What I’m reading

I’m one of those wierdos that likes to read a lot of books at once. I like it when a whole bunch of different images collide in my head, and I think that’s part of the way I create new ideas.

So, for the current reading list: Other than my own novel which I’m reading to edit, I am also digging in deep to the trenches of World War 1 with “All Quiet on the Western Front”. This book is awesome — starts out a little weak, but about 80 pages in and BOOM, it becomes astounding.

Also in the in-progress pile are:

– Jaye Wells’ “Green Eyed Demon”, her third foray into Sabina Kane land — action packed and emotionally charged as usual, this time taking over New Orleans.

– Katy Stauber’s “Revolution World” — a novel of bio-punk engineering, video games, and revolution set in the near-term-post-apocalyptic future. Another fun one.

– The New Yorker’s short story collection “20 under 40” — so far I’ve liked 3 out of the 4 stories I’ve read, and I’ve LOVED one of them (“An Honest Exit”, which I mentioned yesterday). Strong writing in all the stories, sure, but there’s a formula to them in a way:

Some kind of emotional conflict/trauma/journey is center stage, brought up to the point of resolution, but instead of resolution there is just a kind of afterward — a lens of sorts, sometimes one paragraph, sometimes three, that tries to bring some kind of transcendence to the piece despite the lack of resolution. Additionally, emotion is usually held at a distance as if with tongs, much like a dead butterfly being examined under a magnifying glass. I mean, it’s pretty (usually), but it’s predictable in a way. Just as hog-tied — if not more — as a sestina or the simplest plot.

This formula only applies to the 4/20 I have read. I’ll see if the same formula holds true for all 20.

New stories and a new favorite

Despite the flurry of editing I have been buried in (and am still buried in), I’ve also had a couple of short stories come out. I’m crossing my fingers that this continues, I’ve been missing my short fiction drive for a while.

We’ll see if they turn into anything after edits.

I also ran into the story “An Honest Exit” by Dinaw Mengestu, available here at the New Yorker. I am slowly working my way (in random order) through the “20 under 40” collection, and this is my favorite so far. Really good.

Review: “Gil’s All Fright Diner” by A. Lee Martinez

Before I review, a little bit of honesty: I’ve met Mr. Martinez, and I think he’s a great guy — hilarious, a great game player, and great to talk to. This may color my impression of the book, but I doubt it.

This is simply a damn good book. Interesting characters, a fun story. Lots of hilarious passages. A one-eyed squid monster that’s trying to destroy the world. I mean, what else could you want? There’s a reason this novel did so well: it’s a blast to read, and a fast read too.

I haven’t read any of Martinez’s other works yet, but I’ll definitely be giving them a shot.

My only complaint is that I’m not sure why he hasn’t done a sequel to Gil’s. With the world he created, there are ample opportunities for other stories.

6 out of 7 monocular septapus arms.

You can buy it on Amazon here.

Finished Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion”

… The audio frontiers version, with a full cast of characters. Pretty good book, very impressed.

The structure is based off of Canterbury tales, each of a series of pilgrims telling their own story, but it’s much darker and each story is part of a single whole. They are all on a pilgrimage to what is essentially a dark god or avatar of the end times called The Shrike, who may or may not grant their wish (presumably to save the universe).

Of all of them, the Scholar’s Tale was the most affecting. It’s about someone’s grown daughter being cursed with reverse aging, and how she gradually becomes a teenager and then a child and a baby again, forgetting her life and what she has learned as she goes. It was so painful and emotionally intense, I almost had to stop the book at several points. What’s strange is that just a couple of year’s ago, I might have found this tale the most boring — but since I have a daughter of my own now, it hit home hard.

Perhaps one of the most plot-important tales, the Detective’s Tale, was the weakest one of the lot. It was basically a cyberpunk novella, and a pretty good one, but contrasted with the other tales, it felt hollow and empty of resonance.

Of course the problem with Hyperion is that it is a huge book and it is not a complete tale in itself. You have to read another huge book, Fall of Hyperion, to get to the ending — and I don’t know if I’ll be up to that for a while.

4 out of 5 sparkly vampires gone super-nova.

I am Reviewed: A Distant Sound of Hammers

Errant Dreams has a review up for the Zombiesque anthology, and of “A Distant Sound of Hammers” as well:

“S. Boyd Taylor’s A Distant Sound of Hammers delves into what might happen if the zombies organized and ended up on top, breeding humans for food. Questions of the pros and cons of being a zombie or a human in this society, set within the prickly relationship between a zombie man and his human sister, elevate what could have been a simplistic story into something with much more depth and interest.”

Full article available here.

I also received a wonderful message from a reader that enjoyed the story. I need more of those. 🙂

Review of “Ines of My Soul” [Audiobook] by Isabel Allende

Well, I just got done with “Ines of My Soul”, and it was fun journey. Not as moody a piece as I expected considering the dark times it deals with, but very solid.

The novel somehow balanced itself precariously between the Conquistador and Native perspectives, even though its main character — and exclusive narrator — is biased. The sins and virtues of both sides are discussed at length.

But really the core of this novel is the story about the failed relationship between the main character, Ines Suarez, and the Conquistador and first Governor of Chile, Pedro de Valdivia. And that’s what bugs me.

The book starts in Spain, telling of Ines’s early life, her first marriage, her eventual travel to South America — brave and unique, because she is one of the few Spanish women to travel there, and she has done so with no male escort. This build-up is long. VERY long. And it is not until she meets Pedro de Valdivia that the book suddenly develops the soul and energy that carry it through. There were several places where I stopped listening and nearly did not come back — but I’m glad I did.

Unfortunately, I am not a scholar of South American history, so I cannot comment on the veracity of Allende’s interpretation of the historical record — but I can say that she has created a very convincing world and extremely intriguing characters. Once the book really starts — perhaps a quarter of the way in — it really delivers.

About the reading: Blair Brown does a bold job delivering the Spanish accent, but it does crumble away from time to time in very subtle ways. Also, she pronounces the title of the book “Inyes” — with an ~ over the n, but the rest of the book the name is not pronounced this way. These small flaws tarnished the otherwise shining coin. Unfortunately for this book, I had just finished Gorge Guidall’s incomparable reading of Don Quixote — it is hard to stand up to such competition.

Overall, 4 out of 5 jelly-filled teddy bears.