January is Vintage Science Fiction Month

I just found a pinterest board of 2015 reading challenges, um, which I shouldn’t be looking at, because I don’t really function all that well with specific plans looming over me in the long run. But a month of a specific theme, when the specific theme is relevant to my interests – and bookshelves? Awesome!  Thus,  I’m declaring my intentions to pvintage-sf-badgearticipate in Vintage Science Fiction Month.   I will spend some time on fresh January releases too, though – so I’m not sure how much pre-1979 published stuff I’ll end up squeezing into the month.   I’m going to set a goal of 3-4 vintage thingies. Should come out as about 50% of the month’s reading time, I think.

Just looking through the stored to-reads on my kindle, here are some candidates…

  • Larry Niven / Jerry Pournelle, Lucifer’s hammer  (1977)
  • Isaac Asimov, Foundation and empire (1952)
  • Arkady Strugatsky / Boris Strugatsky, Roadside picnic (1972)
  • Octavia E. Butler, Patternmaster (series – at least some of it predates 1979)
  • Stanislaw Lem, Tales of Pirx the Pilot (1961)
  • Arthur C. Clarke, The fountains of Paradise (1979)
  • Robert Shea / Robert Anton Wilson, The Illuminatus! Trilogy (1975)
  • Huge pile of old Philip K. Dick titles, don’t even want to list them all.

Ha. Know what? The Illuminatus! Trilogy was the first kindle book I bought. (Before it I had read Moby Dick, but that came from Project Gutenberg, so I won’t count it as a purchase.)  And that’s… um, a few years and a few kindle upgrades ago.  Maybe this really should be my focus for the month; shaming myself into finally reading it,  even though I no longer spend much time around the people who used tell me I had to read it.

I’m a hamster, though. Not a hoarder, but I am apparently in an incessant panic state, thinking No! I must make sure I never run out of:  1. Books. 2. Food.   Thus, I have too many books – and two freezers full of food I buy on expiration date discounts.  Let’s just not even talk about my tea cabinets for now.  Or the incredibly unnecessary amount of duvet and pillow covers.

Let’s just say I clearly have my priorities in life sorted out – sleep, caffeine, bacon, books?

Anyway!   Are you planning any 2015 reading challenges?   Aside from this one,  I’m doing a few cozy ones in a GoodReads group, but I’m trying to pick fairly open ones,  because I work up a lot of guilt about neglecting or not reaching goals.  Guilt-ridden reading is pretty dumb.

The here and now, by Ann Brashares

The here and now Book Cover The here and now
Ann Brashares
YA, Science fiction
Hodder Children's Books
Jan 1st 2015 (For this edition - may have been otherwise been published earlier?)

Ann Brashares' The here and now is a book that came to me a bit sneakily;  first, it was suggested for me by means of a "what to read next?"-quiz on BookRiot.  So I read about it, and thought "Huh, that's nice", and would have forgotten, if it hadn't reappeared where I could ask for a review copy.  I did, and now I've read it, which didn't take long, but was definitely pleasant.

I tend to avoid YA with heavy romance plots, possibly because I'm an old grinch;  Mostly because I just can't suspend disbelief enough to go along with some of the more unbearable Soulmates-at-first-sight stuff. This could have been a problem in reading this book - but it wasn't.   The author handles the emotional parts of the plot elegantly, keeping it somewhat subdued, though it is certainly there.

Subdued is an appropriate description of the whole novel; The story unfolds quietly, subtly, in a way that deceptively makes it feel slow and languid - even though the pages turn rapidly.  I enjoy this narration style,  it allows for dramatic events but without waving all its sharp edges and fists directly at the reader.   Some will inevitably find it boring, of course.

Prenna James is an immigrant, living in a sheltered community of fellow immigrants, in New York.  Her interaction with the outside world is shy and tentative - she's been warned against it. Never let anyone get close, never let an outsider know you. Don't get involved.   There are rules, several strict rules, and Prenna knows how important they are - and yet, she's going to break just about all of them.

Because she never wants to go back to where she and the others came from. When they came from.  The future they travelled from was a broken one, all horror and blood plagues, and this place - this time - it is a paradise, by comparison. You'd think 2010 had no idea what was coming.  But it does, Prenna realises; They do know what they're doing to the planet, and yet it continues.  The rules are strict about staying away, but she has to change things. Doesn't she?

Ethan agrees.  He's been watching Prenna literally since the day she arrived in his time;  She can't remember it, but he was there right at the start.  He was there when she walked into his classroom, later on. He knows,  all the things he's not supposed to know according to the rules, and the rules say he should hate and vilify her and the other time travellers, but he doesn't.  He really doesn't.

I'd call this dystopia-adjacent - the nightmare future is there, lurking in the background, but there is hope. There is a chance it can be changed.  If only they change the right things...

Who would I recommend this to?  People looking for YA science fiction exploring other tropes than just dystopia, perhaps - here's time travel and a bit of medicine mixed in.  And if you just want a quiet book that won't shout itself at you - which is a completely valid thing to want from a book - this is a decent choice, and it won't occupy much more than an afternoon.

However, if you know yourself to be quickly bored by the kind of quiet atmosphere and downplayed action I've described,  then, of course, read something else.  This doesn't have people jumping onto trains in motion or whatever.  The fate of the world is at stake, but without explosions.

(And, of course do not read it if you're obsessive-crazy about time travel in a way that makes it hard for you to enjoy a narrative that doesn't go all hard  science about it. Go watch Primer.  But for what it's worth, this novel annoyed me a lot less than The time traveller's wife.)

The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen

The queen of the Tearling Book Cover The queen of the Tearling
The queen of the Tearling #1
Erika Johansen
First published October 31st 2013

The Queen of the Tearling is a fantasy novel, the first in an expected trilogy (doh!), and a great debut.   Those are things it is,  and here are some things it is not:

It is not, as far as I can tell, a YA novel.  I truly have no idea why it's been shelved that way by so many on goodreads. Was it a marketing blunder?   When discussing this with others, some considered the book "fit for older YA" - which is true, in the way that it is also true of things like both Lord of the rings and Hyperion and Moby Dick.  I mean,  older teens - AND younger teens - are not prevented from enjoying books that aren't explicitly labelled YA.  But putting the YA label on a book is to wrap it up in a pretty specific set of expectations,  which I feel are mis-applied to this novel.  The main characters are not youngsters, there are very explicit adult (really, nearly "grimdark") things going on,  and the book's focus and voice is quite different from what you find in recent YA fantasy such as Abercrombie's Half a king or Marie Lu's Legend.

But  the Queen of the Tearling IS an engaging pageturner about a nineteen year old girl, Kelsea, coping with her own private insecurities while learning about her mother, whom she never knew, who turns out to have been quite different from what Kelsea had imagined. Oh, and there's the business of ruling the Tearling, repairing it after a slew of terrible decisions made by her uncle, the Regent.   She must prepare for war with neighbouring Mortmesne, a far more powerful land, ruled by a witch.   Kelsea herself is fond of books - though they are rare commodities - but she's no witch.  Well, the great sapphire she wears admittedly does peculiar things, sometimes.  Yet another mystery.

While the book is littered with hints of the world being a kind of post-everything, dying-earth sort of deal - which I really like - it's still firmly fantasy, at least for now.  But it's a fantasy in which the past has featured antibiotics and electronics,  and the few remaining books are authored by familiar names.   To me, this history of the world, the mystery of the great Crossing, is perhaps the single most interesting point, and I'm honestly hungry for the next book (Invasion of the Tearling, scheduled for June 2015, according to GR)to learn more about this,  and a handful of other unanswered questions.

I have noticed some reviewers find Kelsea shallow and too concerned with her own appearance.  I won't take that opinion away from anyone, but I mention it because I heartily disagree.  As I read the book, she's merely responding to her situation and environment (and incessant comparisons made between herself and her beautiful mother) - in a really very level-headed and practical manner.  I don't consider myself a reader with a lot of patience for "silly" behaviours in protagonists, so I'm somewhat puzzled - and amused - by this.

To me, it's very nearly a perfect fantasy read - it has likeable characters, grand destinies, terrible villains and traitors,  a nice, but not overwhelming, touch of magic - and enough mystery to keep me reading.  It has a lot of the, um, coziness I tend to look for in middle grade fantasy, although, as I stated earlier, it does feature gruesome stuff.   It had me crying a little bit, which is also a good thing in a book like this.

So - who's it for? Someone who doesn't require much romance in their plots, maybe someone specifically looking for solid, young, female protagonists who get to have a story without a romance. (I know this is in demand, and I appreciated it, myself!)   Or, well, just anyone who needs an immersive world which can easily hold attention for a day or two over the holidays.

Who should stay away?  Those people who wanted it to be a different genre, maybe?  Just know how to adjust your expectations.  Possibly people who are partial to the GRRM style of fantasy will reject this one as too simple and, uh, uncomplicated.  It probably won't spawn hundreds of youtube videos exploring fan theories regarding the plot.  That's okay. Really, it is.

Book blogger hop: How much do you read?

Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer
Book Blogger Hop is a weekly meme hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer

How many books do you read in a week? How many hours do you spend reading a day?

This will vary a lot – for everyone, I’m sure.  Normal days have a few regular reading slots, and a bunch of variables like public transport (trains and trams are excellent for reading – buses will make me car sick).  General health and concentration ability too, of course.  On average I think I spend something close to two hours daily, reading. Um. Often more than that,  and often less, but, yeah, it’s a plausible average.  In a week I usually get through 1-3 “normal length” books. Less if I’m reading a lot of different books at the same time, obviously,  more if I’m reading something very light, et cetera.

So far this year – with a couple of weeks left of it – I’ve read 120 books. I estimate it’ll be 130 by the end, or more, because the holidays are prime reading time.  I think I’ll have read about 40,000 pages too,  according to my Goodreads stats page.

I often wish I could read faster, faster! – Because there’s just so many delicious books out there (and on my wishlists, certainly).  The internet always makes me feel inferior about my reading – but in daily life, I don’t have anyone around me who reads half as much as I do, so, uh,  who knows what the norm is, anyway?

Top ten new-to-me authors read in 2014

It’s time to do another Top Ten Tuesday – this time with ten great authors I hadn’t read before this year.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish.
  1. Peter Watts! I loved Blindsight and Echopraxia so much I feel like I just lose words trying to talk about them.
  2. Liu Cixin. The three-body problem was another huge favourite, and I’m very eagerly awaiting the translation of the next book.
  3. M.R. Carey.  The girl with all the gifts was a great read.
  4. Karen Joy Fowler. We are all completely beside ourselves was a strange, wonderful read, and I’d like to have more of it.
  5. Karen Russell. Sleep donation was quite Atwood-ish, but I like that.
  6. Shirley Jackson.  I’d never read any of hers before, eesh! After short collection the Tooth and, very recently, We have always lived in the castle, I’m a fan.
  7. James Tiptree Jr.  The pseudonym legend. I ordered Her smoke rose up forever largely because of Jo Walton’s enthusiasm, and it was a smart thing to do.
  8. Joe Hill. Not 100% new because I’d read the graphic novels Lock and key before, but never any of his actual novels, and both Horns and Nos4a2 were great.
  9. Patrick Rothfuss. Hesitant to list – I thought The Name of the wind was a pleasant pageturner, though haven’t needed to read the next book quite yet. Maybe for the holidays?
  10. Deborah Blum. I’m always on the lookout for engaging (and witty) non-fiction authors, and she gave me what I wanted in The poisoner’s handbook.

Wow, looking over my goodreads list for 2014, it feels like an impossibly long year.  Everything else makes me feel that terrible “I’m old and it’s a new season practically every other time I blink my eye”-thing, but, wow, that month I read the Unwritten graphic novels and The art of war – that was THIS year? It feels like forever ago.  Maybe because, after half a year or so, I don’t often remember a lot of detail about books – I’ll remember if I liked it or not, and probably what I liked about it,  but, um, plot details and stuff like that? It’ll be cloudy.  I often resort to wikipedia or other summaries to remind myself of a book, at which point my brain will go “Ah, yes, THAT one, here’s what we have stored about it” – but I do need the reminder to trigger my own memory.  I used to feel pretty bad about this, but, then again, I read something in the range of 130 books in a year, and it’s just unrealistic to expect to hold all the details over time. I’m pretty sure I remember more about Lyra Silvertongue than I do about my own late teenage years, anyway.

I expect to add to this list before the year is done, by the way, because I’ve got City of stairs and The mirror empire lined up, and terribly high expectations!

Bald new world, by Peter Tieryas Liu

Bald new world Book Cover Bald new world
Peter Tieryas Liu
Science fiction
Perfect Edge books
June 2014

In the future, everyone is bald, and the wig industry is booming.


Okay.  In the near future.  In the novel,  the great baldification event took place about 25 years ago.  After that, the big money was to be made in, of course, wigs.  The protagonist's best friend is heir to a wig company, though he doesn't appear to get very involved. He spends more time making films with Nick, the protagonist.  Occasionally using strange weapons and tools to escape agents from North Korea trying to coerce them into making propaganda films for the Great Leader.

Initially, I was interested in this book because the premise sounded wonderfully ridiculous. Then I heard it was reminiscent of Philip K. Dick,  which sealed the deal for me.  Was it correct, though? I, uh, well, no.  I see where the comparison is coming from, but I don't get the PKD type of "huh?" out of this, though that's not because of a lack of nonsensical events.   Really, an impressive amount of stuff happens in this book, but we don't really get inside of any of it, not even with the first person viewpoint. There's a persistent distance to everything, which by itself is not a flaw, but it adds to my overall feeling of maybe reading only three quarters of the whole book.

(However! It does remind me of what I remember having read of Murakami, so fans of that kind of strange might be delighted with this book.)

Bald new world is a short novel, and a mostly pleasant read. The prose is not what detracts from it.   However, it fails to suspend my disbelief sufficiently - and there are too many events that appear to be of no consequence or impact.  Some readers won't mind that, but it leaves me restless and unhappy.

A reader might be surprised to find that this reads generally more like literary fiction than obvious genre stuff.   In such a short book, there's a lot of room for character introspection and mulling over personal history and relationships.

Where, to be honest, I would have preferred what I perceive as lacking;  the science, the reasons, the how-and-why.

Would I recommend this to anyone? I'm honestly not sure. If I wanted to hand someone a nice bit of weird,  I probably would choose PKD instead, or even China Miéville, or Karen Russell.  Those latter two would also offer the literary prose, in spades.

But - will I be interested to see what the author does in the future? Yes, yes I will.

Uncanny Magazine, Issue #1

A while back, I wrote about the kickstarter for this funky new magazine called Uncanny.  The first issue is out,  with accompanying podcast, and my expectations are met.

Of course, a magazine built out of stories from various contributors has the same ups and downs as larger anthologies; I’m not going to like everything in every issue, but that’s okay. I can still take it all into account when considering how impressed I am by the overall quality and breadth.

The first story, “If you were a tiger, I’d have to wear white”, by Maria Dahvana Headley,  I chose to listen to the podcast reading of. Unfortunately, I shouldn’t have, because the narrator clashed with my ears and probably detracted from the odd story, for me.  But the interview with the author was interesting, revealing a lot of true and harrowing facts about Hollywood animals and animal trainers.     To be fair, I don’t often listen to podcasts, and am just not well adjusted to them.  (This is actually my #1 reason to consider getting a gym membership – threadmilling, in my mind, would be a good time to take in entertainment other than, well, books.)

My favourite stories were Max Gladstone’s “Late night at the Cape and Cane”,   Amelia Beamer’s “Celia and the Conservation of Entropy”,   and the reprint of Jay Lake’s “Her fingers like whips, her eyes like razors”.   (I’m not going to say more about each of them, this time around – but these stories made me more interested in each of their authors.)  That’s actually three out of the seven fiction stories in this whole thing, which is a pretty good ratio of thumbs-up, in my experience.  (And the rest? One of them, I chose to skip, because it just didn’t click with me at all – the others were just oh, okay, and not terrible.)

The rest of the magazine consists of non-fiction features,  poetry, and some interviews.   It’s nice and relevant stuff, but not my main areas of interests – this time around, at least. The piece about sexism in SFF was relevant as ever, though with a cosplay angle which is a bit alien to me, as I don’t do the thing. Unless you count years of attempts to cosplay Daria Morgendorffer in daily life, of course.

My conclusion is:  I’ll get a full subscription, despite already being guilt-ridden about how I mostly ignore my Lightspeeds and Asimov’s and SF&Fs.   Yeah, I know.  I went bananas with these things once I got a kindle, because it made it possible without making an enormous investment just in getting physical magazines shipped from abroad. Uncanny fits in nicely with those other titles, though!

Hoarding: Cyber Monday

I finished NaNoWriMo! I’m not sure I’ll have the guts to even look at that text document ever again, but hey.  It had a couple of nice rewards this year, like three free months of premium Evernote,  and a discount on the “word gym” 4thewords, which might actually help me to do this stuff more consistently than one frantic month every year.  “Do this stuff” as in “writing”, of course.

Then there were sales! We don’t have a thanksgiving holiday where I am, but we have adopted “Black Friday” as a tag to put on a sale that would probably happen anyway.  I spoiled myself with a pair of heavily discounted new Bose QuietComfort 25 headphones. The ones that actually block out noise and “create” silence. I got a pair of an older model for christmas last year, and have loved them to bits – seriously, they’ve been in use every single day. And they’re not broken or anything, I just blah blah reasons.   They’ll be here in a couple of days, I’ll probably celebrate with increased audiobooking for a while.

Also cyber monday! Which is when the books are usually fluttering about at silly prices.   I got a modest haul –  partly because I have already paid attention to amazons kindle deals for a few years now, so I’ve actually already picked up a lot of the relevant books they tend to put into the sales, like all the Octavia Butler and Robert McCammon and Kurt Vonnegut and whatnot.   This year, I got these:

James Tiptree Jr., “Brightness falls from the air”

Ian McDonald, “Out on blue six”

Ian McDonald, “Broken land”

Aaand I got Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow” on Audible.

I feel okay about my wanton consumerism here, all of these books were on my wishlist already.

By the way?  The other day, I wandered into a used book store, which I don’t do a lot anymore, for a plethora of reasons.  The main reason is they’re so crowded and over-full it’s just too hard to browse the books in a satisfying manner.  Also, e-books.   I mainly went in there looking for some old childhood book memory treasures.  Failing that, I alway feel guilty about leaving that kind of store without buying,  so I tried to find something interesting and unknown.   I chose Mappa Mundi by Justina Robson,  came home and showed it to CompanionBot, who pointed to the book shelf behind him and said, of course,  “It’s there already, we have that one.”

Yeah, well.  I have been meaning to go donate a bunch of books to the charity shop anyway…

Symbiont, by Mira Grant

Symbiont Book Cover Symbiont
Parasitology #2
Mira Grant
Horror, Science fiction
25th November 2014

Symbiont by Mira Grant is the second volume in a trilogy, and is not really stand-alone material.  The first volume is Parasite and I'll just tell you right away: Both of these books are instant favourites of mine.

Seanan McGuire is the author behind the pseudonym Mira Grant, which was also employed for the Newsflesh trilogy (and related works).   I think I've made it clear before, on this blog, that I am, um, a bit of a fan. Ok, a big one.  This author writes books that apparently always punch right into my that's awesome!-muscle.  It's awesome. And makes me lose my breath a little bit.

In Parasite, we entered a near-future in which humans commonly employ medicinal bio-implants, as produced by the company SymboGen.  In fact, the implant is a carefully engineered parasite, created to take up residence in the human body and perform a number of health maintenance functions, like muting allergies, or dispensing insulin or other required medicinal drugs, according to individual tailoring.

You'd think perhaps people would balk at the idea of willingly hosting a smart tapeworm, but, well, no. It's the future of healthcare.   Of course all the involved scientists developing this thing were fine folk of high moral fiber and squeaky clean ethics.  Of course.  Nothing is ever going to go wrong.  Oh, wait, what? There's some T.Gondii in the implant?  Hey, in case you're not a parasite nerd like myself, you've probably seen some of the tabloid shock headlines about how YOUR CAT MAKES YOU CRAZY.  It's T.Gondii they're talking about, the cat just happens to be a comfortable host.   Here's a bit of the wikipedia article:

Chronic infection with T. gondii has traditionally been considered asymptomatic in immunocompetent human hosts. However, accumulating evidence suggests latent infection may subtly influence a range of human behaviors and tendencies, and infection may alter the susceptibility to or intensity of a number of affective, psychiatric, or neurological disorders.[103]

Latent T. gondii infection in humans has been associated with a higher incidence of automobile accidents, potentially due to impaired psychomotor performance or enhanced risk-taking personality profiles.[103] Moreover, correlations have been found between positive antibody titers to T. gondii and OCD, Parkinson’s disease,Alzheimer’s disease, suicide in people with mood disorders, and bipolar disorder.[103] Positive antibody titers to T. gondii have been shown to be not correlative with major depression or dysthymia.[104] Although there is a correlation between T. gondii infection and many psychological disorders, scientists are still trying to find the cause on a cellular level. The reasons why infection with this parasite should alter behavior are not yet known.

Just so you understand why this fictional decision may have raised eyebrows.  (I'm pretty sure the author tells you everything you need to know in the book, of course, you don't have to consult Carl Zimmer and wikipedia to understand what's going on.)

Of course, something does go wrong.   Our protagonist, Sally - or Sal - Mitchell is right in the thick of the things that go wrong.  It would be overwhelming for any young woman, especially one still recovering after a terrible car accident and coma causing amnesia.

Symbiont takes us further along the path with Sal and her friends - and her family.  They're still trying to survive the things that went wrong, as well as any number of other interesting antagonists.

...It's really hard to explain what's going on in a second book without going back to the first one a lot and possibly spoiling that one. I'm not good at it.   But trust me, okay? This book has cool science, epigenetics, and SHARKS.    And, you know, as a side note,  the rock solid characters I expect from this author,  the smooth readability, the action and the wonderful, gory detail.   I'm not sure I've ever read another book where the protagonist's head is cut open for surgery quite so many times. In a single day.

Who should read this?  It's sort-of-zombie territory, so a zombie aficionado might be happy about it.  If you're especially into subgenres involving biotech,  or a good old exploration of ethics, yes, go for it. Or you just want a really engaging pageturner.  Or, realistically, you already read Parasyte, you've waited every day since for this one to come out, and when you're done you'll be tearing your hair out because you now have to wait so long for the third book, Chimera, to come out.

You know what else you get to wait for? The full version of the children's book, Don't go out alone, bits and pieces of which is scattered through the Parasitology books.  The author said - on her tumblr, as I recall - that she already wrote the whole thing. I don't know if a publisher has grabbed onto it yet, but they will. I want to believe.

The broken doors are open.