Thursday, August 06, 2020

Book Review -- Science Fiction: The 101 Best Novels 1985-2010

Science Fiction: the 101 Best Novels 1985-2010 cover
Of course the first book I finish this summer is about more books. And, of course, as soon as I get around to making a new blog post, I have to deal with a new interface, and I am struggling with the formatting tools.  

I have a library card, and a very nice local library now.  I have a stack of books I just checked out, this one among them, because in my head I'm still an avid reader searching for new books all the time, while in reality I'm a very slow reader who feels guilty when I just sit down and read, but can't handle audio books anymore for some reason.  I'm sticking with non-fiction (even if it is ABOUT fiction, or fiction authors) for right now.  Getting tangled in the emotional lives of characters is difficult for me.  I have all kinds of cats to take care of, including two tiny kittens fate has deposited upon us, and an older kitten outside who is slowly becoming a yard-cat.  That, plus the 5 we already have, and my mother-in-law (who is staying with us during this COVID-19 year) has a lovely cat of her own, and this big house is quite full.  Getting anything done is more and more difficult.

Anyway, this book.  I was pleased to either have read several of the listed books, or already have copies I want to read, or to just be familiar with the authors already.  I want to read all these books.  I want to have new ideas enter my head.  I'm so very tired with the worn path of my own thoughts, but the need to keep a lid on my emotions makes that hard.  I think I need to talk with a therapist.

Bah.  The book.  I read the first one, by David Pringle, a few years back, and culled a list of books to read that I'm still working through.  Reading books about books is almost as satisfying as actually reading the books, but not quite.  Still, I tend to collect such meta-books and pore through them, making lists and considering what interests me and what doesn't.  Right now, though, I'm more interested in the "about" than the actual article, and so I'm going to hunt down more of Damian Broderick's critiques and commentary books.

I also intend to finish something, because my stack is too damned high.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

The Problem

So, in between all the box opening and rearranging and painting (and resting angry muscles and joints), I've been cataloging the SF/F/H part of my library (and I'll get to the rest of the fiction as soon as I have a few more shelves to unpack them.

And, in doing that, I've started reading 3 (more) books,  This, despite having quite a pile already with bookmarks stuck in.  I have no control.

If you are curious about my library, here's a link to it on Librarything.

https://www.librarything.com/catalog.php?offset=1400&view=Murphy-Jacobs&shelf=list&sort=authorunflip&sort=authorunflip

Monday, May 11, 2020

Rereading

My library is in progress, and while organizing I came across books I haven't read in many years.  So, I'm rereading them.

Anne McCaffrey's Pern series was a big discovery in my teen years.  I came into it via the Harper Hall trilogy -- Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums.  Menolly of Half-Circle Sea Hold was a character with whom I identified strongly, music having been an important part of my young life and something in which I never got all the education I wanted.  As an adult, I see some of the flaws and formulas of the books, but I still fell right into the thoughts and feelings of 15 year old Menolly.

I have so many books I want to read, and yet actually reading them is difficult.  I have so many things I need and want to do, limits on what I can, and conflicts between them all.  Behind that is the ticking of the clock that grows louder each year.  How can I put any time into rereading?  But I do.  I want to revisit those worlds, just like someone wants to revisit a favorite park.  Sure, there are hundreds of new parks with new treasures and views and discoveries, but the familiar walks and trees and  rocks still call.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

I Think We're in Kansas, Toto

Lots has happened in the last 3 months.  None of it was reading, unfortunately and I didn't feel much like writing about it as it happened because I was busy, tired, scared, frustrated, impatient, focused, and overwhelmed, by turns and overlapping.

We have moved to Kansas.  Topeka, specifically, into a huge, old house we've named Ruby (after my mother).   Everything that was in storage is now somewhere in this house, probably in a box.  I've spent days crawling between stacks, opening boxes, discovering forgotten treasures, searching for lamps to match shades already unpacked, wondering which box had dishes and which had towels.  We've been here two weeks and nothing is actually completed, but it is all in process.  I have high hopes of assembling the dining room table before next week.

The best part is that, at last, I have my library.  It is a hodgepodge of different shelves, stacks of boxes, and books in rough gatherings.  We have plans for building proper shelves, but first we have to paint, and to paint I have remove wallpaper, and to remove wallpaper I have to get edging strips off.  And we have to move the aquarium temporarily housed against that wall.  So, everything is a process.  Two rooms are half painted, and I'm fighting off tendonitis in my arms (it happened to me when we moved to SC, and meant two months of Not Doing Anything while I waited for the inflammation to subside).  So, everything is going slowly, but I am sitting here admit my books and it's like a dream coming true.

Kansas is -- duh -- very different from Florida or South Carolina (or Maine, for that matter).  It's windy here all the time, it seems.  It's almost May and I'm wearing sweats because it's damn chilly (and I can tell it's not just my thin Southern blood, because everyone I see on the street is in hoodies and jackets).

What's more, making this move during the Covid-19 lockdown has not been easy, as you can imagine.  I tend to live a rather isolated life for a variety of reasons, but I always had the choice to go into the world.  Now, I don't have that choice.  I don't notice for days at a time that I haven't stirred from my world -- this house has a good sized yard for the dogs to run in, so that's not a problem.  But I hoped I could end some of my isolation and the mental problems that come with it when we moved here, and so far, that looks like a distant possibility.  The Husband has set up his office and like so many people is working from home.  The cats are enjoying the numerous windows.  I'm sorting through my books and trying to make a space for a chair where I can sit to read.  In some ways, my life has not really changed, although the pressure for it to change is waiting like water behind a dam.

I am loving the library, though.  I have found three books I thought lost.  I'm trying to figure out how best to sort and arrange, and what books should be put back in labeled boxes for when there is more space (which I am loath to do -- there is such a pleasure for me in seeing the books, in walking to a shelf and taking down whatever volume I want).

Eventually all will settle down to a new normal.  I'm just waiting for that to happen.  In the mean time, I'm going to try to read something.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Storms

It has been a dark and stormy day today.  Seriously, the greater part of the day was spent under tornado warnings and watches, and flash flood watches.  It's still raining in a desultory way, sort of spitting and spotting.  Neither of the dogs have enjoyed it.  The little dog is convinced that heavy rain is a way to trick him into a bath.  Despite being a poodle, he is morally opposed to baths.  However, his morals must give way when he has to pee.  Big dog is fine with rain -- run out, do what needs doing, run back, shake off, nap.  He's got it down.  It pays to be 9 yrs old.

As for me, I'm getting little things done one after the other.  The kitchen is very nearly clean -- the bigger part of what needs doing will be done after I get back from the house hunting.  The prep for driving to Kansas is underway, including boxes of stuff The Husband wants but didn't pack before he left.  I have a few "I told you so's" that I'm not saying and am just packing what I can to take out.

Mostly I'm tired.  Watching storm warnings is tense, because I believe in tornadoes.  I always have.   I mean, I am fully of the school that a tornado may not have hit an area in 50 years, and maybe no one alive can remember one, but that doesn't mean it can't happen, and your time is short so pay attention.  I grew up in Florida, remember, and while it isn't famous for tornadoes, they happen, especially when there is a hurricane going on.  Of course, Florida also has frequent fabulous thunderstorms, so that rotating cloud thing can happen any old time.

Upstate South Carolina does NOT have thunderstorms on the regular.  In fact, I think I can recall maybe 7 or 8 in the 12 years we've lived hear.  So, when I hear thunder in the pre-dawn hours, it attracts my attention and I start listening.  Because we live hear trains and big trucks that go through at all hours, I have to listen carefully.  It could be a truck unloading or a train rumbling passed.  But, no, this morning it was the sky and it rumbled for minutes.

So, I'm tired and out of sorts.  I'm not in the mood to read.  I'm really thinking about taking a shower and going to bed like an old woman, but it's too damned early for that (8 pm, for fuck's sake).

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Can We Live Through February?



February by Dar Williams

So, February is the month of change.  The Husband is several states away starting his new job, living in a rental room, making lists of things he forgot that I should bring when I come next week.  I am here cleaning and packing and sorting, just a little at a time, doing my best to get things done without straining my damned weak back or getting my touchy joints excited.  But things are getting done, an inch at a time.

I started my February book -- Fahrenheit 451.  I've never read it, although it was on the reading list in junior high.  My classes were "special" -- I was exempted because I was in both band and choir, so I had an individual class and I spent a lot of time in reading lab with books that were not on the regular list.  So, this one went by.

I think it's a good thing, too.  Oh, I would have liked it, I think.  I certainly could have read it and done the book report.  But I also think I would not have noticed the beauty of the writing.  Now, with all my years of reading and study, I am submerged in Bradbury's writing.  I already know the message of the book.  I know its plot and themes and how it ends -- I mean, I've made a point of studying Science Fiction as a genre (on my own) so I have read about the book many times. 

There's a big Mid-Century Modern feel to the book, of course.  Fragmented sentences, stream of consciousness, and a certain abstract quality, but it still has strong, nearly poetic, images.  It's a book of more than just sight and sound, too.    I certainly don't know how one could describe a person as having skin like white bacon without engaging all the senses.  But in general, the book feels like spare curves and long lines, bright lime green and aqua.  It matches its time in a way I couldn't have expected,  instead of pulling forward a writing style of a previous era.

I've also started Genevieve Cogman's The Invisible Library as my Book about Books (the Boot Riot Challenge) and The Diamond Age as my second book for the month.  I haven't read much because my brain is moving too fast with lists and tasks and things to not forget to settle down for more than a few minutes at a time.  Bradbury is suitable for that sort of attention span.  I can read 10 pages and get something from it.  And, well, it is a short book.  There's a positive aspect to short books.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Book Review -- Jack Glass

Jack Glass: The Story of a Murderer by Adam Roberts

Another of the books that has had a marker in it for...I don't know how long.  I bought the book new, probably not long after it was published, and I read the first of its three parts in one go back then.  And put in a marker.

Today I finished it.  Just a few minutes ago, actually, so it hasn't settled completely in my mind.  What is it about?  Impossible things, the end of humanity, locked room murder mysteries and FTL drives and what humans will do to one another.

Did I like it?  I think so.  There was a little part in the middle when we were spending far too much time in the mind of a very intelligent, very rich, and very spoiled 15 year old girl and that was tedious at times, but she grows up pretty quickly and by the end of the novel I had forgiven her pettiness and whining.  I'm still trying to make my mind accept certain things in the book -- as I said, it's full of impossible stuff.

I enjoyed most Roberts' way with words.  The book reads easily, although it has stubborn holes and trailing ends and all matter of messiness, yet it seems to be neat and tidy.  It makes me think of packaged ramen noodles, the dried kind that come in a block to be soaked for soup.  A neat, square, tidy sort of mess of curls and twists.  That's what this book was like.


Reading is getting easier to do, by the way.  It's like a muscle I haven't used properly in a long while.  The more I work with it, the more it can do.  I still have to take pauses and rest.  I don't read every day (as yet).  But other distractions aren't as tempting as they were, and I am contemplating the next book.  Because I finished two "marker" books, I can start a new book (my system, I make the rules).  I still have a huge stack of "marker" books, but it seems possible now that I will get through them.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Breaking Up with an Author

If you're a genre reader, you are probably a series reader.  Let me define terms here -- for me, a series is a sequential group of books following one character or group of characters through 4 or more volumes, building a world with long running story lines.  And I love 'em.  I love the depth that the author can dig, the wide spread of the world(s) they can create, and the detail that can be indulged without massive info-dumping.

So, it's really a shock when I realize a series has let me down, and I fall out of love with an author (because, really, I love those authors who keep me hooked for so many hours, who have me discussing details with others for long conversations, and who spend time rearranging my mental furniture).  It hasn't happened often.  Sometimes I cool on a series for a while, or get distracted from it, but rarely have I actually given up on a series I'm deeply into.  In fact, I cannot think of another author or series that I have loved so much and then been so disappointed in than The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne.

I got to meet Mr. Hearne, and get my books signed, some few years back.  He is a lovely person and I wish the best for him, but I cannot see myself buying and reading any more of his books.  And it's because I was so roundly and deeply disappointed in how the series ended -- so much so that I did not read the last book (I got the gist from The Husband and a friend).

You see, I really, really, REALLY enjoyed the first six books in the series.  I liked the seventh well enough, although I could feel a change.  The eighth just left me cold, because it felt exactly like Hearne was sick to death of his characters and his world, but had to finish what he'd started.  So, he rushed and crammed and shortcutted, inflicting as much damage to the characters as he could so he could get out of it.  Once he was sick of characters I was so invested in, I didn't want to read any further.

And I mean, I was invested.  I have both print and audio versions of all the books, and I had read the first 7 at least twice, aside from listening too many times to count.  I have most, if not all, of the novellas and short stories, which are also well read. The Husband and I spent many long car drives discussing various aspects, speculating, making jokes, and generally milking the books for all they were worth.  I understand how an author can feel locked into a series.  I suspect he didn't anticipate the series going on as it did, and perhaps that's why he let certain (to me critical) details fall to the side in his desire to get it all done and move on to something new.  So I don't blame Hearne (and his writing skills are obviously great in my opinion, because I was invested so deeply).

But I'm not going into another book by him.  I don't want to deal with getting that involved only to have the series  do a text break-up with me.  Characters stop growing, the comedy broadens and flattens, the levels and pulleys of the plot start to creak, and the boom mikes get into the shot.  The author has fallen out of love with his work, and if I still love them, I'm in the relationship alone.

Every book is a relationship, you know.   For better or worse, for a few hours or a lifetime, there's an agreement between the reader and the writer, and it creates a relationship where both are committed to certain things (Thomas C. Foster details this in How to Read Novels Like a Professor).  The first few chapters are a first date, maybe a meet up at the coffee shop, and the more of the book one reads, the longer and deeper the relationship gets.  That's why there are so many people who reread favorite books -- the relationship is strong and dependable there.  The author fulfills the expectations laid out in the beginning.  I can trust those authors not to ghost on me, not to change their minds and try to renegotiate. or not to flat out lie.

What I've realized is that I no longer want to reread even the early books of the series, the ones I have nearly memorized, because I know the end of the relationship (the end of the book series, which is like the end of a very long book) is bad.  There will be tears and shouting and slamming doors.  The desire to go back to those heady early days when everything was roses and little notes and late night chats is still there, but as much as I loved that, I know I'll be angry at how it ends.

So, I've broken up with an author. 

Now, this has no effect on Mr. Hearne.  Hell, he doesn't know, or have to know, or have to care.  He has his own life and interests, and he is doing his thing.  I hope he has much success.  I just won't be a part of that.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Little Victories

I finished one of the stalled books I had stacked (no review).  Once I got into it, I didn't want to stop, and it wasn't precisely a challenging read, so it went down fast.  It's part of a series and I am tempted to start the next one, but I won't.  There are still too many books waiting with markers in them.

Still, that's three books this month and it's only the 21st.  I feel very satisfied.

Also still on countdown to definitive launch.  We've worked out some plans, but when things happen are all dependent.  Stress is beginning to show all around -- my chin is getting raw with scratching and picking at any little bump, Apollo is acting out, The Husband is short tempered.  I'm still having problems getting to sleep at night, although I am sleeping and not napping during the day. 

I'll celebrate my wins where I get them.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Moving

Events are now in the roll-down-the-hill stage.  After months (well, years, really) of walking in place waiting for "things" to happen, they are happening with rapidity.  The Husband has a new job and will be traveling to it by next week, leaving me behind for a while to supervise the packing and the critters.  Then we will house hunt, and, all things going right, I will be a resident of the Midwest before May. 

I've been too anxious to sleep or read.  If I allow things to be quiet, my brain starts churning up lists of tasks, questions, concerns, and all manner of disturbances.

I'm a Southerner, born and bred, even if I don't have a pronounced drawl.  I am neither spiritual or religious.  I'm not terribly social.  So I worry that I will become even more isolated than I currently am.

But there are positives.  Househunting, for instance.  I will, at last, get my library, and The Husband will get his workshop and exercise area.  We will have a yard for the dogs.  And Kansas City is much more metropolitan than Greenville.

So I'm trying to keep my mind on that.