Books Read- 203 Books to Read-282 Percent Complete- 41.86%

Just Finished (For the third time) - 'Mirror Dance' by Lois McMaster Bujold

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I took a quick break from 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell' to read Heinlein's short story '-All You Zombies-.'  I don't read very many short stories, I'd rather be able to sit down and read for a longer period of time, and I don't like reading more than two stories in a single day.  Every time I sit down to read a short story it feels like it's coming to an end just as I'm getting into it.  This poses a problem with some of the authors out there that are best in short form.  Authors like Italo Calvino (not really SF) and John Varley did the bulk of their work in short stories, and even people who enjoy their novels are quick to point out that their best work is in their short story collection.  I've known it was something of a blind spot in my reading but it never really bit me until now.

I picked up Zombies (only $1.25 on Amazon Kindle, this might be the sort of thing I start using my Kindle for) because in doing research for my review of 'The Man who Folded Himself' by David Gerrold I kept running across references to that story.  Other reviewers kept referring to Zombies as the basis for Folded, and referring to the latter as a novel length homage to Heinlein's story.  Since I wrote such a glowing review for Folded, and it's one of my favorite SF novels, I felt I had to get to the bottom of this.

I'm a little embarrassed that my dislike for short fiction made me miss out on this.  What am I writing this for if not to point out to you the roots of SF, and how can I totally whiff on something as obvious as this one?  Zombies is the inspiration for Gerrold's 'The Man who Folded Himself,' there's no denying that.  Both involve only one character who comprises all the roles in the story, his own father and mother included. Zombies basically lays the entire framework for Folded, Gerrold just fills in the rest of it.

Zombies is only nineteen pages long and accomplishes it's story in the most succinct manner possible.  The entire purpose of Zombies is almost to deliver the sort of shock inherent in a story in which a man is his own father and mother.  I once read a review for Richard Matheson's short story 'Button, Button' that called it an 'irony delivery device' because the whole story is aimed at delivering the twist ending and nothing else.  This rings true for Zombies as well, written in 1959 this would have been quite the shocker for that age, and I'm not even sure that Folded, which went to even stranger places, could have been published then.

This is not to say that either Zombies or Folded is a bad story, and I'm glad both have been written.  Zombies accomplishes everything a guy could hope for with a time travel story, presenting the paradoxes that would inevitably take place, and reaching the level of complexity that a story of that nature would have to reach to ring true, it just does it in a very short time span.  Folded takes the ideas presented in Zombies and expands on them, bringing in alternate dimensions and increasing that nineteen page story to novel length.  This diminishes neither story. 

It does however make me look kind of foolish for saying that most modern time travel stories owed a debt to 'The Man who Folded Himself' when really that debt should be paid to Zombies.  Anyone interested in time travel fiction would do themselves a favor to read both these books, but if I had it to do over again I'd say to start with Zombies and move on from there, and Folded is a pretty good place to go after that.

The funny thing is that now it looks like Heinlein borrowed some of his own ideas and based Zombies on a previous story of his, 'By His Bootstraps.'  It looks like I might have some more reading to do.

Monday, January 28, 2013

I've  been reading 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell' for the last couple days.  It's turning out to be much better than I expected.  For some reason I thought it was something along the lines of a Harry Potter book.  I guess I just saw that it was really thick, discussed magic, and came out around the same time as the Potter books, but this thing has nothing in common with Harry Potter, and despite weighing about ten pounds it's actually a pretty light and fun read.  There's a lot going on in this novel, and it was a little slow going at first.  The book starts off following the character of Norrell, and though the book describes him as dull and uninteresting, it's still something of a shock to find out they weren't lying.  The novel picks up quite a bit once Jonathan Strange shows up.

I was going to write a review for 'The Yiddish Policemen's Union' by Michael Chabon, but I didn't really like the book and got rid of my copy.  For writing a review I really wanted to look up a few specific passages from the novel and I'll need to get a new one.  Plus, the last few reviews I've written have been for books I didn't really care for and I'm getting tired of sounding like a jerk when I write these, I want to review something that I can unequivocally say 'I enjoyed it, It was good.'  So I started thinking about Lois Bujold's Vorkosigan series, which is just a really fun, really fast read.  As you can see I haven't done it yet but that's where I'm leaning.  Either that or 'Stand on Zanzibar' by John Brunner, which is a masterpiece whose day has come and gone.  I wish I could recommend Zanzibar more but when an author writes 'near-future' SF they know what they're getting in for, the novels are almost always obsolete twenty years down the road.  And Zanzibar was written over forty years ago.

I've said before that even though I'm trying to read all the Hugo and Nebula Nominees there's no way I'm going to read them in order.  I want to jump around so I don't spend six months reading only novels from one decade.  I want to have some variety in the type of SF I read and many decades have certain themes that run through them, like the Cold War in the 50s and 60s.  I also try to jump around in the style of SF I read.  There are a lot of serious, dense, SF works out there that I kind of need to be in the right mindset to read, like 'Gravity's Rainbow,' or The Mars Trilogy, or even 'Stand on Zanzibar.'  Strange and Norrel I thought was going to be one of these, but it's turned out to be much less work to read than I thought and very light for a book that's so long.  Even though it's going to take me a little while longer to read this than I thought, mentally I'm already gearing up to grab one of those more difficult novels when I finish this off.

I'm pretty sure that anyone who reads a lot of SF makes sure to save a little mind candy for right when they finish off a difficult book (I'm looking at you 'Glory Road').  Well I'm all mind candied out and I think it's time to take on something tough.

I'll get a new review up pretty soon, I'm just afraid that if I start reviewing the Vorkosigan saga then I won't be able to stop reviewing them, the same thing happened when I started reading them.  Whether it's Bujold or not I'll have a new review for something up soon.

Monday, January 21, 2013

It turns out I have a lot more to say about 'Glory Road' than I though I did.  I was hoping to finish two reviews today and then get started on 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell,' but I only got one of those things done.  My review of Road is pretty long and it felt like I could have kept going, shoot I could probably write thirty pages on that book, and I don't even know that much about fantasy novels.

The problem is that I see Road as a critique of the sort of Flash Gordon, Princess of Mars stories that were around back in the fifties and sixties, while also pandering to the sort of people that would want to read those stories.  Heinlein tries to have his cake and eat it too.  In my mind the criticism of those sort of quest stories, where ever woman is a damsel in distress and every hero a knight in shining armor with a happily ever after ending, is more than enough to make up for what the actual quest takes away from the work.  But, a lot of people can't look past the fact that the quest Heinlein lays out is every bit as cliched and flawed as the works he's sending up.  It's a tough review.

I'm not even going to say what I'll be reviewing next, I've been talking about reviewing Kim Robinson's Mars Trilogy for awhile now, and you know what, it's really tough.  I've been working on it for awhile now and I'll probably just do what I've been doing, go on to something easier to review and leave the trilogy alone.  There's plenty of other Award Winners out there I need to review.

It looks like it's going to take me awhile to finish Strange and Norell, that book's huge.  I'm going to try to do better about updating this even when I haven't finished a book.  Ten days between updates and reviews is too long in my book.  I'll get another review up this week, hopefully something easy.

1964 Hugo Award Nominee- 'Glory Road' by Robert A. Heinlein

Can an author dissect a cliched storyline while at the same time pandering to the same cliches that he sends up?  Ask any director of an anti-war movie who can't resist the impulse to throw in a few explosions and you'll have an answer.  When an author tries to be both pandering and introspective they walk a fine line, make the commentary too heavy handed and you run the risk of alienating your audience, appeal too much to the lowest common denominator and you run the risk of being dismissed.  In the end it's up to the fans, and critics, to decide if the writer has hit the sweet spot.
In 'Glory Road' Heinlein departs from type and delivers a pretty standard fare sword and sorcery novel bookended by a much more interesting commentary on the 'quest' novel  The only problem being that the story itself is exactly the sort of cliche that Heinlein is trying to provoke a discussion about.

This gets the novel wildly different reviews.  Many readers have strong complaints about the story and how wildly it departs from Heinlein's other works.  Other readers complain just as heavily that the actual quest story in the novel is poorly written or too cliched.  This novel is an exception to the rest of Heinlein's work and really stands out when placed next to 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' or 'Starship Troopers.'  This is the only fantasy novel Heinlein wrote and has largely been pushed to the side by history, dismissed as an anomaly among Heinlein's other works.  Readers today are more familiar with Heinlein's other works and not looking for anything like this from the author.  Though some readers do love the book, the edition I read had an afterword by Samual Delany in which he absolutely gushes over the novel.

Heinlein has crafted a story here really reminiscent of the earliest SF, some of the Edgar Rice Burroughs and Flash Gordon stuff.  He even has the character mention Barsoom, and gives the protagonist the last name Gordon, and the nickname 'Flash.  There's nothing hidden about the nod.  The novel contains about the most cliched story in SF or Fantasy, there's a hero, a beautiful woman, dragons, a quest, a dwarfish sidekick, and some of the most hackneyed writing and sexual dialogue you will ever read. The hero is appropriately dashing and strong, the woman the perfect sex object, and the sidekick both comic and resourceful.

Can you fault someone for
not taking this cover seriously?
As far as the writing and dialogue I'd recommend reading Delany's essay to address some of that, but it's important to know that only the most subdued of sexual references could be published at that time (though apparently you could get away with murder as far as cover illustrations go), a lot of stuff that gets published today would never see the light of day in 1964, and even the most risque stuff from back then reads odd and pandering today.  Just look at some of the other SF being published at the time, look at the sex scenes in 'The Wanderer' for example, or if you want to be really grossed out read 'The Reassembled Man' by Herbert D. Kastle (Hint: It didn't win any awards).
If we stick with the idea that the book is really a commentary on the sort of fantastic adventure stories written in the 50s and 60s then the most important parts of the novel are the bookends to the adventure, the pre and post quest portions of the story.  Reading this on my Kindle I was surprised when the quest portion of the novel was over and the device said I was only 75% complete.  I almost expected another twist to the story and another fantastic sword fight but I was more pleased with what we ended up with.  Heinlein shows what a hero's life is like before he begins his adventure, and what a hero's life is like after the quest is complete. 
The pre-quest story is Heinlein's chance to drop a little bit of his personal views (he does throughout the novel but never to the lengths of some of his other works).  Gordon is a war orphan, fights in the Vietnam War, and can't afford to attend college, all things Heinlein has strong opinions  about.  Perhaps the most interesting portion of this pre-quest part of the novel is to look back on this opening section of the novel knowing that Gordon's life was being guided all the while by Star.  In the end she states she shaped his entire life, guiding him to learn to fence and fight so that he would be prepared for the quest to come, it raises the question of whether or not Gordon's views (and thus Heinlein's views) would be the same without Star's meddling, if Gordon had received the money he was owed as a war orphan, or his GI Bill, or the winning lottery ticket, would he have ever gone on his quest?  This is a question Gordon himself brings up in the novel.
It is the post-quest portion of the novel I found interesting.  Heinlein does a good job of sending up what happens after the 'happy ending.'  The submissive sex object of a female protagonist is revealed to be the Empress of the Universe, and all she has done has been in service to the quest, including her marriage to our hero.  The diminutive sidekick is a powerful man in his own right who has nothing to fear physically from the more imposing hero.  Post-quest the Hero becomes nothing more than a pampered sex object for the Empress, finally leaving and eventually discovering that he will never be good for anything but killing, setting out to continue seeking adventure on the 'glory road.'
The problem many reviewers have with the novel is that in order to send up this sort of juvenile fantasy Heinlein forced himself to write one even worse than the cliches he sends up.  Any reader who gives up on the novel halfway through will have a hard time understanding what the fuss is about.  The novel stands on both sides of the fence and it is up to the reader to decide whether the work is worthwhile or not.
The character of Star is a good example of this duality.  Obviously she is a sex object, she's introduced to the reader stark naked and described from Gordon's point of view.  But, in the end she turns out to be controlling most of the action, using the hero from the very beginning to justify her own ends.  Heinlein forces us to question whether the princess in distress ever cared for her knight in shining armor, and even has Rufo, the sidekick, tell him that she does not, and could not.   In the beginning of the novel Star is at least a powerful woman, midway through the quest she becomes more submissive, and retains that posture until the very end when we find out that it was all an act to get Gordon mentally where he needed to be to achieve her goals.  Does this final shift in the character make up for submissiveness and objectification of the majority of the novel?  For the (literal) spanking that Gordon gives her?
I don't know.  I think it depends on the reader.  If you've got a fifteen year old boy buried somewhere inside you who secretly wants to be a hero it might help.  But really it depends on whether or not you can bear the cliches while you listen to the criticism.  It might help to know that Heinlein says he wrote the book in less than a week, and it's obvious he was having a lot of fun.  Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but I do believe Heinlein has more going on here than simply retreading 'A Princess of Mars' or the cliches of sword and sorcery.
If you're interested you can find Delany's review here, you'll have to scroll to the end as it's a digital excerpt of the book.  If my review didn't do it for you I'd recommend you read Delany's review as he's a lot smarter than me.  In his review he points out that the champion of the soul-eater that Gordon defeats is actually Cyrano de Bergerac, a fact that I can place absolutely no meaning on.
You can also find a review by Alexei Panshin here.  Panshin doesn't much care for the novel, or any other Heinlein for that matter, but I felt it important to put the dissenting opinion up here as well.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

I just finished 'Glory Road' by Robert Heinlein.  It was actually better than I thought it was going to be, I'll be writing a review for it later today.  I think I'm going to start reading 'Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell' by Susanna Clarke, it's a huge book but I'll have to start it eventually.  This book probably would have been a good bet to read on the kindle.

I lost my copy of 'Glory Road' midway through reading it and used my Kindle to get it fast and finish it.  I hate to say it but that's the main way I use the device.  With the price of used books being what they are (try it makes no sense to me to pay full price for a e-copy of a book.  Though I do wish I had a smaller version of Strange and Norell, this thing weighs like eight pounds.

I'll be writing and posting a review of 'Glory Road' later today, and I think it's time I wrote another review for an older book I've already written.

Also I finished reading 'Anansi Boys' by Neil Gaiman, only to find that he had refused the Hugo nomination for the novel.  I never read the 'Sandman' graphic novels or 'Coraline' so I kind of missed out on what made Gaiman so popular.  I didnt see what the fuss was with 'American Gods' but I loved 'The Graveyard Book.'  I think he was right to turn down the nomination for Anansi, Gaiman's popularity has reached a point where every one of his books will win the Hugo if left unchecked.  I almost feel like the internet will rise up and get me if I say too much bad about Gaiman.

But, I did like Anansi, it started off slow but finished strong.  I'm not going to publish a review for it.  It didn't win any awards, and even though 2006 wasn't the best year for the Hugo Award I don't think it can be considered snubbed or robbed of the award.  The other nominees were just as or more deserving.

Next time I'll double check before I just assume that a book was nominated.  Though I don't regret reading it, the book did raise my opinion of Gaiman somewhat.  Check back later for my review of 'Glory Road' and I think it's time I reviewed another older book that I've already finished.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

I just put up two new reviews, one for 'Among Others' and one for 'Steel Beach.'  I won't say too much about these two books as the reviews are right below and I already made a post today talking about them.

I will say that one of the things that got me interested in 'Among Others' is that it was described online as being a 'reverse Harry Potter,' which really is all it takes to get me interested in a book.  Not so much the Harry Potter as the 'reverse.'  If I read a review that says a book is a reverse anything I'm probably going to scramble to read it.  If there were a reverse 'War and Peace' or a reverse 'Moby Dick' I would be the first guy in line to get it. 

I ended up really liking 'Among Others' though it couldn't have possibly lived up to the giant question mark in my head after that description.  I didn't like 'Steel Beach' quite so much but I felt I wrote a review that hits all the high points of the novel.  The review is a little longer than I would have liked and probably a little more scattershot as well but I read it almost a year ago so I'm going off memory here.

Hopefully I'll finish up 'Anansi Boys' soon and can put a review up.  I've got a lot of books on the shelf that need reading.

1993 Hugo Award Nominee- 'Steel Beach' by John Varley

I purchased 'Steel Beach' knowing absolutely nothing about it.  If you're trying to read all the Hugo and Nebula Nominees it's nice to pick up a book you know nothing about by an author you've never read before.  Before I open most books I have a pretty general idea what I'm getting into, the same authors have a tendency to be nominated over and over, and just generally picking up plot lines while looking through other books.  I've got a few unread Heinlein's sitting on the shelf, along with a couple of Pohl's and a few works by Greg Bear and an ancient tome called 'A Mission of Gravity,' I'm looking forward to reading them all and there will be surprises on the way, but I know what I'm getting into when I open them.
So it's really nice when I get the chance to pick up something like Beach which I have no idea about.  Based on the name alone I assumed it would be some kind of military SF, what I ended up with was quite the surprise.

There's a tendency among some SF writer's to put a lot of time into creating an interesting world, and craft a novel that explores that world fully without straying too far into an actual plot.  A lot of Heinlein's later work did this, novels like 'Friday' and a couple others.  'Steel Beach' seems to fall right into this vein.  The first half of the novel is absolutely plot less, following the main character, Hildy, as he wanders about this seeming utopia, exploring Varley's fully developed world, with occasionally stops to attempt suicide. 
By reading only the reviews on the back of a novel everything looks like a gem.  It's easy to get fooled so usually I don't even look at them.  The reviews on the copy of Beach I own states that he can be compared to Heinlein, is the greatest writer in America, and that it was great to have him back, it's that last one that gave me pause and led me on a little research while reading the novel. 

Varley is famous for writing the 'Eight Worlds' set of stories.  A shared universe within which the Earth has been destroyed and man has settled the rest of the planets in the galaxy.  There is no faster than light travel and many of the other staples of hard SF are missing.  Much of this universe had been explored through Varley's short stories which are highly regarded.  'Steel Beach' seemed to take place in this world.  As I'd never read any Varley before and hate jumping into a series midway I almost waited to read until I found out Varley plays pretty loose with continuity, in his own words:
Does this look like a man who cares
about continutiy?
This story (Steel Beach) appears to be part of a future history of mine, often called the Eight Worlds. It does share background, characters, and technology with earlier stories of mine... What it doesn't share is a chronology. The reason for this is simple: the thought of going back, rereading all those old stories, and putting them in coherent order filled me with ennui... Steel Beach is not really part of the Eight Worlds future history. Or the Eight Worlds is not really a future history, since that implies an orderly progression of events. Take your pick. (Afterword 1st Edition)

So I'm off the hook as far as continuity is concerned.

Large portions of this novel are very reminiscent of Delany's 'Triton.'  Both novels build an almost perfect future utopia ('Triton' even has the word in the subtitle) and forgo much of a plot to let the protagonist explore that world fully.  Both main characters even have a sex change midway through the novel and spend the second half as a woman.  'Triton,' along with the rest of Delany's work, is complex and difficult and highly entertaining, and there's a reason I haven't reviewed any of his work, Delany is much smarter than I am and I probably couldn't do him justice in a review.  Many other aspects of the novel were picked right from Heinlein himself, not just the style of the novel, a group of people even call themselves 'Heinleiners,' and you can't have a Utopia on the moon without thinking of 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.'

I don't really go in for this sort of meandering storyline that Varley lays out here very often.  He's created a world that is truly impressive and interesting enough to wander around in, but I can't help but feel that he needs to put a story into that world that does it justice.  Apparently most of the Eight World books are short stories, and many reviewers feel that form is where Varley's shines. 

Varley's problem is that in the last third of the novel he actually does try to inject a plot into the mix, but one that goes against a lot of what he had been building so far.  Just when the reader starts to wrap their head around what this novel seems to be, an exploration of why a person might be dissatisfied with utopia, Varley changes his tune.  Dismissing the notion that Hildy would be dissatisfied with Utopia all the blame for what has gone wrong gets placed at the feet of the computer who runs the place.  The conceit that the computer would go insane by presenting too many personalities and thus be the driving force behind Hildy's suicide feels like a cop out to me.  The only driving question of the novel for most of the work is why Hildy is trying to kill himself and how he keeps surviving, Varley answered that question by dodging out on the much more interesting questions of why people were wasting that Utopia, and whether or not paradise leads to a stagnation in humanity.  Varley had already borrowed Heinlein's style with the wandering narrative, and taken many aspects of 'Triton,' I felt like he was crafting something that would have been a great novel (just perhaps not to my taste) but just didn't feel comfortable with what it was shaping into.  If he had just stuck with that same track he may have crafted a novel that could have stood alongside those other two works.

In the end 'Steel Beach' is an entertaining but flawed novel that really makes me want to read more of Varley's short fiction.  Probably best known now for it's opening line (check it out it's pretty funny) and for introducing some modern readers to the sort of exploration of sexuality that had already been going on in SF for some time.  Readers that enjoyed this book, or people who are thinking about it, should probably look at both 'Triton' and 'The Moon is a Harsh Mistress' first, though it's not really fair to compare 'Steel Beach' to two of the most respected SF authors ever it would be best if the reader could notice the respect that Varley pays to these two authors.

2012 Hugo Award and 2012 Nebula Award Winner- 'Among Others' by Jo Walton

This novel has been highly praised by SF fans and critics and has won most of the major awards for both SF and Fantasy in 2012.  It's not hard to see why the it won the Nebula Award, Walton spends a good deal of the novel rattling off and commenting on both famous and obscure novels from the time period, and it's fun for the reader to compare notes with the writer, a critic's delight.  The novel plays well with the concept of magic as well, avoiding the pitfalls of most Fantasy novels by placing the magic in a more modern setting and letting the reader question it's validity. 

It's fun to read along with Walton as she name drops most major SF authors throughout the novel.  I'm not sure how many common readers will recognize Delany or Zelazny, and I don't seem to love Tolkein as much as Walton does here, but it's really fun to watch her tick off these SF masters and compare opinions with her.  My problem with this is that I don't see what it brings to the novel as a whole.  Walton uses Mori's love of Science Fiction to underscore how much of an outcast she is among the girls at school and it serves well in that purpose.  She uses these particular books because (it seems) these were the same books Walton was reading when she was the same age, but really any novels would have served the same purpose here, and not just SF authors.

What works better in the novel is the concept of magic, which Walton keeps relatively quiet and subdued.  While anyone who bought this novel based on the synopsis on the back cover will come in expecting extraordinary magical battles between mother and daughter the book we actually receive is more about subverting expectations about the 'outsider at boarding school tale' and leaving the reader to question whether any description of magic in the book takes place in reality or all in the protagonist's head. 

The novel can be read in two ways.  Either this is the story of a young witch who escapes from her mother to an estranged father and ends up at a boarding school where she must constantly fend off attacks from her evil mother, or this is the story of an abused handicapped girl at boarding school who turns to SF and fantasy to escape the reality of her mentally ill mother and distant father.  The beauty is that Walton is able to make these two stories equally compelling.

The question of whether the magic in the novel is really happening or not is unimportant.  I know some people will hate the ambiguity, and normally I would be with them, but Walton has crafted such an impressive novel that either take on the matter will present a good story.  If the magic in the novel is false then we are left to deal with the 'coming of age story' of a young girl who turns to SF for comfort from her depressing life and finds friends to help her cope, if the magic is real then we simply get all that plus a little magic on the side.

Walton has admitted that this is a mythological take on part of her own life.  Apparently she walked with a cane as a teenager and attended the same school as Mori, she has also described the same sort of book club that Mori attends as having a large effect on her own life.  I don't like to look too deeply into an author's life to reveal the meaning of a piece of fiction but when the author openly states that something is autobiographical you can't help but take a peek.  I don't want to get into the game of finding out what in the book is based on the author's life and what is not (let's just assume the fairies are not) but maybe it does bring a little more realism and weight to the novel, and that's never a bad thing.

The part of the book I find most appealing is that it features a strong female lead, something not seen enough in SF today, yesterday, or ever.  There are some pretty quick counter arguments to the notion that there are no female writers of SF (I usually just slap people in the face with LeGuin, who is number one on my list of Grandmasters), but it's not as if female writers must always write about female characters, LeGuin's most famous characters are all males plus one hermaphrodite.  There are some strong, well developed female characters throughout the history of SF, but there are countless more damsels in distress, victims, and sex objects than I would care to mention.  It's nice to see a writer out there willing to create a realistic female character, and as much as I hate to admit it, being based upon Walton herself might bring even more pathos to the character.

In the end most fans of SF will love this story for the Grandmaster name dropping alone, getting to count along with Walton as she ticks off all the great authors we've read (and maybe some we haven't) is a lot of fun and a nice salute to the fans as she acknowledges just who this book is for and who it isn't.  While fun though, this might be the weakest point of the book as any esoteric hobby not easily accessible in the 70's could have taken the place of SF in the novel.  The real strength of the novel lies in Mori's growth as a character and Walton's delightful depiction of magic in this world.

I think I've mentioned it before but Walton has her own blog where she goes back and talks about past Hugo Winners and Nominees here.  It's a lot of fun and she definitely knows more about the Hugo's than I do.  She reviews quite a few books there as well though she seems to skip out on reviewing most books she doesn't like (which is a shame as I really wanted to read her review of 'Ender's Game'). 
I've been sick and haven't gotten a chance to update anything lately, though I did finish 'Among Others' by Jo Walton.  I read and reviewed 'Farthing,' another of Walton's nominees, a few weeks ago so I could get a feel for the author before reading her most current book..  It was alright but not really my taste, I ended up liking Others a lot more.  It's a pretty good modern day fantasy novel, and straddles the line well between real and fantastic.  The fact that it is at least partly based on the authors life is a little odd, but does nothing to detract from the actual story.  I'll be posting a review for the book later today, but there are already several good reviews for the book online.

I'm also going to put up a review for John Varley's 'Steel Beach.'  A novel I read about a year ago.  Writing reviews for these books that I read awhile ago can be a little tricky.  They're not quite as fresh in my mind as I would perhaps like them to be, so I just have to do my best.  Of course a review for 'Steel Beach' is a little easier to write than when I try to tackle books I read a long time ago like 'The God's Themselves' or 'A Million Open Doors' which I barely remember.  So my review for Beach might look a little different from some of the other reviews I've written, but I can still point out what type of SF it was, who he borrowed ideas from, and some of the things that worked and didn't within the novel.  I'm almost done with the review and it should be up later today as well.

Before I started actually trying to read all the books that had been nominated for the Hugo or Nebula Awards I was still using the list of nominees to find books to read.  Breaking into any genre is never easy and if you just randomly dive in you're just as likely to be scared off as not.  What I like about SF is that the genre is fairly old and if you don't know what you're getting into there are all these awards out there that can point you in the right direction, not just the ones I'm trying but also the Philip K. Dick Award, the Campbell Awards, and a whole group of Nationality specific Awards.  I can't be the only person who uses these to navigate through the decades of novels out there.  I've tried just randomly picking up SF novels from the sixties and seventies, it's a minefield out there.

The other side of it is that before I was making a conscious attempt to read all the books on the list I would select one that had either won or been nominated and try to read it, if I didn't like it sometimes I would sell it back to a used bookstore or get rid of it.  There weren't that many, but I think about those books now and how eventually I'll have to go back and read them if I actually want to finish this list off.  The two that come most quickly to mind are Elizabeth Moon's 'The Speed of Dark' and Thomas Pynchon's 'Gravity's Rainbow.'  I gave up on Dark within a few pages because it seemed to me to be a retread of 'Flowers for Algernon' and I don't think anyone needs to go back there as Keyes did such a fabulous job.  I'm kind of looking forward to retrying Dark, I own a copy now, because I know a lot of people do like the novel and maybe it just needs a second chance.

'Gravity's Rainbow' though is another story.  I bought a copy yesterday and I can feel it on the bookshelf just looking at me.  I tried it a few years ago, made it about a hundred pages in and gave up.  I'm not the first person to walk away from this novel but I can feel thousands of hipsters across the Internet saying things like 'It's my favorite novel,' or 'It changed my life,' or 'I read it once a year just to stay fresh.'  Critics love this book, English professors love this book, hipsters love this book, it's almost inaccessible to the average reader.  But there it is on the shelf, sitting right next to 'Dhalgren,' I'll be getting to both of them one day and don't look forward to the reminder that I might not be the best or smartest reader out there. 

Maybe when I finish Rainbow I'll enjoy it more, or at least be able to make an intelligent comment about it.  That's all I want, if not I'll just post a link to some grad student's study on it and be done with the thing.  I can recognize that these two books are great works, like 'War and Peace,' or 'The Brothers Karamazov,' but that doesn't necessarily mean that they're very entertaining, or that I can feel comfortable recommending them to people.

I'll be getting more reviews up later today, and I'm going to be a little better about posting on a regular basis, sick or not.