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ironphoenix

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Recent reading

Ellen Datlow and Kelly Link & Gavin J. Grant, eds.--The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror 2007: 20th Annual Collection: I wasn't as impressed with their previous offering, but this year's edition is back up to the old standard (in my opinion), so all is forgiven. In addition to the reliably good and very extensive remarks on the field overall, there are quite a few excellent stories in here. I think my favorite may have been a novella by a relatively new voice (this being her third published story), Ysabeau S. Wilce: "The Lineaments of Gratified Desire" is a beautiful, whimsical and funny fantasy. I'll be looking for more from her. Other stories that deserve singling out are:
  • Geoff Ryman's "Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter," a bittersweet fable about a deeply wounded country;
  • Nik Houser's "First Kisses from Beyond the Grave," a funny growing-up story, with sexy zombies;
  • John Schoffstall's "Fourteen Experiments in Postal Delivery," an epistolary short story of extraordinary surreality that's every bit as good as torrain told me it was;
  • Ellen Klages' "In the House of the Seven Librarians," another growing-up story, but this one tending to the fabulous;
  • Sarah Monette's "Drowning Palmer," a proper story of a haunting;
  • Frances Hardinge's "Halfway House," a surreal story about being lost and the places in between;
  • Delia Sherman's "La Fée Verte," a magical and tragic love story;
  • Lee Battersby's "Father Muerte & the Flesh," a very nice occult mystery;
  • Margo Lanagan's "Winkie," a classic bogeyman tale;
  • Simon Clark's "The Extraordinary Limits of Darkness," a coda to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness;
  • Tim Pratt's "Cup and Table," an occult apocalypse;
  • Caleb Wilson's "Directions," which you ought not to follow;
  • Terry Dowling's "La Profonde," which takes a story I know too well and takes it just a few steps farther;
  • M. Rickert's "Journey into the Kingdom," another love story;
  • Josh Bell's poem "Yep, I Said Camel," which defies description;
  • Paul Di Filippo's "Femaville 29," a story about the aftermath of disaster; and
  • Benjamin Rosenbaum's "A Siege of Cranes," an Egyptian-flavored story in the style of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights.


Kim Stanley Robinson--Forty Signs of Rain: This is the first book of a trilogy of immediate-future fiction about politics, the environment, and personal change. This is a bit like his Mars trilogy, but in my view, better. In this series, he's more personal, and doesn't try to be quite as explicitly global, focusing the story better and giving the reader a more manageable cast of characters to whom to connect. The science is good, the politics at least vaguely credible, and the overall message alarming (as it should be). In this first book, the scenario is set; we see the beginnings of drastic environmental change and its effect on people in Washington mostly at the close of the book, the early parts being mostly about politics, people, and scientific ideas. continued in next book...

Kim Stanley Robinson--Fifty Degrees Below: continuing from previous book In the second book, climate change is the dominant idea, as the Gulf Stream stalls, leading paradoxically to colder weather in Europe and Eastern North America. An initial stab at deliberate climate-affecting action is taken, and Robinson plays on his strengths in understanding and writing about cold-weather survival (see for example Antarctica). He also expounds considerably on Buddhism, and at the close of the book, expresses through a couple of characters something quite close to my own inner experience, at least sometimes:
"I go from thing to thing, you know. Hour to hour. I see people, I do different things with them, and I'm not...I don't feel like the same person with these different people. I don't know know what I'm doing. I don't know what to do. If anyone were watching they'd think I had some kind of mental disorder. I don't make any sense."
"But no one is watching."
"Except what if they are?"
Rudra shook his head. "No one can see inside you. So no matter what they see, they don't know. Everyone only judges themself."
"That's not good!" Frank said. "I need someone more generous than that!:
"Ha ha. You are funny."
"I'm serious!"
"A good thing to know, then. You are the judge. A place to start."
... "I don't see how I can. I'm so different in these different situations. It's like living multiple lives. I mean I just act the parts. People believe me. But I don't know what I feel. I don't know what I mean."
"Of course. This is always true. To some you are like this, to others like that. Sometimes a spirit comes down. Voices take over inside you. People take away what they see, they think that is all there is. And sometimes you want to fool them in just that way. But want to or not, you fool them. And they fool you! And on it goes--everyone in their own life, everyone fooling all the others--No! It is easy to live multiple lives! What is hard is to be a whole person."
(Of course, it's worth mentioning that the final book, Sixty Days and Counting, starts with an idea that I just as strongly disagree with.)

Neil Gaiman--Anansi Boys: Dark humour, in the vein of Good Omens, rides again. This is a painful book to start for anyone with even a hint of social anxiety, but it's rewarding reading, overall, and Gaiman spins (so to speak) a good yarn of it. Compared to the others, this was a quick, light read, but not an empty one by any means.

Jean Vanier--Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John: Somewhere between meditation and autobiography, this book slips in. The founder of L'Arche walks us through his reading of John's Gospel, and relates it to his own life. It's insightful in places, and inspirational throughout, but it's not likely to be everyone's cup of tea. His wisdom is hard-earned, and he is mature enough in his faith to be active in the world, but from a deeply contemplative and divinely rooted core, and not everything he writes is easily accepted, let alone lived, by those of us who haven't attained such spiritual heights. His focus on weakness and brokenness and how that is itself a way of approaching God is uncomfortable for me, and probably for many others, but I think that it's a salutary discomfort. I've had this book for a while, and decided at the beginning of Lent to read it, both as a devotional exercise and focus, and in preparation for my reflection yesterday; it was very helpful in both respects.
Tags: books
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