Readings: Vowell, Liu

Personal kerfuffle in my life still has not settled, and so there was little time for reading and writing, and even things like Twitter and other social interaction have fallen by the wayside. I need this month to be over, out like a lamb or however it would like to go.

I have re-read Sarah Vowell’s Lafayette in the Somewhat United States.┬áRather, I re-listened to it, because her audiobooks are narrated by herself and a crew of various star guests (like Nick Offerman as George Washington), which makes them more like audio play productions. It is excellent.

three bodyOther reads were on the speculative fiction side, the first one being Third Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu. It got a lot of buzz and love last year, but it happened during the time when I briefly fell out of love with hard sci-fi. Third Body Problem reads like science fiction from the Golden Age, eager to cram all of the science and ideas inside. It reads stilted, emotions plainly explained, all character motivations delineated, everything over-described. And therein lies my beef with Third Body Problem. It’s not that I need a pure ‘show don’t tell’ approach, but I need my science fiction to be more of a novel and less of a guidebook. I don’t think it’s translation. Perhaps this is just Cixin Liu’s style. Sadly, I will never know, Chinese being one of languages I am not going to master in this lifetime.

And yet it is not a terrible book. In fact, it is rather smart in its ideas and connections. I wanted to keep reading despite being annoyed by the style, and I do not regret finishing it (that’s the kind of blurb you want for your novel, ‘did not regret finishing’). I might even read the second one (The Dark Forest), if only to┬ásee how different it is with a different translator.

And now I am off to finish Rob Spillman’s memoir, All Tomorrow’s Parties, a book that feels familiar even though his life is quite different from mine. Next after that, Joe Hill’s Fireman, out in May. Quite excited about this one.

In praise of Jo Walton

I love Among Others by Jo Walton. I’ve been telling everyone to go read it ever since it came out. If I had money, I would buy a copy for everyone I know. Therefore, I ridiculously happy that it got the Nebula and now the Hugo award.

It is a somewhat unique book, I think, mainly because it is meta-speculative fiction. It’s SF about SF. You can create a real reading list while reading Among Others (and by ‘real’, I mean consisting of books that actually exist). I did so, and I know other people who did the same. I went and read a bunch of Ursula Le Guin’s books after finishing Among Others.

It is also a unique SF book because it is written as a diary, and while that form of narration might not be everyone’s speed, it works very well here. Every geek and nerd can hear their own teenage voice reading Mori’s words in their head, especially if they had a somewhat unhappy teenagehood and books were what kept them sane. Everybody remembers what kind of books got them into SF, and if they happen to be the same ones Mori reads, the impact is even greater.

Apart from tugging at your heartstrings, Among Others is just a very well-written book. Which brings me to my next point: Jo Walton is a really good writer. Among Others is her latest book, but she has many other fantastic books under her belt. Go read Farthing for a chilling description of a world that could have been. Or read Tooth and Claw, which is a comedy of manners. With dragons (it works perfectly, don’t worry).

Because I love her novels so much, I’m very happy that Jo Walton also posts on Read her posts, and you will create a reading list that will last you for years to come. She reads and rereads an impossibly huge number of books, and writes intelligent reviews and blog posts about her reading. She also wrote a great series of posts about the Hugo awards, starting with year 1953 and ending in 2000. Warning: poking around archives might consume hours of your life.

So congratulations to Jo Walton on getting both Nebula and Hugo! Absolutely well-deserved. I now, if you’ll excuse me, I am going to go reread Among Others.