Since I stayed home over the holidays, I got a lot of quiet time alone to read, which was nice. I also got to spend a lot of quality time with the cat, since just about no one else was in town or available. Oh well. Three books over the four day weekend, and one the week before, plus some commentary on Battlestar Galactica. Or at least that was the plan before a lack of time caused me to put this off for another week. So, add four books to the total, and since I’m cleaning the house today, I’ll inventory the to-read counts. Had I my camera, there would be pictures of the looming piles.
In other news, I’ve finished a couple of stories in the last two months, and the revision of said stories, while slow, is continuing, and I expect to start sending them off soon. Once they’re done, I intend to start on the book that they sketch the edges of, and will post some of the more interesting portions of it here, most likely.
Trade Paper: 22
Mass Market: 15
Trade Paper: 16
Mass Market: 9
Grand Total: 71
Ouch. Looking at the books in the pile, and at the turnover, I realize that for the most part a lot of these are books that I thought that I should read, but that never really captured my imagination. There has been plenty of time for me to read more of these (although not so much lately), but some of them just aren’t getting read because for all that they seemed interesting when I bought them, they are continually supplanted by other books that I’m more interested in reading.
I find that most books that I buy are read within a week or two of getting them. If they are not read by then there is fairly little chance that I’ll get to them anytime soon. Or at least, that’s the overall pattern, although there are notable exceptions. Since I’m bored and wondering how many I’ve read and desperately avoiding doing the housework, I’m going to count up the books that I have here and have read. Note that this isn’t the entirety of the books that I’ve read, since I’ve lost and sold and given some away or read it at the library, of course, nor could I bring all the books that I own out here to SF. It’s a lot of them, though, including almost all of the books that I’ve read in the last three years. The count is rough because there are a few (less than 20) books in there that I have not read and don’t really intend to read, at least not in the conventional sense. They’re mostly reference, and a few things from school.
Trade Paper: 93
Mass Market: 180
Grand, Grand Total: 406
Read Percentage: 82.3%
Nova Swing by M. John Harrison.
I think that either you love Harrison or you hate him. He’s all about losers, people that you hate a lot, or at least don’t care about much, but at least they’re intriguing, in some way. One day I will find the right words to describe Harrison’s prose style, but I’m not really up to the task right now. Regardless, the writing here is achingly good. I am not entirely sure that I would want to write like Harrison, but I am certainly glad that he is there to do it.
You should likely start with his novel Light before you read this one, or you might be totally lost. Which might be the point, or maybe not. A good deal of the novel is about uncertainty in any case, and there are no characters carried over. If you like this one you should read Light, in any case.
The Ordinary by Jim Grimsley.
I am not certain what I think of this book now, since I just lately finished it. It’s certainly well written but the prose is short of exceptional. While the plotting is certainly intriguing, there are some deep structural problems that I had a hard time getting over. Most of the second half of the book is taken up with what might be called ‘revelation time, where the author spends a lot of space spelling out a lot of facts about the universe that he’s constructed and moving the plot forward almost not at all. This might have been a more forgivable flaw in a longer book, or one with more languid initial pacing, but unfortunately this is a short book that starts quickly and expects a good deal of figuring out from the reader. That is pauses so long for even a quite crucial scene is irritating at the least, and that he does is twice (the scene is done from two sides, but not identically), even more so.
That he then couples this with a pulled punch ending, adds the injury to it. I liked the book, but the point at which he leaves the story off is almost unforgivable. A sequel has just come out, and it might be easier to recommend them as a pair. We’ll have to see. For all of its flaws, it’s an engaging book, and the extra time that he spends at the expense of the plot is spent in well done character building. I’ll pick the new one up one of these days and let you know.
Also, in light of the furore over the fact that Bear’s Carnival contained even a tiny bit of it, I feel that I must inform some of my more faint-hearted readers that this book contains tiny bits of ‘teh gay’ and that if you read it it might get all over you. However, it primarily concerns lesbians, so I’m sure that people will be much less bothered.
The Mark of Ran by Paul Kearney.
This short little fantasy suffers from some of the same problems as the above, but at least you get a good sea battle at the end, something that’s been seemingly promised from the first couple of chapters. There are some good things and bad things about it, but it’s mostly good. Much in the same vein as but sadly somewhat inferior to the work of Steven Erikson. That said, it’s a quick, light book to read, and I’m hoping that the second volume of the story picks it up a lot. As this, this first of a trilogy, as I understand it, suffers a but from first child syndrome, over-heavy with world-building and character development and just finally gets into the plot right before it ends. This will be something that I’ll have to revisit once I’ve read the second volume (I’m honestly tempted to call it the second section).
Polity Agent by Neal Asher.
I’ve just noticed that of the four books that I’m talking about here, only one of them could possibly stand alone. It is not this book. Asher is essentially writing one novel that’s about two million words long. I have no problems with this, as it’s incredibly entertaining, and I think that you should read them all, as much as that is possible, since Tor skipped publishing Line of Polity and may or may not publish this one. I would recommend either going to amazon.ca or to your local specialty store, assuming that you have one.
One thing that bothers me these days, though, is that certain lengths are considered uncommercial. It’s no real secret that short fiction is a slow way to starve. Unfortunately, if you’re truly gifted at the form of the short novel, you’d better have a day job, because you’re going to starve quickly, as you’re too long for the magazines and too short for the main publishers, unless you’re a huge, huge name and people will publish anything that you write just because they know people would buy your spit on paper. Unfortunately this leads to a lot of weird things happening. The worst of it, I think, is that novels that are uncommercially short are padded out, often to great diminution of their effect. But then there are the longer novels that are, at the other end of the scale, cut into smaller parts so that that they can physically be published.
Majestrum by Matthew Hughes
Those of you who are fans of Matt Hughes’ work from F&SF no doubt will already be familiar with Hengis Hapthorne, the Holmes-like ‘freelance discriminator’ who features heavily within what is the more interesting thread of those stories. In this, the first full-length book featuring that character, we get to see that Hughes and his characters, who can seem cartoonish at times, are capable of holding forth at greater length and still maintaining the light tone and humor of the stories, while infusing the characters and their environment with additional depth and interest. Nor, it seems, is Hughes limited only to humor, for we get to see this deeply self-absorbed character confronted by his limitations and faced by a strange form of his own mortality. It’s well handled, and it’s nice to see that the character has more than one note.
Zima Blue by Alastair Reynolds
Reynolds, in my opinion, is one of the more interesting writers of short fiction around, and I find that, despite his claims that he doesn’t work well at shorter lengths, that his short fiction is more effective, at least in terms of my enjoyment of his work, than his longer work. That holds true especially here, in a collection of much of his strongest short work that doesn’t take place in the Revelation Space universe. Highlights include “Spirey and the Queen”, “Hideaway”, and “Beyond the Aquila Rift”. This book just gives us all the more reason to lament the fact that an author can make no more than a tiny fraction of their living from writing short fiction. If it paid a little more, we might see more books like this one.
Child of Fortune by Norman Spinrad
I’m not entirely sure what to think of th this one. I’m a huge fan of Bug Jack Barron, and Spinrad is one of the most interesting stylists that SF has yet produced. That said, I think that this book was meant to be shocking, and unfortunately it fails at this today, although it may not have when the book was first released. For the most part, the book focuses on sex, almost exclusively heteronormative, and it does so at the expense of its setting. The language used is quite interesting and inventive, and some of the set-pieces are pretty magnificent, but the characters and the plot suffer a bit in comparison. There’s just not all that much going on there, and the additional difficulty imposed by the stylistic experimentation and visualizing some quite strange environments ends up being tiring rather than fascinating, because you don’t have the engine of a strong plot to propel you along.
The Man from the Diogenes Club by Kim Newman
I have to admit, I was a little doubtful coming in to this one. First off, the cover is, well, more than a little bit gaudy, and I’d never read anything else by Newman (although I have met him, and he’s quite a nice and good humored person, from what I could tell). But it’s from MonkeyBrain, and I trust Chris’ taste, generally. Thankfully, any apprehensions that I might have had were entirely unfounded. This is a great book and it’s a whole lot of fun. It’s also carried off with a great deal more stylistic panache than one would infer from the seeming wonkyness of the conceit. A collection of short stories revolving around psychic and disco fashion maven Richard Jepeson, the whole thing could be shallow and played for laughs, but Newman infuses the characters with feeling and depth that could easily have been left out if these stories had been written simply as a lark. The only issue that I had with these stories was that, as an American reader, with no deep knowledge of British popular culture, I constantly had the nagging feeling that I was missing quite a bit of the cultural references being made. I did not discover until after I had finished half the book that there was a generous glossary and explication of many of these references at the end of the book, which I found helpful and would recommend reading through first, if only so you don’t have to go to the back every time you get the feeling that you’re lost. Overall, this stuff was incredibly enjoyable and I’ll certainly be seeking out more of Newman’s work in the future.
Battlestar Galactica Start to ep 2×08
I’ve stopped watching this show. I don’t know whether it’s the Star Trek science, the hot topcism, or the irritatingly inconsistent way the characters seem to be written, but this show just doesn’t seem to be very good. The Gaius Baltar character is especially annoying. I think that the show might have worked better with some more serious constraints, like a statement at the outset that said the producers of the show would see the characters on Earth or dead in three seasons. That way you might get less of the sense of meandering that this series gives off. I don’t hate it, and there are many good moments, but I just can’t keep watching a show that has me stopping a few times an episode to cringe at how astoundingly bad the last couple of minutes were. Also, I know that they’re not going to give it the ending that I want already, so… meh (I don’t say that selfishly, as in I only want endings that I like or can predict, but I can already see it ending like so many of the other genre shows, drawing it out too long and slowly losing viewers until they have to finish the show in an unsatisfying hurry).