Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Whaddaya Like? Part 1: Books

My sister and her boyfriend bought me a Kindle for Christmas last year and because of this I now read almost twice as much as I did before - not that I read faster on the Kindle, but that I read ebooks and physical books. I've been reading so much of late that, honestly, it sometimes feels like it is getting in the way of my social life. But I mean, hey, I have a social life with all of the characters in the books, right?
I haven't, however, read a great many new releases, though I have read a few. Mostly I've been discovering some older SF/F books - novels I should've read way back when but didn't because I didn't know - and have found some gems most SF/F readers are probably already aware of, but I'm going to list them here for those of you who aren't and those of you who perhaps have forgotten.

MAUREEN F. MCHUGH - After the Apocalypse, China Mountain Zhang, Nekropolis
My favorite writer right now is Maureen F. McHugh. The worlds she creates in her novels and short stories are gritty, fully realized, horrific, beautiful, and, perhaps most impossible of all, possible. She also writes clearly and concisely, never overdoing it with flowery language (not that that is always a bad thing!).

Her newest collection is After the Apocalypse (Nov. 2011). Perhaps my favorite story in this collection is "Special Economics" about a woman - Jieling - who goes to work for a genetics factory not unlike Foxconn and her struggle to get out.

I've just finished China Mountain Zhang and Nekropolis, also by McHugh. The former is a glimpse into a future where China is the world superpower; the story is essentially plotless, instead focusing on the lives of its characters and the struggle to find work, love, and happiness. China Mountain Zhang is one of the best books I've ever read. Nekropolis takes place mostly in a futuristic Morocco where people get "jessed" in order to be better, more loyal workers to those who own them. There are terrible consequences when Hariba falls in love with a clone and decides to leave her owner.

DANIEL ABRAHAM - The King's Blood, Caliban's War (with Ty Franck)
I just finished two books by Daniel Abraham, one of which was also co-written with Ty Franck. I am an avid Abraham fan and I will rave to you anytime about his wonderful Long Price Quartet series, which puts epic fantasy on its head. It is unpredictable, cool, and weird, and I highly recommend you check it out. I believe all four books are available now in two omnibuses.

The first book I read from Abraham this year, however, was the second in his new fantasy series, The Dagger & the Coin. This series is more traditional fantasy than LPQ. The second book, The King's Blood, picks up where the first left off. I liked The Dragon's Path but I didn't love it. The King's Blood, however, is a far better read, the world-building seeming to take hold, the characters more fleshed out, and a bit of the larger story starting to unfold. What sets this series apart from other epic fantasies is Abraham's interest in economics and banking, and how this affects the world at large. Intriguing stuff.

The second book I read that Daniel Abraham co-wrote with Ty Franck (as the pseudonym James S.A. Corey) was also the second book in a new space opera series, The Expanse. In contrast to Abraham's Dagger & the Coin series, I particularly loved Leviathan Wakes, the first book in this series, and rated it as one of the best books of 2011 (the Hugos seem to agree with me, heh). I liked the second book in the series, Caliban's War, far less than I'd expected. It was fun and reads quick but the action felt forced at times and I found two of the viewpoint characters to be tedious and downright boring to read.

JOHN SAYLES - A Moment in the Sun
So, I'm not quite finished with John Sayles' behemoth, A Moment in the Sun, but unless he does something really stupid in the last 250 pages - like have space aliens invade in the Philippines or Abraham Lincoln return from the grave to put an end to injustice once and for all - I'm fairly certain this will be one of my favorite books of the year. Sayles, a film director who's made some pretty damn good movies (The Brother from Another Planet, Eight Men Out, Amigo), writes about racism, inequality, and war with intelligence and insight, never falling on cliche. A Moment in the Sun takes place over a five year period beginning in 1897 and leads into the Spanish-American War, American intervention in the Philippines, and the racist coup in Wilmington, NC. It is by turns engrossing, enraging, horrifying, beautiful, and sad. I really hope space aliens don't invade at the end.

SAMUEL R. DELANY - Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders
Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders is such an intensely sexual novel that I couldn't read it all at once, even though I really wanted to. Even more so than Dhalgren, Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders may be Delany's masterpiece, a culmination of his science fiction roots, his normalizing and celebration of what society has deemed either immoral or perverse, and his love of "literary": it is truly the first literary porn sci-fi novel about happiness. And like the Sayles above, it is a behemoth of a novel - spanning 60-odd years in the lives of Eric and Shit. It is one of the best books I've read this year - and again, unless space aliens invade (which is actually more of a possibility here, though I doubt it will be the case), it will remain on my Best-Of list.

Sloopy, gooey, buggy, cancerous, wonderful book about a far future holy war and the assassin tasked with bringing home one very important head. I was delighted and disappointed to learn this was the first book in series - delighted, obviously, because it was such a fantastic novel and experience; and disappointed not because I don't trust Hurley's abilities but because the ending is so vibrant and moving and so encapsulated in my memory that I want to remember it only ending that way.

MINISTER FAUST - The Alchemists of Kush
Minister Faust invites us to read these three interlinked stories - "The Book of Then", "The Book of Now", and "The Book of the Golden Falcon" - in a variety ways: as it is laid out in the book or "Then" followed by "Now" and "Falcon" in their entirety or a chapter of each, and so on. I read it as published, and was mesmerized by this coming-of-age story set partly in present-day Edmonton and 7000 years ago in the Sudan. Very urban and gritty, and full of mythology and folklore.

REZA NEGARESTANI - Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anonymous Materials
This book kind of blew my mind. I'm still struggling to figure out what exactly to say about it. I think you should read it. For God's sake, read this book.

According to my kindle, I am 77% of the way through Kim Stanley Robinson's new novel 2312. This is actually my introduction to Robinson's work and, though I'm very much enjoying the future he's envisioned for mankind, I still haven't really immersed myself in this book - I've been reading it for 2 months and it's really not all that thick. Perhaps a final verdict later.

You can see what I thought of this book at The Weekly Take.

Next week, I'll be doing Whaddaya Like? Part 2: Music.