Shagduk

Shagduk

This book from Pilum press, doesn't really neatly slot into any categories. It's set in the 1970's, a world I dimly remember from my childhood, in a Texas I have even fainter memories of. Nevertheless it captures something that I have glimpsed the afterimages of, and grew up in the fading echoes. It is real and grounded and almost utterly matter-of-fact, not written at all like your "standard" sci-if or fantasy book, especially of the last couple decades, yet it is magical. It pulls this off without falling into magical realism, while skirting the borders. It is by turns tense, funny, and very laid back.

The first thing you'll notice is that the story is presented as a series of diary entries. Not the first time we've seen this trope or similar "messaging" styles, but well done, and the individual days are artfully strung together as an overall story through several common threads, not all of them related to the creature who's on the cover. It's both this structure and the understated writing itself that lend to the grounded, nearly humdrum, matter-of-fact realism that acts as a backdrop throwing the fantastic events into sharper contrast. For example:

Left the house to discover ice all over the windshield of the Rambler. Scraped it off with my Q-Card. Fishtailed my way down to Camp Bowie, which was not so bad on account of the salt. Arrived at the library to find the building cold and empty. Spent the morning sorting through boxes in the Vault. Found the door ajar again. Movement of air from a large vent keeps the door from clicking shut sometimes. You have to pull it closed behind you. Who was in there last?

Our cast includes our protagonist the librarian, his workmates, his bandmates, his upstairs neighbor, one creature that is rarely seen but who's impact is often felt, and one professor / mentor who's disappearance is a mystery not yet solved by the end of the book, but who is also not a forgotten macguffin to get the ball rolling.

Looking into the disappearance, he finds a guide to an ancient and effectively unknown language, as well as what appears to be a guide to magic. Our narrator is skeptical at first, but over time realizes that not only is magic real, but accepts it with the same nonplussed matter-of-fastness that fueled his skepticism.

All in all the writing is excellent. Each day captures the feel of a separate, disjointed entry rather than a continuous narrative, with observations and events fueled by past events. The tone strikes me as a Texas version of the laid-back California vibe present in Tim Powers' work and the best of Alan Dean Foster. Despite the structure being one to trip up lesser writers, the pacing is excellent, and it works well as a stay-up-all-night page turner for some who've read it, or as something that can be read in short and fascinating digestible chunks. The ending is not-a-cliffhanger, yet it is a fundamental moment of change, ushering in a vast unknown.

Read it. While you're at it, go ahead and pick up Thune's vision as well, and all of their other books.