Pointing out a little update…

So, it’s a new year. It’s also, a little unbelievably, a new decade, at least for this blog – I started this back in December 2008. In ‘honour’ of that, I thought I should probably update a few things around the place that I’ve been meaning to do for ages (maybe even move to a new theme that actually uses more than 20% of the screen for content…).

Then, of course, I got ‘flu. That’s what happens when you start getting too decisive…

But one thing I have done is create a new index for my book reviews. Rather than going alphabetically, this time I’ve gone by rating, from brilliant down to eye-gougingly bad, which may be more immediately useful for people than a big alphabetical list – although do feel free to tell me I’m an idiot for doing it this way. I’ve also taken the opportunity to explain a little more about what those ratings mean in my practice.

[in other news, I did mean to be posting more this month, but… yeah. Aside from influenza, and other distractions, I’ve gotten bogged down in a review, and at the same time bogged down in a truly gargantuan (and relentlessly dour) novel, so… I would apologise for lack of content, but after a decade of this that would sort of ring hollow at this point…]

 

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A Call for Recommendations!

So, it’s allegedly a new year now (although I’m still suspicious – is there any chance we could have a recount?). And a new year brings with it, like whelks adhered to a hull, new ambitions and determinations. Or in my case, the same ambitions as before, but again. Like: I should read more.

Specifically, I want to read both more, and more widely. So I’m hoping some people might take pity on me and make some recommendations. I’d like to suggest six categories:

1. A classic (say, pre-1985) fantasy novel.

2. A “literary” novel from the 20th century.

3. A notable but underappreciated fantasy novel from the 21st century.

4. A popular fantasy novel from the last two or three years.

5. A “literary” novel from the last two or three years.

6. A science fiction novel from the 21st century.

7. A “popular”, “mainstream” novel of recent decades. I don’t know, a Grisham or a Clancy or something – but not TOO unreadable, please.

 

In each case, standalone novels are preferred, although I won’t automatically rule out, say, a book that happens to have a sequel.

For the “classic” fantasy novel, I’ve read a few of the big names already – there’s no point suggesting Tolkien, Lewis, Eddings, Brooks, Donaldson or Feist. And you can consider Cabell pre-suggested (as I hope to gradually read through his oeuvre over the years). But it would be nice to find something less famous that was still an interesting read.

For 20th century literary novels, Sholokov is already on the list (indeed, I’ve started, paused, and am now waiting for a non-abridged translation). You needn’t suggest Sinclair Lewis (although I doubt anyone was going to anyway…). I’ll be skeptical of suggestions of Hemmingway, having tried and failed to be interested in the past.

For 21st century fantasy, I don’t actually know that much, although I’ve read some Abercrombie and Abraham (as well as 90s holdovers like Hobb and Martin).

In general, I like to think I’m open-minded – I can appreciate beautifully-written classics, and genuinely gripping potboilers. I’m more inclined to like things that seem interesting and unexpected, but I’m willing to give anything a try.

I’m not necessarily looking for books to change my life. I’m looking to try to get more of a sense of what people are reading in categories like these where perhaps I’m currently too ignorant – although if I can learn while also enjoying the experience, that would be ideal…

Any suggestions gratefully received…

Tough Travelling: Assassins

Thought I’d have another (typically belated) go at Tough Travelling. This week, we’re dealing with Assassins:

Assassins are ubiquitous throughout fantasyland. Sharp-eyed readers (or even dull-eyed ones) will notice that their hooded forms often adorn book covers, and that they frequently appear – rather improbably – not to mind being the sole focus of our attention. Whether they’re spotlight hogs or camera-shy and brooding, most assassins will have trained for years and are very, VERY good at their job (i.e. killing people for money).

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Tough Travelling – Beginnings

Tough Travelling – the fantasy-trope-based blog challenge, is back! I only took part once or twice in the individual version, and I don’t see this being a weekly thing for me. But what better time to join in than for the inaugural edition of the new version? (now operated by Fantasy Faction)

This week, the theme is “beginnings”, and refers to the common trope of fantasy novels beginning: “in rather poor circumstances in an unimportant corner of the continent; a kitchen menial, perhaps, or a blacksmith’s apprentice. From there, the Guide advises that ‘you will be contacted by your TOUR MENTOR (normally an elderly male MAGIC USER with much experience) who will tell you what to do, which is almost certainly to discover you are a MISSING HEIR.’” (the inner quote is from Diana Wynne Jones).

I’m largely going to ignore that. Well, I’m not, but for my response to that, see the bottom of this post.

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Looking for recent Fantasy/SF

So, if you’re reading this you probably know I’m a fantasy fan… sort of. Because the truth is, I haven’t actively been reading new fantasy novels since the early part of the last decade. Since then, I’ve been mostly re-reading books, following a couple of my favourite authors (Hobb, Martin, Pratchett have lasted the longest), and now and then catching up on something I might have read as a kid but never actually did [plus trying to catch up on some classic SF, and even some non-genre works].

And I’m not going to suddenly go back to being a huge pulp fantasy reader. Don’t have the time or the energy.

But there’s been a meme this week, ‘which popular series have you secretly not read?’ or the like… and I look at people’s answers, and not only have I not read any of these popular series, I haven’t even heard of most of them! And this has pushed me to a crisis (er… in the technical sense, not the melodramatic sense!) that I’ve been heading toward for a while now.

I need to go at least a little way toward actually catching up on some of what everybody else has been reading the last decade.

But since I’ve not been reading it, I don’t know what it is.

So. I’m going to buy some books. Does anybody have any suggestions as to what I should buy?

– should mostly be fantasy, or maybe approachable SF
– should have been written in the last 15 years or so
– not necessarily THE biggest series, but should be fairly well known (unless it’s really fantastic, of course!)- I’m not hugely interested in grimdark for the sake of grimdark, although I don’t mind some mature content in a good cause
– I’m not really interested in political screeds and gimmicky pointscoring, whether it’s from the ‘Left’ or from the ‘Right’. I don’t mind sincere ideological content under the skin of a book, but if its main attraction is it being politically ‘right on’ for some readers, it’ll probably irritate me.
– I like intellectual, artistic, unique books. On the other hand, I can also appreciate big dumb fun books. [what tends to irritate me is books that pretend to be intellectual, artistic and unique, while actually being commercial and simplistic]
– I can really love huge tomes. I love Hobb’s giant books, I really quite liked Martin’s latest even gianter book. I can love big series. On the other hand, I don’t have has much time or energy for this as I used to have, so a huge long book or a massive series is going to have to be really good to get me to stick with it. And ideally it should get good very quickly if it wants to hook me.
– In terms of subgenre, I’d really like to discover some new epic fantasy to get into. But I have eclectic tastes, and I’m will to try pretty much anything, even romance (I actually really like romance stories in theory… I just almost always find them infuriatingly awful in practice; by ‘awful’, I mostly mean too much inauthentic and overly-cliché angsting).
– oh, and at present I only read actual, physical books. Feel free to mention things only available digitally, since I do intend to move with the times eventually, but I’m mostly looking for actual paper things I can buy.

 

Three things NOT to recommend to me: Seraphina, which I’ve read (liked it, I’ll buy the sequel, but I didn’t love it); Gail Carriger and Joe Abercrombie – I’ve got copies of books by both of them, which I do intend to read, but haven’t gotten around to yet.

 

So, anyone got some good ideas for me? [Many thanks in advance for your help!]

TOUGH TRAVELLING – True Love

tough-travelingTrue Love

Love has often not been Fantasy’s strong suite – unsurprisingly, perhaps, for a genre for so long primarily marketed at geeky teenage boys. As among many geeky teenage boys, there was sort of an apprehension that love was incredibly important and solved all your problems, but not really too much idea of what exactly it entailed. The love of Aragorn and Arwen, for instance, or of Rosie and Sam, was ideal for a fantasy novel: signposted from the beginning so as not to be a cause of any anxiety or confusion, then conveniently absent while all the exciting stuff was going on so as not to get in the way, and finally dealt with once and for all with a marriage at the end of the book, because as we all know real life ends with marriage…

…but along the way, the genre has produced the odd interesting pairing. Some truly moving; others, just truly disturbing. Here, in accordance with this ‘Tough Travelling’ meme that I keep meaning to participate in but never quite get around to, are a few that I can think of.

All are variants on the idea of ‘true love’ as presented in Fantasy; some may be more loving, or more true, than others. The meme calls for five… I ended up with 13. Well, 14, technically. But then I do way fewer than 1 in 3 of these, so I reckon I’m still in deficit…

Warning: beyond this point lie moderate spoilers for the works of Tolkien, Feist, Wurts, Weiss, Hickman, Eddings, Abrams, McCaffrey, Abrams, Hobb, Jordan, Green, Donaldson, Pratchett, Gentle, and Nyx Smith…

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Longest books I’ve read…

Just on a whim, I had a quick look to try to find the longest books I’ve read. Now, two things must be noted: first, that I’m taking ‘longest’ fairly literally. And, second, that I’m taking ‘book’ literally. So these are the single volumes that I have read in that format that have the most pages. This isn’t the highest wordcount, which would be very hard to calculate. It also isn’t the literal dimensions of the book, which depends on the paper as well as the page count, and would involve me using a ruler for every book. It’s just a simple metric, and is entirely unfair, as it depends on which edition I happen to have of which book (most importantly hardcover vs paperback). But just for fun… the 30 longest books, in page counts, I’m aware of having read:

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