The OF Blog: June 2008

Monday, June 30, 2008

2008 Half-Year Notable Books

June 30th is an appropriate time for many to take stock of what they've read so far and to consider what might be finalists for individual year-end lists. It is no different with me. It was difficult selecting books from the 264 I've read so far this year, but when I decided to narrow it down to 2008 releases (original or reprint in one case), it made my list a bit shorter, although it also excluded quite a few non-genre masterpieces that I have finally read for the first time this year. So far, the quality has been enough that I have divided this into an overall category and 8 specific categories. There is no ranking here, since I like to keep some suspense for the December 31st OF Awards...


David Hajdu, The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and how it Changed America

Paul Kincaid, What It Is We Do When We Read Science Fiction

Farah Mendlesohn, Rhetorics of Fantasy

John Rieder, Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction

Young Adult:

D.M. Cornish, Lamplighter

Cory Doctorow, Little Brother

Isamu Fukui, Truancy

Peadar Ó Guilín, The Inferior

Novella (limited-editions so far):

Jeff VanderMeer, The Situation

Gene Wolfe, Memorare

Graphic Novel:

Tom Corwin and Craig Frazier, Mr Fooster: Traveling on a Whim

David Petersen, Mouse Guard: Fall 1152


Antonio Orlando Rodríguez, Chiquita (2008 Premio Alfaguara Winner)

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Juego del Ángel


Ellen Datlow (ed.), The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy

Ekaterina Sedia (ed.), Paper Cities

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), The New Weird

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer (eds.), Steampunk

Short Story Collections:

Etgar Keret, The Girl on the Fridge

Amanda Michalopoulou, I'd Like

Debut Authors:

Toby Barlow, Sharp Teeth

James Braziel, Birmingham, 35 Miles

Isamu Fukui, Truancy

Felix Gilman, Thunderer

Jo Graham, Black Ships

Francie Lin, The Foreigner

J.M. McDermott, Last Dragon

Peadar Ó Guilín, The Inferior

Overall Best of 2008 as of June 30th:

Tobias Buckell, Sly Mongoose

Maurice Dantec, Cosmos Incorporated

Jeffrey Ford, The Shadow Year

Gregory Frost, Shadowbridge; Lord Tophet

Felix Gilman, Thunderer

Jo Graham, Black Ships

Ursula Le Guin, Lavinia

Francie Lin, The Foreigner

Antonio Orlando Rodríguez, Chiquita

Ekaterina Sedia, The Alchemy of Stone

Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem, The Man on the Ceiling

Jeanette Winterson, The Stone Gods

Carlos Ruiz Zafón, El Juego del Ángel

Zoran Živković, The Last Book

There are a few books on my shelves that are likely candidates for making the final list, just as there are some on this list which undoubtedly will fail to make the December Countdown list. Also, there were two books that I didn't include for two reasons. Scott Bakker's Neuropath did not make this list because I first read it in 2006 and while I am convinced that Roberto Bolaño's 2666 will be on quite a few end-of-year shortlists for various publications, I read the 2004 Spanish edition. Hopefully this list, incomplete as it must be, will inspire some discussion and tempt others to check into them. While I have yet to write reviews for all of them, there are many on this list for which there are plans for reviews in the coming few months.

June 30th Book Porn

Received two Advance Review Copies and one limited-edition signed copy that I had preordered months before. In the first photo, the two review copies are for Brandon Sanderson's conclusion to the Mistborn trilogy, Hero of Ages, while the second is for the US release of a book that apparently was a bestseller in the UK four years ago, Stan Nicholls' Orcs.

Here is the long-awaited limited-edition signed hardcover edition of Gene Wolfe's Memorare, which originally was published in magazine format last year. My copy is #36 out of 500. Don't know if I'll do a review of it, but it certainly shall be read either tonight or tomorrow, time permitting.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Another fantasy reading meme

Since Jeff VanderMeer has posted links back to some fantasy lists that he compiled a couple of years ago, I thought I'd take one of those lists, see which ones I read, and let others comment elsewhere, since it seems list-responding somehow has become a popular thing for whatever reason...


1. Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
2. The Gormenghast Trilogy, Mervyn Peake

Read and enjoyed this one about five years ago. Spooky atmosphere and interesting characters.

3. Lanark, Alasdair Gray
4. Jerusalem Poker, Edward Whittemore

Loved this quadrilogy and this second volume, which serves as a metaphor for what occurred with the Mandate of Palestine between the World Wars, is brilliant.

5. The Chess Garden, Brooks Hansen
6. The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman, Angela Carter
7. Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

Charming, lovely, imaginative, and full of other superlative adjectives.

8. Ficciones, Jorge Luis Borges

One of those pesky books that made me think. Great short stories.

9. Nights at the Circus, Angela Carter

Good story.

10. Observatory Mansions, Edward Carey

Creepy in its obsessive-compulsive narrative voice, but in a good way.

11. Possession, A.S. Byatt
12. In Viriconium, M. John Harrison

Enjoyed quite a bit, for how MJH would change the framework each time I thought I knew what it was.

13. Arc d'X, Steve Erickson

Well-written story, one that stayed with me for quite some time after I read it. Never thought of Thomas Jefferson being that much of a creep before.

14. V, Thomas Pynchon

Just bought it. Will read in July.

15. Sinai Tapestry, Edward Whittemore

Very good opener to the Jerusalem Quartet.

16. Quin’s Shanghai Circus, Edward Whittemore

Didn't like it as much as the Quartet, but more than 90% of the books I've read this year.

17. If Upon a Winter's Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino

Brilliantly constructed.

18. Collected Stories, Franz Kafka

Macabre, haunting, and a few other things.

19. The Master & Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov

Need to re-read this one sometime, but it was charming and biting at the same time.

20. Mother London, Michael Moorcock
21. The Collected Stories, J.G. Ballard

Very talented writer.

22. A Fine and Private Place, Peter S. Beagle
23. The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster
24. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy
25. The Birth of the People's Republic of Antarctica, John Calvin Bachelor
26. House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski

As original as most could ever hope to be.

27. The Riddle Master trilogy, Patricia McKillip

Well-written. If only more people would try to copy her techniques than to stultify Tolkien's.

28. The Baron in the Trees, Italo Calvino

Charming, sad story that I enjoyed reading last year.

29. The Other Side, Alfred Kubin
30. The Circus of Doctor Lao, Charles Finney
31. A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay
32. The Circus of the Earth & the Air, Brooke Stevens
33. Gulliver's Travels, Jonathan Swift

While I wouldn't call it a "fantasy" in the genre sense (since I believe it predates a defined "fantasy genre"), this satire still zings almost three centuries later.

34. Dictionary of the Khazars, Milorad Pavic

Unusual, but it works, as each reading will be quite different from the ones before.

35. At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brian

My second-favorite work by him. Very good.

36. The Troika, Stepan Chapman

Hard-to-describe in a mere few words, so I won't try. I just thought it was great.

37. The Fan-maker’s Inquisition, Rikki Ducornet
38. Solomon Gursky Was Here, Mordechai Richler
39. Darconville's Cat, Alexander Theroux
40. Don Quixote, Cervantes

Re-read this in both English and Spanish last year. So many levels to this tale, one of the earliest proto-modern novels.

41. Poor Things, Alasdair Gray
42. Geek Love, Katherine Dunn

Have on my bookshelf to read in the near future.

43. The Land of Laughs, Jonathan Carroll

At first, it was mild, harmless, amusing, and then it became almost terrifying suddenly.

44. The Wizard of Earthsea trilogy, Ursula K. LeGuin

Now I know why so many enjoy this YAish trilogy.

45. The House on the Borderland, William Hope Hodgson
46. Little Big, John Crowley

Charming, quaint, different from most fantasies being published today.

47. One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This story about made me tear up at the end. That final paragraph in particular.

48. The General in His Labyrinth, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Lesser work of Gabo's, but with a well-drawn historical character in Simon Bolívar.

49. The Seven Who Fled, Frederick Prokosch
50. Already Dead, Denis Johnson
51. The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque, Jeffrey Ford

Read this period piece/mystery/miscellaneous fiction earlier this year. Very well-executed.

52. Phosphor in Dreamland, Rikki Ducornet
53. The Passion of New Eve, Angela Carter
54. Views From the Oldest House, Richard Grant
55. Life During Wartime, Lucius Shepard
56. The Chronicles of Master Li and Number Ten Ox, Barry Hughart
57. The Famished Road, Ben Okri

Had this book featured a few weeks ago. Moving.

58. Altmann’s Tongue, Brian Evenson
59. Girl Imagined by Chance, Lance Olsen
60. The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant & Other Stories, Jeffrey Ford

29 read, plus two others I own and will read shortly. Not too bad. You?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Saturday Links

It's been a while since I've done one of these, but here are some interesting things that I've read the past few days:

Cheryl Morgan on "Fan Space"

The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing

Matt Staggs interviews:

1. Kate Bernheimer

2. Kelly Barnhill

3. Beth Adele Long

4. Lydia Millet

5. Nisi Shawl

6. L. Timmel Duchamp

Victoria from Eve's Alexandra on "Rude or Prude?"

NYRB article, "The Great Bolaño"

A Dribble of Ink post asking for examples of "great reviews"

Polyphony 7 Table of Contents

Pat says "No más!" to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, which I quite liked. Interesting comments to his post, which is more of a travelogue update with a semi-review embedded.

Yana blogs about SF/F definitions, in response to Jonathan McCalmont's article on it.

Jay Tomio blogs about two books I have, one I've read and will review shortly, the other I might read when there's little else left to read.

Best American Fantasy 2008 Table of Contents

Another review of Susanna Clarke's novel

Jeff VanderMeer blogs about female short-story writers of whom people ought to take note, which then led to a Fantasy Magazine article on favorite female fantasy authors.

And that'll do it for this weekend. Time to resume working on drafty matters.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Forgotten Friday Author Spotlight: Flann O'Brien

For my second contribution to the Forgotten Friday feature that many blogs are doing, I decided to go with one of my favorite 20th century authors, Brian O'Nolan (1911-1966), who wrote a few novels under the pseudonym of Flann O'Brien. O'Brien's works included At Swim-Two-Birds and The Third Policeman.

O'Brien had a gift for creating truly bizarre, often comic situations out of quotidian concerns in the newly-independent Irish Free State, Irish mythology, existential philosophy, and bicycles, with sometimes most of those being mixed together in a haphazard fashion that created creative chaos that was a delight to read.

Last year, Everyman's Library released an omnibus collection of all of his novels, Flann O'Brien: The Complete Novels, so hopefully others here will be willing to sample his works at once.

June 24-27 Book Porn

This is my largest weekly book porn haul yet. Six of the 15 books I've received so far this week were bought, 7 were sent by a single publisher, and two others are from two other publishers. I've divided this into three groupings to make it easier to read the book titles and to see the cover art. Most of these I hope to review over the next month and a half, so be on the lookout for these titles.

In this picture are seven books, all of them finished editions, that Mark Newton from Solaris Books sent me for review purposes. From the top-left: Eric Brown, Kéthani, Adam Roberts, Splinter, Lou Anders (ed.), Sideways in Crime. From the bottom-left: Paul Kearney, The Ten Thousand, George Mann (ed.), The Solaris Book of New Fantasy; The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction; The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction: Volume Two.

This group of four includes books that I bought Wednesday after a (likely successful) job interview, from the top-left: Thomas Pynchon, V., Tony Morrison, Beloved, and from the bottom-left: Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men.

This group represents two Advance Review Copies and two online purchases that arrived this week: Top-left: Nick Harkaway, The Gone-Away World (ARC), Robert Bolaño, 2666 (Spanish edition). Bottom-left: Robert Darnton, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, John Scalzi, Zoe's Tale: An Old Man's War Novel (ARC). I plan on referencing Darnton's book in a few other reviews and I needed a replacement copy after I gifted it to an overseas friend of mine months ago. Bolaño's book will again be out in the US in English translation in November and apparently will be receiving quite a bit of publicity, as is Harkaway's book, from what I understand. Scalzi is merely up for a Hugo for Best Novel for another book.

I'm hoping to have two limited-edition books arrive either this weekend or early next month and I'll blog about those later, but in the meantime, I have a lot of good reading ahead of me.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

So I take a break from reading 2666...

And I do a search for something related to it and I see this:

This is what happens when someone reads a galley (a.k.a. ARC, or advance reading copy) in public: publishing people take notice and begin to wonder about certain things. There’s the galley’s provenance, of course. But what about its owner? Where does he work? Does she like the same things I do? Is he single? It’s almost like a secret society, a world of readers set apart from the majority, bonded together by their ability to spot a galley in the first place, and to know what possessing such an object means. These people can find each other in parks, coffee shops and, perhaps most often, subway cars.

“Books are pretty much the only thing I might conceivably be interested in having a conversation with a stranger about. I feel like at least once a week I see someone reading a book that I know is not out yet,” said Nick Antosca, a 25-year-old novelist who used to review books for The New York Sun. “I saw someone reading the new Chuck Palahniuk book before it came out and I was like, ‘Oh, shit, I want to get that!’ I wondered whether she was a reviewer or if she worked at the publishing house.”

She could have been an agent, too—or a journalist, or a friend of the author. All of these, Mr. Antosca said, are “kind of interesting.”

Interesting because if you see someone clutching an early copy of Roberto Bolano’s 2666, coming this fall from FSG, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll have a lot to talk about if you find a way to transmit your appreciation for their treasure across the L train.

“If you’re reading a galley on the subway, and someone comes to talk to you, you’re going to share a lot of things in common with them,” said Tom Meaney, the former literary editor of The New York Sun, who is currently a graduate student of modern European history at Columbia. “You can have the right jeans or the right purse or whatever … but if you’re reading How Fiction Works in March, you know, three months before the book comes out, and you get the one girl who is interested in [New Yorker literary critic] James Wood, well …” Our imagination is going wild! “It’s just an incredibly selective object.”

Of course, it may be that I live in a western suburb of Nashville, TN and not in NYC, but I just haven't had much in the way of those experiences. While I've had a few at work ask me about whatever book I had at the time, sadly, no young ladies wanted to go out for coffee (even if I don't drink it) because I had the latest Gene Wolfe or John Scalzi. If only...*sigh*

But I can say, 650 pages in, that 2666 might be worth some of the "buzz" that some outside of certain SF/F circles might be hearing now. So far, it's akin to The Savage Detectives, but more sprawling, with a middle section that is very violent and personal to read. I expect Bolaño will receive quite a bit of attention from the awards people after its November English translation release.

Whose monkey is the author, anyways?

So George R.R. Martin didn't finish his fifth novel, A Dance With Dragons, before leaving for a one month trip to Spain and Portugal. Based on a few responses I've read, one would have wondered if he had been found guilty of child abuse:

"*shrug* I'll probably never finish the series now. It's been too long and I don't really care anymore. Sorry George."

"I hope these tours are bringing in enough new fans to compensate for the ones he has/will lose. I'm really starting to get frustrated with this. aDwD was half done(ish) when aFfC was finished. This is getting ridiculous.

He just seems to have too many projects and indulgences to focus on. There is a reason why I don't go out very often when I'm in school: work doesn't get done."

"It's not like that this is the series that made him famous or anything.

Why should fans expect him to actually write the next book in the series? It seems like he has a stadium full of monkeys with typewriters and is waiting for them to write the book for page at a time.

I mean, the book was half written 4 years ago. What the hell?"

"Bottom line is, if you don't want to hear that complaint stop posting about the series being delayed again and again. The more it gets delayed, the more it seems like he is miffing with us fans."

"whatev, I'm entitled to be pissed off with the delays...I appreciate that the creative process takes time, I understand the desire to have a standard of work associated with your name, but GRRM's explanations are beginning to equate to a huge pile of prima donna BS as far as I'm concerned.
What, did he lose his writing-mojo after ASOS, and is now so painfully insecure about what he's putting on paper?
To hell with this, I'm deleting towerofthehand and westeros from my Fav. links folder, Amazon will let me know when my book has been shipped..."
While part of me can sympathize with the frustration, the desire to have things now, mo'fo!, I have to admit that the attitudes are quite offputting. "Huge pile of prima donna BS," as if an author explaining him/herself is akin to telling people to go screw themselves. "It's been too long and I don't really care anymore," as if such sentiments express anything other than petulance on the part of the "fan" and not the author. Makes me wonder why so many authors even bother to share anything in regards to plans, sample chapters, etc. beforehand publicly. I guess beyond a certain point, it stops becoming smart promotion/advertising/fan appreciation, turning into a potential liability (as what certainly seems to be the case with the SOIAF fans, who apparently are not Martin fans in general).

I suppose authors place their feet in their mouths when they try to project this or that about release times before the main work has been done on the writing project. I guess it's a good thing that Tolkien wrote in the 1930s-1950s, since LotR wasn't released until almost 20 years after The Hobbit and it certainly went through quite a few revisions. But "fans" don't want to hear about revisions or doing anything else. They want "their" favored work complete ASAP and don't stop to shit or sleep, apparently. I'm surprised more authors haven't told these people to go pleasure themselves with a rotten potato, although I admit it gives me perverse pleasure to imagine Harlan Ellison in place of Martin and guessing what his response would be to the vast number of internet commentators. Considering that he's still working on that follow-up to Dangerous Visions almost 40 years certainly would give pause to those who are upset about a 3 year break between stories.

But it is odd seeing, again and again, people who seem to think that authors are little more than trained monkeys who have to operate quickly to arbitrary expectations. I can't help but wonder if any of these people work in service industries and have had to deal with similar assholes always demanding so much so fast and without any courtesy or respect.

"Not for me"

It seems my post just below about the EW 100 list of "greatest novels of the past 25 years" struck a raw nerve. I won't deny that many of my comments came across as being rather abrasive. Nor will I fail to note that with intentional irony that such comments display self-ignorance in regards to the vast numbers of books I hadn't heard of or barely knew even the title. But one reaction, virulent as it was, I think brings up a fault line:

Could you be any more patronizing and dismissive towards women author who write primarily about and for women if you tried? Not chick lit (Bridget Jones) but Joy Luck Club? Bel Canto? The Year of Magical Thinking? Birds of America? And how have you managed to avoid even hearing about Persopolis and FUn Home?

I suggest you go back to your ever so charming list and look at the ways you said "no" to books by women and by men, because you come across here as a someone who thinks himself far better that that tatty little books for women -- in other words, a sexist stuck-up snob.
While I can understand (if not agree with) how a cursory glance at those curt comments in isolation might lead to such accusations, this responder brings up something that I think is well worth considering before any odd and sundry epithets are tossed about cavalierly. If as a relatively young (early-to-mid 30s) male, I come across something that apparently was "not for me," either by its subject matter being intended for a different audience and I note it (say in a more polite fashion than how my comments were construed as being), would it be "sexist" to shrug and read something else? If something is "not for me" in its aims and/or marketing and I follow that by not paying attention to it, does it automatically make me "sexist?"

Perhaps, perhaps not, if that is all that is known. Keeping in mind all along that the comments from the late night were meant more to play off of vague awarenesses of intended audiences (and sometimes-silly titles), if I were to read a work "not for me" and failed to understand such a work and I stated that it "wasn't for me," would there also be a backlash? If I were posting that list now, I probably would have stated openly at the beginning (well, even more openly, I suppose) that I was going to mock titles of books I knew little to nothing about, just because I was bored and wanted to do so. But I also would have made it quite clear that apparently such a list was mostly "not for me" because the apparent common values, recognitions, and so forth were never presented as being for me. Staid bourgeois novels are great for some; I tend to feel excluded from the narratives they tell. Most of the books on that list seem to fall into that broad category of being "bourgeois," from what little I've heard.

It seemed strange to some in the comments to that post that I hadn't heard of X, Y, or Z, despite apparently being well-read in other areas. It really isn't surprising to me, though. I don't read many magazines these days, outside of National Geographic and occasionally a few haute couture periodicals such as The Atlantic or Harper's. I don't watch much TV, and thus I only hear about certain "book club" selections weeks or months afterwards. In an odd way, when I'm not actively searching for something, whole subgenres slide past me. I'm not part of their intended market audience.

Furthermore, based on the sampling (around 1/5 of that list) that I've read, most of those books do seem to be, as that one irate replier stated, "primarily about and for women." In particular, about bourgeois women, if I had to guess based on the few that I've read. There is nothing "wrong" about it and in fact (which may or may not come as a surprise to the commenter) I have read and enjoyed some of those books. However, it was a struggle for me at times, akin to reading a foreign language. There were codes embedded in those narratives that I "got," and those that I did not. So it goes. But if, and this is a big if here, such narratives unintentionally or intentionally exclude 48% of the general populace and that percent is left feeling, for whatever reason, that the book is "not for me," then how difficult is it going to be for that reader (male, in my particular case, but say female in the cases of those who try to read certain "men's literature" books and fail to grasp its appeal) to try a second time?

I am not defending my reading habits (if I were, my reading preferences might surprise those expecting an easy pattern to decipher), only noting the difficulties on occasion. But it is interesting to observe the defensiveness in that quoted comment. If it's "not for me," then is it "pathetic to me?" Perhaps I'm misunderstanding the ire of that one person, but her presumption there is intriguing to me. Could it be that this is more of an issue of "otherness" and how "alien" writings/thoughts/symbols are threatening? Of how what seems to be "natural" to me is but "blindness" to another? Possibly. I have a relatively privileged background; I'm more aware of it having worked most of my life in so-called "feminine jobs" (teaching, social services). But being aware does not automatically translate into grasping fully what others are experiencing; there are still "blind spots." So perhaps even if I had restated the curt comments into saying "not for me," it would have been viewed not just as an acknowledgment that I would have a much more difficult time in processing and enjoying such books, but that it would be taken as being "dismissive," as the poster labels it.

It is something worth considering at some length, I believe. I do try to read more than just my "comfort zones," but damn is it ever difficult on occasion to step into places where the intended writing message(s) is/are "not for me." Sometimes, certain value assumptions I'm presumed to have, despite whatever may or may not be the conscious/subconscious case. Regardless, that list was not compiled for me - it is for a different target audience. It certainly does not represent me or many others.

Entertainment Weekly's "The New Classics"

Link here, followed by some commentary and derision for some of these choices. Since the last time I did this, it somehow became a meme rather than me just pissing on some of the choices, keep in mind that I'm pissing on some of these choices (and feel free to copy/paste to your heart's content):

1. The Road , Cormac McCarthy (2006)

Quite a good book. Just not convinced it is McCarthy's best...or the best of the past 25 years.

2. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling (2000)

OK book, probably the best in an OKish series, but...buh?

3. Beloved, Toni Morrison (1987)

Bought this Wednesday. Shall read in the near future.

4. The Liars' Club, Mary Karr (1995)

No interest.

5. American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997)

I'll get around to reading Roth...someday. Just not today or tomorrow or this decade, most likely.

6. Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001)


7. Maus, Art Spiegelman (1986/1991)

Damn good story. If I could get by with it, I'd use it in a classroom setting. There's an irony there, ya know...

8. Selected Stories
, Alice Munro (1996)

Will read at some point.

9. Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997)

Have it. Read part of it. Meant to return to it, as it's fairly good.

10. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (1997)

Will read in the near future, as I have enjoyed what little Murakami I've read to date.

11. Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer (1997)

Haven't read.

12. Blindness, José Saramago (1998)

I would have rated this higher than virtually everything on this list. To use netspeak, I <3 Saramago. Yes, you may now vomit at that weird juxtapositioning. Should have joined all of this with commas into one sentence.

13. Watchmen, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons (1986-87)

Will read in the near future, I hope. Couldn't find it in a local bookstore today when I remembered I wanted to buy/read it.

14. Black Water, Joyce Carol Oates (1992)

Will read at some point.

15. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers (2000)

Comes close to fulfilling that bombastic title. Enjoyed it quite a bit. Not Eggers' best though. What is the What would have gotten my vote instead.

16. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood (1986)

Very good dystopic tale. Deserves a place on such a list.

17. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez (1988)

Very deserving of a place on this list. Too bad the English translation fails to capture the beauty of the Spanish original.

18. Rabbit at Rest, John Updike (1990)

Will read in the near future.

19. On Beauty, Zadie Smith (2005)

Haven't read.

20. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding (1998)

No. Just say no.

21. On Writing, Stephen King (2000)

Why this?

22. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz (2007)

Deserving of a much better ranking, considering the books ahead of it.

23. The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1996)

Yes! Barker's Regeneration Trilogy is well-deserving of all accolades that it receives.

24. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry (1985)

Haven't read, but have thought about it for years now. Based on the snippets of the miniseries, it probably deserves a higher ranking.

25. The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan (1989)

26. Neuromancer, William Gibson (1984)

Dated work, but still interesting enough to bear reading...sometime.

27. Possession, A.S. Byatt (1990)

Will read this once I remember to order it when I have money again.

28. Naked, David Sedaris (1997)

Funny, but I thought Me Talk Pretty was better.

29. Bel Canto, Anne Patchett (2001)

Haven't read. Not interested.

30. Case Histories, Kate Atkinson (2004)

See above.

31. The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien (1990)

Haven't read.

32. Parting the Waters, Taylor Branch (1988)


33. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005)

More like the year of I didn't give a damn?

34. The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold (2002)

Will read sometime, years from now.

35. The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst (2004)

I'd rather read Eco's book on beauty.

36. Angela's Ashes, Frank McCourt (1996)

Have they been buried yet?

37. Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi (2003)

Sounds like a Persian name for a Persian story that I know nothing about.

38. Birds of America, Lorrie Moore (1998)

Birds of a feather flock together, away from me?

39. Interpreter of Maladies, Jhumpa Lahiri (2000)

Not a bad book at all, but not the type I'd consider to be one of the best of any year.

40. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman (1995-2000)

Will read...sometime.

41. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros (1984)

I actually enjoyed this, making me one of the few males, apparently.

42. LaBrava, Elmore Leonard (1983)


43. Borrowed Time, Paul Monette (1988)

Maybe a borrow from the library at best.

44. Praying for Sheetrock, Melissa Fay Greene (1991)

I'm just praying for books that interest me here.

45. Eva Luna, Isabel Allende (1988)

One of Allende's books I've yet to read.

46. Sandman, Neil Gaiman (1988-1996)

Very good, but considering the competition listed here, probably would have been higher if I had to rerank all of these.

47. World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow (1985)

Maybe later?

48. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver (1998)


49. Clockers, Richard Price (1992)

Not interested.

50. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen (2001)

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm beginning to wonder if this list is for the frumpy set.

51. The Journalist and the Murderer, Janet Malcom (1990)

My suspicions are growing...

52. Waiting to Exhale, Terry McMillan (1992)

*exhales, as a sigh*

53. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon (2000)

I really need to buy this, since I've enjoyed other Chabon stories in the past.

54. Jimmy Corrigan, Chris Ware (2000)


55. The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls (2006)

I wonder if people who live in them throw stones...

56. The Night Manager, John le Carré (1993)


57. The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe (1987)

I'd rather read Thomas Wolfe.

58. Drop City, TC Boyle (2003)

I'd rather drop this from the list.

59. Krik? Krak! Edwidge Danticat (1995)

Kirk? Spock? Bones!

60. Nickel & Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich (2001)

To death?

61. Money, Martin Amis (1985)

Not wasting mine here, although he's written some decent stuff in the past.

62. Last Train To Memphis, Peter Guralnick (1994)

Why not to Clarksville? It's much closer for me.

63. Pastoralia, George Saunders (2000)

Haven't read.

64. Underworld, Don DeLillo (1997)

Would have selected White Noise, but I've heard good things about this one.

65. The Giver, Lois Lowry (1993)

Enjoyed this one. A bit slight in places, though.

66. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, David Foster Wallace (1997)

Writing responses to lists like this?

67. The Kite Runner, Khaled Hosseini (2003)

I'm thinking of Charlie Brown for some reason...

68. Fun Home, Alison Bechdel (2006)


69. Secret History, Donna Tartt (1992)

Might read, but I hear the sequel is weak.

70. Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell (2004)

Need to read sometime.

71. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Ann Fadiman (1997)

Ring around the Rosey?

72. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon (2003)

Very good book.

73. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving (1989)

I'm just praying this list will end soon.

74. Friday Night Lights, H.G. Bissinger (1990)

I love HS football...

75. Cathedral, Raymond Carver (1983)

Maybe later.

76. A Sight for Sore Eyes, Ruth Rendell (1998)

#100 is coming up?

77. The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro (1989)

Very good book. Deserving of this list.

78. Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert (2006)


79. The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000)

It's 2:35 AM at this point.

80. Bright Lights, Big City, Jay McInerney (1984)

Soon. Once Michael J. Fox's image is out of my brain.

81. Backlash, Susan Faludi (1991)

Maybe sometime later?

82. Atonement, Ian McEwan (2002)

Need to sample his work sometime.

83. The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields (1994)

No interest.

84. Holes, Louis Sachar (1998)

Not bad at all. Not all that high level of writing, so it ought to fit in well with EW's demographics...

85. Gilead, Marilynne Robinson (2004)

Is a balm involved?

86. And the Band Played On, Randy Shilts (1987)

Did they suck?

87. The Ruins, Scott Smith (2006)

Haven't read.

88. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (1995)

Wasn't that made into a stoner flick?

89. Close Range, Annie Proulx (1999)

Sounds like a book for the NRA set.

90. Comfort Me With Apples, Ruth Reichl (2001)

I hate apples, so no.

91. Random Family, Adrian Nicole LeBlanc (2003)

Haven't read.

92. Presumed Innocent, Scott Turow (1987)

See above.

93. A Thousand Acres, Jane Smiley (1991)

Good book. Don't think it'd make my top 100 for the past 25, though.

94. Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser (2001)

Need to read sometime, even if it'll likely make me vomit.

95. Kaaterskill Falls, Allegra Goodman (1998)

No interest.

96. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown (2003)

I'd rather cut off my left nad than to read that.

97. Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson (1992)

See above.

98. The Predators' Ball, Connie Bruck (1988)

I'm having this AVP flashback. Make it stop!

99. Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman (1995)

As opposed to Whimsical Magic?

100. America (the Book), Jon Stewart/Daily Show (2004)

Started re-reading this last week. Good stuff.

And sadly, this list appeals to me as much as soggy french fries and boiled peanuts for dessert.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Non Anglo-American SF/Fantasy

I finished reading Adam Roberts' The History of Science Fiction last night. While a review will have to wait until after I get the first draft of my dual review for SH complete (tomorrow or Friday afternoon at the latest, I hope), I was left with a nagging question that I've had whenever I've read similar works recently:

What about the speculative literatures that have been produced outside the US, the UK, Canada, and the ANZAC countries?

I cannot help but to wonder how these fantasies and SF tales are similar and how they differ from the dominant Anglo-American strain. I'm slightly-to-somewhat familiar with Latin American forms (and for the sake of a discussion another time, I'm going to leave out "magic realism" from this particular musing, although I certainly plan on addressing it at a future date). I read Cosmos Latinos about four years ago and one of the things I remember existing as a common thread through many of those tales that hasn't appeared as often in Anglo-American tales is the sense of exploitation, of forces beyond one's ken that can corrupt and alter against one society's will or desire (or often, with the complicit cooperation of elements of those societies).

But I want more. I am curious about those who've read outside Anglo-American spheres, perhaps those who live in countries with nascent or differently-evolved SF/Fantasy communities. I wonder what their societies have produced and if the questions raised by their authors differ much, if at all, from mine. If any know of any sites where said literature is mentioned/discussed, even if it's not in English (I can understand most Romance languages to some degree, with Germanic and Slavic being much more difficult for me), please point me to it. I'd love to explore those works, if possible, in their original languages or in English translation wherever available.

One other bit of personal news

Since I mentioned last Thursday that I was placed on recallable layoff, I suppose I ought to add this bit of an update: I arranged an interview today for a history position at a high school 40 miles from my house. It went very well and the principal said she is going to recommend me for that position. Also, I might have an interview later this week for a community college history position (full-time). If that goes well, I'll have a tough decision to make. But better that than no job prospects, no?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Global Blogosphere Amnesty Week (for Apologies and such)

Jeff VanderMeer just made an interesting post (after reading Matt Staggs' post) about the need to be sincere, transparent, and willing to own up to past mistakes and misunderstandings. Since this is to be a meme of sorts, I agreed to post a few things, serious and not-so-serious alike, in the interests of full-disclosure (and as practice for the semiannual Confessionals I do):

1. I am an inveterate slacker who covers his sloth-filled tracks with posts that manage to avoid reviewing more than a handful of books a month. Somewhere out there, Felix Gilman is threatening a poor kitty because I never did write the positive review of Thunderer that I have intended to write since February (and no, Felix didn't know of me until after I had read and enjoyed the book, so it wasn't blackmail until later).

2. I fear that sometimes I come across as sounding too negative towards this guy when I occasionally get irritated at reading certain comments that I feel could have been explored more at length.

3. I purposely avoid reviewing certain types of books that would tempt me to write more negative reviews. I have nothing against writing negative reviews, but rather it's hard to motivate myself to mention a book at all that was bland, overly derivative, didn't appeal to me at all, and which I'd rather see used as squirrel drey lining.

4. Speaking of squirrels, I must confess that they are some of the most amusing, clever, and cute I have ever seen. Plus, Sugar Bush scares me on occasion, not to mention the rabid, vampiric ones Dunja always threatens me with on MSN.

5. I need to spend less time reading during the summer months. It is almost 90ºF here and sunny, and I'm typing. Something's not right. I need to be brown, not glow-in-the-dark.

6. I ought to be searching for a job right now, but I'm subject to recall in the next few weeks and nobody's in right now.

7. William Shatner's SF books deserve to be read and reviewed by Nick Mamatas. Why? Just because...

8. It took me minutes to get OU812 when I was 11 or 12.

9. I recently told a Challenger joke. Yes, I still remember many of those.

And no, I'm not going to 10 or beyond. These are enough confessions for now, right? Which ones do you think were the serious ones?

Edit: I forgot one. I always wanted to kill a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Does that make me a bad person?

Recommended recent reads

Despite now having a bit more "free time" (to say the least), I regretfully will not be able to review at length every single book that I've read and had things to say. While full reviews of Ekaterina Sedia's The Alchemy of Stone, John Rieder's Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction, and the dual review I'm currently working on for Strange Horizons of Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia and Jo Graham's Black Ships will all be completed in the next couple of weeks, here are a list of books that I've read recently that I would recommend to most here:

1. Francie Lin, The Foreigner (2008) - I usually do not like crime/thriller novels that use mysterious family elements as a hook. However, Lin's tale has so many levels of meaning to it that her story becomes much more than an American-born Taiwanese returning to his ancestral homeland. Lin writes nuanced, carefully-crafted characters, creates palpable tension without sacrificing these well-rounded characters' personalities to the plot demands, and she tosses in certain symbolic acts and gestures that bring the story full-circle by the end of this 300 page novel.

2. D.M. Cornish, Lamplighter (2008) - I posted a few weeks ago about how I believed Cornish deserved a larger readership for his YA series, Monster Blood Tattoo. After reading this 700 page sequel to 2006's Foundling, I found the sequel to continue with the vividly-drawn (and illustrated) characters and monsters, with interesting side-plots, and with a twist at the end that makes me eager to read the concluding volume whenever it comes out in the next few years.

3. Kay Kenyon, Bright of the Sky (2007); A World Too Near (2008) - Sometimes, I just want to read a nice SF quest story. When I do, I like to read stories that have a nice pace, interesting characters, with writing that doesn't irritate me. Kenyon's first two novels in a planned quadrilogy succeeded on all accounts. Not the greatest stories I've ever read, but decent, entertaining reads that I doubtless will re-read in the near future.

4. Alan Campbell, Iron Angel (2008) - This sequel to Scar Night (2006) was an improvement on the characterizations and plotting. Campbell still is developing as an author and his writing does not always match his ambitions, but what I read was enough for me to continue on with this series.

5. Barth Anderson, The Magician and the Fool (2008) - Excellent mystery/thriller regarding tarot cards, Romulus and Remus, and ancient Troy. Anderson toes a fine line between winking at his readers and making the story outlandishly exciting. A fun, fast-paced novel that makes me curious about his first novel.

6. James Braziel, Birmingham, 35 Miles (2008) - Excellent debut novel about a post-apocalyptic event in the early 21st century, when the ozone layer dissolves above Alabama and living conditions there become harsh. Told via letters and personal communication between a husband and wife, Braziel has created sympathetic characters who tell their stories plainly and yet eloquently. One of my favorite debut novels read this year.

7. Maurice Dantec, Cosmos Incorporated (2008 English translation from the French) - This novel was slow for me at first, detailing a fractured world in which the US has split apart into several nations. The mysterious stealthy assassin whose PoV dominates the novel didn't really appeal to me until the final half of the novel. However, once I reached that point, the story took off in an unexpected direction that made for a much more interesting story than I had expected after 200 pages.

8. Sarah Hall, Daughters of the North (published in the UK in 2007 as The Carhullan Army; 2008 US release). This Clarke Award finalist contains the bones of a really good feminist critique of modern society and how women's bodies are viewed (among a great many other matters). However much I enjoyed it, I was left with the impression that if Hall had fleshed out the relationships a bit more, had explored the totalitarian society a tad bit more in detail, that this would have been on par with Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. It falls just a bit shy of that, but even so, it was a very good read.

To be read

It's nearly the halfway point of 2008 and I thought I'd list recent acquisitions that I do plan on reading, but haven't yet. Some of these are in the process of being read, but none are complete:

Currently Reading:

1. Roberto Bolaño, 2666 (Spanish-language) - 135 pages into an 1125 page book.

2. Adam Roberts, The History of Science Fiction - 276 pages into a 368 page book.

3. Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver - 611 pages into a 927 page book (UK Hardcover edition)

To Read:

4. Halldór Laxness, Independent People (6/2008 purchase)

5. Kage Baker, The House of the Stag (6/2008 ARC)

6. Salman Rushdie, The Enchantress of Florence (6/2008 purchase)

7. Ken MacLeod, The Execution Channel (4/2008 purchase)

8. Nisi Shawl, Filter House (short story collection; 4/2008 ARC)

9. Умберто Еко, Тајанствени Пламен Краљице Лоане (Serbian; 1/2008 gift, translation of Umberto Eco's The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana)

10. Peter F. Hamilton, The Dreaming Void (4/2008 review copy)

11. Thomas Nevins, The Age of the Conglomerates (5/2008 ARC)

12. Rob Rogers, Devil's Cape (2/2008 ARC)

13. Paul Melko, Singularity's Ring (3/2008 ARC)

14. O. Henry, The Complete Stories of O. Henry (late 2006 purchase)

15. Katherine Dunn, Geek Love (11/2007 purchase)

There are others that I've received that are unread, but I currently have no plans on reading them in the near future, if at all.

Edit: Seven more books arrived in the mail today. While I have a copy of one, The Solaris Book of New Fantasy, from last year, receiving a second copy (this time from the UK) will probably encourage me to re-read it in full, since I'm bent on having a more comprehensive discussion of anthologies this December.

16. Paul Kearney, The Ten Thousand (finished copy; due for September release, I believe)

17. Adam Roberts, Splinter (2007 release)

18. Eric Brown, Kéthani (2008 release)

19. George Mann (ed.), The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction (2007 release)

20. George Mann (ed.), The Solaris book of New Science Fiction: Volume Two (2008 release)

21. John Scalzi, Zoe's Tale (ARC; August 2008 release)

Well, I guess my To Be Read list will be in constant fluctuation. Now back to reading 2666, currently at the beginning of Book Two, on page 211 of 1125.

Monday, June 23, 2008

At last! Roberto Bolaño's 2666!

Over three years after I read and enjoyed this late, great Chilean author's stunning Los detectives salvajes (released in English last year to critical acclaim as The Savage Detectives), I have managed to track down and purchase (in hardcover no less!) an affordable, new edition of his last posthumous work, 2666.

This book is a mo'fo to hold, though, weighing close to 5 lbs. and clocking in at 1125 pages. But despite its heft, I'm planning on reading this one in the next few days (and nights) and writing a review of it. From what I've glimpsed online, apparently there are connections here between this and Los detectives salvajes, so doubtless I'll be wanting to re-read that fine work afterwards as well.

I rarely get this excited by a single book, but Bolaño's writing is an exception I'll gladly make. Don't be surprised if I write an Author Spotlight piece on him towards the end of the week, as this is an author that I'm going to encourage quite a few here to explore. Might not be for everyone's taste, but I am confident that many more people will enjoy this than not. Anyone up for taking my challenge? Oh, and for the English monolinguals (I'll add that this book is also available in French and maybe a few other languages besides Spanish), the English translation of 2666 is coming out in November and apparently there was some talk about it at the recent Book Expo America fair back in May.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

2008 Locus Awards winners announced

Taken from Locus Online, of course! Now for some commentary:

The Yiddish Policemen's Union, Michael Chabon (HarperCollins)
I plan on writing a review of this in the next few weeks, but I can say that I did enjoy this one quite a bit. While it wasn't my favorite 2007 (that belongs to another Locus Award winner), this one would have made a strong push for my Final 12 if I had read it in 2007.
Making Money, Terry Pratchett (Doubleday UK; HarperCollins)
I've yet to make it all of the way through a Pratchett book (a mood thing and not an indictment on his literary qualities), so I have little interest in reading this one.
Un Lun Dun, China Miéville (Ballantine Del Rey; Macmillan UK)
Excellent YA novel that I enjoyed when I first read it in February 2007. Improved even more on a re-read earlier this year.
Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill (Morrow; Gollancz)
Haven't read it yet, but I might in the near future.
"After the Siege", Cory Doctorow (The Infinite Matrix Jan 2007)
Haven't read it yet, again maybe in the near future.
"The Witch's Headstone", Neil Gaiman (Wizards)
Good story, but not my favorite from that anthology. Surprised that Chiang didn't win this.
"A Small Room in Koboldtown", Michael Swanwick (Asimov's Apr/May 2007)
Haven't read it, but perhaps soon.
The Winds of Marble Arch and Other Stories, Connie Willis (Subterranean)
Haven't read it, don't know when I'll get around to purchasing it.
The New Space Opera, Gardner Dozois & Jonathan Strahan, eds. (Eos)
See above.
Breakfast in the Ruins, Barry N. Malzberg (Baen)
Hadn't heard of this book until now.
The Arrival, Shaun Tan (Lothian 2006; Scholastic)
My favorite 2007 read.
Ellen Datlow
Charles Vess

Fantasy as Genre: Possibilities and Considerations

The following is a continuation of an exercise began in my post "Grounding the Fantastic" and continued with "When did 'Fantasy' begin?," with mirror discussions here, here, and here. Thanks to the dozens of people here and at those forums who contributed their thoughts, questions, and critiques, as those helped clarify my own thoughts here a bit.

Fantasy is a terrifically ill-defined word that can cover so much ground, obscuring it in the process. Trying to write a precise definition is akin to grasp a catfish; it is hard to prevent squirming, wriggling, and slipperiness from occurring. But in this exercise of constructing the elements of a monograph that I likely will never write in full, I probably would want to place it within the context of "play," itself a term even more fraught with possibilities and escape space for those who do not want tie themselves down with very precise labels. However, since such terms are too universal in some of their meanings to be practical for my hypothetical exercise, I then would seek to "ground" these terms in order to make them more workable.

I probably would then note that while humans (and primates, and many other mammals at the very least) engage in both play and also in "dream," the term "fantasy" would then need to be used in a very limited sense if it were to have any sense at all. And since I would have stated at the beginning that I am interested in fantasy as genre, any opening would have to specify a devision between that "stuff of which dreams are made," the "fantastical," and a genre of literature that makes such items the primary mode of discourse. This is essential to establish early, since even without a precise understanding of what constitutes "fantasy" today, there is a perception among a great many that, like pornography, they know "fantasy" when they see/read/view it.

But in the act of creating a dividing line/point, said point/line will then become a point of contention. In order to address questions of why can't Gilgamesh, ancient Greco-Roman myths, Arthurian legends, or The Romance of the Stone (this is for Western literature; for assuredly, there would have to be a much more global examination than what is traditionally done with said writings), for example, be fantasy, a framework would have to be established. And in this proposed paper, I likely would construct the research around the following points:

"Genre" would indicate a popular (or mass) acceptance of an entity as an entity. Individual works that could be construed as containing elements of "fantasy" (or as I would argue, the "fantastical," to keep the waters from being muddied too much) would have to be examined on the basis of cultural mentalité and dispersion. Yes, Ovid and Lucian wrote stories that contain much that we today would consider as being "fantasy," but what about their audiences? What were they reading (or rather, hearing)? Is the example being cited an example of an "elite" or "high" culture, or is it "common," "low," or "popular" culture? It is not enough to cite authors and their story structures as evidence for the work being "fantasy." Said works ought to be examined on the basis of what was being produced at the time - was said work segregated or viewed as "fantasy?" Was said work "popular" in nature and reflect the prevailing attitudes? If not (and I would argue that either the evidence for the pre-1500 period to be either too scant or contradictory), then while said works might contain elements of the "fantastical," they would not constitute "fantasy."

In continuing this exploration of "fantasy" in a cultural sense, I likely would want to do a lot of readings on oral traditions from before the late 18th century and certainly just before/after the printing revolution of the 15th-16th centuries. I would seek to find answers to the question of whether or not "fantasy" as a separate genre/concept is tied to an increased focus on literacy. Furthermore, would the presumed segregation be the result of socio-cultural polarization between the elites (now more literate and with much greater access to written works) and the populace (who still are largely illiterate)? While I suspect there might be, based on prior readings of the period at hand, I would have to do much more research first.

Another topic that would have to be examined would be that of the Scientific Revolution and how understandings of what was around us and how we would approach studying it changed during the 16th-17th centuries. While I am unconvinced by Adam Roberts' arguments in his The History of Science Fiction regarding the Catholic/Protestant split in terms of how storywriting was done, I do think there is something to examining this period to see if there were major cultural shifts not just in perceptions of the world around, but in the value of imagining places and people that cannot be.

A third area of exploration would be that of the 18th century Enlightenment and the backlash of the 19th century Romantic movement. An examination of popular (increasingly becoming "mass" culture with the Industrial Revolution) attitudes I suspect might yield not just a shift in how the "fantastical" was viewed, but it might give insight into how the "fantastical" fused with folklore and traditions to produce something that could be written, sold, and bought as a commodity rather than as something that might have a basis in belief.

After establishing a very broad timeline in terms of cultural attitudes (and separating religious belief from the "fantastical" until at least the beginning of the Scientific Revolution - for European-based works, of course), this imagined piece probably ought to address the form that this nascent genre of "Fantasy" would take and how said form not just incorporated elements from the past, but also included motifs and ideals that expressed contemporary attitudes.

While utilizing a cultural analytical approach to address perceptions of when "Fantasy" arose from the admixture of the "fantastical" with the horative and religious symbolic belief codes of prior centuries I believe to be quite effective in addressing most of the concerns, I probably would conclude this nonexistent monograph with addressing alternate approaches in the context of explaining why I would choose to use a modified form of the Hegelian-Marxist dialectic rather than depending more upon literary criticism, for example, or why my definition of "fantasy as genre" was chosen rather than a broader one of "fantasy as imagined state."

But thankfully, there are no plans for me to do this at the present, so I'll just leave this as a very rough framework (one that if I had truly begun the research, I likely would have modified it in many places) for others to consider, add to, critique, and (if they feel like it) make snide remarks.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Author Spotlight: Naguib Mahfouz

Despite winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1988, I had never heard of the Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) until earlier this year, when Jeffrey Ford praised his The Seventh Heaven on his blog. I regret that I came late to the party, but after investigating, buying, and reading of two of Mahfouz's more "speculative" story collections, Voices from the Other World: Ancient Egyptian Tales and the afore-mentioned The Seventh Heaven, I certainly shall be seeking out more of his writings in the near future.

In these two collections, Mahfouz's writing is clear, concise, and very moving. Devoutly spiritual, Mahfouz's concerns for a universal brotherhood (influenced by the 1919 Egyptian Revolution, from what I understand) did not always sit well with more fundamentalist Muslims. There were numerous death threats after Mahfouz's rather controversial and outspoken support of the 1978 Camp David Accords where Egypt and Israel signed a peace treaty. In addition, in 1989, he faced even further threats after he voiced his disapproval of the fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie for the writing of The Satanic Verses (despite agreeing that Rushdie's book was an "insult" to Islam). In 1994, he was nearly assassinated when an assailant managed to break through the security around Mahfouz and stab him in the neck; he was left with permanent nerve damage and barely could write.

Learning this, after reading the titular "The Seventh Heaven," makes me want to read even more of Mahfouz's works. While I plan on writing at least a brief review of that collection in the near future, suffice to say for now that it is a novella that will linger in my thoughts for a while, as it contains a very strong moral (and sympathetic) message for those who are willing to condemn but yet fail to seek the good in life. Hopefully, others reading this will be encouraged to read Mahfouz's works. One certainly could do much, much worse than to read this fine author.

Beautifully-bound books

I received two books in the mail. Although purchased from third-party vendors rather than via Amazon, each was in "New" condition and for the prices paid (about $40 combined), I consider to have purchased them at a nice discount. But in looking and holding the two, they are two of the more beautifully-bound books I've held in quite some time.

The first is the limited-edition Aio Publishing edition of Ian MacLeod's The Summer Isles. Amusingly, while the book was numbered #274 out of #500, MacLeod's signature did not appear on the page. Oh well, that's a minor issue considering the feel of this book, with its brown suede cover:

Beautiful, isn't it? The next book is a collection of stories by Nobel Prize-winning Egyptian author Naguib Mahfouz, The Seventh Heaven. Published by The American University of Cairo Press, this book is just solid, with very heavy cardboard covers and glossy, coffee table book-like pages:

Hard to decide which of these I shall read first, but considering that I'm also a fan of other stories that each has written, at least I shall go into the reading with the expectation that the stories will be worth reading. And even if they are below each author's high standards, I can rest assured that at least these books will feel great in my hands.

So, what about you? Any of you have any beautifully-bound books that you want to mention here to taunt/tempt us into wanting?

Friday, June 20, 2008

June 17-19 Book Porn

Here are the books that I bought or received as review copies the past few days. Top left is Adam Roberts' 2005 non-fiction, The History of Science Fiction. I plan on writing a review of it in the next week or so, time (and hopefully, job) permitting. Next to it is the hardcover version of Naomi Novik's fifth Temeraire novel, Victory of Eagles, that I received in the mail (same for the other three books after this). I already have the ARC, so I might look into giving it away after I resume working. Next to it are three paperbacks, the first two being Brandon Sanderson's first two Mistborn novels (with new covers). Since I have the hardcovers, I'll be mailing these to a friend of mine who lives outside the US. Next to them is an original paperback anthology from DAW books, The Dimension Next Door.

I bought the bottom left book on a recommendation in the Comments to a previous post, Nobel Prize-winning author Halldór Laxness's Independent People. Next to it is one more review copy, this one for Sherwood Smith's King's Shield (featuring a rather odd cover that is begging for Jim Hines to give it the LOLBooks treatment). Finally, I went ahead and bought a copy of Salman Rushdie's latest book, The Enchantress of Florence.

Should be more books in the coming days, as I'm expecting the arrival of the Spanish-language hardcover edition of Roberto Bolaño's massive 2666 (set to appear in English translation in November, apparently with a large marketing campaign. Not bad for a posthumous release, huh?), as well as some books from Solaris Books that Mark Newton is mailing me. Looking forward to these pending arrivals.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

When did "Fantasy" begin?

Currently reading Adam Roberts' The History of Science Fiction and while I'll write a lengthy review of it later, that question popped into my mind during the reading of his early chapters. When did "fantasy," as an entity of its own, begin in your opinion?

I'll start it off by stating, without explanations for the time being, that I don't think one ought to label things as "fantasies" until some time after the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.

Your turn. When?

Edit: I added a poll for those who prefer such things.

A personal post

I very rarely write "personal" stuff here, but since I let my so-called "personal blog" devolve into a depository for my 2008 reading list, I'll just make a brief post here.

As some of you know, I've been working for three and a half months as a general teacher (meaning I taught all subjects) at a residential treatment center in my hometown area (near Nashville, place unimportant). I was hired to teach the girls' unit and special education for the boys. Unfortunately, due to many things outside of my (or the center's, apparently), the numbers on the girls' unit dropped to the point where they had to suspend the program until new insurance carriers could be brought on board. So...

Yeah. I'm technically without a job now, being laid off for probably a few weeks to a couple of months. While I'll be looking for work in the interim (and there is the possibility of me being rehired next week at a reduced rate to work in another department), there is oddly a slight silver lining for this blog. Since I won't be quite as exhausted during the week (and since this is more like a semi-paid vacation, as I'll draw benefits), looks like I'll finally have the time to sit down and write out two rather lengthy reviews, one for here (on John Rieder's Colonialism and the Emergence of Science Fiction), and one for Strange Horizons (dual reviews of Ursula Le Guin's Lavinia and Jo Graham's Black Ships; this one will have its draft complete by this weekend, I believe). Oh, and maybe a few other things, as time and mood permit.

Don't care for sympathy now; I have it easier than many others I worked with recently. Just wanted to post to get it out, to get the positivity flowing again, and to get ready to write some of the better reviews I'll have written in quite some time.

Now all I need to complete the feel-good part of this is for people to send me squirrel pictures. I dunno why, but I think it'd be amusing.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SFX Magazine has a readers' pick for "top 100" authors

Adam Whitehead of The Wertzone posted the contents of the just-released print issue of SFX Magazine's Top 100 Fantasy/SF Authors, as voted on by their fans. Apparently a few hundred or more participated and here, copy/pasted from Adam's post elsewhere, are those 100, with a few remarks by myself, written solely because I'm in the mood to comment on something after enduring that horrendous Game 6 tonight:

100. James Herbert

Haven't read. Can't recall anything by this dude.

99. Gwyneth Jones

Have heard of her, but again, nothing read by her.

98. Sara Douglass

Based on that godawful Wayfarer Redemption series that I sampled years ago, I'd rather not read anything else by her again.

97. Charles Stross

His style and my literary preferences are like oil and water.

96. Terry Goodkind

Read 7 of his books. Must have been a masochist in a former life.

95. Brian W. Aldiss

Someone I know I should have read by now, but I haven't. Yet.

94. Ken MacLeod

I enjoyed some of his short stories, but am uncertain about his The Execution Channel. Need to resume reading it soon.

93. Olaf Stapledon

No clue what this due wrote.

92. Michael Marshall Smith

Same here.

91. Jon Courtney Grimwood

I've considered reading him on occasion, but nope, haven't yet.

90. Christopher Priest

Enjoyed reading The Prestige about 4 years ago. Need to read more of his work.

89. Jonathan Carroll

The American Neil Gaiman before Neil Gaiman was even the British Neil Gaiman. Don't think I've read a story of his yet that I didn't like at least to some degree.

88. Scott Lynch

OK first effort, weaker second effort. Puzzled why he's on this list.

87. David Weber

No desire to read any of his work.

86. M. John Harrison

Should have been in the Top 10 here, but "literary" works rarely have mass appeal.

85. Jacqueline Carey

Might try her Kushiel series later, but not now.

84. Kim Stanley Robinson

Has his ups-and-downs, but even at his worst, he's passable for me.

83. Theodore Sturgeon

One of the "Golden Age" old farts I've yet to read.

82. J.V. Jones

Haven't read her work yet.

81. Joe Abercrombie

OK to showing promise at time, but needs much more work on characterizations, plotting, and pacing.

80. Joe Haldeman

OK, but his stories haven't really appealed to me.

79. Simon Clark


78. George Orwell

Much better than most of the schmucks "above" him in this list.

77. Samuel R. Delany

Ditto to what I just said. (Edit: I didn't proof the spelling here, but as Neil Gaiman points out, it's Delany, not "Delaney," so I corrected it.)

76. Charles de Lint

Enjoyable urban fantasies, but I can't seem to read more than one of his stories in a month or two span. Don't really know why.

75. Julian May

Haven't read him. (Edit: her).

74. Edgar Rice Burroughs

OK early 20th century pulp, but his Mars stories didn't really appeal to me.

73. Robert Silverberg

I liked many of his SF and fantasy efforts, but he's not one of my favorite writers.

72. Susanna Clarke

Very strong debut novel, with some very good short stories.

71. Stanislaw Lem

I liked his The Cyberiad much more than Solaris.

70. Larry Niven

No desire to read him.

69. Alfred Bester

Will get around to reading him in the near future.

68. Katherine Kerr

No desire to read her work.

67. Jack Vance

Someone whom I need to read at length shortly. What I've read, I really liked for the style and humor.

66. Harry Harrison


65. Marion Zimmer Bradley

Don't know why I haven't read her yet.

64. Richard Matheson


63. Dan Simmons

Writes strong standalones and first volumes to duologies; second half of duologies seem to be much weaker than the first installments.

62. Elizabeth Haydon

No desire to read her work.

61. Terry Brooks

Didn't like the original Shannara trilogy when I read them in 1997. His recent graphic novel, The Dark Wraith of Shannara, wasn't bad at all, although still not a great work by any stretch.

60. Richard Morgan

Written some excellent stories, but I can only take his style in measured doses. Do think he has the potential to write something deeper than what he has attempted so far.

59. Stephen Baxter

Haven't read him, not for sure when I will.

58. Jennifer Fallon

No interest.

57. Mercedes Lackey

Certainly no interest.

56. CJ Cherryh

Will try reading her earlier work someday.

55. Harlan Ellison

Better storywriter than friendly person, to say the least...

54. Jasper Fforde

In the future, perhaps.

53. Octavia Butler

Great talent. Would have been hovering around the top 10 if I were voting.

52. J.G. Ballard

Ditto. Damn good writer.

51. Robert E. Howard

Have yet to read his pulps.

50. Sherri S. Tepper

Maybe soon?

49. H.P. Lovecraft

Excellent master of the short form atmospheric piece.

48. Mervyn Peake

Even better at atmospheric pieces.

47. Jules Verne

He and Bradbury kindled my love for certain forms of SF

46. Alastair Reynolds

No real interest in reading him at the moment.

45. Neal Stephenson

Mostly enjoyed his works, even if they're a tad on the long side...

44. Clive Barker

Very good writer. Need to read more of his work.

43. Jim Butcher

Maybe later...or maybe not.

42. Tad Williams

First part of his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy didn't thrill me. I dropped it and then gave away the paperback copy.

41. Kurt Vonnegut

One of the better authors on this list, to say the least.

40. Trudi Canavan

39. Michael Moorcock

OK, putting Eddings before Moorcock is criminal!

38. David Eddings

Hell no.

37. Alan Moore

Will read Watchman soon. I know, I know...

36. Orson Scott Card

Not interested in supporting him financially based on his ideological views, so no reads yet. Petty, I know, but true.

35. Stephen Donaldson

Flawed, but talented writer.

34. Gene Wolfe

Should have been in the Top 5 at least, if not #1.

33. China Miéville

Very, very talented author. I think he'll have written a megabestselling and creative novel before the next decade ends.

32. Raymond E. Feist

No interest.

31. Lois McMaster Bujold

Read part of one novel, The Curse of Chalion. Rather bland to me.

30. Roger Zelazny

Needs to be pimped more often.

29. Anne McCaffrey

Needs to be pimped less often.

28. Steven Erikson

Frustrating to read at times. Has a great vision and some talent, but many of his stories feel "sloppy" to me.

27. William Gibson

Talented. Enjoyed what I have read of his works.

26. Guy Gavriel Kay

Surprisingly difficult for me to read, perhaps because it's so close to actual historical eras that I know that I want to correct him on some of his interpretations.

25. CS Lewis

Good writer, but his best stuff is his theological writings, not his fiction.

24. Diana Wynne Jones

The Tough Guide to Fantasyland is a must-read for quite a few who seem to equate epic fantasy with all fantasy.

23. John Wyndham

Nope, not yet.

22. Philip Pullman

Maybe later.

21. Robin Hobb

The first Farseer book didn't work for me. No interest in reading any more.

20. Stephen King

Uneven, but at his best, a very entertaining and thought-provoking author.

19. Ray Bradbury

One of my favorites. Would have had him slightly higher than here.

18. Arthur C. Clarke

Interesting ideas, but his writing style just irritated me a bit too much at times.

17. Robert Jordan

Uneven in pacing and characterization. Ultimately lost interest about 8 years ago.

16. JK Rowling

Underrated for her pacing and characterizations.

15. Robert Heinlein

I just don't think I would be considered his "target audience."

14. Frank Herbert

Dune is a classic. Some of his other books are well above-average. Some are rather shitty in comparison.

13. Peter F. Hamilton

Will read in the near future.

12. David Gemmell

The one book of his that I read, I disliked.

11. Ursula K. LeGuin

Outstanding writer in whatever field she wanted to explore. Would have been in my Top 10.

10. Robert Rankin

Haven't read him.

9. HG Wells

Good, but I preferred Verne to him.

8. Philip K. Dick

Not much into Dick worship, to say the least...

7. Iain M. Banks

Only read one Culture novel, Look to Windward, and it was OK to good, but nothing that encouraged me to explore further immediately afterwards.

6. Isaac Asimov

HATE his writing style. Cannot stomach it.

5. George RR Martin

Very good short story writer whose SF/Horror tales (I read "The Pear-Shaped Man" in OMNI in my school's library when I was in 7th grade) have been overshadowed by that epic fantasy of his. I think many of those short stories are better in comparison.

4. Douglas Adams

Talented, funny, but a bit uneven toward the end.

3. Neil Gaiman

Reliably good, but outside of the Sandman comics, has trouble being consistently great for me.

2. JRR Tolkien

Still wonderful to read, after 20 years and multiple re-reads.

1. Terry Pratchett

Never really had an interest in reading his works, but then again, I rarely read humor pieces.

So there ya go, my biases out in the open. Feel free to convince me to give certain authors a second (first?) chance or to argue placements. At least there were 20 female authors that made this list, as I would have presumed at first it would have been even more of a sausagefest than what it turned out to be. Probably would have had close to half of those off and added another dozen or two, but that's just me. Thoughts on such a list?
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