Alex Epstein's new novel
about Morgan le Fay...
... magic, legends,
Eclectic wicca at its most inventive.
Q. How many Gardnerian witches does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A. That's a secret.
Author of the influential survey of contemporary Wicca Drawing Down the Moon.
Peter Reynolds runs a recreated Celtic farm, with ancient styles of sheep. The Irish in The Circle Cast would have lived more or less like this..
About the time of The Circle Cast.
A Dark Ages hillfort believed to be the original Camelot.
The final battle. A short story.
I perpetrated a one-night
role-playing game set in King Arthur's tent on the eve of the battle of Camlann. It was fun. It was a bit geeky. Who will win the battle?
Other Arthurian Books I Love:
Arthurian Movies I Love:
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Thursday, June 30, 2011
In the past few days (and especially since my computer died), I've been reading Tim Powers books. I really enjoy his mix of history and fantasy. The historical bits give a sense that he's done a tremendous amount of research into the times he's writing about, whether it's 1529 (THE DRAWING OF THE DARK) or 1987 (THREE DAYS TO NEVER). The fantasy bits feel right, too. Of course getting the history right helps the fantasy too. As he says in an interview in the Guardian
One advantage of rooting his stories in the real is, he hopes, that readers will be more likely to suspend their disbelief. "It gives a lot of real-world lumber to support my crazy supernatural business. I'm always very aware of the risk that a reader will blink and say wait a minute this is all made up crap, isn't it?" he says. "But if I talk about carriages and shoe buckles and George III and commerce between London and Amsterdam, the reader will be a little more tilted towards thinking this is happening in the real world. If I wrote about the magical kingdom of Ding Dong and the lost prince and the dark lord, I would have ceded a whole lot of territory as far as plausibility goes. There is a speed bump to credulity, when you ask readers to take seriously things like ghosts and vampires, and I want to make it as low as possible. I want to be able to have them go over it without any kind of jolt."
Where he lost me on both books was the endings. Some novelists have a talent for weaving multiple threads that all come together at the finale. Not so much Tim Powers, not in these two books. The characters and the worlds are well wrought, and Powers' powers of invention is strong. But the endings fizzled a bit.
(I'll try not to spoil anything, and I won't tell you whether Harry Potter finally gets to hook up with someone, but if you're thinking of reading these very fine books in the next few months, go ahead and read them first.)
THE DRAWING OF THE DARK gives an occult reason for the 1529 assault on Vienna by the Turks. Vienna must hold out until October 31, or the West will fall to the East! Yet, for some reason, the finale occurs about two weeks earlier. It's sort of Plotting 101 that if you "set a clock" on the action, the finale should reach its climax just as the clock is about to strike. That's the moment everything should come together.
In THREE DAYS TO NEVER, two spy groups are trying to get their hands on a Device, while a father with a Past and a daughter with an Ability are caught in the middle. As you might expect from the title, the Device has apocalyptic powers. But you only find that out in the last five pages of the book, and then it isn't so much explained as nodded at. You don't know what the Big Bad was or what it would have done; and you don't know what the heroes did to stop it. C'mon. If the jeopardy is going to be The End of the World, then we should know that by midway through, don't you think? And at least one of the heroes ought to know it by what screenwriters would call the beginning of Act Three.
Damn it, where are his editors? Because surely he is not so famous a fantasy author that he no longer has to listen to his editors?
Now I'm not saying these are bad books or that I didn't enjoy reading them. I'm just a little disappointed in the endings. After all the world-building and mythology-construction that Powers is so good at, I hope for a better finale.
THE ANUBIS GATES didn't have this problem. DECLARE definitely didn't have this problem. I think I need to go read some more Tim Powers.
Labels: reading books
Monday, June 27, 2011
My friend Michael Zaidan posted this great John Steinbeck quote on Facebook:
“We are lonesome animals. We spend all our life trying to be less lonesome. One of our ancient methods is to tell a story begging the listener to say -- and to feel -- ''Yes, that's the way it is, or at least that's the way I feel it. You're not as alone as you thought.''
I once asked my friend Shoshana Marchand why we write. She said, "because you can't possibly make love to everybody."
I'm not sure which I like better.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Sasha Watson, writing in the East Hampton Star
, just gave TCC a spectacular review:
Mr. Epstein’s originality is in how deeply he goes into Morgan’s mind and how vividly he renders her voice...
... Mr. Epstein writes deftly and movingly of the young girl and her perspective on her parents and the events that will change the direction of her life. ...
Mr. Epstein’s tale ... provides a canny view of the lore as a whole, and in elegant and poetic writing he makes the thoroughly researched settings as real as can be. As with all the best adapters of myth, he makes Morgan’s story relevant to our times as well, skillfully joining contemporary language to the ancient settings and tales...
The magic is another innovation of Mr. Epstein’s. He has undertaken not only a rigorous research of ancient Celtic paganism, but he has also, with great success, crafted the magic out of contemporary Wiccan practices ...
This blend of the ancient and the modern works seamlessly, all of it linked by the deep connection we feel to Morgan, who, bridging the pagan and the Christian worlds, ultimately falls on the side of the old, choosing the vengeance and honor upheld by her father over forgiveness. Whether or not we can entirely agree with Morgan’s choices, Mr. Epstein makes sure that we sympathize with and understand them. And it is this addition to the lore, the creation of a conflicted and determined young woman in the space that was left by Morgan and the “lost years” between her departure from England and her furious return, that Mr. Epstein offers.
Those with a longstanding love of Arthuriana are sure to take pleasure in this new vision of Morgan, and those who are new to it will no doubt be drawn into the pleasures of this multivoiced literature after reading “The Circle Cast.”
Wow. Thanks, Sasha Watson!
Friday, June 24, 2011
We're on vacation. Right now I'm in my parents' apartment overlooking the Hudson River. New Jersey is still shrouded in fog. I'm looking through the books I read this year for part of my upcoming blog tour. I'm struck how many times I read books by authors I love that were disappointing. I couldn't get through ANATHEM by Neal Stephenson, whose Cryptonomicon is one of my favorite books ever. Neil Gaiman's GRAVEYARD BOOK was fine, but I wouldn't rave about it, as I would rave about his SANDMAN graphic novels, or AMERICAN GODS, or NEVERWHERE. (Though I never get tired of reading BLUEBERRY GIRL to Jesse.) Charles Stross's FAMILY TRADE didn't even feel like the same author as ACCELERANDO or THE JENNIFER MORGUE.
Meanwhile, I'm on a Tim Powers rampage. I found LAST CALL hard to get through, but I loved ON STRANGER TIDES and I loved rereading THE ANUBIS GATES. I've got THE DRAWING OF THE DARK cued up. It's his Arthurian book. I'm psyched.
Labels: reading books
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I thought Tim Powers' biography on IMDB was pretty funny. I wonder who wrote it?
The greatest fantasy writer of his generation, Powers has lived in southern California since 1959. ... Powers, who takes more time and care writing novels than his fans would like, went on to sell "The Drawing of the Dark" (1979, a supernatural fantasy about King Arthur and beer-drinking) ... A very accessible writer, he has often taught the Clarion Science Fiction Writers' Workshop at Michigan State University and the Writers of the Future Workshop, and chats regularly with his fans on the Tim Powers discussion list on yahoogroups.
I've just started ON STRANGER TIDES, which is apparently the basis for the new PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movie, though I doubt the two have much to do with each other except for a fascination with Voodoo.
In a less fantastical vein, I just finished EMPIRE OF THE SUMMER MOON, a beautiful history of the rise and fall of the Comanche nation. For some generations they were the most powerful of the horse tribes in the southern Great Plains, and actually rolled back the frontier for a while, until they succumbed to six-shooters and buffalo hunters. The book feels fair: both the settlers and the Comanches have their moments of glory and brutality. It's always hard to read about how the Native Americans got crushed, but the Comanches gave as good as they got for a fair long while.
Labels: reading books
Sunday, June 12, 2011
Very thoughtful review by Old English Rose
Morgan, or Anna as she begins the story, is a surprisingly complex character who develops convincingly throughout the course of the novel. She starts out curious, questioning and vulnerable but quickly acquires a steely resolve and an adult mindset as she is forced to mature by her circumstances. She’s so controlled and self-sufficient for much of the book that I don’t find her a particularly sympathetic character, but she’s still really interesting and a great strong female protagonist for a young adult story. I thought it was particularly poignant and a clever touch that what she works towards in Ireland, unification under one High King, is exactly what Arthur later works towards in Britain.
She objects to my putting pelicans in the Irish sea. She's probably right about that. I was trying to show the Irish Sea before it was fished out, and I'm pretty confident there were flocks of sea birds out there in 500 AD. But they were probably not pelicans, which tend to keep to the Mediterranean in Europe.
However, I did not put Morgan's three-toed horse in recklessly. Caesar had a three-toed horse, according to Suetonius, and Alexander's horse Bucephalos was supposedly three-toed. Snakes are sometimes born with atavistic hind limbs, and sperm whales rarely (1 in 5000) with hip bones. The genome has the information, but other genes suppress its expression. Presumably horses have the genes for three toes, but also genes that suppress the expression of any but the middle toe.
Here's a good article on polydactyly in horses
. And here's a Scientific American article from 1892.
Friday, June 3, 2011
If you're looking for the details of The Circle Cast's Blog Tour, check out the Teen Book Scene Tour Details
Labels: blog tour
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
From the Onion
Shortly before her reading Tuesday at local bookstore Word Mentality, author Francine Massey told reporters that she does her absolute best for everyone who comes out to see her, whether it's just three people or a much larger crowd of nine people. Massey says a small group of two or three deserves as good a reading as a buzzing crowd of nine.
Massey, on hand to promote her novel A Lighthouse Keeper, said that with publishing houses slashing their marketing budgets, it often falls to writers themselves to make the most of every reading opportunity, from cozy gatherings of just a few fans at smaller booksellers to major events at chain stores that can draw upwards of 10 people.
"I have to remember that even if just one person shows up, he deserves the same passion and enthusiasm I would give to a big group of seven people or eight people," said Massey, watching as a bookstore employee began setting up rows of folding chairs. "You just have to remind yourself that you're not going to be able to pack the room with half a dozen fans every time."