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.
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.)
On 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!
As 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?)
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.
As 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
Coming 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