Shadows of the New Sun

Shadows of the New Sun book coverShadows of the New Sun: Stories in Honor of Gene Wolfe is a collection of short stories by various authors who have been influenced, professionally or personally, by the literary master that is Gene Wolfe. The collection also includes two short stories not previously published by Gene Wolfe himself. This collection was released in 2013 and several of those who contributed are authors I really enjoy, and there were many I had never read before but will likely look into their work after reading their stories in this collection.

What I really enjoyed about this collection, ironically enough, were the unintended stories. Each author who contributed a short story also provided a short commentary about Gene himself, which really gave this collection its intended purpose. Yes, each story was inspired by or related to Gene’s work with several even taking place within a world Gene created or included characters he imagined, but it was amazing to see how Gene influenced each storyteller. Many knew Gene personally and had fun stories to tell about him or something he did whereas a few had never met him in person but had an anecdote to share nonetheless.

To my knowledge, there currently are no biographies about Gene Wolfe, though I hope one does come out as I would love to know more about him. Gene passed away in 2019 at the age of 87. I wish I had discovered his work before his passing, but that is the great thing about books. You can discover and be greatly influenced by works written years, decades, or even centuries before. Some say history has a way of filtering the mass amounts of art and only allow the best to persist through the ages. I would not be surprised if Gene Wolfe is read for centuries to come. His work has found me and will persist at least throughout my lifetime as I will continue to read everything of his I can find. I chanced upon this collection at my local library’s annual book sale. Some of the best books are those you find by chance. In fact, many authors in this collection found Gene’s work by chance, and they recognized it as uniquely masterful upon discovery. I had the same experience and his books quickly became treasured tomes on my shelf.

If you have yet to find Gene’s work, perhaps this can be your reason to give it a chance. I hope you like it if you do.

Happy Reading.

House of Many Ways

House of Many Ways Book CoverHouse of Many Ways is Diana Wynne Jones’s sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle. However, much like the companion novel Castle in the Air, this book spends the first half following a new character without any connection to the world of Howl’s except where magic is involved. It is really just before the halfway point that we get to see the connection, which is primarily Sophie.

Our main character for this book is Charmain Baker, who I must admit is not a very likeable character (despite the fact she is an avid reader herself). She is tasked with watching over her great uncle’s magical house while he is away receiving medical treatment from the elves. She does grow throughout the book, as good characters should, but she is a bit self-centered in a way that doesn’t leave much room to connect. The overall story and magic are fun much like the previous novels so it is definitely worth a read, and it is always good to see more of Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer.

I am glad I decided to read the three Howl books in order of publication because the events of Castle in the Air take place roughly two years prior to House of Many Ways and a few characters show up in this final installment. Though it is not necessary to read Castle in the Air to understand what occurs in House of Many Ways, the experience is enhanced having read the companion novel first. In all honesty, I would dare to call this book a companion novel as well instead of a true sequel because it focuses on new characters and events quite outside that of Howl’s Moving Castle. Some of the locations and the magic are similar, but the same could be said of Castle in the Air. They are all linked but none are truly cohesive in a way you would expect of a continuous story. Howl, Sophie, and Calcifer are more support characters and the overall story has little to do with the first book.

House of Many Ways was first published in 2008. This is 18 years after Castle in the Air and 22 years after Howl’s Moving Castle (and 4 years after the Howl’s Moving Castle film). Despite the time between publications, these stories are all magical in their own way and read as if they could have all been written at the same time. Diana Wynne Jones was truly a gifted and magical writer.

Happy Reading.

Castle in the Air

Castle in the Air Book CoverCastle in the Air is another magical, wholesome story by Diana Wynne Jones. It was published in 1990 and is considered a companion novel (not a sequel) to her book Howl’s Moving Castle which was published in 1986. I wasn’t sure how it related to Howl’s because it had no real connection until about halfway through the book. The entire story has elements that reminded me of Aladdin, with a flying carpet and a genie, but then the second half enters a realm similar to Howl’s Moving Castle. Fans of both will likely love this book, as I did.

Overall, it is a fun read that gets better as you go along. I felt there was a slower period in the middle when things begin to transition, but the action ramps up and all the pieces fall together in the end. This is one thing I really enjoyed about this book. Things that occur in the first few chapters either persist or reappear in the end to show their impact on the overall story. Some of it is whimsical, sure, but there is never anything superfluous, out of place, or unexplained in a Diana Wynne Jones novel (at least from my experience). Though I expected this book to be entertaining, I was yet again surprised how much I enjoy Diana Wynne Jones’s work.

I must admit that I plan to read this book, and many others, to my kids as they get older. I think Diana Wynne Jones weaves incredible stories that children will love and us adults (aka physically grown children) also enjoy. I will be reading the true sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle shortly to complete the Howl’s “trilogy” and I will discuss that book here as well.

Happy Reading.

The Library at Mount Char

Library at Mount Char book coverThe Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins was first published in 2015, and I must say I am surprised I don’t hear about this book more often. Honestly, the one and only time I heard about this book was a few years ago. I put it on my list to read and recently got around to actually reading it. This book is by far the best book I’ve read this year. I absolutely loved it. This is one of those books, for me, where you wish you could discover it again for the first time.

I went into the book knowing nothing about the story. It has been some time since I started a book without any notion of what to expect or having little knowledge about the premise. This may have added to my thrill of discovering what happened next and learning about the universe the story inhabits, but it is overall a great read that was right up my alley of interests.

I’m going to provide just a glimpse, or feeling, of what this book contains so hopefully you can discover it in a similar manner. The best word I can use to describe this book is “ancient” because there are elements that lead you to believe there are forces at play within our world that have been around since time began. The main story centers around a handful of characters, a dysfunctional group of people with strange powers, and a mysterious “father” figure. The basic relationships somewhat remind of me The Umbrella Academy but less familial. There are supernatural elements but nothing feels out of place. I believe this book is typically shelved under fantasy fiction, but it also includes science fiction elements. All of which are reasons I like it so much.

This book is definitely for mature readers, so I don’t recommend it to younger audiences. I was engrossed in the characters and events of the story from the start. Again, I’m not sure why I don’t hear about this book more often, but I hope this recommendation will introduce this story to new readers and help spread the word.

Happy Reading.

Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary book coverProject Hail Mary is Andy Weir’s third novel. Weir began writing full time after the large success of his first novel The Martian which was quickly adapted into a movie. He continued pursuing his hobbies of relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight, all of which are incorporated into his novels. However, Project Hail Mary seems to include more science-based fun than The Martian and Artemis put together. This is because the majority of this story’s adventure takes place off planet.

Dr. Ryland Grace is the only survivor of a last-chance mission to save Earth and humanity as a species. However, he does not know this at the start. The book begins with Grace awakening from an induced coma (more plausible than the now generic cryosleep used for long space travel in science fiction), but he awakens with no memory of who he is or where he is. The story is split between him gradually regaining his memories and what is happening with him in real-time as he attempts to solve humanity’s gravest problem.

I really enjoyed this story, as I have enjoyed all of Weir’s works, but I must admit this one didn’t capture my interest as well as his previous books (I was still interested, but not as enraptured). The story takes a little while to really ramp up though I think my biggest issue was the character of Ryland Grace himself. He seems like a very unlikely candidate to be on such a mission. He is a smart guy, probably even more of a science expert than Mark Watney from The Martian, but he is much more…plucky. There are times he acts without the level of concern expected of an astronaut which seems a bit off considering space is extremely dangerous and resources are limited to what is aboard the ship. Also, if he fails the mission then humanity is doomed. The stakes are high and I personally wouldn’t want Ryland Grace as humanity’s last hope. However, this actually does get addressed later in the book and I think the way things play out actually made me warm up to Ryland and better understand how and why he is there. It just takes quite a long time before we get this information, so if you are reading the book and think, as I did, that Ryland is not the best character, then stick it out and see if you change your mind.

This book is somewhat reminiscent of 2001: A Space Odyssey but more entertaining, more realistic, and actually tells a full story without ambiguous events. If you like The Martian or Artemis (which I think is a little underrated) then you will enjoy Project Hail Mary. It comes with all the science-based fun, some of which may go over your head, that is now expected from Weir, and you will likely learn a bit about space and space travel.

Happy Reading.