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[books] The Hydrogen Sonata

I finally finished reading Iain M. Banks’ newest Culture novel, The Hydrogen SonataPowells | BN ]. (The long delays in my reading were related to my health issues, not the quality if the book.) In three words, I loved it.

This is a typical Culture novel, if that phrase even makes any sense — a 500-page brick of a hardback release dense with the meaty, unapologetic heavy iron space opera that Banks does so very well. This stuff tickles my brain hard and makes me very happy to read, lengthy infodumps and long asides and all.

Like many of Banks’ books, the central plot is interwoven with dozens of side plots, tangential events, and sometimes things that seem sheerly and gloriously random. This is not tight prose, and it is not casual reading. What it is, is smart as hell and a great deal of fun. Even if you’ve never read a Culture book before, it will make sense. It will make more sense if you have, of course.

After I finished The Hydrogen Sonata last night, I spent some time thinking about what the book did and what it meant. One of the basic critical questions about any story is “whose story is this”? Ie, “who changes or is changed most by events”. In an odd way, The Hydrogen Sonata fails this test. Or more to the point, declines to be measured by this test in the first place. I mean, we have 500 pages of culture clash, space battles, the disappearance of an entire species, the machinations of the galaxy’s oldest person, love, sex, betrayal, and of course, the Hydrogen Sonata itself. Yet at the end, with one or two exceptions, every major character more or less winds up where you might have expected them to from the beginning. (Except for those who got killed along the way.) Even Vyr Cossont, the nominal protagonist, seems to have the gentlest of epiphanies, albeit her journey to that point is very challenging.

And I think this is the point of The Hydrogen Sonata, inasmuch as it has one: the journey is the tale, not the destination. It’s a heck of a journey, and I loved it. Delightfully dense, thoughtful, intellectually challenging stuff that’s also a heck of a ride.


[books] How many books, and which ones?

Yesterday in comments, discussing my library card expedition, [info]rekre8 said:

but…but…how do you then STORE all the books? My library is about 5,000 books large (I know intimately, as I’ve been in the midst of a move), and I re-read constantly, and I use the library for items I’ll only read once or before I buy something from an author to see if I’ll like it, simply because one does not have the SPACE.

To which I responded:

I’ve probably owned 15,000 or 20,000 books in my lifetime. There have been three major culls starting in the year 2000, and I am now down to rather less than 5,000 in my house. But I have a pretty big basement. Space isn’t really the issue. (Two of the three culls were connected to relocation and not wanting to move hundreds of pounds of books.)

My current standard for keeping books is (a) will I ever want to re-read this, (b) will I ever want my daughter or some other person interested in SF to read this (presumably classic), (c) will I ever want to loan/give this book to someone because I love it so much I think they should read it.

Well, and there some books I think a person should just have, my own version of the science fiction essentials.

Which leads me to a few questions for you guys reading this.

1) How many books do you own?

2) Is there a reason (space, personal philosophy, funding) that your collection is the size it is?

3) Why do you keep the books you keep? (Bibliomania is a perfectly acceptable answer insofar as I’m concerned.)

4) What books do you consider essential?

I already more-or-less answered 1-3. Here’s a very incomplete answer to 4), for me, presented in no particular order.

  • Dune, the first three books, specifically
  • The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings
  • The Moon is a Harsh Mistress along with selected other Heinlein (nothing from Number of the Beast forward)
  • Bujold’s Vorkosigan books
  • Discworld (all of it)
  • Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun and Fifth Head of Cerberus
  • Anything from Delaney’s early career
  • The Left Hand of Darkness
  • Hal Duncan’s Vellum and Ink
  • Jeff VanderMeer’s City of Saints and Madmen
  • Jo Walton’s Among Others
  • Robin Hobb’s Assassin books

That list is grossly inadequate, even from my own reading experience, let alone all the books I haven’t read. On cursory examination, I also note that this list is thin on recent or contemporary work, thin on women writers, and thin on writers of color. You can almost chart when I grew up by the titles on it.

What do you say?

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[books|writing] The Sekrit Project Uncloaks: METAtroplis 3: Green Space

Now it can be told. Audible.com is acquiring a third volume in the Hugo Award nominated and Audie Award winning series of original audiobook fiction, METAtropolis. The new volume, METAtropolis: Green Space, is mostly set in around the turn 22nd century and explores the long term consequences of the issues and trends raised in the first two books. This new audiobook will be edited by me and Ken Scholes, and include series alumni Elizabeth Bear, Tobias Buckell, Mary Robinette Kowal and Karl Schroeder, as well as adding Seanan McGuire. Ken and I will also have stories in the new book.

The first volume, 2009’s METAtropolis was edited by John Scalzi. 2010’s METAtropolis: Cascadia was edited by Jay Lake.

And for my own part, here’s a little bit of WIP from the initial draft of my piece.

Turning around, Bashar set the lettermail opener back down on the assistant’s desk. He smiled again, ignoring the panicked reek of sweat and urine. Exasperation was long gone from the twit’s face. “My apologies, son. I didn’t get the memo about which way the wind is blowing.” He gave the assistant a sharp nod. “Let me know if you need the name of a good dry cleaner.”

The security squad let him walk out of the office uncontested. Bashar was pretty sure this was against the new orders. He’d take his courtesies where he found them, however. His accesses hadn’t been shut off yet, because he passed through two staffed checkpoints and three automated ones without further challenge.

Bashar didn’t start breathing easily again until he was outside under an overcast Seattle sky. As easily as he ever breathed these days. His skin warmed quickly even with the cloud cover – the UV filter tattoos covering most of his body were doing their work, converting waste energy to radiant heat, much of which was being trapped by the thermal battery fibers in his clothing. Who needed an ozone layer when you had tattoo guns and micron-scale engineering embedded in your transparent ink?

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[books] Shanghai Steam

There’s a book being released at World Fantasy Convention this year called Shanghai Steam. Basically, these stories are a fusion of steampunk and wuxia (Chinese historical epics with a heavy emphasis on martial arts). It’s from Absolute X Press, edited by Ace Jordyn, Calvin Jim and Renée Bennett, with stories from a whole range of writers including my friends Camille Alexa and Amanda Clark. I mention this here because I wrote the introduction for the project.

If you’re going to be at World Fantasy, they’re having a release party, and they’ll be at the EDGE Press booth. Check it out.


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[books] Foreign covers of my books

Got a package from my agent yesterday. The Russian edition of Green, and the German edition of Escapement were lodged therein.

I still think foreign covers are sooooo cool.



Photos © 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

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This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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[books] Help build a library

The small Willamette Valley town of Jefferson, Oregon, has learned that their 150-year-old library building can no longer be used. They’re working like crazy to build a new library, keeping the town and its people supplied with books, information and services.

Librarian Linda Baker is reaching out to authors seeking support through autographed copies of their work. They’re also taking direct donations, and I imagine other forms of support as well. Though cancer is eating my wallet faster than I can replenish it, I’ll at least be sending them some of my books.

Banned Books Week seems like a terrific time to help keep a small town library going. Whether you’re an author, a reader, or just an interested human being, surf on over to the Jefferson Library Blogspot page to see how you might help.

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[books] Die Räder der Welt

Look what showed up in the mail while I was out of town.


My author’s copies of the German edition of Mainspring. Squee!

© 2012, Joseph E. Lake, Jr.

Creative Commons License

This work by Joseph E. Lake, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

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[books] A Cats Steampunk Alphabet Book

As the introduction (written by me) to A Cats Steampunk Alphabet Book says:

About four years ago, I mentioned on my blog that a steampunk abecedary would be a very cool thing. It started out literally as a joke, a bloggy game of the kind I like to play with my readers from time to time. Except in the real world jokes have a way of taking on a life of their own, mutating and metastasizing into things the originally wiseacre might never recognize.

This thing is goofy, cute and in a weird way, pretty cool. The Buzzfeed post on it shows off the graphics and layout. Me, I’m just highly amused that a project like this could actually come to market, and pleased to see it succeeding.

Check it out.

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[books] The Bone Doll’s Twin by Lynn Flewelling

I just finished reading Lynn Flewelling‘s book The Bone Doll’s TwinPowells | BN ]. That was a fun and creepy book.

Now, usually in my lexicon “fun” and “creepy” don’t have a high overlap. I’ve never been a big fan of horror movies, for example. Yet I do like reading both New Weird and dark fantasy as subgenres, so clearly this isn’t a profound impediment to my ability to enjoy literature.

Flewlling’s book is fantasy of the “hidden prince” theme, except with some pretty strange twists. She’s not afraid to go to the most darkly logical corners of the arc her plot and characters follow. That’s part of the fun. The sheer, bizarre creepiness that infuses this book borders on the delightful, and raises The Bone Doll’s Twin above the usual mark of such fantasies. Not to mention the seeping dread that infused the story.

This was a fun read. I’m going to be seeking out the next two books in her Tamir trilogy to see how it all comes out.

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[books] Recent reading: Red Seas Under Red Skies, and The Ethical Slut

Last week I finished reading Scott Lynch’s Red Seas Under Red SkiesPowells | BN ], the second of his Locke Lamora books. I really admire Scott’s writing. He combines an absolutely byzantine flair for plotting with a profound ruthlessness toward his characters which hits all my reader cookies, hard. Especially when wrapped in such lovely language. There were points in this book where I had to look away or even put it down, because I was so dreading what was about to happen next. At this point in my life, with my critic/author brain more or less permanently stuck in the “on” position, it’s a fairly rare writer who can grab hold of me so thoroughly.

Action, adventure, conspiracy, magic, antiheroes on the hoof — what more could you want of Locke and Jean? I confess about 4/5ths of the way through the book I started to wonder how he was going to wrap it all up. Well, he did. The ending might have taken up a few more pages without annoying me, but in truth, this is a minor quibble.

Anent Scott’s work, one of my favorite reader emails I ever received was regarding my own book, Trial of FlowersPowells | BN ]. The reader took me to task for writing such grubby, degrading prose and doing such awful things in that book (guilty as charged, btw), and asked me why I couldn’t write something clean and fun like Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke LamoraPowells | BN ]. Considering that in Lies people are drowned in horse piss and stuffed into barrels of ground glass, I can’t think how anyone would think it was a cleaner book than Trial.

Prior to that, I finished reading the new edition of The Ethical SlutPowells | BN ]. If you’re not familiar with the title, that’s a lifestyle/self-help/inspirational book aimed toward people engaged in open or polyamorous relationships. I will comment that at least half that book applies to anyone with an active emotional or sex life, regardless of their particular lifestyle arrangements and sexual orientation. I recommend it highly on that basis if you’re interested in exploring your boundaries or otherwise doing some hard thinking in those areas.

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