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Tanith Lee is an old, old favorite of mine. Sometimes I'm just in the mood for her particular blend of purple prose, fantasy, horror, dark humor, and touches of kink. And I'm not generally a fan of short stories, but this small collection is one to which I return again every year or two. Are these stories fair and worthwhile in their portrayals of the people of India? I don't know: all I can say is that there are both good people and bad in here, and they're well distributed among the nationalities mentioned.

The stories range from the horrific mystery "Bright Burning Tiger" through the sweetly whimsical short fantasy "Chand Veda" to the futuristic title story, in which science and religion intersect. Here's a quick rundown of all seven, with comments.

First Night: Foreign Skins - A young boy, son of a brutally intelligent and domineering British civil servant, embarks on a mystical quest to aid his Indian governess, who is more than she seems. Beautiful and moving - I always re-read this one.

Second Night: Bright Burning Tiger - When a skilled tiger hunter is found very messily dead, an academic researcher decides to investigate. This one is not to my taste. I think Lee was trying a little to hard to carry out her conceit, which is based on Blake's famous poem.

Third Night: Chand Veda - A lovely little story of how spur-of the-moment generous wish turns what could have been a loveless arranged marriage between two lonely people into a thing of beauty. My favorite, as you can guess.

Fourth Night: Under the Hand of Chance - A three-part riff on reincarnation, and the possibilities facing a single soul. This one is a cerebral pleasure for me - I like seeing how the parts interweave.

Fifth Night: The Ivory Merchants - A knowledge of reincarnation and the differences between the European Christian and traditional Indian Hindu cultures become weapons in an occult scheme for vengeance. Not my thing, but the intricacy of the plot is intriguing.

Sixth Night: Oh Shining Star - For my money, this is the scariest story in the book, and I'm sometimes compelled to re-read it. A beautiful girl, carefully chosen and trained to become a movie superstar, pays a higher price than she ever imagined for her fame. A dark fable about Bollywood, written before that term gained common use.

Seventh Night: Tamastara - What happens when souls become damaged during their millenia-long cycles of birth and re-birth? A research institute of the soul enables a young musician of the far future, crippled by mental illness, to travel back to the near future and possibly heal the psychic wound that torments her. Interesting and affecting.

I know, I know - I promised a write-up of Saiyuki Reload 7. The book has gone missing in one of several Sargassos of reading material around the house, and I want to have it in hand while I blog ...   :-(

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
bad_mushroom
Apr. 25th, 2007 02:32 am (UTC)
I've only read Lee's recent Piratica novels (which are incredibly silly and incredibly entertaining), but I've been meaning to get into her other work. Do you have any recommendations for what I should start with?
chomiji
Apr. 25th, 2007 02:44 am (UTC)

Wow, that was fast. I went to fix a coding error - and there you were!

I haven't read much of her recent stuff except for the first Piractica book, so my suggestions may be hard to find - but there's always abebooks.com and its kin.

Her classic series, for many, was the Flat Earth. Night's Master, the first one, is essentially a linked series of short stories about Azhrarn, the Prince of Demons, who may or may not be equivalent to Mephistopheles. That one should give you a taste of her style. The next in the series, Death's Master, is probably the best of them, and is a full-length novel.

There's also Cyrion, a stand-alone set of linked short stories wrapped up by a novella, about a highly charismatic adventurer in the medieval Middle East of a parallel fantasy Earth. I love these, and they are also a homage to the Lymond Chronicles (though you don't have to have read Dorothy Dunnett's series to appreciated Cyrion).

My paperbacks of all three of these are pretty worn!

bad_mushroom
Apr. 25th, 2007 03:14 am (UTC)
Hahaha, yeah, it happens XD.

I bet I can get ahold of them if I try...I haven't read Dunnett but expect it to be forced upon me at any moment by my father, once he stops trying to get me to read the Foundation series (and I would read them...but there are a million of them and I really don't want to get into something like that right now).

Thanks :)
telophase
Apr. 25th, 2007 03:58 am (UTC)
As I've been reading the Mahabharata lately, I keep finding ghosts of echoes of things from the Flat Earth series. I think she pulled a lot of the flavor from there.

I adored Lee as an angsty emo teenager. I reread the Flat Earth series a few years ago - strangely it had been long enough that I didn't remember most of it - and it held up reasonably well as long as I was in the mood for her prose. :D
chomiji
Apr. 25th, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC)

Sometimes I feel like everyone (including me) has forgotten about Tanith Lee, even though I know she's been publishing more or less continuously ever since the late 1970s. I agree with you that one has to be in the right mood for her!

One of the more interesting things about her to me is that I always have the feeling that she's running several huge multigenerational sagas in her mind at any one time, and she will continue to hatch books from them until she feels she's done. Many writers either completely abandon earlier storylines as they mature, or re-work them from the beginning (C.J. Cherryh, for example, loves to rework pet themes with completely new settings and characters). Lee will just pick up the next episode in her tale whenever she gets around to it and apply her current writing skills to it. So the decidedly mediocre early novel The Storm Lord (1976) was followed years later by the much more impressive Anackire (1984). This makes it hard for me on re-reads - I don't want to re-read The Storm Lord, but I know I'll miss bits of business in Anackire if I don't!

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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