Bears, Borribles, and Bogeymen
Today’s recommendations include another eclectic mix of titles: two older fantasy trilogies, a reprint short story collection of weird tales, and a new omnibus reprint collection by one of the acknowledged masters of science fiction and science fantasy.
Before the days of the Internet, book shoppers were largely limited to perusing the shelves at their local bookseller or chain book store. Occasionally other options were available: I learned about the work of some science fiction authors with whom I had had limited or no experience by listening to the Hour 25 radio program on Friday nights during the 70s and 80s. But still, it was the book stores where most discoveries were made. During such a shopping trip during the 1980’s, I happened to pick up The Borribles by British author Michael de Larrabeiti, and a bit later its sequel The Borribles Go for Broke. The books were apparently written for the “juvenile” or “young adult” market – that is certainly how they were marketed – but this was not an issue. I have read and enjoyed a great deal of such “juvenile” fiction over the years – still do, for that matter – including works by Madeleine L’Engle, John Bellairs, and Philip Pullman (see below). I enjoyed the Borribles books so much that I read and reread both novels several times, and gave copies to friends and relatives who were also avid readers. Wanting more, I watched for new Borrible titles to appear, but none did. Eventually, I stopped searching.
Fast forward to a couple of years ago: it occurred to me one day to search online for further Borrible books, and I was pleased to discover that de Larrabeiti had indeed written a third (and apparently final) book called The Borribles: Across the Dark Metropolis. As my two paperback copies were now two decades old, I purchased the trilogy as a single volume from Tor Books (shown above). This edition is now o.p., but the three novels have been re-released separately and are now available.
Okay, so what are the books about, and what is a Borrible? To quote from deLarrabeiti’s own website:
“Borribles are runaway children whose ears become pointed as they take to the streets, indicators of their independence and intelligence. As long as their ears remain unclipped they will never age; for this reason, they wear woollen hats pulled low over their ears in order to remain undetected by the authorities, who find their freedom threatening to the social order. Borribles are skinny, scruffy, and tough; they have nothing to do with money, and steal what they need to survive.”
The stories revolve around a particular group of Borribles who live in Battersea and their adventures in and around London, Battersea, and other English cities and towns, fighting Rumbles (intelligent, child-sized rats) and other Borribles, all the while trying to evade the SBG, the section of the London police force dedicated to capturing all Borribles. Synopses of each of the three volumes are available here: http://www.michaeldelarrabeiti.com/books/borribletrilogy.html.
Suffice it to say that with the Borrible trilogy, de Larrabeiti has created one of best and most unique fantasies that you will ever read. Highly recommended.
The next item is another fantasy trilogy written for a younger audience that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is: The Northern Lights (published in the U.S. as The Golden Compass, soon to be a feature film), The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass. Like de Larrabeiti, Pullman has created an alternate reality in which his stories play out. In the case of the Borribles, that alternate reality substitutes for our own. In Pullman’s case, that alternate reality coexists alongside our own, with characters crossing between the two worlds as the storylines proceed. This alternate reality is one in which science and magic co-exist and all humans have a personal animal familiar called a daemon. The stories are rich, complex, and fascinating in their inventiveness. Again, highly recommended.
Next is a short story collection by a writer who I was unfamiliar with until I purchased this book. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Eric Frank Russell was best known for his science fiction, much of which remains in print today. But, he was also a master of the weird tale. Darker Tides is a limited edition collection from Midnight House that reprints the contents of his long out-of-print volume Dark Tides along with many of his other stories originally published in pulp magazines like Weird Tales, Fantastic, and Strange Stories. I love making literary discoveries like these: it’s a fine book, and a great read.
Finally for this post, there’s the new collection by one of my favorite authors, Jack Vance. Much has been written elsewhere about this writer and his works, so I’ll simply say that I’ve read most of what he has written over the years, and there is no finer writer in the realm of science fiction and science fantasy. Among my very favorite titles are his five volume Star King series. Smart, witty, clever, and inventive, Vance is a master of the form. He has a clean, refreshing style that avoids contrivances and the many clichés of the genre. The Jack Vance Treasury is a “best-of” collection from Subterranean Press; it is currently only available as a signed limited edition, but Vance titles are widely available in paperback format. I urge you to check them out – don’t miss the many amazing worlds of Jack Vance.