2018 Books (Fiction)

A little later but hey, it happens. Nonfiction coming soon. In no particular order…

The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis: this was a highly recommended book, and while I enjoyed the premise (time traveler accidentally goes back to the Black Plague, harried now-timers try to rescue her) and Willis diligent storytelling, I was initially put off by the (frankly) rather stately place. It was like they took 7/8’s of the book to tell half the story, then the remaining 1/8 to tell the last half. Competent and enjoyable, but perhaps just a bit unworthy of all the praise that had been heaped on it.

Six Months, Three Days, Five Others by Charlie Jane Anders: Anders used to write for i09, a part of Gawker Media, and was a splendid reviewer of material there. She also has a podcast with her partner Annalee Newitz. This collection of short stories is a great introduction to her work – she’s thought-provoking but with an easy style that makes for light reading. Immensely pleasurable. Note: her new book, The City In The Middle of the Night, in on pre-order with Amazon but she will be in St. Louis at Mad Art Gallery on Feb 18. I’m hoping to get another autograph from her then, this tome in person. https://www.left-bank.com/event/charlie-jane-anders

Juicy: A Scoundrel’s Tale by AK Pittman: Pittman is a local writer and husband of a former colleague of mine. His latest book (all his books are set in St. Louis) is at first reminiscent of Eugene Izzi – coarse, raw, violent. But Juicy has several subtle undercurrents running through it – mental illness, the destruction of family, the meaning of friendship in an environment where violence and deceit are everpresent.

A Gentleman of Moscow and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles: A friend of mine in Kentucky recommended Towles to me and he is probably my highest recommendation this year – his books are supremely crafted, with a Wes Anderson quality to them (specifically A Gentleman of Moscow and the Grand Budapest Hotel, which are both of such similar theme and setting that I at first wondered if the latter was a bastardized version of the former). A Gentleman of Moscow was the novel that, this year, prompted me to start highlighting passages again. Rules of Civility is different but just as good; I had scooped it up when I finished the previous book. Here’s the canker on this lip: these are Towles ONLY TWO BOOKS. It’s a damn shame there aren’t more. But get these two.

Lock In by John Scalzi: Scalzi is a great, pulp SF writer who roots his ideas in an appealingly “normal” way – normal is the sense that you can easily imagine the worlds that Scalzi posits as naturally occurring extensions of our own. Lock Is is about the culture of a group of people who are “locked in” but use robotic puppets to interact with the world. It’s an interesting concept, deftly done, with a lot of realism. The plot is about a series of murders taking place among the locked in, and a locked-in detective who tries to get to the bottom of things. Excellent for reading by the pool.

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte: I love Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste books (I’ve read a couple to my kids), and there are a fair amount of them (thank you), set in 16th-17th c. Spain, but this one has a more modern setting. I first found out about this book when I learned it was the source text for the Johnny Depp-Frank Langella movie The Ninth Gate (which I enjoyed, in a couple-martinis-in sort of way) but the book is subtle, sophisticated and erudite in the manner of Umberto Eco (albeit without the enormous page-count). One of those books that make you feel like a huge smarty when you get one of Perez-Reverte’s literary jokes.

Dark Intelligence by Neal Asher: I bought this on a whim and didn’t expect to like it, and the first couple chapters seemed perilously close to fulfilling my expectations BUT suddenly it went off the rails in a fantastically good way. It’s high-future space opera SF, but reminiscent of Iain Banks Culture novels, bristling with powered-up detail like an AI-created battleship. I’ve bought the next two novels in the series (called the “Transformation” series) and am looking forward to reading them when Feyd-Rautha gives them back.

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