Writing about Reading: Why William Gibson’s brilliant novel The Peripheral is dangerous for writers

December 22, 2014 § 2 Comments

peripheralBy the end of the first page of William Gibson’s new novel, The Peripheral, I knew I was in trouble.

It’s not a bad book. That’s not the problem at all. It’s that it is such a damn good book, such a truly fantastic book, that my novel-in-progress looks pathetic by comparison.

Gibson is a genius for imagining the future. It’s not just the technological portrait he paints, but the way the characters talk, how they think, how they view the world around them. He doesn’t pander, doesn’t offer explanations. You’re in the deep end on page one, and brother, you’d better learn to swim fast.

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Writing about Reading: The Miernik Dossier

June 1, 2014 § Leave a comment

I read this book after it received high praise from Olen Steinhauer, whose spy novels I love. I did not love the Miernik Dossier, however.

The Miernik Dossier, by Charles McCarry, purports to be a collection of documents describing a “typical operation” for the CIA. The subject of this operation is Tadeusz Miernik, a Polish national who has been called back to his home country from Geneva (where he works for the WRO) and fears he will be imprisoned by the secret police if he returns. (The novel is set in the “in the middle years of the Cold War,” although no firm year is given.) He has requested his assignment with the WRO be extended, which has raised suspicions among the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Miernik is actually a Soviet spy. The novel follows the events of the investigation into Miernik and the surveillance of his activities.

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Writing about Reading Double Feature: The Martian and Saga

May 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

It’s fitting that I’m cramming two book reviews into one post because I read both The Martian and Saga at the same time. I started The Martian first, then got Volume 1 of Saga, so I paused and devoured it in an hour. And I was hooked, so I got Volumes 2 and 3, devouring them as they arrived and going back to The Martian in between.

That pretty much tells you how awesome both are.

I’m a one-book-at-a-time kinda guy. I get too confused if I try to read more than one at a time, but since Saga is a graphic novel and The Martian is a traditional novel, I figured I could keep them straight. What I didn’t count on is that they would both be some freakin’ amazing that I couldn’t get enough of either one.

Let’s start with The Martian, by newcomer Andy Weir. Weir is a software engineer and has been professionally since he was fifteen. He’s also “a lifelong space nerd and a devoted hobbyist of subjects like relativistic physics, orbital mechanics, and the history of manned spaceflight.” You know, normal everyday hobbies. So yeah, Andy Weir is a genius.

But he’s also a damned good storyteller. Combine the two, and it makes for one very compelling novel.

The book is, in a nutshell, about Mark Watney, an astronaut who is left for dead when his crew bugs out during a storm on Mars. Problem is, he’s not dead, and they’ve left him with no way to call for help. But he does have a) a working habitat, b) enough food and supplies to survive for a while (but not until the next Mars mission arrives), c) a very good brain, and d) enough time to figure out how to stay alive until the next mission arrives in four years. Oh, and he also has a wickedly sardonic sense of humor.

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Writing about Reading: Red Phone Box

April 13, 2014 § Leave a comment

“Too many cooks spoil the broth,” the old saying goes, and for the most part, that’s true—especially when you’re writing a novel-length story. Novels are usually written best by one or two authors; more than that, and it tends to turn into a jumbled mess.

That is precisely why Red Phone Box is so impressive. Edited by Salome Jones, Red Phone Box is a “darkly magical story cycle” written by 29 different authors—and for the most part, it works.

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Writing about Reading: The Goldfinch

March 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

Before I’d read a page of Donna Tartt’s newest book, The Goldfinch, I saw several reviewers call the novel “Dickensian,” and so going in was already prejudiced to consider the book in that light. But even if I hadn’t been so influenced, The Goldfinch would have evoked David Copperfield and Oliver Twist almost immediately.

This is not a good thing.

Don’t get me wrong; I love Dickens. David Copperfield and A Tale of Two Cities are two of my favorite books of all time. In fact, I credit the latter has having a particular influence on my moral compass. Dickens’ novels deserve all the praise and continual study given them by literature professors.

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Writing about Reading: The Cairo Affair

January 19, 2014 § 1 Comment

Okay, I just finished Olen Steinhauer’s brilliant new novel, The Cairo Affair, and I want to tell you about it, but first some good news: I am unstuck! I guess writing that blog post helped me break loose of the muck and get going again, because I’ve been working on the novel since the day after posting it.

And I’ve been reading, which always helps inspire me to write (and helps your brain). I recently finished Kill City Blues, the latest in the Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey, and if you’re a fan of that series, you won’t be disappointed. I thought the last couple books in the series sagged a bit, but this one has Stark back in top form. I’m definitely interested to see what happens in the next one.

Halfway through Kill City Blues, I received an advanced review edition of The Cairo Affair in the mail. It was a fantastic surprise; I’d signed up to win it in a Facebook contest staged by the publisher, but thought it had gone to someone else. Opening the padded envelope and pulling out a Steinhauer novel that’s not due out for another two months was Christmas all over again. Seriously, I was giddy.

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Writing about Reading: The Player of Games

August 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

I’m sure you’re probably tired of me raving about Iain M. Banks’ Culture series, so I’ll keep this brief. The Player of Games is not a book I expected to like, mainly because the plot revolves around a professional game player playing a game.

Of course, since this is Iain M. Banks, the story doesn’t quite fit into that too-tiny nutshell.

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