James Talks (Mostly) Books

What it says on the tin, really.

Lists!

Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones, Kim Newman The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time - Martin Popoff The Great Movies - Roger Ebert, Mary Corliss Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads - David Morrell, Hank Wagner Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorn, Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorne Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: an English-language selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle

In case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit of a geek. Like many geeks, I love lists; reading them, making them, debating them or flat disagreeing with them, I love it all. As such, I have quite a few books that are, basically, "best of" lists. I love these because they point me at good stuff I haven't experienced yet.

It struck me that there are many different ways to compile such a book, each with it's own benefits and drawbacks. So, here are a few different ways of doing it, with examples.

 

1. Utterly Subjective, Single Author

 

Example: The Great Movies - Roger Ebert,Mary Corliss  The Great Movies - Roger Ebert,Mary Corliss  

 

This style is probably the simplest: You list your favorite examples of a thing and explain why. This is the style I employ on this blog, and the style Ebert employed in his Great Movies series.

 

Benefits: Ease of writing, pleasantness of experience, enthusiasm, easy to organize.

 

Drawbacks: No data to fall back on, personal exposure, not authoritative.

 

You don't have to watch, read, or listen to anything you don't want to, but people can attack you for your opinions (risky in the internet era). Still, it's a lot of fun to just gush about the stuff you love.

 

2. Attempted Objective, Single Author

 

Example: Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: an English-language selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle  Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels: an English-language selection, 1949-1984 - David Pringle  

 

Here, the author makes their best stab at an "official" list, compiling examples because of importance, influence, quality, or other criteria based on their own judgement.

 

Benefits: More comprehensive and authoritative, helpful creative/critical exercise.

 

Drawbacks: "Why this one and not...", exposure to works that one finds unpleasant, "important" works that don't hold up.

 

This kind of list is great for the author in two ways: They have to step outside of themselves, and it's a chance to dig into classics they haven't gotten around to (and any purchases are tax-deductible, because it's "research"). Still, they have to slog through some works they don't like, and will still be open to accusations of bias. Hell, they will be biased, no matter how hard they try to avoid it. This will also affect the passion in the writing. And they still don't have concrete data backing them up.

 

3. Subjective Take on Objective Data, Single Author

 

Example: The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time - Martin Popoff   The Top 500 Heavy Metal Albums of All Time - Martin Popoff  

 

Gather data from various polls, interviews or other outside sources, compile a ranking, and then express your opinion of the various works, their placement, etc.

 

Benefits: Opportunities for snark, exposure to new works, not having to dredge your own brain.

 

Drawbacks: Frustration, works you may find awful/offensive, disappointment when some of your favorites are low on the list or absent altogether.

 

This one is just too much work for me, although it would be interesting to, say, watch and review every Best Picture winner, in order. Watching Crash again would be a chore, though.

 

4. Utterly subjective, Multi-Author

 

Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones,Kim Newman   Horror: The 100 Best Books - Stephen Jones,Kim Newman  

 

Get a bunch of people to talk about their favorite works. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Benefits: Less writing, lots of discoveries, high enthusiasm.

 

Drawbacks: Logistical nightmare, missed deadlines, explaining the concept repeatedly.

 

Now I just need to find 100 people in the field who have enough time to write a piece, make sure there are no double-ups (two people picking the same subject), editing each piece, communicate with various agents/publishers, etc. If you prefer organizing to writing, not a bad choice, but keeping your ducks in a row can be a bear. Plus, there will be classics/"essentials" that no one picks, but you can blame your contributors for that.

 

5. Attempted Objective, Multi-Author

 

Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorn,Michael Moorcock,James Cawthorne   Fantasy: The 100 Best Books - James Cawthorn,Michael Moorcock,James Cawthorne  

 

You and a cohort come up with a list of classics, then divide and conquer.

 

Benefits: Lessened workload, interesting conversations, a united front.

 

Drawbacks: Arguments, resentment.

 

Doing an SF list but hate Heinlein? You can have your friend write that piece while you review that Ellison collection. Great, but what happens if one of you has a personal crisis? The other has to step up, leading to a potentially unbalanced workload. And the hashing out of the actual list can be both fun and frustrating, while dealing with each other's criticism of your writing styles just might suck. Just kidding, it'll be fine!

 

6. Subjective Takes on Objective Data, Multi-Author

 

Example: Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads - David Morrell,Hank Wagner   Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads - David Morrell,Hank Wagner  

 

Gather the pertinent data to compile a list, then get other people in the field to discuss their favorites from said list.

 

Benefits: Enthusiasm, less writing, hard data.

 

Drawbacks: Logistical issues, unpicked subjects.

 

Here, you have the same issues as #4, except you're backed up by data. But what if nobody really wants to write about something on the list? That falls to you, and can lead to some entries having all the verve of a high school book report.

 

 

Anyway, thanks for reading this list about books of lists.

Top 5 Urban Fantasy Series

I have been a fan of UF since I read the first Anita Blake novel, Guilty Pleasures, back when god was a baby and dirt was new. The balance of mystery, fantasy and horror was all I could hope for. Over the years, it has transformed from an outlying subgenre into a major force on the best-seller lists. I have embraced and discarded various series' over the decades, but these are the ones I still read.

 

1. Dresden Files - Jim Butcher

 

The current big daddy of UF, a #1 NYT best-seller and cultural phenomenon; it even spawned a (short-lived and mediocre) TV show, as well as a comics series. I've sung it's praises before, and will do so again. Good stuff!

 

Quick story: My mom knows Jim, so, when I was in the hospital with a collapsed lung, she got him to call and wish me well. He's a great guy. Unfortunately, I can't remember most of the conversation because the Dilaudid kicked in right after I answered the call. Opiates don't mess around, kids.

 

2. Nightside series - Simon R. Green

 

Got into this series because of Jim Butcher's blurb on the cover of the first book. This series is both darker and fluffier than the Dresden Files. Basically, there is a side of London where it's always after midnight, magic and mayhem are always on tap, and nothing is what it seems. It's a blast, with enough in-jokes to make any sf/f fanatic smile. Green's Ghost Finder and Secret History novels are also worth a look.

 

3. Iron Druid Chronicles - Kevin Hearne

 

On the mythical side of UF, you have a series about a 2,000 year-old Irish Druid who fights gods and vampires. A lot of fun, but there are some iffy gender politics, especially in the first couple of books.

 

4. Alex Verus series - Benedict Jacka

 

One of the more political UF series, this deals with the governance of mages in the UK as much as the adventures of Alex and his friends, especially in the later books. A little more dour than some of the other choices here, but still tons of fun.

 

5. Checquy series - Daniel O'Halloran

 

The only female-led series on this list (will explain in a bit), and even more political than the Verus books. The Checquy is basically the UK's magical Ministry, and the lead in book one, The Rook, has a leadership role in the administration. She appears in a more supporting role in book two, Stiletto, but the emphasis of that one is diplomacy. Great stuff, but a bit headier than most UF.

 

About the lack of female-led or, especially, female written UF on this list:

 

Laurell K. Hamilton may have introduced me to UF (hell, originated it), but I feel the Anita Blake books went off the rails circa Harlequin, to the point where I couldn't even enjoy her other series or revisit the earlier entries. I will always hold the author in high esteem (she also helped my mom early in her writing career), and will recommend her, especially if you want heavy doses of sex in your UF, but it's not my cuppa.

 

Rachel Caine's Weather Warden series is fun, but I got bored around book 5.

 

I jumped off the Mercy Thompson bandwagon after book 2; Mercy is a great, tough, amazing woman who, for reasons, always needs rescued. That pissed me off, but if you're willing to give that a bye, they're a lot of fun.

 

There's my two cents.

Goal Progress

I set several goals for this year; this is my progress thus far.

 

Total books: 10/75

 

Am on track, but want to pick up speed.

 

Public domain titles: 1/12

 

Collections/anthologies: 1/10

 

...but I'm partly through three others, and will finish one tonight.

 

Award winners: 3/35

 

Need to jump back on this.

 

TBR challenge: 2/20

 

Running a little behind here.

 

In other words, I need to get it in gear!

Professional Reader

Six Favorites of 2017

Soldier of the Mist - Gene Wolfe The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Liu, Ken (March 8, 2016) Hardcover - Ken Liu 700 Sundays - Billy Crystal The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies - John  Langan Whip Hand - Dick Francis

These are the six best books I read (for the first time) last year.

 

Soldier of the Mist - Gene Wolfe  Soldier of the Mist - Gene Wolfe  

 

Combine the Greek pantheon with an amnesiac soldier trying to discover himself and you get one of my new favorite fantasy novels. Wolfe has a reputation for both beautiful prose and unreliable narrators; these are on full display here. This was the first novel I've read by Wolfe; it will not be the last.

 

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Liu, Ken (March 8, 2016) Hardcover - Ken Liu  The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Liu, Ken (March 8, 2016) Hardcover - Ken Liu  

 

A brilliant collection of short stories, some magic realism, most SF. Tears through quite a few subgenres, including alternate history and cyberpunk. Themes of alienation, parenthood, and racism repeat throughout.

 

700 Sundays - Billy Crystal  700 Sundays - Billy Crystal  

 

A beautiful, and hilarious, remembrance about the author's parents, especially his father. There are a few painful moments, but also a lot of laughs.

 

The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead  The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead  

 

The first Pulitzer-winning novel I've read, this is a fantastic piece of magical realism / speculative fiction, with an emphasis on racial prejudice. This book imagines the Underground Railroad as a literal train route, and we follow an escaped slave on the various legs of her trip. Through various means, Whitehead examines many historical crimes against Black Americans, including several that took place well after slavery. How the author does this should be discovered through the reading; this book is magic.

 

The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies - John  Langan  The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies - John Langan  

 

One of the best horror collections I've read in years. Many of these stories are post-modern in their approach to horror, using the genre's themes and tropes (as well as formal experimentation) to examine it. Good stuff.

 

Whip Hand - Dick Francis  Whip Hand - Dick Francis  

 

A great suspense/mystery novel that centers around horse-racing. It also deals with grief, confidence, and despair. Loved it.

 

I would highly recommend these books to anyone; they're all amazing.

Goals/Challenges 2018

Here are my preliminary reading goals for 2018, including a few challenges I'm undertaking.

 

Challenges:

 

75 Books Total

 

20 TBR Books

 

For this, books that are easily available (owned, family/friend, or IN local library), that are already on my TBR.

 

12 Public Domain Books

So, hope to hit the classics. Have a few on my shelves, too.

 

10 Collections/Anthologies

Love short stories, and already have a bunch on my shelves

 

35 Award Winners Challenge

My own challenge: Read a winner of a big award from each year of my life. Awards include lifetime achievement, in which case any of that author's works would count for the year awarded. Have started a list for this, which includes a few from the TBR and Collections challenges.

 

Books can be used to complete multiple challenges, which should make this more manageable.

 

Goals

 

Read a wider variety, with an emphasis on classic and/or highbrow fiction, even within genre.

Maintain this blog.

Interact more on GR.

Write more.

 

So, what are your goals?

2017 Goal Wrap-up

As you've probably guessed, this year sucked for me. That was true for my reading (and book buying) as much as my life as a whole. So I didn't clear a lot of my reading goals.

Let's just rip the band-aid off, shall we?

 

TBR List

 

0/7

Not one of these got read, and I lost one of them in the various troubles I've had. Will replace it, in time

 

7 "Gotta Get" Books

 

4/7

Much better, this one. Attempted Cuckoo's Calling, DNF'd as I found it boring. Read Assassin's Apprentice and it's sequel, and enjoyed them. Bought Tigana, though I have yet to read it. Read and loved Wide Carniverous Sky, got it from the library. Bought, and then lost, View From the Cheap Seats. Will replace it, eventually.

 

Total Books Read

 

92/75

 

Cleared it!

 

TBR Clearance

 

16/25

 

Nope! To be fair, I spent five months separated from most of my books, which seriously dented my progress.

 

Follow-Through

 

Again, no, but I get a pass on this one. Stress levels were just too high, you know?

 

High-Brow

 

Did read a few more literary works, but I certainly didn't up my ratio. Still, most of the ones I read made my Best-of list (coming soon).

 

Conclusion

 

I did the best I could, all things considered. The deck was stacked in favor of the house, and the house won. Still, I was able to walk away from the table with a few shreds of dignity.

A Few Thoughts on Star Wars

I am going to avoid spoilers, in case people have not seen these films. If you haven't seen the latest installments in the Star Wars franchise, I endorse them. Take that for what you will.

 

The Last Jedi is out, and it has divided the faithful in ways no other SW film ever has.

And that's okay.

The Force Awakens, to some, held too tightly to SW history, which, to them, kept it from telling it's own new story. The Last Jedi, on the other hand, has been, by some, attacked as being too radical in paving the future of the franchise. These opinions are valid, and I can see why these movies fall on either end of some peoples' Goldilocks zones.

However, the opinions of people who, like me, love the new entries in the franchise are equally valid. Claiming that I am not a true fan because you disagree with me is disrespectful, incorrect, and close-minded. I love Star Wars, which makes me a fan.

Is TLJ a perfect film? No. Do I disagree with some of Rian Johnson's artistic decisions? Yes. Do I think I should get to decide what is or is not SW canon? No; those decisions are determined by the rights holders, and should be; that's how the law works.

Signing a petition, as many have, to have TLJ  removed from canon, is a great way to put your opinion on record. It determines nothing, though, and shouldn't. Creative decisions are, and should be, the purview of the creators.

Taking Rian Johnson's film out of canon would be disastrous for many reasons: It would confuse many; it would put the opinions of the vocal few ahead of the majority; it would be a disturbing step towards art being taken out of the hands of the people making it; etc.

In the end, all of these decisions will be made by Disney, LucasFilm, and the future writers and directors of this franchise. We should make our opinions known, allow others to do the same, and wait for the next films with whatever feelings of dread, anticipation, or indifference we have.

 

My ranking of SW films, best to worst, as of this moment:

Empire

New Hope

Rogue One

Last Jedi

Tie: Return of the JediForce Awakens

Phantom Menace

Revenge of the Sith

Attack of the Clones

 

May the Force be with you. Always.

A Few Thoughts on Star Wars

I am going to avoid spoilers, in case people have not seen these films. If you haven't seen the latest installments in the Star Wars franchise, I endorse them. Take that for what you will.

 

The Last Jedi is out, and it has divided the faithful in ways no other SW film ever has.

And that's okay.

The Force Awakens, to some, held too tightly to SW history, which, to them, kept it from telling it's own new story. The Last Jedi, on the other hand, has been, by some, attacked as being too radical in paving the future of the franchise. These opinions are valid, and I can see why these movies fall on either end of some peoples' Goldilocks zones.

However, the opinions of people who, like me, love the new entries in the franchise are equally valid. Claiming that I am not a true fan because you disagree with me is disrespectful, incorrect, and close-minded. I love Star Wars, which makes me a fan.

Is TLJ a perfect film? No. Do I disagree with some of Rian Johnson's artistic decisions? Yes. Do I think I should get to decide what is or is not SW canon? No; those decisions are determined by the rights holders, and should be; that's how the law works.

Signing a petition, as many have, to have TLJ  removed from canon, is a great way to put your opinion on record. It determines nothing, though, and shouldn't. Creative decisions are, and should be, the purview of the creators.

Taking Rian Johnson's film out of canon would be disastrous for many reasons: It would confuse many; it would put the opinions of the vocal few ahead of the majority; it would be a disturbing step towards art being taken out of the hands of the people making it; etc.

In the end, all of these decisions will be made by Disney, LucasFilm, and the future writers and directors of this franchise. We should make our opinions known, allow others to do the same, and wait for the next films with whatever feelings of dread, anticipation, or indifference we have.

 

My ranking of SW films, best to worst, as of this moment:

Empire

New Hope

Rogue One

Last Jedi

Tie: Return of the JediForce Awakens

Phantom Menace

Revenge of the Sith

Attack of the Clones

 

May the Force be with you. Always.

This is What Happened...

As you may have noticed, I have been inactive on BL for most of the year. This is why.

I have struggled with social anxiety and depression all of my life; my first diagnosis came when I was five years old. I had coped, relatively well, for over a decade without meds, holding down jobs, living alone, making friends, the whole thing.

That all changed in April. Not only was I unable to go to work, I was unable to call in because I'd have to talk to someone. I would go days without eating because I couldn't face the grocery store. I stopped seeing my friends.

I attempted suicide, twice, and was admitted into a hospital each time.

I was evicted from my apartment, on what was probably the worst day of my adult life.

I had to move back in with my mom, in Texas, after a decade in Denver, my home.

So yeah, it sucked.

I am doing much better now. I am on meds, have a therapist, and am on disability. I am not currently working, and don't know if I'll ever be able to hold down a job again, which sucks; I've always been the kind of person to throw my whole self into my jobs, to the point where they often defined me.

Now you know. Talk to you soon.

Things That... Just No

Self explanatory, man.

 

1. Zombie Romance

 

    Impractical, if nothing else. Also, ick.

 

2. Sparkling Vampires

 

     If your boyfriend sparkles, he's a dancer, not a vampire.

 

3.  Bollywood

 

     The other things here borderline offend me, but this just puzzles the hell out of me. I love musicals, but there are limits. Bollywood disagrees, leading to cyberpunk musicals, among other puzzling specimens.

 

4.  Highlander Knock-Offs

 

     Can we have an official remake, if only to get rid of the 800 "Scottish Immortal Romance" books that come out every year? Please?

 

5.  Female-Led UF Where the Man Takes Charge

 

     NO.

Random Thoughts

The title says it, really:  Just a few random semi-bookish thoughts for y'all.

 

1. Shared universes are a thing right now, so how about a late-30's one. The Rocketeer, The Shadow, The Phantom and Dick Tracy, maybe have The Spirit be a trainee under Tracy who gets killed and goes after the Syndicate? Would I be the only person in the theatre to see Doc Savage team up with the Phantom in South America?

 

2. I miss swashbucklers. Who would you like to see replace Errol Flynn as the swordsman of the times? Is there a new Fairbanks? I think Orlando Bloom might/could, but he just doesn't have the savoir faire, y'know? Still, let's get a Captain Blood remake, stat!

 

3. The Easy Rawlins novels are among my all-time faves, in mystery at least. Who is your favorite detective (of any sort), and  who would you have play him/her? (Denzel was a solid Easy, but Don Cheadle as Mouse was PERFECT! You  know I'm right because I used caps.)

 

4. What poem or lyric would grace your tombstone? For me, the last verse of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah", or the last stanza of Frost's "Stopping By Woods..."

 

5. I'm asking for interaction, which I haven't before. How does that make you feel?

 

That's all for now!

Why PopLit Isn't All Bad, or, James Patterson Serves a Purpose

The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown 1st to Die - James Patterson The Twilight Collection - Stephenie Meyer Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James

So, for the last week I've been at the mercy of someone else's library. We've all been there: You're on vacation, staying with friends and you forgot your eReader, you didn't bring print because... You get it.

Anyway, spent a lot of time reading over the last week, and little of what I read would have been on my list. (It wasn't all bad though; any week where I read six Tor shorts and a Dick Francis is a success.) And I spent a bit of that time reading best-sellers, as you do, specifically books by James Patterson and Dan Brown.

And I almost enjoyed it.

Look, this is not my first go round with either of these authors (I was young, they were popular...) and I'm not trying to attack them or question the tastes of the public that has made these men millions of dollars. Instead, I'm going to try to explain it (to myself, more than anything, so you can skip this if you've an excuse from your mum).

 

1. The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown  It's Fun to Feel Smart

 

    Dan Brown makes relatively simple puzzle thrillers, often historic and/or artistic twists to them. They are flawed, sure, but Brown does a few things brilliantly: He uses patterns to help is readers solve the puzzles with his characters; he foreshadows his twists enough so they're comfortable, but doesn't spoil them; and he expertly uses controversy when it rears it's head.

I'm going to focus on the puzzles. What Brown does is give you a very difficult puzzle to start, then walk you through it, step by step. Then, later, he'll give you a simpler variation on the same puzzle, then a harder one, slowly escalating until you're solving problems at the same time and skill as Langdon himself. It's rewarding and addictive, and makes the reader feel good about his books. Hence, repeat sales.

 

2. 1st to Die - James Patterson   It's Fun to Be Surprised

 

    James Patterson is another author who gets tons of sales and no respect (except from Larry King), but he also has a few awesome tricks up his sleeves: Short chapters and paragraphs, leading to a constant sense of accomplishment; constant cliffhangers and foreshadowing, to keep you reading; and a lot of twists, so you don't get bored. Ever.

That's the big one, because most people think of reading as either work or boring. If you can get around that, people will love you for it.

 

3. The Twilight Collection - Stephenie Meyer  Female-Targeted Pseudo-Porn!

 

    Cracked.com talked about this in their Ninja Turtles episode of After Hours, oddly enough. Lots of talk, something resembling empowerment, and just enough sexuality to make you feel happily naughty. (Don't worry, I didn't actually read this one, which is why I refuse to mock it... except for the sparkles. Fuck that shit.)

 

4.  Fifty Shades of Grey - E.L. James   Wish Fulfillment; Also, PORN!!

 

     The success of this series has been debated all over the place, but it's not complicated: Everybody wants to get off; everybody likes feeling superior (speaking here of the grammar and spelling errors); and everybody wants to win the lottery (or have a rich, gorgeous person pop in out of the blue and say, "Fuck me right, and you'll be well-compensated," except, you know, suave).

Nothing wrong with that.

7 Great Fantasy/Urban Fantasy Series

Storm Front - Jim Butcher Something from the Nightside - Simon R. Green The Gates (Samuel Johnson, #1) - John Connolly The Rook - Daniel O'Malley Moving Pictures - Terry Pratchett The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) - Patrick Rothfuss On a Pale Horse - Piers Anthony

At this point, it is no surprise to anyone that I am a fantasy fan, specifically urban fantasy. I like magic, monsters, adventures, etc. I also like revisiting characters and worlds, which means I'm definitely a series guy. I like a good standalone, mind you, but they are rarely as immersive as a long-running series.These are a few of my faves, and why. I am excluding the ones I discovered last year, as I've already discussed them elsewhere.

 

1. Storm Front - Jim Butcher  The Dresden Files - Jim Butcher

 

First Book: Storm Front (2000), ongoing

 

One of my all-time favorites, this series follows Harry Dresden, a professional wizard based in Chicago. It starts out as basically a PI series with magic, but dives much deeper into the lore starting with book 3, Grave Peril. Fast, funny, and exciting, this is the big daddy of modern UF, hitting #1 on the NY Times list a few times. There are 15 books in the series thus far, plus various shorts, novellas, and comics.

 

2. Something from the Nightside - Simon R. Green   The Nightside series - Simon R. Green

 

First book: Something From The Nightside (2003), completed

 

This series takes place in the titular Nightside and follows John Taylor, PI, ne'er-do-well

and prophesied heir to the Nightside, as he solves crimes, learns about his birthright, and challenges the Powers That Be. The writing can be a bit repetitive, and there are a couple lesser books among the twelve (thirteen including a collection, which is fun but inessential), but some of the characters are just flat awesome, especially Walker and "Shotgun" Suzie Shooter. Can get a bit gruesome, but the humor is always spot on.

 

3. The Gates (Samuel Johnson, #1) - John Connolly  Samuel Johnson series - John Connolly

 

First book: The Gates (2009), completed.

 

A very funny combination of demonology and theoretical physics, intended for YA readers. A great trilogy about a young boy whose town is frequently treatened with demonic takeover. I'm not usually a YA guy, but this just flat rocks.

 

4. The Rook - Daniel O'Malley  Checquy series - Daniel O'Malley

 

First book: The Rook (2012), ongoing.

 

Another fun UF series, this one told, thus far, from exclusively female perspectives. There are many people in the world born with strange abilities and, in the UK, it is up to the Checquy to handle them. Very funny, often gory, and occasionally thought-provoking. As the second book, Stiletto, mostly abandons the lead from the first book in favor of two new characters, it will be interesting to see what happens in book 3.

 

5. Moving Pictures - Terry Pratchett  Discworld - Terry Pratchett

 

First book: Color of Magic (1983), completed.

 

Confession time: I've only read six or so of these books and feel no pressig need to complete the series. I will read more of them, and happily, but am in npo rush, nor do I feel any need to read them in any particular order. There are about forty books in various subseries, plus various addenda, and, while there is continuity, flitting around has worked fine for me thus far.

 

6. The Name of the Wind (Kingkiller Chronicle, #1) - Patrick Rothfuss  Kingkiller Chronicles - Patrick Rothfuss

 

First book: The Name of The Wind (2007), ongoing.

 

An epic fantasy in the traditional vein, with great characters, beautiful writing, and interesting magic systems. This series follows Kvothe first as a student, then on various adventures. Stories within stories, an unreliable narrator, a school story, this is as interesting structurally as narratively. Am desperately anxious for book three.

 

7. On a Pale Horse - Piers Anthony  Incarnations of Immortality - Piers Anthony

 

First book: On a Pale Horse (1983), completed.

 

Both the worst-written and most structurally ambitious of all these series. this deals with mere mortals who, in various ways, become incarnations of various concepts, such as Death, Time, War, etc. Originally intended as a quintet, then extended to eight books. I never bothered with the last three books because the first five tell a complete story. Said story is not told sequentially, as the books take place at around the same times. Instead, we get the same occurrences from different perspectives, slowly deepening context, and a growing sense of the underlying conflict. The writing isn't particularly strong, but the ambition is laudable.

Currently Reading and February TBR(?)

Swag - Elmore Leonard The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov, Diana Burgin, Katherine Tiernan O'Connor The Wolf's Hour - Robert R. McCammon The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead - Max Brooks World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks The Song of Roland - Anonymous, Dorothy L. Sayers

I am currently reading three books, and hope to read at least seven this month. I'venot been reading much, though, and generally suck at sticking to TBR's (I tend to see a  shiny, get distracted, and run off chasing flutterbies and pretty new books), so don't expect to see all of these books come my monthly wrap-up.

 

1. Swag - Elmore Leonard  Swag - Elmore Leonard  - Currently Reading

 

    A couple of low-level scumbags start committing armed robberies in pursuit of the good life in 1970's Detroit. Fun thus far, but not one of Leonard's best. I've been told the ending's a pip, though. I'm about a hundred pages in, and it is picking up.

 

2. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov,Diana Burgin,Katherine Tiernan O'Connor  The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov,Diana Burgin,Katherine Tiernan O'Connor   - Currently Reading

 

    One of my occasional stabs at reading a classic, in this case Early Russian Magical Realism. So, the Devil comes to Stalinist Moscow to see what Hell is really like. There's also a giant talking cat named Behemoth. Not a quick read, only fifty pages in, but delightfully bonkers.

 

3. The Wolf's Hour - Robert R. McCammon  The Wolf's Hour - Robert R. McCammon  - Currently Reading

 

    Or, The Bourne Lycanthropy. A WW2 set spy thriller with a werewolf in the lead. Not as campy as it sounds, but doesn't seem to take itself too seriously, either. This is the second McCammon for me, after Boy's Life, which I didn't like as much as I wanted to. Still, the first hundred pages of this have been nifty, so...

 

4. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead - Max Brooks  The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead - Max Brooks  - To-Read

 

    Have read bits and pieces (heh), and it seems fast, fun, and funny. Cool.

 

5. World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks  World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War - Max Brooks  - To-Read

 

    Seems like a natural next step, yeah?

 

6. The Song of Roland - Anonymous,Dorothy L. Sayers  The Song of Roland - Anonymous,Dorothy L. Sayers  - To-Read

 

    Because, deep down, I want to be the guy who reads classics for pleasure, even if that means reading epic poetry. Besides, wouldn't it be funny if I, a life-long mystery fan, read Sayers's translation of this before any of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels? I thought so, anyway.

 

7. TBD

 

    Look, I have hundreds of books, as well as access to book stores. I'll think of something.

January Wrap-up

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books - Nick Hornby Shadows Linger - Glen Cook Dark Visions - Conversations With The Masters of the Horror Film - Stanley Wiater Dark Entries - Robert Aickman Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky The Fifth Profession - David Morrell

Okay, I read six books in January, half of them re-reads. Not my best month, but oh well.

 

A quick note on my ratings:  *****,  great; ****, quite good; ***, decent; **, mediocre; *, dreck.  You won't  see many * or ** ratings because I usually DNF them. If I don't finish, I don't review, partly because it wouldn't be fair, but mostly because they aren't worth my time.

 

1. Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books - Nick Hornby  Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books - Nick Hornby   *****

 

    My only five-star this month, and a rerun. I love Hornby's non-fiction, so a collection of his book criticism for Believer magazine is perfect for me, and seeing him struggle with the magazine's "acid-free" policy is hilarious (I couldn't do it, myself, as you'll see shortly). Plus, a loot of great recommendations, albeit in a more mainstream vein than my usual tastes. Still, any book that got me into reading Sarah Vowell is aces.

 

2. The Fifth Profession - David Morrell  The Fifth Profession - David Morrell  ***

 

    Another re-read, this from one of my favorite thriller writers. Alas, not one of his best. This is a silly book, but a lot of fun. It involves bodyguards, espionage, psychosurgery/brainwashing, the return of Japanese imperialism, insta-love... Like I said, silly, stupid fun. Would have made a good camp movies tarring Michael Biehn.

 

3. Dark Entries - Robert Aickman  Dark Entries - Robert Aickman  ****

 

    My first short-story collection of the year, and a damn good one. Most of the stories are oblique, many to the point where I'm not quite sure what, if anything, happened. Still the atmosphere was great, and "Ringing the Changes" is an all-time classic for a reason.

 

4. Dark Visions - Conversations With The Masters of the Horror Film - Stanley Wiater  Dark Visions - Conversations With The Masters of the Horror Film - Stanley Wiater  ***

 

    Really, 2.5 rounded up. It is a series of interviews with actors. writers, directors, etc. Many of the people are interesting, but Wiater is a bland interviewer. There are few, if any, tough questions, the creative and technical sides of film are left unexplored, no personal insights... Well=written, with the occasional fun nugget, but often dull.

 

5. Shadows Linger - Glen Cook  Shadows Linger - Glen Cook  ***

 

    Second in the fabled Black Company series, and just as uneven as the first. Glum, grim, and yet still engaging. I will read book three, as I own it, but am in no rush.

 

6. Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky  Indemnity Only - Sara Paretsky  

 

    First in the V.I. Warshawski series of P.I. novels. First published in 1982. it hasn't aged well. Also, the lead is difficult, though understandably so. Still, it's well-written and often funny, and deals with white-collar crime, a rarity for the sub-genre.

 

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All in all, not a great month, but not terrible. Hopefully, it was better for you folks.

7 Great Short Fiction Collections

Strange Wine - Harlan Ellison The Shawshank Redemption - Stephen King Tales from Nightside - Charles L. Grant Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman Night Music: Nocturnes Volume Two - John Connolly Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman (Volume 5) - Manly Wade Wellman 20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill, Christopher Golden

I am a big short fiction reader, and have always been. I love being able to hop in, geta full experience, and move on in a single sitting. Or take a long, hot bath and read an entire novella. That kind of thing.

These are all single author collections, as opposed to multi-author anthologies. I prefer collections, in general, because, while they may vary wildly in terms of content and quality, they tend to be more cohesive, less jarring. Not to say there aren't some amazing anthos (this is what foreshadowing looks like)...

You'll also notice that these are mostly horror. I feel horror is often best at shorter lengths, giving short, sharp shocks before disbelief can set in. Novellas please me because you have just enough space to flesh out a few characters and give your story depth, but not enough to wander too far off  course.

Anyway, a few faves...

 

1. Strange Wine - Harlan Ellison  Strange Wine - Harlan Ellison  

 

    My first Ellison, recommended by Stephen King in Danse Macabre. Contains some of his best, weirdest works, but any Ellison is worth picking up. Still, this has a story about a nice Jewish boy whose dead mom is still trying to run his life. For his own good, of course. How can you resist?

 

2. Different Seasons - Stephen King  Different Seasons - Stephen King  

 

    Four novellas, all amazing. Yes, my favorite is "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption," but"The Breathing Method" is a close second. I love club stories, and this is one of King's rare forays into that sub-genre. 

This is, to my  mind, King's most consistent collection. All of the others have at least one dud. Not this one. There's a reason three of these four tales have been made into great movies.

 

3. Tales from Nightside - Charles L. Grant  Tales from Nightside - Charles L. Grant  

 

    Another one highly recommended by King (he wrote the intro), and another that introduced me to one of my favorite authors. One  of the masters of "quiet horror," Grant wasn't much one for gore, preferring to imply some truly terrifying things. Dark and disturbing, with a few weird turns here and there.

 

4. Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman  Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders - Neil Gaiman  

 

    I love almost everything I've read of Gaiman's, but this is my favorite of his collections. Not much more to say about it, really, it's just great.

 

5. Night Music: Nocturnes Volume Two - John Connolly  Night Music: Nocturnes Volume Two - John Connolly  

 

    Read this last year, and loved it. Everything from literary fantasy to Ligotti-esque horror to true-life hauntings, all in one beautifully written package. Still need to read more Connolly.

 

6. Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman (Volume 5) - Manly Wade Wellman  Owls Hoot in the Daytime & Other Omens: Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman (Volume 5) - Manly Wade Wellman  

 

    All of the Silver John stories in one place. One of my favorite series characters, John is an itinerant balladeer who confronts various bizarre happenings during his wanderings through Appalachia. There's nothing quite like this out there.

 

7. 20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill,Christopher Golden  20th Century Ghosts - Joe Hill,Christopher Golden  

 

    If this only had the title story and "Pop Art," it would still make the list, but there's so much more, too. Those two are sweet and sad, but the rest gets pretty damn dark while still keeping a bit of wonder.