Shelf Control #98: The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Last New Land: Stories of Alaska Past and Present
Author: Wayne Mergler (editor)
Published: 1996
Length: 816 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

This mammoth, 816-page anthology tells a myriad of stories of Alaska in fiction, journalism, memoirs, folklore, and poetry. From Tlingit and Eskimo legends to the prose by Robert Service, Ernie Pyle, and Jack London to works by young contemporary writers, The Last New Land lays out a literary goldfield waiting to be discovered.

How and when I got it:

I found this book at a library sale a few years back and just had to have it.

Why I want to read it:

First of all, I’m madly in love with Alaska and love reading novels set there — so when I saw this story collection, there was no way I’d pass it up (even though I don’t usually read short stories). The anthology looks fascinating, including Tlingit and Eskimo legends, stories and excerpts about early Alaska history, all the way through to present-day fiction and articles, and even an excerpt from one of my very favorite series, the Kate Shugak novels by Dana Stabenow.

I doubt that I’ll ever sit down and read this book all the way through, but choosing The Last New Land for this week’s Shelf Control is a good reminder to myself to at least pull it off my shelf and dip my toes in!

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Dangerous Women: First Thoughts

Dangerous Women: Edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

Dangerous WomenThis brand new anthology is HUGE (784 pages) and weighs more than a small lapdog, but if you’re feeling strong and want a lot of choice in your reading, this hefty book may be the ticket.

Dangerous Women contains 20 stories from across many different genres, all with a focus — one way or another — on strong, fearless, and yes, dangerous women. Urban fantasy, traditional fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and more are represented here. According to the table of contents, here’s what you’ll find in Dangerous Women:

INTRODUCTION, by Gardner Dozois
SOME DESPERADO, by Joe Abercrombie
MY HEART IS EITHER BROKEN, by Megan Abbott
NORA’S SONG, by Cecelia Holland
THE HANDS THAT ARE NOT THERE, by Melinda Snodgrass
BOMBSHELLS, by Jim Butcher
RAISA STEPANOVA, by Carrie Vaughn
WRESTLING JESUS, by Joe R. Lansdale
NEIGHBORS, by Megan Lindholm
I KNOW HOW TO PICK ‘EM, by Lawrence Block
SHADOWS FOR SILENCE IN THE FORESTS OF HELL, by Brandon Sanderson
A QUEEN IN EXILE, by Sharon Kay Penman
THE GIRL IN THE MIRROR, by Lev Grossman
SECOND ARABESQUE, VERY SLOWLY, by Nancy Kress
CITY LAZARUS, by Diana Rowland
VIRGINS, by Diana Gabaldon
HELL HATH NO FURY, by Sherilynn Kenyon
PRONOUNCING DOOM, by S.M. Stirling
NAME THE BEAST, by Sam Sykes
CARETAKERS, by Pat Cadigan
LIES MY MOTHER TOLD ME, by Caroline Spector
THE PRINCESS AND THE QUEEN, by George R.R. Martin

I can’t pretend to have read all or even most of these. For starters, I’m notoriously bad at reading short stories and can only take just so much before I want to run screaming for the hills — no matter how good the stories are. Second of all, as I mentioned, HUGENESS. No way I’ll be able to sit and read this baby all the way through. I can see myself picking and choosing, reading an occasional story here and there over the next month or so, until I’ve read everything that grabs me.

Meanwhile, I did sit right down and read the stories that most interested me, and I thought I’d share my initial thoughts on a handful:

  • “Virgins” by Diana Gabaldon. Yes, this is the reason I couldn’t wait for Dangerous Women! “Virgins” is a prequel to Outlander, set in 1740 and focusing on a young Jamie and Ian in an adventure as mercenaries in France. Fans of Outlander will love it (any Jamie is good Jamie), but I think it will have wider appeal as well. While the main characters’ stories and dilemmas may be less compelling to people not already familiar with them, there’s nothing here that would preclude anyone from enjoying it. The central storyline has a focus that surprised me, which I won’t divulge because I think it’s worth discovering on your own. I was not disappointed: Diana Gabaldon knows her characters and the historical setting, and has done her usual fabulous job of bringing a time and place to life. Highly recommended!
  • “The Princess and the Queen” by George R. R. Martin. Well, if you’re a fan of A Song of Ice and Fire, I’m sure you’ll be checking this one out. This long story (at what point do we call it a novella? 70+ pages? If so, this one qualifies!) is purportedly a report written by a Maester of Westeros relating the history of a war between different factions of Targaryens 200 years before the events that make up the ASoIaF series. And boy, was that some war! According to the story, this war is often referred to as the Dance of the Dragons, and was one of the bloodiest and most spectacular in the history of Westeros. Because dragons! I hesitate to be critical, because devout fans are already proclaiming this story to be brilliant — but for me, less isn’t necessarily more. There’s so much detail here, told in such a dry historical fashion, that I was just wishing throughout that GRRM had devoted an entire novel to these events instead. It’s simply a lot to wade through, filled with name after name, bannerman after bannerman, and I found the factions and alliances very difficult to track. In places, the storyline is breathtaking, with its aerial dragon battles and bloody betrayals and horrors. I’m glad to have read it, but I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it. The written history approach didn’t really work for me — but true GRRM fans will be all over “The Princess and the Queen”, and I’m sure most will absolutely love it.
  • “Bombshell” by Jim Butcher. This one is a goodie for fans of the Dresden Files series.  Featuring Harry Dresden’s apprentice Molly as the main character, “Bombshell” takes place after the events of Changes. Harry is presumed dead, and Molly has to figure out a way to control her magic, follow in Harry’s footsteps, and live up to his legacy, all the while grieving with no real outlet to express her loss. Meanwhile, there are bad guys to confront, and it turns into a dangerous race against time, with evil dudes and magic spells and otherworldly creatures all in the mix. “Bombshell” is a lot of fun (and the title is a terrific pun, as you’ll see by the end of the story). It’s a great urban fantasy pick-me-up, and I don’t see why someone not familiar with the Dresden books couldn’t read and enjoy it, although I’d imagine some of the concepts would lead to serious puzzlement for newbies. As for me, as a fan of the series and of Jim Butcher’s writing in general, “Bombshell” was like getting a box of candy as a present. Yummy, unexpectedly enjoyable, and a real treat.
  • “Raisa Stepanova” by Carrie Vaughn. I’ve never read any of Carrie Vaughn’s books (although I’d like to), but that’s not an issue here. “Raisa Stepanova” is a stand-alone story that’s relatively brief but astoundingly good. Set towards the end of WWII, this historical fiction short story centers on Raisa, a Soviet woman fighter pilot. We go into battle with Raisa, and through her, get a glimpse of the unusual opportunity available to women fighter pilots in the USSR as well as the harshness of life under Stalin in wartime. I think I especially enjoyed this story because of having recently read the incredible Rose Under Fire by Elizabeth Wein — but even without that, I truly enjoyed this portrait of a young woman in a historical setting that probably few of us know about. Just terrific — I really recommend this one!
  • “Name the Beast” by Sam Sykes. OK, I’ll admit it: I didn’t really get this story. Sam Sykes writes straight-up fantasy, and while I haven’t read his novels yet, I’d like to at some point. This story is interesting and has some pretty cool twists, with shifting perspectives and no reliable narrator, but either I was too tired when I read it (quite likely) or it just wasn’t for me. Still, the writing is quite good and the premise was different and intriguing, so if you’re a fantasy fan, give it a try! And then tell me what I missed.

That’s all I’ve read so far, and I think at this point, I’ll leave this massive book on my nightstand in easy reach. I imagine that I’ll keep it handy, and even if I don’t end up reading the whole thing, I’ll certainly return in between other books to dip back in for a fresh sampling of stories.

From what I can tell, the editors have really picked an eclectic and extraordinary mix of writers and genres. Overall, this is one impressive anthology.

In the words of a certain killer cyborg, I’ll be back.

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The details:

Title: Dangerous Women
Author: Anthology edited by George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozois
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Fiction anthology, mixed genres
Source: Purchased