iftyzaidi's attempt at 100 books in 2010
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This is the first time I'm trying one of these challenges. I read 88 books last year, and while I doubt I will be able to match that number again this year, well, whats the harm in trying? :-)
I thought I might add a few words about my reading aims for 2010. I've found in the past that over-planning my reading tends not to work out well, as I have such a large collection of unread books that I invariably get tempted away from planned reading lists by something or the other. Generally speaking I read a great deal of speculative fiction, both SF and Fantasy. I used to read a great deal of nonfiction, but that is something that has diminished appreciably in recent times - a trend that I hope to start reversing. Roughly speaking, if I'm aiming at 100 books, 20 SF, 20 Fantasy, 20 mainstream (or literary) fiction, 20 nonfiction and 20 miscellaneous (graphic novels, anthologies, etc.) would seem to be a reasonable breakdown to aim for.
Any specific reading plans? I do intend to re-read Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time books this year since the last few books are finally coming out (that's 12 of the 20 fantasy books accounted for!). Just for fun, I'll thrown in a personal challenge - at least 6 books by authors whose names begin with 'B' and at least 6 books with the word 'Dark' somewhere in the title.
EDIT: Am now aiming for 125 books read in the year.
January (125 TBR, 11 read)
1. One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre
2. Berserker by Fred Saberhagen
3. Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo
4. Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection by various
5. Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich
6. A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay
7. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
8. Time and Stars by Poul Anderson
9. Troy: Fall of Kings by David & Stella Gemmell
10. Zodiac by Neal Stephenson
11. The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock
February (114 TBR, 12 read)
12. John Constantine, Hellblazer: Rare Cuts by Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison et al
13. Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster
14. Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick
15. The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe
16. God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut
17. Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven
18. Shadows Linger by Glen Cook
19. The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin
20. The White Rose by Glen Cook
21. Touch the Dark by Karen Chance
22. The Battle of Britain by Richard Overy
23. Voyage of the Star Wolf by David Gerrold
March (102 TBR, 7 read)
24. The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan
25. Dead Lines by Greg Bear
26. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher
27. The United Nations Since 1945: Peacekeeping and the Cold War by Norrie MacQueen
28. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex 'N' Drugs 'N' Rock 'N' Roll Generation Saved Hollywood by Peter Biskind
29. Buy Jupiter by Issac Asimov
30. Who goes Here? by Bob Shaw
April (95 TBR, 16 read)
31. Madbond by Nancy Springer
32. Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
33. The Sandman: Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman
34. Stark's War by John G. Hemry
35. The Sandman: The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman
36. Deus Encarmine by James Swallow
37. Earthworks by Brian Aldiss
38. The Dark Light Years by Brian Aldiss
39. City of Beasts by Isabel Allende
40. Thieves' World by Robert Asprin et al
41. Leviathan by Paul Auster
42. The Moment of Eclipse by Brian Aldiss
43. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
44. There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson
45. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
46. Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne
May (79 TBR, 13 read)
47. Stark's Command by John G. Hemry
48. The Sandman: The Wake by Neil Gaiman
49. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan
50. Gotham By Gaslight by Brian Augustyn
51. Lythande by Marion Zimmer Bradley
52. Three Men in A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
53. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif
54. Extraordinary Tales by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares
55. Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman
56. Black Panther: The Client by Christopher Priest
57. Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman
58. The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies by John Scalzi
59. The Dreams Our Stuff is Made of by Thomas Disch
Due to stressed out touchstones, I have moved the rest of my year's reading list. It can be found here.
1. One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre: 4 stars
The first book I've read by Mr Brookmyre. Its an amusing pastiche of action films, violent and hilarious and dressed up in some smart, sharp prose. The characters are well drawn and engaging and promote this from being a merely entertaining read to a highly engrossing one.
Edit: Just realized that this is the first book in my '6 books by authors whose name begins with B' challenge! 5 to go!
2. Berserker by Fred Saberhagen: 3 stars.
A collection of short stories that make up the first book in the long running Berserker series. While I wouldn't say this is a classic, the Berserkers themselves - massive war machines created millennia ago by a long-dead race as ultimate destructive weapons that still follow their programming to destroy all life - are iconic figures of Science Fiction. The stories themselves are entertaining though not spectacular.
3. Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo: 4 stars.
I picked this up on a recent trip to Lahore, having never heard about either the book or the author. On finishing this, I realised my ignorance was inexcusable; this was a real gem. The basic premise is a familiar one - at its heart its a ghost ship story set in space - but its done well, with a well-realized backdrop and engaging, sympathetic characters. The prose is simple in style but very, very effective, and I found myself being sucked into the story which has a real 'just one more chapter before I stop reading' kind of quality. The plot is slow burning, but the author manages to build a real air of mystery and dread to the derelict spaceship. The tension ratchets up until a final flurry of events and activity towards the end of the book. I can understand why some found the ending unsatisfying - there are plenty of questions left unanswered, but I was willing to forgive this as I felt the story arcs dealing with the main characters and their personal quests/development were well handled. All in all, well worth reading.
I'm very intrigued by your comments about Ship of Fools. It sounds very interesting. Thanks for the review, I may have to check this one out.
4. Constantine: The Hellblazer Collection by Jamie Delano, Neil Gaiman, Garth Ennis and Steven T. Seagle: 3 stars.
The mainstay of this collection is the comic adaptation of the movie Constantine. Bundled with this are three other classics from the Hellblazer comic. The movie adaptation is mediocre - a pale imitation of the movie which was itself a pale imitation of the comic. One gets the feeling that the writer and artists are simply going through the motions on this. Thankfully, once the reader gets past that mediocrity, we have three outstanding stories - we have the first issue of Hellblazer, written by Jamie Delano, which itself is the first chapter of the 'Original Sin' storyline. We have a standalone by Neil Gaiman, called 'Hold Me' which is a true Hellblazer classic, creepy and intelligent and disturbing. Finally we have the first chapter of the 'Dangerous Habits' storyline by Garth Ennis. All 3 of these stories have been collected elsewhere, so for those people who are already fans of Hellblazer, there's not much here to attract them, but for those new to the comic, this is a great introduction to this excellent comic character.
You're welcome lorrie. I hope you find it to be as enjoyable a read as I did!
I haven't read anything by Brookmyre yet, but I have something of his from the library at the moment. I'm happy to know that you appreciated his writing.
Also a fan of Christopher Brookmyre.
Suggesting another 'B', Kyril Bonfiglioli's The Mortdecai Trilogy. Crime - blackly, wickedly funny.
I tried one Brookmyre, and I didn't even make it to the 50 page cutoff. I'm in the minority here!
My Better Half has been getting out the Constantine graphic novels from the library and loving them. He reckons they're *much* better than the movie, which we thought was perfectly adequate (but not great). I really must snaffle some of them next time he comes home with some...
I never read much Constantine because it was a little dark and a little gruesome for me, but just in case your BH doesn't already know, Constantine first appears in the third paperback of Alan Moore's run on Swamp Thing (The Curse), and that is an incredible story arc. It's also well worth him just starting with the first two Swamp Thing trades. It will be right up his alley.
Also, there's an amazing Constantine short story in Neal Gaiman's Midnight Days graphic anthology, which is also pretty easy to get through a library.
Wow, I'm going to have to check out Ship of Fools as well! It looks like we may have similar tastes - I'll be sure to watch your thread this year!
#9> Thanks, pamelad, I'll keep an eye out for the Mortdecai books.
#10> Sorry to hear you didn't have as enjoyable a Brookmyre experience as I did, wookie. I also enjoyed the Constantine movie but the comic has a great deal more depth.
#11> The Constantine character was originally created by Alan Moore, who is one of my favourite authors. I first came across the character in the first trade paperback of Neil Gaiman's The Books of Magic which also featured another one of my favourite comic characters, The Sandman (and which I heartily recommend). Thanks for the heads up on Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days. Incidently the Constantine story in that collection, 'Hold Me', is the same one in the Constantine: Hellblazer Collection.
#12> Thanks Aerrin99. Hopefully there'll be more interesting reads croping in the days to come!
5. Three to Get Deadly by Janet Evanovich: 3 and a half stars.
I came to Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series in a rather round about way. A couple of years ago I became addicted to Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, about a magician P.I. who investigates various magical misdoings. After burning through the books that were out, I started looking around for something similar to tide me over in between each new release. I tried a couple of different authors in the urban fantasy/paranormal noir genres but they didn't really stand out. Thats when it hit me, that what I enjoyed most about the Dresden Files was not so much about the magic and vampires and demons and so on (though that was all very well done) but more about the twisted take on noir tropes and the great sense of humor. Once I had had this epiphany I broadended my search and discovered Stephanie Plum. No ghosts and goblins here, its just a Jersey girl getting in over her head in the bounty hunter business.
This third installment in the Stephanie Plum series manages to retain all the humour, zany situations and engaging mystery of the first two books. There's little variation from the tried and tested formula (though the villians are somewhat seedier), but so far its still a winning formula.
iftyzaidi, I'm willing to give Brookmyre another go, I do keep on hearing good things about his books. Sometimes a book just comes to you at the wrong moment.
I love the Dresden Case Files too! I loaned all my copies to a friend (who burned through them in a week or two), and now I'm getting impatient for her husband to finish reading them, because *I* haven't finished them myself!
#16> wookie, this is the only book by Brookmyre I've ever read, so I can't compare it to anything else he has written, but I found it a fun read. As for the Dresden Files, they really are addictive. I'm considering trying out Jim Bucther's Codex Alera books to tide me over till the next Dresden book becomes available!
6. A Song for Arbonne by Guy Gavriel Kay: 3 and a half stars.
I'm a fairly big fan of Guy Gavriel Kay, particularly loving his Sarantine Mosaic duology. So its a bit of mystery why I left this lying around in my tbr pile for so long (well not such a big mystery - my tbr pile is more a mountain than a pile and things tend to get lost in there). Anyway, I decided to make this my first fantasy read of 2010. The world Kay conjures is rich and evocative, with the titular land of Arbonne being a slightly distorted version of Provencal France in the High Middle Ages. It is a land known for its trabadours and its Court of Love, wherein music and courtly manners are celebrated. To its northern neighbour, the rugged, cold land of Gorhaut it is a land ruled by a weak woman and whose men have fallen to womanish ways. Its rich vineyards and olive orchards are ripe for conquering.
The book is a stand-alone novel, something rare in the fantasy genre these days, and even more rare, still manages to create a rich and complex setting and plot. The characters are well drawn and their various loves, hates, rivalries and jealousies give the story a rich, almost burlesque texture. Its a satisfying tale, but i did knock off a half star from my rating because on occasion I found Kay's writing a little too precious, with the artifice too obvious when building up to a surprise revelation. I don't seem to recall having this issue with any of the other books by Kay that I've read (both those written before and those written after A Song for Arbonne - either I was too engrossed in the story before, or this one was written in a slightly different style. Overall though, this was an enjoyable read and reccomended to fans of Kay, and those who might be interested in the setting.
As noted earlier, this book has been in my tbr pile for years now, one amongst many. Because I buy so many more books in a year than I can read, works bought a few years back tend to get forgotten in the crush for my attention! So I guess its time for yet another personal challenge: reading at least 6 books this year that i bought in 2005 or earlier. Its not going to make a huge dent, but as I said earlier I'm not eager to over-plan my reading, and at least its a start!
#17> We've been getting the Codex Alera books out at the library - I haven't had a chance to read any, but my better half has been enjoying them. (He was a bit ho-hum about the first, but I had to grump at him to turn the light off at 1:30 this morning because he couldn't put down #3.)
I've only read one book by Kay, the first of the Fionavar Tapestry, The Summer Tree. I rather liked it, but have not gone to search out any of the others, which is generally a sign that I probably didn't like it as much as I thought I did. ;) Much to the horror of a number of friends, who really enjoyed them all.
7. A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle: 3 and a half stars.
I was inspired to read this by wookiebender's recent reivew. This is the first Sherlock Holmes book I've read. I'm not particularly well read in the mystery/detection genre - its not my usual cup of tea - but I really enjoyed this work, burning through the short, light read in no time. I enjoyed the characterisation of Holmes and the dynamics of his interactions with Watson, from whose point of view most of the story is told. The rivalry/co-operation dynamic between Holmes and the police detectives also adds an element of tension to the quest to unravel the mystery while the culprit remains unknown and anonymous.
I was taken unawares by the sudden transition to the wilds of Utah in the middle of the book - I even checked to make sure my copy of the novel hadn't been misbound, with the begining of the Holmes story mixed in with the pages of some pulp western! But it all made sense in the end - just Arthur Conan Doyle developing the background to the mystery while also dipping into the moral panic occasioned by Mormon religious practices such as polygamy. Setting that and other niggling fin-de-seicle British bourgeoisisms (the murderer had learnt vindictiveness from the Indians, the dirty street children are nicknamed arabs, etc.) this is a greatly enjoyable read and certainly good enough to instill a desire to read more of the adventures of Holmes and Watson.
Edited to fix the touchstone link - originally it was linking to Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter!
#19> I've actually liked all the books by Kay I've read except Ysabel which I started reading but couldnt really get into and set aside. I'll probably return to it someday, but generally it is said to be his one of his weakest works. My favourites, as I mentioned in my review, are the Sarantine Mosaic duology, consisting of Sailing to Sarantium and Lord of Emperors, which I highly, highly recommend. If Kay can be hit or miss, I would say that A Song for Arbonne is more a hit than a miss.
#20> I've heard that the Codex books start off slowly but get better as the series progresses. I had a similar experience with the Dresden Files. I found the first couple of books entertaining but nothing special. But as the series progressed the books became increasingly unputdownable!
As for Kay, I liked the Fionavar Tapestry, but I can understand that nowadays, its heavy Tolkein influence makes it feel a little dated and uninnovative. I would recommend trying out one of Kay's stand-alones, such as Tigana, The Lions of Al-Rassan or, if you have a little more time on your hands, the Sarantine Mosaic books.
Just as an aside, does anyone know how to insert html links into these message posts?
> 22 I read The Lions of Al-Rassan last year on the rec from a friend and was frustrated through much of it - I absolutely deplored his apparent delight in tricking the reader and then employing a 'clever' reveal - but on reflect, I think I like it much better. He does gorgeous worlds and gorgeous characters, and I think I might give Tigana a shot this year.
In terms of html, try this HelpThing page!
You can get back there via the 'Help' link at the top of this page - there's a link to html tips tucked in the posting section.
#23> Aerrin, you exactly hit the nail on the head when describing what irritated me about Kay's writing in A Song for Arbonne. Overall I liked it a great deal, but there was a tendency to overuse the narrative trick of delaying naming a character whose arrival had just shocked everyone in the room, or something similar. I found it too precious. As I said, I don't recall having this issue with any of his books before, even The Lions of Al-Rassan (though I read that long ago). But you're right about Kay's gorgeous worlds and gorgeous characters. Overall the writing style was a minor irritation.
#24> there was a tendency to overuse the narrative trick of delaying naming a character whose arrival had just shocked everyone in the room, or something similar
I tend to give in to my baser temptations and flick ahead when that happens. (Take that, author!)
Glad you liked A Study in Scarlet too! It was just really good fun. I've got the next at the top of Mt TBR, hoping to find time to squeeze it in soon...
Haha, I did that, too, especially at the end of Lions of Al-Rassan, where I think he went like 12 pages before the Big Reveal. But I'm muttering at the author the entire time I'm having to do so!
8. Time and Stars by Poul Anderson: 3 and a half stars.
Book 2/6 in the 'Books-I-bought-before-2005-challenge'
Generally a very strong short story collection written in the early 60s whose main drawbrack is the occasional implicit misogyny.
i) No Truce With Kings: 5/5
In a post-apocalypse America divided into different states and just beginning to recover technologically, a hidden alien species interferes with the political and religious system in order to ‘guide’ humanity to better itself. However it’s psychoanalytical science is not as exact as they would like it to be and a civil war breaks out in which they play an increasingly active part. An engrossing rejoinder to Asimov’s Foundation with its positivistic vision of a technocratic elite guiding humanity into the future under a centralised government.
ii) Turning Point: 4/5
Humans discover a planet with a very primitive civilization, whose inhabitants are all geniuses and from the moment of initial contact they started developing at an alarming rate. The explorers realize that if something is not done, this species will outstrip humanity in very short order.
iii) Escape From Orbit: 2/5
A manned mission to the moon has an accident and mission control has to come up with a way to get the astronauts abroad down to the surface of the moon. Also notable for a vague and oddly misogynistic subplot concerning the protagonist’s wife.
iv) Epilogue: 4/5
A manned spaceship whose drive malfunctioned returns to Earth after 3 billion years have elapsed to find humanity wiped out in a nuclear holocaust. However self-replicating machines have evolved a new ecology on the planet, with intelligent hunter-gatherer machines at the top of the food chain. Wonderfully imaginative apart from the stereotypical female machines that stay at home and gestate new machines and are helpless and cry a great deal. Thankfully there is a relatively strong, dynamic human female character. The confusion of the humans and machines, each of whom keep thinking that the other must be some kind of drone/automaton controlled by other 'really alive' beings is excellently done.
v) The Critique of Impure Reason: 2/5
A robot learns a sense of adventure and duty from reading a pastiche of 30s sci-fi fiction, in a story that also takes a shot at literary criticism and modern literature.
9. Troy: Fall of Kings by David and Stella Gemmell: 3 stars
I read the first two installments of this trilogy last month and greatly enjoyed them. This final installment wraps up the story of the Heroes of the age, including the siege of Troy and its bitter end. David Gemmell passed away while this was being written, and it was completed by his wife Stella. I can't say to what extend this had an impact on the book, I for one, couldn't really find any difference in tone or writing style from previous Gemmell books.
And perhaps that was part of the problem. This book is more of the same. Even many of the events seem familiar to those in the previous installments. Helikaon being chased across the Great Sea in his great ship, his romance with Andromache and their associated angst. Battles. War. A Siege. Heroic deaths. Sea battles. Loyal friends. We've seen this all before. Gemmell's prose is always workmanlike and muscular and thankfully sparse. He definitely tells rather than shows. The romance in particular is depicted in clunky prose, though only slightly less so than the fight scenes. But having said all that, the plot flows along at a fair clip, and continues to hold one's interest. And Gemmell still has the ability to unexpectedly affect you with the occasional standout moment (the death of Helen for example was particularly moving). This book also succeeds as its predecessors did in cleverly working in some of the more fantastical legends of the Illiad and Odyssey and present them in a slightly different light, so that we might read the Homeric legends as distortions of more realistic events. The story of the Trojan Horse for example is extremely cleverly handled, as is that of Odysseus' return to Ithaka disguised as a beggar. The other strength of this series is the number of female characters who play important and relevant roles to the larger story, and whose personal character arcs are of interest. Though this does serve to stretch out the story somewhat.
Perhaps I would have been better served spacing out my reads a little more, or perhaps this last installment could have been trimmed. There was an element of 'sameness' creeping in, but it was never enough to make me want to stop reading. All in all the Troy trilogy was an enjoyable read, Gemmell's limitations as a writer aside, and this was a fair enough ending to the series.
10. Zodiac by Neal Stephenson: 4 stars
Every month or so I consider wading into Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. I loved Cryptonomicon and found The Diamond Age to be brilliant, if flawed. Even Snow Crash was highly enjoyable. However everytime it comes to picking up the first volume of the Baroque Cycle, I am daunted by the sheer size of the thing. After once again being scared off from committing to such a massive read, I decided to assuage my guilt by reading this early, non-science fiction work by the same author.
Zodiac is different from the other Stephenson books I've read, but is an enjoyable read nonetheless. I particularly liked the way it blends the tropes of the usual noir-type thriller with environmental 'direct-action' (eco-terrorism to some): an eco-crime is being committed - the question is not just by whom, but also how (don't worry if you are not a science-buff - the chemistry lessons are short and well-explained for the layman).
If it has less breadth and a more straightforward premise than Stephenson's later books, Zodiac is more focused, with the plot zipping along at a fair clip (particularly in the second half where it really builds up speed) and holding together well as a story (unlike say The Diamond Age which suffered from some strange narrative transitions). Flashes of Stephenson's trademark wit make the story all the more enjoyable to read. As long as one doesn't go in expecting another epic like Cryptonomicon, or the cyberpunk spectacle of Snow Crash, one can enjoy it for what it is - a witty, fast-paced eco-thriller.
As an aside, the edition I have published by Arrow Books (2001) is choc full of typos and spelling mistakes which was rather irritating. It really should have been better proof-read.
One day, I too, shall read the Baroque Cycle. I've heard nothing but good, but so... many... pages...
I haven't read Zodiac - I was a bit of a sci-fi purist when I first picked up his books, so passed that one by. Now I'm happy to read from a few more genres, I should give it a go. It would be nice to read a new (to me) Neal Stephenson that is less than 800pp. ;)
I've yet to read anything by Neal Stephenson. I'll have to give him a try. It looks like you've had some interesting reads so far this year.
#30> I have Cobweb and Interface, two books that Neal Stephenson co-wrote under the pseudonym of Stephen Bury also sitting in my tbr mountain and I'm guessing I may end up reading one (or both) of them before I get to the Baroque cycle! :-P
#31> I've actually managed to read far more than I thought I would be able to this month. It certainly makes me more confident about hitting the 100 mark this year! So far my reads have been fairly good - no stinkers or books I had to set aside for later! Having said that I've mostly stayed in my reading comfort zone so far - apart from the Brookmyre and the Richard Paul Russo, everything has been by authors I'm familiar with (though A Study in Scarlet was also my first Sherlock Holmes, but that was hardly an ambitious read!) So far I'm happy with the trend. Let's see what February brings!
Oh, and I would definitely recommend Neal Stephenson.
11. The Sailor on the Seas of Fate by Michael Moorcock: 4 stars
In the past I've found much of the Elric canon underwhelming. It turns out I was somewhat unlucky about the order I read the Elric books, discovering Moorcock through some of his weaker books (Elric at the End of Time & Fortress of the Pearl). As a result my interest in Moorcock in general, and in Elric in particular waned, which is a pity because its only now, several years later, that I'm discovering the better Elric stories - The Sailor on the Seas of Fate is definitely one of these.
The book is divided into 3 parts, each one better than the last, and with the last story culminating in a real sense of pathos and melancholy - the tragedy of Elric comes across powerfully. At heart the tales are ones of adventure, with swashbuckling pirates and the search for lost cities in distant continents, but when Moorcock is on song, these pyrotechnics are the window-dressing for themes of greater depth. In that sense, the first story is weakest because it concerns a 'team-up' of several of Moorcock's heroes - Erkrose, Hawkmoon, Corum and Elric. This failed to be as interesting as it might otherwise be since I've yet to read any of Moorcock's Erkrose, Hawkmoon or Corum books. Thankfully the other stories stand much better on their own.
I'll probably be delving into more of Moorcock's books soon.
12. John Constantine, Hellblazer: Rare Cuts by Jamie Delano, Grant Morrison et al: 4 stars.
Five assorted stories (one being a two-parter) that haven't been collected in any of the previous Hellblazer trade collections. Now, one might think that a collection of odds and ends that were not seen as being worthy enough for collecting before this might simply be filler material. But that is certainly not the case - these are mostly high-quality tales ('Dead Boy's Heart') in particular is exceptionally powerful and the two parter ('Early Warning' & 'How I Learned to Love the Bomb' written by Grant Morrison) is horribly creepy. In fact, its worthwhile noting that a couple of the stories here are definitely not for the faint of heart. I'm fairly inurred to gore and violence, but I was cringing at just how gruesome some of these stories can get.
The collection is of particular interest to Hellblazer fans because it collects several key episodes from John Constantine's life, deepening our understanding of his history and what makes him what he is. Highly recommended.
13. Spellsinger by Alan Dean Foster: 3 stars.
This was a fairly entertaining read - a light, humourous take on the usual fantasy epic story in the vein of Dickson's 'The Dragon and the George' or Brooks' 'Magic Kingdom for Sale/Sold'. One significant difference is that while those could be read as standalones, this is very much the first in a multi-part series (six to complete the storyarch I think, with two tacked on later on). With things rather busy at home and work, I was having difficulty on concentrating on another, somewhat weightier book that I had started, only having the time to read in short patches. So I ended up setting that aside and picking this up in the hope that it would be a lighter, more undemanding read. Which is exactly what it was.
The world that Foster creates is in some ways remniscent of standard fairytale lands familiar to fantasy readers, with talking animals a la Narnia and an evil wasteland somewhere in the east inhabited by an evil race of insectoid creatures and ruled by a dark queen that plots conquest. Where it departs from the usual is in giving such a word greater 'realism' than is the norm - racism, violence, poor sanitation, poverty and exploitation are all a part of this world.
Somewhat to my surprise I found myself absorbed by the protanagist's discovery of the world and its ways. Not much is revealed about the greater plot and so the story arch of this one episode is unsatisfying, but the hero - a pot-smoking pre-law student who is whisked away to this magical land and discovers that he has special powers there - runs across and befriends various interesting characters. Their various misadventures are entertaining enough to keep one engrossed and will ensure that i will continue to read the next in the series at some point down the line. The humour adds flavour to what may otherwise have been a bland blend. Overall its nothing exceptional but entertaining enough to keep me interested.
I haven't read the Spellsinger series for ages but I really enjoyed them (in fact Foster alwasy readable), hope you pick up the next one. Oddly it always stayed with me that he described the awful smell of the cities so whenever I read fantasy I am imagining an aweful stick :)
#36> Yes, that moment in the book was all the more powerful because it was unexpected. I think what really kept me engrossed in the book was how Foster played off the reader's expectations - you were never sure if whatever happened next was going to be fairytale cliche, gritty realism, or tongue in cheek humour. The book combined the three very well and so it always fresh and interesting to read. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for the rest of the series. (And who can resist a book called The Paths of the Perambulator?)
14. Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick: 4 and a half stars.
The blurb at the back of the book describes this as "a tightly plotted futuristic detective novel, magical and fantastic, exotic and strange, yet thoroughly grounded in cutting edge science. Michael Swanwick's volatile cocktail of surrealist ideas and invention, high technology and basic humanity explodes with insight and wonder." This is, in fact, a spot-on description of this book. It won the Nedula Award back in 1991 and its easy to see why.
The setting is the world of Miranda - a planet which after many years is about to enter its winter season - which means the ocean levels will rise and inundate much of its land, necessitating mass evacuations of the settler colonies that are located below the high-tide level. Its flora and fauna have evolved and adapted to cycles of life on land and underwater. After technological experimentation wiped out the native sentient life years ago (called haunts), high-level technology was proscribed and is tightly controlled by the off-world Technology Transfer Division. When a self-proclaimed magician shows up advertising that he can help people alter their bodies to live in the water, the Division sends a bureaucrat down to investigate whether he has illegally smuggled high-level technology on to the planet, or if he is simply a fraud, or... something else.
The style of the writing is more remnescient of Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun than anything else, with its blend of science, myth and magic. the reference in the blurb to surrealist ideas is appropriate as is the reference to high technology. This is a book bursting at the seams with ideas and some spectacularly haunting scenes. For example, (very minor spoilers follow:) offworlders can download their personalities into short lived agents and send them off to accomplish different tasks which may need to be accomplished simultaneously. At one point its mentioned that the reason why information and technology is so tightly controlled by the offworld bureacracy is because of a previous disaster on Earth where an independant AI effectively took over the entire planet by assimilating all life on it within itself. So the moment we encounter an Agent in the form of a giant earth-mother figure sent by the Earth/AI to the rest of humanity which is being held captive and interrogated is simply stunning in its power. There are so many moments and images and ideas replete with symbolism.
This is the third book I've read by Michael Swanwick (the others being the enjoyable Time Travel romp Bones of the Earth and the outstanding reverse-fairy tale The Iron Dragon's Daughter) and he is fast becoming one of my must-read SF&F writers. Stations of the Tide is an outstanding novel and one to return to down the line I think.
I don't read much science fiction but you make Stations of the Tide sound very good so I've added it to the wish list. Great review!
I think I've just added all of Michael Swanwick's books to my wishlist. ;) Sounds good!
15. The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe: 5 stars.
I've been meaning to read this for a long time, but somehow never got round to it. After reading Stations of the Tide though, which reminded me of Gene Wolfe so much, I finally gave it a go and, well, I doubt I'll read a better book this year. More detailed review to follow...
16. God Bless You, Mr Rosewater by Kurt Vonnegut: 4 stars.
After enjoying The Fifth Head of Cerberus so much, I determined to read more of the books in my tbr mountain by authors that I've rated very highly in the past. Vonnegut is one of them.
God Bless You, Mr Rosewater is slightly unusual for a Vonnegut book - firstly because it contains no Sfnal elements whatsoever and secondly because one could say that it has a happy ending (as opposed to a bittersweet or downright depressing ending). In fact the ending is possibly the weakest thing about the book, which is otherwise, humane, tragi-comic and fiercely critical of man's inhumanity to man, as much of his work is.
For those who like to keep track of these kind of things, God Bless You, Mr Rosewater was on the 2006 edition of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (it was dropped in the 2008 edition).
17. Inconstant Moon by Larry Niven: 3 and a half stars.
A fairly good collection of short stories set in Niven's 'known space' setting, mostly first published between 1965 and 1969.
1) Inconstant Moon: 4/5
One night the moon becomes extremely bright. It seems like the ideal night for romance until the protagonist realizes that since the moon’s light is a reflection of sunlight, something must have happened to the sun to create this extraordinary effect and this may well be their last night earth. A good end-of-the world tale.
2) Bordered in Black: 3/5
The first interstellar expedition returns from Sirius having found a planet that might just be a gigantic farm. But who are the farmers and where are they?
3) How the Heroes Die: 2/5
The premise of this story was rather silly, with the basic idea being that an all male team sent to colonize Mars would go stir crazy due to the long lengths of time spent amongst men, which would lead to greater homosexuality which would lead to violence and what might these days be termed decreased ‘unit cohesion’. This premise forms the backdrop to a relentless cat and mouse chase for a murderer across the desolate Martian landscape where the limitations placed upon the pursued and pursuer by their oxygen supply play a major role.
4) At the Bottom of a Hole: 5/5
A Belter smuggler trying to evade the authorities lands on Mars and gets the abandoned station working again in order to refuel his ship. He finds evidence that the previous occupants of the station were murdered and suspects hidden Martians did the dirty deed. References the previous story. In my opinion, the best story in the collection.
5) One Face: 4/5
An accident distorts the jump drive of a ship, hurling in billions of years into the future. The Sun is a white dwarf and the Earth has stopped spinning. The ship’s crew and passengers have to figure out what to do next. The damaged ship computer recommends that they put the astrophysicist in charge.
6) Becalmed in Hell: 3/5
A cyborg spaceship malfunctions on an exploratory trip to Venus. His crewmate must figure out what the fault is if they are going to be able to leave.
7) Death by Ecstasy: 3/5
A Gil Hamilton story. One of Gil’s old Belter crewmembers is found in a dingy Earth apartment, having starved to death while blessed out on ‘current’. It appears to be suicide but Gil suspects foul play.
18. Shadows Linger by Glen Cook: 4 and a half stars
I was completely sucked into this second installment of the Black Company series of books. The same features that made the first one so compelling are all here - the military fantasy, the life of the mercenary company, the powerful magic, the grunt's eye view of an existential battle between good and evil (from the evil side) and the breakneck speed at which the story unfolds. But this book adds to the mix by throwing in an excellent gothic horror plot about a graverobber who sinks deeper and deeper into depravity the harder he tries to get out. Some people found this subplot to be boring and too much of a sidetrack to the overall storyline of the Black Company books, but for me it was truly the icing on the cake. This is a great, gruesome, fantastical thrillride that does not let up. Roll on book 3!
19. The Janissary Tree by Jason Goodwin: 3 and a half stars
This is a fairly entertaining mystery set in 1830s Istanbul. Yashim Togalu is a eunuch bound to service to the Sublime Porte. His special talents mean that he is called in to investigate two separate mysteries - a murder in the Sultan's harem and the murder of an officer of the New Guard - the new army created along western lines that replaced the traditional Jannisaries. As Yashim investigates we get a flavour of Istanbul and its patchwork of different religions, ethnicities and histories. Along the way we meet some well-drawn and engaging characters including the Sultan's French mother (a childhood friend of Napoleon's wife Josephine!), the Polish ambassador to the Sultan's court, who represents a country that no longer exists, a transvestite and so on. The mystery itself is fairly engaging, though one is able to figure out who are the principle instigators of the mayhem without a great deal of trouble. Still, the characters, the well-realized setting and the wonderfully warm sense of humour make this an entertainment well worth reading.
> 46 Shadows Linger sounds really interesting! I look forward to seeing what you think of the rest - I've wishlisted them!
>#48 and >#49: Thanks! I have to say, this February has been a really good month in terms of the books I've read.
20. The White Rose by Glen Cook: 4 stars.
This is a fine conclusion to the first story arc of the Black Company. After finally breaking with the Lady and going over to the rebel cause, the Black Company has retreated to the eerie wastelands of the Plains of Fear where they hide from the Lady's armies. But with an even greater evil stirring in the Barrowlands, the Black Company needs to find allies quickly if they are to stay alive and help the White Rose fulfill her destiny.
The greatest strength of the Black Company books is that ultimately it tells stories about very human people. While many of the tropes of heroic fantasy are used here, you won't find any fairytale heroes here. Whether its the leaders of the rebels or the poor relic hunters that dig up old artifacts from ancient battlefields to scrape out a living, they are all well drawn, and their fears and hopes very human.
After reading the first three Black Company books, I'd say that Glen Cook has established himself in the front rank of fantasy authors with the likes of George R R Martin, Steven Erikson, Paul Kearney etc.
21. Touch the Dark by Karen Chance: 2 and a half stars.
I never abandon books - I merely set some aside to be picked up and finished at a later date. Now if it should so happen that the book I have set aside is lost somewhere in the lower reaches of my tbr pile, well that doesn't mean that its abadoned necessarily - I'll come back to it some day (or so i tell myself).
One book that i had set aside last year was this first novel by Karen Chance, an Urban Fantasy featuring Cassandra Palmer, a clairavoyant, ghost-whispering orphan who ran away from the vampire she was bought up by. Fate and a reading challenge (it has 'Dark' in the title!) led to it resurfacing on my radar this month and I decided to give it another shot. This time I found it compelling enough to finish.
As the plot unfolds Cassandra discovers that she possess various other powers (beyond just being able to see the past and future and communicate with ghosts), discovers that an entire cornucopia of villians, some hidden and others apparant, are after her, and discovers herself in the midst of a host of supernatural political machinations. And the reader discovers a mess of a plot which weaves in a superabundance of various tropes of the genre. Karen Chance has taken the kitchen sink approach to this novel. Herein one finds hot vampires, ugly vampires, ghosts, gangsters, mages, witches, fairies, curses, Cleopatra, were-rats, possession, oracles, the FBI witness protection programme, time-travel, dracula's brother, magical bracelets, kinky vampire justice, dark magic, hell-themed casinos, Jack the Ripper, nightclubs, hunky-roomates-with a-terrible-secret, satyrs, golems and a whole lot more. All of this is a lot of stuff to cram into 300 pages, so Ms. Chance resorts to the time-honoured art of info-dumping.
The info-dump is that ugly but useful tactic used by authors who want to quickly get some world-building done and provide backstory to set up the story. Ms. Chance does not shy from info-dumping. A Lot. This has the undesired effect of repeatedly interrupting the flow of the story, often in the middle of some tense, action-packed scene, with chunky paragraphs of random information. The story thus tends to unfold in a tell, don't show, sort of a manner which can often be annoying.
A second drawback with Ms. Chance's writing is that it is completely devoid of awe or mystery. Various supernatural ideas, creatures and activties are introduced in matter-of-fact, workmanlike prose. Upon being abducted by a vampire, in the beginning of the book, the protaganist helpfully informs us that he must be at least a Level 3 Master Vampire. At another point, someone ruminates that a vampire must have gone up a level (!!!) This RPG monster manual approach to describing creatures manges to leech any sense of mystery out of the proceedings. Upon meeting the afore-mentioned were-rats (in the middle of a battle), we are treated to an info-dump about what kinds of races can become lycanthropes, and which ones can't. (Apparently most supernatural creatures can't, but half-human hybrids can, etc.) Later in that same encounter some dark, mysterious villian shows up to wipe out our intrepid heroes - but he takes the time to first have a 'conversation' (or infodump in dialogue) with the heroine in which he helpfully informs her (and the reader) of the mythological connotations of her name, 'Cassandra'. Gee, good thing too, otherwise I would never have made the connection of her name and her power of being able to tell the future! How deep!
So are there any positives to the book at all? Well, one advantage of all the info-dumping is that the author manages to set up an intricate,complex and rich world within which the story unfolds. Theres a fair amount of meat to it as well. The main character is interesting and faces some interesting quandries and the story picks up pace well in the second half of the book, when most of the info-dumping is behind us. Lastly the dialogue is mostly well done, with some amusing bon-mots thrown in to keep the reader entertained. The action (when not being interrupted by info-dumps) is also entertaining and varied. One feels that the author was trying to get as much world-building done in this book as possible so that she could employ some of these elements in future books in the series. As such, while I won't be actively seeking them out, I wouldn't mind reading the next in the series to see where the author goes with the characters. Otherwise, I'm guessing those readers who are fans of the genre might enjoy this more and be more forgiving of its shortcomings than I was.
22. The Battle of Britain by Richard Overy: 4 stars.
Richard Overy has made a habit of using impeccable research and clear-headed logic to bust many of the myths that have accrued to the history of the Second World War. Why the Allies Won is still the definitive book on... well... why the allies won in WW2. This slim book (more of a long essay really) takes on the popular myths about the Battle of Britain and shoots them down. The book itself is a concise survey of the issues and historical questions surrounding the Battle, rather than a narrative of events and personalities. So for those looking for a book that captures all the drama and derring-do of the Battle may want to look elsewhere. However, I can't think of a better book than this one to understand why the Battle took place, why it folowed the course it did, why it ended, and its effect on Britain and the outcome of the War.
Great review of Touch The Dark - you had me laughing! Won't be seeking this one out at the shops, however. :)
@54> aww, I feel bad about putting someone off a book - as if I were snatching money from a starving author!
But you're saving me from spending my hard-earned pennies on a book I wouldn't enjoy! And just remember, you did pimp all of Michael Swanwick's books up above very successfully, so it's not like you're being mean to all authors. :)
I'm with you wookie - what a great review - but I won't be adding this one to any of my lists!
23. Voyage of the Starwolf by David Gerrold: 3 stars.
This is solid military sf with the emphasis more on characters than on whiz-bang space battles. In fact there is only one space battle, that too right at the beginning of the book, and that definitely lacks the whiz-bang element because the starship on which our protagonists are based is hit and crippled right at the beginning of the battle and spend the rest of it trying to limp away with their lives. In its own way their desperate struggle to survive is as engaging as any action-packed battle scene.
The story follows a small ship on its maiden voyage - the LS-1187. Her mission is to join up with a massive convoy on escort duty. However the convoy is attacked and wiped out. The LS-1187 barely managed to survive and limp home thanks to the superhuman efforts of its surviving crew. But they return home only to be branded cowards, deserters and a jinx, bringing bad luck on the rest of the fleet. The rest of the story is about how the crew struggles with this label and eventually how they redeem their honour and that of their ship.
Overall its above standard fare for military sf. The main character is well drawn, though I do feel the secondary characters rang a little hollow (particularly the women), but all in all they're fair enough for a light read like this. The book is the first in a 3 part series, but seems to have been originally written as a stand-alone, with sequels added later. Certainly the ending is satisfying enough and it can be read on its own. This is the first book I've read by David Gerrold, a veteran SF writer and screenwriter, and it was engaging enough to make me want to read more by him.
Things have really slowed to a crawl as far as reading is concerned - extremely busy at work and at home. Hopefully things will pick up again in the second half of this month. Luckily, with 23 books read in the first two months, I am ahead in terms of how many books I need to read per month to hit 100 for the year (8.33 per month means I needed to read 17 to be on track. By the end of March I should have read 25).
Just going through what I have read so far, I've noticed that only 2.5 of the books I've read were by women, so I'll try and improve things there. Also only 1 nonfiction book so far, when I was aiming at approx. 20 for the year. I tend to do a fair amount of reading for work, so I sometimes shy away from reading additional nonfiction for leisure. Still, I'll hopefully do better than 1 every 2 months from now on.
What about my challenges?
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 1/6
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 1/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 4/6
The books in the last category were A Song for Arbonne, Stations of the Tide, Time and Stars and God Bless You, Mr Rosewater. I can't believe I let Stations of the Tide stew on my shelves for so long.
As for the 'Wheel of Time' re-read, I may defer on that, especially since it appears that the 2nd to last book, Towers of Midnight may now be released in 2011. Also with news of the impending release of the movie version of Eagle of the Ninth this may be a good year to reacquaint myself with some of the Roman historical fiction of Rosemary Sutcliff...
24. The Steel Remains by Richard Morgan: 3 and a half stars.
Richard Morgan is one of the SF authors who has established himself as a 'must-read' author for me. This is his first foray into fantasy, one that seems to have divided reviewers. Some have hailed it as a work that turns the genre's conventions on its head and bringing a gritty, dark sensibility that has heretofore been missing from the genre. Others have felt that it had an underwhelming plot and that it was not as revolutionary a work as it claimed to be, while still others have been put off by sex and foul language.
Overall I lean closer to the first position than the second, though not without caveats. The plot, when all is said and done, is not particularly exceptional (though it should be said that this is the first book of the series, so it may be more about introducing the world and the characters than a whole plot). Having said that, I believe the world-building is excellent and certainly sets some of the usual tropes of fantasy world-building spinning. The story is set in a fantasy land several years *after* a dark horde of lizardmen have been defeated. The world was saved. But what has happened to the world after the battle is won and the heroes hang up their swords? The Empire used the threat of invasion to conquer and consolidate its control over the continent, also incidentally making political concessions to the Church which opened its coffers to the Emperor to outfit his armies in return for extending its power into the secular domain. The League cities that fell under Empire control have once again legalized slavery to help pay off its debts (a move called 'trade liberalization'!) The Kiriath (the world's dwarves) left the world after helping the Empire fight off the lizardmen, disgusted with the uses their technology was being put to. And the heroes who helped win the war are falling back into obscurity in their own respective ways, when various events start to draw them together again.
The story takes a while to get going, and particularly in the first 100 pages or so, when the story really hasn't coalesced, I wasn't terribly impressed, particularly since one of the main characters is pretty unlike-able. But as the book progressed it starts picking up steam, and the last 100 pages or so are a real rush (also improved upon by the reader's growing comprehension of what is going on). Overall its a worthy book and I'm looking forward to the next in the series. The ending is actually very well done and really does whet the appetite for more.
Finally a note on the sex and the swearing. If you've read any Morgan, you know there's a fairly large number of sex scenes in his books - in fact The Steel Remains has less than most of the Takeshi Kovacs novels. I think one reason some people are particularly offended is because one of the characters is gay. So if you mind this sort of thing, and can't just skip a few paragraphs without it troubling you, go read something else. Secondly, there is the language. I do feel the swearing seems a bit distracting at times. I suppose the occasions usually call for it, but it seemed very modern in usage and would sometimes pull me out of the scene. At other times it seemed to blend in just fine.
I'm not a fan of Richard Morgan's sci-fi (although my husband loves them). I tried one (Carbon Something?) and gave up on it after *yet another* sex scene. But I do have The Steel Remains on Mt TBR - I'm hoping I can deal better with his writing in a fantasy universe. (Maybe I expect sex scenes in my fantasy novels. ;)
I'm still interested enough to leave it on Mt TBR...
25. Dead Lines by Greg Bear: 3 and a half stars.
Though he made his name in the 80s and early 90s as a hard SF writer, Greg Bear has more recently branched out into that catch-all mainstream category of techno-thriller. In this case, the SF part of things is just a means to get the ghost story that makes up most of the plot underway. This book really belongs in the horror genre than anywhere else.
I must say I enjoyed this book a fair deal more than I thought I would. Its light, but well told. The characters are well drawn and though it takes a while for the creepy parts to kick in, the story of Peter Russell, an ex-softcore director who now does odd jobs for an elderly millionaire producer and his trophy wife, and his tribulations are compelling enough reading to get you through. There is a genuine enough scary bit towards the end, and the conclusion, while not unexpected, is satisfying. Overall, this was a quick, entertaining read.
One thing I would like to point out is that the blurb at the back gives way too much away. Seeing as I picked this up because I like the author, I didn't bother reading the blurb until I was about 1/5th of the way into the book - and it STILL gave away way too much. Anyone wanting to avoid spoilers should stay away from the back cover!
Also, this is the second book I've read this year by an author whose name begins with a 'B'!
26. Turn Coat by Jim Butcher: 3 and a half stars.
As mentioned earlier, my reading had slowed to a crawl but the acquisition of this 11th instalment of the Dresden Files happily coincided with a long weekend, so i fairly burned through this in short order. As always, the series proves to be highly addictive.
This book developed the White Council and its internal politics while also throwing in some major developments in Harry Dresden's personal life, in particular his relationship with his brother. The overarching plot regarding the mysterious Black Council also inches along a bit, setting things up for the last half of the Dresden Files series (Jim Butcher has planned 20 books I believe).
re: Richard Morgan, I read Altered Carbon a few years ago and though the story was well written and compelling I couldn't get past the horrific sexual torture scenes. Have not picked up one of his books since.
27. The United Nations Since 1945: Peacekeeping and the Cold War by Norrie MacQueen: 3 and a half stars
A good, short overview of the Security functions of the United Nations. The book runs through the vision of collective Security that the framers of the UN Charter had, how Cold War rivalry almost immediately made collective security unworkable and how the UN Secretary General Dag Hammaskjold helped form a 'peacekeeping' role in response to the Suez Crisis of 1957. The author traces the evolution of UN peacekeeping and the various problems it encountered. Since Peacekeeping was not something originally envisioned by the UN Charter, the principles of how such operations would be conducted were essentially invented by the Secretariat. However this was immediately beset by problems, including procedural issues, superpower obstructionism and manipulation, mission creep, funding disputes and more. After surveying various peacekeeping missions during the Cold War, the author touches on peacekeeping in the late 80s and early 90s when it was thought the end of Cold War rivalry might see more effective peacekeeping missions. There was also a brief period in the early 90s where the Gulf War led some to believe that the UN might finally be able to play a role in collective security. However, this proved to be a false dawn, and the author tries to analyse why this was so.
Overall this is a solid, short account of UN and peacekeeping up to the early 90s. It is analytical in tone so while it is aimed at, and suitable for, students, they may need to supplement it with in-depth readings about some of the events being discussed. There is a decent collection of primary and secondary documents, including excerpts from the UN Charter, Resolutions, political biographies and other documents included which is also worth perusing.
28. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls by Peter Biskind: 4 stars.
Though the subheading of the book is 'How the Sex n drugs n Rock n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood' it may have more accurately been titled 'How the Sex n Drugs n Rock n Roll Generation Saved Hollywood Before Imploding Utterly". The author, in chronicling the tales of the new generation of film-makers that wanted to be 'auteurs' and successfully challenged the studio system in the early 70s, also weaves a cautionary tale of how within success can lie the seeds of one's own undoing. Here we see the scrambling for success and recognition while desperately trying to retain some sort of integrity to one's vision. We also see meglomanical egos clashing, fuelled by sex and drugs and money.
This is an gripping, if sometimes depressing look at the turmoil within Hollywood, and the lives of some of the most spectacular directors of the 70s. Its focus is firmly on the lives, relationships, deal-making, and habits of the film-makers of the era, so while it provides fascinating insights into what was happening on the sets of the films (including M.A.S.H., Jaws, Apocalypse Now, the Exorcist, Chinatown, the French Connection and many others that were spectacular failures), in the offices of studio executives, and in the mansions of Hollywood bigwigs, it spends less time analysing the films themselves. This is a book about the making of movies, rather than movies, and a dense, insightful and startling book it is.
29. Buy Jupiter by Issac Asimov: 3 stars.
A collection which includes a fair number of Dr. Asimov's more off-the-wall stories. There are a few stand-outs, but generally most are okay-ish. Of course, the little biographical introductions that the good Doctor writes for each story are all immensely entertaining (often more so than the stories themselves!) and because of them, this gets bumped up a half star. Not an essential collection (unless you are a huge fan of puns), but one that most Asimov fans will probably find entertaining enough.
1) Darwinian Pool Room: 2/5
A conversation between a few scientists about how evolution and mass extinction events were all part of God’s plan comes to a chilling conclusion.
2) Day of the Hunters: 2/5
While shooting the breeze in a bar, the author and his friends come across someone who explains the real reason the dinosaurs died out. I remember being really impressed by this idea when I was a wee kid but it really seems very goofy now.
3) Shah Guido G. 3/5
A ‘Sha-ggy Do-G’ story about the fall of Atlantis with a truly awful pun as the punch line (which I admit I didn’t see coming at all).
4) Button, Button: 3/5
A comedy story that does prompt a chuckle or two about a gentleman who is able to recover copies of very small amounts of matter from the past. Obvious surprise ending though.
5) The Monkey’s Finger: 2/5
Another comedy story about an author and editor arguing over the structure of a short story. They decide to consult a scientist who has created an experimental monkey who is able to write according to all the rules of literature. The story being discussed seems suspiciously like the Asimov story ‘C-chute’ (printed in Nightfall).
6) Everest: 2/5
A throw-away story about Martians living atop Everest. Written before Everest was climbed (though was published afterwards).
7) The Pause: 3/5
An alien being intervenes to remove radioactivity and all knowledge of it from Earth as the first step in trying to cure humanity of its self-destructive pathology. Only a handful know about what has happened. But is this done out of a sense of philanthropy, or are there more sinister motives afoot?
8) Let’s Not: 2/5
Despairing professors try to motivate themselves to keep knowledge alive following a nuclear holocaust and the survival of only a handful.
9) Each an Explorer: 4/5
A two-man exploration team comes across a strange two-planet star system where the planets have similar plant life that is cultivated by two very different species. An interesting look at first contact with a great ending.
10) Blank!: 2/5
An attempt to time travel goes awry.
11) Does A Bee Care: 3/5
Human scientific progress over the centuries was a result of the influence of an immortal alien being in its larval stage, who takes advantage of the first space flight to make its way home. An interesting concept.
12) Silly Asses: 3/5
A short, short story about the stupidity of nuclear testing on Earth.
13) Buy Jupiter: 4/5
Aliens seek to buy Jupiter now that the opening up of a distant planet has but the solar system along a major trade route. Fairly clever.
14) A Statue for Father: 3/5
An amusing story about a son recounting his father, the now world-famous inventor’s greatest invention which arose from a failed attempt to create a time-travel machine: fried dino-steaks!
15) Rain, Rain, Go Away: 4/5
There’s something odd about the new neighbours next door. A fun take on a common SF trope of the 50s.
16) Founding Father: 3/5
A story written to go with a magazine cover, which does not sound promising, but it actually kind of works. 5 astronauts crash land on an alien planet and live out the rest of their lives with no hope of rescue, but determined to leave a monument behind for mankind.
17) Exile to Hell: 2/5
Damaging vital equipment is a crime that can get you exiled to Hell (or Earth as the case may be).
18) The Key Item: 3/5
Even Super-computers can get surly and go into a sulk sometimes.
19) The Proper Study: 2/5
A scientist wants the military to allow him to reveal his discovery of telepathy to the global scientific community so he sets out to “convince” the general in charge.
20) 2340 A. D.: 2/5
A dystopia where the world is in fine ecological balance – carefully managed to support its trillions of people, with no room for animals, plants or quirky people.
21) The Greatest Asset: 3/5
Another world in fine ecological balance, where it is realised that people need to have quirks and intellectual challenges if the human race is not to grow stale.
22) Take a Match: 3/5
A pretty good tale with a poor ending about a spaceship that cannot navigate because it is stuck in a gas cloud in space, and running low on fuel.
23) Thiotimoline to the Stars: 2/5
Another story that suffers from Dr. Asimov’s goofy sense of humour at the end. Thiotimoline is something that allows material to travel through time and accelerate to any speed.
24) Light Verse: 4/5
A great robot story. A harmless old lady murders a harmless gentleman after he manages to unwittingly destroy the very thing that has brought her fame and fortune.
30. Who Goes Here? by Bob Shaw: 3 stars.
More SF from the 70s!
This starts off as a slapstick comedy in the vein of Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero. In the far future, men join the space legion in order to forget their past - literally, since their memories are wiped in return for joining up to fight in dangerous, distant wars. The story follows 'Warren Peace', who must have been such a monster in his past life that the memory of his entire life is wiped away. But life in the legion is as promising as the life expectancy is short. The only way Warren can get out of the contract with the Legion is if he can remember who he was - as Warren desperately tries to track down clues about who he was and what terrible crimes he committed that made him want to join the Legion, the humour takes a backseat to some genuinely interesting (if often off-the-wall) science fiction ideas. Overall this is a decent, if not exceptional read.
Reading Round-Up at the end of March.
Got less reading done this month, but still a respectable amount given how preoccupied I was. 7 books isn't bad, particularly considering by half way through the month, I had only read 2.
Books read to date: 30/100
Male to Female authors: 27.5 and 2.5 (Needs improvement, that!)
Science Fiction: 9/20
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 3/20
Nonfiction books: 3/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 4/6
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 1/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 4/6
We're now a quarter of the way through the year, which means I would be on target if I had read 25 books. Having read 30, I'm feeling pretty comfortable so far about reaching the coveted 100 book mark. Coming up, I hope to read more female authors, some doorstopper fantasy, some more Sherlock Holmes and some more graphic novels. I get the feeling I may not make 20 nonfiction books in the year, as I'll probably not be reading much nonfiction till the summer. Oh, and I think I need to start sifting through my tbr mountain for books with the word 'dark' in the title!
31. Madbond by Nancy Springer: 4 stars.
This is the first book I've read by Nancy Springer. Previously I had heard about 'The Book of the Isles' series, but I came to this first instalment in the Sea King trilogy not having ever heard of it before. Despite the slightly silly sounding title, the blurb at the back caught my interest and I'm glad I gave it a shot - I've discovered another interesting fantasy author!
Whereas most fantasy is Tolkeinesque in terms of its setting, and Tolkein drew inspiration from Germanic and European legends, Nancy Springer's setting seems to draw from a wider range of influences, in particular native American ones.
The land is divided amongst six tribes, each identified by a different animal totem (otter, seal, hart, fanged horse, etc.) The young King of the Seal Kindred is required by tradition to keep a lonely vigil on every full moon. One night his vigil is interrupted by a crazed warrior of the Red Hart tribe, wielding not a weapon of flint, but an unknown, hard, shiny substance (metal). The story follows the two men as the Red Hart warrior is nursed back to health, and having lost his memory, tries to understand how he came to leave his tribe and acquire the strange weapon. At the same time, a fearsome evil seems to be stirring, as horrors from the deep are abroad, carrying off children and others. Could the two things be related somehow? (Hint: yes.)
This is not fantasy on an epic scale - no clashing armies, palace intrigues, fallen kingdoms etc. But while the author keeps the scale of the quest small (the book itself is only 210 pages long), she managed to give it great depth and detail in its cultures, myths and history. The relationship that develops between the two main characters is also well written and is a major part of the tale. This is a well-told story and one that is engaging from the get go. I'm looking forward to the next instalment (the also poorly named Mindbond).
32. Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell: 3 stars.
I'm not really familiar with the Green Arrow character, and this is the first work featuring this DC hero that I've read. I'm not really in a position to judge this work as part of the larger body of work featuring the character, but it works fairly well as a standalone. It was well done, with some interesting twists, but overall, I get the feeling that it was also a product of its time. 'Mature' superhero comics in the second half of the 80s lie under the shadow of the work of Frank Miller etc. This is gritty, violent stuff which is preoccupied with many of the same ideas and themes seen in the darker comics of the period. It manages to establish an identity of its own, but many of these ideas seem a little worn out nowadays.
33. The Sandman: Worlds' End by Neil Gaiman: 4 stars.
Once I realised that this collection was going to be another collection of 'short stories', few of which had anything to do with the Sandman or the other Endless, I was all prepared to be disappointed, particularly coming after the brilliant Brief Lives. But much against my will, something else happened as I read through these stories - I was absolutely captivated. The stories themselves are excellently written and rendered, and the framing device - a diverse array of people and fantastical beings end up at the inn at worlds' end and tell each other stories to while away the time - is also excellently done, in a manner reminiscent of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. To delve into the various stories and their qualities would only act to spoil the joy of discovering them, so instead I'd just urge fans of the Sandman to put aside their disappointment at not getting more tales of the Endless and enjoy these wonderful, literary, fantastical tales for what they are.
I am taking up the challenge of reading as much as I can this year starting this April until the next in 2011. But I am going to start small at 50 books. I am a fan of Anne Rice, Steve Berry, Dan Brown, Carlos Zafon,so more or less the historical/fiction-suspence/mystery type of stories.
Also a fun of feel-good-after-reading books. Those that inspires and elates one's feelings afterwards, those the lingers within you.
Can you guys recommend some for me? I am living in Saudi Arabia, so there might be some trouble finding some books as they have here some screening going on on what books to be sold at bookstores, but nevertheless with a bit of luck, one would turn out on the shelf.
@73> Hello tsarlymayn and good luck with your reading challenge. I'm not as well read in the genres you've mentioned as many others in this group, but two authors I can recommend would be Arturo Pérez-Reverte (author of The Club Dumas, Captain Alatriste and The Fencing Master amongst others) and Iain Pears, author of The Dream of Scipio and An Instance of the Fingerpost, etc. Also Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose.
Don't know much about the bookshops in Saudi Arabia but if the bookstores in the airports at Dubai and Abu Dhabi are any guide, than you should have a fair chance of turning some of these up. Otherwise you can always order them online from "The Book Depository" which ships books worldwide for free!
34. Stark's War by John G. Hemry: 3 and a half stars.
Picked this up on a whim. Military SF makes for 'trashy guilty pleasure' reading, but sometimes a guy just wants to read about stuff exploding! Actually this wasn't half as bad as the terrible cover suggested. Very often I'm put off of books in this genre by the uber-nationalism and glorification of war, but this manages to combine the excitement of conflict, as well as its absurdity and (at times) futility. The story is set in a future where the US is the sole super-power which dominates the globe. At the same time it has allowed its military to decline in quality, with its officer corps heavily politicised and virtually a different caste from the grunts. The very same grunts are short-changed on defective equipment while the military higher-ups spend money on super-expensive but generally useless weapons systems. Live-feeds from the soldier's helmets in combat zones are sold to TV corporations as 'reality shows' in order to raise revenue. The story kicks off as the other nations of the world have started mining the moon, desperate for resources, and the corporations which run the U.S. decide they want these resources for themselves. The military is sent in, and we follow the doings of Stark, a sergeant who is doing his best to keep his squad alive in the face of hostility from the enemy and from his own chain of command, who keep on dreaming up ways to get the men killed. There's a fair degree of gallows humour here, while at the same time, the main character, in his quest to keep his men alive comes across as both heroic and poignant. This is definitely better than the average mil-sf fare.
Stark's War is not a book I'd be interested in reading, but I liked your review of it and gave it a thumbs up.
35. The Sandman: The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman: 4 and a half stars.
Another outstanding Sandman graphic novel. Lyta Hall, convinced that the Sandman is behind the abduction and murder of her child loses her mind and unleashes the furies upon the Sandman. In the duration of this story we meet once again many of the minor characters we've met before in the series, both in the Dreaming and in the real world. A number of loose ends are tied up, while there are hints and allusions to others.
This is true literature. This is myth and poetry; tragedy and terror, humour and humanity. I'm pretty sure I'll be reading and re-reading parts of this and previous sandman collections again and again, unpacking all the layers and discovering new facets to this gem of a book.
Neil Gaiman collaborates with a new set of artists in this volume, many of whom have a more 'anime-ish' style, which focuses on the characters rather than the backgrounds, and goes for stylistic, simplified facial features rather than more realistic ones. At first I found this slightly strange and at odds with previous Sandman artwork, but as the story progressed I found that this kind of art style actually allowed me to focus more on the characters, and allowed their expressions to help tell the story. The hint of a smile here, furrowed eyebrows there, all give greater depth and understanding to what is happening in the narrative. It actually works well.
36. Deus Encarmine by James Swallow: 2 and a half stars
From the sublime to the sub-par. I was still in the mood for some military sf after Stark's War but I think that particular malaise may have been cured, at least for now, by this particular book.
Normally I avoid books in so-called shared universes, such as Star Wars, Star Trek etc. The common wisdom is that, while there may be some great books floating around amongst the countless novels written for these settings, they are few and far between and get lost amongst the dross. However, for a while now, the SF blogosphere has been abuzz with the news that the quality of books set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe (a setting initially designed for a tabletop RPG) is very high. The praise was high enough for me to decide to test the waters, particularly since the setting itself is such a rich, imaginative and grim one (dystopic doesn't even begin to describe it).
Perhaps this wasn't the best place to start. Deus Encarmine is the first in a two part series, both mercifully short in length. The basic plot is interesting enough, but oh the writing, the awful, plodding, clunky prose that falls with painful thuds into the mind. The narrative unfolds with all the subtlety of a train-wreck, and as for the characterisation, well, lets just say that for a long time I was wondering if the author was going to interrupt his overly-long, unexciting fight scenes, to bother with any characterisation, and then when he did, I immediately wished that he hadn't bothered!
How do the fire-fights unfold? A bunch of good guys and a bunch of bad guys square up and charge at each other shooting. The good guys realise they are outnumbered and out-gunned. They continue shooting while they extort each other to do more (have I mentioned the stilted dialogue?). They redouble their efforts (how they do this I'm not certain, pulling the triggers more rapidly, maybe?) The bad guys gloat at their coming victory. Something unexpected happens. Good guys win. Rinse and repeat. Realistic combat this is not.
About halfway through an actual plot starts to take shape. There is no subtlety in this - in fact it unfolds precisely in the manner the blurb at the back of the book tells us its going to unfold. To be fair, there are some unexpected moments towards the end of the book and it does help to build up some anticipation for the next book. One actually starts to feel some kind of sympathy with the main character and the impossible situation he finds himself in and by the time the book ends I actually did feel a certain sense of suspense over how things would resolve themselves. I'm glad I held out to the end of the book (I was helped by its short length) and since I have the second part I will be reading it at some point down the line to see how it all ends.
Just not any time soon.
37. Earthworks by Brian Aldiss: 4 stars.
Look at yourselves, Earth's peoples, Earthworks!
Look, look hard, and take a knife,
Carve yourself a conscience!
A short book, but one that packs quiet a punch and leaves the reader chewing over its ideas and implications long after its done. Brian Aldiss loves to dig and probe around the edges of one's most basic assumptions. The setting of this slim volume is a future where overpopulation, pollution and soil and resource exhaustion have devastated most of the planet, so that Europe, Asia and the Americas are sunk in poverty, illness and hunger, living out their lives in teeming cities. In this world, it is the African nations which still retain vitality and resources and which are the superpowers of the globe. Much like Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the African powers are hostile and jockey for power, but with the formation of an African Union, under the aegis of a great leader renowned for his leadership and statesmanship, the world is on the threshold of an era of peace.
But, the question which is posed to the book's protagonist, Knowle Noland, is whether peace is such a great thing after all? Wouldn't a war, which would cull the world's population in nuclear fires, free millions of their misery and allow humanity to start again, leave the survivors better off? Knowle gets caught up in an assassination plot put together by a group of cultists. Aldiss is in good form with this one, his writing is top notch, with some truly memorable and haunting sequences. The story is presented in the form of a narrative written years after the events chronicled by Knowle. Not only do we have an unreliable narrator, but one who is conscious of, and often discusses the limits and purposes of what he is writing in a world where few people know how to read. On top of this, Knowle is schizophrenic, and his accounts of some of his hallucinatory episodes are fascinating and tantalizing in that either they provide special insights into the world around him, or maybe that wisdom too is an illusion. Its fun trying to unpack the layers Aldiss throws in here.
Some of the ideas and extrapolations now may seem a little outdated, or not as startling as they were at the time this was written, but this is still a work well worth reading.
38. The Dark Light Years by Brian Aldiss: 4 and a half stars.
"Civilization is the distance that man has placed between himself and his own excreta."
"By the standards of another species," Mrs. Warhoon was saying, "our culture might merely seem like a sickness which prevents us from seeing how we ought to communicate with the aliens, rather than any shortcomings of theirs."
I must say I'm really late in discovering the sheer brilliance of Brian Aldiss. This is another outstanding novel that is once again challenging and massively entertaining at the same time. Reputedly written (1964) in disgust and anger over inhumane experiments carried out on dolphins, Aldiss poses some big questions What is civilization? What is intelligence? What does it mean to be civilized, and would we recognize these things if they weren't presented to us in non-anthropomorphic forms? To what extent can our behaviours and the norms of our society be said to be the result of civilized, rational thought and to what extent is it irrational, instinctive, tribal in its nature?
The story through which these questions are posed starts off with the old SF trope of a spaceship landing on a distant planet and coming across a group aliens (who have also travelled to the world on their own spaceship) wallowing in mud and their own excrement. These aliens are ugly, looking like two-headed hippos and when they move towards the earthmen, they are gunned down. Two surviving specimen are taken into captivity and taken back to Earth where they are kept in a zoo and studied. Attempts to dsicern whether or not the aliens are intelligent and to communicate with them meet with failure and eventually another expedition is sent out to find the aliens' home planet.
Aldiss is at his best when skewering the conventions of British society during his time. Even as they talk about the unwillingness of the aliens to attempt to communicate, we see the personal lives of some of the scientists and philosophers working on the project - the petty rivalries, the marital breakdown, the father-filial relationships in disarray. They condemn the aliens propensity to wallow in their own filth, while we see a society which pollutes the environment and doesn't seem to mind so much wallowing in its own wastes. (The scene where two of the scholars go on a date to the theatre is absolutely brilliant. They eat meat, the woman puts on expensive perfume made of ambergris (regurgitated semi-digested squid from a whale's stomach - actually used in perfumes) and they walk through littered streets, wearing masks because of the air polluted by car fumes!) When it is discovered that the aliens can feel no pain or fear, the military gets interested and the surviving specimens are experimented on to destruction in the hopes of developing chemicals that will allow soldiers to fight without feeling pain or fear (The UK is at war with Brazil at the time).
But Aldiss' demolition of the myths of human civilization don't end there. Those characters who develop an empathy for the creatures are sidelined or seen to be crazy by society, while those who seem to exhibit psychopathic behaviours are promoted and encouraged. In the second expedition, the men who come across the pacific, cattle-like aliens can't help but let their predatory instincts come to the fore. The only woman on the expedition, who sees in the aliens' buildings and artefacts a sophisticated civilization which has successfully evolved in tandem with nature rather than in opposition to it, is treated as a neurotic and a trophy for expedition's the alpha male. The ending of the book is powerful and brimming with anger.
There's a great deal more here to mull over and dissect. Themes of nature/nurture, morality, social relationships, colonialism, all are touched on in this short work. This is another classic Aldiss novel.
39. City of Beasts by Isabel Allende: 3 stars.
I haven't read any Isabel Allende before, so this, the first in a trilogy of adventure novels for YA readers may not exactly be representative of her work, but I was in the mood for a light read. Incidentally, I don't read much YA books either. I noticed many of the reviews tend to compare this, either favourably or unfavourably to Harry Potter. Not having read any of the Harry Potter books, I can't really comment on that either. What I can say is that this is an entertaining adventure story, packed with exotic locations and an exciting quest, which is engaging rather than enthralling.
The story follows young Alexander Cold, a 15 year old American boy whose mother has unfortunately contracted cancer. While his father looks after her, Alexander is sent to live with his grandmother, a tough, whiskey-swilling journalist for 'International Geographic' who wouldn't win any prizes for wise parenting. She drags Alexander off to a trip deep into the Amazon searching for a mythical Beast (sort of a Bigfoot like creature). This is an adventure story in the mould of Indiana Jones (though much more culturally sensitive, thank goodness). Probably the best parts of the book are when the expedition is making its way up the Amazon river where Allende's descriptions of the flora and fauna in all their wild abundance and variety are particularly effective.
I've decided to try and chip into my piles of unread books alphabet-wise, which is the reason for all the books by authors whose names begin with 'A' in the last few days. Of course, if I were really seriously about whittling down the number of tbr books I own, I would STOP BUYING MORE BOOKS! But that is just too much to ask. Just got 9 more this weekend...
40. Thieves' World by Robert Asprin et al: 3 and a half stars.
This is the first in a series of anthologies set in a shared world (the city of Sanctuary, dubbed 'Thieves' World). I didn't have high expectations, but I was actually pretty impressed. None of the stories are duds, most of them are very well written and a few are excellent (notably the one by Marion Zimmer Bradley. The setting and the style of the stories have a flavour of Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, though with a wider and more interesting cast of characters.
1) Sentences of Death – John Brunner: 3/5
A magical scroll which contains instructions for an assassination comes into the possession of a scribe, allowing his apprentice to exact revenge for a wrong committed years ago.
2) The Face of Chaos – Lynn Abbey: 3/5
A fortune-teller gets mixed up in a dangerous game as a new temple is about to be consecrated to foreign gods.
3) The Gate of the Flying Knives – Poul Anderson: 4/5
A plot by an established temple to prevent a new temple being built involves bringing in a monster from another dimension.
4) Shadowspawn – Andrew Offut: 3/5
A Thief is employed as a tool in a plot to discredit the Prince-governor of Sanctuary.
5) The Price of Doing Business – Robert Asprin: 3/5
A powerful crime lord is almost laid low by gutter snipes.
6) Blood Brothers – Joe Haldeman: 3/5
An innkeeper gets caught up in a rivalry between mages and a protective spell goes awry.
7) Myrtis – Christine DeWees: 3/5
A brothel-owner acts to prevent the Prince from closing down the brothels in Sanctuary.
8) The Secret of the Blue Star – Marion Zimmer Bradley: 5/5
Lythande the mage battles a fellow mage of the order of the blue star.
41. Leviathan by Paul Auster: 4 stars.
Auster's prose is mesmerizing. Once you start reading, it simply pulls you along, as the narrative unfolds in a series of confessions, drawing the reader into greater and greater intimacy with the cast of strange and wonderful characters that populate the world of this novel. The twists and turns of the plot are bizarre and unexpected, stretching credulity, but all the more gripping for doing so. This is enthralling stuff.
42. The Moment of Eclipse by Brian Aldiss: 3 and a half stars.
If there's one thing to be said about Aldiss' work, it's certainly never lacking in imagination or invention. I found this collection of short stories to be challenging, amusing, entertaining, electrifying, baffling and at times, even infuriating. I'm certainly going to be dipping back into this collection from time to time to re-read and ponder over some of these stories.
1) The Moment of Eclipse: 3/5
A film-maker seeking an assignation with a beautiful, decadent woman follows her to a West African country where he picks up a parasite. Strange story but one I’m still puzzling over.
2) The Day We Embarked For Cythera: 3/5
Two parallel stories, one about a bunch of dandies out on a picnic where they bandy philosophy and drink fine wine. The other is about carnivorous cars. Just as I was thinking that this one was going way over my head, I recalled the joke one of the characters makes about time and the natural order of things - it gives a whole new perspective on the story... I think!
3) Orgy of the Living and the Dying: 3/5
In a future where over-population has devastated India, a Swiss/English doctor with a UN relief team starts to hear voices in his head.
4) Super-Toys Last All Summer Long: 5/5
The story on which the movie A.I. was based. Works wonderfully as a pared down tale, though Aldiss did write two follow ups which I'm keen to read.
5) The Village Swindler: 3/5
A white man travelling in India has a heart attack on a train and is taken by a doctor to his home. His daughter who was accompanying him on the trip meets a man in the nearby village selling a vase.
6) Down the Up Escalation: 3/5
Escalating violence in Vietnam while an editor back in the west suffers a heart attack. A strange, surreal story.
7) That Uncomfortable Pause Between Life and Art...: 4/5
The author is accosted by a woman in the cafeteria of the Victoria & Albert Museum after he has just seen the works of Wiliam Holman Hunt. An odd but witty dissection about art and criticism and time.
8) Confluence: 2/5
A partial dictionary of an alien language. Tongue in cheek.
9) Heresies of the Huge God: 5/5
A brilliant and hilarious and terrifying story. 900 years in the future, a Church official writes about the history of heresies in the worship of the Huge God – an alien giant lizard that leapt onto the world plunging the world into chaos. Brilliant story.
10) The Circulation of the Blood...: 4/5
A scientist discovers a virus that is giving longevity to various animal species it inhabits. Could it work for humans too?
11) ...And the Stagnation of the Heart.: 2/5
Western countries have allowed the virus that induces longevity but in overpopulated South Asia, it is made illegal.
12) The Worm That Flies: 2/5
Millions of years hence, change is coming to the world where everything heretofore was immortal.
13) Working in the Spaceship Yards: 4/5
Amusing story about working in the spaceship yards with women and androids.
14) Swastika!: 3/5
The author goes to meet Hitler, who still lives under a pseudonym, about getting the rights to a musical based on his life.
Oh, it's so wrong it's funny: Swastika! :) Almost laughed tea out of my nose at that one.
I don't think I've read anything by Aldiss. I must rectify that.
@86> Yes, Mr Aldiss certainly has an oddball sense of humour. I actually had difficulty in figuring out how to describe some of his stories. My little blurbs do them no justice at all!
43. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: 3 and a half stars.
2 am in the morning and I'm up with our little one who is in that cranky I'm-sleepy-but-too-restless-to-sleep mode and I picked this up to glance through and of course, I'm immediately hooked.
A fine, entertaining book that reads like a modern version of the Jungle Book set in an English graveyard, Somewhat episodic in nature, but that actually adds to the ease of reading and perhaps makes it more suitable for young adults. (Though it can also be quiet gruesome at times!)
44. There Will Be Time by Poul Anderson: 3 and a half stars.
Hm. After a flurry of books read a couple of weeks ago, its taken a while to get this read, mostly because I've been so busy.
Continuing my theme of books by authors whose name starts with 'A', I decided on this. I haven't read a great deal, but I've usually enjoyed Poul Anderson's fantasy more than his sci-fi. As it turns out this is an entertaining time travel story. About 40 pages in I didn't have high hopes for it, but it really opened up and became more interesting as it went along.
45. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander: 3 stars
A light, entertaining read. Very much a Tolkein mash-up though skewed towards a younger audience.
15 books read this month! That may just be some sort of a record for me! Certainly the most number of books I've read in a month since I started keeping track.
When we discussed this on the Prydain Chronicles group read thread, I think we came to the conclusion that a lot of the similarities between Tolkien and this book were due to the common usage of Welsh and Celtic myth as the basis. Alexander certainly bases his book elements on the Mabinogion more than anything else. Feel free to come on over the group read and comment.
Oh wow, thanks! I'll dive into the discussion straight away. My edition of the book did have a note on the Welsh influences, and they are very apparent in the names. But the Gurgi character seemed to be very Gollum-esque. Perhaps, I should read the discussion first before saying more. But thanks for reminding me that I also need to read the Mabinogion.
46. Twisted Metal by Tony Ballantyne: 3 and a half stars
This was an interesting book which was not at all what I was expecting it to be. The publishers seem to have marketed it as a rip-roaring action adventure with warring robots. Well the war is there and so are the robots, but so are a great deal of ruminations on determinism vs. free will, totalitarianism vs. individualism, the meaning of life, evolution, and parenthood.
The setting is Penrose, a world inhabited by robots. Counter-intuitively, the technological level of the robots is somewhere around Earth's in WW1 - with railways the primary means of transport. On the continent of Shull, a totalitarian state is gradually taking over the continent, state by state, stripping each state of of its precious resources (metal) and using them in fueling their war machine. The last surviving city-state is Turing City, where the people are confronted with the choice of building the minds of the next generation of children either in the traditional individualistic manner of the city or in a manner closer to the totalitarian philosophy of Nyro who put the state above all else and declared that all robots and their minds are just metal to be used in the service of the state.
The robot societies are vivid and imaginatively described. At times, the author inserts myths and allegorical tales which form the common basis of the robotic cultures of Shull, which gives the book a far less technophillic tone than one would expect of such a setting and is at times almost fantastic or mythical in tone. Like most myths the tale is also uncompromisingly grim and brutal at times. The story unfolds from shifting point of views of different male and female characters from the various city-states who are caught up in the war. In their depictions Tony Ballantyne succeeds in making them both alien and oddly human at the same time. I won't get too much into the story here, but it certainly gripped my attention throughout, mostly because I wanted to know what happened to the characters next. The ending was a little unsatisfying, but is obviously setting things up for the next in the series (a planned trilogy I believe).
Overall, an entertaining and engaging read which is very different in feel and tone to most other contemporary SF.
93 sounds good! The cover (on LT) might of put me off had I seen it so it's nice to read a good review.
@91> Thanks ronin again for the link. I wish I had known about the Chronicles of Prydain groupread earlier, as I would have tried to participate. I'll be reading the rest of the Chronicles this year and be referring to the discussion thread as I do. As for the Tolkein similarities, upon reflection, a great deal of it probably does have to do with the archetypal quest nature of the myths and legends both Tolkein and Alexander were influenced by. I'm looking forward to reading more in the series and seeing how it all develops.
@94> I'm not entirely convinced that Ballantyne was completely successful in this book, but I really appreciated the fact that he was doing something different. It really is a grim tale in parts and I would guess that it may not be to everyone's taste, particularly the curiously unresolved ending. But its certainly worth checking out. There's more to it than the lurid cover suggests (as well-painted as it is!)
Reading Round-Up at the end of April:
16 books read in the month is great going for me! I'm almost half way through the challenge which at the beginning of the year I wasn't confidant about being able to complete!
Books read to date: 46/100
Male to Female authors: 41 and 5
Science Fiction: 16/20
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 7/20
Non-fiction books: 3/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 5/6
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 2/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 4/6
The other challenge I am trying to set myself is actually trying to reduce my TBR pile. No, lets be realistic, my TBR pile is only going to keep growing. But I'm going to try to at least reduce the proportion of books that I own that are still TBR. Currently just over 74% of my books are still unread. So hopefully by the end of the year I can push this down (I suspect just keeping it steady would be a victory!) This past month I was trying to whittle down some of my 'A's (8 books read by authors whose name begins with A.)
47. Stark's Command by John G. Hemry: 3 stars
This is the sequel to Stark's War which I read and enjoyed last month. The story picks up right where it left off at the end of the first book, with Stark being elected to lead the military contingent on the Moon after it has mutinied and locked up all its officers. The story deals with Stark coming to terms with his new role and responsibilities, and also the need to overcome the distrust and divisions between the Moon's civilian and military colonists. Of course there is also an attempt by the American government to retake control of the colony, but overall this is probably less action-oriented than the first book and more heavily focused on Stark's character and the choices and issues he is faced with. The series continues to engage and entertain without really being exceptional in any way.
48. The Sandman: The Wake by Neil Gaiman: 4 stars.
This collection forms a kind of epilogue to the story that ended with the Sandman's death in The Kindly Ones. There is a three-part tale of the wake and funeral of the Sandman, and then 3 stand-alone stories which also tie up some loose ends. It is two of these, 'Sunday Mourning' and 'The Tempest' which I found really outstanding, and make this collection a must-read. This collection brought an end to the Sandman story arc and I must say its a little difficult goodbye to the characters and stories. In a way the theme of saying good-bye which runs through this collection makes it easier to come to terms with the end of the series. (As does the knowledge that there are a whole bunch of spin-offs which follows various characters from the series out there, Death, Lucifer, The Little Endless Storybook, the Dead Boy Detectives, The Books of Magic, etc. - yaay!)
Hacen't tried the Jill Thompson Death spin-offs but the Neil Gaiman ones are very good if you haven't tried them.
49. The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan: 3 stars.
This was a book with an amazing set-up, great world-building, an exciting premise and some excellent prose, yet I felt it really failed to come together and flattered to deceive. Its a decent book that failed to live up to its promise of being a great one.
The basic idea behind the story is one that feels like a combination of the movies 'The Village' and '28 Days Later'. The zombie apocalypse has come and gone. Surviving generations live in a fenced off village inside the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Outside there are only the Unconsecrated - the undead who seek to break in and eat or infect everyone. The strict rules and guidelines for how the villagers are to live are enforced by the Sisterhood - a group of nuns who also seem to be hiding secrets about the world outside the village. We follow the story of Mary, whose parents fall to the Unconsecreted in a gripping sequence at the beginning of the book, and is forced to join the nuns. She dreams of escape to the mythical ocean her mother used to tell her stories about. She also gets involved in a love quadrangle which is tiresome to the extreme and feels somewhat unbelievable, And herein lies the problem with the book. It promises so much, but spends too much time moping about. The story doesn't really open out to any great extent. The secrets hinted at are never revealed - a sequel is already out, so perhaps we learn more there. I never could really sympathise with Mary to any great extent and I think the writing is to blame. One moment she has just witnessed or remembered something horrifying and tragic and the next she is moping about her dream boy (or the ocean). She breaks down and cries at the rate of about once a chapter (There are 35 chapters in the book) and very rarely is this over the loss of people she knows (in fact she tends to forget them fairly quickly). I feel the author was trying to show her immaturity and emotional development through the course of the book, but I'm not entirely certain she succeeds. Also, one finds it difficult to connect with someone so obsessed with her own dreams of seeing the ocean that she essentially drags others to their deaths in pursuit of her dream. She is in fact exactly the kind of person you do not want with you in your little band of desperate survivors in the midst of a zombie apocalypse!
Despite these gripes, I wouldn't say the book is a total loss. As mentioned before it has a number of positives and I certainly wouldn't mind reading the sequel to see where the story goes from here.
I do have to say the title has intrigued me! Shame to know it didn't quite live up to the promise. (Still, if it were to fall onto Mt TBR with minimal effort, I'd probably still give it a go. :)
@99> Thanks, i will be dropping by the discussion thread to follow the discussion but I probably wont be taking part as I doubt i will have read the books by then.
101> Well it grabbed my attention enough that I want to read the sequel, The Dead Tossed Waves. I would be interested in getting other peoples' perspectives on it. I couldn't relate to the main character but that may just be me. There were other aspects of the book that I felt were very strong.
50. Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn: 3 stars.
This is a short graphic novel that takes the 'what if...' approach to one of DC's most famous characters. What if Bruce Wayne had lived in the Victorian era rather than in the modern day, and had taken a similar path to becoming Batman? And of course, what if he set out to find that most villainous of Victorian villains, Jack the Ripper?
Its a fair enough story, though the detective work Batman engages in is rather straightforward and facile. What sets this work above the run of the mill is the wonderfully moody artwork. It had been illustrated by Mike Mignola, who would go on to become the creator of Hellboy. Here the dark, earthy tones, and heavy use of shadows fits the gothic setting perfectly.
51. Lythande by Marion Zimmer Bradley: 3 and a half stars
My favourite story in the Thieves' World book I read last month was 'The Secret of the Blue Star' by Marion Zimmer Bradley, so when I came across this collection of stories about Lythande, the protaganist of the story, I snapped it up.
Lythande is a mysterious mage, a pilgrim Adept of the Blue Star. The power of every Adept is bound to a Secret and if any man discovers this secret, they would have power over the Adept. Lythande's secret is that he is in fact a woman who disguised herself as man in order to learn the secrets of the order of the Blue Star. Though now gifted with great power, she is also cursed to hide her secret from others, meaning intimacy is denied her.
1) The Secret of the Blue Star: 5/5
Lythande the mage battles a fellow mage of the order of the blue star.
2) The Incompetent Magician: 3/5
Lythande agrees to retrieve another magician’s wand from a thief in return for a harp which holds special meaning for her...
3) Somebody Else’s Magic: 3/5
A dying sword-priestess gives Lythande her magical sword which binds the mage under a geas to return it to the temple of her goddess. The only problem is that only women may carry the sword and enter the temple, and Lythande is being tracked by an old enemy who may discover her secret.
4) Sea Wrack: 3/5
Lythande agrees to rid a fishing village of a sea-siren that draws fishermen (and women) to their doom by showing them their deepest desires.
5) The Wandering Lute: 4/5
Lythande acquires a lute which enchants her to move ever northwards until she comes upon someone powerful enough to break the enchantment.
6) Looking for Satan – Vonda McIntyre: 4/5
Northerners come to Sanctuary seeking a disappeared friend and quickly run afoul of its strange customs, racism and misogyny. Lythande helps out. Rather different in style and tone from the other stories, by pretty good all the same.
52. Three Men in A Boat by Jerome K. Jerome: 4 stars.
A greatly entertaining tale of three friends taking a holiday and travelling up the Thames by boat (to say nothing of the dog!) This was laugh out loud funny at times. Some may find that the humour throughout is a little same-y but since I read it over the course of a couple of weeks, I didn't find this to be so and I was always entertained when I picked it up. I first picked this up because it had been referenced by Connie Willis as an inspiration for her book To Say Nothing of the Dog and that is on my TBR pile, hopefully to be read in the not too distant future!
I enjoyed To Say Nothing of the Dog but the plot did seem somewhat overly complex, giving the fluffy nature of the book. I wasn't expecting to have to *concentrate* while reading that one! It's still a good read though, and I'm wishing I'd read it closer to Three Men in a Boat - by the time I'd gotten around to reading the Willis novel, I'd forgotten everything pertinent in the Jerome book!
#106-108 > Thanks for the hint! When I finished Three Men in A Boat I actually thought to myself that I couldn't really see how it could be strongly connected to a time travel story but if it helps to have it fresh in one's mind when one reads To say Nothing of the Dog I guess I should bump that up to the top of my TBR pile(s).
I really liked the humour in Three Men in a Boat as well. There were several passages just begging to be read out and shared with people. This was one of my favourites:
"It always does seem to me that I am doing more work than I should do. It is not that I object to the work, mind you; I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours. I love to keep it by me: the idea of getting rid of it early breaks my heart.
You cannot give me too much work; to accumulate work has almost become a passion with me: my study is so full of it now, that there is hardly an inch of room for any more. I shall have to throw out a wing soon.
And I am careful of my work, too. Why, some of the work that I have by me now has been in my possession for years and years, and there isn't a finger-mark on it. I take a great pride in my work; I take it down now and then and dust it. No man keeps his work in a better state of preservation than I do.
But, though I crave for work, I still like to be fair. I do not ask for more than my proper share."
I feel like I should have this framed and put up on my desk at work!
53. A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif: 4 stars.
This is a great book. Part political thriller and part satire (though satire that often cuts far too close to home at times). It is a fictionalized account of the death of the Pakistani dictator Zia ul Haq, killed in an air crash along with a bevy of his top generals and the US ambassador, Arnold Raphael in 1988 just as they were beginning to celebrate their victory over the Soviets in the Afghanistan War.
The title of the book is a play on words, referring to both the mystery behind what caused the crash (there are a number of different theories that lay the blame at the feet of a number of different suspects), as well as the popular suspicion that the plane was blown up by a bomb planted in a crate of mangoes that was loaded on the plane in Bahawalpur.
Knowing anything about the actual history is not necessary to enjoy this novel as I believe Hanif sets the scene very well, but one's appreciation only increases of the way he weaves the various theories surrounding the crash into one narrative. For example, there is a subplot about the blind girl Zainab who is imprisoned for fornication after being gangraped (Zia did introduce a law which automatically made female rape victims criminals if they could not produce eyewitnesses to testify that they were raped). After a human rights demonstrator breaches his security cordon, Zia orders Zainab to essentially be 'disappeared' into the Pakistani version of Guantanamo Bay. There she curses her tormentor, and according to folklore, crows carry the curse of wronged women to their recipients. One of the theories about the plane crash is that it was the result of mechanical failure after a crow was sucked into one of its engines.
Mohammed Hanif deftly weaves together a variety of subplots - the main one following an airforce cadet (as he himself once was) who gets caught up in an investigation after his roommate goes AWOL. Other POVs include Zia himself, his wife, his long time ally and chief of the ISI, General Akhtar his bodyguard and the suave torturer, Major Kiyani.
All this sounds like dour, heavy going, but Hanif's writing is generally warm, accessible and lightly humorous. Much of the humour is earthy, ribald even, but rings true to the time and setting. Hanif pokes fun at a whole bevy of sacred cows, terrorism, fundamentalism, the Pakistani army, the ISI, the CIA, the Mujahideen (an awkward gentleman named OBL who runs a construction company shows up at a large 4th of July BBQ held at the American ambassador's residence at one point!) All in all, this makes for an entertaining read, but above all, what one finds most compelling is the mystery of how, ultimately, Zia met his end.
54. Extraordinary Tales by Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares: 4 and a half stars.
This was an absolutely gripping read made all the more compelling by the Borgesian manner in which I came to it. I haven't read a great deal of Borges but what I have read I have really liked. I came across this second hand copy rather randomly and was surprised because I have never heard of this book, or of the fact that Borges apparently collaborated with Casares a good deal.
On the face of it this is an anthology of very short narratives, most taken from other sources and only translated or edited (or is some cases, related) by Borges and Casares. Now I wasn't entirely sure if these were actually taken from other sources, or if they were written by the two authors and attributed to other sources (Borges can be like that!) or if the short narratives were a mixture of the two. I spent a fair bit of time searching the internet and, oddly enough, turned by very little. It seemed as if this particular work really isn't much on the radar. On one site which had listed reviews and essays about all of Borges' works, this was the only book which had no links and a little message saying 'coming soon' next to it. Another site was in Spanish and the button which linked to the English mirror site seemed not to be working. Only one review up on Amazon and that spoke highly of the book but not about its provenance. Even Wikipaedia had nothing to say about it beyond listing its ISBN number. No where was there a clear indication of whether this has been written by Borges and Casares or simply edited and anthologised by them. How Borgesian!
My best guess is that it is an anthology but they have edited at times with a heavy hand. In a foreword the two authors write that in some cases the translations are translations of translations, and while they have tried to go to the original sources, they were not always successful in doing so - for example they could not find in the original a short passage by Richard Burton which was in the Spanish edition!
Anyway, on to the work itself. The short narratives have many of the themes, motifs and imagery common to Borges' other works: dreams, labyrinths, mirrors, books, dopplegangers, prophecy and epiphany. They come from varied times and places - China, Arabia, Persia, Scandanavia, Europe, South America and so on. Some are, in the best Borgesian traditions synopses of other stories or books or narrated second hand. They seem to have been selected and arranged one after the other with some care, through the connections are not always obvious. I like to feel that the key to reading the book is provided by one particular piece which is 'The Pattern on the Carpet' which is an outtake from 'The London Adventure' by Arthur Machen in which he ruminates on a story by Henry James called 'The Pattern on the Carpet' which is about an author who has written many books which were all variations on one theme and that a common pattern, like the pattern of an Eastern carpet ran through them all. The story ends with the death of the author before he can reveal the nature of the pattern and one of his readers going through a whole shelf of his books trying to discern the pattern.
The stories from so many different and varied sources, I fell, are for Borges and Casares, variations on a similar theme. And it is entirely fitting that the narrative that alludes to this is a piece by an author writing about an author who has written about an author who has written countless variations on the same theme. Or, another way to look at it, The authors of this work are sharing with their readers a piece they read about another reader who read about a story about a reader who is trying to piece together the pattern that appears in a series of entirely imaginary books!
In such a way the short narratives flow from one to another, taking us backwards and forwards in time and in place, with the authorial voice changing constantly as well. There is a dreamlike quality to the reading experience, and I don't mind admitting that I did have some rather odd dreams last night, no doubt brought on by reading this before going to bed.
Perhaps my favourite narrative is the one that takes the common Borgesian motif of a labyrinth and turns it inside out: a Babylonian king has his architects design and construct a labyrinth so subtle that even the wisest men would lose themselves in it. He then tricked a visiting Arabian king into entering it, who wandered lost and confused for an entire day. In return the Arabian King vows to take the Babylonian king to a labyrinth that is even more impossible to escape from and takes and dumps him in the middle of the desert, "where there are no stairs to climb, nor doors to force, nor weary galleries to wander, nor walls to block your way." But the Babylonian King wanders lost and confused in the bare desert for the rest of his days, unable to escape this anti-labyrinth.
I loved this book and think I'll be dipping back into it again for days to come. Its a must for fans of Borges.
With 54 books read, I should canter past the 100 books mark for the year, so I'm thinking of upping my target - can I hit 125 books? That would be setting a new record for me, but if I continue at this rate, I should be able to nail it!
I haven't read any Borges yet, but I have Ficciones on my shelf, waiting for me. Did you like it?
55. Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman: 4 stars
This was a re-read as I have read this before a few years ago. What Neil Gaiman has done is essentially take some of the major heroes and villains from the Marvel Stable and transplanted them to the Elizabethan era. Nick Fury is Queen Elizabeth's chief intelligencer, Matthew Murdock a blind minstrel who works for him, magneto is the High Inquisitor in the Inquisition and uses the institution to hunt down 'witchbreed' (mutants), etc. Generally it is all very well done, and Gaiman manages to blend the familiar character archetypes with the setting in a very effective manner. Even better is the fact that the story works for both those who have been deeply immersed in the Marvel comics universe and those who have only a passing acquaintance with it. (Though its possible that it may not resonate so well with those who really have no familiarity at all with some of the major Marvel superheroes).
The art work is superb, and I particularly love the wood-etching-like covers for the individual issues. The only minor quibble I would have is that towards the later parts of the story where the writer starts trying to explain why these heroes now exist in 1602 feels a little forced and even unnecessary. I much preferred the earlier chapters that focus on the political machinations between Elizabeth, James, the Church, etc. Overall though its an entertaining look at familiar themes and characters in an unfamiliar setting.
56. Black Panther: The Client by Christopher Priest: 3 stars.
I originally picked this up because I mistakenly thought that it was written by the same Christopher Priest as the one who wrote The Prestige and The Separation. As it turns out this collects the first 5 issues of a very highly lauded re-boot of the Black Panther character by the American comic-book author. It does have a fresh, irreverent vibe and manages to both make the character cool and mysterious while using the supporting cast to provide humour and keep the tone of the comic light (especially the hapless Everett K. Ross, a Washington bureaucrat from the State Department who is liaison to the Wakandan King on his visit to the US). Overall this was an entertaining read, but I wouldn't say it was a great one.
57. Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman: 3 and a half stars.
A short graphic novel about Dream's sister, Death, that supplements the Sandman books nicely, without really adding anything new to them.
That Borges sounds intriguing! I've got Labyrinths on the shelves, I must get to that one day soon.
Great reviews, too. Good luck with aiming for 125!
58. The Rough Guide to Sci-Fi Movies by John Scalzi: 3 and a half stars.
An entertainingly written guide to SF movies. Rather than just offer write-ups on various movies, also gives segments on the history of SF, movies from other countries, bad (and good) science in SF movies (the Core comes in for special treatment here), SF on TV and on other media. Popular locations for filming and popular settings for movies and much more. Fun to dip into even if you're fairly well acquainted with 'the Canon' and don't have much of an interest in seeking out obscure stuff. Though its probably not something that can be read straight through.
59. The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of by Thomas Disch: 3 and a half stars.
By turns, acerbic, witty, thoughtful, arrogant, vicious and sympathetic, this book is really more a collection of essays about various themes and issues related to the genre that Disch wants to talk about rather than a very coherent look at how science fiction has impacted the modern world. One doesn't always agree with what he is saying, and one can even be offended by some of his rather cutting remarks, and his tendency to be rather reductive in the way he presents a particular work, person or agenda that he has it in for, but at the same time, this can also be an engaging, entertaining and even insightful read.
121> They're certainly interesting if you enjoy the genre!
60. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill: 3 and a half stars.
I don't read much in the horror genre, but decided to try this out after it was recommended by a fair few people. Its an entertaining read, suitably creepy in places, with an interesting protagonist who one initially finds somewhat repulsive, but who develops well throughout the story. The writing is fluid and the plot moves along at a fair clip. The story is about an ageing heavy metal singer who has intimacy issues and collects gothic memorabilia. One day he buys a dead man's suit over the internet, which is said to be haunted. Not only does this suit turn out to be haunted, but it is connected with the singer's past in surprising ways. Good stuff.
Reading Round-Up at the end of May.
Books read to date: 59/125
Male to Female authors: 52 and 7
Science Fiction: 18/30
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 12/25
Nonfiction books: 5/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 2/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 4/6
61. Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre: 3 stars.
This was Brookmyre's first novel and it definitely shows. Earlier this year, I read my first Brookmyre book, One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night and really enjoyed it. Its fine blend of humour, energy, satire and action can all be glimpsed in this book as well, but generally the grain is much coarser. The writing is not as polished, the characters not as interesting and the plot seems rather more simplistic. This is an engaging and entertaining murder mystery novel, but little about it really stands out (other than the overused scatological humour).
62. Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton: 3 and a half stars.
I haven't read a great deal in the urban fantasy genre, and other than Jim Butcher's Dresden Files, most of what I have read hasn't really stood out in any way. However this first book in the Antita Blake series was a fun, exciting, action-packed book that promises good things for the rest of the series. One concern I had, given the titles of the books, and the cover art, was that this might trend too much towards the paranormal romance end of the genre, a fear that was accentuated when the book started with a bachelorette party at a vampire strip club (!!!) but luckily things improved from there on in.
The hard-boiled heroine is an engaging character, there is a large cast of supporting characters and an interesting world at play where Vampires and other forms of the undead have come out of the closet, so to speak, and gone mainstream. At its heart this book is a murder mystery, which is fairly easy to work out. The plot also at times seems to rely too much on coincidences, (some very glaring) but once the story kicks into overdrive, its possible to put these misgivings to one side and simply enjoy the ride.
> 125 Word on the street (I haven't read them) about the Anita Blake books is that the first several are pretty good and engaging, and then they trend fast into bad romance and tons and tons of sex.
I'll be interested to see how you find them.
#126> Yes, I've heard that too. (My husband read the first and thought it was ghastly - he pointed out that it described what she was wearing *constantly*, which didn't bother me half as much as it did him. I just didn't care for it much, and have not bothered going on with the rest.)
@ 126 & 127> I went in with *very* low expectations - my main motivation for bumping the book up my tbr pile was that I keep seeing other books in the series around and I was wondering if its worth investing in the series. Overall, I felt it had flaws but there was enough there to make me want to read on. But I'll keep in mind that the later lot are supposed to be poor...
As for the clothing descriptions, I guess there was a certain amount of focus on what people were wearing, but I thought it usually had something to do with hiding/revealing scars and/or concealed weapons!
63. Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein: 3 and a half stars.
For the most part its hard to believe this was written in 1941. In most ways, this reads as much more 'modern' than numerous SF novels written decades afterwards. This is a story about a generation ship - huge starships that take generations to cross the gulf between space and reach their destination. except something went wrong on this one and it has been adrift for hundreds of years, with the ships crew and passengers losing knowledge of their past and reverting to a primitive form of tribal civilization.
This kind of idea has become a common trope in Science Fiction, being used by countless authors since, which shows just how much depth and power Heinlein's original idea had on the genre. The story is about a small group of passengers who break away from the stifling conventions of their tribe and discover the truth about the world they live in. It is generally entertaining, with the main flaw for me being the treatment of women in the book. One can understand that Heinlein is showing a primitive culture which treats women as chattel, but for the purpose of the story, Heinlein seems to treat them no better. They are utterly characterless and almost ridiculous is their helplessness and brainlessness. The ending seems to suggest that for Heinlein the main function they serve is as breeders of the human race. So this was a rather annoying aspect of what is otherwise a groundbreaking SF classic.
And phew! I'm now half way through my 125 books!
I've only read one Heinlein thus far (Starship Troopers), but I was also surprised at how contemporary much of his stuff still felt! I was impressed and will definitely read more of him in the future, although I do have that edge of wariness about his treatment of women, which I gather is a recurring theme in those books of his which bother to have women at all.
@130> I haven't read a great of Heinlein, though I have read Starship Troopers. I also felt it hadn't aged badly. I will be reading more Heinlein in the future, but I think I'll try and be discerning and try to avoid the avowed turkeys and stick to his more celebrated works.
64. The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot: 4 stars.
This was a powerful and moving graphic novel. I had not heard of it before, but Bryan Talbot comes highly recommended and I picked it up based on the high praise I've heard of his other work. The story is about Helen, a girl who runs away from her abusive father and unloving mother and ends up homeless on the streets on London, her only companion being a pet rat. Her dream since she was very young was to be a writer and artist and write stories like her favourite author, Beatrix Potter. After facing various trials and tribulations on the streets of London she decides to hike to the Lake District, a trip that echoes Potter's escape from the confines of her London home to the country, where she was able to flourish both personally and artistically.
The story is a powerful and Talbot's portrayal of Helen's damaged character is sensitive as her coming to terms with what was done to her is powerful and inspiring. The artwork is simply extraordinary and really works to connect the reader with Helen's emotional state. The connection with Beatrix Potter and her life worked well for me, even though I have never read anything by her and knew next to nothing about her life. All in all this was an excellent work and recommended to anyone, even those who usually avoid graphic novels.
I have Talbot's Alice in Sunderland in my TBR mountain and I think I'll definitely be bumping that up the priority queue!
65. Yarrow by Charles De Lint: 3 stars.
This was a bit of an impulse read. I've heard many good things about Charles De Lint though I've never read anything by him before. I thought this might be a good introduction - its one of his earlier, slimmer works and is not part of any sort of series and (as far as I can tell) has no sequels or prequels.
Anyway, so this is urban fantasy from back when that did not automatically mean a formulaic vampire-werewolf-femme-fatale love triangle. Its a story about a group of people whose lives are intruded upon by an immortal human-like predator that feeds on dreams. The intended main course of his culinary tour of Ottowa is to be Cat, a fantasy author whose source of inspiration for her books comes from fantastical beings in a magical land that she is able to visit in her own dreams. Once her nocturnal sightseeing trips become snacks for the evil one, she suffers a major dose of writer's block. a genuine misanthrope who has only ever really connected to the beings she meets in her dreams, she is now cut off from her only friends and endangered by a mysterious assailant. Discovering and dealing with said assailaint can only come about if she breaks through her isolation and connects with the people around her.
A decent urban fantasy tale, quiet dark in bits, which reminded me to some extent of Neil Gaiman's work. Entertaining but not exceptional.
#128> As for the clothing descriptions, I guess there was a certain amount of focus on what people were wearing, but I thought it usually had something to do with hiding/revealing scars and/or concealed weapons!
Wasn't there something about a t-shirt with penguins on it? (I can't remember, it was too long ago now, but I'm sure I heard a lot of grumbling about the number of times it was mentioned.)
I read a lot of Heinlein when I was a teenager, and can't bear the thought of picking up any of his books now. My husband has the handy rule that if it's a *slim* Heinlein novel, it's "boy's own adventure" and rather good fun; but if it's chunky it's one of his "philosophical" novels where the main character is older, balding, red haired, and gets to have wild sex with any number of young nubile "intelligent" women, and should be avoided like the plague.
While I can see the appeal of one or two Heinlein novels, I read far too much and just got so fed up with him that I never want to read another of his books again.
#134> That's probably a good rule of thumb for Heinlein I think - I'll try and stick to his earlier, slimmer, adventure novels and avoid the later self-important, ego-boo works!
As for penguins and Anita Blake - there definitely seems to be a penguin fetish there, but as far as I can recall, the penguin T-shirt was only worn once! To be honest the only article of clothing that I recall being excessively mentioned was a fishnet shirt this one character went around in. Its possible my mind just glazes over descriptions of clothes!
re: Heinlein and female characters... a couple of points 1) Heinlein was writing in his times, as was John D. MacDonald, WEB Griffin, Raymond Chandler, etc. We don't hold the morals of the day against Victorian authors, and I don't think we should against 40's, 50's, and 60's authors. I think we only notice because of what came shortly after (i.e. the 60's sexual revolution and the rise of feminism etc). 2) Heinlein does have some strong female characters.. see The Rolling Stones where both the Aunt and the mother are often far better role models than the dad and the boys.
All that said, Heinlein's sexism is rather bothersome and blatant at times. But I wonder what future readers of LibraryThing will say about the glut of vampire novels and the treatment of young women currently on display in our culture.
Well, there are varying degrees of 'hold against' when it comes to those things, I think. But while I agree with you in principle - I always think we should consider things within their time period - in the reality of reading for fun, the simple fact is that I just don't want to read a book where women are treated as an afterthought or worse, completely idiotic. It was all I could do to finish Earth Abides, a classic in a genre I love, for that reason (in addition to some blatant racism).
If I were reading Heinlein in a lit class, I'd find interesting things to say about his writing and its reflection on his times and his culture. But when I'm reading Heinlein on my lunch break... well. Perhaps I'm a little less tolerant. ;)
137> Well I haven't read a great deal of Heinlein so I can't comment on his other books, but his depiction of women in Orphans of the Sky would have been ridiculous 200 years ago, let alone 70. To some extent I can set aside my own views on what is right - 3 and a half stars means I rated it on its SF ideas and its adventure elements. But this was an element of the book that bothered me and I thought it was worth noting, particularly (and surprisingly) because none of the other reviews on LT made any mention of it.
66. Guardians of the West by David Eddings: 3 stars.
David Eddings was really a seminal author for me back when I was a wee lad. Along with Terry Brooks, Raymond Feist, the team of Margret Weis and Tracy Hickman and of course J. R. R. Tolkein, his books helped to get me hooked on fantasy fiction. Somewhere along the line, like several of the other authors mentioned, Eddings lost me. Once too many times it felt as if his latest fantasy series was all too similar to the previous one. Of his early books though, the series that I never got round to reading was the Mallorean quintet, of which this is the first book. The series is a direct continuation of the Belgariad quintet.
Its a fair enough start to the series. Very little happens in the first half of the book - 200 pages of weddings, funerals, home-making and general puttering around by the characters from the Belgariad. People who loved the original characters will probably enjoy this, while others may start getting impatient and wondering when something is going to happen. Luckily Eddings' sense of humour and easy-to-read prose doesn't make this a complete chore to read. In the second half of the book the wheels of the plot start to painstakingly grind into action. There's a prophecy (another one!) which promises dire things and some sneaky people are running around causing trouble in the various Kingdoms of the west, culminating with the kidnapping of the infant son of Garion (the farm-boy-to-magic-wielding-lost-king of the Belgariad). The book ends with the quest to find and retrieve the boy getting under way.
Its all very by-the-numbers fantasy. But it is made tolerable by the aforementioned humour and the rich cast of characters accumulated over the first series.
67. All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka: 3 and a half stars.
My introduction to Japanese science fiction, at least in prose form, since I've been a fan of anime for a while now. This science fiction novel has a very anime-ish feel to it. The story follows Keiji Keriya, a recruit in earth's armoured infantry corps that is fighting a desperate losing battle against a mysterious alien invading force known as the mimics. In his very first battle Keiji is killed, only to wake up the day before the battle. The next day he dies again... and wakes up once again the day before. He is caught in some kind of time loop and needs to figure out a way to escape the loop and not die in the process. Its a short novel and the characters are somewhat flat (and clichéd even?) but the blend of Appleseed and Groundhog's Day works well. (Though perhaps a more likely source of inspiration than Groundhog's Day would be the Japanese novel recently made into a wonderful anime, 'The Girl Who Leapt Through Time').
68. King of the Murgos by David Eddings: 3 stars.
The second book of the Mallorean. Things putter along nicely as the companions go from place to place in pursuit of the Kidnapper of Garion's son. Wherever they land they stumble upon some local nefarious plot being cooked up by the baddies and manage to foil it. The accumulated superpowers of the various members of the group are so potent that any impediment is swiftly dealt with without too much trouble. On the whole, fairly innocuous.
69. The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa: 4 stars
This is the second book I've read in the Haika Soru series, which is publishing english translations of Japanese science fiction. There is a great deal packed into this 200 page science fiction novel. Like the best SF it combines some great Sfnal ideas with a wonderfully human story of love and loyalty. Great stuff!
Hundreds of years in the future, an attack by an alien force destroys the Earth. The remnants of humanity fight a rear-guard action and fall back to the outer planets, where they prepare a counter-attack, creating an army of cyborgs (called Messengers). Both sides start using time travel to travel back in time in order to alter history. Battles rage across the time streams, as the aliens and the remnants of the Messenger armies go further and further back in time. There's a great deal more to the story than this background, and what really sets it apart are strong characters and the humanity that is at the core of the story.
70. The Complete D.R. and Quinch by Alan Moore: 3 and a half stars.
This is a collection of some of Alan Moore's earliest work, which appeared in serialized form in the British 2000 A.D. comics in the late 70s. It has been described as one of Moore's 'lesser works' but it is actually pretty good. The format is episodic, since only a few pages of the comic ran in each issue, but after a couple of fairly ordinary stories that focus on setting the madcap tone of the comic, and establishing the psychotic characters of D.R. and Quinch, there are some pretty funny stories that follow. There's a fair degree of black humour and some loose satire (D.R. and Quinch Go to Hollywood is particularly biting) but generally this collection is more about fun than taking on any kind of weighty themes. It doesn't strive for the depth that was present in The Ballad of Halo Jones, Alan Moore's other early comic serial for 2000 A.D. Worth reading, though not a must-read except for 2000 A.D. and Alan Moore completists.
Reading Round-Up at the end of June.
Books read to date: 70/125
Male to Female authors: 62 and 8
Science Fiction: 21/30
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 14/25
Nonfiction books: 5/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 2/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 5/6
71. Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings: 2 and a half stars.
The banter is starting to wear thin, the narrative is beginning to sag and the sense of tension inherent in the story is dissipating fast in the face of a great deal of unnecessary padding. More than half this book could easily disappear with no impact whatsoever on the plot or characterisation.
72. The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman: 3 and a half stars.
I actually hadn't even heard of this until I randomly came across it while browsing. I decided to pick it up since I'm a fan of Gaiman's graphic novels. It is based on one of his short stories (published in the volume Smoke and Mirrors). The artwork is gorgeous, the story itself is decent, but not outstanding. I would say this is probably going to be appreciated more by Gaiman fans than by casual readers.
73. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick: 3 and a half stars.
A dark little novel. I always tend to find Philip K. Dick's novels either uplifting or somewhat depressing and this is one of the later, all the moreso since he drew on his own life for this depiction of the effects of drug use. Some parts are quiet harrowing, though thankfully the story is not unremittingly bleak throughout. It follows 'Fred', an undercover Nacotics police officer who even has to hide his identity from his superiors due to corruption in the police department. Fred is also Bob Arctor, a drug user who hangs around with other user friends. However in purchasing large quantities of drugs in an attempt to discover their source, Bob Arctor draws the notice of the police, which results in Fred being assigned to spy on himself. At the same time his drug use is beginning to take a toll on his mind and someone seems to be out to kill him.... This novel is by turns disturbing, darkly humorous, bleak, warm and intense.
Also, this is the 3rd book I've read this year with the word 'dark' in the title.
74. Sorceress of Darshiva by David Eddings: 2 and a half stars.
Plot development has slowed to a crawl in this 4th instalment of the Mallorean and its only a combination of affection for the characters and sheer bloody-minded determination to finish this series that keeps the reader going. This 5 book series is definitely at least 2 books too long.
I keep meaning to read some Dick - maybe A Scanner Darkly. Its twisty nature appeals. What Dick might you recommend starting with?
@150> Aerrin, I'm not certain I would start with A Scanner Darkly. The pacing of the story is odd, and its perhaps not quiet as satisfying as a story as the others. Perhaps a better place to start would be The Man in the High Castle, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep or Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said.
75. Black Panther: Enemy of the State by Christopher Priest: 3 and a half stars.
More of the wonderfully madcap adventures of the Black Panther that continue where the first tpb left off. Christopher Priest's style combines the mysterious, brooding presence that is the Black Panther with the humour of an off-the-wall cast of secondary characters and some zany storytelling. Somehow the combination works. This is not comic-book storytelling at its best, but it is at its most zestful.
76. Reaper's Gale by Steven Erikson: 4 and a half stars.
Finally made it through the re-read of this 900 page monster. And oh, what a resplendent monster it is. I had previously read up to this, the 7th book in the 10 book epic fantasy series that is the Malazan Book of the Fallen. The re-read has only reinforced my suspicion that this series is the best epic fantasy series going. Its outstanding stuff and it only gets better with the re-reading since it is packed to the brim with just so many things going on.
I have the first two of the Malazan series in my TBR pile, actually got about 100 pages into the first book, but from all accounts, it is so massive, I think I'm going to wait until it is finished to absorb it.
I've read the first four books of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, and have to agree: it's brilliant, magnificent, extraordinary.
Been thinking I'd better get onto book 5 soon, before I totally forget what has gone before! As opposed to just partially forget, which is where I am now.
@154> ronin, 9 of the 10 books are out already and the 10th is due in January, so you probably don't need to wait too long to start.
@155> Book 5 (Midnight Tides) is set on a different continent and has mostly new characters from books 1-4 so you don't necessarily need to have remember what came before very well. However book 6 (The Bonehunters) draws on all the previous books. Midnight Tides is probably my favourite of the lot.
By the way, at Tor.com, they have started to blog a reading of the entire series, reading 2 or 3 chapters a week. Its done in an interesting fashion, with one of the bloggers doing a re-read, and the other blogger being new to the series. Some fairly entertaining and informative discussions follow:
On a different note, I've noticed the touchstones in my list of books read this year in my first post seems to be having issues. I'm not sure why this is or how to fix it. Anyone have any suggestions?
Touchstones are tricky devils, you have to be nice.
2010 Reading list contd. (moved here since my first post seemed to be overwhelmed by all the touchstones):
June (66 TBR, 11 read)
60. Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
61. Quite Ugly One Morning by Christopher Brookmyre
62. Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton
63. Orphans of the Sky by Robert A. Heinlein
64. The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot
65. Yarrow by Charles De Lint
66. Guardians of the West by David Eddings
67. All You Need is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka
68. King of the Murgos by David Eddings
69. The Lord of the Sands of Time by Issui Ogawa
70. The Complete D.R. and Quinch by Alan Moore
July (55 TBR, 11 read)
71. Demon Lord of Karanda by David Eddings
72. The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch by Neil Gaiman
73. A Scanner Darkly by Philip K. Dick
74. Sorceress of Darshiva by David Eddings
75. Black Panther: Enemy of the State by Christopher Priest
76. Reaper's Gale by Steven Erikson
77. Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C. Esslemont
78. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 1 by Alan Moore
79. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 by Alan Moore
80. When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs
81. Thatcher For Beginners by Peter Pugh
August (44 TBR, 5 read)
82. Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East by Joann Sfar
83. Star Wars Droids: Rebellion by Ryder Windham
84. Batman: No Man's Land, vol. 1 by Bob Gale and Devin K. Grayson
85. Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century by Mark Mazower
86. The Tar-Aiym Krang by Alan Dean Foster
September (39 TBR, 8 read)
87. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin
88. The Purity of Blood by Arturo-Perez Reverte
89. Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh
90. Plague Ship by Andre Norton
91. The Etched City by K. J. Bishop
92. The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly
93. The Summer Country by James A. Hetley
94. Stopping At Slowyear by Frederik Pohl
October (31 TBR, 9 read)
95. Seeress of Kell by David Eddings
96. The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick
97. The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman
98. Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward
99. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
100. Batman Contagion by Chuck Dixon, Doug Moench et al.
101. Nation by Terry Pratchett
102. The Lion and the Tiger by Denis Judd
103. The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuscinski
November (22 TBR, 8 read)
104. A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist
105. Deus Sanguinius by James Swallow
106. The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll
107. Mortal Suns by Tanith Lee
108. Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz
109. Death At Death's Door by Jill Thompson
110. The Hour of the Gate by Alan Dean Foster
111. Democracy A Very Short Introduction by Bernard Crick
December (14 TBR, 11 read)
112. Mail Order Ninja Volume 1 by Joshua Elder
113. The Great Arab Conquests by Hugh Kennedy
114. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling
115. Harry Potter and the Secret Chamber by J. K. Rowling
116. The Body Artist by Don DeLillo
117. The World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven
118. The Dark Side of the Earth by Alfred Bester
119. Beyond the Barrier by Damon Knight
120. Dark Moon by David Gemmell
121. Alliance by Jonathan Fenby
122. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson
77. Return of the Crimson Guard by Ian C. Esslemont: 4 stars.
Another monster of a novel, clocking in over 1000 pages. And, apparently Ian Cameron Esslemont has said that he had to do a large amount of trimming to reduce the length of the novel to something publishable in one go! Actually, it is possible that some of the issues I had with this book may be related to just this fact.
First the pros: The Malazan world about which Esslemont's co-creater Erikson has already written several books is extremely well developed with a very rich history and so forth. We meet and follow many characters we have either already heard about before, or have already met. The events of this book apparently happen concurrently with the events of Toll the Hounds. This book is vast, covering numerous storylines and events and spread over the Malazan universe. There is a convergence of these storylines in the end which results in some major world-shaking events for the Malazan world. This is not a minor side-story to Erikson's novels (as Esslemont's first book, Night of Knives was) but is very much part of the tale the two authors are telling. Some of the characters are well drawn, and all the storylines interesting and entertaining, so that even as the POV jumps around every few pages, one remains glued to the book (or at least I did).
Esslemont's writing style seems to have improved from his first book, certainly this is a much more ambitious work. But unfortunately he is no Erikson. The writing is more ordinary, and the dialogue often fails to be as distinctive. It is not just that he lacks Erikson's style, but there are often some jarring sequences and descriptions which seem very un-Malazan like (such as occasional modern swear-words). Furthermore, many of the characters that were surrounded with so much mystery in Erikson's works here come across as very mundane - whether it is Anomander Rake's (who has a short cameo), the Empress Laseen or the commander of the Crimson guard K'azz (who is particularly pedestrian) or the Wickan warlocks Nil and Nether. The book also lacks the emotional depth and social commentary of Erikson's works (which may be just as well, given the length that would have added). Another issue is that occasionally we are left scratching our heads over just why certain characters are doing whatever they are doing. Certain mysteries seem to be built up to be left unexplained, or indeed, abandoned. (What was Ereko's purpose? Why did the 3 deserters join Kyle?) Finally there seem to be some minor inconsistencies in descriptions of various warrens, characters or powers.
My review may seem to be overly critical of the book, but when it comes down to it, many of these issues are bound to arise when two authors play in the same pen. And when it comes down to it, this is a hugely enjoyable and entertaining book, made all the more remarkable for its sheer volume and length. Given the amount of stuff that happens here, this would easily have been a trilogy for most other authors. While Esslemont's book does not have the emotional depth or give the intellectual satisfaction Erikson's work does, it still complements that work well, focusing more on a fast-paced narrative that keeps one glued to the page.
78. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore: 3 and a half stars.
A homage to the great adventure stories of the late nineteenth century, which is streaked through by some of Alan Moore's trademark brilliance, but somewhat spoilt by the racism (evil Arabs & Chinese) and occasional misogyny. Some brilliant touches include the cameos by Oliver Twist, Ishmael (from Moby Dick), etc. The art work is also of an outstandingly high quality (though quite gruesome on occasion). I loved picking out lovely little details (for example when they are walking through the British Museum, one of display cases has a skull of a 'yahoo' (from Gulliver's Travels)). A must for anyone who loves the old yarns of Verne, Wells, Stoker, etc.
79. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. 2 by Alan Moore: 3 and a half stars.
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. After discovering that 'M', the head of British Military Intelligence (for whom they worked) was actually Dr. Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, and disposing of him, the League may believe that their employers are now on the up and up. But when 'The War of the Worlds' begins with an invasion from Mars, the League is sent to contact another MI asset - Doctor Moreau, who has been hidden away in the 'Wild Woods' (from Wind in the Willows) by MI and collect one of his 'experiments' for use against the alien tripods. The use of this experimental hybrid to stop the Tripods who have amassed in London, despite the presence of thousands of civilians shows that for MI (under its new leader, Mycroft Holmes - Sherlock's elder brother), the ends always justifies the means. Highly entertaining stuff, though I have to say it is not for the faint of heart with a quotient of sex and violence that would probably give Richard Morgan a run for his money. This is Edwardian Boys' Own Adventures updated for the new millennium.
I do have to say that I enjoyed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, but hadn't gotten around to Vol. 2. Must rectify that, I'm loving the idea of Dr Moreau hanging out in the "Wild Woods". Poor old Ratty, Mole, Badger, Toad!
80. When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs: 3 and a half stars.
Written in 1982 as the Cold War was once again reaching fever pitch, this is an affecting story of an elderly couple living out in the countryside when nuclear war breaks out. The couple reassures itself that they will be able to survive just as they did during the blitz in World War 2 and that the 'authorities' will look after them. All they have to do is follow the instructions on governmental pamphlets about how to prepare for and survive a nuclear war. The naivete and faith in their government and their 'scientific' advice is both touching and heart-breaking. As Joe Bloggs, keeps remarking when trying to follow the sometimes nonsensical instructions, "Ours is not to reason why..." but he doesn't recall what line came next in the poem. The story follows the two as they struggle to retain a semblance of normality in their lives after the bomb, even as they slowly succumb to the effects of fallout.
This is a dark tale, where the humour and warmth of the central characters is eclipsed by the events in the world around them. One can't help but respond with anger at the powers-that-be that so readily exploited such innocence and good will to bring the world so close to nuclear holocaust during the Cold War. An outstanding short graphic novel. It was a minor sensation when it was first released and was adapted into a movie. It is also on the list of 500 Greatest Graphic Novels of All time.
81. Thatcher for Beginners by Peter Pugh: 3 and a half stars.
Like most of other books in this series, this is a fairly good introduction to the topic, though it does have its strengths and weaknesses. Given that this was written in 1996, it touches on many of the various debates and issues surrounding Thatcher's rule as PM. The author, Peter Pugh, also gives a short introduction to the historical, political and ideological context in which she rose to power and highlights the reasons she fell from grace. Pugh rightfully states that it is too early (at the time he was writing) to pass a definitive judgement on Thatcher and Thatcherism, but does mention some of the differing views on her rule. The author seems to agree with those commentators that say that her intervention in British politics, and especially her steamrolling of the unions was a great and necessary good for the country, but that her record as a monetarist and her anti-Keynesian policies left a more mixed legacy. He argues that Thatcherism was less a consistent ideology than an attitude, which, whatever its relative merits and demerits left an indelible mark on post-war Britain.
#80 sounds really good. I've never read a graphic novel, but I may look for this one. Great review!
@80 sounds very much like On The Beach by Nevil Shute.. will also look for it on my next visit to B&N.
@80 Raymond Briggs is sadly a much underated writer. I adored his Fungus the Bogeyman graphic novel when I was a kid (ok I still do).
@78/79 I really enjoyed the 1st two League books, the 3rd one not so sure..
@168> I think I'll have to keep an eye out for Fungus the Bogeyman and indeed, for other works by Raymond Briggs.
Reading Round-Up at the end of July.
Books read to date: 81/125
Male to Female authors: 73 and 8
Science Fiction: 22/30
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 19/25
Nonfiction books: 6/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 3/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 5/6
I actually ran into a reading block over the last couple of weeks, started 3 or 4 different books, but I just couldn't get into them. That's why I switched to reading more graphic novels - I was just finding them easier to read. But over the last couple of days, I've started getting back into the groove again - re-finding my interest in some nonfiction. I think I was a little 'fictioned-out' to be honest!
I read When the Wind Blows when I was a kid. Made me so depressed! I can see its merits from this distance now, but I never wish to ever touch it with a 12 foot barge pole ever again. Never.
Not even sure about his other books.
170> More than anything else, When the Wind Blows reminded me of the Japanese animated movie Grave of the Fireflies, which is an utterly devastating movie about two young Japanese kids trying to survive after their home is bombed out and mother killed during WW2. Its even more affecting since its based on a semi-autobiographical book. Keep plenty of tissue boxes on hand when you watch it and prepare to be a red-eyed wreck afterwards.
Then again, iftyzaidi, I may just skip it altogether!
I have bad memories of walking out of an Ingmar Bergman-scripted movie at the Sydney Film Festival (2002), sobbing my eyes out. I tend to stick with fluffier fare since then. Call me a wuss...
Well our statewide library consortium catalog has When the Wind Blows so I just ordered it. The discussion has been too compelling.
I've been bad about keeping up with this thread, but I must plead extreme preoccupation with various things at home and at work. In truth, I haven't managed to get much reading done in the month of August.
I'm just going to list the books I read in August here:
82. Klezmer: Tales of the Wild East by Joann Sfar: 4 stars
A great little graphic novel by this French graphic novelist. It is set in Russia during the time of the Tsars and follows the story of Noah Davidovich, whose Klezmer band is killed by a rival band. Over the course of the book he meets and befriends a rag-tag group of individuals who come to form a new band. Great stuff! It really made me want to learn more about Klezmer music!
83. Star Wars Droids: Rebellion by Ryder Windham: 3 stars
Not normally the kind of thing I would read but I saw this in a discount pile and noticed that the art work was by Ian Gibson, who is a wonderful and vastly under-rated artist. (I first came to know about him through his work with Alan Moore on 'The Ballad of Halo Jones'.) As it turns out the story here is fairly entertaining in its own right. There's certainly a quirky sense of humour at play here which fits well with Gibson's style.
84. Batman: No Man's Land, vol. 1 by Bob Gale and Devin K. Grayson; 3 stars.
Meh. I'm not really a fan of the Batman character and there is nothing here to get me to change my mind.
85. Dark Continent: Europe's Twentieth Century by Mark Mazower: 4 and a half stars.
Outstanding. The best general history book I've read on Europe in the twentieth century. Identifies and analyses the most important trends on the continent and really makes sense of Europe as a whole.
86. The Tar-Aiym Krang by Alan Dean Foster: 2 and a half stars.
I struggled with getting through this slim 200 page book, and not just because I was busy, tired and distracted with various other goings on. Given how I enjoyed his fantasy book Spellsinger earlier in the year, this was a disappointment. Whereas that book was light entertainment, with prose that felt fresh and engaging, this book seemed clunky and at times dull. It is poorly written, and I would be tempted to say it seems to be aimed at more of a YA audience than an adult one (though that's no excuse). While a couple of the characters stood out, others were cardboard and one particularly found the infantilization of the female characters annoying.
Reading Round-Up at the end of August.
Books read to date: 86/125
Male to Female authors: 78 and 8
Science Fiction: 23/30
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 22/25
Nonfiction books: 7/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 4/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 5/6
With August being so poor for reading, it looks like I'm going to be hard-pressed to get to the 125 book mark by the end of the year.
87. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin: 4 stars.
Interesting and innovative new fantasy that doesn't try to do anything fancy but develops its story well around its central concept. The first book of a planned trilogy but reads perfectly well on its own.
88. The Purity of Blood by Arturo Perez-Reverte: 3 and a half stars.
The second book of the adventures of Captain Alatriste. What I really enjoy about this series is how well it seems to capture the flavour of a time and place that is no more (17th century Hapsburg Spain). An engrossing work of swashbuckling historical fiction.
89. Nekropolis by Maureen F. McHugh: 4 and a half stars.
This is a powerful and subtle book, one whose lovely prose had me simply hooked so that I could barely put it down and was reading the whole day. The story is set in the not too distant future in Morocco. Hariba, a young woman who sees no future for herself in the poor neighbourhood slums of the Nekrpolis has herself "jessed" - a procedure that makes servants loyal to their employers - so that she can take up a job in the household of a rich man. There she encounters a harni, a biologically-engineered slave. What could from here be a run-of-the-mill romance story is instead a wonderfully well-told character study and tale of different types of oppression. This is one of the best books I've read so far this year, and I'll definitely be seeking out more by this author.
90. Plague Ship by Andre Norton: 3 stars.
Given that this was written in the mid-50s, this holds up pretty well, and while the basic concept comes across as a little dated (a starship travelling to exotic, alien planets looking for goods to trade), it actually holds up fairly well. After I started reading it I found out that it is actually the second adventure of the solar queen and its crew, but I don't think I missed anything by not having read the first book, as this holds up well on its own.
The Solar Queen is an independent trader that has lucked out in gaining the trading contract to an exotic new planet. The crew go through the delicate process of ingratiating themselves with the local tribes so that they can trade for highly-prized gemstones that they have access to. Despite the attempts by a major corporation to muscle in on their patch, they succeed in closing the deal, only to find after they have left the planet that crew members start falling sick from a mysterious illness. The ship is branded a 'plague ship' which is barred from landing on any human planet. A few of the youngest crew members have to find a way to beat the blockade, find put what's causing the illness and find someone who can cure it. Not an easy proposition (but for the reader, a reasonably entertaining one).
Overall this is a decent read, without being anything mind blowing. Some of the actions of the crew, and the plot twists don't always seem very logical, but serve the purpose of making the story more dramatic. The ending also seems to owe much to a Deus Ex Machina moment. I can't say this was a great read, but it wasn't a waste of time either.
Also, with this book I've finished the challenge of reading 6 books from my TBR pile that I had bought before 2005.
Ooh, Nekropolis does sound great! I'll put it on my wishlist, methinks...
I hope everything calms down and you get some more reading time in!
Thanks wookie, so far September has been much better thanks to homestead matters settling somewhat and numerous holidays (Eid Mubarak to you all!)
As for Nekropolis, I would highly recommend it. It strikes me an excellent example of how to write a book that deals with feminist, class and societal issues in a balanced manner without beating the reader over the head with them. First and foremost it was a book I really enjoyed reading, and everything else is icing on the cake.
91. The Etched City by K. J. Bishop: 4 stars.
I've been looking out for this book for several years now, since it was held up as one of the leading examples of the 'New Weird' movement when it first came out, being compared with the works of China Mieville and Jeff Vandermeer. As far as I know this is the only book by this Australian author, but after finishing it I certainly hope she gets around to writing more because this is a truly entertaining read.
The story follows two former revolutionaries, Gwynn and Raule, who flee the Copper Country to arrive in the phantasmagoric city of Ashamoil. Gwynn takes up as a enforcer for a slave-trading crime lord, while Raule, barred from the city's medical universities and hospitals by dint of being a woman, turns her medical skills to helping the poor in a hospice in the city's slums. The story that unfolds is well told and skilfully draws a world where beauty and horror co-exist simultaneously, as do the mysterious and the mundane. The plot unfolds in a stately and unobvious fashion but dwells on the themes of belief and disbelief, change and statis, catharsis and death and a great deal more. The comparison to Meiville holds up, though Bishop's work has less spectacle and less action, perhaps.
92. The Last Kashmiri Rose by Barbara Cleverly: 3 and a half stars.
Fiendishly readable, even if the mystery is blindingly obvious (in fact so obvious that I was certain it must be a red herring, but no, alas). Late colonial India is not depicted with any depth - its a collection of stereotyped British men (some of the female characters have greater depth). Essentially the setting is there to give the story an exotic tinge, with some indulging in racial stereotypes as well. But as I said earlier despite all these flaws the story moves at a fast clip as the reader is fed with clues and backstory at that finely tuned rate which keeps up the feeling of discovery while not revealing too much at once. A decent read, and while not a great one, I will be keeping an eye out for the next in the series.
93. The Summer Country by James A. Hetley: 3 stars
A portal fantasy with celtic trappings. Really, its a fairly ordinary book which fails to stand out in any way, though managing never to be too dull. The basic storyline is a reasonably interesting one, and there are some character relationships which are fairly compelling, but I don't think the writing is able to rise to the level to fully deal with the themes the author is trying to deal with. The blurbs claim that this gives a real dark and gritty twist to the usual tales of changelings and fairylands and so forth. That seems to have been the intent I suppose.
94. Stopping At Slowyear by Frederik Pohl: 3 and a half stars.
A short novel (novella? novelette?) by Frederik Pohl which is a definite oddball. An interstellar trader is drawing close to the isolated colony planet of Slowyear (so named because one orbit of the planet takes about 18 Earth years and so each season is over 4 years long). Pohl chooses to focus on a couple of characters, who seem more focused on their own relationship issues. There is a 'twist' at the end, but it is well foreshadowed, and given what we are told about Slowyear's peculiar infant mortality problem, not one that took me unawares in any way. A decent read, though not an outstanding one.
95.Seeress of Kell by David Eddings: 3 stars.
I delayed reading this for a couple of months, since the earlier volumes in this series were getting a little dull and repetitive. While it will take more than such petty mind tricks to make this final volume in the Mallorean cycle an exciting read, I did find it to be a notch above the previous two books. This was not because of the climactic fulfilment of the great universe-saving quest the heores were embarked upon - in fact that was very dull and predictable. But the longish denouement where all the major characters we have come to know over the previous ten books return to their own homes and settle in domestic bliss was kind of heart-warming, even for a hardened cynic like me. Still, overall I would have to say that one can easy skip reading the Mallorean and feel confident that they will not suffer from any great gap in their acquaintance with the genre.
Reading Round-Up at the end of September.
Books read to date: 94/125
Male to Female authors: 81 and 13
Science Fiction: 26/30
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 22/25
Nonfiction books: 7/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 4/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 6 completed
96. The Cosmic Puppets by Philip K. Dick: 3 and a half stars.
This is a true oddball of a book from Philip K. Dick. One of his earlier, minor works, it manages to cram into its short span a truly wild ride of a tale. The story starts with Ted Barton, driving through Baltimore on vacation, deciding to make a quick visit to the small town in the Appalachian mountains where he grew up. except when he gets there he finds that it is a town he has never been to before - nothing is as he remembers it. A quick check of old newspapers tells him that the Ted Barton who was born in this town died at age 9 of scarlet fever. So does this mean he is not really Ted Barton and his memories are false, or is something even stranger going on?
So far we are in fairly standard PKD territory, its when odd kids with magical powers, ghostly apparitions drifting through town and a cosmic battle between Ahura-Mazda and his eternal adversary, Ahriman, get thrown into the mix that the book acquires a breathless, breakneck, schlocky B-movie flavour. Its entertaining, if unexpected, though would probably not be everyone's cup of tea. Its probably also not the best place to start if you are making a first acquaintance with PKD.
97. The Left Hand of God by Paul Hoffman: 4 stars.
The phrase 'rollicking adventure' strikes me as the most apt description of this book. I found it to be a page-turner. The story follows Cale, an acolyte being trained for war in a monastery run by a fanatical religious sect called the Redeemers engaged in a long running holy war. Cale has certain peculiar talents that set him apart from the norm, a fact not lost on the priest in charge of training. However a chance encounter (or perhaps not a chance encounter - its never explained) see Cale and two of his friends fleeing the monastery for their lives and getting embroiled in plots, duels, affairs, assassinations and the fate of kingdoms.
There's nothing particularly new in the plot, but where the book is distinctive is firstly in the odd, chatty omniscient narrator style that the author adopts, which, judging by some of the other reviews here, seems not to work for everyone, but helped to hook me in. Secondly, in the strange almost-familiar world that the author constructs, where places like Norway, Jerusalem, Memphis and York exist, but the political set up is different to what existed in our history. At the same time, while there are throw-away references to Judaism, the Redeemer of the major religion is categorically not Christ (who is famous apparently for having lived in a whale) and he was hung in a gibbet and not a cross. Some readers did not appreciate these tantalizing hints of a parallel-world setting, but I felt it added to the atmosphere and fit well with the oft-times familiar idiom of the way people spoke.
If there is one aspect of the novel I didn't like, it was the somewhat Robert Jordan-esque approach to writing about the female characters. Other than this drawback, I thought this was a grandly entertaining novel.
98. Obama's Wars by Bob Woodward: 3 and a half stars.
Afghanistan has now become America's longest ever war, and for the most part it has been a war that has been outside the public consciousness, under-resourced and allowed to straggle along with no real thought process about what, precisely, victory there would look like, let alone how to achieve it. In 2009 the Obama administration conducted a 'strategic review' of the war, its aims and objectives, how they were to be achieved, and most importantly, how it was to end. After his 4 books on the Bush presidency's conduct of foreign policy, this is Bob Woodward's first book on the new administration and how it conducted its strategic review and came to the decisions that it did.
Bob Woodward's books have become increasingly important fly-on-the-wall looks accounts of what happens in the White House. He has unparalleled access to the various key personalities. And while one cannot quite call them definitive accounts, since undoubtedly more relevant details will come to light in the future and historians will have the benefit of hindsight, they do give an important sense of how the business of war policy-making has and is being conducted. One gets a sense of the different personalities, their priorities, their viewpoints and they way the clash and compromise with each other.
Broadly speaking two options seem to have emerged in the review with regards to Afghanistan. The first is to limited increase troop commitments in an attempt to degrade the Taliban's fighting capability enough that it creates a window in which the Afghan government's capabilities to govern and handle security are strengthened sufficiently for the US to eventually withdraw its soldiers. The second is to start withdrawing troops and rely on drone strikes, special operations and CIA covert missions to keep disrupting any attempts by Al-Qaeda to regroup and plan and execute operations against the US homeland. The danger with the first option is that it is much costlier in lives and money, can end up being an open-ended commitment and relies on extensive cooperation from both the Afghan government and Pakistan - neither of whom have been entirely reliable in the past. The danger with the second option is that it leaves Afghanistan in a state of civil war which may see the Afghan govt. collapse, may make the environment less conducive to intelligence gathering which is needed for the covert operations and again relies on cooperation from Pakistan.
The end result is a limited version of the first option, with a cap on troops and a definitive timeline so that the administration is not drawn into an open-ended commitment a la Vietnam.
One particular idea that strongly emerges is that Pakistan forms a more important strand of an Afpak strategy than Afghanistan. It is a nuclear-armed state, is where remnants of Al-qaeda have holed up, has its own Taliban insurgency (the TTP - Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan) and its military continues to shelter various Taliban factions (the Quetta Shura and the Haqqani Network) while at the same time providing essential bases, transport routes and some intelligence cooperation with the USA. The reason for this double game is because the Pakistani military is focused on its traditional rivalry with India and looks to a friendly government in Afghanistan to provide "strategic depth" in case of a war. The Pakistani generals feel that maintaining links with the Taliban will allow them to have influence over any Taliban govt that may emerge in Afghanistan following a US withdrawal (possibly a self-fulfilling prophecy).
With the downfall of the Military dictator Musharraf in 2007/08 the Americans had placed their hopes in a shift in policy in a newly elected democratic government. Unfortunately the assassination of the leader of the PPP, Benazir Bhutto during an election rally, meant the rise to power of her more incompetent and more corrupt husband, Asif Zardari. The new civilian government has been unable to take control of defense and foreign policy which the generals still control from behind the façade of a democratic government. The suspicions of a double game still remain, despite some improvements in cooperation. The major question which the Obama administration has still not been able to solve, is how to handle Pakistan.
99. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones: 3 and a half stars.
An entertaining little book. I had seen the animated movie a few years before I read this, but I still found this endlessly inventive and entertaining. In fact, its made me want to go back and re-watch the movie.
100. Batman Contagion by Chuck Dixon et al: 2 and a half stars.
An outbreak of a deadly virus in Gotham has the various supporting characters of the Batman series of comics running around looking for a cure. Mediocre.
101. Nation by Terry Pratchett: 3 stars.
Well, this left me feeling a little ambivalent. When the narrative is focused on the native islander Mau and the young English survivor of a shipwreck, Erminitude (or "Daphne" as she prefers to be known) it is both an entertaining and gripping read. But there is a little too much meandering portentous stuff about religion and questioning and civilization. The longish denouement is also rather dull. Overall this is a decent read but I wouldn't rate it as being amongst Pratchett's best.
102. The Lion and the Tiger by Denis Judd: 2 and a half stars.
A distinctly ordinary history of the British in India. It is short and written in very readable prose, which may make it useful for those looking for a quick overview. However it is very weak in the East India Company era and seems not to have kept up with newer research and interpretations of Partition. There are a few glaring factual errors (Mountbatten had a "distinguished record of active service in the navy"? Seriously? The Mughal Emperor Jahangir "granted Surat as a factory" to the east India Company in 1612? What, the whole city? One of the largest and most flourishing ports in the world at the time and the entrepot to the commerce of northern India? Seriously?) and more problematically some questionable matters of interpretation. (The Muslim League came to dominate the Muslim vote in the 40s due solely to a "more energetic" election campaign? Hastings was not corrupt? Seriously?).
But much of these problems lie at either end of the period about which Judd is writing. Where he is on much firmer ground and where the book excels is in the period from after the Mutiny till about the Second World War. The final chapter, however, is another let down, as Judd first poses the major questions and debates surrounding British rule in India and then proceeds to not answer them, instead providing a variety of quotes from contemporaries about how they felt about the Raj. Overall, while this probably isn't the worst short overview of British rule in India, it certainly isn't amongst the best.
103. The Shadow of the Sun by Ryszard Kapuściński: 4 stars.
Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński lived and wrote about Africa intermittently from the 1950s to 90s. This is a collection of impressions that covers some of the mosaic of different cultures, nations, countries and conflicts he came across. Its well written, never condescending, insightful and entertaining. Some of the chapters, such as the one on Liberia, the one of Rawanda, Ethiopia and a small poor village along the river Niger that he visits are particularly outstanding.
Reading Round-Up at the end of October.
Books read to date: 103/125
Male to Female authors: 89 and 14
Science Fiction: 28/30
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 23/25
Nonfiction books: 10/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 4/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 6 completed
Only 2 months left and still 22 books to get through to reach my goal of 125 books. Looks like its going to be tight. At the beginning of the year, 11 books in a month wouldn't have been too difficult but the end of the year is always a particularly busy time for me. Lets see if I make it.
Haven't visited your thread for a while, so belated congratulations on reaching 100 books!
ETA: Even if you're aiming for 125. ;)
Thanks wookie. To be honest I've also been preoccupied and haven't been spending as much time on the forum as I would hope to and so have been keeping a low profile. I have been trying to make sure that I keep up with my reviews though, even when they are short, because I know if once I leave a few out, I'll never get round to writing their reviews! (As an example, just have a glance at #15 on my books read list - The Fifth Head of Cerberus by Gene Wolfe which is the only 5 star rated book this year and I haven't gone back to write a review yet! I don't think its happening at this point!)
As for the 125 target, I may not quiet get there but I'm confident about squeaking past my previous record for most books read in a year: 116. So taking up this 100 book challenge and keeping a record here has definitely been worth it. Thanks for the support!
104. A History of Bombing by Sven Lindqvist: 4 stars.
Having previously read Swedish author Sven Lindqvist's excellent and haunting travel/history book Exterminate All the Brutes, I have been eager to read this for a while now. My enthusiasm was only slightly dented by my brother's annoyance with the structure of the book. Lindqvist has divided the book into 399 sections - most only a couple of paragraphs long. The sections are arranged chronologically from the invention of gunpowder to 1999 when the Swedish edition of the book was published. There are 22 narrative strands, or arguments and it is possible to read the book jumping from one section to the next connected section (for example section 3 to 200 to 216), following an assigned path, or its possible to read the whole thing chronologically. Its an interesting attempt to do something a little different, and from time to time it was diverting to take a break from following a particular line of argument to see what else was happening around the time period of a particular section, but overall the traditionalist in me would have been probably been happier with a straightforward 22 chapters.
The content itself is far more than just a history. Lindqvist mixes in his own memories of childhood during ww2, his student days and thoughts and feelings about different episodes in history. We get an interesting examination of how the idea of bombing developed in fiction from the late 19th century onwards (and disturbingly enough how often it is mixed with dreams of genocide). We see the development and arguments in international law surrounding the use of aerial and then nuclear bombs. The development of different types of bombs and different ideas about how to use them is here. There is a incisive evaluation of 'strategic' bombing of civilians in WW2 including the terrible firestorms in Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, as well as Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This is not a clear cut military or technological history, but also social, cultural and legal history. There are also some powerful ruminations on violence and war and its relationship with human nature and human history. By the end, one understands that this is also, above all an implicit plea for sanity in a world that seems obsessed with possessing the ability to commit mass extinction events.
105.Deus Sanguinius by James Swallow: 3 stars.
Picks up from where the first book, Deus Encarmine, left off. Mercifully this second and final volume of this military sci-fi duology set in the Warhammer 40K universe is a significant cut above the first one. A few more characters come to life and attain some kind of depth. The structure of the story is more engaging, building up to a major finish and with elements of mystery and tragedy mixed in to the action. The ending is entirely predictable and the final battle a little too drawn out. Overall, I wouldn't recommend that anyone go out of their way to read this pair of books, but if you did manage to finish the first one then it is worth giving this volume a go.
106. The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll: 3 and a half stars.
Thomas Abbey is the son of a famous actor/director who lives in obscurity as a school teacher on the west coast. His favourite books are the works of a deceased children's books author who lived the life of a recluse in an obscure Missouri town. Thomas and his new girlfriend, Saxony decide to embark on a mission to write a biography of the late great Marshall France and head out to his hometown of Galen to conduct research on the hero they both have loved since childhood. However all in Galen is not as it seems...
This was a slow-burner, taking some time to build up to a great conclusion. Its one of those conclusions where you spot a twist coming from a way off and sit back feeling that you have it all figured out and when the twist does occur, you smile smugly thinking about how you knew that was going to happen. And then out of nowhere comes another, even more fiendish, unforeseen twist that really sets your hair on end. A great ending which just leaves one imagining all the possibilities that could come after.
I read the Fantasy Masterworks edition of this book and while there were some issues with the book (some patches seem particularly stilted - possibly the fact that this was the author's first book showing) overall the ideas here are great. Its a book where the fantasy is understated - almost more of a magical realism, or horror book, where the supernatural aspect is under the surface for 3/4 of the book and only starts to emerge slowly.
It was a long time ago that I read Land of Laughs, like you it was the Fantasy Masterworks edition (they caught my eye at the shop, and I liked the idea of revisited great classics of sci-fi/fantasy!). I thought it was a great read, but unfortunately have not had the same reaction to any of his other books as yet.
107. Mortal Suns by Tanith Lee: 4 stars.
I was really pulled in to this book. It is a standalone fantasy book set in a land called the Akhemony, which recalls ancient Persia or Egypt. The story is told from the viewpoint of Cemira, born to one of the Sun King's lesser wives without feet, and hence sent away by her mother to die or live a life of servitude at the Temple of Death. But fate intervenes and Cemira is recalled to the Imperial Palace. There, on the fringes of Imperial social life she observes the jostling for power, the omens and portents and struggles by men against their fates, little realizing that soon she too will be caught up in the centre of events that will change not only her life but that of the entire Akhemony forever.
The setting is extremely well realized, with Tanith Lee really bringing the place, the people and their beliefs, mores and cultures to vivid life. The story is somewhat reminiscent of Mary Renault's The Persian Boy or Robert Graves' I Claudius though with a female protagonist. Some may remark on what they consider the central character's essential ineffectiveness or lack of initiative in trying to control or direct her own fate and the events around her, but this fits well with her upbringing on the fringes of the Court where her place was tenuous and dependent on the sufferance of more powerful patrons. The characterization is excellent and of course the tragic themes Lee deals with fit well with her setting, as men struggle against mortal limitations (or the will of the gods, however once chooses to see it). The finale has all the pathos of a Greek tragedy. Its been many years since I last read anything by Tanith Lee, but I certainly need to seek out more of her works after reading this.
That sounds really interesting! Since joining LT, I've found myself more and more interested in fantasy settings that aren't Western European, too - Persia/Egypt sounds really fascinating. Wishlisted!
Tanith Lee is quite a fascinating writer. I've liked her previous books I've read (and am currently occasionally dipping into Red as Blood, some good fairy tale retellings of hers). Another author I should read more of!
Can't remember which other Jonathan Carroll books I've read/attempted, but I don't think it was Voice of Our Shadow. I hope you enjoy that one!
@205> Another good fantasy book with a non-western setting that is worth checking out is Guy Gavriel Kay's The Lions of Al-Rassan.
108. Adrift on the Nile by Naguib Mahfouz: 4 stars.
A group of middle age men and women gather on a houseboat every night to drink, shoot the breeze and get high, their lives marked by cynicism and ennui. Into this gathering is introduced a young journalist and aspiring playwright who seeks to overturn their dissolution. A powerful portrait of a group of people adrift in their lives, representative of a society itself adrift and lacking direction.
109. Death At Death's Door by Jill Thompson: 3 stars.
A manga-style comic set in the Sandman universe. This follows the misadventures of Death, Delirium and Despair during the events of Sandman Season of Mists. Lucifer has turned out the demons and the damned from Hell, locked it up and handed the key over to Dream. While Dream ponders what to do with Hell, the formerly dead start wander about without a place to go. Death, Delirium and Despair start gathering them up and depositing the lost souls in Death's apartment, where Delirium hits upon a novel (delirious?) idea to keep them occupied while Dream makes up his mind - to hold a party! Madcap adventures ensue, including Delirium's questionable culinary skills being put to the test, Edgar Allan Poe falling in love with Despair and a group of gatecrashing demons determined not to let the damned have a good time just because they aren't in hell anymore. Fans of the original Sandman series may be taken aback or even dismayed by the manga-fication of the original characters and the breathless zany tone of the comic, but for those ready for a somewhat different take on the Endless, this is may be a fun diversion.
110. The Hour of the Gate by Alan Dean Foster: 3 stars.
The second book in the spellsinger series picks up right from where it left off in Spellsinger. Its light, inoffensive fantasy fare and does what it is meant to do with a reasonable degree of competence. The prose is workmanlike but once in a while Foster is able to put together a scene or an image that really sticks with you, such as the web-like city of the spider-like creatures, the Weavers.
111. Democracy A Very Short Introduction by Bernard Crick: 3 and a half stars.
Part of the 'Very Short Introduction' series by Oxford University Press. This volume is by professor Bernard Crick (I still have his biography of Orwell in my tbr pile). Its fairly interesting and poses some interesting questions. However I did find that Mr. Crick would insert himself a little too often into the narrative and it seems somewhat skewed to a British audience. It could have done with a little less editorializing, though it is true that it would have then been as dry as dust to read.
Reading Round-Up at the end of November.
Books read to date: 111/125
Male to Female authors: 95 and 16
Science Fiction: 29/30
Others (graphic novels, classics, etc.): 24/25
Nonfiction books: 12/20
My personal challenges:
- Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
- Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 4/6
- Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 6 completed
14 books to go to hit 125!
113. The Great Arab Conquests by Hugh Kennedy: 4 stars.
This book is a superb example of popular history that retains scholarly authenticity. Hugh Kennedy manages to not only write in an accessible, engaging style that is perfect for the layman, he also takes the time to address scholarly issues such as the historiography of the topic, the different sources we have about the conquests and their limitations, and finally the broad contours of some of the debates surrounding this time period. The book is well organised and the chapters concise. A bunch of maps up front make it easy to follow the events being narrated. Some may disagree with some of Dr. Kennedy's interpretations, but in the best scholarly fashion, he always presents his reasoning and looks at different interpretations. The narrative is based on various Arab sources, as well as Persian, Copt, Byzantine, Jewish, Spanish, Frankish, Nestorian and even Chinese accounts. Dr. Kennedy also refers to archaeological evidence from excavation sites, found artefacts, carvings and even a shipwreck. The author is careful to point out where accounts differ, where they agree and explains why one might be taken to be more authentic than the other. In some cases he points out why and how even obviously fanciful or apocryphal accounts may be of value to the historian.
The only quibble I would have is that the narrative can drag a little, particularly in the chapters on the conquests of Transoxonia and Iran. One can't fault Dr. Kennedy for being comprehensive but sometimes the litany of siege, raid, occupation and so on can become slightly repetitive to read. This minor quibble aside, this is a fine work and highly recommended for anyone seeking to to learn about how the Arabs came to conquer an empire as large of that of Rome at its height.
There is a book bullet I cannot dodge--book #113 is added to the wishlist!
@214 - Its a fine book if the topic interests you. After reading it I've actually become much more interested in learning more about the Byzantine empire in Asia and Africa before the Arab Conquests.
114. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J. K. Rowling: 3 and a half stars.
I must have been one of only a handful of people on LibraryThing to have not read these yet. Well, that is no longer the case, as I wanted to read something light and readable during these busy days and thought it was the perfect opportunity to give this a go.
Well I suppose there's not much to say about this book that hasn't already been said. I enjoyed it, despite finding that most of the Hogwarts scenes had already percolated into my consciousness because of their ubiquity in popular culture over the last decade. An added bonus is that I can finally watch the movie now if I come across it on TV instead of changing the channel and telling myself I'll wait till I read the book first. Not that I watch much TV. Anyway, I look forward to reading the rest of the series over the next few months.
Gosh, I'm excited to watch you read the Harry Potter books!
I first read them when the first 4 were out, in college, and was a little behind the trend. I remember that my first reaction - especially to the first two books - was that I didn't see what all the fuss was about. As someone who grew up on genre fiction, I'd see YA fantasy done much better!
They grew on me, though, and there are some epic aspects that are irresistible. So, too, is the feeling of being able to share a bit of culture - not literary culture, but culture that is literary and yet /still/ manages to be mainstream - with so many others.
Although I still feel that there are better YA fantasy series out there, I love the way Rowling introduces young readers to complex characters, to interesting bits of mythology, and to series-long plot arcs. And I think this idea of a secret world living right on top of ours is part of the appeal - for much the same reason Narnia captured me when I was a child. Hogwarts could totally exist right?!?
ANYWAY! Tell us what you think as you go!
Oh, I'm re-reading Harry Potter at the moment! I read Mr Bear #1 some time ago, and we stalled on #2, then he wanted to hear #3 (he's obsessed with Dementors), so while reading him that one, I went back and finished off Chamber of Secrets and now have a hankering to read all the rest. :) I'll wait until we've finished reading Prisoner of Azkaban first, I might be lucky and he might want to continue... (Although I think Goblet of Fire might take us *months* at a chapter-a-night!!)
Many years ago (1999, I think it was) Mum gave me the first two for Christmas. I'd heard that there was a lot of excitement about them, and put them on my wishlist, and my wish was duly granted. Over NYE I read the first and thought "oh, that was nothing special". Then I read the second because it was to hand, and then I never stopped. And I'm enjoying watching/listening to Mr Bear's excitement over the whole series (he's going to be disappointed when he turns 11 and doesn't get an owl from Hogwarts).
115. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling: 3 and a half stars.
So a funny thing happened. When I finished the last Harry Potter book I thought I would spread the reading of the rest of these over the next few months, since they are nice, light reads, and use them as "breaks" in between more intense reading. So there I was reading something else, but I wasn't really able to engage with it and it just seemed to be the most natural thing in the world to pick this up instead.
Its an entertaining book, like the first. But I think I would have to agree with Aerrin99 that its not that well written. In particular I think the fact that I already have a firm image of the main characters in mind because of the films actually helps the reading experience. Also there is an occasional bit when I have to kind of go back and re-read it more closely (because I suddenly find myself thinking, wait, how exactly did they get here?) though this may also be because I'm not focusing very intensely on what I'm reading. Having said all that, it is quiet addictive. I totally get that frisson of familiar/uncanny when reading about Hogwarts, though I have to say that a major plot loophole is that the whole mystery would have been solved much more easily and safely if Harry only confided in Dumbledore and the rest at a much earlier stage. Maybe that's the school administrator in me talking!
I think it will be interesting to read them all in one quick go (instead of spread over years), because the books 'grow up' dramatically as they go along. Plots get more complex, things carry over from book to book more, characters become deeper. The first three books, but /especially/ the first two, very much read as children's books (not even YA - I'm talking elementary), which explains a lot of the simplicity of plotting for me.
When I first read the books, the 4th (Goblet of Fire) was my favorite. Now I'm not quite sure, but it's definitely one of the later ones. You can see Rowling grow in a lot of ways as a writer, and her audience growing with her.
Come to think of it, you can see the same trend in the movies. If you get around to watching them after this, I'd love to see what you think of those, too!
116. The Body Artist by Don DeLillo: 3 and a half stars.
A strange, haunting book. A woman whose husband has committed suicide returns to her home to find a strange man in the house. The man may be mentally ill, he speaks in a strange, disconnected way. But the woman starts feeling that there is something strange about his words and mannerisms and occasionally he says phrases that were spoken in the house months ago, or will be spoken in the future.
The language does much to set the mood, at times stilted, cropped and even jarring and at other times incredibly poetic and evocative. I think this particular passage illuminates the language well:
She knew it was foolish to examine so closely. She was making things up. But this was the effect he had, shadow-inching through a sentence, showing a word in its facets and aspects, words like moons in particular phases.
Words like moons in particular phases - wow! Or then there is this passage that also struck a chord, with the odd jarring note at the end:
Over the days she worked her body hard. There were always states to reach that surpassed previous extremes.... I think you are making your own little totalitarian society, Rey told her once, where you are the dictator, absolutely, and also the oppressed people, he said, perhaps admiringly, one artist to another.
The structure of the plot is also slightly off-kilter, with sudden shifts and long passages of meditative, droning prose. Overall its a bizarre and oddly unresolved story. I liked it!
117. The World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven: 3 and a half stars.
An alien with telepathic powers powerful enough to enslave those around it that crashed on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago has been awoken from statis, its personality imprinted on to that of the human telepath, Larry Greenberg. Now both are in a race to reach the alien's ship on Neptune and the artifact it contains which would allow either one to enslave the entire human race. Trailing them is the UN ARM Garner who must figure out a way to prevent the artifact falling into either of their hands while also allaying the fear of a suspicious Belter government.
This is Niven's first novel and the first set in his Known Space setting. Despite occasional stylistic and narrative quirks that one can put down to inexperience, it holds up pretty well. It has a fast-paced plot, plenty of plot twists and some interesting mysteries thrown in and overall is highly entertaining.
Incidentally, upon completing this book I have now officially read more books in 2010 than in any previous year since I started keeping track of my reading.
118. The Dark Side of the Earth by Alfred Bester: 3 and a half stars.
I'm not sure exactly when these stories were published (the copyright year is 1964 so sometime before that I suppose) but they hold up a whole lot better than most 50s and 60s SF. They all display Bester's madcap inventiveness and odd sense of humour. As one of the other reviewers has noted, they are more style than substance, but that doesn't detract from their enjoyment at all - my little plot summaries do little justice to their inventiveness.
1) Time is the Traitor: 4/5
John Strapp is paid millions to take tough decisions. However he is a troubled man with a dark secret and his associates decide to hire someone to become his friend, hoping they can discover what that secret is.
2) The Men Who Murdered Mohammed: 3/5
A provocatively titled story which is a whirligig of a tale about a brilliant scientist who invents a time machine which he intends to use to take revenge upon his cheating wife. Funny too.
3) Out of This World: 4/5
New York, 1954 – a young executive hopes to pursue a liaison with a woman who he talks to when she calls the wrong number. But when they try to meet up, they discover that there’s something strange going on.
4) The Pi Man: 3/5
Another frantic, bizarre story about a man who is compelled to compensate for the randomness in the world around him in order to create patterns. I really don’t think I can do justice to this story by trying to describe itis
5) The Flowered Thundermug: 4/5
500 years after nuclear holocaust devastated the Earth in the 1950s, civilization has been rebuilt on the culture and social pattern seen in surviving Hollywood movies. An expert in antique art objects is called in by a group of super-rich collectors – someone is stealing valuable antiques (Automatic grill-waffler, Double-bell black-faced alarm clock, Hemp outdoor ‘Welcome’ mat, 18x30, etc.) and they need his help in figuring out where he will strike next. Except the identity of the thief turns out to be more surprising than anybody expects. Another utterly madcap, hilarious story.
6) Will You Wait: 4/5
Selling ones soul to the devil is just not as straightforward a process as it used to be, what with the involvement of agents, contract lawyers and the dark one constantly being in meetings. Very droll.
7) They Don’t Make Life Like They Used To: 4/5
5 years since human life was wiped out, the last woman on Earth lives in New York, roving around the city looking for items to decorate her apartment that will match her décor. One day she runs into the last surviving man on Earth, who is making his way across the country searching for a TV repairman. Meanwhile something very strange is happening beneath the ruins of the city. A tour de force of whimsy, satire and unexpected poignancy.
119. Beyond the Barrier by Damon Knight: 3 stars.
This book starts off well, and ends well. The middle does tend to drag a bit. At the heart of the novel is a mystery. Who is Professor Gordon Naismith? For the last four years, ever since he survived a plane crash, he has been a professor of physics. He has lost all memory of who he was before that. But an odd encounter with a mysterious female student sets off a chain of events that will take him 20,000 years into the future - a future that may or may not be part of his past. Throughout the book (and its a short one) we are drip fed hints and facts until the big reveal at the end of the book. The problem with this approach is that for large chunks of the book one doesn't really know what is going on, and that makes reading the book less compelling. This is partially compensated though by a fairly entertaining and grand finale.
@224> I really enjoyed it. I always found it sad that Bester had written so few novels (and the later ones such as Golem didn't really hit the spot in the ways that his early works did), so its fun discovering his short stories. I think one of my reading goals for the coming year will be more short stories.
120. Dark Moon by David Gemmell: 3 and a half stars.
I can't say that David Gemmell is a must read author, but whenever I do pick up one of his books, they usually manage to entertain. There is an argument to be made that he is not an author with a great many arrows in his quiver - there is a 'sameness' to his books which discourages one from reading too many of them in a short span of time (The last one I read was back in January). I'll confess that the main reason I felt compelled to pick this one up now was because it has 'Dark' in the title and would allow me to complete my '6 Books With Dark In the Title' Challenge! As it turned out this was not a bad read at all.
No one can accuse Gemmell of being a good writer. His dialogue is clunky, his turns of phrase trite, his descriptions dull, and his cod-philosophising groan-inducing. Yet more often than not, a Gemmell novel turns out to be more than the sum of its parts and that is certainly the case here. His characters are painted in broad brush strokes but are vivid and interesting. And while he often plays with the same ideas and themes (the nature of heroism, courage, love, the futility of war, etc.), and familiar narrative elements (a damaged hero, doomed love, an epic siege) he is able to put them together in ways that seem fresh and engaging. Overall this is a fine standalone heroic fantasy novel.
I've never read Alfred Bester, but I'm beginning to think I should... Love the summary for "The Flowered Thundermug"!
My husband is a big David Gemmell fan. I read one, and, yes, what you said above. (I'm happy to continue to buy them for him - I have the book budget for the household - but I don't choose to read them myself.)
121. Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another by Jonathan Fenby: 4 stars.
This is a straightforward narrative of the interplay between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill during the Second World War. Its a gripping story and well told in this book, which provides a good insight into the different motivations of the Big Three, how they changed over time and the compromises (or lack thereof) they made in order to keep the alliance going. It was particularly useful for me since much of the history of the Cold War that I had previously read tended to kick things off from the Yalta conference (or alternately the "percentages agreement" between Churchill and Stalin).
One can see Stalin's deep mistrust of the allies as they continually delay the allied invasion of Europe and Roosevelt's distrust of Churchill's focus on the Mediterranean and Aegean as being a ploy to use American troops to prop up the British Empire rather than defeat Nazi Germany. By 1944 Stalin's armies were steam-rolling the Germans and he felt he no longer had to offer compromise on his aim of establishing a deep cordon sanitaire fencing the USSR off from western Europe. This meant that he had the upper hand in the meeting at Yalta where Roosevelt made concessions on Poland and China to the USSR because he needed Stalin's cooperation in participating in the United Nations and in declaring war on Japan.
By Potsdam, Roosevelt, who had counted on establishing a close personal relationship with Stalin as a way to counter some of his excesses, was dead and Truman had the Atomic bomb and a way to end the war with Japan sooner rather than through a land invasion which was projected to take a year and half to complete. Churchill had also been thrown out by the British electorate, bringing a labour government headed by Atlee to power. Paradoxically this meant a worsening of relations with Stalin, whom Churchill often spoke admiringly of even when he bemoaned the rise of Soviet power. One thing that had united Churchill and Stalin was their dislike of the principles of the Atlantic Charter which had promised to uphold democratic principles across the world - in Churchill's case because it would weaken Britain's hold on its Empire, particularly India. Attlee on the other hand was determined to offer India greater independence and sided with Truman who wanted to take a tougher line on ideological principles.
For those who have read widely on the period there are no earth-shaking revelations, but what Fenby does so well is bring the main characters alive, with his eye for detail and the telling quote. In that respect its an engaging and lively account that is well worth reading.
I haven't read widely on the period, but am interested in it. Would this be a good place to start? All revelations would be earth-shaking to me.
228> I would say that prior familiarity with the broad contours of the war might be useful, as the book is very much focused on the interactions and diplomacy between the three leaders rather than on the course of the war itself. Events are mentioned in passing (Battle of Britain, Pearl Harbour, the Fall of Singapore, El-Alemain, Stalingrad, D-Day, etc.) and it may be a little more confusing if the reader is not familiar with the import of these events, but otherwise I think this would be a fine place to start.
One thing I also liked about this book is that it really got me interested in reading further about a number of different people and topics. I noticed that Fenby's latest book is a biography: The General - Charles De Gaulle and I would definitely be interested in reading that, as he really stands out as a prickly character that everyone intensely disliked! I'm also very keen to read more about FDR, and also about the eastern campaign in Burma/Malaysia. (I've got hold of Chris Bayly and Tim Harper's Forgotten Armies and that is high up on my reading list for next year.)
Well I think thats about it in terms of my reading for the year. First my round up for the month of December:
Books read to date: 122/125
Male to Female authors: 104 and 18 (Male: 85% and Female: 15%)
Science Fiction: 33/30 (27%)
Fantasy: 32/25 (27%)
Mainstream: 18/25 (15%)
Others (graphic novels, classics,): 25/25 (20%)
Non-fiction books: 14/20 (11%)
I read less Mainstream novels and non-fiction books than I was aiming for, and the female to male author ration needs to be improved upon this coming year, but otherwise not bad. Its been the best year I've had in terms of number of books read.
I also set myself a few mini personal challenges:
Books by Authors whose name begin with 'B': 6 completed
1. One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night - Christopher Brookmyre
2. Dead Lines - Greg Bear
3. Turn Coat - Jim Butcher
4. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls - Peter Biskind
5. twisted Metal - Tony Ballantyne
6. Lythande - Marion Zimmer Bradley
...and 4 more!
Books with the word 'dark' in the title: 6 Completed
1. The Dark Light Years - Brian Aldiss
2. Touch the Dark - Karen Chance
3. Dark Continent - Mark Mazower
4. A Scanner Darkly - Philip K. Dick
5. The Dark Side of the Earth - Alfred Bester
6. Dark Moon - David Gemmell
Books I bought in 2005 or earlier: 6 completed
1. A Song for Arbonne - Guy Gavriel Kay
2. Time And Stars - Poul Anderson
3. Station of the Tide - Michael Swanwick
4. God Bless You Mr Rosewater - Kurt Vonnegut
5. Guardians of the West - David Eddings
6. Plague Ship - Andre Norton
My most highly rated books of the year:
1. The Fifth Head of Cerberus - Gene Wolfe
2. Stations of the Tide - Michael Swanwick
3. Shadows Linger - Glen Cook
4. The Dark Light Years - Brian Aldiss
5. The Sandman: The Kindly Ones - Neil Gaiman
6. Extraordinary Tales - J. L. Borges & A. B. Casares
7. Nekropolis - Maureen F. McHugh
8. Reaper's Gale - Steven Erikson (which was a re-read)
I've already set up my thread in the 100 Books in 2011 Group: http://www.librarything.com/topic/105378
I look forward to seeing you all there!
122. The High Crusade by Poul Anderson: 3 stars.
Okay so I did manage to squeeze one more read in for the year (now I have to go back and edit the stats in the post above - oh well!). This is a short SF novel written back in 1960. Its Poul Anderson having some fun with an outlandish, pulply tale of an alien ship that lands in England in the year 1345 A.D. on a manor where the local lord has been gathering men to go on crusade. The aliens look to cow the inhabitants but the knights and men-at-arms storm the ship and take over, putting all but one of the aliens to the sword. They hatch a plan to use the ship to transport themselves to France, but the alien takes them back to it's own world. The Englishmen then decide to take over the alien galactic empire for themselves (or for God, St. George and the King!) The sheer silliness of the whole thing is made palatable by the tongue-in-cheek humour. At one point, after defeating an alien force in battle, morale in the English ranks plummets when they realize that they don't know what day of the week it is on the alien planet - it could be a Friday, and they had roast beef for breakfast!
This topic is not marked as primarily about any work, author or other topic.