Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reading in May

This collection felt like being handed a treasure map. Suddenly, I know just where I’m going when exploring this bizarre sub genre. Yes, not all of the stories worked entirely – Kathe Koja’s, for instance, was too bizarre and irrational for me to get any emotional connection with at all – but the ones that did drastically outweighed the others, and even the not-so-great stories are never trite or boring. If you’re interested in The New Weird, and somehow have not read this yet, it’s absolutely essential.

This was a very interesting biography-esque book, primarily consisting of letters to and from Bulgakov. My only complaint is that the summaries at the beginning of each chapter (detailing the overall events of his life, so as to give the letters some context) could probably have benefited from being spread throughout, rather than lumped at the beginning, as it felt odd in some of the lengthier chapters to go from reading about Bulgakov’s death say, to reading a letter he wrote four years earlier about his dinner plans. Still, if you’re interested in Bulgakov, this’ll shed quite a bit of personal and professional light on the man.

Almost every story in this collection is about finding subtle holes in our understandings of the world, in deconstructing almost every kind of happiness that people find for themselves. That’s not to paint this as a wholly grim work, though, because the beauties of the work come from those same interactions and observations. If I was to compare the writing to any one author, I’d probably go with Stephen King, as odd as that sounds. The stories here, like in King’s work, are not based on forward motion, but rather a flashback and musing filled contemplation of a man’s life, or at least a part of it. This is a quiet work, but an interesting one too.

Though no one part of The Neutronium Alchemist is as jaw dropping as the what’sgoingon!? segment of the Reality Dysfunction, the book as a whole is much stronger, with most of the issues I had with the first book ironed out. Well, except its own infuriating cliffhanger ending. Still, these books are the epitome of wide screen space opera, as far as I can tell, and I can’t wait to dive into The Naked God. Review coming when I’ve finished the series.

20th Century Ghosts is at once exactly what a horror collection should be (disturbing, supernatural, even morbid on occasion), perfectly aware of every one of your expectations (Bobby Conroy Comes Back from the Dead works precisely because it’s nothing like what you expect), and something completely different (such as the touching Pop Art, which is undoubtedly one of the greatest short stories I’ve ever read). If you’re interested in horror, you need to read this as soon as possible. I’ll definitely be returning to these stories on here, though I’ll need some time to gather my thoughts, I expect.

[Note: At the time of writing I still have not read My Father’s Mask, so, technically, I haven’t finished the book. All the same, I’m going to finish the collection by tomorrow (so still May) without a doubt, and I’m unsure about the status of my internet then, so I figured it was better to go through with a blank than to procrastinate and miss the end of the month.]

The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon seems, at first, like it’ll be an excellent novel. The young girl’s voice is perfect, and the minutia of her struggle to survive, lost, in the woods is gripping. Then the supernatural comes in and – who’s surprised? – it all goes to hell. Not the hell of fire and brimstone, but rather one of wholly absent tension and dues ex machine. Yay. Full review coming at some point.

Apartment 16’s a character driven horror story, and as such it’s a good thing that the characterization’s generally excellent, and the walls positively drip with atmosphere. There are a few problems herein – the ending was a bit of a letdown, Apryl’s character isn’t as captivating as Seth’s, and god do I hate that Y in Apryl – but none of them really matter when stacked up against the work as a whole. Review coming soon.

The first quarter or so of this book was fairly difficult, to be honest. It’s fairly standard in fantasy to have a period of disorientation – nothing makes the world seem quite so exotic and strange as being clueless about it, after all – but here that period goes on for well over a hundred pages, and it starts to get quite annoying. Still, the book does eventually come together. The writing is, as you would expect from Mieville, excellent, and the narrative’s incredibly fun. This isn’t my favorite of his works, but it’s certainly not a disappointment.

This book of essays turned out to not be my thing. At all. Individual portions of essays were appealing – the book had two quote-worthy passages, which was quite impressive for a volume of only 139 pages – but every single one of the essays felt meandering and disjointed, an effect that was only exacerbated if the reader reads more than one in a sitting. Before long, all the boundaries between them break down, whatever hard-to-detect main ideas there might have been long lost, and you’re just drifting along on an endless small-wonders ramble.

Swainston’s novel was one that I was quite looking forward to, and it didn’t disappoint. The Year of Our War is a bizarre, character driven story that looks into immortality and how societies – and people – progress over time. My full review is here.

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