So welcome to another bit of book reading by myself with works by Alastair Bonnett, Eric H. Cline, Joanna Harris and Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. From Viking myths to forgotten cities, lost civilizations and the world of Dragonlance.
Alastair Bonnett – Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies
Think of places that are special to you. You might be thinking in a lot of manners now, but probably you’ve got some ideas that are more feeling than geographic location. That’s just one example of how a place works for us and what place can mean. In this amazing book the author Alastair Bonnett explores a series of places with various characteristics. Imagine for example an island that you see on a map every day. Suddenly it turns out that this island never existed. What does that do and mean to us? What is it like when we notice weird corners in our own daily meanderings, which seem to be forgotten and owned by no-one in particular. And what about places that move, are they still places?
Keeping these questions low-brow and fun, Bonnett writes a surprisingly elaborate story that explores all these questions and more. You’ll never think of that weird patch of grass you pass by daily in between two roads in the same manner. Maybe you have this magical door you remember from childhood or a mythical location you’ve read about. These are all themes for this book, which are woven into a tapestry of theory together. The style of Bonnett is one of an eager explorer, who takes you along on his path. Asking questions, but not always answering them completely, the reader engages with this book and that alone makes this a treasure map.
Eric H. Cline – 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed
Egyptians, Hittites, Canaanites, Cypriots, Minoans, Mycenaeans, Assyrians and Babylonians… Maybe you know all of them from something like Age of Empires, but all these civilisations at some point in history collapsed only to be rediscovered thousands of years later by us. In this book, Eric Cline investigates the findings of archaeologists to first create a reconstruction of this forgotten past and analyse what possible events could have let up to the year 1177 B.C. when everything collapsed. The disclaimer is that obviously, not everything fell apart in one go at that time, but its a markable point in history around which these events must have occurred and radically change the face of the world as we’ve come to know it all these years later.
It’s a peculiar question, how things would have been if there was something like a continuity. Cline spins a tale that offers a lot of suggestions and hints, but never actually goes into speculation. What this book brings to the table in a low-level manner is the facts and what sort of past they reconstruct. It’s a captivating tale with a lot of what ifs and food for thought about the way we live in our own times. Sure, the world was much bigger back then, but parallels can be drawn with current times and that is what makes this book fascinating, relevant and maybe even urgent with regard to current day events. A captivating read.
Joanne Harris – The Gospel of Loki
We’ve all heard the tales of Loki the Trickster. But did you ever hear them from the horse’s mouth? How would the story look when it is told by the man himself? That must have been the question that Joanna Harris asked herself because this is exactly what we get here. True to the olden tales of the Edda, we follow Loki through his times in Asgard as an unwanted runt in the family of the Aesir and Vanir. The origins of the trickster, his attempts at finding a home among the gods and his chaotic nature all are part of a story that is strangely touching but also often flat-out hilarious. Apparently, there are more parts, but this book on its own is already a worthy read and a treat.
The story is told from the perspective of Loki, who also happens to be the storyteller. That means you have vivid depictions of what transpired when Loki and the oaf Thor went to see the giants for example. Loki also comments on the story and breaks that fourth wall multiple times. It just feels so right, with all the fitting epic bombast of a Marvel movie as well as the metaphoric aspects that are so much what the original stories are all about. It makes for such a fun read and I hated that it ended. So maybe I should read the whole series.
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman – Kender, Gully Dwarves, and Gnomes
Another collection from Krynn, the world of the Dungeons & Dragons Dragonlance setting. This is a collection of stories with Weis and Hickman as glorious editors. Their names are well known in the fantasy universe and you can be sure to get something good out of them. This book follows similar adventures as the previous one did. It focusses on the well-known adventurers from the setting. These consist of humans, elves, dwarves, and kender. The tone and presentation are quite old-fashioned. That gives them a specific charm and atmosphere. That in turn really works with the material and because of that also serves the reader in his experience of these stories.
What is so enjoyable about these stories, is that they have a mature tone to it. There are some definite sexual references in this book, but done in such a way that probably only adult readers will pick up on them. That is an art in itself by the various writers. Richard A. Knaak, who I like for his Warcraft stories, has a peculiar tale about a Minotaur who shows the futility of strife to a human knight. Weis and Hickman themselves take up the bulk with a story about a gambling god and the heroes who suffer because of that. Though I enjoy these stories, the Dragonlance setting lacks a certain charm for me. It seems as if the outline of the world is too simple at times, too much a predecessor for better-balanced universes like that of Warcraft or the Forgotten Realms. That gives the stories a lot of advantage because then the story essence needs to be much better. That’s what these writers succeed in with glory.