Tag: random and incoherent mumblings

Top Ten Character-Driven Novels

  1. Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas. This is more or less a plotless novel; it relies entirely on what you think of its protagonist Meg. I think she’s great: Thomas has a real talent for writing characters you care about despite their mistakes.
  2. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet – Becky Chambers. The ensemble cast who lead this novel – another one that’s pretty much structureless – range from a vilely racist human to a polyamorous sentient lizard. They all have their own backstories, their own struggles; Chambers gets under the skin of all of them, to try and help us understand why they are who they are. If this book is about anything, it’s about very different people working together to support each other. It’s lovely.
  3. Palimpsest – Catherynne M. Valente. OK, this one technically does have a plot, but it’s only perfunctory. Really, we’re reading for four broken strangers, their wretched humanity rendered beautiful by Valente’s infinitely sympathetic gaze and her prose precious as hoarded gold.
  4. Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake. Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy is Gothically strange and dense: its characters are at one and the same time Dickensian grotesques and deeply, richly psychologically imagined. It’s not quite like anything else I’ve read.
  5. Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl. There’s some postmodern trickery going on here, but unlike many novels that play with textual authority it has character at its heart: specifically the character of Blue van Meer, a lost, precocious teenager scrabbling for a deeper meaning to her life.
  6. Pale Fire – Vladimir Nabokov. I’ve only read this once, a few years ago, but it’s stuck with me. Like Pessl’s novel, its postmodern trickery is all in the service of building up a character, as Charles Kinbote’s commentary on his neighbour’s unfinished poem spirals further and further away from its initial performance of cool criticism.
  7. Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter. At the heart of Carter’s novel is Fevvers, a larger-than-life circus woman who resists all attempts to define her or pin her down. She’s awesome.
  8. Temeraire – Naomi Novik. It’s not individual characters that Novik’s interested in so much as their relationships. Temeraire is a Regency comedy of manners, really, and Novik’s excellent at delineating the rigid social structures and codes that define her characters’, behaviour.
  9. Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie. Like Naomi Novik, Leckie’s fundamentally interested in social structures and how they define and proscribe relationships. Unlike Temeraire, though, Ancillary Justice has a protagonist with a degree of complexity: an AI who has lost her hive mind and who’s bent on revenge.
  10. Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood. At the heart of Atwood’s novel is convicted Canadian murderess Grace Marks, a woman born into poverty who spends her life fighting the male gaze.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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Ten Books That Were Hard for Me to Read

  1. High-Rise – J.G. Ballard. There’s a certain kind of dystopia I find really hard to read: anything where society breaks down on-page, where people become less than people. I read High-Rise recently, so it’s still reasonably fresh in my memory: it’s set in a modern high-rise building, designed to be a self-sufficient vertical city, where people start to turn on each other. There’s animal cruelty and sexual violence in bucketloads, and I came quite close to putting it down (which I never do).
  2. Parable of the Sower – Octavia Butler. For many of the same reasons as I found High-Rise difficult to read. There’s just this overpowering sense of loss and hopelessness to Parable of the Sower, an idea that everything we think of as normal can all become undone in just a few years.
  3. The Book of Phoenix – Nnedi Okorafor. This is a very necessary book. It’s also a series of really awful things happening to the main character – things that (and this is going to sound trite, but) have direct parallels to what people of colour in the West really do experience every day. That’s its power and its horror.
  4. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever – Stephen Donaldson. I mean. There are things I like about the Covenant books, but the prose is really, really dense, and some absolutely terrible things happen, and overall it’s really not a light read.
  5. The Dark Tower – Stephen King. Just for That Scene with Randall Flagg and Mordred. No. Please, no.
  6. Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks. The cannibal cult on Vavatch is just awful. And the rest of the novel is incredibly dark and chilly and hopeless and violent. (I’m still toying with reading the rest of the Culture series, though.)
  7. On – Adam Roberts. Like Consider Phlebas, I found On just quite barren? The concept behind the novel is precariousness; the idea that “the centre cannot hold”, that there’s nothing to cling to that doesn’t change as soon as you think you’re sure of it. It’s cleverly structured, but it’s also very dark and very violent, without any vitality to set that darkness off. Plus, I really wanted Roberts to stop calling penises “wicks”. (Yes, really.)
  8. Ready Player One – Ernest Cline. I literally wanted to throw this book out of a train window. That’s how fucking awful I found it: actively sexist, racist and homophobic, and poorly written to boot. (Lord help us, I see from the internet that there is going to be a film next year.)
  9. Age of Godpunk – James Lovegrove. See above, basically, only with bonus transphobia. HOW DOES THIS SHIT EVER GET PUBLISHED
  10. The Dice Man – Luke Rhinehart. If you could do anything without fearing society’s judgement you would…have lots of dubiously-consensual sex and be a dick to everyone, apparently. (Really?)

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Authors Whose Books I’ve Only Read One Of

There is no elegant way to phrase that title.

  1. Dave Hutchinson. Hutchinson’s at the top of my mind, so to speak, because I wrote a review of his Europe in Autumn on Monday. I liked it, obviously.
  2. Samuel Delany. I’ve only read Nova, and that was splendid – unusual and quite literary SF. Libraries and bookshops don’t seem to be that fond of him this side of the Atlantic, unfortunately.
  3. Becky Chambers. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is one of my comfort reads; in fact I think it was my favourite book of 2016. I am honestly not sure how I have not yet managed to read A Close and Common Orbit.
  4. Gail Carriger. I read the first Parasol Protectorate novel recently, and it was such fun! Steampunk and werewolves and vampires, oh my!
  5. N.K. Jemisin. I liked The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, which is quite surprising given my general aversion to epic fantasy, and The Fifth Season‘s at the top of my TBR pile.
  6. Zen Cho. Sorcerer to the Crown is lovely! I’d really like to read her short story collection, Spirits Abroad, if I can find it.
  7. Yoon Ha Lee. Ninefox Gambit wasn’t my favourite, exactly, but I’d not be uninterested in reading Raven Strategem.
  8. Chris Wooding. Yes, Retribution Falls is inelegant and problematic, but, like Carriger’s novel, it’s also quite a lot of fun.
  9. Kim Stanley Robinson. Robinson’s 2312 is the best kind of hard SF: speculative in a classic sense, set in a future that doesn’t feel unlikely, and aware of all the complexity of human beings.
  10. Octavia Butler. Butler’s another author whose SF is nuanced, complex and interesting.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Underrated Fantasy Novels

  1. Palimpsest – Catherynne M. Valente. Nobody talks very much about Palimpsest, but it might actually be my favourite of Valente’s novels. The city of Palimpsest is at once beautiful and magical and painful and terrible; reading the novel makes the world seem wide and wonderful again.
  2. Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake. Hardly anyone outside academic circles has heard of Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, which seems ridiculous, because it’s had the most enormous impact on fantasy as a genre. It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste: it is dense, baroque, Gothically overwritten. I love it.
  3. A Face Like Glass – Frances Hardinge. Hardinge actually seems to be getting more press since The Lie Tree won the Costa; at least her new novel A Skinful of Shadows is being advertised on the Tube, which, surely, must be an Author Goal? A Face Like Glass is wonderful in ways that are similar to Palimpsest: the world where it’s set is horrifying and dystopic, but also lush and full of wonders.
  4. What is Not Yours is Not Yours – Helen Oyeyemi. The few reviews I’ve read of Oyeyemi’s collection of linked short stories have been vaguely critical of its unfocused nature; but to me that’s a feature, not a bug. I love the messiness of the book: again like Palimpsest, its inconclusiveness leaves doors open for wonder to creep in.
  5. Starbook – Ben Okri. Ben Okri is hardly underrated; nor is he a fantasy author, strictly speaking. But I’d never heard of Starbook before I stumbled across it in the library, which is a shame, because, although it has problems, it’s also very beautiful. It’s rare that anything I read really makes me see the world differently, and Starbook did.
  6. Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirlees. Lud-in-the-Mist is a novel from a genre completely overshadowed by Tolkien and his literary descendants. Published in the 1920s, it’s a story of Fairyland – where Fairyland is at once alluring and perilous, sitting just out of reach over the horizon. It does wonder very well indeed, maintaining Fairyland’s mystique and magic right through to the end.
  7. Sorcerer to the Crown – Zen Cho. This is a fun, diverse Regency romance that draws on Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Like Clarke’s novel, it also scrutinises the self-defeating nature of institutional oppression.
  8. The Book of Taltos – Steven Brust. I’m not sure why I haven’t heard more about Brust’s novels: The Book of Taltos is one of the very few epic fantasy novels I’ve enjoyed recently, precisely because it doesn’t take itself very seriously. And because, I suspect, of its moral ambiguity: its protagonist, after all, is a wisecracking assassin.
  9. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula Le Guin. The Lathe of Heaven feels more like fantasy than SF: it’s about dreams becoming reality, and nothing is more fantastical, probably, than dreams. I also get the impression that it’s one of Le Guin’s minor works – which still makes it better than whole swathes of SFF by other authors.
  10. Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve. I reread this first book in Reeve’s MG series about mobile cities preying on each other recently, and was seriously impressed by a) how steampunk it is, and b) how aware it is of institutional oppression. It’s a very sophisticated work of MG, and I want to get round to reading the sequels again soon.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

I’m reading Tolkien again

…because it’s October, and that means Tolkien Reading Marathon time. Because the days are shortening slowly but inexorably. And the leaves are turning to gold. And this failing season of autumn, when the world – at least this northern part of it – turns towards the long cold quiet of winter, when the year is old but not yet dead; this season of nostalgia when the blue dawn smells of woodsmoke and mists under the soft golden sun lull the earth to sleep; this is the season of the Elves, sailing, sailing, sailing over the sea, and leaving us.

For we are old now, and wise. And the Straight Road is lost to us.

Ten Fictional Characters Who’d Be in My Friendship Group

  1. Lirael – Lirael, Garth Nix. She works in a library and she doesn’t like talking to people, but she has a rich inner life. I mean, she’s basically me. If I worked in a library.
  2. Hermione Granger – Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling. Basically because she’s bookish and academic and we would bond over our shared dislike for rule-breaking.
  3. Ponder Stibbons – the Discworld series, Terry Pratchett. Ponder is just a complete nerd. And he takes life seriously. So, naturally, he would be my friend.
  4. Meggie Folchart – Inkheart, Cornelia Funke. She sleeps with books under her pillow! And has read all the books! My kind of person.
  5. Katin Crawford – Nova, Samuel Delany. Katin’s a little bit anxious, and he’s working on a long pretentious novel even though the form’s been obsolete for centuries. Yep, sounds like my kind of person.
  6. Fuschia – Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake. Fuschia’s another character with a rich inner life and a less-than-satisfactory external one. She’s prickly, but once you were friends with her you’d be friends for life.
  7. Rosemary Harper – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet, Becky Chambers. Rosemary is geeky about paperwork, and also does not like breaking rules. Check, check.
  8. Nutt – Unseen Academicals, Terry Pratchett. Nutt is just adorable: achingly polite, intensely clever and, oh, an orc.
  9. Arthur Dent – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. There’s a bit somewhere in the trilogy where Arthur breaks the spaceship because he’s trying to get a proper cup of tea out of the vending machine and YES.
  10. November – Palimpsest, Catherynne Valente. November’s intense, lonely, focused, fascinating.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

Top Ten Books I Want to Read but Don’t Own (Yet)

  1. The Seed Collectors – Scarlett Thomas. I’ve seen this in my local library, but I keep forgetting to borrow it because it’s not shelved in the SFF section. And, lord knows, I need to read everything by Scarlett Thomas. Everything.
  2. Bright Young Things – Scarlett Thomas. I’ve heard not-good things about this, but none of them sound like deal-breakers. Actually, the main criticism boiled down to “there’s no story!” which is the whole point of Thomas’ Our Tragic Universe, and that is my favourite book of the year so far. So.
  3. King Rat – China Mieville. Mieville is the other author whose books I MUST READ ALL of. I’m hoping King Rat is one of his sprawling Gothic novels, not one of his more experimental-but-joyless ones.
  4. This Census-Taker – China Mieville. Ditto.
  5. Shards of Honor – Lois McMaster Bujold. I will find it somewhere. One day. (The only one of the series my library has is Komarr, which – actually, the author recommends it as an entry point into the series. Huh.)
  6. Jhereg – Steven Brust. Or, in fact, any of the Vlad Taltos series apart from The Book of Taltos, which I do own. Because this is One of Those Series that you can read in any order. More or less.
  7. Changeless – Gail Carriger. Because I just finished the first Parasol Protectorate book, Soulless, and oh my it was so much fun, steampunk paranormal romance!
  8. Infidel – Kameron Hurley. I loved God’s War, but haven’t been able to find its sequel Infidel.
  9. The Neon Court – Kate Griffin. Another series that I’ve not caught up on and absolutely must.
  10. The Orphan’s Tales: In the Night Garden – Catherynne M. Valente. I’ve slowly been “collecting” Valente’s books, as and when I find them, which is not as often as I’d like it to be. But they’re always like lovely, unexpected little treasures in my reading year.

(The prompt for this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)