Reading Month in Review: January 2016

It’s been a good winter. Five days of winter, exactly. Spread throughout the past two months of mild spring temps. In late December, we had three days of snow. Snow that stuck. Snow that piled. Snow that didn’t melt as soon as it hit the ground, or turn to slush the moment the sun rose the next day. Plus, we had one day that was chilly and windy, and last week we had another day that brought an afternoon of sleety snow. That didn’t stick. Or pile. And did melt as soon as it hit the ground. That’s my kind of winter!

And it was 78 degrees and gorgeous yesterday. (Today is Has-Anyone-Seen-Toto windy, my neighbors have a car-sized tumbleweed stuck in their yard, and I can’t find my garbage bin. But that’s beside the point.)

My reading pace has been just as agreeable and occasionally odd as the weather, sticking with fair weather SF the majority of the time, but occasionally delving into other book categories, which has, much to my surprise, reinvigorated my reading pace, rather than burdened it. It’s a pattern I think I’m going to stick with for a while.

But this is a SFuh blog, so let’s get to the SFuh.

BOOKS READ

Starmaker1January was the month of Reading the Staples. StapleDON, that is. And some others.

I try to spread out the books I know I’ll love, just so I have some motivation to get through the ones that promise to be cardboard-reads-but-possibly-entertaining-blog-posts, but I devoted January to reading books I’ve been meaning to read, love, and probably cherish. Adding to my love for Stapledon, I read his most Masterworksy novel yet, Star Maker (1937), and followed it with Polish author Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris (1961), making January 2016 the most sentient celestial body month yet. Both books are very different: the Stapledon is complex and wondrous but also unfriendly to mainstream readers, while the Lem book is very upfront and basic, but entertaining for general audiences.

I devoted the middle of the month to finishing Mervyn Peake’s fantastic Gormenghast series (1946-1959) and how did I get through life without having read that before? No wonder I had no faith in books. (I do know that in my ignorant pre-blog searches for recommended SF, both Gormenghast and Gor came up with regular frequency, often enough for me to know that one of them was really terrible, but not often enough for me to be able to tell them apart. So it’s Gor’s fault that I never read Gormenghast.)

Ubik 1On the PKD Support Group front, I started the first 75 pages of The Exegesis of PKD (2011), then stopped to rush-read Ubik (1969), because references, then returned to The Exegesis to read PKD dull the shine on Ubik with his religiousy, acid-flashback post-analysis. THE AUTHOR IS DEAD, PHIL! I enjoy his books on a mostly superficial level—they’re easy to read, they’re easy to get in and out of, and so far, pretty entertaining—but, although I enjoy his mind-bendy criticism of modern American life, I cannot take the guy seriously. So, to avoid repeating myself in blog posts about each of PKD’s novels, I made a Bingo card based on my PKD readings so far. We’ll see how often PKD novels correlate with the card. It’s an experiment.

During a moment between books, I tossed in The Metamorphosis (1915) by Franz Kafka, a funny and clever little story that basically says all the stuff PKD says, but fifty years before. I feel silly reading it now, like I should have read it already, but I do think that my understanding of Kafka-esque needs some refining, perhaps by reading more Kafka. Then I finished the month with my first of the Nebula ‘6s: Missing Man (1975) by Katherine MacLean, which is chock-full of sci-fi entertainment on every page, and I loved it despite the obvious Heinlein mimicry in some places. Highly recommended!

SleepingEmbersofanOrdinaryMindAs nominating season looms, I checked off another of my 2015 must-reads with Anne Charnock’s Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind (2015), which had things I really liked, but in a style that’s not quite suited to the tale, so I dived into her previously acclaimed novel A Calculated Life (2013), which also put me in a state of torn ambivalence, so I will share those thoughts later on, in another SF of 2015 post.

I also read Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), which is a beautiful and powerful piece of fiction, deserving of its accolades, and totally SF, but for some reason, SF readers don’t seem very interested in it. I read a few other things that fall even farther outside of SF nebulousness, but I’ll save those things for another kind of post…

… although I will say that Ta-Nehesi Coates uses more galactic space language than most of the vintage SF I read. He must be an SF fan at heart. Also, I learned that Coates and I were both taught by (and annoyed) the same history professor, but at different unis. (I annoyed her because I didn’t follow her reading list in the correct order.) (Hmmm, is she the reason for my list-reading diligence?)

BOOKS BLOGGED

Because I started January all caught up in my read-to-post lag time, I stuck in a random review of The Women’s Press Despatches from the Frontiers of the Female Mind (1985) feminist short fiction collection. There aren’t many reviews about this collection, so it seemed important to toss in my voice, especially given the two very strong stories by Joanna Russ and Alice “Raccoona” “James Tiptree Jr.” Sheldon, and quite a few that persisted in memory better than I expected.

TheHarlequinAs mentioned above, I blogged about Stapledon’s Last and First Men (1930) and Star Maker (1937), and posted that PKD BINGO experiment on Ubik (1969). I also started my SF of 2015 series by blogging about my two favorite holiday reads: Nina Allan’s award-winning novella of psychological dread, The Harlequin (2015), and Dave Hutchinson’s fantastic “sequel” to his Fractured Europe series, Europe at Midnight (2015). Last year, I relegated most of my new reading to mini reviews, and I felt bad about it because those authors deserve better coverage, so I will continue to try to toss in a few full-length 2015 reviews each month.

Also, in case you missed it, I ended 2015 with a post about sci-fi slang in fiction. You bleeders might have missed it! (Holy crap, I think I forgot to toss in some Hipcrime Vocab from Stand on Zanzibar (1968) on that list! WTF is wrong with me?)

THINGS TO BE BLOGGED

MissingMan1Coming soon, to a FC2M post near you! A review of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, and Katherine MacLean’s Missing Man, as well as more SF of 2015 posts: Nnedi Okorafor’s Tor novella Binti (Tor!) and Ian McDonald’s Luna: New Moon (Tor!). Tor is like Dennis the Menace to my Mr. Wilson, usually frustrating me with their cheesy, canned fiction that’s often nominated for Hugo awards, but these two books, despite their weaknesses, offer some interesting commentary on genre, and I have things to say about them.

THINGS TO BE READ

February brings us Valentine’s Day: commercially-pressured, chalky-hearted love. So in the spirit of contrariness, I’m going to spend February reading about war and strife and violence. The books:

The Forever War (1975) by John Haldeman
Old Man’s War (2005) by John Scalzi
The Postman (1995) by David Brin
Walk to the End of the World (1974) by Suzy McKee Charnas
Feast of Crows (2005) by George R. R. Martin – and this is where I’ll be in need of crisis intervention for saying, “kill me now, oh beneficent star maker, please, what church do I have to join to end this misery” because I just really don’t dig GoT. And I’m basing that opinion on the first book and loads of commentary about the TV show that I never watched.

On the non-SF-that-is-actually-quite-SF-because-ghosts front, I’m in the midst of Marlon James’ very enlightening A Brief History of Seven Killings. Ah, warm snugglies all around.

 

JANUARY 2016 BOOK TALLIES:

Books blogged: 5
Books read: 10… blinding blue blazes, that’s a high number.
Books about space: 2  !!!
Books about AI: 1
Books about time travel: 1
Books about psi powers: 2
Books about sentient things that should not be sentient: 6
Books that do Heinlein better than Heinlein: 1 (think I’ve done this category before)
Books that go on the Literary shelves, but are totally SF: 2
Books later overanalyzed by the author, thanks to the help of a Greek deity and dead preacher (and probably a few acid flashbacks): 1

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15 thoughts on “Reading Month in Review: January 2016

  1. “So it’s Gor’s fault that I never read Gormenghast.”

    And despite that series’ many, many, many unforgivable sins, it’s this one that seems worst of all.

    Toni Morrison? That literary writer I had to read in high school/college? Ewww! (And that’s why most SF readers don’t seem very interested in it, because it totally is and they totally should be. Then again, there’s also Octavia Butler’s Kindred, which is a bit more SFnal.)

    I bought The Harlequin. It’s on my list. Of novellas I want to read this year to inflate my reading count. Sounded too good to pass up.

    Haven’t read Suzy McKee Charnas, but with the possible (but not really) exception of The Forever War, that’s an awfully sad list. Like, if I were to come up with a list of “things Megan only reads because she’s obligated to. proscribed by the arcane law of the Hugo ‘6s,” the only thing I’d add would be a Heinlein.

    Scalzi’s is one of about two books I didn’t blog about, because I couldn’t come up with more than 200 words describing “militaristic fluff entertainment.” The Brin is, eh, well you read Kiln People and Postman might be the better of the two. Feast for Crows was where I handed in my Martin fanboy badge, less so due to the issues you’ll probably have and moreso because the pacing became glacial. So I’m glad you’re playing up to gender stereotypes with a series of warm and fuzzy Valentine’s reads. (You could have honored the leap year instead, y’know.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I also could have honored Black History Month or President’s Day, but I just happen to have a lot of violent, military SF I want to get out of the way. I stuck in the Charnas with the hope that it will be a refreshing read.

      I somehow missed out on reading Morrison in school, although I think I can appreciate her more as an adult. I vaguely remember the talk surrounding the movie when it came it out and it sounded scary, which I internalized up until last month– I seriously got mad at myself for buying the book, just because I was afraid of how scary and devastating it might be. It’s funny how cultural opinion can wrongly define things for us.

      Supposedly the Scalzi is supposed to be in dialogue with Heinlein and Haldeman, but I’m skeptical of how many talking points that will get me. I’m kind of looking forward to The Postman and I have no idea where that interest is coming from. And I suppose the least I can do to shake up GoT is read it out of order. It might reveal something new.

      So glad you got The Harlequin! First Hutchinson, now Allan! If I could just sell you on Monica Byrne and Adam Roberts, you’d have all four points of my Future SF Masterworks Author Tetragon.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. bormgans says:

    I think what Kafka does in Metamorphosis is simply incredible. The amount of emotions he is able to put into 40 pages is just mindblowing, especially since the premise is so absurd. I reread it every so often, and the alienation of Gregor hits me time and time again. The Trial has more or less the same effect, but it is a bit less condensed. I got bogged down in The Castle 15 years ago, I should give that a second chance.

    Some of his other short stories are also simply amazing, my favorite one being The Vulture. (it’s very short, and it’s here: http://albalearning.com/audiolibros/kafka/elbuitre-en.html)

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right, Metmoarphosis is quite elegant in its brevity and he does pack a lot in. I read from one of the most recent translations and it’s full of related analysis that I haven’t read but I thought would be interesting.

      Thanks for the tips on where to go next!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wooo Metamorphosis. I have read that story so many times I probably have it memorized. I have been meaning to read a few of his novels for some time now (over a decade cough cough) so I dont know tweet or something if you start one of those and maybe I”ll join in.

    The Postman has been on my PA reading list forever, so maybe Ill attempt to buddy read that one with you this month. I think I have a digital copy, so I’ll have to finish my current digital read first (Slade House) (Which is interesting but not blowing my mind so far).

    I am excited to read Binti myself and will be interested in your thoughts on that. And your thoughts on everything. As usual.

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    • I never really thought about reading it before until I saw your read-along un German last year. I wanted fo join in but I had some busies going on at the time.

      I’ve seen a lot of shrugging with Slade House, and most people seem most impressed with Bone Clocks, which I would have loved had he not gotten so annoyingly derisive with the fantasy elements.

      I think I’ll post about Binti next week. I didn’t love it, but I think a lot of people will and I kind of like the idea of Binti sticking around as a series character.

      Like

      • Slade House is getting more and more interesting, but Mitchell’s love for constantly switching perspectives (that never return) sometimes has made me feel like I’m actually reading a connected short story collection. And you know how I feel about those. Still. depending on how the mystery plays out, I might rate it slightly above shrugs, but probably not by much. I see why his work is interesting, but I have yet to really enjoy any of it, though I’ve only read Cloud Atlas and now this one.

        I just read a review today saying that Binti wasn’t quite all the rage the reviewer expected, it was the first lukewarm review for it I’d seen. Will be all the more curious to see yours.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’ve actually seen a few lukewarm reviews for Binti and I will kind of be one of them. I like Binti as a character, I would love to see her return as a series, but I think she deserves a more challenging story than this one.

          Like

  4. Tomcat says:

    Dammit, I only read 9 books this Janvier.

    I love ‘Beloved’. I first read it at university about 9 years ago, and it’s been one of my holy books ever since.

    I saw Toni Morrison speak at the Hay Festival in 2014, in a huge tent that was set up with tiered seating like a theater. It was an extremely emotional experience. When she came on stage, she received a 5 minute standing ovation before she’d even said a word. A lot of the audience had traveled a LONG way to see her, and there were cries of “thank you” over and over throughout the applause. Very moving.

    Then half way through the event, they announced to the audience that Toni Morrison’s best friend Maya Angelou had died that morning (Toni Morrison already knew); there were gasps and people started crying and suddenly there was a lot of sadness. Toni Morrison said it was too soon for her to speak about it (though she did manage a few words).

    I was an extraordinary thing. I feel very privileged to have been there.

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    • That’s awesome. I got to see Maya Angelou in 2010, and it was actually a rescheduled appearance because she had been ill earlier that year. She was fascinating to listen to, great stories, a fabulous reader. I’ll never forget it and consider myself fortunate to see her before she died.

      If I ever get a chance to see Toni Morrison speak, I’ll be there.

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  5. Stapleton wrote outside the borders of generic SF,but must have influenced nearly every modern SF author.It’s difficult to see how it would have developed without him.He also addressed theological and sexual matters or themes,that must have been risqué at the time.

    I haven’t read Peake,but if I had,I think it would have given me a greater understanding of Michael Moorcock,who influenced his oblique fiction,as he probably did Gene Wolfe truly great tetralogy,”The Book of the New Sun”,with it’s opaque mysteries.

    Why can’t you take Philip K. Dick’s stuff seriously?It’s so miserable and mordant.You can’t get more serious than that! Yes it’s fun,but of a darkly comic kind.Hope you win your bingo game,but remember,it’s probably fixed!

    I’ve read “The Trial” and “The Castle”,but not “Metamorphosis”.Unlike Stapleton,his stuff isn’t recognisable as SF,but both wrote serious fiction that defied classifying.Like him though,his fiction,of an existential nature,influenced modern SF authors.

    “The Forever War” was a novel of dull mediocrity I thought.I preferred Heinlein “Starship Troopers”.

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    • Hmm, I can see Wolfe borrowing Peake’s architecture, but that’s about it. Wolfe’s mysteries are so deliberately fogged and suggestive, whereas Peake is so concerned with character depth and minute, picturesque detail. I’m sure Wolfe loves Peake, but I don’t see a whole lot of Gormenghast DNA in BotNS. As for Moorcock, I haven’t read him yet (I know!) but I have mentioned the the similarities between Wolfe and M John Harrison, and how their seminal works appeared at about the same time… And Harrison being an acolyte of Moorcock would probably be part of Wolfe’s inspiration. (Though I can also see how the New Worlds crew and Wolfe wouldn’t always see eye-to-eye.)

      PKD reminds me too much of overdrugged party friends easily wowed by already explored philosophical questions. It’s not Erasmus talking to you, dude, it’s called too much amphetamines.

      His fiction can be fun, though. I even enjoy his short fiction.

      I think all of Heinlein is a dull mediocrity (though I might throw him a bone for Stranger in a Strange Land for at least being the most interesting Heinlein, which isn’t saying much) and Forever War, being in dialogue with Troopers, might be just as bad if Haldeman sticks to that same godawful dialogue exposition style Heinlein is so loved for.

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      • The British and American “new wave” was crucial to the development of modern SF,but with Gene Wolfe’s future mythology,evoking the mysteries of ancient folklore and an arcane technological past,he achieved I think,much of what the “new wave”,particularly Michael Moorcock’s baroque fiction and Roger Zelazny’s retelling of myth in novels like “Lord of Light”, failed to do.I’ve only read John Harrison’s “The Centauri Device”,so I assume you’re referring to his other stuff,but I would have thought a closer comparison with Wolfe,would be Robert Holdstock’s “Mythago Wood” and “Lavondyss” novels,with their realising of our ancestral inner selves.

        While I don’t agree with your opinions on Dick,I’ll accept them,as he was never recognised in his own country during or for some years after his lifetime,and think this is probably a hangover from that period,assuming from what I know,you live in the USA.Since his canonical entry into the LOA and widespread acceptance of his literary work,it’s inevitable that he would attract more scathing criticism.Of course,if you’re not that keen on his stuff,that’s your wont,but I think you should be careful what you say,as he was writing some pretty weird metaphysical stuff before he took drugs,as novels such as “Eye in the Sky”,Time Out of Joint” and the metabolic short story,”Upon the Dull Earth”,attest to.He was being speculative though and trying to develop his craft as an author.

        His later “epithany” of the famous “sky vision” in 1964,occured during his amphetamine period,and would be reasonable therefore to assume that it was the product of prolonged drug use,but the novel it inspired,”The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch”,certainly isn’t.It is psychadelic,but it’s laden with deep Gnostic thought,something he had an intellectual interest in,that he believed was the source of his vision.

        “The Forever War” I think,was supposed to be the antithesis of “Starship Troopers”,so should have something to be said for it,but if you didn’t like Heinlein’s novel,you’ll probably find this one dull.

        Thank you for replying to my comments.I enjoyed reading them.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I’ve read about the “Virconium” stories by Harrison.I now know what you mean.

    Like

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