In fits and lurches, I've managed to cram in some reading over the last month or so. I've already made mention of one short and excellent read recently, but I thought I might briefly note a few other books I've been enjoying...or not enjoying, as the case may be.
At one point, I made mention of a critically-acclaimed author who has made big waves in the science fiction world: Gene Wolfe. I've read the first book in his Book of the New Sun tetrology, called Shadow of the Torturer, and I must give it mixed reviews. In terms of plot depth, use of language, imagination, world-building, and sheer beauty, this book ranks as high as any I have ever read. Even the appendix at the end of the first book oozes with creativity! But as for the content, story, and themes, I am just not that interested. It involves characters and situations that serve purposes that remain a mystery to my amateur-reader brain. Because of the sheer artistry, however, I will read the second book and see what might lay in store for Severian and his strange companions.
I started reading a Charles Williams book called Descent into Hell. It is a character-driven pseudo-supernatural thriller written around the same time as The Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia. Mr. Williams has the reputation of being the most enigmatic and complex of the group known as the Inklings. I plodded through 70+ pages of this one before tiring out. It simply did not capture my attention in any meaningful way; I was reading it on reputation alone and that couldn't sustain me long enough. It read a bit like a Victorian romance, all focused on courtship and the well-to-do members of a small British town (again, not something that falls within my realm of choice literature). I'll probably give it another try someday, and perhaps next time, I'll get hooked into what Williams was trying to accomplish with it. For now, I need something a little lighter.
Which brings me to my latest joy, certain selections from a fantasy short story anthology called Flights: Extreme Visions of Fantasy. This is one of the best anthologies of any kind I've come across, and three of the selections I've read in it are fantastic. One is a Lovecraftian Gothic that is so awesome I keep thinking about it after reading it days ago. Another is a bard's-tale sort of story that recounts an old legend of a maid marrying a changeling dragon; sounds corny, but the tale comes off very well and was more complex and enjoyable than almost any short story I've ever read. The third story was about a lineage of kings that is cursed in an interesting way. This is an anthology ever fan of fantasy needs to read. Short, enjoyable stories by excellent authors.