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The nerds of summer: a book list

My comrade Andy Battaglia posted a great summer reading list in these here parts a couple weeks back. His taste, as you can tell from that blog, is healthy and well-rounded. Me, I'm a stunted, shut-in little sci-fi and fantasy dork. That said, there's quite a range of (hopefully) awesome stuff I've bought lately and put in a huge pile to plow through between now and Labor Day–some new, some old, all of the speculative fiction variety. Much thanks to Denver bookstores Tattered Cover, Kilgore, Fahrenheit's, Capitol Hill Books, and Denver Book Mall for enabling my retreat from the human race this summer while the world plays volleyball or whatever.

Nova Swing

M. John Harrison (Bantam)

You know those writers you stumble across later in life and then kick yourself for not discovering years earlier? M. John Harrison is my number-one example. His Dying-Earth-type opus, Viriconium, blew my mind (and had me running for the thesaurus, in a good way, every five seconds). His aching, metaphysically rich The Course Of The Heart left me feeling cold, warm, full, and empty all that the same time. And I just got done reading Light, his hard sci-fi hit from 2002–a novel that somehow finds fresh language and revelations in the dry wells of quantum physics and chaos theory. Nova Swing is apparently some kinda loose sequel to Light, and if it's even half as brainy, horny, and divinely beautiful as its predecessor, I'll be in heaven.


The Wizard Knight

Gene Wolfe (Tor)

The title of this novel-in-two-parts should tip you off to the fact that Wolfe was attempting to write his definitive statement on archetypal high fantasy here. Which he seems to have accomplished, lovingly and yet oh-so-subversively. I'm about 100 pages into the first volume, The Knight, right now–and the book's chiseled prose and patina of magic realism show just how much the author has cultivated his teeming, mythic elegance since his epochal The Book Of The New Sun (which, if you've never experienced it, should be immediately moved to the top of your must-read list).

The New Weird

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, editors (Tachyon)

New Weird may be one of those ad hoc genre labels that winds up sticking–and then quickly becomes overused, trite, and ultimately lame. But at the moment, New Weird comprises a loose collective of writers who mix elements of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror into a style that reaches back to Lovecraft and Jack Vance while grasping at the darker future of speculative fiction. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer–the former the new fiction editor of the recently revamped pulp bible Weird Tales, the latter the celebrated author of Veniss Underground and City Of Saints And Madmen–have drawn together stories and essays that perform exploratory surgery on the nascent genre. Personally, I'm most looking forward to "The Art Of Dying," a short story by K.J. Bishop, the Aussie author whose 2004 debut, the mirage-like anti-Western The Etched City, is in urgent need of a follow-up.



Jay Lake (Tor)

I've read mixed reviews of The New Weird contributor Jay Lake's Mainspring, but I'll admit it–that cover sold me. And the premise is as promising as they come: The world's a giant watch, God is indeed a clockmaker, and an angel must undertake a perilous quest to rewind reality. In any case, Mainspring strikes me as a far superior take on a similar idea that was utterly wasted in Alan Campbell's recent, frustratingly undercooked Scar Night.


Infernal Devices

K.W. Jeter (St. Martin's)

Not sure why it's taken me so long to finally commit to K.W. Jeter's steampunk classic, Infernal Devices. In my defense, it's been inexplicably out of print for a while, and I hadn't seen it in any used bookstores until a couple weeks ago (for two bucks, woo hoo!). Of course, now that I have a copy, there's one on every sci-fi shelf I look at. Do people secretly synchronize the dumping of their old genre paperbacks or something? In any case, I can't wait to plunge into what promises to be one long, fun afternoon of Victorian intrigue and clockwork androids.



Guy Gavriel Kay (Roc)

Another gaping hole in my fantasy education is Tigana, the 1990 novel by Tolkien disciple Guy Gavriel Kay. I have to admit that I've also long been avoiding Kay's well-loved breakout series, The Fionavar Tapestry. For no solid reason, I've always gotten the impression it's kinda new-agey or something. Tigana looks slightly meatier somehow, although I couldn't tell you why–just one of those snap judgments that's stuck with me. In any case, an earnest, sweeping, and ostensibly intricate epic fantasy should be a nice break from the weirder and/or darker stuff I'll be gorging on this summer.



Thomas Disch (Vintage)

And speaking of weirder and darker: My introduction to the unsung sci-fi titan Thomas Disch was his 1968 book, Camp Concentration. One of the most disturbing, gorgeous, and poetic novels I've ever read–even if it does have one of those annoyingly pat, almost too perfect endings (something that also bugged me about Tim Powers' otherwise awesome The Anubis Gates). 334, from what the encomia tell me, is a near-future vision of dystopian Manhattan that takes place in a single tenement, 334 East 11th Street. Nothing like a little 1970s existential claustrophobia for all us nailbitten wallflowers.


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