My fiction bookshelf

My fiction bookshelf

Since I can't apparently can't keep this page up to date with my current reading list, I figured I'll just toss a bunch of the books that are on my bookshelf that I like a lot and want to comment on. I have most of the standards so I'll only comment on the more unorthodox authors, a list of which is put here so you can skip straight to one if desired.

There are other authors I own a bunch of books from, but I don't really have anything to say about them, such as A.A. Attanasio, Wilhelmina Baird, James Crumley, Raymond Feist, C.S. Friedman, Robert Heinlein, Mickey Zucker Reichert. Suffice it to say that I like those authors and if you want to know more about them, go read a book.

Recommended books

Imajica, by Clive Barker
While Clive Barker is primarily known for his horror work (Hellraiser, Hellbound, Books of Blood), he has also written a few fantasy novels. Imajica is the best of them that I've read, an epic novel detailing a search through an alternate world. Barker has a great talent for creating characters that seem real, and that the reader cares about. I highly recommend this book in particular, with the caveat that Barker writes for adult readers - the easily offended should probably stay away. Other Clive Barker fantasy novels include The Great and Secret Show, Everville and Sacrament.
Patton's Spaceship and Washington's Dirigible, by John Barnes
Amusing alternate history novels by John Barnes who's written some other good books. Again, these are mostly brain fluff but entertaining. Barnes has written some other pretty good novels; I liked Mother of Storms and Orbital Resonance in particular.
4-23-00 - I just re-read Orbital Resonance, Kaleidoscope Century and A Million Open Doors, and was reminded by how much I like John Barnes - I care about his characters, and his worlds are always thought-provoking.
Earth Made of Glass, by John Barnes
The most recent book by John Barnes was a sequel to A Million Open Doors, which I had re-read recently. The new book wasn't too thrilling - competent, interesting SF, but nothing earth-shattering in my opinion. Mostly notable for including a Tamil culture in its conception of the future - this is interesting to me because a good friend and co-worker, Luckshman, is Tamil.
Ficciones, by Jorge Luis Borges
Many of the authors I like refer to the work of Borges, so when I saw a collection of his short stories in a used bookstore I picked it up. I was especially interested because this collection had The Library of Babel and The Garden of Forking Paths, among his most-referred-to works. Having read this collection, I think he's outstanding. He's got more interesting ideas packed in a ten page short story than many modern novels. The narrow line between reality and dream is explored in several stories, as well as the idea that reality is not nearly as stable as some would believe. I have also read Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco, and the influence of Borges on his work is unmistakable. The Library of Babel is referred to almost directly in The Name of the Rose, as well. Highly, highly recommended.
Bombardiers, and The First $20 Million is always the hardest, by Po Bronson
Bombardiers is a dark satire about the high-stakes financial world of Wall Street junk bonds. The best description I've come up with for it is Catch-22-esque. The First $20 Million is a more light-hearted novel about the perils of running a Silicon Valley startup - this was especially fun for me since I recognized most of the places mentioned in this novel. I also read The Nudist on the Late Shift, Bronson's non-fiction paean to Silicon Valley.
Shockwave Rider and Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner
These are classic sci-fi novels. Shockwave Rider was cyberpunk 10 or 15 years before cyberpunk coined. Stand on Zanzibar is a great novel that uses the realm of science fiction to make some harsh yet accurate indictments of our society.
Jhereg series, by Steven Brust
Actually I read these at MIT when Beemer recommended them to me as being good brain candy. But recently, I bought a good portion of them and re-read them and enjoyed them. Vlad Taltos is a human assassin trying to make it in the world of Dragaeran crime with the help of a wise-cracking reptile buddy, powerful sorcerors, etc.
The Vorkosigan series, by Lois McMaster Bujold
These could be called space opera, but, if so, it's very thoughtful, well done space opera. Two or three books in this series have won Hugos, for good reason if you ask me. They tell the life story of Miles Vorkosigan, a short, physically challenged, brilliant son of one of the most powerful men on the planet, and his outlandish adventures as he tries to establish a reputation for himself. The most recent one, Komarr, just came out in paperback, and I re-read it (I read the hardcover while sitting in a bookstore) and loved it.
Ender's Game/Speaker for the Dead/Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card
Classics. Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead are two of my favorite books ever. Xenocide isn't as good, but it resolves some of the issues left over from the first two books. Card just takes a powerful look at what motivates us, and why we think/feel the way we do. I also highly recommend his short stories, available in hardcover as Maps in a Mirror, or in paperback as 4 volumes - Flux/Cruel Miracles/ Monkey Sonatas/The Hanged Man.
Castle Perilous, by John DeChancie
This series is pretty amusing, but basically brain candy. Read the back cover of any of these to get an idea of the premise.
The Preacher series, by Garth Ennis
This is a comic book series that I ended up collecting in graphic novel form. Ennis constructs a slightly twisted reflection of our world, where the Christian God is a very real presence in the world. Jesse Custer, a preacher in a small town in Texas, ends up with the power of the Word of God, the power to make people do what he tells them to. And, being a good ol' Southern gentleman, he decides to right what wrongs that he can. It sounds ridiculous, but it's incredibly well done. If you can handle the cussing, the violence, and other craziness, it's a great read.
The Dream Hunters, by Neil Gaiman and Yoshitaka Amano
A new Sandman story, in storybook format, based on an old Japanese fable, and illustrated by Amano. Inspired by Gaiman's work on the movie Princess Mononoke.
Stardust, and Smoke and Mirrors, by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman is best known as the creator of the Sandman comic books, which are masterpieces. He has since moved on to other arenas, represented by these books. Stardust is an adult fairy tale, pure and simple. An imaginative, interesting fairy tale, but not of great substance. Smoke and Mirrors is a collection of short stories. I was not as impressed by these as I had hoped. Some of them were outstanding, where you wonder at the imagination it takes to create these worlds. Others left me saying, "Um, yeah, whatever."
American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
(Jan 2002) This book demonstrates once again the sheer enormity of Gaiman's imagination. Gaiman wonders what happens to the gods whose followers come to America, and gradually abandon them for the American pursuits of money, greed and looking out for number one. It's an enormous book (480 pages in hardcover), and I finished it in less than 24 hours (it helped that I was traveling at the time). Lots of cool details in it, and tidbits of mythology that Gaiman drops into all of his works.
A Drink Before the War
Darkness, Take My Hand
Gone, Baby, Gone
Prayers for Rain, by Dennis Lehane
This series of books, featuring Boston PI's Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, are really good. I was initially attracted to the series because they were hard-boiled mysteries set in Boston, but after reading one, I knew I had to read them all. Kenzie and Gennaro are three-dimensional characters - they have faults and blindnesses just like the rest of us. Except that they move in a much rougher world than we do. Very good stuff - I highly recommend these.
A Clash of Kings, by George R.R. Martin
This is the second book in Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" series. The first one, A Game of Thrones, was excellent, and drove me to break down and buy this in hardcover. A Clash of Kings suffers some from middle-book syndrome, where you know nothing permanent can get resolved because this isn't the last book, and it tends to get a little bit too spread out, but I forgive it all of that, because it's still light years ahead of most allegedly heroic fantasy. It's interesting, it's intelligent, and it's got believably human characters. For fantasy these days, that's enough to make it an instant classic.
I should note that George R.R. Martin is the editor of one of my childhood (okay, high school) favorite shared world series, the Wild Card series. The first few books of these series were wonderful.
Another good book by Martin is The Armageddon Rag, which is a psychedelic reflection on the sixties and rock music. I'd also recommend the short story Sandkings, which is one of the most gripping horror stories I have ever read. Its details are still imprinted on my brain despite having read it several years ago.
The Deed of Paksenarrion
Surrender None: The Legacy of Gird
Liar's Oath, by Elizabeth Moon
Borrowed Deed of Paksenarrion from a friend, as one of those big fantasy trilogies that I had never gotten around to reading. Quite good stuff, with a good story, and characters you grow to care about. It impressed me enough that I went out and bought two books set in the same universe. I wasn't nearly as enthralled by them, though.
Penn and Teller's How to Play with your Food
Penn and Teller are these really goof magician dudes who are just incredibly cool. They're the ones with attitude, they mock David Copperfield, and a good portion of the time, they reveal how other people do tricks just to annoy them. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I pretty much worship them. I finally got their book on how to play with food when I saw it on mega-sale at Barnes and Noble. 49 different tricks to play with your food, including all sorts of sick things like sticking a fork in your eye, and making a bleeding heart Jello(tm) dessert.
The Matador series, by Steve Perry
More fluff. Future dictatorship brought down by courageous rebels, yadda, yadda yadda.
Dan Simmons
Simmons is a phenomenal writer whose works have encompassed straight fiction, sci-fi and horror. Harlan Ellison, in a foreword to a Simmons book, worries that he will be more famous for having "discovered" Simmons than for any of his own work. Again, like Clive Barker, Simmons has a talent for creating believable characters that engage our interest. Some of his better known works are Hyperion, Carrion Comfort, and Prayers to Broken Stones.
Bug Jack Barron, by Norman Spinrad
As a good friend of mine (Brad Rhodes) has said before, "Image is everything." And this book proves it. I recently re-read this book upon finding it in a used book store, and it amazes me how accurately Spinrad portrays his world. Jack Barron is a TV call-in show host, with an estimated audience of 100 million viewers, who quickly finds himself over his head in circles of "real" power. But what everybody in the book underestimates is the power image can have, especially when broadcast to 100 million people. Spinrad's prose is, as always, amazing. His stream-of-consciousness-esque word-splatter of images creates moods really well. Wow. read it. Other good books by Spinrad are The Void Captain's Tale, and Little Heroes.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Last year, a friend of mine recommended this book as we were wandering through Waterstone's. I bought it on his recommendation, and absolutely loved it. It's been described as cyberpunk, but it's more than that. It's funny, it's hip, and yet it's serious as it extrapolates today's world just a few years into the future, and how strange it could get. Incidentally, after I bought and read it, several other people at TEP borrowed my copy, read it, and then went and bought their own copy because they loved it so much. Get it. Stephenson has since come out with The Diamond Age, under his own name, and co-authored Interface, under the pen name, Stephen Bury. I have not yet read Diamond Age, but I did read Interface over Christmas break - very interesting book with lots of brutal commentary about America's political system. Good stuff. (6/25/95) Bury has since published The Cobweb, a thriller centered around Desert Storm and the machinations Iraq was attempting in order to acquire biological weapons. I didn't like it quite as much as Interface but it was still very good.(1/24/97)
The Great Shark Hunt, by Hunter S. Thompson
This isn't really fiction, but it sure isn't "serious", so I'm putting it here anyway. I don't know much about Hunter S. Thompson other than he is/was an underground journalist. But the first couple columns/stories in this book were fairly interesting, so I picked this up for my plane ride home.
(10/16/95) Over the summer, I devoured nearly everything Hunter Thompson has published in book form and truly enjoyed it. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is one of the funniest books I've ever read, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, '72, and Better than Sex... provide insightful but brutal glimpses into the American political process, and his other books have many amusing, yet piercingly accurate, vignettes of life as Dr. Thompson pursues his Grail of Gonzo Journalism...
"The Proud Highway, letters of Hunter S. Thompson" is fascinating - HST was convinced he would be a celebrity someday, and apparently kept carbon copies of every single letter he ever wrote in anticipation of the day. And since he apparently wrote several a day for the past 40 years, that's a LOT of letters. The letters themselves are also interesting - even at the tender age of 18, his writing is already recognizable, and the foundation for the future Dr. Gonzo is evident.
Andrew Vachss
Vachss is a lawyer who represents children in child abuse cases. Living in the world he does, he sees the depravity and pure evil that dwells within people that most of us would like to ignore. At one point, he started writing fiction as a means of "addressing a bigger jury than I'd ever find in any courthouse." Most of his books revolve around Burke, a private investigator who has a "soft spot" for child abusers and finds ways to make them stop doing it...forever. His prose is extremely distinctive - as the Chicago Sun-Times put it, "Andrew Vachss...writes a hypnotically violent prose made up of equal parts of broken concrete block and razor wire." For more information on Vachss or a list of what books he's written, see The Zero, the official home page for Vachss.
True Names, by Vernor Vinge
I just really liked this novelette by Vinge. It was an interesting look at the consequences of a society where one's computer persona could be completely divorced from one's real life persona. Obviously, one's "true name" becomes vitally important to keep secret in such a case - with the power of the name being similar to the days of sorcery and witchcraft when one's true name was considered the key to one's power. Vinge's novel A Fire upon the Deep is also very good.
A Deepness in the Sky, by Vernor Vinge
This prequel of sorts to A Fire upon the Deep gave me sort of the same feeling as that book did. It's a good read with some interesting ideas, but there's nothing there that really sticks with me. Not the way his novella, True Names did.
The Illuminatus Trilogy, by Robert A. Wilson
Well after finding the Hyperdiscordia web page, I got re-interested in Discordianism, so when I happened upon a copy of Illuminatus, this past weekend, I picked it up, due to its many references to Discordia. It's pretty cool. It is actually mind-blowing in a way, because so much stuff, so many images and ideas are thrown in a non-intuitive or non-connected way at your brain, that your brain overloads trying to deal and you just end up saying, wow. I liked many of the ideas and philosophies that were discussed in the book...and the book just confirms that it's a crazy world we live in.

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