Monday, December 21, 2009

Please Hold [Your Call Is Important To Us]

There. All books read written about. 42 books read this year (and 5 manuscripts critiqued, 0 novels finished). I wasn't sure I'd get them finished in time. Definitely ran out of oomf at the end there. Too much analysing in too short a time. Or, I'm just tired and stupid.

Tomorrow morning I fly out without laptop or phone. I'll probably remain off the grid till I'm home again in late January, as the majority of time I'll be camping. If you have stalkerly-inclinations, you can track my approximate whereabouts following the itinerary here. If you're not quite that intense about your stalking, then just know I'm in Patagonia.

(It's amusing how many people have no idea where that is.)

Last Thursday I finished work. When it occurred to me I wouldn't be back in the office for more than a month I started to cry. The last couple of months have been a slow drowning. I'm understating that, because I've spent a considerable amount of energy not thinking of my circumstances, keeping myself distracted and the rug pulled over my eyes. Even though I can't see it, I can still feel the water rising.

There is no way out.


I need to breathe.

Tomorrow I fly out, and then I will be able to stop worrying about money as everything has already been paid for. I won't have to organise anything or anyone, as that's someone else's job. I won't be carrying the weight of all the friends I'm neglecting, because I won't be in a position to do anything for them. I won't have to hold myself together, because I won't be me. I won't be afraid for my life, because I won't be in it.

I won't be unable to write, because I will not be writing.

For the record: the balance remains in favour of the year. Despite the plunge I've taken recently, 2009 has been the best year of my life. Everything that did happen, everything that didn't happen, all I've learned and gained and lost, it was worth it. It needs to be said.

As for you kids, I hope the new year treats you kindly (and you greet it with hijinx and tomfoolery). Keep on keeping on.

Sir Tessa

Trash Sex Magic - Jennifer Stevenson

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I found a hidden cache of female authors! POUNCE.

A big tree is cut down, which triggers a massive shift of energy by the Fox River, and trouble for the Somershoe women living in the trailers beside it.

It's an odd story, taking place over two, maybe three days, tops. A lot happens in that time - more than seems possible. The relationships between characters develop change faster than seems realistic in such a small time frame, but circumstances being what they are (magic electric), some acceleration is to be expected.

There's a lot of light, love and life in the story. It's supersaturated in what is natural, for all meanings of the word. I couldn't help but be caught up in all the passion that comes from living a life.

The writer in me was not without quibbles. There are characters who appear to serve no purpose, antagonists who aren't overly antagonistic, given plot developments that never actually develop and fates that their crimes aren't quite equal to. For all that MASSIVE STUFF IS HAPPENING, the characters are tumbling about with none of them having a very clear idea of what is going on until it has already happened. There's a balance in the structure, but not in the story. Why the foxes on the bridge?

But then, part of me is equally okay with this. It is natural for things to occur as they will. There is no rhyme or reason, fairness or justice.

(Had a perculiar drug addict vibe from this too.)

Verdict: An oddly unassuming, guileless and sunshine soaked love story. Fierce. Intense.

The Drowned Life - Jeffrey Ford

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I didn't realise this was a short story collection when I picked it up, probably mixed it up with The Shadow Year at 6:17am with the lights off and running out the door for the train. I wasn't in a mood for short stories, but when you're forced to not type for 10 minutes every 10 minutes at work, and literally have nothing else to do, you devour the book in front of you regardless.

None of these short stories felt like short stories. They had a weight about them, although that isn't a right word. Perhaps, a deeper sense of...anticipation? Expectation? You know, when you start into a story, you can gauge how long it will be, not simply from the number of pages to go, but the pacing, how much is being set up, that sort of thing. These stories mined deep into the future - I was anticipating a long stint with them, longer than short stories warrant. I don't know that I read them any slower than I ever read, or any faster for that matter. I just know they ended at the right time, and every time I emerged from one, I felt I'd been gone much longer than I had.

Ford writes spins his stories - and spin is the right word - with delicacy. There is a whisp-like ephemeral feel to his sentences, that even when strung together into whole paragraphs remain light and fragile things. Violence and horror, despair and grief, all these things remain terrible and brutal, and, through Ford's writing, beautiful.

I adored 'The Night Whiskey' and 'The Dreaming Wind', but the my favourite far and away was 'The Scribble Mind'. I'm noticing a predilection in my tastes for stories that reveal your ignorance of the existence of a mystery, without ever revealing the nature of the mystery itself.

I bought up big on Ford's books at WFC. I anticipate much gluttony to come.

Verdict: An exquisite writer, and master of the short form. A collection with no repetition in it.

Murder on the Orient Express - Agatha Christie

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

This time, no waiting for the murder, it happened quite early in the book. Just the one murder, this time. And Poirot did his thing, again. Only with less rushing about and new developments to throw him in a spin. This time, he interviewed the passengers, had a think, interviewed the passengers some more, thought a bit more, and then came to the right conclusion.

I read this in one night. These books are quite more-ish, they're like M&Ms. I was quite alright throughout the entire book, until I finished, turned the light off, and discovered I was shit scared.

Of what, I don't know! There was no menace in the book. No threat or danger. But augh! I could not sleep without the light on. Odd.

This one vexed me considerably more than the previous, as Poirot solved the case by utilising details that the reader was not given, which...grrrrrr. If I want to be surprised by the outcome, then let the outcome be surprising rather than a conclusion I cannot reach on my own with the details given or not given to me.

Said conclusion also made my mouth twist a bit. Mrrrr.

Verdict: Mmmmmm.

Death on the Nile - Agatha Christie

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Following my 'must read more female authors' push. I've never read any Christie before, and I don't think I've seen any of the films either. What I know of her is the influence she had in various genres that I have encountered.

Standard plot - someone dies in circumstances that limits the number of suspects! Poirot, despite having no jurisdiction or authority, is the only person capable of solving the crime before the true authorities can step in! Go, go, Poirot brains!

What surprised me was how far into the book the actual crime occurred. There was a lot of set up, displaying an array of people with motives to murder a young heiress, and also a couple of potential victims. Then, she dies.

Okay, I thought, time for sleuthing!

And then more people die.

Which rather startled me. And then more people died, and I was even more startled. There weren't that many characters.

The end.

I did have a lot of fun trying to puzzle out events and solve things for myself (was vexed by the fact that every character out there seemed to be very carefully and deliberately stupid), but it didn't rock my world. Wasn't new to me, probably because her influence is so widely spread.

Verdict: Shall definitely eat more of these.

Shadow Queen - Deborah Kalin

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Again, it's hard to form a structured opinion of this book because a) I critiqued it when it was just a wee manuscript in Courier New, and b) I adore this book so much I tend to start frothing in the mouth when I talk about it, and c) Deb reads this, and I know Deb reads this, and thus I'm more than tempted to say outrageous things just to mess with her.

(Hi Deb! You know, if you're reading this, it means you're not working on the edits for book 2. GET BACK TO WORK, WOMAN.)

Also, I'm not sure how to speak of it without incurring the wrath of the Spoiler Police (for whom I do volunteer work). Matilde is heir in waiting, and on the eve of what should see her ratified as ruler, unknown armed forces invade and KILL EVERYONE.


And so the story begins.

AND IT IS OOOOARSUM. The first time I read it I was yelling out loud, which I can't say I do often. Matilde is a brilliantly realised, she survives the night's massacre by utilising her wits in a move that is genius and madness and so unexpected that every time I reread it, I still crow in admiration.

The set up is such that she could be some sort of super magical "chosen one", but this book is unique among its fantasy counterparts in the furious use of quick thinking, odds-playing and political maneuvering above all other methods of progression. The fantasy elements contained in the world are not unrightly dealt with as any other possible political complication is dealt with, and not kept apart from the world people live in and through.

I love that Matilde's depth, how daringly she gambles everything, herself in her struggle to stay alive and regain her thrown. I love that she is frightened and hurt and cowed but too stubborn to despair. I love that she makes bad choices. I love that she is fallible.

Deb has this terrible knack of writing Matilde into an impossible situation, the only way out of which is to write her into a different impossible situation. The book is fucking relentless.


Verdict: Seriously awesome! Matilde - strongest female character evah!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Steps Through The Mist - Zoran Živković (translated by Alice Copple-Tošić)

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Another mosaic novel, and I'm running out of adjectives that are effusive and complimentary and excited enough to express the joy in these three books.

Unlike the previous two, which come together at the end, the connections between the pieces is established in the first story. Five women have a dream, or, dreamed they're having a dream. The scenarios look at the unknown and the uncertain, and how we deal with the great and formidable 'un's in our lives. Does not knowing save us? Should we shy from the unknown or sally forth boldly?

There is no one 'this is so' statement to be made. The unknown by definition cannot be known, and cannot be prepared for. Conversely, even that which is known cannot be expected either.

Where Impossible Encounters was a book of men, this is a book of women. A small but well chosen selection, crossing ages and social standing.

In the end, you make up your own mind.

Verdict: ...and then I finished this set of mosaic novels, and was sad-hearted and down-mouthed that there were no more, and you can only ever read a book for the first time once.

Impossible Encounters - Zoran Živković (translated by Alice Copple-Tošić)

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Okay, having glanced at Amazon and had a heartattack, I realise these books are expensive. I don't know how much I paid for them, as I picked them up at WFC where I'd given myself permission not to look at book prices. But OH EM GEE, these books are, they're just, so, I don't know, they're just, perfect, I love- if you can only afford one, get this one. Of the three, this was definitely my favourite, far and away.

Another fantastic little mosaic novel, it features encounters with- what? Encounters that are impossible, encounters that are from beyond the boundaries of what we have decided is reality and possibility, and yet remain within the realms of what we call ordinary. They're quiet and soft in the nature of the extraordinariness. Subtle, delicate, and unassuming.

The separate pieces are tied only in theme and the cameo appearance of a book - "Impossible Encounters" - in each, until the final story, which was just-

You know, I loved this little book so much that even a couple of weeks later I'm still giddy and babbling.

Oh! There were a couple of moments that had an inferred connection to The Fourth Circle, and you can't believe the squee I did at that. These are not simply mosaic novels, the novels themselves are part of the greater mosaic comprised of his various works-

I do believe I've fallen well and truly in love with Živković's writing.

Verdict: Oh, it's beautiful, and I think writers in particular will appreciate it. Genius, absolutely.

Seven Touches of Music - Zoran Živković (translated by Alice Copple-Tošić)

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.


Look at it. I mean, really, just look at it. One of the most beautiful books I have ever seen. Elegant and understated, even the interior and edging is stunning.

This mosaic novel is woven of seven parts, each of the parts unrelated to its neighbours, with only music as a catalyst for the amazing being a similar vein. Music is the medium through which revelation is delivered, or triggered, or forced. Revelation wonderous, revelation horrific, revelation without context or meaning, but always a revelation pregnant with significance, meaning, a moment of enormity in what are otherwise the mundane lives of ordinary people.

Music is a strange beast. We can remember it, recall it, but the magic in music lives only while the music is playing. We can't summon that ourselves, not without music. When it leaves, we are ordinary again.

This is magnificently written, and I've a very strong bias towards mosaic novels, anything that plays with structure both mechanical and thematic.

Verdict: Oh, just wonderful.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Rain - Conrad Williams

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Moar? Yes! Moar! I have to slow down with the Williams eating, as there's only a couple more books of his I know of. Found this one at Borderlands in SF. Delight! Joy!

I probably should restrict myself to one a year, actually. This is only a slim little novella, but still left me glad as all fuck the sun was out and I had absolutely nothing in common with the events, location, characters or environment in the story.

To rip off the blurb (it isn't a long blurb);
Ben and his family move to France.
There is an accident.
There is death.
There is rain.
Much rain.

I had a moment of "...again?" upon discovering this story was similar in vein to 'The Scalding Rooms' and 'One' in that the emphasis lay on the father-son relationship, and the shattering affect becoming a parent has, and how devastating the love for your child is, equal parts a strength and weakness. The wives/mothers/girlfriends are mostly distant, verging on the point of being the antagonists, either in the threat they pose to the father/son bond or in plainer and more overt terms. Should Williams ever write a story in which there is a healthy happy couple not on the verge of going each other with blunt objects...well, actually, I'd be pretty suspicious and assume I'd accidentally picked up some other Conrad Williams who did not write deliciously fucked up shit.

Particularly enjoyed the environment in this. The rain, the untamed garden and sullen estate they find themselves in, all these aspects speak with precision. Very little happens which doesn't hide the fact that an awful lot happens in a very short time.

Verdict: It's Conrad Williams, it's awesomely brutal.

Last Drink Bird Head - Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (ed)

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more. (Why'd I even cut and paste this?)

I remember thinking, "Well, I'm on a role with reading stuff with my name in it, might as well keep going..." So I did. And I am continuing that with the writing, and in fact, I've already written about it. What does that make me? Inconsistent hypocrite.

Very pretty book. Gorgeous as an object. Nom.

Halo: Evolutions - ...they don't list an editor?


The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

What is protocol when writing about books you're in? I suppose, since this is my blog, I can do what I like. I dunno. Sits funny with me. I didn't intend to touch the book at all, to be honest, as I'd read our story so many times in such a short space, but when it turned up on the door step, and was sitting there looking all pretty and stuff...well. You know how it goes, when you're alone with a book and no one else is around. Things just...happen.

And I think I've decided I'm not comfortable commenting on the merit of a project I had a hand in. Conflict of interest, too many disclaimers and contexts to provide and only 10 minutes.

I've been sitting here much longer than 10 minutes trying to convince myself to just pretend our collaboration doesn't exist for a moment and talk about the other stories, and dude, I can't do it! WTF. But the reader in me is getting MIGHTY shirty about not getting her say.

Okay, special mention goes to 'The Impossible Life and Possible Death of Preston J. Cole' by Eric Nylund, a delicious little folder of bits and pieces of evidence put forth regarding the near legendary Cole. It does some very interesting things.

Writer, satisfied? Reader, satisfied? Good, now shush.

Palimpsest - Catherynne M. Valente

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Keeping with the theme of female authors, of which I have so few books that meet that criteria. I was astounded on the first page. Valente's prose can only be described as sumptuous. Her world-building: sumptuous. Characterisation: sumptuous. Every aspect of story-telling that is contained within a book: sumptuous. I felt, sinking into those paragraphs, that I was being given a glorious treat, a pampering only the truly privileged get to experience and the rest of us only dream of. I think this may be the first of Valente's work I've read, and I will certainly be hunting out more.

Palimpsest is a city not here, but there. It isn't a dream, but it may as well be. It isn't imaginary, it is real, yet not what we consider real. There is only one way of visiting - to have sex with someone who has already been touched by it. It's almost a viral city, of a sort. A sexually-transmitted city. Upon arriving, you are quartered, linked with four other people who are also new to the city, and forever bonded with them.

Upon arriving, it's hard to do anything upon waking up except try to get back.

The book follows one such grouping, as each individual bumbles around as any foreigner new to a place will do, making faux pas here there and everywhere, and we follow them as the city comes to take over their lives, even when awake. Obsession has that affect.

As the story progressed and the utter amazingly spectacle of gorgeousness continued, a slight unease grew in me. Perhaps I've read about too much ordinary crime at work, but after a while I figured what was bothering me. The obsession with the city and the massive drive to get back to it, at the cost of all else - it was similar to that of a drug addict's need for another hit. Too similar for me. What they put themselves through, what they put the people around them through...bearing witness to that pulled me back and away from that splendid city, and the final conclusion made me want to run, far and fast as I could.

Dangerous things attract us, don't they? Even now, I'm flipping through the pages, savouring these sentences.

Verdict: ...sumptuous.

Illuminations - Gillian Polack

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

One of the sections in 2666 covers a series of murders occurring in Santa Teresa. It does not attempt to lead the reader into solving the mystery or finding the defendants or figuring out why. It details the bodies of the murder victims when, where, and as they were found. They're all women. They're all raped and tortured. It doesn't take long for the gut-wrenching sexism and misogyny to wear you down, especially if you are a woman.

This divide between the sexes made me want to read something that was woman friendly. I looked at the pile of books I had read, and realised there were two (2) female authors in it. I looked at my shelves, and there were very few female authors sitting there.

How did it get to this? I buy the books that interest me, I read the ones I feel like reading at that moment...why are there so few woman?

Have I become a male reader?

This upset me. I felt I'd betrayed my gender. I wanted a book written by a woman, that was kind to me, the reader. I remembered Gillian saying that her book had been described as 'sitting down to coffee with old friends', and I picked it up and devoured it.

It is a gorgeous book! It switches between letters that Rose - an academic on a research trip in Europe - sends to her mother, and pieces of an manuscript that she has found and is translating, complete with footnotes. The manuscript tells the tale of Ailinn and Guenloie, two young women setting out on a hard journey in Arthurian Britain. Rose finds her personal life strangely mirrored in the manuscript, and between the three of them there are more than a few demons to be conquered.

And it is a wonderful book. Despite the fey evils stalking Ailinn and Guenloie and the all too ordinary evils plaguing Rose, the manuscript that adheres to an older set of narrative laws and expectations in which things do not work out fairly, despite the death and injustice and bitterness of it all, it is a healing book. A wonderful warm book full of love. A book that is, yes, like sitting down to tea (not coffee) with old friends.

It washed the misogyny highlighted in the violence of 2666 right out of my head. Of course women, especially Ailinn and Guenloie, are slighted as less important or capable than men, but this is a story about women who carry on despite that, or perhaps because of that. They do not need to bray their prowess. They simply are.

On top of all that, I also learned a lot about the practices of historians and Arthurian lore.

I do love this book. It's a quiet, quirky and unassuming little thing. It doesn't shout. It won't push you around. It doesn't need to. It will have its way with you gently and leave its mark on you deeply. You won't want to leave the pages when you're finished. I didn't.

Verdict: a gorgeous, lovely, wonderful, humourous, sad, comfortable, small, towering, warm story. Miss Apricot adores this book, she really does, and she has excellent taste. MOAR.

2666 - Roberto Bolaño

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

This book needs so much more than 10 minutes.

I couldn't write, I had nothing to do and a head to fill and I spent all my free time sitting here, at my desk, reading. I picked this up purely because now was a prime opportunity to read huge books without having to carry them around. Seriously, if I'd tried to read this holding it on a train, my hands would have been in even worse condition. It lay here on the desk, flat, and I turned the pages.

It's a leviathan. It needs so much more than 10 minutes. It deserves so much more. It's a book I want to dive deep into, rummage around in the guts and pull out all the invisible things that made themselves felt. It's an incredible book, a book that spans much more than the numbered pages it sits on. It sits deep in Europe, and deep in Mexico. It sits deep in academic aristocracy and deep in the poor of Santa Teresa. It's a love story, an angry story, a story of family, a story of monsters. A fairytale in the original sense of the word, a terrifying tale. It's a mosaic novel in which the pieces of the mosaic are so large they consume each other. It's five different stories. It's one story. It's about writers and books, critics and ideals, murders and lovers, lost and found, escapes and advances and what is not acknowledged and what is ignored. It's books in a book about the effect of books. It isn't.

I just don't know what to say because I can't say enough.

...had already begun a voyage, a voyage that would end not at the grave of a brave man but in a kind of resignation, what might be called a new experience, since this wasn't resignation in any ordinary sense of the word, or even patience or conformity, but rather a state of meekness, a refined and incomprehensible humility that made him cry for no reason and in which his own image, what Morini saw as Morini, gradually and helplessly dissolved, like a river that stops being a river or a tree that burns on the horizon, not knowing that it's burning.

I read this when I couldn't write.

And maybe I'll never be able to articulate what that means.

Verdict: Magnificent.

Breath - Tim Winton

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Sharks. Bane of all surfers. Hehheheheh.

Every time Tim Winton wins another major Australian literary award, I frown a little bit. He's beginning to feel like the easy way out for judges to take, he's Australia's King of Capital L Literature, so whatever he writes must be worthy of award, even if there are scads of books out there which are better.

Which is an unfair reaction for me to have, given I have not read much Winton, nor have I gone on much of a crusade to discover and read any other contenders.

But seriously, he is not Australia's only writer, and this book is not all that.

It is coming of age story told as reminiscence by the man who has already come of age and is past mid-life. As such, all that occurs in his reminiscing is tinged with nostalgia that tempered with cliche, self-flagellation and no small amount of of blame - these people played this role in his formative years, therefore how he turned out as an adult is their fault. I kept waiting for the reminiscing to stop, to have some pay off with the grown adult that the book kicks off with. It didn't.

There are interesting themes that thread through the narrative. That of breathing, obviously, and how that links to death, and thus life, to be alive. That of fear, how it holds us back but not without reason. That of beauty, of doing something that has no practical or pragmatic purpose other than because it is beautiful.

But these themes aren't balanced. They're picked up and put down with no sense of rhythm, and bounce off each other in discord. The note the book ends on ties back to something that did not overshadow the bulk of the narrative, and felt out of place.

It was given to me. The price tag on the back is $24.95. It is a small book and the print is quite large, as are the margins.

Verdict: It is a decent read, with some interesting moments in there, but it is not worthy of the roaring around it.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Finch - Jeff VanderMeer

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

In that photo you see the (abridged) evolution of Finch. The MS printed out on both sides, followed by the proof, followed by the release, followed by the super-saiyan-insane-bling Heretic Limited Edition. If only all books achieved such a state of being, because the camera does not do Heretic justice. It's so shiny and glittery and a block of literal and literary gold.

I almost feel like I can't and shouldn't write my thoughts on the book, seeing as I was privileged with punching it in the nuts a few times when it wasn't properly hatched. When you've approached a book from a critical approach, your relationship with it is different than if you'd picked it up to read for pleasure. You force yourself to hunt out any tick or smudge that could be polished up to make it bigger, brighter, better, you're unwilling and unable to forgive anything. At least, that's how I am with stories I've critiqued.

I picked up the market release (I do not let Heretic out of its bag) and read it out of curiosity, to see how the butterfly had emerged from the cocoon. It remains a fucked up cocoon and a fucked up butterfly. Barely a year since I read the MS, no surprises left for me, and it didn't matter. I ate it in a day. Again.

It's garnered all sorts of praise and accolades since being released into the wild, and it deserves it.

(Yay Rathven! Oh Whyte!)

Verdict: It's Jeff Fucking VanderMeer. I do not froth about the brain over his writing without exceptionally good reason.

In Patagonia - Bruce Chatwin

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

If Miss Apricot stretches her neck....she still fails to look like a guanaco on the pampas.

On the back here it says 'The book that redefined travel writing'.

Really? 'cause I just read a book by some Dane that was published 38 years before hand, and it worked better for me. Perhaps I'm just a simple minded fool who likes looking at pictures.

In a way, they both did the same thing: dug up the stories around them. Chatwin told the stories of the towns he passed through, the people who gave him lifts, and the estanicas he visited. And then, occasionally he didn't. Sometimes, he would merely describe the scene before him, and leave it to the reader to cast judgments, if there were any to be made. He go on great tangents, talking of references to the land made in literature, references generally stolen from other references. Or he would narrate some explorers voyage, some hundreds of years ago, and in great ambling loops bring that history back around to the person he was seeking, or the ground he stood upon.

Unlike Mielche, he was quite absent from the text. If he wanted to be there, it didn't show. If he didn't want to be there, it didn't show. Was this the redefinition spoken of? I haven't read much travel writing, so I don't know what the norm is, or was. It felt like I was looking over the shoulder of someone who didn't care, this absence.

I was quite taken by the brontosaurus skin, though. And the unicorn.

Written as it was much later that Mielche's, there are none of the native tribes left, and I felt this absence as well. All the people he talked to were ex-pats and immigrants from far, far away, dreaming of a home they couldn't run any further from. He paints Patagonia as a strange place of exile.

Apparently this is the book people take to Patagonia. I'd prefer Mielche's company.

Verdict: ignoring the pigeon-hole of travel writing, this is actually a very interesting book, and an excellent read.

The Stainless Steel Rat - Harry Harrison

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(Spartacus and the Decepticon aren't talking, so I had to upload the photo over TweetDeck.)
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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

This was another book loaned to me by yet another person working on the same floor at my secondment. Maybe they don't meet many other readers, or readers of genre. I had to practically fend off the book recommendations with a stick.

This was one of two books he loaned me. The other I got some twenty pages in and had to stop. In comparison, this book was a marvel.

It follows the Stainless Steel Rat, aka, Slippery Jim, aka many many names, one of the greatest criminals out there, and given the advances of civilisation and technology, one of very few criminals left at large. And he is a fantastic con man, I have to say. Quite impressed with all his heists and the audacity that comes naturally to him. He's a character that sits comfortably on 'cocky' without straying into 'arrogant'. Much to his horror, he appears to have some sense of social justice and even worse, a conscience! Not useful traits for criminals.

It's age is showing; the future predicted has already been well and truly jettisoned, but it remains a solid little story.

Unfortunately, it suffers in its depiction of women.

Holy fucking shit does it suffer.

And I'm about to spoil Madame Antagonist's key motivation, so if you're interested in reading look away for a moment-

Dude, she turns into the greatest and most ruthless criminal in the universe, one without conscience, because she was born ugly. Yeah. Surgery fixed that, but she was born ugly. That makes her bad. Because to be an ugly woman is to be an unperson, a worthless and pointless and useless woman, failing to be a proper woman because you have to be good looking to accomplish that. And the fact that she's beautiful now makes her worth saving.


Aside from that, yes, good tight and highly amusing bit of writing.

Verdict: I don't feel compelled to overlook that 'aside' however.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Misenchanted Sword - Lawrence Watt-Evans

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

This book was lent to me by one of the guys working on the same floor when I was on my secondment earlier in the year. Generally, I'm against the borrowing of books, from either end of the bargain. I like to own the books I read, and don't like being responsible for other people's books even though I'm well aware most people aren't so ridiculously anal retentive. But I couldn't really say no, so I read it fast.

It's old high fantasy, sword and sorcery. It has wizardry against sorcery, oooold school fantasy kingdoms fighting oooooold school wars. Dragons. The sort of thing I scrunch my nose at a bit now days.

Found myself enjoying it though, perhaps because, after the last few books, it asked absolutely nothing of me. The main character (whose name I don't remember and I don't have the book here so I can't look up) is a great big void. People complain of Bella Swan being a hole, this guy is even more so. He has no personal history, no personality quirks, no future goals, he's just a vessel moving the story around. Not a stupid vessel, nor an annoying one, but entirely devoid of depth.

He gets himself in a bit of a bind behind enemy lines, encounters a wizard who gives him the sword of the title, and from there, his life gets complicated.

I was never quite sure exactly where the story was heading. I thought it would follow standard sword and sorcery plot structure, but it started edging off sideways with the end of the war and economic turmoil that followed. In fact, it's a surprising book. Never quite gains depth, but doesn't do what you'd expect it to.

It has a twist ending. Normally such a thing would make me scrunch up my noise, but it was so simply pulled off that I laughed out loud.

Verdict: not a great work of art, but it was fun, easy light reading, and gave me a hankering to go back and find my old fat fantasy books, 'cause there are some styles of story you just can't get away with these days. Which occasionally is a pity.

Journey to the World's End - Hakon Mielche (translated by M.A. Michael)

buy - (I can't even find a wiki on this guy)

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I went scrummaging around the travel section of several second hand bookshops in the city looking for anything on Patagonia. This book was the only book I found. It has no dust jacket, and it was the phrase 'world's end' that caught my eye and flip the book open to discover that yes, it was specifically about Patagonia. Just look at those lining pages! Aren't they gorgeous?

I bought it for $4.

There's only one copy available second hand on Amazon for 48 pounds. Think I did well?

At first, I wasn't sure what I'd bought. There were marginal illustrations throughout which gave it a faint Disney aroma - multiple on every page. An example below, Mielche's sketch of the loading of cattle onto a ship.

A skim through the pages didn't read like travel writing. It looked a bit like boy's own adventure.

It is Mielche's account of his voyage to Patagonia (given the book was first published in 1939, I'm guessing shortly before then), specifically Punta Arenas (Magallanes), Tierra del Fuego and jaunts into the surrounding channels, including (AND I AM INSANELY JEALOUS) going around Cape Horn in a sail boat. He writes with a wonderful warm voice, a kind and I would say cultured voice, which I admit lead me to assume he would be therefore carrying around all the things that one carries around when one is from a polite and civilised society - a mind assuming the right of colonisation and differentiation between the races and that our way is best, jolly what ho!

I was incredibly wrong, which may be because he is Danish and not British (ooh, further assumptions there), or may be because he really is just a decent, intelligent, and compassionate man. Either way, this made the book less a book of travel writing, and more a sort of long comfortable recounting of an adventure by an old friend.

Chapter 4 is titled "which may be skipped, as it has to do with dry history". He's tongue in cheek, cheeky, and has a keen eye for the absurd. Part of this 'dry history' I was already familiar with, good ol' Magellan, and even so, there was nothing dry about it.

Magallanes made a short stop at Teneriffe in the classic tradition, for it was here Columbus lay for some months while they repaired the caravel Pinta's rudder, and since then it had become the custom to take a breather there and shoot one or two of the aborigines, the Gaunches.

I distinctly remember snorting my drink through my nose on reading that. I say again: cheeky.

He thoroughly covers the history of the region, a somewhat heart-breaking history that he does not attempt to paint as anything but. The growth of sheep farms had, at the time of writing, felled many of the old woods to make way for further pampas for the sheep, aka, white gold, and in turn driving the native tribes out of their lands. The wildlife has suffered. Missionaries with good intentions brought God and civilisation to the natives, and when Mielche visited, some seventy years ago, one of the tribes was dead, the other two in their final handfuls of people. Disease killed them. Civilisation killed them. The sadness and regret is palpable when he visits these people and the missions, and though he does not overtly cast judgment upon any there is no small amount of anger at the injustice there too.

He tells the stories of the towns he stays in, the stories of the estancias he visits and the families that take him in, he tells the stories of the lakes and mountains he sees, the mines he tours, the islands he passes. He tells the stories of the people he meets, the boats he sails on, the rattly old cars he sits in. He tells the story of a mongrel dog, half sheep dog, half otter hunter. He tells his own stories - he had a bit of an Old Tokaido Highway moment himself. He takes an immense interest in the world around him, and how it got to be the way it is, whether that be by the efforts of man or by the careless happenings of nature.

Reading this book was just...wonderful. Mielche is excited by the world he explores, and this love saturates the words he writes. Even when he's half killed himself on a remote island in the Straits, or sick as hell sailing in a storm, or stranded in the prison town Ushuaia waiting for his idle ship back - he loves it. He adores it. He's having the time of his life.

I think I fell a little bit in love with him, to be honest. Oh, the years that separate us...

Verdict: Best surprise book I've dove into. I love this book. I touch it and look at the maps and sniff the pages. Shall definitely keep an eye out for more of his books, purely out of appreciation for intelligent, insightful, humourous writing of course (and not because I have a crush on him, not at all).

(Oh good heavens! I've been googling around trying to find out anything him, and I just stumbled upon this. Isn't it gorgeous? He drew it! I recognise his style from all the doodles in my book.)


(He's dead, isn't he?)


One - Conrad Williams

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I told Miss Apricot that this book was all about exploring the father-son relationship, and that the colours suited her outfit perfectly, and she agreed to pose for the photo. Then I told her what it was also about, and she tried to eat my shorts, but I'd already taken the photo, nyah nyah. And the colours do suit her.

No misdirection, that is what the book is about, but it does it against the back drop of the apocalypse. And the bit that comes after the apocalypse. I have not read The Road, but one thing everyone comments on is that it appears to be a lot of very open and bleak landscape. That's what that book is.

This book is less about open and bleak landscape, and more about the catastrophic destruction of history and civilisation, and the horrible things you see and do while trying not to die. And even after the end of the world, that continues. Not much contemplation of landscape, unless you're contemplating sensible things, like what's a like spot for an ambush, are there any exit points, and oh fuckberries did something over there just move I think something moved oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck-

The first few chapters of this book are know, I should have expected it really. It's Conrad Williams, in fact I think he's gone so far as to earn the middle title, so it's Conrad Fucking Williams, and of course the book is going to be like getting a stapler covered in twisted pokey staples shoved down my throat and rumble around in my gut. Of course it's going to flatten you by merely batting its eyelashes at you, and leave you stunned and reeling on the train, not even close to your station yet but having to close the book and look around and confirm what you just read has not happened, and if it did happen you'd be very lucky and die right away, so it's all good, think of rainbows and unicorns and do not lie down on the floor at the horror and futility of it all, because damn, the book is just that powerful.

So it should be. The end of the world is a powerful thing. Tossed about in pop culture so happily as it is, it's losing its teeth. This book is all teeth.

To my utter delight, the book showed signs of tying into that brilliantly cool world first seen in 'Nearly People'. In an odd sort of history lesson, it gives no answers as to what happened, or why, only revealing what it was like in those early days. (The horror, the horror...)

As you can probably tell, the lengths one man stretches his love and hope in order to survive on the inside in such an environment are extreme. It's not a kind book. It won't be gentle with you. It will awe you with the destruction of all things, awe you with the terrifying beauty of what now constitutes 'all things', impress you with its unforgiving, unflinching relentlessness, and when you put it down, you'll feel washed out and used up and wrung dry.

You tell yourself you never want to go through that again (and you know it's a lie).

Verdict: Powerful books will have powerful effects.

The City & The City - China Miéville

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I've always loved Miéville's world building, he has an exceptionally unfettered imagination and plunders from sources as yet still rich and ripe. It's rough, and raw, and loud. Brutal and unrepentant. Bewildering and awe-inspiring.

Generally, such vibrancy makes up for unbalanced plotting and prose. When reading his books, I generally get the impression that he is not in control of his writing. He's riding it, but that bronco isn't listening to him (and I say this having loved every single one of his books regardless).

When I finished this book, all I could think was, "Wow. He tamed that bull."

There's a precision in prose, plot, characterisation, a precision in everything that is new and exquisite. The relationship between the two cities is revealed slowly, the perfectly appropriate detail being fed to the reader at exactly the right moment in the only order there could be for the reader to have the world shift slowly beneath their feet without any sort of culture shock, no adjustment or suspension of disbelief kicking in. It was amazing to behold, something that's rare to encounter in any work of fiction.

I wasn't sure the climax would be equal to the mystery that swelled in the book and threatened to split the pages, or that the final denouement would be sufficient, and it almost wasn't, but it juuuuuuuust was. Just enough. Just enough for me to consider this the best thing Miéville has written to date.

Verdict: I'm going with the majority of talk and saying it's a damn fine book, this. Damn fine.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beneath the Red Sun - Ben Peek

author site

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Matthew Brady was a soldier, and as a soldier he killed people the state deemed it appropriate to kill. On his own initiative, he killed a man the state did not deem it appropriate to kill, and because he laughed at the hypocrisy practiced in the court room, he was sentenced to transportation.

On the day of his release, he is approached by a mortician who informs him his brother and family have been murdered, and that the whereabouts of the murderers is known.

What to do.

I'd say this story is like an onion - nothing but layers on layers on layers with shit that will sting your eyes (and it totally will) - but that's not entirely true. It's more like a Mandelbrot picture. Saying it's an onion implies that beneath all the layers is a core. Mandelbrots never end. If you wish, you could read it as nothing more than a cycle-of-violence/revenge story. Good luck trying it. I don't think it's possible to read such an intensely unforgiving story and be oblivious to the many grey areas and uneasy questions being posed. Class, race, gender, culture, personal ethics and political morals, and more. It's meaty, yet lean. No spare flesh, all the muscle on the bones is exactly what is required and does not lie idle.

It's also the most Australian not-Australia I've encountered in fiction. Heat (possibly empathising a bit much due to the weather today and tomorrow) and dust, and dust and heat. A desert that isn't sand, but dried cracked clay, run through with gullies and no water. Townships set up to mimic the Motherland, impractical in the new climate. Massive divides between the colonisers and colonised. Half-castes caught between. And oh, I don't know, I know I'm babbling now, but it was just breath-taking. The details were perfect, precise, and fresh.

And you may not notice if you're from the US or UK, but there's a shitload of books based in or extrapolated-not-too-loosely-from US/UK in both landscape and history, and it's quite easy to overdose on it. At least, I hit saturation point pretty regularly. Hence I leap about seeking out books from other places, to counterbalance and keep me interested in reading. Keep it fresh.

And here! Something based on the furious, cheating, thieving, murdering history that makes up the world I live in, something I'm pretty familiar with, and yet, was goddamn fresh. Man, I want more. Washed my head right clean.

Fuck kangaroos. Let's get murdering and looting.

(You know, I almost understand nationalism. Here's a piece of fiction that makes me raise my fist and go "FUCK YEAH! THAT'S MY HOME! BE JEALOUS AND WEEP YE OTHERS!")

(Which further leads to the idea of looking for yourself in fiction, something I have never really understood because I've considered myself too much a mongrel with outsider psychology to even consider a character would echo me, but this, I think this is what was meant...)

It's also a brilliant piece of craft. There are two streams, one following Matthew going forward in time, the other being Matther's brother's diary. Although we already know the family's fate, both streams are equal in their power to progress the plot and gift the reader with further insight into the politics and personalities involved. In a strange way, the two streams work backwards as they thread around each other. It must have been a headache to write, but extraordinary to read.

You can't buy this book because it isn't published. The world is fucked up like that.

Verdict: Fucking oarsum, and oh please some one buy it and publish it?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas - Hunter S. Thompson

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I've had a couple of glasses of lemonade and something to eat now, feeling a little less monstrous.

I remember reading this at a backpackers down in Apollo Bay, and being asked by the various people witness to me reading exactly what the book was, because I was laughing so much. In all I've heard of the Beat writers, I don't think anyone's ever told me they were a bunch of comedians. Absurdism just runs to my taste.

Having not seen the movie I had no idea what to expect, and now I think of it, I can't remember what prompted me to pick the book up at all. Glad I did, regardless. It hilarious and appalling, following the Duke and his 'lawyer' through several drug-saturated mayhem-infested days in Las Vegas, covering a motorcycle race, a narcotics conference, and several hotel rooms in shit. The two of them stagger from calamity of calamity and bluff their way out of a ridiculous amount of disasters know, reading it made me never want to go near drugs. Ever. That is an alarming world to move through. Perfect for watching other people traverse.

What has stayed with me since reading is a single scene, with the two of them sitting in a diner and telling the waitress they're looking for "the American Dream" and the conversation that follows seeing them given haphazard instructions to what has become a bar? club? called the Psychiatrist's Lounge or similar. The whole 204 pages of the story serves to give this scene the context it requires to be heard.

Verdict: Fucking oarsum. SHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARK!

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman - Haruki Murakami

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I've had a headache all day, which turned into a migraine, so I popped some pills and faceplanted into unconsciousness, and the migraine has scaled back but I just woke up for the second time in a day which is just not done so I'm groggy as all hell and not going to attempt to be insightful or intelligent or witty.


Collection of short stories. Never read Murakami before. Excellent starter. Every story beautifully sculpted. They're delicate things, the most delicate pieces of writing I've ever read, and I don't know that I'm sure I know what I mean by that. Aside from the fact that they're written by and set largely in Japan, they remain very Japanese stories - a great amount is said without saying anything at all, in fact what is not said almost plays a greater role than what is on the page. Also a sense of having taken not one step from the first page through to the last, yet of vast distances being traveled. Things have changed without changing. Blessedly subtle, gentle, soft.

I did want to comment on the use of author as character in a work of fiction, seeing as I'm dreadfully guilty of it, and I love 'Errata' by Jeff VanderMeer and 'Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth' by Ben Peek, but I'm not being intelligent or insightful.

Perhaps it adds some veneer of honesty. That there is nothing we wouldn't do to the things we make up that we won't do to ourselves first.

Verdict: Master wordsmith and story-crafter, he deserves the awards and accolades he receives, plus more.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Trujillo - Lucius Shepard

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.


The only other book of Shepard's I've read is Viator, which I adored despite it unraveling at the end. When reading this, I found myself coming over with pretty much the same obsessive behaviours, it being a book I would sneak sips of at work and devour on the train and at home. It didn't last long at all.

The story largely follows Dr Arturo Ochoa, semi-retired and coming home from a very unsettling patient to an equally unsettling daughter who is doing what daughters do, ie, asserting her independence. The patient, Stearns, a privileged ex-pat, is under suspicion of murder with only amnesia muddying the waters, and is not particularly concerned about this.

Slowly blossoming is a strain of something decidedly other influencing events, and this, I believe, is what I get captivated in. A precise degree of mystery with an equally precise level of menace. A mystery that you're forced to create for yourself before you can even start attempting to solve it, and after you've put all that work in identifying the mystery, well, why undo that by solving it anyway? The world is better with patches of the inexplicable included.

I did come out of it wondering at the massive divide between men and woman that existed between. That's purely subjective on my part, I tend to go through life paying no attention to any socially-perceived differences in place/role/whatever between the genders. There is a difference, it's naive of me to act as though there isn't...but it isn't always a bloody war.

And the heat. The heat. The heat.

Verdict: Shepard is an amazing writer, seriously just gobsmackingly amazing.

Naked Lunch - William S. Burroughs

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Andrew Macrae was with me when I bought this book, and mentioned that he was reading it at the time. When I asked him what he thought so far, he paused, and finally said that it was "like taking a shower in shit".

I bought the book because I loved the movie, not realising that the movie was not the book, the movie was more the story behind the writing of the book and the life of Burroughs. Soooo...I was quite unprepared for what was between the covers.

I'm not even sure I can tell you what the book is about. Does it matter? It's a classic, it's been well analysied and critiqued by people far more insightful than I. It isn't a story. There is nothing within that resembles a plot arc. It's just one long, rambling...ramble! About drugs, sex, homosexuality, hypocrisy, and...stuff?


I alternated between feeling more than mildly nauseated while reading, to laughing out loud. Generally both at the same time. I'm not sure any other book this year has made me laugh so much. It's absurd, surreal, there are real flashes of genius in there, in all that muck and filth and ewwwww squick. I was self-conscious reading it on the train. That was one book I wasn't sure I wanted people reading over my shoulder.

I...kinda loved it. Really.

But Macrae was totally spot on. It is exactly like taking a shower in shit.

Verdict: This is most certainly not for everyone.

Shark Puppet totally loved it too. He's in the covers. Heh.

Fast Ships, Black Sails - Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (ed)

buy - (one of the) editor site

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Arr. Arrr. Arr. I think my opinion of pirates has already been well established. Namely, ninjas are better.

This particular theme lends itself to fun, not just for the reader, but for the writer, which is apparent in quite a few of the stories. The pop culture connotations surrounding pirates are hard to fend off, and there isn't always a need to.

I was particularly enamoured of 'Boojum' by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette, which, just, my goodness. It's the first story in the collection, and I had to put the book away when I'd read it because it affected me so much. Some great aching loneliness that can only be triggered when considering the distances involved in space. A gorgeous, powerful, somewhat terrifying and yet comforting tale.

Conrad Williams's '68° 07’ 15"N, 31° 36’ 44"W' was the antithesis of all the fun and jolly mayhem. Horrible, wretched, helpless and hopeless and singularly alarming. But, you know, Conrad Williams, I'm biased. (Which doesn't actually make my opinion invalid. Awesome story.)

Quite fond of 'Pirate Solutions' by Katherine Sparrow (dealing with modern day pirates finding their roots) and 'Araminta, or, The Wreck of the Amphidrake' by Naomi Novik ('cause girl pirates do it better).

A solid collection of miscreants. I'd say worth the price alone just for 'Boojum' and '68° 07’ 15"N, 31° 36’ 44"W'.

Verdict: Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I rob to pay tithe to my ninja overlord.

Miss Apricot does not wish to witness Shark Puppet giving the pirate on the cover a pegleg.

The City of Dreaming Books - Walter Moers

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Sometimes, you look at a title, and you just know the book is for you.

This is apparently the fourth Zamonian book, but having read none of the others I can say it stands alone perfectly. It follows Optimus Yarnspinner, a young and aspiring writer (another point in favour) who among other things inherits a short story from his uncle. The short story has no author, and it is such an astonishingly powerful piece of writing that it consumes his waking life and he becomes fixated on discovering the author's identity, thus seeing him making the journey to Bookholm.

Bookholm is nothing but books.

Oh, for such a city.

There are bookshops, of course, and publishers and printers in order to make books for the bookshops, of course, and shops specialising in the paraphernalia of publishing, of course, and coffee shops in which to take your current book to read in, of course, and to attending readings, of course, and um, that's about it. It's all books. Every life within revolves around books, the reading, making, writing, selling, discovering off.

Oh, for such a city.

Optimus's quest to discover the author's identity leads him strange places, and puts him in no small amount of peril, and through it all he maintains this adorable tone of polite society. In his voice, even when there are threats and knives in the darkness, I can hear the chink of a good china cup against a saucer, a cup of tea being the only civilised drink. There's a lovely armchair-naivety about him, not necessarily ignorance, but that which comes from knowing the world solely through the reading of books.

This books is sufficed with a love of books, and stories, and writing. It is gorgeous, and wonderful, and delightful, and whenever I cracked the pages and started into it again I felt warm and fuzzy.

It's also illustrated. IT HAS PICTURES. I say again, and again - not enough books come with illustrations.

Verdict: A lovely lovely lovely wonderful book for the reader, and you are a reader, in all of us, shall definitely be hunting out more of Moers's work.

Miss Apricot took the opportunity to judge what the Booklings are reading, instead of me. What a stickybeak.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Death of Grass - John Christopher

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The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Another old science fiction book liberated from my parents' bookshelves, with the significant difference being this book I had heard of and actively sought out, and holy iguana spleens, batman, it is brilliant.

It's no spoiler to say the plot revolves around a virus which sweeps the globe, destroying the various strains of grass. Grass, as a family, includes important things like rice, wheat, barley, and the like, which aside from meaning no basic foodstuffs like bread and oh delicious rice, it also means nothing for livestock to eat, so suddenly it isn't just breads that are unavailable, but the majority of meat too. The food remaining isn't enough to feed the whole population of the world, and there is no way around it.

The story follows one man, who lives in London where he and his wife can sit in their armchairs claiming the Chinese are barbarians for rioting about food shortages and why should they be sending them food aid anyway when they need the food here; all of which is well and good until the virus reaches the shores of England, a country that imports most of its food. And things get progressively more horrible and ghastly from there.

This book is just magnificent, it is seriously one of the best things I've read all year. Aside from looking at the wider ramifications of such a food shortage and highlighting the modern world's dependence upon a system of growth and delivery that takes very little to disrupt and leave us helpless, it also looks at the psychology involved in living through such a time. Civilisation, such as it is, has no power over an empty belly.

There are no easy ways out. None at all. All the niceties of modern life mean nothing when your sole priority is food. What the characters go through, what they become and the decisions they make are excruciatingly hard. From here, having just had another splendid piece of peanut butter toast, it's easy to pass judgment on them and their actions, and judge them heinous. Easy, but no comfortable. It doesn't take much analysis of the situation to see there were no other decisions to be made.

That the drought here had gone on long enough to start affecting our own food supply was high on my mind while reading this, and with a tumultuous climate and industry pollution doing strange things to the land and weather, methinks this book is still all too relevant.

Verdict: Magnificent, seriously, a tight story like a kick in the teeth, fantastic pacing, absolutely no mercy for the characters or the reader. Seek it out.

Thanks to Miss Apricot, who was a touch alarmed at the bovine skeleton who she thought she might have recognised as her neighbour's brother's sister-in-law's cousin.

The Book of Ptath - A.E. van Vogt

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

buy - author wiki

What? Tess, you're breaking with the established format. Start with the dumb photo of you hiding behind the book and the finger puppet doing the work, then do your blathering!

This book is...special. This book I selected for entirely the wrong reasons. I like to poke around mum and dad's shelves now and then, as they have heaps of old science fiction and fantasy books that they both devoured while in university, and when it comes down to it, old books are just interesting as objects. The cover designs appeal to the audience of a different era, and so when I pulled this from the shelf, I was, shall we say, struck.

Wait, let me zoooooom in.

Just look at that a while. None of the puppets deigned to pose for this photo. I even pulled out my big camera, because the webcam certainly wasn't going to do it justice. Now, if you were the one pulling that off the shelf, would you be able to put it back?

No, no you wouldn't. You'd be so appalled the desire to know if the story was equal to it would consume you also, and you'd damn well take it home and read it. I mean, seriously, it has nipples. There's no way a book cover would get away with all that nipple today.

At no point does he have horns.

Or an eye in his chest.

Or a leopard skin cloak.

Probably did have a loincloth while I wasn't paying attention though.

And there was a nice woman, and there was an evil woman. Totally. They fawned on him too.

And I don't like to say this about any book, because books are hard fucking work. They take a long time to write, there's heart and life and stress and love and hate in a book. van Vogt himself played, from a glance at the wiki, no small part in the Golden Age, so clearly he has something going for him.

But, damn. This book is a piece of shit. I was equal parts bored and appalled. The cover is the best part.

Verdict: I am not the target audience, and I know and understand this, and it is STILL a piece of shit.
In a little over a week I'm leaving for PATAGONIA! and will be roaming around the bottom tail of South America for about a month. Which means, as some of you know, it is prime hunting season for postcards.

Should you desire a wild and angry postcard to make a nest in your letterbox, feel free to ping me a postal address, and I shall endeavour to see your letterbox thus invaded.

Now, that's more than enough typing for me. Time to put some pants on and do responsible adult stuff.

How to Ditch Your Fairy - Justine Larbalestier

buy - author site

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I know. The cover is misleading. The book isn't actually about fairies, no, it's about feeding greedy little black billy goats who will eat your shirt off your shoulder if you do not offer them cucumber sandwiches with the crusts cut off.

(Some of the above paragraph is not true. And by 'some' I mean 'all of it'.)

I picked up this copy of the book at Justine's launch down in Melbourne, and when I started reading it I sent her a note to tell her so. I have to admit, when I have friends who happen to be writers who happen to have books out who happen to have a very strong reaction to knowing people are reading said book at anytime, yes I tell them. Because I am a total turd like that.

This book was a great change in pace from what I'd been reading before. It was fun from page one. Fun! Remember the last book you read that was fun and silly? I do believe we give Serious Works far too much precedence over Not Entirely Serious Works.

Charlie is in high school, and has decided that dammit, she wants to get rid of her fairy. Being that her fairy ensures that she will always get a good carpark and thus means she's dragged to all sorts of places she doesn't want to go just to get a good park and hell, she doesn't even drive, this is quite understandable. Unfortunately, when you're a high school student with a particular inclination towards sports, the means for ridding yourself of a fairy are limited. In fact, they're practically non-existent.

Thus the story unfolds. Apart from the fairy-issues, Charlie has to deal with the fact that she's a teenager, and dude, that's trial enough all on its own.

Charlie is immensely likable. She tries hard, means well, and makes bad choices. I found myself seriously rooting for her the whole way through, and laughing at the mistakes she makes that I know I've made. Especially the ones concerning boys. (Boys, man, who the hell thought they were a good idea?)

It's a fun, fun, fun book, and dammit I need more such books on my shelves.

And seriously, you can't go wrong when the second word is 'spoffs'. Meaning 'boobs'.

Verdict: Yeeeeeeah! How about some stories about the ordeal of being a teenager that aren't super-saturated in angst? Booyah!

Thanks to Miss Apricot, who quite admires Charlie's apricot-coloured singlet.

The Angel In The Darkness - Kage Baker

buy - author site

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

Maria Aguilar is over-weight, over-worked, and over just about everything. She's the responsible child who never became her own person, growing up only to remain the responsible child looking after the entire family and that being taken for granted.

It's a slim little volume, and being a novella that I recall devouring on a train trip, I did not spend much time with her, and such she did not get a great chance to imprint herself or her story upon me. But I remember Maria, and the peculiar incidents that disturbed her life, growing in significance and menace, and I remember caring about the extra stress that put upon her, when she had more than enough already. She's an immaculately drawn character. She's a person, she's the sort of person that, when we encounter in real life, we say to each other, "she's a real character."

This novella ties in with Baker's series dealing with time-spanning Company, none of which I've read. This story did intrigue me, however, if this is Maria's only appearance, am I really that interested?

Well, yes. Clearly Baker has characterisation down to a fine art, and there's nothing like being forced to care about someone who doesn't exist to make us feel a story.

Verdict: I'd say this is a good litmus test for Baker's writing. I really enjoyed it, well-balanced and well-paced.

Thanks to Miss Apricot for the photo. She approves of this book far more than Punktown, but only because she hasn't read it and didn't see all the murder and whatnotting going on.

Punktown - Jeffrey Thomas

buy - author site

The Deal: At this point in time, due to an RSI, I can only type for 10 minutes at a time. What you see below is what is hammered out before the timer goes off- and nothing more.

I'm paying the price for letting the time between reading and writing grow to such ridiculous lengths. I know I had things I wanted to say about this book, and bugger me if I can remember.

Punktown is a collection of stories set in the same tired, brutal, fantastic city, the stories traveling through the various facets of life, from artists to detectives to runaway clones. The flavour made me think of Bladerunner, only with more dirt, more garbage, more violence, and no way out. Neon lights and startling graffiti.

That isn't entirely true. While I do look like a twat for writing about a book I don't properly remember, it means I can quite easily pick out the stories that stayed with me. Heart for Heart's Sake has remained quite clear and strong in my mind. It deals with the question of art, and where the line that divides 'art for art's sake' and 'making a living' falls, a line I believe is so subjective as to be incomprehensible. I had a quick read through of it again before starting this, and it is as resonant now as it was then.

Weaving through the stories is a strong theme of memory, and who isn't a sucker for memory? Thomas deals with the different trials memory offers to us all with greatly varying characters in different walks of life.

I do remember getting to the end of this book and wishing it were bigger. I wasn't done yet.

Verdict: Tasty, different stuff, but be warned, this is an entree, so prepare yourself if you're after a meal.

Thanks to Miss Apricot, who doesn't quite approve of my reading such sordid tales (although secretly she loves it).