My own book, The Completely Inappropriate Tales of Gandersnitch the Goblin, is steeply discounted this week in ebook form ($1.99 on Amazon), and thus today seems like a perfect time to talk a bit about the things I personally like to read. I figure most of the readers here have picked up my own book, and if not—Go get it now! But maybe their friends have not read it, and should be told how awesome it is, and that they owe it to themselves to read it, and they should not only get it on sale now, but also pick up a physical copy at Gencon because it is easier to sign a book than a kindle… (But I will do it! I try to always have sharpies on hand! – Seriously though, please share the link with your friends.)
Obligatory self promotion plug out of the way, I have a confession to make. I don’t particularly like to read science fiction novels and I have really only ever enjoyed a handful of steampunk stories at the most. This can be an awkward conundrum, as I have several science fiction and steampunk author friends and do fairly well myself among the steampunk crowd. But I do love science fiction movies, because what it really comes down to is this: I prefer a sleek narrative driven by interesting characters over getting bogged down in the details of an imaginary world. Movies don’t need to deal much with world building in a literary sense, as they have the ability to show it in the sets and costumes. Books must rely solely on words, and sadly, so many of the science fiction/steampunk things I attempt to read tend to get bogged down on relatively boring world building.
I don’t personally care if there are anachronisms in the setting that never fully get explained. I do however, want to care about the characters. I want to relate to them and feel like a silent witness to their journey. To me, the world they exist in only serves as a backdrop to the events that affect them, and too much detail just gets in the way of the excitement. I love quirky biographies, I prefer the Hobbit over the Lord of the Rings, and I am a voracious reader (when not engaged in the first draft of my own work), often managing to consume a new book in two or three late night sessions. So, without further ado, here are some of my recent reads that I can highly recommend (several with sci-fi and steampunk elements).
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
This novel was written back in 2005, and evidently won lots of awards and was even made into a movie, but it did not hit my radar till a few weeks ago after I read some list of the Top 25 Modern Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books. I guess technically, this might be sci-fi, as it is set in a dystopian world that has made some interesting advances in medical science. Some folks label it as psychological horror, but the label doesn’t really matter. It is thought provoking, moving, and eerily profound. The novel is told in three parts, from the point of view of the narrator, Kathy, and focuses on her sheltered (yet horrifying) life as a donor/carer and that of her two best friends. This was a book that I could not put down, and spent two mostly sleepless nights to complete it.
Railsea by China Miéville
I actually love most everything written by this author, but I think this book is my favorite of his so far. It is a strange reinterpretation of Moby Dick… on trains. It follows the story of three orphans who end up out on the Railsea (a network of ancient railroads that crisscross the deserts of the world and are inhabited by man eating mole rats who burrow about) trying to follow the path of their missing parents. It sounds absurd, but Miéville paints the story with such skill, that it really is a wonderful and exciting read. In my opinion,this is world building done right.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
A blend of time traveling, circus freaks, WWII, love story, and family mystery combine to form this most excellent coming of age tale about a boy following in his Grandfather’s footsteps to help out people in the past. Oddly enough, the book started from a collection of old interesting photographs that were then woven into a narrative tale, and it works amazingly well. I personally think the story stands on its own just fine without the photographs, but they do add a nice touch, as they are included in the book. There is also now a sequel out called “Hollow City”, which is a fine adventure story as well, but you really do need to read this one first.
The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
And here is one of those quirky biographies I mentioned above. Originally this book was titled, “The Surgeon of Crawford”, but was renamed for its release in the US. It is about the making of the Oxford English dictionary, an incredibly boring sounding topic that is actually surprisingly interesting. I for one had never thought of dictionaries in terms of who picked the words and how the definitions were arrived at, and this information alone sparked a deep desire to discover old and interesting words. But beyond just the well presented historical information, there is a very interesting story here about the relationship between the chief editor of the OED and his primary contributor, who turns out to be a murderer and a mental patient.
The Bees by Lauline Paull
Another psuedo-dystopian novel that focuses on the story of lowly service bee in a large hive. I will admit that given the level of personification to the characters, it was challenging at times to settle on a mental picture. I saw humans in my head, but then the bee characteristics would jar me out of the story momentarily and remind me that, no, these are bees. Bees that talk to each other and think like people, but still bees. While such reminders may have been intrusive from time to time, it also highlights how sympathetic the relationship between the reader and the main character, Flora 717, becomes and how engrossed we are in her personal heroic journey.