Archive for the 'Read books' Category



Books read in September 2013

JagannathKarin Tidbeck: Jagannath.

Many of these stories are translated from the collection Vem är Arvid Pekon? and it was a pleasure to read them again. The ones that were new for me were generally longer but also very varied in theme and style. In “Reindeer Mountain” a sister disappears in a typical Swedish wilderness, and “Cloudberry Jam” also takes place in the mountains in northern Sweden, where a carrot, reminding of a mandrake root, is turned into a conscious being. The story “Pyret” about a Nordic cryptid is written as a scientific report, whereas “Augusta Prima”, dealing with time, has a Victorian air. In the final two stories, “Aunts” and “Jagannath”, strange biological phenomena are anthropomorphized resulting in fascinating allegories. It is not surprising that these brilliant fantasy stories with a Nordic character have been widely praised.

MartradMia Franck: Martrådar (Mare Threads).

This well-written Finland-Swedish fantasy is based on the idea that nightmares may be caused by another person, and the story leads back to what happened in the small town many centuries ago. It is also a story about being young in a small town, to be mobbed, raped, outcast and suicidal, and what this may lead to in the community. I found the story gripping and believable, although of course the supernatural elements had to be accepted by “suspension of disbelief”.

 

Father-ThingPhilip K. Dick: The Father-Thing.

The third volume of Dick’s wonderful short stories, mixing paranoia and humour and always saying very much about how human beings live and treat each other.

 

 

SvultenHannele Mikaela Taivassalo: Svulten (Starved).

Another Finland-Swedish fantasy, this one with the more classic theme of a female vampire, who is taking revenge on a line of fathers and sons the first of which had abandoned her. The language is excellent, a real pleasure to read, and the descriptions of Helsinki make you feel that you are there. There is also a Swedish historical interest since the lover was involved in the murder of King Gustav III and a part of the story takes place in the castle of Huvudsta where the murder was planned. 

Books read in August 2013

TheBookmanHistoriesLavie Tidhar: Camera Obscura.

A thrilling steampunk story set a few years after The Bookman, to a large extent in Paris, with characters out of books by Dumas, Mary Shelley, Lovecraft and several others. An entertaining reading experience with no deep meaning, except for the misapprehended feelings of the female protagonist who thinks she knows what is going on.

hebrew-punk-46126aLavie Tidhar: HebrewPunk.

Four connected stories with a lot of references and reuse of characters and tropes from pulps and Jewish mythology. There is a shape-shifting rat, vampires in Transsylvania, a Jewish state in Africa and immortality drugs.

slan SlanA. E. van Vogt: Slan.

Naturally somewhat dated but still definitely readable story about a race of humans with special faculties and their fight against extermination. Also with more human interest and relations than I seem to remember now more than 50 years since I first read it.

Planet63Lars Östling: Planet 63.

Thrilling Swedish novel about mining on an almost uninhabitable planet with high gravity, where the inhabitants are exploited. Lots of politics and intrigues, with quite nasty villains, makes the story a bit too stereotypical but the story is elegantly told in alternating chapters describing a catastrophe and the events leading up to it without revealing the cause until the end.

 

theraptureLiz Jensen: The Rapture.

This is well-written sf that is not marketed as such, possibly because it also has some very interesting characters which are possessed or handicapped. The sf elements are a possible precognition and an ecological catastrophe that gives a very rapid rise in temperature, with a plausible explanation. In many ways a very enjoyable book even if some events seemed a bit illogical – but so is reality too.

Books read in July 2013

XlosDeldenK. J. Larsson: Xlos Delden.

A very pleasant surprise; a new Swedish sf novel with a beautiful style and an absurd plot. Souls of aliens occupy human bodies which results in an entertaining depiction of human life. A longer review will appear in SF-Forum.

 

 

EmphyrioJack Vance: Emphyrio.

The Book Club book this time was a classic Vance, with an interesting society having an upper class, workers and people living on social security. The worker we meet carves wooden screens and it is forbidden to make any copies of these or of texts – interesting considering the discussions regarding copyright and immaterial properties.

 

HalfACrownJo Walton: Half A Crown.

The last of the three detective stories set in an England that broke peace with Germany in 1941. Twenty years have passed and England is still anti-Semitic and sends Jews to camps in France. As in the two prior volumes, the chapters alternately describe the detective and a woman, in this case a teenager who is to be presented for the queen, and gets involved in the story in a way that is too unlikely. This is a pity and the entire trilogy gets an unsavoury flavour of adventure story for teenagers.

 

DifferentDragonsDana Bell, ed.: Different Dragons.

Anthology of stories about dragons, both fantasy and sf. And not all the dragons were real dragons but instead criminals. Three stories were memorable: “Dragon’s Hoard” by Peter J. Wacks, although not about a dragon was thrilling enough, “Reintroduction” by Sarah L. Byrne described dragons as a species threatened by extinction, and “Phagan’s Shadow” by M. R. Williamson was a well-written story about a dragon that saved a girl from being killed.

 

iron-curtain-applebaum201211261606Anne Applebaum: Iron Curtain – The Crushing of Eastern Europe.

This book describes in clinical detail and with convincing evidence the horrors in the European countries occupied by the Soviet Union after WWII. Although it concentrates on East Germany, Poland and Hungary, there is a lot of information about other countries as well, with the exception of the Baltic States. Of special interest is the description of how the Soviet communists were welcomed as liberators from the Nazis and then to cleverly cooperate with social democrats only to take over completely in the end.

 

Books read in June 2013

seeds-of-earth_200x333Michael Cobley: Seeds of Earth.

Adventure sf with a juvenile touch, describing how humanity is fleeing from an earth invaded by aliens, and is then split into three groups arriving at very different planets. Most of the story takes place on a planet already inhabited by an intelligent species which also has archeological sites with almost mystical properties. A love story that not develops at all is somewhat irritating. As a whole an entertaining reading experience but with no major literary qualities or interesting ideas.

 

The_Demolished_ManAlfred Bester: The Demolished Man.

A complicated detective story with a lot of sf elements – telepathy, space travel, future society, elegantly accomplished and a classic. One of the nicest ideas is the use of a jingle as an earworm to avoid others listening to the thoughts. Still, I find the novel less of a masterpiece than The Stars My Destination (Tiger! Tiger!), but it is nevertheless required reading for every sf fan.

 

annual-isf-anthol2012Roberto Mendes & Ricardo Loureiro, eds.: The ISF 2012 Annual Anthology.

ISF stands for International Speculative Fiction, which is also a free online magazine, and this anthology does contain many stories from many countries. After every story there is a short presentation of the author. There are two stories by Aliette de Bodard, one of which has previously been published in Interzone, two stories by Lavie Tidhar and one by Ken Liu, in addition to a lot of stories by (to me) less known authors. It is really refreshing to read stories from outside the Anglophone world, and at least for me the translations were enjoyable.

 

Edge-front-72dpi-198x300Thomas Blackthorne (John Meaney): Edge.

Near-future thriller set mainly in London, where it is common to solve conflicts with knives. The hero of the story slowly realises what a criminal organisation does, and we also follow a kid who has witnessed atrocities. The characters are believable and interesting, and conflicts and interactions are well described. Even an extended knife fight was described in a way that kept my interest, which is usually not the case with fights.

 

HaPennyJo Walton: Ha’penny.

The second book in the “Small Change” series, is like the others a detective story set in the alternate UK that made peace with Hitler in 1941, and with Peter Carmichael as inspector who is trying to solve a murder attempt. The story is largey about a family with many very different daughters, and it is very entertaining to follow the complicated family play between them.

 

WalkingonGlassIain M. Banks: Walking on Glass.

The recently deceased Banks’ second novel is a wonderful, somewhat demanding but in the end rewarding story with three different story lines that come toghether in the end. The most sf:nal line describes two individuals imprisoned in a castle where they play games and are supervised by a red crow. The other two lines describe a paranoid roadmender who reads sf and hates cars, and a boy who is in unrequited love with a girl who has an incestuous relationship with her brother.

Books read in May 2013

AfroSFIvor W. Hartmann, ed.: AfroSF.

Subtitled: Science Fiction by African Writers. An excellent albeit somewhat uneven collection of short stories by African authors, or at least authors of African descent. Several stories criticised bureaucracy in a Kafkaesque manner, other stories dealt with more or less typical African problems like HIV treatment and salvage of metals and gadgets from garbage dumps. There were stories about xenophobia and discrimination, using aliens as tropes. Religion was essential in surprisingly many of the stories. With a few exceptions they were well written and a pleasure to read.

NorstriliaCordwainer Smith: Norstrilia.

The only novel set in the “Instrumentality” world of Smith, and as such of great interest to read. However, I prefer the short stories where much of the background is only hinted at. This novel had too much action and other unnecessary details, even if it might be good for knowing the ideas behind Smith’s universe. The story starts on Norstrilia, a colony world from North Australia, where sick sheep produce a life-extending drug, that makes the people on Nostrilia exceedingly rich. To avoid overpopulation, people are killed off after a test, and the hero of the story survives and goes to Earth to buy it. This method to avoid overpopulation could have been problematized a bit. Still, the novel is a “must read” by this author who was born 100 years ago.

BishopMichael Bishop: A Little Knowledge.

Religion is a common theme in sf, and this novel deals with the old problem of the possible redemption of aliens in spite of the fact that they cannot have been shaped in the same God’s own image as humans. This pretty ridiculous problem is handled well in this novel that was a pleasure to read mainly due to Bishop’s language and interesting characters. The future USA (about 2070) with the very strong and authoritarian church and life under a dome is made probable, although I am less convinced regarding a future influential Scandinavian state.

Books read in April 2013

JaneEyreCharlotte Brontë: Jane Eyre

I read this directly after the Nebula-nominated first novel of Tina Connolly, Ironskin, since that novel obviously was based on Jane Eyre. I must say that the old version in many ways was the better one, even if it lacked fantasy elements. The story was sufficiently thrilling, the characters interesting and the descriptions of nature and houses intense. The gothic parts, with strange buildings and a hidden lunatic, gave the story a dark nature.

AtwoodMargaret Atwood: In Other Worlds.

Subtitled: SF and the Human Imagination. Atwood starts out with an attempt to define sf, and to me her fairly diffuse definition is a variant of “if it is good it is not sf”. Stories describing impossible events, descending from H G Wells and exemplified with Martians in metal canisters, are sf, whereas those descending from Jules Verne and describe events which can happen but has not necessarily happened at the time of writing, e g submarines, are not sf but instead speculative fiction. Thus, her own novels are not sf but speculative fiction. To me, it seems more logical to use the term “speculative” for the stories without scientific accuracy and “science” for the correct ones.

The book also contains interesting chapters about superheroes and about utopias and dystopias, papers reviewing some well-known sf (meaning science fiction or speculative fiction) novels, a couple of short stories which are really science fiction but not very entertaining, and finally a copy of her very entertaining letter to a school district that banned The Handmaid’s Tale and an interesting paper about the covers of Weird Tales of the 1930’s by Margaret Brundage, where she outlines the genealogy of the brass bra.

IndoctrinaireChristopher Priest: Indoctrinaire.

This, Christopher Priest’s first novel, was published in 1970, and the story is set in 1989 and 2189 – it is a time-travel story. Much of the story takes place in a future prison or camp, where the main protagonist tries to understand what is happening. The mood is Kafkaesque or Ballardian, and the novel is interesting and rewarding to read. Too much of the plot is given away in the back-cover blurb and maybe even in the cover art. Reading sf about a future which is actually our past is reading alternate history. Neither in the book’s 1989 nor in its 2189 are there any computers. My conclusion is just that it is absolutely correct to include alternate histories among sf.

AnubisTim Powers: Anubisportarna (The Anubis Gates)

Translated by Sven Christer Swahn, which I thought would mean that the translation was OK. However, I had problems with the humoristic style. The very complicated plot was difficult to follow since people exchanged personalities too often. Still, a few of the characters stuck in my mind, like the girl Jacky who for the most part of the book was disguised as a boy. The plot involved instantaneous travels in time and space, so there were visits to Greece and Egypt, and London in the beginning of the 19th and the 17th centuries. I would not characterise it as steampunk since the gadgets were rather typical of the time. There were a lot of magic, firmly putting the story into the fantasy category.

AngelsJaine Fenn: Principles of Angels.

This was a pleasant new acquaintance, a new British author of “weird new space opera”. Most of the story takes place in an artificial flying city, constructed by aliens, with a top side where people live and work and an underside for “angels” and criminals. Likeable characters and some very nasty criminals, and an interesting plot made this an entertaining experience.

Books read in March 2013

DrowningGirlCaitlín R. Kiernan: The Drowning Girl.

This is a remarkable book that has been nominated for the Nebula Award, and it is definitely well worth it even if it perhaps is not fantasy and definitely not sf. It is a ghost story about writing a ghost story, and it deals with the process of writing and producing art. It is also a love story and a story about friendship, possession and schizophrenia, described from the inside. The story is not linearly told but the language is perfectly suited for the story, and the dialogues feel completely true – even if, as discussed in the inner monologue, they are not factually correct.

 

SarskildNene Ormes: Särskild (Peculiar).

This book is a direct continuation of Nene Ormes’ first novel Udda verklighet (Odd reality), and since it was some time since I read it I had problems to get into the story. It is still an interesting world, based on Malmö and the novel might be classified as YA urban fantasy.

 

PeaceProcessMichael R. Fischbach: The Peace Process and Palestinian Refugee Claims.

An interesting analysis of the necessary solution to the claims of the Palestinian refugees for the property they were forced to abandon, written as a part of the United States Institute of Peace’s congressional mandate and with a foreword of the President of that organisation. This problem has to a large extent been avoided in peace negotiations, which may very well be one reason for the lack of success. It is also clear that the refugees themselves have to be more involved in the discussions.

 

48john-meaney-absorptionJohn Meaney: Absorption.

Set in the same universe and time (2603 A.D.) as his To Hold Infinity, but with the extra interspersed chapters set in the years 777, 1926 and 502013, this is a complicated story involving a group spanning over time and space. Since this is just the first volume it is not clear exactly what the group may achieve, and the main enjoyment is given in the individual time slots.

 

KressFallNancy Kress: After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall.

In this short novel, nominated for a Nebula, aliens help a small group of people enclosed in a capsule in a future when no other humans live. The help consists in providing a time-travel device that makes it possible to go back to our present to kidnap babies and steal provisions, before an ecological catastrophe makes earth uninhabitable. The characters are interesting but the scenario is not convincing.

 

1012-ironskin-coverTina Connolly: Ironskin.

The ironskin of the title is a mask that covers a damaged part of the main character’s face in order to protect others from being affected by a contagious rage that she has acquired in a war with the fey, evil beings living in the woods which have also provided technical inventions giving light, power for transportation and surgical skills. This fantasy is based on Jane Eyre which is evident from the setting and characters, but it is also steampunk and gothic. It is interesting to read how two of the main characters, the governess and her pupil, handle their curses, whereas the love story is fairly banal.


Västerås 14-16 juni