Thoughtful Thursday: Best book you read in February 2013

fantasy and science fiction book reviews

It’s the first Thursday of the month, which means it’s time to report!

What is the best book you read in February 2013 and why did you love it? It doesn’t have to be a newly published book, or even SFF. We just want to share some great reading material. Feel free to post a full review of the book here, or a link to the review on your blog, or just write a few sentences about why you thought it was awesome.

(And don’t forget that we always have plenty more reading recommendations on our Fanlit Faves page and our 5-Star SFF page.)

As always, one commenter will choose a book from our stacks.


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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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19 comments

  1. Tizz /

    Finally got around to Jim Butcher’s Cold Days. Perfect.

  2. Sandy Ferber /

    For me, it was Robert Silverberg’s awesome sci-fi novel “Downward to the Earth.” Here’s why: Up until last week, I hadn’t read Robert Silverberg’s brilliant sci-fi novel “Downward to the Earth” in almost 27 years, but one scene remained as fresh in my memory as on my initial perusal: the one in which the book’s protagonist, Edmund Gundersen, comes across a man and a woman lying on the floor of a deserted Company station on a distant world, their still-living bodies covered in alien fluid that is being dripped upon them by a basket-shaped organism, whilst they themselves act as gestating hosts to some parasitic larvae. This scene, perhaps an inspiration for the similar happenings in the “Alien” film of a decade later, is simply unforgettable, but as a recent rereading of the book has served to demonstrate, it is just one of many superbly rendered sequences in this great piece of work. Originally appearing as a four-part serial starting in the November 1969 issue of “Galaxy” magazine–just one of six major sci-fi novels that Silverberg saw published that year–“Downward to the Earth” made its debut in book form in 1970. A perennial fan favorite ever since, and chosen for inclusion in David Pringle’s excellent overview volume “Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels,” it is a work that its author has expressed only a belated appreciation for himself, in the face of near universal praise.

    The book takes place in the year 2248, when Gundersen, the former administrator of Holman’s World, returns to the planet eight years after Earth has relinquished all colonial claims. The planet is now called Belzagor by its two dominant life forms: the nildoror–which resemble elephants except for their green color, additional set of tusks, cranial ridges…and purple dung–and the sulidoror, 10-foot-tall, shaggy, bipedal entities with tapirlike snouts. Drawn back to Belzagor to both visit the few remaining Earthmen still on the planet and to investigate the mysterious nildoror ceremony of “rebirth,” which no Earthman has ever witnessed, Gundersen, as it turns out, has a third reason for his return: a sense of guilt arising from the manner in which he had formerly treated the nildoror, patronizing them and even interfering with a group in the midst of a rebirth pilgrimage. Thus, we follow Gundersen as he travels from the steaming jungles of Belzagor’s central region and up to the so-called Mist Country of its more northerly zone, encountering old friends and running across an amazing array of alien flora and fauna, and are ultimately vouchsafed a look at the truly mind-blowing, psychedelic ceremony of rebirth itself….

    Like all truly superior sci-fi, “Downward to the Earth” is the sort of novel that just bursts with some imaginative idea or unexpected touch on every single page. It is a terrific feat of the imagination, wonderfully well written by Silverberg (who, at this point, had already seen around 40 novels published since his first, “Revolt on Alpha C,” in 1954), and with fascinating characters, both alien and human. It is also, typical of its author, a highly literate affair, with numerous allusions to the Bible, to Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” to English poet Matthew Arnold’s 1867 poem “Dover Beach,” and to Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” (one of Gundersen’s old friends on the planet, who undergoes a disastrous rebirth himself, is named Kurtz). Belzagor itself is wonderfully described by Silverberg; not only the jungles and the Mist Country, but also the mysterious Central Plateau region and the mirror-bright, crystalline wasteland known as the Sea of Dust. Perhaps best of all, however, are the descriptions of all the grotesque animals and plants to be found on Belzagor: the tiger moss, the razor shark, the monkeylike munziror, the jelly-crabs, the mobile fungoids and on and on…plus, of course, that bright-red, wall-hanging basket thing! Topography is also memorable in the novel, with the 1,600-meter-high, triple-tiered Shangri-La Falls–where Gundersen visits his old flame Seena and her body-hugging pet amoeba–and the mountain of rebirth in the Mist Country being both figurative and literal standouts. Silverberg, apparently, wrote this novel after a recent trip to East Africa, and his primary intention with his book is a laudable one: to show that the native races of a region (or, by extension, a planet) may have a LOT more on the ball, as far as intelligence and culture are concerned, than their imperialist occupiers are willing to admit. Here, the truth about the nildoror and sulidoror, as regards their cultures and how the two races are connected, comes as a real eye-opener to both Gundersen and the reader. “Gundy” is a likable protagonist, only seeking to atone for past instances of malfeasance, and he makes for a good companion as we explore this rather intimidating planet; a planet that Silverberg, through his great skill, makes us see, feel, smell, taste and hear. Pringle writes that it is sci-fi “done with feeling,” and that the book is “very well described, [with] several pieces of memorable grotesquerie.” I happen to love this novel, all the way to its wonderful, transcendent conclusion, in which our protagonist gets precisely what he deserves. A pity that Silverberg never chose to return to Belzagor, as he did to the world of Majipoor on so many occasions. It is a mysterious, exotic, dangerous and yet beautiful world, one that I’m sure all lovers of intelligent sci-fi will love to immerse themselves in. As you can tell, this is one of my favorite science fiction novels, and comes more than highly recommended. Just wondering, though, Mr. Silverberg…where can I purchase one of those monomolecular jungle blankets?

  3. joel /

    Easily THe Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch. As good as the hype promised, and I will read book two sometime later this year (I was able to pick up both titles cheap from Audible.com in recent sales).

  4. For me that would probably be Little Brother by Cory Doctorow.I usually just read sci-fi/fantasy for fun but this one actually deals with current issues and technology. For example governments tracking the location of students (students in Texas are already being forced to wear tracking devices) & other privacy issues. It was still a fun read though and didn’t get too preachy.

    My full review is here: Little Brother Review

  5. April V. /

    As usual, I read a great many good books over the course of February but the highlights were:
    Doris Egan’s Ivory series (beginning with Guilt Edged Ivory) which is an older series that I’ve just discovered via the magic of recommendation. Excellent future fantasy, sort of a reverse steampunk vibe.
    Kat Richardson’s Greywalker series – I’ve read the first three so far and you can see the author’s work getting cleaner and tighter but even from the beginning the characters are very interesting to follow.
    The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller is an historical mystery set in San Francisco and while certain points of style were not quite to my taste, I found it a very fun and satisfying read.
    Between Two Thorns by Emma Newman, recently published urban fantasy mystery coming of age tale with some new and interesting twists. It took me forever to warm to the protag but once I did it was much more interesting. There is a secondary POV that is even harder to warm up to but that is easily explainable by his not having a soul.

    • Sarah /

      I loved the Ivory series. It must be serendipity, because this is the second time I’ve seen it mentioned in two days. Might have to go pull it off the shelf for a re-read.

      • April V. /

        I was glad someone recommended it to me as I had never heard of it. Very enjoyable and shows its age well.

  6. SandyG265 /

    I read Mountain Echoes by C.E. Murphy. The Walker Papers series is one of my favorite UF series although I was a little dissapointed in the previous book. I couldn’t put this one down.

  7. I know the answer to this question (unlike the cover questions!)

    My absolute favorite was Taken by Benedict Jacka!!! I reviewed it at the blog:

    http://www.bearmountainbooks.com/favorite-reads/maria_book_reviews/review-taken-by-benedict-jacka/

    Was just an awesome read. I wish book 4 were already out.

  8. The Shining by Stephen King

    Can’t believe this was my first time reading it. It was SO good! Here’s the link to my review:

    http://castlemacabre.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-shining-by-stephen-king.html

  9. Barbara Elness /

    Moonshifted by Cassie Alexander was the best book I read in February. I thoroughly enjoyed Nightshifted so I was really looking forward to this second book in the series. Nurse Edie Spence is a new favorite, she has no special powers and is just trying to make her way in a world of supernaturals she never knew existed. I love this series.

  10. Melanie Goldmund /

    Of the books that I read for the first time in February, I think that Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman, was my favourite. I loved the idea of dragons being able to take human form, and how they did so to stury emotions, but tried to avoid becoming too emotional. I also loved the character of Seraphina, struggling to hide her true identity while helping in the murder investigation. I also liked the way there was a growing attraction between her and Kiggs, but the author didn’t let it overwhelm the rest of the book.

    Of the books that I re-read during February, I liked The Black Lung Captain, by Chris Wooding, the most. The Ketty Jay books remind me so much of Firefly/Serenity, but they’re also different, in a good way. There’s adventure and character development, magic and danger, failures and triumphs — it all comes together in the most satisfying way.

    • April V /

      I don’t know why I haven’t read Seraphina yet, by your description it would be something I’d definitely enjoy.

      I love the Ketty Jay books as well – have you read Devon Monk’s Tin Swift? It is the second in the series (the first is excellent as well but Tin Swift is much more in line with the Ketty Jay books with the airship and the interesting crew.). As I said, the first, Dead Iron is a steampunk tale with avenging Native American spirits, werewolves that aren’t and all sorts of clockwork cleverness which is a very satisfying read.

      • Melanie Goldmund /

        Oooh, thanks for the tip about Tin Swift. Sounds like just my thing. And you should definitely give Seraphina a try.

  11. Misti /

    Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor. I though it was better than the first book. I really enjoyed it.

  12. BuffaloCharlie /

    Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight. A terrific memoir, incredible setting, and truly great writing

    Dan Simmon’s Hard Freeze: A Joe Kurtz Novel. Set in Buffalo, well-written and an easy page-turner.

    Mary Stewart’s The Crystal Cave. Oh year, Arthurian Legend!

  13. RedEyedGhost /

    Replay by Ken Grimwood followed closely by Bujold’s A Civil Campaign

  14. Best book for the month would be Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart

  15. Barbara, if you live in the USA, you win a book of your choice from our stacks. Please contact Kat with your choice and a US address.

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