Recommended Reading List: October 2013
I taught a week-long science fiction craft workshop in October, and read lots of excellent stories. I’ll mention them when they show up in print and you can find them. I’ll be amazed if editors don’t snatch these stories up. I know that Lee Allred took some for the second Fiction River special that he’s editing, and I told the students if they didn’t sell some of these, I’d want them for far future issues of Fiction River. But there are so many science fiction markets, that I felt odd reserving stories for that long. These folks will write many, many more, all good.
That said, some of my reading below comes from the workshop. I assigned books and then made up my own reprint anthology because the…um…men, I guess, who do the best of the best seem to leave out the stuff that won Hugos (voted by fans and readers, not “tastemakers”) or were written by great women in the sf field or were written in settings other those based on US or European traditions. I’m still mad about this, and now that I have a sympathetic publishing company backing me, I’m considering remedying this. But that’ll take time.
Anyway, in addition to my made-up reprint anthology, I also assigned The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 1 (first published in 1970) for some of the stories that it had. Which meant that I got to read ones I hadn’t read. See below. And I finally read a few other books I’d been meaning to get to, as well as current issues of the digests. So, there’s a lot more sf here than usual, just because I wasn’t noodling at reading it; I was reading it with a concentrated effort.
After the workshop, I promised myself some binge reading and I did that as well. So October’s list is a hefty one. I read lots and lots and lots of good fiction, and I hope you pick it all up.
Anders, Charlie Jane, “The Time Travel Club,” Asimov’s, October/November 2013. A marvelous slipstream story about a group of people who may or may not have discovered time travel. There are some neat-o physics outlined in this story, but if you blink, you might miss it. Mostly this is a voice piece, filled with marvelous characters, and a lot of heart. One of the best sf stories of the year, in my opinion.
Asimov, Isaac, “Nightfall,” The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg, Orb Books Reprint Edition, 2005. Yeah, yeah, I know. I never read “Nightfall,” even though it’s a classic. I went through a contrary period (went through? haven’t left?) in which I wouldn’t read what everyone said I should. So, as I set up the workshop, I assigned some historical reading, including the SF Hall of Fame volume. I had to read it too, so I knew what we were all talking about. And that meant reading “Nightfall.”
Which still holds up. In fact, I’d buy it for Fiction River in a heartbeat if Asimov wrote the story today and was submitting it today (which would be an sf story all by itself). Impressive story, well written, and creepy in just the right way. I’m glad I read it now.
Bester, Alfred, “Fondly Fahrenheit,” The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg, Orb Books Reprint Edition, 2005. When I met Harlan Ellison, he told me that the best writer in the field was Alfred Bester, whose work I had never read. Bester’s story, “Fondly Fahrenheit,” from the 1950s, surprised me not just with its point of view and its story, but its incredible level of craft. I finally understood, after reading this story, what Harlan meant.
Brown, Frederic, “Arena,” The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg, Orb Books Reprint Edition, 2005. When I came into the sf field proper (conventions and such), the old-timers complained that Star Trek and Star Wars regurgitated old stories. I knew the history of Star Trek, that Gene Roddenberry had gone to Worldcon and asked SF writers to pen stories for Trek. I hadn’t realized that some of the stories in the first year or so of Trek actually came from previously published material.
The Trek episode, “Arena,” by Gene L. Coon was based on this story. When you read “Arena,” you’ll see how, and how (as usual—and I say this as a Trek fan) the story is better. I was stunned to find it here. Even as an inveterate credit-watcher, I had missed the attribution. So, if you want to see where original Trek got a lot of its ideas, pick up this volume, and read all the stories, not just this one.
Clarke, Arthur C., “The Nine Billion Names of God,” The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg, Orb Books Reprint Edition, 2005. Like the Asimov, this story is one I’d heard about for years but never read. Yep, it has the right to be called a classic. Not only that, it’s probably the best Clarke I’ve ever read. (Okay, considering my opinion of Clarke, that’s not as great a compliment as you’d think.) Still, I’m glad I read it. It’s fantastic.
Cutter, Leah R., “The Curious Case of Rabbit And The Temple Goddess,” Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, January/February 2014. I first read this story at one of our workshops. Leah hadn’t tried mystery fiction before, and now she has, and whoa boy does it suit her. (She’s published six sf/f novels.) Her Asian settings are spectacular, her characters even more so. Read this. It’s marvelous.
Frederick, Carl, “Fear of Heights in the Tower of Babel,” Analog, October 2013. Wow, I loved this story. It’s about the world’s tallest building, sentient elevators and Turing Tests. And it reads like a thriller. I lost myself in the cat-and-mouse, and in trying to figure out how our professor hero would survive this. Fantastic.
Frost, Sarah, “The Deer Girl Hitches A Ride,” Analog, December, 2013. I can’t get this story out of my mind. Wonderful example of how to world-build in a short piece. It also has a neat kick at the end. Well done.
King, Stephen, Doctor Sleep, Scribner’sv 2013. I started this book just before the October sf workshop, then decided that reading King while reading other manuscripts wasn’t fair. I had no idea how right I was.
Doctor Sleep is a sequel, of sorts, to The Shining, which is one of my all time favorite books. I read The Shining in the library at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, where my abusive, alcoholic father taught mathematics. I had nearly escaped him and my alcoholic mother when The Shining came out, but I still had a few years of jail time ahead of me.
The Shining was a revelation: clearly someone understood. And yet, I was young enough not to understand that what I loved about the book was the way it spoke to the life I was living; it still felt like a story to me. Only later did I figure out how deeply personal I found the book.
Because The Shining is one of those seminal books for me, I approached Doctor Sleep with great trepidation. I believe King is one of our best writers. He has the whole package—a singular command of the language, a fantastic storytelling skill, great setting, great characters, memorable plots—and when he’s kicking on all cylinders, no one living can top him. I knew the book would be good, but would it be respectful to the original novel?
Yes, yes, and yes. Together the two books comprise a look at the way alcoholism and abuse echo through the generations. Said that way, Doctor Sleep sounds dull. It’s anything but.
It opens with a lost Daniel Torrance, who despite everything, has become an alcoholic like his father. He does have moments of rage, but he tries to quell them. Mostly, he’s a sad sack who can’t hold a job or a relationship for long. And, considering all he went through, that’s not a surprise.
The book starts scary, but it’s not a frightening novel. It’s a healing novel, and while it’s suspenseful, it’s also wise.
I’ll be honest: I was at the edge of my seat as I read this, and I sobbed so hard I often couldn’t see the page. Not the reaction I expected from this book, but one that makes it a worthy successor to The Shining. Doctor Sleep is damn near perfect. And you should read it.
Kramer, Elizabeth, “The Stand She Took,” Oregon Quarterly, Autumn 2013. The things you learn. I guess I never really considered the reporters who fought for the right to keep their sources confidential. (Not that every state has them, I know.) This article is about a college co-ed in 1966 who had just become editor of The Emerald at the University of Oregon. She wrote an article quoting other students who used drugs for a piece on the drug culture at the U of O. Those students were anonymous (of course, given the time) and the police wanted their names. She wouldn’t give them up. The case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Fascinating, both what happened to her afterwards, and what happened at the University of Oregon in those years. Worth reading.
Kress, Nancy, “Frog Watch,” Asimov’s, December 2013. I’ve always liked Nancy’s work, whether she’s dealing on a large scale or a small scale. This is one of her deceptively small stories about keeping track of frogs, which are dying off at a horrible rate. The story goes sideways slowly, and I’m not going to say more for fear that I will spoil the story for you.
Lerner, Edward, “The Matthews Conundrum,” Analog, November 2013. Apparently this novella is part of a series called the Interstellar Net series that’s been running in Analog for 13 years. I had somehow missed the previous stories, but no matter. This one had me riveted. Joshua Matthews gets out of an autocab only to discover he’s lost three weeks of his life.
He’s from a famous family, and everyone believes he spent those three weeks in drunken debauchery. He did get out of the cab and vomit, was woozy, and unable to speak properly. But he swears he didn’t get drunk. He loses everything, and that’s where the story gets really interesting.
Yes, this is a hard science story, and yes, it’s really, really good.
Levinson, Paul, “Ian, George, and George,” Analog, December, 2013. A time travel piece that I didn’t realize was part of a series until I had finished it. I loved the details, loved the way it was put together. I can’t say much more without spoiling it. Go, read.
Lien, Henry, “Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters,” Asimov’s, December, 2013. Oh, man, did I love this story. I was reading it while helping Dean with homework for one of his on-line classes, and he was bitching that none of the students understood voice and how it relates to story. Well, Henry Lien clearly does.
This story is all voice and attitude and great storytelling. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one wins the Hugo in 2014. It’s that good. Read it. Now.
Martin, George R.R., “…For A Single Yesterday,” Lightspeed Year One, edited by John Joseph Adams, Prime Books, 2011. I had never read this story of George’s. Set in a post-apocalyptic future, where most everything is lost, one man still has the supply of a drug that allows a person to explore memories. He is using it to explore his own past, and not face the bleak present; others want it to learn how to combine medicines or how to do life-saving procedures.
It’s a classic individual versus the group story, with neither being the bad guy. It also has all the heart you would expect from George’s writing. Beautifully done.
Nadeau, Jean-Benoit, and Barlow, Julie, The Story of French, St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006. This book is a history of the French language, written by two Canadians, one who was raised speaking French and the other speaking English. I noted when I mentioned the book earlier that some of the Amazon reviewers criticized them for being from Quebec (and not France), and I did note an agenda inside the book, although to be honest, I didn’t understand it much, since I’m not really biased about who speaks pure French and who doesn’t.
Anyway, if such things don’t bother you, then read this. Its perspective—a language-focused history instead of a country-focused history—is one I haven’t encountered in book length before. Certain events, from the discovery of America to the opening of parts of Africa, have a different perspective than I’ve ever seen before, as does the history of Europe. I don’t think you need to understand French to understand the book, because the authors explain the idioms and changes well enough for a non-French speaker.
My biggest relief, after purchasing the book, is that it’s not dry. It’s written in a conversational style and it holds the attention. The largest problem with the book is that it’s almost 8 years old, so some of the later chapters—the ones about “now”— feel dated.
But this is worthwhile, particularly if you’re an sf writer. If you want to get a sense of how cultures work, how languages work, and the effects of time on both, then buy this book (and others like it). If you’re a casual reader who loves to see how words develop or if you just like history, this is worth reading for you as well.
Silverberg, Robert, editor, The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Orb Books Reprint Edition, 2005. Usually when I get compilations for my classes, especially older anthologies, I’m disappointed. I got this one because the students needed to read “The Cold Equations” and “Flowers For Algernon” and Ray Bradbury, and this seemed the best way to introduce them to the Big Names of the Golden Age. I hadn’t read (as I mentioned) the stories by the Big Three (Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov), but I figured that they would be good enough as an introduction.
I ended up liking the Clarke and Asimov more than expected. (There’s better Heinleins for a modern audience.) And I was pleasantly surprised by many other stories. Most are dated, as you would expect for stories that go from 1929 to 1964. The views of women are narrow (and there are only two women in the volume) and the views of minorities are non-existent (which is better than I expected, since I worried about the casual bigotry of the time).
Bob put the volume together in 1970, from votes taken by the newly formed Science Fiction Writers of America, which was mostly composed of white men, so it did skew the results. And it skewed the results in odd ways, because the “recent” stories, the ones from the twenty years before, are a bit strange. I was actually pleased with how many classics from that period ended up in the book. Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose For Ecclesiastes,” for example, was the most recent story in the book, and it is still considered one of Roger’s best stories.
So if you’re interested in the history of sf, then pick this up. It really is worth your time.
Smith, Dean Wesley, Thunder Mountain, Smith’s Monthly, November, 2013. Full disclosure: I read this book in September, when Dean finished it, but I saved it for here, so you can get your hands on it. Dean’s putting full novels in his magazine, Smith’s Monthly, and then releasing the standalones two months later. Yes, you can wait for this one, but why?
Thunder Mountain is a genre hybrid, like so much of what Dean writes. It’s also very romantic, like much of what he writes. He doesn’t quite follow romance tropes, which make this book paranormal something or other. He calls it science fiction, but most science fiction fans might think it something else.
Not that it matters. What matters is that the story is marvelous. Set in Idaho, where Dean lived much of his life, the story focuses on the wilderness and the state’s history. Duster and Bonnie Kindal introduce two of their friends who’d never met before, both professors of history, one from Boise State, and one from the University of Idaho. Duster and Bonnie tell Dawn and Madison that they can help with the history of Idaho research over the summer—and oh, boy, do they!
This book goes from 2014 to 1902, from Boise to the town of Roosevelt deep inside the Idaho Primitive area. Over 100 years ago, Roosevelt was a booming mining town, and then it got hit with a massive avalanche and flood. The town disappeared under water.
The town, the history, the characters, and the paranormal aspects all come vividly to life. Plus the book has the trademark optimism that marks the best romances. Read this one after a hard day. You’ll feel better.
van Vogt, A.E., “The Weapon Shop,” The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, edited by Robert Silverberg, Orb Books Reprint Edition, 2005. I had read a lot of van Vogt over the years, but never this piece. It’s still timely, quite creepy, and extremely well written. It reminded me about all I loved about early sf.
I’m so pleased you enjoyed my story, ‘Fear of Heights in the Tower of Babel’.
Your comments will warm me through the winter (and in Ithaca, NY, in winter, any source of warmth is more than welcome).
Thank you and I’ll happily go in with Henry Lien with that bag of gold.
BTW: Let me be the third to recommend the ‘Great Courses: The Story of Human Language’.
I loved it, Carl. Fantastic piece. The pleasure was all mine. 🙂
Uhm, hi, Kristine, I’m Henry Lien, the author of “Pearl Rehabilitative Colony for Ungrateful Daughters” and I read what you said about my story and I want to buy you a Tesla or a bag of gold or something.
I have to thank you, Henry. Great story!
The Story of French sounds like a great book — that’s going on my list.
In a similar vein, I recommend linguist John McWhorter’s Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, which focuses on the development of English, which has some quirks that no other Germanic language has, and even one or two that no other Indo-European language has.
If you’re into a more AV approach, I also recommend his lecture series The Story of Human Language, available from the Great Courses company as either CDs or DVDs. It’s about language development in general, with examples from languages all over the world. Fascinating in and of itself, but also valuable for anyone who creates cultures for SF or fantasy and wants to do a good job with the language component.
I’ve studied several languages to one extent or another, but learned a lot about language itself from both these pieces. McWhorter’s also an awesome lecturer, very absorbing. Highly recommended.
You’re the second person to recommend the lecture series, Angie. I’ll have to pick it up! Thanks.
Wow. Came to work late because I was finishing Doctor Sleep. Similar family background, same reaction to the book. And a catharsis of sorts. Thank you for once again clearly outlining why King’s best works should not be undervalued.
Isn’t it a fantastic book, Dale? It has now moved up to one of my all-time favorites. Thanks for the comment.
WRT submitting “Nightfall”,
“The greatest science-fiction story ever written”, Eric James Stone, Nature 467, (28 October 2010). Ultrashort (<1000w)
I’m in the middle of Doctor Sleep right now. The Shining is also one of my favorite novels, and like you I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I do like what King did with the character of Danny Torrance, though; Danny’s haunting memory of the toddler is just heartbreaking, and I don’t think anyone but King could have pulled that off as brilliantly. That said, the book took a while for me to warm up to, and I think I realize now that I was expecting the full-on horror of The Shining. As you said though, it’s a novel about healing and a fascinating character study.
Wait until you get to the end, Will. Then the memory of the toddler will be in context. It’s a wonderful novel.
Wowah, I had to read that para about your parents three times to take in the full import of what you were saying. ‘Prison Time’ sounds like a novel that needs to be written, straight.
Oh, I wrote parts of that novel in many things, Dinah. The most direct is probably Sins of the Blood, which I have a great deal of trouble looking at because of that. An older, wiser me, wrote about parts of it again in Bleed Through. It’s everywhere in my fiction. Just in pieces. Thanks for the comment.
The SF Hall of Fame was the textbook for the class I took in high school in the late 70’s. Other material was provided, but that was our main text. I still think it’s valuable, despite being lacking in women.