The OF Blog: December 2006

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Larry's choices for the Best of 2006

A few days ago, I posted the "finalists" in a couple of the categories from which I would be choosing my favorites. It literally went up to the last hours of 2006 before I could decide which stories were my #1 favs for the year, especially for the Best Book Released in the US in 2006 category. Many fine books. Anyways, here are my Top 3/5 Choices:

Best Book Released in 2006:

1. Jeff VanderMeer, Shriek: An Afterword - Perhaps this book being the last one I completed in 2006 helped influence the one-man jury here, but what stood out about this novel was how personal it felt. This story about Duncan and Janice Shriek felt so real, which helped make all the other elements about the story feel more vibrant than they otherwise would have been. This was one of those rare examples of fantasy novels that have all the layers of emotional depth that the "mainstream" novels do. I just cannot recall a book released this year in the US that comes close to that.

2. Hal Duncan, Vellum - This was one of the most impressive debut novels that I've ever read in the field. Duncan told a very complex story in a fashion that often felt lyrical, while at the same time making this reader feel like he had some at stake by continuing to read this volume. I am eagerly awaiting the release of Ink in a couple of months, just to see if the promise of Vellum is fulfilled. If it is, then Ink might become the early favorite to snag a Best of 2007 award.

3 (tie) Catherynne M. Valente, The Orphan's Tale: In the Night Garden - I will admit to enjoying a well-told fairy tale. I also will admit to loving daringly original takes on traditional Western fairy tale motifs, especially if they are well-written. Add all of these up with a very compelling frame stories and this book served to convince me that I better listen to Jay and a few others on the blogosphere and buy the rest of her work pronto.

3. (tie) Gene Wolfe, Soldier of Sidon - Wolfe is a master of utilizing an unreliable narrator to tell a story that requires a lot of careful attention on the reader's part to catch all the nuances and possibilities that underlie the words that aren't printed. In Soldier of Sidon, the third volume in the Latro/Soldier series, Wolfe has returned to the classical world of the mercenary Latro, who has suffered an injury which causes him to forget the previous day's experiences if he doesn't write them down. In this volume, he matches the work he did with the first two volumes (written in the 1980s), thus earning a tie for the third spot.

Honorable mentions: Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora; Sergei Lukyanenko, Night Watch (English translation); Mark Danielewski, Only Revolutions.

Best Book Read in 2006 (but released in prior year):

For this and the other categories, I'm not going to be elaborating as much, mostly because that would take the rest of the year for me to complete. Suffice to say that these are older books that I enjoyed a lot.

1. Milorad Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazars

2. José Saramago, Las intermitencias de la muerte

3. Ben Okri, The Famished Road

4. Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

5. Ivo Andrić, The Bridge on the Drina

Honorable mentions: Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz; Edward Whittemore, Sinai Tapestry; Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist

Best Short Story Collection Read in 2006:

I read three collections that were so good that I felt like I needed to note each of these here. So here they are, different in some aspects, but very similar in quality and in how individual stories moved me:

1. Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

2. Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners

3. Zoran Živković, Seven Touches of Music (English translation)

Most Disappointing Book Read in 2006

I generally am very careful with the books I read, but occasionally there'll be some that just dissatisfy me in some fashion. That is not to say that all of the books that appear below are bad, merely disappointing in respect to expectations.

1. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris

2. Dan Simmons, Olympos

Oddly enough, those are the only two I can think of that fit the criteria for this category.

Best Debut Novel of 2006

This is for American release or for first time in English translation:

1. Hal Duncan, Vellum

2. Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora

3. Tobias Buckell, Crystal Rain

Best Spanish-Language Novel Read in 2006:

This is meant to recognize the books that I read in Spanish this year and since they make up the majority of my 2006 reads (64 out of 117), I thought it would be fitting to list three favorites here:

1. José Saramago, Las intermitencias de la muerte

2. Alberto Fuguet, Cortos

3. Manuel Vincent, Son de Mar

And there are my 2006 "awards." Let the discussion begin, either here or elsewhere, as to how inspired/deranged these picks were!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Thoughts on some of my favorite reads in 2006

It's around that time of year again, the moment where people on the blogosphere stop and post about some of the books that "connected" with them. Although I'm going to be posting in a ranked format my favorite reads of 2006 on Sunday as part of the Admin Choices for the 2007 OF Awards held at wotmania, I thought I would take the time to post in no particular order the top reads out of books released in 2006, those released in previous years, and those I read in Spanish this year. So without further ado, the "finalists" for My Favorite Reads of 2006:

Best Books Released in 2006:

Here are the books released in the US for the first time in 2006 that I found to be the most enjoyable (as of 12/26):

Hal Duncan, Vellum - This finalist for the 2006 World Fantasy Award was released in the US in April. I am one of those readers who believe that a good, consistent style is an essential element of making a story work and in Vellum, Duncan does a masterful job in using word tone and pitch to craft a story that spans 3D time/space but yet in the end boils down to a very personal struggle of a small group of Unkin who are trying desperately to live their own lives. A very moving work and one of the more challenging ones that I've read in English this year, so no award ballot would be complete to me without mentioning Vellum here.

Gene Wolfe, Soldier of Sidon - Gene Wolfe is one of my favorite authors, not just in the speculative fiction realm, but in all of late 20th/early 21st century literature. His stories have layers upon layers of meaning and possibility to them, but out of all his creations (with the possible exception of Severian from The Book of the New Sun), none are as conflicted and intriguing as that of Latro, the partially amnesiac mercenary who "sees" the gods of the classical world and has been directed to find a certain temple so he can regain his memory. Wolfe utilizes the unreliable narrator trope to full effect here and this book, the third in the Latro series, is just as strong as the first two, despite being written almost twenty years afterwards.

Catherynne M. Valente, The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden - This was a remarkable undertaking. Now I have yet to read her other works (such an oversight I'll correct soon), but in this book, she takes the traditional fairy tale format and weaves a complex interaction between the stories that not only fascinates the framework story's young boy (in a mode similar to that of The Arabian Nights), but also the reader. As "traditional" as the stories feel (and I found myself drifting back in memory to my first encounters with written versions of fairy tales, 25+ years ago), there are a great many surprises to them, surprises that serve to build interest and anticipation among the reader. Valente did more than just utilize the form of the fairy tale - she recreated the emotion behind those. For that alone, she has earned a spot on this "finalist" list.

Sergei Lukyanenko, Night Watch (English Translation) - For many, including myself, one of the hallmarks of a good fantasy is the sense of something other interacting with the familiar. In this excellent translation of the bestselling Russian urban fantasy, Lukyanenko has established a world in which witches, wizards, vampires, werewolves, and shapeshifters move among us, unseen, checked only by a Cold War-like pact between the Light and the Dark, with said pact being managed by the Day and Night Watches. There are three connected stories within this 450 page book and the questions raised by the actions perpetrated by both sides make this book much more than just a simple good/evil morality play. I eagerly await the 2007 translated publications of the sequels Day Watch and Twilight Watch.

Scott Lynch, The Lies of Locke Lamora - A lot of electronic ink has been used elsewhere to describe the joys that other readers have had in reading this opening volume to The Gentleman Bastards series. Suffice to say, I found this book living up to its hype and being one of the more enjoyable books of the year. Lynch writes very well, the dialogue is crisp and often funny, and the action flows very well from stage to stage, with few transition problems. The second volume, Red Seas under Red Skies, is due out in the Summer of 2007.

Jeff VanderMeer, Shriek: An Afterword - This Ambergris book (VanderMeer's first true novel) might be the most emotional read out of the books I've read this year. VanderMeer uses very evocative images that seem to come straight from his own experiences (whether that's true or not, it certainly feels authentic). If this book isn't up for the major 2007 awards, then I want to know what books out there are better than this.

Mark Danielewski, Only Revolutions - This is not House of Leaves Part II. Thank God for that, as the style and the way the story (stories) are told show that Danielewski is not content to revisit what worked for him in the past. While the story isn't what I'd call "accessible", it certainly is breaking new ground. For that alone, it merits mention here.

Best Books Read in 2006 but Released in Previous Years:

I won't elaborate as much here as I did above, but this is an unranked listing of my favorites that I read in English this past year that were released at some prior point:

Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry, The Tale of the Rose

John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

Ben Okri, The Famished Road

Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock

Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist

Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

Milorad Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazars

Edward Whittemore, Sinai Tapestry

V.S. Naipaul, A Way in the World

Danilo Kiš, A Tomb for Boris Davidovich

Ivo Andrić, The Bridge on the Drina

Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners

Libros en español que leí en 2006:

José Sarmago, Las intermitencias de la muerte; Ensayo sobre la lucídez; Todos los nombres

Gabriel García Márquez, El otoño del Patriarca

Rubén Darío, Azul.../Cantos de la vida y esperanza

Manuel Vincent, Son de mar

Manuel Mujica Lainez, Misteriosa Buenos Aires

Alejo Carpentier, El siglo de las luces

Alberto Fuguet, Cortos

José Eustasio Rivera, La vorágine

Hopefully, some of these books will appeal to readers here. On the 31st, I'll try to sit down and choose which books will be in my Top 3 in each of these categories, as well as listing the remaining books that I have read in 2006. It has been a quiet year for me, but also a year full of quality reads. Thanks again to those whom I've heard about your favs, as sometimes they have influenced me in my purchases. It would be an honor to return the pleasure.

Friday, December 22, 2006

2006 Reads: August-October

Since it's been way too long since I've updated this, there won't be much more than a Recommended/Not Recommended comment for most of these. Sorry about that - I'll try harder in 2007 to have blurbs written for each and every book. But starting with my notes for August, here are the books read since then, in order:

67. José Saramago, Todos los Nombres - It's freakin' Saramago and if you don't my admiration for his stories by now...Most Highly Recommended.

68. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five - Re-read from my grad school days a decade ago. It somehow managed to improve with age. Most Highly Recommended.

69. Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea - As big of a fan of Hemingway's that I am, somehow I managed to avoid reading this until now. My loss then and my gain now. Of course, Most Highly Recommended.

70. Umberto Eco, Il Pendolo di Foucault - As much as I enjoyed reading this in English translation, it was a nice challenge to attempt to read it in Italian (first book read in that language for me). It had a different magic to it and my familiarity with the translation helped me through the rough patches. Most Highly Recommended (in your native language, if you aren't fluent in Italian).

71. Robert Jordan, Crossroads of Twilight - I read this book almost solely to do a MST-3000 treatment to it. If you think I'm going to recommend this book...Not Recommended.

72. Ernesto Sabato, Sobre héroes y tumbas - Re-read from late 2004. Very moving story, one that I enjoyed greatly. Highly Recommended for those who read Spanish (or just search for it in translation, as it has been translated).

73. Subcommandante Marcos, La historia de las colores - Only in Mexico could a guerrilla leader write a children's book based on Chiapas-region mythology and have it be a decent read. Recommended for those who like children's stories. Bilingual edition.

74. John Lukacs, The Hitler of History - As a general rule of thumb, I have avoided reading non-fiction (and especially that of the Hitler era) after my grad school burnout on academic histories almost a decade ago. This is a historiographical look at how Hitler research has evolved over the past 50 years. Lukacs does a fine job here, but this isn't a book for the casual history buff, but instead a nice primer for majors and those beginning an in-depth exploration of the National Socialist era. Recommended for those "experts" and lukewarm rec for the informed history buff.

75. Jorge Volpi, En busca de Klingsor - Re-read from late 2004. Very enjoyable thriller-type novel about the search for this mysterious advisor to Hitler named Klingsor. Has been translated into English and other languages. Highly recommended.

76. Rumi, The Essential Rumi - Nice intro to the works of the medieval Sufi poet, Rumi. The translations are adequate, but I wished for more. Lukewarm rec for those who enjoy mystical poetry, but with the caveat that a more complete edition would be better.

77. Alejandro Dolina, Crónicas del Ángel Gris - Re-read from August 2005. Very enjoyable collection of short stories that make the Flores neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Argentina a mysterious and fascinating world. Highly recommended for those fluent in Spanish, but unfortunately there are no known translations into other languages.

78. José Saramago, Ensayo sobre la ceguera - Re-read from 2004. See above comment about Saramago. Most Highly Recommended.

79. Alberto Fuguet, Mala Onda - Re-read from March 2004. While this work (available in English as Bad Vibes) might ultimately fail to match the overall power of Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (to which this book has often been compared), it comes mighty damn close, plus it shows disillusioned Chilean life under Pinochet. Highly Recommended.

80. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, La sombra del viento - Re-read from July 2005. A story set in post-WWII Barcelona around a book, a mysterious author, and a lurking figure who seems set to burn all the remaining copies of this obscure novel...while something else is happening beneath the surface. Very well-written story. Most Highly Recommended.

81. Edmundo Paz Soldán, Sueños digitales - Interesting story about the manipulation of images to bolster a South American president's status. Recommended for those fluent in Spanish, no known English translation.

82. José Saramago, Ensayo sobre la lucídez - Again, it's Saramago. One of my most favorite reads of 2006, now available in English as Seeing. Most Highly Recommended.

83. Alberto Fuguet, Las películas de mi vida - Interesting concept of telling how one's life developed and spanned over two continents and countries via the connection between contemporary movies and the events in one's life. Available in English as The Movies of my Life. Highly Recommended.

84. Harry Mulisch, The Discovery of Heaven - While it was certainly thought-provoking, ultimately I found it to be too drab and cynical for even my tastes, although I recognize that many others would enjoy it. Lukewarm Recommendation.

85. Alejo Carpentier, El siglo de las luces - Historical novel about a Frenchman, Victor Hugues, in the Caribbean during the 1790s and his role in spreading the ideals of the French Revolution among the ancien regime's strongholds in the Caribbean. Highly Recommended for Spanish readers, as I do not know of any translation, which is a shame.

86. Gabriel García Márquez, Del amor y otros demonios - Re-read from August 2005. While not as well-known as Cien años de soledad or El amor en los tiempos de cólera, this novel about love and cultural differences (and much, much else) set in colonial New Granada (Colombia) is quite powerful in its own right. Highly Recommended, available in English as Of Love and Other Demons.

87. Gabriel García Márquez, Crónica de una muerte anunciada - This account of the "honor killing" of a young man is extremely moving. Highly Recommended, also available in English as Chronicle of a Death Foretold.

88. Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciónes (Spanish) - As I've said with Saramago, I'll say here with Borges. It's Borges, enough said. Most Highly Recommended.

89. Milorad Pavić, Dictionary of the Khazars: A Lexicon Novel - Wow, just wow. The concepts and the execution here were superb. Most Highly Recommended.

90. Guillermo Cabrera Infante, Vista del amanecer en el trópico - A fictionalized "history" of Cuba as told in very short but powerful vignettes. Highly Recommended.


In the next week or so, I'll have the November-December entries done, likely around the 31st. Hope some of these books sparks curiosity on your part, as it's usually some form of communication between people that lead to book borrowings/purchases.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Ricardo Pinto Interview

What are you working on at the moment, and how satisfied are you with it?

Currently I am working on the third book of my trilogy The Stone Dance of the Chameleon which has taken me roughly four years so far. Of course I could wish that it was not taking so long, but I am pursuing my vision to its conclusion... and things are going well...

Can you tell us a few words about The Stone Dance of the Chameleon? How would you entice somebody who has never read your work to them?

I would say that, driven by inner forces, I started upon this story, with no notion of where it would take me. In a time where so much is throwaway, or dances to a commercial tune, I have ended up spending the best part of 12 years of my life - so far - giving birth to this monster, crafting it, with no goal other than making it true to itself. The result is a near-mythological evocation of what it takes to turn from a child into an adult; an epic set in a strange, but living world; a love story of suffering and redemption...

How did you come to an idea to write The Stone Dance of the Chameleon? What was your inspiration?

The journey towards the Stone Dance started a long time ago, one summer, when I was still at university, when I typed up an early version of the story. Some of the ideas were there, but really very few and they were very undeveloped. Tolkien's world creation had captivated me and there were other writers who produced rich worlds, Moorcock, Herbert, Le Guin but I wanted more... my own vision...

How come the main character in the Stone Dance is homosexual?

I'm not sure that he is. This category is really a rather recent invention. In the past, Ancient Greece for example, people were defined not by whom they slept with, but what they did with their sexual partners... The world that the Masters inhabit is one in which access to women is narrowly constrained. In such societies it is often the case that males develop love relationships with each other...

Who is your favorite character in Stone Dance? Why?

That's a very difficult question... I love/hate all of them one way or another... but I suppose if I had to go for one it would be Carnelian, because he's the one I'm most in the head of and who, in many ways, is me...

How did the years working on video games help you as an author, if they did?

If we put aside the characters that populate my books, much of the rest of the writing process is, for me, hardly distinguishable from creating a computer game. As I built my computer games from the ground up to achieve fully realized 3D environments, so I did the same with the world in which my story is set. Perhaps, at first, too obsessively so... the rigour essential for computer games is almost certainly overkill in books... primarily because in a book the reader 'timeline' is determined by the author, whereas in a computer game it is generally determined by the player. Of course, what computer games lack and what I discovered increasingly is the very centre of a book - are the characters. When it came to them, my computer experiences were of no help at all...

Are you still working on computer games?

No, I've been doing nothing but writing for quite some time... though a few years back I created a sci-fi world for a friend of mine who is developing it into a wargaming business and which might, one day, find its way into a computer game...

What is the weirdest experience you ever had with a fan?

There was one who offered to send me computer pictures of buildings which he made himself... For no reason I could fathom...

If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Hmmm... Three - Prime, Artaxerxes and Blue...
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