The Reading Stack 8/11/05
Speaking of books, these are the books I was given or bought while I was in Scotland and/or were waiting for me when I returned. From the left:
Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction — this book was pressed upon me by a bunch of cheerfully tipsy Scots at the Orbit party at Interaction, whose number included its editor. So, there: parties are good for something. The book includes short stories written by Scottish SF/F writers (or, in a couple of cases, SF/F writers who are not Scottish by birth but spend a significant amount of time in country), who include brand-spankin’ new Hugo winner Charles Stross, Ken MacLeod, Jane Yolen and Michael Cobley (the latter of whom sat on one of my panels at Interaction).
Aside from the contents, of which I have only begun to explore but which I so far find to be rather good, the book wins my early affection for two bibliographically geeky reasons: One, the cover design is very clean and cool looking, and two, the book is typeset in Goudy, which is my all time favorite font. I know, I’m a dork. I’m not entirely sure the book will be made available in the US, so I feel quite happy to have nicked a copy; if you are in the UK, however, you can snag a copy off of Amazon.co.uk.
Magic Lessons, by Justine Larbalestier — I’m not proud; I begged this advance reader’s copy off of Ms. Larbalestier in a groveling sort of fashion because I knew that aside from my own anticipation for the book (based on the excellent Magic or Madness, the first book in the series, which is one of the best YA books of this year), bringing this book home for my wife to read would garner me a whole bunch of spousal credits, redeemable for fabulous prizes and avoidance of some chores. Krissy’s response to me giving her this book was instructive. She took it, looked at it and said “I’ll read it right now, but you know when this comes out I’m going to get my own copy.” Krissy gets the idea that the best way you can compliment an author for the work is to actually buy the book. Go, wife, go! But she’ll have to wait until next March to get it from the bookstore.
As for myself, I’m saving this one for after I finish The Ghost Brigades — i.e., as a reward. See? This is how we writers motivate ourselves. I’ll let you know how it is, although I can tell you right now I expect it to be very good indeed. Also, dig the very cool-looking cover (there’s a better version here).
The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks — This one was a Hugo nominee this year but it’s not currently available in the US (it’ll be released later in the year by Night Shade Books), so I picked it up and then read it while I was flying back from Scotland, and also as I was stranded at Philadelphia’s airport for ten hours. While casting no aspersions on Night Shade, who I expect will benefit quite nicely from publishing the book, it’s more than mildly appalling this book was not snapped up by a major Stateside publisher.
Now, I vaguely recall reading a Salon article with Banks in which he suggested he didn’t want the hassle of dealing with a major publisher here in the US, so maybe that has something to do with it as well. But jeez, people. This is a good book, and a commercially viable one as well: Fine literary competence, fun speculation (particularly regarding the Dwellers, gas-planet creatures who live to be billions of years old and yet on the surface appear to be a bunch of flighty twits), and a fine story line, albeit one that wraps up a little raggedly at the end. Well, what can you say. Endings are hard. And the ride to it at the very least was an excellent one.
If the book is being released in the US by a small publisher because that Banks’ choice, more power to him and to Night Shade. But if it’s being released by Night Shade because the major SF publishers didn’t see the book as worth their time, well, that’s bad. I hope it makes a ton for Night Shade and for Banks. That’ll teach ’em. The folks at Amazon suggest this will be released in the US in about a month; start saving your pennies now.
I Am Alive and You Are Dead: A Journey Into the Mind of Philip K. Dick, by Emmanuel Carrere — Certain publishing entities have determined I have a large enough presence online to start sending me books in an unsolicited fashion; this is one that was waiting for me when I got back. Naturally, I encourage all book publishers to do the same. Baby needs books. As it happens, I had done some of my own research into the life of PKD for my upcoming science fiction film book, which led me to the conclusion that the man was quite far off his nut more often than not, and a quick glance into this book seems to bolster this conclusion as well.
It’s paying off for him now, seeing how he’s one of the hottest writers in Hollywood, which makes it a shame that he’s been dead since just before Blade Runner came out in 1982. I’ve heard Dick called the “Shakespeare of SF,” but it’s probably more accurate to say he’s like the genre’s Van Gogh: Better appreciated dead. Interestingly, this book, while released in hardcover here in the US just last year, looks to have been originally published in French in 1993; more proof, perhaps, that even as a biographical subject PKD has way ahead of his time. I’ll be delving further into this book at some point, but for now I want to hold off mulling on how sad and tweaked the man’s life was. I have a book of my own to write.
As an aside, some of you know that the title of one of my upcoming books is The Android’s Dream, which is a blatant riff/steal off of the title of one of PKD’s most famous books, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which in case you didn’t know was the source material for Blade Runner. I would like to state here and now that the only thing that my book and PKD’s writing have in common are those three words; I can’t even imagine trying to get into the headspace that would cause me to write as Dick did. This may be to my detriment as an artist, but on the other hand my day-to-day life seems nicer. It’s a fair trade.
And there you have it.