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.

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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!