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[books] Crossdressing, an anthology that may never be

Bruce Arthurs left a comment on my blog yesterday.

One of my odder random thoughts recently was the idea of Henry James and Ernest Hemingway rewriting each others’ stories: A Hemingway version of “Turn of the Screw” and a James version of “The Killers”.

This reminds me of an anthology concept I’ve been noodling with for a few years. I don’t have the time or funding these days to the editorial work to organize this, but I’ve always thought it would be funny as hell. Basically, it would be titled something like Crossdressing, and would feature about a dozen or so authors writing in each other’s styles. Could be parodies, could be more serious homage.

This works best with authors with fairly distinctive voices, but I think it would be hilarious to see Jeff VanderMeer writing as Ken Scholes, and Ken Scholes writing as Mary Robinette Kowal, and Mary Robinette Kowal writing as Charlie Stross, and so forth.

Someday I’ll have an entire bookshelf of anthologies that never were.

[books] Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

A couple of days ago, I finished reading Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel, Throne of the Crescent MoonPowells | BN ]. This is Arabian-inspired fantasy, a subgenre that Saladin appears to share almost exclusively with Howard Andrew Jones, and it’s a lot of fun.

The book’s been getting considerable critical buzz, and justly so. What I particularly love about Throne of the Crescent Moon is the degree to which the individual characters are beset by their own flaws and insecurities. Ahmed has not given us Heinleinian Competent Heroes; rather he has given us people who feel very familiar, perhaps even ordinary, even in the midst of having extraordinary skills and powers. Another striking thing about the book is that, rooted in a non-European tradition, both the fantastic tropes and the everyday life portrayed within the narrative have a fresh, lateral feel.

Ahmed’s writing is deft and graceful, and his characters move through a world of real stakes and significant consequences, much to their cost. Combine this with glorious setting and his careful mastery of craft, and you have a lovely fantasy read on your hands.

[books] The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

I just finished reading my way through The Laundry Files by Charles Stross. This started with me reading the third book in series, The Fuller MemorandumPowells | BN ], out of sequence. (See my comments here: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ].) I’ve since caught up with the series, reading book one, The Atrocity ArchivesPowells | BN ] and book two, The Jennifer MorguePowells | BN ], and thanks to Charlie’s generosity, the as-yet-unreleased fourth novel, The Apocalypse CodexPowells | BN ].

I have to confess to having been skeptical of the premise of these books when I first heard of them. Boy howdy was I wrong. Stross pulls it off beautifully, this cock-eyed intersection of spy thrillers, IT wankery, civil service drudgery, and eldritch horrors from beyond the boundaries of time and space. These are highly entertaining books, and by the third volume, he’s developed a definite series arc pointing ahead. The fourth volume sustains that arc, and with the its ending lands Bob Howard, your humble narrator, in some seriously uncharted waters that I can’t wait to explore in the next volume or two.

There’s a very strange charm to this series, which I suspect evolves from the unlikely premise as explicated by the goofy insouciance of narrator and protagonist Bob Howard. (Though in truth Angleton might just be my favorite character.) They’re certainly structured and written like spy thrillers or adventure novels, but the sensibility is so very much from the darker corners of fantasy, not to mention outright horror fiction. More to the point, entertaining as hell.

Highly recommended, even if dark stuff isn’t normally your bag.

[books] Recent reading

I’ve read three books recently that I wanted to take a moment to comment on. Daughter of the Sword by Steve Bein, (Roc, October, 2012), and two Charles Stross books, Saturn’s ChildrenPowells | BN ] and The Fuller MemorandumPowells | BN ].

Daughter of the Sword was sent to me in bound manuscript form as a candidate for blurb. I really enjoyed it, and provided a pull quote which Roc may or may not be using. It’s a book with an interesting structure, two entwined narratives that contrast significantly. One is the story of a Tokyo cop, the only female detective-sergeant on the force, chasing a strange series of murders, coping with her sister’s disappearance, and battling the institutional sexism of a police force where most women either are meter maids or coffee girls. The other thread skips through Japanese history from the Mongol invasions through WWII, chronicling the story of a set of swords forged by one of the great masters of that art. There are curses and possessions, mixing a very light-handed fantasy element with police procedural and a journey through Japanese culture. Some wonderfully lateral views of a pair of common Western storytelling tropes not so often bound together. This story was a bit off my most usual pleasure reading path, and I’m glad I took it.

Saturn’s Children is billed on the cover as a space opera, but I’m not sure I’d call it that. The conceit at the heart of the book is profound and fascinating — that the human race died out but its intelligent servants have carried on without their masters, for the most part barely noticing the change. Frea, nearly the last of a series of courtesan-androids who are all bereft of purpose in the absence of human lovers, is at first pulled, then pushes herself, through a string of events and conspiracies that provides a set-piece tour of the solar system, from Mercury to Eris. And this book is funny. There are some real howlers of bad puns and jokes, as well as a great deal of more subtle humor. Stross’ tongue is firmly in his cheek even as he covers deadly serious issues of identity, independence and the notion of what it means to be free.

The Fuller Memorandum is not the first Laundry novel, but it’s the first one I read. (Selection was limited the day I walked into the bookstore — normally I begin a series at the beginning.) That being said, it worked just fine as a freestanding book. I’d been a little skeptical of the premise of the Laundry novels, about a secretive arm of the British intelligence community charged with battling the occult and very specifically working to prevent a return of the Elder Gods. Stross pulls it off, beautifully, with his trademark fractally encysting conspiracies and mordant wit. Highly recommended, and now I need to go round up the rest of the Laundry novels.

[books] A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I just finished reading Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of WitchesPowells | BN ], a December, 2011 release from Penguin. It was interesting and a fair amount of fun, but definitely had that ‘mainstream author writes fantasy without being aware of the history or tropes of the genre’ feel. All the same, and perhaps because of that, Harkness’ take on witches and vampires was sufficiently divergent from the classic patterns to be interesting.

Also interesting to me in terms of my own reader reactions to this book was my realization about halfway through that the genre tropes Harkness is working within are more tied to romance than fantasy. Which explained the female witch protagonist’s constant fainting and passing out and needing to be carried about hither and yon by the male vampire love interest. That wouldn’t fly in a strong female fantasy character, but it is a trope (or subtrope or something) of romance.

What I really did like about the book was that much of it was set at Oxford University, and the sense of scholarship and history in the book is very strong. Our heroine is a historian specializing in the traditions of alchemy, and Harkness really made me believe that in a big way. She acted like a historian, thought like one, talked like one. Harkness’ own scholarship in writing the book was certainly deep enough to be utterly convincing to me. Her interweaving of history with the plot was fascinating.

This book was a lot of fun. It’s the first third of a trilogy, so very little of the plot is resolved at the ending, but that’s life. Worth the read.

[books|repost] Endurance reading and signing at Powells Cedar Hills

[repost]

My one and only formal public appearance this fall will be for a reading and signing in celebration of the forthcoming release of EndurancePowells | Barnes & Noble ], the second Green book.

I’ll be appearing at the Powell’s Cedar Hills store on Thursday, November 17th, at 7 pm. As is usual, I’ll have an open dinner from 5 pm to 6:30 pm, at McMenamins Cedar Hills, at the north end of the same retail complex Powell’s is in. If you’re planning to come to the dinner, please do let me know in comments or via email so I can include you in the headcount.

Hope to see you there.

[books] Endurance is out today

Today is the release date for Endurance, the second of the Green books. She’s back, she’s bad, and she’s ready to be read. Publisher’s Weekly gave the book a starred review, so I know somebody liked it. My agent comments on the release here.

If you want to score the book for yourself, here’s some links. [ Powells | Barnes & Noble | Audible.com ]

And of course, I’ll be at Powells Cedar Hills location on Thursday, November 17th, at 7 pm for a reading, discussion and signing. It’s my only formal public appearance this fall due to chemotherapy (I can’t even make it to Orycon this weekend), so if you want to catch me live and on the hoof, that’s your main chance.

I hope you enjoy the book.

[books] Endurance arrives

Endurance has arrived at my house. Green looks very sharp on the cover of her second book, racing through the city of Copper Downs as she does. Really, why not order a copy for yourself today? It’s a beautiful volume, and I’m proud of the story.

Also, don’t forget my reading on November 17th: [ jlake.com | LiveJournal ]

[books] Endurance reading and signing at Powells Cedar Hills

My one and only formal public appearance this fall will be for a reading and signing in celebration of the forthcoming release of EndurancePowells | Barnes & Noble ], the second Green book.

I’ll be appearing at the Powell’s Cedar Hills store on Thursday, November 17th, at 7 pm. As is usual, I’ll have an open dinner from 5 pm to 6:30 pm, at McMenamins Cedar Hills, at the north end of the same retail complex Powell’s is in. If you’re planning to come to the dinner, please do let me know in comments or via email so I can include you in the headcount.

Due to chemotherapy, I’ve cancelled all my other convention and workshop appearances, so if you want to see me on the hoof and Hawaiian clad, this is your only chance. Hope to see you there.

[books|writing] Onward through the fog

Chemo fog is beginning to slow down my brain, but I aten’t dead yet. Still reading, still writing.

On the reading front, I am currently consuming The Sky Road, the fourth book of Ken MacLeod’s The Fall Revolution cycle. Because I’m an idiot, I’ll be reading The Star Fraction (the first book) last. All the same, this is a cycle, not a tightly-coupled series, so that’s okay. I am loving these books. As I said on Twitter and Facebook yesterday, I find them to be “grim Scottish socialist SF, Riddley Walker meets The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, with bells on.” That is high praise. It’s also interesting stuff to read just after gulping down Iain M. Banks’ Culture novels all in a row. Plus the new Pratchett will be in my hands shortly.

In chemo terms, I’m not reading as sharply as normal, nor quite at my usual pace, but I’m still taking in the story. For now, I’m pleased.

Incidentally I have also conditionally promised to do a foreword for a nonfiction book and a blurb for a single-title novella, if brainspace holds up, but that’s practically a segue into writing.

I’ve got notes from various sources on the second draft Calamity of So Long a Life, the first volume of Sunspin. Amusingly, and pleasing to my heart, my Dad has been a very engaged first reader. I’m awaiting comments from my agent before I see how much a can worms I need to open here, and whether I can commit to whatever deadlines that implies. I do expect to hear from her this week on the book.

In the mean time, I’m slowly working through the outline of the proposed joint novel project with urban fantasy author J.A. Pitts, a/k/a [info]bravado111. This is the book I’ve occasionally mentioned in jest about a werewolf with achondroplastic dwarfism. We’ve decided to actually write the damned thing, and see how it does in the market.

The series title is Little Dog, because that’s the protag’s (very insulting) pack name, and we’re working with Son of a Bitch as the the title for this book. It’s probably going to border on dark comedy, but we’ve got some real neat concepts coming to boil underneath, drawing pretty heavily on my medical experiences for both inspiration and verisimilitude. John’s skills as a character-driven writer are far sharper than my own, so while I’m doing the tippy-type drafting of the outline, we’re having frequent story conferences by email, SMS and voice wherein he’s showing me some pretty deep things about the narrative and characters that I would have been a long time coming to on my own.

This is the whole point of collaboration. So I can learn and grow from John, and he can learn and grow from me. Plus it’s a fun idea, and we’re having fun working on it.

The reality is the most we’ll get done this year is the outline. Chemo will be checking me out from writing soon, and I won’t be in a position to draft it. Such writer cookies as I still have need to be prioritized for Sunspin. But at a projected length of 90-90,500 words, it’s a project I can easily wedge into my spare time next spring as I begin the process of busting out the second and third volumes of Sunspin. Or if we decide John is going to write the first draft, it becomes a revision process for me, which is even easier to fit into my schedule.

So I guess I’ve sprouted another novel. Because there’s never such a thing as too much to do, right?

In the mean time, I read, write and wait for the chemo fog to close in so tight I have to shut down the control tower and be reduced to watching Netflix Streaming.

[books] Among Others by Jo Walton

I am very late to this party, but yesterday I read Among Others by Jo Walton Powell’s | Barnes and Noble ], in one sitting. My god, the voice in this book. If I am ever called upon to teach voice in a writing workshop, I am simply going to point here and say, “Go forth and read.”

Far brighter minds than mine have commented on Among Others, and I’m not sure I have a lot to add. I know it struck me so powerfully in part because the narrator’s age, as both a reader of SF and in terms of the chronology of the book, is coincidentally within a year of my own. At the sensawunda level, I was reading my own story. That’s an artefact of me being born in 1964 and having come of age in the later 1970s and onward, and like the protagonist, having been sent off to boarding school. I suppose if I were ten years older or younger, or with a different background, the resonances would have been different.

But whatever age you are, or were when you discovered the miracles of fantasy and science fiction, Among Others is in part a love letter to that discovery, to those books and authors and their culture in which we now find ourselves immersed in years later. It’s also a coming of age story in the more usual critical sense of that term, and does a damned fine job of telling that story with the journey through genre serving as counterpoint. Wrenching, exhilarating, tragic — apparently I can only speak in cliched adjectives of this book.

If this book isn’t at the top of the Hugo ballot next year, I’ll be astonished.

Just go read it, ok?