Reading Brought Back from Worldcon, Plus Book-Pimpery
Posted on August 31, 2006 Posted by John Scalzi 41 Comments
If you don’t get some new reading material when you’re at a Worldcon, you’re basically an idiot. So here’s some of the reading material I’ve picked up. From left:
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow: Cory, who wuz robbed — robbed! — of the Hugo this year (albeit by Peter Beagle, a very fine person and writer) has banged out a YA novel that is really excellent so far. Personally it had me by the second paragraph, when it described a high school vice-principal as “a sucking chest wound of a human being.” I knew vice-principals like that, I have to say. It’ll be a little bit of a while before Little Brother gets to the rest of you, so allow me to say: Neener neener neener, I get to read it and you don’t. But you’ll want to, when it finally hits the stores.
The Totally Geeky Guide to The Princess Bride by MaryAnn Johanson: I totally have a secret online crush on MaryAnn Johnson, who runs the FlickFilosopher web site, one of my favorite movie sites online. Some time ago Johanson got a deal to write short, fun guides on popular movies for a book publisher, but then that publisher closed up shop before the books came out. So she figured, well, it’s good enough, I’ll put it out myself. And here we are with a geeky guide to The Princess Bride, which Johanson is (appropriately) really geeky about.
And she’s right; it is good enough — and more than that, actually. It’s a funny and fast overview about the things people love about Princess Bride; it nods towards deeper themes in the film and mostly appraoches the film affectionately and fondly, looking at what it is that makes that film more than just a pleasant way to spend 90 minutes or so. Personally speaking, I’m not as geeky about The Princess Bride as Johanson is, but her enthusiasm for the film is catching, and a kick to read.
If the book does well enough, Johanson is considering adding to the series. So here’s hoping it does well enough.
Echelon, by Josh Conviser: As I noted in my Worldcon wrap-up piece, I got the chance to meet Josh after a particularly contentious panel, and chatting with him and Deanna Hoak gave me a chance to wind down without strangling someone. So I was readily anticipating checking out his novel. I’ve literally just started the first couple of pages, so I’ll have to report on the whole thing later, but it’s got a hell of a premise, which is basically that Echelon, the spy program the US uses to keep track of nefarious foreigners, has expanded in the near future to become something of an electronic big brother. This cuts down on things like war, which is good, but also, you know, also cuts down on things like personal freedom, which is bad.
Josh has the extraordinary good fortune of having the book drop at exactly the right time — i.e., when we’re having serious discussions in the real world about how far our government should be able to invade our privacy for the sake of safety and security. Every author should be so lucky. Anyway, it looks really interesting, so I’m looking forward to digging in.
Having thus pimped my reading, I invite you to do the same: Pimp a book or other reading material you’re loving in the last few weeks. Doesn’t have to be new, just interesting. Also: Don’t pimp your own book — there’ll undoubtedly be a self-pimp thread coming along soon. Share the love, friends. Share the love.
Currently, I’m reading a very old series: The Army of the Potomac by Bruce Catton.
The Civil War never really interested me (I’m more of 20th Century guy), but since every political story I read seems to reference a Civil War battle that I know nothing about, I thought I would try to catch up.
Let me tell you, the Civil War is amazing. And this series focuses just on the Army of the Potomac, some of whose soldiers I think I would like to hang out with if they weren’t, you know, dead. I’m halfway through the second book, Glory Road, and I can’t pimp it enough.
I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson. None of the many movie adaptations really do it justice.
(Cross-posted from my blog – click my name to see the post)
I’d like to recommend Kate Atkinson’s latest book, Case Histories. Although the book is set in modern-day Cambridge, it isn’t a “cozy” mystery at all.
The book opens in 1970, where we are introduced to the Land family, four daughters, mother and Victor Land, a not-so-famous mathematician. If the book has any faults, it’s here, because Ms. Atkinson spends twenty pages getting to the first mystery, the disappearance of three-year-old Olivia Land.
We are next introduced to two other cold cases (in a much more action-packed manner), then we meet the protagonist of the story, Jackson Brodie, former policeman and current private detective, who grew up in Scotland with a mystery of his own. He is engaged to finally close these cold cases, starting with the sudden discovery of Olivia Land’s stuffed mouse, last seen in her hands in 1970.
Ms. Atkinson has delivered a crackerjack book, well written and very engaging. Her characters are all fully-realized and quite enjoyable. You’ll find yourself rooting for Jackson and his clients.
Not sure if this would count as pimping – I’m currently trying to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. I say trying, because so far it’s taken me two weeks to get a fourth of the way through the book. At this rate I will be done around Halloween.
Actually, it isn’t quite as bad as all that. The first hundred pages (out of a thousand) didn’t do anything for me, but it has gotten more interesting since then.
So consider this a half-pimp…
Vellum by Hal Duncan. In fact, I got it after your recommendation, John, and it’s been good and head-twisty. I’ve already got Ink pre-ordered.
And I know it’s not reading material, but the production of August Wilson’s Fences at the Pasadena Playhouse was ten kinds of awesome. Laurence Fishburne! Angela Basset! The 7Up Guy! (Orlando Jones was stellar, actually.) And all of that great dialogue, so musical and alive and…woof. It was great. Plus, Danny Glover was at the performance I was at, and, I’m sad to say, he was looking too old for that shit.
I finally got around to starting Cory Doctorow’s Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town yesterday. (I’m one of those with a backlog.) I found myself half way through it before I had realized it. (Unfortunately, I had to put it down. I hope to finish it tonight.)
Even though I knew better, I opened a copy of Steven Brust’s Dzur at the bookstore and by the end of the first page, I realized the book had to be mine. Damn him and his mutant writing ability!
Not in the last few weeks, but a couple months ago, I read and very much enjoyed The Probable Future, by Alice Hoffman. This is a fantasy set on the East coast, about a remarkable family where each generation a new daughter wakes up on her 13th birthday with an (unpredictable) special ability, such as the ability to detect lies, or to walk through fire, to not feel pain, or to sometimes see the probable future. Obviously these abilities might come with some drawbacks, and Hoffman does a beautiful job of depicting the woes, hopes, and unpredictable and interwoven lives of these women and the people they love.
Immediately after I read the book I set it aside to give to my friend Geri Sullivan, who recently moved East out of the Midwest. I gave it to her two weeks ago and she read it at the beginning of this week. Her review: “The Probable Future was *wonderful!* Alice Hoffman’s prose is a comfort, and a gentle joy.”
I was at least as pleased by her enjoyment of it as I was by mine. I recommend it to other readers as well.
Just finished Settling Accounts: Drive to the East (Settling Accounts Trilogy), Harry Turtledove. I like Turtledove’s alternate history stuff – so sue me ;)
Re-reading Schismatrix Plus, Bruce Sterling
Next in the queue:
Forty Signs of Rain, Kim Stanley Robinson
Spin and Accelerando are on order, due to the urging of our gracious host :)
I’ve just had a delivery of a couple of recent Finder collections, gettin gme up to date with Carla Speed McNail’s “aboriginal SF” graphic novel. Five Crazy Women is wonderful, and Mystery Date gives us a slice of a wonderfully human future.
Then I’ve been re-reading Walter Jon Williams and William Barton. Two of my favourite writers – Angel Station was a good as I remembered it, and When We Were Real is still one of the finest SF works of the last 10 years.
I just finished B-Max: Sepuku, Peter Watts’ final book in the Rifters Trilogy (which, for reasons having to do with his publisher got turned into four books).
The Rifters Trilogy will appeal to anyone interested in near-future (2050s) cyberpunk. The first book, Starfish, takes place almost entirely along a deep-see geothermal vent. The second, third and fourth books take place all across the remnant states of North America. Like standard cyberpunk fare, the future envisioned in the books is wonderous in its technology and terrible in its sociology.
Damn. I misspelled “sea.” 15 more hours and I’m on a plane home (first time since December). It cannot get here fast enough.
After discovering to my delight that Olympos was already out in paperback and devouring it in about a week, I’m currently in the process of rereading Dan Simmons’ really, really excellent Hyperion and Endymion novels. (To be clear, Olympos and its predecessor Ilium are not parts of that series, but they have similar themes and a similar style.)
This is about the third or fourth time through for me, and each time I pick them up I find new things to be delighted by.
The first time I read them they felt like a pretty transparent indictment of the Catholic church in specific and religion in general…but upon second or third reading I’ve found them to be much deeper than that. Simmons does attack the most virulent characteristics of mindless organized religion, but I’ve realized the attitude is more constructive than it seems at first reading.
Anyway, if you’ve not read these spectacular SF novels, you’re missing out on one of the most interesting and thought-provoking series of the last 10 years.
I have a secret, burning hatred for Dan Simmons. Anyone who can jump from hard-boiled detective fiction to epic SF to (really excellent) horror to a freakin’ book about Hemmingway training spies is more talented than any one person deserves. Stupid sexy talent.
Heartiest congrats on your well deserved Campbell.
I just put up a post about Christian Morel’s /Les Decisions Absurds/ which was translated from French to Japanese by my friend Kenji Yokoyama. Absurd decisions are those that occur despite our best intentions to do otherwise, like ending up at a cafe you don’t like because you think everybody else does. Turns out they were deferring to you.
Or like a flight crew concentrating so hard on fixing faulty landing gear that they run out of fuel and crash while circling the airport.
Several more examples in the post.
Lots of potential here that frustrates the hell out of me because nobody has translated it into English yet.
I hope it will intrigue you.
Sorry I blew the html. Click on my name to go to Dum Luks blog for the post.
I should be reading manuscripts, but I’ve been reading books instead. Two books for pimping (I’ve read both in ARC form):
1. LAND OF MIST AND SNOW by Debra Doyle and James D. Macdonald, about Civil War sea battles between ships powered by elemental spirits. It was interesting enough to keep me reading until the end, and that says something, as I really don’t like the Civil War. (Coming in December 2006)
2. LIFE AS WE KNEW IT by Susan Beth Pfeffer, a post-apocalyptic YA novel about life on Earth after a meteor hits the moon and alters its orbit. It’s told in diary format, narrated by sixteen year old Miranda, as her comfortable life falls apart. It’s one of the most emotionally heart-wrenching books that I’ve read in a long time, and I loved it. (Coming in October 2006)
i know i’m behind but i’m just reading garth nix’s sabriel right now and really enjoying it.
also, ellen kushner’s privilege of the sword about which i have lots to say
and as always, naomi novik’s his majesty’s dragon and subsequent books.
I second Privilege of the Sword. Just finished Lawrence Block’s mystery Burglars Can’t Be Choosers and Ian Mortimer’s The Greatest Traitor, which is about the dashing and historically neglected Sir Roger Mortimer.
All are recommended.
If you don’t get some new reading material when you’re at a Worldcon, you’re basically an idiot.
Hmm…either that, or you’re broke and out of shelf space, which is why I didn’t go nuts in the dealer room. That said, Jeremy did talk me into Snake Agent by Liz Williams, and I picked up a couple of magazines too. I just finished Vellum, and I’m starting on Air by Geoff Ryman…kind of late to the game, I know.
I have a signed copy of Stephen Pirie’s ‘Digging up Donald’ just sitting here screaming to be read. I’m just finishing about nine other books first.
I’d like to recommend “Damned Good Show” (Cassell Military Paperbacks S.) by Derek Robinson.
It’s a fictional account (Although as far as I can tell the details are accurate) of the early days of RAF Bomber Command in WWII. He details the losses (both air and round), the poor aircraft available at the time and the casual attitude to death that crews were forced to adopt without pulling any punches.
Robinson has written two other books on the RAF in WWII and each one is excellent.
Here’s a third recc for Privilege of the Sword, and a solid recc for Liz Williams’ Snake Agent, which is 12 pounds of kickass in a 5 pound bag.
Blade Dancer by S.L. Viehl. I literally have no idea where my copy of this book came from – it’s possible that our mutual friend THHIP (The Hottest Hottie in Publishing)slipped me a copy way back when….anyway, as you know, I’m dead flat broke so I’ve been looking for inexpensive (read:free) entertainment, digging through my piles (and piles and piles) of books to see what I might not have read yet and lo and behold found this one, which I proceeded to devour in about four hours. Hell’s bell;s this woman can write! Really great SF action adventure, with empathetic characters (and she write characters really really well) as well as a believeable creation of a totally alien cultural mindset. I wondered why I hadn’t seen or heard of this book before, and then I looked at the cover. Ye gods! Nearly as bad as the cover to Matt Stover’s extraordinary novel Heroes Die (which I still believe was one of the worst covers in the history of book publishing…and it was MY publisher, fer crissakes!).
Anyway, both the books mentioned above ROCK.
I will also second the pimpage of Josh Conviser’s Echelon, which I read in manuscript form nearly two years ago. A very good book, and one that I was really looking forward to working on before Ballantine laid me off.
Read and LOVED Elizabeth Bear’s new Blood & Iron, as well as her new short story collection The Chains That You Refuse.
Also just read the manuscript for myh friend Nicola Griffith’s new forthcoming novel (Spring 2007, I think, from Riverhead) called Always. And as usual, when I finished the book, I shook my fist at the gods, screaming WHY, GOD, WHY CAN’T I WRITE LIKE THIS WOMAN???? Nicola is one ass-kicking writer in any genre in which she chooses to write.
(I read an awful lot on my Palm Tungsten E, and believe that Documents-to-Go may be the one invention yet that saves trees on this planet from total destruction. You can turn any MS Word file into a PDB file readable by eReader.)
I’ve been digging a lot of excellent non-fiction as well, most notably Naked Conversations, an argument FOR blogging in the business community as a way to better communicate with your customers. Really good argument, too.
And re-read Stephen Leigh’s magnificent (and really sadly under-rated) novel Dark Water’s Embrace, a novel that very thoughtfully explores the possibility of nature introducing a third gender into the damaged ecosystem of a planet in order to correct a plummeting birth rate. Really good book, but out-of-print. Has an awful lot to say about intolerance and fear-of-the-other. Honestly, this book is right up there among my all-time favorites.
That’s all I can think of right now…but God knows I have time on my (really idle) hands…
Oh, and hell! How could I forget my (so far) absolute favorite book of 2006????
Alison Bechdel’s elegant graphic memoir, Fun Home – certainly worthy of a National Book Award . Just go get a copy, and prepare to lose a great deal of your day…!
Correcting my own error: SteVen Pirie, not StePHen.
Just finished Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora, which was Big Fun, and am now moving on to the next in Patrick O’Brian’s glorious Aubreyad, which if you haven’t read, and you like historical fiction, is a wonderful treat waiting for you.
1) Greg van Eekhout’s chapbook collection, Show and Tell and Other Stories, from Tropism Press. Greg’s a helluva writer, plus there are amusing little doodles he drew scattered throughout the book.
2) In Lands That Never Were: Tales of Swords and Sorcery from the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, edited by Gordon Van Gelder. Van Gelder mentioned this book in a rejection letter he sent me a year or two ago. If that’s not bold self-pimpery on his part, I don’t know what is. But it’s a good collection with a lot of really recent stories in it, as well as a few classics.
3) The Book of Lost Books, by Stuart Kelly. It’s about books by famous writers that are now lost to us forever. Yes, books that you and I will never, ever be able to read. It’s pretty amusing, and China Miéville blurbed it, so I’d call that a plus.
Oh, well, if we’re restricted to the last few weeks, it’s also going to have to be _The Lies of Locke Lamora_ (booklog), which I enjoyed very much, though not unreservedly.
Seconding the recs of _Dzur_ (though not a place to start the series!) and Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels; I just finished listening to _Treason’s Harbor_, which looks to be setting up some very interesting stuff.
I also really liked _Strange & Norrell_, though I can see that it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste.
I just finished Neil Asher’s Brass Man and was most pleased. Good ol’ SF on the whole, though if you don’t share his taste for the ghoulish it might not pan out for you. Think what might happen if Clive Barker read Poul Anderson and Asher is what you might get.
I’m re-reading OMW. From watching John I figured it was a good thing to do.
Not pimpage, but linkage related by way of the Princess Bride reference:
The Dread Pirate Bin Laden (http://www.legalaffairs.org/issues/July-August-2005/feature_burgess_julaug05.msp)
Haven’t had time to read much new stuff except for Tobias Buckell’s “Crystal Rain” and our own host’s “Ghost Brigades.” I recommend both.
Any of the Vlad series by Steven Brust I would recommend (I will get to Dzur this fall). If you’re a fan of old novels his “Dragera from the Dragerian side” books (Staring with Phoenix Guard and the Count series) are just plain fun. Also, any of the Black Company books by Glen Cook. The first three are your standard mil-fantasy romp. After “Bleak Seasons” though, the story get very deep, complex and engrossing.
Jim and I bought MaryAnn’s book and really enjoyed it. He wrote a great review of it at his blog (http://www.dpsinfo.com/jblog). When you get your Boskone invitation, be sure to note that you are familiar with MaryAnn’s work because I’m sure you’ll wind up on a program item with her. Jim is running Boskone program next year and I’m on staff (but please remind us because the invites are still at least a month away from being sent out).
I didn’t buy too many books at Worldcon, other than the new edition of Farenheit 451 (which I got Ray to sign!!!) and the Worldcon GoH speech book.
A friend recommended A Game of Thrones by G.R.R.Martin. (Are those initials right? GRR looks wrong!) I’m not that far in, but I’m so caught up in the story. It reminds me of Orson Scott Card, the way you get emotionally invested in the characters very early, so that when the bad stuff starts to happen, also very early, it’s pretty wrenching.
I can’t see hauling books home in a suitcase when I have a perfectly fabulous S.F. bookstore not 8 blocks from my office (Other Change of Hobbit, where Tom Whitmore hangs out). So I only bought a couple… Peter Beagle’s new short story collection _The Line Between_ is REALLY good.
Have you read William Goldmen’s book “The Princess Bride”? I’d be interested in your thoughts on it. In my humble opinion the story of the fight atop the Cliffs of Insanity and the flashback to Indigo’s childhood are the reason the English language was invented.
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart. Yes, I’ve read it before; I’m re-reading it. I can honestly say this is the best fantasy novel I’ve ever read.
I love that book.
I just read K. J. Parker’s Devices and Desires and it is very very very good. Highly recommended to anyone who likes complex characters and lavish amounts of technical detail (albeit medievalish, not sfnal) and interesting thoughts about trying to be rational. Ever so highly recommended, in fact.
Thank you for providing the link to the ‘Totally geeky guide to Princess Bride’, I am definitely buying it.
Oh, I forgot one – just started reading the manuscript for China Mieville’s new YA novel, UnLunDun, which – so far – is pretty wonderful. It’s definitely got a smart YA sensibility about it, but we grown-ups will like it too, methinks.
I couldn’t find some of the books I was looking for — and unfortunately could not afford some of the older books on sale that I remember from way back when. Ah well . . .
I brought Old Man’s War to Worldcon, and finished reading it there, just in time to have you sign it (along with the Nielsen Haydens on the acknowledgement page). I picked up To Say Nothing of the Dog as I have never read it and somehow it seemed appropriate. I picked up Tim Powers’ Last Call after listening him on a panel. I liked it (I’m a sucker for truly inside Las Vegas trivia) and am looking for The Anubis Gates now. Having just finished Making Book I’m waiting for The Ghost Brigades to come out in trade paper.