Last night, the oppressive heat wave finally broke.
I spent much of the day indoors and trying to move as little as possible. I read. Specifically, I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Bag of Bones. Prior to that (while in Maine) I read his recent collection, Full Dark, No Stars, and enjoyed it and found myself once again wanting to read more King. It comes in waves now, I see, as I look back over my list. (Bag of Bones is the 18th Stephen King book I’ve read.)
I’m not certain why I chose it. I was considering a re-read of It (something I am still considering, but more on that another time) and decided that I should read something I hadn’t read yet. I know I’m not yet ready for The Dark Tower series; and Cujo wasn’t doing it for me. So I picked Bag of Bones because it sounded intriguing. It is supposed to be a ghost story and I’m dubious of ghost stories.
Except that so far, it is a fantastic ghost story. And I spent all of yesterday, hidden away from the head and tearing my way through about 300 pages of the novel, enjoying every minute of it. Part of the enjoyment comes from identifying with the narrator–I am not a successfully novelist as this narrator is; but I am a writer and I can empathize with his struggles. Part of it comes from the setting. We are just back from a short vacation in Maine and we really had a blast, so it was a nice to return there so soon. But mostly, it’s been a compelling ghost story, which I didn’t think was possible. I started the day about 175 pages into the book, and finally put down the book, reluctantly, nearly 300 pages later when I finally forced myself to go to sleep. Work in the morning, and an early meeting with London.
According to the Kindle app, I’m two-thirds of the way through the book at the moment, and I expect to finish in the next day or two. I’m not sure I can recall offhand the last time I read 300 pages in a single day–certainly not since the kids were born! But I am eager to continue, and despite all of my meetings today (long, long meetings) I had the same kind of anticipatory excitement for the end of the day that I get when I am about to head off on vacation.
But I suppose that makes sense, after all: a good book is very much like taking a vacation.
Over on her blog, fellow Arlington Writers Group member, Colleen Moore asks, “Why read the book when you can watch the movie?” She has some interesting comparisons between movies that live up to the books. But she concludes by asking, “So, why read the book?”
I think it is an important enough question to reproduce my response here:
We read because we want to actively participate in the creation of the story. It is a collaborative effort with the author and if they are good at their job, and we have a half-decent imagination, the words disappear and we experience the story completely and three-dimensionally in our heads. And there’s nothing quite like that.
That has been my experience, anyway. It is why books like Connie Willis’s Blackout/All Clear and George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones and Isaac Asimov’s Forward the Foundation and W. P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe and Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes have left me breathless, worn out, and utterly amazed.
A movie–even HBO’s Game of Thrones adaptation–has never had quite the same effect on me.
I started reading Isaac Asimov’s retrospective memoir, I. Asimov last night.
I’ve written here often enough about my ritual, each April, where I read Isaac Asimov’s 3 autobiography volumes. I always read I. Asimov first, even though that was written last, because that one is a retrospective of his whole life. In the epilogue, Janet Asimov writes of Isaac’s death, and I don’t want to end on a sad note. So once that book is finished, I turn to the first volume of his massive autobiography, In Memory Yet Green, and follow that up immediately with In Joy Still Felt, so that when I am all done (after nearly 1,000,000 words worth of reading!) Asimov is still alive and well in 1979.
I was a senior in college when the hardcover of I. Asimov first came out. Believe it or not, I hadn’t read a whole lot of Asimov at the time. My science fiction experience was still very narrow-focused on a few writers (like Piers Anthony) that I had discovered as a teenager. But I bought the first edition hardcover (it was on the bestseller lists, if I recall) and took it back to my apartment to start reading. Almost immediately, I fell in love with Asimov’s colloquial style. It was as if he was sitting in my living room, telling me the story, instead of my reading it off the page. I was also fascinated by his life story, not so much because anything exciting happened, but because in many ways, he was so normal, yet became a great science and science fiction writer–it was almost like reading an instruction manual on How To Do It.
Because of my focus on short fiction, novel reading has taken a backseat the last few years, and I imagine that will continue for the next few years. Novels are more of a time investment and with everything else going on, something has to take a backseat. That said, here are a few goals for my novel-reading in 2012:
1. Get current on George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire
In 2011, I read the first 3 books in the series and enjoyed them all immensely. I’d like to catch up with the last two in 2012. Finding the time to do that might be tricky, but given what I’ve read in the first three, I think it would be worth the effort.
2. Re-read Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land
Michael Burstein’s recent post convinced me to do this. It took me 3 tries to get through Stranger the first time and after I finished it, I decidedly didn’t like it. But my experience has broadened and my attitudes have changed in the dozen or more years that have passed since I read it. I think it is time to give it another try.
3. Start Stephen King’s Gunslinger series
Enough people have said enough good things about it that I think it’s worth taking the time to read at least the first book in the series.
4. Read some Mike Resnick
I’ve never read a Mike Resnick novel. It’s about time I corrected that. I know that he and Jack McDevitt have a collaborative novel coming out in 2012, but that doesn’t count. I want to read a good, representative Resnick novel. And I’m open to suggestions on this one.
I’ve written about how I love short science fiction. Back in September I gave myself a goal of reading a piece of short fiction a day. In other words, 365 stories a year (or in 2012, 366, since it is a leap year). I’ve done pretty well since September and so my short fiction reading goals for fairly simple for 2012:
1. Read 1 story each day
Well, on average anyway. There are days when I am too busy to squeeze in the short story reading. But there are other days when I’ll read 2 or 3 stories. If it all evens out, I’d like to have read about 350 stories by this time next year.
2. Try to learn something about the craft from each story
Currently, I make a short 1-sentence note about each story I read to remind me of the plot. When you read hundreds of stories a year, it is sometimes hard to remember them all. This has helped a lot. In 2012, I’d like to add a second sentence about how the story taught me something about the craft of short story writing. I imagine this won’t always be possible, but it is something to aim for.
Right now I read stories in all sorts of magazines. But my reading patterns–how I choose the stories that I read–often fall into something like this: (a) it’s by an author I love; (b) it’s about something I enjoy; (c) lots of word-of-mouth about the story or author; (d) it’s by someone I know personally.
In 2012, I’d like to try and spread out a little more, read stories by people I’ve never heard of, stories that are maybe out of my normal comfort zone. For instance, I generally don’t read the fantasy stories in F&SF but it might be something worth trying–it’s outside my comfort zone. Ditto with steampunk stories. I’m not talking about moving away from what I enjoy reading, but instead, doing a better job as sampling a wider array of stories and authors.
Keep in mind that in some respect I already do this: in my Vacation in the Golden Age, I read issues of Astounding cover-to-cover and often encounter stories that I might not have chosen to read, but I read them because they are part of my Vacation, part of the history of the Golden Age and I see value there.
If you have to walk somewhere, you can read an entire short story on the way there. And another one one the way back.
Just because I felt like posting it:
- 1996: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
- 1997: Today and Tomorrow and… by Isaac Asimov
- 1998: Nothing
- 1999: The Eternal Footman by James Morrow
- 2000: Foundation by Isaac Asimov
- 2001: The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
- 2002: A History of the American People by Paul Johnson
- 2003: The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes
- 2004: Gateway by Frederik Pohl
- 2005: Nothing
- 2006: Humans by Robert J. Sawyer
- 2007: Nothing
- 2008: Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow
- 2009: Under the Dome by Stephen King
- 2010: The Devil’s Eye by Jack McDevitt
- 2011: Insomnia by Stephen King
So what is it you tend to be reading toward the end of November?
Last week I wrote about my general experience with Stephen King books and a few days ago I posted my review of his latest novel, 11/22/63. Sometime in the fall of 2009 I started reading Stephen King again after not having read his books for several years. I decided I would start from the beginning and read all of his stuff in roughly chronological order. Since then I’ve done this in various bursts, as I imagine most people do. I’ll read four or five book in a row, then get burned out and not read anything for a while–and then another burst will strike.
After reading 11/22/63, I feel another burst coming on. Here is what I can see as the complete Stephen King, including short story collections. Items crossed our are items that I have read so far:
- Carrie (1974)
- ‘Salem’s Lot (1975)
- The Shining (1977)
- Rage (Bachman) (1977)
- Night Shift (1978)
- The Dead Zone (1979)
- The Long Walk (Bachman) (1979)
- Firestarter (1980)
- Cujo (1981)
- Roadwork (Bachman) (1981)
- Danse Macabre (1981)
- Different Seasons (1982)
- The Running Man (Bachman) (1982)
- Dark Tower: The Gunslinger (1982)
- Pet Sematary (1983)
- Christine (1983)
- The Talisman (1984)
- Thinner (Bachman) (1984)
- Skeleton Crew (1985)
- Cycle of the Werewolf (1985)
- It (1986)
- The Eyes of the Dragon (1987)
- Misery (1987)
- Dark Tower: The Drawing of Three (1987)
- The Tommyknockers (1987)
- The Dark Half (1989)
- The Stand (1990)
- Four Past Midnight (1990)
- Needful Things (1991)
- The Dark Tower: The Wastelands (1991)
- Gerald’s Game (1992)
- Nightmares & Dreamscapes (1993)
- Dolores Clairborne (1993)
- Insomnia (1994)
- Rose Madder (1995)
- Desperation (1996)
- The Regulators (Bachman) (1996)
- The Green Mile (1996)
- The Dark Tower: Wizard and Glass (1997)
- Bag of Bones (1998)
- Hearts in Atlantis (1999)
- The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon (1999)
- Plant (2000)
- On Writing (2000)
- Dreamcatcher (2001)
- Black House (2001)
- From A Buick 8 (2002)
- Everything’s Eventual (2002)
- Dark Tower: Wolves of Calla (2003)
- Dark Tower: Song of Susannah (2004)
- Dark Tower: The Dark Tower (2004)
- The Colorado Kid (2005)
- Cell (2006)
- Lisey’s Story (2006)
- Blaze (Bachman) (2007)
- Duma Key (2008)
- Just After Sunset (2008)
- Under the Dome (2009)
- Blockade Billy (2009)
- Full Dark, No Stars (2010)
- 11/22/63 (2011)
The exact order in which I’ve read the books (for those curious) is as follows:
- ‘Salem’s Lot (9/16/2001)
- Needful Things (2/25/2004)
- On Writing (9/16/2009)
- Carrie (9/21/2009)
- The Shining (9/28/2009)
- It (10/28/2009)
- Night Shift (11/3/2009)
- Under the Dome (11/30/2009)
- Different Seasons (12/9/2009)
- The Stand (6/2/2010)
- The Dead Zone (6/11/2010)
- Firestarter (6/25/2010)
- Pet Sematary (6/29/2010)
- Blockade Billy (6/9/2011)
- 11/22/63 (11/18/2011)
Logically, the next book in my list (if you exclude the Bachman books), is Cujo. But I know myself and right now, while I’m in the mood to read more Stephen King, I’m not in the mood for straight horror. So I’m deviating from the strict chronology once again and jumping ahead to the full novel version of The Green Mile. I’m starting that book (the version of which I have on my Kindle contains a forward by the late RalphVincinanza). After that, we’ll see. I may move back to the normal chronology because I’m eager to read the first Dark Tower book. But from what I understand, those books are best read when having read everything that came previous to it–because it ties so much of King’s worlds together.
Okay, gotta run now. I have some reading to attend to.
- I finished Jack McDevitt’s spectacular novel, Firebird last night.
- I read Jack’s story “Listen Up, Nitwits” in the Jan/Feb 2012 Analog last week.
- I read Jack’s story “Maiden Voyage” in the Jan 2012 Asimov’s last night.
- I started Stephen King’s 11/22/63 last night.
- I’ve got the concluding part of Heinlein’s “Methuselah’s Children” queued up.
- The October 1941 Astounding contains Heinlein’s “By His Boostraps”.
- There’s still part 1 of Robert J. Sawyer’s Triggers to read in the Jan/Feb 2012 Analog.
It’s at times like these when I am deeply thankful that my parents encouraged me to read.
Here is this month’s list of short fiction that I managed to read. I’ve been aiming for one story a day from a variety of magazines. I think I did a pretty good job this month. Just like last month, the bold titles are, in my opinion, particularly worth reading.
- Old Fireball by Nat Schachner (Astounding, June 1941) [10/2/2011]
- To Fight Another Day by Robert Moore Williams (Astounding, June 1941) [10/2/2011]
- The Purple Light by E. Waldo Hunter (Astounding, June 1941) [10/2/2011]
- Superman #1: “What Price Tomorrow”. [10/2/2011]
- Staying Behind by Ken Liu (Clarkesworld, October 2011). [10/3/2011]
- Wider and Deeper by Carma Lynn Park (Daily SF, 10/3/11). [10/3/2011]
- F&SF Mailbag by David Gerrold (F&SF, 9/10). [10/4/2011]
- Action Comics #2: “In Chains”. (DC Comics, 10/5/11). [10/5/2011]
- Methuselah’s Children, Part 1 by Robert Heinlein (Astounding, July 1941). [10/6/2011]
- All About Emily by Connie Willis (Asimov’s, 12/11). [10/7/2011]
- Spaceship in a Flask by Clifford D. Simak (Astounding, July 1941). [10/10/11]
- The Seesaw by A. E. van Vogt (Astounding, July 1941). [10/10/11]
- The Probable Man by Alfred Bester (Astounding, July 1941). [10/13/2011]
- The Geometrics of Johnny Day by Nelson S. Bond (Astounding, July 1941) [10/15/2011]
- “–We Also Walk Dogs” by Anson MacDonald (Astounding, July 1941). [10/16/2011]
- Brown by Frank Belknap Long (Astounding, July 1941). [10/16/2011]
- Jurisdiction by Nat Schachner (Astounding, August 1941). [10/17/2011]
- Spidersong by Alex Shvartsman (Daily SF, 10/17/11). [10/17/11]
- The Countable by Ken Liu (Asimov’s, 12/11). [10/17/11]
- Her Husband’s Hands by Adam-Troy Castro (Lightspeed, 10/11). [10/17/11]
- Meteor Legacy by Raymond Z. Gallun (Astounding, August 1941). [10/18/2011]
- Grace Immaculate by Gregory Benford (TOR.com, 10/19/2011). [10/19/2011]
- Like Origami In Water by Damien Walters Grintalis (Daily SF, 10/25/11). [10/25/2011]
- Apologue by James Morrow (TOR.com, 10/24/11). [10/25/2011]
- Methuselah’s Children, Part 2 by Robert Heinlein (Astounding, August 1941). [10/24/2011]
- Biddiver by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding, August 1941). [10/26/2011]
- Backlash by Jack Williamson (Astounding, August 1941). [10/26/2011]
- Superman #2: “Flying Blind”. [10/29/2011]
It is hard to keep up with everything that is out there. I think that is a good thing. Keeping in mind that I am more of science fiction than fantasy fan (but I’m always willing to read good fantasy): is there anything good that I missed?
While there are still a few hours left in September, I doubt I’ll get any more short fiction read this month, especially since the Yankees open the division playoffs tonight at 8:30. You know where I’ll be. But since I wrote a while back about at least trying to read a piece of short fiction every day, I thought I’d start posting the lists of the short fiction I read each month here on the blog. Titles, authors and the magazine or book in which I read it is listed. The date at the end of each line is the date on which I read the stories. Bold stories are ones which I particularly enjoyed.
- “The Observation Post” by Allen Steele (Asimov’s, September 2011) [9/2/11]
- “Stalker” by Robert Reed (Asimov’s, September 2011) [9/2/11]
- “Jay Score” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding, May 1941) [9/2/11]
- “Fish Story” by Vic Phillips and Scott Roberts (Astounding, May 1941) [9/3/11]
- “Subcruiser” by Harry Walton (Astounding, May 1941) [9/3/11]
- “The Stolen Dormouse, Part 2″ by L. Sprague de Camp (Astounding, May 1941) [9/4/11]
- “Sleeping Dogs” by Joe Haldeman (Year’s Best Science Fiction 28th Annual Edition) [9/5/2011]
- “The Emperor of Mars” by Allen Steele (Year’s Best Science Fiction 28th Annual Edition) [9/6/11]
- “Bubbles” by David Brin (Lightspeed, September 2011) [9/9/11]
- “Dig Site” by Jack McDevitt (Analog, November 2011) [9/10/11]
- “Ian, Isaac and John” by Paul Levinson (Analog, November 2011) [9/10/11]
- “Overtaken” by Karl Bunker (F&SF, September 2011) [9/11/11]
- “A Hundred Hundred Daisies” by Nancy Kress (Asimov’s, November 2011) [9/11/11]
- “Again and Again and Again” by Rachel Swirsky (Year’s Beset Science Fiction 28th Annual Edition) [9/11/11]
- “Pack” by Robert Reed (Clarkesworld, September 2011) [9/11/11]
- “Signals in the Deep” by Greg Mellor (Clarkesworld, September 2011) [9/11/11]
- “Time Wants a Skeleton” by Ross Rocklynne (Astounding, June 1941) [9/11/11]
- “The Lycanthropic Principle” by Carl Frederick (Analog, October 2011) [9/11/11]
- “Hetero3″ by Robert Reed (Daily Science Fiction, 9/12/11) [9/12/11]
- “Artnan Process” by Theodore Sturgeon (Astounding, June 2011) [9/17/2011]
- “Exit Stage Life” by Cate Gardner (Daily Science Fiction, 9/22/11) [9/22/11]
- “Devil’s Powder” by Malcolm Jameson (Astounding, June 1941) [9/26/2011]
So, not exactly a story each day, but I’ll get there. And it should give you some insight into how I try to keep up with the various science fiction venues that are out there.
What short fiction did you read in September?
When I look back over the list of books that I’ve read, I am sometimes amazed by how much I don’t remember. This is equally true for short fiction as it is for novels. Some books and stories stand out in my mind clear as if I read them yesterday, while others I know that I read and can remember where I was when I read them; I can recall the basic plot but can’t recall much beyond that. It’s disappointing because it begs the question, why read the book if you are just going to forget it?
It seems to me that there are two dimensions to stories.
Each of these dimensions acts as a continuum and define your overall experience with a story. In combination, you get a grid that looks something like this:
||Stories you “experience”
||Stories that make a real impact on you.
||Stories that are genuinely forgettable
||Stories that make you think; “tough” stories
Here is an example of this chart illustrated based on my own experience. I took my ratings from Goodreads (1-5 stars) and I put them in a spreadsheet next to 100 science fiction titles that I’ve read. Then I created another column which I called “Memory” and gave that a 1-5 rating as well. The memory scale I used goes as follows and is completely based on my own experience:
- No real memory of the story.
- Can remember portions of the plot but not details
- Can remember the plot well enough to discuss/recommend
- In addition to good knowledge of the plot, can add some good critical insights
- Have the thing virtually memorized, along with much criticism of the work