The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynne Jones – Presented as a guide and encyclopedia to a generic fantasy world, this book parodies the clichés used in mass-produced fantasy. Topics covered include how to know which characters are good and which are evil, how stallions are so common when you pretty much never see a mare, and the mystery of where people get leather and beef without any cows being in evidence. Of course, clichés are kind of a doubled-edged sword (which is probably a cliché in itself). People want to see certain archetypes, or they probably wouldn’t be reading fantasy (or whatever genre they happen to be reading). I guess the trick is not to totally avoid clichés, but to use them in new ways, and avoid common mistakes. As such, I can see this book being handy as an actual guide to writing fantasy, even if it might not have been intended in that way. I have to say that, for my part, I always list fantasy as my favorite genre, but I don’t read much of the sword-and-sorcery stuff. I enjoy some of it, sure, but I’m really more into comedic and children’s/young adult fantasy, both of which often seem to circumvent the clichés pretty well. Maybe when you’re pretty much required to tone down the graphic sex and violence, you have to turn your attention to other matters, hence less generic stories. I don’t want to pretend what I enjoy is representative of an entire sub-genre, however.
The Sprouts of Wrath, by Robert Rankin – A rather timely read, as the Olympics really are going to be held in London this year. I don’t think there’s been any talk of the games taking place in a stadium suspended over Brentford by way of anti-gravity material, has there? If so, we might need to worry. That’s the main plot this time, with an evil being behind a scheme to destroy mankind with help from this magical stadium. In addition to Jim Pooley, John Omally, Professor Slocombe, and the other regulars of the Brentford Trilogy, we’re also introduced to Hugo Rune and Inspectre Sherringford Hovis. In fact, I think this is actually the first book in which these characters appear, although they’d both go on to increased roles in Rankin’s later works. The title doesn’t have a whole lot to do with what actually goes in the story, but does reflect Rankin’s seeming obsession with sprouts, which would become even more evident with the character of Barry the Time Sprout in the Armageddon Trilogy.