Sunday, August 22, 2010

Taking Stock

Having catalogued most of my book collection on Goodreads I have found that there are now 304 UNREAD books in the theoretical ‘To be read’ pile. That is more than I thought, and the number is still growing as I feed my addiction to the printed page. Not all are Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror genre novels, though the majority fall within these categories. I read non-fiction too, mainly eco-politics, history, rock biographies and travel books, but Fantasy is by far the most populated category with 256 books out of a total of 721 that I have added to Goodreads so far. So, with a move to the north of England coming up later this year, I am taking stock of my collection and trying to prioritise some kind of reading order for the books I already own.

Science Fiction
I want to read more classic Science Fiction and have collected a number of the excellent Gollancz SF Masterworks series. Top of the list to read is Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
“Charlie Gordon, IQ 68, is a floor sweeper, and the gentle butt of everyone’s jokes, until an experiment in the enhancement of human intelligence turns him into a genius. But then Algernon, the mouse whose triumphal experimental transformation preceded his, fades and dies, and Charlie has to face the possibility that his salvation was only temporary.”
From flicking through the book, it appears that the story is told by way of progress reports written by Charlie himself. This appeals to me as a way of describing the effects the experiment has on Charlie, how he copes with the changes he experiences and the emotional impact of these.

I have long been a fan of classic British SF, having grown up watching TV adaptations of The Day of the Triffids, and Quatermass alongside Dr Who and Blake’s Seven. I have recently been catching up with authors such as John Christopher, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G.Wells and next in my list is The Chrysalids by John Wyndham. The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are probably more well known, but The Chrysalids comes highly recommended as possibly the least dated of his novels…
“The Chrysalids is a post-nuclear apocalypse story of genetic mutation in a devastated world and explores the lengths the intolerant will go to keep themselves pure.”
Anyone who knows my reading preferences will be aware of my love of post-apocalyptic fiction and so I am keen to read The Chrysalids as it was written in 1955, when the threat of a nuclear holocaust was very real.

Next up is The Complete Robot, the definitive anthology of Isaac Asimov’s stunning visions of a robotic future. This is classic SF at it’s finest, if the multitude of reviews and recommendations online are anything to go by. I enjoyed the film I, Robot, but have been warned that The Complete Robot is much, much more than the film…
“In these stories, Isaac Asimov creates the Three Laws of Robotics and ushers in the Robot Age: when Earth is ruled by master-machines and when robots are more human than mankind.”
Last in the list of classics are two books by Philip K. Dick: A Scanner Darkly and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? An American author, renowned for exploring political, sociological and metaphysical themes in his novels and short stories, he is an author I have never read. I have thoroughly enjoyed the films based on his writing; Bladerunner, Total Recall and Minority Report for example, yet have never read the source material. Both books are part of the Gollancz SF Masterworks series.
A Scanner Darkly: “Substance D – otherwise known as Death – is the most dangerous drug ever to find its way onto the black market. It destroys the links between the brain’s two hemispheres, leading first to disorientation and then to complete and irreversible brain damage. Bob Arctor, undercover narcotics agent, is trying to find a lead to the source of supply, but to pass as an addict he must become a user…”
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: “War has left the Earth devastated. Through its ruins, bounty hunter Rick Deckard stalks the runaway androids who are his prey. When he isn’t ‘retiring’ them, he dreams of owning the ultimate status symbol – a live animal. Then Rick gets his next assignment: to track down six Nexus–6 targets, for a huge reward. But life is never that straightforward and Rick’s quickly turns into a kaleidoscopic nightmare of subterfuge and deceit.”

Fantasy is by far my favourite genre and while I have read a lot of Fantasy over the years, I still have some catching up to do! I sometimes get sidetracked by Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance, as they tend to be light, enjoyable reads requiring little concentration or thought on my part, but epic fantasy, particularly involving the Sidhe, Fae/Fairy, or Elves are a real favourite of mine. This could be because I grew up in Ireland on tales of banshees, mythical heroes and magical beings. I also read the Chronicles of Narnia quite young, followed by The Hobbit and then later, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so the preference was set early on in my reading career.

It is at this point that I have to admit to never reading some of the most well known and popular fantasy authors such as Robert Jordan, Steven Erikson, or Terry Goodkind for example, and possibly may never do so. I have bought books by Guy Gavriel Kay, Terry Brooks, Lois McMaster Bujold, Tad Williams and Mary Gentle but they are still amongst the many waiting to be read. So, in order to start catching up on the range of classic fantasy books I have not yet read, here are the five I have selected as ones I really must read as soon as possible…

First up, and one which may shock the sensibilities of many a Fantasy fan is The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I bought it when it was first released in paperback, took it to New Zealand last Christmas, intending to read it on the return journey but left it behind as my bag was over weight. My sister and brother-in-law thoroughly enjoyed it! I have since repurchased it and am determined to read it before the sequel is released next year.
“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during the day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that made the minstrels weep.
My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me.”
With a blurb like that, I’m not sure why I haven’t devoured this book long before now. And so it takes the top spot in my list of Fantasy books I really must read!

Next up is George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, book one of A Song of Ice and Fire series. It is currently being made into a TV series, filmed in Belfast, and I fully intend to have this book read before it is broadcast. It has been described as ‘one of the greats’ and while I tend to shy away from multi-volumes series, I like the sound of this epic fantasy.
“As Warden of the north, Lord Eddard Stark counts it a curse when King Robert bestows on him the office of the Hand. His honour weighs him down at court where a true man does what he will, not what he must… and a dead enemy is a thing of beauty. The old gods have no power in the south, Stark’s family is split and there is treachery at court. Worse, a vengeance-mad boy has grown to maturity in exile in the Free Cities beyond the sea. Heir of the mad Dragon King deposed by Robert, he claims the Iron Throne…”
Some familiar Fantasy themes here, plus dragons, I think I will enjoy reading this hefty tome.

I have read some of Elizabeth Moon’s Science Fiction but have overlooked her fantasy books. With Oath of Fealty, book one of Paladin’s Legacy I aim to change this situation. She comes highly recommended, and as I have a tendency to prefer female authors, I am interested to see how she writes Fantasy.
“An unexpected death has made Kieri Phelan king of Lyona. Here humans and elves live in uneasy peace, united only by their failure to see the dangers at their borders. Harmony has never been more important – or elusive. But will Kieri’s soldier background allow him to navigate these difficult politics? And can he awaken the powers his mixed blood promises?
An older evil also threatens Lyona, and all surrounding kingships. The Verrakai family has been practising forbidden blood magic for generations, and its scions are becoming bold. When they infiltrate a foreign court and assassinate key nobles, it’s clear they must be controlled, or eradicated. Phelan will send Dorrin, the only Verrakai he can truly trust, on this mission. She must overcome her abhorrence of the power that is her birthright and awaken her own hidden magic. This will lead to long-hidden secrets and a mystery that neither Phelan nor Dorrin could have anticipated.”
Politics, court intrigue, elves, magic; these are all very appealing ingredients for me so I am eager to find out why Elizabeth Moon’s fantasy writing is highly praised.

When I mentioned on Twitter that I had not read The Lies of Locke Lamora there were several shocked responses. Scott Lynch’s debut novel, the first in The Gentleman Bastards Sequence (what a great title for a series!) appears on many lists of favourite novels so I am curious to find out for myself what all the fuss is about.
“The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.
Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains re strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves: The Gentlemen Bastards.
The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they’ve ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive…”
Certainly The Lies of Locke Lamora appears to be an irreverent swashbuckling adventure story and I am fond of a novel where the main characters are not good, honourable and noble heroes.

Finally, another great author I have not yet read, despite owning at least four of his standalone novels, is Guy Gavriel Kay. I intend to rectify this by starting with the first in his Fionovar Tapestry series, The Summer Tree.
“The first volume in Guy Gavriel Kay's stunning fantasy masterwork. Five men and women find themselves flung into the magical land of Fionavar, First of all Worlds. They have been called there by the mage Loren Silvercloak, and quickly find themselves drawn into the complex tapestry of events. For Kim, Paul, Kevin, Jennifer and Dave all have their own part to play in the coming battle against the forces of evil led by the fallen god Rakoth Maugrim and his dark hordes. Guy Gavriel Kay's classic epic fantasy plays out on a truly grand scale, and has already been delighting fans of imaginative fiction for twenty years.”
I generally enjoy reading novels where people from our own world are suddenly transported to a magical other world, for example, Narnia, or The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, so this epic fantasy trilogy would seem to be as good a place to start as any.

The ten books listed here are my planned reading over the next few months and I intend to review them as I finish each one. I will continue to read new novels… I have I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore, Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar and Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey already lined up. So the intention is to read one ‘classic’ followed by one ‘new’. Whether that plan will actually happen is anyone’s guess as I can be quite fickle when it comes to choosing my next book from the ever-increasing pile. Only time will tell!


Anonymous said...

I'm sure they are all good, but from your list I highly recommend Flowers for Algernon, The Complete Robot, The Name of the Wind, The Lies of Locke Lamora (one of my favorite books of all time) and A Game of Thrones.

Can't wait to see what you think of those!

Better read Game of Thrones soon, the pilot hits HBO early next year, i hope.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Terry Brooks was always my favorite and I still have an autographed copy of the first Shannara book.

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