I’ve never heard of John Crowley but it seems I should have.


Genre Trouble

What stands between John Crowley and a serious literary reputation?

James Hynes

For the most part, the American novelist John Crowley flies under both the commercial and critical radars, as invisible to most readers as he is to most critics. You don’t have to look very hard to see why this should be. Despite their high literary gloss and intellectual sophistication, his first three novels were originally published as genre fiction: The Deep (1975) is a gothic fantasy reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy; Beasts (1976) is a science fiction romance about the genetic recombination of humans and animals, sort of a cross between The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Wind in the Willows; and Engine Summer (1979), Crowley’s most impenetrable work, is an after-the-apocalypse narrative. In an attempt to give it mainstream credibility, some admiring critics have called his next book, Little, Big (1981), a magic realist novel. But Little, Big, his best known work and arguably his masterpiece, is unequivocally a fantasy novel, albeit a highly idiosyncratic one. Much of the book reads like a straight literary narrative–it is as compelling a portrait of a long marriage as any I know–but it is based on the Sufi fable The Parliament of the Birds and uses the themes and archetypes of Northern European folklore. In other words, it is a long, gorgeously written, picaresque family saga, in the last fifty pages of which all the major characters, with one heartbreaking exception, turn into fairies.



Author Rating: A+

The Ferryman Institute (Read 11/15/2016) Highly recommended

I absolutely love this book. It is perfect. (Well, there was one typo toward the end but hey).

It’s the story of Charlie Dawson who has labored for 250 years helping people cross over after their death, never failing at his task but heartbroken by the effort. It is well paced, hilarious at times, and utterly convincing in the universe revealed. I won’t give away any more than that because you want to discover it for yourself.

I am delighted to have had the opportunity to read this lovely book and look forward patiently to whatever Colin Gigl comes up with next.

Author Rating: C

The Riftwar: The Messenger (read 7/24/12) Meh

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology isn’t so bad that I couldn’t finish it, but there was nothing engaging about it.

Why does there seem to be so much fantasy/science fiction that has human beings using horses for transportation and dressing like they’re living in the 15th Century yet able to build machines to provide breathable atmosphere so they can build a city on a high mountain on a planet so large they have not explored the entirety of it in 10,000 years?

This is why I won’t be bothered with Feist. To me, that’s just plain stupid. He gets a grade of C though instead of Banished, because he’s not nearly as stupid and annoying as Anne McCaffrey.

Author Rating: C

Realm of the Elderlings (read 7/24/12) Agnostic

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology isn’t so bad that I couldn’t be bothered to finish it, but I’m not sure that I could stand more than the 89 pages that contain this story. It’s fairly overwrought, and I can only tolerate so much of that kind of thing

I was a little surprised that this is the first entry here for Robin Hobb. I have a vague memory of having tried to read one of her full-length novels in the past and throwing it over as a bad job. As much as I would not go out of my way to read anything further of hers, I don’t think I would slit my wrists in despair if I were stuck on an airplane with nothing else to read. I wouldn’t want to test that theory, however.

Author Rating: B

Legends II (read 7/24/12) Recommended

The only reason I recommend this anthology of five fantasy/science fiction novelettes is because it includes The Monarch of the Glen by Neil Gaiman, a short sequel to American Gods.
The Book of Changes (read 7/24/12) Recommended

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology is good enough that I would consider reading other works by Silverberg, despite his obviously atrocious judgment as the creator of Legends and Legends II. It’s true that it is easier to find bad fantasy/science fiction than good, but please, Mr. Silverberg, don’t serve up shit and call it caviar.

Author Rating: D

Otherland: The Happiest Dead Boy In The World (read 7/24/12) Don’t Bother

This novelette published as one of five by various authors in the Legends II anthology is so bad that I was only able to manage one page before I gave it up as a completely bad job.

Author Rating: A

Plugged (read 7/27/12) Highly recommended

OMG! OMG! The jacket blurb compares Colfer favorably to Donald E. Westlake, something which generates negative alarm bells with me because so many make that claim and so few ever live up to it, but — holy cow — Colfer is brilliant!

On New York’s 8th Avenue you know exactly what kind of street you’re walking. The flashing billboards and windows stacked high with lingerie-clothed mannequins never let you forget it. The smell of lust rises from the pavement and the door handles are coated with grease and guilt.

And Another Thing… (read 8/12/12) Recommended

Through happenstance, I discovered that in 2009 an author who is not the deceased Douglas Adams had published this sixth novel in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxytrilogy in five parts.”  I was a little disappointed because I didn’t find it nearly as entertaining as Plugged, but I’m glad I read it if only for historical interest.   If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s Guide you are less likely to enjoy this, but if you have it’s not a bad bit of light entertainment.

Colfer is also author of the eight-book Artemis Fowl science fantasy series, “starring teenage criminal mastermind Artemis Fowl II.”

Artemis Fowl (read 8/15/12) Recommended

Yes, well, it is perhaps more entertaining if you’re a Young Reader age 9 to 12, but also I’m not so keen on the inherent unpleasantness of the main character for whom the first book and series is named.  I’m still recommending it though because it’s not actually terrible and I wouldn’t want to discourage others from giving it a go.  I probably will not continue with the series myself, however.

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