More Recent Readings: November/December 2007

People have commented that my discussions of recent listenings, viewings, and readings all bundled together in a single post make for unwieldly linkage, so I’m just going to go on about books here — partly also because November was so busy I watched very little anyway, and will review what I have seen at the end of December instead.

Like I said, I was very busy, so my short, short list is as follows:

  1. Fantasy & Science Fiction, September 2007 was an okay issue. Ted Chiang’s work was, as usual, respectable. This review does “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” justice, but I just want to reiterate that, while it didn’t hit me like some of Chiang’s earlier work, I enjoyed it a lot for being what it was: quieter, gentler, and endlessly self-assured. Heather Lindsley’s story in this issue was amusing, but as for the other comedic pieces in this issue, I find more and more that my sense of humor doesn’t mesh with the one targeted in F&SF. However, and I don’t know why, but “Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack In the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers” by John Langan really grabbed me, and didn’t let go. If it hadn’t been written the way it was, it might have just been some Twilight-Zoney kind of mess, but it was written well, with style, and Langan pulled it off. And Robert Reed’s “If We Can Save Just One Child” had a great premise, even if I wanted more than Reed was perhaps willing to give.
  2. The Memoirs of Lady Hyegyong: The Autobiographical Writings of a Crown Princess of Eighteenth-Century Korea, translated by Jahyun Kim Haboush, is a book I picked up intending only to read it as research, but the text drew me in. The story of a Crown Princess married to the designated next king of Joseon (the kingdom that became modern Korea) could possibly be boring, but the story of Sado Seja’s wife, never! I’ve long fancied the idea of writing a story about Crown Prince Sado — who went nuts and was ordered by his father to enter a rice chest and die there — has haunted me for a while. There’s a draft around, waiting to be reworked. ButLady Hyegyong’s narrative really got to me: from the beginnings, where she describes coming to the palace as a young girl, all the way to decades later, when she’s fighting for her family’s political (and literal) life and honour, the way she binds together the threads of her life is fascinating. Especially of interest to me was the fourth memoir in the book, the one dealing with the events of her husbands’ descent into madness, his eventual death, and the aftermath. Her search for a reason that could explain all this was touching and fascinating.
  3. Asimov’s SF, June 2007 was largely enjoyable, which is really saying something since I read the bulk of it lying in a gurney in the hospital E.R. with a terrible pain in my gut and ribs. Harry Turtledove’s “News From the Front” was an interesting thought experiment, though of course I think I spotted at least a few problematic issues. (Always a danger in alternate history. I mentioned Turtledove’s story of Gandhi, “The Last Article,” (collected in The Best Military Science Fiction of the 20th Century, edited by Harry Turtledove with Martin H Greenberg) to my friend rparvaaz, and she pointed out a few right away.) Still, it was an interesting trip.R. Neube’s “Studies in the Field” reminded me a lot of my friend Tristan Davenport’s writing, but with more rage and explosions and such. James Patrick Kelly’s “Don’t Stop” grabbed me for reasons I can’t quite explain and in a way I didn’t expect. Likewise Elizabeth Bear’s “Tideline” — good stuff, and it got me in an unexpected way. Probably my favorite story in the issue was Jack Skillingstead’s “Scrawl Daddy,” with its bizarre dreams and clones and space gates, but I also very much enjoyed Carrie Vaughn’s (Mundane SF? can I label it that?) story “Marrying In,” with its vision of a future Colorado. As for Neal Asher’s “Alien Archaeology,” I can see why he’s so popular, though I confess it was very late at night when I read it, I got lost a few times, and I will probably have to give it another look before I know what I think of it.
  4. The Hye Ch’O Diary: Memoir of the Pilgrimage to the Five Regions of India was a short read. Fascinating though it was, if I’d known it was only really 60 pages of readable text, I might have tried harder to locate a copy in Korea. But as the introduction claims repeatedly, it was interesting to get a very fuzzy glimpse of what India looked like through the eyes of a Korean Buddhist monk traveling on pilgrimage there before Islam had made major inroads into the subcontinent.
  5. Haunted: A Novel of Stories, by Chuck Palahniuk, is the third book I’ve read by the author, and the least rewarding. I’ve heard that Palahniuk originally pitched it as a straight short-story collection, and the execs weren’t into that. Short stories don’t sell, right? I don’t know if that’s true, but it sure feels true of the book: there’s all this connective tissue between the short stories that feels very much tacked-on. It doesn’t work as a novel, in my opinion, and it’s very cluttered as a short-story collection. It’s also a little predictable. Maybe I’m just getting used to Palahniuk’s schtick, the whole shock-the-hell-out-of-the-reader. Some of the stories were quite disgusting, disturbing, bizarre — the very qualities I liked in his novels Fight Club and Survivor — but in this book, there were so many of these kinds of gross-out shocks, and I’m not sure what purpose they serve the narratives they’re in. The shocks in the novels work because, well, they’re part of novels — punctuative moments in a longer narrative. In the short stories, they come off more as sudden twists than as gut-punches. I don’t know, Palahniuk’s a good writer and he has technique to burn — there are things I learned from him, even in this book — but I think I’ll be telling my friends to skip it in favour of one of the man’s other books.
  6. Interzone 210 has been sitting and waiting to be read for far too long. I’d thumbed through it a few times in the last six months, but never had the time to dig in. More’s the pity, as I missed out on some great stories. A good bunch of dark, gloomy tales in this, and I have to say the part I’ll single out for the highest praise has to be the fabulous illustrations by Douglas Sirois… though if I have to choose just one story as my favorite, I’d say it’s “Dr. Abernathy’s Dream Theater” by David Ira Cleary.
  7. Sometimes the Magic Works by Terry Brooks is a combination of writing advice and a memoir of one of the most well-known fantasy authors around. It was a gift he made to members of the Clarion West class I attended, in Seattle, and while nothing in it surprised me, I did get one take-home lesson: never, ever agree to write a movie novelization. Unless it’s for George Lucas, and then maybe it’s okay.
  8. Fantasy Magazine, Spring 2007: the best stories here, in my opinion, were The Boulder by LucyKemnitzer (excellent!), On the Day of my Detonation by Stephanie Campisi (though I’m not sure I quite understood what was going on there), “Seven Crooken Tinies” by Marly Youmans, and Soft, Like a Rabbit by Andrea Kail. Word is there’s another print issue on the way, sometime, but this one’s been on ym shelf for months, and I’m glad I finally got to it.

Since the books are available in HTML format, I put off the end of Frank Norris’s The Octopus and Vernor Vinge’s Rainbows End until my Bookeen Cybook ebook reader arrived — I have it now, but haven’t used it much yet. In the last few weeks, I’ve been working my way through earlier issues of Asimov’s and Interzone and F&SF from this year — subscriptions are something I love having, but can’t always keep up with during semesters. I also have issues of LCRW, Sibyl’s Garage, Subterranean, and even an issue of Fantasy from almost a year ago, all waiting for my attention. I’m also reading a pile of different books all at the same time.

But it’s time to end off the “Books Read 2007” list with an executive summary and to post about the year to come.

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