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Fantasy & Science
Fiction Index
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1987
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1988
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Books to Look For
Fantasy & Science Fiction June 1988

By Orson Scott Card


Jack the Giant Killer, Charles de Lint (Ace Fantasy, Cloth, 207 pp, $16.95)

To kill a giant, it takes a jack -- a trickster, whose luck and pluck are enough to win a victory where magic and strength would surely fail. Only this time there's no beanstalk, and the setting isn't jolly old England. The story takes place in modern Ottawa -- or at least starts there -- and it isn't Jack this time, but Jacky, a young woman whose lover has just rejected her because she is, alas, too dull.

In a paroxysm of self-hatred she hacks off the long blond hair she hasn't cut since childhood. It's only the beginning of her self-transformation. Wandering into a park at night, she sees a group of bikers on Harleys surround a little fellow and blast him to death with some kind of light. All that's left of him is a red cap. When she puts it on, she can see the world of Faerie, which exists right amid the quotidian Ottawa that everyone else can see.

An old house, when seen in Faerie, is the Gruagagh's Tower. Some ugly street people, seen truly, turn out to be hideous bogans. Jacky herself becomes something else again in this deadly and exquisite world -- a courageous, foolhardy, and unbelievably lucky hero with a role to play that far transcends anything that her old boyfriend dreamed of.

The power of de Lint's contemporary fantasy is that it never wholly leaves the real world -- it enriches it. He doesn't have to go somewhere else to find magic. Instead he makes Ottawa itself into a magical place, and ordinary people into heroes without making them forsake the familiar world. Marred only by a long expository lump early in the book, Jack the Giant Killer is a lively, lovely retelling of some of the best tales out of faerie. And, like all good fairy tales, it works as well for children as for adults. De Lint is no longer a "promising" fantasy writer. He's a damn good one.


The Heavenly Horse From the Outermost West, Mary Stanton (Baeo Books)

We usually think of talking animal stories as "children's" literature. Beatrix Potter. Thornton W. Burgess. The Wind in the Willows. Winnie the Pooh. Cute. But not serious. Not adult.

Think again. Take for instance Bambi. Not the Disney Bambi, with cute little Thumper and Flower the skunk. I mean Felix Salten's grim and exalting novel Bambi, with death and terror and love and coming of age. The animals talk, yes, but we know that the dialogue is what they would say, if they could only make language.

Mary Stenson's new fantasy is about talking horses. OK? They stand in their stalls and have conversations. The farm dog makes rounds and brings them news, the barn cat is selfish and smarmy and funny. There's a dumb horse and a catty horse and a young mare who has become hostile through mistreatment, but now stands on the brink of a marvelous destiny.

This is not idle whimsy. Stanton is working within the Felix Salten tradition. Her horses don't wear human clothing -- they live like horses, in stalls, fearful of human beings yet also willing to trust and even love us. They worship gods, they have prophets and dreamers, they have aspirations that may or may not conflict with the necessity of living under the domination of human beings.

The result is a surprisingly powerful fantasy, one that is true to the nature and lives of horses and yet reveals much about human nature. Stanton writes with a sure hand, so I can promise that you will be entertained. There are visions and wonders, the stuff of dreams and nightmares.

But I don't recommend the novel to you merely as a divertissement. As the mares and stallions of this novel act and react to events both great and small, one can't help but pick up a subliminal message -- that what we conceive of as our own "rational" behavior is also animal behavior, and as likely to be driven by animal needs as any act of so-called brute beasts. We are also talking animals.


A Truce With Time, Parke Godwin (Bantam Spectra, 320 pp, $16.95)

This novel is not Parke Godwin's usual offering. Instead of high fantasy, we have a contemporary ghost story -- a haunting anyway -- that takes place in Manhattan among a group of artistically-minded people who are on the cusp between being middle-aged and being old. It has the feel of a personal memoir -- a tale of people that Godwin knows and loves. The result is a quiet, real, but sometimes over-detailed book, at once blessed and cursed with earnestness. As in a conversation late at night with a good friend, I sometimes found that my attention wandered, and after a while I grew weary, but I was always glad for the company.


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