Jun 15, 2019

Book Recommendations June 2019

A little less people around, a little more peace and quiet, a little bit of travelling, a lot more hot weather, a little less smoking and a lot more water drinking and reading. That, for me, is what the summer is all about and I am glad it has finally arrived in Berlin. Plus, with so many book club sessions coming up there is no shortage on books I plan to read either, to say the least. The summer schedule is set, so unless there are suddenly a bunch of international authors who spontaneously decide to visit us, it will keep on being a quiet summer with lots of reading, book club or not, and here are some recommendations from our selection for you to enjoy.

But first, check out the summer plan for the book club:
July 12 - Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson
July 26 - The Gospel of Loki by Joanne M. Harris (MYTHIC FICTION BC)
August 9 - The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein
August 23 - Salem's Lot by Stephen King (HORROR SPECIAL)
September 13 - Summerland by Hannu Rajaniemi

The Otherland Speculative Fiction Book Club meetings are always on the second Friday of the month (or any other given Friday for the horror, mythic fiction or theory sessions) 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.

Science Fiction


The Undefeated by Una McCormack
tor: € 11,99
One more of these little #tordotcompub-bookies I start to appreciate a lot. Great stories like Wells’ Murderbot or Okorafor’s Binti came out of it. Yes, they are expensive, but if this is what it takes to finance all the great books Tor is publishing, I am happy to pay.
The Undefeated is the story of Monica. A rich, successful journalist coming home. It’s the story of children coming back. It’s the story of humans creating life for their use and at one point, this life runs away and comes back to take revenge. It’s a story about minorities, slaves, women, sadly a story that has been repeated over and over again in human history. So from this point of view, Una McCormack presents nothing new here. BUT it’s the point of view she takes, switching from present Monica in her sixties to past Monica in her prepuperty-life. Young Monica has a naive, innocent and yet arrogant and money-spoiled view on her surroundings. Seeing the human-created jenjers as given, ignoring their superiority. The all present jenjers are kept in check of their bonded human owners by supplying them (or not) with medication they need to survive.
And like the Cylons in "Battlestar Galactica" or the Replicants in "Bladerunner" the jenjers waited for their moment to haunt the humans with the sins they committed. And while world after world waits for their arrival, Monica visits Sienna, her birthworld, and reviews her past.
A quick, well written and quite thoughtful read which will keep you reading and thinking.

Perihelion Summer by Greg Egan
tor: € 14,99

The beginning of Greg’s new novella reminded me very much of Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, only it’s a black hole that‘s racing towards earth here. And in the beginning you’re really shivering if the very very very unlikely thing could actually happen and this grand devourer would “collide” with earth. But – this is not Melancholia. And Greg Egan chose a much more realistic version of a similar tale. We are not spectacularly killed in one big final crash and there’s nothing poetic about what’s to happen. Because even if this black hole misses earth it still affects it. It might be a fast forward version about what’ll happen through climatic change. Brace if you read it that way. Otherwise enjoy an adventurous ride where sometimes chance seems to prevent an even more horrible outcome, especially when it comes to people and their actions.



Last King of Osten Ard #2: Empire of Grass by Tad Williams
hodder&stoughton: € 28,00
Tad Williams continuing the story of Osten Ard 30 years after the conclusion of the original trilogy is an admirable project. I was not too happy with the first (The Witchwood Crown) installment’s focus on the antics of Simon and Mirimaele’s grandson and the inside perspective of the Norn’s home in the far north, though I understand that he felt the need to give his antagonists some sort of agenda and personality.
Anyway, part 2 is already here, and shit is about to go down: the realm is crumbling from several internal conflicts, the Norns are marching south and the Thrithing people north, and the reign of The Last King of Osten Ard seems to be over soon.
I haven’t read Empire of Grass, but I think I might some day. The original trilogy "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" was very dear to me when I was younger and Williams is a fantastic author who seems determined to wrap this story up with part 3 really soon.

Lent by Jo Walton
tor: € 26,99

Jo Walton has written a novel based on the life of a young preacher in 15th century Florence who, unbelievable as it may seem, kind of ran the city for a short time … in the novel, he can also see demons and visits Hell, among other places. I’m hell-bent on reading this, but I promised myself to finish Barbara Tuchman’s Distant Mirror first (which is neither fantasy nor sf, but a non-fiction book about the late middle-ages - and also a great read), so once again a recommendation from me based on the merits of the author, the blurbs and hearsay. Still, Jo Walton has never disappointed yet, and the setup of Lent sounds just so great! [Jakob]

The Haunting of Tram Car 015 by P. Djèli Clark
tor: € 14,99

Set in an alternative-history Cairo, where magic has been discovered and put to industrial use for several decades and where the women suffrage movement is building up steam, agents Hamed Nasr and Onsi Youssef of the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments, and Supernatural Entities investigate the curious case of a haunted tram car - something previously unheard of. A tight budget requires them to seek help from unlicensed magical practitioners and apply questionable methods. Funny, well-written, with rich local colour and inconsequential little details (did you know there is not only sujuk, the sausage, but also sudjuhk, the candy?) - recommended if you like urban and steampunky fantasy and/or non-Western settings and alternative histories.

Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
tor: € 26,00

The fantastical twins Roger and Dodger don’t really know much about each other. One is skilled with numbers, the other with words, together they might just be a force to be reckoned with. What they don’t know is that they are not really human at all, but that they were created by an evil mastermind for a sinister purpose.
We should all find out how that story ends...
Plus, come on! Seanan McGuire is a literary powerhouse that is always worth the read and never disappoints!

Mythic Journeys edited by Paula Guran
night shade books: € 18,40
Imagine that all your favourite myths were rewritten by all your favourite authors. Yeah well, this is what happened here. I really enjoy this kind of short story collection because they make it possible to read multiple books at once and still spend an afternoon with a great story that won’t take up too much of your time. So if you always wanted to know which myth inspired Neil Gaiman and how he would retell it, you should definitely give this one a chance.



X’s for Eyes by Laird Barron
bizarro pulp press (journal stone): € 10

What does this guy take? I want some!
X's for Eyes is really short. But oh my….
The stuff that is happening here is just weird: devils, monsters, objects from space stranding on earth, subterranean Lovecraftian places with lots of mysteries and even weirder stuff happening inside. But the real amazing things are the very young protagonists of the story. We’re in the 50s and we’re following these two boys who are descendants of the humongous industrial corporation Sword Enterprises They’ve been trained or should I say drilled in a remote himalayan hard-core monastery (hello Bruce Wayne) and they’re acting veeery grown up, very smart-assy. And they’re talking that way too. To me it’s just plain out astonishing how Barron writes those bubblizations! Somehow … I don’t know…dialect, flippant, wise guyish… no, I can’t put my finger on it, I’m sorry – just read it! If you’re not shy of a little mind-warping horror. It‘s a lot of fun!

Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk
flame tree: € 14,95
Rumors of a cursed book that does not leave you once you have opened it? True, not the most original of premises.
Personalized terror? A heavy metal star as protagonist? Right, it’s all been done before.
Add to it undeniable pacing problems. There are many reasons to not read Will Haunt You.
Yet there is an undisciplined, dreamy, experimental quality to this book that I personally find exceedingly charming. Not crazy good, not spectacular nor perfect - but charming.

Break the Bodies, Haunt the Bones by Micah Dean Hicks
john joseph adams/houghton mifflin harcourt: € 26,00

First of all: Gorgeous cover! Looks gorgeous, feels gorgeous, the overall layout and effect is gorgeous!
Second of all: Gorgeous title! Super catchy, striking and spot on!
I have been appreciating John Joseph Adams’ work and taste in selection for quite a while and he tops his own work with this beauty!
Third of all: Awesome premise!!! Hicks takes a cruel reality - the abandoned rural America where people lose their jobs, fight poverty, are forced to leave - meshes it with ghost stories and creates this spectacularly critical, spooky and touching story!
Swine Hill is haunted – it is not only the streets that are full of the specter of people long dead, almost every inhabitant of the forgotten rural town is haunted with a ghost from the past too. Now this can come handy sometimes, as in the case of Jane whose ghost can read people’s minds and can guide her accordingly. But at the same time this loquacious ghost of a young girl can be very tiresome for anyone who has to listen to her incessantly, especially when she tells truths you don’t want to be constantly reminded of… The rest of Jane’s family is not as lucky with their ghosts – her brother is possessed by the ghost of a genius inventor/scientist who likes to knock him out and take total control of his vessel for months at a time. Her mother’s ghost is a very very needy young woman who literally burns everyone she touches and, let me tell you, she touches a lot of people. When in yet another metaphorical twist the sole employer of the region, the “pig factory” in Pig City, starts employing self-made pigs to occupy their valuable jobs, haunted humans as well as ghosts are not amused at all…
Me being me, there is one point I will nag about: I think this book was very successfully marketed as a horror story and it indeed does abundantly use very conventional horror tropes such as ghosts, self-made creatures, haunting etc. It does not however really aim at scaring/disgusting the reader, or at eliciting a reaction/participation from the reader the way horror usually does – it is much like Victor LaValle’s “Devil in Silver” in that sense.
Still every thumb up for this stunning debut!

Wounds: Six Stories from the Border of Hell by Nathan Ballingrud
saga press: € 15,99
To find the label “Soon to be a major motion picture” on Wounds did not surprise me at all. The books basically reads like a movie: fast paced, very visual and visceral, lively. A book that almost literally grabs you by the throat and does not let go until you are finished with it or more like it is finished with you!
The title say it all; these six stories take you to hell and back! I would also like to take a moment to praise Ballingrud’s writing skills - this is exactly how you write short stories! In the shortest space (the average story is around 20-25 pages) he succeeds in creating a very lively, immediate and horrific/eerie situation with believable, versatile characters, bravo sir.

Role Playing Games

RuneQuest Slipcase Set
chaosium: € 119,99

Masks of Nyarlathothep Slipcase Set
chaosium: € 129,99

Delta Green Slipcase Set
arc dream publishing: € 99,99

Numenera Discovery/Destiny Slipcase Set
monte cook games: € 99,99

Dungeons & Dragons 5E Slipcase Set
wizards of the coast: € 169,95

It’s huge, lush, moderately expensive slipcase time at the Otherland, which warrants some general comments: Because recently, we got a big shipment from Chaosium, publisher of legendary role-playing games Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest and King Arthur Pendragon. Chaosium has had quite a renaissance in the past two to three years, and its new edition of RuneQuest, which renews the game’s marriage with its (in every sense) original game world Glorantha, leads the way. I’ve been playing this new edition of RQ since before its publication (lucky me), and still feel impressed by its mythological power, entertained by its element of pure, joyful whimsy, and heartened by how effortlessly the world of Glorantha presents concepts of culture and gender that are fresh and new and still highly believable, complex and yet relatable on a playing-the-game level. And yeah, I also like combat systems where you know that the very first strike by whichever party might take of a limb or crush a head. Do you feel lucky today …?
The RuneQuest slipcase is out now - it contains the core rulebook, the Bestiary (which also offers the information to play non-human species like the matriarchal, darkness-worshipping trolls who eat everything from stones to their own progeny and are decidedly not evil), a GM screen and a GM book with several introductory scenarios. These are lush and beautiful books, as it befits a lush and beautiful world!
Glorantha and RuneQuest have been created by Greg Stafford, who has sadly passed away this year - and while it is a masterpiece, Stafford has been on record as having said that the game he considers his masterpiece is actually not RQ, but King Arthur Pendragon - a roleplaying game very closely modeled on the Arthurian myth as depicted by Malory and other classical sources. Pendragon is truly a close-to-perfect rpg that marries themes and mechanics like few others and has been a big inspiration to the whole industry since it was first published in the 80s. Combat and skills are all simple and effective, but the real big thing about Pendragon are the rules for playing not just one knight, but continuing with your own descendants, for wrestling with you passions and acquiring glory. Finally, we have the current edition of Pendragon (which has changed very little since Pendragon’s inception - there just wasn’t any need) on our shelves!
And then, we have the Masks of Nyarlathothep slipcase set - arguably the greatest campaign for Call of Cthulhu ever written, a world-spanning race against time, now in two big volumes with an accompanying GM screen and lots of handout material. Fit’s perfectly next to the RQ slipcase, and it is probably the most beautiful Call of Cthulhu product ever published (okay, I’m not sure about that, because the French editions of Cthulhu tend to be extremely lush … but it is certainly among the most beautiful).
On a side note: While it’s not published by Chaosium, Delta Green is another “modern” Cthulhu rpg that has seen a new edition lately, which hews close to the original mechanics of BRP but refined them for an even more gritty game focussed on mental and physical deterioration. If you wan’t to play secret agents against the Cthulhu mythos without losing the element of existential terror (actually, DG even enhances this element), then DG is for you. I’m mentioning it because the core rulebooks also come in a slipcase that happens to be on our shelves …
Enough of these grim and gritty RPGs where you keep losing either arms and legs or your mind? Why not return to the fun, light, gonzo science fantasy world of Numenera? The second edition has been out for a while now and sees lots of support with setting and scenario books. Rules haven’t changed very much, but a second core book has been added that makes community building an important (while optional) element of the game. Why I’m mentioning this … well, you might have guessed that both rule books come together in a slipcase …
And one last case of slipcase mania: How about joining the D&D Fifth Edition crowd? As it is said, it’s everyone’s second-favourite D&D, which probably means that it’s the best edition yet, and it’s also out in a slipcase set with beautifully stylised alternate covers. You get the three core books (Player’s Handbook, Dungeon Master’s Guide, Monster Manual) and a GM screen.

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