Alphabet of Thorn (2004) by Patricia A. McKillip

Nepenthe is an orphan who has grown up working in a royal library in the city of Raine. She spends her days translating rare and unusual texts and has developed a real talent for it. During the coronation of the new Queen, a young mage gives Nepenthe a book that appears to be written in a language of thorns. This unique book has resisted all previous attempts at translation. As Nepenthe begins to work on it, something about the book draws her deeper and deeper into its thorny pages.

Cover art by Kinuko Craft
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Currently Reading: Alphabet of Thorn (2004) by Patricia McKillip

Gorgeous cover art by Kinuko Craft

Taking a leaf from Bookstooge’s book and having some time to kill at work, here is a quote from Patricia McKillip’s 2004 novel Alphabet of Thorn:


“What else did you see?” he asked the odd young woman, who seemed more woodland animal than human. A useful quality in a mage, he thought. Some of us have a harder time forgetting our humanity.
‘Things,’ she said vaguely, remembering them. She took an unconscious step toward him. ‘A tree spoke to me. It looked like a very old man, twisted and slow, with mossy hair down to its ankles and eyes like dead leaves. It did not say much, just my name. I think that’s very strange, that a tree I have never met would know my name. And there were the stags with the fire in their antlers. They did not speak. The warrior followed them.’
‘The warrior.’
‘Fully armed, on a white war horse. The warrior wore a great sword with a crosspiece laid with uncut jewels; it looked too long and heavy for anyone human to wield.


A recommendation from Bookstooge, I read Patricia McKillip’s In the Forests of Serre back in July 2020. Her lyrical prose and layered world-building really impressed me and I determined to explore more of her writing. It has only taken me two years to get around to it.

I’m currently about a third of the way into Alphabet of Thorn and I really like it so far. I feel transported to another world when I read this book, and that’s one of the main reasons I love reading works described as “speculative fiction.”

Q. What are you currently reading and how is it so far?


Thanks for reading!

-Wakizashi, *wallowing in the rare luxury of being able to read all day at work; just for today*

Midnight Diner is Food for the SOUL!

I’ve recently got hooked on a hidden gem of a TV series. It’s a Japanese slice of life drama called ‘Shinya Shokudo’ which translates as Midnight Diner. It started in 2009 and five seasons have been made so far, with Seasons 4 and 5 having a slightly different title: Midnight Diner: Tokyo Stories. These recent seasons were produced by Netflix and this is where you can find the show. But be careful because it’s easy to start watching from Season 4 and completely miss the first three seasons.

“Master” played by Kaoru Kobayashi

Midnight Diner is about a tiny Japanese restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo that is open from midnight to 7 a.m. It’s run by a man who everyone calls “Master”. He has a very limited menu with only one dish, a kind of pork stew, and three drinks: beer, sake and shochu. But he will prepare any dish the customer requests, so long as he has the ingredients. The customers order the kinds of dishes that you don’t usually get at a typical Japanese restaurant. They are often comfort foods more commonly prepared at home. Each dish has a special meaning to the customer and we usually learn the customer’s story during the episode.

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Tokyo Godfathers (2003) Directed by Satoshi Kon

I watched this Japanese animated movie last night and really enjoyed it. I was looking for a “Christmas movie” to watch and chose this because it takes place over Christmas and New Year. It was directed by Satoshi Kon, who is probably better known for his 1997 animated psychological thriller Perfect Blue. He also made Paprika (2006), another memorable animated movie that some say Christopher Nolan “borrowed” from for Inception (2008). I recommend them both. In researching the film, I learned that Satoshi Kon died of pancreatic cancer in 2010. He was only 46 years old.

Tokyo Godfathers tells the story of three homeless people and their experiences after finding an abandoned baby during one cold winter in Tokyo. Gin (pron. with a hard “g”) is a middle-aged man who has had problems with gambling in the past. Haru is a gay man who used to work in a Tokyo nightclub. Midori is a teenage girl who left home after fighting with her father. They exist as a kind of “pseudo-family” doing their best to survive on the streets of Tokyo. They are each believable characters who made me care about their stories.

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Fool Moon (2001) by Jim Butcher

“Better late than never,” or so they say. I’ve started reading The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher. The first book, Storm Front was a solid mystery thriller with magic, wizards, demons, and even giant scorpions. It didn’t blow my mind or anything, but I enjoyed reading it. It was an entertaining story with a couple of well-realized characters, plus some gruesome deaths. It was also a nicely manageable 322 pages long. This is my review of the second book in the long-running series: Fool Moon.

Cover by Lee MacLeod

Publisher’s Synopsis:

“Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or Other Entertainment.

Business has been slow. Okay, business has been dead. And not even of the undead variety. You would think Chicago would have a little more action for the only professional wizard in the phone book. But lately, Harry Dresden hasn’t been able to dredge up any kind of work–magical or mundane.

But just when it looks like he can’t afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise.

A brutally mutilated corpse. Strange-looking paw prints. A full moon. Take three guesses–and the first two don’t count…”


My Thoughts

Fool Moon was a very entertaining read and I enjoyed it more than the first Dresden Files book Storm Front; partly because the setting and world-building felt more assured here. The main reason I enjoyed it so much was the way Butcher wrote about werewolves. These creatures are not to be trifled with. You get a real sense of their deadly and frightening power in this book. I think Butcher enjoyed himself exploring werewolf lore and penning some truly uncomfortable and thrilling scenes with the creatures.

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Dorohedoro, Vol.1 (2002) by Q. Hayashida

“There’s some nutjob sorcerer out there turning people into bugs. I just saw a couple of victims. Crude stuff. This guy’s a total amateur.”

Publisher’s Synopsis

“In a city so dismal it’s known only as “the Hole,” a clan of Sorcerers have been plucking people off the streets to use as guinea pigs for atrocious “experiments” in the black arts. In a dark alley, Nikaido found Caiman, a man with a reptile head and a bad case of amnesia. To undo the spell, they’re hunting and killing the Sorcerers in the Hole, hoping that eventually they’ll kill the right one. But when En, the head Sorcerer, gets word of a lizard-man slaughtering his people, he sends a crew of “cleaners” into the Hole, igniting a war between two worlds.”

-VIZ Media

My Thoughts

I discovered this manga after watching the anime series released in 2020. That series caught my eye with its colourful, almost psychedelic style, and the weird and cool character designs. It stood out from a lot of the popular anime streaming at the time. Halfway through watching the anime, I ordered an English copy of the first volume of the Dorohedoro manga. There are 23 volumes in total.

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“No Way Back” (2006) by Chi Hui

Listen to this review

English Translation by John Chu (2020)

(Read in Clarkesworld Magazine #171, December 2020. Link to the story.)


“When I’m online, Aksha keeps me company. Anyone who says cats can’t go online is an idiot. Twenty years ago, people said humanity couldn’t go to Mars. Ten years ago, people solemnly swore that there was no way to connect a human mind to the network. Five years ago, people said that cats and dogs couldn’t speak.”

My Thoughts

Xuejiao is a “Master Hacker”. She lives in a small apartment with a cat called Aksha. The cat joins Xuejiao online as backup guarding her against “government surveillance programs.” Master Hackers dive into the Net, searching for “ancient abysses” to “excavate data from and turn them into cash.” The author likens it to “spelunking” and makes it clear there are dangers involved in the process:

“Some abysses absolutely must not be tested. Hiding there are vast existences beyond our comprehension. All the jackholes who go there are drawn into a vortex of data, forever gone. They leave behind stiff bodies, lying comatose in hospital ICUs.” 

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The Best Introduction to the Mountains (2001) by Gene Wolfe

I want to share this fascinating essay on J.R.R. Tolkien by the American writer Gene Wolfe. I am a fan of both writers and I think that this is one of the best essays about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings I’ve ever read. I will post selected highlights from Wolfe’s essay, but I wholeheartedly recommend that you read the whole essay. There is a link to the essay at the end of this post. I hope you enjoy it and I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Wolfe wrote about Tolkien’s most famous books.


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In the Forests of Serre (2004) by Patricia McKillip

Beware of old women in the forest; especially if they live in a hut that can sprout chicken legs and run! I first came across Baba Yaga in an issue of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comic. The story was titled “The Hunt” and was published in issue #38 back in June 1992. She wasn’t as scary as when I later encountered her in a couple of issues of the comic book Hellboy.

Here is a quote from Wikipedia’s page on the character:

‘In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural being who appears as a deformed or ferocious-looking old woman. In Russian folklore, Baba Yaga flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells deep in the forest in a hut usually described as standing on chicken legs.’

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Europe at Dawn (2018) by Dave Hutchinson

‘Pete looked around him at the river, the wooded banks. He realised he didn’t know this stretch of water at all. […] “GPS has gone down,” he said.
Hannelore just grinned and shook her head. “Nah, it’s okay, Captain,” she said. “I know the way. I’ll show you.”‘

europe at dawn

Synopsis

In Tallinn, Alice – a junior Scottish diplomat – is drawn into an incomprehensible plot spanning decades. In the Aegean, young refugee Benno makes a desperate break for freedom and finds himself in a strange new life.

On the canals of England, a fleet of narrow boats is gathering. Rudi, now a seasoned Coureur, finds himself drawn away from the kitchen one last time as he sets out with his ally Rupert in pursuit of a dead man.


My Thoughts

This book is the fourth and–probably–final entry in Dave Hutchinson’s “Fractured Europe” series. It’s difficult to write a summary of the novel because there is so much going on in here. As this book is the fourth in a series, it features characters and plot threads from each of the previous books as well as some new characters. Therefore, if you are new to this series, do not start here. Continue reading