Interview with Hal Johnson, author of Immortal Lycanthropes

During a road trip across the state this last summer, fellow nerdbrarian Sheri and I entertained ourselves by reading aloud from Hal Johnson’s excellent YA novel, Immortal Lycanthropes, the story of a bullied and disfigured thirteen-year-old who discovers that he’s an immortal were-creature. I won’t give too much away, but I will say that my accent for Spenser the Scottish were-elk was reportedly excellent. Hal was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about the book, YA writing, and tabletop gaming for the blog. More information about Immortal Lycanthropes is available on the author’s website.

Immortal Lycanthropes1. We both thoroughly enjoyed Immortal Lycanthropes and want to get the most obvious question out of the way: Where did the idea for the novel come from?

This was an idea I made up when I was a little kid. I’d been reading a book about weasels, and I started to pretend, the way kids will, that the different members of the weasel family could assume human form, and what that would be like. I know this sounds moronic, but I was like ten. Or at most fourteen, I don’t know.

I drew some pictures of the weasel guys, and imagined an adventure or two, wereweasels (you know, werestoats and werebadgers) versus other werecreatures, but I had a problem with the action scenes. The sad truth is that no matter what awesome power you have, you’re probably better off just shooting your opponent. If you’re a martial artist, you can study half a lifetime to learn the quivering palm death touch; or you can practice for five minutes with an M-16, and you’ll be just as deadly. I wanted to imagine a werebadger fighting a wererhino, not the two of them in human form shooting at each other. So I invented the proviso that any of these wereanimals could only be killed by the teeth or claws or horn of another wereanimal. I guess that’s a spoiler, but roll with it.

So that was the idea I had when I was a kid, and I forgot all about it after a while. Years later I was pitching ideas to an editor at Houghton Mifflin, and everything I proposed got nixed, until, in desperation, I started dragging up ideas that has stayed buried for decades in my subconscious. Immortal lycanthropes was the one that made him stop turning his head away from me in disgust.

I threw out almost everything from my juvenile flights of fancy except the high concept part of only dying from the claws, etc. This isn’t the book the ten-year-old me would’ve written; it’s probably got a lower body count, and it has more anarchists.
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Review: The Magicians

With a 2009 publication date, The Magicians isn’t exactly the freshest title on the new releases pile. In fact, I’m not sure why I didn’t read this sooner – like its awkward protagonist, Quentin, I too have been completely sucked into imaginary worlds full of talking animals and the battle between good and evil, and as a children’s librarian with a healthy love of salty language, you’d think I would have dove headfirst into a book some reviewers were calling “a Harry Potter for grownups, but with sex and booze.”

For whatever reason I missed it, which makes it all the sweeter to read now.

Author Lev Grossman answers the “what if” that lives in the heart of every fantasy lover – “what if I could get out of this shitty, billboard-clogged, “real” world and into a place where magic is real and adventures await?”

But it turns out that “what if” is a dangerous question no matter which world you’re living in. Quentin, the morose high school math genius whose perspective frames Grossman’s homage to classic children’s fantasy lit, knows that he is always one failed magic trick away from being expelled from Brakebills, an elite college for magic. And yet he isn’t entirely in his own world, even though it is so Hogwartsian that Quentin and his friends make quidditch jokes. The real magic, Quentin still secretly feels, lives in Fillory and Further, a five book series written by a stodgy English bachelor in the 1930s. Continue reading Review: The Magicians

Reviews: Shambling Towards Hiroshima, Raising Stony Mayhall

Shambling Towards HiroshimaA Hugo Award nominee for Best Novella and winner of the Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, Shambling Towards Hiroshima by James Morrow is framed as the memoir and extended suicide note of Syms Thorley, B-movie actor. Having achieved cult fandom in horror circles for his role as the Frankensteinian Corpuscula and the mummy Kha-Ton-Ra, Thorley is recruited toward the end of World War II for a top secret US Navy project: the Navy has been breeding massive fire-breathing lizards, and they intend to convince a group of Japanese ambassadors of the utility of surrender with a demonstration of the lizards’ destructive power in miniature.

If Thorley, with a rubber lizard suit and miniature Japanese metropolis, can terrify the Japanese into surrender, he will put an end to a bloody war and avert a tragic demonstration of that other top-secret US project, the atomic bomb. What follows is a darkly humorous, satirical, and sometimes touching treatment of people trying to carry on as normal in a time of violent international conflict. A quick, entertaining, but nonetheless thought-provoking read with hints of Catch 22 and Slaughterhouse Five. Continue reading Reviews: Shambling Towards Hiroshima, Raising Stony Mayhall

Reviews: Troika, Elmer, God’s War

I’ve got a small heap of books I keep meaning to review, but the stack (and soon, the overdue fines) seems to be growing faster than my motivation to write about them in depth. So here are three quick reviews of what I’ve read recently:Troika

Troika by Alastair Reynolds is a quick but satisfying hard-sf novella, weighing in at well under 200 pages. It’s a typical Big Dumb Object story, but with several clever twists that still make it compelling. The narrative alternates between the story of three Russian cosmonauts exploring the Matryoshka , a massive, alien object that mysteriously appeared in our own solar system; and the later story of one of those cosmonauts, driven half insane by his experience aboard the Matryoshka, trying desperately to reveal what he found there. Clever, cinematic storytelling rendered in smart prose. Good stuff. Continue reading Reviews: Troika, Elmer, God’s War

Review: Bitter Seeds

Bitter Seeds

Bitter Seeds
Ian Tregillis
Tor, 2010

Pretty much anything Cory Doctorow recommends ends up sooner or later on my to-read list. He doesn’t often steer me wrong, and this book was no different: Bitter Seeds is a novel about an alternate World War II, in which a Nazi project to endow its agents with X-men-like superpowers is pitted against a secret division of the British military comprising a cabal of British warlocks. The premise sounds like something that, in less skillful hands, could end up cringeworthily silly, but Tregillis delivers an engaging, moving story of humanity and sacrifice amid the moral ambiguities of war.

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