readingtrance

book reviews by Althea

Unnatural Creatures – Neil Gaiman, ed.

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**** [inkspot] – (1972) – Gahan Wilson
An ominous inksplot grows every time an obnoxious aristocrat takes his eyes off it. Both amusing and creepy.

*** The Cartographer Wasps and the Anarchist Bees – (2011) – E. Lily Yu
Just read this earlier this month in Nebula Awards Showcase, when I said: I feel like maybe I missed something here. Or maybe the ‘something’ just wasn’t there. I liked the set-up, the conflict between the two insect species and the revolutionary faction amongst the bees. But I didn’t feel that it all pulled together.

*** The Griffin and the Minor Canon – (1885) – Frank R. Stockton
A vain griffin come to town to see his likeness carved in stone, as the gargoyles of the local church – to the great consternation of the townspeople. An amusingly written story, but the social commentary rather fell flat, for me. No, I don’t subscribe to the idea that the “sick and the poor” are all actually just malingerers.

*** Ozioma the Wicked – Nnedi Okorafor
Kind of a ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’ set in an African village. People dislike and fear Ozioma, who is reputed to speak with snakes and to be a witch. But when her talents save a man’s life, and incidentally bring wealth to the villagers, they change their tune. Ozioma’s too forgiving for my taste…

Sunbird -(2005) – Neil Gaiman
*** Skipped, as I’ve read this story at least twice before, and remember it well. (read in Fragile Things and in Noisy Outlaws…)

The Sage of Theare – (1982) – Diana Wynne Jones
*** A short story which ties in with Wynne-Jones’ Chrestomanci series, in which a mysterious enchanter travels between worlds. In this mythologically-influenced tale, the gods of an extremely orderly realm eject a child whom, prophecy indicates, will grow to tear down their society. But it’s Chrestomanci’s job to restore balance, and his magic is aware that the child is in the wrong world… Some nice philosophy here regarding cause and effect, but it’s still not my favorite tale set in this world (or, rather, worlds).

*****Gabriel-Ernest – (1909) – Saki
This is a completely excellent werewolf story, and I can’t believe I’ve never read it before now. The young man/wolf’s insolence and effrontery are just perfect – an amoral reflection of the nature of a wild, predatory creature who encounters ‘civilisation,’ and a man who really doesn’t know how to handle the situation.

*** The Cockatoucan; or, Great-Aunt Willoughby -(1900) – E. Nesbit
The style and content of this story reminded me of The Phantom Tollbooth – which I haven’t read in long enough that the similarity could be completely illusory. A young girl and her nanny, on the way to visit a dreadfully dull great-aunt, accidentally take the wrong bus, and end up in a strange fairy-tale land where reality shifts every time the caged Cockatoucan laughs. But why is the bird laughing?

** Moveable Beast – Maria Dahvana Headley
A weird and unpleasant small town is centered around their one-block by one-block mini-forest. But not is all as it seems… Good idea, but the writing style didn’t appeal to me.

*** The Flight of the Horse – (1969) – Larry Niven
Sent back in time to retrieve a horse, to satisfy a spoiled prince’s whim, the hapless agent captures what is clearly, to the reader’s eye, a unicorn. What will the prince want next? Mildly amusing.

*** Prismatica – (1977) – Samuel R. Delany
By far my favorite thing I’ve read by Delany. Of course, it’s billed as an ‘Hommage a James Thurber,’ and I like Thurber. So, Delany imitating Thurber gets my thumbs-up. A classic quest fairy tale with clever and memorable twists – and a bit of a sappy ending, but that’s OK.

*** The Manticore, the Mermaid, and Me – Megan Kurashige
A kid discovers that his mom’s colleague at The Museum of Natural History has been sneaking hoax (?) taxidermy into the museum. Strange events occur, and perhaps two children learn something about friendship.

*** The Compleat Werewolf – (1942) – Anthony Boucher
Professor Wolfe Wolf (known around the office as Woof-Woof) discovers that his name relates to his identity far more closely than he’d ever realized. And proceeds to get himself into trouble.

** The Smile on the Face -(2004) – Nalo Hopkinson
Teenage girls should be happy with their bodies and stick up for themselves against attempted date rape. Yes, fine, I agree. But I didn’t love the story.

**** Or All the Seas with Oysters -(1958) – Avram Davidson
A horror/fantasy story about two partners who run a bike shop – not without much interpersonal conflict. Feels far more contemporary than its 1958 publication date. Really good.

**** Come Lady Death – (1963) – Peter S. Beagle
A bored aristocratic lady invites Death as a guest to one of her many soirees – and gets more than she bargained for. I imagine that this story may have influenced Gaiman’s portrayal of Death in Sandman. Excellent story.

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