The Thunderdome of Reading

It would seem that I read a lot more than I thought. My book pile was dwindling and I wondered how that was possible, since I had at least six or seven in the pile before the holidays. Well, as it would turn out, between the train rides and reading before bed, I consume more than my fair share of books. So, what did I read during January? In order:

Stephen King’s Under the Dome

Mr. King has a disturbing knack for producing weighty tomes on occasion. This one tilts the scales around 1200 pages, and while some may disagree, I don’t feel like it was dragging anywhere. In true King fashion, we seem to get a perfect storm of coincidences and unfortunate circumstances to wring every last drop of misfortune from the town he chooses to obliterate. The whole time, I was angrily shouting for a particular character’s death because it was all his fault. King makes sure you know early, so you can spend a good majority of the book anticipating when he’ll die, or his plans will go awry, or something, anything other than what actually happens.

This is clearly a nod back to King’s earlier work as Bachman, and he admits as much in the book’s introduction. It’s one of the stories he started a long time ago, but never fleshed out until recently. If you’ve been staying away from his work because you think he sucks now, stop it! This is better than Duma Key, which itself was actually pretty engrossing.

Dan Simmons’ Carrion Comfort

I’m a long-time fan of Simmons. The Hyperion Cantos, Summer of Night, and A Winter Haunting, are all some of my favorite books in their respective genres. Sure, The Terror was so boring it made my want to pry my eyes out with my bare hands, but we all make mistakes.

Carrion Comfort is Simmons’ second book, which garnered him a Hugo. I tend toward scifi and horror, but for some reason, I thought much of his earlier work was a string of thrillers, much to my chagrin. As it stands, Carrion Comfort is a solid work. Here, vampires are real, but they control minds instead of drink blood. The implications are not quite as fully explored as I hoped, but it’s an exceptionally layered novel and fully deserving of the several awards it won. That it was almost never published at all is a crime, and proves just how insipid publishers are, and just how competitive the book market really is.

Joel Shepherd’s Crossover

Shepherd is a new author, but he’s got something strong with his Cassandra Kresnov Series. It starts a little weak and the writing is awkward at times, but he’s built an intriguing cast and provided a semi-believable backdrop for them to explore. It’s difficult reading over all the UK English spellings, but apparently some of my favorite authors are European, so I have little choice. Either way, Shepherd explores the usual themes you’d encounter with a fully manufactured humanoid integrating into society and the implications therein. I won’t really know the complete direction this goes until I read one or two more of the series, but it’s a good start. Consider giving it a look.

Jeff Noon’s Vurt

Vurt is… fucking weird. Seriously, what the hell is this? It’s like A Scanner Darkly meets LSD. A bunch of kids get high on virtual reality so entwined with the world, it can alter reality itself. It’s like reading someone attempting to chronicle a series of drug trips, and… it actually works. Vurt is excellent, enthralling even. Made-up words drive a breakneck pace through scenes imaginary and insane, yet I felt for the characters and wanted some tiny happiness for them, and that was even before their lives became truly difficult. I’ll definitely need to pick up more of Noon’s work.

Dan Simmons’ Song of Kali

Ah yes. Simmons wrote one book to start his career, and it won a World Fantasy Award at a ceremony he barely managed to attend. That he did this and still had trouble finding a publisher should be a sobering wakeup call to every aspiring writer out there. As a first novel, it’s very solid writing, and even in Calcutta, swarming with presence and full to bursting with human activity, he manages to make the characters and the reader feel isolated and wary. What should have been an uneventful trip to India to inverview a poet becomes something much more sinister, and Simmons peels away the human psyche as he attacks every weak spot we seem to have.

Kali is needlessly cruel. The seemingly nonsensical way she gets revenge for being thwarted is both imaginative and pointless, just as a Goddess might act to swat a pest. I spent the whole book hoping the characters would somehow escape India unscathed, knowing such a thing was impossible, but not really understanding the mechanism of their destruction until long after the last page turned. There are some scares, but this is mostly a psychological horror novel, and Simmons accomplishes through inference what most writers need to fully explain. It reminded me again why I love his writing.

Now, I know my writing is nowhere near the caliber of any of the authors here, with the possible exception of Mr. Shepherd. But it’s something I can aspire to. But Dan’s tale of woe in finding a publisher for Carrion Comfort tells me that there’s too much competition in the writing world, and even good authors can get a bad break. So I’m taking an alternate route: digital publishing. I’ve published Rabbit Rue at Smashwords because for better or worse, electronic books are the future. As the technology necessarily improves, it’s inevitable that more ebooks will continue to be sold. I plan on getting in early, and will try my best to be prolific. I’m still trying to figure out how to acquire an audience, but I’m sure it’ll come with time. As long as someone reads and enjoys my stories, I’m content.

Until Tomorrow