MIND MELD: SF/F/H Books on The Top of Our To-Be-Read Piles
[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]
Oftentimes, readers obtain books faster than they can read them; there are always books waiting in the wings, each one vying for the coveted “read me next!” top spot. We asked this week’s panelists:
Here’s what they said…
I have the classic Ten-Foot-High TBR Pile™, and am currently bushwhacking through both the new Mark Twain autobiography and the historical fantasy writer’s gold mine, The Secret History Of The Mongol Queens (which is downright fantastical as well as fantastic), but the top of my sf&f pile is graced by Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, Janni Lee Simner’s Thief Eyes, and an advance copy of the new e-edition of Deborah J. Ross’s Northlight, which is coming out from Book View Cafe in February. I’m also looking forward to rereading another Book View Cafe title, Vonda N. McIntyre’s Starfarers.
I’m one of the legions of people who got an e-reader for Christmas (I got the NookColor, and am very happy with it), so now my TBR pile is measured in megabytes as well as feet. That’s going to make life–and reading–even more interesting.
Here are some of the reading I’m looking forward to in 2011:
- Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them by Mary Cappello New Press (I’ve seen the storage chest in the Mutter Museum of Philadelphia that houses many many of the things humans have swallowed so this new book sounds fascinating to me).
- Engines of Desire by Livia Llewellyn (Lethe) — I’ve been impressed by Llewellyn’s horror so am eager to read her first collection
- New collections by Peter Bell, Steve Duffy, and William Meikle should be interesting.
- Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 2 edited by William K. Schafer -I enjoyed the first volume. This one consists of novelettes by Joe Hill, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and Norman Partridge, among other of my favorite horror writers.
This one’s easy. If there’s two books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time, it’s The Confusion and The System of the World, the follow-ups to Neal Stephenson’s Quicksilver. I bought Quicksilver in hardback when it came out, but it was such a gargantuan book to absorb I didn’t think at the time I had the mental strength or willpower to read the other two. Or, indeed, the physical strength. Then I got an ebook reader and finally purchased them. That was a year and a half ago, and I’m still trying to find the time and energy needed to set aside to read them. I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact Stephenson’s next book will almost certainly be published before I manage to read those two books (which will of course necessitate rereading Quicksilver first).
Before I changed to reading ebooks more or less exclusively, I rarely if ever bought a book until I’d just about finished the one I was reading. I rarely had a pile of waiting books. If I needed to fill up the time between books, I’d reread something from my shelves. That’s all changed now; I have an entirely – for me – unprecedented thirty books still unread on my Kindle. There’s always some coupon-driven sale at some ebook site that spurs me to pick up that one volume I’d been sort of thinking about.
There are a couple of other books out there I’ve been meaning to get my hands on but haven’t yet, particularly Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief. I know Hannu in passing, from encounters at conventions and at spoken word events in Edinburgh. I’ve highly rated Chris Beckett’s book The Holy Machine in the past. I’d love to get hold of his more recent novel Marcher, but I’m hanging back in the hope it will eventually be published as an ebook (I’ve already got hold of the ebook of his short story collection The Turing Press, which won non-genre awards here in the UK). I like some horror, particularly of a Lovecraftian bent, and I’ve been hearing great things about Laird Barron. For that reason I’ve been thinking of picking up one of his collections of stories available through Webscriptions.com.
I’m a bit behind on my reading.
As far as fantasy books are concerned, I bought King Maker: The Knights of Breton Court Book One by Maurice Broaddus based on the cover alone, but haven’t had a chance to read it. I read a lot more short fiction than novels, so that’s my excuse.
Skipping to horror, I’m not a zombie fan, but weirdly enough there are two zombie books I’m looking forward to cracking open: Feed (Newsflesh, Book 1) and John Joseph Adams’s anthology The Living Dead 2. Now, I must confess I did read two stories of the anthology (well, I actually re-read Paula R. Stiles’s story) while I was wandering around the bookstore, but left it at that and haven’t touched it again.
For books that are coming out in 2011, I would very much like to get my hands on Aliette de Bodard’s second Mexica novel (I am a purist. Don’t you call it Aztec!). I also want to read Jesse Bullington’s Enterprise of Death because it’s another historical fantasy. Yay!
There’s this mailing list I used to hang out on that had a funny word for “to read” piles: they called them Lalpiles, because one list member, this guy named Lalith, had the biggest to-read piles of anyone, stacks of books as deep as some people are tall… and I chose that phrase “some people” not thinking of pygmies, but rather of enormous Viking warriors.
I remember some people joking around that “Gordpile” would be an appropriate term as well, when they heard about how many books were on my to-read stack, though. It’s not just that I’m a slow reader; it’s also partly the influence of Korea. When I first got here, I had a pile of English-language books and I was in a town where the one local bookstore had very little I could, or would, read… not even decent Korean language textbooks. So I began hoarding books. Which is ironic, since I remember arguing with a friend in 1998 that as soon as we could switch to eBooks, it would be such a relief and a wonder. Well, it will be… once we work through all our Lalpiles, that is. For the moment, since I don’t know when or where I’ll be moving next, I’m sadly not buying eBooks, and not reading the ones I have, even though I have one or two devices I could comfortably read them on.
This is complicated by the fact that I came to SF late, and have a lot of “catching up” to do. Yeah, I have all kinds of old SF novels I plan on tearing through when I have a few months off… which I’m about to have starting any time now. Now, my Lalpile is immense and huge, but there is a subset of books that I am most eager to dive into, and I noticed, as I considered the most urgent to-read clump of the Lalpile, that they have a few things in common.
Take, for example, Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl and Bruce Sterling’s The Caryatids, which stand beside one another on the ASAP shelf. Both are books about life during or after a collapse, which makes me wonder whether the zeitgeist I see as now centered on Jared Diamond and his book Collapse has exerted (or perhaps will continue to exert) a kind of quiet influence on SF similar to the one Alvin Toffler did a generation (or so) ago. Collapse used to be so clear and straightforward; a bit like my office on campus in that they were comfortable messes in which to luxuriate, at least for the audience. But I’m seeing more collapses that are sprawling, are linked to our own conflicted, messy present quite unmistakably, which makes them somewhat scarier.
Not far from those books, I see Greg Egan’s Zendegi, and then, side-by side, Ian McDonald’s Brasyl (I did say I am behind), as well as Cradle of Splendor, a novel by Patricia Anthony (a brilliant, if now widely-forgotten, 90s SF marvel) — the McDonald and the Anthony presenting two SFnal visions of Brazil — and then, right on the shelf below, a bunch of older collections of SF in translation from other languages: regional Indian languages, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, European languages. That’s another commonality with the books I’m most eager to read, including the Sterling and the Bacigalupi: they’re SF novels set in someplace other than the familiar. These books have unusual settings in far-flung (for American readers) locales where we don’t often see SF set: places like South and Southeast Asia, Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East. Places we still call “the developing world” even as things have gotten way more complex than that. Sure, people like Maureen McHugh and George Alec Effinger set credible novels in SFnal reimaginings of those kinds of settings before, and Sterling has been writing stuff set in such places for ages; meanwhile, there have been compellingly scary visions of generalized ecological, social, political, and even cultural collapse in SF for a long time.
But I’m thinking somehow maybe there’s a kind of trend here in the specific dovetailing of the two: SF that is ecological and catastrophic in a more developed sense (that is, in a sense that takes reasonable account of the world we’re living in, and how little we’re doing to handle all the creeping calamities that surround us) and simultaneously is more self-consciously global in scope and setting, as a kind of counterpoint to the neoliberal-economics form of globalization that seems to have gripped the planet entire. It seems hardly surprising to me that the two tendencies would be intertwined. I’m not saying this is the only kind of SF I’m eager to get into, of course: I’m halfway through Stross’ The Atrocity Archives, which I’m sure it could be argued faithfully reflects our world in a very different way. (The horror of bureaucracy is, after all, perhaps not the deepest we experience, but it is the most unremitting.) But I am excited about what may be a (somewhat) new, and important, pattern in SF today.
Then again, maybe it’s not new. We Westerners have long been fond of telling stories of faraway, exotic places where impossible things happen, and a number of scholars labeled as orientalists surely believed themselves possessed of the best of intentions and of deep respect for the cultures they studied and wrote about. It’s not like we weren’t regaled with images of (especially Northeast) Asia in cyberpunk generally. But to me, there does seem to be something new in the way global concerns, images of collapse (and our survival of it), and an intricate effort to set stories in non-traditional, often non-Western, and not necessarily hyper-exoticized locales, seems to connect up; something a little more rich, a little more intelligent, and, I find, a little more salutary. It’s exciting!
- Boneshaker by Cherie Priest – a tsunami of good buzz about this book.
- Haunted Legends edited by Ellen Datlow & Nick Mamatas – I love horror collections, whether by a single writer or several. That these stories are based on actual legends makes it that much more interesting to me.
- The Breach by Patrick Lee – as with Boneshaker, I heard so much buzz about this book that I had to check it out.
- Fever Dream – the latest Preston-Child thriller featuring Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast. Technically, this book may not count as SF, but there is often some aspect or subplot with sfnal or horror overtones, so I think it qualifies.
- The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson – this will actually be a reread. It’s been years since I read it, and I still remember the bizarre creepiness of the setting. Couple it with Terry Pratchett’s companion essay in 100 Best Horror Books (ed. Jones & Newman, 1998), and you have a very nice, very creepy horror two-fer.
My to-read pile looks like last year – it’s stacked sideways and falling down. I haven’t even been buying everything I want to read since the stack is so high. Not that I haven’t been reading. I have. A Iot. But don’t think I’ve even gotten to some of the books that I mentioned last year. So I’ll pick five that are physically ON my pile.
- The Lifecycle of Software Objects by Ted Chiang – I want to read this before award nominations close since I won’t be surprised if I want to include it. But my personal rule means I DO have to read it first.
- Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi – same logic. I best get cracking! I’ve heard nothing but good.
- Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan – I was on a podcast with him and hadn’t read any of his work. Since I’ve heard great things about Altered Carbon, but it still sits there waiting for me.
- Mozart’s Blood by Louise Marley – She’s a friend and I heard some of it in manuscript. Now I want to know how the story comes out. Louise is a wonderful world-builder and I always learn a lot about music when I read her, which I like.
- The Native Star by M.K. Hobson – I’ve heard her read a few chapters and they were quite good, so now I hope to find time to read the whole book.
My to-read pile is somewhat monstrous. Here’s what remained on top after a bit of sifting:
- Filaria by Brent Hayward
- Orgasmachine by Ian Watson
- In the Mean Time by Paul Tremblay
- Cities of Night by Philip Nutman
- The Sorcerer’s House by Gene Wolfe
- Pavane by Keith Roberts
- The Beast with Nine Billion Feet by Anil Menon
- Bright SegmentVolume VIII: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon
- Visions by Richard A. Lupoff
- Terrors by Richard A. Lupoff
- The Mammoth Book of Alternate Historiesedited by Ian Watson & Ian Whates
- Riverworld by Philip José Farmer
- Carlucci by Richard Paul Russo
- Clockwork Phoenix: Tales of Beauty and Strangenessedited by Mike Allen
- The Disappearance by Philip Wylie
- Earth Abides by George R. Stewart
And to top it off … I used to always read any anthology I was in immediately, eager to discover what my peers were doing, but I’ve now fallen a bit behind; in the SF/F/H genres, I still have to get to these four, which I’m dying to read:
- Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Storiesedited by John Robert Colombo & Brett Alexander Savory
- Evolve: Vampire Stories of the New Undeadedited by Nancy Kilpatrick
- The Seventh Black Book of Horroredited by Charles Black
- The Best of All Flesh: Zombie Anthologyedited by James Lowder
The books I’m most looking forward to change from day to day, hour to hour. However, these are the sf/f/h books at the top of my TBR pile at the moment:
- Adrian Phoenix, Black Dust Mambo
- Devon Monk, A Cup of Normal
- William Gibson, Zero History
- Jack McDevitt, The Devil’s Eye
- Jack McDEvitt, Echo
- Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box
- M.K. Hobson, The Native Star
- 2011 issues of Asimov’s
- 2011 issues of Lightspeed
…and I hope to get to the other digests/fiction mags in field as well, but those will be my top priority.
- The Ones That Got Away, an anthology of horror by Stephen Graham Jones
- Tracking the Tempest, urban fantasy by Nicole Peeler
- Chosen, book 6 in the bounty-hunter vampire series by Jeanne Stein
One of the privileges (and duties) of a writer who has enjoyed a long career is blurbing worthy forthcoming books. So, two that are at the very top of my reading list are a first novel called Soft Apocalypse, by Will McIntosh (right, the guy who won a Hugo on his very first try) from Night Shade Books and Lisa Goldstein’s The Uncertain Places, due in June from Tachyon Publications. Lisa is, of course, one of our very best writers and why she needs a blurb from the likes of me is a puzzlement. But I need to get these done soon, because the deadline looms.
I don’t really read books for pleasure as much as I used to – no time. But I have been a stone Audible.com fan since the very beginning, and am on the two-audiobooks-a-month plan. Here are some genre-ific titles sitting in my audio library: A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, Blackout and All Clear by the irreplaceable Connie Willis, who told me I should read (listen) to them as if they were one book, which they are, The Trial by some Czech guy named Kafka and Paolo Bacigalupi’s YA National Book Award finalist Ship Breaker.
But yes, there is a pile of actual books published in dead tree format that I intend to get to. The top two at the moment are The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from Orbit by N. K Jemisin and The Beast With Nine Billion Feet by Anil Menon, from the Indian publishing house Young Zubaan. Nora Jemisin is a writer to watch and this book, first in a trilogy has gotten great reviews. Although he lives in Virginia, Anil may not be as well known in this country as he is in India, but I have been a fan of his short fiction for some time and am eager to read him at length.
I have about seventeen piles of books to read which keep getting lost among piles of books to donate and piles of books that are, like Mount Everest, simply there. So instead of sorting through these miniature towers of Pisa or Babel or whatever, I will select titles from my unreliable memory and limit them to fiction. In no particular order they are:
- Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell — Many people have recommended this book to me, as has my friend Kurt who attended and enjoyed a reading by the author and kindly mailed me the book.
- A book or more by Ian Macdonald. I think I’ll start with Dervish House and work my way backwards to River of Gods.
- At least three books in Hindi including a collection of stories by Yashpal and something, anything, by Alka Saraogi.
- The Best of Kim Stanley Robinson. This is not in any of my book piles yet but I intend to remedy that, as I would read anything by Robinson.
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