MIND MELD: What SF/F/H Books Are On The Top of Your “To-Be-Read” Pile?
There’s an overwhelming selection of appealing titles to choose from when it comes to reading science fiction, fantasy and horror books. Yet some titles float to the top of the pile, making them more immediate candidates for the next books you’ll read.
Read on to see the tasty selections of this week’s panelists…
Art the top of my stack is Islington Crocodiles, the highly praised short fiction collection by the UK’s Paul Meloy. Intro by is by Graham Joyce. Really looking forward to that.
Next up: Strange Forces – The Stories of Leopoldo Lugones, a collection of fantastical stories from an Argentine writer released in 1906. Lugones is very well known in Latin America, almost unheard of here. He’s supposed to have been an eccentric a la Lovecraft and killed himself over a woman 30 years his junior by drinking a mixture of whiskey and cyanide.
Horacio Quiroga is a classic Latin American writer of extremely dark stories, some of which are included in The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories. A disciple of Poe, he lived a tormented life that included the suicide of one wife and desertion by his wife and child while enduring his final illness. Many of his stories are set in the jungle where much of his life was spent. Sounds like my kind of guy.
Lucy Snyder’s Spellbent — I’m not sure what this one is, a YA I guess, but it sounds like a blast. About hell coming to Ohio. Having played in a lot of Ohio’s armpit bars, I can relate.
I’m tracking what I read for 2010 (and in three weeks I’m down one novel, one novella, five stories, a manuscript, and a non-fiction book. I’m also in the middle of King’s Under The Dome which means there’s 500 to 600 pages left to go). Here’s my physical to-read pile.
There is, of course, also a stream of virtual books and stories that includes books on my Kindle, podcasts, etc.
And of course, the best laid plans…
- I know I’ll be reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion because we chose that for a book group. It will be a re-read for me, but I’m still looking forward to it.
- There is Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, which I started, knew I loved, and had to put down because I want to read it when I’m not distracted. It’s too dense for a casual read, but I have a plan. I loved his collection, Pump Six and other Stories, and I think he is a brilliant writer.
- I plan to read Laura Anne Gilman’s Flesh and Fire which I have heard good things about. I will probably hand that to my partner Toni first, since she’s a fantasy reader and she’ll be able to tell me if it’s fabulous. But if she likes it, I’ll read it.
- I hope to get to Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan, and China Mieville’s The City and the City, both of which have languished on my shelves entirely too long. Leviathan is so pretty I can hardly stand to touch it (best cover I’ve seen in a long time). China is in the same category as Paolo; I’ll need to be able to focus some.
- I will read Devon Monk’s Magic on the Storm when it comes out in May. I just finished her third book in this series, and I liked it even more than the second book, so I’m feeling hooked at the moment. These are pure entertainment sit down for a few hours and go away books. Not heavy, don’t need to plan for them, and I know I’ll like them. In the same category, and coming out the same month, I’ll have Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs. I have already ordered both.
I like to keep a short story set going all the time. I get Analog and Asimov’s and I’ll read through a few stories in each of those, but I won’t have time for whole issues. I’m also looking forward to Push of the Sky, by Camille Alexa. I’ve met Camille a few times, and heard her read, and she sounds quite good. Behind that is Tides from the New Worlds, by Tobias Buckell (I acquired numbered copy 96 out of 500 at World Fantasy. I’ll also be reading the Shine anthology as soon as it comes out, and stopping by Clarkesworld. I’ll be listening to Starship Sofa and Seattle Geekly and Escape Pod from time to time, although I won’t get to hear more than a few episodes of each.
That leaves 60 or 70 books still on the pile, which grows faster than I remove stuff. Maybe it will fall down before the end of the year. Bets, anyone?
I can never keep up. The top of my to-be-read pile is always well out of date, I’m always getting thrown off the tracks, and there are always some books that barge in, changing the strata. Anyway, this is a distillation:
Lavinia, Ursula Le Guin.
Ursula Le Guin is always worth reading and re-reading (The Word For World Is Forest is one of the books that barged into my to-be-(re)-read list, last summer). Lavinia sounds fascinating: especially what Le Guin is doing with “fantasy about fantasy”. Characters in Greek and Roman drama and epic poetry were often either enacting ancient, arbitrary stories well known to the audience, or else serving the propaganda needs of the present. Like characters in scripture, they kept being obliged to do things “because it is written”. The same idea comes up again and again in sf/f fiction, and it gets more complex the more thoughtful the writer is. I’m sure Le Guin’s taking this to another level.
UFO in her Eyes, Xiaolu Guo
I don’t know much about this: I’ve been carefully avoiding finding out. Xiaolu Guo, however, is hard to avoid: Chinese, young, outspoken, film-maker and writer, getting literary critics excited and working with genre themes. Irresistible.
Tender Morsels, Margo Lanagan
I met Margo Lanagan in 1999, when she was in the Clarion class I led for a week in Seattle. She was great, full of energy, highly original and dirty (dirty fantasy is not the adult shelf, it’s gritty, hard-hitting fantasy: same as you get in real old-style fairytales); also excellent in the workshops, her insights made everybody think. I greatly admired her short fiction collection Black Juice. I’ve been slow on the uptake, but I’ve snagged a copy now and I’m looking forward to this first novel immensely.
Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, Avilion, Robert Holdstock
I thought Mythago Wood was amazing when I read it, long ago, and Lavondyss even better, though more demanding of the reader. I don’t actually agree with Rob Holdstock’s thesis, I’m convinced the essence of humanity is a changing, evolving thing, and seeking for its ultimate core in the deep past is a misconception. But I love the way he thinks about things, even so. Avilion‘s been high on my to-read pile since I found out it was a return (at long last) to that terrific storyline. The obstacle was I must re-read Mythago Wood and Lavondyss first. Since Rob died last November, the obstacle has been sadness, if that makes sense. It’s a new year, I’ll give up being sad, and read his stories again.
The book I’m most looking forward to getting hold of is Moxyland by Lauren Beukes. I really must get a copy. I took a look at the extract posted on her website and it reads like a hip, gritty, post-cyberpunk romp, set in Cape Town.
Aside from that, I own several books I’ve been meaning to get around to for a while, and I’m slowly working my way through the pile. At the moment, I’ve just started the Arabesk trilogy by Jon Courtenay Grimwood, having previously enjoyed his other novels End Of The World Blues, Stamping Butterflies, and 9Tail Fox. I love the way he writes, and the way he mixes literary fiction, crime, fantasy and SF.
At the beginning of December, I attended the launch for a book called Falling Into Place by Heather and Ivan Morison, a pair of artists with a fondness for the post-apocalyptic. The book brings together pictures of some of their artistic pieces, incorporating them into a narrative that is part science fiction, part autobiography, and part fairytale. Having seen some of their work up close, including a Green Goddess fire engine converted into a mobile sci-fi library, I’m keen to read more.
Beneath that on the pile, there are Ian McDonald’s novels River Of Gods and Brasyl. They both come highly recommended, and so far, I’ve read the first chapter of each, and am intrigued by the settings – however, they are competing for attention with non-genre books such as Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums; Samuel Delany’s About Writing; and The Mammoth Book of Journalism, all of which are clamouring to be read.
I also have a number of short story collections “on the go”, into which I dip when the mood takes me, and I’m determined to finish reading them all this year, time allowing. The collections currently on the “must-read” pile include Ascendancies by Bruce Sterling; The Complete Stories of J. G. Ballard; The Essential Ellison by Harlan Ellison; The Rediscovery Of Man by Cordwainer Smith; and Paul Meloy’s collection, Islington Crocodiles.
I have an unhealthily huge pile of books waiting to be read, almost three shelves worth. I suppose it goes with territory of being a writer; you’re an inveterate collector of books, while your time to read them goes down proportionally. These days I find myself reading a lot of non-fiction, in preparation or research for a book of my own (or reading back my own writing with editorial Red Pen of Doom). But when I do get the chance to read, I’m spoilt for choice. At the top of the pile is John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let The Right One In, while running a close second is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. I know it’s not strictly a horror/sf/fantasy book, but I also have David Simon’s Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets to read, which I think will turn into a horror in its depiction of Baltimore’s streets. Though of late, I’ve taken to reading my five-month old son Baby’s First Mythos, an ABC through Lovecraft’s Old Ones. Shouldn’t mess him too badly, I don’t think…
I got a signed copy of John Scalzi’s The God Engines this weekend. Since John posted the first chapter I’ve been looking forward to reading the rest.
Prince of Storms by Kay Kenyon is the *4th* book in Kay Kenyon’s Quadrilogy. After reading book 3 I emailed editor Lou Anders (it ended weirdly, what an odd ending for a trilogy) and he pointed out, it’s not a trilogy. You can see the small type at the bottom of the cover page that says so. Talk about being trained to expect things. Since I knew it was a multiple book series, I kept thinking “trilogy trilogy.” Either way, I’ve been talking up Kay’s not-a-trilogy-but-a-quadrilogy as some of the more original and interesting SF out there.
And speaking of original, David Edelman’s Geosynchron is on the list too. I blurbed the first book of this series, Infoquake. It was my first blurb, so I’m invested in this series
- Zombies: Mark Henry, Battle of the Network Zombies
- Sci-Fi/Noir: Warren Hammond, KOP and exKOP
- Vampire: Jeanne Stein, Retribution
- Sci-Fi: James O’Neal, The Human Disguise
- Urban Fantasy: Juliet Blackwell, Secondhand Spirits
- YA Urban Fantasy: Richelle Mead, Vampire Academy
My to-be-read pile:
- Last Drink Bird Head – Excellent collection of flash fiction for a good cause, with a lot of awesome writers on board.
- The Sad Tale of The Brother’s Grossbart – Jesse Bullington- The excerpt at the start of the books is hilarious, and I’ve been dying to read it for awhile.
- Leviathan – Scott Westerfield – Steampunk WWI. Nuff said. This has been on my radar for awhile can’t wait to read it.
- Girl in the Glass – Jeffery Ford – Another one I’m being meaning to read, but didn’t have a chance to buy until now.
- Under the Dome – Stephen King – I am an unapologetic King fan boy.
- Forest of Hand and Teeth – Carry Ryan – the cover is what caught my eye, the first paragraph dragged me in. I plan on starting that one this weekend.
- Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale – Russel T. Davies – I’ve also been an unapologetic Dr. Who fan boy since the Fourth Doctor. Really looking forward to this one.
- Guilty Pleasures – Laurel K. Hamilron- the book that kicked off a lot of the Urban Fantasy fad. I’ve liked other books considered a huge part of the market (Dresden Files books, Mercy Thompson Books, the Sookie Stackhouse books, etc), so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this as well.
- The Lost City of Z – Victorian exploration? Check! Lots of adventures in the Amazon searching for a mythical city? Check! It would be pulp if it were fiction, but this is fact. And that makes it awesome-er.
- Blood Rites – Jim Butcher – What can I say? I’m a sucker for the Dresden Files books. This is the next on my list.
- Tempest Rising – Nicole Peeler – Good covers always make me stop and buy them. This book is no exception The cover on this thing rocks, and the book seems pretty spiffy, too.
I’m reading a lot outside the genre right now, mainly non-fiction, but these are the ones that are working their way to the top of the sf/f/h/pile:
- Ken Scholes’ Lamentation
- Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades Of Milk And Honey
- Lynn Flewelling, The White Road
- Walter Jon Williams’ This Is Not A Game
- CL Anderson’s Bitter Angels
One of the few bad things about being a published author is that you never get to read all the books that you would like to. I am particularly bad at this, as not only do I have to write in my leisure time, fitting in my work between the kind of jobs that pay the bills, not to mention looking after the family, travelling and the like, but I also have to squeeze my personal reading pleasures into the narrow spaces that exist between the whole panoply of tasks that come with writing fantasy novels – such as promoting new books, talking at conventions, signings at the dwindling number of bookshops etc.
What makes the situation worse, is that I often proof-read all the book reviews that come in for my online zine as well. So I know how much and how many marvelous sounding works of fiction there are out there which come ready baked with glowing reviews.
Well, enough excuses, here’s the list of books that are currently on my to-read pile.
Cyberabad Days by Ian McDonald
The cyberpunk-meets-India world of Ian McDonald – which we got to see in his novel River of Gods – has been drawn out into a series of short stories. I liked the novel, so I am anticipating liking this collection too. It’s always good to read at least one anthology year, although as a rule, I prefer to get something like the Year’s Best Science Fiction, which has a variety of writers, many of which I won’t have heard of before – having had to sacrifice my science fiction magazine reading habit on the altar of my art. Damn that altar.
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Dave McKean
American Gods was my last Gaiman novel, and I was blown away by it, so I’ve been feeling particularly guilty about not getting around to the Graveyard Book yet. However, I did get this as a Christmas present from an aunt who normally restricts her purchase patterns to bad sweaters and ugly socks. I don’t know how she found out about the Graveyard Book – if it was a secret recommendation by my wife – but thank the gods, even the American Gods, that my reading pile is now bulked up by this little beauty.
Severian of The Guild by Gene Wolfe
Anyone who has read any of my Jackelian novels will probably be able to tell from the far future fantasy Earth that is the setting for my adventures, that I’m an Urth-ian. So when ‘Severian’ came along, which collects the four books of Gene Wolfe’s Book Of The New Sun, I thought, yes. A chance to re-read the master and buy a new book for my ever-expanding collection.
I know that re-reading books that you have already picked up at the library is a bit of a cop out, but for somebody of Gene’s calibre, I can always make an exception.
The Magician’s Apprentice by Trudi Canavan
A friend at work who isn’t much of a fantasy fan keeps on raving about these books, and I know Canavan is a regular in the UK book charts, so maybe it’s time to see what all the fuss is about. My friend seemed curiously reluctant to lend me his copy of The Magician’s Apprentice, but a bit of blackmail coupled with a smidgen of psychological warfare soon won out. I am now the proud, but temporary, owner of this fantasy novel, and I’m looking forward to seeing if it lives up to its hype. Managing expectations, it is all about managing expectations.
The Man with The Iron Heart by Harry Turtledove
I’m also a sucker for a good parallel reality tale, and when you are looking at the many universe theory of things, you don’t get much more parallel than the works of that master of the form, Harry Turtledove. Having been bought up on a diet of 1970s war movies where Spitfire pilots and brave GIs gets to stick it to the evil Nazis, this story of a Germany where the Nazis refused to be beaten and instead mounted a major resistance movement – a la Iraq – sounded too good to be true when I was walking around the Forbidden Planet bookstore. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, mainly because my father got his mitts on it first, and has so far refused to return it to his darling son. I’m not too sure what I can do about this. If anyone has any suggestions, please do drop me a line. Keep them friendly though, I don’t want to go to war with my old man over a novel, even if it is a Harry turtledove novel.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
I have long been a fan of the website Boing Boing to which Cory Doctorow is a major contributing force. For years now, I have seen his books advertised on Boing Boing, but without buying any. Is it because I too once worked in marketing that I am immune to web-based selling pressures? Well, I have finally succumbed, and purchased Little Brother. Too late, I realised while visiting my editor at HarperCollins, that they are also the UK publisher for Cory, and I could have blagged myself a free copy from their acres of stock.
I will try not to let my inclinations as a skinflint influence my later review of Little Brother.
My house is populated with To-Be-Read piles. Looking around me here at my desk, the books in the pile nearest at hand that I’m most likely to do my standard “read 50 pages and see if you want to keep reading…” test to include:
Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World by Donald Antrim, which looks wonderfully surreal. Somebody mentioned it in connection with Stephen King’s Under the Dome, and that piqued my interest.
Occupied City by David Peace. I haven’t read Peace’s earlier books, including Tokyo Year Zero, which this is supposed to be a sequel to in some way, but a flip through showed lots of things going on with the typography and point of view, so I didn’t immediately throw it into the box of “Oh-my-gawd-why-did-somebody-send-me-this?!” books.
Galileo’s Dream by Kim Stanley Robinson. I don’t know when I’ll have time to devote to this, but I’ll get to it eventually, because I loved Robinson’s work up to his Science in the Capitol trilogy, which I thought had its heart and mind in the right place but was nonetheless astoundingly dull and ponderous. Maybe this one is, too, but at least it’s just one book…
Jerusalem by Gionçalo M. Tavares. It’s been a little while since I last read anything from Dalkey Archive Press, and they publish magnificent books, often of a surreal/fantastic bent. This book comes with a blurb from José Saramago on the cover that I love: “Tavares has no right to be writing so well at the age of 35. One feels like punching him!” I’m 34 and not very aggressive, so I should be okay!
Blackout by Connie Willis is the first of two novels by Willis set in the universe of “Firewatch”, Doomsday Book, and To Say Nothing of the Dog, and, honestly, I probably won’t make it through both of them, because that seems to be the way of it for me and these sorts of things: I liked “Firewatch”, bogged down halfway through Doosmday Book, and didn’t read To Say Nothing of the Dog. But I like the cover and packaging of this book, and so why not give it a shot? I’d be thrilled to find Blackout so engaging that I waited anxiously for its sequel. We shall see…
There are many, many books in my pile — I have no self-control when it comes to books — but at the moment there are three sitting right in front of me, and as they’re close at hand and I do plan on reading them as soon as my deadline is under control, let’s start there:
- The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (I’ve had this one for quite some time, and now I’m finally ready to read it)
- The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams (a book I read long ago in high school, and one that I’ve been hankering to experience again)
- The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett (I’ve been hearing good things about this novel, and finally decided to take the leap)
There are times, frankly, when I feel like my entire library is the top of my “to-read” pile. But if we were going to look at specifics, I admit I have a hard time knowing where to begin.
I didn’t read much genre fiction in 2009. This is less a reflection on the work that was published than it was with my own ambivalence about the genre at that time. Though I read some very good books, I didn’t find a lot of great ones; oddly enough, the things I most wanted to read last year are things I simply did not get around to. I mean, I have no doubt that Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, Stephen King’s Under the Dome and Dan Simmons’s Drood will both provide me with good reading experiences, but the combined page count of the three is, frankly, intimidating.
If I were to only consider the books which I own at this very moment, then at the top of the pile would be those three. Next, I would place Pandemonium by Daryl Gregory and Mister Slaughter by Robert R. McCammon. Gregory’s book I read a year or two ago on a friend’s recommendation and loved it, and find myself reading again because it’s the February choice for the Dark Forces Reading Group. There’s much to enjoy, including a demon named Valis who happens to be channeling a science fiction writer named Philip K. Dick, so of course I’m looking forward to delving into it again. Robert McCammon’s book is the third in the Matthew Corbett historical thriller series, and while it’s far shorter than The Queen of Bedlam, it promises a fine few hours. There are, of course, others stacked on the pile – I’ve heard good things about China Miéville’s The City and the City, which takes the author away from the world of Perdido Street Station and The Scar into seemingly pulp detective terrain (though down fantastique streets instead of mean ones), Cory Doctorow’s Makers, which seems all the more relevant due to the current economic climate (but will it remain relevant in ten, five or even three years? We shall see), and Transitions by Iain M. Banks, for which I am surprisingly ambivalent – and just thinking about where to place them is difficult. Even something like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, which has been getting incredible reviews, has to fit somewhere.
Traveling farther through the publishing dates, I find myself wondering when I’m ever going to get to George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones (which has been on my “to-read” pile for so long that it practically seems like a foundation) or Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky. Yes, I’m a writer and a critic, and admitting that I have not read these seminal novels makes me feel a little like a geek poser.
What about authors I like whose work has been collecting dust on their covers? Lucius Shepard has never disappointed me, but I admit I have not moved Floater, Dagger Key or A Handbook of American Prayer up the list. Ditto Dan Simmons. I have cited him as my favorite writer many, many times, yet I have not read Olympos, The Terror or the aforementioned Drood. Joe Lansdale’s Vanilla Ride brings him back into Hap and Leonard territory, and gets my vote for best cover of the year (then again, I’m a sucker for any book which has a woman in her underwear wielding a gun), and would not take me more than a couple of hours to read, yet I simply haven’t bothered to crack its spine.
And then there are books being published later this year that I want to read, though I need to find a way to get them on the stack before it topples over. Where do I put Peter Straub’s A Dark Matter, or Joe Hill’s Horns, or Dan Simmons’s Black Hills or Connie Willis’s Blackout? Will I finish these before I have to place Mieville’s Kraken and Charles Stross’s The Fuller Memorandum on the stack? And what about Kage Baker’s Not Less Than Gods or Shepard’s The Taborin Scale or the Nick Gevers-edited anthology The Book of Dreams?
Maybe if I quit my job and just decided to read full time, yeah, that might reduce the pile, if only slightly…
Right now, I’m desperately trying to traverse the insane pile of novels which have been on my “to-be-read” bookcase. Yes, that’s right, I have an entire structure devoted to works I’ve not yet been able to read. I’ve actually made a resolution not to purchase any new materials until I devote some attention to the neglected.
Since I collect hard covers, there are some pretty books like Iain M. Banks, Matter, George R. R. Martin’s – Dreamsongs, along with Scott Lynch’s – The Lies of Locke Lamora that I can’t wait to break open. I have yet to immerse myself into the Codex Alera fantasy series by Jim Butcher and I have multiple Neil Gaiman books that await my time. I told you I was behind!
If I were to pick some that I’m really eager to read once my personal embargo has been lifted, I want to dive into Paolo Bacigalupi’s – The Windup Girl, Cherie Priest’s – Boneshaker, Mary Robinette Kowal’s – Shades of Milk and Honey and the debut novel from N.K Jemisin – The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.
I am also pretty sure that were you to ask me the same question one year from now, I will have failed at both my resolution and tasks and will have only added to the overstuffed case.
Three audiobooks at the top of my TBR list:
The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe, read by Jonathan Davis, Audible Frontiers
All four parts of this science fantasy masterwork are finally available on audio, thanks to Audible Frontiers. Because it’s read by Jonathan Davis and I already know that these books are superb, I suspect this will be a top-shelf production that will warrant multiple listenings.
The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi, read by Jonathan Davis, Audible Frontiers
Jonathan Davis also narrates The Windup Girl, a book that I’ve been hearing a whole lot about and am eager to read. I’ve already heard the author-recorded introduction, an interesting and appreciated extra that is becoming common with Audible Frontiers audiobooks.
The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, ed. by John Joseph Adams, read by Simon Jones and Anne Flosnik, Brilliance Audio
I was thrilled to see this collection released as an audiobook, and am hoping they’ll back up a touch and release other Adams-edited books like Wastelands and The Living Dead. Can’t wait to dig in.
And in the ink universe, two:
Scenting the Dark and Other Stories by Mary Robinette Kowal
This one arrived recently, and is at the top of my pile. Another gorgeous book from Subterranean Press. I’ve enjoyed everything Kowal has published and am looking forward to this and her upcoming novel.
Blackout by Connie Willis
I loved Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing About the Dog, and this one is an addition to the same universe. The description sounds like an expansion of Willis’ Hugo-winning novella “Fire Watch”. World War II, time travel, Mr. Dunworthy… count me in!
Tagged with: Brenda Cooper • Derek Johnson • Gareth L. Powell • Graham McNeill • Gwyneth Jones • Kate Baker • Laura Anne Gilman • Lucius Shepard • Mario Acevedo • Marjorie M. Liu • Matthew Cheney • Paul Jessup • Scott D. Danielson • Stephen Hunt • Tobias Buckell
Filed under: Mind Meld
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