Recommended Reading List: August, 2018
Typos abound, even here on my website. I had this labeled August 2019 for the longest time. Who knew that I would be able to recommend books I would read a year from now?
Seriously, though, August started out well, with the Amanda Quick book that I just devoured. I had a lot of other reading to do, and much of it was fun.
I finished the massive sf project I was working on, which freed up my mind to read a lot of far future sf. It felt marvelous. I went back to Galactic Empires, which I had started last summer, and then turned to a bunch of other sf that piled up. Then I read the second novel in a romance series. The novel didn’t work, sadly, but I’m still buying the third novel in the series. I started a YA Cinderella story that ended up bloated and dull (sadly! I envy the idea the author was working with), and finally turned to some dark novels, not all of which worked, but were interesting nontheless.
I also read some wonderful nonfiction.
I’ve put the best of the best below. (Please note that I use Amazon links because I’m lazy. I’m sure you can find these books elsewhere if you want to.)
Berger, Paul, “The Muse of Empires Lost,” Galactic Empires, Neil Clarke, editor, Night Shade Books, 2017. Inventive and dark, “The Muse of Empires Lost,” caught me almost from word one. I was talking back to the story, telling our protagonist, Jemmi, that she had fallen in with a bad crowd, which showed how deep I was in the story. Amazing work here, with a kind of worldbuilding I hadn’t seen before. My only complaint is the title. It does not bring the story back to me at all. Otherwise, nice.
Clark, P. Djèlí, The Black God’s Drums, , Tor 2018. Well done alternate history with steampunk elements, featuring an alternate New Orleans in a world where the American Civil War had a completely different result—and not the cliched one you’d think. Our protagonist, Creeper, has a goddess who speaks to her, and advises her, even though she lives on the streets and survives by her wits. The New Orleans setting is marvelous, the worldbuilding is great, and the characters are interesting. I read it in one sitting (this is a novella) and hope that it’s part of a longer work. Because this is a world I want to visit again and again.
Clarke, Neil, Galactic Empires, Night Shade Books, 2017. I’ll be honest: I didn’t read every story in this book. I’ve found that Neil Clarke and I agree on what makes a fantastic science fiction story 75% of the time. In that other 25%, he picks stories that are idea stories or travelogues, filled explanatory dialogue if there are characters at all. Not for me, but really well done. (I read half of one before stopping, just because the writing was so good.)
As I mentioned in the notes above, I started reading this book last summer, then had to quit when my muse demanded all of my sf attention get focused on the book I was writing. I recommended a number of stories from this book last year and two from my reading this month (mentioned separately).
Most of the stories in this volume are adventurous and fun and reminded me why I love science fiction. You might not like every story in this volume, but I’d be surprised if you didn’t like most of them. And bonus: Neil chose stories from some of the best new writers and some marvelous old hands. Good stuff.
Lee, Yoon Ha, “Ghostweight,” Galactic Empires, Neil Clarke, editor, Night Shade Books, 2017. I had heard of “Ghostweight,” because it had been nominated for several awards, but I hadn’t read the story. I’m glad I have now. The story is breathtaking. We’re thrown in the middle of a conflict that’s difficult to understand—at first—and then all becomes clear. Throw in an unexpected twist, and the story becomes something heartwrenching. And on this tale, the title is perfect.
Questlove (with Ben Greenman), Creative Quest, Ecco, 2018. I love the Roots, and I particularly like Questlove. His public persona is very inquisitive and creative, something I admire. So when I found out he had written a book on creativity, I picked it up.
I nearly quit reading on page one, since his co-writer (the guy who put this into form) didn’t do Questlove a great favor. Big gigantic paragraphs, perfect grammar except in a few parts, meant that most of Questlove’s distinctive voice was lost or buried.
But I stayed with it and am I glad I did. The ideas here, the thoughts, and the way he views creativity inspired the heck out of me. I’m going to reread this several times, and probably write some thoughts about it in my writing blog as well.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
Quick, Amanda, The Other Lady Vanishes, Berkeley, 2018. I recommended the first book in this loosely related series last month. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this book when I realized that it wouldn’t be following the same two characters as the previous book. For some reason, I thought that Quick (a pen name of Jayne Ann Krentz) was going to do a multigenre series featuring a crime-solving team, a la J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas and Rourke. But no, this series is a riff off old Hollywood movies, with the same over-the-top adventures that those films have. The dialogue isn’t as witty, but that’s pretty hard to do.
The Other Lady Vanishes begins with Adelaide Blake escaping a private sanitarium right after (as, really) she sees her doctor get murdered. She somehow ends up at Burning Cove, the coastal town in California that the previous book was set in. We never really find out how, not that it matters. It works. The book is complex and campy fun, and I really wasn’t sure how she was going to put all of the pieces together. But she did, in a delightful way.
I can’t wait for the next, but I suppose I will have to, since these seem to be on an annual cycle. Ah, well. That’s the problem when you find something unlike anything else. It’s hard to find a similar read, which is what I want. (Right now!)
Silva, Daniel, The Other Woman, HarperCollins, 2018. Here’s the problem. When you are a spectacular writer, and you write a good novel, all those amazing novels that came before make your fans feel a bit disappointed. The Other Woman is not the best Silva novel by a country mile, but compared to the other books out there (not just in his genre, but working right now), a Silva novel is better than almost any other novel. His writing is stellar and his storytelling amazing.
I might have been too far ahead of him. He brings up Kim Philby in the middle of the novel, and I’ve been citing Philby to friends for two years now. (If you don’t know who Kim Philby is and you plan to read this novel, then good. You’ll probably have a better read than I did.) I felt the Philby connection was a bit of a stretch there to make a political point, but I’m okay with that and on board with the point.
Which is odd, because Silva’s politics are far to the right of mine. The fact that we now agree about the political situation in the world is a bit disconcerting.
I thought for a while about whether or not I’d recommend this novel, and then I realized I was comparing Silva to Silva and found him wanting. But when I compare The Other Woman to most of the other books I’ve read in the past six months, it’s among the best. So read and enjoy.
Westen, Robin, “My #MeToo Moment,” AARP The Magazine June/July, 2018. Westen, who is older than I am, came of age in the Mad Men era, and went through some horrendous experiences on the job that she blocked. The worst of those experiences came up as she started dealing with the revelations of the #MeToo movement, and that caused her to reflect on the things we had to put up with when chasing a secretary around a desk to grope her was something played for laughs rather than the abuse that it was. In this essay she captures the difference between then and now, and she also discusses why so many of us over 50 aren’t publically discussing our #MeToo experiences.
I started to write mine up nearly a year ago now, and had so many that they would fill a novel-length book, a book I didn’t want to write. So I will support the women who are speaking out, and continue to write my novels, like Protectors, which deal with these subjects in my way. Westen is dealing with the subject in hers. I’m just glad we’re all discussing these things, and I hope it will continue.