August 12, 2007 to August 18, 2007
Two descriptive paragraphs from Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere:
The Fop With No Name looked somewhat like an early eighteenth-century rake, one who hadn't been able to find real rake clothes and had had to make do with what he could find at the Salvation Army store. His face was powdered to white, his lips painted red. Ruislip, the Fop's opponent, resembled a bad dream one might have if one fell asleep watching sumo wrestling on the television with a Bob Marley record playing in the background. He was a huge Rastafarian who looked like nothing so much as an obese and enormous baby.
They were standing face to face, in the middle of a cleared circle of spectators and other bodyguards and sightseers. Neither man moved a muscle. The Fop was a good head taller than Ruislip. On the other hand, Ruislip looked as if he weighed as much as four fops, each of them carrying a large leather suitcase entirely filled with lard. They stared at each other, without breaking eye contact.
I love that. An economy of of description that gives you all you need to know before the action begins. I enjoyed the book, but it's those two paragraphs that will have me reading more Gaiman.
Even though I'd heard many good things about Neil Gaiman I'd stayed away from him thinking he was too much in the fantasy genre. A genre I've never had much luck with. But I was at the library looking for something else when I came across his name. What the hell, it's the library, it's free. Neverwhere was the only one of his they had on the shelves and I polished it off in an evening. As much as I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, Gaiman's take on an otherworld London made me wonder what he could have done with a school of teenage wizards and He Who Must Not Be Named. I think it might have been a richer story, though not one beloved by prepubescent readers making the author richer than the Queen of England.
Also occurred to me that many people must dislike London. Or maybe there's some other reason why so many books put forth alternative societies. By many I mean the five I'm aware of. I hope there's more, else my theory is weak.
The five I've read.
Harry Potter, JK Rowling. Magical folk live next to, amongst, and hidden from nonmagical folk. While magical abilities can be trained and enhanced, magic is created by some sort of genetic mutation. Without it, there appears no way that a nonmagical person can perform magic.
Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman. Richard, after helping a mysterious girl who can speak to pigeons and rats, finds his normal life falling apart. He then journeys down a particulary wicked rabbit hole to reveal an entire society living under London. Some are runaways and homeless who've drifted away and are no longer visible to London Above. Others are Barons, Counts, monks, hunters, and monsters; some of whom are centuries old. And there's a real angel. Can Richard survive and regain his former life?
Roofworld, Christopher Fowler. Odd gangs live and battle high above London. They've been there for decades traveling across roof tops with the aid of wire ziplines. Probably wouldn't be possible today with all the security cameras. Interesting story that bogs down with some unnecessary mysticism.
The Borribles, Michael de Larrabeiti. Borribles are runaway children hiding out in London. Somehow they transform and never grow big. They look just like normal children, except their ears get pointy. I read the first one back in the early eighties, and the full series of three books was rereleased a couple years ago. Entertaining books marketed towards the teen market.
Homeward Bounders, Diana Wynne Jones. Just found out she's also the author of Howl's Moving Castle, which I thought was a horrible movie. At least the last third--made no sense what so ever. Homeward Bounders finds two English children expelled from their world. They learn to travel between different worlds by means of the Bounds as they try to find their way home. A few mythological characters show up as the children learn they're just pieces in a game played by immortals.