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Great Science-Fiction & Fantasy Works
Science-fiction & fantasy literature: a critical list with discussions.
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This is a brief discussion of Gabriel King and, of course, of some speculative-fiction books by King.
This discussion and list does not necessarily include every book by King: it includes only those books that I both know and like. Just as with the author list itself, omission of a particular item may mean I didn’t think highly enough of the omitted item, or it may simply mean that I have not yet sufficient familiarity with it. (In a very few cases, I have listed some books merely on the strength of my opinion of the author: all such books are clearly marked below, as throughout these lists, with a hash mark (#) before the title so you know what’s what.)
I don’t pretend that this discussion is a deep analysis. My intent is no more than to give you a rough idea of what kinds of tales King tells, how those tales are usually told, and what makes them and King worthy; in sum, to help you rank Gabriel King (and the works by King listed here) on your personal literary “to do” list.
This page has not been updated in a long while; consequently, external links (if any) may lead to dead or moribund pages. I am now cleaning up these pages as fast as I can, but I am one man and it may take me a while to get to every page needing link checking (or even the “Other Resources” section added). Sorry. Please be patient.
A Few Words About Gabriel King
"Gabriel King" is a pseudonym for the collaborative team of M. John Harrison and Jane
Johnson (who also writes as "Jude Fisher"). The four books to date under the King byline form two distinct duologies (though I have not yet segregated those out in the lists). The first
pair and the second pair can be read independent of each other; and though each individual book can also be read satisfactorily on its own, it's much better to read the duologies in internal
order, and best to read the entire quartet in order.
The books all fall into the class commonly called "animal tales": that is, the characters are animals endowed, by the author, with human-like intelligence yet remaining in essence
themselves. The category includes works as diverse in intelligence and design as The Wind in the Willows and Peter Rabbit. There is an especially strong vein of the material
in British literature, and several excellent representatives of it are on the lists here.
The focus animals of the King books are cats. In the first duology, which I think clearly the stronger, the cats--along with a few other animals, from a fox to a crow--dominate the
tales: the humans are background figures to the animals' needs and actions and lives (though the great enemy challenging them, and the world, is human); in the second pair, the tales are
human tales with the animals as background, and while I think them worthy reading, they seem to me to have lost the bright flame of sympathy, and above all of specialness, that
illumined the first pair so well.
The difficulty with all animal tales is establishing that extraordinarily nice balance required between, on the one hand, making the characters too unhuman, so that their thought
processes and emotional lives are distanced from our sympathies, or on the other hand making them little people in fur coats, which simply makes for a too-twee ordinarily human story.
I suspect that Kenneth Grahame in The Wind in the Willows did it about as well as ever it can be done, and all other
"animal tales" must, I think, be measured against that standard. King, while his/her/their books are quite different in style and tone from Grahame's, comes off well: the animals have
personalities human enough to engage us, while yet having urges and concerns far enough from our own to establish that necessary critical distancing.
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Other Gabriel King Resources
There are quite a few sappy, soppy book reviews out there, many from readers obviously not well familiar with speculative fiction (or, to be brutal, with well-written fiction of any
sort). Putting those aside, little remains: a page of brief biographies of the authors
comprised in "Gabriel King" and an interview with the
authors are the chief pages. Peripherally, there is available a page on Feline
Folklore, in which various animal fantasy tales are cited, including the King books.
One can, of course, separately look up each author. This site lists M. John
Harrison Resources; Johnson has her own web page, www.janejohnsonbooks.com.
Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by Gabriel King ***
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