Fiction Reviews - Books in the Glass World

Rev.08/15/02, 2003-09-01, 2006-11-06, 2007-12-02, 2009-07-01(edit), 2009-08-23, -09-08

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Sharp Edges

The Glassblower's Dragon

Dragons of Pern


Elena's Serenade

The Glassblower of Murano


Shattered by Dick Francis, 2000, G.P. Putnams's Sons, ISBN 0-399-14660-1

I like Dick Francis's books a lot, I think I have read every one, starting rather early then going back to the beginning and continuing on, reading the yearly new one. I even sent him a glass gift once and suggested glassblowing as a topic. I don't know if my input was a factor, but the 2000 book lives in the world of small studio glassblowing in England and by the end, exploding annealed glass and molten glass on a punty have been used as weapons. [Got a letter from Mr. Francis responding to one of mine about this book. He says that since he is 80 and his wife died last fall, Shattered is going to be his last book. [But he came out with another, Under Orders,  praising his son for encouragement.]]

The portrayal of glass working and of the studio is very good as far as it goes and there are very few errors in what is portrayed (e.g. Lehr is used like a brand name "in the Lehr annealing oven") If I found anything missing it was the physical feel of the dance of making the glass and the working of the team. Francis is usually very good about physical details, makes the possible danger clear, and does well with the heat and the color and the discovery that something when seen after making is more than was thought while making.

There is a pattern to Francis's books. Almost all involve some incident of considerable personal violence, but only one or two. There is always a commitment on the part of the nice narrator to carry on something risky for personal reasons. The narrator/protagonist is always male. He admits fear. He uses an attack or threat to his person to reveal things about the attacker. Almost all the books have a relationship with a female that is mildly offbeat - in this book it is with a female cop who rides a motorcycle off-duty. People get killed, but almost always by accident.

If you like mysteries and a good read that takes you through the story non-stop, I think you will like this one. Probably in your local library, he is popular enough that the books are hard to find for the first few months after they come out.

Sharp Edges by Jayne Ann Krentz, 1998
Review originally published in Hot Glass Bits and reposted by request on Author site.

Do Glass, Crime, and Sex mix?

I regularly go to the library looking for books for my wife to read, especially looking for authors with several books, so she can have several in a row (without further searching) to read on her Reading Machine. While doing this I came across Sharp Edges, which I got for her after glancing at the fly and then read myself. It is set (sort of) in the world of glass in the Northwest. It is kind of a mix of the Harlequin Romances where the maiden goes into the dangerous castle (I am told, catch me reading one), a tough guy detective mystery and an old fashioned screwball Clark Gable romance with R to X rated sex. Of course all the sexual images are related to the "molten fire" of glass.

Eugenia* Swift is the high style curator of the Leabrook Glass Museum, an up and coming small museum in the Seattle area which has expanded on her skills with glass and donors. Recently Adam Daventry has died, leaving his fantastic glass collection to the museum and she has to go out to Glass House on Frog Cove Island. She has her own agenda, wanting to investigate the death of her friend Nel, Daventry's last lover, the day after his death. She is saddled by her boss with Cyrus Chandler Colfax a reasonably good private investigator who has his own agenda tied to a very old cage cup.

I found the book fun to read. There are almost no references to the actual Seattle glass scene, but the Glass House has a number of pieces that are clearly Chihuly, particularly the chandelier in the entry. The glass stuff is good. The reaction of a couple of artists to broken glass pieces seems overwrought considering how many pieces become "floor models" in an average week.

Krentz is obviously a popular writer, several copies of the book were in each branch I looked for it.

*Eugenia is also my wife's name.

Shepard, Lucius Taylor

For: The Glassblower's Dragon

  1. The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1987, Edward L. Ferman, 1987, $1.75
  2. Nebula Awards 23, Michael Bishop, 1989

This short story came up as a topic because of its title on CraftWeb Glass and since an internet search revealed that it had been published in the Magazine, which I have [had] on my shelves, I spent some time straightening up the "collection" to find the issue. Shepard is a widely published author, still published this year per the web site, and regularly winning awards.

This a fantasy set in an isolated portion of the real world of Florida at the end of the 80's. It is about a pair of cynical, bitter people, aged 50 and 24. The older man is a glassblower, supposedly famous, working alone from a furnace. The dragon is an accidental creation that comes to life, affects the couple and flies off, leaving them in their downbeat situation. If it had been written in the 70's, the fantasy would have led to an upbeat ending, even if both recognized it was part of a fantasy, but the 80's did not allow that - one of the reasons I stopped reading SF in that time frame (punk SF being the other.) The story reads like a student cynicism exercise and I think I wrote one of these 30 years ago. We learn nothing about emotions, experience, people or glassblowing by reading it.

Anne McCaffery

Dragons of Pern, others

Glassblowing appears incidentally in Dragons of Pern and a previous book.  In the previous book, a father incites his sons and others and conspires to destroy a computer, Avias, that is providing information for development which the man thinks violates the "right" old way of doing things.  In Dragons of Pern, one son whose hearing was damaged during an attack on Avias escapes from prison and tries to re-establish the Abominators who will destroy the innovations. Ironic comment is made that the new glassblower, Morrellton, makes better glass that does not break under assault. 2006-11-06

Shatterglass  Tamora Pierce

This is the eighth book of the two quartets called Circle of Magic and the Circle Opens by Tamora Pierce. These books involve four young mages using what is called ambient magic which is the power in things as contrasted with academic magic using spells and outside power.  Tris is a weather mage and can draw power from and use lightning, the winds, and earthquakes.  While visiting glassblower's shops out of curiosity, she encounters a man older than her age of 14 who is drawing power from all the magical protection tokens in the area and who creates a living glass miniature dragon as the magic goes out of control.  She accuses him of being ill-trained when he tries to kill off the dragon and she keeps the dragon, but it turns out he actually has no training in magic as he had none before being struck by lightning a couple of years previously.  After being struck, he lost his control over the glass which had been very fine before and has only partially recovered, to his frustration.
They have to continue to interact because of a rule that if matching mage can not be found to train a newly discovered mage, the discoverer must do the training and while there are many glass mages around, she is the only lightning mage available.  The actual main story line involves a series of murders that insult the culture of the place and the cultural practices that make investigating the crimes nearly impossible.  Blown glass objects with lightning captured within are key to the investigation as they show remote scenes.
The miniature dragon eats chemicals and spits and vomits small glass fragments, flames, and puddles which harden and are so pretty people want them for decorations.
She is neat in her oddball mage powers and how she uses them and the interaction with the glassblowing is well done.  There are two minor flaws in that the melting glass gets ready to use much faster than real cullet does and it is stated several times that there is a risk of inhaling small bits of molten glass, which is totally false - hot air, fragments of metal from inside the pipe (also mentioned) yes, but not molten glass - too viscous. 2003 and popular enough to be in many libraries. 2009-08-23

Elena's Serenade Campbell Geeslin, Illustrated Ana Juan

This is a large format (11"x 11") thin children's book with delightful pictures about a girl in Mexico who wants to be a glassblower like her daddy and he won't consider it, so she disguises herself as a boy and travels to Monterrey, meeting talking animals along the way and helping them while playing tunes on her father's old pipe!  When there, the men challenge her and she gathers glass and blows while playing "Estrellita" ["little star"] and blows a star! The men try but can't sing.  The stars are a success.  Later she blows a bird that gets very big and it carries her home when she wishes to show papa.  She dons the disguise again, with a tortilla beard, and approaches papa at work as an old man and blows a butterfly and he wishes his daughter could see this and she throws off her disguise and they blow glass together - him doing bottles and her doing butterflies that chime like bells. ISBN 0-689-84908-7  2010-08-29

The Glassblower of Murano Marina Fiorato

The reason I picked this off the library catalog is obvious from the title and as a pure story, it is not a bad read - a childless young woman is divorced from her dull husband who has found a woman who is less artistic and so goes to Italy where her mother became pregnant with her.  She has learned glassblowing in college and wants to blow in Murano - to be the first female maestro.  Interwoven are scenes from a second story - her ancestor Corradino is a legendary glassblower who is murdered in the first chapter when he returns from France, having taken the secrets of Murano there.  She lives in a house that once belonged to his family before they were killed for treachery by the last Doge on a false accusation.  She is about to be used by the master who has taken her on because of her ancestry to save the firm by promoting her as a glassblower in the legend with the appearance of a Botticelli goddess.
  But sometimes a single error can destroy the credibility of a story and although this first novel "international best seller" is by a woman with a similar background, she has not done investigated the glassblowing process enough and make two serious errors.  The first is that we are supposed to believe that Corradino has no fingerprints because he shapes the glass with is bare hands - like it was perhaps wood or turned metal. "Not for him the protective wads of cotton or paper that others used to save their skin...." and "He pulled out the rod, which now resembled a lit candle. Waiting a moment, he then plucked the glowing orb from the rod and began to roll the glass in his palms, and then more delicately in his fingers."  Molten glass at 1800-2000F! But worse, since the finger thing might remotely possible, is that in making a chandelier for a church, he makes the arms and as the last step "he wound the new arm round the main trunk, in a decorative spiral" and he leaves it there, unannealed!  The droplets he is shaping with his bare hands he drops in water and "rescues the gem" which is "dry instantly from the heat of the flames" which I take to be the inside heat of crackle glass, and he drops it into a wool flock lined compartment in a box of 100 places.  Again, unannealed!  The glass would be shattering before a few minutes had passed.  Pity. ISBN 978-0-312-38698-6  2010-09-08

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