Saturday, September 26, 2015

Battle of the 2012 Books, Bracket Eight, Second Semifinal :: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines vs. A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer

Our second semifinal match in Bracket Eight of the Battle of the 2012 Books features Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines going up against A Pretty Mouth by Molly Tanzer. The winner, the book I (Aaron) most want to continue reading after 100 pages, will advance to the championship round.

Libriomancer: DAW, August 2012, 305 pages, cover art by Gene Mollica. Libriomancer is the first volume in Jim C. Hines' latest series, Magic Ex Libris. Libriomancer made it to the semifinals by easily beating out Dead Religion by David Beers in the first round, and by defeating Untimed by Andy Gavin in the second round.

The opening pages of Libriomancer introduced us to Isaac Vainio, who has the magical ability to reach into a book he's read and pull out objects described in the narrative. Isaac has had difficulty controlling his power in the past, and so has been relegated to a desk job by the "Porters," who hold authority over magical beings. But some sort of war has broken out among the Porters, vampires, and possibly the first libriomancer, Johannes Gutenberg. In the second 50-page section, Isaac learns of a predicament faced by his sexy dryad companion Lena, and explores the scene of his mentor's murder and the destruction of one of the Porters' archives of magical documents.

A Pretty Mouth: Lazy Fascist Press, October 2012, 227 pages, cover art by Matthew Revert. A Pretty Mouth is a novella collected with four related stories, all of which place Lovecraftian creatures in a slightly odd context. A Pretty Mouth made it to the semifinals by overpowering Destiny's Flower by Linda Harley in the first round with its opening story "A Spotted Trouble at Dolor-on-the-Downs," and by getting past Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan in the second round with its story "The Hour of the Tortoise."

The second 50-page section of A Pretty Mouth consists of the story "The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins" (which previously appeared in Historical Lovecraft and The Book of Cthulhu) and the opening two chapters of the title novella. These tales take us further back into the history of the Calipash family, a cursed house of English aristocrats. The Ivybridge twins were two particularly wicked but amusing family members who lived in the 18th Century, while "A Pretty Mouth" dates back to the 17th Century, where a misguided young college student is fascinated by his dashing classmate Lord Calipash.

The Battle: As often happens by the time we get to the semifinals, I am enjoying the hell out of both these books and don't really want to put either one down.

In Libriomancer, Jim Hines is having a blast pulling props out of all his favorite science fiction and fantasy books. In the last scene of the opening 100 pages, Isaac uses potions from Alice in Wonderland to shrink himself and Lena down, rides his pet fire-spider into the wreckage of a destroyed building, where he gets in a fight with a powerful vampire, whom he defeats by pulling out a goddamn light saber. How could any genre reader not get a kick out of this?

One scene in Libriomancer that gave me pause was when the dryad Lena admitted her true nature to Isaac. She was created from a ripoff of John Norman's Gor series, in which a dryad is a sex toy perpetually hot for her master. And Lena wants Isaac to be her new master. Deliberately setting up a main character as a blatant sex object makes me cringe a bit, but there are hints that Hines intends to give Lena more control over her own destiny than this set-up might suggest.

Turning to A Pretty Mouth, "The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins" is a hoot. I especially enjoyed the sections during the youth of the twins, Basil and Rosemary, as they are raised essentially by an evil stepfather aptly named Mr. Villein. For instance, here the eight-year-old twins are grudgingly invited to a May Day celebration:
Rosemary arrived at the event in a costume of her own making, that of the nymph Flora; when Mr. Villein was interrogated as to his reasoning for such grotesque and ill-advised indulgence of childhood fancy, he replied that she had earlier proved her understanding that May Day had once been the Roman festival of Floralia, and it seemed a just reward for her attentiveness in the schoolroom. This bit of pagan heresy might have been overlooked by the other families had not Mr. Villein later used the exact same justification for Basil's behavior when the boy appeared at the celebration later-on, clad only in a bit of blue cloth wrapped about his slender body, and then staged a reenactment for the children of Favonius' rape of Flora, Rosemary playing her part with unbridled enthusiasm.
While the Ivybridge story is great fun, I confess that two chapters in, the next story "A Pretty Mouth" hasn't yet grabbed me. This may be a case of bad timing for the Battle of the Books: "A Pretty Mouth" started on page 85 and I haven't gotten very deep into it, so don't yet feel excited about the next 100 pages of this novella.

Aside from that small strike against Tanzer, this battle turns on the following passage from Libriomancer, where Isaac explains how the Porters keep libriomancy from getting out of hand:
"Catalogers flag potentially dangerous books. Take David Brin's Earth. He wrote about a microscopic black hole that fell into the planet's core, threatening to devour the entire world. That black hole would be small enough to fit through the pages, meaning any fool kid with magical talent who didn't know better . . ."

"Would it really destroy the Earth?"

"It's tough to say." . . . There were plans upon plans for such world-threatening eventualities, developed by Porter researchers. "We get review copies of every new book from the major publishers and most of the small presses. We usually catch and lock the troublesome ones before they're released to the public, though Harry Potter gave us some trouble."

J.K. Rowling had received a visit from Gutenberg himself, asking her to eliminate that damned time-turner from future books.
And that's why the time-turner never reappears, when it would obviously have been pretty darn useful to Harry in later volumes. Both Libriomancer and A Pretty Mouth pay tribute to great genre works of the past. But when you go the extra mile of actually fixing plot holes in beloved classics, you are too cool to stop reading.

THE WINNER: Libriomancer by Jim C. Hines

Libriomancer advances to the championship round to face Osama by Lavie Tidhar.

To see the whole bracket, click here.

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