Of Mice and Minestrone

I love reading speculative fiction. So much so, that I hardly ever read anything that isn’t at least somewhat speculative in nature — at least not by choice — but when I do read something that is just “fiction” I always find myself pining for that little bit of made-up tomfoolery. So this read was a bit out of the ordinary for me, because there really wasn’t anything to do with the speculative in it. However, when we got the book, I couldn’t help but jump at the chance to read it because of how much Steve enjoys this guy’s stuff. We have pretty similar reading tastes, Steve and I. And so even though this was straight-up fiction, I was surprised in the least to find that I *really* enjoyed reading it. There’s something to be said for masterful story-telling, and these stories are completely riddled with it.

OF MICE AND MINESTRONE is a small anthology of short stories and novellas about one of the author’s iconic character sets: Hap and Leonard. Lansdale has written a lot of stories with these characters. About a dozen novels, loads of short material, and there was even a TV series with a few (that’s three) seasons. And if the rest of this guy’s stuff is as well-told as these stories were, then I really need to get catching up on them. I can’t say enough good about how much I enjoyed reading this one.

Hap Collins and Leonard Pine are an unlikely duo living in the wastelands of East Texas. Hap is a good ol’ white boy and Leonard is proud and gay and black. And yet they’re the fastest of friend. Have each other’s backs, even if one thinks the other crazy. Know each other better than anyone else does. Find comfort and peace with simply being together. There is no hesitation in either of them when it comes to the veracity of their relationship, and this bleeds through the prose every time they are together.

Six stories in this collection. Two novella length and the rest relatively short. Some deal only with Hap, but most with the two of them together. It was so easy to fall into these stories and feel the life that they contain. Life is hard for each of them alone and as a pair. Blacks had only recently come out from under the thumb of oppression according to the law, but the law hadn’t yet diffused into practice. Leonard had no qualms whatsoever in reminding people of this fact, and they get into more than enough trouble because of it.

Lansdale’s writing here is best described as sparse. In ways, it reminded me of Mike Resnick’s, but I found that I enjoyed this a whole lot more. It stayed consistent in it’s portrayal of character and had me pining not for something more speculative, but instead for the wide-spread countryside, the cool of the river, the heat of the desert sun, the companionship of a brother.

For me, the humor worked brilliantly well. I found myself chuckling and even outright laughing consistently. And the juxtaposition of this humor against some of the truly horrible things that they have to deal with here made each end of that spectrum all the more poignant.

The last “story” is really a collection of recipes local to their time and lives. There is story there also in the presentation of those recipes. As a man who loves to spend time in the kitchen, a number of these recipes had me wanting to try them. I found myself unable to repress a grin at the fun they must have had putting these together.

I think I just need to read me some more Lansdale. That’s the conclusion I’ve come to at the end of this read. Anyone else love this guy’s stuff? If you haven’t tried him yet, and you enjoy great storytelling with great writing, then you need to pick something up from him. You won’t regret it. I certainly don’t. Even though it wasn’t speculative in the slightest.

The post Of Mice and Minestrone appeared first on Elitist Book Reviews.

find the cost of your paper

Sep 13, Grand Remembrances

Today is Grandparents Day in the United States. Being a Grand is a special honor. I feel very blessed that my wife and I have two grandchildren. We were able to visit them today. Yes, we are still being cautious with the coronavirus, but we also find it very difficult to not see them when they live so close. So today we did drop by to visit Jacob (age 10) and Sophia (age 7) along with their parents. We brought donuts and caught up with them. Our grandchildren are still pretty young and this is a precious time in their lives – and ours!

I wish I had known my grandparents better. We never lived in the same place. Dad was a career Air Force pilot, so we moved around a lot. But we did get to see them once in a while when they would visit us, or we them.

A Plague of Giants

There are five known magical ‘kennings’ or types: air, water, fire, earth, and plants. Each nation specializes in of these kennings, and the magic influences the society. There’s a big pitfall with this diversity of ability and locale–not everyone gets along.

Enter the Hathrim giants, or ‘lavaborn’ whose kenning is fire. Where they live the trees that fuel their fire are long gone, but the giants are definitely not welcome anywhere else. They’re big, they’re violent, and they’re ruthless. When a volcano erupts and they are forced to evacuate, they take the opportunity to relocate. They don’t care that it’s in a place where they aren’t wanted.

I first read Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid books and loved them (also the quirky The Tales of Pell), so was curious about this new venture, starting with A PLAGUE OF GIANTS. Think Avatar: The Last Airbender meets Jim Butcher’s Codex Alera series. Elemental magic, a variety of races, different lands. And it’s all thrown at you from page one.

But this story is told a little differently. It starts at the end of the war, after a difficult victory, and a bard with earth kenning uses his magic to re-tell the story of the war to a city of refugees. And it’s this movement back and forth in time and between key players in this war that we get a singularly grand view of the war as a whole. Hearne uses this method to great effect.

There are so many interesting characters in this book that I can’t cover them all here. Often in books like this such a large cast of ‘main’ character can make the storytelling suffer, especially since they don’t have a lot of interaction with each other for the first 3/4 of the book–but it doesn’t suffer, thankfully. And the characterization is good enough, despite these short bursts, that by the end we understand these people and care about what happens to them.

If there were a main character it would be Dervan, a historian who is assigned to record (also spy on?) the bard’s stories. He finds himself caught up in machinations he feels unfit to survive. Fintan is the bard from another country, who at first is rather mysterious and his true personality is hidden by the stories he tells; it takes a while to understand him. Gorin Mogen is the leader of the Hathrim giants who decide to find a new land to settle. He’s hard to like, but as far as villains go, you understand his motivations and he can be even a little convincing. There’s Abhi, the son of hunters, who decides hunting isn’t the life for him–and unexpectedly finds himself on a quest for the sixth kenning. And Gondel Vedd, a scholar of linguistics who finds himself tasked with finding a way to communicate with a race of giants never seen before (definitely not Hathrim) and stumbles onto a mystery no one could have guessed: there may be a seventh kenning.

There are other characters, but what makes them all interesting is that they’re regular people (well, maybe not Gorin Mogen or the viceroy–he’s a piece of work) who become heroes in their own little ways, whether it’s the teenage girl who isn’t afraid to share vital information, to the scholars who suddenly find how crucial their minds are to the survival of a nation, to the humble public servants who find bravery when they need it most. This is a story of loss, love, redemption, courage, unity, and overcoming despair to not give up. All very human experiences by simple people who do extraordinary things.

Hearne’s worldbuilding is engaging. He doesn’t bottle feed you, at first it feels like drinking from a hydrant, but then you settle in and pick up things along the way. Then he shows you stuff with a punch to the gut. This is no fluffy world with simple magic without price. All the magic has a price, and more often than not it leads you straight to death’s door. For most people just the seeking of the magic will kill you. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Ahbi and his discovery of the sixth kenning and everything associated with it. But giants? I mean, really? It isn’t bad enough fighting people who can control fire that you have to add that they’re twice the size of normal people? For Hearne if it’s war, the stakes are pretty high, and it gets ugly.

The benefit of the storytelling style is that the book, despite its length, moves along steadily (Hearne is no novice, here). The bits of story lead you along without annoying cliffhangers (mostly), and I never got bored with the switch between characters. It was easy to move between them, and they were recognizable enough that I got lost or confused. The end of the novel felt a little abrupt, but I guess that has more to do with I was ready for the story to continue, despite the exiting climax.

If you’re looking for epic fantasy with fun storytelling and clever worldbuilding, check out A PLAGUE OF GIANTS.

The post A Plague of Giants appeared first on Elitist Book Reviews.

The Artwork Of Gary Choo

Gary Choo is a concept artist/illustrator based in Singapore. I’ve know Gary for a good many years ( 17, actually ), working together in animation studios in Singapore like Silicon Illusions and Lucasfilm. Gary currently runs an art team at Mighty Bear Games, but when time allows he also draws covers for Marvel comics, and they’re amazing –

The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo
The Art Of Gary Choo

To see more of Gary’s work or to engage him for freelance work, head down to his ArtStation.

The post The Art Of Gary Choo appeared first on Halcyon Realms – Art Book Reviews – Anime, Manga, Film, Photography.