classics

Readings: Hill, Faye

Now that I have moved and unpacked all my things, I am trying to get back into some sort of a routine. It’s harder than I thought it would be; for several days I could not even remember what things I used to do before the Month of Anxiety and the End of the World (aka March). What was the last book I read from start to finish?

It seems like I did not do any reading in March at all, but as I think back, I realize I did finish Joe Hill’s The Fireman in two or three days. In retrospect, it wasn’t a wise choice to read when my mental state was already not particularly steady. It’s big and on fire. People already refer to it as Hill’s magnum opus, which I suppose it is, but I don’t think it’s my favorite of his. It is very good, though. I remain a fan of N0S4A2 (as much as its title annoys me). But The Fireman will please you if you like your novels in high gear for many many pages. It’s out in May.

janesteeleAfterwards, a couple of books were picked up and then abandoned after a handful of pages, and then I read a memoir that was fine until it used the ‘t’ word to refer to a certain type of bar. It seems that its author is one of those gay men who remain largely ignorant of the fact that certain terms are no longer kosher to use (see also John Barrowman’s usage of the same word a few months ago).

And then I picked up something I did not expect to like. It did not seem like my type of book at all, but a number of people mentioned it was quite good, so I decided to give it a shot. Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye is definitely delightful, smart, and witty. It is a reimagining of Jane Eyre, wherein Jane happens to be a serial killer (“Reader, I murdered him.”).  I never particularly liked Jane Eyre, to be honest. Maybe I have been waiting for this iteration.

 

Advertisements

Vintage Sci-fi Month: A Different Light by Elizabeth A. Lynn

Vintage Sci-fi Month is almost over, and I thought I’d make the concluding post about a book that I have not seen widely reviewed: A Different Light by Elizabeth Lynn. We are right on the cusp here, as it was published first in 1978 (the arbitrary cut-off for the Vintage Sci-fi month was set at 1979). There are some mild spoilers ahead.

890337A Different Light is a short book, but it’s not a quick one. The plot is not its strongest point (which is why I think I can’t really spoil it for you). Where it really shines is in the way it talks about human emotions, dying, and loss.

The main character is Jimson Alleca, the only person on New Terrain who has cancer. Everyone else gets their predisposition to it detected and corrected at birth. Jim has his managed with drugs, but he will never live as long as other people, and he cannot leave the planet because it would kill him.

Jim is disillusioned and tired. He is an artist, but he is tired of his own art and doesn’t feel he can create anything new. He wants to go off-world, to see ‘a different light’. Yes, he knows it would mean cutting his lifetime even shorter than it is, but at this point, he does not particularly care. He is suffocating where he is.

Jim gets his chance when his ex-lover Russell reappears after 14 years of being away. Russell is a daring star captain, and he is the source of both space and emotional adventures in this book. He is on a mission to steal something very valuable from a different planet for a client. He is also very much the object of Jim’s love, hurt, and anger.

One thing that is almost always mentioned with regards to this book is that it gets major LGBT props: Jim is bi, but this is never stated openly. There just doesn’t seem to be one ‘more accepted’ sexual orientation in Lynn’s universe. He dates Keiko, who is a female pilot, but he is also obviously in love with Russell. Gender is not important.

A Different Light is ultimately a book about loss. From page one you realize that this book is written as a a snapshot of ephemeral human life. It shows you that nothing lasts, and that’s why reading it feels like a bittersweet ache.

If nothing mentioned above makes you want to read it, pick it up because it has some beautiful writing. I leave you with this sentence:

She leaned over the observation railing, watching the space where the ship had been, head on one side, as if she were listening to the wind rushing in to fill the space.

I doubt I’ll have time to read and write about something else for the Vintage Sci-fi Month before it’s over, but as always, if you need more vintage goodness, head to Little Red Reviewer’s blog. Big thanks to Little Red for hosting this vintage sci-fi experience and for letting me read some stuff I otherwise wouldn’t have picked up!

vintage-sf-badge

‘The sun sank in accordance with the old ritual…’: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance

vintage-sf-badge

Vintage Sci-fi Month is still going on, and here’s my official post for it. For more vintage goodness, including some good essays on what the hell vintage sci-fi is, head to Little Red Reviewer’s blog.

The Dying Earth is such an integral part of the genre that it feels as if you’ve read it even if you haven’t. It’s like getting all the Star Trek references in conversation even if you haven’t seen a single episode. You absorb it by osmosis, though in this case the message got a bit garbled, methinks. Let’s look at the Wikipedia page for The Dying Earth, shall we? Turns out, it was voted one of the best novels in the 1987 poll conducted by Locus magazine. Novels? Wait a second. Sure, all the parts of it are set in the same world, and there are the same people who keep popping up, but really, if you go into it expecting a novel, you will be very confused. What is even more confusing is that the omnibus edition I own says ‘All four Dying Earth novels in one volume’. I suppose that’s because short stories and novellas don’t really sell. Plus there is this new cover. It’s beautiful, but somehow does not match the contents.

dyingearthAll of the above shouldn’t really matter, except that expectations do affect your reading experience, and I can just picture people starting The Dying Earth and throwing up their hands, going ‘WTF is this? And why do I feel like I’m reading some ancient sagas?’ Well, it’s because you are. Reading sagas, that is. The Dying Earth is not a novel. It’s not really even a collection of short stories. It’s a collection of myths. People obey strange unwritten rules and speak in riddles. Archetypes abound. People go on quests. There are wizards. It’s like Silmarillion, but for a different universe and mythology. Once you know that, you can relax and immerse yourself in the Dying Earth universe. And it’s a fantastic place. Vance is a master when it comes to the creation of setting and atmosphere. In The Dying Earth, his writing has a lyrical, wistful quality to it. It’s the style perfectly suited to the content, to the idea itself of the sun being slowly extinguished. It has a certain finality to it, and a sense of loneliness. Anything is possible and yet the time is running out. People are ‘feverishly merry’.

The stories all have a common theme (besides the Earth dying), and that is acquisition and preservation of knowledge and how to use it in the time remaining. The first story starts by Turjan of Miir going on a quest because he is promised knowledge at the end of it. The other stories continue with the idea of traveling to gain wisdom, to find something new, to boldly go, as it were.

As fun as these stories are, I don’t think the omnibus is for reading from cover to cover. I myself found it easier and more enjoyable to read Vance in small doses. So that’s my caveat to the reader: Vance is for tasting, not for binging.

Oh, and if ‘you can only hold four spells in your head’ idea takes you back to your D&D days, here’s a great little piece on The Dying Earth as it relates to gaming. My friend said he was reading The Dying Earth books in order to know his ‘geek heritage’.

Finally: is it actually sci-fi? Or is it fantasy? You see, the lines were much more blurry in 1950. It’s both, or it’s neither. See my note about it being a collection of myths.

New pile of old books

Yesterday I had a few hours in NYC, and I chose to use them wisely, to wit, by taking the F train down to Brooklyn and buying some old sci-fi from Singularity and Co. January is Vintage Sci-fi month, after all. It is probably just as well I no longer live in New York. I used to work one subway stop away from their store, and I have a feeling every day would have been an opportunity to ‘stop by and browse’, meaning ‘spend a lot of money on books instead of groceries and rent’.

Here’s a picture of the haul for your book porn enjoyment:

image

And here’s the list:

Harlan Ellison, Deathbird Stories
C. J. Cherryh, Foreigner
Gregory Benford, Timescape
Roger Zelazny, Creatures of Light And Darkness
Robert Silverberg, Dying Inside
Thomas M. Disch, Fundamental Disch

A few notes: my purchases were heavily influenced by my recent reread of Jo Walton’s Among Others (here’s my post about it and her work in general). It remains one of my favorite SF books, and, being meta-fictional, it comes with an added bonus of book lists (real books, mind you).  In fact, there is a list of all books mentioned in Among Others on Walton’s blog. Silverberg and Zelazny were bought expressly with that book list in mind.

Foreigner is also a Jo Walton-related purchase. I confess I read it about 10 years ago, and I did not like it. Looking back, however, I realize it was just the wrong book at the wrong time — I was in Japan, going on some silly school trip with a bus of teens to Kochi city, and I was quite starved for books in English (e-readers not being ubiquitous then). I grabbed the first book I saw on my boyfriend’s shelf and took it with me. I didn’t even have that much time to read in Kochi, and so my experience of Foreigner was very fragmented and haphazard. A few years later I read Walton’s review of it on tor.com. The review is by no means glowing, and it does confirm my own feelings about Foreigner, but it did make me want to read the series, which means giving the first book a second chance.

Disch has been on my to-read list for a while, and I grabbed the comfortably-titled Fundamental Disch. Besides, look at the cover, how could I not?

disch

The cherry on top here, however, is Ellison. It was entirely an impulse purchase based on title, cover, and the fact that it was on the staff picks shelf (based on personal experience, staff picks are the way to go when in doubt). It also turned out to be 1st edition and therefore more expensive, but hey, I’ll pay a bit more for Ellison. I’ll be honest: every time I read him, it disturbs and unsettles me to no end. I also feel slightly stupid and clueless, as if there is some hidden message in his stories that I am just not getting and unlikely to get. So we’ll see how this one goes. It does come with a disclaimer:

0109141059

Oh dear.

While not a review, this is a post for Vintage Science Fiction Month. Follow the link to the Little Red Reviewer’s blog for more vintage goodness.

vintage-sf-badge

Blurbs! Le Guin, Smith, and Ball

I’m not going to make any reading/blogging resolutions for 2014, but I will inaugurate the new year with some short reviews of books read in the past couple of months.

latheMy bookgroup obviously can’t get enough of Ursula Le Guin. The Lathe of Heaven is the third Le Guin we’ve read in the past couple of years. I confess, I am not the greatest fan of Le Guin. I couldn’t get through the Earthsea books. The only book that appealed to me was Left Hand of Darkness. I could appreciate her contribution and importance to the genre, her lovely writing style, but the books themselves just didn’t do it for me. Well, The Lathe might be the book that breaks the streak. I was so excited and engrossed I busted out sticky notes and pencil to write down quotes: ‘What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?’ (page 44) or ‘…a man who saw a miracle would reject his eyes’ witness, if those with him saw nothing’ (page 65). In The Lathe, a man named George Orr discovers he can change reality with his dreams. He attempts to suppress dreaming with drugs taken illegally using his friends’ Pharm Cards, and is assigned to undergo ‘voluntary therapy’. His therapist, however, after witnessing Orr’s ability firsthand, proceeds to augment reality by controlling Orr’s dreams via hypnosis and the invention called the Augmentor. The Lathe is one of the most deeply philosophical sci-fi books, raising questions about destiny, free will, and shared reality.

raslThe new Jeff Smith was the first book I read in 2014, and it was a great choice. Here I am, recuperating from December retail madness, half brain-dead, when this giant tome falls off the reading pile and lands in my lap. Coincidence? I think not. There’s noir, and there’s science, and Nikola Tesla, and dimension-jumping thief who used to be a physicist. Plus it’s Jeff Smith, so the fast-paced story is combined with sharp cartooning skills.

jesseballThe last blurb is for a book that is, strictly speaking, not speculative fiction, but bear with me. A couple of months ago I read the new Jesse Ball book, entitled Silence Once Begun. This one is due out in late January. The plot is pretty much revealed in the first few pages, so there isn’t much I can spoil for you. A man Oda Sotatsu brings to the police a signed confession that states that he is responsible for disappearance of eight people. Oda is jailed and convicted. But is his confession true? The story is told entirely through interviews with family members, prison staff, and other people involved in this trial. The book is partially based on true events. It’s unsettling and rather creepy (which is a good thing). Ball also captures the tone of Japanese literature perfectly. Silence Once Begun reads as if it is translated from Japanese. I love Japanese lit, and part of what I love about it is the style and tone, so this book hit all the right notes for me. (Another book about Japan that hit all the right notes was A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, which is now shortlisted for Booker. Go read both.)