Sunday Status Update: September 6, 2015

This week, Argus Filch addresses the (somewhat horrifying) fact that Harry Potter’s son has just begun school at Hogwarts. Yep, September 2015. This is it.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Argus: Caught the Potter boy trying to force his way into a secret passage yesterday. Was ten minutes into telling him off before it occurred to me that this was actually the second Potter boy, the son of that other one, the famous one. It had all come back to me like it was yesterday, all the tellings-off I gave the father, and now it turns out I lost track of things and forgot how much time had passed. But of course now we’ve got the son in the school, befouling the corridors and whatnot. S’pose that means his old man’s all grown and doing something with his life and all. God, I feel old.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Brad: This week I’ve been reading The Wounded and The Slain by the great crime author David Goodis. I’m also finally reading The Pastures of Heaven by Steinbeck. It’s brilliant. Thank you Bill for putting this book on my radar a few years ago when I mentioned my love for Winesberg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson. Next year, I might teach the two together with Spoonriver Anthology in Freshman English. Does anybody have any other books to recommend that would go well with these three books about small American communities? I also finished the novel Stoner by John Williams. Stoner is NOT about a hippie from the 1960s: Stoner is a serious campus novel about a man who finds happiness and meaning in life as an English professor, even though his life as seen by others is considered a failure. I now consider it one of the great American novels of the twentieth century. Since I might teach campus novels in my Freshman writing course next semester, I not only read Stoner, but also have started Pamela Dean‘s Tam Lin, which so far is a much lighter read than Stoner.  Finally, I read several comics, and I have been impressed with The Nao of Brown, which deals with a young woman’s very serious struggle with OCD.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Jana: This week I made progress with the three books I’m working on (M. Verano’s Diary of a Haunting, Bradley P. Beaulieu‘s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, and Cindy Dees’ The Sleeping King) and hope to finish at least one of them by Monday. Of course, that depends on what the weather is like over the weekend and whether I’ll be able to resist spending all of my time outside. I did read a really excellent novelette by Isabel Yap, “The Oiran’s Song,” recently published online by Uncanny Magazine. It’s brutal and lyrical and realistic and fantastic all at once, and I highly recommend

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: So many books, so little time! I read four books this week, but my TBR list grew by 10 times that amount. This happens every week. I’ve done the math and realized that I’m doomed. There is no way to get my TBR stack read during my lifetime unless I clone myself or I find some sort of time bubble where I can go read while the world stops around me for about 20 years. With my luck, though, I’d walk into the time bubble and forget my books! Anyway, I made some progress this week. I read The Dirdir, the third book in Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE series. Then I read the three sequels to Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing With Dragons. I love that book, but the sequels (Searching for Dragons, Calling on Dragons, Talking to Dragons) were silly and, I thought, disappointing compared to the first book.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Katie: This week I’m excited to upload my very first reviews for Fantasy Literature, Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds and Sara Raasch’s Snow Like Ashes (the sequel, Ice Like Fire, is due to be released later this year). I’ve got so many books I want to review and have just ordered a ton of new titles so will be doing some serious reading. I’m just finishing Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts‘ Daughter of the Empire so that will be review number three. Now I have the agonising task of deciding what to pick up next, as ever, so many books so little time!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Marion: I’m mostly working my way through The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, Edited by Sean Wallace. “Dieselpunk” is the tern this anthology coined for alternate history/steampunk tropes, pushed forwarded into the Interwar period. Some interesting stuff, including a long story by Genevieve Valentine about the theater.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Sandy: Moi? I have just started reading another wonderful novel by the author Francis Stevens. Her offering The Citadel of Fear (1918) had greatly impressed me many years back, and now I have just started her 1919 novel, The Heads of Cerberus, which has been called the very first alternate-world fantasy. Stevens was a favorite of no less a figure than H.P. Lovecraft, and it is easy to see why. Anyway, wishing all my fellow Americans a safe, fun-filled and action-packed Labor Day weekend…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews StuartThis week I finished audiobooks of Arthur C. Clarke‘s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Philip K Dick‘s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (1968). Both books have inspired two of the most highly-regarded SF films of all time, Stanley Kubrick’s  2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). As with last week’s Dune (review coming soon), the films explore the same source materials but focus on powerful visual imagery while sacrificing many character and plot details. Next up is Robert Silverberg‘s Downward to the Earth (1970), after reading all of Sandy’s glowing reviews of his work. I’m also going to tackle the notoriously intricate and subtle The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972) by Gene Wolfe.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tadiana: This week I finished Sarah Beth Durst‘s The Girl Who Could Not Dream, one of those rare middle grade fantasy novels that is fun reading for all ages. It was delightful, and now I really want a pet monster of my own. Review to come, closer to its expected publication date of November 3. I also read Anna-Marie McLemore‘s young adult fantasy debut novel, The Weight of Feathers, to be published September 15. It’s essentially Romeo and Juliet in a magical realism setting, complete with bitterly feuding families and star-crossed young lovers, but the families are talented acrobats who take their Cirque du Soleil-like acts from town to town. I also discovered that Andy Weir, author of The Martian, one of my favorite SF reads of 2014, has written multiple short stories – extremely short stories – that he publishes online at I read through all of them one day this week; they’re a little thin, but for the most part (mildly) enjoyable. I like “The Egg” and “Antihypoxiant” best. My non-SFF reads this week were Jane Austen‘sSense and Sensibility (I’m taking it slowly and am about 1/4 of the way through it so far) and a short SHERLOCK HOLMES novel, The Sign of the Four.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Terry: I’m reading Magic Rises by Ilona Andrews.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: I’ve been ill this week, and I ended up watching more television than reading books (now the Poldark violin theme is on a constant loop in my head). I’m recovering now, though, and the books are calling. Very grateful for the existence of Labor Day!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Bill: This week I read Michael Swanwick’s Chasing the Phoenix (wittily good, if a bit slight), Bradley P. Beaulieu‘s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai (mostly good but overly long), and The Scorch Trials by James Dashner (not good)

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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, I can’t remember if I asked you before; have you read anything by David Corbett? It’s not small-town Americana (well, actually, some of it is… ) He writes crime drama. I think you’d be interested in THE MERCY OF THE NIGHT, his latest. It was inspired by a tragic kidnap/murder in Vallejo, CA, and by that city’s later bankruptcy (2 completely different things, no cause and effect there).

  2. Janna, I just read The Oiran’s song : it’s just as you said and bewitching. Thanks for the recommandation.

  3. Brad, are you looking for small-town novels in a certain time period? Because there’s always Willa Cather’s body of work.

    Kat, your time-bubble idea sounds like it could an episode of The Twilight Zone. (Or my own personal Hell.)

    • Believe it or not, I’m not sure I’ve read anything by Willa Cather. I meant to when I was in college as an undergraduate, and then she fell off my reading list for some reason. What would you recommend?

      I’m really interested in any small town books, hopefully short, that will show my students the way authors take the same premise to examine a wide variety of human concerns, often quite different from one another.

      My list includes these possibilities so far:
      Spoon River Anthology (even though it’s not a novel, it was an influence on many novels)
      Winesberg, Ohio (Anderson)
      Pastures of Heaven (Steinbeck)
      Nathan Coulter (Wendell Berry)
      Raney (Edgerton)
      Main Street (Lewis)
      River of Earth (James Still)–Haven’t read this one
      Silas Marner (Eliot)–For most of my life, I’ve read and studied the English novel, so that’s why I’ve been trying to finally read more American novelists.

      PLUS in comics: Palomar stories by Gilbert Hernandez

      I’ve also thought about throwing in a few books on small communities that are created in different ways:
      Professional: Police Procedurals of the 87th Precinct (McBain)
      Academic: Harry Potter, Small Room (Sarton), or Deadly Class (a comic about a Hogwarts for young homeless kids to become Assassins)

      I like to throw into the mix at least ONE book that SEEMS out of place. And then we study the thematic similarities and differences. I like to have a very loose concept to make sense of the books I assign in Freshman Writing. I often use “coming-of-age,” for example. That covers a broad range, of course, which is sort of the point.

      But I have been enjoying novels about small-town U.S.A. lately.


      • For your purposes, I think Death Comes for the Archbishop or The Professor’s House might work well.

      • It’d be cruel to do to first-years, but certainly Faulkner’s series of books set in his “postage-stamp of native soil” would qualify.

        I don’t know how they’d hold up, but ages ago I loved T.R. Pearson’s A Short History of a Small Place and the next book or two after that set in the same small town

        If you want to add non-fiction, there’s a book called In Utopia where the author explores different planned communities in each chapter (one a town built on the 2nd Am., another is on an old cruise ship)

        • Thank you Jana and Bill!

          Jana, I’ll add both those to my list.

          Bill, I’ll read Pearson and In Utopia. In Utopia might be a good book to read in the middle of the novels we are reading.

          I love Faulkner, but I think reading the novels I love most by him (Absalom! Absalom! is my favorite) in Freshman Writing would detract from other aspects of the course. However, I might teach some of his short stories. A Rose for Emily would be high up on my list (if I’m remembering the title correctly–I haven’t taught that one in a decade or so).

          I often start the course with Jane Austen or Forster’s Room with a View and then move on to contemporary novels and then comics, or “sequential art” (to focus on visual literacy that is required of most students in other fields–science labs, psychology, etc.). Other than the first novel, I love to teach a few short stories and short novels or novellas. That way we can really talk about every chapter we read. In my upper-level courses, I usually assign three times the amount of reading because I want students to read as much as possible.

          Obviously, I could teach the same grouping of books each semester, but one of the reasons I love teaching is the challenge of working through different books with the students from one semester to the next. Though I have my favorites (Pride and Prejudice, The Chosen, A Room with a View, and Early Autumn), I always combine them with different novels so that the thematic connections we see change each semester. Reading The Chosen with Ms. Marvel and Fun Home last semester was extremely interesting, and the students liked it. But I don’t want to merely repeat myself.

          If you all think of any other good science fiction that would work as an extension of this idea of community, please let me know.

          I’ve already decided that I’m going to teach VERY early stories by Silverberg soon in one of my classes. I love his short stories. He’s brilliant. I know Sandy will back me on that one . . .

    • Actually, there already is a Twilight Zone episode with that plot, which is what I was thinking of when I wrote my update. I remember seeing it once and thinking about all the things I could get done while everyone else was frozen in time.

      • ooh, Kent Haruf and Howard Frank Mosher!

        • I’m downloading onto my kindle samples of all these titles everybody is mentioning and creating a folder. I got BOOK ONE of whatever Haruf’s series is, but I don’t know about Mosher. Which title or two would you recommend, Bill?

        • Northern Borders by Mosher?

          • Thanks, Bill. I’ll check out the Stranger in the Kingdom.

            That story is just crazy. As I teach my students, it’s all about context, anyway, so you can’t just pull a quotation out of a book.

            To explain to my students, I might say something like this:

            Some people even object to Shakespeare. Some people might even find that Shakespeare is offensive because of all the lewd sexual humor. The problem with any banning or censoring is that it doesn’t take into context what’s being said. For example, you can now go out of this classroom and quote Dr. Hawley as having said, “Shakespeare is offensive because of all the lewd sexual humor.” And you’d be correct. I said those words in that order, but based on the context, I disagreed with what is implied by that highly selective quotation. And once you add literary works with irony (most good ones), then trying to explain context to those who want to censor becomes almost impossible.

            What gets into the minds of people who want to censor books in this way? It’s very upsetting.

          • Also, I probably should teach Absalom! Absalom! ONE time in my life, just to do it. Just like I still haven’t taught Emma, but I will one day. They are both long and difficult works for Freshman writing, but I’ve always wanted to teach these two novels that are, without a doubt, two of the greatest novels ever written in the English language.

          • Brad, you can also want to ban Shakespeare because themes like slavery in THE TEMPTEST make you (and by that I mean me) uncomfortable. For me, that discomfort is the start of the discussion, not the end of it. You don’t shut down the play, you look at those themes in the context of a 16th (early 17?) century play.

      • I’ve never watched Twilight Zone. Well, I’ve seen maybe two at most. I’d love to see the one you mentioned. Any idea how to find it? Or is that about impossible given the number?

        And where should I start with watching Twilight zone? Is there a best hits list somewhere? I’ve always wanted to see some of the classic episodes that people think are best.

        By the way, you’ve got me really eager to reread Martian Chronicles. I remember the first time I read it–I was in my 30s–and I just was blown away by it. It is such an amazing book. I’ve always wanted to teach it, and it will go so well with these other books. I’m so glad you brought it up again. Bradbury’s a genius, but I just think it’s a shame he’s best known for F 451. Ugh. It’s like Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter in high school: These two books always get taught and students don’t like them near as much as they’d LOVE the short stories of Bradbury and Hawthorne. Hawthorne writes some crazy stories that teenagers would love, and high school teachers continue to assign Scarlet Letter and guarantee that they’ll never read Hawthorne again (or READ again at all for some students). Same with Romeo and Juliet and the tragedies of Shakespeare. Why not As You Like It? Midsummer? Now I’m on a rant.

        All I can say is that at least Gatsby is as perfect a novel as one could teach, so I agree with that choice. But F. Scott’s got a lot of other fun stories to read for variation.

        The biggest problem is that not enough FUN contemporary novels are taught as serious fiction in high school. I’d assign something like Steve Martin’s The Pleasure of My Company or some good SFF short stories or even Crime Fiction short stories and novellas. Such great books out there that would get young, resistant readers to fall in love with books. A passionate reader will survive Scarlet Letter (which is genius and should be read in college), but resistant readers will be crushed by it.

        I think the problem with contemporary novels is fear of censorship and parent protest. If a teacher dares to teach a contemporary novel with HALF the sex and violence of a Shakespeare play, then there are going to be major complaints. But there are no complaints with Shakespeare because he’s Shakespeare and must be good for the kids as they get some culture. I think Shakespeare should be used as the minimum standard for permissible number scenes with sex and violence. If a teacher can prove that a novel has fewer such scenes than a frequently taught Shakespeare play such as Romeo and Juliet, then nobody should be allowed to complain to the teachers or the administration. We are a nation of prudes when it comes to teaching our children literature. I’m glad I teach college, though even college English professors get complaints from time to time. I’ve been fortunate so far. Though I suppose it’s a matter of time only.

        Hmmm, I wonder where this rant came from . . .

        • Brad; to play the devil’s advocate for just a moment, if you think Shakespeare doesn’t get parent complaints, you should read a short story by Connie Willis called “Ado.” It is fiction, but it’s not wrong.

          As for TWILIGHT ZONE, wait for any Monday holiday, (oh! Like today!) and check out the Syfy Channel. They are very *fond* of Twilight Marathons.

          There are two that deal with small towns, one based on a short story (don’t remember the author) — one is “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” or something like that. It’s a metaphor for McCarthyism but sadly, still works today. The other one, I don’t know the name is, takes the opposite approach as evil space aliens try to get the residents of a small town to turn on each other, and fail.

          • Hey Brad,
            For Mosher, A Stranger in the Kingdom is a good one to teach as it has a young character as its focus, a murder trial/mystery as part of its plot, and can be compared to Mockingbird, which nearly all students have read. But his other Northeastern Kingdom books are (mostly) quite good as well.

            re complaints. When teaching high school, I once had The Handmaid’s Tale challenged. Our dept. coord. at the time (not an Eng. teacher but a social studies one) in the meeting with the principal pulled out a copy and said “I went through this the last few days and highlighted scenes I thought were questionable/controversial/inappropriate.” It looked, I swear, like she had simply dipped it in a bucket of yellow paint. I asked to borrow it to leaf through and couldn’t at times even figure out why she had highlighted what she had. (I “won” the argument when it came out that it was on the AP suggested reading list.) Yes, you are happy you teach college :)

            btw–Absalom Absalom also my favorite Faulkner (who might just be my favorite author, certainly in the running . . . . )

          • Yes, you are right, of course, Marion. I just mean that many parents will object to the most surprising works of contemporary literature while at the same time not objecting to Shakespeare because his plays are part of the “classics” (which they aren’t, technically, since they are written in English, and MODERN English at that.)

            I’ll look up that Connie Willis story later today. I THINK I have most of her collections, though I still haven’t read but a few recommended stories out of them (I know, I know, I need to read ALL of them!).

            Thanks for the Twilight Zone help!

  4. Tim, please thank Argus for making me feel old. :)

  5. Sandy, I noticed that you’re reading Francis Stevens’ The Heads of Cerberus (1919), and I just started Gene Wolfe’s The Fifth Head of Cerberus (1972). I wonder how connected the two books are?

  6. Small towns always make me think of Ray Bradbury, like “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

    • They make me think of Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. He said Winesburg, Ohio was an influence for that book.

      • Great titles, Melita and Kat! Either one of those would work well. Martian Chronicles will go well with Winesberg, Ohio and Pastures of Heaven, for sure, as will Spoon River Anthology, which influenced Pastures of Heaven, so all these are connected. But Something Wicked would be a fun one, too. i need to reread it from this perspective (a great excuse to read books “for work.” I have the best job in then world!).

        Thanks for the help!

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