A slow reading month – I started and stopped a few books. Here are the ones I finished.
1. Finch – Jeff VanderMeer
A detective thriller unlike all others set in Ambergris a city unlike any other.
Detective John Finch works for the Gray Caps, the sentient fungi occupiers of Ambergris, and is sent to investigate a double murder amid a fractured city full of rival factions and loyalties. Finch is atmospheric and strange where the fantastic subsumes the detective genre.
2. Indoctrinaire – Christopher Priest
Priest’s first novel and it reads as such. It’s also very much a product of the 1960s so there’s drug use, paranoia, government coercion, and looming nuclear war all over the horizon. Indoctrinaire reads a bit similar to JG Ballard’s stuff from the same era, but it’s not as good.
3. Rapture (The Bel Dame Apocrypha #3) – Kameron Hurley
If my reaction to finishing the 2nd book in aseries is to immediately seek out and start book 3, you know the author’s doing something right. The Bel Dame Apocrypha have been some of my favorite books of recent years, and the series ends as messed up as it begins, but with enough closure to be satisfying. It’s also nice to see an author not closing down a setting just because the series is over. Instead Rapture ends with a much larger world being revealed.
Last week I spent over a quarter of a million Korean dollars on books. It’s actually only about 400 USD, but it sounds cooler as a quarter of a million bucks. At the time I quipped that this only increased the likelihood of my opening a bookstore café here in South Korea, because eventually we will have too many books and what else am I going to do?
Have you ever read Lavie Tidhar’s Osama?
It’s a great pulpy novel, but I’m not sure if my amazement of it is transferable to others unless you’ve lived overseas as an expat.*
“Alfred was a man full of stories; now he filled his life with those of others, the small shop filled with worn and battle-weary books that had seen more of the world in their time, he liked to say, than he had and, like himself, had finally come to rest, for a while at least.”
It might be hard to get unless you’ve absorbed that ambiance of random books hoofed into a foreign country and left behind by carefree, downsizing backpackers, of going into a bar or burger joint and seeing if they have a shelf of cast-off Penguin classics, or maybe you’ve had a mental conversation like this one my buddy Gord Sellar outlined:
“Huh, well, I suppose I could read some Tom Clancy, since this Alvin Toffler looks a little like a retread of his last book, and I’m not interested in the bodice ripper. I wish whoever bought the books I brought for trade-in would bring in a few of theirs so I’d have something to buy.”
It’s a world made of cast-offs. You find yourself reading anything you can find. And you’re reminded by how disposable books are (unless you’ve lived in a big city where you can regularly find books tossed out in the trash). They’re what most people leave behind when they divest themselves of access baggage.
Every city that boasts a marginally sized English speaking expat community will slowly start to accumulate books. Whether in a bar or a café, you’ll find a shelf. Tired old paperbacks, the hip authors from the decade before, the disposable pulp novels, and the ones someone read to improve themselves. Stuff you never knew existed like the works of Stephen Leather or the foreign to you analogs. (Quick, who is Australia’s answer to Michael Chabon? Australians, no helping.)
And if you’re a reader what happens? You accumulate more, and think, maybe I should consolidate the cast offs. Maybe I should be the person with the shelf instead of the shitty frathouse bar. And since I’m at it, I’ll make it a nice place to hang out. Maybe let people tutor here or get a cup of coffee.
And that’s how it happens.
Another English language bookstore gets born.
* I recognize expat is a loaded term. Right now my definition is an expat lives in a foreign country expecting to leave it at some point. An immigrant lives in a foreign country with the expectation of settling there. And there’s likely overlap between the two.
My story “Shadows Under Hexmouth Street” is in this year’s Best of Beneath Ceaseless Skies. You can read more about the anthology here, including where you can buy it for the e-reader of your choice. I’m pretty stoked to be sharing space with Chris Willrich, Kat Howard, Tom Crosshill, and Yoon Ha Lee.
Give it a shot, and maybe you’ll push the download count up into the triple digits.
I remember reading the opening of this weird SFF book back in high school where a guy’s kidnapped from the present and imprisoned in the future for a crime no one will tell him about. I never finished it. The thing I remember is the guy being interrogated at a table that had a holographic hand hovering above it. Anyway I set the book down or lost it or whatever, and probably couldn’t have told you who had written it – until today when I started reading Indoctrinaire by Christopher Priest. That’s the book. I’m not sure how it found me here in South Korea.
Patricia Anthony died last month, and for whatever reason the word has only been released now.
Anthony published a number of SF books throughout the 90s that read like grimmer versions of Philip K. Dick novels: deceptively easy to read, but grueling in style or subject matter. For an example of one of these check out Brother Termite. She later drifted away from SF in disappointment and took to writing screenplays. Supposedly there are a few unpublished novels that may or may not see the light of day.
One of my favorite reads from recent years was Anthony’s Flanders, a World War 1 magic realist novel that it’s a bit like Goodbye to All That mixed with the Last Temptation of Christ. That’s actually a rather dumb description, but the book was a delight to read. Both funny and horrifying.
“I was having a good sit-down myself, not the yellow squirt I get when the water’s bad, nor the dark goat-turd pebbles I get when the food’s not plentiful enough. No, this was a great, glorious golden cigar of a turd that felt fine and upstanding coming out, a British sort of turd. Major Dunn would have pinned a medal on it.”
Yeah, it’s a quote about poop. So what? It occurs in the middle of a book featuring trench warfare. When it happens the main character has seen some bad shit (pun intended), and the fact that he can still be pleased and make a joke about crapping hits you like a punch in the gut. You’re laughing, but there’s something more going on. You actually feel happy for the guy.
It’s a shame she’s gone.
It was staycation. Here are the books I read on the couch.
1. Infidel (The Bel Dame Apocrypha #2) – Kameron Hurley
The Bel Dame Apocrypha has been my favorite SFF series from recent years. The books are an amazing blend of assassins, shape shifters, pistol-packing magicians, and giant insects on some sad sack, craptastic, hellscape planet. They have great world building and a great cast of characters, and I say both those things as someone who hates in-depth world building and large casts of characters.
2. The Record of a Quaker Conscience – Cyrus Pringle
Pringle was a Quaker and objected to the Civil War on religious grounds, refusing to pay anyone to be his substitute upon being drafted. He refused to fight and was sent to prison on one of the islands in Massachusetts Bay. Later he got moved down to Virginia where he ended being tortured. His case and that of his companions would reach Lincoln and he would excuse them from service. Later, Pringle would go on to become a renowned botanist making expeditions into the American South-West. The book is available via Project Gutenberg and you can read about Pringle on wikipedia.
3. Sword of Fire and Sea (Chaos Knight Book #1) – Erin Hoffman
An enjoyable summertime read that reminded me a lot of the enjoyable summertime reads of my youth. It’s secondary world fantasy with elemental magic, gryphons, and stalwart sea captains. Also Hoffman can summarize action so you don’t have to be led about by the hand.
4. Poets in a Landscape – Gilbert Highet
A series of biographies of Roman poets mixed with an Italian travel guide circa 1957. Highet’s a classicist of the urbane over-educated type, but he has a passionate love of his subject, an inviting style, and the ability to share why he feels so passionate about his subject matter. Plus, he gives the occasional “fuck yeah, books!” battle cry that I love. An example:
“History is a strange experience. The world is quite small now; but history is large and deep. Sometimes you can go much farther by sitting in your own home and reading a book of history, than by getting onto a ship or an airplane and traveling a thousand miles. When you go to Mexico City through space, you find it a sort of cross between modern Madrid and modern Chicago, with additions of its own; but if you go to Mexico City through history, back only 500 years, you will find it as distant as though it were on another planet”
“These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves. From each of them goes out its own voice, as inaudible as the streams of sound conveyed by electric waves beyond the range of our hearing; and just as the touch of button on our stereo will fill the room with music, so by opening one of these volumes, one can call into range a voice far distant in time and space, and hear it speaking, mind to mind, heart to heart.”
5. A Pretty Mouth – Molly Tanzer
A collection of horror stories documenting the history of the decadent Calipash family. It can be read as a novel or historical inquiry, and while the stories might begin as pastiche, they rise above their source materials by subverting and playing irreverently with them. I definitely recommend it. It reminded me of Caitlin Keirnan’s Dandridge Cycle of stories.
6. Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness – Edward Abbey
Great nature writing by a combative anarchist misanthrope, Abbey mixes an outdoorsman’s contradictory elitism (more people need to see nature – tourists ruin nature) with a poet’s eye, while reveling in the simple necessities of being a living and highly fallible creature on this ball of dirt we call home.
7. Memory – Linda Nagata
I totally enjoyed this book. It’s set in a world that might be a computer simulation, but also might not be since it’s set far enough in the future that the words they use to describe their existence might not completely match our definition for those words. It’s an adventure story about a young woman searching for her brother in a world haunted by a strange mist that reshapes the land each and every night.