Reading Now

What I'm Reading Now

Burglars Can’t Be Choosers, Lawrence Block – I must have read three or four Bernie Rhodenbarr books years ago, in Brazilian Portuguese translation. Two weeks ago, I found a huge sale on Kindle, and I bought all eleven Rhodenbarr novels (in English, I hasten to add). I decided to begin the new year reading mysteries instead of science fiction. I love how Block write dialogues.

The Citadel of the Autarch, Gene Wolfe – Even though I’m planning to read more of other genres, the Gene Wolfe Rereading takes precedence over everything else. I started to read the Book of the New Sun for the second time, and I’m finding this last book (in the tetralogy, of course – there’s still the coda, The Urth of the New Sun) quite different from the other three, as if Wolfe had matured along the process – of course he did, since this fourth novel was written approximately three years after the first. But you’ll know more about what I have to say at the end of January, here.

lists

2019 – The Books I Read

As I said precisely one year ago, I started writing yearly lists of books approximately thirty-five years ago. Alas, I don’t have most of them, and the few I have are on paper in a trunk at dad’s house. As far as I can remember, though, the first list had less than thirty books. Eventually, as my reading speed gained traction, the lists came to show around 100 books.

Sadly, I’ve not been able to keep this three-digit number. In 2018 I finished only 39 books. But, in 2019, I did much better, finishing 73 books. I’m still not listing unfinished books. If I did that, I’d have approximately 100.

But 2019 was a VERY atypical year. For starters, Brazil (the country where I was born and, aside from a brief period in Europe, still live) has become pretty much a fascist country, due to the election of extreme right-wind Jair Bolsonaro. Things are deteriorating fast here, but I won’t elaborate on that. Suffice it to say that these are hard times to be a lefty, as I am.

So. Here’s the list:

Dreamsnake – Vonda McIntyre

Babylon Berlin – Volker Kutscher

Condomnauts  – Yoss

The Vinyl Detective – Victory Disc – Andrew Cartmel

Tentacle – Rita Indiana

Aqui, no Coração do Inferno – Micheliny Verunschk

O Peso do Coração de Um Homem – Micheliny Verunschk

O Amor, Esse Obstáculo – Micheliny Verunschk

Buddhism Without Beliefs – Stephen Batchelor

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

Cocaine Nights – J. G. Ballard

High-Rise – J. G. Ballard

Sherlock Holmes – The War of the Worlds – Manly Wade Wellman

Miniatures – John Scalzi

There Are Doors – Gene Wolfe (reread)

The Pleasant Profession of Robert A. Heinlein – Farah Mendlesohn

The Fifth Head of Cerberus – Gene Wolfe

The Calculating Stars – Mary Robinette Kowal

Peace – Gene Wolfe

Gene Wolfe – 14 Articles – Michael Andre-Driussi

The Devil in a Forest – Gene Wolfe

The Space Vampires – Colin Wilson (reread)

Exhalation – Ted Chiang

Rosewater – Tade Thompson (reread)

Fanfic – Braulio Tavares

Aurora – Kim Stanley Robinson (reread)

Danilo Kis – The Legend of the Sleepers

Richard Kadrey – The Grand Dark

The Survival of Molly Southbourne – Tade Thompson

Between Light and Shadow – Marc Aramini

The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories – Gene Wolfe (reread)

Prólogos – Jorge Luis Borges

Castle of Days – Gene Wolfe

The Shadow of the Torturer – Gene Wolfe (reread)

The Claw of the Conciliator – Gene Wolfe (reread)

The Sword of the Lictor – Gene Wolfe (reread)

Lexicon Urthus – Michael Andre-Driussi

Hero: David Bowie – Lesley-Ann Jones

Prince Valiant: 1937 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1938 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1939 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1940 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1941 – Hal Foster

Prince Valiant: 1942 – Hal Foster

And Shall Machines Surrender – Benjanun Sriduangkaew

Gigantes Pela Própria Natureza – Nelson de Oliveira

A Telepatia São os Outros – Ana Rusche

Astounding – Alec Nevala-Lee

Mister Miracle #1 – Tom King

To Be Taught If Fortunate – Becky Chambers

Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim and The Infinite Sadness – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim’s Vs. The Universe – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour – Bryan Lee O’Malley

Focus – Daniel Goleman

This is Not a Novel – David Markson

Vanishing Point – David Markson

The Last Novel – David Markson

Ideias para Adiar o Fim do Mundo – Ailton Krenak

Orbitsville – Bob Shaw

Carl Seelig – Walks with Walser

Comendo Bolacha Maria no Dia De São Nunca – Manuel Carlos Karam

Mary Beard – Women & Power

O Melhor do Cortella – Mario Sergio Cortella

O Marido do Meu Irmão, Vol. 1 – Gengoroh Tagame

O Marido do Meu Irmão, Vol. 2 – Gengoroh Tagame

New Model Island – Alex Niven

McMindfulness – Ronald Purser

A Song for a New Day – Sarah Pinsker

H. G. Wells – A Literary Life – Adam Roberts

Migrazioni e Intolleranza – Umberto Eco

 

Lately I’ve been giving some thinking about the speed of reading – in fact, about the speed with which I have been doing things, especially along this last year. For the past couple of months I’ve been focusing more on my writings: I’m beginning 2020 actively involved in four projects, and with the university as well, I will need that focus more than ever, so I think I will be reading neither as fast nor as much as in 2019. Priorities. But I will try to write here more often to talk about what I’m reading. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

Reading Now

What I’m Reading Now

The Sword of the Lictor, Gene Wolfe – for my Gene Wolfe Rereading at Tor.com. I already posted the first installment here. As in the previous novels of The Book of the New Sun, I’m doing it in three parts. Although this is not my favorite novel of the saga, it’s surely the one that terrified me the most (because of the alzabo, what else?)

A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker – I’m reading this book slowly because I’m in love with it. This is what cyberpunk should be these days, instead of dull adventures with boutique punks (this is how we call faux punks in Brazil). This novel has none: this is not a post-apoc scenario, but a post-terrorist one, where people cannot be seen in groups anymore and music concerts are banned in the US. But if you want to rock, there is a literal underground scene for you.

eligibility · Awards

a very small eligibility post

2019 was a very busy year to say the least. I couldn’t find time to post anything here – but that’s about to change, since I deactivated (temporarily, I think) my Facebook account, which was gobbling up most of my spare time. In a month or so I will post a list of books that I read along the year. For now, I would like to recommend two things of my recent production for any awards, since the eligibility season has opened:

First the fiction category: I have been very focused on writing bigger pieces in these past months. Aside from two or three short stories in Portuguese, I wrote two novellas in English. One of them has just been rejected, and I’m seriously considering turning it into a novel, so I guess I’ll be with my hands full these summer (South Hemisphere) holidays. Nevertheless, I managed to break in one market: Daily Science Fiction! But A PSA for Time-Travelers is a very, very short story (less than 300 words), so I don’t think it will be really considered for any short fiction award. But I put it here (to quote the immortal words of George Mallory) because it’s there.

This year, though, I have something bigger to show in the Non-Fiction category. It’s the Gene Wolfe Rereading that I’m doing at Tor.com. So far I covered Wolfe’s early books (except for Operation Ares), and right now I’m halfway through The Book of New Sun. I’ve been having lots of fun writing this articles/reviews of his work. I hope you like it – and nominate it!

lists

Books read in 2018

I started doing lists of books I’ve read along the year around 1984. In the beginning, of course, most of them were written in notebooks. (A few years ago, I found a few of them in a trunk on my father’s house. If they are still there, I’ll copy and publish them here soon.) The amount of books I used to read at those pre-internet times was meagre if compared to the present. In 1984 I had turned 18 years old, and was just starting to work as an intern in a major telecommunications company in Brazil. My output was something between thirty and forty books, if memory serves (it might be less; probably less). Since the advent of the Web, I’ve been reading more and more, alternating between paper and ebook format. (Mostly ebooks these days, but I’ve been coming back to physical books lately. They are comfortable.)

2018 was a fine year to me personally for several reasons, not the least of them my wedding to my girlfriend. I also wrote a lot, and participated in several literary events in Brazil and abroad. Maybe because of all this, my reading output was the lowest in many years. While I was used to read around 140-150 books a year, in 2018 I read only 39 books. Keep in mind I only list finished books. If I had finished all, I’d have approximately 80 – still less than I’d have liked. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We keep on reading, because that’s what we do.

The list:

Vermelho Amargo – Bartolomeu Campos de Queirós

Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks (rereading)

The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks

My Inventions – Nikola Tesla

The Wind’s Twelve Quarters – Ursula K LeGuin

The Birthday of the World and Other Stories – Ursula K LeGuin

The Dispossessed – Ursula K LeGuin

A Verdade Vencerá – Lula

Gnomon – Nick Harkaway

Ahab’s Return – Jeffrey Ford

Time Was – Ian McDonald

Algazarra – Santiago Santos

Cangaço Overdrive – Zé Wellington

The Fifth Season – N. K. Jemisin

The Obelisk Gate – N. K. Jemisin

Five-Twelfths of Heaven – Melissa Scott

Sankofia – Lu Ain Zaila

Irontown Blues – John Varley

Red Mars – KSR (rereading)

Green Mars – KSR (rereading)

The Tea Master and the Detective – Aliette de Bodard

In the House of Aryaman, a Lonely Signal Burns – Elizabeth Bear

The Sea Dreams it it the Sky – John Hornor Jacobs

The Million – Karl Schroeder

Hollywood Dead – Richard Kadrey

The Languages of Pao – Jack Vance (rereading)

The Lamb Will Slaughter The Lion – Margaret Killjoy

The Barrow Will Send What It May – Margaret Killjoy

Acadie – Dave Hutchinson

Passing Strange – Ellen Klages

Comfortable with Uncertainty – Pema Chödrön

Livrarias – Jorge Carrión

Biopunk Dystopias – Lars Schmeink

Typescript of the Second Origin – Manuel de Pedrolo

Europe in Autumn – Dave Hutchinson

Europe at Midnight – Dave Hutchinson

Europe at Winter – Dave Hutchinson

Europe at Dawn – Dave Hutchinson

The Last Days of New Paris – China Mieville

Postmodern narratives · Review

Review – Algazarra, by Santiago Santos

I’ve been writing reviews in English for a decade now. And, though I’ve written on occasion about Brazilian science fiction (most notably the Steampunk movement in Brazil, which is still going strong as I write this), I don’t think I’ve ever wrote a review in English about an untranslated Brazilian SFF book. So this is a first, I guess.

The reason why I chose Santiago Santos’s Algazarra to begin this (hopefully constant from now on) trend is that this is a fucking good book.

No, really. I curse like a sailor in meatspace, but when I do it online, is for a very good reason. And this flash fiction collection is one of the best things I’ve read in Portuguese recently.

In my last post, I wrote of my newfound love for novellas, and how I tend to read more stories in this format than big novels today. I don’t tend to read story collections in one sitting, though; I like browsing them and picking stories more or less randomly (for instance: someone mentioned Gene Wolfe to me just the other day on Facebook, a propos of nothing particularly relevant, and I suddenly had the urge to re-read a few of my favorite short stories by him. Last night I read Seven American Nights again after a few years).

But I couldn’t do it in this case. Algazarra gripped me right from the start.

What does the word Algazarra means? It comes from the Arabic Al-gazarâ, meaning abundance, but also a huge, almost unbearable noise; in Portuguese it means mostly tumult, hullaballoo. This collection is all of the above.

There are fifty stories in the book, almost all of them within the 1k limit of the flash fiction category. The bigger one is Mascate (Peddler), which opens the book, with 1070 words, and the shortest is Olhos Emprestados (Borrowed Eyes) with 250 words.

This is not just an SF collection; there are stories for all tastes here. Fantasy, Suspense, Noir, Superheroes, Western, you name it. One of my favorites, Broesd, is heavily influenced by Fritz Leiber, one of Santos’s favorite writers. But the reader will also identify tributes to Borges, Bioy Casares, Calvino. There are many homages to a lot of Brazilian writers, like Graciliano Ramos, Dalton Trevisan, and José J. Veiga, absolute masters of the trade. But Santos is way more eclectic: one of his stories, Percepção Extra-Sensorial Inerciática (Inertiatic ESP) was heavily influenced by a song of The Mars Volta, while others got their juice by way of Cormac McCarthy and Flann O’Brien. But Santos acknowledges that most of the stories featured in Algazarra owe their existence to Alan Moore’s works, such as the impressive Arqui-inimigo (Arch-Enemy) and A Morte do Toupeira (The Death of the Moleman), both super-heroical, but owing more to Tom Strong than to regular stories of superbeing wearing capes and their undies outside their pants.

Curiously, Santos had never read Fredric Brown, one of the greatest flash fiction writers of all time (when stories of this length were called just short short stories). Even though he had a small volume of his fiction, he didn’t have any of his really short ones. I borrowed him a book a few weeks ago.

An obvious disclaimer: Santiago is a good friend of mine, and I’m between the many friends he thanks in the Acknowledgments of his collection. But my friends know how harsh I can be regarding quality, especially Santiago; we had lots of talks, sometimes over beer, but mostly coffee, for me, and sometimes tereré, a maté brew typical of his region, for him), and not all of these conversations ended in agreement about one or another finer point of literature in general, and science fiction and fantasy in particular. I’ve been following his ongoing struggle with the written word for a few years, and I couldn’t be happier for him now, with the publication of Algazarra.

I wish you could read his stories. In fact, I wish it happens soon – and who knows? Santiago has been translating a few of them for some time now, and submitting them to magazines. Meanwhile, if you want to have a taste of his output, just go to flashfiction.com.br – most of the stories are there. Google Translator is far from good, but maybe it will give you an idea of what he aims at with his stories. I’d love to have a feedback from the Anglo-American readers. Santiago Santos is a name to remember.

Novella · Review · Science Fiction

Review: Time Was, by Ian McDonald

The novella format is my new favorite. I grew up reading novels, big novels: more science fiction than fantasy, even though the latter is well-known for its doorstoppers. A few remarkable ones include Eon, Neverness, DuneThe Boat of a Million Years, HyperionStranger in a Strange Land  – it’s a long list, the most recent one being Nick Harkaway’s Gnomon, which I reviewed here.

And yet, huge novels can be tiring now and then. Shorter formats, then, might come in handy to cleanse the palate between two novels. Or that’s what I used to do until recently. Not quite so anymore.

Under mostly the auspices of Tor.com, novellas now are big – and deservedly so. I’ve been reading lots of them since last year, all of them so good that somewhere along the way expectations were reversed – I started reading big novels to cleanse the palate between two novellas.

One of the best novellas I read so far in 2018 is Ian McDonald’s Time Was. After reading many good novels taking places in other countries such as India and Brazil (I should add that I translated Brasyl to Brazilian Portuguese a few years ago), Time Was was a very nice change of gear, both in space and in time.

The story starts in a dumpster behind a recently closed bookstore in Spitalfields, where the narrator, Emmett, is scavenging for rare editions. He finds out a small poetry chapbook titled Time Was, by an unknown author whose initials are E.L.

Dated from May 1937, the book has a letter hidden among its pages. The letter introduces us to Ben Seligman and Tom Chappell, two scientists who fall in love in the first years of World War II. The story will then alternate between other fragments of lovers’s discourse and the search of the now-obsessed Emmett for anything that can shed some light to these two starcrossed lovers and the poetry book.

One of these fragments is a letter from an Indian-Australian soldier, Amal, mentioning Tom and Ben. The things is, the letter was written from Gallipoli, during World War I.

Emmett will spend years in search of an answer to this mystery. Their plight might be related to alien abduction? Immortality, maybe? He will find further fragments from stranger places: Tom and Ben appear in a documentary on the war on Bosnia in the 1990s, for instance.

But the answer might be in other, more SFnal probability: time travel, of course. Ben is working with other boffins in a machine based on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and its results may not be what they are expecting (after all, we’re talking uncertainty here).

I’m not revealing any big spoilers here: all of this happen until halfway through the story. The ending is not totally unexpected, but I loved the apparently simplicity of the final twist and how the clues were in the story since the beginning.

That’s why novellas should be more and more read and reviewed: for the sheer amount of information the author can put in the narrative and leaving plenty of space for building suspense and expectation. In other words, cutting the extra fat without the reader barely noticing it.

But a thing is certain: Time Was left me wanting more – but I was glad the book ended the way it did. It was a pleasing read and I couldn’t recommend it more.