Recommended Reads is a monthly feature in which the Skiffy and Fanty crew tell you about one thing they recently read that they think you might like too.
Here are their picks:
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Orbit Books: Oct. 2013)
To say that a lot of people are talking about this book is an understatement. Yet, the amount of buzz Leckie has received for Ancillary Justice, her debut novel, is deserved. This is the kind of military SF / space opera a lot of us have been waiting for. From the first pages, the novel tears down our comfortable notions of self and gender, pulls apart language to display its arbitrary construction in relation to culture, and shoves us right smack dab in the middle of a sprawling, reminiscent empire. It’s the kind of novel that my geek side can squee about without end…oh, hell, my academic side is doing that too. If you’re looking for something that combines the scale and wonder of space opera, the intensity of military SF, and a dab of the politics of New Wave SF (think a gene-splicing mad scientist creating a child out of the DNA of Joanna Russ, Samuel R. Delany, and Ursula K. Le Guin, with a side of Kim Stanley Robinson and Edgar Rice Burroughs — basically, it’s Ann Leckie), then this is the book for you. Seriously. Read it.
The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross (Ace: 2010)
I’ve a confession to make. I don’t actually like H.P. Lovecraft. I find his work boring — not something one looks for in a horror tale. However, I love just about anything that borrows Lovecraft’s dark, tentacle-y horrors. There’s just something about it I can’t explain. Thus, Resume with Monsters by William Browning Spencer is a favorite as well as Charlie’s Laundry series. (There. You’ll get multiple recommendations wrapped up in one. ;)) If you’ve not heard of The Laundry Series, don’t start with this book. Find The Atrocity Archives and start there. The Laundry Files series is filled with tech in-jokes, and self-deprecating humor. It’s the story of Bob, computer programmer and former tech corporation employee based in the UK, who accidentally calls attention to himself by creating a programming algorithm that calls forth something large, soul-eating, and otherwise unpleasant from the Other Side. That’s when a secret government organization (The Laundry) steps in, saves his bacon, kidnaps him, and recruits him. The books are comprised of his memoirs — his adventures travelling to distant and not so distant places, meeting interesting, tentacle-ly creatures, and killing them and the excitement of wading through the British governmental bureaucracy which might be just as soul-killing and tentacle-y (red tape) on a different scale. In The Fuller Memorandum, Bob’s superior, Angleton, sends him off on an assignment that goes bad because Bob is ill-prepared for what he finds (Angleton didn’t brief him first). A civilian is killed (note: The Laundry can’t sack Bob, but they can give him a desk job). Bob is given temporary medical leave while an investigation ensues. And then Angleton shows up missing, a demon wearing a Russian spy knocks on Bob’s front door, and Mo (Bob’s wife) is forced to put the creature down – -saving them both from a fate worse than death. And then it all goes down the rabbit hole after that. Bob is a great character, but I love Mo more. Bob is more of an administrative guy. Mo is black ops. Her weapon of choice is a magical and very deadly violin. The thing I adore is that the case has a sticker on it that reads: THIS MACHINE KILLS DEMONS. If you don’t get the reference google Woody Guthrie and look very closely at the sticker on his guitar. Anyway, good stuff. Read it!
A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan (Tor Books: Feb. 2013)
Written in the style of a 19th century memoir, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan is set in a Secondary World similar to our own. There are countries analogous to England, and France, and Romania. Oh, and yes, there are dragons. The book is the early life and career of the most famous naturalist of the age devoted to Dragons. Isabella is a fearless young woman, both entirely within and breaking beyond the confines of her social station in life. The world she inhabits, aside from Dragons, is much like ours, although there are hints of an elder civilization and race that might be tied to the Dragon remnant of the novel’s present. If you can get into the Victorian style, the novel is immensely rewarding. It feels authentic. Isabella is an interesting character, the dragons really feel like authentic creatures in this world, and there’s action, adventure, travelogue…and oh yes, then there is the art. The art in this book, from the cover to the interior illustrations and maps, is absolutely beautiful. That, too, helps make the book feel real, like it really is a naturalist memoir dropped from this world into our own.
Suffered from the Night: Queering Stoker’s Dracula edited by Steve Berman (Lethe Press: Oct. 2013)
This is an anthology of stories that use Bram Stoker’s classic novel as a launch pad. In this book, you’ll find secret histories, alternate perspectives, and continuations of the stories presented in Dracula. Steve Berman has assembled a collection of intriguing, original, and chillingly delicious stories that feel convincingly like that could be part of the canon. I recommend this to anyone who enjoyed the original, or who likes curling up on a chilly autumn night with spooky Victorian stories.
The Lives of Tao by Wesley Chu (Angry Robot Books: April 2013)
This is an Angry Robot pick. I first read The Lives of Tao late last year, reading ahead for the 2013 releases. As a lifelong geek, The Lives of Tao stood out to me for several reasons. The most important reason is that it’s Just. Plain. Fun. It has the joyful storytelling sensibility that some technically impressive writers just lack, a sense of play that carries readers through the Zero-to-Hero plot. Here’s the setup: dead-end-IT-job-working slacker Roen Tan becomes the unwitting host for Tao, a member of an alien race that possess/pairs with humans. Thing is, Tao’s on the losing side of an alien civil war that spans the world and runs back several centuries. Roen has to pick up kung fu and spy-jutsu to stand a chance of survival (the other side are, of course, sending kill squads after poor Roen because of Tao). Along the way, Roen and Tao become a great odd couple, and Roen learns confidence and some backbone. The Lives of Tao is a delightful action-SF read with promise of more to come. The second novel, The Deaths of Tao, just released on October 29th.
Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver (Orion Books: 2010)
It’s Halloween, so I would be remiss not to plug something seasonal. Roald Dahl once said that the ghost story is the most difficult form of fiction to get right (or words to that effect), and I believe he is correct, at least insofar as it is damn hard. Michelle Paver nails it. Dark Matter is not a long novel, and the ghost story does seem to be at its best in the shorter, tighter form (think The Haunting of Hill House, for example). Paver gives us the story of a young man whose voyage to the Arctic in 1937 becomes nightmarish when he is alone, in months of darkness, and something is coming for him. Chilling and assured, this is wonderful stuff.
What are you all reading? Let us know in the comments!