22 March 2008

So Many Books...

I have very little time for extra reading right now, which is frustrating, because a bunch of interesting books have arrived recently. (The good news: I will be making a substantial change of life this summer, and with luck that change will open up a lot more time for reading and writing. Just have to survive the next three months...) Here, then, are some comments on books I have not yet had much time to look at, but am keeping on my To Be Read pile...

Weird Tales Issue 348: Word on the street is that Ann VanderMeer's second issue as fiction editor of Weird Tales is awesome (and not just because of the fiction). I enjoyed Ann's first issue, and intend to get to this one ... very...........soon.........

Speaking of Ann VanderMeer, I also now have copies of two anthologies she and some guy named Jeff edited: The New Weird and Steampunk. I've actually been so excited by both that I couldn't help myself from dipping into them, even though I should be doing work on the book I'm working on with the VanderMeers myself, Best American Fantasy 2. But these are such fascinating books, full of strange and entertaining and hard-to-find-elsewhere material. I continue to be blown away by the commitment of Tachyon Publications to publishing really exciting collections and anthologies. They've been doing a good job of this for a while, but I don't think they've ever been better than they are now. Such books as the VanderMeers' anthologies, the two Kelly&Kessel anthos, Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology and Rewired: The Post-Cyberpunk Anthology, the Asimov's 30th Anniversary Anthology, the Hartwell&Kramer The Year's Best Fantasy and so many others are doing a great service for SF short fiction in our time. (And yes, I had long ago promised an interview with the Tachyon folks. I dropped the ball on that one, for various reasons, but may be able to convince them to take pity on me and continue...)

Oh, and another Tachyon book on the TBR pile: The Word of God, in which Thomas M. Disch explains how he became a deity and what his plans are for us. From flipping through, I see it contains, as it should, one of my favorite Disch poems: "Ballade of the New God".

Moving down through the pile we find ........ The Adventures of Amir Hamza, 900 pages of Urdu classic. Ancient epic fantasies can be great fun, and this is one of the books I'm saving for my future free time.

Look! More anthologies! I've actually started and will definitely finish reading John Joseph Adams's Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse, because I'm a total sucker for apocalypse fiction, and the table of contents for this collection is varied and exciting. Also in this pile sits Brian Aldiss's Science Fiction Omnibus, which is a very weird book by the looks of it -- an update of his The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus, it's a hodgepodge of classic (and sometimes terribly clunky) SF and more contemporary stories such as Kim Stanley Robinson's "Sexual Dimorphism", Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life", and John Crowley's "Great Work of Time" (the latter being among my favorite stories of the last 50 years, if not of all time). Also included is William Tenn's "The Liberation of Earth", and bringing that satirical masterpiece back into print is justification enough for the book's existence. (The paucity of female and non-white writers is notable, though, in a book that attempts to be a broad overview of the genre.)

The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia, which has been getting lots of good press recently. I actually started reading it yesterday, and unless I get sidelined by a bunch of other projects, I should be able to finish it in the coming days or weeks. Sedia is also the editor of Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, which I thought I had a copy of, but I've scoured the apartment in search of it, with no luck. (If I loaned it to you, please return it sometime int he next few months, please!) And she has a blog, which I somehow didn't know about, but have now added to the blogroll.

Del Rey is publishing two anthologies that, had I the time, I would devour right now, but which will have to wait till the summer: Tales Before Narnia: The Roots of Modern Fantasy and Science Fiction edited by Douglas A. Anderson and The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow. The subtitle of the first is a bit hyperbolic (THE roots?), but the contents are diverse and interesting, with stories by E. Nesbitt, Hans Christian Andersen, Valdemar Thisted, Charles Dickens, William Morris, J.R.R. Tolkien, and a bunch of others. Ellen Datlow's anthology contains original stories by such folks as Christopher Rowe, Carol Emshwiller, Maureen McHugh, Margo Lanagan, Barry Malzberg, Jeffrey Ford, and others whose names I should also have written here, but haven't.

The Underground City by H.L. Humes -- 755 pages with narrow margins means we won't be reading this one anytime soon, but boy is it tempting! The French Resistance in WWII, geopolitics, philosophy...

But no! Heck, I haven't yet finished reading Kelley Eskridge's delightful collection of short stories, Dangerous Space, which I've had for ages, so I can't start reading Humes. No no no. And I haven't even started Lucy Snyder's even-more-compact collection, Installing Linux on a Dead Badger. And yet the books continue to accumulate. (You should see the piles of ones I have no intention of reading!)

And what have we here? Birmingham, 35 Miles by James Braziel. I know nothing about this book, but it's a post-apocalypse story, so I stuck it on the TBR pile. ("When the ozone layer opened and the sun relentlessly scorched the land, there was little that remained." Got me from the first sentence on the back cover!)

Lauren Cerand sent me Have You Found Her: A Memoir by Janice Erlbaum, another book I know nothing about, but Lauren knows my taste, so I always give a try to anything she sends. It's the story of a woman who was a homeless teen and now, twenty years later, volunteers at a homeless shelter for teens to try to help kids like she was herself and she ends up meeting a girl who is "a brilliant 19-year-old junkie savant" who needs more help than anybody knew and now this sentence will end. Yes, that gets to stay on the TBR pile, and maybe move up a few places...

The Assassin's Song by M.G. Vassanji. I've been meaning to read this for months now, especially since Vassanji was my workshop leader when I was in Kenya in '06 and I have liked the other works of his I've read. But I haven't yet had time. Hmmmph.

Somebody at Orbit kindly sent me Ian M. Banks's new novel, Matter and two paperback reprints of Banks's first Culture novels, Consider Phlebas and The Player of Games. Now, I have to admit, I read Banks's Use of Weapons, which Orbit will be re-releasing in July, a couple years ago and didn't much care for it, which surprised me quite a bit, because lots of people whose taste is similar to mine have praised that novel tremendously (VanderMeer called it "the most devastating commentary on war and the effects of war written in the 20th century"), so when I found it shallow and cloying, I figured there must be something wrong with me and not the book ("Yes," says Jeff. "To the list of things wrong with you, add that."*). (But honestly, I disliked it so much I left it in a hotel room.) Thus, I intend to read these three books and fix my perception of Banks so that I can enjoy him as much as everybody else seeems to. Because, really, even though sometimes it doesn't seem it, all I want is to be just like everybody else.

I'll probably read Chip Kidd's second novel, The Learners pretty soon, because it's short and looks like fun. I thought his first novel, The Cheese Monkeys, was strange and entertaining, and I'm glad that, when he's not working as one of the best book designers in the biz, he finds time to write.

Hey, I do have a copy of Jon Courtenay Grimwood's End of the World Blues! The title alone was enough to make me want to read it, but I didn't remember that I already had a copy, and nearly bought it at a bookstore a couple months ago, though, knowing that I wouldn't have time to read it until summer, I restrained myself. Good thing I did. I should practice restraint more often so I get better at it. (No jokes about BDSM you dirty-minded so-and-so!)

And here are two books from small presses that I was looking at in case I ever got to be a nominator at the LBC again (pause for a nanosecond of silence in remembrance): Ohio River Dialogues by William Zink (Sugar Loaf Press) and Mortarville by Grant Bailie (Ig Publishing). Neither is tremendously long, so I still hope to read them in the coming months.

I adored Zoe Wicomb's first book, You Can't Get Lost in Cape Town, so when I discovered her most recent (I think...), Playing in the Light at McNally Robinson a few months ago, I scooped it up. Thinking I would read it immediately. Ahhh, the best laid thoughts of mice and ... the best laid mice of plans and.... the best Lenny........

And what is this? A new Elric book by Michael Moorcock with illustrations by the great and glorious John Picacio? Yes, indeed, it's Elric The Stealer of Souls. I've been meaning to read all the other Elric books for ages now. In time, perhaps I will. Until then, I can look at the pictures!

Richard Morgan's Thirteen is sitting here, too. I've had some problems fully embracing Morgan's other books, but he's one of those writers who I think will eventually write a book that really impresses me, and Thirteen could well be it. With luck, I'll get to see.

Finally, here's Felix Gilman's first novel, Thunderer, which, when I opened the envelope that covered it, I immediately put on the Not Right For Me pile because of the cover. It looks like a cheesey historical romance with pirate-ship-zeppelins. Pirate-ship-zeppelins are fine with me, but cheesey historical romances are not. But then I discovered it was edited by Juliet Ulman, whom I adore. And VanderMeer called him a "thrilling new fantasist". And Jay Tomio Robert at Fantasy Book Critic liked it and notes that the cover art isn't entirely a good representation of the book. And I do try hard not to judge books by their packaging. So I'll give it a try. Sometime. Sometime...

Meanwhile, I see there's another whole pile of books over there. No time to list them, though, as I still have a pile of tests and papers to grade. I'd rather be reading.

*Disclaimer: As I am practicing writing a memoir, I am now writing dialogue that I can imagine people saying, rather than dialogue they, well, did in fact say.** I haven't heard from Jeff today, nor have I ever told him about my trouble with Use of Weapons. Partly out of shame, but also because it never really occured to me. But I bet he'd say something like that. Or else, "You're a weirdo," which I get a lot. Not just from him. Not even primarily from him.

**Here's something I just wrote for J.M. Coetzee to say when a reporter asks him who his favorite contemporary writers are: "I think Matthew Cheney is at the top of that list. In fact, I don't think a better writer has ever lived. Future generations will value him in the way that current generations value Shakespeare."

6 comments:

  1. If I might throw my two cents in: For Iain M. Banks, start with Player Of Games, it was my first SciFi novel and is still one of my favourites. Use of weapons also is no favourite of mine.

    And skip 13 by Morgan, a waste of time. I found it not just bad, but also offensively (hetero)sexist.

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  2. I thought Black Man was very good, definitely grabbed me more than Ian McDonald's much lauded Brasyl did for example. Then again, your mileage may vary.

    Regarding Felix Gilman's Thunderer, it wasn't actuallly Jay Tomio (who is moving these days and thus is rather inactive) but it was Robert at Fantasybookcritic who said what you alluded to.

    As for the rest, thanks for the heads-up; I had 'missed' a couple of nice antho's released by Tachyon. I have read Jeff & Ann Vandermeer's one and enjoyed it 'on balance'.

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  3. Good stuff, Matt! I'm taking notes. :) Looking forward to a nice summer of reading...

    And I can't wait to hear about your big change! Best of luck getting through the next few months.

    Richard

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  4. Thanks, Lawrence, for catching my mix-up. I've fixed it in the post.

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  5. I enjoy Morgan more than McDonald. I found Thirteen/Black Man to be a near-perfect balance of characterization, action and world-building, wheras I found River of Gods sluggish.

    Just my 2c.

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  6. Egads--you didn't fall head over heals in love with Use of Weapons, probably one of the best constructed novels of the modern age, tomorrow's headlines beamed back to today! There is indeed something terribly wrong with, something the Banks's lesser works will only amplify.

    To me it used the twist ending to great effect, something that usually falls flat, but was entirely consistent to the set-up here. I also responded to its devastating horror aspects.

    --Eric S.

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