Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Berkley/Jove Hardback October 2003, Paperback December 2004

I saw this was out a while ago, but forced myself to wait for paperback. It was entirely worth the wait.

Robin McKinley is one of those few, great authors that I love to read who only grows better with age, and whose every work is a blessing to read.

So be blessed, and read this. In any case.

Sunshine is a vampire novel, and certainly falls within the bounds of urban fantasy. It's the kind of book that is why you originally read the Anita Blake books, before the sex took over. It's why you love to read books by Emma Bull, like War For The Oaks or Finder. It's the kind of book that makes you remember when this sort of thing was original, and everybody wasn't doing it, and when you could read this sort of thing and go "wow" and want more.

Of course, McKinley has only done one sequel so far, and it was actually a prequel, so we're unlikely to see it. But I can hope for that, along with a book entirely about Luthe.

McKinley doesn't generally do modern age books. The most technological of any of her books previously was The Blue Sword, which was really only victorian era, with guns and trains in the background, but mostly swords and sorcery to the fore. But she does it extremely well when she does. This is also the first...no, wait, this is the second book she's done that is in first person perspective. It makes me want more. But then, the whole book does.

Enough of the pining, eh? Sunshine is a book about a baker (much after my own heart) who has grown up with a life of extreme normalcy, and expresses herself mostly through 'cinammon rolls the size of your head' and other wonders of baking goodness. I need the recipe book from this novel. One day out of a need to get away from everybody, she goes out to the lake, where her family used to spend summers, and is promptly kidnapped by vampires and left as food for a strange member of their species, who is chained to the wall in a ballroom. Here Sunshine (our protagonist) a. remembers that one side of her family, the forgotten side, were magicians, b. learns that not all vampires are evil, and c. finds that she can be a great deal more than she ever believed possible of herself.

The novel has entirely its own mythos of vampires and magic, and does them well and believably. You don't (or at least I didn't) spend a lot of time comparing the vampires to other novels, or the magicians, or what have you. It's done neatly enough that you just accept it and move on...but that's one of the great things about McKinley's style, you're happy to be along for the ride, and are assured of a great experience, which is entirely delivered.

A word of warning: This book is billed repeatedly as being like Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but that would generally lead you to expect ass kicking, lots of spiffy one-liners, and general post-modernistic fluff. It ain't there. Mind you, you'd also expect the sarcasm and one-liners from the comparisons to Anita Blake. Once again. There also isn't a red-headed occult hacker in the background...unless you count the main character, and she surfs more than hacks. Which all goes to say, don't let your expectations ruin your enjoyment.

Buy this book. Buy it for a friend and read it first. But as with everything else of quality, this is the sort of thing that makes the genre worthwhile, rather than trashy, the sort of gem that quietly finds its way into the hands of those who need it and warms their hearts.

Not a horror novel, not truly. Far more the urban fantasy. But definitely its own novel, its own voice. Please share it with me.

Sunshine

Author: Robin McKinley

Published: October 2003

Publisher: Berkley Publishing Group

For those of you who have read Robin McKinley’s earlier books, let me say, This is not The Hero and the Crown Part 2 . I think you will find Sunshine to be very different from anything she has written before.

Sunshine is set in the present in the United States in an alternate universe which includes demons, werewolves, fallen angels and vampires among other weirdos. The main character is a young woman named (you guessed it) Sunshine. Her life revolves around the coffee shop owned and run by her extended family. She is the baker. She gets up at four every morning to start baking for the breakfast crowd. As the book opens, Sunshine is feeling restless. It seems that every waking moment of her life is involved with the coffee shop. In an effort to put a little distance between herself and her coffee shop life, she opts out of the Monday night movie held at her parents’ home for friends, relatives, employees and regular customers and instead goes out to a deserted cabin at the lake which belonged to her grandmother before the Voodoo Wars. And then the vampires found her.

How do I explain to you how great this novel is without telling you too much about it? It’s only been out a year and a half, and I’ve already read it four or five times. I know that I wouldn’t have wanted to know even as much as I’ve already told you before I read the book. I guess I have to tell you a few things to tease you into going out and getting it. How about this: Sunshine’s friends in the Special Other Forces (also known as the Sucker Cops) tell her that the vampires are estimated to own one-fifth of the world’s total capital and they are gaining on us. In perhaps a hundred years we could be merely their cowherd, waiting to be harvested. How about the fact that Sunshine’s birth father whom she hasn’t seen since she was six was a powerful sorcerer, and magic handling abilities are often heritable. How about the fact that some traumas are too terrible to get over?

I haven’t read a lot of vampire novels, so I don’t have a lot to compare to the vampires in Sunshine, but I’ve got to tell you these suckers were scary. And surprisingly, I loved the part about the coffee shop and the baking. Each time I reread Sunshine I go into a frenzy after reading about her “cinnamon rolls as big as your head”. If I knew of a coffee shop anywhere on the continent that made cinnamon rolls as good as the ones she describes in the book, I would drive there immediately. An interviewer asked McKinley who made the best cinnamon rolls in the world and she replied, “I do.” It was all I could do not to e-mail her and beg her to please, please, please let me fly to England and come to her house and eat just one of her cinnamon rolls. Well, enough about that...

Perhaps a caveat is in order at this point. All of McKinley’s earlier works are appropriate for both children and adults, with the possible exception of Deerskin. This book has a few sex scenes, one of them very graphic, which may cause many parents to feel that this novel is inappropriate for children and adolescents. What I am trying to say is that just because your teenage daughter is ga-ga over The Hero and the Crown, you shouldn’t run out and buy her this book for her birthday without reading it first yourself.


Now let me share with you some of the praise that others have heaped upon Sunshine:

Sunshine won the 2004 Mythopoeic Fantasy Award for Adult Literature.

Here is what Neil Gaiman said about Sunshine:

I woke up too early, so started reading Robin McKinley's forthcoming novel Sunshine in the bath. It's an astonishing piece of work. A gripping, funny, page-turning pretty much perfect work of magical literature that exists more or less at the unlikely crossroads of Chocolat, Interview With a Vampire, Misery and the tale of Beauty and the Beast. It's not quite SF, and it's not really horror, and only kind of a love story, and it's all three while still being solidly Fantastique. It also does that nice thing where the author assumes the readers are smart, and she treats us like we're smart, and we purr and get smarter and work harder for all that. It'll be nominated for awards, and win them; in the meantime I really hope it finds its audience, which is, potentially, huge.

Here are some quotes from other reviewers which I have cadged from the back of the book:

Before reading Sunshine, I had no idea that blood and dessert could go together so well.

-Amber Benson


Brilliant ... a sumptuous world.

-The New York Times Book Review


Mythic grandeur ... with magical detail and all-too-human feeling.

-Publishers Weekly (starred review)


Danny Boyle has a thing about Zombies: Whether it's the human, heroin fuelled kind in Trainspotting, the George A. Romero flesh eating kind in 28 Days later or sunburned astronauts with a religiosity complex that just look like zombies, he's always been one for portraying the undead with flourish.

In Sunshine, he nevertheless reached the limits of that talent. But let me start at the beginning:

Sunshine is a British/U.S. coproduction released by Fox's Searchlight Pictures, written by long term Boyle compadre Alex Garland and just recently released on DVD. It is set in the near future, in which our very own star, that very boring G type sun, suddenly and inexplicably decays. With the dieing sun threatening the whole solar system (including us) with an endless deep freeze, a team of intrepid astronauts (in the apt named Ikarus) is sent to re-ignite that life-giving fire with an enormous atomic bomb, only to fail for unknown reasons. Seven years later another crew is sent in a new ship (in the even more apt name Ikarus 2) with a new bomb to have another go before humanity is completely wiped out. Sunshine shows us the the last stage of that crew's tribulations and extinction.

Apparently the movie cost 'only' 20 million pound to make. That's the sort of money that Michael Bay spends on catering only, but not on a fully fledged motion picture. Interestingly enough, it doesn't show: the special effects are beautiful and at times breathtaking, and the production design looks quite lavish. The art director must have two favourite scifi movies that he tried to combine: while the communal quarters and tools look like taken straight out of Alien (the cubistic pitchers could have easily been handled just seconds ago by John Hurt), the whiteness and the minimalism of the extravehicular preparation bay look exactly like 2001: A Space Odyssee.


The cast is what you would call ecclectic: Michelle Yeoh, Cliff Curtis, Cillian Murphy and Chris Evans have all had their leading roles in major productions, while Rose Byrne, Hiroyuki Sanada and Troy Garity are not quite household names. They portray their difficult characters with genuine care for their personalities and make a believable group of humans in duress.

The first two thirds of the movie are a mixture of observational study of humans under intense duress and 'calamities in space', while the last third unfortunately drifts off into a rather badly made 'Zombies in Space' B-movie and ruins the excellent impression the movie left in the beginning.

For Science Fiction and Cillian Murphy fans this is probably a worthy film, but I was appalled at the direction the script took after sixty minutes and won't recommend the flick.

Your mileage might vary.

everything was clear
the air, the water, everything far and
everything that was near
sun freckles sprinkled our cheeks
and we loved the sun that had adored those weeks

green grass brushed our hands and our feet
we'd lay and count the clouds and we'd sleep
under the sun, lay in the gentle wind
that tousled our hair, we laughed and we grinned

as we forgot the lives that we used to live
we forgot to care about what we couldn't give
ran across fields and lost ourselves there
in the blue skies the long grass and the clear air

Sun"shine` (?), n.

1.

The light of the sun, or the place where it shines; the direct rays of the sun, the place where they fall, or the warmth and light which they give.

But all sunshine, as when his beams at noon Culminate from the equator. Milton.

2.

Anything which has a warming and cheering influence like that of the rays of the sun; warmth; illumination; brightness.

That man that sits within a monarch's heart, And ripens in the sunshine of his favor. Shak.

 

© Webster 1913.


Sun"shine` (?), a.

Sunshiny; bright.

Shak. "Sunshine hours." Keble.

 

© Webster 1913.

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