Friday, July 23, 2010

Most-read authors

An intriguing meme I stumbled across over at Evening All Afternoon - a list of the authors whose books you have read more than 5 of. Now, some of these are authors that I loved as a kid and continue to re-read for comfort (especially when I'm sick), some only made the list because they're part of long running series that I should have stopped reading before getting to 5 books.

Douglas Adams
Richard Adams
Louisa May Alcott
Lloyd Alexander
Piers Anthony
Isaac Asimov
Jane Austen
Maeve Binchy
Enid Blyton
David Brin
Steven Brust
Orson Scott Card
Agatha Christie
Susan Cooper
Douglas Coupland
Alexandre Dumas
Raymond Feist
Richard Feynman
Neil Gaiman
Robert A. Heinlein
Monica Hughes
Robin Hobb
Robert Jordan
Guy Gavriel Kay
Katharine Kerr
Astrid Lindgren
Jane Lindskold
Charles deLint
George R. R. Martin
Julian May
Anne McCaffrey
Patricia McKillip
Robin McKinley
Sarah Monette
Terry Pratchett
Melanie Rawn
Matt Ridley
Spider Robinson
John Scalzi
William Shakespeare
Dan Simmons
Neal Stephenson
Noel Streatfeild
Charles Stross
J.R.R. Tolkein
Cynthia Voight
Jo Walton
Connie Willis
Jane Yolen

It's an interesting list. Some of them are a bit embarrassing, but most of the names on that list are authors who I am stalking and whose books I will buy the moment they come out (in paperback, because I'm broke, but still). It does highlight the way I read - once I fall in love with an author I generally get my hands on as many of the books they've written as possible.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Special Topics in Calamity Physics - Marisha Pessl

Initially Special Topics reads like a coming of age novel, or maybe teen angst. The main character, Blue Van Meer, is writing about her experiences in her last year of high school as a sort of "Epic"which you can imagine any dramatically inclined teenager could do, especially one who has obviously been through some life-changing experiences which seem to have left one of her former friends in rehab. But she is a teenager, so you make the obvious assumption that no matter what it is that she has been through, it isn't going to be nearly as dramatic as all that. She's been really protected by her academic father. They move frequently so she hasn't had many opportunities to make close friends the way most kids do.

For her final year of high school, they land in what seems like a nice little town, renting a much nicer house than they usually do. Blue is obviously extremely intelligent, but doesn't really seem to know how to interact with kids her own age. She reminds me a lot of myself in high school (which I suspect is pretty common), knowing that kids are usually mean, knowing that she is an outsider, but craving that feeling of belonging. The scenes where she is pretending to be much more drunk than she actually is, while secretly dumping her drinks in the garden. Not in order to fit in, but because appearing drunk lets you get away with sitting on the edge, observing things. It excuses the comments that arise from an odd sense of humor and a different perspective on the world because you've spent so much time in a book.

The strangest part of the first half of the story is the friendship between the odd little group of misfit teenagers and their teacher, Hannah Schneider, a wonderfully charismatic woman who has forced Blue to become part of their little clique, and continues to force the other to accept Blue even though they obviously don't get along particularly well. You know from the very beginning that the death of Hannah Schneider is going to be fairly central to the story, but somehow it is very easy to forget that is where the story is going. And even once Hannah dies, it seems like her death isn't even the biggest problem, it is the fact that the entire clique blames Blue for Hannah's death, and ostracizes her. Blue throws herself into investigating Hannah's apparent suicide, largely it feels as an attempt to exonerate herself, but also because there are enough clues left behind that don't really add up to suicide.

Up until this point, the story has been relatively normal - teen angst, left hand turn into murder mystery. And it isn't really all that much of a turn, since you've know from page 1 that it is coming. Then the book takes a turn for the extremely strange, which...took the book from something I had really enjoyed reading and turned it into something absolutely amazing. Even reading it a second time was fascinating. And the way Blue reacts to the whole, absolute unreal situation that has developed...seems so real. This story is actually an epic, as she claims at the very beginning, not merely a teenager overdramatizing something just slightly out of the ordinary.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Foreigner - C.J.Cherryh

This is a huge series - 11 books and counting. I discovered it, the way I've discovered so many of the really awesome books I've been reading recently, via Jo Walton's blog.

The series is organized into trilogies which makes it easy to read and feel like you have a good stopping point. Getting started is a little tricky - there are two short 'Prelude' style stories which give some necessary background, but aren't really indicated as being only background. So you start reading, start getting really interested in this situation happening on a ship lost in space...and then you're years and years into the future as the descendants of those people have just landed on a habitable planet...and the story has just gotten going, they've just encountered the alien species, when you're suddenly thrust 200 years into the future into what seems to be an assassination attempt on a human who is living and working with the aliens. By this point you've become quite wary of getting emotionally involved in any of the characters, which is a shame because you've just met the main character of not only this book, but of the entire series to date.

It is a fun story. The aliens (Atevi) are very humanoid, but emotionally are nothing at all like humans - their language has no word for friend, and their entire society revolves around assassination being a reasonable alternative to conflict resolution. They do have emotions, but their emotional reactions are quite tricky for humans to logic their way through. Bren Cameron is the paidhi - the interpreter - the only human who is allowed to interact with the Atevi so as not to accidentally provoke another war, and the mediator of a technology turnover. Humans lost the last war and to prevent getting wiped completely off the planet, they have agreed to turn over all their tech to the aliens (who had worked their way up to railroads when humans arrived), at a pace that will not totally destabilize Atevi society.

The first time through this story is quite hard to follow. Bren doesn't understand what is going on or why until the very end of the book. Re-reading it, the story makes sense. There is a very good reason for what is happening. Bren has already spent many years living among Atevi, but this book is where he really starts to think like an Atevi. He doesn't have their emotional reactions, so he has to logic his way through what is going on - there are often pages and pages of him trying to figure out why people are doing the things they're doing - but it is quite fascinating and feels very genuine.

I've been totally enthralled by this series for most of the past month (which is why I haven't written much of anything at all), but I'm finally at the point of waiting for the last couple books to arrive from the library, so I've managed to stop reading for long enough to start thinking a little about what it is that I've been reading.