Status update: Accessorize your reading

I brought home a nice pile of excellent reading accessories today:

  • A beautiful, sturdy ice cream scoop
  • A set of soft, luxurious bed linens (even a robot neck can appreciate a high thread count)
  • A new tea strainer

Because ice cream, tea and 3am-but-must-finish-the-chapter are all vital parts of the process.  I didn’t get any cookies.  There is an empty space in my life where the cookies ought to have been.

And this is a status update – so I’ll tell you what I’m currently reading:

  • Yesterday’s kin by Nancy Kress (e-book)
  • Perv: The sexual deviant in all of us by Jesse Bering (audiobook)
  • Predictably irrational: The hidden forces that shape our decisions by Dan Ariely (paperback)

Also there’s a cook book about fermenting vegetables, which is crazy science and therefore interesting (and tasty).

Waiting on: Armada

How awesome was Ready Player One?

The answer is something inbetween the awesomest possible thing and Highlander! TRON! War Games! OH MY GOD.

Ernest Cline, in a blog post from 2012, says very little about the plot of his next book, Armada.   What he does say is,

[…] if you enjoyed Ready Player One, I strongly suspect that you’ll enjoy Armada, too.

Over on Goodreads, the expected publication appears to be sometime in 2015, which is a pretty long timespan for a waiting on-post, but it doesn’t make it any less true – I’m waiting hard.   Goodreads offers the following description:

Zack Lightman is daydreaming through another dull math class when the high-tech dropship lands in his school’s courtyard-and when the men in the dark suits and sunglasses leap out of the ship and start calling his name, he’s sure he’s still dreaming.

But the dream is all too real; the people of Earth need him. As Zack soon discovers, the videogame he’s been playing obsessively for years isn’t just a game; it’s part of a massive, top-secret government training program, designed to teach gamers the skills they’ll need to defend Earth from a possible alien invasion. And now…that invasion is coming.

As he and his companions prepare to enter their ships and do battle, Zack learns that the father he thought was dead is actually a key player in this secret war. And together with his father, he’ll uncover the truth about the alien threat, race to prevent a genocide, and discover a mysterious third player in the interplanetary chess game he’s been thrown into.

 

I think my weakness for gamer nerds and Ender Wiggin-ish spoofs and crazy eighties things is becoming a problem.  Probably a problem.  Wait, where’s my corduroy ensemble? I wish I had a corduroy ensemble.

Teaser: Parable of the sower

The Hands on the Keyboard are attached to a spine and some other gross stuff, and a few years ago they had a spinal tap. That thing where you get a huge needle in your back to draw out some spinal fluid so it can be checked for strange things.  Yeah, the thing about that procedure is, you should keep very still and flat for a good while after, possibly without even a pillow under your head, to make sure you don’t, like, spring a leak or something.  Else you get to go to hell. I mean, you get the spinal headache.  Basically, if this happens, you cannot lift your head because of a pretty excruciating pressure headache because something is wrong with your spinal fluid and your brain is like shiiiit.    At least that’s what it feels like.  It requires a procedure to fix it, but of course, in order to be sure you really have The Headache, you have to suffer politely for a few days first, before you get to wail at the hospital about it.  At least that’s what, uh, some people do.

Some people at least have the good sense to have painstakingly ordered a pile of Octavia Butler before going in for a week of delightful bed-bound dehydration.  Reading the Xenogenesis trilogy is the only palatable memory of the time that passed between being forced to walk through several hospital buildings immediately after the spinal tap,   and,  six days later, sitting up and being offered a tooth brush by a truly angelic nurse.  Yes, anyway.  I loved Xenogenesis, or Lilith’s Brood, or whatever you’re supposed to call those books.  (My paperback had the “Lilith’s Brood” title on a cover that really looked more like erotica than anything else.) I squealed so excitedly when finally her books showed up in kindle format, I immediately bought some of them, and…

Um.  And then they stayed put, waiting, while I read other things.    I am finally reading Parable of the sower, and here’s the teaser this post is supposed to contain (although this is a near un-teasable novel, it’s hard to find a good set of sentences that don’t give away too much) :

 

“Create no images of God. Accept the images that God has provided. They are everywhere, in everything. God is Change. Seed to tree, tree to forest. Rain to river, river to sea. Grubs to bees, bees to swarms. From one, many; from many, one. Forever uniting, growing, dissolving – forever changing. The universe is God’s self-portrait.”

Yes, this is definitely a theology-laden dystopia, but keep in mind, while Butler isn’t afraid of bible quotes, and her protagonist is a preacher’s daughter,  she isn’t describing any traditional/conservative set of beliefs, or, you know,  proselytizing. (To which I am sensitive, and would be annoyed at.)

Annihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer

Annihilation Book Cover Annihilation
The Southern Reach trilogy
Jeff VanderMeer
Fantasy, New weird
FSG Originals
2014
audiobook
195

"New weird" is a genre I've been aware of, and interested in, ever since someone blessedly made sure I read China Miéville's Perdido Street Station a long, long time ago, when I generally didn't read speculative fiction at all.  And it might have looked like "sort of steampunk" at the time, but of course it was weird.   So, okay, yes. I like this sub-genre.  If you don't, you may have issues with VanderMeer.

Annihilation is the first of three little novels, released in a trickle through 2014. I can tell you I will probably read the rest of The Southern Reach trilogy, and may already have bought Authority and pre-ordered Acceptance.

I chose the audiobook version for this, because it was convenient.  It works well in that format - to my fat ears the narrator (Carolyn McCormick) is a good match for the material.  I know others have been a bit annoyed with some of her quirks, but they worked for me, so there you go.  It's a six-hour listen, which, incidentally, is what I consider ideal for my audios, as it's short enough that I don't lose track or accidentally leave it unfinished for several months because audio activity didn't happen. (Audio activity is idle handwork like illustration, knitting, um, Civ V.)

So.

Area X.  It does sound a bit cheesy, but - yes, of course - it's weird cheesy.  It's been entirely cut off from civilization for decades already; No one knows much about it, though there's been a number of scientist expeditions.  Twelve, in fact. We follow the 12th expedition going in,  after the 11th one came back (at least partly) oddly changed, confused, and ultimately dying from cancer.

The 12th expedition is an all female group. A psychologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and our narrator, the biologist.   Their job descriptions are the only names we have for them, because things don't have names in Area X.    The psychologist leads them across the border - the supposed border, anyway, they can't cross it in a conscious state, it requires hypnosis.

They set out to do scientist-y things;  map the terrain, record their observations in the little notebooks they've each been given for the purpose.  It'd also be nice if they managed to avoid being contaminated by Area X, themselves.

You'll not be terribly surprised to know that yes, there are odd and mysterious phenomena and entities to be observed.  There are other surprises, too.  Most of them not even native to Area X.

Now, I enjoyed the style, shape and feel of this novel, but in the end, it's like a plate of chocolate that is enjoyable because of the exquisitely designed wrapping - and not so much for the actual content.   I'm perfectly willing to accept it's trilogy syndrome.  This novel by itself doesn't satisfy me at all, it goes a bit out of focus towards the end, and I feel like the author is just as impatient as I am to just finish this first book so we can go take on the second one.   Meandering endings is high up on my grr-list, so for me, it has a huge impact on how I rate the book.   This isn't true for everyone, of course.

But there was a lot of really likeable suspense and creepiness in there.  I was going to call Annihilation "Good enough to get the rest of the trilogy, insufficient on its own", but that's too harsh, and not accurate at all.    I'll settle for something like this:  Best saved for when atmosphere is the main thing you want.  Not an optimal choice if you're pining for pointy, angular, clear cut story characteristics.

Blindsight, by Peter Watts

Blindsight Book Cover Blindsight
Peter Watts
Science fiction, Horror
Tor
2006
e-book
384

Redundancy and complacency cause many humans to bail out of existence and dwell in Heaven.  Most of the remaining jobs require the remarkable skill set of vampires (who are no longer extinct), after all, or your human brain needs so much upgrading and retraining in order to be useful that you may not be much like a human anymore.

Maybe it's easier if you just had half of your brain removed as a child because of a developmental disorder; it may have removed most of you, but no one remembers you anyway, and it left a lot of room in there for useful gadgets.  They help you do your job very well. Your job is sort of a translation gig, though that's an insulting simplification.

When the aliens suddenly allow their existence to be known,  you're sent along with a team to attempt communication.  Too bad they don't particularly want to talk to you, though.   Or to your multi-personality linguist.

...It's hard - for me, at least - to talk about the characters and plot of this book without stepping over into gross spoiler-territory.  Or, I think so, because this is a novel that is thick with so many cool THINGS; the reading experience is at least as much about the continuous introduction of awesome tidbits as it is about the, uh, story.     It's simply one of the coolest books I've read in a long, long time.   It opens with a Ted Bundy quote, which is, oh,  appropriate.

Peter Watts has been recommended to me several times over several years.  I've made note of it and had thoughts like "Cool, he makes his book available for no money", and yet his name has kept getting pushed back in the to-read pile. (Dear friends-who-recommended: Yes, yes, I will listen carefully next time you say I have to read a thing, I trust you now.)   Finally getting around to reading Blindsight was the result of having it on the kindle already and being aware that a sort of sequel, Echopraxia, is coming.   (Which is not going to be postponed indefinitely on my reading list,  no.)

This isn't a review as much as it's just Abed from Community going "Cool cool cool" with glazed-over eyes.  Do I want to point out any flaws with the book?  No, I don't.   Except for how, if it maintained the density of cool, I would have welcomed another thousand pages of it.  (But did I mention Echopraxia?!  I HAVE ECHOPRAXIA.)

Waiting on: Lock in

Hello again, John Scalzi. It’s me, yes, individual #328955359 who enjoyed your Old Man’s War books.  I wasn’t crazy about award-winning Redshirts, but I had fun with Agent to the stars and Fuzzy nation.  I treasure anything that makes me giggle, so I pay attention.  Apparently, your upcoming book is set to push even more of my buttons.

I mean.  This is the blurb:

Not too long from today, a new, highly contagious virus makes its way across the globe. Most who get sick experience nothing worse than flu, fever and headaches. But for the unlucky one percent – and nearly five million souls in the United States alone – the disease causes “Lock In”: Victims fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. The disease affects young, old, rich, poor, people of every color and creed. The world changes to meet the challenge.

A quarter of a century later, in a world shaped by what’s now known as “Haden’s syndrome,” rookie FBI agent Chris Shane is paired with veteran agent Leslie Vann. The two of them are assigned what appears to be a Haden-related murder at the Watergate Hotel, with a suspect who is an “integrator” – someone who can let the locked in borrow their bodies for a time. If the Integrator was carrying a Haden client, then naming the suspect for the murder becomes that much more complicated.

But “complicated” doesn’t begin to describe it. As Shane and Vann began to unravel the threads of the murder, it becomes clear that the real mystery – and the real crime – is bigger than anyone could have imagined. The world of the locked in is changing, and with the change comes opportunities that the ambitious will seize at any cost. The investigation that began as a murder case takes Shane and Vann from the halls of corporate power to the virtual spaces of the locked in, and to the very heart of an emerging, surprising new human culture. It’s nothing you could have expected.

 

Virus! Terrible epidemic! Borrowing bodies! Even bigger than imagined!   If you’re not already imagining me rocking back and forth, hugging my knees, making a keening noise of appreciative anticipation, you may do so.  Please, add a cat to the picture. Add five cats.   Lock in is pre-ordered and will arrive in my hands on the 26th of August.

Here’s a bunch of exerpts and the short story Unlocked: An oral history of Haden’s syndrome.

 

Teaser: Annihilation

Another classic bookblogsy thing: Teaser tuesday. In which I share a glimpse of a thing I’ve been reading.

Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation:

If you looked out through these areas, toward the ocean, all you saw was the black water, the gray of the cypress trunks, and the constant, motionless rain of moss flowing down.  All you heard was the low moaning.  The effect of this cannot be understood without being there. The beauty of it cannot be understood, either, and when you see beauty in desolation it changes something inside you.  Desolation tries to colonize you.

This is from the first few pages, and for me, it’s the first tickle of “Hot diggity, I LIKE it!”

Flowery, “poetic” prose often annoys me, perhaps mostly when it doesn’t quite match the tale it is telling.  This, however, is appealing to me – maybe appealing to the me who used to be sixteen and lug around a copy of Pessoa’s The book of disquiet everywhere,  but, less embarrassingly, appealing to the me who loved Miéville’s The city and the city a lot, a lot, a lot.

This is almost my first VanderMeer, by the way. The first was the non-fiction Wonderbook, which is a treasure, and deserves several swooning paragraphs of its very own.

Bloglovin and such

Fat robot is on Bloglovin.

I honestly don’t know how to go about finding other not-exactly-professional-but-enthusiastic genre book bloggers.  I have inconvenient criteria;  most of the ones I stumble across are very paranormal/urban fantasy focused, and that’s really not a very large overlap with my own reading preferences in the venn diagram way of things.   But hey, I’m on Bloglovin.

Hoarding: Howl’s moving castle

House on legs!
House on legs!

Howl’s moving castle is a kindle daily deal today! If you actually need convincing, despite the film,  I promise Diana Wynne Jones is awesome.  I read the much lesser-known Archer’s Goon last year and solemnly vowed to always turn to DWJ on growly days, which I may have neglected to actually do, but at least I remember thinking it.    Howl now lives in my moving kindle.

We are all completely fine, by Daryl Gregory

We are all completely fine Book Cover We are all completely fine
Daryl Gregory
Urban fantasy, supernatural, horror
Tachyon publications
July 21 / Aug 12
e-book
192

We are all completely fine, promises the title. Except we're in group therapy.  At least our group is completely fine. Except we all share stories we never expected anyone else to believe.

The former boy detective survived whatever happened in Dunnsmouth. The name of that place tells you something about the tone of this book; we don't need details about whatever happened at Dunwich, sorry, Innsmouth, I mean, Dunnsmouth.  We know.   (And if you don't, there is a good chance you'll find the book a bit lacking, not so much because of this specific reference, but all the common genre tropes and references it employs.)   The old amputee in the wheelchair was the sole survivor of his particular ordeal. His scars are more visible than most; the woman next to him has to lift the hem of her tailored skirt to show a hint of the marks that were left on her.    The young, frightened man is secretive about his special glasses.    Then there is the girl who is not a monster, honest, a lot of people are dead, and there certainly are monsters, but...

I've read one of Gregory's previous books, The devil's alphabet, which shared some traits with this last one: Interesting premise, characters with clear voices, a storytelling style that quietly kept me turning the page until I ran out of book.   I feel good about having three other books with his name on lying in wait, because I suspect they, too, are what I think of as Sunday reads, they way a pile of syrupy waffles is breakfast when you use Sunday as a prefix.  Something that is very easy to like.   A Sunday read may have you licking the plate even though you're full, or, you know, keep you reading only a little too late into the night, because you couldn't just leave that tiny leftover for tomorrow.   This may make less sense than I had originally planned.  Nice things are nice, okay.

I often fall into the trap of thinking an easy read - which this book is, to me - must be light in value, content, style, beauty, whatever. It isn't true.  Struggle is not a prerequisite for quality. I catch myself describing this book like a candy bar because it's yummy and I am culturally conditioned to speak of yummy things in an apologetic manner, always using the "Of course I know it's not a restaurant dinner, but..."    You see? I'm going to work on this, because neither the book nor I have anything to be apologetic about.

So is there anything wrong with the book?  Possibly the story, or the plot, is a bit small, but I find this acceptable because my brain files this novella as pilot episode.   It's setup, it's introducing the characters, showing how they get thrown together.  An origin story made out of individual origin stories, sort of.   A good pilot is different from a good episode, or film, or whatever. Even if this doesn't get a sequel - though I feel like it was strongly implied, and I would be happy to have one - it's still a book that is, well, good at being what it is.  I'm not disappointed.

Side inanity:  Earlier this year, I read Karen Joy Fowler's "We are all completely beside ourselves". Is this the new black? We are all completely something?  We fat robots are all completely in favor of this.)