Monthly Review of Reviews: May 2015

Five books read, five books reviewed this month, all done in the middle of a drowned desert steppe on the edge of tornado alley. While the weather was wet and turbulent, the reading was inundated with golems and authors of conservative persuasion. And, AND!, I managed to work in three groin infection jokes!

I should really apologize for that, by the way.

Books Reviewed

emergence11A month of reading extremes! I loved the YA, epistolary, Heinlein-inspired Emergence (1984) and hated the stodgy, Hard SF, first contact classic, The Mote in God’s Eye (1974) by stuffy White dude duo Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. While most readers agree with me on Emergence, (I rarely see a bad review), my social analysis of Mote may have ruffled some feathers. I stand by my conclusions: Mote is boh-rang, and it rubbed me the wrong way with its racial and gender insensitivity.

In the middle of those extremes, I shared my thoughts on China Miéville’s third and final Bas-Lag novel, Iron Council (2004). Not as exciting as The Scar (2002), nor as lascivious as Perdido Street Station (2001), Iron Council is a steady political quest, less popular than its predecessors, and not as radical as I expected, but enjoyable for readers wanting something that feels more personal, and less puissantly distracting, from this author. But beware the 229 golems!

Firetime1I tied up the month with a third foray into Poul Anderson’s work, another of his planet-sharing, Israel-Palestine allegories, Fire Time (1974). Better than People of the Wind (1973) and The High Crusade (1960), this big plot is better tailored to fit Anderson’s short novel tendencies, the characters feel realistic and compelling enough to gel the different POVs. Then, I finally posted my quick, dissatisfied review of Michael Swanwick’s dino-time travel effort, Bones of the Earth (2002), a disinterested commercial effort that could use a little more flesh. (…stole that line from the good admiral.ironbombs, tyvm).

Books Read, Books to be Reviewed

TheWanderer1This coming month, you can look forward to reviews of yet another eclectic gathering of Hugo nominees. Fritz Leiber’s multi-character, global disaster Hugo winner, The Wanderer (1964) is coming up, followed by David Brin’s odd and convoluted detective novel about clay cloning (erm, more golems) Kiln People (2002). I’m excited to share my thoughts on James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah (1994) once I figure out what I think about it. (I can’t decide which is more shocking: the blatant blasphemy or the unexpected respect for faith. My cognizance is dissonating!) Finally, after the racial space wreck that is The Mote in God’s Eye, I think Larry Niven somewhat redeems himself in the (not-very-mathy) Integral Trees (1984).

Books Read, Books to be Flash Reviewed (I’m stealing “Flash Review” from Nikki@BookPunks.)

In between books, I squeezed in a much desired TBR, Lavie Tidhar’s Osama (2011), which I snarfed in a weekend and will add to a future New-ish Book Flash Review compilation. Osama is brilliant, a must read, and is further evidence that the BSFA shortlists are the best shortlists around.

Books to be Read

No matter how I organize my reading schedule, my least desired TBRs manage to monopolize the spring and summer seasons. I fear these next two months will be full of eighties and nineties meh, but those decades sometimes surprise me. I did manage to set aside a couple of interesting pieces for this month:

ThePlanetBuyerThe Planet Buyer (1964) by Cordwainer Smith- Smith is an author I’m excited to get to know, although this might not be his best work to start with.

River of Gods (2004) by Ian McDonald- Ian McDonald may or may not have influenced part of my summer vacation last year with a quick jaunt to Istanbul thanks to the gorgeous The Dervish House. (That book made it difficult to ignore a life-long vacay wish. Will River of Gods have the same impact?)

Two pieces that I’m not so excited about:

Mother of Storms (1994) by John Barnes- This guy has several degrees but, based on the first couple of chapters, I really doubt any of them are in Literature. Clunky, passive sentences are very obvious when read in tandem with the talented Ian McDonald (above).

Mirror Dance (1994) by Lois McMaster Bujold- I’m not in love with this fan-crazed space opera series, so I’ll probably go straight audio with this one and power through it on my drives to and from work.

Monthly Book Tallies: A Political Breakdown! For No Particular Reason Whatsoever!

Books Blogged: 5

Books with conservative themes:

-that I hated: 1

-that was okay: 1

-that I loved: 1

But that can’t be. All of these novels are Hugo nominees. Conservative authors never make the Hugo lists.

Books with liberal themes: 2

-that I loved: 1

-that I hated: 1

Hmm. Maybe SF fans don’t actually rate books based solely on their political preferences.

Will this trend continue? Let’s find out! (And wait ‘til you see what’s in store for me in July…)

21 thoughts on “Monthly Review of Reviews: May 2015

  1. Tammy says:

    I love Ian McDonald, but I haven’t read anything by him in a while. Evolution’s Shore is one of my favorites! Oh, Towing Jehovah. Man that was one weird book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      McDonald is such a good writer. I’m about 10% in on River of Gods and it is everything I wanted and more. Bibliotourism and cybertechnology. He is full of ideas!

      Towing Jehovah is a very unusual satire. I found it outrageously funny, yet it’s too complex to be a straight-forward joke. I’m still chewing on parts of it.


  2. Rabindranauth says:

    I hope the Ian McDonald book treats you better than his short fiction has treated me; I’ve read a couple of his short stories to date, and they all fall maybe one mile just outside of Corny. I am interested in River of Gods, though, so will be looking forward to what you think.


  3. The only thing I’ve read by Ian McDonald is his young adult Everness series. Loved it. I wonder how his adult stuff compares though.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I LOVED The Dervish House. It completely captured my imagination. River of Gods seems similar: near future, third-world setting with high tech intermixed with old culture. He has gotten flack for this sort of cultural appropriation, which is a legit complaint, but I get the sense he makes a genuine effort to portray a multifaceted society. He does a better job than most other White authors.


  4. But beware the 229 golems!
    I see the cover blurb for the Iron Council trashy paperback edition is ready.

    I’m excited to share my thoughts on James Morrow’s Towing Jehovah (1994) once I figure out what I think about it.
    I expected golems, but at this point I expect everything’s golems. “Anything good in the mail today?” “Nah, just golems.”

    Interested to see what you think of next month’s reads, even if you’re pretty meh about them, since I have never read any of them. So, uh, it’s like learning something new or something! Guide onward through some books I’ve never heard of (and one weird Cordwainer Smith novel), and let me know which, if any, are worth reading! I’m also kinda envious of your ability to create a legit TBR list and stick to it, especially during those times I wallow in indecision debating what to read next… even though I’m objectively terrible at sticking to my own TBR lists and abandon them after about three weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      My next monthly post will be: Just more golems. The End.

      As I pointed out on Goodreads, Morrow actually calls the dead body of God a golem a few times.

      If I didn’t do my TBR this way, it would take me ages to settle on my next book. I would exhaust myself with research and reviews, and eventually just collapse on the couch and watch TV. It’s much easier this way, plus I get the joy of reading yucky books for fun and sharing the experience.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Hestia says:

    Towing Jehovah got a lot of attention (well, in SF circles) for its provocative theme, but for me the execution didn’t quite hang together as well as his other books. I mean, I liked it — I’ve liked all of his books, and loved many of them. The effect was similar to Gaiman’s American Gods; enjoyable to read, thoughtful and entertaining, but somehow the whole was no more than the sum of its parts. (I thought the 2nd book, Blameless in Abaddon, was ridiculously fun.)

    I have been trying to figure out if I read Bones of the Earth or not, and that’s pretty unusual for me. I kind of think I did — which, if true, says something about its forgettability. But it’s possible I’m confusing it with something else.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      I’m glad you feel that way about Towing Jehovah. There are parts that niggled me and I need to have a good think about it before I make up my mind about it. Some of the characters felt like lazy attempts at cheap laughs… and I may be projecting here. :-/

      Bones of the Earth is very forgettable. You probably did read and forget it.


  6. Jesse says:

    I found River of Gods to be a full degree more sophisticated, original, and satisfying compared to The Dervish House. While I enjoyed the boy and his bit-bot, the elderly Greek gentleman trying to cut it in Turkish society, and the overall feel for Istanbul, I found the husband and wife tandem, one the brash young investor and the other on the search for the honeyed-man, to be very, very mainstream creations. I’ve read a lot of McDonald (J’adore!), and it seemed with The Dervish House he was intentionally trying to write a more accessible book compared to the complexity of River of Gods and Brasyl. So, interested to see how River of Gods fits into your world of books as well as your opinion of The Dervish House.

    Why do you keep torturing yourself with Niven/Pournelle? Next thing you’ll be reviewing them and Benford, Shaw, and Baxter exclusively!

    Is The Planet Buyer part of Smith’s Instrumentality series?


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      River of Gods seems to be a great deal more complex in the set up. I’m ten percent in and he’s still introducing new threads and ideas, and there’s no sign of it winding down soon. And I have no idea how any of these threads could possibly be related. Loving it!

      I keep reading Niven because I’m reading it all! The good and the bad! For funsies! (The setting of Integral Trees was interesting enough.)

      Good question. As far as I can tell, Planet Buyer is part of the Instrumentality universe, and I guess I will find out what exactly that is soon enough.


      • FYI I think Planet Buyer is half of Norstrilia, so very much an Instrumentality book. It should be interesting. 🙂


        • fromcouchtomoon says:

          I had no idea it was part of something else. Sounds like I am in for a very SFnal experience.


          • Joseph Nebus says:

            Cordwainder Smith is a very, very strange author. I love his stuff, but it really feels like science fiction from a wholly alien tradition. There had been a joke when he was alive and a mysterious figure of uncertain origins [1] that he was actually a time-traveller stranded in the 20th century, occasionally writing out a little note about home life when he needed the extra cash.

            [1] In real life he was an intelligence agent specializing in linguistics, with a particular focus on China.


          • fromcouchtomoon says:

            The message I’m getting from everyone is that the word to associate with Cordwainer Smith is “weird.” My curiosity is extremely heightened!

            I read somewhere that he was this cool investigative linguist. What a cool life! And not many SF authors are accused of being actual aliens.


  7. Sweet! I am now even more excited about reading Osama, but I already told you that on Goodreads. Still, I’m excited it enough to mention it pretty much every five minutes. Maybe I’ll end up squeezing it in this month instead of next, though I have some longer books planned for this month. Can’t wait. I have noticed that I love a large majority of the things that Solaris puts out. Am going to have to examine their back catalogue more thoroughly in the future.

    Yey! Other people using the word flash reviews! Sweet.

    Last week I listened to a podcast with Morrow, and it was pretty interesting to hear him talk about religion. He does seem to have a lot of respect for faith. He said that a lot of religious people really get into his books, despite their total blasphemy because he takes religion very seriously. And interesting perspective. At the moment I am thinking my next by him will probably be Only Begotten Daughter.

    As for Lois McMaster Bujold, I have yet to read any of that, but was once cornered at a SF meet up thing by two dudes who didn’t let me get a word in edgewise and would not stop talking about that series despite having no idea what I like to read. The whole experience has kind of made me never want to read it. Which is silly, but I need other evidence before I’ll go there. Which I will expect from you next month then I suppose, heh?

    Ditto what the Admiral said about being impressed by your dedication to your TBR lists. I have decided I will indicate a few books that I plan to read during the next month at the beginning of the month and then actually read them (because hey, maybe sometime someone will want to read along, or warn me off, or whatever) and just managing that with like 1/4 of my TBR list has been miraculous. Still. It is quite satisfying.


    • fromcouchtomoon says:

      Yes, Osama is brill! And it’s such a fast read!

      Thanks for coining flash review, btw. I really hated “mini-review.”

      It helps to know that about Morrow. There were several points in the book that felt like a religious person could accidentally wander into this book and feel perfectly at home. How he can be both wantonly blasphemous and humbly deferential confuses me.

      Bujold. I read my first Bujold books a little more than a year ago. I think I read three, though my plan was to read more. I think you have to discover her at a young age and read a lot of the series in order to connect with the characters. It just doesn’t work for me as an adult. It’s just character stories. Like Baby-Sitters Club.

      Plus, it has this aristocratic, MilSF flavor that puts me off. And, of the Cordelia books I read, I couldn’t help but notice a strong prolife element that I didn’t care for.

      As I told Admiral, if I didn’t stick to my TBR, I would never get any reading done. I can’t make decisions if I have too many choices, so it’s just best this way. I just grab the next book without having to think about it.


      • “Like Baby-Sitters Club.” That was the one sentence that could ensure I will NEVER EVER read any of her books. Glad to have those off the to-read pile then. Heh. But mostly for all the more detailed cons to them that you mentioned.


  8. That should have said *AN interesting perspective up there in the paragraph about Morrow.


  9. […] warned visitors in my last monthly post that my prescribed TBR as of late has wandered into more modern, mainstream fare (in other words, […]


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