Sunday Status Update: August 23, 2015

Character update on break this week. I tried asking Rand al’Thor for a submission, but he wrote back with a ten thousand word diary entry in which nothing actually seemed to happen.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Jana: This week I made progress with Hilary Badger’s State of Grace and began Bradley P. Beaulieu‘s Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, the first in a new epic fantasy series. I was also able to write and post two reviews (with Tadiana’s help!), so I feel extra-accomplished. The weather’s been really reasonable, too, so I’ve been spending a lot of time outside, exploring the trails system around the city. Knowing my luck, since this past week was so productive for me, I’ll wake up with pneumonia on Monday!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews JoãoPoul Anderson‘s Brain Wave was very interesting, well thought-out idea driven science fiction story. I think I liked C.S. Friedman’s In Conquest Born, though it was not at all what I expected of it. I agree with every point Kat made in her review of it, though I did not have a problem with the characters, which, given that I have read a whole lot of grimdark fantasy this year is understandable; I have become inured to it. I don’t plan to read the sequel in the near future.
Now I am paying my dues as Fanlit’s apprentice and have begun reading Lovecraft’s stories. I found by chance a cheap copy of Wordsworth’s first volume of Lovecraft’s collected fiction when I was perusing a Fnac’s book offerings, and it has been a very interesting experience so far. “The Hound” and “Call of Cthulhu” have so far been my favourite stories, but I am only now getting started.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: Only two books this week. Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Quest, the second book in her FITZ AND THE FOOL trilogy (part of her longer ELDERLINGS SAGA) was awesome. Bill and I will have a review for you tomorrow and maybe Tim will chime in, too, if he’s managed to read it. Alastair Reynolds’ collection Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days, which was recently released in audio format by Tantor Audio, was intriguing. I look forward to reading more of his work. My classes begin tomorrow. I’m excited about the new semester and my new role in my department. I love the courses I’m teaching this semester and I’ve got a couple of interesting research projects going on, too.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kate: I’ve just picked up the ARC for David Mitchell‘s new novel, Slade House, which is a sort of haunted-house story spanning several decades. It is really well written and quite frightening so far! You all know I’m not usually a horror reader, so I may be reading this one in bright daylight, and following it up with something bright and cheery. Speaking of bright and cheery (not really), I’m almost done listening to Kate Forsyth‘s Wild Girl. I stalled out on it for a while because it got very sad. But I’m ready to dive back in and finish it!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kelly: I’m currently caught up in Charlotte Gordon’s dual biography Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Her Daughter Mary Shelley. The two Marys (and their families and friends) are jumping right off the pages — I find myself wanting to yell things like “No no no don’t do that” and “Your husband is a jerk” as though they could hear me.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kevin: I’m very proud for having finished Neal Stephenson’s Anathem yesterday. It’s a monster of a book filled with oblique references to philosophy, math, and science, and though I had to put it down for a month, I did finally finish. I’ve now started working on Anthony Ryan’s Queen of Fire and re-reading Brandon Sanderson’s Warbreaker. After that, the plan is to spend a few days reading non-fic before returning to fantasy. Hope everyone is Sasquan is enjoying themselves – can’t wait for the Hugo results!

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews MarionFriday night I finished up Supersymmetry, by David Walton the sequel to Superposition.  A review will follow soon. I really enjoyed this quantum physics thriller! I love how Walton plays with ideas.  I also finished the dark, atmospheric crime drama Broken Harbor by Tara French. While I thought she went over the top at the very end on this one, I love French’s ability to create a sense of place and character. We talk sometimes about people writing “like poets,” and to me this is it; her sentences have layers of meaning; each word is chosen to compress more than one idea, often contradictory ones, into each sentence. Even the title in this book carries three different meanings. And it’s not as much of a downer, at the end, as some of her earlier works.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Rachael: This week I’ve been reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Now, I’m aware I have massively missed the boat on this book, but it has made relatively small waves in the UK (so far…). I am really enjoying it and think it is highly compulsive, but there are definitely some points where I’m finding myself cringing at the writing style… Am I the only one who thinks this was kind of badly edited? There are sometimes pages and pages of exposition that aren’t even being disguised as anything else! I’d be really interested to hear everyone’s thoughts…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Sandy: Moi?  Right now, I am in the middle of a novel written by one of sci-fi and fantasy’s genuine eccentrics, R.A. Lafferty. It is his 1969 classic Fourth Mansions. This is a book that had been sitting on my shelf for many years, its author’s reputation making me put off reading it all the while. But someone was just raving to me about Lafferty, and you know what … I am loving this book, as it turns out, wild and crazy as it may be. I hope to get a review out for this sui generis experience sometime very soon…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Stuart: This week I finished Cixin Liu‘s The Dark Forest, the sequel to The Three-Body Problem. It was quite different from book one, focused less on scientific mysteries and particle physics, and more on the psychology of the human race faced with alien invasion 400 years in the future. I also posted my review on GR, and got a bunch of interesting responses from Chinese readers, as apparently English reviews of Cixin Liu’s trilogy are often translated by Chinese fans and posted to sites like Baidu for fans to discuss. I got one troll who was clearly using machine translation and was hard to understand, but also got some really thoughtful responses from other Chinese readers, who explained the cultural significance of the term “Wall-Facer”, which features prominently in the book. It refers to the Zen spiritual leader who brought Buddhism to China and faced a wall for 9 years straight to meditate and await enlightenment. It sounds silly in English, but means a lot to Chinese readers. Would still like to do an interview, if the translation logistics can be worked out. Now finishing off the full-cast audiobook of Dune, which is great.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Terry: I’m continuing to work my way through Ilona Andrews‘s work; over the past two weeks, I’ve finished the novels Magic Strikes, Magic Bleeds, Magic Slays, and the novellas Magic Mourns and Magic Dreams.  I’ve also read her short stories, “Magic Tests” in An Apple for the Creature and “Retribution Clause” in Hex Appeal (I am nothing if not thorough),and I expect I’ll be reading the other stories in those collections, as a quick browse suggests they’ll be fun. I’m now taking a short break from urban fantasy with The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen, and it appears I’m going to be agreeing with the reviews written by Rachel and Marion: it’s enjoyable despite its problems.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: This week I progressed on Robin Hobb’s Fool’s Quest. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be chiming in with the forthcoming review because I’m still not through the book. I partially blame my iPod, which has developed a very inconsiderate habit of skipping to a different playlist entirely if I jostle it too hard. Nothing is more aggravating than listening blithely along for an hour, accidentally dropping the iPod a little too hard on the desk, and suddenly finding yourself listening to the Princess Irulan saying something about Muad’dib. The worst is knowing that now you have to trawl through all ten gajillion tracks (all named according to some bizarre, incomprehensible string of numbers and letters) for the one you were on when your native clumsiness manifested. Half the time, I end up just taking out my headphones entirely. Meanwhile the iPod sniggers in cruel delight. People tell me it’s just in my head, but I can tell.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Bill:This week I read:

Fool’s Assassin by Robin Hobb: This will absolutely be on my Best of 2015 list. Been a while since I choked up at a book. Been way longer since the cause of that lump in the throat/damp in the eyes was because I was happy for a character rather than grieving

The Autumnlands by Kurt Busiek, with visuals by Benjamin Dewey and Jordie Bellaire:

Collected into a single volume, the first few segments of this graphic story make for an intriguing beginning set in a fascinating world

Jade Mountain Dragon by Elsa Hart: This classic murder mystery set in 1700s China has some familiar tropes (including the old standby whereby the investigator gathers all the suspects in one room to reveal the killer), but quite won me over thanks to character and setting. I’m so hoping she gives us more adventures of Li Du, wandering scholar

Science of the Magical by Matt Kaplan: An uneven, admittedly somewhat disappointing if often charming look at the (possible) science behind stories of myth and magic such as the Philosopher’s Stone, love potions, oracles, healing magic, and gifts of immortality.


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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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17 comments

  1. Rachael, I’m glad you said it, because I read Ready Player One in a pretty much constant state of cringe.

    Then again, it’s the most blatant of nostalgia-bait, and I have to figure that a large part of the reason it left me cold is that I’m too young. Ernest Cline is basically that guy who comes to a high school reunion and starts in with “remember how awesome such-and-such was…?” Meanwhile, I’m that awkward person who’s beginning to suspect this isn’t the work conference after all and is just trying to smile along and laugh half a beat behind everyone else.

    • Tim, I had essentially the same reaction to Ready Player One. I don’t know if it’s that I’m too young, or that I’m burned out on the 1980s nostalgia which seems to saturate the Internet, but the constant refrain of “Hey, remember how cool this was?” just wore me down until I lost all interest.

    • Tim, I think you’re right, but it can’t just be that we’re too young for the whole 80s nostalgia thing because its been a massive hit with the YA population so Cline must be doing something right… I just feel like the whole thing was a bit indulgent, like his editor was egging him on when he went into page-long diatribes about pixels or graphics or whatever.

      I am definitely the awkward person still thinking this is a work conference, hoping that childhood nostalgia means we can finally start battling our Pokemon already

      • I’ve got a low-level Pidgey, if anyone needs something to beat up on.

      • Well, Tim and Rachael, I’d be in the same corner with you, saying, “This isn’t the Advanced Governmental Audit Response Techniques course?” And, simultaneously (because I’m a science fiction writer and I can do that) I’d be the neighborhood curmudgeon.I liked RPO but did not love it, and I think the writing was mostly so-so.

    • RPO didn’t work for me either, and I’m old enough to have vivid memories of 80’s culture. For a book with such in-depth details, it felt shallow and meaningless to me. But I know mine is the minority view of this book. :)

  2. João, don’t bother with the sequel. Also, there will be a Lovecraft test you’ll need to pass to move on to the next stage of your apprenticeship.

    Kelly, you make me laugh.

    Marion, you made me want to read both of those books. I loved what you said about the French book.

    Rachael, you are scaring me. I know I’m going to either love or hate that book.

    Tim, I can help you with that. Email me.

  3. Kelly, I’m so glad you’re enjoying Romantic Outlaws! I’ve been meaning to pick it up for a while, and if it’s half as good as you say, I know I’ll love it. :)

  4. I need to start reading Alistair Reynolds, and I HAVE to read Gordon’s dual biography!

    I watched the Hugo Livestream last night. I only wish I’d made myself a fancy flavored martini before I settled in, because it was slow getting started. Having the nominees for Best Novel announced from the International Space Station was wonderful, perfect and awesome.

    The slate candidates did not have a good night.

  5. As the guy who really enjoyed Ready Player One and interviewed Ernie Cline about his new book Armada recently, let me say this in his defense: His books are without question a loving tribute to geek and pop culture in the 1980s, and don’t pretend to be anything but that. I found tons of references that took me back to my youth and brought back great memories, but I still enjoyed the sense of fun of RPO. I’m actually perplexed that someone in their teens or twenties can enjoy the story so much. His books are not great literature or subtle like Gene Wolfe, but did provide plenty of entertainment, so I was a happy customer.

    • He doesn’t need defending — as you said, he’s providing crackling-good entertainment. And clearly he has a fanbase. If you’re in your 20s, the 80’s are history, not life, and you can apply the golden base-coat of nostalgia. Plus, those games were fun.

  6. Sandy, I also have RA Lafferty’s books like Past Master, Fourth Mansions, Nine Hundred Grandmothers, And The Devil is Dead (the first three are Ace SF Specials) on the shelves and really want to read them someday as I’ve heard how strange and crazy his books are. Someday, though Robert Silverberg is ahead on the list!

    And I was pretty happy to see that Three-Body Problem won the Hugo, though I didn’t vote because I hadn’t read the other nominees. Good to see the puppies were crushed by an upswelling of fan mobilization.

  7. If I remember right, Nine Hundred Grandmothers is a short story collection. I remember being baffled by and loving the title story.

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