Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Once Upon a Winter's Night

This morning I completed Once Upon A Winter's Night by Dennis McKiernan. This was not the book that I had really planned to read next...here's how it happened. I normally leave my current book on the dresser and grab it on the way out to work every day. I had been reading Way of the Wolf and was really looking forward to being able to read more on it during my lunch break that day. But I get up rather early and since it was still dark in the bedroom when I left, I grabbed the wrong book, one that my wife had left out in order to take on a trip the following week. So lo and behold when I got to my lunch break and took out my book, there it was.

At first I was a bit taken aback because this was a fantasy book that looked like a "chick-lit" style fantasy. It would appeal to my wife and my daughter but it wasn't one that I would have rushed to pick off the shelf. But what was I to do? It was either plunge in or listen to talk radio all through lunch. I opted to give it a shot.

I liked it a lot during that first hour or so. I didn't want to go back to work (never do) but often I get sleepy at lunch time with my reading and that was not the case this time. I was enthralled. Nevertheless, I am a loyal reader so I completed Way of the Wolf before returning to this one. The book itself is a retelling of the classic Norse fairly tale, "East O' the Sun, West O' the Moon". Mr McKiernan greatly expands the original tale, turns it into a novel basically, and adds some more intrigue, mild sex, and adventure. Once I returned to reading the book I was happily engrossed in that world once more. It has all the classic fairly tale themes: princes, damsels, goblins, dwarves, curses, quests, and above all, true love conquering all obstacles. Reading the book gave me a good feeling inside, made me happy in fact. That sounds silly but it's true.

This is the first book I've read by Dennis McKiernan. My research turned up some interesting facts though. Apparently he had a full career with Bell Labs before he ever began writing fiction and only came to that after a bad accident that left him in a full body cast. Rather than go insane, he made up stories and actually wrote (dictated?) a sequel to Lord of the Rings (LOTR). He found a publisher and at their suggestion, rewrote the story so that it wouldn't be a Tolkien story at all. That became the "Iron Tower Trilogy" and McKiernan himself confesses it to be a LOTR ripoff. Unfortunately, discerning fantasy readers tend to write him off as a result, never giving him a second look. That seems to be the cardinal sin for fantasy authors...never write a story that is remotely similar to LOTR. Its too bad. I for one will be looking to read more of his work, especially the sequels to this one.

I followed that up with the first short story in Harlan Ellison's "Heart's Blood" section of The Essential Ellison. This section is partly biographical and the first entry is called "From Alabamy, With Hate." It is an essay more than a story and describes his one-day march to Montgomery during the race riots of the 1960's. He condemns the hatred and insane prejudice of the time in language that is absorbing to read. Looking back through the eyes of history his conclusions seem obvious to me but at the time it was written and published, I'm not so sure.

Next up: I'm not exactly sure. I will be selecting several books to take on a long three week trip.

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Top 10 Books in no particular order (Well Known Authors)

  • "The Stand" by Stephen King
  • "Kane and Able" by Jeffrey Archer
  • "The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara
  • "The Dark Elf Trilogy" by RA Salvatore
  • "Name of the Wind" by Patrick Rothfuss
  • "River God" by Wilbur Smith
  • "Mortalis" by RA Salvatore
  • "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card
  • "Centennial" by James A Michener
  • "The Repairman Jack" series by F. Paul Wilson

Top Books/ Series in no particular order (Lesser Known Authors)

  • "The Sculpter" by Gregory Funaro
  • "Power Down" by Ben Coes
  • "Revolution at Sea Saga" by James L. Nelson
  • "Black Rain" by Graham Brown
  • "Top Producer" by Norb Vonnegut
  • "Prairie" by Anna Lee Waldo
  • "The Wild Blue" by W. Boyne & S Thompson
  • "Unsolicited" series by Julie Kaewert
  • "Freedom" by William Safire