Saturday, June 16, 2007

Quick Takes: Larbalestier, Shepard, Keyes

Magic or Madness, by Justine Larbalestier: After seeing Magic or Madness recommended on several sites and lots of praise heaped on Justine Labalestier, I decided finally to give Larbalestier's work a shot. Magic or Madness is a Young Adult fantasy featuring an Australian girl named Reason. At the start of the novel Reason is hiding with her mother from her grandmother who is a witch, believes in magic, and wants to harm reason. Two chapters later we find that Reason is on an airplane to live with her grandmother and Reason's mother is in a mental institution. Thus begins a story of mistrust, of magic, of magic doors, the culture clash between New York City and Australia, and of childhood friendships and beliefs. Things are not as they seem. The first handful of chapters of Magic or Madness feel choppy and while the concept of the story was moderately interesting, the execution early on was a bit rough. Once the story shifted to New York, however, Larbalestier hit a groove and pulled me a long to the very end. By the end I was impressed and found Magic or Madness to be a fun, well told story. I would definitely recommend this to fantasy fans and to the young adult audience it is aimed at. The beginning is rocky, but once Larbalestier settles down the story is a good one.

Two Trains Running, by Lucius Shepard: Two Trains Running is a collection of one nonfiction article for Spin, and two related short stories. The article, The FTRA Story, is an extended version of the original published article. The FTRA is the Freight Train Riders Association, something of a gang of hobos illegally riding the rails. Just how dangerous the FTRA actually may be is a matter of contention, but Shepard spend some time with various train riding hobos and he got as much information as it may be possible to do. Following the FTRA Story, Shepard brings us two works of short fiction based on his research and article. Over Yonder is the first and longer of the two stories and features a drugged and drunked out hobo catching a train with a man he views as an enemy, but the train ends up heading out somewhere into what the man believes to be the afterlife, but turns out to be another realm of existence and there is a hobo culture / society over yonder, as it is called. The final story, Jailbait, focuses on a girl who is underage but riding the rails and on the run looking for something. This themed collection, Two Trains Running, is a solid collection and one which explores an under represented part of America (in fantasy or just in fiction), and one which works for that reason. But, somehow it also does not leave the desire or the need to go find more hobo fiction, let alone hobo science fiction, but for a hundred page collection, it’s not a bad way to spend some time. I would recommend other work by Lucius Shepard (Softspoken, Aztechs, or the novella Vacancy) over this collection.

Edge of Victory I: Conquest, by Greg Keyes: This seventh volume of the New Jedi Order series has everything that the previous entry lacked. Adventure, fun, excitement, emotion, fewer than three hundred pages Greg Keyes gives us a fast paced, thoroughly enjoyable Star Wars novel focusing on Anakin Solo. Anakin is, perhaps, the Star Wars hero we’ve been waiting for who isn't part of the Big Three (Luke, Han, Leia). Star Wars fiction may be my guilty pleasure, but Edge of Victory: Conquest is simply that, a pleasure to read. Well done, Mr. Keyes, well done.

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