lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
Let's say you wanted to introduce someone to science fiction. But not just anyone: someone coming from a decidedly lit-fic background, someone who's going for a MFA or references Nabokov when discussing their own work. Assume a reasonably open mind, but no background beyond what you can't help absorbing from popular culture. (I'm modeling this hypothetical person on the library writers group I've started attending, which is open to genre but whose producing members so far write anything but.) Let's say this hypothetical person asked, "I don't know much about science fiction. Where should I start?"

Five books seems like a good number. Trying to represent something as big and variegated as a genre with a mere five books is an exercise in absurdity, of course. But trying to bring in a bit of everything that counts as science fiction would produce a list so unwieldy you might as well not have a list at all. Remember, you want your hypothetical person to actually read them, not be overwhelmed into giving up before they've started.

I found it surprisingly easy to come up with a list. Not necessarily my favorite books, but books that a lot of other books are in conversation with. Books that can carry the flag for significant portions of the genre; not that all books like that are just like this, but if you like this, you might like those /*broad sweep of arm*/ as well.

Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress
Isaac Asimov, The Caves of Steel
Orson Scott Card, Ender's Game
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Lois McMaster Bujold, either Shards of Honor or The Warrior's Apprentice

Moon Is A Harsh Mistress stands for the whole "consensus future" that used to be such a staple of SF and still turns up occasionally, the small-l-libertarian idea that we will colonize space, and it will look more or less like this. It also gives us the sentient computer, and a host of smaller but useful ideas like funny-once versus funny-always. Caves of Steel gives us the Three Laws of Robotics, which arguably every robot book since has been in conversation with one way or another. Ender's Game gives us aliens, and the concept that we have fought the monster and the monster is us. Hitchhikers is there to show that SF can be both fun and funny, and because sending anyone into a foray into modern SF without understanding the significance of the number 42 seems like an act of cruelty. ;-) And Bujold because any recommendation list that comes from me is going to have Bujold on it if I can possibly help it, but also to show the depth of characterization and plot and worldbuilding that modern SF is capable of at its best -- and how SF can be in conversation with other genres, as well as itself. The choice of titles depends on whether that particular reader would respond better to a strong female character or a coming-of-age story (the library writers group has one of each).

Yes, I know that I'm leaving out vast swaths of the genre. There's no cyberpunk, for example. And no a lot of other things. But remember, five books. Only five. And the goal here is to suggest things that will be accessible to someone with no SF background; some of the more outre explorations of the genre might have a bit too much learning curve for a first taste.

And of course any recommendation list is going to reflect the recommender's tastes and priorities.

So, what do you think? Agree, disagree, yes-but? What would your own list look like?

An Automatic No

Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 08:40 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
Oh, Timothy Hallinan. You were so, so close to an outstanding book. I was really regretting that Crashed was released as a $15 trade paperback, because I was thinking this series was something I wanted my very own copies of and that's more than I'll generally pay for a book. Engaging characters, interesting plot, and a really compelling writing style. And then you blew it.

Because no, your character doesn't have a 9mm automatic that he keeps in a tackle box, as you described. He certainly didn't fire one, as in single, as in a lone solitary bullet, shot into the bad guy's shoulder from an automatic in the manner you related. And he sure as bloody hell definitely did not acquire an automatic by staking out a gun store until somebody bought a new firearm and then following the guy home and stealing it from him.

Shame on you. And shame on your editor, who you kindly credit with making the book what it is but who clearly didn't pick up the basic fact-checking that you dropped the ball on. Because that word "automatic" isn't just a cool-sounding word to throw around about a gun; it means something -- and it's not what you evidently think it means.


I may still read the rest of the series, courtesy of my local library, because the writing style really is compelling. But I'm relieved of my dilemma over the price, because a book with a screw-up like that in it is not a book to devote shelf space to so I can have it handy to pull out and re-read.
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
As always, to each their own, IMO, YMMV, etc., etc. More notes for my own reference than reviews proper; if you find something of use here, help yourself; if you think I'm completely wrong, well, that's why there are lots of different kinds of books in the world.

I've had half of this write-up sitting around forever; I rather fell off the modern-thriller wagon for a while, and forgot to post what I'd already done. So first, the catch-up:

Spoilers for: Blown, Die Twice, House Justice )

That was the old; on with the new:

Spoilers for: Private Wars, Siro, Code Name Verity )

Free the Books!

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013 02:57 pm
lizvogel: Good / Bad (Good Bad)
We stopped for a bite last night at the local branch of Claddagh Irish Pubs, which I suspect is about as Irish as green beer, but we like the food and for once they weren't having live music. This is one of those places that has shelves all around the eating areas, and the shelves are filled with a mishmash of decorative objects, including a lot of old books. Being, well, us, the housemate & I both started browsing.

They had an omnibus of the first two Quintain books! And an atlas-history of the Second Great War published in 1942!

You're darned right we asked if they'd sell them. Imagine our disappointment to be told that they used to, but then Corporate came around once and there were almost no books on display, so they forbid the practice. Those books have to stay there doing nothing but being Things To Dust, unread, even though there are people who want to read them.

That's right; Claddagh Corporate thinks it's more important for them to have arbitrary 3-dimensional book-binding wallpaper than that these (obviously desirable to somebody, since they got cleaned out) books be read.

A midnight raid to liberate All The Books is probably impractical, though don't think I didn't consider it. A tart letter to Claddagh Corporate is doubtless more sensible, though I don't imagine there's much chance of getting through to the sort of people who think that books should be dead decorations at the cost of the stories within them being unable to interact with anyone -- even with the additional carrot of pointing out that they could charge $1 a book, replace them at $0.50 from any overstuffed used bookstore, and donate the remaining $0.50 per to charity for a corporate PR win.

Taking along a couple of Reader's Digest Condensed Books (an abomination upon the face of literature anyway) and surreptitiously swapping them for the desirable books the next time we go there is an approach that keeps sitting in the back of my brain saying, "You could, y'know." Claddagh Corporate would still have just as much occupied shelf space, and since one book's the same as any other to people who don't realize there's something between the covers, there'd be no harm to them, a benefit to me, and a great wrong righted....

All the books

Saturday, September 29th, 2012 08:40 pm
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
Schuler Books, our local indie mini-chain, is celebrating their 30th anniversary this weekend. The celebration includes a sale.

The sale is 30% off on all the books.

It's the first time in longer than I can rightly remember that I've walked out of a bookstore with more books than I could comfortably carry. 30% just happens to take a paperback down to a price I'm comfortable paying. And that's without a list handy (we'd forgotten the event was this weekend). The housemate & I are seriously considering going back again tomorrow.
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
Addendum to Day 1: I forgot the puppet theater! In addition to filking and foam swords Friday night, Mary Robinette Kowal brought out her portable shadow-puppet theater and did a condensed version of a classic puppet story (The Broken Bridge?) for us. Nifty!

Sunday: Morning came early enough that I was glad I was used to a different time zone. Forgot my morning Red Bull and had to go back up to the room for it, which enabled me to cope with coffee.

"Science, Technology, and Fantasy" started off with a demonstration from Klages on the wrong way to combine these ingredients: she played us all "The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins" on her iPhone. This inspired S. Monette to quip, "Curse you, Leonard Nimoy, you bastard," which seems only fair. The word "technology" was first used around 1650, at which time it meant more "technique" as in art/craft/language than "machines". It was a very quotable panel, to wit: "The 19th Century is one big morass of 'holy crap!'" (Marissa), and S. Monette boiled down the scientific method to "What does that do?" "Holy crap!" Klages pointed out that the pouch (pocket, handbag) was the first human tool, vitally useful to any hunter-gatherer, and went on to define science as trying to recreate the manual that should have come with the Earth but wasn't put in the box. Other notes include that the Chin Dynasty had mass-produced crossbows with interchangeable parts circa 200 B.C., and something about memory palaces as a mnemonic technique, which I need to read up on.


I missed the last two panels and lunch because I was sitting in the con suite with Pat Wrede, talking writing and queries and synopses. Need I say more?


I did make it to the wrap-up panel, which the con board sensibly started off with the things they already had solutions for for next year. Somebody else brought up the issue of newcomers feeling excluded (I was in such a good mood by that point that I hadn't been going to bring it up, though I did chime in in support). It says something about 4th Street that not only did they take the criticism in good part, but within ten minutes there was an official Newbie Wrangler for next year along with a fistful of ideas to make new attendees both be and feel more included.

I understand the cookies got public kudos during 4th Street's version of closing ceremonies, which I was sorry I missed (although I was doing the one thing I'd rather have been doing); several people made a point of telling me later how they'd liked them. And none of them were left to take home, which is of course the ultimate compliment. (Note to self, that was three batches of dough. And put in some cardboard or other support system next time, esp. for the wands & unicorns.)

Other book recommendations include John M. Ford's The Last Hot Time (for interesting POV use) and The Scholars of Night (SF spies), Anthony Price's spy novels, and William Sleator's House of Stairs (for creepy spy stuff).

Dinner was with another group of nifty folks at the exceedingly yummy Chinese place again, where we ordered several dishes for the table and nibbled in abundance.

Then there was hanging out in the con suite until late, and eventually helping tidy and consolidate con-suite-ish stuff. And finally a quick whirl of packing up my own stuff for the next day's departure, and bed.
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
The problem with doing a con report is that the better the con, the less time and energy you have to document it.

Cut for length... )
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
(In an effort to clear out some stuff-in-progress, I'm posting some book-review drafts that have been languishing on the hard drive. It's as though it's the end of the year or something.)


Again, ObDisclaimer: These are strictly my opinions, YMMV, etc., etc. More notes for my own future reference than proper reviews; read at your own risk.


Spoilers for: The Quiet American, Ride A Pale Horse, The Quiller Memorandum, Think Big, Think Dirty, Dark Duet )

Overall, not an impressive crop, although I must remember Adam Hall next time I'm at the library. Anyone got any recommendations? I like my spies unapologetic and my tradecraft old-school, in attitude if not necessarily in technology.

I may take a little break from fiction for a while, anyway; I've got a massive stack of espionage-related non-fiction awaiting my attention. And there's fiction of my own I should be writing. Or maybe I'll just re-watch =Burn Notice=.
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
"If there are people in the world for whom espionage was ever the only possible calling, Bachmann was such a person."

and

"We do detail, not grand vision."

from A Most Wanted Man, 2008

This is why, despite the fact that I sometimes get tired of needing a scorecard to keep all the players straight, I read Le Carre. This is what proper espionage fiction is all about. His spies are spies, not unwillingly dragooned innocents, not angst-laden conscientious semi-objectors. They don't bemoan their involvement in the business; they are the business, and would no more choose otherwise than they would choose to stop breathing. And his plots are about small things, an asset turned here, a document copied there, a dozen little pieces that add up to a certain portion of knowledge or influence, another move in the ever-ongoing game. Vitally important things to the people involved with them, perhaps, but there are no world-domination plots here, no kidnapped heads of state or end-of-America-as-we-know-it. Small stories, that in their smallness contain more reality than the biggest Hollywood marquee.

This, when I say I want an espionage novel, is what I want to read.

OMFG Funny!

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010 09:26 pm
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
This is new to probably no one but me, but if you're into the Vorkosigan books and you've somehow missed it, one of the bookstores that tends to host her signings has put up Lois McMaster Bujold's "interview" of Miles. As a preview of the soon-to-be-released novel, it is tantalizing without being spoilery. As a sample of an author's relationship with her favorite victim character... I think I hurt myself laughing.
lizvogel: lizvogel's fandoms.  The short list. (Fandom Epilepsy)
(Crossposted on LJ)


I've been on an espionage-novel kick recently. ObDisclaimer: These are strictly my opinions, your mileage may vary, etc. The following are my notes for my own reference, not proper book reviews, but if others find them useful, well and good.

Spoilers for: The Once and Future Spy, Agent In Place, The Ninth Directive, The Miernik Dossier, A Spy By Nature, The Snare of the Hunter, & The Matarese Circle )

I think I've figured out why 60s and Cold-War-era spy novels work so much better for me than modern ones. It's not that I miss the simplicity of the Cold War; the Russians never were the only bogeymen in the world, as Neil Burnside affirmed. It's the attitude toward the espionage business itself. In the older novels, there's a much more positive attitude toward the spy game. Not that there aren't drawbacks to the job, not that the characters themselves don't recognize the corrosive effects of what they do for a living, but generally they accept the necessity and, given a choice, wouldn't give up the game. Modern spy novels, by contrast, tend to have characters who are appalled by the trade, who don't want to be in it, and who ultimately reject it; the authors are so focused on the tawdriness and the self-perpetuating futility of espionage at its worst as to suck all the fun out of the genre. Which is a legitimate perspective and all, but the reason I'm reading spy novels in the first place is that I find the trade appealing. I like my spy fiction with a considerable amount of grit and realism, yes, but I'd rather read about characters who accept what they do, or at least feel some affinity for it, rather than characters who spend entire novels wanting nothing to do with what they're doing. After all, if they don't want to be there, why should I be there with them?

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