Sunday Status Update: January 12, 2014

This week, thanks go out to Marion for obtaining this journal entry from Gregor Samsa, a young man… er… insect… uh… well… what is he, actually…. ?

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Gregor: (From the journal of Gregor Samsa, translated from cockroach by Franz Kafka.) I do not consider my visit to the group my sister recommended, Metamorphs Anonymous, a success. I traveled in a coffin-like box loaded on a cart to the meeting, which was held in the cold basement of a church. The others in the group seemed to ignore me, except for shooing me away from the sugar lumps.  There was a group of men who said they change into wolves; they quite preferred the lupine state and wished to have their humanity removed. The group leader, a stern woman wearing an expressionless ceramic mask, with a coiffure of hissing snakes, was unsympathetic to them. She suggested they find another group. Later, when the rest were huddled around the asthmatically wheezing samovar getting their tea, one of the were-cats tried to eat me. If I am truly honest in this journal, I will admit that I only attended the meeting to please my sister, in the hope that she would stop swatting me with the broom. So far, I have not met with success. My wants are simple; warmth, darkness, and a mountain of sugar lumps and cake crumbs to eat. Why must I be shunned for these every-day desires?

AlixAlix: My week has been book-wealthy: I finished Valente’s sweet and clever The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making, and my review will shortly join the many that Fantasy Literature already has.  Then I finished Ancillary Justice, and if that book doesn’t win itself a Hugo then I’ll…be irritated.  I’m now hip-deep in J.M. McDermott’s Maze, a new book from Apex Publications which comes out on January 13th.  It’s a slick, surrealist horror story that reminds me (only a little) of Danielewski’s House of LeavesIn other news, I somehow just started watching Sherlock and ohmygod, why didn’t I watch it years ago.  

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Brad: Alix and Kat have done a real number on me: I’m obsessed with Bujold, and Miles and his mother are now two more of my favorite all-time fictional characters. Kat has also really got me hooked on audiobooks, so while I read the digital editions of Miles’s adventures, I took breaks listening to the audiobooks of Shards of Honor and Barrayar to get the backstory on Miles’s parents. I’ve also listened to the audiobook of Borders of Infinity, the collection of three excellent novellas, each of which I think deserve five stars. At the moment, in addition to Shards of Honor and Barrayar, I’ve finished the following novels by Bujold in the past month: The Warrior’s ApprenticeThe Vor Game, CetagandaEthan of AthosBrothers in Arms, and Mirror DanceMirror Dance was brilliant. I think it was the best in the series so far. I’ve just started Memory, which was the book I wanted to read in the first place! I’ve already purchased and downloaded the other novella and five novels in the series that come after Memory. And since I finally got my first Bluetooth device for phone calls and music, I’ve decided to follow Kat’s lead to listen to more audiobooks while I accomplish tasks around the house. So, following her example AND after reading her review of Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion (the first book in another series by Bujold), I’ve downloaded the audiobook to listen to when I can’t sit down to read about Miles! I’m left with two questions about Bujold: 1. Should I read Falling Free, the first book in the VORKOSIGAN series (based on internal chronology)? I didn’t see a review of that book. 2. I love the narrator for The Curse of Chalion, so I look forward to Paladin of Souls, the second book in the series. However, the third book in the series, The Hallowed Hunt, has a different narrator that many reviewers on Amazon complained about. Kat, your review suggested that the book was solid, but I am wondering if you’d suggest I read that book instead of listening to it. My reading in comics has been minimal because of Bujold, but I have been reading Madame Xanadu Volume One by Matt Wagner. It’s a five-star comic. Perhaps I’ll write a review of it for this week’s Fanboy Friday. I also read our staff reviews of Robin Hobb. I think I know which author I’ll turn to after Bujold.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Kat: I haven’t had a chance to write any reviews recently, but I have read a few good books. Protector, by Larry Niven, is  an interesting look at the evolution of humanity and our place in the universe. It’s early Niven, so not as “readable” as his later more plot-driven works, but it’s got some weird and fascinating ideas. And now for something completely different… Looking for something light and fluffy, I read the first two books in Gail Carriger’s PARASOL PROTECTORATE series, Soulless (Garriger’s debut) and Changeless. These are definitely enjoyable, but not as good as FINISHING SCHOOL, the YA series set in the same world, which she began last year. I’m looking forward to reading more of her work.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Marion: After finishing up Ari Marmell’s delightful Lost Covenant, I journeyed back in time to the early 2000s and re-read Spook Country by William Gibson. It was just as well-written, insightful, and intriguing as I remembered it. I’m enjoying browsing Simon Graham’s book Just My Type, a collection of information about various typefaces and how they came to be.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews TerrySubterranean Magazine‘s Winter 2014 issue is out, guest-edited by Jonathan Strahan, and it’s a knockout. So far I’ve read top-of-the-line stories by Jeffrey FordGreg Egan and Eleanor Arnason, with more stories by the likes of Karen Joy Fowler and K.J. Parker yet to come. I think the Ford story is going to wind up on awards ballots for 2014, and maybe the Egan will, too. I’m also reading The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Stavely and The Alchemistic by Anton Strout, and enjoying the former more than the latter. I should be reading altogether different books in order to review them, but sometimes one must follow one’s muse (there is a muse of reading, isn’t there?). And I’m accumulating more books at an unholy pace; about two physical books per day since the beginning of the year, and I hate to even guess at how many I’ve added to my Kindle since 2014 first showed up. There are worse habits, I suppose, and it makes me happy.

fantasy and science fiction book reviews Tim: Unfortunately, I got no reading at all done this week. I’ve been frantically completing and revising papers like a busy, coffee-drunk little bee while my Kindle collected dust on the shelf. I swear the Jane Austen picture Amazon uses as one of the device’s “sleep mode images” has been looking more reproachful of late. Being me, I received more books over the holidays and, apparently unsatisfied, bought myself even more than that. It’s odd how, despite the fact that I’ve had less time for picking my own books, my book buying has carried on unassuaged. I now possess The History of the Runestaff by Michael Moorcock, as well as The Knight and Knave of Swords by Fritz Leiber. I’m rubbing my hands together in giddy glee at the prospect of getting them on Robin Hobb‘s forthcoming Fool’s Assassin, and Jim Butcher‘s Skin Game is close behind. Don’t even get me started on Gaiman‘s return to SANDMAN. By the time I’m actually free to kick back and enjoy these books, I’ll have such a dizzying back-log of them that I won’t know where to start.

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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. Hélène /

    Is it the time of the year or what? I’m glad to read I’m not the only one to “accumulate more books at an unholy pace” – even though it’s the busiest period for work. I have a theory that books are a shy kind of animals which must be welcome when they choose to appear : they might never make another appearance.

  2. Marion /

    Alix, I’m eager to read your review of The Scar and see what you make of it. Have you already read Perdido Street Station?

    Brad, I did not particularly care for The Hallowed Hunt. It might be that it just paled in comparison to The Paladin of Souls, which I think won a Hugo, but I didn’t care for the narrator particularly, nor the use of the cosmology and the problem they have to solve. It might just be me.

    Memory and Mirror Dance are my two favorite of the Vorkosigan books, although Borders of Infinity, the short story set in the concentration camp, and the one on Vor where Miles is sent in his father’s place to address an issue, are both powerful works.

    • I read The City and the City a long time ago, but not Perdido Street Station. I also just realized this status update is the same as last weeks, so I switched it out with the one I meant to send…whuups.

  3. April V. /

    Brad, Falling Free is definitely worth a read. It is set way earlier than all the Miles books, with no familiar characters but you’ll see some remnants of that story pop up in a later Miles book and the story itself is a fascinating one.

    I read The Hallowed Hunt as well but don’t remember it all that much. I think that mostly answers the question. Decent book but disappears against the first two.

    Kat, I had read the Parasol Protectorate books before the Finishing School ones and I liked them quite fine. However, I do agree that Sophronia’s story ‘kicks it up a notch’ to quote Emeril and they are more: funnier, full of more interesting characters and chock full of clever.

    • April, I’m not enjoying Parasol Protectorate as much as I’d hoped. It’s cute, but it feels like it’s trying too hard. I read the first two. My library has 4 and 5, but I’d have to purchase 3. Do they get better? I’m trying to decide whether to purchase 3.

    • Brad Hawley /

      Thanks, April! I will get Falling Free and skip Hallowed Hunt. I greatly appreciate your advice.

  4. Brad, I think you should try Kage Baker before you go to Robin Hobb. Start with In the Garden of Iden. It’s a time travel series that I think might be a better transition from Bujold before you hit the all-fantasy world of Hobb’s work.

  5. I was going to suggest Kage Baker, too, Brad. I love her almost as much as I love Jack Vance.

    The Hallowed Hunt left less of an impression on me than The Curse of Chalion and Paladin of Souls did. You can skip it. I can’t remember if I listened to it on audio or read it in print. It’s been many years.

    • Brad Hawley /

      Hallowed Hunt will never be read by this fellow, but I’ll certainly check out Kage Baker, Terry and Kat.

      Love him almost as much as Vance?! That’s saying something! As soon as I get through the Miles books and the first two books in the other series, I’ll move on to Kage Baker. Once I find out if I like her work, I’ll report back and get suggestions from there. I think I am still so new to SFF that it’s hard to guess what I will or won’t like with accuracy yet on my part. But which each new author, I understand my tastes a little better.

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