#18 – Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Were I asked (and I never have been), I would have to say that William Gibson is my favourite science fiction author, mostly likely my favourite “genre” author of all time, across all genres not labeled “literary”, though I think that after Pattern Recognition, anyone trying to keep his work in the science fiction ghetto is a fool. You’re going to want to read this post about genre classifications before we go any further. (A novel set in the “real world” now has to answer the question, “Which one?”) Trust me. Go now, I’ll wait. I don’t need to tell you that Neuromancer is the single most famous cyberpunk novel, not quite the first of its kind, but the one that changed everything. It’s been heavily criticized because at the time Gibson knew more or less nothing about computers, and so his depictions of computer technology and hacker culture, while… Continue Reading

#17 – The Jennifer Morgue, by Charles Stross

If The Atrocity Archives was on the horror end of the spectrum of genres Charlie Stross has mashed together, then The Jennifer Morgue is pretty squarely on the spy thriller end. Bob Howard, agent of The Laundry, finds himself sent out on a mission to the Caribbean with the beautiful, seductive, and sexually predatory—literally, she’s being possessed by a succubus who kills the men she has sex with and eats their souls—Ramona, agent of the Black Chamber, the American version of The Laundry, with no idea what it is he must accomplish. He’s given a tuxedo, a bizarre array of gadgets, and instructions from Ramona to play some baccarat and get himself invited to the yacht of the millionaire (or is it billionaire?) industrialist with a fluffy white cat… Are you rolling your eyes yet? The Jennifer Morgue is meant to be a pastiche of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels,… Continue Reading

#16 – The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross

I’ve been blabbing on about Charlie’s excellent blog for a while now, both here and on Twitter, so it should come as no surprise that I’d eventually get around to reading some of his books. I figured I’d start with the Laundry series (named for the nickname of the super secret British bureaucracy/counter-espionage agency/counter-nameless-many-tentacled-horrors-from-beyond-spacetime agency that employs Bob Howard, the series’ protagonist) because the premise sounded interesting, and because like a lot of genre fiction, it’s bloody hard to find copies of his books that aren’t those horribly shitty, fall-apart-if-you-look-at-them mass market paperbacks, and the two Laundry books were the only ones I could get trade or hardcover copies of. So, the premise: mathematics and magic are, on some level, more or less the same thing. This actually makes a certain amount of sense the way Stross explains it. I’m going to quote about two and a half pages of… Continue Reading

#15 – The Burning Land, by Bernard Cornwell

Having somehow become hooked on certain kinds of historical adventure fiction (sea stories and Viking-era England, apparently), I spent several months scouring bookstores trying to snuffle out a used or remaindered or overstock (and therefore affordable to me) copy of Bernard Cornwell’s latest installment of his Saxon stories. My father had left the first four books with me, and they had captured the swash-buckling bits of my imagination. The Burning Land is nowhere near as good as those others. I don’t know if Cornwell’s writing fell off, or if I’m just getting too used to the tropes he’s using (that can happen, especially in a series; you don’t want to read the same thing over and over again, even when you sort of do), but I was disappointed in what I felt was an over-reliance on shorthand and established characterization. Sure, five books in readers should already be pretty familiar… Continue Reading

#14 – Why Your World is About to Get A Whole Lot Smaller, by Jeff Rubin

Part of the point of this book—the whole point, perhaps—is numbers, but I’m afraid I’m not going to get very deeply into that. There’s three reasons, generally speaking, why I don’t review very much non-fiction. The first is that it’s rare for me to find a subject that I’m interested in enough to read two or three hundred consecutive pages of facts about it. The second is that I’m used to the attention to language that goes along with literary fiction, and with a handful of exceptions, most of the non-fiction I’ve encountered is very poorly written, or worse, written by someone who gives the impression in the text that they could do better, but doubt their target audience could cope. Third, non-fiction generally collects a bunch of facts and tries to present an argument about what those facts might mean, and the idea behind reviewing them is that you… Continue Reading

#13 – Fear of Fighting, by Stacey May Fowles

I bought Fear of Fighting in early 2009 after reading Be Good, a pretty good debut novel that wasn’t perfect, but took some risks and showed that Fowles is an author with a lot of promise. I want to say that I put off reading it until now because I was really busy, or because it was lost on my ridiculous fucking coffee table (which is partly true), but what actually happened is that I got stuck living Marnie’s life. I never bothered to read the synopsis on the back cover when I bought it—I generally don’t when buying a book by an author whose other work I’ve enjoyed—but when Zoe Whittall described it for The Post as “a good non-cliché-ridden mental illness narrative,” I almost wanted to put it off forever. I do not enjoy mental illness narratives largely because I have yet to encounter one that isn’t chock-a-block… Continue Reading

#12 – Wild Geese, by Martha Ostenso

I chose Wild Geese as my final Canada Reads: Independently selection because it was the only one I’d already read, and therefore if I was late finishing it—and I was—I’d be able to vote on a winner knowing that I had read all the books. Summarizing Ostenso’s novel is difficult without making it sound like a CanLit stereotype. It is, after all, a family drama set against the backdrop of a poor, isolated farming community on the windswept Manitoba plains. To say that it’s about a young girl wanting to escape a domineering father, and a school teacher who falls in love with a young man with a shame hanging over his head so secret that even he doesn’t know of it… well, we’re into the realm of melodramatic stereotypes, into the realm of being force-fed books like Who Has Seen the Wind back in high school. Wild Geese has… Continue Reading

The Plan

Every year I make a plan, post it here, and every year I fail to follow through. The plan isn’t really a plan, it’s just a list of books that I’ve recently acquired or rediscovered on my shelves and hope to read some time before the end of the year. I think I made my very first “plan” post more than six years ago, and it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that one or more of those books still haven’t been read. It’ll happen eventually. So without further ado, here, in no particular order, is this year’s list (not including Wild Geese, which I’m currently reading, and the remaining Robertson Davies novels that I didn’t get a chance to finish writing about): Fear of Fighting, by Stacey May Fowles, illustrated by Marlena Zuber The Discoverer, by Jan Kjærstad What Boys Like, by Amy Jones Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall… Continue Reading

#11 – Good to a Fault, by Marina Endicott

Morality and religion are not the same thing. This strikes me as one of those things that ought to be taken for granted, but Good to a Fault reminded me that it isn’t. Morality and ethics have caught my interest in the last couple of years beyond the every day attention I would give those issues just being a person in the world, so when I first heard the premise of Good to a Fault I thought it would be right up my alley. Serious moral inquiry from a Canadian author in a plausible real world situation. That’s not exactly what I got. Clara Purdy is a woman in her forties whose life stalled after her husband left her and then, later, she spent years caring for her mother when she died. Before that, she was at her father’s bedside as he passed away from cancer. She does something in… Continue Reading

#10 – Hair Hat, by Carrie Snyder

So it’s hair, but it’s shaped like a hat. I saw Carrie Snyder read at The Starlite in Waterloo a few years back, at the only UW alumni event I’ve ever attended. She shared the stage with George Elliott Clarke, Erik McCormack and a few other distinguished bookish folks from UW’s past (perhaps even Evan Munday, though I honestly don’t remember). She read “Tumbleweed,” and I’m pretty sure part of one other story, and I have to be honest and say that I didn’t think much of it. As I’ve written here before, I’m not very good at following fiction when it’s read aloud. And really, the hair hat seemed kind of gimmicky. Every time I saw her book in the store (and I’ve actually seen it quite a bit; for a not-very-well-known first-time author, Penguin sure as hell got that book into stores) I walked past it thinking, maybe… Continue Reading