For the record, I don't only watch TV. Some recent books:

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin

    I generally don't enjoy fantasy novels. I read a lot of them when I was a kid, and now I'm just totally burned out on the whole genre. Despite that, people who are fans pretty regularly say "oh, but this one is different" and suggest books like this one. Well, I'm sorry to say that I hated this one too, despite being a big fan of Martin's horror and scifi work. This book starts off on a promising note: knights versus zombies! But then you don't see another zombie again ever! I assume they return in some later 800 page volume of the series. The bulk of the book is political intrigue between indistinguishable royal cousins. I was skimming madly by the halfway point. The only other interesting part was a brief diversion where an 8 year old girl was being trained to be a ninja, but that didn't last long and went nowhere.

Family Trade by Charles Stross

    So after that, you can imagine my hesitation when I saw this one in a bookstore. Fantasy by Charlie Stross, an awesome scifi writer. I felt that sinking feeling again, but thought, "naah, Charlie wouldn't let me down."

    And I was right! This book is great! It hits all the fantasy parallel world trappings from Chronicles of Amber and World of Tiers -- our hero discovers an artifact that lets her travel through the looking glass, where she discovers that she's a changeling / long lost princess -- but then it pokes fun at all of those conventions while still taking them seriously. It's not a comedy, but it shines some realism on the fantasy, such as pointing out that going to live in the magic fairyland castle means not having indoor plumbing. Much is also made of the economics of it all, and how utterly miserable feudal societies are for everyone but the elite.

    But, warning: this is only half of a book. While it was enjoyable on its own, it does end on a pretty major cliffhanger, and volume 2 is not out yet.

Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff

    Tanya Huff wrote a series of books (Blood Price, etc.) about a private detective who fell into taking on cases involving the supernatural, like being hired by a family of werewolves to find out who keeps shooting them. They were pretty entertaining, and this book is kind of a spin-off of that series featuring a couple of the minor characters. In this one, an evil wizard comes through a gateway from another dimension to take over the world, on what happens to be the thinly-disguised sound stage for the "Forever Knight" TV show. It is up to a bumbling production assistant to save the world. This book, also, is pretty entertaining. It was a bit like a Buffy episode.

Lucifer's Dragon by Jon Courtenay Grimwood

    I remember somewhat enjoying this while I was reading it, a couple months ago, but now I can't remember a damned thing that happened in it. I remember thinking that it was better than RedRobe, but since nothing about this book has found purchase in my brain, I guess that's not a very positive review.

Light by M. John Harrison

    This book bounced back and forth between a present-day programmer-slash-serial-killer who is being stalked by some imaginary jack-in-the-box man; and a far-future sentient spaceship looking for some magical artifact. I found it mostly incomprehensible.

The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

    This was Sagan's last book. It's a collection of essays on science versus pseudoscience and mysticism, and I found it pretty depressing. Sagan comes off as generally optimistic about the human condition, but then he tells all these anecdotes about people who have this innate curiosity, a desire to explain the world, but because of their complete ignorance of how science works, they end up chasing things like ghosts and the face on mars. The book contains a lot of frustration and not a lot of answers. It is very well written, though. I especially liked the bit about "The Invisible Dragon in my Garage". Also, "The Fine Art of Baloney Detection" is one of the best chapter titles ever.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

    This is a gigantic brick of a book, historical fiction about a reclusive scholar in the 1800s who wants to bring back magic to fight Napoleon. It's very, very dry. So dry it will leach the moisture from the room and make your lips crack. It is written in an archaic style, and is at least 10% footnotes by volume. I found it somewhat amusing, but I now note that I've only made it 150 pages in (out of 800) and I haven't picked it up in weeks, so I guess I'm done. Pretty much nothing has happened so far: our hero has bought a new house, and brought a girl back from the dead, and the primary effect of this is that he is quite the talk of the society parties, oh quite. I guess if you're the sort of person who can actually tolerate Dickens, you might enjoy this.

The John Varley Reader by guess who

    Varley has been one of my favorite writers for years, and this book is why. This is a collection of his short stories, on the 30th anniversary of the publishing of his first one. I read most of these stories during my formative years, and they in no small part shaped my vision of What The Future Will Be Like. Most of these stories have been out of print for some time, and there are a few in here I hadn't seen before. Every story in this book is fantastic. If you never take another piece of my advice on a book, take this one: I can't recommend it highly enough.

Mammoth by John Varley

    That said, I'm sorry to report that I found Mammoth somewhat disappointing. It's an ok book, but it's just not as good as I've come to expect from Varley. It's a story about cloning mammoths, with some time travel thrown in. It was entertaining, but ultimately kind of empty: it felt like not much really happened.
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35 Responses:

  1. amberley says:

    Hidden Family, the sequel to Family Trade, is out in hardcover now. I liked both.

  2. pete23 says:

    strange and norrell cheers up a bit when the former turns up, but not a lot...

  3. sfritz says:

    Strange and Norell requires a couple attempts to chug through it. I think I read it over the course of four months or something obscene like that.

    The ending? Complete crap. I almost recommend chugging through the next 650 pages just to be as confused and bewildered as I was that she ended that way.

    Though the book does have it's golden moments. Norell in Spain was somewhat interesting, I guess.

    • patrick says:

      Strange is the one that goes to Spain.

      Personally, I loved the book. I couldn't put it down once I started reading it. But I'm a little crazy like that. :P

      • zompist says:

        Strange in Spain is the best part of the book, I think. It also pretty much stands on its own, so it might be worth reading even if you don't finish the book.

        I think of the book as "what would happen if Jane Austen had written fantasy".

    • xenogram says:

      I rather enjoyed it, but then I've read the Silmarillion for fun too. Long slow books like that are an acquired taste.

      The Quicksilver trilogy threatens to be same, but suddenly veers off into "ripping yarn" territory in the second part of the first volume.

      • mightymu says:

        Heh. I figure that 'The Confusion' is Stephenson's way of saying "Thanks for making it through 'Quicksilver'."

      • jwz says:

        Man, I bailed on that shit at page 50. And I liked all of Stephenson's previous books.

        • xenogram says:

          It takes a long time to get into, so much so that I wonder if he wasn't trying to put people off deliberately. I had nothing else to read at the time...

          If it's just too dull, really, you could just skip to the second half; that's much more exciting. It's a parallel story, so it isn't going to spoil the first half if you ever get around to going back to that part.

    • rodgerd says:

      I read it across a couple of days and loved it first time around.

    • taffer says:

      I got through Strange and Norell in one try, but I have an English degree, and have ploughed through much drier stuff, sometimes for "fun".

  4. mightymu says:

    I purchased "Light" largely because of the Neil Gaiman quote on the front cover - "Easily my favorite SF novel in the last decade, maybe longer".
    I've since concluded that Neil Gaiman must not read very much Sci Fi.

    However, I did end up re-reading the book a while back, and found it to be a much better experience the second time 'round.

  5. Apparently my comments on JS&Mr.N didn't serve very well. I liked it. But then again, I liked the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, which takes some doing.

    • I enjoyed the Chronicles of the Unbeliever in high school and burned through the entire Dune series in college, but I can't get through Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. The footnotes are entertaining, though.

    • vimsig says:

      Yep - I read those avidly and thought I was the only one who rated them. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is hopping up and down on the shelf saying 'read me next', which I will after Jasper Fforde's The Big over Easy

      • But do yourself a favor and never, ever read anything of "The Final Chronicles of Thomas Covenant".

        Only the first book of it is out now (The Runes of the Earth). I made the mistake of reading it, and it was utterly loathsome tripe. I wouldn't have made it through if I hadn't been trapped in an airport without anything else to read. Avoid.

  6. ctakahara says:

    I am sorry to say I've read all three of his books to date; I got wrangled into them because my girlfriend at the time was reading them (this was something like two years ago). Frankly, I would have liked the political intrigue if that was the focus of the book, or if I gave a shit about the people involved, but for the most part, Martin seems determined to make the most goddamn depressing series of lowtech fantasy ever. Spoiler: by the end of book 3, almost every single protagonist is dead.

    Then again, who knows, maybe that'd make someone want to read it if they weren't fans of Ned and his crew. Heh.

    • jwz says:

      His scifi/horror stuff is really good, though. He's written a ton of cool short stories. Fevre Dream is great.

    • prog says:

      I am slogging through the third book now (a ~1200-page monster where the zombies finally reappear). I am drawn ahead by the tasty writing and I love the intrigue, but the basic nihilism of the world is really getting to me. While book three introduces a handful of "smallfolk" who count for something, the whole series still describes a world where the only notable thing that ever happens is petty land wars between noble houses, and there has apparently been no scientific progress for millenia -- despite the civilization's reverence for scientists. Reading about a war on this world makes me think of a knife fight on the Titanic, or something.

      For the record, Robin Hobb's fantasy novels are even more depressing but started really, really good and I was eight books into her big series before realizing that I really didn't much like the last, um, five. I have a problem.

  7. behemoth says:

    I think it's pretty funny that I stopped reading at about the same point in the book as you did.

  8. cow says:

    Now, what if Martin wrote an entire book about an 8-year-old who trains to be a ninja and then goes off to fight zombies? I'd be first in line for that.

  9. diemoniker says:

    gets a lot better if you read it with a vicious case of mono. It's a stellar example of "too weak to leave the sofa" convalescent literature. So just hang onto it and wait for some kind of disease to happen.

  10. elegantelbow says:

    I finished Smoke and Mirrors just about a month ago, and really enjoyed it, too. Have you read her "Keeper" series? (Summon the Keeper, A Long Hot Summoning, and something else I can't remember at the moment).

    As for the Fire and Ice series by Martin (whose long-awaited fourth book has just come out in Europe) -- you've done well to cut your losses with the first book. I've enjoyed the books so far, but it's maddening to read and I fear he may never finish. Luckily, you didn't get attached to the characters, so you won't feel compelled to keep reading in the hopes of finally getting some closure.

  11. n_by_nw says:

    I've always appreciated Varley's non-eagerness to explain "teh future-tek". There's a conversation in (I think) Golden Globe that goes like,

    Guy 1: Gee, look at this marvellous spaceship we're in! How does it even work? I mean, think of the incredible technology to generate the enormous energy to travel these vast interstellar distances...
    Guy 2: Shut the fuck up.

    In other words, almost none of this.

    (And yet, he proposed the best possible name for a "how stuff works" type of TV program. I refer, of course, to "What the Fuck?")

  12. deni_zen says:

    I've been trying for months to get through "Light." It's been difficult because there seems to be very little connection between the serial killer story-line and the white cat story line. So far. I'm really expecting that all should be revealed at the end. Is it?

  13. greyface says:

    You're wrong about the zombies in the George R.R. Martin series. They don't come back in some previous 800 page volume. They come back in some later 1200 page volume.

    That said, I love the books, but I'm probably just a sucker (not for anything particular, just a sucker).

  14. violentbloom says:

    I'm reading The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon, it's great. Told from the perspective of an autistic man in the near future where he was treated to be functional but still has special needs and works in a job he's great at because of his ability to see patterns. He is offered the chance for a special experimental "cure".

  15. gytterberg says:

    I find it strange that you have unerring praise for Battlestar Galactica and couldn't stomach a single book of the Martin series. They're basically identical in my eyes. You have a set of characters you're (supposed to be) attached to, and horrible, horrible things happen to them over and over again, with political intrigue to boot. The only difference is, in my opinion, the political crap in Battlestar is contrived and hollow, and they always pussy out of the truly horrible things. (Sharon is dead! But there's another one of her! Starbuck is dead! But she survives and repairs and learns to fly an alien spacecraft and gets back to the fleet! Apollo is in jail! But his daddy forgives him! The President and Adama start a civil war! But then they go camping together and make up! etc)

    I liked the Martin series, but then I was attached to the characters, and I didn't have trouble telling people apart, and I always found it entertaining and gripping enough to get through the depressing bullshit over and over.

    • jwz says:

      Well, the whole scenario hangs on "characters you're supposed to be attached to". In Galactica, I am; in that book, not so much.

  16. Hey! I stumbled on your lj and was just wondering if you would mind if I friended yeah .. I'm always in search of a good book and it looks like you've been around the "books a million" block a few times. ; P