Since I found out that Neil Gaiman is coming to Canberra next Tuesday, I've dived into a few of his books that I hadn't read (actually, though I call myself a fangirl, I haven't yet read the majority of his stuff. I have too many favourite authors). After finally finishing the-book-that-I've-mentioned-too-much, it was sheer pleasure to read the gorgeous illustrated novella Stardust. It really is, as described, a classic fairy story for grown-ups. Complex, clever, funny and satisfying. Of course, because this one is distributed by the comics people, I bought it at my favourite comics shop.
Then I quickly read Coraline (the official site includes an audio recording of the first chapter, but if you're on dial-up like me you might prefer this quicker loading non-flash site). Well, it is a kids book so it didn't take long. This was a fun, scary and inventive take on popular gothic horror for younger readers, probably vaguely in the realm of the Lemony Snicket books, (maybe for slightly younger readers) though I haven't read those.
Now I'm part of the way through Neverwhere. The timing is interesting, since it's all about a sort of alternate world, London Below, where all the people who 'fall through the cracks' live, in the Tube tunnels and sewers and whatever else is below the streets and buildings. Of course the recent bombings in London had already triggered memories of my holiday in England last October when I used the Underground a lot. A lot of people don't much fancy the Tube, either because they have to travel in peak times (granted, it does get pretty squishy but an MP3 player and a blank look helps) or because they don't like being underground, or because they fear exactly the kind of attacks that happened last week. Londoners have spend a long time thinking about likely places for bombs to go off. Mostly immune to these concerns, I got a huge kick out of zipping around under the city. I guess the shine might wear off if I was commuting to work, instead of on a holiday and wandering wherever took my fancy.
One of the things I'm really enjoying about Neverwhere is that it's a fantasy but not purely an alternate universe. It's set in a quite familiar world, and which you can related to immediately, and then elements of magic and mysterious happenings are gradually worked in so that it the adjustment to the fantasy world is gradual, and it continues to feel 'real'.
I used to find the fantasy genre pretty intimidating, especially the huge series that never seemed to end (actually I still find them intimidating). One of the first I read was the Mordant's Need series by Stephen Donaldson, The Mirror of Her Dreams and A Man Rides Through (recommended by Bertie, I think). Donaldson used a bit of a trick to get readers into the story easily, starting with the main character in the 'real' world and then having her whisked off as a stranger into the fantasy world he created. I think this is a fairly common approach; Guy Gavriel Kay did a similar thing with the Fionvar Tapestry. I found this a really good way to get into the genre, because you can get involved quickly in the first few pages before being immersed in an unfamiliar world. And when you are thrown into it you're there with the main character(s) who knows only as much as you do.
So anyway, Neil Gaiman will be signing books at Gaslight Books on Tuesday afternoon, and then speaking and signing more books at the ANU in the evening. I've had things signed a couple of times before: Brian Michael Bendis at a comics convention, Garth Nix at the Belconnen Library. I'm not a very outgoing fangirl, what are you supposed to say? Gee Mister, I really liked your book. Sure. Nuh. I just smile and hand it over. I did manage to get a photo when Les Yeux Noirs signed my CD at Womadelaide.
Aside from making a fortune on ebay, I don't exactly know what is the point of getting books and other stuff signed. With Garth Nix I got a real thrill out of it because the book I got signed was very special to me. With Bendis, I don't think it meant quite as much. I guess the main point of it is the chance to see - and maybe speak to, if you're more outgoing than me - your idols up close, if only for a few seconds.