THE LIMITS OF READERLY AMBITION
I must admit to defeat, and to now having more modest goals for this blog. Way back in long-lost August or September (could it have been July?) I decided to blog, in detail--agonizing detail; agonized detail--about the best or most interesting books of the year in genre. It all started out promisingly, with posts about Elizabeth Hand's novel Mortal Love, as well as individual stories in The Circus in Winter by Cathy Day, the anthology Flights, edited by Al Sarrantonio, and Novelties & Souvenirs by John Crowley. I got some pleasure out of all of them (well, not a lot of out Flights, as far as I got, at least, especially when I skipped ahead and saw that Mr. Sarrantonio had not only included one of his stories--this has become an addiction of his in anthologies he's edited--but gone beyond poor taste into the absurd by having Joe Lansdale introduce his story, thus, I suppose, hoping the reader would be confused enough to think Joe Lansdale had edited the anthology; it's not anything approaching a horrible offense, but it is silly)...Anyway, as I say, I got pleasure out of all of them--most notably the Crowley--but it soon became clear that not only would I not be able to read and blog in agonizing detail about everything I read of import in 2004, I wouldn't even be able to finish doing so about the books I'd started blogging about.
So, herewith...an apology. I can't keep my promise. If I quit my day job and stopped writing fiction, it might be possible. But although I'm sure these blog entries are more important than both my continued employment and my continued ability to create claustrophobic secondary worlds peopled with insane sub-humans, something tells me it would be too drastic a course to pursue...
However, I am doing a year's best article/essay that will appear online somewhere, and in it I will mention, in less arduous detail, many of the books I have read since last blogging about books.
For the record, my "pile" at the moment consists of the following (in no particular order; or, rather, the particular order in which they lie sprawled across my office floor), along with annotations where I've read bits already:
Stephanie Swainston's The Year of Our War (85 pages in--so far, an ambitious but flawed first novel from a good stylist whose next novel will naturally be more interesting)
Adam Robert's Swiftly (Am a fan of "Jupiter Magnified" included in this collection, originally published by PS Publishing)
Lucius Shepard's The Handbook of American Prayer
Lucius Shepard's Trujillo & Other Stories (excellent so far, but also overwhelming and perhaps more monotone, in this particular combination, than is wise)
Elisabeth Vonarburg's Dreams of the Sea
Al Sarrantonio's Flights (1/3 of the way in; see prior entries for thoughts)
Ian MacDonald's River of Gods (haven't started it yet, but this guy's been so good for so long--why the hell is he so taken-for-granted?!)
David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (50 pages in and just not thrilled with the particular story threads I've been reading so far; good writing, though)
Jon Courtenay Grimwood's Stamping Butterflies. (read it, although swiftly, to blurb it for Grimwood; now looking forward to a more leisurely read; very impressed with it first time around)
Justina Robson's Natural History (can't remember if this is 2003 or 2004, but I need to read the damn thing, so add it to the pile)
Kage Baker's Mother Aegypt (hmmm. oddly, there's a blurb from me on the cover. don't remember giving it. i guess i'd better read it to see if my general comment applies to this book...)
Cathy Day's The Circus in Winter (half-way through and really enjoying it)
Philip Roth's The Plot Against America (haven't read it yet, but if I hear one more genre gripe about "he doesn't know anything about our long and proud history of writing alternate history novels," I'm going to puke)
John Crowley's Novelties & Souvenirs. (almost finished and enjoying it quite a bit)
Gene Wolfe's The Knight and the Wizard (75 pages in and enjoying it, but thus far, John Clute's hedging-of-bets in the latest NYR of SF, it feels like something a dozen other writers could have written; thus, Wolfe Lite. Still, it's early days...)
Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. (Despite a few reservations about the middle of the book, I found this one very entertaining and droll.)
Lucius Shepard's (again!) Viator. (currently waiting for this to arrive)
China Mieville's The Iron Council. (I've read one page. I liked the one page. I will dive again soon.)
Eileen Gunn's Stable Strategies. (Beautiful packaging, endless introductory and afterword materials, pushing down on the stories themselves with an awful weight. Is the book as Classic as the over-the-top quotes claim? No. But it's definitely good. This is the first time in recorded history, for me, that the book's PR literally threatened to crush content by over-emphasis and repetition. I didn't think it was possible...But this is why I've put off reading it, so as to encounter it fresh, soon mentally prepared to ignore all of the stuff surrounding the stories and just enjoy them on their own terms. From just a quick dip, I expect to enjoy them immensely.)
Nalo Hopkinson's Salt Roads (haven't read it)
Liz Williams' The Banquet of the Lords of Night (read parts of it, and enjoyed what I've read)
Robert Wexler's The Circus of the Grand Design (read and enjoyed it quite a bit; still not sure about the languid pace of the middle of the novel, but had to read it quite quickly, so...)
Iain M. Banks' The Math Eater (his latest space opera; at least, I'm guessing the title of the forthcoming US edition will be something other than the Algeibraist, since not only can't I spell it, but I and Americans in general will be frightened by anything that suggests as high an order of math as Algebra; from the UK reviews, I can't tell if this is a typical cool Culture novel or a steaming pile of donkey crud, but we will find out...)
So...what am I missing? Quite a lot, I'm sure. But, hopefully, I'll have hit most of the highpoints by the time I have to write that article...
What sympathy I have for any poor bastard who tries to take the length and breadth of the short fiction published in the field over the past year...