10 July 2006

Further Reading

It's been a while since I last posted one of these.

Since then, I've managed to read The Battle for God, Pattern Recognition, Perdido Street Station, Cloud Atlas, Another War and A Dream of Wessex, all of which were rather excellent in diverse ways. I've also covered rather a large number of others which I hadn't been anticipating at the time of making that list. Most recently I've been working my way through Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel and China Miéville's The Scar.

GG&S is a strange mixture of visionary and plodding, setting out to explain the disparities in technological and political development which allowed the Europeans of the late second millennium to conquer and subjugate most of the population of the rest of the world, rather than (for instance) the Incas getting there first... but ending up talking mostly about the early history of agriculture. Which is fair enough since this would appear to have been the main mechanism whereby the said cultural differences arose, but I'm not sure we entirely need the six chapters devoted to food production when more interesting developments such as the invention of writing just get the one.

Never mind -- most of the chapters about other aspects of world history are quite fascinating.

(It turns out, incidentally, that the ultimate cause -- or the nearest Diamond thinks we can get to one -- is the shape and position of Eurasia: it's bigger than any other continuous continent, quite bumpy but not too bumpy, and runs left-to-right on a map rather than up and down. All of these turn out to be highly significant... although humanity's tendency to go round killing, rather than domesticating, any animals that haven't already evolved to avoid getting killed by people hasn't helped.)

The Scar, which I've still not quite finished, is pretty good but nowhere near as good as Miéville's marvellous Perdido Street Station. This has come as something of a disappointment, given how much I was looking forward to reading more from the same author.

Part of the problem is Miéville's habit of fusing his fantasy-horror with other genres: PSS is Dickensian urban gothic, a type of story which I find relentlessly fascinating, whereas The Scar is a seagoing adventure story, which I find a lot duller. (Iron Council is a western, apparently. I may have to give that one a miss.) More disappointingly, though, what should be an incredibly imaginative setting -- a mobile oceangoing pirate city built across a seascape of tethered-together ships -- is rendered with far less of the lavish sociopolitical, cultural and geographical detail which made PSS such a joy to read.

Be that as it may, the current list of books I've got and want to read soon runs as follows. Books added since last time (which are most of them) appear in bold.

Ben Aaronovitch, Genius Loci.
Margaret Atwood, Oryx and Crake.
Emmanuel Carrère, I Am Alive and You Are Dead: a Journey Inside the Mind of Philip K Dick.
Paul Cornell, British Summertime.
Jon Courtenay Grimwood, Pashazade: the First Arabesk.
Frank Herbert, Dune.
Alberto Manguel and Gianni Guadalupi, The Dictionary of Imaginary Places.
Vladimir Nabokov, Ada or Ardor.
Kim Newman, The Night Mayor.
Christopher Priest, The Space Machine.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Mars.
Kim Stanley Robinson, Blue Mars.
Justina Robson, Mappa Mundi.
Norman Spinrad, The Iron Dream.

The following have dropped off the list since last time, or at least been relegated to "less urgent":

Brian Bates, The Real Middle Earth.
Mark Chadbourn, World's End.
Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum.
Gwynneth Jones, Bold as Love.
Jacqueline Rayner, Winner Takes All.
Gary Russell, Spiral Scratch.

That's quite a list, and it doesn't even take into account the crate of S.F. and fantasy I picked up from my Dad at Christmas. Feel free to make suggestions as to which titles I should tackle first.

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