At the Cross-Roads

Cover of The Lord of the Rings A Reader's Companion by Wayne G. Hammond and Christina Scull

My monthly Tolkien reading yesterday from A Reader’s Companion by Hammond and Scull took me on a journey into the ancient past, both in Tolkien’s Legendarium and in our own world. The rise and fall of empires; the hubris of man and his futile pursuit of immortality; the triumph of time over all things . . . all of this from a few lines of a two hundred year old poem about a three thousand years dead king.

It all started with a note (p. 485) referencing this passage in Chapter 7 Journey to the Cross-Roads in Book Four of The Lord of the Rings:

Continue reading “At the Cross-Roads”

Reading Recap ~ January 2020

I’m a bit stunned to find myself already facing February. Where did my January disappear to? So many reading ambitions and so few goals achieved. I find myself five books behind my pace to reach my annual goal of ninety-six books (eight books per months). Basically, I finished three books last month. Not that I wasn’t constantly reading something (I’ll discuss my overflowing currently reading dilemma in a bit).

Here’s the three I actually started and finished during January:

Hard Times by Dickens

The first book I started and finished during the first week of the new year was Dickens’ Hard Times. This was the winter reading classic selection for my local library adult book club. We meet on the second Thursday and have lively discussions, including about this shortest and last published work of Charles Dickens.

I listened to the audiobook read by Simon Prebble and managed to complete it with just thirty minutes to spare before arriving at the library for the discussion. We were split as a group whether we liked this book. It is not your typical Dickens and had some portions that were a bit of a slog to muddle through. In hindsight, we all agreed we should have read Little Women in light of the release of yet another movie adaptation over the holiday break. We decided that next winter we will allow ourselves the luxury of reading a classic that might be adapted and released during Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays.

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Chief Critic, Collaborator and Cartographer ~ R.I.P. Christopher Tolkien

The Ides of January. The day Gandalf’s challenged “You cannot pass” to the Balrog in Moria. Christopher Tolkien, the youngest son of J.R.R. Tolkien, passed away yesterday at the age of ninety-five. The Tolkien Society posted the news on their website earlier today, which rapidly spread across social media and news sites.

“Someone else always has to carry on the story.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings

I heard the news via a chat message from my good friend and President of the Tolkien Society of Kansas City as I was returning to work from lunch. It was difficult to focus on projects and conference calls this afternoon, when all I could think about was the loss of such an amazing man who devoted his entire life to his father’s legacy. I am eternally grateful but also deeply saddened. My prayers and condolences are with his family.

“I wisely started with a map.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

Growing up reading and re-reading The Lord of the Rings in the 1970s, I did not know, at the time, that the maps were drawn by Christopher. It’s his fault, then, that I despair of reading any other epic fantasy that doesn’t include a well drawn map to aid me in building the author’s subcreation virtually with my mind’s eye. Christopher’s drafting skills set a high bar and my first and favorite maps are his maps of Middle-earth and Beleriand (see photo below).

Christopher’s fold-out map from my First American Edition of The Silmarillion

For the last two to three years, I’ve had the honor and privilege of studying several of Christopher’s publications of texts from his father’s prolific treasure of unpublished draft manuscripts, sketches, and poems. I’ve done this in my local Smial but also online through the Mythgard Academy. I have barely scratched the surface of what Christopher was able to decipher of his father’s sometimes incredibly illegible scrawls and publish in a readable format for study and contemplation. The following quote is just one of the tantalizing treasures buried in Christopher’s published research in The History of Middle-earth:

“(2) Tom could have got rid of the Ring all along [?without further] . . . . . . . — if asked!

. . .

In (2), most frustratingly, I have not been able to form any guess even at the altogether illegible word.”

Christopher Tolkien, The War of the Ring, p. 98

Rest in peace, Christopher, and Godspeed your journey into the West.

“There is a place called ‘heaven’ where the good here unfinished is completed; and where the stories unwritten, and the hopes unfulfilled, are continued. We may laugh together yet.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

My Top 50 Books from Last 10 Years

The end of the year and this decade arrived unexpectedly. Well, not completely unexpectedly for the former, but the whole ‘where did the twenty teens go?’ thing caught me by surprise. I’ve been reading and listening to ‘decade in review’ articles and podcasts for the last couple of weeks. Which inspired me to analyze my reading of 965 books over the last ten years.

The following compilation of ‘Top Five’ books for each year starting in 2010, do not include my occasional re-reads of favorites, like the works of Tolkien, Lewis, Jordan, Donaldson and Modesitt.

2010 (read 102) 

  1. Blackout/All Clear by Willis (Hugo/Nebula/Locus Best Novel Awards) 
  2. Under Heaven by GGK 
  3. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Stein 
  4. A Civil Compaign by Bujold 
  5. Breath and Bone/Flesh and Spirit by Berg 

2011 (read 75) 

  1. Wars of Light and Shadow (books 5-9) by Wurts 
  2. The Lions of Al-Rassan by GGK 
  3. The Wise Man’s Fear by Rothfuss 
  4. The Empire Trilogy by Feist & Wurts 
  5. Ready Player One by Cline 
Continue reading “My Top 50 Books from Last 10 Years”

Second Wave of Short Fiction

Last week, I finished listening to or reading the rest of the short fiction I had earmarked for perusal before end of year in a previous post. I’m very grateful to the podcasts of various SFF magazines that fit perfectly into my daily commute. Many of the authors below are new to me. Only Aliette de Bodard, KJ Parker and Sarah Pinsker have I read previously.

December 16th I listened to “Portrait of the Artist” by KJ Parker (3.5-4 stars) published in a special double-issue of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. After dinner I read “The Imaginary Palace of the Winter King” by Sarah Tolmie (3.5-4 stars) from the February 2019 edition of Strange Horizons. “Winter King” was also available via a podcast but I felt like reading the ebook edition I receive as a Patreon of that magazine.

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End of Year Short Fiction Dash

Last week I wrote about my annual reading goal, which got me thinking about all the science fiction and fantasy magazines and podcasts I subscribe to. I support two at Patreon: Uncanny and Strange Horizons. I follow several more via my Podcast Addict app on my phone: Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Escape Pod, Lightspeed and Podcastle. My Patreon magazines also have audio podcasts of select stories.

Most of the year, I’m heads down in full length books and novels. Only when I reach December, when my book clubs take a break for the holidays, do I come up for air enough to review any novellas or novelettes published in any of the magazines listed above. So I spent some time earlier this week, scrolling back through my Patreon posts to find all the ebooks I forgot to download for Uncanny and Strange Horizons. Then I scrolled through all the podcast episodes for authors I liked or had heard of for any works at least 40 minutes long (the length of half of my daily commute). I added several to my playlist and downloaded the ebooks to my tablet. My commute and lunch time reading was taken care of for the entire week.

Last Sunday, I read “A Time to Reap” by Elizabeth Bear (published in Issue 29 over the summer) and gave it four stars. At lunch on Monday, I read “The Blur in the Corner of Your Eye” by Sarah Pinsker (published in Issue 31 very recently) and didn’t like it quite as much as Bear’s story, so gave it a 3.5-4 star rating.

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Book Review: The Future is Female!

The Future is Female! cover

The Future is Female!

Edited by Lisa Yaszek

Read between November 12 and 24, 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars (Average Rating: 3.69)

Anthology Contents (courtesy ISFDB)


My Thoughts

Earlier this year I listened to an interview of the editor, Lisa Yaszek, via a Wired Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast (Episode 346), and I immediately added The Future is Female! to my TBR shelf. Months passed and I remembered to check the catalogs of the various libraries I patronize (recently increased to six cards with a trip to Lawrence last month). I was also recently challenged to increase the print materials circulation statistics of my closest library branch. A happy miracle occurred when I found The Future is Female! in the catalog of the Kansas City Public Library. A hold was placed and a few days later all eight requests, including this one, arrived at the Plaza branch for easy (translate that two ‘why did I forget my large tote bag at home?’) pickup.

I like reading anthologies; they are a great break for my usual longer epics. I can read a story or two a day, when I get up over my morning breakfast tea, or right before bedtime. Weekends, of course, I could squeeze in more stories. When I read a short story anthology, I post a GoodReads status update as soon as I finish it with a rating and any comments I have upon completion. Here’s an example status posted about “Space Episode” earlier this month:

Finished “Space Episode” (1941) by Leslie Perri (4 stars – very short but very impactful, almost gut wrenching) and “That Only a Mother” (1948) by Judith Merril (3 stars) — Nov 13, 2019 05:57PM

Jon Moss is on page 100 of 531

My Favorite Things

In the Contents listed above (thanks to the great community of editors at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDB), I have added my rating in parenthesis with bold emphasis.

My top five stories from this anthology are:

  • C.L. Moore’s “The Black God’s Kiss(sword & sorcery & horror & adventure)
  • Baby, You Were Great” by Kate Wilhelm (this one really gets in your head, literally).
  • Andre Norton’s “All Cats Are Grey(space opera-ish but some hard SF)
  • Space Episode” by Leslie Perri (hard SF but with heart like only a woman can write it and experience it)
  • And a tie between Joanna Russ’ “The Barbarian(a nod to C.L. Moore’s Jirel with Russ’ Alyx – so more sword & sorcery & adventure but with some SF elements) and Doris Pitkin Buck’s “The Birth of a Gardener(beautiful hard SF – again as only a woman can relate it).

I had previously read “The Black God’s Kiss” and “The Last Flight of Dr. Ain” (by Tiptree). Surprisingly, the latter did not hold up as well to a second read. It had shock value (sort of) the first time I read it, but the luster was gone on a re-read. I was also disappointed in the last story included in the anthology by le Guin. Again, it was probably groundbreaking at the time, but just didn’t wow me like some of her work does.

Some of these stories were my first exposures to the writings of these women. But many of them I have read numerous books by. I’ve read all of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover novels and short stories. I’ve read most of Ursula K. le Guin’s novels – Earthsea, of course, but also many of her famous science fiction novels. I’ve read most of C.L. Moore’s fiction, at least what I can get my hands on. Also Leigh Brackett, but I like her work less than CLM’s writing, which is very hard to put down. Another one I try to read but is often hit-or-miss for me is James Tiptree, Jr.

I’ve read a few novels by Andre Norton, but since I don’t care of young adult fiction, I skip most of her canon. Kate Wilhelm I discovered last year, listening to her only science fiction novel Where the Late Spring Birds Sing. I found that book thanks to a recommendation I found in a review by Jo Walton of a book on clones (Never Let Me Go) I was reading for one of my many book clubs.

Ad Astra Per Aspera

I read most of the biographical notes and found that at the time of publication, three of these amazing authors were still alive. However, upon closer examination this morning, it grieves me to relate that Carol Emshwiller, author if the intriguing “Pelt” tale, passed away on February 2, 2019. Katherine Maclean, author of “Contagion,” very recently passed on September 1, 2019. Which leaves Juanita Coulson (pseudonym John Jay Wells above on the story “Another Rib” co-authored with Marion Zimmer Bradley) as the last woman standing from this august company of pioneers.

Book Review: A Tolkien Compass

A Tolkien Compass cover

A Tolkien Compass

Edited by Jared Lobdell

Published (paperback): 1975

Read: November 2019

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Partial Synopsis: Contributors analyze Gollum’s character transformation, the psychological journey of Bilbo, the regime set up by Saruman at the end of Lord of the Rings and its parallels to fascism, the books’ narrative technique, and Tolkien’s rich use of myth and symbol.

List of Essays

Contents courtesy of the ISFDB entry for this edition (“Publication: A Tolkien Compass,” n.d.):

My Favorite Essays

I found most of the essays collected in A Tolkien Compass to be intriguing and thought provoking. At least three of them added twenty new books, journals and articles to my to-be-read queue. The notes alone on a couple of the essays were three or four pages in length and sent me down fantastic research rabbit holes. I can’t decide which essay is my absolute favorite, so I’ll list my top five here (in author alpha order):

  • Huttar, Charles A. “Hell and the City: Tolkien and the Traditions of Western Literature”
  • Miller, David M. “Narrative Pattern in The Fellowship of the Ring
  • Rogers, Deborah C. “Everyclod an Everyhero: The Image of Man in Tolkien”
  • Scheps, Walter “The Fairy-tale Morality of The Lord of the Rings
  • West, Richard C. “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings

Honorable Mentions include Agnes Perkins’ “The Corruption of Power” and U. Milo Kaufmann’s “Aspects of the Paradisiacal in Tolkien’s Work”

My Thoughts

A Tolkien Companion, originally published in 1975, amazed me with the depth of insight and scholarship gleaned from the then available works published by Tolkien and about Tolkien’s writing. I saw at least one reference to the manuscripts archived at Marquette University in Wisconsin. Yet, these essays still pre-date the publication of The Silmarillion and the volumes of The History of Middle-earth. Unlike Master of Middle-earth, however, I did not gain any new revelations about Tolkien’s Legendarium, but I did experience profound and thought provoking moments. If I had to choose my favorite essay from the collection, it would probably be Richard West’s “The Interlace Structure of The Lord of the Rings” because I had to restrain myself from recording the entire essay as an audio excerpt.

I recommend this to people interested in delving deeper into Tolkien’s writing.

Continue reading “Book Review: A Tolkien Compass”

Master of Horror Lecture Series (October 2019)

Master of Horror lectures throughout the month of October at several Mid-Continent Public Library locations around Kansas City.  The lecturer is Roberta Park, who also happens to be President of the Tolkien Society of Kansas City.

Synopsis:  Horror author H.P. Lovecraft has influenced the genre for decades. Explore H.P. Lovecraft’s life, his influences, the Cthulhu Mythos, and how he developed as a horror author.

Schedule

This Week in Middle-earth

A year ago today, I attended my first Tolkien Studies conference, hosted by the Tolkien Society of Kansas City at Park University.  I even helped re-enact the scene where Frodo is wounded by the Witch-king (I played the part of Wraith #5 in the video taken by Corey Olsen which is no longer available according to Twitch).

IMG_2364I’m looking forward to my second Moot next weekend in Waterloo, Iowa, also called MiddleMoot (because we alternate years between the two locations – back in KC for 2020).

MiddleMoot 2019

A Reader's Companion to the Lord of the Rings by Hammond & ScullAnd since I start off October by celebrating or at least contemplating being another year older, I decided to start a Twitter post series based on the Hammond & Scull Reader’s Companion to The Lord of the Rings, in which the timeline is very accurately tracked as the story unfolds.  So on the morning of September 30th,  the last day of that month, I finished reading “The Uruk-hai” chapter in The Two Towers and picked up the Reader’s Companion to read their research and notes on the same chapter, but instead I wondered what was happening “on this day” in Middle-earth?  So I returned back to the chapter “A Knife in the Dark” from The Fellowship of the Ring and found the corresponding entry for last Monday:  Continue reading “This Week in Middle-earth”