Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunday Morning Coffee: Recommended Reading, Second Quarter 2010

We adore Alastair Reynolds. Out last month in U.S. paperback from Ace is his House of Suns, another one of his love stories wrapped inside a billion-year epic. Reynolds is a poet of technology: clones are "shatterlings"; "aspic-of-machines" is the term for the nanobots and other medicinal therapies one applies as an unguent to wounds. Reynolds is especially good at the toss-off line that illuminates the deep trend, the broad sweep: "Cloning is a technology like making paper: it is not difficult if one knows how to do it, but extraordinarily tricky to invent from scratch..." (p. 97).

Iain M. Banks is the other current master of the billion-year spree, painting on an enormous canvas but always keeping individual human lives in the forefront. Banks and Reynolds are the heirs of Asimov and Herbert, and especially the Vance of the Demon Princes series and the Alastor novels. (Scalzi and Haldeman as the left-handed heirs to Heinlein?) I am halfway through Banks's Matter, another novel of The Culture, published in 2008 (Orbit). At its heart this is a picaresque, with some of the best pert servant-clueless king dialogue since the 17th century. Or maybe it is a novel of ideas in the 18th-century manner, an anthropological inquiry...

Am also partway through Olga Slavnikova's 2017 (translated from the Russian by Marian Schwartz; from The Overlook Press, 2010). Will review in more detail when I finish, but worth the reading: 2017 is genuinely strange, hard to classify, like the reflection you think you see on the edge of vision or the shadow of a bird that flies across your path. "Krylov for some reason lost his sense of his own height and couldn't tell whether he was in fact taller or not." That captures the mood of the book.

Danielle Trussoni's Angelology (from Viking, 2010) is uneven but -- in its best bits-- engrossing. If you like Lukyanenko's Night Watch trilogy, or any of the urban vampire-hunter series (Saintcrow, Butcher, etc.), you will enjoy Angelology...and its likely sequel(s).

The King's Gold by Yxta Maya Murray (from Harper, 2008) is a good romp, "an old world novel of adventure" as the sub-title has it. Sharp and witty characters, literary/historical riddles, pulp action, a wash of the Gothic supernatural...Reminds me of the Special Agent Pendergast series by Preston & Child, also a little bit of Eco, and of Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind.

Two that I did not finish, despite high expectations: The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova, and A Dark Matter by Peter Straub. I need to explore why I did not enjoy either of these, what failed to work for me. Both are well written, thoughtful, serious of purpose. I was pre-disposed to like them: I devoured Kostova's 2005 debut The Historian, and I have long enjoyed Straub's work (regardless of my opinion, he is clearly one of the modern masters of horror and the supernatural) I want to understand what mechanic on my side as a reader rendered these two particular novels cold for me.

1 comment:

Julie Musil said...

Ah, so much to read, so little time! This looks like an excellent list of books to read. Thank you!