Stealing the Wooden Sea

Monday 10th November: At this time of year, I tend to pick easy reads from the rather large pile of books that I have waiting to be read. It helps me bring my average pages per days up (I’m a bit of a closet “statto”) and brings the total number of books down a bit more quickly.

Most people I know think that I have strange taste in books. After all, apart from a few forays into crime (generally Patricia Cornwell and Jonathan Kellerman) and the odd horror novel (generally Stephen King), most of the books that I read involve spaceships, ray-guns, elves or magic. It seems to me that if I read a lot of science-fiction, I get a hankering for fantasy. And vice versa.

However, every so often, I like to dip into “contemporary” fantasy (or, perhaps, magic realism). Stories in which elements of the fantastic sit side-by-side with everyday life. It’s still fantasy but I like to think of it as a bit more grown-up than the majority of “epic” fantasy. Proponents of this genre include Brit Neil Gaiman, Canadian Charles de Lint (my personal favourite) and Vienna-based American Jonathan Carroll.

The Wooden Sea (2000) tells the story of Frannie McCabe – forty-eight year old Chief of Police for the small town that he grew up as a rebel in. As the book opens his life has taken a turn for the strange. The ugly three-legged dog that he had “adopted” has just died. Two of the town’s inhabitants have disappeared, leaving a beautiful feather in their lounge. His stepdaughter has just got a tattoo. The three-legged dog, which McCabe buried in the woods, has turned up in the boot of his car, with the feather, which also happens to be the exact thing that the stepdaughter has had tattooed on her back. Oh, and McCabe’s seventeen-year-old self has turned up in the middle of the night.

Reading back that summary of the first couple of chapters, it sounds slightly flippant. As though the book is humorous. There are funny moments. There are also tender, unsettling and exciting moments. McCabe’s town is populated with well-rounded, original and likable characters. The story starts quietly, despite the catalogue of events above, but gradually reaches a page-turning ending, along the way leaving the reader desperately wondering what the heck is going on.

In this book, the fantasy elements come thick and fast and I’m not going to spoil it by listing them. Perhaps the best bit, for me, was the idea that we, human-kind, have been a little on the vain side when interpreting the biblical story of the Genesis.

Unfortunately, despite this being a very good book, it was also a bit of a disappointment. I can understand why the ending is unresolved – Carroll couldn’t finish this story in a satisfactory manner any other way – but there are too many unanswered questions throughout the story.

Overall, a good book but not up to the standards of Kissing the Beehive or The Marriage of Sticks. Still, Carroll is definitely worth a look if you fancy something different.

The Thief of Time (2002) was Terry Pratchett’s 26th Discworld novel. I’m not a huge Pratchett fan, although I have quite a few of his novels published as special editions by the SF and Fantasy Book Club. To me, he just isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as Douglas Adams’ Hitch-hikers books.

The Discworld novels that I have read, however, I have liked. There are a few laughs and more than a few chuckles in most of them and Thief of Time if no exception. In it, the fate of the Discworld is under threat when the world’s first truly accurate clock is invented, stopping time and allowing the cosmic auditors in. It’s up to Death’s grand-daughter, Susan, Lu-Tze and Lobsang (two Monks of Time) and Ronnie, the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse (he left before they got famous) to save the world and, perhaps, the whole of creation.

It’s a complex plot, with many, many references and in-jokes some of which I got, others of which I can’t believe I missed. I particularly like the character of Susan, reluctant more-than-human heroine and she is joined this time by the two very funny monks. There are some excellent sequences – particular favourites are Susan’s meeting with the headmistress of the school she is teaching in and the final battle against the auditors, with the heroes’ weapon being…

…well, that would be telling. All I’m saying is that I would have been no good in that fight…

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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