Favourite 7 literary monsters

I’ve only read one piece of fiction, if memory serves, about a Mummy. Interestingly, it was called The Mummy, and it wasn’t very good. By Jane Loudon, it was originally published in 1827, and set in the future, which is at odds with many concepts of the Mummy as a horror icon. I mention this only in passing as momentum starts to build towards to the new Universal Monster share universe. I’m a huge fan of some of the original Universal movies, especially Frankenstein (1931) and Bride of Frankenstein (1935) (which of course, as everyone knows, should be called Bride of the Monster), and the later Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) – sadly I’ve never read a book featuring a gill-man.

FrankensteinSo, as news trickles through of these films, I got to thinking about what were my favourite monsters in literature – the classical kind, that is. So here I present, the forgottengeek guide to monsters that I’ve read. So not at all comprehensive then!

We will start, naturally, with one of my all-time favourite books and winner in the category of man-made monster. Not much more can be said about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). My original review is here. What many people don’t realise (those fools that haven’t read it), is that much of the classic cinematic imagery of the good doctor in his laboratory building the creature isn’t at all in the book. The monster is a fairly sympathetic character until his encounters with people make him a monster.

We, as a species, are good at making monsters. In fiction at least. There are supernatural and there are man-made zombies. My recommendation for the latter type is Feed (2010) by Mira Grant. The first book in her ‘Newsflesh’ books, the zombies Grant creates are a result of the mixing of two initially beneficial viruses. Set in the future, the story of the apocalypse and how it came about is told via media-savvy bloggers. The zombies themselves are fairly peripheral characters – attacks are rare. As in the best horror, the humans are worse monsters…Plus it has a character called Buffy! What’s not to love.

kalixI’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, but there is no better depiction of the werewolf than Kalix and her clan in Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl (2007) and sequels. Kalix is a loner but is surrounded by an absolute menagerie of colourful characters. Millar’s imagination and skill as an author are formidable, and Kalix is a werewolf everyone should spend time with. There is plenty of horror in this series as well. Werewolves, hunters and others regularly destroy each other. Kalix is a lot more complex that you might think. She’s not just a miserable teen goth, but a unique and special person trying to understand her place in the world.

Again, there are elements of both horror and humanity in Sunshine (2003) by Robin McKinley. This novel is my favourite vampire book and features the enigmatic Constantine as the vampire who comes to find a connection with Sunshine; a baker and magician who narrates this tale. There is an ethereal darkness and a surreal brightness to Sunshine that might be seen as an exemplar for vampire tales. Constantine can be interpreted as a sympathetic vampire – a bit like Angel in Buffy the Vampire Slayer perhaps? But that’s how the reader can relate, and how Sunshine becomes his friend. And by the way, Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is boring!

The Golem and the DjinniI’ve only read one work of fiction featuring a Golem/Gollum. I talked about Helene Wecker’s The Golem and The Djinni (2014) before over here. Of course it also features a djinni, another classic horror monster.           There is little horror here at all; only fear of loneliness and of being a migrant in a strange city. Like Kalix, both the golem and the djinni are finding their way in a strange world. Wecker’s depiction of the golem having to hide its inherent golem-ness even though it would mean an easier life is poignant. The djinni is a creative character who again must come to terms with being different.

Are ghosts monsters? Any more than a golem, for example? In The Haunting Of Hill House (1959) by Shirley Jackson, you might ask, are there even ghosts? Is the house itself evil and malevolent? Too many questions. What I love about Jackson’s short novel is that the tension and creepiness is palpable. Whether or not Eleanor is being haunted by a ghost, a house, or whether it’s all in her mind are irrelevant. It is the power of Jackson’s writing that sends shivers down your spine and means you sleep with the lights on.

Again, I’ve not read too many books with a witch as a monster but Hex (2015) by Thomas Olde Heuvelt stands out. The witch in this Kingian tale of small town America is a human creation – a woman persecuted back in the day, and now taunted by bored teens. Like many of the monsters here, you side with her at times, or at least understand her motivations. Humans are the bad guys once more. Olde Heuvelt’s writing is enjoyable. A proper horror page-turner in tune with the modern age. As all good horror fiction should be.

Monsters of a less tangible nature that get the nod in this list are The Stand (1990) by Stephen King, of course. Man makes the plague that wipes out most of humanity, and evil comes to town in the undefinable presence of Randall Flagg. A demon, a man, an evil wizard, or something else? Perhaps a little like Jackson’s The Haunting Of Hill House, and Steven King’s The Shining (1980) – ok, a hotel but still a building – it is the house itself (maybe) that is the monster in Mark Z Danielewski’s remarkable House of Leaves (2000). Hard to describe, it is a work of metafictional genius that creeps the hell out of me! Read it. A nod of course must go to another Universal monster, the classic The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson. It is much weirder than you might imagine and although short, highlights the inner struggle between good and evil, and the external struggle between classes in Victorian Britain.

Interest in horror has always been high and there appears to be a resurgence of interest in the classics. Read these books as a starting point, then go and explore.

Ripley: “You know, Burke, I don’t know which species is worse. You don’t see them fucking each other over for a goddamn percentage”. Aliens (1986).

I must read Cabal (1988) by Clive Barker at some point – Midian sounds like a fun place!

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On reading short story collections: Three Moments of an Explosion by China Miéville

Three Minutes of an ExplosionShort fiction is a very particular art which can stand or fall by its presentation – within either the collection or the standalone. Great collections, where every story hits the mark are rare, and rarer still from a single author. Three Moments of an Explosion is the latest collection by literary master of the imagination China Miéville. Best known for his complex science fiction, this body of work might be seen to be exploring a different side of his mindscape.

Presented here are 28 short stories of varying length, style and quality, from what amount to narrative poems stretching for just over a page, to transcripts of trailers for (yet to be made?) films (on 3 occasions) up to much longer explorations of the human condition and the world around us.

Very few of these stories could be called science fiction. What you have, in the majority, is a version of us, and our planet and our existence, but just off kilter; slightly or sometimes totally outré. There is fantasy and horror, surrealism and just plain weird. Which I love. There are some classically styled stories and others that can be only be described as experimentation in language and understanding. Which is, to this reviewer, a slight problem. Some of the stories, most notably The Dusty Hat, are almost beyond comprehension. Sure you follow the plot but some of the sentences are filled with either gibberish or words of such obscurities than renders them almost pointless. Descriptions are beyond the ken of most. I imagine, however, most critics who would fawn over Miéville would not admit their own ignorance with this admission. It’s a shame, because the majority of the stories are excellent: thought-provoking, highly imaginative, almost like nothing you’ve ever read before. Miéville either sees things we don’t see, or describes those things we do from a completely new perspective. Witness:

The opening eponymous description is 2 pages of, well, I’m not so sure. While The Condition of New Death is almost reportage of horror which is beyond description. In the Slopes is a glorious take on the rivalries of scientists which focuses on bizarre techniques and unexpected outcomes. Interestingly, many of Miéville’s stories don’t end in the expected way. There is often no clever twist or neatly wrapped up conclusion. Repeatedly, they are almost introductions to a wider story and he lets our own imaginations ponder on what might happen next. Säcken being the perfect example, when the disappearance towards the conclusion is only the beginning of the genuinely creepy and disquieting story. The animal horror of the twisted future in After the festival and the creative brilliance of The Bastard Prompt are my favourites in the collection, showing Miéville off at his peak. These tales show thoughts and constructs almost beyond comprehension, but based in a relatable and readable narrative. Well written characters allow the reader in to the bizarre musings; while the oddities of the zombie animals and medical training practices become clear. A final nod to the genius of A Second Slice Manifesto – literally looking at art from a new perspective – and Covehithe, which perfectly taps into a child’s darkest imaginations and draws it to a spectacular conclusion, as inanimate objects become animalistic, returning to draw from the earth what we taught them.

Not all these stories are brand new, but the important thing is that they work well as a collection. This is partially because of the commonality of Miéville’s descriptive style and ideas (even the complex stories with seemingly made-up words and nonsense sentences) – floating icebergs above cities, burning stags, feral humans wearing a pigs head and one of the few genuine pieces of science fiction which features decaying space-elevators. As noted, there are a variety of styles of prose – some more successful than others. It feels more natural when he is telling stories rather than playing with language. Although the writing is generally terrific; featuring wit, social concerns, intelligence, beauty and flair. But strip away these facts and concerns and Three Moments of an Explosion represents what all good fantasy and horror does: what is that shape in the dark corner; what lies just beneath those waves; where did that disease come from and what was that, just over there, beyond our understanding? The horror works, the fantasy works, the collection of short stories works.

This is a collection I would like to come back to in the not too distant future. Like that difficult second album from a favourite band, it is a collection of stories that at first read (listen) makes you nod in appreciation most of the time, but frown on occasion (does this really work, is this a story(song) experiment too far?). However, sometimes a little effort is required and I expect a re-read of Three Moments of an Explosion will bring ever greater rewards. But I’m still not bringing a dictionary!

Original review version: http://www.nudge-book.com/blog/bookgeek/2015/08/12/three-moments-explosion-china-mieville/ 

A Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

The strength of Mur Lafferty’s A Shambling Guide to New York City is the character of the city itself. The New York she describes is one populated by Shambling Guidethe familiar tropes and characters of horror and urban fantasy, but because of the vignettes from the fictional guide book and how she uses our protagonists, this novel feels like a fresh and fun book that you want to spend time in.

We begin with Zoe, who has moved to New York after losing her job and her lover. She is seeking employment in the publishing world, and specifically, should she find it, the travel guide sector. Fortunately, Phil is looking for someone just like her. But not quite. Phil is a vampire and tries to dissuade Zoe from applying. Despite her recent past, she’s still got balls so pursues the job until Phil finally reveals to her the dark secret of New York. Vampires and zombies and magic are real. The Public Works is the human’s monster police force, only the monsters hate being called that. They are a community of like minded but different species known collectively as coterie. (coterie, noun, a small group of people with shared interests or tastes, especially one that is exclusive of other people).

The first half of the novel is fairly plotless, as Zoe finds out about the newly opened up world about her, while getting to grips with her new job. The plan is to write a guide for the coterie who both live and visit New York; the titular travel guide. Each chapter has a snippet from the guide as a way of introducing part of this new world. They are often humorous, and are probably the most interesting part of Lafferty’s novel. So we meet Morgen and Gwen and John; a water sprite, a death goddess and an incubus respectively. There are plenty of other characters and fresh ideas too. A mentor character who is a granny-type. A baker who is a type of incubus who feeds of the appreciation of his eaten pastries. Zombies who retain their higher brain functions providing they eat plenty of fresh brains. Restaurants for the coterie serving whatever is required. All described with a certain amount of wit and imagination.

And then odd things start to happen. Zoe’s past starts to creep up on her. Only now does the book start to feel like a story, rather than simply a clever world-building exercise. By this point, however, you’re only here with the goodwill offered by the interesting characters, rather than the events that are happening to them. It almost feels like Lafferty had a great idea and a fun bunch of monsters/coterie but no tale to tell. There’s an opportunity to talk more about gangs, cults, racism, bullying and other issues associated with minorities, but these don’t get any real thought, especially when you can just turn a plane into a golem and have the showdown and big reveal in Central Park. There’s nothing wrong with Lafferty’s writing – although I wasn’t particularly bowled over by the prose – and her imagination is clearly full of cracking ideas.

I did enjoy A Shambling Guide to New York City, but was disappointed by lack of proper story. The blurb on the cover aims the book at fans of Buffy The Vampire Slayer. I think there was much more depth in an average episode of Buffy, but there are similarities in tone. Of course, it is a journey of discovery for Zoe and a chance to put pay to her past, but I wanted a lightly comic urban fantasy to have a little more depth, threat and meaning. What I got was a fun monster, sorry coterie, mash.

Full time report – a reflection on the past twelve months

There are always ‘best of’ lists this time of year. Interestingly – well to me at least – is that I’ve not read the majority of the fiction mentioned in most of them. Check out this list, as an example: 2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson; The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter; Intrusion, by Ken MacLeod; Alif the Unseen, by G. Willow Wilson; The Killing Moon and The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood Duology), by NK Jemisin; Wonders of the Invisible World, by Patricia McKillip; Redshirts, by John Scalzi, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan; vN, by Madeline Ashby; Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed and The Dog Stars, by Peter Hiller (from io9). Not read any of them. Shocking, I know. However, most are on my To Read list on Goodreads. I’m just a bit slow in getting around to these things.

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So, these are the books I did read in the last twelve months, in no particular order:

Three short story collections:

I also read the eponymous short story and a couple other others, but not all of Micromegas by Voltaire.

Thirteen non-fiction books:

  • In Glorious Technicolor: A Century of Film and How it has Shaped Us by Stock, Francine
  • Massive: The Missing Particle That Sparked the Greatest Hunt in Science by Sample, Ian
  • Nothing to Envy: Real Lives in North Korea by Demick, Barbara
  • The Geek Manifesto: Why science matters by Henderson, Mark
  • Beware Invisible Cows: My Search For The Soul Of The Universe by Martin, Andy
  • The Edge of Science: Mysteries of Mind, Space and Time by Baker, Alan
  • In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Atwood, Margaret
  • Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, Conquered Hollywood, and Invented Modern Horror by Zinoman, Jason
  • Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion by Botton, Alain de
  • The Kosher Guide to Imaginary Animals: The Evil Monkey Dialogues by VanderMeer, Ann
  • The Good, the Bad and the Multiplex: What’s Wrong with Modern Movies? by Kermode, Mark
  • On Writing by King, Stephen
  • Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge by Yarm, Mark

Thirty five novels:

  • Life of Pi by Martel, Yann
  • Stray Souls (Magicals Anonymous, #1) by Griffin, Kate
  • Frankenstein by Shelley, Mary
  • Trust by Moody, David
  • The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen by Raspe, Rudolf Erich
  • The Magician King (The Magicians, #2) by Grossman, Lev
  • Breed by Novak, Chase
  • Ready Player One by Cline, Ernest
  • The Apocalypse Codex (Laundry Files, #4) by Stross, Charles
  • A Matter Of Blood (The Dog Faced Gods #1) by Pinborough, Sarah
  • Asbury Park by Scott, Rob
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Joyce, Graham
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Swift, Jonathan
  • One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (Thursday Next, #6) by Fforde, Jasper
  • The Minority Council by Griffin, Kate
  • Rule 34 (Halting State #2) by Stross, Charles
  • The Coincidence Engine by Leith, Sam
  • Anno Dracula by Newman, Kim
  • Zone One by Whitehead, Colson
  • Curse of the Wolf Girl (Kalix MacRinnalch, #2) by Millar, Martin
  • By Light Alone by Roberts, Adam
  • Lonely Werewolf Girl (Kalix MacRinnalch, #1) by Millar, Martin
  • Shadow’s Son (Shadow Saga, #1) by Sprunk, Jon
  • Anagrams by Moore, Lorrie
  • Embassytown by Miéville, China
  • Allison Hewitt Is Trapped (Zombie, #1) by Roux, Madeleine
  • Sadie Walker is Stranded (Zombie, #2) by Roux, Madeleine
  • Pure by Baggott, Julianna
  • The Hobbit by Tolkein, JRR
  • Heroes and Villains by Carter, Angela
  • The Radleys by Haig, Matt
  • The Last Werewolf by Duncan, Glen
  • The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Ketty Jay, #2) by Wooding, Chris
  • The End Specialist by Magary, Drew
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1) by Scott Lynch

So for the novels alone, that is 6 classic fantasy, 4 urban fantasy and a single modern fantasy, a couple of literary fiction (assuming Life of Pi isn’t fantasy or magic realism), 12 science fiction and 10 horror, which includes 3 werewolf and 3 zombie and 2 vampire. It would appear I don’t have a favourite genre as such, as I gave roughly equal weight to fantasy, science fiction and horror, although modern fantasy/supernatural/horror and near future science fiction would be my stated choices, followed by apocalyptic science fiction. Several authors had a couple of books each and it appears I like series, although I would deny it flat out if you asked me.

And now to the awards:

  • Top 5 novels in no particular order: Frankenstein, Life of Pi, Trust, Some Kind of Fairy Tale & The Apocalypse Codex
  • Surprisingly enjoyable: A Matter of Blood
  • Most unputdownable: Lonely Werewolf Girl
  • Most disappointing: Embassytown
  • Dullest/overhyped: Zone One
  • Worst read: The Surprising Adventures of Baron Munchausen
  • Special award for the most palpable physical response to reading it: Rule 34

On the whole, a good year, but not a great year for reading. I enjoyed more than I didn’t which is the important thing. Of the novels I’d not read before, not many would make my all time favourites list, which is a shame. Authors I want to read more of include Millar, Cline, Pinborough, Lynch and Duncan. I will also try to read a few newer books this year. The History of Science Fiction Literature Challenge will continue. At the very least, I will read:

  • Mary Shelley – The Last Man
  • Jane Loudon – The Mummy
  • John L Riddell – Orrin Lindsay’s Plan of Ariel Navigation
  • Jules Verne – Voyage to the Centre of the Earth
  • Samuel Butler – Erewhon

The next books I’ll be reading are Fated by Benedict Jacka, London Falling by Paul Cornell and The Good Fairies of New York by Martin Millar. And who knows where we’ll be in twelve months time?

My favourite novels, almost

It occurred to me that within this blog, which is an exploration of the genre’s I love, I’ve not really listed my favourite novels. Which is odd, cos I like lists. I wouldn’t say I love lists. But I do like them. So I started listing my favourite novels by genre, such as near future, classic SF, magic realism, urban fantasy, classic fantasy, and more…and that didn’t work, mainly because I struggle to label things. So then I went for a list of overall favourites, but that didn’t really seem representative, as there was loads of novels by only a few authors. Nothing wrong with that, but it didn’t give a true picture of what I actually like. Then I thought, to hell with it. I harumphed a lot and left it a day.

So what I then did was do a list of all my favourite novels and then limit it to one per author. This meant that the list won’t be a million books long and gives a good overall picture. It’s not definitive or read. For example, I like The Midwich Cuckoos more than Super Sad True Love Story. There is no real difference in my opinion of Armageddon: The Musical to any of the Brentford Triangle novels. So, in no order what so ever:

  • Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
  • Blindness by Jose Saramago
  • House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski
  • The Death of Grass by John Christopher
  • The Prestige by Christopher Priest
  • Lethe by Tricia Sullivan
  • Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Terry Pratchett
  • To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip Jose Farmer
  • Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
  • The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  • The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis
  • A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami
  • Rule 34 by Charles Stross
  • Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
  • This Alien Shore by C.S. Friedman
  • A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin
  • Spares by Michael Marshall Smith
  • Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
  • Ringworld by Larry Niven
  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy
  • Jem by Frederik Pohl
  • The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • Lonely Werewolf Girl by Martin Millar
  • The Radleys by Matt Haig
  • The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Feed by Mira Grant
  • Vurt by Jeff Noon
  • Blood Music by Greg Bear
  • Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
  • On the Beach by Nevil Shute
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  • The Company by K.J. Parker
  • Already Dead by Charlie Huston
  • Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland And Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
  • Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs
  • The Princess Bride by William Goldman
  • I Haven’t Dreamed of Flying for a While by Taichi Yamada
  • Far North: A Novel by Marcel Theroux
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  • The Chrysalids by John Wyndham
  • Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Air by Geoff Ryman
  • The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
  • The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
  • Ammonite by Nicola Griffith
  • Roadside Picnic by Arkady & Boris Strugatsky
  • Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
  • Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  • Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist
  • The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
  • Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin
  • Armageddon: The Musical by Robert Rankin
  • The Stand by Stephen King
  • Under the Skin by Michel Faber
  • The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod
  • The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
  • Dune by Frank Herbert
  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
  • The Haunting Of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
  • The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly
  • Replay by Ken Grimwood
  • Makers by Cory Doctorow
  • The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker
  • Perdido Street Station by China Mieville
  • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • Yellow Blue Tibia by Adam Roberts

Some of these are reviewed by me in this blog and elsewhere.

I would never be able to say which is my actual favourite, although the ones in bold I’ve read more than once. Those in italics I intend to read again. I might read the others again. I might not.

I dare you to agree.

A reflection on the last 6 months.

These are the novels and short story collections I’ve read since January, in order (number in brackets the order in which I’ve enjoyed them):

  • The Lies of Locke Lamora (Gentleman Bastard, #1) by Scott Lynch (3)
  • The End Specialist by Drew Magary (4)
  • The Black Lung Captain (Tales of the Ketty Jay, #2) by Chris Wooding (14)
  • Allison Hewitt Is Trapped (Zombie #1) by Madeleine Roux (11)
  • Embassytown by China Miéville (17)
  • The Radleys by Matt Haig (5)
  • Shadow’s Son (Shadow Saga, #1) by Jon Sprunk (15)
  • Lonely Werewolf Girl (Kalix MacRinnalch, #1) by Martin Millar (1)
  • Heroes and Villains by Angela Carter (13)
  • Zone One by Colson Whitehead (19)
  • Rule 34 (Halting State #2) by Charles Stross (9)
  • The Minority Council by Kate Griffin (6)
  • One of Our Thursdays Is Missing (Thursday Next, #6) by Jasper Fforde (10)
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (7)
  • Curse of the Wolf Girl (Kalix MacRinnalch, #2) by Martin Millar (8)
  • Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (18)
  • The White People and Other Stories: Vol. 2 of the Best Weird Tales of Arthur Machen by Arthur Machen (12)
  • Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce (2)
  • Anagrams by Lorrie Moore (16)

Which is 4 classic fantasy, 1 horror short story collection, a single literary fiction (one of my annual attempts to read outside my comfort zone), 3 modern or urban fantasy, 3 near future SF and 2 classic SF, 1 vampire, 2 zombie and 2 werewolf. Or, 7 fantasy, 5 SF, 6 horror, 1 normal. Of the horror, they are all (Machen excepted) contemporary. More urban fantasy than true horror. Millar’s werewolf girl novels are mostly set in London. The Radley’s is suburban fantasy. While I love SF, I think my tastes are shifting towards fantasy/horror.

On the whole, I’ve really enjoyed reading this year. I’ve revisited a couple of old favourite authors (Jasper Fforde and Kate Griffin) and discovered a great author in Martin Millar. I’m looking forward to reading more by Ernest Cline and Drew Magary. I read Gulliver’s Travels as part of my History of Science Fiction Literature Challenge. It was as dull as I remembered from the first time I read it. I was most disappointed by Embassytown as I’m a huge China fan and I thought his plotting was very poor. There was a lot of hype around Zone One. Was it a literary zombie novel. Probably, but it was so poor in every department.

I’m currently reading Asbury Park by Rob Scott. A ghost story. So far, so good.

Some of the books I will be reading in the next few months:

  • Stories : all new tales edited by Neil Gaiman
  • By light alone by Adam Roberts
  • Sadie Walker is stranded by Madeleine Roux
  • The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
  • and more…

I’m also going to read some Voltaire and some Raspe for my reading challenge.

I’m looking forward to new and exciting fiction coming up in the next 6 months. I plan to buy a tablet at some point so I might end up reading a few things on that. I also want to read another book outside my comfort zone, but something that falls within the speculative fiction umbrella. Not sure yet. Plenty to choose from.

All in all, a great 6 months.

Thanks Damien, something else to read now.

Having recently read Damien G. Walter’s excellent post (I’ve only read The Road, but I’ve added the rest to my to-read list on Goodreads) about reading literacy SF and fantasy it set me thinking about what I’ve been reading lately.

Now, I’m all for a good zombie novel and I’ve read a few over the last few years – some good (Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion and Feed by Mira Grant or its sequel Deadline) and some not so good (Hater by David Moody and Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry). I’m loving a bit of urban fantasy too. I’d highly recommend the Matthew Swift books by Kate Griffin. Time, I think, to move on and read some new stuff.

So, my plan for 2012 is to discover some new authors. What? What about all the other stuff. Well, this is how I figure it’ll work.

I’ll catch up on the Arthur C Clarke nominees as I do every year. I hope I’ve already read some of them. New books and an occasional oldy I’ll review for Bookgeeks, which is a wonderful thing to do. I’ll continue to read for my History of Science Fiction Literature  Challenge. With the few seconds I’ll have left in my life when I’m not reading non-fiction or graphic novels, I’ll endevour to read authors and genres I’ve not read before. I’ll pick up some of those mentioned by Walter and I’ve picked up a copy of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. Which is a start…

Sounds like a plan? I think so.

This is what I did in 2011

This is my end of year review. This is not the top 10 books released in 2011. Mostly because I suspect I have yet to read some of the better books released last year. I tend to not read hardbacks where possible and I always seem to be playing catch up, as I read older novels and a lot of non-fiction too. This, then, is a roundup of the best fiction I read in 2011, regardless of when they were released.

So, in no particular order…

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is the story of a group of teenagers in San Francisco who are caught up in a terrorist attack. The city is turned into a police state and the protagonists are embroiled in civil liberties, online networks based on Xbox and Linex and, of course, teen love. Doctorow’s usual themes of creative license (indeed the novel is available free on his website under a Creative Commons license), collaboration and community are all on show, but I think this is his best work. It is tight, well plotted and with interesting characters with genuine motivations. It speaks to me, even though I’m 20 years older than the lead characters.

You can read what I think about Hyperion by Dan Simmons, The Islanders by Christopher Priest, Neon Court by Kate Griffin, Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Zoo City by Lauren Beukes, Dervish House by Ian McDonald and Generosity by Richard Powers elsewhere. Of the bunch, Beukes’ Arthur C Clarke Award winner was the most original piece I’ve read this year. Super Sad True Love Story is a story that rings very true with modern society, or rather where it’s heading. I actually enjoyed Hyperion the most, in terms of not wanting to put it down, closely followed by the third title of Griffin’s Matthew Swift series. In my opinion (with the caveat that I have lived in London), Neon Court and its predecessors are the best examples of urban fantasy I’ve read. I admire the depth of Dervish House, the imagination of The Islanders and concept of Generosity.

The last two books on my list for 2011 are both very different types of zombie novel. Of course, zombies are the new vampires, blah blah blah, but both these are excellent variations on the standard tale. Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion is the only romantic zombie novel I’ve read, and the only one from the zombie’s perspective. It features a zombie who, after biting into the brains of a young man, begins to have very un-zombie-like feelings towards Julie, the man’s girlfriend. There is plenty of zombie apocalypse action and gives an excellent rational for the zombie attraction to human brains. It is a very ‘warm’ piece of fiction. Mira Grant’s Deadline is less of a zombie novel and more of a science fiction tale of how media has changed and of government control. The second book in the Newsflesh trilogy follows Shaun Mason, who is the reluctant head of a news blogging organisation following the death of his sister, Georgia, in the previous episode. However, a CDC researcher fakes her own death and with the zombie apocalypse seemingly in its second wave, Shaun suddenly has reasons to lead his team again, despite the odd relationship he has with Georgia. The back story of why zombie’s are prowling around is intricately detailed and thoroughly believable. The writing is eminently readable. The whole novel is simply great.

I’ve read some great books this year and fortunately, not many stinkers. Mostly because there are some great books around and I’ve not got time or inclination to read anything that hasn’t had a decent review somewhere. So, some honourable mentions include The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers (one of the few genre titles to make a Booker Long List in recent years), The Restoration Game by Ken MacLeod (it was a shame I guessed the ending early on), The Silent Land by Graham Joyce and Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite (old school vampire story). I was most disappointed my Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter (meh) and Thomas More’s Utopia (less of a story, more of a rant).

Under the same argument, but without any detail, the graphic novels I’ve most enjoyed this year are Walking Dead 1, 1985, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Hellboy. Conqueror worm, The dead boy detectives, Arkham Asylum : a serious house on serious earth, The Authority : relentless, Marvels, Bloody carnations, Akira 6. I liked them. Isn’t that enough? I also thoroughly enjoyed The Strange Talent of Luthor Strode and managed to completely avoid DC’s New52.

In the spirit of the season, although technically outside the remit of this blog, the films I’ve particularly enjoyed this year include Splice, Rec 2, Captain America, Last Night, Thor, Summer Wars, Paul, Wake Wood, Les aventures extraordinaires d’Adèle Blanc-Sec, The Troll Hunter, Frailty, Toy Story 3, Source Code, Hanna, Black Swan, Attack the Block, Super 8, X Men First Class and Never Let Me Go. I think I enjoyed The Troll Hunter, X-Men, and Never Let Me Go the most. I also thoroughly enjoyed BBC3’s The Fades. I was mostly disappointed with this year’s Dr Who, although I did love Neil Gaimen’s The Doctor’s Wife.

So, what am I looking forward to in 2012. Don’t know. I like to see what reveals itself as and when. Clearly, there are some great superhero films coming out this year. I’m looking forward to visiting a couple of conventions too. As for books: Mieville’s Embassytown, Ready Player One by Cline, By Light Alone by Roberts, The Radleys by Haig, Allison Hewitt Is Trapped by Roux and Zone One by Whitehead. I will of course, read the Clarke award shortlist titles if I haven’t already, whatever they may be.