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MIND MELD: The Most Interesting Books in Our ‘To Be Read’ Pile

[Do you have an idea for a future Mind Meld? Let us know!]

This week’s short and sweet question:

Q: What book(s) in your ‘to read’ pile are you most interested in reading? Why?

Here’s what our panelists said…

Patrick Hester
Patrick Hester is an author, blogger and Hugo-nominated Podcast producer/host who lives in Colorado, writes science fiction and fantasy, and can usually be found hanging out on his Twitter feed. His Functional Nerds and SF Signal weekly podcasts have both been nominated for Parsec awards, and the SF Signal podcast is nominated for a 2012 Hugo Award. He writes for, SF Signal, KirkusReviews and Functional Nerds.

This one is easy. Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams (novelized by Gareth Roberts). There is an old saying; you never forget your first Doctor. For me, that Doctor was Tom Baker, good ol’ Number Four. Once described by Number Two (or Three, I forget) as ‘curly hair and teeth’, the Fourth Doctor was the first for me. I watched episodes of Doctor Who on the local PBS station. Despite bad special effects that turned most of my friends off immediately, I quickly became hooked on this TimeLord from the planet Galifrey who traveled in a blue box with a robot dog who called him ‘Master’ and sported a multi-colored collar matching the Doctor’s own ridiculously long scarf. (I still want one of those scarves…)

It wasn’t until I moved deeper into fandom, attending conventions where people were selling Japanese Anime (I’d never seen the likes of before!), VHS copies of shows from over seas (like Doctor Who, UFO, The Avengers), and bootleg copies of STUFF (I SWEAR I DIDN’T INHALE!), that I became aware of certain things regarding the good Doctor. (this was before the Interwebz.) Things like: many episodes were lost to time when the BBC ‘cleaned house’ destroying video tapes and film libraries. And, there was a ‘lost episode’ from the Tom Baker years. Written by Douglas The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Adams himself, no less.

The story went that they began filming Shada, meant to be the final serial of the 1979-80 season, when a strike hit the BBC. That strike killed production and they never finished filming. There was an attempt to revisit the script and complete the filming, but it never came to fruition. Why? No idea. The producer, John Nathan-Turner, did manage to release a version of it on VHS a decade later, but never as part of the televised series.

Side Note: for the anniversary special The Five Doctors, Tom Baker declined to participate, so footage of the Fourth Doctor and Romana II from the Shada episode, were used (you might remember the Doctor and Romana boarding a gondola and becoming ‘stuck’ out of time).

Side Note 2: In the Key to Time DVD’s (I think), there’s a bonus feature – an episode of Blue Peter (BBC children’s show) shot on the sets of Doctor Who. They were forced to shoot the show there due to yet another strike affecting the BBC. Given the set they were using, they had a very Doctor Who-centric episode.

A few years back, another version of the story was done, this time an animated Flash serial with Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor in the lead (yes, the guy from the Fox version/movie). I watched the 1st episode. Meh.

But now, Ace has released a novelization putting Shada squarely back into the Fourth’s Doctor’s Continuity. 400 pages of Classic Who goodness…

Charles Tan
Charles Tan‘s fiction has appeared in publications such as The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories and Philippine Speculative Fiction. He has contributed nonfiction to websites such as The Nebula Awards, The Shirley Jackson Awards, SF Crowsnest, SFScope, Fantasy Magazine, Fantasy Literature, BSC Review, The World SF News Blog, and SF Signal. In 2009, he won the Last Drink Bird Head Award for International Activism which is described as “In recognition of those who work to bring writers from other literary traditions and countries to the attention of readers in North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia…” He is also a 2011 World Fantasy nominee for the Special Award, Non-Professional category. You can visit his blog, Bibliophile Stalker, the Philippine Speculative Fiction Sampler, or Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction 2009.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to from my reading pile:

The speculative poetry scene is diverse and vibrant. C.S.E. Cooney is one of the young, fresh voices so I’m eager to devour How to Flirt in Faerieland & Other Wild Rhymes (Papaveria Press). On the other end of the spectrum is veteran writer Jane Yolen’s The Last Selchie Child (A Midsummer Night’s Press). It’s going to be interesting comparing and contrasting the poetry of both as they’re from different eras and employ different styles and techniques. Rounding up the poetry is The Moment of Change: An Anthology of Feminist Speculative Poetry edited by Rose Lemberg (Aqueduct Press) and features some of my favorite favorite favorite poets including Nicole Kornher-Stace, Theodora Goss, Amal El-Mohtar, Catherynne M. Valente, JoSelle Vanderhooft, Sonya Taaffe,etc.

I’m also a big fan of short fiction so I’m delighted that two new collections just arrived in the mail: Crackpot Palace: Stories by Jeffrey Ford (HarperCollins) as Ford is one of the best writers, in the field or otherwise, so I’m eager to devour this book. I have all his collections and his writing has been evolving over the years, and it’s a stark contrast to what he’s written a decade ago. Still powerful and effective yet different. Lucius Shepard, on the hand, follows a different aesthetic and his fiction tends to be longer without crossing into the novel territory. “The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule…” is one of my favorite Shepard stories so I’m anticipating reading The Dragon Griaule (Subterranean Press). Congratulations of Catherynne M. Valente who recently won three Locus Awards for her fiction so it’s apt that I mention her collection Ventriloquism (PS Publishing). My copy arrived two months ago but my friend Dean got my copy, so I ordered another one. Fans should grab a copy immediately, as it’s a limited edition (I’m surprised it hasn’t gone out of print yet).

For novels, I’m looking forward to Madigan Mine by Kirstyn McDermott (Picador). It’s dark and fantastical and McDermott is quite articulate and intelligent in her podcast, The Writer and the Critic. Also hoping to get read soon Sea Hearts/The Brides of Rollrock Island by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin/Random House). Much like McDermott, I expect it to be dark and wonderful as well, although in a different way. I loved Lanagan’s short fiction and I expect her novels to be no less sophisticated and subtle.

For the day job, we’re coming out with premier Filipino speculative fiction author Dean Francis Alfar’s second collection, How to Tranverse Terra Incognita (Flipside Publishing). If there’s any author the rest of the world should be reading, it’s him. We have blurbs for the collection from people like Ann Vandermeer, Tansy Rayner Roberts, John Grant, Paul Tremblay, etc. While I’ve read some of the stories in the book when they first came out, I still have to read the collection in its entirety.

Paul Weimer
Paul Weimer has been reading SF and Fantasy for over 30 years and exploring the world of roleplaying games for over 25 years. Almost as long as he has been reading and watching movies, he has enjoyed telling people what he has thought of them. In addition to his reading and gaming interests, he can be found at his own blog, Blog Jvstin Style, the Functional Nerds, Twitter, Livejournal and many other places on the Internet. And one day he will write his own “trunk novel”.

Mount Toberead is always looming, and always large. It is large enough that as a reviewer for the Functional Nerds and SF Signal, I haven’t been beating down the doors to ask for more books lately, and I haven’t purchased as many books recently as I normally might.

So there are plenty of books I would like to put in this list but I can’t. I’ve been excited by and seen very good reviews of Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, Alistair Reynolds’ Blue Remembered Earth, N.K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon. Daniel Abraham’s King’s Blood. And others.

So what AM I looking forward to reading, next?

The two books on Mount Toberead that currently is calling me to read it next? One is Linda Nagata’s Dread Hammer. I’ve read plenty of her science fiction over the years, but never her fantasy. I’m curious about it. The other book that really intrigues me to read is David Constantine (David J Williams) The Pillars of Hercules. Quasi steampunk set in the Ancient world? Yes, please!

But then there is also the second Adrian Tchaikovsky novel. Oh, and A.M. Dellamonica’s Indigo Springs. And I really should read my copy of Blood of Ambrose by James Enge. And Shadow’s Master by Jon Sprunk. And John Joseph Adams’ Armored anthology and …

See the problem?

Derek Johnson
Derek Johnson‘s criticism has appeared in SF Site, RevolutionSF, Nova Express and Her Majesty’s Secret Servant. He lives in Central Texas with the Goddess.

I face two challenges in answering such a question. The first, of course, is that I’m interested in reading everything in my “to read” pile. It doesn’t matter whether I first placed the book in question there when I was fourteen (as, for example, happened when I first purchased Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity or Robert Silverberg’s Gilgamesh the King; I swear I’ll read these soon) or if the publisher has scheduled the release date sometime in the future (as with the case of Neal Barrett’s retrospective collection or the rerelease of Thomas Ligotti’s Noctuary); I want to get to it. Time, energy, immediate interest, and circumstance keep me from cracking the spine when I’d like.

Secondly, what moves to the top changes on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis. A book that sounded like a must-read yesterday might suddenly find its necessity overtaken by a subject or story’s more immediate concerns. Some days moving Dan Simmons’s Olympos to the top of my list before I forget all of the details of Ilium makes sense to me, but then I’ll find a copy of Sead Redmond’s Studying Chungking Express and immediately open its pages because (1) the movie has been on my mind for a while recently, (2) I’m a sucker for books of film analysis, and (3) at 84 pages, it’s far shorter.

Even so, there are quite a few genre books that I have earmarked for the summer. Up first are two big space operas. I loved Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy, and anticipate enjoying the same utopian optimism and interplanetary drama in his new novel 2312. Likewise, Alastair Reynolds’s Blue Remembered Earth seems to be another solid entry in New Space Opera by a writer whom I’ve always admired. While I respect the ambitions of Mundane SF and earth-scale novels like Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, I still dig the trappings of true quill sf, and am glad that writers like Robinson and Reynolds (as well as Paul McAuley and Hannu Rajaniemi) continue to produce novels closely tied to the genre’s Gernsbackian roots.

Speaking of Bacigalupi, I also have his newest young adult novel The Drowned Cities next to my bedside, as well as China Miéville’s Railsea. I’m amazed at how both authors have had to change their approaches for their previous YA tales (Ship Breaker and Un Lun Dun, respectively). Their work, for whatever reason, seems tighter when they write for younger audiences.

I also have two anthologies I’m carrying with me: The Future Is Japanese edited by Masumi Washington and Nick Mamatas and Black Wings—Tales of Lovecraftian Horror edited by S.T. Joshi. The first features some favorite writers of my formative years, such as Bruce Sterling and Pat Cadigan, as well as writers of my generation like Catherynne Valente. It’s great to see a recent sf anthology with so many luminaries. As for the next, well, I’ve been on a Lovecraft kick lately after avoiding him for most of my life, and dig not only the lineup in the table of contents but also the beautifully arcane cover.

The last thing I’ll mention is Arc 1.2 Post human conditions edited by Sumit-Paul Choudhury and Simon Ings. This is the second issue the science fiction magazine produced by New Scientist. I was very impressed by both the contents and the design of the first issue, and with fiction by Nick Harkaway and Jeff VanderMeer, I anticipate another strong round of short fiction.

Larry Ketchersid
Larry Ketchersid is CEO of a security software and services company and the author of the novel Dusk Before the Dawn. He plays rugby, does martial arts, writes tech articles, reads a lot, and has degrees in Math, Physics and Computer Science. In other words, he still hasn’t decided what he wants to do and is in no hurry to do so. His career includes 15 years at Compaq, the greatest computer company that used to be.

Like most, my “to-be-read” stack is tall, perhaps a hundred books. A reader has a limited time to read, so he has to be selective…especially if he has a day job. Or two.

The highest priority in my stack is the Hugo Voter Pack. I’ve plowed through most of the novels, with only half of Embassytown by China Mieville and Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey remaining. The Voter Pack also includes the short stories, novellas and other nominated works. My tastes normally do not match up with those of popular voting, but I quite enjoyed the reading here so far. The objective is to read as many as possible before the July 31 Hugo Voting Deadline (shameless plug: SFSignal and the SFSignal Podcast are nominated this year!).

I am “one of those” who likes to read books and series in chronological order. I quite enjoyed Mark Chadbourn’s Age of Misrule trilogy (my review of World’s End is on SFSignal). Then I jumped forward, skipping The Dark Age trilogy and read Jack of Ravens, which actually flowed nicely from the initial trilogy. But the second novel in that trilogy, The Burning Man, harkens back to The Dark Age trilogy. So I’ve got that entire three book set in my to-be-read stack, and interrupt my Hugo reading sporadically to read The Devil in Green.

For short story reading, I keep the brilliant NESFA hardback of Cordwainer Smith’s The Rediscovery of Man by my bed for the occasional quick read. His universe certainly stands up nicely in comparison to any other world building I’ve read.

Though they have that scarlet letter mark of the “YA” upon them, I do enjoy Rick Riordan’s novels. My son has plowed through the Kane Trilogy, and I have those awaiting me in my reading stack.

And, since much of the future is based in the past, I have a large cadre’ of history books ready to be devoured. The latest that is waiting for a large commitment is Shelby Foote’s brilliant The Civil War: A Narrative, a massive three volume set. I’ve snuck a read of the first few chapters, and, as I was led to believe, it is well written and will suck me in like a whirlpool….must resist until I have a long span of time!

Jessica Strider
Jessica Strider works once a week in the SF/F section of a major bookstore in Toronto. She posts author interviews, themed reading lists, book reviews and more on her Blog.

Ah, the ever growing ‘to be read’ pile. I’ve actually been good about not requesting new books the past few months and my ‘obligation’ pile is almost gone. That means I’ll have time to read those books I’ve wanted to read but haven’t had time to because my obligation reads come first (and for the record my obligation pile consists of books I want to read, they just have due dates attached).

I’d really like to read some older classics. Forever War and The Demolished Man top that list because I’ve never read them but I feel I should. I wouldn’t mind rereading the Foundation series, which I only read once in high school (so it’s been… a while). And I’ve wanted to read Algis Budrys’ Rogue Moon since someone mentioned it in a review months (and months) ago. I also told my husband I’d finish reading the Lensmen Chronicles, which I had to stop reading because other things (ie obligation books) came up.

But at the top of my list is Brave New Worlds, the anthology edited by John Joseph Adams. I’ve read a few of the stories already and they’re amazing.

In newer fiction, Terminal Point, book two of the Stryker’s Syndicate by K. M. Ruiz is out. The first book was awesome so I’m hoping the series continues to be good. I’m also trying to find time to read The Unincorporated Man by Dani and Eytan Kollin, because the premise of having to buy your body back from the corporation that owns you from birth just sounds interesting.

Matt Cardin
Matt Cardin is a writer, college teacher, and musician living in Central Texas. He has a master’s degree in religion and a lifetime of involvement in the study of world religion and philosophy, and writes frequently about the mutual implications of religion, horror, the paranormal, creativity, consciousness, and culture in an age of apocalypse. He is the author of Divinations of the Deep, which launched the New Century Macabre fiction imprint for Ash-Tree Press, and Dark Awakenings, which Publishers Weekly praised as a “thinking-man’s book of the macabre” with “unusual philosophic depth.”

For the past decade my TBR pile has consisted of an ever-imposing and constantly shifting commotion of nonfiction books. This transition occurred, without my intending or even being truly aware of it, at some point around the age of 30. When I was younger I could never understand why my dad, who was always reading books, never had any novels or fiction collections among them. Now I get it: sometimes — perhaps for a long time (perhaps permanently) — fiction ceases to speak to you. Or perhaps, in true Robert Anton Wilsonian guerrilla ontological fashion, a person finds he’s getting his fiction fix from what’s formally placed in the non- category.

The most interesting items in my ontologically suspect pile of ostensible nonfiction currently include (but are not limited to):

Beyond the Tragic Vision: The Quest for Identity in the Nineteenth Century (1962) by Morse Peckham. I had never heard of Peckham until about two years ago, when some now-forgotten combination of search terms (having to do with art and the unconscious) led me to some now-forgotten blog featuring an absolutely riveting extended quotation from this book, which was first published in 1962. Some online digging revealed that Peckham was a brilliant scholar, “the prize and pariah of Penn’s English department,” who over the course of several books offered an intellectual experience that “has its similarities to that offered by another polymath professor who has chafed his way out through the confines of the English Department: Marshall McLuhan.” In this particular book — his first, no less — his goal was “to find the central nerve of nineteenth-century culture, to discover the problem which unifies the most important cultural documents in the century’s philosophy, literature, painting and music…The author sketches how, with the collapse of the Enlightenment at the end of the eighteenth century, it became necessary for the individual to derive order, meaning and value from his own identity rather from the objective world….At the end of this process, Nietzsche asserted that human identity exists but has no grounds in nature or the divine. This enabled him to do what the nineteenth century above all wished to do: to recognise the reality of human life in the contraries and opposites of human experience without falsifying them by comfortable but illusory reconciliation.” The book was hailed as a masterpiece, and it heralded a period when “Peckham was starting a more ambitious project that would use his cultural knowledge to go beyond criticism of art, music, and literature and probe the essence of humanity itself.” And yet, as I saw some other now-forgotten blogger point out, he never really achieved the widespread recognition either within or outside of academia that his brilliance warranted. Need I say more? I ordered a copy from Amazon immediately — and it has sat awaiting my full attention ever since. Upon first receiving it I read the introduction and found it almost painfully brilliant, and that’s what has kept the book not open on my desk but waiting in my TBR pile, because I know that the experience of reading it in full will prove to be one of those major intellectual and even existential investments that have punctuated my life whenever I’ve found a lodestone-type book.

Nightmare: The Birth of Horror (1996) by Christopher Frayling. This is the book Frayling (who these days bears the official title “Sir”) wrote to accompany his 1996 BBC television series Nightmare, in which he explored the emergence of several chief texts in the supernatural genre — Frankenstein, Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” — out of the personal nightmares of their authors. He builds the entire thing around the epic influence of the gothic horror genre’s master image in the iconic 1781 painting “The Nightmare” by Henry Fuseli, which portrays a demon squatting on the breast of an unconscious woman while a spectral horse watches from the shadows. I’ve done a bit of public talking and writing about my personal experiences with sleep paralysis and the accompanying supernatural or numinous visitation-and-assault experiences that accompanied them, and about the way these experiences in the 1990s directly inspired my career as a horror writer. And although Frayling never mentions sleep paralysis in the book (as a scan of the book’s index and contents have shown me), he treads right in the middle of its territory, especially since Fuseli’s “The Nightmare” has come to be almost universally recognized not just as the master image of the supernatural horror genre but the quintessential artistic representation of sleep paralysis and accompanying demonic attack. I bought the book two years ago and have been waiting for it to claim me.

Sleep Paralysis: Nightmares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection (2011) by Shelly Adler. In the words of the medical doctor who reviewed this book for the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, Dr. Adler, “professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at UCSF, sets out to explore the phenomenon of the classic nightmare across cultures and history, how it straddles the mind-body divide, and its possible connection with sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome…As she writes in the introduction: ‘the night-mare, poised as it is between the supernatural and the natural worlds, and between the meaningful and the biological, is perfectly positioned to teach us about the seamless connection between our minds and our bodies.'” The word “nightmare” originally referred not just to a bad dream but specifically to the experience we today call sleep paralysis, and since I have been afflicted by this condition myself, I’m endlessly interested in reading about it. And this book in particular appears to strike all of the right notes, especially since it delves into the semi-famous (or notorious) phenomenon of Nightmare Death Syndrome (the original and more provocative name for what was later retermed sudden unexplained nocturnal death syndrome), which afflicted several communities of Laotian and Hmong refugees to the United States in 1981, drew serious attention from the National Institutes of Health, and went on to inspire Wes Craven, via a series of stories that he read about it in the Los Angeles Times, in his conceiving of the dream killer Freddy Kreuger. I expect to read the book in one big gulp when I finally get around to it. The word “nocebo,” by the way, refers to the opposite of the more familiar placebo. That is, it refers to the possible injurious and even deadly effects of belief, and in this case, the belief — plus the actual subjective experience — that you’re being attacked by a demonic entity.

The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (2003) by Edward Hirsch. I discovered this book a few years ago while researching my essay “The Angel and the Demon” for the S.T. Joshi-edited encyclopedia Icons of Horror and the Supernatural: An Encyclopedia of Our Worst Nightmares. I bought it, read selected sections of it for my research, and put it on my shelf, where it has been calling to me ever since. It may well be the next book that I sit down to read all the way through. I’m an inveterate skimmer, scanner, and reader of books by snippet and section, but Hirsch writes so compellingly in the portions of this one that I’ve already read, and talks so deeply and incisively about an issue of major significance not only to me personally but, I think, to all of us, and to our present and future on this planet and perhaps elsewhere, that this one simply demands to be read slowly and reflectively. Which, as with Beyond the Tragic Vision, is probably what has kept it on hold in my schedule, since I’m doing an often lousy job of retaining or reclaiming my former identity as a leisurely reader of long and/or deep books in an era dominated by fragmentedness and speed.

Jamie Todd Rubin
Jamie Todd Rubin is a science fiction writer, blogger, and Evernote Ambassador for paperless lifestyle. His stories have appeared in Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Apex Magazine, and 40K Books. He vacations frequently in the Golden Age of Science Fiction. Jamie lives in Falls Church, Virginia with his wife and two children.

These days, my “to-read” pile is almost entirely virtual. But within that pile, there are quite a few books that I’m eager to get started on.

The top science fiction books in my “to-read” pile that I am most interested in are John Scalzi’s Redshirts and David Brin’s Existence. I’m interested in reading the former because I like John’s books and I think that well-done, humorous science fiction is pretty rare in novel form. As for Existence, I’ve always enjoyed David Brin’s books, and this one (which, incidentally, arrived in the Kindle App on my iPad today) looks like it’s got everything about science fiction that I like: alien intelligence, explorations of what it means to be human and conscious, all sorts of good stuff.

Beyond those, I have a quite a stack of other books in my virtual pile, some of which are not science fiction but are by science fiction authors. In 1973, Barry N. Malzberg wrote a series of crime novels, the Lone Wolf series, published under the name “Mike Barry” that Prologue Books has recently brought back into print in e-book form. I’ve got the first 3 books in that series, read the first one already, but I’m looking forward to reading the next two.

Also sitting for a while in my “to read” pile is Taft 2012: A Novel by Jason Heller, which seems to combine a few interests of mine, Presidential history and science fiction/alternate history.

You asked for books, but my to-read pile also contains the last 2 or 3 issues each of Analog, Asimov’s, F&SF, Lightspeed, Clarkesworld, and InterGalactic Medicine Show. I’m a little behind on my short fiction reading and hoping to get caught up later this summer.

John H. Stevens
John H. Stevens is a writer, fan of SF/fantastika, bookseller, anthropologist, and geek-at-large.

Oh, the To Be Read Pile, that delightful touchstone for literary social interaction. Putting something on your TBR pile is a declaration to the world; it tells others where you want to venture, what fields of fancy and knowledge you hope to frolic and trudge through, what tickles your imagination and what sounds intriguing. Talking about what you want to read, what insights and wonders await you, can be as simple as invoking a title or as involved as waxing rhapsodic about the giant stack of books you can’t wait to dive into. It is the invocation of aspiration and desire. The TBR Pile represents your tastes to some extent, but also your curiosity and trust. It compiles the things you love about books with the hope that new discoveries await.

My TBR pile has three tracks: fiction, research, and the rest. Fiction tends to worm its way in front of the other two, and tends to dominate the pile. Some of these I have started to read, then put back, picked up again later. The reasons why they top the heap are varied, but here are some particularly interesting selections:

Through the Valley of the Nest of Spiders (Samuel R. Delany): Delany’s newest novel is here for a multitude of reasons: he’s one of my favorite writers ever and a major influence on my fiction and criticism. This is his first novel in years and it promises to be provocative on every level. It’s a love story, a future history, a philosophical meander, at turns profane, mundane, utopic, and melancholy. I’ve heard him read from it several times (there’s an excerpt from it here) and I’m eager for the deep, soaring, vulgar, and complex reading experience that awaits me.

The Inheritance and Other Stories (Robin Hobb/Megan Lindholm): Another influential writer I discovered early (through the terrific Wizard of the Pigeons), I wanted this volume badly but kept putting off buying it. Subterranean Press had a grab bag sale and I lucked into this copy. I have read very little of her short fiction so I look forward to exploring this book.

Crackpot Palace (Jeffrey Ford): This is an advanced review copy that I have started to read. I came to Ford late, picking up The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant and Other Stories at a Readercon a few years ago without really knowing much about his work, and a bit apprehensive that it was going to be too meta. But since then I have read two more of his books and want to do a study of his work. What I have read so far in this collection is very encouraging; Ford is a fabulous craftsman of words and his stories always hit some tender spot in me, and that makes his work particularly valuable to me personally.

Bronze (Kit Reed): This book is one of the coolest on the pile. First, it’s by Kit Reed, who you must run out and read if you have not yet done so (I talk about here work a lot, here for example). Second, it is the first novel of hers I have had in my TBR pile, and I am very curious to see how she maintains her strengths in a longer format. Third, this is a copy that she kindly sent me when I tried to obtain it from Night Shade Books and it was out of stock. Finally, it is super-special in that it is missing the last four lines. I am perversely thrilled by this omission and the prospect of finishing the book in my own head (until I can ask the author herself about the ending).

Zofloya; or, The Moor: A Romance of the Fifteenth Century (Charlotte Dacre): I have been slowly working my way through a stack of Gothic classics since I read Michael Moorcock’s take on some of them in his Wizardry & Wild Romance. Partly this is for pleasure, because I have a soft spot for these sometimes arcane, sometimes boring, sometimes decadent stories that bluster and keen through your imagination. They are in some ways the ancestors of modern fantasy and “literary fiction” and strange entertainments in their own right. I know very little about this one but it sounds like a humdinger, a labyrinthine soap opera tragedy with weird embellishments. A good read on a rainy night with a lone wolf (well, OK, coyote here in upstate New York) howling in the background.

Sanatorium, Under the Sign of the Hourglass (Bruno Schulz): I know little about Schulz other than a story in the Vandermeers’ The Weird and an appreciation at Weird Fiction Review. But when this came across my desk at the bookstore I scooped it right up. While perhaps not an ideal translation, it is an opportunity to read work by an author who deserves more attention for his work.

Cthulhurotica, (Carrie Cuinn, ed.): I’m reading this collection because I have to know what Mythos erotica reads like, and it has a nice mix of writers in the table of contents. I am intrigued also by the inclusion of non-fiction essays, which seems like a great idea for inspiring discussion about the fiction. It’s also part of a pile of recent anthologies of Mythos-inspired short fiction that I am reading for a planned essay on Lovecraft’s influence on and uses in 21st-century entertainment.

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (Maryanne Wolf): Most of my non-fiction reading these days is taken up with books on reading, the imagination, and the fantastic, the subject of a book that I’m working on. This title was recommended to me by Blake Charlton, and I have read enough of it to be quite glad that he pointed me towards it. Wolf is perceptive in her discussion of the topic and a very good writer, and I am learning a lot from this book. It also has copious notes and references that I am poring through and I am glad for her guidance and erudition about the subject. It’s fun, educational, and though-provoking so far, and has been valuable in helping me think about how humans read and what is so significant about that ability.

The Covert Enlightenment: Eighteenth-Century Counterculture and its Aftermath (Alfred Gabay): This is another book that I stumbled upon, this time at the biannual book sale put on by the country library. I was taken by the description of a “counterculture” and the different notion of “enlightenment.” I know very little about Swedenborg but a history of metaphysical thought in this period is intriguing. It also occurred to me that this might contain ideas for fiction. And it also sates my inquisitive appetite for offbeat history.

I could go on, but hopefully this gives you an idea of what I’m reading right now, and of how fun and valuable I find the TBR pile to be.

Fred Kiesche
Fred Kiesche has been reading science fiction since the early 1960′s. He has a collection of over 8,000 books at home, at least half of which is science fiction and fantasy and the rest are made up of books on science, history and other non-fiction subjects. He is an avid amateur astronomer, devoted husband and father, and is seemingly perpetually underemployed since 9/11/01. He blathers on this and other subjects at The Lensman’s Children.

Mount Toberead grows ever larger. I don’t know if this linked to some theories about why people overeat (i.e., we grew up as a race starving all the times, so we’re hardwired to overconsume as we expect another famine just around the corner), but I always buy more than I have time to read. This has been made doubly true as the Crackdle, I mean, Kindle, makes buying eBooks so dang easy (one click, and away it downloads). The pile, real and virtual grows and grows.

On the plus side, I have always been able to read several books (sometimes several dozens of books) simultaneously and over long stretches of time. I even put one book down for two years (to be honest, it got shelved incorrectly, out of sight, out of mind), spotted it, picked up the thread of the story where I left off, and read until the end. So my current reads is big, and up next to read is as big.

So current reads? The biggest batch are the books and stories in the Hugo and the Campbell Not-A-Hugo-But-We-Keep-Awarding-It-At-The-Same-Time-So-We-Are-All-Confused. You can find those titles here. I’ve gone through most of the shorter works at this point and I’m simultaneously reading Embassytown, Leviathan Wakes and Among Others.

Other current reads include:

The Blade Itself: The First Law: (Book One) by Joe Ambercrombie. Recommended, insistently, by author Myke Cole; about 50% done and I’ve bought all the sequels; gritty fantasy, puts me in mind of Glen Cook’s Black Company tales. Excellent so far.

The Gabble and Other Stories by Neal Asher. Short works in Asher’s Polity series. I’ve read a few randomly here and there, it is nice to have them between electronic covers. I’ve also been acquiring electronic copies of all of Asher’s books that I didn’t own in paper (he’s been hard to find in the US, alas).

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. Thoughts of a Roman Emperor. His philosophy, boiled down as it were.

Vacuum Diagrams by Stephen Baxter. A collection of stories set in Baxter’s Xeelee cycle. Revisiting the book after many years.

Welcome to Bordertown as edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner. A collection of new stories in a well-regarded old series. Somehow I managed to miss Bordertown and similar early entries into urban fantasy, but I’m enjoying this reboot. Hope it does well enough that the older out-of-print volumes come back out again.

The Dresden Files Collection (Books 7-12) by Jim Butcher. An eBook omnibus of the second half of Butcher’s fantasy noir series. I’ve bought them in a variety of forms over the years (paperbacks, hardcovers), but I recently gave all my paperbacks away and bought the set in eBook format.

Shadow Ops: Control Point by Myke Cole. Military Fantasy? Military Urban Fantasy? Whatever the label, a kick-ass book. When’s that sequel coming? (Not soon enough!)

Tales from Gavagan’s Bar by L. Sprague de Camp. Before Callahan’s, before Draco’s, around the time of the White Hart, but after the club that Jorkens attends we had Gavagan’s. Connected by the setting, each entry has a similar format (tall tales…or are they?). Somewhat aged, but still fun.

The Jewel-Hinged Jaw by Samuel R. Delany. One of several non-fiction collections from Delany. I read this in the original version, years ago. I even read one entry in its first appearance in a multi-author collection and saw Delany at a convention where I heard the basis for one of the other entries.

The Planet Strappers by Raymond Z. Gallun. One of my favorite books, by an author that all too many of us have forgotten. Get your free copy at places like Gutenberg or Manybooks and see what you’ve been missing.

Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson. Read it when it first came out, re-reading it for a much overdue review.

Spook Country by William Gibson. Another re-read. As Gibson keeps getting closer and closer to “now” he continues to keep a SFnal lens on the subject matter, no matter how mundane.

Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog) by Jerome K. Jerome. I saw a television movie based on this years ago and laughed endlessly. It is quoted by Heinlein and others. The best time I had reading this was when I took my daughter raining and I had to put up a recalcitrant tent in a torrential downpour. I read it in the tent as we dried off and laughed enough to scare away the bears. Fun stuff.

Blackhorse Riders by Philip Keith. The story of a combat in Vietnam that was forgotten for years. Amazing stuff, somewhat overlaps the service of genre author David Drake (his same unit, but not the same cav troop). Reading it a second time with an eye to adapting it for a game.

Countdown: The Liberators by Tom Kratman (military thriller; lots of gun pr0n, more than slightly right of center, but Kratman tells a fast-moving story).
Reamde: A Novel by Neal Stephenson (started it, got pretty far into, got sidetracked despite enjoying it immensely, will need to go back…if I take a vacation this year!).

Roadside Picnic by the Brothers Strutatsky. What if you had a picnic and left your trash scattered around. What would the ants and other small critters think of your discards? The Strutatsky’s write of the trash discarded by alien visitors and what grows up around those discards. I first read this in the early 1980’s, this is a new edition (and a new translation).

The New American Bible by Various Hands. An ongoing continuous project.

Stuff I intend to getting to Real Soon Now include:

Armored, edited by John Joseph Adams. A collection of power-armored tales by various authors (a very nice lineup here).

The Mongoliad: Book One by Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson and Diverse Hands. Stephenson got interested in swordfighting and wanted to show it “done right”. This is one of several projects linked to this desire. The series will be written by well-known folk (e.g., Bear and Stephenson) and others. Marketing tool? Literary experiment? Well-known author gone wild? It’ll be interesting to see (already bought a prequel and ordered the sequel).

Existence by David Brin. It seems about forever since David Brin has written a SF novel and whiile this is not the book I really want (I want another Uplift story, even a standalone!), I will read it very soon. Hard SF from one of my favorites? Yes, please. Heck, I even re-bought his collaboration with Gregory Benford, Heart of the Comet, as soon as it came out as an eBook.

The Monster Hunters (omnibus, three novels) by Larry Correia. So, what happens when your boss turns into a werewolf? Why, you gun him down and toss him out the window, of course! Pure action adventure, tons of fun, interesting…ummm…people and page-turners through and through. I love books that know exactly what to do with a vampire: stake him in the sun, fill him with garlic, sprinkle with holy water and make him sparkle by filling him with tracer-tipped high-velocity, armor-piercing rounds.

The Year’s Best SF (29th Annual Collection) as edited by Gardner Dozois. An annual purchasing tradition. Another annual tradition is not to finish it in the year in which it is published. Will I break that tradition this year? And, almost as interesting for trends, will I purchase the paper copy as well as the electronic copy?

God’s Mechanics by Brother Guy Consolmagno. Brother Guy is an astronomer. And he writes great books about observing stars, hunting for rocks from Mars that have fallen into the Antarctic and more. In this he talks about geeks and God. Geeks and God? Can it be possible?

How to Build an Android: The True Story by David F. Duffy. So this company built an android that looked like Philip K. Dick that even was programmed to speak the words of Philip K. Dick. Then they lost him. Which lead to jokes about “Bring me the head of PKD” and this book. Looks amusing.

Zombiestan by Mainak Dhar. Zombies, Afghanistan and lots of bullets; how can one go wrong?

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. Before Dan Brown spewed his malformed conspiracies upon the world, Umberto Eco wrote a well-thought and carefully constructed conspiracy novel that treaded on some of the same ground. Time for a re-read!

The Infinite Library by Kane X. Faucher. I bought this eBook because (a) it was cheap; (b) had a kick-ass cover; (c) have I mentioned the cover? Take a look.

The Year’s Best SF 18 as edited by David G. Hartwell and Katherine Cramer. As with Dozois, I rarely finish the collection in the year it is published. For this series I’ve already jumped from paper to electronic only, in fact, the last three volumes were purely electronic and I’m purchasing the volumes in reverse chronological order and given away my paper copies.

Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl. While Heyerdahl’s theories on migration may have been at least partly-discredited (until people change their minds again and he is “rediscovered” or such), this is one amazing story about building a raft out of balsa and sailing it across the ocean.

Lost Horizon by James Hilton. One of several books I bought on sale when Amazon had a special “books that have been made into famous movies” promotion. Read it in high school (sometime around the Pliocene Era), so it is time to read it again.

Going Interstellar, edited by Les Johnson and Jack McDevitt. Another themed anthology from Baen, similar to Armored. Baen is providing reading guides and such to attract school use, it’ll be interesting to see if any science and/or literacy teachers follow through.

Danse Macabre and On Writing by Stephen King. Read them both, years ago. I still have my paper copy of On Writing but my paper copy of Danse Macabre was probably stolen by ghosts (both these are electronic copies). I’ve run hot and cold on King for years, but these two have been long-standing favorites.

Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella. As with Lost Horizons, above.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence. I’ve seen the movie! I use his visage as my internet icon on several services! I really should read the book! In actuality, I’ve sort of read the book, more than once, in various abridged versions. Now I have the full version.

What It Is Like to Go To War and Matterhorn: A Novel of Vietnam War, both by Karl Marlantes. Marlantes came to my attention about a year ago with the publication of Matterhorn and a series of interviews on various sites. As it relates to a long-standing interest (generally and specifically), I picked up both in a heartbeat.

The Goblin Corps by Ari Marmell. Fantasy wars from the viewpoint of the other guys. For when I get tired of all this serious stuff I read.

Looking for Calvin and Hobbes by Nevin Martell. A quest novel! What is the mysterious force behind a belovd comic and will the author ever meet him?

The Sand Pebbles by Richard McKenna. As with Lost Horizons, above.

Annals of the Former World by John McPhee. An omnibus of McPhee’s separate books on geology. Worth it for McPhee’s wonderful narrative style, dense with information. A highpoint is a thirty-odd-page narrative table of contents.

Weekend Warrior by Mervin Kevin. Kevin is a reservist in the United Kingdom who served in Iraq. Reservists? In the United Kingdom? An instant purchase, just based on that and from looking within, a good true story as well.

Solstice Chronicles by Jeff Patterson. How can I resist a book by a fellow SF Signal Irregular?

One More Book Before I Die by Lyndon Perry. With a title like that, I had to read it. My philosophy!

The Bible Repairman and Stories, The Stress of Her Regard and Hide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers. Powers is one of my favorite fantasy authors. He specializes in writing “secret histories”, books that could be set in our world except for one tiny little thing that blows your mind apart. Bible Repairman is a collection of his short works to date, often published as chapbooks or other hard-to-acquire means. The Stress of Her Regard is a re-read as it relates to the subject matter of Hide Me Among the Graves.

The Crying of Lot 49 and Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Two works by Pynchon that have had a lot of influence upon genre writers. These are both recent eBook versions, so I’ll re-read them “soonish”. I was preparing to re-read Gravity’s Rainbow this year anyway, so the eBooks are serendipity-do-dah!

Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds. As with Brin and Robinson, a new book by Reynolds is an instant purchase, especially if it is Hard SF or Space Opera. It will be hard to decide between this and the Brin and Robinson books as to which is read first!

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson. After a long series of side trips, Robinson again visits the territory of books like his Mars series or Antarctica. Decisions, decisions, this first or Brin or Reynolds!

Adrift on the Sea of Rains by Ian Sales. Alternative Apollo missions by a new-to-me author.

Red Shirts: A Novel with Three Codas by John Scalzi. Saving this one for when I have read too many serious works.

Jump Gate Twist by Mark L. Van Name. An omnbius of the first few novels and tales in Van Name’s Jon and Lobo series. Re-reading before working up to the newest entry. Great combination of commentary, Space Opera and Hard SF.

With all the titles I’ve listed, I’m just scratching the surface. Remember when I said I buy books faster than I read them…there are 369 titles in the Current Reads folder of my Kindle. Those are books I’m really currently reading, books I intend on reading next, books I’d like to read after that and so on.

And…all my back issues of Analog, Apex, Arc, Asimov’s, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Clarkesworld, Fantasy, F&SF, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Interzone, Lightspeed, Locus and whatever else I’ve subscribed to electronically that I haven’t gotten to. Instead of slick and pulp paper piling I, I have the electronic magazine equivalents.

They keep saying that the short story is dead, but I don’t see it. They also say that print is dying, but I don’t see it. So many books, so little time, so many ex-lover’s to bury!

About JP Frantz (2322 Articles)
Has nothing interesting to say so in the interest of time, will get on with not saying it.

11 Comments on MIND MELD: The Most Interesting Books in Our ‘To Be Read’ Pile

  1. So much great stuff in my TBR pile, but I’m going to go with YEAR ZERO by Rob Reid. It’s a science fiction story set in the music industry. Right up my alley.

  2. Do I need to make a larger TBR pile? (looks mournfully at the shortness of his entry in the mind meld)

  3. I have so many piles it’s getting a bit out of control! But my *immediate* TBR pile has on it:
    * “Kafkaesque” ed. James Patrick Kelly & John Kessel
    * “Mr. Fox” by Helen Oyeyemi
    * Three Messages and A Warning (Contemporary Mexican SciFi Stories)
    * “How to Recognize A Demon has Become Your Friend” by Linda Addison
    * “Eternity and Other Stories” by Lucius Shepard

  4. Ah, it looks like my photo of the top of my TBR pile did not make it into the Mind Meld, so I am posting it over on my blog:

  5. EXISTENCE by David Brin – I’ve never before read Brin and I’ve been leaning towards SF rather than Fantasy lately

    FURTHER: BEYOND THE THRESHOLD looks to be a fun space-opera from the always entertaining Chris Roberson

    The Summer of Abrham will soon begin – CALIBAN’S WARY and THE KING’S BLOOD, plus still unread is THE LONG PRICE QUARTET

    My ARC of Mark Lawrence’s KING OF THORNS, follow up to the debut that blew me away last year

    I also really want to dive into one of the three PATHFINDER tie-ins on the Mountain

    Then there’s all the goodies on my kindle, but that’s a different kettle of fish altogether

  6. Someone needs to schedule an intervention for Mr Kiesche.

    • Why? I might be all that stands between the publishing industry and their downfall! You know what kind of pressure that puts on a soul?

  7. Here’s my short list:

    Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury

    Doctor Who: Shada: The Lost Adventure



    Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti

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