Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mythago Wood sequel

I am pleased that Robert Holdstock's new novel Avilion is now available, from Gollancz. Twenty-plus years ago Mr Holdstock wrote the novella "Mythago Wood", which was soon expanded into the novel of the same name.

The wood is in Kent that, from the outside, seems more like a copse. But it is a magical place that is home to magical beings: mythagoes. Between then and Avilion Holdstock wrote and published other books using the same tropes -- but this new novel is the direct sequel. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I am delighted that Robert, whom I count as a friend (and fellow ex-immunologist), has a new book out. It's sure to be a gem.

At the Peake

I am thrilled that I can announce another Special Guest for FantasyCon 2009: Sebastian Peake, son of Mervyn, will tell us all about his famous father. Mervyn Peake is, of course, the author of the magnificent Gormenghast trilogy. Pop over to the FantasyCon website for details.

Madame Xanadu -- Review

I have said so before: “getting into” many of the better (ie, more intelligent) comic books is very difficult; you really have to start at the first issue. Even subsidiary arcs within a greater saga can be hard to break into. Take Madame Xanadu (Vertigo $12.99) for instance. Quite a few months ago I bought a couple of issues of the monthly comic. I liked what I saw, but could make little sense of it. So I waited for the graphic novel version instead. This I have now read and I must say: Wow!

Madame Xanadu is a tour de force of magic and history – from the time of Merlin, when Nimue is cursed by the old codger until mid-20th Century USA. Nimue is a nymph, a creature of good, in contrast to her sister of Morgana, mother of Arthur’s son. We know the story of Camelot – and it isn’t important if you don’t because there are so many interpretations. Arthur’s kingdom is destroyed. Merlin releases a demon into the world. And Nimue, as said, is cursed.

Time moves on and Nimue, now Madame Xanadu, is in Xanadu, the court of the Kublai Khan. There’s palace intrigue and Marco Polo. And Madame Xanadu flees for her life. And again, time passes and at the court of Marie Antoinette and King Louis she is once more at the centre of events. In Victorian London she is powerless to stop Jack the Ripper. And so on to 1940s USA, the time just before the age of superheros…

All her long life Madame Xanadu struggles to do what is right. Yet she is also fixated on a figure that appears at important junctures in her history: the mysterious Phantom Stranger. She thinks him callous and uncaring. In the end she entraps him, to force him to act for good. But Xanadu blunders in ignorance.

Interspersed in the book are references to other DC characters: the Green Lantern; the Spectre; Zatara… Maybe others. But it doesn’t matter if you know nothing of these.

Madame Xanadu is a DC character who’s been around for a long time. She was/is a mystic, someone with magical abilities. I don’t know anything of her earlier incarnation and adventures. And it just doesn’t matter. This is because Matt Wagner (writer) and Amy Reeder Hadley and Richard Friend (artists) have created a story that is self contained, that works within its own context. The writing is intelligent and passionate. Wagner makes you believe in Madame Xanadu. Couple with the beautiful artwork, which has an air of innocence about it, it is so easy to feel sympathy and empathy for our heroine. The stories are engrossing and at times edgy – especially the Ripper chapters. This collection is highly recommended, and I’m sure will appeal to fans of Fables, Books of Magic, Lucifer…

© Peter Coleborn, July 2009

Monday, July 20, 2009

FaceSpace and MyBook

Well, I have finally registed with FaceBook. I'm not sure why it took so long. It did look tricky to set up, but once that was navigated everything appears (so far) relatively easy to use. I like its immediacy, compared with MySpace. But it is so easy to get distracted by the dozens of comments that appears on one's Wall. I'll keep my MySpace pages as well as this blog. Now I just need the time to update them all regularly.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

FantasyCon 2009 update

There has been a lot of activity behind the scenes. If you don't believe me, check out the FantasyCon website, plus the MySpace and Face Book pages. Not long to go, so I'll start panicking soon.

Ho hum...

The Turing Test Wins Edge Hill Prize

Chris Beckett's collection, The Turing Test, from Elastic Press, has won the prestigious Edge Hill Short Story Prize, earning Chris a remarkable £5,000 cash prize. The judges said:

"I suspect Chris Beckett winning the Edge Hill Prize will be seen as a surprise in the world of books. In fact, though, it was also a bit of surprise to the judges, none of whom knew they were science fiction fans beforehand. Yet, once the judging process started, it soon became clear that The Turing Test was the book that we'd all been impressed by, and enjoyed, the most - and one by one we admitted it. This was a very strong shortlist, including one Booker Prize winner in Anne Enright, and two authors who've been Booker shortlisted in Ali Smith and Shena Mackay. Even so, it was Beckett who seemed to us to have written the most imaginative and endlessly inventive stories, fizzing with ideas and complete with strong characters and big contemporary themes. We also appreciated the sheer zest of his story-telling and the obvious pleasure he had taken in creating his fiction."

Andrew Hook (publisher of Elastic Press, and editor of the BFS's New Horizons) said: "Naturally, we're very pleased about this." Obviously he is overwhelmed!

Copies of the book are still available from Elastic Press. More on the Edge Hill Prize here.