Friday, November 21, 2008

The round-up

Light reading very miscellaneous lately.

Some crime fiction: Linwood Barclay's No Time for Goodbye, which I liked quite a bit (but now I feel duped, why did I buy it in hardcover when it is already in mass-market paperback?!?); Elizabeth George's wonderfully trashy (it is a more compelling read than her last few, I think) Careless in Red and Stephen Booth's slightly lackluster Scared to Live (good, but not up to the standard of the first books in the series), both on loan from office crime maven M.; Rosemary Kirstein's Steerswoman books, a very good recommendation from the brilliant and likeable Jo Walton who has been on a delightful rampage of recommending at the Tor blog.

Most delightful by far: Joan Aiken's The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories, recently (re)published by Small Beer Press. Everyone should get a copy of this and read it!

I have been an utter Aiken fiend for almost as long as I can remember. In third grade, I devoured the Wolves of Willoughby Chase books (but really Black Hearts in Battersea is by far the best of that series - in fact, come to think of it, it might be partly to credit for the fact that it was later my heart's desire to play the oboe and later yet to study the eighteenth century and have a lot to say in adult life about Jacobites and counterfactual history!); around the same age, I had a volume of her children's stories that included a number of the Armitage ones (hmmm, the volume that I actually owned was this; I think I must have had all the other ones repeatedly from the library, though).

And not much later I was beating a well-worn path along the carpet at the public library to the A's in order to get her adult novels - they are for the most part rather trashier and a bit less strikingly imaginative than her writing for children, but they have that magical and compelling quality that makes someone like me read them about twenty times each - I think my favorites were A Cluster of Separate Sparks and Last Movement, but I have certainly reread almost all of them many a time...

The short story really was the form in which Aiken's genius most clearly shows, though. Here's a list that looks pretty complete ("The Rented Swan" is possibly my favorite story of romance ever, unfortunately it has been taken down from the Strange Horizons archive, but this is a story that everyone should read!) - oh, I must have had my own copy of A Small Pinch of Weather also, that is the one that has all the stories I particularly remember from childhood.

"Smoke from Cromwell's Time" is an absurdly and strikingly good tale, and a number of these Armitage stories are absolutely divinely good - "The Land of Trees and Heroes," "Harriet's Hairloom, "The Stolen Quince Tree" and "The Apple of Trouble" made indelible impressions on me as a child, and the title story "The Serial Garden" has really haunted me every since I first read it. Genuinely uncanny and wonderful stories....


  1. Oh yes! A collection of Armitage stories is exactly what has been missing in my life. Chasing down Aiken's short story collections sometimes feels exactly like the Serial Garden.

  2. I too was a devotee of Aiken's as a child (Dido Twite!), but I haven't pursued her work (much) as a grown-up, and I've never seen the Armitage stories. And I love it that you can see back to your future. Thanks.

  3. Looks like I've been missing out, time to play catch up. Where should I start?

    Logan Lamech

  4. I am going to order this one straight away. Have you read Aitken's book on writing for children? It's a little bit dated but as good as anything else I've ever found on teaching the subject and quite a joy to read.

  5. I am glad to find so many fellow Aikenites!

    I have not read her book on writing for children - MUST get it, clearly....

    Dido Twite is possibly the best name in all of literature!