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.