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Grab Bag of Reads

by Jonathan 2 Comments

Just plowed through three books in the last couple of weeks. The first two are fantasy reads, but very different in their subject matter. The third book was a classic I was never required to read in high school or college.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale by Teresa Frohock

I’d been meaning to read this one for a while as it was written by someone I’ve come to know to a degree via blogging and twitter. Frohock weaves a tale against the backdrop of the eternal struggle between good and evil in Woerld, a parallel universe that is the front line in this struggle. Particularly interesting to me was how Frohock handled the characters and how their pasts had come to shape them. In addition she revealed the important information in the context of the characters’ thoughts and dialogue and in all cases these reveals were germane to the plot of the current story.

The Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

This good old fashioned fantasy romp struck me as a Dungeons & Dragons-style adventure, to the point that you could almost pick out the cleric, the paladin, the thief and the druid. I definitely wanted more depth in both the characters and the world; it almost read like a YA novel except for some fairly gruesome scenes and colorful language. Still, it was an entertaining story set in a middle-eastern desert city, which I’m always a sucker for.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’m always pleasantly surprised when a classic is a page turner. The Great Gatsby rocked. Compelling characters, mystery and a glimpse into a world most of us only see from afar. There’s probably not a whole lot I can say here that hasn’t already been said. For what it’s worth, there are almost as many flawed characters in this story as there are alcoholic drinks. Between the mint juleps and the philandering and Fitzgerald’s writing, there’s plenty here for everyone. FWIW, there’s no way I would have enjoyed this as much at 22 as I did at 42.

What are you reading these days?

Edward Abbey or China Mieville?


Alright, who wrote this?

“…oil refineries appear, catalytic cracking plants, a thicket of pipes and stacks with flare-off fires brighter than the sunlight. Nostril-prickling smells float on the air, sly and sinister. Factory buildings of rusty red sheet metal, their windows broken, stand next to foundries and blast furnaces with brick chimneys sixty eighty feet a hundred feet high. Near each clanging workshop is a settling pond, a tailings dump, a slime pit filled with oily sludge, toxic solvents, pathogenic chemicals, black tars and industrial vomit roiled together in a marbled arabesque of brilliant, unforeseeable colors …

You guessed it: Edward Abbey.

Could be something right out of New Crobuzon though, eh?

2011 Best Science Fiction and Fantasy Reads

by Jonathan 2 Comments

Once again, I’m laying out my favorite books I’ve read in the past year. All in all there were a few nice surprises and relatively few duds. I’m looking forward to devouring even more books in 2012 before the world ends. Anyway, on to the list.

The Last Page
by Anthony Huso

Cover of The Last Page by Anthony HusoI was thinking about Huso’s setting long after I read this book. Without knowing for sure, I would say that Huso strives for, or was inspired by, weirdness in the same mold as Mieville, which is always nice. Some of the story ran into the cliche, but that was easily forgiven in light of the overall depth of the world and the magic. Definitely some behind the scenes stuff going on that keeps you wondering.

Half Made World
by Felix Gilman

The Half Made World by Felix GilmanI loved this one if for no other reason than the way it takes the U.S. frontier and turns it into some alien thing. The Line is a great antagonist with its massive sentient steam engines, ornithopters and noise bombs. And their rivals, the way of the Gun, a group of sentient firearms that can put the excrutiating Goad on their owners if they don’t do as the firearms ask. This would seem to be the first of multiple books, but stands alone just fine.

River of Gods
by Ian McDonald

River of Gods cover by Ian McDonaldThis was my first exposure to Ian McDonald and I have to say, it had all the elements I enjoy in a good read: ensemble casts, complex story lines that come together, solid character building, and a shit ton of near future sci-fi that is recognizable enough to not feel like a complete dolt, but well-thought out enough to keep you wanting much, much more. Can’t wait to dig into to Dervish House.

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
by Charles Yu

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles YuThis might be my favorite of them all. Yu’s self-deprecating humor shines through in his protagonist, er, Charles Yu. The whole meta flavor of this thing is, in and of itself, worth the read, but the thing I enjoyed the most was the father-son story, the immediately humanistic appeal of what  might on the surface seem like straight up sci-fi. Oh yeah, there’s time traveling, too. I’ve heard that some readers took issue with the technical aspects of this book and to them I say, so what. It’s a great story and the science fictional aspects are merely window dressing that helps drive the point home.

East of Eden
by John Steinbeck

East of Eden by John SteinbeckAfter reading The Grapes of Wrath and Tortilla Flat, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After closing the book, I think this was every bit as good as Grapes, although a very different kind of story. Playing on the story of Cain and Abel and two words from that tale, East of Eden digs into the human psyche and explores our free will in the face of who we are. Thou mayest, indeed.

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century
by Ross E. Dunn

I loved the premise of this book and knew very little about the man or the time or the world in which he traveled. It’s done in broad strokes to be sure, but it’s a nice gateway into the medieval Muslim world from Morocco to India to China and everything in between. Dunn provides an overview of a world we never explore in our history classes in the U.S., but is every bit as important as what was going on in medieval Europe at the same time.

Dance with Dragons
by George R.R. Martin

What can I say that already hasn’t been said. Any forward progress in this epic tale merits best book listings. I was to busy enjoying having fresh Martin words before my eyes to worry about introducing new characters and story lines. I enjoyed the hell out of this one. (As a side note, after re-reading A Feast for Crows, I found I enjoyed that one much more than my first read through. I suspect the same will be said of Dance.)

Towers of Midnight
by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

Towers of Midnight coverKind of the same thing as with A Dance with Dragons. I’m looking forward to seeing how this wraps up. Sometimes Sanderson’s style pokes its head through the story — and not always for the better — but damn can he move the story along.  Things are coming together nicely, new wrinkles are evolving and the Forsaken are getting antsy. Looking forward to Tarmon Gaidon. A lot.

Desolation Road
by Ian McDonald

Desolation Road coverI hesitated to put this one on here because a.) I already have Ian McDonald on the list and b.) I wasn’t sure of my overall feeling about this book. Initially it struck me as East of Eden on a distant planet, but as I read more it became less of that. Basically the story chronicles the founding, rise and fall of the town Desolation Road. In doing so it covers three to four generations of families who live there. I think what sealed it for me was the climax and how everything that seemed rambling early on comes together, if not neatly, then at least satisfactorily.

And there you have it. There are others I might have overlooked, but since I could recall these from memory, I went with this list. Had I finished Mieville’s Iron Council (see side bar), it would be on this list as well. of the Bas-Lag books, this is quickly becoming my favorite.

Hope you all have read some great books in 2011. If you’d like to chime in with your faves, feel free to comment.