I thought I’d write a bit about some media I’ve been consuming lately… starting with books (not a lot of spoilers ahead, but I do mention major plot points). Other media to follow.
The Scholomance series (A Deadly Education, The Last Graduate, The Golden Enclaves), by Naomi Novik: this is a story about a school for magical children: children who will grow to become witches and wizards. I know that sounds familiar, but the world of this series is very different from that other one. These young children live in a very dangerous magical world, full of malevolent creatures who survive on the life energy of others, and young, untrained magical children are easy and very “nutritious” targets – which is why they are sent to a school that is as isolated from the world as it could possibly be. There are no teachers, no adults in charge, no holidays at home, no letters in or out… and even then the survival rate of the students is not great. Oh, and using magic requires energy, which needs to come from somewhere, and this simple constraint makes a big difference. I loved these books for the world building: it all seems very realistic, which is a weird thing to say about a world of witches, wizards, evil creatures and a school suspended in the void. And if you think this story seems dark… it is so much darker.
The Thursday Murder Club series (The Thursday Murder Club, The Man Who Died Twice, The Bullet That Missed), by Richard Osman: a few residents of a rural retirement village meet once a week to talk about and investigate old police cases that were never solved, so they’re ready to jump into action when a murder happens right at their doorstep. This is the story of the first book in the series, and throughout the investigation we get to learn more and more about our characters, the residents of the retirement village, and about the lives they lived before then. These books are all murder misteries, but the appeal for me was in the character development, their relationships and the fact that they have to deal with concerns of old age: losing friends and lovers, the slow decay of body and mind… There’s a hint of sadness all throughout the stories, but overall these are delightful novels.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built, by Becky Chambers: a monk who has some worries about the meaning of life (in general, and his in particular) goes on a journey into the wildness and meets a robot who is trying to learn more about people. This is a sci-fi story set in a world where humans live in harmony with nature and don’t seem to have many problems, but our monk character is looking for the meaning and the purpose behind everything. I don’t really know how to describe this better, but if you’re read anything else by Becky Chambers you kind of know what to expect; this is a story that feels good - cozy sci-fi, let’s say - even if it doesn’t really have much of a traditional plot, with a start and an end (although, if anything, this is one the most “plotty” of her books). This novel is the first part of the Monk and Robot series; the second book is A Prayer for the Crown-Shy, but I haven’t read that one yet.
Stephen King novels, by, well, Stephen King: last year I embarked in a probably ill-advised project of reading (or, mostly, re-reading) all Stephen King novels and short-story collections in chronological order. There are a lot of them – my list has 75, and I’m not sure I have all the most recent ones. I’m only on number 5, at least in part because I’ve also been reading other stuff (see above). The ones I’ve already finished are Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining and Rage, and I’m most of the way through The Stand. I imagine most people are familiar at least to some degree with all these, except maybe Rage because this is the one about a school shooting incident and it doesn’t get a lot of publicity anymore (the other four are “girl with telekinesis”, “vampires”, “haunted hotel” and “pandemic”). I’ve been a fan of his writing for a long time, and I like his way of describing the world the characters live in with enough detail to make it seem real (the characters are sometimes a bit two-dimensional, but the world they live in is very 3D). Very recently, I found out about a podcast where two “cultural critics” are doing exactly the same thing, and talking about it as they go along. The podcast is Just King Things, and they’ve already got to Insomnia, which is number 33 in my list (but their 38th episode – they are covering more material, such as King’s non-fiction writing, which I don’t intend to read); I’ve started listening to the episodes about the books I’ve already finished, and will be following them as I continue (at this rate, I’ll be doing this for the next decade or so).