Fun Summer Reading

Books I’ve read in the last while that I’d recommend:

Linda Nagata, passim. (Powells, Amazon).

In particular, Vast. It’s the final novel in her Nanotech Succession series, which I read in reverse order when Vast first came out, and which is not a bad way imo to read them. Deception Well, the middle book in the series has some lovely ideas, but doesn’t quite hang together, while The Bohr Maker is good but quite different. Vast is a masterpiece of a certain kind of widescale science fiction – a chilly universe, conflict among vast inimical forces, with humans forced to adapt in ways that are sometimes grotesque to survive. A kind of Darwinist Universalism – ‘evolution’ is the connecting thread. Alistair Reynolds cites Vast somewhere or another as a basic influence on his Revelation Space books, which is a good metric – if you like those ones, you’ll probably like this one. The books aren’t available in print, but rights have reverted to the author, so she has made them available in Kindle and other formats. She also has some new novels – two fantasy novels which I didn’t enjoy as much, and a near future military SF book, The Red: First Light, which I did enjoy quite a bit.

Elliott Kay, Poor Man’s Fight (Powells, Amazon).

Again self published, and again excellent. The most fun I’ve had for three dollars since I don’t know when. It’s very clearly located in a line of descent leading from Heinlein’s juveniles and Starship Troopers through John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War. It’s also its own thing. While the politics are neither one-dimensional nor belligerently in your face, they are considered and explicit (e.g. societies based on student-debt slavery). If you like thick juicy steak as well as, or instead of, molecular gastronomy, this is as good as it gets. It came out in 2013, and deserved all kinds of awards that it didn’t get.

Jenny Davidson, Reading Style: A Life in Sentences (Powells Amazon).

At first glance, this may look like a complete departure from the previous two – Davidson is a Columbia literary theorist, and her book has detailed (and fascinating) sentence by sentence readings of extracts from Proust, Sebald, Perec and James. Yet it also has very astute things to say about Neil Gaiman’s work and the narrative problems George RR Martin faces in A Game of Thrones, and does so without any sense of self-consciousness or slumming. Davidson (like Francis Spufford and Randall Jarrell whom she cites, and Jo Walton, whom she doesn’t) is a voracious reader of broad interests and sensibility. Her blog’s great too.

Greg van Eekhout, California Bones(Powells , Amazon).

I’ve been hoping he’d write a book like this ever since I read ‘The Osteomancer’s Son,’ the short story that it riffs upon. A warped California, with wizards who gain power by consuming the bones not only of magical creatures but of their rivals, and complex family relations. The book itself is enormous fun – a kind of heist novel – and two sequels promised which sound likely to add layers of political intrigue to the slyly Freudian drama of the original.

So that’s what’s been keeping me entertained. What about all you?

[Cross-posted at Crooked Timber]

Henry Farrell

Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.