Bookish alphabet meme

I spotted this as one of those “put a letter in my inbox and I will answer the associated question”-thingies on tumblr – I never do those because why – but hey, let’s fill it out in its entirety.  It’s relevant!  (And I think it originally comes from Perpetual Pageturner.)

A TO Z BOOKISH SURVEY

A. Author You’ve Read The Most Books From

That’s a tough one, actually. I first thought of Ann M. Martin or those other authors of endless series I read when I was tinier, but, actually, obviously: Terry Pratchett! I’ve read nearly all his books, which is like… 50? Somehting like that. (I haven’t read some of the early ones like Strata and Dark side of the sun or whatever, but, um, from what I’ve heard, there’s no real need to.)

B. Best Sequel Ever

Huh.  Um.  There are many very good candidates, and I have now wasted a lot of brainpower trying to answer what I realise is an entirely different question, because this isn’t about sequels being BETTER than their predecessors, after all.  Just a really good sequel.  I’ll name two:  Orson Scott Card’s Speaker of the dead, which – to me – certainly shines as bright as Ender’s game.    And then Peter Watts’ Echopraxia, which did not disappoint me after Blindsight, which was crazy, because I thought nothing would ever be as great as Blindsight.

C. Currently Reading

I’m in a brainfog currently – it’s an autoimmune illness kind of condition, blah blah – and… I will insist on reading things, but my brain can’t focus for long on the same thing, which causes a monstrous currently-reading pile.  On my audible player, I have David Duchovny’s Holy cow and Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon.  (I like them both, but they both suffer from narrators that grate a bit on my overly sensitive ears.)   On Scribd, I’m reading John Crowley’s Little, Big (about which I will have a lot to say, later) and Lou W. Stanek’s Story starters (I read these writing instructionables/guides/non-fic as a kind of guilty pleasure – hoping it’ll make me actually write things).   Aand on my kindle I’m reading Reif Larsen’s I am Radar, which has taken me far too much time, and Ramez Naam’s Crux,  AND Frances Hardinge’s A face like glass.

And when I’m in my right mind, I keep my currently-reading down to 3 or less.  Sigh.

D. Drink of Choice While Reading

I like tea and coffee both.  Well, not mixed.  A good black coffee or creamy cappuccino in the morning,  strong lapsang souchong or minty greens or other strange caffeinated things through the day,  sweet rooibos in the evening.

E. E-Reader or Physical Books

Well, both, but I’m definitely happier when I get a digital copy of a book, because physical books are unwieldy, often heavy, and rarely self-lit.  Sure, they can be beautiful, or carry nostalgic value, but they’re not what I actually prefer to read.   And a digital book can be acquired instantly by the power of one-click purchasing, to my joy and horror.

F. Fictional Character You Would Have Dated In High School

Ha! Ahah.  When I was… 12 I started writing fanfiction without knowing what fanfiction even was.  It was just that I couldn’t let go of Susan E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and especially Dallas Winston.  It was all terribly awkward, but actually kinda nice to think back on those long nights with keyboard-tapping and 90s rock ballads on insufficient speakers.

I’m sure I’ve come across better date candidates in things I’ve read since then, but Dally is just burnt into my brain.  (And it would have been a ridiculously awful match, too. Blame hormones and the 90s.)

G. Glad You Gave This Book A Chance

I don’t think I would have discovered Mira Grant / Seanan McGuire if Feed didn’t get nominated for award things in a year I had decided to read all the nominated novels.  I had dismissed it by looking at the cover, because I didn’t feel like I needed more zombies in my life.  BOY, was I wrong. I always need Mira Grant zombies, or parasites, or mermaids, or anything else she wants to write.   The Newsflesh books are spectacular, and there’s a new book set in the same universe coming out later this year!   (Also,  this probably made me realise I love zombie stories, as long as they do it right and are about people more than they’re about pure gore.)

H. Hidden Gem Book

Also kind of difficult to answer off the top of my head.  A lot of people have thanked me for telling them about Alden Bell’s The reapers are the angels, which always surprises me, because I thought it had quite a lot of buzz when it first showed up.  (It’s another zombie book! But with a very quiet, kinda poignant spin on things. I’ve heard there’s a sequel out there that does not quite compare.)

I. Important Moments of Your Reading Life

I learned to read early, like, very early.  When I had to commit a small school-crime to get The neverending story out of the library, that was a pretty overwhelming experience. I was a chubby booksy kid reading about Bastian Balthazar Bux and we went to Fantasia and…. you understand.

When I moved out and into an incredibly tiny rental room in, uh, the city, at age 16,  the first things I read in there were Tolstoy’s War and peace  and… and…. Harry Potter books.  Both of those are pretty intense memories.   When spring came around, I went into parks to look at blossoming cherry trees and read a whole bunch of Milan Kundera.

J. Just Finished

Harrison squared by Daryl Gregory,  it was fantastic.   Jason Segel’s Nightmares! was exactly as sweet as I had imagined it would be.

K. Kinds of Books You Won’t Read

I’ve really had enough of “man has problematic thoughts and there is no plot”. I feel like that description applies to… a lot of what is considered worthwhile “respectable” fiction.   I’m also terribly bored by crime/thriller-stuff.  Then the enormous world of romance and erotica. It’s… not my thing.  I enjoy crime and romance as mix-ins with fantasy and science fiction and so on, but it just… it can’t be the only thing going on,  that will bore me.   And sex scenes make me embarrassed for both myself and the characters involved.  (Sounds prudeish? Maybe? I’d just rather know about the space ship or whatever!)

L. Longest Book You’ve Read

Proooobably something Neal Stephenson, right?  Or, well, as I said, I read a lot of old Russian things before.  I have no idea which one is technically the longest.

M. Major Book Hangover Because Of

Each of the Malazan books I’ve read, which is also why I haven’t gotten further than 3 books in the series. I love them and would like to just eat them all up, but I… my brain!

N. Number of Bookcases You Own

Uh, there’s 5 full BILLY-cases behind my back,  with books piled up in double and triple depths and it’s all a terrible mess.  And most of my books are left in my old room in my parents’ house. Physical books, I mean.

 

O. One Book That You Have Read Multiple Times

I like to go back to my first loves, so the most repeated re-reads are very probably Roald Dahl’s Matilda and The witches, and Astrid Lindgren stuff.  They make me aware of how I shaped my brain and thought patterns from them (and the other books I loved in my puttybrain-years).

P. Preferred Place to Read

I read in bed,  on various public transports (not buses),  by café tables.  In a somewhat inadequate lounge chair, in which I usually sit sideways with my legs over an armrest, because my spine doesn’t approve of normal “comfort” positions.

Q. Quote From A Book That Inspires You/Gives You Feels

I’m going to pick a tidbit from Kahneman’s Thinking, fast and slow, which is non-fiction, but gives me a LOT of feels.  This might seem snobby or morose or both, but nothing makes me more terrified or thrilled than thinking about all the crazy stuff our brains do to make sense of everything, and we don’t even get to approve or edit the process.

Our comforting conviction that the world makes sense rests on a secure foundation: Our almost unlimited ability to ignore our ignorance.

 

R. Reading Regret

Ha.  I was a genre-hater for years!  My timeline is like…  age 2-12: Weird fantasy stories are the AWESOMEST!   Age 12: Ah, what’s this. It’s a (translated copy of the first part of) “fantasy” book, it says so on the cover. Written by Robert Jordan. Looks like all the things I love, gosh.  —  You may argue that 12 is simply too young for Wheel of time,  but that’s not the point. The point was… unhelpful translation, and a failure to realise it was not fantasy I found awful, just the…  the WoT-flavour of it.  (Sorry, WoT-fans, I might have felt different in a different time and place.)   After this, I just… boycotted everything “silly” and concentrated on classics. I’m sure it was educational or whatever. I did find my way into magical realism as represented by Marquez and Saramago and so on, which I loved.  Finally people started giving me books like His dark materials   and Ender’s game and I understood how utterly wrong I had been about icky genre.  (I was a terrible huffy lit-snob! I was also a teenager with bad make-up.)

S. Series You Started and Need to Finish

Malazan, Malazan, Malazan, Malazan…!

T. Three Of Your All-Time Favorite Books

Neal Stephenson’s Anathem,  Peter Watts’ Blindsight,  uh… Stevenson’s Treasure island! 

U. Unapologetic Fangirl For

Is this supposed to be something one might expect me to be apologetic for?  I have no idea how to answer this.  I love Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, which a lot of people seem to assume is kinda trash because they think Baen only does that, but, ho, no.

W. Worst Bookish Habit

One of the reasons I love e-books is that, with paper books, I’m a terror.  I break spines and put them face-down to hold pages and carry them loosely in my bag and let the pages get ragged edges.  I don’t really care, but it means I neeever borrow books, and am pretty sick of having people comment on the “dreadful” cracked spines if/when they come into my home.

V. Very Excited For This Release More Than Any Other

SEVENEVES!

(and a bunch of others, but SEVENEVES!)

X. Marks The Spot (Start On Your Bookshelf And Count to the 27th Book)

This is a near impossible task. Let’s look at the 27th book on my Goodreads ‘all’ list instead, counting from the earliest ‘date added’.   It’s William Goldman’s The princess bride.   I read this as an adult who had never seen the movie, then I saw the movie, and both experiences left me unimpressed.  Add it to the reading regrets: I regret that the Princess Bride was not a part of my growing up.

Y. Your Latest Book Purchase

I bought Ishiguro’s The buried giant last night.

Z. ZZZ-Snatcher (last book that kept you up WAY late)

Ramez Naam’s Nexus, probably!

Bout of books 13 Read-a-thon

It’s another read-a-thon, and this one runs from the 11th to the 17th of May – that ending day also happens to be my birthday, for which I’m planning a bit of a book splurge, um, in addition to the cheesecake.  Peanut buttery gooey cheesecake. You hear me? Yes. Okay. I could talk about Bout of Booksbooks and peanut butter and cheese and cake all day.
This post is a declaration of intent, more than anything.  I have quite a lot of scheduled reads in May, even before Seveneves is released.  In my May TBR are, among other things,  To kill a mockingbird (re-read, indeed),  Ishiguro’s The buried giant, Ramez Naam’s Apex, a big chunky book about the black death, some Frances Hardinge, and good grief I have to find the time for The goblin emperor very, very soon.

Ugh, there’s construction work happening directly below my floor. It’s been going on for weeks already and it does not stop.  Right now they’re doing this fa-a-antastic on-off drilling into hard walls, like, HURRRRRRR. BURRR.  — URRRRRRR. HRRRRRRK. …
It’s hard  to read anything in these conditions, so I’ll just… return to building sim houses. For a bit. By which I mean until sundown and then some.

Harrison squared, by Daryl Gregory

Harrison squared Book Cover Harrison squared
Daryl Gregory
Science fiction, horror
Macmillan-Tor/Forge
March 24 2015
e-book
320

Daryl Gregory does Lovecraftian horror, referencing certain events and characters previously mentioned in the novella We are all completely fine? Yes!  I knew Harrison squared was going to be a read-in-one-sitting kind of happy meal before I started. I knew because that's the kind of story this author always delivers - never boring, no speed bumps, and - best part - never doing any trite "Action tricks to keep you entertained!"-dances.  I mean, well, you know what I mean.

Harrison Harrison - that is, Harrison squared - lost his father and a leg in a boating accident when he was a toddler. He doesn't remember a lot -  Or, well, what he remembers is probably wrong. It certainly doesn't match up with the story on record.

About thirteen years after that incident, Harrison accompanies his mother, the absent-minded scientist, on a research trip to New England. While he realised it'd be different from California, he thought it'd be mainly about the weather.  Of course, he's wrong.  So wrong.

Life in Dunnsmouth - Dunnsmouth...! - is, um, strange.  Perhaps especially at the school, which Harrison struggles to navigate - socially and literally.

When his mother goes missing, Harrison learns she kept certain facts hidden from him, though he can't understand why.  And what exactly was his mother searching for out there in the ocean, anyway?

-

I had a great time reading this. It was that special kind of "choosing exactly the right book for exactly the right day"-kind of joy.  (The day was one of those imminent-thunder-causes-overwhelming-lethargy affairs, for which a ceiling fan and a book that keeps you awake without struggle is the only appropriate course of action.)

Who would I recommend this to? Almost anyone - because I think almost every genre reader I know will have some suitable time for a comfortable read with nice people and tentacles in it.  Bring it on a plane or to the dentist waiting room or keep it for one of these bad weather days or whatever. Or just go read it right now, because it's fun.

The illustrated Prophets of the ghost ants – Part one: The roach boy, by Clark Thomas Carlton

The illustrated Prophets of the ghost ants, part one: The roach boy, by Clark Thomas Carlton Book Cover The illustrated Prophets of the ghost ants, part one: The roach boy, by Clark Thomas Carlton
Clark Thomas Carlton, Mozchops (illustrator)
Science fiction
Seven of cups LLC
November 13 2014
e-book

Blurb from Amazon:

The Story: The setting is Earth of the far-flung future, when all traces of our civilization have long vanished. The catastrophes of distant ages -- natural and man-made -- have passed into legend and mysticism. And yet ... the world is no utopia. Technology is unknown. The animal kingdom as we know it is extinct. Birds, reptiles, mammals -- all lost to endless, unforgiving cycles of planetary death and rebirth.

Humankind has clung stubbornly to existence -- thanks to a perverse turn of Evolution. For as the weary planet became inexorably depleted, our species adapted by growing smaller with every passing eon, until at last we stood in parity with the only other “higher” species to survive -- insects. And just as our current society has domesticated animals to sustain ourselves, the human societies of this future have yoked insects to their service. Food, weapons, clothing, art -- even the most sacred religious beliefs -- are derived from Humankind’s profound intertwining with the once-lowly insect world.

In this savage landscape, men cannot hope to dominate. Ceaselessly and viciously, humans are stalked by Night Wasps, Lair Spiders, and Grass Roaches. And men are still men. Corrupt elites ruthlessly enforce a rigid caste system over a debased and ignorant populace. Duplicitous clergymen and power-mongering Royalty wage pointless wars for their own glory. Fantasies of a better life, a better world, serve only to torment those who dare to dream. One so cursed is a half-breed slave named Anand, a dung-collector of the midden caste who, against all possibility, rises above hopelessness to lead his people against a genocidal army of men who fight atop fearsome, translucent Ghost Ants. And to his horror, Anand finds that this merciless enemy is led by someone from his own family ... a religious zealot bent on the conversion of all non-believers ... or their extermination.

Ah, yeah.  I remember hearing about The Prophets of the ghost ants quite some time ago, though it kind of disappeared back in the "hmm, interesting"-stacks.   Suddenly this edition came into view, so I went for it.

Turns out, I have two problems: The first is that this is only the first part of a novel that has been split into several parts for publishing. Not a series, just splits. This leaves part 1 as a fairly short read without its own contained story arc or any, uh, ending.   I would probably have kept reading if I had the novel in its entirety in front of me, because where it ended I ranked it as a kind of "Eh, okay, this could turn into something".   But am I going to actually obtain and read part 2?  I honestly don't think so, because part 1 didn't charm me quite enough to stay attentive after a gap like that.

The reason for this split-up publishing is, of course, the "illustrated" bit of the title.  Looking at the dedicated website,  yes - those are some great, atmospheric images, and they add a fair bit of texture to the tale.   But I have to admit - I didn't really get much from the way they appeared in e-ink on my kindle voyage.  It just felt like a sad exercise when compared to those lovely full-scale colour views as linked previously.  Maybe I'm too myopic,  maybe they're really intended for viewing on colourful tablet screens.

In the end, I just didn't feel like I was gaining anything to make up for the absence of a whole story.

Sad, because, well, I think I would have been more positive about this novel if it had been presented to me in a more fortunate manner.  It's also sad because I would love to see more illustrated novels outside of children's books.  It just... it just has to work.   It has to allow me to dwell on "Oh, evolution shrank humans and here they are now as... ant parasites?!" - which is really just so cool! -  and not distract me with, uh, insufficiencies.   Icky insufficiencies.

Forever Magazine: Issue 1, by Neil Clarke ++

Forever magazine is new. Well, it was new back when I heard about it and bought the first issue, which was… a few months ago.  Today I finally read it, and promptly made a subscription, because this was one of the most satisfying magazine reading experiences I’ve had.  Despite belatedly realising I already owned Ken Liu’s featured novella, The regular,  as part of the Upgraded anthology.

It’s a great novella, though, unexpectedly touching for a… cyberpunk noir with a bunch of traditional ingredients:  A string of murdered escort girls, shady implant technology, international tensions in the background, local racial tensions a little closer to the foreground,  an ex-cop full of trauma and tranquilizers.   I would not have expected to like this quite as much as I did, but this was lovely writing, and made me that much more eager to grab hold of Ken Liu’s recently published silkpunk fantasy, The grace of kings.

(I will, if/when I convince myself it’s okay to not finish every fantasy series in an orderly fashion. Series grate on my must-read-faster nerves, which I recognise as lame, but still…)

There’s a little interview with the author too, which is sweet. It’s also short and to the point, which I feel like describes the whole magazine – in a very good and refreshing way. I like a magazine that doesn’t have so much content going on that I’ll inevitably be bored and skip parts of it.

Two truly awesome short stories follow.

Susan Palwick’s The fate of mice caught me by surprise. It’s tragic and gripping, much like Flowers for Algernon, which it references (or actually uses to spin the story out of).   I feel like I can’t really talk about it directly without giving away the whole thing, but, well. I’d giftwrap this for everyone who’s ever loved a hyperintelligent lab experiment mouse. Um, in fiction.  I’ve never hung out with a real one.

Peter Watts’ Firebrand is… oh, wow. I realise “Oh, wow” is always my response to Watts.  I get really embarrassingly blushy-giggly enthusiastic about his stories, for which I’d apologise, but I think it’s also kind of the point of being a geeky reader, so, blah.   In Firebrand, human spontaneous combustion is a real thing that happens to people because science! and oops ethics!.   I just…  spontaneous combustion, okay?  Delightful ending, too.

I’ve missed issue 2, as my sub only starts at the third one, but I’m going to leave it at that because hey, why not go read that Upgraded anthology I have around here somewhere.  I got it for backing a kickstarter, and of course forgot all about it.

And literature magazines give me strange and mixed feelings, usually. I mean, I can’t help but be awed and excited about monthly issues of interesting fiction.  But it’s the same way I feel about podcasts – I could be very, very into them! But… I usually choose to read a book (or listen to an audiobook) when story consuming time occurs.  This is also why my game consoles are dusty. I try to change it, because more sources of input is not a bad thing, but… books. So many books.   Thus, I love the compact and readable size of Forever.  Big thumbs up.

Wake, by Elizabeth Knox

Wake Book Cover Wake
Elizabeth Knox
Horror
Corsair
March 5 2015
e-book
448

"What if the story starts with the terrible and abstract nightmare event?"

Does the horror get worse from there?

Elizabeth Knox's Wake is a strange novel. It knows that horror can't be horror unless it has people in it and it succeeds in making you care about these people and whether or not they're scared or miserable or going insane.  In this small New Zealand settlement,  there were fourteen who survived the thing that happened, because they happened to be out of reach of - whatever it was.

Now no one can get out. They're trapped inside of a strange powered field no one understands. It won't allow anyone to go through. Birds who fly into it fall to the ground.  The survivors are imprisoned in a small area, with the gory remains of the thing that happened.  The thing that did something to all the people, before they died.

There are so many bodies to bury.

Does the outside world even know there are survivors here? Do they know what happened? Can they see anything through the mysterious field?  Are they coming to the rescue?

We slowly learn more about each of the survivors, though they do not necessarily learn much about each other.  They don't know, for example, if the travelling American lawyer is just coldly rational or, say, a sociopath.    They don't know if the woman who takes charge of the kitchen has an obsessive-compulsive disorder, or is just dealing with fear and nerves by counting and sorting things, again and again.   They don't know Sam.

Even Sam doesn't know Sam.

-

I enjoyed this book, though it could probably have been a little faster-paced. The developing relationships and tensions between the survivors is beautifully written,  and worth spending the time on - still, I got a bit impatient through the middle bit.   Not enough to keep me from recommending the book to, say, someone interested in the immediate aftermath of a Lovecraftian monster event, or even someone looking for a horror novel set in an unusual place, like New Zealand. (There are kakapos!)

The antagonist of the book stays invisible and unknown for quite a long time. The reveal of the unknown enemy is often a bit of a letdown in this kind of story, but I like the way it's handled here - the realistic responses to basically crazy shit.  It really works. (And then I asked myself, "wouldn't it be interesting to get another book about how these people cope after this, too?", and I realised I've already read Daryl Gregory's We are all completely fine, which actually does give people like these survivors a support group.)

And, hey. The cover for this edition of the book looks really cool.  I thought nothing could compete with the other edition's cartoony brightness (I love cartoon-styled book covers and don't see enough of them), but this one fits.

The rebirths of Tao, by Wesley Chu

The rebirths of Tao Book Cover The rebirths of Tao
Tao #3
Wesley Chu
Science fiction
Angry robot
April 7 2015
e-book
512

Cameron is a teenager fussed over by three parents.  His father, his mother, and the voice that used to speak inside his father's head.

As if being fifteen and associated with a grouping hunted by local - um, not to mention international - authorities wasn't already stressful enough.

It's been years now since the Great Betrayal. Humanity has become aware there are aliens in their midst, and most of them do not approve. It's hard to get any of them to value the difference between the Prophus and the Genjix factions, which puts the Prophus at a devastating disadvantage in having to work against everyone when trying to put a stop to the apocalypse the Genjix are planning.

The first time Cameron meets another teenaged host, like him, someone who understands him,  he's overwhelmed. She's beautiful and he's in love and - of course. She's Genjix.  Except she defected when they got caught by the prophus. Right?

...

Roen Tan is alive!  I'm sorry - it's in the description blurb, and evident in the first couple of pages, so that can't be a spoiler, can it? Even if it was the greatest question I had between the previous book and this one.  He's alive, and proving he does not depend on Quasing guidance in order to function as agent, protector, and an overall decent human being.  Despite those who'd call him a traitor to his entire species.

This trilogy of books has been a rising curve all the way - The lives of Tao made a spectacular entrance, The deaths of Tao was brimming with awesome alien action, and, now,  The rebirths of Tao provides epic climax and wrap-up without disappointment.

I mean.  I am disappointed.  But it's the "I want another 600 pages about this and this and this?!"-disappointment,  not the "Your story is lacking and insufficient"-disappointment. The latter does not exist anywhere near my experience of these books.  The former, though -  I just want the whole thing, you know. I want the folder full of notes detailing the entirety of the Quasing culture, their home planet, the other planets on which they've settled, how they operate in their natural hivemindedness, and so on.  I did feel like some of Tao's history lessons in this book were incomplete, or didn't go quite far enough, when he explains how the Prophus are deviants in much the same way as the humans who support their cause.

So, um, yeah, I'd love to see a follow-up book, or follow-up trilogy even, but I'm also very interested in seeing what Wesley Chu does next.  His next book, Time salvager,  is out in July, and I see the tagline "time travel adventure", so that's, oops, pre-ordered just now.

Squealing helplessly

…at Dysprosium or Eastercon or whatever people actually call this pile of books and people. Ooh and aah.

image

I’ve had InCryptid books signed by Seanan McGuire, giggled a lot at Charles Stross, been intrigued by Jim Butcher’s promises of talking cats, um, bought too many books. Got exhausted. Discovered the Britkandic miracle that is cherry pepsi max. The hotel has lovely cappuccinos. Caffeine is beautiful.

Gonna try to get to an Ian McDonald reading before I pass out tonight. And then there’s tomorrow too oh my god I’m going to acquire MORE books…?!