// you’re reading...


Ann VanderMeer, fiction editor at Weird Tales.

Some great fantasy reading recommendations...

READERSVOICE.COM: Can you recommend some fantasy books you’ve come across over the past ten years or so and say why you liked them?

ANN VANDERMEER: I could list tons of books here, but for the sake of you and your readers, I’ll only list a few that pop into my head.

The Chess Garden – Brooke Hansen: This is one of those magical books that you come across once in a lifetime. An aged doctor volunteers to assist during the Boer Wars in South Africa. He writes letters back home to his wife as if he were visiting a fantasy island called The Antipodes. In this way he is able to communicate the horrors of what he experiences by telling of his adventures with chess pieces that come to life. In addition, the account of their lives together is told in one of the most memorable love stories I have ever read.

The Unblemished – Conrad Williams: This book was brutally horrific, but so beautifully written that I just could not put it down, even as I was being shocked. It’s not just the details of how London is overcome by banished creatures seeking revenge or a serial killer running wild, but also the story of a mother and daughter and how their relationship continues under gruesome circumstances. I recommend this book highly to anyone who thinks they’ve seen everything the horror genre has to offer. You’ve never seen anything like this.

Memory’s Tailor – Lawrence Rudner: This is such a superb, yet criminally unknown book. The writer died shortly after finishing it. I never would have heard of it if it hadn’t been for John Kessel recommending it to me.

It’s about a Russian Jew, a tailor, who takes it upon himself to seek out and collect the stories of all Jews he comes across in his travels. He then takes these stories and sews them into garments; costumes being restored for the museum, so that they will never be lost. It’s a testimony to the human will and the desire to be remembered. My mother’s family were tailors in Russia before they came to this country, so this story is also very personal to me.

Brittle Innings – Michael Bishop: Baseball, Frankenstein’s Monster, the deep south in the 1940s. Not necessarily themes that would normally attract me, but for some reason, this book really spoke to me. So much so that I bought several copies of it so that I had plenty to give away to special people I felt *had* to read this book.

A Brief History of the Dead – Kevin Brockmeier: One of my favorite books that I read this year. People who die end up in an alternate place, similar to any large rambling city, and they remain as long as there is someone alive that still remembers them. As a deadly virus sweeps the world, Laura Byrd, a wildlife scientist on a journey in the South Pole, keeps her head together by probing her memories. The descriptions of the South Pole and the loneliness of Laura were so real to me that I found myself holding my breath at certain times and reaching for a blanket, even though I read this book in the heat of Florida!

Ship of Fools – Richard Paul Russo: I just recently read this book so it’s still fresh on my mind, although it’s been out for several years. Not your typical space opera. It recounts the inhabitants of the ship Argonos, narrated by Bartolomeo Aguilera, the captain’s right hand man, and a man deformed from birth. The ship has been home to thousands of people for hundreds of years as they dream of finding a habitable planet. The reason this book appealed to me so well is that it doesn’t explain everything and the ending leaves a lot open to the reader. I can understand how this may be frustrating to the traditional sci-fi reader, but it appealed to me because it *didn’t* wrap everything up for me in a nice package. And there were parts of the book that made me gasp audibly – now how often does a book do that?

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon: A fantasy about the early days of comics and a real-life Golem. What more can I say?

The Stone Ship – Peter Raftos: A book from a new writer in Australia. After a man loses his wife and child, he takes himself to what he thinks is a remote island in order to kill himself. Instead he is haunted, no goaded, by a ghost there and ends up traveling to The University – a large Stone building surrounded by the ocean. His experiences in this place are surreal, somewhat horrific and yet playfully absurd at the same time. There is a librarian battle scene that alone is worth the price of admission.

The River Midnight – Lillian Nattel: I found this book while traveling in British Columbia a few years ago. Taking place in a Jewish shtetl in Poland in the early 1900s, it’s a mystical story of the people in the town by the Polnocna River . It follows a group of women from childhood to adulthood, sharing their secrets and their secret shame. It provides a wonderful mix of the superstitions and prejudices of that time, along with lots of life and lust and food. I love stories that combine the holy and the mundane and this book does it beautifully.

Lisey’s Story – Stephen King: The best book I’ve read of King’s in many years. It’s been reviewed and debated everywhere, so suffice it to say that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. King paints a very realistic picture between Lisey and her famous author husband Scott. He also describes Lisey’s relationship with her sisters so well you feel that you know them. This is what makes the book work for me. You are drawn in to how Lisey must do the impossible, things she never thought she had the strength to do, in order to save not just her husband, but her sister as well. I’d say this was one of the most grown-up novels I read last year.

The Life of Pi – Yann Martel: Yes, I know. Everybody and his brother has read this one. But I just had to put it on the list. I was stuck in an airport (this happens to me quite a lot) and I was reading the last few chapters of this book. By the time I got to the last page I am crying. Yes, in the Orlando airport. Yes, in public. A woman comes up to me, sits down and says that she couldn’t help noticing the book I was reading. So, we spent the next hour just talking about that book. It’s the kind of book that gets people talking. About faith and belief. What’s real and what’s not. And I found out later that this chance meeting was one of many such meetings taking place all over. People were stopping strangers when they saw them reading this book so that they could talk about it. AND… it had talking animals! Well, not really. I just wish I could get my husband to read this book.

Dungeon Series (Graphic Novels) – by Joann Sfar and Lewis Trondheim: I was introduced to these marvelous books while my husband was judging the Eisner Awards in San Diego this Spring. The art is so magnificent that every frame on each page takes time to ponder. Funny, poignant, outrageous and daring, it tells the story of a dungeon, naturally. And quests, of course. The story follows the travels of Marvin, the vegetarian dragon, and Herbert, the fearless (or fearsome) rabbit in search of adventure and accolades.

And speaking of graphic novels, I love Enki Bilal’s Nikopol Trilogy. Between his work and the ones above, I have been motivated to learn French (not to mention, it’s such a beautiful language and I love to listen to it being spoken). After a visit last month to France, I have determined that some of the best graphic novels published are coming from France. And most of them are not translated. I came across some amazing shops while there and discovered so many titles that intrigued me. I also had the good fortune to meet Sarah Debove (at Utopiales), a talented young artist. I brought home the book Thomas Lestrange, her collaboration with Serge Lehman, even though I cannot read it (yet).

-continued next page.