Visions of Paradise

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Books and me

When I was in young, books were very important to me as a way to escape the world in which I lived. I recall taking numerous walks down Palisade Avenue to the library, usually with my brother Stephen accompanying me, to take out books with little rocket ships on their spine. Most titles are lost in my memory, although I recall The Light at the End of the Tunnel (whose author is still lost to me) and L. Frank Baum’s Oz books. In junior high school, books became even more important to me. Perhaps the most important moment in my life occurred on Christmas morning, 1962, when I found a copy of Worlds of IF magazine in my stocking. My parents had always put a comic book in them, but that year one of them–I never knew parent it was–obviously found that sf magazine right above the comic books in Sal’s Stationary.

Since that moment I have had a lifelong love affair with books, primarily science fiction books, but not exclusively. Historical fiction is my second choice, followed by history itself. I still think about books a lot, spending time browsing my Books to Read, Recommended Reading and Inventory lists. It takes a major effort not to buy books continuously, and I am rather proud that I have only bought 22 total books this year (including 7 free books when I rejoined the Book-of-the-Month Club). I would love to have the time to read every book in my inventory, starting with the unread ones (246 fiction and 206 nonfiction), but that will never happen. But it is nice to still be passionate about something that has been with me my entire life.

With that in mind, I have been thinking about which books I would like to buy next and which books I would like to read next. For the former, I have considered Andre Norton’s Mask of the Outcasts and Stephen Baxter The Time Ships (since both authors are on my Authors I Wish To Read More By list), but eventually I ordered Robert A. Heinlein’s Four Frontiers, one of the compilations of his “young adult” novels published by the Science Fiction Book Club.

As for reading, I selected Brian W. Aldiss’ (unread) 1976 anthology Galactic Empires, vol. 1, mostly because it contains some interesting novelettes by Poul Anderson, Clifford D. Simak, Isaac Asimov and James White. If I like it, I might slip immediately into vol. 2.

Sometimes I wonder what people do if they have no passion guiding their life? No matter how much I love my job--and I do!--if my life consisted exclusively of working and household chores with occasional vacations and partying, I think I would be bored much of the time. Reading and writing are what fuel me and give me a large portion of my pleasure and satisfaction. I really feel sorry for people who have no passions in their life.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Brother Cadfael

As readers of this column probably know, I rarely read contemporary mysteries, but I enjoy historical mysteries when the depth and fascination of the setting trumps the mystery. Books such as Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series and Mary Reed & Eric Mayer’s John the Eunuch series (both previously reviewed here) fall into that category.

Another excellent example of this genre–and perhaps the prototype of all of them–is Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mysteries which are set during the same English Civil war as Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth. But while both works are set in monastery towns, Follett’s epic involves many of the movers and shakers of the civil war, while Peters is primarily concerned with common people undergoing life’s trials and tribulations during the late Middle Ages. St. Peter’s Fair is set during what amounts to a three-day flea market run by the monastery, a common occurrence which was also the setting of one of the important scenes in Pillars.

Brother Cadfael himself is a fascinating character, a former man-of-the-world who became a monk in his forties and has been tending the monastery gardens for the past 16 years. He is very friendly with the under-sheriff of the town whom he helps investigate mysteries, in this instance the murder of one of the merchants at the fair.

St. Peter’s Fair was a very enjoyable book wrapped around the murder and several subsequent crimes. It is a very slow-paced, chatty book, which was fine with me, so that even the last section’s “thriller” was enjoyable, something I rarely say. The overall result is that I am planning to read more of those books, and I will likely put the Derek Jacobi videos on my Christmas list so I can enjoy the medieval setting visually as well.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Authors I Would Like to Read More of (Part 2)

6. Louis L’Amour is regarded as the leading writer of westerns, but in my opinion he cannot compare to Elmer Kelton who is the true master of western fiction. Other western writers must agree with that, since Kelton has won 7 Spur Awards for Best Western Novel, far more than any other writers. The Day The Cowboys Quit is a story about cowboys on a cattle drive who resent their low wages, so they go on strike! The Wolf and The Buffalo is about the dealings between a black soldier and a Native American, a powerful character study. Those are the only Kelton novels I have read, and I am anxious to read other award-winning novels, such as Buffalo Wagons, The Man Who Rode Midnight and The Way of the Coyote, as well as his series about the founding of the Texas Rangers.

7. When I first discovered science fiction in my teens, I bought a novel called The Sioux Spaceman which I did not like very much. A decade later I bought another novel by the same author entitled The Jargoon Pard which I enjoyed a lot more, but for some reason I never read another novel by its author Andre Norton, a failing which I would like to rectify. High on my Recommended Reading list are The Stars Are Ours, Catseye, and her Solar Queen and Time Trader series. Baen Books have been bringing out her sf in two-in-one volumes, so I am hoping to buy one of them very shortly.

8. Many years ago Orson Scott Card had a review column in some fanzine in which he raved about a novel by new writer Robert Sawyer entitled Golden Fleece. Trusting Card’s judgment, I bought it and enjoyed it a lot. Since then, Sawyer has been a regular on the Hugo Award ballot for Best Novel, winning in 2003 for Hominids. But I’ve never read another Sawyer book, and would like to try some of his other award nominees such as Frameshift and Factoring Humanity. I’m not sure why I haven’t done so long before this.

9. I have a relatively small collection of Analog prozines, only 155 issues, most of which were given to me by a fellow teacher who was cleaning out his father’s attic. I have read several serials and short fiction in those issues, mostly by authors I already enjoy such as Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson. Another author who was prevalent in those magazines was James H. Schmitz, whose The Witches of Karres was a thoroughly-enjoyable tongue-in-cheek space opera. So I read two other Schmitz’ serials in Analog, The Tuvela and The Lion Game, and enjoyed both of them enough that I would like to read some of Schmitz’ short fiction collections, which have also been published by Baen Books (and is it my imagination, but is Baen doing more to keep classic sf in print than any other mainstream publisher)?

10. In the first installment of this list, I admitted my shame at having only 4 books by Arthur C. Clarke in my collection. Well, that is double the number of books I have by another sf Grandmaster, Jack Williamson. I have an old Galaxy Magabook containing two novellas, and his collaborative Starchild trilogy, written with Frederik Pohl. No Legion of Space, no Humanoids, and none of his late-career renaissance novels, such as Terraforming Earth and The Stonehenge Gate. I really need to rectify this situation too.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Authors I Would Like to Read More of (Part 1)

A lot of critics discuss their favorite writers, and at times I have done that too, discussing the likes of Robert Silverberg, Roger Zelazny, Clifford D. Simak, Michael Bishop, John Varley, C.J. Cherryh, George R.R. Martin, Kim Stanley Robinson and others.

But what I would like to discuss here are a group of writers whose works I have read enough of to have whetted my appetite for more but, for one reason or another, I have not done so. So as a companion to my various Reading Wish Lists, consider this my Authors’ Wish List! For simplications’ sake, the list is in alphabetical author.

1. I’ve read a handful of Kage Baker stories, including Company stories as well as three delightful novellas set on a near-future colonized Mars (“The Empress of Mars” series). I’ve never read any of her Company novels though because I did not want to start in the middle of a series, and the thought of reading 10 books is somewhat intimidating. But now she has several stand-alone books, including The Anvil of the World (whose title novella I read and enjoyed in Asimov) and The Empress of Mars, presumably containing those wonderful Mars stories. I am anxious to read one or more of those books.

2. I have read many Stephen Baxter short stories in various original anthologies and best-of-the-year lists, so I bought his collection Resplendent, which was absolutely delightful and convinced me I want to read more Baxter fiction, especially one or more of his novels. But in the crush of unread books and newly-published books to read, I keep eying the award-winning The Time Ships, his epic Evolution, and his xeelee trilogy Coalescent, Exultant and Transcendent, but have yet to buy any of them. I need to change that situation real soon now.

3. When I was inventorying my sf collection this past summer, I realized that I have a total of 4–count ‘em four–books by Arthur C. Clarke. What?! I am ashamed to admit that I only have the fabulous Childhood’s End, the award-winning The Fountains of Paradise, the two-novella book The Lion of Comarre and Against the Fall of Night, and the collection The Nine Billion Names of God. That’s it. No The Sands of Mars, Earthlight, The Deep Range, A Fall of Moondust, etc. I need to rectify this failing soon.

4. I absolutely loved E.L. Doctorow’s Ragtime, one of my favorite books ever, and I have since bought other Doctorow books, such as The Book of Daniel, Billy Bathgate and The March. But have I read any of them? No! So what the heck am I waiting for, especially since he has other highly-regarded books on my wish list, such as World’s Fair and Loon Lake. This is a serious omission since the books are actually sitting on my bookshelf unread!

5. I loved both books I have read by Cecelia Holland, Floating Worlds, an sf book, and The Death of Attila, and she has several books on my wish list, including her Soul Thief series and such novels as Jerusalem, Belt of Gold , Pillar of the Sky and The Angel and the Sword. She and Doctorow are my two favorite historical novelists, and I need to dip into both of them much more so than I have.

To be continued...