It’s been a long while since I read much fantasy or science fiction. Bad attitude is mainly to blame. But this week I’ve developed a serious craving to renew my familiarity with the Dark Arts. Ordered a stack of novels online, mainly classics that I missed the first time around (not having been born yet).

While waiting for them to arrive, I finished organizing my existing collection. It had been in storage for a few years. When I moved into this house I got it out and put it on shelves, but higgledy-piggledy. So now it’s more or less alphabetized.

Aside: I gave away a lot of books last year. Terrible idea. Never give away books! Kept a lot, though. Kept the Philip Dick, the Sheri Tepper, the Neil Gaiman and Tim Powers (Powers is the best of the lot), the Silverberg and Spinrad and Ellison, the Poul Anderson and Ray Bradbury, even some old Roger Zelazny. Lots of good and fairly good stuff.

So yesterday I tackled Charles de Lint’s Trader, which I guess I bought new eight or ten years ago and had never cracked open. I have vague memories of another book of his that I read at some point, probably Memory & Dream, so Trader is not unfamiliar territory. It’s a fine book in some respects, annoying in others.

Some of the annoyance is undoubtedly due to my issues, not his. De Lint is a fine writer. Quite possibly the reason I had to keep putting the book down, over and over, after reading only a few pages, was because I actually cared about the characters and was therefore worried that something awful was going to happen to them. Or maybe it was just because they’re all so full of tediously profound insights and Meaningful Confusions About Life.

For that and other reasons, Trader is slow-moving. De Lint’s characters are mostly what I would call glamorous Bohemians — artists who dress scruffy but have brilliant inner lives, frequently involving acoustic folk music. In this book, anyway (I plan to read more of his books, but perhaps not immediately) the characters are curiously passive, so the plot unfolds at glacial speed. When, after 300 pages, two of the women find themselves lost in the Spirit World, they have no clue what to do other than blunder around and get in trouble — so a good shaman finds them and helps them.

It all ends happily, of course. No less than three couples, estranged for the bulk of the book, are happily snuggling at the end. (That is, each of the couples is snuggling.) The hero has Learned A Valuable Lesson, as have three or four other people.

Last night I watched the movie version of Eragon. I may read the book now — not sure. Good story, but packed with stock fantasy cliches. The humble and virtuous farm boy becomes a great hero. The beautiful princess is imprisoned and tortured by the evil wizard. The evil king’s brutal soldiers terrorize the humble and virtuous peasants. Trader is cut from a much finer piece of cloth. But on balance, I can’t help thinking an evil wizard or a dragon’s egg would have put some lead in its pencil.

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