Saturday 9 January 2010

Santa's Sack and the Speculative Scotsman

Is it safe to say it yet?

Is it ever truly safe, one wonders...

But to hell with safety - I'll risk a visit from the dreaded Santa man and his wicked band of elves. Step back, now: I'm going call it.

Christmas is... over!

It must be, surely; for one thing, I'm still alive, not to mention that the other half and I have taken down the festive decorations and resigned all the uneaten stocking treats to the recycling. The halls - we have two - no longer ring out with the same twenty Christmas songs playing on some horrific infinite shuffle.

That's quite enough grinching. It's been a hectic time, but then, it always is, and that's half the fun of it. Every day a new experience, or a familiar one from your youth or your adolescence, experienced anew. For one, I had a great time, and I hope you did too, reader, but I don't doubt we're all glad it's over. At least till next year.

In between all the last minute gift giving and the exhausting rotation of visits to friends and relatives, however, this past Christmas has also been a particularly productive one. After all of a week's worth of thinking, and latterly even a bit of planning, The Speculative Scotsman finally launched.

I've been meaning to chime in with the blogosphere for some time now, and the community surrounding speculative fiction in all its forms is nearly unrivalled across all the highways and byways of the internet, where there's a forum for every last ridiculous thing you can imagine and at least one daft fan to fill its pages. TSS aspires to greater things, of course. It need not be your one-stop shop for every sliver of knowledge and commentary about all your particular interests, but it will be reliable, it will be informative, and it will, I hope, be above all else entertaining.

So. With Christmas officially in the can for another twelve months, now that I've got time to think, I thought - I did - that it might be time to go through a select few of the more thoughtful gifts given to The Speculative Scotsman on the day of the baby Jesus.

The haul began with a pair of books my significantly prettier other half had spent weeks thinking about, one I'd hardly heard of and another that I'd seen a few times and thought little more about. The first, Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, has to be among the most original gifts I've received in my entire adult life. Grungy, fast-paced steampunk hasn't been my thing in the past, yet I devoured Boneshaker in a period not exceeding 48 hours - a rarity for a notoriously slow reader such as myself. It wasn't, perhaps, the best novel I've ever read, but I can hardly stress how much fun it was.

You'll be seeing a review of the first part of Cherie Priest's The Clockwork Century cycle later in the week, and shortly after that, there should be an article - certainly a Quick Book, if not something more substantial - about the other literary gift the girlfriend gave me: The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, author of The Shadow of the Wind, which I enjoyed an unrighteous amount.

Thus far, this second novel has been an excellent read, although I'm a little worried that I can already see the shock ending coming. Perhaps I should have a little more faith; it's the right time of year for it, after all. I seem to recall Pat from the Fantasy Hotlist rather admiring it, and his is a straightforward opinion I value highly. Here's hoping, then, that there's more to The Angel's Game than a predictable twist...

This past month, winter has slipped its malicious fingers into just about every aspect of life here in the UK. There's sheet ice on the smaller roads, and the government's reserves of salt and grit are already spread so thinly that they can only afford to cover the main thoroughfares. Unreliable at the best of times, it's no surprise that the post has been something of a headache, but yesterday, a cautious mailman finally arrived with the two Guy Gavriel Kay books I'd ordered directly after reading Tigana and loving it so much.

I've heard so much about Ysabel that my first impulse was to dig into that World Fantasy Award-winner immediately, although the lovely Deborah - webmaster of Bright Weavings, Guy Gavriel Kay's official internet presence - advises, somewhat mysteriously, that I resist until I've read through The Fionavar Tapestry. I'll defer to her greater experience, and not just because it gives me an excuse to buy some more of Kay's back-catalogue.

Thusly, A Song For Arbonne should shortly follow The Angel's Game on The Speculative Scotsman's literary hit-list. Needless to say, I have great expectations.

A couple of other festive gifts to myself are still winging their belated way to my frozen little village. A great offer on Amazon and enough recommendations to fill my Christmas stocking several times over meant that I finally gave in and bought Joe Abercrombie's Best Served Cold, despite all the featured two-star reviews. I'm still skeptical - The First Law trilogy left me rather nonplussed, I'm afraid to say - but it made enough year-end lists that I couldn't ignore the pretty hardback any longer.

Finally, Stephen King's favourite book of 2009: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. You can read the rest of his recommendations here on Entertainment Weekly's web-presence, but the thought of a good ghost story already has me in anticipatory goosebumps.

Quite the literary haul, if I may say so. Certainly there'll be mention of several of these pieces of speculative fiction on the site in the coming weeks and months. For now, however, let's rest easy that the Santa man has returned to his conspicuous Arctic hideout, sated by the blood of children everywhere.

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