Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson; The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud and Fortunately The Milk by Neil Gaiman.
By Kim Stanley Robinson. Orbit. 458pp. A$29.99.
Kim Stanley Robinson's Shaman, a prehistoric ice-age fantasy, is a much more realistic saga than Jean Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear series. Robinson's excessive detail, however, while demonstrating scientific and historical authenticity, often slows down the narrative pace. Robinson's main character, the young apprentice shaman Loon, initially naked, weaponless and without resources, sets off on an almost aboriginal-like ''wandering'', a traumatic rite of passage, which matures him both personally and physically. Human life is decidedly writ small in Shaman, yet Loon's courage stands out. Robinson also delivers a powerful environmental message from his alternate world.
THE SCREAMING STAIRCASEBy Jonathan Stroud. Doubleday. 453pp. A$24.95.
The Screaming Staircase, from bestselling British fantasy author Jonathan Stroud, is an engaging young adult novel. We are in an alternative England, where ghosts, with a literally deadly touch, are commonplace. Only the young, with their ''psychic sensitivity'', organised into ghostbusting firms, can defeat them. Lockwood and Co comprises the young Anthony Lockwood, his friend George, as ''handsome as a freshly opened tub of margarine'', and the narrator Lucy, who is getting fed up with both of them. Their not terribly successful firm gets one last chance when commissioned to exorcise England's most haunted house. Stroud juxtaposes laughter and screams in an effervescent fantasy cocktail.
Cult author Neil Gaiman aims at an even younger market with Fortunately, the Milk, a graphic novella, whose appeal also owes much to the illustrations of Chris Riddell. When a mother goes off to a conference, she tells her husband not to forget to buy milk for the children's breakfast. Naturally, he does. En route to the shops, he is captured by green globby aliens and disturbs the space time continuum. While time stands relatively still for the children, their father's journey includes meeting ''wumpires'', a pirate queen, dinosaur galactic police and Splott, the god of people with short funny names. It's all very silly, but nonetheless delightful and inventive.
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