Sunday Status Update: August 2, 2015

This week, Frodo fields a question about technological advancement in Middle Earth.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Frodo: Someone asked me the other day why it is that Hobbits have things like clocks and umbrellas. Apparently he was very surprised at the sight of them, and hinted that even the most inventive dwarven craftsmen did not appear to have come up with things like that yet. How then, he asked, had Hobbits come up with such things when they are not known for their industry? Well, perhaps we aren’t famed as a people for building things bigger and better all over the place, but that doesn’t mean we’ll have no progress at all. Honestly, Gondorians: it’s been thousands of years, and Aragorn’s sword is still cutting-edge (ha!). Time to start paying inventors again.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Jana: This week I made some progress in Nalo Hopkinson‘s Falling in Love with Hominids, but I had to take a break to read N. K. Jemisin‘s The Fifth Season because 1) it’s got a closer publication date and 2) it’s an amazing piece of fiction and I didn’t want to do anything but read it. This book is absolutely going on my Best of 2015 list. I also read Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates, which is a powerful, moving letter written to his adolescent son about race in America. I highly recommend it, not just in light of recent events, but as a well-written companion text to The Autobiography of Malcolm X or I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: After a few disappointing installments, John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series ended well with The Lost Stories andThe Royal Ranger. Since I’m now finished with that series, I moved on to two more that are on my “need to finish” list. I read Damiano’s Lute, the second book in R.A. MacAvoy’s DAMIANO trilogy. I admire MacAvoy’s prose, but I had a hard time connecting with her characters. Next up was Beneath London, the latest book in James P. Blaylock’s LANGDON ST. IVES series. It was as bizarre and whimsical as I expected, but some of Blaylock’s trademark humor was missing. My summer semester has just ended, so I look forward to a little bit of a break for the next three weeks. I’ve got a bunch of events to attend, and kids have to get prepared for school, but I hope to have lots of time for reading, too.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kate: I’ve been overseas for three weeks, exploring Scotland, the Isle of Man, and hitherto unknown areas of London (pro-tip: visit the Isle of Man. It is heartbreakingly beautiful.) I didn’t get a lot of reading done on my trip, but now that I’m back, I’m reading two books. The first is Scott Lynch‘s Republic of Thieves, the third volume of the GENTLEMAN BASTARD series. So far, the third is much better than the second, a return to the first book’s more sensible pacing and consistent narration. I’m enjoying it, and happy to finally meet Sabetha, Locke Lamora’s lady love (say that three times fast). I’m also reading The Wild Girl, by Kate Forsyth, the Australian writer and scholar who wrote Bitter Greens. Like that book, The Wild Girl is also about the history of fairy tales. Forsyth reconstructs the life, loves, and stories of Dortchen Wild, the girl-next-door to the famous Grimm brothers and eventual wife to Wilhelm Grimm. It’s a beautiful book, but so far it is more a straight historical novel than fairy tale retelling, unlike Bitter Greens which blended the two. I’m looking forward to seeing if Forsyth works any fairy-tale or magical elements into Dortchen’s tale.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Marion: I finished The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, by Natasha Pulley which I liked a lot. I just read the last story in Nalo Hopkinson’s short story collection Falling in Love with Hominids. Like any story collection it was a mixed bag for me, but I like her language, her humor and her inventiveness. Currently I’m reading Founding Brothers, by Joseph Ellis, about the creation of the United States of America.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Rachael: This week I have had to enforce a self-imposed ban on rereading A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE because it is taking up way too much reading time. The stint was good while it lasted though. Now top of the to-read list is Erika Johansen‘s The Invasion of the Tearling, the latest instalment of her fantasy trilogy. Everything seems a little bland after the likes of George R. R. Martin, but I guess that was always going to happen…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Ryan: This week, I continued my break from SFF. I finished Ewan McGregor and Charlie Boorman’s Long Way Round, and I also borrowed the sequel, Long Way Down, in which they travel by motorcycle from Scotland to South Africa, from the library. I also finished Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (often great and highly reocmmended to anyone looking for a good excuse to go to Paris) and Scott Jurek’sEat and Run (a great memoir on ultramarathons and highly recommended to anyone looking for a good excuse to eat more guacamole). This coming week, I hope to race through Robert J. Sawyer‘s Humans, though I’ve heard it’s not as good as Hominids. I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, instead.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Sandy: Moi? After being compelled to put pleasure reading aside for a few weeks, due to family matters, I have recently returned, and have just finished reading a classic from 1939, Stanley G. Weinbaum’s The New Adam. I hope to get a review for this one out shortly. Next up for me will  be a novel written by the legendary sci-fi editor John W. Campbell, The Black Star Passes, which I believe first appeared serially in 1930. Love that Golden Age stuff!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Stuart: After finishing Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse, I listened to Jeff Vandermeer‘s 2014 Nebula Award winner Annihilation, first book in the SOUTHERN REACH trilogy. I really don’t like stories that rely heavily on ambiguity and metaphor, and though the book skillfully builds the creepy atmosphere of Area X, it deliberately refuses to reveal anything at the end. I figured I’d get more understanding by reading Authority, but that book is about bureaucracy and bored me to tears, so I abandoned it halfway. Suffice to say, his books are not to my taste at all. I did love Roger Zelazny‘s This Immortal, which tied for the first Nebula Award back in 1966 with Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s an amazing New Wave SF book about a post-apocalytic Earth roamed by mutant humans and mythical creatures, and is still worth reading today.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Terry: I’m bogged down by a complicated legal assignment, and have been for weeks now, so reading time has been extremely limited. I’m still sneaking in a few minutes here and there for the urban fantasy Magic Burns by Ilona Andrews and the dark fantasy Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace.  I also read a disappointing novella, The Mysterious Disappearance of the Reluctant Book Fairy by Elizabeth George. Those who write in other genres seem to think they can just start pushing out fantasy without knowing the genre, and often wind up using ideas they think are original, but which have been done to death, and I’m afraid that’s what George did here.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: This week I read a superhero ebook called Wearing the Cape by Marion Harmon and I listened to Working for Bigfoot by Jim Butcher. Mostly, though, I was involved in settling back into work after my latest trip.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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  1. Stuart: ” I really don’t like stories that rely heavily on ambiguity and metaphor…” I’m surprised you started The Southern Reach series at all. The series thrives on the growing paranoiac sense that nothing around you is exactly right, or what it seems to be, and even people who like that sort of thing struggled a bit with this one.

    Terry, I hate the “SF is easy, I can do it!” attitude also. “And then, it turned out the whole planet was sentient!” “They weren’t gods, they were space aliens!” “She time-traveled!” Bet you never saw that coming… yawn.

  2. Marion: I really enjoyed Founding Brothers. Hope you like it.

  3. Terry, I’m interested to hear what you think of Archivist Wasp, since the reviews I’ve read have been effusively good.

    Rachael, I keep meaning to read the first TEARLING book, but I never have the time! If you’re reading the second one, I would guess that you like them…?

    • Yes Jana! They’re a little bit obvious (dystopian society, fierce teenage girl gonna stick it to the man, yada yada yada) but the TEARLING series is in general of a higher calibre than your usual dystopian trilogy. What’s actually really cool is that they mash-up epic fantasy with futuristic dystopia. Sounds weird but works really well

      • Oh, yeah. Teenage girls are always sticking it to the man. That’s how I spent my entire adolescence–as opposed to, you know, going to school or doing anything useful. ;-) Thanks!

  4. Also Frodo’s status update this week was great. Nice one Tim

  5. Marion, I knew going in that opinion was sharply divided on VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy, but that’s why I felt impelled to give it a try. The writing was very impressive, but like many other readers I felt cheated by the excessive ambiguity and refusal to reveal anything. He’s an “unreliable author” rather than “unreliable narrator”.

    • I’d quibble and say he is a reliable author, telling a story in an unusual way, and I admired the books tremendously, but they made me a little crazy too. While I loved the increasing paranoia of the second book (the bureaucratic one) I do think he didn’t play fair with some of the info about “Control’s” family. I’m impressed that you gave them a try when they aren’t your usual thing.

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