Archive for the Junior fiction Category

The loveliness of little things

Posted in Fantasy, Junior fiction, Middle fiction, Movies with tags , on July 31, 2011 by Cara Marie

Saw Arrietty at the film festival, which I enjoyed a lot – much more than Ponyo, which was a bit weird for my liking. Arrietty is a lovely film, all the stronger for its simplicity. I especially loved the sense of scale – the threatening immensity of the kitchen, the way a single garden became a scenic view. The way the tea poured from the kettle, drop by fat drop. The borrowers might be the fantasy element, but it it the transformation of the mundane that is really wondrous.

Just a pity that my four-year-old niece couldn’t enjoy it so much. I am as much for subtitles as the next film geek who has her glasses on, but I don’t really think it’s fair to show a family film that the preliterate members of the family can’t watch.

Movie night write-up

Posted in Fantasy, Horror, Junior fiction, Movies, Science fiction with tags , , , , on December 21, 2010 by Cara Marie

We started off with Serenity, because L’s family have bought a new tv and he wants to show off his blu-rays. It was a positive start to the evening. My favourite moment is still Mal railing against the idea that you can “make people better”. Probably because that was such a theme in the sci-fi I read as a kid: that your society would constrict you and guide you to be how it wanted, and to prevent that is something worth dying for.

Okay, so the results of the Miranda experiment are a little more fatal than those in the books I’m thinking of, but they stem from the same desire.

While I am speaking of abominations, we followed up Serenity with Transformers. People who watched this as a child think of it with a fondness I cannot understand. They also rave about the soundtrack. Which I suppose was okay, but really, as far as I can tell the movie was simply an excuse to kill all the old Transformers and replace them with new ones. It is action scene after action scene, and it is utterly boring.

It is no wonder L has no respect for the personhood of robots, having grown up on this. He did comment that you would never see this kind of violence in a kids’ movie about people.

The Descent, on the other hand, I liked a lot. Horror movies often don’t do much to freak me out: it turns out what you do is stick in some spelunking and scenes that hit my fear of heights and I’m ready to jump. This wasn’t true for everyone.

It was kind of sad that this was a horror movie, because (though the horror is signposted) the first half is very much an adventure, focusing on the six women, their physical strength, competence and determination. The women think they’re exploring one cave system, but the leader, Juno, has taken them to another, unmapped and unnamed. So when a tunnel caves in behind them, they don’t know if there’s any way out. I would have been quite happy if it had stayed an adventure story; I enjoyed it as a horror, but it didn’t feel as fresh.

Juno, the one who got them into trouble, is my favourite character, because she’s so recklessly ambitious.* She hasn’t told them where they’re going, and their rescue plan has been filed for the wrong location, but they are experienced and prepared. Even with the cave in, the accidents, there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t have got out alive except for spoilers!

Not quite a haunted house, but still out to get you

Posted in Books, Comics, Fantasy, Horror, Junior fiction, Middle fiction, Movies, Science fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2009 by Cara Marie

I was going to write review of all the urban fantasy I’ve been reading this month, but when I started I got distracted by sentient buildings. Buildings that are always changing; buildings that want to trick you, want to test you. Buildings with a mind of their own.

Tanya Huff’s Wizard of the Grove was a formative instance of this for me, as it was for so much else in the sf genre. It’s what appealed to me so much in The Secret Garden: the idea of a house so large it can actually hold secrets. It probably dates back to The Labyrinth for me, to the geography of a place that wants to trick you, a place that is always changing, that has a mind of its own. You go into the house, maybe, or you go underground. Did the underworld Persephone wandered through change around her? Would the pomegranate tree be there for anyone else?

I was thinking about this as I finished Michelle Sagara’s Cast in Courtlight (late) last night. Our hero Kaylin is called to the Barrani courts, where the building predates any civilisation still extant. The buildings the Barrani lords make their homes in have an inconstant geography, as we saw in the first book of this series, but Courtlight goes further with it.

We see the ways in which Barrani life is inseparable from these buildings, the ways in which they test themselves against the buildings, against the intelligence behind the buildings themselves. It is not necessarily a friendly one, and indeed there is a dark secret behind the tests the Barrani take. This is what kept me gripped through the long hours of the night.

Further instances of buildings that like to keep you on your toes:

  • The house in Flora Segunda, Crackpot Hall. Which is also a boy, if it wants. The main reason I fell so badly for this book was the house – when oh when will Flora’s Dare come out in paperback so I can at last buy a copy?
  • Probably the best known, Hogwarts. What with the Room of Requirement, the near bountiless potential for exploration… The Philosopher’s Stone is probably the most literal example of the test, but the geography of Hogwarts forms a key element in later books as well.
  • Tanya Huff’s The Better Part of Valor. In this one, instead of a building we have ‘Big Yellow’, a mysterious spaceship with rooms that shape themselves to the memories of those who come inside, which tests them, and which seems to have its own intelligence. To explain any further would be a spoiler for later books, but it’s pretty awesome!
  • The Tanya Huff book that started it all for me, Wizard of the Grove. Which was written as two books. In the second one, Crystal and her companions venture into the lair of a long dead wizard; but wizards love games, and time has not dulled its danger. Crystal has to pull some serious badass-ery to get them out of this, and personally, I think I’d rather the a less malevolent building.
  • Chilblain Hall, the home of Glister in Andi Watson’s comics for young girls. Chilblain Hall is always changing, always presenting Glister with something new and exciting, and, as we see in The House Hunt, it is a house that can get in a huff. The nicest house of the lot.
  • In Tanith Lee’s Claidi books, there are many large houses, and many secrets. That of Wolf Star Rise fits best in this category: the rooms physically, palpably move round. It’s less old magic and more steampunk. This was my favourite of the Claidi books: the Rise is probably why.
  • The icon for this post is particularly relevant, as it’s taken from the Gormenghast miniseries. The rooms of Gormenghast might not move around, but castle is big enough that you could never know it all – and it definitely has a presence of its own.
  • And for movies, what else was The Cube? Probably the closest of the books in terms of the nastiness of the tests is Wizard of the Grove, but unlike any of these books, The Cube is definitely horror. The tests aren’t really to be overcome; you are pitted against your companions as much as against yourself. It is probably all a ginormous metaphor.

Buildings always change in dreams. A favourite of mine was when my brain took this to its logical conclusion and assumed I must be in some kind of alien construction where the house was out to get me; it didn’t want me there, and it changed its best to kill my group off. Sarah’s Labyrinth may not be real – its her own inner landscape she pits herself against, perhaps. The logic of these houses may be very much like dream logic; you cannot approach them rationally. You have to trust to your own wits and instincts that you can take what the building throws at you, that you can navigate through and not be forever lost. And if you stay still, you lose.

Snake and Lizard – Joy Cowley and Gavin Bishop

Posted in Books, Junior fiction, Short stories with tags , on July 7, 2007 by Cara Marie

This is so cute! Gecko Press do such wonderful productions, very high quality. Probably the stories themselves didn’t matter so much to my enjoyment – but Gavin Bishop’s art, and the whole presentation – just awesome.

They’re little fablelike stories, of the friendship between Snake and Lizard (who are utterly completely adorable) and how they get along despite their differences. Why, for example, if snakes and lizards go on picnics together they should each bring their own food. I liked the picture where Snake was bumped like a string of beads from the eggs she’d eaten.

It is a bit odd when you read picture books by New Zealanders that blatantly cannot be set in New Zealand – this is a new edition of a book only published previously in the states. A far superior edition, I am told. The production really complements the art.