Archives for posts with tag: fantasy

It’s been another interesting year, bookwise. More audio books, for some reason. I subscribed to Audible last year for the sole purpose of hearing the audio drama of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (Act 2 of which I’m enjoying as I write). More such stuff made itself known, and this year, best beloved turned me on to Heisenbook, a podcast with books of many different kinds.

I’ve been interested in reading the Narnia books, but wasn’t sure I had the patience. Was happy to find them on Heisenbook, but even with that availability (and Patrick Stewart narrating), I haven’t managed The Last Battle. I’ve been thinking a blog entry on the series might be in order, but I’m not sure I have anything new to say on the matter.

The notation before each author, M/F/N is for Male/Female/Nonbinary.

Audio (narrators in parentheses)
M John Scalzi – Lock In (Wil Wheaton)
M C.S. Lewis – The Magician’s Nephew (Kenneth Branagh)
M C.S. Lewis – The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (Michael York)
M C.S. Lewis – The Horse and His Boy (Alex Jennings)
M C.S. Lewis – Prince Caspian (Lynn Redgrave)
M C.S. Lewis – The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Derek Jacobi)
M C.S. Lewis – The Silver Chair (Jeremy Northam)
M BRIAN BLESSED – ABSOLUTE PANDEMONIUM (BRIAN BLESSED) (If you’re familiar with Mr. Blessed, you’ll understand why that’s in caps. If you’re not familiar, this might be a good start, but so is Flash Gordon.)
M. Frank Herbert – Dune (nicely done, but couldn’t get into Dune Messiah, which is a mess. I’ve read the original six books enough times that I can skip it.)
M Rob Halford – Confess (Rob Halford, lead singer of the mighty Judas Priest narrating his own memoir. Fascinating story.)
M Neil Gaiman – The Sandman – Act II (in progress) (Radio dramatization – many actors, Gaiman himself does the narration)

Books
1. M Ben Bova – End of Exile (I’d read the other two books of the Exiles trilogy before January 1. Did not hold up from my reading as a teenager, for a variety of reasons, most having to do with racism and sexism.)
2. F Seanan McGuire – Down Among the Sticks and Bones (Wayward Children #2)
3. F. Mary Robinson Koval – Articulated Restraint (Lady Astronaut adjacent novella)
4. F. Rachel Churcher – Finding Fire (short stories that wrap up the excellent Battle Ground series. (She’s a dear friend and I’ve been a beta reader since she wrote the first book. I hope my input added to its excellence, but I do have a bias.)
5. F. Cat Valente – Space Opera (Eurovision meets Battle Royale in space. If that combo appeals to you, get it now. You’ll get it.)
6. M. Damon Runyon – Furthermore
7. F. Seanan McGuire – Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children #3)
8. M. (Unknown author) – Everything Is In Order (read this to assist the editor who wanted some sensitivity feedback. Nazi Germany set hard-boiled detective novel. I enjoyed it and hope it gets published one of these days.)
9. N. Neon Yang – Descent of Monsters (Tensorate series #3)
10. M. Oscar Wilde – The Importance of Being Earnest
11. F. Octavia Butler – The Wild Seed (Patternmaster series #1)
12. N. Neon Yang – Ascent to Godhead (Tensorate series #4) (This quartet requires more concentration than I gave it and a reread is definitely in order.)
13. F. Becky Chambers – The Galaxy and the Ground Within (Wayfarers series #4) This is the one with the galaxy’s very best discussion of cheese. Great book, too.
14. M. Norton Juster – The Phantom Tollbooth (I reread this every few years, and Juster’s passing was the nudge to pull it down again.)
15. F. Octavia Butler – Mind of My Mind (Patternmaster series #2)
16. N. Nino Cipri – Finna (LitenVerse #1)
17. F. Arkady Martine – A Memory Called Empire (OMG, I love this book and will reread it soon in advance of reading the sequel.)
18. M. L. Frank Baum – The Wizard of Oz (Not sure what the impetus was – something about wanting to see how color was used in the original text. Enjoyable, but I couldn’t get into the next one in the series)
19. N. Nino Cipri – Defekt (LitenVerse #2)
19. N. Charlie Jane Anders – Victories Greater Than Death (Gorgeous story of adolescence, found family, and fantastic space aliens and a sequel is coming soon.
20. M. Isaac Bashevis Singer – Enemies: A Love Story (I read this for a book club. Enjoyed it, but it’s really weird.)
21. F. Nghi Vo – Empress of Salt and Fortune (Singing Hills cycle #1)
22. F. Nghi Vo – When Tiger Came Down The Mountain (Singing Hills cycle #2 – Goodreads suggests two more are coming!)
23. F. Seanan McGuire – Come Tumbling Down (Wayward Children #5)
23. F. Katherine Campbell – Love, Treachery, and Other Terrors (debut fantasy with faeries, contested thrones, sibling relations – good stuff)
24. F. Storm Constantine – Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit (a reread from many years back about which I had a thing or two to say)
25. M. Damon Runyon – Take It Easy (more short stories)
26. F. Seanan McGuire – Across the Green Grass Fields (Wayward Children #6)
27. F. Emily Tesh – Silver in the Wood
28. F. Emily Tesh – The Drowned Country
29. F. Jordan Ifueko – Raybearer (really good)
30. M. Terry Pratchett – Small Gods (reread)
31. F. Vita Sackville-West – Passenger to Teheran (I knew that Vita had been a prolific writer, and this memoir of a 1926 journey to visit her husband in the diplomatic was 99p, so I grabbed it. At one point she talks of stopping in Baghdad to visit Gertrude Bell. I had no idea who Bell was, but that’s started me down another rabbit hole.)
32. M. Leonard Woolf – Stories of the East
33. F. Cassandra Khan – Hammers On Bone
34. F. Ann Cleeves – Telling Tales (cool female detective a friend introduced me to – another rabbit hole as there are eight other Vera Stanhope novels and about 30 other books Cleeves has written.)
35. F. Gertrude Bell – The Arab War (Why not jump in the deep end – these are secret dispatches sent to British Intelligence from the Middle East during World War 1. Fascinating stuff.)
36. M. Federico Garcia Lorca – Gypsy Ballads (We visited Granada on our vacation and was keen to visit a place or two associated with his life and to read some of his poetry. His reputation is well earned.)
37. F. Ursula K. Le Guin – Always Coming Home (When I was in college, a roommate who’d grown up in Washington state waxed eloquent about this book and told me about the cassette made of music described in it that was sold with the first printing. A year or two ago, that music was released on Bandcamp. I wanted to read the book before listening to the music, but I found the book such hard going, that I haven’t listened yet. Beautiful, but as half anthropological treatise and half disconnected stories (or tangentially connected stories), it wasn’t the easy thing I’d been hoping for.
38. M. William Gibson – Distrust That Particular Flavor (Collected essays and other short pieces. Fascinating dip into his brain. Different than his fiction, but not by that much.)
39. F. Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon (African futurism with aliens and Nigerian politics and quite different from the Binti stories (my only other dive into Dr. Okorafor’s work – looking forward to more.)
40. M. P. Djèlí Clark – A Dead Djinn in Cairo and 41. M. P. Djeli Clark – The Haunting of Tram Car 015 (Steampunk Cairo with supernatural creatures and crazy science – definitely looking forward to reading more of Clark’s work.
41. F. Lauren Shippen – The Infinite Noise
42. F. Jordan Ifueko – Redemptor (sequel to Raybearer. Very good stuff.)
43. M. Avrom Sutzkever – The Full Pomegranate (dual language Yiddish/English anthology of Sutzkever’s poetry)
44. M. Clayton Barbeau – Dante and Gentucca (Clayton’s son Mark is an old friend of mine who once managed a band called M-1 Alternative. M-1’s third album was called The Little Threshing Floor. A couple of years ago I was in Tuscany and reading The Divine Comedy when I came across the titular phrase. In that moment I also recalled that there was a quote in Italian on the CD booklet from same. So I pinged Mark and asked him what he recalled. One thing he recalled is that his father had written a novel about Dante and sent me this small-press published section. I started reading it at the time and picked it up again this week.)
45. M. Federico Garcia Lorca – Sketches of Spain (lovely volume that does what it says on the tin. Lorca traveled through his native country and provides beautiful looks at the churches and neighbourhoods, embracing the beauty and the ugliness where he finds them, sometimes in the same place. My favourite section is the one on Granada’s Albaicin sector which I visited recently. It’s rather gentrified from the time of Lorca’s writing when it was poor, mostly Moorish, and freckled with brothels.


In progress:

Gertrude Bell – The Desert and the Sown (Travels in Palestine and Syria)
Kameron Hurley – Apocalypse Nyx

The Infinite Noise is a slightly supernatural queer YA something that includes romance, but mostly not. I don’t read a lot of YA, so I’m not sure how to characterize it. The story follows two neurodivergent high school boys. Caleb is an empath – he can be overwhelmed by the emotions of others. He’s also on the football team. Adam suffers depression and is one of the stars of the debate team.

One thing that grabbed me about this book was the alternating first person narratives. Caleb and Adam are very different but have an endearing quality to their differentness. Adam’s depression has been known to lead to self-harm – it’s nice to read of a boy in this position because this is thought to be mostly a girl’s issue. We meet Caleb before a fight he has after which he blacks out. The fight is the impetus to put him in therapy. There are no spoilers in that – we learn these things about both boys in the first couple of chapters.

Note that this is released as a ‘Bright Sessions Novel’, Dr. Bright being Caleb’s therapist. I’m not sure how I came to this book – my guess is that it was a Tor.com freebie, but it might have been some other special offer. That said, it wasn’t until I read the afterward that I learned that The Bright Sessions started out as an audio drama podcast. This gives the book (and its place in a series that has two more books, both of which have different protagonists) more sense. Because the voices came out of audio drama, they had to be unique. Shippen succeeds admirably in bringing these differences to the page.

I also love the fact that the main characters are queer and that their varieties of neurodivergence are normalized in the context of the story. The parents are concerned, but their concerns are mostly for the health and safety of their kids, not any kind of homophobia.

Even the bully doesn’t have an issue with the fact that the two main characters are dating. It’s a little utopic, but I love how Shippen normalizes the nature of queer love – the focus on all the things they’re dealing with (including all the heavy emotions of the protagonists’ internal states, the emotions of just being adolescent, and some schoolyard violence) isn’t compounded by the fact that they’re queer. The queerness is simply adjacent. But the parents, who are most definitely issue-laden, are cool with the fact that their sons are boys in love.

As the story progresses, what we experience is a courtship and burgeoning relationship that captures adolescent angst about these things in a way that feels especially accurate. It certainly brought to mind the ups and downs of my own adolescence, in a bittersweet way.

The trick with stories like this, comprised of first-person internal monologues, is that you have to want to be in the characters’ heads, even when they don’t want to be in their own heads. It’s a feat to make that emotional rollercoaster attractive and inviting and Shippen makes it work.

I really like Caleb and Adam, so I’m not sure how I’ll feel about the other books in the series. I’m curious about the original audio drama that gave birth to the stories. A couple of episodes of The Bright Sessions are waiting on my phone.

So my desire this year was to read more books by women and non-binary writers. This doesn’t mean that I’d be focused on literary fiction necessarily, and I read very little. I’ve been getting newsletters from Tor books (sign up here) for a while and taking them up on the occasional freebie and this guided most of my reading this year. Meaning a lot of SF and fantasy. Occasionally I’d pick something recommended by The Writer’s Almanac. And for some reason I reread Virgina Woolf’s Orlando and was far less impressed with it than I was 25 years ago.

I have several new favouite authors whose works I hadn’t known of before this year. Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series is probably my favourite new writing. She’s created a version of the future with fantastic non-terrestrial but marvelously human characters to interact with superb earth-descended folks. Of the three novels so far published in the series (fourth and final due in February), the one that touched me the most was A Closed and Common Orbit.

Nnedi Okorafor‘s Binti series is only my second or third encounter with Afrofuturism (Black Panther and the Parable novels by Octavia Butler being the others) and I found it intriguing and fascinating and beautiful. While I’m now caught up with Chambers’ work, Okorafor has been prolific. I’m not quite sure where I’ll go next.

I’m going to have the same problem with Mary Robinette Kowal. Her Lady Astronaut series posits a US space program that begins of necessity in the 1950s due to a meteor striking the eastern seaboard. Our main character was a pilot in WW2 and has to fight her way into the space program. In the first two books we have this great combination of hard science and the realities of sexism and racism in mid-century America. I read the first two volumes of the series (The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky). The Relentless Moon is waiting for the new year. And, again, she’s prolific, with eight other novels and a scad of short stories waiting for me as well.

A.E. Warren’s Tomorrow’s Ancestors series, posits a future in which supposedly more advanced humans have not quite enslaved Homo Sapiens, but they keep Sapiens down in retribution for the ills and wars they created. The situation is a lot more complicated, but our teen hero Elise teams up with both cloned neanderthals and more advanced humans to seek out a new future. The Museum of Second Chances and The Base of Reflections are out now and are really good. (Note: these books will be reissued next year. The Museum of Second Chances has a new title: Subject Twenty-One.)

I’ve also really enjoyed the first three books in Martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries. Our (anti-) hero is a SecUnit (a kind of cyborg guard/gun for hire who should be under the control of The Company, but they’ve managed to hack their own governor module and can roam free. All Murderbot really wants is time to enjoy soap operas and other downloaded entertainment, but there are mysteries to solve first. I enjoyed All Systems Red and Artificial Condition (Murderbot 1 and 2) more than Rogue Protocol (#3) but I’m hoping that’s a glitch and that books 4, 5, and 6 will be better.

J.Y. (Neon) Yang’s Tensorate series has a promising start. The twin offspring of the Protector are raised in a monastery and eventually learn that one is a prophet of sorts. In the world of the stories, one doesn’t choose one’s sex until age 18 or so. Eventually they join the rebellion against the Protector. For relatively short novels, they’re really hard to summarise but very beautiful. Yang drops us somewhat in the deep end with the technologies of the stories’ world, but it’s well worth riding out. Start with The Black Tides of Heaven and continue with The Red Threads of Fortune. Black Tides is included in Tor’s free anthology, Fantasy from Asia and the Asian Diaspora.

I think my favourite read of the year was This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone. Two characters fighting on opposing sides of the titular war leave eachother messages on their various battlefields and eventually fall in love. And it’s so much more complicated and beautiful than that. The ending comes much too soon. A couple of years ago, my friend Jeff recommended Gladstone’s Craft Sequence, which at the time was a whole lot of money for little cash for the kindle, so I bought and it sat in the queue. After Time War, I read the first book in the sequence, Three Parts Dead, which is also quite good. I look forward to getting to more of that in the new year.

Another near-perfect book is Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s Signal to Noise. The story is of a trio of misfit teenagers in late 80s Mexico City who discover a sort of magic. Various tensions tear the trio apart. Our protagonist, Meche, moves to Norway after high school, but returns in 2009 for her father’s funeral. And the stories run in tandem until we learn the various secrets everyone has held. On the one hand, it’s a fairly straight up romance with a smidge of the supernatural. On the other hand, the writing is magical all on its own. And Moreno-Garcia, who I’d never previously heard of, has seven other novels and a bunch of short stories. And her MA thesis is on the work of HP Lovecraft.

And most recently, I’ve finished the first book in Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series, Every Heart A Doorway. Book 6 (of what I hear will be 10) in the series comes out in January or February and Tor offered the first five for free for one day each a couple of weeks ago. I thought on day 1 that there had been a mistake, because I had book two in my download folder. I pinged tor.com on Twitter and the author tweeted me back very quickly, but not before I’d figured out that I had book two from a previous giveaway and I’d downloaded book one into the wrong folder. Anyway, Seanan McGuire is really nice on the tweetbox. Every Heart A Doorway is a slightly creepy and very beautiful story of children who have all found doorways to other worlds, but for whatever reason had to come back to this reality and deal with all of the consequences. And in the midst of a new arrival’s first week, there’s a murder. And so there’s a nifty sort of Agatha Christie story to tell as well. And not only are there four more in this series immediately available and one preordered, McGuire has published a couple dozen other novels and a lot of short stories. And five albums of music which are currently out of print, though there’s a rumour at least one is coming back out.

A lot of rereads this year. And I’m mostly reading easy fantasy stuff because times are a little hard.
1. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan – recommended by my friend Karen – a real winner. Nice evocation of San Francisco and the life of the independent bookseller of yore.

2. Jigsaw by Ed McBain – Always a great crime in the 87th precinct.

3. Cruel and Unusual by Patricia Cornwell – My first Scarpetta – looking forward to reading more

4. Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan – Great back story for Mr. Penumbra’s 24 -Hour bookstore. Interesting to know how the characters got where they were.

5. John Carter and the Giant of Mars by Edgar Burroughs – Short and sweet. I can only read one or two of these a year, though. Pretty cheesy.

6. Neptune Crossing (Chaos Chronicles #1) by Jeffrey Carver – This was a 99p goodie from one of those daily book bargains. Having really enjoyed it, I found that the whole trilogy could be had for something like 4.99. Cool. I’ll play your silly game.

7. Day After Night by Anita Diamant – Really good telling of what it was like to settle in Palestine after WWII. Recommended by my wife. I trusted it would be good having really enjoyed The Red Tent. Would have been nice had the acknowledgements given a nod to Elie Wiesel.

8. Strange Attractors (Chaos Chronicles #2) by Jeffrey Carver – Yeah, #2 was a good continuation – stonking space opera with interesting robots, fantastic aliens of many kinds, and incredible scope. Looked forward to #3.

9. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift – They call ’em classics for a reason.

10. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – Again, they call ’em classics for a reason.

11. The Infinite Sea (Chaos Chronicles #3) by Jeffrey Carver – Well, this was a goodie too, but as I got to 75-80% of the way through, I was really wondering how Carver was going to wrap it up. Yeah, got to the end, and he hadn’t wrapped it up at all. Three more volumes at 4.99 each. Kinda felt had, but I’ll probably buy the next ones.

12. 11/9 by Ben Lovejoy – A dandy thriller with plot holes kept to a minimum.

13. Trouble is my business and other stories by Raymond Chandler – Not a duff one in the bunch. But there’s a reason he’s considered a master of this stuff.

14. The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola – Never managed to finish this when I was in college. One way to look at it is as a collection of pre-colonial/cargo cult African mythology. That’s incredibly reductionist, though.

15. Casino Royale by Ian Fleming – I’d read the Bond short stories and figured I’d dig some of the novels. Good stuff.

16. Ciardi Himself – 15 Essays in the reading, writing, and teaching of poetry by John Ciardi – interesting collection by the bloke who did my favourite translation of the Inferno.

17. Star Wars Aftermath by Chuck Wendig – Really glad Wendig got chosen for this big-time gig – writing the novels that bridge episodes VI and VII. I’ve enjoyed his blog and his other work for years. He’s bloody prolific and worth delving into.

18. Live And Let Die by Ian Fleming – see above.

19. Night by Elie Wiesel – Given my feeling about the conclusion of Diamant’s novel, and that Wiesel’s obituary had just been printed, I gave this a reread. Still brilliant, but bloody sad. Of course it is, though.

20. The Robert Silverberg Science Fiction Megapack – High point: The Night of No Moon.

21. Thief’s Covenant by Ari Marmell – reread in advance of the second Widdershins novel, False Covenant. YA fantasy featuring a great female hero who is the last worshipper of a god who resides in her head. Trust me, it’s a good one.

22. The Second Fritz Leiber Megapack – Great sci-fi for cheap. The Last Letter was probably my favourite piece here.

23. The Cricket In Times Square – Another reread of a classic children’s story. I probably read it the first time when I was about 11.  

24. The Return of Vaman by Jayant Narlikar – one of several science-based sci-fi stories included in a Humble Bundle (same with the next one). Interesting, but not brilliant.

25. The Caloris Network by Nick Kanas – Yeah, interesting bit of sci-fi that takes place on Venus. 

26. The Pendragon Protocol by Philip Purser-Hallard – reread in advance of The Locksley Exploit. Tasty 21st century renewal of both the Robin Hood and Arthurian legends. First of a trilogy.

28. The Second Murray Leinster Megapack – There were a lot of good pieces in this – some great sci-fi and a couple of thrillers. Nightmare Planet, Murder Madness, and the Runaway Skyscraper were high points

29. Hooves Above The Waves by Laura Clay – Three tasty fantasy/horrorshort stories set in Scotland. 

30. Turing and Burroughs by Rudy Rucker – Interesting story that assumes Turing faked his death and met the beats in Tunisia and went on to wreak havoc in the United States. Displays a great love of the characters, but falls somewhat short. 

31. Mythology 101 by Jodie Lynn Nye – reread (probably first read it in ’86 or so) – Very sweet story of a college student who learns that there are elves who have set up a village in the basement of the library. The same library he’s been campaigning to have demolished in favour of a modern new one. I gather there are several sequels.

I may finish either False Covenant or Post-Apocalyptic Nomadic Warriors before the end of the year, but I may not. The Locksley Exploit will wait until after that.