Posts Tagged ‘mainstream fiction’

  • The Broken Kingdoms and The Kingdom of Gods, by N.K. Jemisin. Beautiful, beautiful books about gods and magic and the interactions of the divine with the mortal… I could go on and on about how much I love these books, but I won’t. Suffice to say that they both came out in 2010/2011, but I didn’t buy them, because I was waiting for the mass-market paperback edition. (I have the weird compulsion to make all the books on my bookshelf look EXACTLY ALIKE. What? Don’t pretend that you don’t, either.)
  • Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles, by Michael Moorcock. Yes, yes. I was rereading this one (you can find my review of it here), but damn it, it’s fun and it’s available, that’s what.
  • Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline. Another reread. Okay, yes. This book isn’t Great. But it is good– a cheesy, geeky funromp. Which is all right by me– I mean, not every science fiction novel can be groundbreakingly original.
  • The Hour of the Dragon, by Robert Howard. The only Conan novel written by REH, and yet another reread. This has been my bedside reading for a few days now. Which is good– I loves me a little old-school hack-‘n’-slash sword-and-sorcery before bedtime.
  • Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges. Not my usual stuff– it goes towards the “magical realism” end of the spectrum rather than technically being “fantasy” (whatever those terms mean) but it’s incredible. Borges’s short stories are like tiny, perfectly-formed jewels. They’re not quick reads– they’re meant to be savored, like the finest wines, and not chugged like Coke Zero. Definitely worth your time. (Oh, and I’m reading an English translation– mi español no es tán bueno leer los histórias en la idioma original, as I’m sure you can probably tell from that sentence.)
  • I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett. The final Tiffany Aching book. I love Pterry’s storytelling ability– he’s easily one of the best storytellers writing in the English language today, period. And the Tiffany Aching books are some of my favorite books ever.
  • The Princes of the Air, by John M. Ford. Fast-paced eighties space opera. Three young men battle for fame and glory in the service of the Queen of Humankind.
  • How Much for Just the Planet? by John M. Ford. It’s a Star Trek novel! That’s also a musical! If that doesn’t tickle your pickle, I don’t know what will.
  • A Local Habitation, by Seanan McGuire. I’ve been listening to this book in audiobook form while I work on Project: Stop Looking Like A Fat Asshole Anymore. It’s a detective novel set in the San Francisco bay area with fairies. Fun times, you can be assured. The audiobook edition is read by Mary Robinette Kowal, and it’s very good. (And I will admit, I have a little bit of a crush on the main character, October “Toby” Daye…)

That’s what I’ve been reading. How ’bout you?

~ Ian

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Compatriot 1: Did you know particular authors publish yarns that avoid a particular conspicous orthographic symbol?

Compatriot 2: I did. Such a task is difficult, as abnormal word formations form as a continuation of this.

Compatriot 1: No doubt.

Yours Truly: That symbol said authors avoid– it is fifth in our script?

Compatriot 1: Sí, amigo.

Yours Truly: It would possibly boost said author’s story difficulty to avoid an “a” or an “i”, no?

Compatriot 2: Why do you say such things?

Yours Truly: Our fifth orthographic symbol is most common, although tiny words such as “a”, “I”, “is”, and “it” contain such symbols as told of by yours truly.

Compatriot 1: Ah, but small words such as that infamous copula form for “you”, plus that annoying “known journalistic tidbit”, contain that fifth orthographic symbol.

Yours Truly: Hmm. It looks as if writing such a story is an act in futility and blowharddom. I will stick with SFF.

Compatriot 2: Naturally.

Thus our talkings finish’d.

Yours Truly,

~ Ian

 

I spent some time today lamenting the lack of any decent SF or fantasy in high school English classes. (Of course, English teachers in general are contributing to the collapse of literacy in our society in general… just ask any student who had to write a 1500-word essay on “The Symbolism of the Color Green in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.” (Please note that my high school English teachers were, on average, pretty excellent.))

Anyway, since I was wondering about it, I decided to create an imaginary syllabus for a year-long English class that taught sf and fantasy instead of the “canons” of American literature. Because I’m using my lame blog as an output for my random bursts of Creativity™, I decided to put this up here. The first 18-week semester, I decided, would be dedicated to the teaching of sf, and the second, fantasy. I’m not that happy with it (too many dead white male authors on the list), but hey, it manages to cover most of the enduring classics of Our Beloved Genre(s).

Enjoy.

~ Ian

 

Syllabus for Mr. Johnson’s 4th-Period English Class

MR. JOHNSON KNOWS NO MERCY. MR. JOHNSON IS THE TERROR IN THE NIGHT THAT CAUSES CHILDREN TO SCREAM AND WOMEN TO LAMENT. MR. JOHNSON IS A MANY-HEADED DEMON WITH A MILLION STARING EYES. MR. JOHNSON EATS PLAGIARISTS. MR. JOHNSON IS CUNNING. MR. JOHNSON IS THE ENDLESS NIGHT THAT DEVOURS ALL HOPE.

Please turn off your cell phones in class.

Semester 1: Science Fiction

Week 1: Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (humor, satire, genre conventions)

Week 2: H.G. Wells, The Time Machine (history of science fiction, time travel, evolution, the far future)

Weeks 3-4: Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel (artificial intelligence, overpopulation, robotics, cross-genre connections)

Weeks 5-6: Robert Heinlein, Farmer in the Sky (space colonization, America in the future, Golden Age SF)

Weeks 7-9: Frank Herbert, Dune (ecological SF, mysticism and religion, far-future space travel)

Weeks 10-12: Octavia Butler, Wild Seed (ethnicity and race relations in SF)

Weeks 13-15: Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game (militarism and colonialism in SF)

Weeks 16-17: Ursula LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness (gender and sexuality in SF)

Week 18: Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey (SF and film)

Semester 2: Fantasy

Weeks 1-2: Michael Swanwick, The Dragons of Babel (fantasy meeting the real world)

Week 3: Jo Walton, Among Others (magic in fantasy, secondary worlds)

Week 4: N.K. Jemisin, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (gods, religion, and the “civilized/barbarian” divide”)

Weeks 5-8: Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind (the hero’s journey)

Weeks 9-10: Terry Pratchett, Moving Pictures (humor and satire in fantasy, fantasy worlds as a reflection of reality)

Weeks 11-12: China Miéville, Perdido Street Station (fantasy and urban environments, non-human races in fantasy)

Week 13: Neil Gaiman, Coraline (horror and the uncanny)

Weeks 14-18: Stephen King, The Stand (epic narratives, good vs. evil, the symbolism of dreams, apocalyptic visions)

I had fun crafting the horrifyingly bad band names that I put up yesterday.

With that in mind, here are some horrifyingly bad first lines of short stories!

 

The morning after the night I lost my virginity, my stomach was swollen and purple-colored, and bulbous alien larvae were already beginning to ooze their way out between my legs.

 

It wasn’t exactly a dark and stormy night. It was dark all right– but there was no storm. If I were to use the pathetic fallacy to describe the sky that night, it would be to describe it as something like a quarterback who has been sacked one too many times: no real emotion, completely brain-dead, and with a horrible tendency to drool all the time. 

 

“I’m sorry,” my boyfriend said to me one morning over coffee. “But I’m leaving you for your grandmother.”

 

“Do you want to talk about feelings?” asked Harold’s father. 

 

Fog shrouded the moors like pot smoke at a Pink Floyd concert– an apt metaphor, since whatever lurked in the fog was liable to be hairy, shambling, and prone to speaking in incoherent, animalistic proto-language.

 

As I stood alone in the desert, breathing heavily and clutching a blood-spattered length of lead pipe, a slow smile spread across my face. God was dead– and I was the murderer!

 

I was starting to regret ever entering this pissing contest. 

 

“Jesus,” said the checkered-shirt-wearing hipster sitting next to me in my chemistry lecture, “was a giant prick.” 

 

As Theodore H. Seersucker awoke blearily from his half-fevered nightmares, he realized that he had inexplicably transformed into a nineteen-year-old woman. 

“All right!” he cried. “Now I can wear string bikinis to the beach without anyone screaming!”

 

Wait. That last one may actually be totally rad.

 

Anyone want to do anything with these? (I’d really recommend that you don’t, but what the hell: feel free not to listen to my advice.)

 

~ Ian

I have a couple of book reviews for you today, books that I just finished and wanted to share with you guys when I was done. They are: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, by Charles Yu, and Among Others, by Jo Walton.

 

 

Written by Charles Yu, this book is about a man named Charles Yu who is a time machine repairman. One day, he sees himself coming out of a time machine, and, knowing that coming in contact with a future version of yourself is the WORST THING that can happen to a time traveler, Charles Yu shoots his future self and steals his time machine. Once in the time machine, he comes across a copy of a book called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, a book written by his future self. Because of the nature of causality, he decides that he needs to write this book, so that his past self can find in in the time machine when his future self dies.

Oh, and there’s a lot of stuff going on with Charles Yu’s father, the inventor of time travel, and a large portion of the book is dedicated to Charles’ quest to find his dad, who went off in a time machine and never came back.

This book is ambitious, to say the least. It’s a metanovel that has quite a lot of science fictional elements (sexbots, computers with emotions, time travel, etc.). But even though it’s well-written, it feels like the book is trying to be too many things at once– sf comedy, a time travel story, post-modern experimental fiction, a coming-of-age story about a boy and his dad. Because the novel is relatively short, it feels like it’s stretched in too many directions. The core of the story– how will Charles Yu escape the time loop that he’s trapped in?– takes a backseat to various other adventures, which are only semi-explained in the context of the story, like the time when Charles Yu ends up in a Buddhist monastery and is attacked by a creepy alternate version of his mother. Because of this, the novel seems a bit forced.

What’s more, even though Charles Yu is obviously trying to do something new with sf storytelling here, it doesn’t really succeed. Instead of feeling fresh and original and strange, it feels incoherent and dull. Not that I’m opposed to people doing something different with the medium (I read Anathem when it came out in high school, and loved it), it’s just that while I was reading HtLSiaSFU, I kept thinking, “Stephen Moffat told this story way better in “Blink”.

So yeah. That’s How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. Good ideas, but falls a little bit short on the execution.

Final Score: 2 out of 5 temporal anomalies

Next, there’s Among Others:

 

This is a beautiful book. Beautiful beautiful beautiful. The language, the story, the descriptions… wow. I was hugely impressed.

I’d first heard of Jo Walton from her very well-done rereads of Patrick Rothfuss on Tor.com. Because of this, when I came across this book in the SFF section of Bookshop Santa Cruz this weekend, I was curious. I picked it off the shelf and bought it.

I didn’t regret it. Among Others is the story of Mori Phelps, a fifteen-year-old crippled Welsh girl who loves sf and Lord of the Rings and can talk to fairies. There’s not a lot of action in the book– most of the excitement happens in the backstory. But it’s made up for by Walton’s incredible characterization of Mori, who is the kind of girl who I would have loved to know when I was fourteen or fifteen.

Mori’s characterization is deep and well-thought out. She feels like a real person, and the story of Among Others is mainly told by her diary entries between September 1979 and February 1980, as she goes to boarding school in England. I have to credit Walton– reading Mori’s diary entries felt like I was looking straight into the mind of a real person.

I’m not going to go deeply into detail about Among Others, because it’s a book that I want you to read if you love fantasy. But I’ll just summarize it quickly here: it’s a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl that manages to be neither melodramatic nor sentimental (a hard feat to achieve), and also a story about sf and fantasy and how it changes your life when you’re young. Read this book.

(One minor spoiler: Walton manages to create fairies that are completely non-cliché. In fact, they’re some of the most alien examples of the fey folk I’ve ever encountered in a fantasy novel.)

Final score: 4 out of 5 yellow-spined Gollancz paperbacks

That’s all there is from me for now. Happy Tuesday, and I hope you find something interesting to read, wherever you are.

~ Ian