Assorted bits: monthly tallies, podcasts, and Brian K. Vaughan

Looking at my skyscraper-like book piles at home, I realize that doing ‘monthly tally’ posts is not actually feasible. I already don’t remember what books I brought home in the past week, much less a month. My rate of acquisition is quite high (no, I don’t have piles of money, I have fellow booksellers and friends and my workplace). I might therefore attempt to do more frequent adoption/release updates in between actual reviews.

exmachinaSpeaking of release/output/reading updates. Since I dearly love Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, I had to go and find his other stuff. In the past two weeks I made my way through the entire Ex Machina series he did with Tony Harris and a few other people. It is, unsurprisingly, well-done and intelligent and very, very different from Saga. I think your enjoyment of Ex Machina will depend on whether you like politics in your graphic novels, since the main character is the Mayor of New York City. I can’t say I am normally a big fan of such things, but I also lived in NYC and had worked in a city archives before that, and I happen to find local politics quite interesting. I therefore enjoyed Ex Machina quite a bit, but on a cerebral, rather than emotional, level.

Finally, If you are the sort of geek who enjoys not only reading genre, but reading and talking and listening about genre, you should go listen to episode #180 of The Coode Street Podcast. Not only it has Kelley Eskridge and Nicola Griffith on it, but the entire hour is a geek-fest of intelligent discussions about what might or might not be fantastic fiction, awards, publishing, and reading speculative fiction.

Short Story Sunday, 5.11.14

How do you review a short story? The plot is often too easily revealed if you talk about it at some length. You might get carried away and write a review that is actually longer than the story you review. Therefore, my ingenious plan today is to limit my short story review to three words.

Cold Wind by Nicola Griffith.  Sensual, surprising, dark. Go read it now, it will take you all of 10 minutes.

Damn, that was longer than three words. Well, it seemed like a good idea in theory.


Blurbs! I consume Griffith, McIntosh, Chu, and Saunders

It’s time for blurbs! In the past two weeks, diverse literature has been consumed, and here are the results:

hildNicola Griffith, Hild

If any book could kick my ass harder in the history department, it’s this one. Turns out, I know very little about 7th century Britain. I obviously know very little about Hild, but that’s the case for everybody, because the only mention of her is in a couple of pages by the Venerable Bede in his writings on Anglo-Saxon conversion to Christianity. This is why this book is an amazing feat of research. Keep in mind that Hild is, of course, fiction, but it’s the kind of fiction that makes you want to dive into some history books.

I found it hard to read this one in small chunks. It’s partly my personal problem: I have a rather shoddy memory for characters and plot in general, so if enough time passes between readings, I am liable to forget who is who. The fact that a lot of people in this book have similar-sounding Anglo-Saxon names does not help. I did find myself with a few uninterrupted hours on Saturday, and binged on this book until I finished it.

If I were to describe Hild in a few words, I’d say that it has heft. It has some kind of palpable substance to it that I cannot quite express in words. It is much like a slow roast — dense, substantial, and deeply satisfying. In fact, I almost found myself too intimidated by this book to write any kind of review, so this blurb is all you get.

minuseightyWill McIntosh, Love Minus Eighty

Ok, I admit it, I picked this one up based entirely on the cover, because the ‘love’ part did not do it for me. It never really does. I’m not big on romance in my books. But it turned out to be a great book! Romance is not really the point of it at all. The point is how money or lack thereof divides society, and how this kind of division coupled with technology can lead to questionable, morality-wise, arrangements. Here we have cryogenics, and people can get frozen in case they suffer a gruesome and terrible accident that leaves them with no working internal organs. Unfreezing, however, is trickier because it costs a lot of money. But say you are a very pretty young woman, and maybe someone will pay money to revive you just so you can be their wife. And so the ‘Bridesicle’ business is born. This sounds awful (chilling? ha!), but what’s truly awful is that you can totally see some corporation thinking this could be a viable business model if such technology were available. In any case, Love Minus Eighty is a great example of thought-provoking sci-fi that is essentially about human relationships, societal structure, and technology, all tied together.

taoWesley Chu, Lives of Tao

This seemed very John Adams-esque to me when I read the blurb on the back. Roen Tan, who is essentially a walking fat geek stereotype (though he does seem to have a job) wakes up one day to find out that an near-immortal alien intelligence has taken up residence in his mind. And this alien needs him to be trained to be a covert operative proficient in all forms of combat like, yesterday. Hilarity ensues. Sort of. It was a rather fun read, but it started flagging halfway through. The devil was really in the details, and those started bugging me after a while. I kept finding little inconsistencies and things that simply did not make much sense. I file this under ‘decent debut, but hope it gets better’.

The cover is brilliant, by the way.


George Saunders, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil

It’s a very brief book, much like the reign of Phil described in it (come on, it’s not a spoiler, you can tell the reign will end from the title). The premise is so whacky that you aren’t really sure how it might work, but Saunders, of course, pulls it off brilliantly. The country of Inner Honer has space for only one person, so people have to hang out in the Short-Term Residency Zone while waiting for their turn to live in their country. It all goes well till one Inner Honerite accidentally falls into the neighboring country of Outer Honer. Orwellian tragicomedy ensues (it is compared to Animal Farm on the back cover, and the comparison is quite appropriate).

I love George Saunders, and I did enjoy this novella. It has perhaps too much cluebatting in it for my taste, which is often the shortcoming of books that are so obviously written as metaphors. Still, if you have never read him, you should — his stuff is truly weird, but always very smart and well-done.

Reading update


All I have to say is that I would really like to have a few uninterrupted days just to sit and read this. I’m about 1/3 of the way through. It’s not a fast read, but there is something about it that makes me want to shut myself in some remote cave and simply read and read and read. It’s also kicking my ass in terms of history knowledge — I know very little about 7th century Britain, as it turns out.