First Monday Bookday: Baby It’s Cold In Space

Mailing it in, kids. Yes, I read a book (almost two!).

Alastair Reynolds is best known for his Revelation Space space-operatic universe of books. I wasn't ready to invest myself in that fully, so I opted to dip my toe in instead with a paperback collection of short stories, Galactic North.

This was just right for my current attention span, and the techno-babble content was intriguing. Reynolds' Conjoiners reminded me vaguely of both the Borg and Joe Haldeman's Forever Peace. Lots of interesting themes. But the most striking part of this set of stories is their horror aspects. Make no mistake, Alastair Reynolds is an accomplished horror writer. One story ("Grafenwalder's Bestiary") was very Poe-esque in its vibe, for example (think: "Tell-Tale Heart").

So I scratched two itches at once, getting some worthy scifi juju and some righteous macabre wrapped in a single package.

What are you reading?

69 thoughts on “First Monday Bookday: Baby It’s Cold In Space”

  1. I'm also almost finished with Nathaniel's Nutmeg, which tells the story of English, Portugese and Dutch competition for control over the Spice Islands. I'm 3/4ths of the way through the book and finally coming to the "Nathaniel" part of the damned book. I'm a sucker for natural history narratives, but aspects of this one really piss me off. Alliteration is not a sufficient justification for a title, for one. And the narrative jumps around temporally in ways that don't add to the story. But there's still a lot of interesting history in here.

  2. HPR received Hatchet for Christmas from his librarian grandmother. I'll read it to him once EAR finishes My Side of the Mountain.
    CER received The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy. She's already done and gives it high praise and has EAR reading it.

    1. I think I'm never going to finish reading the Burgess Bird Book to the two of them.
      Also stalled on Minn of the Mississippi, which is one of my all-time favorites, but is hard as a read-aloud book.

    2. Nice to see classics like My Side of the Mountain and Hatchet are still being read by younger folks. Just keep them away from Julie of the Wolves for a while.

    3. Mr. NaCl is reading the jalapeno his first chapter book--The BFG by Roald Dahl. They're doing it in fits and starts, but I am starting to think they will actually get all the way through it one of these days. I'm not allowed to read any of it and must stick strictly to picture books. (I do try to eavesdrop, though.)

      1. I can't wait to do family reads (of chapter books, we do plenty of renditions of Brown Bear, Brown Bear now). As a kid we did Treasure Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Tom Sawyer all the Laura Ingalls Wilder books, the one about Silver Skates that I can't remember the title of... a bunch of other ones.

        1. Hans Brinker ? - just watched the movie version on VHS this weekend (loaner tape from the retirees next door).

          Loved everything Roald Dahl and I too cannot wait for family reads with Kernel.

        2. I read "Misty from Chincoteague" to HPR and CER in the months before AJR was born.
          Good one for kids: they were actually doing chores for money for a while.

  3. ok, why doesn't the "hspace=Xpx" attribute work? I wanted some horizontal space between the pic and the text, but can't get it to happen.

  4. I've read basically nothing recently (rotten kids), but I'm heading to Colonial Williamsburg on Monday so I'm looking for something to read. I was thinking of Ringworld, but I'm open to suggestions in the sci-fi or fantasy vein if anyone knows of anything I really must read.

    1. I lived in Williamsburg for almost 3 years...well, my wife did, I was only there off and on when not deployed. My favorite 'local' place with a decent beer selection is a college bar on the confluence of Scotland St and Richmond Rd. - Green Leafe Café. Place is basically a dumpy college bar, but it's better than a lot of places in town as far as beer selection goes. I also thought this place looked cool, but never had the chance to visit (it was in it's infancy when I lived there).

      1. I noted the Green Leafe as a place to check out. Not sure about the Ale Werks, though, because I'm not going to be there alone and it doesn't appear to have food.

    2. I have a good buddy from grad school who is on the W&M faculty. He may or may not know a few good places....

          1. confidential to cheaps: my boy has responded on the Bookface. He endorses DoG Street Pub, with additional support for Green Leafe.

            You are in luck. You definitely want to go to the DoG Street Pub. It has the best beer in town with people who know what they are talking about. It has the best food of any place that has good beer. The other place you really need to go if you are in the Burg for beer is the Green Leafe Cafe. Kind of dingy and food is not good, but beer selection is bigger (not better) than Dog Street.

    3. If you haven't read Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, I recommend it. Some very interesting concepts in that book, and it reads pretty quickly, even if you get the version with the extended piece on economics.

      1. I really liked it, in part due to the ending. I was expecting something darker and was pleasantly surprised.

      2. seconded. Particularly if you read it as about Vietnam (or at least heavily influenced by that war).

        then read Forever Peace. Not a sequel, as it is not even set in the same fictional universe. But very interesting themes.

  5. Picked up A Game of Thrones the week before Christmas and finished it on Sunday. The only fantasy books, high or otherwise, I've read before were by J.R.R. Tolkien (& C.S. Lewis if that counts?), but this thing kept getting mentioned in the same breath as LotR so I finally tackled it. I enjoyed it. Not mind-blown amazing, but some interesting characters, decent plot and world-building, and good action sequences. However, it wasn't something, "I couldn't put down" and it was nowhere near the experience of reading The Fellowship of the Ring. No matter, I did enjoy it and I'll probably keep reading the series as time permits.

    After all the love for On Writing, I picked up a copy and Half-Price books and read 75% of it in one sitting. Being a King fan helps, but this book could easily be stand-alone as well. I enjoyed reading about his childhood and formative experiences. I like his tone in general and thought that the story-telling was a great way to introduce the instructional part of the book. Thanks for a great suggestions folks.

    My brother gave me a copy of Vietnam: The Real War: A Photographic History by the Associated Press for Christmas. I've paged through it a half-dozen times already and my first impression is that it's definitely not a coffee table book. It's something I'm looking forward to reading, but I'm not sure how much I'll be able to tackle in one sitting.

    I also picked up a copy of The Matlock Paper by Robert Ludlum. I read awhile from it last night but wasn't fully awake. I'll try again tonight - I am a fan of Ludlum (wife gave me this for Christmas...haven't touched it yet), le Carré and Clancy so I'm hoping it takes off a bit.

      1. I know, right? It's amazing how easy it is to find decent hardcovers of his at the thrift shop for like $3. I have a pile waiting to be read.

        1. le Carré and Len Deighton seemed to be staples of every used book store I would wander into back in the day. I don't know if that's still the case for Deighton, but le Carré is classic.

          1. Frederick Forsyth is another name I always associate with that genre but one I don't see mentioned as often. Maybe it was a quirk of my local library.

            1. I just don't even think of le Carré as part of the genre, since, well... since I'm a snob.

              1. for some reason, I had it fixed in my head that he also wrote Three Days of the Condor (or rather, Six Days of the Condor, which I read around the same time as Jackal and which also was made into an excellent film).

                1. What I like in that book/film is like every hot-dog vendor in Washington is some kind of spook. Think about how that would appear on the resume - Can Operate Food-Truck Whilst Paging Central.

    1. The only le Carré I've read is The Spy Who Came in From the Cold and it was enjoyable. Any other suggestions?

      1. I haven't finished the rest of trilogy, but Tinker, Tailor, Solder, Spy was great, The Constant Gardner was a better movie than book, but still a fun read, and A Perfect Spy has a pretty good reputation.

        Next on my list from him is A Most Wanted Man.

        1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is one of my 10 favorite books, easily. I've read the rest of the trilogy, and Smiley's People felt a bit like it was there because an editor said it should be, but it was still very, very good. But absolutely TTSS as a stand-alone.

            1. I wasn't a fan the first time through. The second time, it was pretty good. But I picked up a lot more nuance the second time. The book though... brilliant.

              And when you're done, watch the BBC miniseries, which was better than the movie anyway.

  6. Last Days Of Summer - You like baseball, right? Then go read this one. It's the story, told mostly through letters written by the two protagonists, of a Jewish kid who gets beat up a bunch and his hero/father figure, the starting third-baseman of the NY Giants. It's an incredibly easy read. It's funny, and emotional and... well, popcorn. It's a summer blockbuster type of read, in its accessibility. Not brilliant writing, and some of the gags are swiped from other places, but it's popcorn, and enjoyable, and even the snob in me enjoyed it.

    Gravity's Rainbow - I'm 60 pages in. Anyone else? Does Ms. meat have any suggestions for places I can go when I'm confused? I'm definitely getting lost a handful of times. That happened as I plowed through Against The Day too, but this feels a little bit... less punctuated.

    1. Oh! Snap. I'm starting gravity's rainbow tonight. I'll ask the good doctor for help tonight as well.

      1. First 5-10 pages made a lot more sense after the next 5-10. I've found that pattern repeated several times now. I love Pynchon, but sometimes I hate him.

          1. GR still sitting there on the coffee table. Oh, here's the latest The New Yorker.

  7. With the semester break, I had some time to read.

    Finished Pee on Water by Rachel Glaser. I had heard good things from people and I could see where that response came from, but it just didn't click for me. Short stories that used occasional pop-culture references to make their point. I don't know.

    The Last Policeman by Ben Winters was a great setting. An asteroid is headed for the Earth and there's nothing to be done to save the world. Society is shutting down and people are quitting their jobs and in many cases committing suicide rather than face the end. The main character is a police detective who discovers a "suicide" that just doesn't feel right. Pushing everyone to investigate the case is an interesting way of discovering the pre-apocalyptic world. I really liked this book, it had a good mystery and a great setting. The second book of the series just came out, I'll pick that one up soon.

    How Literature Saved My Life by David Shields - not what I expected. It's a "collage" of Shields wrestling with literature (sometimes with lots and lots of quotes, sometimes with autobiographical notes, sometimes with a list). I enjoyed the journey and I think it was the perfect length, I finished it in a weekend.

    The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. I've never read any Atwood before despite numerous recommendations and the fact that I have three of her books on my bookshelf. This is a good dystopian novel, I'm excited to get to Oryx and Crake and the rest of that series.

    Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson - this was a fun hacker/fantasy novel. I enjoyed the story, and especially the fantasy characters. This one has gotten some high praise in year-end lists. I think they might be overselling it there, but it's inventive and fun.

    Redshirts by John Scalzi - I like Scalzi in general, and this one made me laugh a bit here and there, but maybe it's because I never really got into a sci-fi serial-type show, but I'm surprised this won the Hugo for best novel.

    Lexicon by Max Berry - Loved it. In this world there are words that can be used to convince and control people. Then one "poet" (a person trained in the use of those words) begins using them to kill a lot of people. This was a book that I wished had another 800 pages, just so I could live more in that world. My favorite read of the month.

    Kind of Kin by Rilla Askew - A novel about illegal immigrants. It had a definite point of view, but it didn't seem heavy-handed to me. The main character's arc, from her introduction through the end of the book was really well done. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

    The Circle by Dave Eggers - Ugh. Hated this. Eggers can write, so it wasn't difficult to get through it, but I just hated his characters. And yes, it's satire of the social network / oversharing culture, so the characters are supposed to occasionally do stupid things so that we can scoff at them, but the whole point of the book ended up being "look at how dumb this character is!" The ending made me groan out loud. Blech.

    Pacazo by Roy Kesey - I'm still about 50 pages from done with this. I enjoy it while I'm reading it, but it's long and not terribly gripping. A historian is teaching English in Peru while trying to investigate/come to grips with the abduction and murder of his wife. I'll finish it soon, then move on to something less dense, like Pynchon.

      1. I hadn't heard that Redshirts had won the Hugo. Huh. Not what I would have guessed based on the podcasts I listened to prior to the awards.

        1. I mentioned it in a previous Bookday post, but I did not care for Redshirts. I'm a big Star Trek fan and I loved the concept, but Scalzi is not a very good writer. At all. I'm really surprised that it won an award.

            1. My main problem with Redshirts was with the style in which it was written, in that it was 99% dialogue with the remaining 1% being straightforward description of action. I believe that it was intentional, since it read just like a lazily transcribed TV show and the book itself is a completely meta work about TV shows. The idea is clever, but it really bugged me. I had high hopes for the epilogues in which he started writing in a more traditional literary manner, but those were even worse.

    1. I've heard nothing but bad things about The Circle. I'm actually not a very big fan of Dave Eggers' writing (I hated A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius), but I generally like the concepts and ideas behind his work. But The Circle just sounds terrible in every way.

      1. I liked What is the What just fine, but I haven't read a lot else from him. My family was glad when I finished The Circle just because I would stop sighing and complaining about it.

  8. I've got just 20 or so pages left in War & Peace, so I'll likely finish it tonight. I came back from Thanksgiving in Omerha with a couple of boxes of my uncle's old history books (including the eight-volume Ordeal of the Union by Allan Nevins), so I may jump into one of those next.

  9. Right now I'm halfway through Andrei Gelasimov's Gods of the Steppe, and a little over a quarter of the way through Richard Hugo's The Triggering Town. In the next couple of days I'm hoping to start Hugo's 31 Letters and 13 Dreams and Tony Judt's Thinking the Twentieth Century: Intellectuals and Politics in the Twentieth Century.

    Last month I read five graphic novels/comic trade paperbacks, which provided a much-needed change of pace. Two were fairly good (Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke, Frank Miller's Batman: Year One), while the others (Cameron Stewart's Sin Titulo, Jeph Loeb's Batman: Hush, Geoff Johns' Batman: Earth One were meh or even disappointing.

    I fell well short of my slightly ambitious reading goal for last year, so I set a more reasonable one for this year. We'll see how it goes.

    1. I read Sin Titulo as a webcomic. With all the long hiatuses and starts and stops, by the time the ending came around it kind of felt like a mercy killing of the project. It started off pretty well, but I didn't particularly like the way it turned out.

      1. I actually read the webcomic version (after the fact, obvs), but my reaction was much the same. Stewart promised a great deal in the exposition, but when the time came to deliver on those promises it was pretty clear he was out of gas. Too bad. It was an interesting project.

        1. That sounds a bit like Charles Burns' Black Hole (except it wasn't web), of which I had a brief read of one of the issues.
          Later in life it was finished I saw it had a book release, so I picked it up at the library.
          So much awesome mood and buildup and characters and setting and the actual payoff is just meh.

  10. I finished Super Sad True Love Story this month. I liked the premise, but hated every character soooooooo much. Maybe that's the point. The ending seemed a little contrived as well. The more I think about it the less I liked the book.

    1. Shteyngart has just come out with a memoir that seems to be getting good reviews. (Well, the one I heard on the radio the other day was good.)

      I remember seeing the trailer for Super Sad True Love Story when it came out and thinking that I didn't really get it, so I figured I probably wouldn't get the book either.

  11. I always want to be a person who reads poetry, but the truth is that I'm not. Yet somehow I'm in the middle of reading a poetry collection: The Sky Between Us by Irene Latham. Latham's use of language is superb. The poems, which have to do with the natural world and human relationships, have wonderful imagery. They're also short. I often feel like I don't read poetry well, don't pick up on references, etc., but I find myself swooning over some of these poems.

    One Example SelectShow
  12. I didn't read a lot in December, but I did acquire a bunch of books:

    The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
    Night Film by Marisha Pessl
    Taft 2012 by Jason Heller
    The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero
    Dodger by Terry Pratchett

    Now that I'm fully stocked, I really need to hunker down and actually crack the pages.

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