1. The Witches of Karres – James H. Schmitz. A fun little Space Opera novel. Captain Pausert is your typical rogue with a heart of gold starship captain, long on luck, short on credits. He rescues a trio of slave girls and is soon caught up in a series of adventures. It’s a light-hearted book that gets more than a little wonderful in places. Occasionally it has a sour note (mostly of the precocious teenage girl that flirts with an older man that resembles her father variety), but there’s also much to love: monstrous planets, spider-robot assassins, weird world building, etc.
2. Fury – Henry Kuttner. Classic science fiction of the egomaniacal supermen and the ballgown-wearing women who love them variety. Deliriously fun. Weird narcotics, crime, murder, and mayhem all in the name of progress because man’s destiny is to rule the stars!
3. A Stranger in Olondria – Sofia Samatar. An amazingly rich and textured fantasy novel about a young scholar’s attempt to free himself from a ghost. There’s a lush world to get lost in here, of history and story, without any bloated POV immediacy or tedious door opening. It reminded me of the best bits of Jan Potocki’s Saragossa Manuscript. Read it.
4. Snitch World – Jim Nisbet. A small time crook collides with amoral dot-com venture capitalists in modern day San Francisco. What plot there is focuses largely on a top secret under development phone app, but the real entertainment is in Nisbet’s prose and vivid depiction of San Francisco. An enjoyable book, both funny and sad in a “Those days are gone, but the people live on” kind of way. Folks who have lived in San Francisco may also get an extra kick out of it.
5. God Save the Mark – Donald E. Westlake. A comedy of errors dressed up as a noir novel and populated with hard-nosed cops, femme fatales, and con artists, all of whom are out to get the most gullible man in Greenwich Village. An entertaining book.
6. An Artist of the Floating World – Kazou Ishiguro. A short, bitter-sweet novel about an elderly Japanese man coming to terms with life in post-war Japan. The narrator shies away from the crux of his problem, and the reader is left to surmise via oblique plotting what it is he did in his past that he’s so ashamed of now. It never quite matches The Remains of the Day, but the moments when it is good are very good indeed.
7. Nobody Move – Denis Johnson. A bit of a whirlwind ride as lowlives and petty crooks maneuver and manipulate each other for revenge, kicks, and greed. Johnson tips his hat to the masters, and noir and thriller fans will find enough here to keep them satisfied. It reminded me a lot of Jim Thompson’s The Getaway.
8. The Status Civilization – Robert Sheckley. It’s 1950s SF in the hip mode (think Bester and Pohl) with one of those What-If planetary monoculture set-ups. What if a world was populated by mental patients? What if a world was populated by Medieval re-enactors? In this case it’s What if there was a prison world where evil was considered good? It’s dopey, not completely Bizarro World, but certainly not The Dispossessed either – and every now and then the satire’s quite nicely sharp and pointed.
9. American Gods – Neil Gaiman. Overwritten and much of the first half is a drive-to-the-plot plot, that morphs a bit late into the picaresque, which sadly stops just as it hits it stride and becomes a sit-and-wait-for-the-plot-to-happen plot. It’s also written in that let-me-describe-everything-to-you style that makes good 60,000 word novels into shitty 120,000 word novels. Would I have liked this book more if I hadn’t already have read tons of Chesterton, Leiber, Barker, etc. couldn’t see the lineages of the book’s ideas? But would I have read Chesterton if I hadn’t read Sandman as a weird comic-reading teen nerd? That’s the question.
Last Dragon – J.M. McDermott
A strange bit of epic fantasy that’s ambitious in style but lacks a certain cohesion, so there are parts I enjoyed but other parts that didn’t quite click together. That said, it was certainly refreshing to read secondary world epic fantasy that wasn’t simply one damn thing after another for six hundred plus pages. This reminded me a bit of Peter Beagle’s Innkeeper’s Song. That didn’t in any way attempt to be epic. This did and suffered for it, but still was a curious and enjoyable read.
War Fever – J.G. Ballard
A much more varied and better collection (IMO) than Vermillion Sands, Ballard’s work in the 1980s had all the joy of a buzzard tearing into the rotting guts of wildebeest. My favorite story would definitely be “A Secret History of World War 3”, but there are plenty of others to enjoy.
The Best of All Possible Worlds – Karen Lord
An advanced interstellar civilization must survive and adapt on one of their colony/client planet’s after a disaster destroys their home world. Classic Space Opera that reads like a season of Star Trek where Ursula K. LeGuin served as head writer. I enjoyed it.
The Werewolf of Paris – Guy Endore
A mélange of scandal and horror (S&M, rape, incest, cannibalism, etc.) mixed with the scolding tone of propriety, set amid some bastardized Victor Hugo meets the Marquis De Sade French backdrop.
I started grad school and am much busier this year than I have been in a while. The blog is likely to be the least of my priorities.
Here’s the book list for last month:
Alchemy and Alchemists – C.J.S. Thompson
Interesting and esoteric the best chapters are full of anecdotes from the lives of various alchemists.
Trafalgar – Angelica Gorodischer
Reads a bit like sitting in a cafe with your grandmother’s youngest brother, the great uncle that traveled everywhere and never seems to stop smoking, drinking coffee, or holding your interest with the accounts of his adventures.
Fremder – Russell Hoban
This book is a beautiful sloppy mess of Science Fiction. It’s one of those books I can crack open at random and just get hit by the prose all over again all. Dig:
“Maybe for some people the business of knowing who and what and when and where they are is simple; not for me. The past and the present flicker together in my mind and it isn’t easy to sort through the different strands of story to find one that is only mine.”
“A373 and Badr al-Budur are two of the quiet places in my head. I like sometimes to think of Pearl speaking in my mother’s voice under the red Isis moon and I like to think of the robot sweepers humming through the silence of the spaceport under the noctolux lamps of Badru.”
The Company – K.J. Parker
Ugh. A hard slog. There are parts of Parker’s fiction I really like, and parts I hate. Everyone ends up having a secret and whichever secret winds up being important to the plot hardly matters (or I could care less). In between the whole story is shown in a matter-of-fact fashion where everything, past, future, interior, exterior has the same emotional weight and the whole novel loses its intensity. Maybe if it were 100 pages shorter, it would actually read like a novel.
Cogan’s Trade – George V. Higgins
An obliquely plotted crime novel with well-observed details and crackling dialogue. The ability for so many people to say so little while saying so much is amazing. Especially interesting of your family is like mine and enjoys playing six degrees of Whitey Bulger.
Ammonite – Nicola Griffith.
Loved it. The book’s a “classic” SF adventure story mixed with interesting world building of the LeGuin sort. A fun read.
The Queen, The Cambion, and Seven Others – Richard Bowes
A great collection of modern fantasy stories and warped fairy tales with Arthur and his Knights, Merlin and Queen Victoria, animal helpers, and the Kingdom Under the Hill – all are here and familiar, but subverted in interesting and refreshing ways. Definitely recommended.
The Enemy Within: A Short History of Witch-Hunting – John Demos
A decent overview of “witch-hunting” from Roman times up to the 1980s with a focus on Europe and America and lots of details on the Colonial era “witch-hunts”. Demos uses the term “witch-hunt” in a particular way, so brings up the various Red Scares in US history and the day care scandals of the 1980s. An enjoyable read if you’re into that sort of thing.
1. Temporary Agency – Rachel Pollack
I enjoyed this from start to finish. Set in an alternate modern day New York City sometime after a neo-pagan revolution brings Bright Ones into the world, it’s a fun read that’s also a bit gross when the angels start making people tear their own skins off. Best of all the book is short, and I appreciate that.
2. Dagon – Fred Chappell
Weird, frustrating, and more than a little bit terrifying this 1968 literary novel attempts to recast the Lovecraft mythos in the mode of the Southern Gothic. It works but it’s not a pleasant ride.
3. The Desert of Souls – Howard Andrew Jones
Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser meet Holmes and Watson in 12th century Baghdad. Dig it.
4. Lois the Witch and Other Stories – Elizabeth Gaskell
More suspense than horror these stories mix Victorian morality with grim almost true crime realism. Supernatural things occur, but more often than not it’s simply circumstance that doom these stories’ protagonists.
5. Maze of Shadows – Fred Chappell (a novella)
I love Chappell’s “shadow master” stories in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. They’re a delicious mash of Vance and Dunsany (in his Shadow Valley mode). This one was another good one.
6. In A Lonely Place – Dorothy B. Hughes
A grim pulp novel about a rapist serial killer stalking 1940s LA reprinted in 2003 by a feminist press. A friend called this Jim Thompson without the laughs, and he was right.
7. Scattered Among Strange Worlds – Aliette De Bodard
Contains two stories “Scattered Along the River of Heaven” and “Exodus Tides”. Both are good stories, but “Scattered…” is a favorite from last year.
1. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2. The Dog of the South by Charles Portis
3. Available Dark: A Crime Novel by Elizabeth Hand
4. Red Shift by Alan Garner
5. Linger Awhile by Russell Hoban
6. Fair Play by Tove Jansson
7. The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
8. Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
9. Engine Summer by John Crowley
10. The Trouble With Testosterone and Other Essays on the Biology of the Human Predicament by Robert M. Sapolsky
11. Bullettime by Nick Mamatas
12. Your Brain At Work by David Rock
13. The Passion by Jeanette Winterson
14. In the Enclosure by Barry N. Malzberg