Robert Don Hughes’ The Wizard in Waiting was a used book bargain bin impulse buy based on how cool I thought the cover was. And the scene on the cover does actually happen in the book! The rhino elephants can talk! These cool beasts get like one paragraph and then the rest of the book is pretty regular high fantasy. There was a lot of “woman in peril gets spanked,” which was uncomfortable.
I was initially stunned at the way this book handled its own lore, with characters just making off-handed comments to that one war, or the slaying of the legendary dragon, and other monumental historical events in that vein. I don’t know that I’ve read a high fantasy book that didn’t devote pages and pages to detailing the world’s history, and really enjoyed the approach the book took, similar to the way my friends and I will offhand mention one of the 100-year floods we lived through. “Oh, yeah, remember that?”
I did, however, eventually realize that this is the middle book in a trilogy (the Pelman the Powershaper trilogy), and the reason the events were so casually mentioned was because Hughes had already spent a book talking about them. Still, the off-handedness as a world-building technique is something I want to carry forward with me in my own work, so that’s the one positive I can give the book.
I also read Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities. I pulled it out of a pile of my mom’s “give away” books. Wikipedia says “It is typically considered to be one of the most significant novels of the twentieth century.” Gotta agree with the “give away” status of this book, though. I did however, love the opening paragraph, I think its one of my favorite openings ever. Page 118 was also a highlight.
The last book I read this month was the Book of Legendary Lands by Umberto Eco. I checked it out of the library in February, because I wanted to work on location development in my writing and thought it would help. I subsequently used up my two renewals, and then only finished the book because the libraries closed for the pandemic and I couldn’t return it. Its a lot to read, but worth it. Eco gives his own overview and a historical context to the legendary lands, which are places like Atlantis, the Interior of the Earth, and the Antipodes. A lot of the legendary lands discussed have origins in, or were amplified by, the colonial project or Nazism, which Eco discusses. The way conspiracy theories create imagined mythic lands, similar to the creation of an imagined mythic past, was a through-line in a lot of the lands Eco describes.
Segueing into the short stories I read this month is Maria Dahvana Headley’s Memoirs of an Imaginary Country, a devastating tale about colonialism, white mythmaking and utopias, and resilience. Reading this in conjunction with Eco’s book was one of those nice synchronous life surprises. I felt I had a greater understanding of the context of Headley’s story because of the Book of Legendary Lands, and that Memoirs of an Imaginary Country gave a greater degree of empathy and humanity to the more clinical history in Eco’s book.
This month I also took an online writing workshop with Wendy N. Wagner through the Clarion West Writers Workshop. During the workshop, a lot of great short stories were suggested as reading, and my favorite was Brian Evenson’s No Matter Which Way We Turned. This story of alien abduction was gutting. It sidestepped a lot of the normal alien abduction tropes to deliver something new and viscerally upsetting. The prose is beautiful, and the last paragraph really stayed with me.
Lastly a fun dinosaur story! And by fun I mean kind of upsetting, but with dinosaurs in motorbikes! Leonard Richardson’s Let Us Now Praise Awesome Dinosaurs details the lives, cool bike racing, and violent exploitation of of alien dinosaurs on earth. its melancholic and enraging and mournful and funny and filled with awesome dinosaurs.