Sunday Status Update: October 7, 2012

And so it came to pass that in the Autumn of the year, novels were read by all and sundry. Or at least those who weren’t watching television or too busy.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Brad: In addition to reading my usual stack of comics, I read a few old BLACK MASK pulp fiction noir stories. But primarily, I’ve been reading two excellent books I might be using next semester in my writing classes: The Office of Assertion: An Art of Rhetoric for the Creative Essay by Scott F. Crider and “They Say / I Say”: The Moves that Matter in Persuasive Writing by Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein. The first is more theoretical than the second which offers a variety of templates as models for the types of rhetorical moves nonfiction writers make at the sentence level. I highly recommend these very short and useful books for anyone wanting to improve his essay writing skills. And if you’ve got kids in high school or college, make them read these books! Perhaps I’ll have time for novels next week . . .

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews JohnThree Parts Dead by Max Gladstone is entertaining me.  Can’t wait to start so many of the great titles on my to-read list!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: I finished C.S. Lewis’s SPACE TRILOGY this week. The final volume, That Hideous Strength, was really different from the previous volumes, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, but it was still good. I’m about half-way through George R.R. Martin’s Dying of the Light and, in audio, I’m about to finish the fifth book of Roger Zelazny’s CHRONICLES OF AMBER, The Courts of Chaos.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Marion: I haven’t had much time for reading this week. I am about one-third of the way through Robert McCammon’s 1980s horror novel Bethany’s Sin. A review will follow. This was written before PTSD had its own acronym and basically any Viet Nam vet was crazy, but within those constraints McCammon seems to have created a genuine character. Solid sense of the place, too. My “car book” is a Radium Era Publishing edition of two science fiction novellas by Rudyard Kipling, With the Night Mail.(No, I don’t read while driving.)  And, because so many of fanlit’s own reviewers have raved about Kevin Hearne’s IRON DRUID series I picked up Hounded. Very fresh and fun! I’m only a couple of chapters in but I already love Oberon, Atticus’s wolfhound companion.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Steven: In honor of my favorite month of the year, I’m currently re-reading The October Country by Ray Bradbury and starting A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. I’ve just had some new reviews posted on a couple of fantasies written in the 1970’s, one of which I highly recommend and another which I don’t. If you get a chance see them and let me know what you think.

On the comics front, I’m now re-reading every single HELLBOY graphic novel from the beginning of the series, a fact for which I blame Brad. As a former history teacher, I always have to have a biography going in addition to my speculative fiction, and I’m slowly but steadily working away on Robert Caro’s multi-volume life of Lyndon Johnson. I guess I can’t blame Brad for that one.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Terry: I was happily reading Cassandra Clare‘s City of Lost Souls, the fifth book in the MORTAL INSTRUMENTS trilogy (yes, she’s following in the footsteps of Douglas Adams in that respect, even if she’s writing supernatural bodice rippers instead of humor) when Jonathan Maberry‘s Dragon Factory jumped off the shelf and into my arms.  How is it that books that have been happily and patiently waiting their turn for two years or more will suddenly demand attention like that?  In any event, I’m glad that it made itself known, because it’s great fun so far.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: This week I was away at a wedding for a couple of days and kept busy by work for a couple more, but I managed to reread Jim Butcher‘s Proven Guilty and start Erin Morgenstern‘s The Night Circus. I always feel an urge to start reading more novels that I feel have a “Halloween” flavor as I move into October, and while the two novels have that in common they otherwise had about the strongest contrast I could think of. I enjoyed Proven Guilty more for its characterization and wit than for the plot (which wasn’t weak, but in the broader DRESDEN FILES universe where Harry Dresden saves the world every few months, seems a little less urgent than usual). The Night Circus, on the other hand, has a quite stunningly lovely ambience (if I may use the word) and a captivating plot, but the characters seem at best distant, at worst a little bit shallow. It’s a shame, because otherwise I love almost everything about this novel. I’ll have to wait and see how it all ends, to see whether Morgenstern‘s strategy of distance is intentional (and if so, successful).

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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. I thought Night Circus was beautifully written, and I loved the conceit of the circus itself, but I also found the characters distant, and frankly I wasn’t convinced by the plot. I still liked it enough to recommend to several people just for its beauty.

    • Brad Hawley /

      Bummer. Night Circus looked so interesting.

      I did manage to finish Susan Cooper’s Over Sea, Under Stone today and loved it (my wife thinks I’m crazy because I stop reading novels fifty pages before the end and wait a week or more to finish).

      I also just started reading Homer for the first time since I was a freshman in college. I’ve tried two translations and decided Fitzgerald’s is the one for me (though I will go back to Lattimore for accuracy later). Here’s what I have to say about the Odyssey, reading it for the first time as an adult (I’m 42): WOW.

      That’s it for now. Just wow. It will take some time to process.

      • Sarah /

        Fitzgerald is the translation my father usually gives people for an initial reading. I think he has every translation there is, but Fitzgerald is his favorite for readability.

        • Good to hear. A bad translation can be deadly. Does he have any favorite critical works on Homer made for a intelligent popular, rather than solely academic, audience?

  2. Brad Hawley /

    I’d say I was sorry, Steven, but I’d be lying because I know all this reading is gonna lead to several excellent Hellboy reviews! I can’t wait to read them.

    And you can blame me for anything you want, Steven.

  3. Wait! Night circus is interesting; it’s just flawed. Well worth the time to read it.

  4. I loved The Night Circus. I’m an artist and come from that background and I heard the author of that book was too. It’s a fable and I think if you read it with that in mind, you realize the circus is “artistic obsession” and once you become part of that, you can never escape it. You are doomed. Everyone who had anything to do with the circus could not leave it behind. So, yes, it was written in a certain way.

    • Tim Scheidler /

      Well, I’ve finished the book now.

      Marion: I agree. It’s lovely. But you’re right, the plot didn’t do what I’d hoped it would. I really wanted to believe that the distance of the narrative was setting up a twist…

      Melinda: Yes, I think you’re right about that. The themes of artistry and obsession are potent. To be clear, I have no issue with Morgenstern’s crafting the novel as she did. I found it lovely. My issue is that this nine-ring circus of a novel–that intentionally and obviously places the reader in the position of an audience member–has a center-ring act that seems to be all flash, no substance. I liked Bailey, I LOVED the circus itself, I adored Morgenstern’s prose, but I really feel it was a mistake to rest the whole piece on a pair of flat characters (that is, figures with function and direction but little internal conflict). Now flat characters have their place, and I can see why using them might appeal, but I think that for this kind of novel Marco and Celia were not as riveting protagonists as we might have hoped for.

      Brad: To finish up, Marion’s right. Don’t give up! The Night Circus is one of the most beautiful things I’ve read in a long time. I’m in the curious position of recognizing its flaws while still appreciating it intensely as a work of art. There are several scenes in the novel where landscapes and figures are made of words, in a bit of obvious statement of intent. I think Morgenstern’s accomplished her goal in that sense: this is a painting of words, and a fantastic one. Like a painting, it’s also less interactive than we expect from a novel: the protags lack the sparks of humanity that would make this great. But for what it is, it’s still pretty damn good.

  5. It’s past midnight in Georgia, and I don’t know if I’m catching yesterday’s Kindle sale late or tomorrow’s digital deal early, but at this moment there are 14 books by Philip K. Dick on sale for $1.99.

    That’s just plain awesome!

    If you’ve never read The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch or Ubik, now is your chance to get them cheap!

    • Just realized that your were a fellow Georgia native Brad. Ubik has been on my list for a while. My son is a major Philip K. Dick fan. He’s been reading The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick recently. I read The Man in the High Castle back in college and it has long been a favorite.

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