What to Read – Summer 2012

At the end of the EPL season, I took a much-deserved two-week vacation with the intention of recharging my batteries, spending time with my family, unplugging from the internet and reading books. Much of my recent reading has come in the form of graphic novels (Scott Snyder’s Batman work and the latest 3 volumes of Powers are excellent), but I hadn’t had much time or energy to plunge into proper books. Thankfully, vacations change that, especially when the only TV on is in French. Here’s what I bought (basically all of which came recommended via Twitter) with a short review of those I have read so far.

The Chronoliths – Robert Charles Wilson
The Sisters Brothers – Patrick DeWitt
Heroes Die, Blade of Tyshalle, Caine Black Knife – Matthew Woodring Stover
Feed – Mira Grant
Vicious Circle (plus the rest of the Felix Castor stuff) – Mike Carey
Riddley Walker – Russell Hoban
The Quantum Thief – Hannu Rajaniemi


I’ll start with the best one I have read so far, which is Heroes Die. I don’t know which of you recommended this, but thank you, because this is one big badass fantasy/sci-fi crossover that deserves a much larger audience than it has ever received.

Assuming you don’t have some sort of early-onset Alzheimer’s, one of the pleasant surprises that happens less and less often as you grow older is that you run across awesome older material that you’ve never heard of before. This is especially true for Fantasy/Sci-Fi fans, because with regard to the written word, the genres haven’t actually been around that long. Basic research of ‘Best of’ lists plus friend recommendations and perusing the shelves of libraries and bookstores eventually leads to the feeling that you’ve read or ruled out pretty much all of the good stuff that has gone before. This is especially true once the actual number of books you have read in the genre starts to run well into the thousands. Obviously the world is changing and “shelves of the library” is a phrase that won’t exist at some point, but old fogeys like me spent entire summers of our childhoods did just that in desperate quests to stave off boredom. It’s not exactly Harry Potter, but coming home from the library with 4-5 books per week during the summer time, finishing them all, and doing it again next week was a significant part of my young adult adventure. This might have only happened because where I lived was surrounded by corn fields, I was too young to drive/drink/get laid, and video games were really freaking expensive to buy on a 5$/week allowance that also needed to cover monthly comic book supplies, but it was my childhood, dammit, and I am ever-so-vaguely proud of it.

Aaanyway, I had never heard of Stover’s work, nor of the Adventures of Caine series, which is a little surprising because there is a fuckton of awesome packed into this first book and it was initially published way back in 1997. This meant I had no expectations coming into it outside of reading a one paragraph summary on Amazon. Having finished the book, I am delighted to say that Heroes Die is an outstanding melange of politics, morality, swords, sorcery, Hollywood and Avatar all rolled into one fat blunt of a book. If I actually knew what the phrase meant, I’d probably call it a tour de force. Stover’s characters and dialogue are enjoyable and his handling of combat sequences shines.

I don’t want to say much more than this because I really enjoyed not knowing anything about the book and having it unfold in front of me. This first work is pretty self-contained as well, meaning you aren’t embarking on any 12-volume quest to defeat ultimate evil by starting this one. It was kind of like watching The Bourne Identity for the first time in the theatre and walking out thinking, “Fuck, that was awesome! I really hope they make more of those.” And then you discover that, holy shit, they already did. I haven’t read any further in the series yet, but I will do so in the next month.

Verdict on Heroes Die: Super awesome. Read this book.

I picked up Robert Charles Wilson’s The Chronoliths because @inkwell_looter and @misterorange said I had to, and I didn’t really feel like arguing. Time-based sci-fi is really tricky to do well in the written word without getting overly technical, but this book does it thoughtfully, and in a way that left me really pleased with the resolution even if it’s not a particularly happy book. (I think it’s easier to do in time travel in films because the audience is a lot more willing to overlook plot holes and inconsistencies than they are in print.) (Also, I’m not saying the book is unhappy – it won’t cause non-automatons to break down in tears like Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife.) (Finally, I’m addicted to parenthetical asides and have been since I was 22. Sorry.)

Where was I? Time travel… Robert Charles Wilson… right, The Chronoliths. Right. So yeah, I thought the book was really good, and particularly enjoyed following the examination of how The Chronoliths –giant, immutable monoliths that appear in various places on Earth – changed the future via their sudden existence. The characterization of the lead and the people around him isn’t anything special, but it’s good enough to carry the thought experiment and since that was probably the main focus of the book, I can’t really complain.

Verdict on The Chronoliths: Highly Recommended

Vicious Circle is the first book in the Felix Castor series, written by Mike Carey. I’m a big fan of Carey’s comic book work (Unwritten, Hellblazer), so picking up these books was a natural. Having read the first book in the series, it’s somewhat impossible not to compare them to Jim Butcher’s Dresden work. They both deal with a lot of supernatural themes (Castor is an exorcist) and have similar writing styles in that they come at the genre with a sort of noir-ish bent that makes for enjoyable reading. As a character, Dresden feels a bit more badass in what he can do, but it’s possible that I feel this way because I’ve read ALL of the Dresden Files so far and only one of Castor.

Regardless, I found that really enjoy the setting for these novels (current London) and I like Carey’s writing here almost as much as in the comics, so bought the rest of the series after I finished book 1. On the basis of just one book, I can’t say that I love it yet, but Vicious Circle was good
enough to merit further investigation.

Verdict on Vicious Circle: Recommended

In Progress
I started The Quantum Thief about a month ago, but life was too busy to allow me time to concentrate on what is a somewhat challenging book to
read. That said, I really enjoyed the first 50 pages, I just felt I needed more than 30 minutes at a time to sit and read in order to get the most out of this book. I’m pretty sure I’m going to wind up thinking this book is awesome (I mean, it starts with an application of The Prisoner’s Dilemma – if that’s not in my fucking wheelhouse, I don’t know what is), but I have just enough blogger integrity to kind of want to finish it before committing to saying it’s great, you know?

Zombie horror doesn’t fall within my normal genre reading, but Feed came really highly recommended via @FerrettHimself and @SamStod, so I figured I’d give it a shot. The first 75 pages of this were also really good, but I had to put it down during the end of season rush at work, and then got distracted by the new shinies during vacation. I will probably go back and finish it this week and then make a decision as to whether or not I want to buy the rest of the series.


One response to “What to Read – Summer 2012

  1. I had to read Riddley Walker for a class, and not only did I probably not finish it, but I don’t remember anything about it. It strikes me very much as one of those books that people write to show off some construction (generally language) rather than to entertain.

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