Saturday, June 1, 2024

Marion Zimmer Bradley

 Imaginary Interviewer: Another month, another book! What are you reading for June?

Me: Next up is 'The Mists of Avalon', a fantasy novel about the Arthurian story by Marion Zimmer Bradley. 

II: What can you tell us about it?

Me: To be completely honest, I knew nothing about this book before we started with the list. I'm not sure I'd ever heard of it before. If I saw it in a bookstore, I scanned past it. As I said, though, it's King Arthur time in Great Britain but told differently than before.

II: How so?

Me: It's told through the perspective of the various women in the story. This means that it is a feminist telling. (I'm sure this is true through one of the early waves of feminism but I'm not fluent enough in them to know if modern feminists care for the story.) But whatever the lens, it's incredibly good.

II: You hadn't read it before?

Me: No. I usually start the books early so that I can be prepared before the month starts. Because of the size of this one, I started earlier than usual. I have found the story to be engrossing and an absolute pleasure to read. But it is a big book. According to my spreadsheet, it's the sixth biggest one on the list. In addition to page count, I'm not finding it to be a fast read. But I don't want to push people away from it. This has been a great reading experience.

II: That's good. What do you know about the author?

Me: Um, this is usually the place where I talk about literary awards and the like but MZB has something that overshadows the boring biography bits. The timeline is something like this:

1983: 'Mists of Avalon' is published. Big success, lot of sales and a TV mini-series.

1999: MZB dies.

2014: MZB's daughter alleges child sex abuse and assistance in child sex abuse. The allegations seem credible. 

II: Wow!

Me: I know! Her daughter said that she didn't speak out earlier because she knew that her mom's work meant so much to so many women. I can completely understand that point. 

II: Will you still read her?

Me: I'm a strong believer in focusing on the art, not the artist. Despite the awful secret in her life, MZB has written a wonderful book. I hope everyone will give it a shot.

Friday, May 3, 2024

William Gibson

 Imaginary Interviewer: What's next on the list?

Me: A little book by William Gibson, name of 'Neuromancer'.

II: What should we know about it? 

Me: It was Gibson's first novel. It came out in 1984 and was something of a sensation. It won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards. It also won the Philip K Dick award. 'Neuromancer' put "cyberpunk" on the map in a big way. 

II: What is "cyberpunk"?

Me: I think there are lots of definitions but the tone of the genre is something like "low status people living in a high tech world". Think of the movie 'Bladerunner' and the aesthetic it presented. In fact, according to Wikipedia, after Gibson saw the movie, he panicked because he was afraid people would think he had ripped it off. 

II: And it popularized cyberpunk?

Me: Well, it broke out of the normal boundaries of science fiction and gained mainstream acclaim. 'Neuromancer' is regularly listed as one of the best / most important books of the 20th century. If a magazine, like 'Time', does a top 100 list, it will be on it.

II: Have you read it before?

Me: Yes, I read it back in the 80's but didn't remember it. Then I read it again maybe 15 years ago and again didn't remember much about it. 

II: That's not exactly high praise. 

Me: No, I guess it's not. I feel like 'Neuromancer' deserves a lot of praise for the path that it showed but others have done better with the territory since. 

II: Is it worth reading? 

Me: Oh, very much so! I don't want to sound like I'm down on the novel. It *is* well done. Do read this.


Saturday, March 30, 2024

Dan Simmons

 Imaginary Interviewer: What books is next on the list?

Me: Next up is 'Hyperion' by Dan Simmons. This was a Hugo winner in 1990. 

II: Have you read it?

Me: I have. This book was in prominent places in bookstores when I was growing up. I saw the cover many times but didn't read it until 10-15 years ago. It's a great book.

II: What can you tell us about it?

Me: It has a very interesting structure. It is put together much like Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales'. Chaucer's work is notable because it features:

1) Stories told by people of very different positions in society. Each is labeled by the their profession.

2) Each story is different in tone and approach.

3) The stories, taken as a whole, give a broad picture of a full society.

Simmons uses them in this same exact way for 'Hyperion'. The stories are all very good and it does an exceptional job of world-building. 

II: So it's much like 'Canterbury Tales'? Would a reader need to be familiar with them before reading this? 

Me: No, not at all. (Though they are legitimately great and I want to broadly encourage people to read them.) 'Hyperion' is very different from 'Canterbury Tales' not least of all because it includes a Predator type being called the Shrike. (On the cover of the book, he is the spiky dude.) I won't say much about him, because I'll leave that to the book. But there is a blend of science fiction and horror in this book. 

II: What else do we need to know?

Me: Unfortunately, it matches 'The Canterbury Tales' in another way. It leaves the story unfinished. This is book one of a series. It sets up various mysteries but doesn't resolve them. I've read the next book, 'The Fall of Hyperion' but not the others. But it's still a great read! Well worth its spot on the list.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Anthony Burgess

Imaginary Interviewer: Welcome back from the month off. What book is next on the reading list? 

Me: Next up is 'A Clockwork Orange' by Anthony Burgess. I've seen the movie version, but have never read this before. 

II: What's it about?

Me: It's about juvenile delinquency and crime. It's about free will and, interestingly enough, a love of art.

II: Is the book good? 

Me: It's very well regarded. Well, now it is. It came out in 1962 to mixed reviews. Most of the glowing acclaim happened after the movie version in 1971. I think it's an open question as to whether or not it would have gotten on lists like this without Kubrick's film.

II: What else should we know?

Me: It's written in first person dialect and that takes some getting used to. In the introduction to the version that I read, it said that readers might find the first couple of chapters to be a challenge, but if you got through those then you'd have trouble putting the book down. I don't normally care for books written in a strong dialect but I adapted here. (I found myself thinking in "nadsat" terms while reading it.)

Also, this is a very violent book. It's casually violent in a way that I don't think we've approached yet. I mean, more violence happened in other books, like 'The Stand', but the first person approach here makes it seem like tearing other people up is just something that some people do as hobbies. 

II: What should we know about the author?

Me: I don't much about him past what's on his Wikipedia page. If other people here want to tell us about him, that would be great. 

II: Is the book worth reading?

Me: Oh yes. Very much so. 

Friday, December 29, 2023

Connie Willis

 Imaginary Interviewer: What's next on the list?

Me: Oh, it's a good one. This is 'Doomsday Book', by Connie Willis. 

II: What's it about?

Me: It's a time travel book. It's set in the near future when time travel has been created but is only used for research purposes by Oxford University. Historians travel back so that they can blend in with earlier eras and report on how people lived back then. In this book, a young woman travels to England in the 1300's, a rough time to be sure. Unfortunately for her, an epidemic has hit her modern time and everything is bad. 

II: Has she written other books?

Me: Yes. Several. The first thing I read from her was the pair of books, 'Blackout' and 'All Clear', which tells of historians going to the Blitz of London. She has written short stories and other novels that also work from this same framework. 

II: Is it a series?

Me: Not really. Or, if you want to call it that, then it's a very loose series. There are recurring characters, especially the professor Dunworthy. But each piece of it reads independently. You don't need to have read earlier works. Having said that, 'Doomsday Book' is the first novel in this "series", so if you're interested, you can just look at the publishing timeline and take them in order. The novels have all won Hugo and Locus Awards. Two of the three won the Nebula awards. These are all very good works.

II: What else should we know?

Me: 'Doomsday Book' was written in the early 90's. It's set in 2050 (I think) but it isn't quite a future that is realistic to us. There are no cell phones and the internet is not around, or at least is much more limited than it would be to us. When you watch old sit-coms set in the 80's and 90's, many of the plot problems could be solved if everyone had smart-phones. This has that same limitation. So think of it as an alternate history, if that bothers you.

II: Anything else?

Me: It has wonderful humor. Not as in your face as Adams or Pratchett but subtle and continuous. I read this with a smile on my face. Having said that, the book works as a thriller. Problems mount and you'll want to see how (and if!) they are resolved. 

II: What about the author?

Me: Connie Willis is hugely acclaimed. Wikipedia says that she has won more major SF awards than any other author. This includes 11 Hugos and 7 Nebulas. She's an excellent writer. 

Saturday, December 2, 2023

Kurt Vonnegut

 Imaginary Interviewer: What book are you tackling next?

Me: Kurt Vonnegut's 'Slaughter-house Five'.

II: Have you read this before?

Me: Yes, but only once and that was only a few years ago.

II: What did you think?

Me: Vonnegut has a wonderful writing style. A great "voice", if you will. It's easy to read one page and then another and so on. This book is a fairly quick read.

II: What should we know about him?

Me: I'd say that Vonnegut is one of the more 'literary' authors on our list. At least, he's one of the authors that most literary readers would have read. He's a science fiction writer, I guess, but I wouldn't be surprised if most bookstores had him in their general fiction category. Several of his novels were nominated for Hugo awards, including S-5, and he was put into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2015. One of his other books, 'Cat's Cradle' is also on our list.

II: What's 'Slaughter-House Five' about?

Me: At it's heart, the book is about the fire-bombing of Dresden late in World War II. Vonnegut was a POW in Dresden and lived through the ordeal. This part of S-5 is auto-biographical or at least semi-autobiographical. The whole experience was wildly traumatic and this novel is in part his way of working through that trauma. 

II: Is it an anti-war book?

Me: It's listed that way and many people have taken it that way. I think that's a reasonable take's also more complicated than that. The science fiction element of the book casts it all in a strange light and I'm not sure exactly what message to take from it. I can easily say that it isn't a pro-war book, but I think treating it as a binary operation isn't quite right.

II: Do you recommend it?

Me: Yes, very much so.

Monday, November 6, 2023

Raymond Feist"

 II: Who is next on the booklist?

Me: Next up is Raymond Feist and the Riftwar Cycle.

II: Is this an author that you know?

Me: No. To be completely honest, I'd never heard of him or the series before this booklist.

II: What should we know?

Me: The first book came out in 1982. It was later republished in two parts in 1986. The first book, the one that we are working with is called 'Magician: Apprentice'. This launched what is now known as the 'Riftwar Cycle'. Wikipedia lists 30 books in the series as well as some short stories. This is absolutely a 3S work.

II: Remind us what 3S means, please.

Me: It stands for Swords, Sorcery and Series. It's my own mental tagging of a genre of books. 

II: One of your favorites?

Me: Uh, not really. It's something that I've avoided in the past but I've been mostly pleased with the 3S books that we've read so far. 

II: Anything we should know about the series?

Me: Wikipedia says "Human magicians and other creatures on the two planets are able to create rifts through dimensionless space that can connect planets in different solar systems. The novels and short stories of The Riftwar Universe record the adventures of various people on these worlds." Beyond that, I couldn't tell you anything.