Omission is betrayal

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is this weekend (30 April - 1 May). Like any good festival of books, or like any good LA Times, they give prizes. Here are the categories:

Robert Kirsch Award (from what I gather, this is sort of like a lifetime achievement award)
Innovator's Award
Current Interest
Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction
Graphic Novel
Science & Technology
Young Adult Literature

All right, so look over that list and tell me what is missing. . . .

Yes, that's right: Science Fiction & Fantasy. They have Mystery/Thriller and they don't have Science Fiction & Fantasy. They have Graphic Novel, for crying out loud, and they don't have Science Fiction & Fantasy. It's an outrageous omission, I tell you.

I am not going to the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books this year. I am boycotting the event. (Plus, I have to work.)


Is this the zero hour for the dynamic duo?

I don't know how many people younger than me will have heard of speed-reading guru Evelyn Wood - or perhaps I should say Reading Dynamics (as her program is called) pioneer Evelyn Wood - but her system was learned and used by people like President John F Kennedy. And if people younger than me haven't heard of him, then they don't watch nearly enough television! Anyway . . . I used to clean her office! Tada!

I know, it's not much of a claim to fame, but it's true. I spent one year of my college life at BYU working as a janitor. Our crew was principally responsible for the Marriott Center, but we also occasionally took care of the Motion Picture Studios, the chapel across the street from the football stadium, the offices under the stadium, and this old campus annex building (since torn down) that housed rooms containing lots of creepy jars full of formaldehyde-pickled specimens. Once, when I was dusting off the shelves holding the creepy jars, I could hear a radio in the next room (where some of my fellow janitors were working) playing the then-hit "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen, and I have never been able to listen to that song since without seeing, in my mind's eye, fetal pigs bobbing ever so gently up and down.

So, Evelyn Wood's office (or one of them, anyhow) was under the football stadium. It was a fairly small room, lined with shelves that were packed with books. My kind of place. When I mentioned once to someone that I had cleaned Evelyn Wood's office half a dozen times, he - knowing who Evelyn Wood was - countered by telling me a story about speed reading. He said that a young woman he knew had learned to speed read and then she read Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea in about 15 minutes or something ridiculous like that. Afterwards, she couldn't sit still. She kept pacing the room because all the varying emotions the book aroused in her were swirling through her mind and she hadn't assimilated them all, as she might have if she'd read at a slower pace. I don't know if it's a true story, but I think I understand how she felt. I typically read at a much slower pace, but sometimes a book is so full of action and emotional incidents that my mind races afterwards as I try to take it all in.

I'm saying all this because I just finished reading the third book in the Chathrand Voyage series, The River of Shadows by Robert V S Redick, and that's how I feel. No, I'm not pacing the room, but I'm having trouble coming up with a non-trite, cogent sentence or two that would describe the impact the book had on me, because my thoughts and emotions are swirling.

If you read my blog regularly, you'll know I've talked about Redick's books before (here and here). And you'll know I consider him one of the best literary writers, and one of the most original fantasy writers, of our day. In the Chathrand Voyage books, he has created a fascinating and finely detailed world, geographically, anthropologically, linguistically, botanically, philosophically, and many another ly. His characters are realistic and well-portrayed so that you care even about the minor ones. There's humor, there's pain, there's frustration, there's love. Not only that, his books are dang exciting! You may be tempted to think, "Oh, I've read action-packed stories before. They just throw in some action to pick up the pace or to put a little spice in the story." But no, it all has meaning and it fits. And the further you read, the more you see how it fits. When things happen, there's a reason for it.

You can find a short synopsis of the plot on any site that sells the book, so I'll just say that The River of Shadows is a very good book for fitting together pieces and answering questions that were raised or alluded to in The Red Wolf Conspiracy and The [Rats and the] Ruling Sea. The story takes Pazel and Thasha and their friends into the next phase of their struggle against the evil sorcerer Arunis, who is bent on destroying the world. Danger abounds, along with the excitement, and we know from past experience that someone we care about may not survive to the end. This is in some respects a somewhat more mature book than the first two, which fits with the growth of the characters and the furtherance of their sometimes conflicting aims. (For instance, there's a scene of intimacy that's mildly explicit, but not gratuitously so. There's nothing gratuitous in the books at all, not even the violence; as I said, everything is there for a reason, and it fits.) And we learn a boatload - some of it rather surprising - about who some of the characters really are.

So. Read the book. Read the series. Speed read it and set your mind a-whirl. Read it more slowly and savor it. You will be justly rewarded for the experience.

PS As far as I know, The River of Shadows is being published only in trade paperback in the US. You can order a hardcover from a UK bookseller if you want one - which I do because such a masterly work deserves a more artistic presentation.

PPS Here's a link to a video Shannon sent me. It has nothing to do with The River of Shadows. Warning: some images may be disturbing, and some of the music and lyrics, too.