by Pat Murphy. A rewrite of The Hobbit, set in outer
space. Follows The Hobbit almost precisely. I thought the original was much
better. Why rewrite it? There is very little fresh, bold, or even
interesting in this retelling.
The Gilded Chain by Dave Duncan. This seems to be part of a series called
�The King�s Blades.� The �blades� are swordfighters in service to the King
(and others) bound to their employer(s) through magic. This particular
novel is a parallel to the court of Henry VIII in many respects. I found
the novel readable, but a bit lengthy in getting to its point, though it
does have one.
Publishing mistakes: IMHO, each one of these should have been returned to
the author with a form rejection slip.
On Blue�s Waters by Gene Wolfe. Although I thought his Book of the New Sun
series (Shadow of the Torturer, etc.) was excellent, I felt this story was
poorly structured. It�s disjointed. It jumps back and forth from one time
period to another in the protagonist�s life (the format is the protagonist
writing a journal, and the protagonist does not record the events of his
life in chronological order), which is confusing and extremely difficult to
follow. I would not recommend this to anyone.
Black Light by Elizabeth Hand. The story is set in a fictional suburb of
New York City, where most of the residents are employed in the
entertainment industry (actors, set designers, etc.). The suburb also has
had a history of getting involved in magic rituals. In this story, there�s
a conflict between the forces of magical good and magical evil, which had
the potential of being interesting. Unfortunately, this conflict is
peripheral to the story. The story instead centers around a teenager and
her family and friends, who spend an enormous amount of time getting
wasted. In my opinion, the story is also wasted.
Violent Stars by Phyllis Gotlieb: Pointless and nearly unreadable. Not very
Rhapsody by Elizabeth Haydon. A long, dull story. (Did the endorsers really
enjoy this? Really read it?) Not very well written. Appallingly bad
dialogue. This is 471 pages of pure wretchedness (okay, I only read up to
100 pages before quitting in disgust, so I suppose I might more accurately
characterize the book as being 471 pages in length with at least 100 of
sheer wretchedness.) According to its advertising, it received a starred
review from Publisher�s Weekly and an equally favorable review from
Booklist...unbelievable. The only list I would put this on is a nomination
list for the Worst Book of 1999.
Joan Marie Verba verba001@...
Mythopoeic Press Secretary, Mythopoeic Society
List Administrator for DocEx, Mythsoc, MNSCBWI and
- Please, can anyone share some thoughts on the Beagle and Blaylock?
I haven't seen those yet and I'm still just hoping my librarian will have
them for me tomorrow.
This is my 2 cents: (where did they put that key)
Marion Zimmer Bradley, _Traitor's Sun_ (Penguin hc January 1999, DAW pb Feb
My kind of story, but, a Darkover novel? I have some bias about this one
and I am worried that there will be a sentimental vote for Bradley due to
her recent passing which is not merited by the text. The story is engaging,
but I can¹t quite figure out why this one was nominated. If I have time to
jump ahead, I will and maybe things will crystalize about this.
Randy Lee Eickhoff, _The Feast_ (Forge hc March 1999)
Classic epic, this one makes my final 5 fifty or sixty pages in. I¹ll let
it lay for now while I concentrate on others that I haven¹t decided on yet.
Nina Kiriki Hoffman, _A Red Heart of Memories_ (Ace hc October 1999)
Halfway through this one and I can¹t make up my mind. The concepts of the
magic and spirit are inventive and clever. I like it, and it seems well
done, but I just don¹t know yet. Running out of time, so I¹m not sure I can
finish it and adequately review others before the deadline. Unfortunately,
the prose is prosaic and the story has yet to rise to the level of something
that will be universally acclaimed by lovers of the genre, or lovers of the
Inklings. It seems just a little too heavy handed about domestic violence.
Not that the problem should be downplayed, but this is fantasy and shouldn¹t
be preachy. I have no room for political correctness here; I¹m looking for
escapism, adventure, danger, excitement and wonder. When in doubt, err on
the side of caution and leave this one off.
Graham Joyce, _Dark Sister_ (Tor hc August 1999)
Terrific book, really enjoyed it. Deftly handled, this is a portrayal that
is so realistic in the way that the emotional play between the characters is
expressed, especially in the relationship between Molly and Alex, that it
easily pulls the reader in. The herbology and the sense of history to which
it attaches give the story layers upon layers of associations that enrich
the reading and allow each reader to tap in and make it his own. I think
tying it in with the archaeological dig grounds it in the world of empirical
observation in a way that leaving it to dwell in the minds and lives of a
few self sufficient isolated oddballs which is one way to look at Molly,
Liz and Ash never could.
I could go on, but the point here is that the magical theme of the story
(distinguished from the social theme) is decidedly not in the spirit of the
Inklings. Its overt reverence and subjugation to the Goddess, here in the
guise of Hecate, is counter to the Christian sensibilities accepted by the
big three and openly developed in the works of Lewis and Williams. Not to
be forgotten in analyzing these works is Tolkien¹s theory of sub-creation
which underlies his entire corpus.
**Peg Kerr, _The Wild Swans_ (Warner Aspect tp May 1999)
Ok, I like the dual tale books, always have. The characters are engaging,
and the development of the parallel coming of age stories works. Sorry, the
emphasis on the gay lifestyle in the modern tale turns me off in terms of
the "spirit of the Inklings." The merits of the book are of no significance
in this context. While a worthy effort, I can¹t put it on my list in good
Stephen R. Lawhead, _Avalon_ (Tor hc September 1999)
Only about 80 pages in, but I¹m thinking this will be a good candidate for
the final list, even if not for the award (which it may be). The Arthurian
theme cannot be denied; when working with such good material, any such
effort demands consideration. Handled well as it appears to be here, it
needs to be taken into consideration. I think I started Lawhead¹s "Merlin"
and got bored quickly several years ago, but this effort is intriguing. I
need to read more if time allows but this can go on the final list.
Read more, not enough to answer my questions.
Gregory Maguire, _Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister_ (Regan Books hc
Haven¹t had a chance at this one yet, although having just finished "Wicked"
immediately prior to beginning reading the list of nominees I¹ve had enough
of Maguire for a while. I found "Wicked" very uneven and ultimately
disappointing throughout the second half of the book. I can only hope that
Maguire does a better job here. Did read a few reviews when it was
published...I'd like to give him a second chance, I like his ideas, so I'm
sort of hoping many people have read and liked it. I'd hate to think my
failure to get to this one kept Maguire from consideration, because I think
he has earned at least that much already.
Lawrence Watt-Evans, _Dragon Weather_ (Tor hc October 1999)
This book just didn¹t capture my fancy. It was just slow going for me at
first, and with so many other titles piled up wailing for attention, I just
couldn¹t give this any. I didn¹t give it a fair chance, but the depiction
of dragons is one of the great things in magical tales. Dragons are almost
always engrossing, no matter how poorly handled, and at their best, they are
the essence of fantasy. So I want to give this one another try and only
hope that I get the chance.
Connie Willis, _Miracle and Other Christmas Stories_ (Bantam Spectra hc
MIRACLE A creative vehicle for reworking a nice predictable little
story. Feels like Williams in the way the supernatural mingled nicely with
the everyday. The battle of the Christmas Movie Classics was fun, speaking
as one who likes them both, but prefers Miracle on 34th Street to It¹s a
THE INN Now this is a Christmas story! Willis raises some difficult
questions here. How is it that the heroine of the story (Sharon) can be so
strong as to recognize and accept that she is in the presence of Mary and
Joseph while trying to keep her decision to do what she believes to be Right
a secret. Why, not out of humility, but rather, out of fear of what the
misguided and hypercritical Rev. Farrison might think of her. She is good
and brave and cowardly and shallow, moving quickly from one to the next
throughout the few hours of the story. This makes it a much stronger story
than would be the case if Sharon were just a strong willed woman willing to
stand up and proclaim her decision to do what she knows she needs to do.
While she wouldn¹t stand up and say "I¹m going to help because this is what
is right", she did do what she knew to be Right.
This one by itself allows this book to stay in the running for now.
L. A. Taylor, _The Fathergod Experiment_ (1999)
This was simply a good story. The setting had the feeling that it was a a
fairytale world that was small enough to be easily known while merely a
representative of a larger world, a world that appeared much as an imaginary
or theatrical presentation of an idealized feudal age.
The story gripped my attention immediately. The interlacing structure,
especially the time shifts, along with a wealth of very individualized
characters make it very attractive. Only the technology of the people from
beside seemed out of place as did the incongruity of the people themselves,
possessed of advanced technology while appearing to be simpletons.
I had a great time with this book; the fun and enjoyment is what the
experience of reading fiction is all about. Yet, I must ask myself, why is
this book on the list? What is it that makes it "in the spirit of the
inklings"? Yes the pastoral setting helps. It also carries well a theme of
justice, which I think is one of the themes that generally permeates the
work of the Inklings. This will require some additional thought. Just
telling a good story may be enough, sort of grading on a curve based on my
emotions as a reader. I did want to keep reading as soon as I could get a
few minutes for it, so Taylor is, in this work, a very successful author as
far as pleasing the reader is the measure of a book.
*A.S. Byatt, _Elementals_ (Random House hc May 1999)
drifted off as I began this. Since it couldn¹t keep my attention, I can¹t
vote for it.
Yves Meynard, _The Book of Knights_ (Tor tp April 1999)
A decent candidate, but the feeling wasn¹t there. It was well crafted in the
mode of fairy tales and hero quests and the knight errant is a worthy
subject. The story was a good story, the plot pretty much what one might
expect and so is acceptable, although it lacks a sufficiently juicy
political component that one can find in many stories of knights. (The
notable exception in the Ship was far to limited to take this role.) The
decision to keep the plot free of such clutter was needed to allow the story
to maintain the simplicity and focus of a good fairy tale.
Unfortunately, I found the story colorless, by and large, and so don¹t think
I can include it on my ballot. Even though it meets many of my criteria for
having been written "in the spirit of the Inklings, if it were the only
candidate I would prefer not to give the award because I just don¹t think it
was good enough.
Dave Duncan, _The Gilded Chain_ (Eos pb September 1999)
Duncan excited me here. Magic, mystery, monasticism, asceticism, feudal
politics, adventure, fun this one makes the list after finishing part I.
I¹ll wait to read the rest of it later.
Pat Murphy, _There and Back Again_ (Tor hc November 1999)
-- SEE BUTTERBUR¹S WOODSHED, MARCH 2000
--- but if you don't have access to it, know that, in short, I consider this
AN ABOMINATION! ok, that's a little strong, but you get the idea
"THE GILDED CHAIN"
"THE FATHERGOD EXPERIMENT"