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Edward Abbey or China Mieville?

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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?

Favorite Reads of 2010

by Jonathan 3 Comments

This list I am about to roll out is not about books published in 2010, but books that I read in 2010 and enjoyed. Unfortunately I am neither a book reviewer who receives the latest SF and Fantasy titles (on second thought, I don’t think I could manage to review with the intensity and frequency those guys do. They have my utmost respect), nor am I loaded down with disposable income. I receive most of my books as gifts for birthdays, Father’s Day, Christmas, Flag Day, etc.

In most cases, I’ve provided a link to either the publisher, a bookseller, or the author’s page. As a bonus, if you click on the cover of each book, it’ll take you into a magic world of chocolate waterfalls and phantasmagorical nightmares, or, rather,  a review of the book.

Perdido Street Station – China Mieville

This was my intro to Mr. Mieville and I have to say that even though I read it almost 12 months ago, the images still stick with me. Mieville drives home some points overly much, but, if anything, adds a bit of charm to the whole thing. This is fantasy clad in weird science fictional robes. I may just have to read it again soon.

The Passage – Justin Cronin

This honker of a book justified the hype that came with  it. Dude raked in over 4 million clams before he had even finished the first book (three book deal and movie rights purchased by Ridley Scott). I literally couldn’t put it down. Have you ever showered with 750 pages of book in your hand? I didn’t think so. Read this and you’ll know what I mean.

Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake

This is a late entry. I just finished it a few days ago and am into the next title, Gormenghast. In truth, it was a slow burn, but after Peake sets the table, it’s a smorgasbord of satisfying strangeness. The climax in particular is haunting. What I first thought was dense prose became easy reading. It reminded me of Dickens only more interesting.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

This one also starts a little slow, but holy moly, the book almost caught on fire I was turning the pages so fast. I managed to finish it in record time and then wrapped in a curtain and rolled it around on the floor.  There are things that might turn off some readers, but any story that demands you finish gets my respect.

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

I wrote a post on this not long after I finished it. If nothing else, Bacigalupi’s conception of our world in a post-oil era is stunning. But The Windup Girl is so much more than that. I look forward to reading it again.

The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers

After reading The Difference Engine, I was leery of jumping into this one. Turns out that fear was unnecessary. Powers weaves a potent tale of time travel that starts you out in the dark and gradually draws back the shades. By the end, I was nodding my head and smiling. Very satisfying.

Finch – Jeff VanderMeer

Every time I look at the cover of Finch, I get a little giddy. The whole presentation of the story is superb, from the staccato pulp noir prose to the world-building to the tone. If you like your fiction off-center and a lot weird, this is one for you. If you’re allergic to fungus, get an allergy shot first.

Finch

The City and the City – China Mieville

China Mieville almost made this list thrice, but in the end, I did not include The Scar although I enjoyed it very much. I did include The City and The City because of how utterly different it is from Perdido Street Station. Where Perdido Street Station is steeped in Lovecraftian weirdness, The City is much more subtle. It is a police procedural, but like Finch, there is a fantastic element to it that revolves around two cities whose edges overlap in some strange extradimensional way.

The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe

I include the whole series here because you have to read all four books or you’ll be left wondering, “WTF did I just read?” if you don’t (you might still think that after reading all four books, but at least there’s closure). Gene Wolfe has a way with words. Like Mervyn Peake, once you get into the swing of things, these books read at a nice pace. The way Wolfe weaves everything together is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the series. Get your dying earth on with Severian (the protag). Can’t remember which author said it, but after they read this series they thought, “I didn’t know you could write fantasy like that.”

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Stark, moving, horrific at times, haunting at others. Frankly, any of the Cormac McCarthy books I read this year could be on this list (All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men and this one). The man knows how to turn a phrase for maximum effect and he has a knack for cutting to the heart of so many of the things we think about every day.  If you have children, it’s even better.

There you have it. If you haven’t some of these, check ’em out. Hope your 2011 is filled with words, whether you are reading or writing.

Coffee Break No. 4 – Mieville

[tweetmeme source=”jjdanz” only_single=false service=ht.ly]

“We are all the mucky aggregates of all our influences.”  China Mieville discussing reading while writing.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvFJr-oy50w]

Enjoy!

Update 4/28/10:

China Miéville’s The City and the City has won Miéville the UK’s most prestigious SF prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, making him the first author ever to win three times.

Steampunked: Keeping the Novel Afloat While Surfing the Genre

by Jonathan 5 Comments

Before the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season I reached approximately the half way mark in my second draft of Shadow of the Black City. I’ve got a pretty good idea of the large story arc and have enjoyed filling in the gaps.

Then the holidays came and the writing stopped.

It’s been a good break because I’m forcing myself to rethink the setting and feel, the direction and destination, and character development of my novel with an eye on these things for the next revision. After reading this, I feel justified in revisiting these things now.

I’ve managed to delve into China Mieville’s New Crobuzon in Perdido Street Station. I’m about 250 pages in and it’s given me much to consider. Shadow of the Black City is definitely steampunk, although my reading of the genre is scant. To remedy that, I put a number of books on my wish list for Christmas. I recieved The Anubis Gates, Perdido Street Station and The City and The City so far. I have a line on The Difference Engine from my brother. I also have an eye on Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker.

Is it silly of me to pursue this genre while not being well-read in it? Maybe. However, while the steampunk setting is pretty cool, the story — about people — is what interests me. Soooo, my goal is to have those steampunk elements seep through as the story is told, not be steampunk for the sake of being steampunk.

I’ve juxtaposed my steampunk city, Bogozeçi, with the desert realm of the Jashem. The protagonist, a nomad from the Jashem, has been to Bogozeçi once before. Events force him to travel there again and dredge up a host of feelings and memories he would rather not face. The city will be fleshed out through character interaction there, both nomads and city-dwellers.

Having read as much as I have of Perdido Street Station, I already see commonalities in the tropes I’m developing and the stuff Mieville has concocted. Stuff that existed in my head before I began reading Perdido Street Station. The last thing I want is for a reader to say, “Hey, this is a rip off of Perdido Street Station!” If it is, what’s the point in writing it?

Again, the solution comes back to story. I’m assuming those who enjoy the steampunk genre won’t mind seeing  familiar manifestations of steampunk elements as long as the story is compelling. That said, I’m striving for some originality, if not in the concepts themselves, then in the way they are arranged and used. We’ll see. That’s part of the fun.

If you’ve faced similar challenges, I’d love to hear. If you have any steampunk recommendations, especially in those works that are darker and heavy on the literary style and lighter on the gosh-wow side, please feel free to comment.

Figurative Inspirational Espresso

by Jonathan 0 Comments
Sometimes I just skip the water.

Sometimes I just skip the water.

I read a fair amount of writing-related blogs and websites to help keep me going. There’s tons of good stuff out there and today I found Bibliophile Stalker’s links and plugs post to be an especially nice melange of good stuff. I went from there to John Scalzi’s Whatever blog, where I dug into his Big Idea series of posts from other authors. I have to confess, I was drawn by China Miéville‘s cover for The City and The City. Each author provides some insight for how they develop story ideas in general or how they developed specific story ideas. Good stuff. If you need a boost today, check these out.