Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Links and Recommendations

Sunday, March 6th, 2016

As if you don’t already have enough distractions…

I failed to post here at my blog for almost the entire month of February, so I’m making up for it with a flurry of posts in early March. (If posting regularly is the key to building a blog readership, well, that explains a lot.)

Recommended Audiobooks

Hyperion by Dan SimmonsHyperion and The Fall of Hyperion
by Dan Simmons:
These are science fiction classics that I loved back when they were originally published, and they are just as amazing today. Instead of re-reading, I listened to the audiobooks and was extremely impressed by the production. I’ve been listening to audiobooks for only about nine months, and early on I got into the habit of listening at a slightly faster than normal speed, usually 1.25x, unless I really wasn’t enjoying a book and then I would shift to 1.5x. But with these books I downshifted to 1.0x because every word is worth hearing. Truly amazing writing, characters, and world building. I’ll be moving on to the next book in the set, Endymion, before too long.

Annihilation by Jeff VandermeerThe Southern Reach Trilogy
by Jeff Vandermeer:
Audible had all three volumes of the Southern Reach trilogy — Annihilation, Authority, Acceptance — in an omnibus edition, available for a ridiculously low one credit, so I decided it was high time I familiarized myself with these much-acclaimed novels. I’m not entirely sure what I expected of the Southern Reach, but I was surprised at what I found. These are “literary” novels. They engage with fine language and description and, especially in the first two books, there is much time spent exploring the odd and troubled pasts of the main characters. At times I found it slow going, and early on I tweeted this:

What kept me going was the truly amazing writing, and a wonderful cast of narrators. As above, I slowed this one down to 1.0x speed, to catch every word, and as the story proceeded, I began to feel I was drawn into a spell of words and insight. I also felt that the quality of my own writing was improving as I continued to listen — a very nice side effect!

Of the three volumes, the third was my favorite. I found it the most engrossing, as some of the mysteries are being worked out. Some reader reviews complained that the ending was too abrupt, but I didn’t find it so. Highly recommended.

Links

• In midFebruary SF Signal published a piece by James Wallace Harris called Staying on the Cutting Edge of Science Fiction. I found it to be an interesting look at how the idea of what constitutes “cutting edge” technology shifts over time and how technologically based science fiction responds to that, especially since this is a subject I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. James suggests that writers wanting to “extrapolate about the impact of real scientific knowledge … can’t let older science fiction cloud their vision.” I think this is a very important point. The post was surrounded by controversy though, because none of the books cited as examples were written by women. I wish it had been different and that the post had included a more varied list of examples. Nevertheless, I thought it was an interesting perspective.

• Yesterday Charles Stross published a very entertaining and thought-provoking piece called Towards a taxonomy of cliches in Space Opera, in which are listed several hundred “already seen it” tropes from science fiction. To my mind, this list is asking a similar question to that above: what’s new? and what’s left to explore in a literary sense?

• And finally, just for fun… this was making the rounds a few weeks ago, but if you haven’t seen it yet, check it out, and know that we are doomed:

The Revenent — (the novel)

Saturday, March 5th, 2016

The Revenant by Michael PunkeI just finished reading The Revenant, the 2002 novel by Michael Punke which inspired the 2015 movie of the same name. One reviewer described the novel as “plainspoken” and I found this to be true. The style of writing struck me as old fashioned, in that it felt like books written in the fifties and sixties that I’d read as a child. It reads more like a biography than a novel, and a few chapters in I paused to check that it actually was a novel. The narrative voice is omniscient, moving from the head of one character to another without hesitation or transition, and several times moving from one time and place to another without so much as a helpful blank line to cue the reader.

All that said, I found The Revenant to be captivating.

Long before I was interested in science fiction, I had a childhood passion for frontier fiction, and reading The Revenant has been a welcome chance to revisit that — and to discover that I am just as fascinated now by the vast and amazing landscapes of the American West, and by the dangers and the clash of cultures on the American frontier. In short, my love of adventure fiction began early, and I have never outgrown it.

If you haven’t yet seen the movie (I haven’t!), The Revenent is the story of frontiersman Hugh Glass who was horribly mauled by a grizzly and then abandoned by his companions when they feared an attack by Arikara warriors was imminent. It depicts a level of strength and endurance that feels almost superhuman to us feeble modern folk, and it depicts in fairly good detail a way of life long gone away. If your reading requires women characters, you won’t be pleased with The Revenent. Women are background elements. I’m not sure that even one ever comes on stage.

This is a short novel and in my opinion well worth reading. From a writer’s perspective, it’s good to be reminded that there are many ways to tell a story, and that the scene-by-scene, show-don’t-tell style of modern novels is not the only option. In the end, it’s the story that matters, and the story told by The Revenent has made this novel a success.

Book Recs & a Link

Saturday, January 30th, 2016

I admit:
It’s happened more than once over the years that I’ve picked up a popular, acclaimed novel in the genre and completely failed to see the appeal. This is a disconcerting experience. It makes me question myself and my place in the field. How can my tastes be so different from the majority? Do I really understand this genre? Is my concept of what makes a good story too out of date or too far afield?

But then I’ll pick up another popular, acclaimed novel, often one I’ve hesitated to read for some reason or other, and discover that it totally works for me — which always makes me happy.

Silver on the Road by Laura Anne GilmanSilver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman is the first example. This is a 2015 novel that has received rave reviews, but I hesitated to pick it up in large part because it was described as a “weird Western.” I’d never before heard of “weird Westerns,” but I think of weird fiction in general as the sort of horror that leaves me feeling like I need to clean my brain out; in other words, the sort of horror that I avoid. I’m happy to report Silver on the Road is nothing like that. This is a coming-of-age story of a young woman growing up in a fantastical version of the American West in which magic is commonplace. Early in the story, she makes a decision that will determine the path of her life to come — and that path is far more harrowing than anyone expects. The story does an excellent job of presenting both characters and landscape, and makes a compelling read. It’s the first of a series.

The Nebula awards are voted on by members of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). Prior to the period when books may be nominated for the ballot, SFWA keeps a Nebula Suggested Reading List, with the suggestions made by members. This is not a “long list.” It’s just a list of titles that members feel are worth a look. This year, for the first time, the suggested reading list has been made public and you can find it here. Take a look at it! Notice something? I’m not going to count them up, but I think it’s safe to say there is a large preponderance of fantasy novels near the top of this list. (Come on, science fiction writers! Represent!)

Vicious by VE SchwabHonestly, I’ve begun to feel overwhelmed by the number of fantasy novels out there, and yet so many are so very, very good. I hate to admit it, but fantasy is the real backbone of the genre these days. VE Schwab’s Vicious is an example of why. This is a 2013 novel that, like Silver on the Road, garnered enthusiastic reviews, but as I recall, some of those reviews talked about “superheroes.” Like “weird fiction,” “superhero fiction” is a term that makes me take a step back and look for something else to read. But I was finally inspired to try Vicious and all those enthusiastic reviewers were right — it’s a very good book! That said, it’s not a book for everyone. It’s violent, and pushes the boundaries of antiheroes (hmm…not unlike my Puzzle Land books). It’s also very well written, with intriguing characters, excellent descriptions, good pacing, and a style of nonlinear story telling that I really liked.

So those are my recommended books.

And here’s the promised link:
If you’re a writer, or just interested in the way things work (or don’t work) in Hollywood, check out Matt Wallace’s post over at SF Signal “The Pelecanos Proposition and What it Means to SFF Authors” wherein Matt makes the case that we writers give up control of our work too easily, and that we should do more than just deposit the check on the option. Matt quotes novelist and screenwriter George Pelecanos, who is speaking about writers when he says: “…what a producer told me one time is, ‘We can’t control you guys.’”

Book Rave: City of Stairs

Monday, December 28th, 2015

City-of-Stairs-Robert-Jackson-Bennett-2Best-of-the-year lists and award-nomination lists are fun to talk about and it’s awfully nice to have your work appear on them. But these lists are also valuable reminders that we have diverse tastes and that our reasons for reading — and for choosing what we read — are all very different. And I think it can be interesting to take note of what’s not on these lists.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading this year, some of it 2015 books, and some books from earlier years. Several months ago I posted about Claire North’s 2014 novel The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, which was one of the best novels I’ve read in recent times. Ignore the cover. Seriously. And read it. After I finished, I was amazed at how little I’d heard about this book, and that it had not put in an appearance on either the Hugo or Nebula ballots. (It did win the John W. Campbell Memorial award.)

I just finished another 2014 novel, City of Stairs, by Robert Jackson Bennett, which is also a terrific book that, in retrospect, I am surprised I didn’t see on 2014 award ballots. (Yes, there were complications with the Hugos, but not with the Nebulas! And it may have been on best-of-the-year lists, last year, I don’t know.)

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War Stories from the Future

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

War Stories From The FutureA new ebook anthology is just out, and it’s FREE. War Stories from the Future is published by the Atlantic Council. It’s part of their Art of Future War Project, whose mission statement reads:

The Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare project is driven by the Scowcroft Center on International Security’s mandate to advance thinking and planning for the future of warfare. The project’s core mission is to cultivate a community of interest in works and ideas arising from the intersection of creativity and expectations about how emerging antagonists, disruptive technologies, and novel warfighting concepts may animate tomorrow’s conflicts.

My contribution to the anthology is a reprint of my short story “Codename: Delphi,” but the anthology includes original stories commissioned from Ken Liu, Madeline Ashby, Jamie Metzl, Mathew Burrows, and project director August Cole, co-author of the World War III thriller Ghost Fleet. And there’s a reprinted story from David Brin. New voices are also included in the anthology, in the form of contest-winning stories from Alec Meden, Nikolas Katsimpras, and Ashley Henley.

Find more information and download links here. Available in EPUB and MOBI (Kindle) formats.

Book Rave: Ashley’s War

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Full title: Ashley’s War: The Untold Story of a Team of Women Soldiers on the Special Ops Battlefield

Ashleys War by Gayle Tzemach LemmonAshley’s War, by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, is a nonfiction account of the first wave of women in the US Army who volunteered to be part of the “cultural support teams” that accompanied Army Rangers and Green Berets on missions in Afghanistan.

These teams were developed beginning in 2011 because it was felt that women soldiers could interact more effectively with Afghan women, most of whom are forbidden from interacting with men who are not immediate relatives. The program proved successful. Women soldiers came to be seen as a “third gender,” one whose presence didn’t threaten the social status of Afghan men.

But Ashley’s War isn’t about Afghan culture or the politics of war. Instead it’s firmly focused on the stories of the American soldiers who volunteered for this program, and who survived the brief but rigorous training. These women came from diverse backgrounds. Some were regular army, some were National Guard. Some were on their own from a very young age, some came from strong families. Some were from families with traditional military backgrounds, and some were from civilian families. All were athletic and determined, and most joined the military because they wanted to be soldiers, and to experience combat.

As the story develops, it’s fascinating to see these women coming to terms with what it means to be a “strong woman character,” as we so frequently discuss in fiction:

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Book Rave: All The President’s Men

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

All The President's MenYes, I’m a bit behind the curve on this one, and no, I haven’t seen the movie (though I plan to).

All The President’s Men is the nonfiction memoir of Washington Post journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, originally published in 1974. It recounts their investigation of the 1972 Watergate Hotel break-in, and the gradual revelation of scandal surrounding the 1972 presidential election, that ultimately led to the resignation of President Nixon.

These events took place when I was a child, too young to follow the slowly breaking story in detail, but old enough that nearly all the names in the book are still very familiar to me. I picked up the ebook of the 40th anniversary edition, which happened to be on sale for a ridiculously low price — and I found it fascinating. (more…)

Book Rave: The Flicker Men

Monday, October 12th, 2015

“All realities are constructed in one way or the other, are they not? Either through the work of some will, or arising as an emergent property from a system’s own underlying laws.”

flickermen-KosmatkaTed Kosmatka’s The Flicker Men first came to my attention last summer when the publisher offered to send me a complimentary copy. I failed to follow up on that, but I kept hearing good things about the book, so last week when I was looking for a new audio book, I decided to give it a try.

It took me a little while to get hooked. The opening chapters introduce us to the first-person protagonist, Eric Argus, a young and brilliant quantum physicist struggling with alcoholism and depression, along with a past that’s only gradually revealed. But once Eric latches onto a new project, the book takes off.

The Flicker Men is a philosophical thriller. There is a lot of discussion of quantum theory and its implications, and especially the double-slit experiment. That may sound dry, but in the book, it’s utterly fascinating. It turns out that a lot of readers, myself included, are inspired to do a little outside research on some of these subjects.

Ted is a terrific writer. The story moves at a good pace, and by the standards of modern novels it’s relatively short — a big plus for me as I’ve reached a point where I greatly prefer shorter, more tightly focused books.

The audio book was very well done, but I’m sure The Flicker Men would be just as compelling if I’d been reading instead of listening.

Recommended Links For Readers and Writers

Friday, September 18th, 2015

A few recommended links of general interest:

A terrific episode of The Coode Street Podcast has just posted, this one featuring Kristine Kathryn Rusch talking about her own writing, her move away from traditional publishing, and her upcoming anthology Women of Futures Past, to be published by Baen Books in 2016.

Foreign Policy has just posted an article by Tim Requarth, “This is Your Brain. This is Your Brain as a Weapon.” It’s a survey of the rapidly accelerating field of neural technologies that includes some of the ideas behind The Red.

Extreme Tech has an article on helicopters with spider legs. Yep. Not kidding. “These robotic spider legs could let helicopters land anywhere” Be sure to watch the video!

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Links

Monday, August 10th, 2015

I’ve been reading a lot of interesting posts and articles, so I thought I’d share a few of them here.

Can we reverse the aging process by putting young blood into older people?
A series of experiments has produced incredible results by giving young blood to old mice. Now the findings are being tested on humans. Ian Sample meets the scientists whose research could transform our lives.
This is a very long read, it’s rather disturbing in more ways than one, but it’s fascinating too. Find it at The Guardian/Science.

I’m Too Old for This
A mostly cheerful and realistic reflection on the liberating aspects of middle age and beyond experienced by many women, including yours truly. The ability to “shrug off annoyances that once would have knocked me off my perch” is a huge plus. “I’m too old for this” has been one of my mantras for a while, and I’m not sixty yet! Find it at the New York Times.
h/t Morgan J. Locke (@MorganJLocke)

The tree of life gets a makeover
When I went to school, the five “kingdoms” of life were animals, plants, fungi, protista, and monera — but things are changing. This is a fascinating article discussing the effect of genetic analysis on the classification of living things. Find it at Science News.
h/t David Brin (@DavidBrin)