This awesomely bad novel, chosen by [personal profile] tool_of_satan, is the first book I'm reading in my two-day read-a-thon. It's not too late to sponsor me, by the way!

Before I say anything at all about Walpurgis III, I have to direct your attention to the cover, which features 1) a hilarious Satanic person with two seals of Solomon on his person, wearing a classically pointy Evil Overlord outfit, 2) a woman balancing a curvy thing on her head, 3) a spaceship landing pad, 4) a man in an orange cape with a shark fin on his head, firing a ray gun, 5) the Pope.

View the cover in all it's glory!

The novel lives up (or down) to the cover, and confirms Rachel's Law of Fictional Satanism: No serious novel containing Satanists has ever been good. (Good Omens is not serious.)

Conrad Bland is the most evil overlord who has ever eviled, eviling his way across the galaxy and killing millions and millions of people. Because he's evil. When he holes up on the obscure backwater Satanist planet Walpurgis III, the galactic government hires Jericho, the galaxy's best assassin, to take him out.

What makes this book especially... special... is that Resnick seems torn between seeing it as a ridiculous pulp thriller and a Very Serious Work tacking Very Important questions about the nature of evil. The problem here is twofold: 1) "What is the moral difference between a hit man and Hitler?" is not actually a very profound question; 2) These questions are being asked in the context of Planet of the Satanists.

The chapters are headed by quotes from Conrad Bland. Here's my two favorites:

There is a difference between refusing a helping hand and dismembering it. I would never refuse one.

If blood were green, then green would be my favorite color.

Meanwhile, the Planet of the Satanists gives Resnick excellent opportunities to drop constant and absurd references to random Satanic things, and also to display his lack of research. I note for his benefit that "voodoo," "witchcraft," and Hinduism are not forms of Satanism, nor related to Satanism in any way; the Goddess Kali is not spelled "Cali," and again, is not related to Satanism; and turnips are not heavily laden with religious symbolism in any religion that I'm aware of, though maybe their use in the Black Mass was supposed to be a joke.

The Planet of the Satanists is pretty entertaining reading, it's so hilariously over the top. Then we meet the Evil Overlord, and it gets pretty gross and much less fun. I know that all sorts of horrendous things go on in real life, but in fiction, it's very hard to suspend one's disbelief in the success of an Evil Overlord who kills his own minions constantly and at random.

There's an attempt toward the end at another Very Profound Question - "Is a cop who turns in criminals to be legally executed the moral equivalent of a hit man and a mass murderer?"

It took me approximately one nano-second of Profound Thought to answer, "No."
Spilled entire (hot) cup of coffee over bed, incidentally burning right foot. OW. Luckily, was dressed at time. Taking break to do laundry.
Sponsored by [personal profile] coyotegoth.

This is technically a re-read, though I last read it at least ten years ago. I recall liking it, but I think more the second time.

This children's book reminds me a lot of Charlotte's Web: the beautiful language, the close observation of a rural America long-gone, and the gentle but ruthless acceptance that life includes death. Though the setting and culture is completely different, the themes and the perfectly observed fleeting emotions and moments in time also remind me of Banana Yoshimoto.

Ten-year-old Winnie accidentally learns the secret of the traveling Tuck family, who have become immortal after drinking from a spring in the middle of the woods that her strait-laced family owns, but never ventures into. They take her away to try to persuade her not to reveal the secret of the spring, and complications begin to snowball: a mysterious man tries to take advantage of the situation, and the perpetually teenage son suggests that Winnie wait till she's his age and then drink from the spring herself.

This deceptively simple story has not a sentence wasted, weaving seemingly tossed-off metaphors and coherent patterns of imagery masquerading as local color into a completely unified whole. What seems like a pretty metaphor at the very beginning, comparing the turn of the seasons to a Ferris wheel, echoes Mr. Tuck's later point that the Tucks have stepped off the wheel of life. And a toad that Winnie keeps seeing becomes the key to the perfectly bittersweet ending.

Tuck Everlasting doesn't flinch from the sorrow of death or fail to celebrate the sweetness of life, nor does it downpedal either the benefits or the drawbacks of immortality. It's a very short book with a lot of complexity and depth - a classic for a reason.

Tuck Everlasting
Sponsored by [personal profile] gwyneira.

A completely adorable children's science-fantasy set on an Africa-derived planet in which Earth is a legend and most of the technology is biological. I am a complete sucker for biotech, not to mention science-fantasy, and the extravagant invention and playfulness of the world gives the novel enormous charm.

All the best books about plants are written by northeasterners, be they about pruning your office building or growing and maintaining the perfect personal computer from CPU seed to adult PC.

Zahrah Tsami is born with dadalocks - dreadlocks with vines growing in them. This marks her as potential trouble in her conformist culture, so she grows up quiet and shy, keeping her head down and trying to ignore the teasing from other kids. She gains the ability to levitate with menarche, but since she's afraid of heights she's reluctant to explore it.

But her best friend, the young radical Dari, persuades her to venture with him into the Forbidden Greeny Jungle, where he can explore and she can, maybe, learn to fly. He promptly gets bitten by a deadly snake, and the only antidote is the egg of the scariest creature in the very scary scary jungle... into which Zahrah ventures, armed only with a grumpy compass, a malfunctioning digi-book, and a talent she's afraid to use.

Though the prose is overly simplistic and sometimes clunky, the setting is so great, and the tone is so sweet and playful, that I read this with a huge smile on my face. It's also one of the few American children's fantasy novels with an African (ish) heroine, written by an African-American author, AND with a black girl on the cover, so it could probably use some support. If you know any little girls (or boys) who liked Coraline, they would probably like this.

Zahrah the Windseeker
Sponsored by [profile] fadethecat.

This is another re-read after many years, and another one which holds up. I'm not surprised that I loved it as a kid, nor that I love it now, as it has so many elements that I like: a detailed and atmospheric setting, heroism and tragedy, science fiction, society-building, an ordinary heroine discovering her own courage... and rats.

Recently-widowed field mouse Mrs. Frisby is raising her children in an abandoned cinder block in a farmer's garden. Through a sequence of events too complicated to detail, she ends up having to ask the mysterious rats living under the rose bush for help, and finds that they are escaped experimental super-intelligent lab rats building a secret rat society... and that not only is she connected to them in a way she didn't know about, but she is just as essential to their survival as they are to her son's.

A great concept beautifully executed, complete with an unusual structure in which the story of the rats' origin takes up about a third of the story. There's some weird unexamined sexism (the experimental rats are first stated to include some females, but the only superintelligent rats we ever meet are males) but Mrs. Frisby is a good example of a US-traditionally feminine character (a mom) who is quite genuinely heroic. I liked her, I liked the melancholy touches and the unknown hero of the climax, the rats' Plan is more pragmatic and less knee-jerk Luddite than I had recalled, and the rodent-eye-view is beautifully done.

There are sequels by O'Brien's daughter; I never read them because I like preserving the ambiguity of the ending.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
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