Sunday Status Update: December 15, 2013

In honor of the second Hobbit film’s release this week, Bilbo ponders his job.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Bilbo: This was the plan? Really? Gandalf and thirteen dwarves thought from the beginning that they’d just steal a treasure big enough to fill the inside of a mountain, and they’d do it with the smallest possible thief they could find? What? But… I don’t… look here, there’s desperation and then there’s just silliness. If you can’t kill the dragon, don’t cross half the world to get here unless you’ve come up with some alternate method of getting what you want. But of course not. Just steal whatever we can lay hands on and hope it’s something profitable (all the while under the nose of. A. Dragon!). Perhaps I can fathom that Thorin might just be too officious to notice a weak point in the plan if it dared occur to him, but Gandalf surely should have… drat Gandalf! Bet he’s laughing at me somewhere. This can’t stand. It’s ridiculous. There’s got to be a Burglar’s Union or something of the sort…

AlixAlix: This week, I confirmed that Elizabeth Bear‘s Range of Ghosts is exactly as excellent as I’d thought it was. I’m a real sucker for West Asian history, anyway, and if you throw in a few giant tiger-women, horses in a hundred sacred colors, several dozen moons, and some eerily beautiful scenes of bones and butterflies — well, I’m a goner. I keep picturing it as a House of the Flying Daggers-style movie (hinthint, o movie-making gods). I also got my copy of Jeff Vandermeer’s Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative FictionBecause you can never quite have enough pretty things to look at, and never quite crush that last whispering possibility that you could write speculative fiction. Other than that, it’s been a lot of desperate Christmas shopping/creating for me, and a lot of my partner patiently explaining to me that not every single person wants a book for Christmas.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Bill: This week I read Quintessence Sky by David Walton, the solid if not quite as good follow-up to his Quintessence.  I also read The Land Across by Gene Wolfe and, because my son just read it for English class, The Giver again, by Lois Lowry.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Brad: This week I started several books that I’m enjoying: Those of you who read Alix’s excellent and persuasive review of Lois McMaster Bujold‘s Memory won’t be surprised to hear that I’m almost done with the earlier The Warrior’s Apprentice (since Alix, Kat, and others made clear in the comments that I’m not allowed to start with Memory!). I really am enjoying the characters, though the setting in space is not my usual haunt — I usually lurk in the shadows with chain-smoking P.I.s. So, I was on more familiar ground rereading Ed Brubaker‘s noir comic Criminal: Last of the Innocent (the series responsible for making me a comic book convert). I also started reading Harlan Ellison‘s Dream Corridor, Volume One, a collection of Ellison’s short stories adapted for comics. It’s great so far: Ellison acts as host between each of his stories. Clearly, my reading this week has been eclectic. I started rereading a favorite — the incredible Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. I beg you; I implore you not to go to your grave without reading this masterpiece! If all high school reading lists required students to read Winesburg, Ohio instead of The Scarlet Letter, then we’d graduate about a 68¾% higher percentage of passionate readers than we currently do in the United States. At a student’s request, I also reread Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson. Very interesting to read this again 25+ years after I first read it. This time I noticed much more than I did as a teenager. Back then I noticed only the huge, long-lasting drug orgy described. The one novel I actually started and finished this week was Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. It was a coming-of-age story about two 16-year-olds falling in love in the year 1986. Since I was born in 1970 — the same year as the two main characters — I loved all the cultural references. I also started Wild Nights! by Joyce Carol Oates, a collection of stories in the mode of famous American authors: Poe, Dickinson, Twain, Henry James, and Hemingway. To top all this off, I started T.H. White‘s The Once and Future King after watching The Sword in the Stone with my kids. I know I apologized last time for writing such long updates, but I must mention that I started the visual novel Babylon 5. After reading JMS‘s Rising Stars last week (see Friday’s review), I felt compelled to watch what Neil Gaiman says should have been impossible to accomplish: A perfectly told, thematically unified five-season novel for television (and with assistance from the amazing Harlan Ellison as well!). Better late to the Babylon 5 party than miss it altogether. Thanks again for reading my long update. As you can tell, I’m single-minded in my devotion to reading, but unfortunately not single-minded in reading individual titles (otherwise my updates would be much shorter)!

fantasy and science fiction book reviews
John: I finished A Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss and it was really good, but heavily reviewed, so….  I am most of the way done with Rex Regis by L.E. Modesitt jr.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Kat: Most of my reading this week was student research papers, but the end-of-the-semester fog is starting to lift, so I had some time for SFF, too, all on audio as usual. Everything I read this week gets rated at 3.5 stars which meant it was pleasantly entertaining and recommendable, but not quite great. Max Gladstone‘s Two Serpents Rise made me eagerly wonder where his CRAFT series is going. Gene Wolfe’s The Land Across made me wonder if I missed something profound since it was quite readable but pretty much pointless. Juliet Blackwell’sTarnished and Torn made me wish I didn’t have to wait until next June for the next book. Next up: A couple of Heinlein classics newly released on audio by Blackstone Audio.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews MarionI got very little reading done. I’m reading Electrifying America by David E Nye. It’s an interesting take on the sociological changes electric power wrought. I finished Carol Berg’s The Demon Prism, the third book in the COLLEGIA MAGICA series. I won’t say it was exactly a disappointment because the final 100 pages were brimming with action, but after a lot of build-up, I found the metaphysical construct to be a bit too familiar. I assumed this was a trilogy but enough ends are left loose to justify still more books. We’ll see. And I started The Lives of Tao, by Wesley Chu. What a slam-bang opening!

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Terry: Between getting over the stomach flu, pulling an all-nighter for work and having a root canal (yeah, it was a great week), I haven’t had all that much time for reading, but I did start Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman. I’m enjoying it more than Kat did.  I’m also still reading Bloodstone by Gillian Philip, which just isn’t grabbing me the way the first in the REBEL ANGEL trilogy, Firebranddid. I’m also finishing up Dark Visions, Volume I, edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Tim: This week I was preparing to return home for Christmas, and very little reading got done. I read a fairly sizeable portion of Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby — mostly because that was the free novel I happened to have on my tablet, and the tablet somehow ended up in my carry-on in lieu of the Kindle. It’s fine and dandy and… well… Dickens. Not much more to say on that. Fortunately, Christmas break now looms ahead of me, and my library has welcomed me back with shelves full of possibilities.

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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. Brad, did you know that Winesburg, Ohio was one of Ray Bradbury’s influences for THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES?

    Marion, I loved The Lives of Tao.

    Terry, I liked Emma Newman’s second book much better.

  2. Winesburg OH is one of my all-time favorites (if you like that sort of structure, check out Steinbeck’s Pastures of Heaven.

  3. Brad Hawley /

    Kat and Bill, you rock: I had no idea about the influence on The Martian Chronicles, which I love. I didn’t read Bradbury much until my 30s, but I’ve come to love his short stories. And Bill, I’ve never read Pastures of Heaven, but I think I will now!

    This morning I finished reading The Warrior’s Apprentice. I then immediately read “The Mountains of Mourning, which I also enjoyed. I’ve downloaded and am ready to read The Vor Game. Alix, you’ve got me hooked. Thanks. I think . . . .

    • Brad, the Bujold books are great on audio.

    • I feel really absurdly accomplished about this.

      • Brad Hawley /

        You should, Alix, you should! The only problem is that I’m having a very, very hard time grading. Still to go:

        30 10-page research papers
        40 5-page analytical papers
        20 Essay exams
        By Thursday.

        And The Vor Game is calling to me. I don’t want to stop. Miles is the best. (though my eyes glaze over when I start seeing the names for all the systems and political factions–I think I’m allergic to politics both inside novels and in the real world. Apparently, I hate maps, too. Give me characters and ethical situations and the mean streets of a city. I think that’s why I like P.I. novels so much, Alix. Here’s a comment you made to me in your review of Bujold’s Memory last week that I’ve been thinking about:

        “I’m usually not thrilled with series that are a bunch of super episodic books with main characters who do all the same stuff in different settings (Hard Boiled Detective and Femme Fatale Solve Crimes in Tibet!). I want them to build. I want complexity and serious plot-advancement, and I want everything that happened to these characters before to matter a LOT.”

        I agree: Plot-advancement and world-building are NOT as important to Crime Fiction series (but that’s not true of all of them). Still, I agree with this generalization and think it’s very accurate.

        But for me, it’s not “all the same stuff.” It’s the repetition of the P.I. and the setting and the use of conventions (heavily used as in all genre fiction) that ALLOWS for the complexity of ethical situations. Think Law and Order for a sub-genre of Crime Fiction. Always the same set-up so they can take the time to develop the ethical concerns. Since I’m a failed theologist and philosopher, I ended up writing my dissertation on ethics and fiction. Crime fiction is almost purposefully designed to be lengthy problems of moral philosophy. I highly recommend the surprisingly feminist EARLY AUTUMN by Robert B. Parker. It’s one I teach often in the composition classroom because it focuses on a young boy and man rather than on women (in other words, it’s not the predictable approach to feminism usually taken in fiction). Parker later rewrote the feminist novel–as FAMILY HONOR–with a female P.I.–Sunny Randall–and a young girl. His novels are quick–takes about 3 hours to read one. And chapters are 3-8 pages long.

        I’d love to know what you think Alix. After all, I’m reading your favorite SFF series . . .

        (My wife accuses me of being manipulative at times. I don’t know what she’s talking about!)

        Honestly, Alix, I really would like to know what you think of this book–a critical one in the evolution of the P.I. genre since it comes from a series that predates the real beginning of women writing hard-boiled P.I. feminist novels. Parker, by the way, had a Ph.D. in English and wrote his dissertation on the three masters of the P.I. who came before him: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and Ross MacDonald. EARLY AUTUMN is Parker’s comment–via fiction–on their often, but not always, troubling portrayal of women in their fiction.

        Perhaps this novel will change your mind a bit about P.I. novels just as my general negative feelings about the SFF genre are changing as I read more comics and more reviews on here (and read books you all recommend. Vance and Bujold and Gaiman are my favorites so far).

        He, She, and It was my favorite science fiction novel over the past years (I taught as a guest lecturer for about ten years in a SFF course at the college). It’s a wonderful feminist cyberpunk novel by Marge Piercy. She imitated the conventions of William Gibson, rewrites Frankenstein, tells an embedded Jewish Historical novel, addresses issues about gender and sexuality, and combines a dystopian with a utopian setting in the same novel. In my mind, the “greatest” science fiction novel I’ve encountered. But then again, I’m not well-read in SFF. I am well-read, so I can say that it’s a stunning novel compared against any work of fiction inside and outside of the genre.

        Now I’m rambling again. As usual.

        Did I mention I should be grading? Damn.

  4. Brad Hawley /

    I was looking at those. I’ll try one out. I love hearing books that I’ve already read more than I like hearing books for the first time (that way I don’t worry about missing part of the book–my mind drifts without visual focus), so perhaps I’ll try The Warrior’s Apprentice.

    Jack Vance and now Bujold. I’m ever so slowly getting sucked into this wonderful world you all know so much about! I suppose that’s what interested me about Babylon 5 and Bujold: They are so very different from what I’m used to that it’s refreshing, but since I’m in my 40s, I really want to make sure I’m reading the best of the best! Which is the whole point of this site, isn’t it?

  5. Kat, I will have to read your review again, because I’m just not enjoying it as much as you did.

  6. Sigh, clearly I’ve held off on the Bujold saga as long as is possible with you people. I may have to devote this summer to at least starting you. You’re killing me . . . How many books?

  7. Alix, if our site goes down because everyone got sucked into the Vorkosigan saga and nobody reads and reviews anything else, you will be to blame!

  8. Oh, I’ve already read all the Vorkosigan books, so no worries about me disappearing — at least ’til the next one comes out (though I think the middle books of the series are the best, and the last few have been a bit too light and comical for my taste).

    Brad, I said this before, but I mean it: I love your long updates. If you impart half the enthusiasm you feel for books to your classes, you must be creating new readers in huge numbers.

    • Brad Hawley /

      Terry, you made my day! You are very kind. And “enthusiastic” is a nice way to put it; my wife calls it, “overly dramatic!” Current pedagogical fashion frowns upon dramatic lecturers, but since I was taught by one of the best, I will still attempt to imitate that “sage on the stage” model (though I’m not very sage-like). I also have far more discussion than used in the older lecture method: I’m a blend of the “tell me what you think” and “let me unlock the magic of the literature for you” styles of teaching.

      I learned long ago that one of the most important traits of a teacher at any level and for any subject is to convey enthusiasm, to demonstrate excitement, for the subject matter. I think back to the first college classes I taught 20 years ago. The memories cause me to blush. I’ve learned so much about teaching since then (I hope!), but my personality is MOSTLY the same. It’s funny, in my readings in composition pedagogy, method and approach and grading systems and textbooks and the de-centered (yuck) classroom and everything under the sun is talked about EXCEPT for the personality of the teacher. Yet we all know that not talking personality in instruction is like saying that the visual aspects of comic books don’t matter.

      I once presented a paper titled something like, “Re-centering the De-centered Composition Classroom.” That should tell you what I think about trying to remove the professor from the center of the conversation. Of course, I think personality dictates here too: My wife uses a more de-centered classroom than I do. And I DO use a de-centered classroom compared to my lecture-only professor from college. But I think we’ve forgotten the de-centering was a “counter-statement” to the dominant lecture-only courses of the time. Now I think we need to start Re-centering some courses. I hate to think of all those great, natural lecturers coming into the profession who are being told that lecturing is bad in and of itself. With my personality (look at this long response!), I actually still need to try to de-center. And I do! My wife works on a little more “centering.” But many who don’t lecture at all, need to try to re-center. I got so mad at some of my professors when I went to graduate school and NONE of them would ever lecture (or at least take a stronger lead in the seminar format). All that knowledge that they wouldn’t impart because of pedagogical fashion.

      So, now you’ve heard me lecture about lecturing.

      I just meant to say, “thanks!”

      Thanks, Terry!

      Peace to all,

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