The Neil Gaiman Reader

Neil GaimanI am doing something I thought I would never do. Today, I am recommending a book I have not yet read. This sounds counter-intuitive and perhaps a bit wrong, but I actually have several reasons to recommend it. The book is The Neil Gaiman Reader by, as you may guess, Neil Gaiman.

I’ve read a decent amount of Neil Gaiman’s work and this book is a collection of 52 stories. A handful are excerpts from a few of his books. I have read several of his books and a few collections of short stories, so technically I have read a good amount of what is in this book from previous collections.

The four excerpts are from Stardust, American Gods, Neverwhere, Anansi Boys, and The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I have read all but Neverwhere and Anansi Boys and they are both on my list of books to read (both books are on my shelf and just a few of many that I have yet to get to).

This book was released just recently, which is one reason I have yet to read it, but it is an excellent volume that is great for anyone who has never read Neil’s work and wants to try it out. It is also an essential for any diehard Gaiman fans.

Since this book is ideal for those who have never read him before, I figured it was okay for me to recommend it for that reason. Of course, those who are already fans don’t need any recommendations of his work from me. They already know what they like. I know what works of his I like, having read several already, and I know which ones I want to check out next when I get to them. In fact, I’ve been considering reading Coraline soon as I haven’t read it yet and it is that time of year for spooky reads. It is also a shorter work that fits into my currently busy schedule.

So, if you have ever been interested in trying Neil Gaiman’s work, perhaps this is the prime opportunity for you to do so. You can always check your local library if you don’t want to make a purchase, or you can perhaps borrow a copy from that friend who has been bugging you to try anything by Neil Gaiman.

Happy Reading.

Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me GoI wasn’t going to recommend this book, but there are a few things that have led me to change my mind and this recommendation will be a bit different that any of my previous ones.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro is not like anything I’ve really read before. In a way, it seems like a combination of several books I’ve read but with a little something extra (or omitted). This book was released in 2005 and was later adapted into a 2010 film.

Kazuo Ishiguro is a name that came onto my radar several years ago but I had never read any of his work. I can’t recall exactly how I came across his name. It could have been from others talking about his books or the fact he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2017, but now that I’m actually trying to recall how his name came to my memory I think it was some association with Neil Gaiman.

However it happened, I knew of him as a respected author and therefore picked up Never Let Me Go from a library book sale simply because I wanted to eventually read some of his work. Ironically enough, I recently finished a book of nonfiction by Margaret Atwood where she actually discussed this very book. I realized I had it on my shelf and it became my next read.

I enjoyed the book because it was well written and it held an underlying mystery throughout that kept you interested in the story. The book technically would fall into a science fiction dystopia category considering the subject matter, but I will get into that a bit later. For now, I will supply a brief summary adapted from the book itself:

As children, Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at an exclusive English boarding school called Hailsham. It was a place of mysterious rules. Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman and Ruth and Tommy have re-entered her life. She begins to look back at their time at Hailsham and comes to understand how they were special.

As I said, the story is written well and there is enough mystery to keep interest, but it can be considered a bit slow story-wise despite being a fairly quick read being just shy of 300 pages. Here is where this book recommendation goes off my regular pattern. After this paragraph, I will include spoilers so if you want to stop here and enjoy the book yourself, please do so and I bid you happy reading. If you have already read the book or don’t care much about spoilers, then feel free to read ahead. Continue reading

Fight Club

Fight ClubFight Club by Chuck Palahnuik was first published in 1996 and the film of the novel came out in 1999. I picked up the novel at a used book store a few years ago and randomly decided to read it only recently. I had seen the movie a long time ago, so having known the “twist” I wasn’t really expecting any surprises.

I must admit that the film does an excellent job adapting the story. There are a few differences but the overall story is pretty much the same with of course a few underlying elements you get more of in the book such as the reasoning behind the main character’s mental instability. If you haven’t seen the movie, I may recommend reading the book first. If you have seen the movie, you likely won’t get too much more from the book, but it may be a fun way to experience the story again if you’re in the mood. This is definitely a story that you need to be either in the mood for or open to the craziness that is involved.

The book was a really quick and easy read at around 200 pages. I read it in about two days and probably could have read it in one sitting if I had the time or wanted to. This is the first book by Palahnuik I’ve read but I know he has a reputation for not holding anything back in regards to language, imagery, etc., and I think that is what draws people to his work. He won’t sugar-coat anything and no topic is off-limits. This is also the draw to Fight Club itself. The story centers around the down-trodden, middle-to-low class, working stiffs of the world which every society depends upon but doesn’t care to fully appreciate. This is also known as the majority of the population in every period of civilization.

The story is oddly liberating. I think we can all relate to hating a job and feeling stuck by paying bills and having to do things we would prefer to avoid, or we feel compelled or encouraged to follow a cookie-cutter path that is expected of us though these expectations change from generation to generation. Go to school, then go to college, then maybe get an even higher degree so you can get a good paying job though by the time you do all this the world has changed and that degree doesn’t get you as far as it used to and now you have to work that job in order to pay for the debt you took on for said degree because the cost of the education has increased eight-fold in 40 years while your salary is the same it would have been in 1950. There is no doubt that the world changes quite quickly and by the time you follow one recommended path, the theme park you were promised has been shut down.

What I’m trying to say is that despite the fact this book was written when the world was a much different place, despite being less than 25 years old, many of the same concerns remain. This book was written before 9/11 and the smartphone and it is therefore dated, but it touches on themes that have persisted. Get a job and buy a house and fill the house with things and that help you forget that the world is a messed up place. The book explores who we are when all these things are taken away. It delves into a primal notion to explore what it means to be human in the (recently) modern world. It is a reminder that we don’t have to follow the rushing current of societal expectations and perhaps we have an obligation to resist that current a little bit so we don’t lose ourselves in it.

Therefore, I think this book is a refreshing reminder despite its “taboo” or “uncivilized” subject matter. It is a reminder that sometimes we should re-evaluate where we stand in today’s world. However, I don’t think anyone needs to go join or start an actual fight club and try to destroy anything though apparently these did happen shortly after the book was released. Apparently people thought much of the book was based on factual events. It is entirely fiction, but fiction can have a big influence on human behavior. Chuck Palahnuik has a nice little essay at the end of the novel (the edition I have at least) that talks about how Fight Club had become a pop-culture sensation and how it started as a short story and he wrote it around the simple rules that are used when talking about Fight Club. The rules were meant to keep the story going and allow transitions that reader would accept without additional information. Therefore, the story was really based on a writing experiment. He goes on to talk about how it didn’t really need to be “Fight” Club per se and could have been anything, but Fight Club was definitely an area of interest for a lot of people. As he states, “It could have been ‘Barn-Raising Club’ or ‘Golf Club’…”

I’m curious if the sensationalism about this story has persisted. You don’t really hear much about Fight Club anymore (yes, I’m aware of the joke involving the first rule), but that doesn’t necessarily mean it still isn’t an influence. I think the sensationalism has faded, but the story will persist at a certain level. Hell, I just read it for the first time which is some sort of proof. I’ll likely watch the movie again sometime in the future, but I don’t imagine a new generation will pick it up as a doctrine.

Then again, we have had a lot of protesting this year and the world is a fairly uncertain place at the moment, so perhaps this story seems a bit out of place right now. Who knows if it will maintain it’s current meaning ten years from now. The world may be much different than as it is today. We can only hope it is for the better. I think reading, and reading widely, best prepares us to help steer our future to a better place. Perhaps this may be one of those books you read at the right time. Maybe you’re not quite ready for it. Maybe you’ve already read it and loved it or you hated it but still got something from it. Maybe you need to read it again. Only you can determine that.

Happy Reading.

The Man in the High Castle

man-in-the-high-castleThe Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick was first published in 1962 and won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1963. I’m a fairly big fan of PKD and I’ve had this book on my list to read for some time. I’d always heard it was a great story, the title is fantastic, and the premise is definitely intriguing.

The story takes place in an alternate history where the Allies lost the second World War and the United States is split into two territories with Japan owning the western region and Nazi Germany occupying the eastern (as seen on the cover here).

I’ll admit, I had fairly high expectations for this book despite not knowing much about the story outside of what I stated above. I know Amazon has turned the novel into a series which has several seasons and I’ve heard good things. I may try the show soon as I’m sure it differs greatly from the book and perhaps may even improve upon it as it has been nearly 60 years since the book was released.

The book has several interesting characters and different stories happening simultaneously. I was most interested in the political story-lines (despite not caring for politics in general). As you can imagine, there is a lot of racism and sexism related to Nazi idealism and there are plenty of heinous practices in place throughout the novel in relation to these. Luckily, we don’t have any/many direct instances of these in the story but they are referenced and go along with much of what actually happened during the war.

As in several other stories by PKD, there is a spiritual/divine presence in the form of the I Ching or Book of Changes which is a real book you can find today. The user can determine their fortune and possible short-term future by using this Oracle book. This added an interesting element to the novel, especially as it becomes more prominent as the story progresses, but it may be a little absurd for some readers. However, I did enjoy another element of the story in the form of an alternative history novel within this novel. The Grasshopper Lies Heavy is a fictional book (not to be confused with a real book by this title recently released in 2015) within The Man in the High Castle which predicts a future where the Allies win the World War (aka the actual outcome of the war). The book is banned in all Nazi territories and it lies toward the center of the overall story.

One of the things I like about PKD’s writing is that it has become a nostalgic form of science fiction. This book states that the Nazi’s have already colonized other planets in the solar system, and you can take rocket flights halfway around the world in 45 minutes, but the phone system still uses operators and everything is paid for in cash. This juxtaposition we recognize today would not have existed in the 1960’s, but I find it charming and makes the book even more interesting because it is a glimpse into the time it was written despite the setting being in the future (a future that has since become our past).

I’m recommending this book mainly because it does have a high status within literature and has become a historical piece itself. The book is a bit dated, but I can understand why it made a big splash when it first came out. I don’t think a book like this would be published today (or at least to the acclaim it received), so I recommend this book with a slight warning to keep your expectations of events a little low. PKD’s writing, for me, is really easy to read and he sometimes goes off on philosophical tangents (part of what I like about it), but it all comes together perfectly and leaves you a little to think about after finishing the story. This story does not disappoint in regards to this. It is a shorter book at around 250 pages depending on the edition you get. This was the first alternative history book I believe I have read and it was an interesting one. If the premise captured your attention, you’ll likely enjoy it.

Happy Reading.

Who Said You Should Never Judge A Book By Its Cover?

Yeah, yeah, there is that old saying (which is true), but I thought I’d list books whose covers I think are beautiful, made me pick the book up initially, or I simply like. There are often several variants to book covers based on editions, reprints, etc. The cover is meant to entice you or else they wouldn’t spruce them up. I’m a sucker for cool artwork too. Here are several that I enjoy.

The Sword of Angels

Sword of AngelsThis cover is actually the reason I picked up this trilogy by John Marco. I saw this cover, thought it looked cool, found out it was the third book in the series, and went on to buy the first book. I need to re-read this series since it has been (I believe) over ten years since I first read it and a fourth book has been released since then that continues the story of one of the main characters.

Exhalation

ExhalationAnother simplistic cover that goes along with an equally simplistic yet mysterious title. This collection of short stories, and one novella, by Ted Chiang is a great read for any SFF fans or if you like stories that make you think.

The Faded Sun Trilogy

The Faded Sun TrilogyI picked up a copy of this trilogy in one volume a long time ago. The cover was of course a factor. I had no idea who C.J. Cherryh was but she has become an author whose work I really need to look into, which of course means I have yet to read this trilogy. I have a lot of books on my TBR and I will get to them eventually. I’ve been trying to read through the books I have and purchase fewer books.

Memories of Ice

Memories of IceMemories of Ice is actually book three of The Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. This is the first on this list of books I picked up because of the cover but have not yet read. The Malazan series is a larger series and I currently have the first five books. I plan to read them some day, but I just haven’t gotten around to it just yet.

Norse Mythology

Norse MythologyOkay. There are a lot of different versions, retellings, and of course covers of the Norse Myths. The cover I refer to specifically is a recent retelling by Neil Gaiman. I think the cover is fantastic and we get a few versions of it. One for hardback and one for paperback. I have a copy of both mainly because I happened to get an opportunity to purchase a signed copy of the paperback, which honestly is the cover I like best. I think there are a few other variants of the hardback cover (which is different from the paperback version you see here) but they are different color backgrounds including black, white, and red.

Fahrenheit 451

FahrenheitFahrenheit 451There are a lot of different covers for Fahrenheit 451 as it has become a classic and is taught in schools. I particularly enjoy the simplistic 60th anniversary cover as well as the Folio Society version which I recently acquired.

A Memory of Light

The final installment of The Wheel of Time. This cover actually holds more significance because it comes at the end of a long journey and holds the fates of many beloved characters, which makes this cover perhaps the only one on this list linked directly to the story it tells. I’m sure there will be many new covers for the books in this series as time goes on and as the television series releases, but the original (to me) will always have a certain appeal.A Memory of Light

Too Like The Lightning

Too Like The LightningI purchased this book from a big sale my local library puts on every year so I was able to get it really cheap. I picked this one up for two reasons. The cover, and the fact that it made a bit of a wave when it first released however many years ago that was (it was 2016). I believe this is the first of a four-book series by Ada Palmer with the first three currently available, which is a good reason for me to wait a bit longer to read this book as I prefer to read series that are complete since I often need to re-read the first books when a new installment comes out if it has been a while since the initial read.

The Stormcaller

The StormcallerLike The Magician, this cover is for the first of a series that caught my eye. I think the artwork on all the covers is great, but this one made me give the book a try. I read the first three of the series by Tom Lloyd and then stopped as the final two books had not yet released. I plan to return and re-read the entire series some time.

The Magician

Magician Raymond E FeistI remember this one distinctly. I was in high school and about to go on a small trip to visit family when I picked this one up. The version I bought was actually two books in one and was my introduction to Raymond E. Feist’s Riftwar Saga. I have read the saga but have not read much beyond the core books and into the ever expansive world(s) contained in the larger Riftwar Cycle. I picked up the book for my trip because the cover did interest me, especially at the age of 15 with the image of the wizard, and I always enjoy magic.

All Systems Red

Last but not least, The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells. I absolutely adore this series and have also loved the cover art for each book. Network Effect is the fifth installment that was released earlier this year, and we will get the sixth book, Fugitive Telemetry, next year.

Murderbot Series