Books to Spend Your Gift Cards On


All this talk about marketing and publicist guidelines and so on reminds me that there’s a stack of books on my desk that I’ve been meaning to chat about for a while but which I’ve neglected to because I’ve been all about me recently. Well, enough about me, let’s talk about some of these books for a while.

1. The Blonde, by Duane Swierczynski — Swierczynski’s a man after my own heart because he’s clearly a follower of the Theory of First Sentences, which states that the first sentence of your book damn well better grab your reader by the throat and then drag their eyes down the rest of the page. Anyone’s who’s read The Android’s Dream will tell you that I’m a subscriber of this theory myself, so it’s nice to see another member of the secret club. No, I’m not going to tell you the sentence. You should read it yourself. I will tell you the tagline on the back of the book, though: “It’s your typical love story: Boy meets girl. Girl kidnaps boy. Boy loses girl and is pursued by a professional killer carrying a decapitated head in a gym bag.” Boy, if I had a dollar for every time that happened to me.

Anyway, this is a fun hard-boiled thriller with just the tiniest dash of science fiction dropped in, and you’ll like it or I’ll send ferrets to chew off your toes. No, really. I will. I’ve just roped Swierczynski into an Author Interview, so you’ll have a chance to learn a little more about him in the next couple of weeks. But in the meantime, check this one out.

2. Hart & Boot & Other Stories, by Tim Pratt — Speaking of Author Interviews, another fellow I’ll harangued into an interview is Tim Pratt, and a good thing too, since I’m on a short story kick and this is a fine collection of a baker’s dozen of his stories. So I plan to learn all his secrets and suck his brain dry and leave him an enervated husk. Don’t tell him; it’s meant to be a surprise. The title story of this collection, incidentally, was selected for The Best American Short Stories 2005 anthology by Michael Chabon. Yeah, I don’t know who he is, either. But he does have pretty good taste, apparently.

3. Trial of Flowers, by Jay Lake — I’m a little behind on this one, since it came out in September, and I actually read it after Mainspring, Jay’s upcoming novel from Tor (which I liked quite a bit). I like this one too; one of the things I find interesting about it is how different it is from Mainspring, in various interesting ways. I think of Jay a bit like I think of Elizabeth Bear: writers who apparently won’t be satisfied until they write in every possible sub-genre of science fiction and fantasy. This is not a criticism, especially since (so far, at least) Jay and Bear are showing they have the chops for it. I think it also means that fans of Jay Lake’s work are ultimately fans of Jay Lake, and like the idea the he sprints after his muse no matter what direction she wanders off to.

4. Dreadful Skin, by Cherie Priest — This one’s not out until March, so I won’t go into too much detail now, but suffice to say that my reader crush on Cherie continues unabated. Don’t worry, my wife knows. And approves! Because she likes to read Cherie too. Remember that while you’re waiting, you can read the first third at the Subterranean Press Web site.

5. The Future is Queer, edited by Richard Labonte and Lawrence Schimel — What? An anthology of queer science fiction? Dude, that’s so gay. It’s also pretty good, although I have to confess that outside of Neil Gaiman and editor Lawrence Schimel, I’m entirely unfamiliar with the folks in this anthology. This is a feature, not a bug — it’s nice to read people I haven’t read yet — and I expect it says more about my need to read more widely in SF than the obscurity of the authors in the collection, since people in it have won Arthur C. Clarke and Tiptree awards, and have been nominated for the Nebula. I am abashed in my ignorance. I’m working to correct it.

6. Trouble Magnet, by Alan Dean Foster — Someone at Del Rey unwittingly has my number, because I feel about Alan Dean Foster pretty much the way I feel about the rock band Journey, which is to say he’s someone whose work I gorged on in my younger years and enjoyed so much that even today my residual affection for the author inclines me to enjoy his work fairly independent of the work itself. Incidentally, I think this says something very positive about Foster, because something like that doesn’t actually happen without talent. Foster has this science fiction thing down, he gives fine value for the money, and you walk away satisfied with the reading experience in no small part because Foster is extremely competent at the writing craft, and that baseline competence is, alas, always underrated (as it was, incidentally, with Journey, the members of which, individually, were amazing musicians). Now, clearly, I understand that not everyone wants a Journey-like experience in their science fiction literature; that’s fine. Just means more for me.

Hey, if there are any books written in the last year or upcoming that you’d like to plug, the comment thread is a fine place to do it. This is a non-self-pimping thread, however: Promote other people’s good works, if you would. You’ll have plenty of opportunities for self-pimpery here at other times, trust me.

33 Comments on “Books to Spend Your Gift Cards On”

  1. For one, I think Joe Hill’s HEART-SHAPED BOX should be mandatory reading when it hits bookstore shelves in February. You’ll never look at mechanical voiceboxes the same after reading this one.

  2. I agree entirely, although I will note that I am saving all my gushing praise for that book until closer to its release date. Then you’ll see me embarrass myself. Oh yes, you will.

  3. I bought Trial of Flowers last month (no, I haven’t read it yet) and I’m thrilled because it’s a continuation of Lake’s short story The Soul Bottles from Leviathan 4 and that’s a great story.

  4. I think Chabon wrote The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which I liked.

    Yep, da Wikipedia says he did. And he’s got this quote on his website:

    “Give me an underground laboratory, half a dozen atom-smashers, and a girl in a diaphanous veil waiting to be turned into a chimpanzee, and I care not who writes the nation’s laws.” S.J. Perelman (1904-1979)

    So he’s got that going for him.

  5. Hi, I’m a long-time lurker compelled to break silence to sing the praises of Ysabeau Wilce, who wrote my all-time favorite short story “Metal More Attractive” for FSF Magazine a few years ago, and now has a YA fantasy novel out (her debut), called Flora Segunda. It’s somewhat stripped down for a youthful audience, but her unique talent still shines through. If you check out her website you’ll see she takes Monty Python’s “And now for something completely different” quite literally.

  6. Another good one that you should read is THE PINHOE EGG by Diana Wynne Jones. It’s her latest Chrestomanci book, and while I don’t think it’s quite as good as CONRAD’S FATE (the prior Chrestomanci book), it’s still a lovely read. =)

    If Athena hasn’t started reading her yet, you really need to get her hooked on Diana Wynne Jones. She’s a fabulous author.

  7. Jon Marcus:

    “I think Chabon wrote The Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which I liked.”

    Heh. I actually do know who Chabon is. I was making a little funny.

  8. Yep, Foster’s pretty high on my list of admired authors. “Into the out of” is one of my favorites, and his short story “Beethoven it was” from the “With Friends like These…” collection hit me the same way as Heinlein’s “The Long Watch,” which is to say it invoked a major emotional response which I consider the mark of a true master story teller. I’ll definately have to pick up a copy of the latest Pip & Flinx novel, but first I’ve promised myself that I’ll reread all the old ones – right after I finish Blindsight.

  9. I kinda figured, seeing as you seem to know a tiny bit about all this “book stuff.”

    But once I saw that quote I had to put it up…

    Re books for Athena, should we start a kids SF thread? Off the top of my head I’d throw Diane Duane’s “So You Want To Be A Wizard” series in there. And pretty near anything by Lloyd Alexander.

  10. If anyone is at all into good old-fashioned, two-fisted swashbuckling pulp — I myself strongly identify with that atom-smashers and girl-into-chimpanzee quote above — then I recommend Chris Roberson’s Paragaea and The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. Both of them are just plain nifty.

  11. Steven Ericksen’s latest, “The Bonehunters” is the sixth book in the most engrossing fantasy series I’ve ever read (The Malazan Books of the Fallen). Better even than George RR Martin’s Fire and Ice.

    It has interesting characters, an amazing world and ties together an immensely complex plot in a very satisfying manner.

  12. Regarding your observation on Jay Lake and Elizabeth Bear, I am totally fine with their sub-genre hopping, particularly if it gets readers out of the “one author, one genre” mode. I too would love to be able to sprint all over the map, and the more variety we have around, I think the better received my own little notions might be. :)

    BTW, in the past two days, I’ve read all of The Ghost Brigades (my boyfriend got it about a week after you visited the Bay Area and he read it first. Of course he finished it about a week later, but then I accidently left it where I couldn’t read it for the last month and a half.) and about two-fifths of The Android’s Dream. (But see what happens when I finally get access to my books? See.)

    Books I liked and want to recommend? Well, the problem is that I’ve been getting a lot of recommendations from this site in particular, or reading books discussed in the comments already. Like Blindsight and Her Smoke Rose Up Forever. Not sure if I’m adding anything new beyond enthusiastic secondings. :) Oh, wait, Tamora Pierce’s YA book, Terrier, is out in hardcover, and quite enjoyable. She uses a diary format for this book, and the voice of Beka Cooper is distinct and different from her past heroines. The Old Tortall worldbuilding–or perhaps city-building, as this book concentrates on Corus–is interesting.

  13. Well, I used some of my gift card dollars to finally snag Android’s Dream, and I also picked up It’s Superman by Tom De Haven, which is looking pretty good so far.

  14. It’s threads like this that prompt me to put down FFXII and read more. Either going to buy TAD or the next Brust novel in line – Book of Athyra.

    Also, I am looking to read any sci fi novels, recent or otherwise, that use the extinction of the pain response as a major plot device. Anyone know of any?

  15. Books for Athena: Never underestimate the power of a reading child. (I used to climb my parents bookcase at the tender age of four or five, so I could access Dad’s Foundation and Dune.) But that said, here are YA books I thought kicked ass in my youth: Tamora Pierce’s fantasy series in general (I mention her latest, Terrier, above) which feature positive female characters, another vote for Diana Wynne Jones particularly Howl’s Moving Castle and Dark Lord of Derkholm, Stephen Krensky’s Dragon Circle, Patricia Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons, Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books (okay, those came later than my youth, but hey), and not science fiction, but good silly fun, Gordon Korman’s MacDonald Hall series and his other books such as Son of Superflux and I Want To Go Home. (Oh, and much much Encyclopedia Brown.)

  16. The Menace From Earth by Heinlein for Athena. Wrinkle In Time by L’Engle.

    Alas, the SF gene didn’t really take in any of my daughters, so I don’t have much to recommend to a young lady reader. My son loved the White Mountains trilogy by Christopher White. Peter Dickinson was found for my kids, but they didn’t like his stuff. I did, from the grown-up perspective.

  17. I’ll drop in a plug for Caitlin Kiernan’s ‘Alabaster’ – a collection of short stories and novellas that revolve around a single character, a young albino girl named Dancy Flammarion, who is directed by an angel (maybe) to eradicate monsters (maybe) lurking in the deep South. If you haven’t read any of her work, it’s a great starting place. Kiernan’s also got a new novel that just hit the stores – Daughter of Hounds.

  18. Far as Athena goes, they might be beyond her just yet — though I’m not sure about that — but I’d seriously recommend Philip Pullman’s HIS DARK MATERIALS trilogy. It’s the only children’s series I’ve read in years that sits on the classic shelf, as far as I’m concerned.

  19. I recently read Syne Mitchell’s The Last Mortal Man, which was awfully fun. It was designed as the first book in a series, but Roc killed the series when the book didn’t take the world by storm. But it stands pretty well on its own, so it is still worth picking up.

    At Worldcon, I bought Al Reynold’s Pushing Ice, which I devoured and loved. So much so that I thought “Here’s my first Hugo nom for next year.” Bzzzt. Wrong. It was published in the UK so that it was eligible last time around. Too bad.

    And I just got through some book about farting droid sheep, or something like that. It was fun, but man, you could tell that the guy who wrote it has issues.

  20. In SF: Mammoth, John Varley.

    In non-SF, non-fiction: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. This one blew my history-loving mind. Khan pretty much succeeded in doing what Alexander tried: he established a mighty empire that lasted centuries. Along the way, he introduced the concept of civil service by merit rather than patronage, and established international finance systems based on standardized currency and credit.

    Do-goodery: Bill Bryson’s Africa Diary. It’s a tiny book about his 10-day tour of the cities, countrysides, slums and refugee camps in Africa, under the auspices of CARE. It’s funny, tragic, and a paean to CARE and to microlending. Also, all the proceeds from the sales of the book go to CARE.

  21. Todd Stull: for a story featuring the extinction of pain, try Orson Scott Card’s SEVENTH SON series. It doesn’t come up until the third (fourth?) book, but it’s in there.

  22. Personally, I’m using my Barnes and Noble gift card to buy The Ghost Brigades, The changeling by Delia Sherman and The Demon and the City by Liz Williams.

    I wouldn’t feel to bad about not recognizing most of the authors in the Future Is Queer anthology. After all, one of the points of anthologies is to be intriduced to unfamiliar authors. Personally, outside of Neil Gaiman, the author I was most familiar with was Rachel Pollack because I was a big fan of Doom Patrol back in the day. Seriously, you have to love a comic boom with characters like The Brotherhood of Dada. I wouldn’ have known she wrote Sf/F except that I accidently stumbled across her novels while looking for something else at thelibrary.

  23. If you like THE BLONDE, you’ll also like THE WHEELMAN, which is a pseudo-prequel to THE BLONDE. I say pseudo because while Kozinski appears in the other book and it explains some of his actions, he’s not the main character.

    And then there’s SECRET DEAD MEN from PointBlank, which is one of the most seriously whacked out books I’ve ever read.

    (All right, Duane. I pitched your other two books to Whatever readers. The way I see it, you now owe me for the resulting Amazon spikes. I accept payment in Jameson.)

  24. Hey, thanks for the mention! And for putting me in such fine company.

    I’ll second the mention of Alabaster upthread. Great collection (really a story suite or mosaic novel or whatever you call a bunch of connected stories that add up to considerably more than the sum of their parts). Kiernan’s upcoming novel Daughter of Hounds is awesome too.

  25. Jay Lake’s ROCKET SCIENCE is also a lot of fun; reminded me strongly of Wilson Tucker.

    And I’ll second the rec uptopic for THE CHINATOWN DEATH CLOUD PERIL. If you’re at all familiar with the history of the pulp magazines, it’s a hoot. (Lester Dent! Maxwell Grant! L. Ron Hubbard! H.P. Lovecraft’s corpse! And a sea-going cowboy named “Lou”!)

    I had trouble with Alan Dean Foster’s early work (which tended to have flat-line plotting, where things kept happening to the characters, but there was no dramatic rise or fall in the intensity of the things happening, or the characters’ reactions to them), so I haven’t kept up with his more recent work.

  26. As long as we’re suggesting books for Scalzi’s child:
    I don’t know what Athena’s reading level is, but, based on everything we know about her (in other words, what goes up on the Whatever), she better read the Series of Unfortunate Events as soon as she’s ready to tackle it.

  27. If anyone doesn’t know Alan Dean Foster, he first made a splash in the early 1970’s with several tasty yarns in the best old-fashioned sense-of-wonder/adventure tradition and has been pretty prolific right up to the present.

    The Tar-Aiym Krang (1972) — Flinx, orphan boy on a backwater planet, gets involved with Big Affairs and ancient mysteries

    Icerigger (1974) — a couple of interstellar travelers are stranded on an ice-world where they become embroiled in the conflicts of the technologically medieval natives

    Midworld (1975) — one of the earliest sf novels with an ecological theme; Born, member of a primitive society living symbiotically in the gigantic trees of a planet entirely covered by a rain forest, encounters alien invaders.

    I’d also particularly recommend one of his later books:

    Cyber Way (1990) — a mix of detective story, computers and traditional Navajo culture

  28. “So I plan to learn all his secrets and suck his brain dry and leave him an enervated husk. Don’t tell him; it’s meant to be a surprise. ”

    Isn’t that always a surprise? One day you’re a happy Gelfling prancing about in the fields, the next your essence is drained away into a cup.

  29. Damn it, Scalzi! I bought “Blindsight” on your recommendation (and am now in a debate with Peter Watts on sentience and the roll of fire in human evolution) and now you want me to buy more!?!? (/sarcasm)

    John G. Hemry, writing as Jack Campbell, put out “Lost Fleet: Dauntless” last year and has “Lost Fleet: Fearless” coming out end of January. Good solid military SF, if that’s what you’re looking for.

  30. I second THE DEMON AND THE CITY by Liz Williams, as well as the series’s first book, SNAKE AGENT. Near-future Chinese fantasy, with biotech and feng shui and the unpleasantness of public transport in the heat all mixed together. Fabulous concoction.

    THE PINHOE EGG (Diana Wynne Jones) actually struck me as better than CONRAD’S FATE, more coherently woven together. Didn’t hurt that PINHOE had sympathetic female characters through more of the book (Millie’s role actually seemed bigger than in CONRAD, which is weird since Jones generally has little time for the adults).

  31. I have to put a plug in for the “Ranger’s Apprentice” series by John Flanagan — my son & I have been reading them together. After the first two we couldn’t wait for the rest to be published in the US so we ordered them from New Zealand.

    Also, “Airborn” by Kenneth Oppel — feels like Treasure Island in a Jules Verne world…

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