Thursday, 23 July 2009

Michael Merillo: A summer for a little sci-fi and fantasy

After a short time away, our venue manager Michael is back in the Scottish Book Trust office. We're all very excited to have him back and to mark his very real return we asked him to tell us what he's been reading whilst he was away - it seems that his tastes lean more towards the fantastical...

The Complete Chronicles of Conan: Robert E. Howard (Gollancz)

I started my summer reading off by cutting a bloody swath through the age of Hyboria alongside Conan the Cimmerian – thief, outlaw, mercenary, pirate, and king. While it’s true that he is a muscle bound, sword-swinging, uber-man, this brooding, blue-eyed barbarian is also an excellent example of anti-hero. My favourite kind of hero. When the story is resolved, usually ‘good’ things happen to characters around Conan, however, the motivations behind many of his actions are often selfish, amoral, and sometimes downright villainous. For example, in his quest for fame and fortune he disposed of the tyrannical king of Aquiliona by strangling him on the steps of his own throne, then taking the crown for himself. He found his fame and fortune, and the kingdom (and the world) was rid of an evil madman. And yes, before you ask, he always does get the women.

Robert E. Howard, a Texan writer, using Conan and his other character helped to create the very popular sword-and-sorcery genre of the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was also a member of The Lovecraft Circle of early 1900’s science-fiction, fantasy, and horror writers of America, with his regular correspondence and collaboration with H.P. Lovecraft. Conan, and his world, have been with us for over 70 years and he continues to cleave at popular culture - having spawned four Hollywood films, comics galore, many novels, television programs, games, and most recently a hugely successful MMORPG.

Gollancz has helpfully complied all the original Robert E. Howard stories in chorological order (as they appeared in the pulp fiction magazine Weird Tales) from 1932 until his death in 1936 into a single hefty, nearly 1,000 page long, tome of manliness.

Mortal Engines: Philip Reeves (Scholastic)

After stomping round in the dark forests and blazing desert of Hyboria with my barbarian compatriot, I thought I would hop a ride with young Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw in the Jenny Haniver. In a post-apocalyptic world of moving cities that hunt each other like a cats hunt mice, Tom and Hester have very different goals, but they have to work together to survive. Battling treachery, heartbreak, robots, hunger, and megalomaniacs the two young heroes seek to right wrongs and prove themselves right (and the other wrong).

Mortal Engines is the first in a quartet of books (plus another book that serves as a prequel) based in the Traction Era, by Philip Reeve. In the far future, the Earth was destroyed in the “Sixty Minute War” and many of the notions we hold dear today are no more. Nation no longer exist, instead each city-state – often entire cities mounted on huge caterpillar-tracks – fight a fierce battle for materials and often times merely for survival in a very Darwinist method. Hunting and eating other cities.

A good read for those who live in Edinburgh and wish the weather wasn’t so rubbish (even during the summer!) – If only the city could just start its engines and move south for some warm Mediterranean weather.

Other news:

Kate Greenaway Medal winning author and illustrator Emily Gravett will be illustrating Julia Donaldson's next picture book, due to be titled Cave Baby and published in autumn 2010. This will be the first time that Emily has illustrated someone else's work.

Film director Stephen Frears is going to turn Posy Simmonds' comic strip and graphic novel character, Tamara Drewe, into a film. Bond girl Gemma Arterton is to star in the title role.

Last night at Blackwell, Barrington Stoke launched Lari Don's re-telling of Tam O'Shanter. Alex Salmond sent a message of congratulations, although wasn't able to be there in person. Lari treated everyone to some wonderful readings from the book, which has an introduction from Sir Jackie Stewart, before we all enjoyed the wonderful cake which had the book cover in icing on the top!


Gillian Philip said...

This holiday I also finally got around to reading 'Mortal Engines'. What a book - it's still stuck to my brain, especially Bevis and Katherine. Can't wait to get home and read the other instalments...

Great post - thanks for a blast of nostalgia with Conan!

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