Top 10 books of 2009*

*That I will hopefully read in 2010

When I visit bookstores or spend time in airports or inevitably end up on amazon.com, my book addiction rears its ugly head and I end up with lots of books that I probably shouldn’t have purchased. As a somewhat direct result, I am often unable to afford so-called “new” books at any given time of the year.

Basically, if you were hoping for this blog to be about forthcoming or recently released books, then you should either start sending me some for free or shut up.

Nevertheless, books keep being released and my wish list grows ever longer. I’m sure many of you out there can relate, so I’ll get off the carping and on to the top ten 2009 releases that I hope to purchase and read in the coming year:

10. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde (Amazon)

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde

Released: December, 2009
Out in Paperback: ?
Why I want to read it: On his venerable “Whatever” blog, John Scalzi (scifi writer, check him out) runs one of the best recurring features for writers: The Big Idea. The gist of it is that authors write a short essay describing where or how they got the idea for a book. Go read Jasper Fforde’s Big Idea for Shades of Grey then tell me you don’t want to read it too.

9. Dragon in Chains by Daniel Fox (Amazon)

Dragon in Chains by Daniel Fox

Released: January, 2009
Out in Paperback: Now
Why I want to read it: As one of the few fantasy novels that takes its cues from somewhere other than medieval Europe, I think Dragon in Chains should have a place on lots of lists–a sort of affirmative action for non-Western fantasy. On top of that, all the reviews are stellar and the sequel is due to be released this Spring. Plus on a personal note, my own work-in-progress involves a not-inconsiderable amount of Chinese mythology. Birds of a feather and all that.

8. Finch by Jeff VanderMeer (Amazon)

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

Released: November, 2009
Out in Paperback: Now
Why I want to read it: A semi-sequel to City of Saints and Madmen, Finch is set in VanderMeer’s rambling fictional city of Ambergris. Apart from my deep and abiding love of fictional cities (more on that below), Finch is also equal parts noir thriller, detective story, and political thriller. Plus, fungal technology!

7. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi (Amazon)

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Released: September, 2009
Out in Paperback: May, 2010
Why I want to read it: The sheer number of positive reviews and the deafening volume of their praise. Also, when speculative fiction breaks into the Time Magazine top ten books of the year, you know its either boilerplate or a damn good time. All indications are for the latter, so count me in.

6. Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente (Amazon)

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente

Released: February, 2009
Out in Paperback: Now
Why I want to read it: First, I love archaic words (palimpsest – n. a reused manuscript where the original text has been incompletely obscured by the new text). Second, I love maps (like the cover). Third, I love fictional cities. Fourth, this particular fictional city is only accessible in the sleep that follows sex, which, talk about your narrative devices, yowza. Fifth, go back and reread the fourth, ok?

5. The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist (Amazon)

The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist
Released: March, 2009
Out in Paperback: ?
Why I want to read it: I enjoyed the hell out of the first book in the series (The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters) and am tickled by the thought of more of the same, only sequel-ier. Plus, Miss Temple! She’s sassy, blonde, fearless, titillating and one can easily imagine Kristen Bell in a corset while reading her chapters. What’s not to love?

4. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest (Amazon)

Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Released: September, 2009
Out in Paperback: Now
Why I want to read it: Combining steampunk and zombies could have gone one of two ways. The first way is a cliche storm of epic proportions. Luckily, the second way is Boneshaker.

3. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Amazon)

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Released: October, 2009
Out in Paperback: September, 2010
Why I want to read it: World War I as seen through the twin lenses of dieselpunk and biopunk (for the Central Powers and the Allied Powers, respectively) might be one of the best alternate history ideas of all time, irritating nomenclature aside.

2. The City and The City by China Mieville (Amazon)

The City & The City by China Mieville

Released: May, 2009
Out in Paperback: April, 2010
Why I want to read it: Three words: Perdido Street Station. A few more: China Mieville is one of the finest writers out there. Every book he writes will be on a list of books I want to read. Even though it’s not a part of the Bas-Lag universe, The City & The City looks to be even better.

1. The Magicians by Lev Grossman (Amazon)

The Magicians by Lev Grossman
Released: August, 2009
Out in Paperback: April, 2010
Why I want to read it: Postmodern Harry Potter, with all of the best implications of that phrase. Plus, I’ve been a fan of Grossman’s writing for a while, and it’s always fun to see a “serious” writer try their hand at speculative fiction.

So there you have it. Feel free to buy any of these and mail them to me. In return, you’ll get your very own acknowledgement on this here weblog. Keen, huh? Oh, and if I ever get my book published, you can have a free signed copy.

Pulled for retooling

C'mon, everybody's doing it...

Six months! I do feel a bit...sheepish.

Six months later…

Yeah, so that worked out well.

Blogging and I have a tempestuous relationship–always have, always will, I imagine. Suffice it to say that I’m sorry, and I would like to promise to do better, but that and $1.50 won’t buy you a cup of coffee anymore.

Things in the scope of this blog that happened in the past six months that I didn’t blog about:

  • Passing the 50,000 word mark on my work-in-progress!
  • Reading a lot of books
  • Writing a fair number of things that weren’t my work-in-progress but may turn out to be full-fledged ideas anyway
  • Much writerly pontificating
  • Much self-inflicted misery about not writing enough and doing other things (TV!) when I should be writing
  • The ongoing slow implosion of the publishing industry over Americans not reading/book sales declining/Stephanie Meyer ruling the world/e-books/whatever else

Things NOT in the scope of this blog that happened in the past six months that (duh) I didn’t blog about:

  • Looking for and failing to find a new job (many applications, cover letters and interviews. sigh.)
  • Two week trip to Argentina!
  • Holidays
  • I got paid to blog about bicycles (the only thing that competes with writing, reading and girlfriend for my love), but examiner.com turned out to be a total writer-scamming racket

Right, so it’s a new year all of a sudden, which practically begs for a new danthology! ‘Because the old one worked out so well’ you might be saying. Well, Sarcastro, get ready, because I’ve got plans. Big ones. On blue paper and everything. Here’s what I’m resolving (see what I did there? Happy new year, kids.) to do starting probably Monday, January 11th.

  1. More 5 point reviews! Up to three per week until I run through my backlog, then as often as I actually read things.
  2. Work-in-Progress tracker! This is more for me, but if you care, you can track how many words I’ve written. Luckily, there’s no tracker for how many of them are actually good.
  3. Writerly pontification! At least once a week, but hopefully twice. We shall see.

Ok, there you have it. I want to make good on the promise I made to myself when I started danthology. This blog is a space for me to get all the reading/writing stuff in my head out and hopefully make it interesting to at least a few other people. The goal being that if I’m cranking up the brain muscles in a writerly way here, it will make it easier and less cluttered when I have to do the same for my fiction.

See you soon.

Dan 1, horde of marauding viruses 0.5

Yeah, sure, in the grand scheme of things, viruses just want to live and let live, man. Unfortunately for them, living involves brutally invading my body and wreaking havoc. Which, if you’re interested, is a surefire way to get me in a fightin’ mood.

So, I made mincemeat out of ’em. And now, i’m on the road to recovery. It is a winding road, and not at all scenic, thus offering plenty of time for reading!

So, as a sort of teaser, here’s what you can expect on danthology in the next week or so:

Books I finished and will soon review:

The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Arthas: Rise of the Lich King by Christie Golden (this might involve a digression or two…)

Books I’m currently reading:

Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar

Very Mercenary by Rayo Casablanca

Anathem by Neal Stephenson

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (who went on to make “Veronica Mars” the best TV show that you’ve probably never seen)

Also, I’ll try very hard to branch out and entertain you with the many ways I fail to work on my novel, plus my first ever rejection letter!

5 Points Book Review: Zoe’s Tale

Ender Wiggin meets Veronica Mars

Ender Wiggin meets Veronica Mars

1. One-Sentence Sentence: Zoe’s Tale is as engaging a sci-fi story as you’re likely to find, rife with interstellar intrigue, teen angst, and xeno-sociology, and related by one of the most thoroughly engaging narrators I’ve read in quite some time.

2. Op-Ed: Yes, in my initial impressions, I hinted that Zoe herself came across as a little…um, well, let’s just say if she’d gone to college with my group of friends, she would’ve earned the nickname “Small Doses Zoe”. But hey, the girl grows on you, big time. She’s a complete character, fully realized and alive in a genre and setting where this sort of thing is rare enough to be surprising. My hat’s off to Mr. Scalzi, as he’s set the bar extremely high when it comes to mouthy 15-year-old girls. (Just like the protagonist in my WIP/debut novel. Sigh.)

3. Thumbs Up: Where to begin? I think a big part of what I loved about this book is that I was new to the universe. The inter-stellar and inter-racial politics all felt fresh and involving–both to Zoe herself and to me as a reader–and the situations came off as believable and multi-faceted. This is important, as the non-humans weren’t simply presented as faceless bogey-men, and in the case of the Obin, were actually characterized better than most of the human characters. As I mentioned, I adored Zoe, Hickory, and Dickory, and I thought her parents came off well, though I imagine Scalzi did most of their character building in the previous three books. To a lesser degree, I liked Enzo and his role in the story, but Zoe actually being in love didn’t quite come across.

The plot was good and science-fiction-y without feeling forced. The pacing was great and it was actually a joy to find such a realized world in such a short book. But again, that probably has something to do with the fact that it was established and fleshed out previously. This feels very convincing from Zoe’s point of view, as she’s being pushed into a world without having the opportunity to read the wikipedia page, so to speak. Lastly, the dialogue (and Zoe’s internal monologue) practically crackles off the page. It’s sharp, funny, smart, wise, touching, and insightful–often at the same time.

4. Thumbs Down: A lot of the other characters were on the weak side. In particular, Zoe’s BFF Gretchen seemed to have little to offer as she was virtually a carbon copy of Zoe herself. I won’t lie, I enjoyed their bantering relationship, but there wasn’t much else to her. Similarly, General Gau, the nominal antagonist was underutilized and underexplored (Why did he wipe out that colony on the video? What was the goal of the Conclave anyway?) Perhaps these are questions for the next few books in the OMW universe.

5. Recommendation: If, like me, you haven’t read any of Scalzi’s other books (Old Man’s War, The Ghost Brigades, The Last Colony) I cannot recommend this book enough. It’s a breath of fresh air in a genre (military sci-fi) that’s been stifling for too long. Similarly, if you know any YA readers, hook them up with a copy. I can pretty much guarantee that they’ll enjoy it, even if they roll their eyes at the very mention of “science fiction”. Actually, it could work just as well for anti-sci-fi eye-rollers of any age, Zoe’s Tale is that captivating.

However, if you’ve read the others, and in particular if you’ve read The Last Colony, I really don’t know what to tell you. You already know the characters and the setting. Odds are, if you enjoyed them, you’ll enjoy this. If not, the change of focus may still float your boat. It couldn’t hurt to try, right? -4 Stars-

5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

Thanks, Subterranean Press!

French cover to Zoes Tale

French cover to Zoe's Tale

I just got my free copy of Zoe’s Tale yesterday, and per our agreement, I eagerly dove in.

Initial thoughts:

  • Since Zoe is my first experience with either Scalzi or the OMW universe, I like to think I’m coming at it with a fresh perspective, completely unburdened by any omg-it’s-the-same-story-as-The-Last-Colony-Scalzi’s-a-hack! drama
  • I like Zoe, even if i couldn’t stand to be around anyone that mouthy in real life.
  • I like the subtle digs at sci-fi tropes.
  • Um, I like it.

5 Points Review to come!

5 Points Book Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Don't worry, that's not Elizabeth

1. One-sentence Sentence: On the whole, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was very entertaining and added a new layer of meaning to the Elizabeth/Darcy melodrama, though it was hard not to feel that some of the weight of the original got sacrificed for the zombie and ninja mayhem.

2. Op-Ed: The amount of zombification (no, not the process of turning into a zombie, the process by which zombies are added to a story as a plot device) was surprising. Despite there being an addition on nearly every page (in one of three categories: zombies/zombie fighting, martial arts training, and Elizabeth’s warrior philosophy), the story was essentially the same. This is exactly how the book was pitched, but I was still sort of surprised to find everything working out in the end. Except for poor Mr. Collins, I guess.

3. Thumbs up: The characters of Elizabeth, Darcy, Jane, and Lady Catherine were all improved by the addition of zombie-fighting prowess and martial arts. I especially liked how the kick-assery of the ladies made the battle of the sexes inherent in the story that much more equal. The illustrations were also a great added touch. And finally, the tone and timbre of Ms. Austen is admirably maintained in all the added passages. It really almost reads as a macabre early draft.

4. Thumbs down: Come on, Seth, you couldn’t figure out a way to kill off Miss Bingley? After all, you killed Charlotte, and all she did was try to improve her life. Miss Bingley, the stuck up bitch, should’ve gotten hers in the end, too. At the very least, Kung Fu Jane should’ve beaten her soundly. Also, were the ninjas really necessary? I’m half shocked there wasn’t a scene with pirates or robots to really hit all the points on the Zeitgeist checklist.

5. Recommendation:
Austen fans will most likely enjoy the skewering (and beheading, and evisceration, and pummeling) that their beloved Pride and Prejudice receives. Zombie fans might be a little hard-pressed to fight their way through Jane’s persnickety verbosity. You should read it. If only for the fact that you can prove your literary chops and your pop-culture street cred at the same time. Just don’t read the original and Zombies back-to-back unless you’re prepared for the inevitable regency hangover that follows. -3 Stars-


5 Points Review Scale

1 Star: I would never burn a book, but this really tempted me
2 Stars: Read this book only if you have no other books and reading is the only thing that makes the voices go away
3 Stars: Lousy book with redeeming parts or Good book with obvious flaws
4 Stars: Buy it, read it, loan it out, forget who you loaned it to, buy it, read it, loan it out…
5 Stars: This will be on the syllabus in my upcoming seminar: “The Best Books You’ll Ever Read”

a reading/writing blog

ok, this is a step in my professional development as an author.

the writing blog is supposed to be a place to establish an online presence, build a readership, and commentate on the various trials, tribulations, and triumphs that you encounter as a budding author.

it is not supposed to be a notebook for story ideas. that’s what google docs is for.