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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.
A Few Words About Gabriel King
The brief article below is what some sites call a “stub”—an admittedly incomplete and possibly inadequate discussion set forth as a sort of placeholder, on the theory that something is better than nothing at all, till such time as I am able to set forth a more fully rounded analysis.
“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.
Notable Science-Fiction and Fantasy Books by Gabriel King ***
(“Gabriel King” is a pseudonym for the collaborative team of M. John Harrison and Jane Johnson. I list and review “King” separately from Harrison because it is my fixed opinion that when authors adopt pseudonyms, they intend their writings under each name to be evaluated distinctly.)
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This page was last modified on Wednesday, 29 November 2023, at 11:05 pm Pacific Time.