Fun Summer Reading

by Henry on July 3, 2012

It being the season, some recommendations for entertaining fiction – feel free to castigate my narrow tastes in comments, to make your own recommendations, or both, as suits you best.

Charles Stross – The Apocalypse Codex (Powells, Amazon ). The new Laundry book, and the best one imo since the first. Without giving anything major away, things are really beginning to move …

China Mieville – Railsea (Powells, Amazon). Again, China does his best to lose me, this time writing a novel which could easily be mistaken in a dim light for young-adult steampunk. Again, he fails completely. Enormous fun – you’ll never think about naked mole rats in the same way again.

Josh Bazell – Wild Thing (Powells, Amazon). Only very good, in contrast to its prequel, Beat the Reaper, which was an excellently funny macho asshole thriller, but still entertaining. The footnotes are good value too (how many popular thrillers have footnotes with short discussions of spandrels?), up to, and only up to the point where the author starts expounding his views on Middle East politics (he’s an Alan Dershowitz fan – enough said).

Paul McAuley – In the Mouth of the Whale (not officially available in US; though if you have a Kindle you can gimmick your address). A sequel to his Quiet War duet. I need to write something on the way that these books use evolutionary theory to drive their argument.

Paul McAuley – Cowboy Angels (Powells, Amazon). A very different novel – hard sf meets the paranoid Cold War thriller. Imagine an America (not ours) which discovers how to build gates to recently branched alternative realities, and starts to play out the game of empire-building and neo-liberalism, not with other countries, but with different versions of itself.

Tim Powers – Hide Me Among the Graves (Powells, Amazon). Vampirism, Swinburne and Pre-Raphaelites. Among Powers’ best – not as good as Declare or The Anubis Gates (but then: what is?), but just as good Last Call, and better than the rest (which is to say – very damn good indeed).

Nick Mamatas and Brian Keene – The Damned Highway (Powells, Amazon) Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail – the H.P. Lovecraft mix. I’ve speculated before that there is no subgenre of fiction that cannot be spatchcocked with Lovecraft, but Hunter S. Thompson blends particularly well, and amidst the comedy, there is one moment of genuine loathing and horror (tentacle porn and Richard Nixon, aloof). The graphic design person who thought of Steadmanizing the Ian Miller illustration for At The Mountains of Madness and using it as the cover art, deserves an award.

Harry Connolly – Child of Fire (Powells, Amazon). Lovecraftian urban fantasy. Fun, fast-paced braincandy, found via Charles Stross (the first of a series, which unfortunately appears to be in hiatus).

Felix Gilman – The Rise of Ransom City (Powells, Amazon). But you’ll have to wait until the fall/autumn for that one (more in due course …).

{ 77 comments }

1

Doctor Science 07.03.12 at 4:31 am

I’ve noticed this before in your recs lists, Henry, and now I’m finally going to say something:

No novels by women? Not one?!?

No Cherie Priest, no N.K. Jemison, no Naomi Novik? I’m sure I can recommend more, if you’re willing to leave the sausage fest …

2

Nick Mamatas 07.03.12 at 4:39 am

Thanks for your kind words. My co-author’s name is Brian Keene.

3

ponce 07.03.12 at 4:52 am

I recommend Hugo nominee “Stations of the Tide” by Michael Swanwick

http://www.amazon.com/Stations-Tide-Michael-Swanwick/dp/0380817616

4

Bruce Baugh 07.03.12 at 5:05 am

I had the same reaction as Doctor Science.

5

Luis 07.03.12 at 5:24 am

Only you can help prevent forest fires sausage-fest SF reading lists. Where should I start with Novik or Priest? (I really wanted to love Jemison, and may still read her second book, but the first wasn’t very engaging.)

6

Sebastian 07.03.12 at 5:25 am

I recently really enjoyed reading everything by Lynn Flewelling. Interesting take on gender identity.

7

Doctor Science 07.03.12 at 5:36 am

Well, with Novik it’s best to start at the beginning of the series: His Majesty’s Dragon.

Cherie Priest: Boneshaker.

8

ponce 07.03.12 at 5:52 am

“sausage-fest SF reading lists”

Haha, the crabbed Connie Willis has put me off Sci-fi women authors forever.

9

praisegod barebones 07.03.12 at 6:08 am

Lauren Beukes: Zoo City.

10

Doctor Science 07.03.12 at 6:13 am

ponce —

Because, of course, we’re all alike! Le Guin and Cherryh, Jo Williams and Octavia Butler, McAffrey and Bujold — seen one, seen ’em all.

11

ponce 07.03.12 at 6:20 am

Doctor Science, tried all those on your list…couldn’t get past a few chapters.

12

Shane 07.03.12 at 8:25 am

Because of their femaleness, ponce? Fill me in, how’s that work?

And which authors do you favour, out of interest?

Assuming you’re not just trolling.

13

ajay 07.03.12 at 8:28 am

Where should I start with Novik or Priest?

At the age of 12, in Novik’s case. Sparkly Regency dragons.

14

Ray 07.03.12 at 9:38 am

why does “summer reading” = “books for kids” anyway? are there no books for adults that are fun and entertaining?

15

Maria 07.03.12 at 9:49 am

Doctor Science, I think Henry is recommending just-published books, which narrows the field. If you’re a regular deader, you know he’s a huge fan of LeGuin, McCaffrey and Novik. But has any of them just published something?

Do you have anything to share beyond snark? How about a recommendation?

16

ajay 07.03.12 at 9:57 am

14: most of those are aimed at adults, Ray, with the possible exception of the Mieville?

17

Ray 07.03.12 at 10:14 am

The Connolly and Stross are for teenagers, surely, and the Bazell?

18

foolishmortal 07.03.12 at 10:21 am

Le Guin and Cherryh, Jo Williams and Octavia Butler, McAffrey and Bujold

These are almost all top-notch sf authors, no doubt (though I’m not familiar with Williams and hate McAffrey), but Cherie Priest isn’t fit to sharpen their pencils, and, imo, Naomi Novik starts to wear thin after the first two. At the moment it seems there aren’t any female writers putting out great stuff. It has to happen sometimes. If I’m wrong, I’d love to hear about it.

19

ajay 07.03.12 at 10:34 am

17: not as far as I can tell; none of them are marked as Young Adult, and Stross (the only one of the three I’ve read previously) doesn’t write YA fiction.

20

Ray 07.03.12 at 10:56 am

I don’t think the Temeraire books are marked as YA either.
Sparkly Regency dragons, Internet puppies, urban fantasy and macho asshole thrillers… sometimes you don’t need the sticker.

21

Mark 07.03.12 at 11:05 am

Not to pile onto Henry, but NK Jemisin did just release The Shadowed Sun, the second book in a new series (and the first, The Killing Moon, came out in May), so she qualifies for a discussion of recent releases. Cool magickery, engaging plotting, refreshingly original setting, goes just leaps and bounds ahead of the main fantasy field in terms of treating race and gender with some thought. Her Inheritance Trilogy is also good fun.

Dr Science: for Jo Williams, did you mean Jo Walton? If not, add her to the list.

Not sure if Ray is trolling or if he’s really just come out of the Senior Combination Room for the first time in several years. Check out a bestseller list (or look into the history of why the NYT decided to break out “children’s books” separately). Adults read this sort of stuff and have done since forever.

22

soru 07.03.12 at 11:08 am

Sparkly Regency dragons.</i.

Not really sparkly, and I'd quibble slightly to say 14 not 12 as ideal age. They most resemble Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe books, or Tom Clancy if the F22 Raptor was a breed not a model.

For more (and IMHO vastly superior) Regency dragons, try Jo Walton.

Walton says in the preface to this book that “…a number of the core axioms of the Victorian novel are just wrong. People aren’t like that. Women, especially, aren’t like that. This novel is the result of wondering what a world would be like if they were, if the axioms of the sentimental Victorian novel were inescapable laws of biology.”

23

Mark 07.03.12 at 11:10 am

Okay, now I’m pretty sure Ray is trolling. Why don’t you just come straight out and say that anyone who reads these books must be childish simpletons who need the steady hand of a mature adult to show them what they should be reading?

What books-for-grownups do you actually recommend?

24

Ray 07.03.12 at 11:33 am

I’ve read and enjoyed the (Patrick Ness) Subtle Knife books, the Hunger Games books, the Mortal Engines series, even some of the Harry Potter books. (I draw the line at Twilight) If reading YA books makes you a childish simpleton, then I’m a childish simpleton.
And (though I’ll happily read anything on holiday), I’m not arguing with the idea that holiday reading must be fun. Fun is also fine. I’m just wondering why ‘fun’ and ‘for adults’ don’t overlap.
I’m a terrible person to ask for recommendations because I read so little these days, and hardly any new releases. Two books I read recently, on holiday, that were fun? How I Escaped My Certain Fate, by Stewart Lee (why he went back to stand-up and annotated transcripts of his shows), and Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, by Mario Vargas Llosa (funny, and for adults, even those who have not yet reached the prime of their lives)

25

ajay 07.03.12 at 11:47 am

24: thanks for your explanation; as I say, in this case your judgement may be at fault, because most of these books are aimed at adults. And do you seriously think that the entire “macho asshole thrillers” genre is aimed at children?

26

Ray 07.03.12 at 11:48 am

Teenagers

27

The Modesto Kid 07.03.12 at 12:17 pm

Not just-published, and not SF, but if your tastes run to fantasy at all take a look at the Mabinogeon. I stumbled across it last week (in an old edition of Bullfinch’s Mythology that I picked up at the library’s annual sale) and am astounded at how readable and engaging it is — qualities that I have never associated with Arthurian romances. And easy to see it being source material for Tolkien and others.

28

Mark 07.03.12 at 12:30 pm

Well, that’s me set straight. I take back my accusation of trollery—although I still disagree with this “for adults” and “for kids” business. If lots of adults read a book, then that book must in some sense be “for adults.” Thanks for the recommendations, though. Lee is a favorite and Llosa is one of those names I keep meaning to try out, so I will have to go have a look.

29

rici 07.03.12 at 1:31 pm

The sf novel I read last summer was Rosa Montero’s Lagrimas en la Lluvia (Tears in the Rain), which is, in a way, a tribute to Blade Runner (but you already knew that from the title, right?) with a signicant wave to Sam Spade. According to Amazon, the English translation will be available in November (just in time for next summer, if your southernly inclined.)

I’d also recommend Montero’s Historia del Rey Transparente (“History of the Transparent King”) as the book which almost made me reconsider my instinctive recoil against the historical novel. I wouldn’t have read it had it not been written by Montero, but it was definitely worth it. It might be considered YA, although it wasn’t marketed that way; it’s the classic “teenaged peon is wrested from her family by war and forced to disguise herself as a man and start an odyssey of adventure and learning in the brutal world”, but with enough twists that it kept me going through all of its 500+ pages.

By the way, Mark, the author’s surname is Vargas; he’s usually referred to as Vargas Llosa (or MVLL) and you should find him under ‘V’ in a good bookstore.

30

Henry 07.03.12 at 1:35 pm

Doctor Science – the first of these posts, way back in 2006, was about Charles Stross and Naomi Novik’s first book. I liked the latter a whole lot, but gave up the series at the point of the Australia book, which was OK but a lot weaker. _Boneshaker_ I thought was fine but no more than competent – I wrote about it here. I read Jemesin’s first book, but didn’t like it as much as most other people do – I thought it started off very nicely, but as it got into the gods stuff, it lost me. Is the new series good? I felt I was probably not going to like the sequel, but that she was a writer who I could get to like quite a bit.

I was trying to stick to newish books, with the exception of _Cowboy Angels_ which was only recently released in the US. Other popular entertainment books I read. Mary Robinette Kowal’s _Glamour in Glass_ I thought was much weaker than it should have been – the first in the series was OK, but this was quite mediocre. One of those annoyingly passive protagonists who _never asks obvious questions_, because if she did, the plot would collapse. Deborah Harkness’s _Discovery of Witches_ likewise annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as David Liss’s _The Twelfth Enchantment_, which culminates (I kid you not) in a thrilling battle with Lord Byron’s sorcerously altered tortoise. Elizabeth Hand’s _Available Dark_ had some excellent set pieces, but didn’t quite hang together for me overall. Linda Nagata’s _Vast_ makes a fine combination with the McAuley (another first rate evolution driven sf number) but it’s old, although she has recently reissued it. I am planning to do a different post on all the good fiction that is being reissued by authors as the rights revert to them. Finally, I liked Madeleine E. Robins’ _The Sleeping Partner_ quite a bit, but it isn’t the place to start with her, and her books deserve a post of their own – really first rate intelligent entertainment with very fine writing.

Praisegod – the Beukes is on my list. Nick – fixed.

31

Theophylact 07.03.12 at 1:43 pm

Are you only recommending sf/fantasy? Because Iain Not-M Banks’s latest, Stonemouth, is quite good.

I’m reading the Powers, but I don’t think it’s up to Three Days to Never. The characters spend too much time explaining things to each other… .

Looking forward to Railsea.

If it doesn’t have to be the latest (and Cowboy Angels is a reissue, after all), then anything by Gene Wolfe. I just read (and am rereading) The Sorceror’s House, and reading Home Fires.

32

ajay 07.03.12 at 1:44 pm

26: that’s an interesting opinion – why do you think that? They aren’t marketed to teenagers, and as far as I’m aware their authors don’t write them for teenagers – though I’m open to correction if you can find an interview with Tom Clancy or Lee Child saying something like “I pitch my novels at 15-year-old readers”. And I doubt that most of their buyers are under 18. Book buyers skew old – average forties. Even the average comic book buyer is mid-twenties.

33

ajay 07.03.12 at 1:47 pm

30, 31: Yes, Cowboy Angels has been out for years. It’s very good, though. And Vast is supposed to be good – I’ll put it on the list…

34

Ray 07.03.12 at 2:03 pm

The average Tom Clancy or Harry Potter reader may be over 20 years old, but I have a hard time thinking of them as ‘books for adults’. Does it really depend on the marketing category? Do we need to find a quote from Dan Brown saying that when he sits down to write he pictures a reader who was dropped on their head at a young age and will be suffering from sunstroke when they start reading… to know his audience?
Again, this isn’t a criticism of YA books. There are good books for teenagers, and there are good authors who work hard at writing those books. But they are different from books for adults. (And the difference is not ‘fun’)

35

Neville Morley 07.03.12 at 2:15 pm

“…a thrilling battle with Lord Byron’s sorcerously altered tortoise…”

Okay, what’s wrong with me that I think that sounds rather good..?

36

LizardBreath 07.03.12 at 2:17 pm

Aren’t you confusing ‘teenagers’ with ‘people either lacking in critical sense or choosing not to exercise it’? Teenagers often do lack critical sense, but so do lots of adults, and lots of adults with critical sense enjoy books that they recognize are kind of terrible. I’ve read and been amused by the Lee Child books — I’d think anyone who sincerely thought they were not ridiculous wasn’t a terribly discerning reader, but that doesn’t make wholehearted Child fans teenagers, it makes them undiscerning adults. Same with Tom Clancy, although there I haven’t been able to get all the way through one since Red Storm Rising.

37

otto 07.03.12 at 2:27 pm

Well of recent books there’s the new Alan Furst, Mission to Paris, which is certainly fun summer reading.

I also enjoyed “The Sign of the Spider” by Bertram Mitford (1896), free on Kindle, 19th century colonialist adventure (giant spiders!!), although the values are – how to put it? – ‘dated’ and YMMV.

Did anyone read The Islanders by Christopher Priest? or 2312?

38

Shay Begorrah 07.03.12 at 2:32 pm

ajay@33

Linda Nagata’s Vast is indeed terrific (if 14 years old) and it reminds us of a distant time when authors felt that a story with a galactic canvas did not need to be stretched over three volumes and twelve hundred pages of narratively superfluous “world building”.

39

ajay 07.03.12 at 2:39 pm

What LB said. If a book’s deliberately written for an adult audience, marketed to adults and bought (mostly) by adults, then it’s difficult to see how it’s not a book for adults. Harry Potter is explicitly written for kids: JK Rowling hasn’t been coy about this. Tom Clancy isn’t in the same category – even if his books are not exactly sophisticated. (Though don’t underestimate “Clear and Present Danger”, a book whose political agenda is well to the left of the current US administration.)

And saying “this book is shallow, badly written, and unengaging – it must be intended for teenagers” is fairly dismissive of the YA market that you say you respect so much.

40

ajay 07.03.12 at 2:39 pm

38: coughPeterFHamiltoncough.

41

Jim Watts 07.03.12 at 2:43 pm

David Brin’s Existence is outstanding. This may be the best written book I’ve read this year.

42

Ray 07.03.12 at 2:52 pm

Hmmm, maybe a bit, but I think there’s more to it than that. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think of the characters in YA novels not as just ‘unrealistic’ or ‘lacking depth’, but unreal in a particular way – heightened in some aspects, shallow in others – that is common to YA. And common to (some?most?) thrillers too, in that some things are abstracted away while others are emphasised. Family life in thrillers seems to be absent (there can of course be kids for kidnapping and wives to say “all you care about is your work! what about your FAMILY?!?”), which is not a hallmark of a good or bad book as such, but seems to be an important commonality with a genre aimed at teenagers. (But what do I know about thrillers, I haven’t read Tom Clancy in 20 years)

43

Ray 07.03.12 at 2:59 pm

(That last was replying to LB)

That I say I respect so much? Shit, break out the polygraphs and the water boards, maybe my library is a lie!
But where did I say “this book is shallow, badly written, and unengaging – it must be intended for teenagers”

44

Ray 07.03.12 at 3:01 pm

Did anyone read The Islanders by Christopher Priest?

No, but his Clarke award commentary did inspire me to pick up The Separation recently. Great book (but not ‘fun’)

45

Henry 07.03.12 at 3:02 pm

bq. Linda Nagata’s Vast is indeed terrific (if 14 years old) and it reminds us of a distant time when authors felt that a story with a galactic canvas did not need to be stretched over three volumes and twelve hundred pages of narratively superfluous “world building”.

It’s really good, isn’t it. I feel like it’s one of those books that plays a key role in the secret history of sf – Alastair Reynolds cites it somewhere as a major influence and you can see why – his Revelation Space books take her sense of frail humans in a universe of chilly vast immensities and House-of-Usher’s it up a bit. I read it straight when it first came out, without reading the prequels, and it worked fine then – you don’t need _The Bohr Maker_ (although it helps make better sense of one key character), and _Redemption Well_ isn’t as good. I don’t think Peter Hamilton is a patch on her – his space opera is a bit generic and he doesn’t have anything like her unflinchingness.

46

jonstock 07.03.12 at 3:11 pm

I’ll put in a recommendation for God’s War, by Kameron Hurley (female author!). Strong debut novel about a future Islamic society where all the menfolk are off fighting in a decades-long war, so the women pretty much run everything. And there’s bug-based technology. Good stuff.

47

Theophylact 07.03.12 at 3:23 pm

Otto @ #37: Yes to both. I loved The Islanders, even though I had to order it from the Book Depository, as it’s not available in a US edition.

I bought the Kindle version of 2312 because I wasn’t sure I knew anyone to lend a hardcover copy to. Liked it a lot.

48

ajay 07.03.12 at 3:41 pm

45: “I don’t think Peter Hamilton is a patch on her – his space opera is a bit generic and he doesn’t have anything like her unflinchingness.”

Oh, definitely. I was using him as an example of the three-volume tendency.

49

Nickp 07.03.12 at 3:46 pm

See, I would have said that Hide Me Among the Graves wasn’t quite as good as Declare or Stress of Her Regard, both of which I adored. For some reason, I bounced off Anubis Gates within the first few chapters. Should try again, I guess.

50

aspermeme 07.03.12 at 3:46 pm

I just enjoyed Prudence Couldn’t Swim, by James Kilgore, and a graphic work called My Friend Dahmer.

51

Nickp 07.03.12 at 3:50 pm

Karl Schroeder’s Virga series is lots of fun, and the final volume, Ashes of Candesce was released this year. For stand-alone novels, I like his Permanence.

52

Sumana Harihareswara 07.03.12 at 4:02 pm

Plug: Constellation Games by Leonard Richardson is a funny, smart novel that gets how networked people act, how governments react to the alien, and how software developers and artists think. Set in a slightly-alt-future Austin, Texas.

53

Sumana Harihareswara 07.03.12 at 4:10 pm

Fluffy 1920s London romance: Zen Cho’s The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo. Available as an ebook. Incisively funny.

And I enjoyed Kameron Hurley’s blog, so I should probably try her God’s War and Infidel.

54

Metatone 07.03.12 at 4:15 pm

I’m still waiting for The Apocalypse Codex to hit the UK – and I’ve had trouble finding something suitable to read for fun in the meantime.

I was tempted by the Pratchett/Baxter book, but I’ll wait until the series is finished before starting…

I wouldn’t claim anything much for Mike Shevdon’s series that begins with 61 Nails, but it has been fun so far.

55

Anderson 07.03.12 at 4:28 pm

Well of recent books there’s the new Alan Furst, Mission to Paris, which is certainly fun summer reading

Just finished it. Mildly enjoyable, but he’s been re-writing the same book for a while now. Nothing to compare with Dark Star or Night Soldiers.

56

Hob 07.03.12 at 5:12 pm

I haven’t read The Damned Highway yet, but Mamatas’s earlier Lovecraft/Kerouac contraption, Move Under Ground, is excellent– beautifully written, not at all gimmicky, very moving.

57

Henry 07.03.12 at 5:33 pm

bq. I haven’t read The Damned Highway yet, but Mamatas’s earlier Lovecraft/Kerouac contraption, Move Under Ground, is excellent—beautifully written, not at all gimmicky, very moving.

Yes – they are both very good, but very, very different novels.

58

Nigel 07.03.12 at 5:38 pm

Kim Newman’s Hound Of The D’Urbevilles, about consulting criminal Moriarity and his faithful scribe Colonel Moran, came out earlier this year, and Titan books are reprinting his Anno Dracula series. Extremely clever and entertaining.

59

LFC 07.03.12 at 8:53 pm

I don’t know whether this counts as ‘fun’ with a capital F, but I’ve been reading Robert Douglas-Fairhurst’s Becoming Dickens (2011). The author writes very well; quite a lot of quotable lines. Plus, as a reviewer remarked, D-F appears to know virtually every word Dickens ever wrote (an exaggeration, no doubt, but not very much of one).

60

Alex G. 07.03.12 at 9:08 pm

I recently devoured “Sasha” by Joel Shepherd. It’s free on Kindle for now. The basic plot is standard princess-doesn’t-like-lace-becomes-warrior-saves-nation. But the goodness is in the details: the plot is air tight (none of those points where the characters make awkward choices that serve only to advance the plot), and best of all, the focus isn’t as much on the fighting as you’d think, although the fighting is portrayed rather nicely. Instead it’s on ideas: atheism vs religion, family vs society … but without being heavy handed. It is *really* good. I’m on the second book now, “Petrodor.”

61

soru 07.03.12 at 9:24 pm

Tolkien coined the word _eucatastrophe_ to mean a sudden, unexpected and improbable good thing. The interesting thing about quite a few of the books listed as fun reading is that they could be described as euconspiracies; a tale of how things are run behind the scenes by some secretive organisation. _and that is a good thing_.

To add to the Stross and the others listed, there is Ben Aaranovich/, Jon Rosenberg, Darren Humphries, and no doubt many more.

No doubt much could be written about what makes that particular genre setup come into popularity at this point in time…

62

MPAVictoria 07.03.12 at 9:25 pm

If I may make a few suggestions for summer reading this year:
-The Flashman Series by Gordon Frasier
-The Milkweed Triptych by Ian Tregillis
-Anything by Mil Millington of Things My Girlfriend and I have argued about fame in particular Love And Other Near Death Experiences
-The Nightside Series by Simon R. Green
-Anything that makes you happy. Reading a book to impress other people is a mugs game. If you find a book that takes your mind off the sheer horror that is day to day life enjoy it and don’t let some pompous ass, coughRaycough, ruin it for you.

63

Gene O'Grady 07.03.12 at 10:22 pm

Since I don’t read science fiction, all I can add is that, while I knew Byron was credited with a kinky sex life, I never heard about the altered tortoise before.

64

bert 07.03.12 at 11:30 pm

It’s the same illustration, Henry. It came preSteadmanised. Compare and contrast.

What’s more, as Holbo would’ve told you, the typography’s wrong. Although no doubt they’d happily take the award anyway.

65

bert 07.03.12 at 11:39 pm

I like the sound of what’s inside the cover, btw (“tentacle porn and Richard Nixon”). Just checked an interview with the authors in which they warn readers without strong stomachs away from the orgy scene with Henry Kissinger.
A scene that played out in real life more than once.
Thanks for the recommendation.

66

DaveL 07.04.12 at 12:12 am

I just finished Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “Flora’s Fury,” which is one of those dreaded YA novels (third in a trilogy even), and enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s set in a sort of steampunkish alternate California (“Califa”) where magic works, the Aztecs rule Mexico (and are overlords of Califa), and the eponymous heroine, Flora Segunda, is a Girl With Spunk. (Actually she’s characterized in this book as “a girl with sand,” fwiw.)

(The only downside is that she is nearly as clueless about a lot of what’s going on as Ms. Everdeen of the Hunger Games trilogy.)

Also recently finished “2312,” which is, like much of Kim Stanley Robinson, alternately a tract, an adventure travelogue, and some really nice Strossian speculation, with a dash of infuriating techno-liberalism (by which I mean, one big techno-show does not cure the world’s ills — I’m lookin’ at you, fleets of freighters full of salt from the Climate Change trilogy — we get something similar in this one). Also, I don’t believe for a moment that quantum computers can do what he says.

67

Dairy Queen 07.04.12 at 1:39 am

I am currently thoroughly enjoying Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus, which I suppose would not be categorized as SF, although why not is beyond me as it’s about a Cockney aerialist with wings (i.e., daughter of Leda) circa 1899, so its got your steampunk-ish angle covered as well. Extremely good read.

68

Henry 07.04.12 at 2:38 am

bert – yep – I should have been clearer that I meant the typography – the picture is untouched, but is perfect for just that reason. Altho’ in general, I prefer Miller’s more restrained illustrations (I spent more money than I could readily afford a couple of years ago buying the original of his Mammy Vooley from _The Luck in the Head_ – an illustration that had had a big impact on me when I was a student twenty years ago).

bq. I just finished Ysabeau S. Wilce’s “Flora’s Fury,” which is one of those dreaded YA novels (third in a trilogy even), and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Bloody hell, I _meant_ to write something about these books, and nearly did in Belle’s thread a few weeks ago, but they obviously don’t have much in the way of historical merit. They are really very good (I worry a bit that the racism suck fairy might be lurking in the Aztec stuff, but without giving spoilers, I think that we’ll be finding out a bit more in the next installment, and it will not be entirely as expected). What I like a lot about them is how the standard tropes of good guys and bad guys are gradually becoming more and more complicated over time, in a manner that is quite unusual for YA fantasy. The cluelessness is there, but it abates over time, as with real teenagers. And also teh funny is subtle but omnipresent.

DaveL – If you look at the footnotes to Cosma’s contribution to the Spufford seminar, he has stuff to say about this (and 2312 has a nod to _Red Plenty_ in the ‘Spuffordized’ economy calculators or whatever they are. I have it, but am waiting for some peaceful time that I can devote to reading and absorbing.

Dairy Queen – an utterly fantastic book. And she was surely a fellow-traveler – while she came along a bit too late for the New Worlds crowd, she used to say that she would have been in there had she been around. By all accounts, an utterly lovely person too. I read _Nights at the Circus_ when I was nineteen or twenty, and can remember how excited I was to find out that she was going to be coming to Dublin to give a talk. Then the talk was cancelled for unexplained reasons, which turned out to be her cancer. I feel sorry that I never had the chance to tell her how much her books (especially NATC) meant to me – not that I would have been able to do more than mutter a few monosyllables before she passed onto the next admirer – but the sense of joy, fun and wickedness in that book is extraordinary.

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European Reader 07.04.12 at 7:16 am

The discussion about adult/teen fiction reminded me of a passage in “One night at the call center”, a funny and well-written 2008 novel by Chetan Bhagat, set in New Delhi. The call center staff are taught the formula 35=10, that is, the maturity and intelligence of their adult US customers are supposed to be equal to that of an Indian ten-year-old. If at all true, that would explain a lot about fiction tastes and publishing.

I like SF and fantasy too, but would recommend reading – just now and then – also about the lifestyle and problems in other countries and cultures right here on our troubled earth. My own current summer reading includes a focus on Asian humour.

I second the recommendation of “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”, btw., it is old but truly hilarious. I did not enjoy some of Vargas Llosa’s other books, though, and detest his politics.

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ajay 07.04.12 at 8:32 am

61: good point! There have been euconspiracy novels before – the Illuminatus! trilogy springs to mind. And pretty much the whole superhero genre depends on the idea of secretively powerful good guys. But there do seem to be a lot of them around right now.

I am a bit wary of Kim Stanley Robinson because he seems to have a vision of the future that involves a committee of earnest but arrogant people discussing scientific and technological policy – for ever. And it will be for ever, Winston; the committee will always be in session.

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MPAVictoria 07.04.12 at 1:55 pm

European Reader I enjoyed “One night at the call center” right up until the ending. I agree with you that it is still worth a read though.

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Felix Gilman 07.04.12 at 4:28 pm

Thanks Henry!

My recent SF/F recommendations: Seconding the Kameron Hurley recommendation above. Genevieve Valentine’s Cirque Mechanique is brilliant. Steph Swainston’s Above the Snowline is only sort of newish, but it’s probably the best of her books so far, which is high praise.

Ross Thomas’s crime novels aren’t new at all, in fact he’s been dead for nearly 20 years, but they’re new to me, and they’re great fun.

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DaveL 07.04.12 at 5:36 pm

68: @Henry. Re the “Flora” Aztec racism subtext, my strong impression is that various of the “Birdies” have been described with European hair- and skin-color. I also forgot to mention that Califa seems to be a pretty sexually egalitarian (if not tending to matriarchy) sort of place. Flora’s Mom is a General, as is her Dad. The best Rangers are women. The Birdie characters are almost all men.

I noticed the Spufford nod in 2312, and mere weeks ago was reading how it would never work right here at CT.

70: @ajay: That.

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ajay 07.05.12 at 1:37 pm

Steph Swainston’s Above the Snowline is only sort of newish, but it’s probably the best of her books so far, which is high praise.

Wait, I thought she’d stopped writing a few years back? Or is this one pre-stop?

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ajay 07.05.12 at 1:39 pm

while I knew Byron was credited with a kinky sex life, I never heard about the altered tortoise before.

It’s from the adult version of Arcadia.

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Felix Gilman 07.05.12 at 1:56 pm

Probably finished pre-stop. But I don’t think she stopped writing, just stopped writing full-time.

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NickT 07.10.12 at 1:22 am

I have to say that for my money Stross generally talks a better novel than he writes – and the Apocalypse Codex is pretty insubstantial fare, which relies too heavily on old tropes from earlier in the series (yes, mathematical/magic interface is fun, but not really going anywhere, alas etc). It reminds me of the Dresden Files when Jim Butcher ran out of inspiration – more monsters,more magic, not enough plot or character development. It would also be nice if Stross could come up with more genuinely menacing and convincing evil evangelical cults to threaten the world with. If you are going to play on Lovecraft’s turf, please, remember that this stuff is supposed to be somewhat scary. Too much paint by numbers in the series as a whole and in this novel.

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