Wednesday, August 03, 2005

When in Doubt, Post Lists

I thought it might be an interesting experiment to see if I could post something less than 1,500 words long, and also it does seem that AtWQ has become a TV-and-Harry Potter blog, and I had originally envisioned it as a book blog. I actually have something book-related and a bit more substantial planned, but until then, these are the books I am most looking forward to reading (looking forward, in this context, means waiting until they come out in paperback, hoping against hope to find them in Israeli bookstores, ordering them from Amazon, and waiting at least a month before they arrive):
  1. Shriek: In Introduction by Jeff VanderMeer - VanderMeer's City of Saints and Madmen is probably my favorite work of modern fantasy, a non-linear novel about the life and death of the fictional city Ambergris. Through stories, pamphlets, newspaper cuttings, and one piece that's completely in code, VanderMeer conveys an overpowering sense of place. His strange and beguiling city, conceived in sin and steeped in the blood of innocents, leaps off the very first page, so real you can almost smell it. Shriek is VanderMeer's first Ambergris novel, a biography of the historian Duncan Shriek written by his sister, Janice (both familiar to readers of CoS&M). I, for one, can't wait for another walk down Albumuth Boulevard.
  2. Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link - When Link's first collection of short stories, Stranger Things Happen (now available online for free), was published, you could be mistaken for thinking the book had magical healing properties, so exuberant was the praise for it in certain circles ("Kelly Link is the exact best and strangest and funniest short story writer on Earth that you have never heard of at the exact moment you are reading these words and making them slightly inexact. Now pay for the book."--Jonathan Lethem. "Kelly Link is probably the best short story writer currently out there, in any genre or none."--Neil Gaiman). Inevitably, this praise turned out to be excessive. Amazingly, it was not terribly so. Link's fiction is an intoxicating mix of fairy tales, modern sensibility, and surrealism. Now she's got a new collection out, and word is it's just as strong as STH.
  3. Looking for Jake by China Miéville - the best thing about being the poster boy for modern, urban fantasy is that your publishers realize there's a market for your short fiction, and now those of us who didn't have the time or the opportunity to track down each of Miéville's short stories in magazines are about to have them handed to us in a neat package. Most intriguing to me is the Bas-Lag novella "The Tain", but what I've seen of Miéville's non-BL short fiction is also quite delicious.
  4. Mothers and Other Monsters by Maureen F. McHugh - of McHugh's novels, I've only read the superb China Mountain Zhang, a novel in stories about a future communist America, with several protagonists including a gay American of Asian descent, a prickly Martian settler, and the naive daughter of a Chinese functionary. It remains one of the finest works of science fiction I've read in recent years, and McHugh's new collection of short stories has been getting some steller reviews.
  5. Misfortune by Wesley Stace - Readerville has been raving about this book for several months, describing it as a cross between Middlesex and The Crimson Petal and the White. That was practically enough for me, since I adored both of those books, but Misfortune sounds truly delightful--an 19th century boy is raised as a girl, discovers the switch and is forced to fight for both his inheritance and his identity.
  6. Lord Byron's Novel by John Crowley - A new novel by John Crowley? Good. Historical fiction? Good. Epistolary fiction? Good. Novels within novels? Good. Secret codes? Good. Mix them all together and you get a book I wouldn't miss for anything in the world.
  7. The System of the World by Neal Stephenson - honestly, the first two books in Stephenson Baroque Cycle frustrated me. At least so far, there truly is no excuse for telling this story in 3,000 (!) pages, especially when so many of them are given over to massive infodumps and self-contained stories that could easily have been excised (the Vagabond Jack Shaftoe gains acclaim in India by forging a trade route through guerilla-infested territories. He does this by blowing elephants up with phosphorus!). What frustrated me the most, though, was that for all their flaws, I enjoyed Quicksilver and The Confusion very much, read them with bated breath, and can't wait to see how the story ends.
Some more serious stuff (TV-related, alas) is in store for later this week.


Rich said...

How about the Susannah Clarke book in the works, which is supposed to be set in the years after Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell? Or would this be too far off from established fact to make this sort of booklist?

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Or would this be too far off from established fact to make this sort of booklist?

Pretty much, yeah. I was focusing mostly on books that had recently been published or were about to be published (except for Shriek: An Introduction, which I had just read about in VanderMeer's blog), although there was hardly anything scientific about the selection process. Given that Clarke took 10 years to write S&N, I'm not holding my breath for the sequel.

Also, as much as enjoyed S&N, it wasn't my favorite book of the year - I admired it more than I loved it. I'll read Clarke's next book, but I wouldn't be heartbroken if she never wrote anything again.

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