Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On why I read mostly SF these days

When I was in high school and college before coming to the USA I used to read a lot of classics, mostly french (Balzac, Mauriac, Malraux, Camus are among the authors I've read and enjoyed many if not most of their novels, alongside Dumas and Rois Maudits who are still among my all time favourites), russian (I've really enjoyed War and Peace and a lot of Tolstoy's short stories/novellas, as well as Brothers Karamazov, Crime and Punishment), romanian (Rebreanu, Camil Petrescu and many others), english/us (I've really enjoyed all of Forsyte Saga about 9 volumes in the translation I had as well, though I never liked Dickens or Hardy) and german (I've read a lot of Thomas Mann for example) as well as sudamerican, italian, spanish, whatever was available.

When I got here the first 2 books I bought with the little money available were Dr. Zhivago and Shogun and then I discovered the joys of public libraries and read and reread quite a lot in my graduate years. Slowly I started reading mostly SF with a sprinkle of F, historical fiction (especially about Rome which still fascintes me) and the occasional mainstream book. I tried to read contemporary classics like P. Roth, Robertson Davies, J. Updike, K. Amis and I really could not since they seemed to me very boring in a way that War and Peace with the description of a dissapeared society is not. Trying to understand why, I realized that overall I like to read INTERESTING books, whatever this means for me at a given moment. The lives of people in suburbia or on college campuses definitely does not qualify.

As mentioned in a previous post I dislike fantastic elements in contemporary life for various reasons, mostly incongruity and inability to suspend disbelief (so no horror for me for example), and I also strongly dislike thrillers because they are very boring and predictable, while mysteries are mostly repetitive though I like the occasional TV series if the actors are right.

Since SF is the main existing interesting literature that's what I read mostly.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Crooked Letter and why I rarely read fantasy linked to modern day, myths or religion

Just finished Crooked Letter by Sean Williams. I got the book because I liked quite a lot Mr. Williams original sf work (Ressurected Man, Evergence, Heirs of Earth, Geodesica), though the subject of this book is almost the most unappealing possible to me. I just do not like fantasy linked to modern day or metaphysical speculation based on myths or religion (give me metaphysical speculation based on multiverses, ai's, aliens, hyperspace...) Thinking about why, I realized that there are 3 main components of my dislike: solipsism, incongruity and irrelevance
Solipsistic books (the hero/s and their friends and enemies hold the fate of the universe or everything as we know it in their hands/minds whether by chance or design) tend to appeal to me far less than books that are ground in a society that exists and will continue to exist independently of the plot of the book. The one solipsistic series that I enjoyed the most recently was Godplayers/K-machines by D. Broderick for its inventivness and sense of humour.
I can imagine BasLag, The 7 Kingdoms or Castleland and accept magic and weirdness there, but to accept magic in the modern day is very hard because of its incongruity, kind of like accepting conspiracy theories or superheros; I can like a rare book of this type (The Eight by C. Neville was the last one I truly enjoyed), but rare is the operative word. To me all these kind of books are wish fulfillment that I do not get.
With all due respect, I just do not get the relevance of myths and religion outside the historical context and the morality tales to the modern world. Surely people kill even today in the name of religion, but they are not part of the modern world being stuck in the 12th century mind set, but that's a different story. I do not consider myself an atheist since the universe is so vast and mysterious (just think of the question are we alone as a sentient species in the observable universe say - and think what a definite answer yes or no would mean, how tremendous either would be) but to believe that ancients got these things right does not cut it for me. The reality is far stranger than they and we for that matter can imagine, and we as a sentient species are embarked on the voyage to omega.
Going back to Crooked Letter, it's a very well written book and if the subject matter appeals to you it's a great book; I do not regret reading it and I can not say I was dissapointed since it was what I expected. I also am very interested in reading Blood Debt which sounds a bit different though set in the same reality since I like Mr. Williams style.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Books that surprised me this year

Since I tend to screen carefully what books I buy to read, I rarely am really dissapointed in a book, so this year I do not have yet a major dissapointment like Romanitas by S. McDougall last year (could not read it and I ordered it from England so I paid the shipping on it too; this author is on my ignore list from now on), or Iron Council by C. Mieville in 2004, which I read but was dissapointed by after the stellar Perdido Street Station and (my favourite) Scar.
The politics of Iron Council hammered at me the wrong way (I hate marxism/socialism with a passion after living in an workers paradise state for 21 years) and there was nothing new from the BasLag universe for me to gloss over the politics. But China Mieville is still on my bop list and I got Looking for Jake and enjoyed the stories that I've read so far (maybe I had too high expectations for Iron Council), and I am looking forward to his next novel scheduled for 2007.

This year the big positive surprises were:

- books by Steve Jordan a self-published ebook author of which I purchased all and read almost all, 2 of them Evoguia and Factory Orbit being as good as anything print published, while the others were good to ok, but still enjoyable and containing interesting ideas

- Eclipse by KA Bedford - I got both books of Mr. Bedford and once when leafing through my unread pile to decide what to read next, Eclipse grabbed me and I finished it that night; very very good

- Infoquake by D. Edelman - books about bio/nano/cyber whatever that flatten the human society to one or two characteristics are in general hit or miss for me depending on characters and style (I never got W. Gibson, N. Stephenson or B. Sterling for example, all being on my ignore list, but I like MM Buckner, C. Moriarty, the early JC Grimwood and Justina Robson books for example); so after reading some excerpts on Mr. Edelman's web site I decided to get Infoquake, what surprised me is how much I liked it and the sequel is read on release.

Also though not a surprise strictly speaking, Gradisil by Adam Roberts is a brilliant literary sf book. The only reason I did not mention in my earlier post is that is a book you do not finish in one reading, like a meal by a brilliant chef you gotta stop and enjoy the texture.


Books that I've read on receiving

In general when a book that interests me is announced, I add it to my Amazon wish list, and when Amazon shows it as available and I reach 25$ to get free shipping (not hard since I have in general 20-30 books at least to consider buying on publication and of those I buy 50-60%, the rest I check out from the library, excerpts... and decide), I order it.

I have been doing this since Amazon introduced the wish list and it's been a very good way to save time and keep track of what I want.

This year I have read about 40-50 (new for me) novels, plus lots of short stories, parts of novels, rereads..., some bought years ago, mostly though bought this year or last year. There are 6 or 7 books that I've read completely on receiving, finishing them before starting another book (most times I have 2-3 books that I read from and at some point one starts grabbing me and I finish it before reading someting else)

They are:

In Fury Born by D. Weber - this one was not quite new since Baen offered it as an e-arc 4-5 months for publication, and I read it then (was 2005) in e form and as soon as received as print too. Any sf book by D. Weber or Peter Hamilton are of this type (read on receiving).
Path of the Fury which this book is a completionof (IFB is first half new, second half PofF) is one of my all time (top 100) favourite books and this one was great too

Ghost Brigades by J. Scalzi - to my surprise I loved when only expected to like Old Man War, which I bought based on the Amazon excerpt, so books by Mr. Scalzi moved to my buy on publication list and this one was read on receiving being a sequel to OMW. I liked it quite a lot, though it was far darker and with less of Mr. Scalzi's humour. Solidified Mr. Scalzi's place on my bop and ror lists

Hell's Gate e-arc by D. Weber/L. Evans - new series, yet only in prepublication e-form; I loved it and I will read the print book (rumoured to contain many edits vs the e-arc) on receiving too

Glasshouse by C. Stross - I received Glasshouse and Spin Control by C. Moriarty the same day, and since both were ror, I picked one at random. Glasshouse is the first book by Mr. Stross that starts to realize his potential as a great sf&f author. I liked his 2 space operas, and I own and read some of the Clan and Atrocity Archives books which are good but not more. Accelerando though read like a History of theNext x Years not like a novel and even the short stories from which it's a fixup while interesting, are mostly very flat. However Glasshouse is very good, finally a brilliant novel by Mr. Stross (Accelerando may be brilliant but as pseudo non-fiction not as a novel)

Here I mention Spin Control (so 6 or 7 ) which did not make my ror list just because of timing and luck; I loved Spin State and Spin Control is somewhat different but very good too. Any sequel remains on ror.

Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch - I rarely read debut books on receiving and this one was fantasy too, but it had great reviews and I was in a mood for a romp at that point and it did not dissapoint. It's very good though it still has fantasy tropes that I dislike (hierarchy, deus ex machina magic...) However it DOES NOT have elves, small furry animals and orcs - that's something that I really detest (of course except Nimitz ). The sequels are bop and ror.

Crossover by Joel Shepherd - another debut but more to my taste, space opera of the first order. Very, very good, sequels are bop and ror, though I am very tempted to order them from Australia where they have been published. If so, I will get the US editions too since the Australian ones being used, the author does not benefit and I really want to show my appreciation.


Starting point

After much hesitation, I decided to start a blog to share my thoughts about this and that. Mostly I am going to talk about the books I read since that is my main hobby, but I will write about anything that interets me. I will try to avoid politics insofar as it can be avoided.