Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Ian McDonald Interview

This winter, River of Gods was my introduction to Ian McDonald and I have to say, I was blown away. Here’s what Christopher Priest at The Guardian had to say:

In terms of ideas, intellectual scope, detail, inventiveness, risk-taking and sheer scale, McDonald’s novel is one of the most ambitious I have read in recent years. It is also a staggering achievement, brilliantly imagined and endlessly surprising, the characters intriguing and psychologically convincing, their dialogue brisk and naturalistic, the grasp of Indian customs and nuances impressive, the sex scenes unusually spicy, the politics subtle and plausible, and much else besides.

However (and there is often a “however”, even in the most friendly of reviews), this is not the totality of the book. Everything above is true, and truly meant, but it also has to be said that River of Gods is fiendishly difficult to follow. From the outset the reader is thrown into a tautly described and enormously complicated mise en scène, with little help to find the way.

Personally I like my fiction a bit challenging. I like following along as it unfolds and the “aha” moment when everything comes together. Since River of Gods, I purchased Brasyl as a gift for my father and I received Desolation Road as a birthday gift. I’m looking forward to digging into that real soon. As I do with many authors I discover I enjoy, I turned to YouTube to see if I could find any nuggets worth passing on and I found this:

I like his comment on steampunk and what his willingness to mash up cyberpunk with Indian Bollywood culture to see what would happen. There’s actually a second part of this interview here.

If you haven’t read anything by McDonald, I urge you to give him a try. If you have, then you’re probably nodding your head. If that’s the case, then chime in with your fave Ian McDonald book.

I may just have to put down Ishmael and crack open Desolation Road tonight.


06 2011

More Reading about Writing

There was a time when I couldn’t get enough of reading about writing — blogs, books, magazines, graffiti, you name it, I read it. The blogs and web pages I’ve subscribed to over the last two years have changed as my needs have changed.

I have a host of helpful writer sites on my reader that, where I used to pore over each article, I now skim the titles reading them only occasionally. I also subscribe to book review sites, but even those I’ve taken to browsing.

Of the stack of writing books I own, there are some I return to time and again, but only as references. Sometimes I’ll revisit others and they’ll seem like part of my past, like thumbing through old college notebooks that hold less meaning than they once did.

I still do enjoy reading about the craft, but I think I’ gravitating more toward authors’ perspectives than foundational stuff. I like finding out how and why authors came to be.

I listen to a fair number of podcasts. I love author interviews, especially when they talk about the craft. If anything, those interviews remind me that the craft is always work and rarely mystical, making writing well seem much more attainable.

I suppose this change is fairly natural as a writer becomes more familiar and more comfortable with the basics. It doesn’t mean I’ve mastered those things — I’m thinking that’s a lifelong process — just that I’m more interested in exploring beyond them. From time to time, I know I’ll come back around and revisit those things with a slightly different perspective.

Of course, I’m always on the lookout for new books about writing, books that offer new perspectives that can expand how I think about writing. I’m not just talking mechanics and techniques, but also approaches and the cerebral and spiritual aspects of writing. Also, I try to read fiction that will stretch my mind as well. There’s tons of great stuff out there that will serve as better inspiration than any book about writing can.

Then there’s also the act of writing. For me it’s the best way to learn. I can read all I want, but if I have no experience to which I can relate what I’m reading, what’s the point. Writing is also the most gratifying method of learning.

How about you? What’s your passion and what do you do to keep on learning?


05 2011

New Books in the Queue

Is there such a thing as too many books? Not bloody likely. I love having a backlog of books to read. In my current queue I have Iron Council, All My Friends are Going to be Strangers, Towers of Midnight, Gormenghast, Books 2 and 3 of the Millennium Trilogy, and Around the World in 80 Days. The list goes on, but you get the idea.

For the most part, birthdays, Christmas, anniversaries and father’s day keep me in books the year round. This year is no exception.  My wife is always the biggest contributer to my library, but others trickle in as well.

This year’s birthday brought these:

I listened to an interview with Charles Yu on The Starship Sofa. Yu struck me as a thoughtful, intelligent guy. When he explained that this book is essentially about a father and son relationship, I put it on my wishlist.

From an editorial review by Lev Grossman on Amazon:

How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe is a triumph, as good as anything in Calvino or Stanislaw Lem. I wish I could travel back in time with a copy and fraudulently publish it under my own name. Like most people, I thought I learned everything I needed to know about time travel from H.G. Wells and Star Trek, but I thought wrong: In Yu’s skillful hands a worn-out science fiction plot device becomes a powerfully expressive metaphor for how we experience the flickering, ineffable, ungraspable spatio-temporal phenomenon of life. Because after all, we’re all time travelers, blundering forward into the future at the rate of one second per subjectively experienced second.

After reading River of the Gods, I needed more Ian McDonald in my life. Throw in a giant futuristic steam engine on the cover and You’ve got me. I also have Dervish House on my list, but the bearers of gifts selected Desolation Road. I’m not complaining a bit.

Dig this:

“Flavoured with a voice that blends the delightful prose of Jack Vance with the idiosyncratic stylings of Cordwainer Smith, this novel is, most of all, about the dusty town of Desolation Road in the middle of the red Martian desert. Episodic in scope, it would also work as short stories. An elderly couple get lost in the infinite space of their garden, a baby growing in a jar is stolen and replaced with a mango, a man called The Hand plays electric guitar for the clouds and starts the first rain for one hundred and fifty thousand years.” —SFSite

This one worries me a little because I fear it may cover some of the same ground as The Cloud Chamber. The upside is that there’s only one way to find out.

From a review at

I have not encountered the inventiveness, sense of wonder and generally the “many goodies” of The Last Page in a debut – all packed in a reasonable 400 odd pages – since John C Wright’s Golden Age and Gary Gibson’s Angel Stations, though this one is fantasy with blood magic, necromancy, mysterious and ultra-powerful beings as well as airships, guns, newspapers and a “steampunk” like setting with an early industrial flavor.

I follow Scalzi’s blog regularly and have listened to his short story After the Coup. I find his sense of humor to be enjoyable and his insights pretty good. Even so, I thought I should sample his longer fiction and slapped The God Engines on my wish list. Here’s hoping it bears all the good sensibilities I enjoy in his blog posts. The reviews on this thing are all over the place, so it’ll be interesting to see. I’ve read the first few pages on-line and was intrigued enough to continue.

A snippet of a review from Literary Sluts:

This is the tale of a world of faith over science, with multiple gods.  It explores religion, faith and sexuality.  It  manages to make a complete world, society and belief system known in only 136 pages. There is a huge unexpected revelation at the end, which basically twists everything you thought was true and leaves you …shaken.

Ever since I came across the idea of the New Weird, I’ve been intrigued. I’ve followed Jeff VanderMeer’s blog and read Finch. I cut my New Weird teeth on China Mieville’s Perdido Street Station and followed that up with The City and The City and The Scar. I’ve already read VanderMeer’s introductory chapter to this collection and would encourage anyone who has an interest on the topic to check it out.

Here’s an excerpt from that intro:

New Weird is a type of urban, secondary-world fiction that subverts the romanticized ideas about place found in traditional fantasy, largely by choosing realistic, complex real-world models as the jumping off point for creation of settings that may combine elements of both science fiction and fantasy.  New Weird has a visceral, in the moment quality that often uses elements of surreal or transgressive horror for its tone, style, and effects — in combination with the stimulus of influence from the New Wave writers…

And lastly, a book with no words in it. Yet. A lovely moleskine book with ruled pages so I can rule the pages. Can’t wait to fill it up. Maybe the next novel will be completely hand written. My hand is cramping already.


04 2011

Latest Reads

Still trying to figure out how to get paid for reading books. I’ve read some good ones lately. They’re the kind of books that get the wheels turning. The kind of books that make me want to write and cause me to despair about writing all at once.

I try to vary my reading to keep things interesting. As of late, I’ve done a nice mix of genre, historical and short story reading. Below are some thoughts on my latest reads.

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler in the 14th Century

I’ve mentioned The Adventures of Ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler in the 14th Century in a previous post. The book wasn’t as personal as I’d hoped, given that it is a translation of sorts of Ibn Battuta’s Rihla. Basically, Ibn Battuta dictated the contents of this work to Ibn Juzayy, a writer commissioned to chronicle Ibn Battuta’s journey a couple of years after he had already returned from it.

The strength of this book, for me, was the sweeping history and geography lesson provided as I followed Ibn Battuta’s travels from Tangiers to China. The author does a nice job of following Ibn Battuta’s movements and filling the historical context of his destinations. Given the amount of information the book could have contained, The Adventures of Ibn Battuta does a fine job of characterizing the medieval Muslim world without beating you over the head with it.

The Half-Made World

What a great read!

What struck me most about The Half-Made World, was that it was unlike any story I have read before.  The end was satisfyingly unsatisfactory. I can’t help but wonder if there are more novels to come in this world. I hope so.

Here’s the blurb from Gilman’s website:

A fantastical reimagining of the American West which draws its influence from steampunk, the American western tradition, and magical realism.

The world is only half made. What exists has been carved out amidst a war between two rival factions: the Line, paving the world with industry and claiming its residents as slaves; and the Gun, a cult of terror and violence that cripples the population with fear. The only hope at stopping them has seemingly disappeared—the Red Republic that once battled the Gun and the Line, and almost won. Now they’re just a myth, a bedtime story parents tell their children, of hope.

To the west lies a vast, uncharted world, inhabited only by the legends of the immortal and powerful Hill People. Liv Alverhyusen, a doctor of the new science of psychology, travels to the edge of the made world to a spiritually protected mental institution in order to study the minds of those broken by the Gun and the Line. In its rooms lies an old general of the Red Republic, a man whose shattered mind just may hold the secret to stopping the Gun and the Line. And either side will do anything to understand how.

That’s a pretty good summation, but, after having read the book, I can see that it fails to capture the edge that the story has. Although, to be fair, on that same page they do have Stephen Donaldson’s quote:

“‘The Half-Made World’ has a strangely Victorian feel, which I quite enjoy. It’s refreshingly unlike any other novel I’ve read. Felix Gilman writes like a modern-day Dickens drunk on rich invention and insane war.”

That seems about right.

Cruising Paradise: Tales

I capped off this disparate trifecta of reading with Sam Shepard’s Cruising Paradise.

Shepard’s writing put me in mind of a mix of Larry McMurtry, John Steinbeck and a little Hemingway thrown in to boot. He manages to capture that everyman crisis in a way that you give a crap.

I wasn’t sure I’d dig reading a series of short stories all at once, but because they were all written in a similar style and voice, it was easy to flow from one to the next.

The Miami Herald sums up this book nicely:

Cruising Paradise, a captivating collection of 40 micro-stories, brooding monologues and eerie dialogues, features a motley cast of loners, losers, introverts and tough guys caught in crisis.Written over a span of six years, these inimitable ‘swiftly told-tales’, as Sam Shepard’s publisher describes them, are a brilliant fiction debut by the Pulitzer-Prize winning playwright.

One thing all these books had in common was their ability to keep me engaged and their ability to show me something in a way I had not seen it. So there you go. You could do worse than read any of these.


02 2011

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta

I’m very excited about this early Christmas gift from my wife:

Known as the greatest traveler of premodern times, Abu Abdallah ibn Battuta was born in Morocco in 1304 and educated in Islamic law. At the age of twenty-one, he left home to make the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. This was only the first of a series of extraordinary journeys that spanned nearly three decades and took him not only eastward to India and China but also north to the Volga River valley and south to Tanzania.

What’s not to like?

In addition, I received The Arabian Nights (Norton Critical Edition), Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology, The Iron Council by China Mieville, All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers by Larry McMurtry, The Hero Has a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and Cruising Paradise: Tales by Sam Shepard.

Before I get to reading, let me leave you with this trailer for Journey to Mecca:


12 2010