April 2015 Reading Review

standonzanzibar3A busy month with not enough Couch time! I only read four books! Four!

And the genre-ific Locus shortlist was announced today!

But first, a recap…

Books Blogged

April kicked off kind of late when my daily spree of 2014 BSFA Shortlist Reviews dangled into the early days of the month, in preparation for the 2014 BSFA awards held in London during Easter weekend. Then I took a break from new fiction and went back to my usual pattern of reading and posting about highly acclaimed, sometimes forgotten, SF novels of the past.

Brittle Innings (1994) by Michael Bishop– A WWII-era, southern gothic-lite tale about baseball and monsters. Literary in feel, readers not acquainted with baseball or monsters will feel right at home with Bishop’s focus on characterization, voicing, and social complexities. And Bishop really shows off his chops when he pays tribute to his inspiration. Despite my discomfort with some of the overdone character voicing, I loved this novel.

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004) by Susanna Clarke– A reread! Although Jonathan Strange has been recently dislodged by my new favorite novel, The Years of Rice and Salt (2002) by Kim Stanley Robinson, it withstood the test of time (and manic reading). Funnier and darker the second time, but just as magical. I highly recommend the audio book!

Welcome, Chaos (1983) by Kate Wilhelm– Submitted for Joachim’s Kate Wilhelm series, I was eager to try a second read from this award-winning author’s catalog. Chaos shares an apocalyptic focus with Wilhelm’s more famous Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang (1977), yet the two novels take completely different approaches, with Chaos abandoning the more plaintive, conflicted style of Sweet Birds for something more mainstream and suspenseful. The suspense is never quite suspenseful enough, although it is fun to watch Wilhelm’s doormat protagonist develop into a fem-inist-fatale. It’s okay, but Sweet Birds is a must read.

THEN, IT WAS JOHN BRUNNER WEEK. And I was sheeting eptified.

Stand on Zanzibar (1968) by John Brunner – A dystopic collage of media overstimulation and neocolonial globalization, this highly textured sensory experience of our own world, five years ago, predicted nearly 50 years ago. Most interesting is not what he got right, but the few things he got wrong.

The Whole Man (1964) by John Brunner– Telepathy, catapathy, and a moldy dragon make up this tale about a disadvantaged man-turned-___, well, you get it. It’s not Stand on Zanzibar, though some of the elements are there. And Theodore Sturgeon’s More Than Human (1953) does post-human telepathy more compellingly.

Speshul Pearances

I also showed up at S. C. Flynn’s blog where I talked about myself and how the Internet apocalypse will get in the way of my desperate need to tell jokes about Larry Niven’s yammy plot devices.

Books Read, Reviews to Come

Firetime1Speaking of Larry Niven! I read The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. Expect my review this week. Expect it to get personal. Me personal, not them personal.

Finally completed the Bas-Lag series-ish with Iron Council (2004) by China Miéville. Meme golem. Beaten dead horse golem. The Miéville I’ve been looking for, er, golem.

And I finally found a Poul Anderson novel that didn’t bore me. Fire Time (1974) is typical Anderson: humanistic ideals on a planetary scale crammed into a short book, but this one doesn’t feel as rushed or gaping or uneven. It’s okay!

I also just completed Emergence (1984) by David R. Palmer. WATCH FOR THIS REVIEW BECAUSE THIS BOOK WAS AWESOME FUN! Basically, a girl like Buffy meets a boy like Bruce Wayne and they go on a ride-about in post-apocalyptic America. Gripping and touching… and out of print. (As Tammy keeps reminding me, there is a lot of price gouging going on with this one. If you see it for cheap on Amazon or Abe Books, snatch it!)

And sigh. I still need to post my annoyed review of Bones of the Earth (2002) by Michael Swanwick from three months ago. If you see it go up, just… just look the other way.

Books Read, Mini-reviews to Come, Maybe…

TheGoblinEmperorBeen trying to ignore all of this SPewgo talk, but too many references to the “literary” qualities of the non-SP nominees got my feathers all ruffled, so I caved and started reading The Goblin Emperor. Still working on it. Maybe we’ll have a little chat later about Ancillary Sword and The Goblin Emperor and how they are not very literary, but actually very genre whichisnotabadthingplease don’tthrowthingsatme.

(But if all this SP whining really is just about good, old-fashioned tropiness, then the SP crowd should have no problem with this entire ballot.)

(So let’s quit pretending SPs. It’s about the politics and nothing else.)


And speaking of being VERY GENRE, and very, very commercial, the 2014 Locus shortlist was announced today. I’ve been too busy to check out any related Twitter or blog commentary, but just offhand, I’m going to assume that most SF fans are generally satisfied with this list and wish the SPewgo list resembled this.

On the science fiction shortlist, I’ve read all but Lock In, but Gibson’s The Peripheral would easily be my top choice. My affection for that novel grows more over time. My guess is that Annihilation will win this one, but Leckie’s and Scalzi’s fans have surprised me before.

For fantasy, I’ve only read City of Stairs, the mushy page-turner that did not blow me away, but I enjoyed it far more than the standard moral-boy-who-unexpectedly-becomes-royalty tale that I’m getting from The Goblin Emperor, so far. (I’m at the halfway mark.) I never read the third novel, but I always respected what Grossman was trying to do with his Magician series, and I need to pay some attention to the much talked about Elizabeth Bear. Still, I think Stairs will win this one.

Books to be Read

TheWanderer3The Wanderer (1964) by Fritz Leiber got pushed back due to… I dunno what happened, actually. This month was kind of crazy. Where did the time go?

Towing Jehovah (1994) by James Morrow. I’m most excited about this one. His recent Galapagos Regained is already on my 2015 award potential list.

Kiln People (2002) by David Brin. I’ve been warned about this one! And it’s loooong.

Integral Trees (1984) by Larry Niven. Niven behaves better when he’s on his own. Plus, I just like the smart feeling I get when I read books with math references in the title.

Monthly Book Tallies:

Total books blogged: 5
Total books read: 4
Total books started, not yet finished: 1
Total books about outer space: 2.5 (didn’t see it coming in that last one.)
Total books about robots: 1, construct golem.
Total books about an apocalypse: 1
Total books about golems: 1
Total mentions of golems: 229

The best book of the month was Emergence by David Palmer, while The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry and Jerry was the worst. Coming soon to a Crazy Eddie point near you!

38 thoughts on “April 2015 Reading Review

  1. marzaat says:

    I await your review of The Wanderer.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Uh oh, that sounds ominous. I barely started it. What am I in for? Or is it best to go in ignorant? (usual, for me.)


      • marzaat says:

        It’s a weird mix of would-be disaster porn, a (maybe famous) serial killer, fascists, poets, aliens, cultists, revolutionaries, theater folk.
        I actually wrote an Amazon review of this one and liked the characters better than the plot.

        Maybe after your review, I’ll put mine up.


        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          Sounds… interesting. So far, I’m to the part about the moon (3rd page).


        • Joseph Nebus says:

          I don’t think delaying The Wanderer is a bad thing. And yeah, it’s something where the characters, or at least some of the characters, are more worth the reading than the plot is.

          I was surprised how much of it felt like a 70s Epic Disaster Movie considering it’s a decade early for that.


          • fromcouchtomoon says:

            I’m enjoying it so far, but I agree that the characters are quite memorable. Considering this is so like the epic disaster movies (including the recent spoof “Disaster Movie,”) can we argue that this novel is ahead of its time?


  2. Tammy says:

    Can’t wait to read your review of Emergence! I’m just impressed that you found a copy, and for SO CHEAP:-D Wow, I read Towing Jehovah years ago, I wish I could remember what I thought of it, LOL! I’ve also read Lock In, but I don’t think it will win, considering what it’s up against. But I did enjoy it:-)


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I loved Emergence! I saw it on Abe Books for less than $2 yesterday, then it shoots up to $20, then $40. It’s insane. That book is begging to be digitized.


  3. Looking forward to your review of The Goblin Emperor. Not the usual type of read I would go for, and I think so much will depend on your mood. Incidentally, I must have been in a “right” one when I read it because I did enjoy it. Not ideal if I’d wanted something fast-paced and with more action, but good for a quiet, introspective afternoon.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      At first I was turned off just because every sentence begins with “Serenity,” and it made me kind of crazy. (“Serenity” appears more than 800 times in book, which is kind of overkill. I don’t think other courtly fantasy books can get away with “Your Highness” that many times.)

      But I think I’ve gotten used to all of the “Serenities” because they don’t bother me anymore. Quiet and introspective is a good way to put it, but I keep feeling like I’ve read it before. I just can’t place it. Sword and the Stone, maybe? It keeps reminding me of Dune, though it’s not nearly as complex. The morality is very cut-and-dry, unlike Dune.


  4. Rabindranauth says:

    Great Roundup Golem Is Great.

    Will look forward to what you think about The Goblin Emperor. I’m severely uninterested in it from all I’ve heard, but depending on what you say I’ll give it a shot. No pressure!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. wildbilbo says:

    I have to stop reading your posts, my TBR list is full enough.

    That said, I’m going to have to go on a hunt to find Stand on Zanzibar…


  6. “yammy plot devices” Hahahaha. I love that phrase. Please use it more often. I can’t wait to read your review about the Niven-Pourn. book you read. Because I get the feeling it was probably as bad as Lucifer’s Hammer from the hints you keep dropping and those reviews are often rather hilarious…

    The Locus List felt so “what ‘everybody’ would have wanted” that I found it incredibly boring. Like ho-hum, guess I won’t be able to use this list to find out about anything awesome I hadn’t already heard a million things about. Turns out I don’t actually like having read so many of the nominees. I have no idea who will win. I feel like all of those books have pretty rabid (oh! that word is dirty now isn’t it? Let’s go with awesome and obsessive) fan bases.

    I have also pretty much been dying of waiting for your review of Iron Council since I finished it.

    I have only read one Poul Anderson novel, but yeah, it bored me. (After Doomsday I think it was called).

    I THINK I might have an e-copy of Emergence. At any rate, that has (obviously cause it’s about the end of the world) been on my list for a while. Maybe I will get pulled into your reading orbit again and read that this month. Though I am pretty busy what with reading all the books with the word “city” in their titles on my shelf. Aaand with my recent obsession with James Morrow, I am ready to read all the things he’s ever written. I am so into This Is the Way the World Ends. It is such a relief to read an apocalyptic book that 1. makes fun of all the stupid tropes and stereotypes about the end of the world and end of the world stories and that 2. actually seems to have something interesting to say about the end of the world. I have about 50 pages left, so there is still time for him to fuck it up, but yeah, all the Morrow, for the win.

    I happen to be reading The Magician’s Land right this second (that is my current digital read). It is fun. So far I have really enjoyed all of these books, more than I ever imagined.

    Oh and for the recond, I still have no desire to read The Golbin Emperor or any of the Ancillary books.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Protector by Niven is literally about yams. Literally. Mote in God’s Eye is everything you warned me about Niven & Pournelle.

      I feel the same about the Locus list. Yawn. The celebrity list. I won’t be reading this list, either.

      Geez, Iron Council. I haven’t even started that review.

      I’ve done three Andersons: People of the Wind, The High Crusade, and now Fire Time. Since I often select my readings to parallel thr current year, I think I’ve missed his best stuff so far. He has quite a following. People of the Wind inspired a board game!

      Emergence isn’t even digitized. It needs to be. And I’m glad you’re enjoying Morrow. Jesse at Speculiction seems pretty impressed with him, so he may be another author we need to prop up over the commercially promoted folks.

      I think if I read Grossman today, I would appreciate him more. At the time, I still wanted warm, tender snuggles, so I thought Quentin and gang were too annoying. It’s funny how tastes change…

      No, no, no big reason to read Ancillary or Goblin. I’m sure you’ve got much more interesting selections on your TBR.


      • I have just checked my e-books folder, and I totally have a copy of Emergence in there. So if you’re saying it hasn’t been digitalized, my questions for myself is where the fuck did I get this? I tend to trade large folders of e-books with friends, so I guess I’ll never know. Or maybe this is all a dream, a dream in which I can reinvent reality…


        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          That is crazy that you have a digitized version because it’s not even listed on ISFDB. At first, I just figured it must be a European version, because effing Europe gets everything, but nope, you have something that does not exist. A real-life Impossible Book.


  7. Randolph says:

    (In passing)

    Brunner wrote three books thematically related to SoZ. Jo Walton: “Brunner decided to write four books each set fifty years ahead and each extrapolating different trends of the present forward. Stand on Zanzibar is overpopulation and sexual freedom, The Sheep Look Up is environmental devastation and domestic terrorism, The Jagged Orbit is racial tensions and weapon enthusiasm, and The Shockwave Rider is computers and organized crime.”

    From my perspective all are both brilliant and dated, and all contain flashes of prophetic brilliance. SoZ, I think, stands up the best.

    And the mosaic style of novel was invented by John Dos Passos, in 1919, which is also still worth reading.

    Nikki, Anderson wrote something like 100 books in his career. You picked a minor one. Try The Enemy Stars (We Have Fed Our Sea), science fiction, or A Midsummer’s Tempest, a Shakespearian fantasy. He was very conservative, though, which can make life difficult for the current reader, but he was also willing to embrace tragedy, which makes him an unusual sf writer.


    • Joachim Boaz says:

      I enjoyed The Enemy Star as well — other than the final act…

      And, I do find him rather minor generally. There Will Be Time was a desperate attempt to write a mature novel but it still is philosophically naive and very tame by any early 70s standards.

      As for Brunner, I understand why people espouse his “prophetic brilliance” but even if that didn’t exist his works would still be worth reading.


      • fromcouchtomoon says:

        I get your hesitancy to focus only on Brunner’s “predictions,” but I think it is interesting to see how past SF views the future. I think it’s very informative of the author’s worldview, as well. And, it is pretty uncanny to see familiar stuff in an old novel. I also think what’s most interesting about these SF novels about the overpopulated future is that, while they might get the projected numbers right, the actual feel of 6 billion plus people isn’t nearly as elbow-to-elbow as they imagined. The middle-class still has space and privacy, and I don’t think they would quietly accept the status quo of SOZ society. That’s something Brunner didn’t count on.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Randolph says:

          Brunner got his idea of overpopulation wrong; it’s not the physical crowding, especially in a society with modern transport, where horizontal urban expansion is possible. Long before physical crowding is an issue, resource exhaustion becomes a problem.

          Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yeah, I’ve got the rest of Brunner’s Zanzibar-related stuff on my b TBR. Looking forward to it.

      If you look into the comments of my Zanzibar post, you’ll see that we mention Dos Passos. Actually I think we had a bigger conversation about him on Twitter about a month ago, when I had just finished SoZ.

      Funny you mention Anderson as conservative. He hasn’t come off that way in anything I’ve read. Even the little bit about his background that I’ve read made him seem like a progressive California type. Of course, I live in Bush country, so my idea of conservative might be extreme. I’ve got Enemy Star and Tau Zero coming up one day.


      • Randolph says:

        I think Zanzibar was the best of them, but none of them are bad and all of them have something to say about our current world.

        Anderson was an older sort of conservative, a kind you don’t see much of any more, and a libertarian. Anderson believed in a cyclic, perhaps Spenglerian, model of history, and felt that the USA was a falling empire. This comes through clearly in the later Flandry books, which have strong Cold War resonances, though Anderson’s world-building made them more than Cold War novels. (I can’t recommend those. They’re painful, unless you’re a conservative.) That sort of conservative mourns deeply the failing of high culture, and that comes through in most of Anderson’s books; he was well versed in the Western canon, as well as Scandinavian literature. He consciously wrote both comedy and tragedy, and his comic fiction, both alone and with Gordon Dickson is still fun, when not overwhelmed by his politics. Anderson felt it was important to fight to conserve culture as the Empire fell, and that that fight was tragically doomed.

        I don’t think one can entirely dismiss this view. Spengler’s Decline of the West still has bite. Spengler predicted postmodernism in 1920, though he also got many things wrong. At the same time, that sort of conservative gets important cause-and-effect relationships backwards. Now that we are living it, we can see: the liberalization of society was not the cause of a failing empire, rather it is the pervasive corruption at every level of society.


        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          I just wrote up a draft for my review of Fire Time and, funny enough, in my notes, I actually wrote, “seems a bit anti-socialist.” I see the conservatism now, but I’ve been so focused on Anderson’s humanistic depictions of enemies (unsubtle commentary on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), that I haven’t paid much attention to his other commentary.


  8. Joachim Boaz says:

    Kiln People might have the most overwrought last third EVER….

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Sounds like Goblin Emperor is a bit over-hyped, which is about what I expected… Still can’t be as bad as, well, entire 2015 Hugo categories.

    I really enjoyed Brin’s uplift books (well, most of the first trilogy) but Kiln People? I’m sorry. Not a fan of the last act (see a Joachim’s comment).

    Glad to hear you found an Anderson that’s at least enjoyable.

    Not sure which of your reviews I’m most looking forward to, since they all sound entertaining. Maybe your take on NivenPourn hard sf, that bodes well. Iron Council comes close (since I’m reading a pair of Mievielles right now)… Wish I could remember more of it so I could discuss.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      No, Goblin Empire is not nearly as bad as the puppy selections… and I’m basing that on the crappy stuff I read from last year. Not making that mistake again.

      More to dread about Kiln People. Yay.


      • Kiln People, or, how I learned to hate shifting narratives between identical clones with the same annoying voice+personality. And then the last third just collapses.

        Could be worse… I mean, at least it’s not a Riverworld novel.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. “Niven behaves better when he’s on his own.” So true!

    I should re-read Integral Trees soon.


  11. Warstub says:

    I’m stuck half way through Brittle Innings, and I feel bad because I ordered one of the last original copies straight from Michael Bishop last year and he wrote in the best personal note ever.

    I kind of have a bit of a soft spot for John Brunner’s back catalogue. I started collecting original editions, and I may have the most of Brunner than anyone else.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yikes! Just saw your comment! Sorry for the late response!

      Aww, that stinks that you can’t finish Brittle Innings. That’s so nice that Bishop wrote you a personal note!

      Brunner seems to have a huge fan following, but I can’t imagine anything topping Stand on Zanzibar (I have yet to read Sheep Look Up, though).


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