Apr 13, 2019

Book Recommendations April 2019

Something big is coming! The superstar of contemporary fantasy! Brandon Sanderson...is...coming!! It was hard for us too to believe, but on May 14th, at 7.00 pm he will be here in Berlin, in the beautiful Lettrétage (Mehringdamm 61, 10961 Berlin) chatting with you Otherlanders! IMPORTANT: Admission is free, but there is a little problem ...when announcing the event on our website, we asked people to make reservations. And they did - in fact, they did it so fast that all the seats are already booked out. That doesn't mean that we won't admit anyone else in, of course - but it means that a lot of people may have to stand ...
The doors open at 6.30 for everyone who has already made a reservation; at 6.45, we'll admit all the others - as many as we can - in.
We are deeply sorry, because you, our newsletter reader's, should have had the chance to make a reservation first; we promise that we will manage things more carefully next time.

Before that, on April 26th at 7.30 pm, we’ll meet for the inaugural discussion of the Otherland Mythic Fiction Book Club, where we’ll talk about Madeline Miller’s goodreads Reader’s Choice Award-winning Circe!
The Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club meetings are always on the second Friday of the month (additional book club sessions, like the Mythic Fiction Book Club, on any given Friday) at 7.30 pm at the Otherland Bookstore.
There's always snacks and drinks that you don't have to pay for, contributions are welcome.
You never need to sign up to join us, but we appreciate it greatly that you do read the book if you're coming.
Upcoming OBC meetings are as follows:
April 26 - Circe by Madeline Miller (MYTHIC FICTION)
May 10 - Kindred by Octavia Butler
May 24 - The Elementals by Michael McDowell (HORROR)
June 7 -  Whipping Star by Frank Herbert
July 12 - Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Enjoy our recommendations for April!

Science Fiction

Radicalized by Cory Doctorow
tor Euro 26,99
This collection contains four thematically very different novellas. There's "Unauthorized Bread", a quintessentially Doctorowian tale about the fight for ownership with consumer technology. "Model Minority" is a superhero story on how society deals with the alien in their midst, and could not be more timely. "Radicalized" talks about desperation and online communities, and could not be more chilling. "The Masque Of The Red Death" is the story that everyone who ever felt the slightest urge to be a prepper should read, and also a fascinating display of the so-called meritocratic mindset.
I've always liked Doctorow's shorter fiction, it seems to me that he pulls less punches and is willing to go where it really hurts. And despite the grimness on display he remains a fundamentally positive author who believes in humanity and the ability to do good with rational, yet empathetic, action. My favourite story in this collection was "Radicalized" itself, the protagonist Joe Gorman might just be one of the best characters Doctorow has ever written, but I'd recommend all four stories.

Broken Stars edited by Ken Liu
head of zeus Euro 26,40
Ken Liu is on his best way to become the Ellen Datlow of Chinese Science Fiction! In Liu’s second Chinese SFF anthology (the first one was Invisible Planets)comprising short stories, essays and novellas, the sinophile reader will find familiar (to Otherlanders) names like Hao Jingfang and Liu Cixin, as well as hidden gems waiting to be discovered. There is much to explore in these stories: heartbreak, laughter, Chinese history, philosophy, technology… Highly recommended if you like the short form.

A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine
tor Euro 25,99
This has all the ingredients for an exciting, easily readable space opera: A tiny independent mining station at the edge of a vast empire. Alien hostile activity beyond the borders of that empire, whose ageing emperor is facing his own mortality. A young ambassador summoned to the capital, installed in her head an outdated memory imprint of her predecessor’s mind (which may or may not have been tampered with).
Arkady Martine delivers with this debut novel, and even exceeds the expectations I had. The political intrigues and carefully constructed plots by different political actors reminded me, in the books strongest moments, of Ada Palmer (both authors are historians, in Martine’s case of the Byzantine empire), while the funky neurotech as well as imperial political meddling bring to mind some of Robert Jackson Bennet’s work.
There is a strong emphasis on language throughout the novel. While the names Martine chose for her empire (Teixcalaan) and characters (ambassador Mahit Dzmare and her cultural liason Three Seagrass are the main protagonists) can be difficult to get used to, I found the reflection on imperial language quite enjoyable. The empire, it turns out, is synonymous with the universe, and with the world in general, so that non-citizens - like Mahit - are, linguistically, barely people at all - a precarious situation to be in for someone as fascinated by teixcalaanli culture as she is.
I appreciate the emphasis on friendship rather than romance; on internal political struggle as opposed to outright military conflict; the lush depiction of the capital-city-planet; and the fact that this is not a series, nor a trilogy, but a satisfying standalone novel which does not strive to answer all questions in excruciating detail, but leaves plenty of room for imagination.


Black Leopard Red Wolf by Marlon James
random house Euro 16,95
I can happily and full-heartedly refute the media reports calling this novel an "African Game Of Thrones" (in fact, these reports say more about the state of journalism than the novel, as they're a misrepresentation of a joke Marlon James made in an interview). If you were looking forward to a colourful and violent story of epic fantasy with complex characters struggling against a rich mythological backdrop then no fear, James delivers those in spades. But the struggles are foremost personal rather than political, and both plot and language are far more convoluted, unconventional and twisted than Martin's work.
There is none of the sense of nostalgia which so permeates much of western fantasy; the magical beings and manifestations are magical indeed, but they are also eerie and dangerous. The olden days are not golden, they were just as difficult and murky as the present. Tracker, the narrator, tells the story in his cell, with his torturer as audience, so from the start we are made aware that he may not be telling the whole truth. The book's language has its own kind of rhythm, and for me at least it took a little while to be comfortable reading it, but  this also serves the trickery of the story. And hopefully without spoiling anything I think it is safe to say that one will need to read further books in this trilogy to see just how far the tracker has led us astray. I'm not sure that I completely love Black Leopard, Red Wolf, but I know I'm going to read it again once its images have sufficiently percolated in my head. And those images alone are easily worth the effort required to sink into this book.



The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter
penguin Euro 17,00
Curious… The other day three of us Otherlanders were chatting about novels that build their stories around century-old myths, legends, sagas and fairy tales (and there are a lot of those!). Simon pointed out that once the WHAT is predefined so much more depends on the HOW: can the author transform the well-known subject into something novel? Through language through little changes rioting the canon? (by the way… Sim’s favourite here – and he immediately ran to fetch it from the shelf and pet it lovingly – is the Parseval-novel Der Rote Ritter (The Red Knight) by Adolf Muschg). A couple minutes later İnci handed me Dacre Stoker’s Dracul and said: I need Horror-Reviews for the Newsletter, read this! I complained because the book weighs several kilos and has a few million pages, so she reluctantly replaced it with a slimmer volume: The Bloody Chamber; with it’s mind-warping black and white jungle-cover of leaves and curlicues. Thanks İnci, thanks so much, because I absolutely fell in love with Angela Carter’s stories. Carter, a very well acclaimed british writer who lived 1940-92, uses well-known stuff like Beauty and the Beast, Puss in Boots or the Erl-King, but, oh boy, she really rocks that HOW in her story-telling! Her recurring favourites: man-beasts and beast-men, the vulnerable yet strong women, the roses, the candles, the birds, the blood, the rot, the snow, transformation, threat, hope and love live and die in extraordinary sceneries, in Poe-ish feasts of desolation and decay. (“Strange. In spite of my fear of him, that made me whiter than my wrap, I felt there emanate from him, at that moment, a stench of absolute despair, rank and ghastly, as if the lilies that surrounded him had all at once begun to fester, or the Russian leather of his scent were reverting to the elements of flayed hide and excrement of which it was composed” – From the story "The Bloody Chamber"). The smells and colours are overpowering, her playfulness with the syntax and exceptional choice of words work like a powerful drug on the reader. Somehow romantic, profligate, disturbing, dulling and at the same time sharp as the cutting edge of a knife. (“His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker of rubies, two inches wide, like an extraordinary precious slit throat” – From the story "The Bloody Chamber" // “He is the tender butcher who showed me how the price of flesh is love; skin the rabbit, he says! Off come all my clothes. (…) The candle flickers and goes out. His touch both consoles and devastates me; I feel my heart pulse, then wither, naked as a stone on the roaring mattress while the lovely, mooney night slides through the window to dapple the flanks of this innocent who makes cages to keep the sweet birds in. Eat me, drink me; thirsty, cankered, goblin-ridden, I go back and back to him to have his fingers strip the tattered skin away and clothe me in his dress of water, this garment that drenches me, its slithering odour, its capacity for drowning” – From the story "The Erl-King"). Even after I’d put the book down the effects of the drug worked on for another couple of minutes, the senses oversensitive, confronted with a blurred version of reality. I was quite sad when it was over I must say. (“I will vanish in the morning light; I was only an invention of darkness”. From the vampire-story "The Lady of the House of Love").

Dracul by Dacre Stoker & J.D. Barker
putnam Euro 16,95
Not amused that I couldn’t palm off this review on Caro, I nevertheless accepted my faith and set off to painfully go through the whopping 500 something pages of vampiric horror. I have to add that I dread Bram Stoker’s Dracula; I claim and stubbornly maintain the point that it is next to impossible to read something more boring. But you know what? Its prequel Dracul is indeed a delight to read! The fact that it runs pretty much parallel to Dracula didn’t diminish my joy of reading this book one bit! Yes I understand Caro’s point and there are surely no eccentric exorbitances such as throat-slitting with diamonds or naked rabbit skinnings here, yet this is a solid horror story that combines several classic tropes such as the sinister vampire, gothic suspense and babysitter-horror. Starting as a pseudo-biography of Bram Stoker himself as a sickly little kid, the story takes the reader to the fateful night where he, his (in)famous creation and a shadow from his past will come together to literally write vampiric history!
Don’t be fooled by numbers - it is a long book, but written in letters and reports, it reads super fast and is very gripping. Dacre Stoker surely proves successful in the family business and the name J. D. Barker should be familiar to the versed horror fan, since he was not long ago nominated for the (surprise, surprise!) Bram Stoker Award for best novel with his debut Forsaken.

Collision: Stories by J.S. Breukelaar
meerkat press Euro 16,95
I reeeeally liked Breukelaar’s previous book Alethia, a truly striking ghost story with a hefty twist that I would recommend to any horror-lover without blinking. So my expectations for her third book were… well, if not too high, they were certainly too different which might be influencing my evaluation a little detrimentally. Having said that, I don’t think Collision a bad book at all. On the contrary - for the unbiased reader it might even be a very interesting experience to read these twelve stories, for each one is written in a different subgenre of speculative fiction: dystopia, gothic, weird… And even though I think that horror has a big enough heart for all of the above, it was not horror enough, not pulpy enough for me who was expecting and wishing for more scares and chills down my spine…
On the other hand I found a really masterly written, engaging, original, thought-provoking and strange short story anthology that I am sure I will come to appreciate more, the more I read it.

The Mammoth Book of Nightmare Stories: Twisted Tales Not to Be Read at Night! edited by Stephen Jones

skyhorse publishing Euro 14,99
Again, not a review but a reminder, or in my case an expression of my bubbling joy that this book has finally arrived! The Mammoth Book of Nightmare Stories is on the top of my list of books I have been waiting for for a long time but not have yet had the time to take a peek. It contains 16 stories from Poppy Z. Brite, Harlan Ellison, Tanith Lee, Neil Gaiman, Basil Copper, Caitlin Kiernan, Joe Lansdale and Michael Marshall Smith AND comes with a WARNING: “[...] do not try to read this book at night, because these superior horror stories—both supernatural and psychological—will leave a lasting chill down your spine [...]”
Yes! Yes! Yes!

Role Playing Games


Winter’s Daughter by Gavin Norman
necrotic gnome press Euro 12,00
Generosity is what is really at the heart of good rpg scenario-writing. You have to fashion story tools - places, characters, the seeds of conflict and adventure; and then you have to accept that the actual story will be created by someone else and get out of the way. I know few rpg authors who are as generous as Gavin Norman.
Winter’s Daughter is set in Norman’s weird fairytale world of Dolmenwood (or wherever else you care to place it as a GM). Here, mushroom dwarves rub shoulders with goatmen, cruel elven princes and creatures that could just as well be the result of a collaboration between Lewis Carroll and H.P. Lovecraft. The story behind the scenario is one of tragical knightly romance, but the story it will lead to might easily turn out to be a Vancian farce or a tale about escaping from a host of bizarre horrors.
Winter’s Daughter is structured most exemplary: Not only do you get the backstory right away, you get it in a bullet-point format that makes it easy to look up individual elements of it. Storyhooks, further background and the dungeon (of course there is a dungeon) are presented in a similar way. Not an ounce of fat. And while one might think that such a tight structure leaves little room for compelling prose, the opposite is true: Just have a look at this: “1d4 tipsy goblin merchants with lanterns climb cautiously out of a trapdoor in the forest floor. They have stepped into Dolemnwood from Fairy, seeking rare night-fruits.” The beauty!
Winter’s Daughter comes in two versions, one with stats for Old School D&D games, one statted for the current 5th edition of D&D. You can use it with no hassle at all for other retro-inspired games (Beyond the Wall comes to mind), and since it’s not really a scenario that is heavy on mechanics, I can heartily recommend it to you whatever system you might be playing. It is evocatively illustrated by Mish Scott. It has frost elves and fungi, moss-eating trolls, peddling goblins and toads that croak of betrayal.

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