Tuesday, August 12, 2008

My WorldCon Reading List

I was trying to think of how to summarize my WorldCon experience, and going through my notes, when I was struck by all the titles I have written down. When you're talking to a bunch of really smart book people, one tends to come away with a massive to-read list, and this Con was no different. In the absence of any particularly brilliant wrap-up piece, I thought I'd share with you the titles that various people shared with me.

(Picture: Traci Castleberry, Oz Whiston, Amelia Beamer, Farah Mendlesohn, Gary Wolfe, Curtis & myself at P. F. Chang's)

Star Rover by Jack London. Gary Wolfe recommended that I find this one when I told him that I'd recently read Before Adam by the same author. While Adam can be considered SF, it's really part of an older sub-genre, "Prehistoric fiction." One can see examples of it in collections like Adventures in Time and Space (1946), but you don't see it terribly often. Robert J. Sawyer's Hominids series may be a modern re-invention of the sub-genre. Gary mentioned that it was quite huge in France back in the day, and that there may be a new academic study on Prehistoric fiction, The Fire in the Stone: Prehistoric Fiction From Charles Darwin to Jean M. Auel, by Nicholas Ruddick coming out next fall. Star Rover is London doing straight SF, which should make for an interesting contrast.

The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter. I was talking with Cheryl Morgan about how much I loved the Tiptree Award-winning short story "Congenital Agenesis of Gender Ideation by K. N. Sirsi and Sandra Botkin" by Raphael Carter. That story is cast in the form of a scientific paper about the neurological basis of gender classification, and was on Wendy Pearson's reading list for the SF Masterclass. It was simply amazing, probably one of the best things I read for that class. Cheryl mentioned that the same author had written a book, and a couple days later presented me with an ARC of it as a gift. Thanks Cheryl! I'm looking forward to it.

The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford. At the "Bleeding Heart Liberals and Military SF Panel" (Elizabeth Moon moderating Joe Haldeman, John Hemry and John Scalzi), they briefly digressed into books that they use to research military history and tactics. Both Moon and Haldeman highly recommended this book, which is enough for me. They also mentioned that a commencement speech that J. K. Rowling gave this year is particularly insightful about storytelling, so that may be worth looking up as well.

"Toxic Donut" by Terry Bisson. Charles Brown did a Kaffeeklatsch this year. It’s a peculiar but very enjoyable WorldCon institution in which one expert sits down with 9 admirers for a quiet hour-plus long discussion. However this one included 6 "experts" and only 4 admirers. During the discussion, Graham Sleight mentioned this Bisson short story as packing an intense and funny examination of an idea into roughly 2000 words. I often enjoy Bisson's work, and I need to look up "Bears Discover Fire" anyway, so I'm hoping to find this one as well.

"I Hold My Father's Paws" by David D. Levine in either the 20th or 21st Dozois anthology. At dinner, speaking of LBGT themes in fiction, Farah Mendlesohn mentioned this story as a particularly good metaphorical examination of the transgender experience. In this story apparently the narrator's father happily transforms into a dog, and it examines how the man deals with that. Again, Levine is an author I enjoy, so I'll try and find it. Farah also mentioned a story called "Quantum Prophecy" by Michael Carroll, but I've completely forgotten the context—all it says in my notes is “(YA, SF).” I'll blame the good Gewurztraminer wine at P. F. Chang's.

Perfect Circle by Sean Stewart. Gary Wolfe claims that this is the best fantasy written about Houston, where I now live. I think he's on a campaign to get me to read all of Sean Stewart's work; previously he told me to read Galveston, saying that it had the best description of a hurricane in all of fantasy literature. The hurricane was pretty good, but the integration of plot with character development was even better, so I'm looking forward to reading this one.

The Real Inspector Hound, a play by Tom Stoppard. At the book reviewing panel, Graham Sleight mentioned this play that Stoppard wrote about theatre critics. It sounds hilarious (probably helped by Graham's ability to come up with short, pithy summaries of these things), and does remind one that no matter what we write as critics, the authors always get the last word.

Benchmarks by Algis Budrys. As I was running around getting critical collections by Damon Knight, James Blish/William Atheling and Paul Kincaid, Gary Wolfe reminded me to pick up this collection of Budrys' criticism. Of course, none of the dealers had it, but I've now ordered it from [link] ABEBooks, along with New Maps of Hell by Kingsley Amis, which had been on my list for a while.

At lunch, talking about something Gary Wolfe mentioned at the Masterclass, Graham Sleight recommended I read (what I remember hearing as) Aristotle's Aesthetics. Now I'm thinking that I either misheard (I didn't get a chance to write that one down), or that it's a subset of Aristotle's Metaphysics, since I can't find that title. Perhaps I have the author wrong? If Graham happens to stop by, hopefully he can correct me. (Ed: Aha! Aristotles Poetics. That makes much more sense.)

Graphs, Maps and Trees by Franco Moretti. At the "Popularity vs. Critical Acclaim" panel (about which more in another post), James Morrow Farah Mendlesohn recommended this book/story as something that literally diagrams the evolution of the mystery genre. Sounds fascinating.

And of course, at the "20 Essential SF Books of the Last 20 Years" panel, my fellow panelists came up with tons of stuff that I haven't read yet. Cheryl Morgan should be putting up the combined lists on her website soon, after which I'll be adding titles to my To Read list, and maybe doing some data mining with it.

Given that I was writing down things people were telling me, I'm sure some of the titles and authors are misspelled/incorrect. If anyone knows the corrections, please help me out in the comments. Still, this list is actually a pretty good summary of my WorldCon experience: interesting conversations with really smart people over dinner, drinks, panels, and in hallways. Considering that I went to four WorldCons without really getting to know anyone, this was my Best WorldCon EVAR—but I suspect they'll just keep getting better from here. I'm already looking forward to Montreal.


Farah said...

The Moretti was my recommendation. Quantum Prophecy is a good YA novel about kids discovering that they have super powers.

Anonymous said...

It was Aristotle's _Poetics_, and the Bisson (at least in one form) is at http://www.sff.net/people/tbisson/donutplay.html

Karen Burnham said...

Thanks guys! Memory does fail, especially when un-aided by notes. As you can see I write down some things, but I think that makes me more likely for forget the things that don't get written down.

I've updated the post with links & corrections.

Anonymous said...

I really must get hold of copies of the Budrys and Carter books -- both have been on my to-read for too long!

Anonymous said...

Karen, Tom Stoppard is absolutely wonderful, and I'd recommend that you also add his "Arcadia" to your list. It's one on my favorite plays of all time.

And you couldn't go wrong reading *all* of Sean Stewart's novels, if you ask me. I've been "saving" GALVESTON for a rainy day; MOCKINGBIRD is what got me started, and it's a gem.

Karen Burnham said...

Terry - Thanks for the recommendation. Previously I'd only known Stoppard from "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern" so I'm looking forward to getting a better feel for his range. And I'm glad to hear that the other Sean Stewart books are as good as "Galveston," that bodes really well for Stewart being another author that I really enjoy. Did you see Darryl Gregory's plea to Stewart to eschew lucrative game design work and write more awesome books? Can't blame a guy for asking.

Gary Wolfe said...

Karen, it wasn't a collection of prehistoric fiction, but a new academic study, THE FIRE IN THE STONE: PREHISTORIC FICTION FROM CHARLES DARWIN TO JEAN M. AUEL, by Nicholas Ruddick, which I believe will be published by Wesleyan in the next year or so.

Karen Burnham said...

Thanks Gary! I've edited the post with the correct title. My game of static-y telephone continues, I see. It's amazing what one mishears.

I should probably walk around these things with either my notepad out ALL the time or a voice recorder permanently on, but that would be too geeky even for a WorldCon.

Unknown said...

OK, I know I'm a random internet stranger (here via someone else's WorldCon report) and I can't expect anyone to care about my opinion of your blog post... but are you seriously recommending "I Hold My Father's Paws" as a good "metaphorical examination of the transgender experience"?

In this metaphor, a trans person is literally dehumanized by his transition. In this metaphor, becoming a woman means becoming a servile, speechless pet, being "pampered for the rest of [your] life", not ever making "any [...] deicisons" for yourself.

More like a good examination of transphobic attitudes-- and maybe misogynist, too?

The story managed to portray trans activites as not just gross but also decadent and self-involved, and also kind of boring. We are literally assured that the only reason not to ask strangers about their transition is not that it's rude-- no, it's "just that some of them will talk your ear off, given the slightest show of interest".

This story literally made me feel sick as I read it. I can't believe you recommended it as a story that in any way was trans-positive or queer-friendly. Again, I'm an self-righteous internet stranger, what do you care about my opinion? But I kinda hope this comment serves as a wake-up call-- I think both you and the story's author have a lot of examination to do.

Karen Burnham said...

Lauren - Thanks for your comment!

I'm afraid you misread my post - these are all things that I *haven't* read; they are things other people recommended that I read, and what I understood them to say about the works. So my description of the story (which I still haven't read) came from Farah.

Since I posted this list, I've heard from more than one person about how very much they disliked this story in the context of the transgender experience. Given all this background, I expect to give it a lot of thought when I do get around to reading it.

Unknown said...

I see-- thanks for the correction. I did notice that comment in your post, but assumed that since you linked to the stories you had passed your eyes over them. Perhaps a stronger disclaimer is in order?

I'm sorry, I've never been this bossy on the internet in my life. I was just so taken aback to read a story so offensive when it had been introduced in a queer-friendly context.

Karen Burnham said...

Lauren - If you're interested, you can read an essay of mine that directly tackles gender, feminism, queer & trans issues in my review of "Queer Theory, Gender Theory" by Riki Wilchins.

tcastleb said...

This is a bit late . . . anyway, glad to see the pic of us up, it turned out good!

And David's story is right here, if you haven't found it already: http://www.infinityplus.co.uk/stories/paws.htm I went to his kaffeklatsch at Worldcon and asked about the story because Farah recommended it. He said he was trying to capture the reason trans folks went through what they did. It *is* a metaphor, but one he meant with the utmost respect because he has trans friends.

I was actually quite moved by it, but maybe it's because I knew the background of it first.


Karen Burnham said...

Traci- Thanks for stopping by! I'm glad you like the picture; I thought it came out well.

David's story is officially the most controversial thing on this website, and I didn't even write it! (So far the most controversial thing I've written is a review of Carhullan's Army, but that's over at SFSignal.com.) "My Father's Paws" seems to elicit strong opinions, which is probably a good sign.