87 & 88: The Book of the New Sun and the “review” that may get me burned at the stake!

#87: The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe


#88: The Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn

If reading is an amazing jet-craft of the imagination, allowing us to soar to new heights… then i’ve pulled the ejection lever on both of these series.

Let’s start with the nerd-blasphemy first: my inability to engage with The Thrawn Trilogy. i’m VERY well aware that so many Star Wars devotees sing it’s praises. This series is allegedly “The sequels we SHOULD have gotten”, but i’m glad we didn’t! My struggles with the series probably arise from my general distaste for fan-fictions, which the series feels so very much like. The writing seemed capably done, the story-line was moderate (as far as i got), and it is so very well received in general that i fully own it’s not you Thrawn Trilogy… it’s me! i’ll take my Star Wars on the big screen.


Then it’s The Book of New Sun, a series that Neil Gaiman has said very complementary things about. It is VERY skillfully written, the prose is absolutely beautiful throughout. The story-line sounds very engaging as well. So why is it that i constantly find myself in drone-mode reading pages without ever actually reading them? i’ll just be reading along and suddenly find myself completely lost narratively. One second we’re in the room of an inn with strangers and the next we’re crashing a cart into some sort of ruins! “Where is that large automobile, This is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife!!!” (shout out to the Talking Heads). i think, we just jumped to this spot but upon flipping back i find that it was all there, i just slipped into a trance and missed it all. This is not a problem i typically have with books.


In summary: Life is short. Life is uncertain. You shouldn’t waste life on bad food (unless it’s so bad it comes back around the horizon of badness and becomes good again, like a deep-fried Twinkie), bad beer, or frenemies! Also, know when to hold em, fold em, and when to walk away. i felt like it was my time to walk away from both of these series.


Book Club of One Grade: (inconclusive on both) i don’t want to grade something i haven’t fully engaged with. Give em a go for yourself (i hear the Thrawn Trilogy is amazing haha).

#99: The Xanth Series – Piers Anthony

Xanth Novels!

Disclosure: i’ve read the first three books in the series. In a series that currently sits at 41 books (with two more waiting in the wings for release) i felt like reading the whole series would be an undertaking in itself. An undertaking on par with the NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy books (the herculean task the Book Club of One is currently doing!).

Here’s what i think you should know about the Xanth books:

  1. There’s going to be more puns than a dad-joke competition. i LOVE a pun so i was the proverbial pig in slop! Some folks get weary of puns after a while, those folks are to be avoided… and if you’re one of those folks it may be best to avoid Xanth.
  2. Xanth books are overall FUN. They’re light and goofy and tons of fun. Don’t think you’re picking up high fantasy or you’re going to be disappointed.
  3. They are about the pay-off at the end. Every one i’ve read has a sweet (and worthy) pay-off in it’s final pages. (the second one, “The Source of Magic” has a very cool pay-off indeed!)


If you’re looking for something to pick you up and have a hankering for wacky fantasy then Jump into the expansive pool that Piers Anthony has created and swim around in his world of Xanth.


Book Club of One Grade: Solid B! The books are light and fun and tend to be a pretty quick read. Brace yourself for word-play and embrace the wonder of Xanth!

#98: Perdido Street Station – China Mieville


Perdido Street Station is quite the Tome!

The Good:

Mieville builds a rich world filled with amazing sights and peoples. New Crobuzon, the city in which the action takes place, is so very well developed! Bustling with a kaledescope characters,  districts, artifacts new and old, and what feels like a deep history that undergirds the setting.

Mieville also throws in quite a collection of races, beyond just the human characters there are:

  • Garuda: Basically Bird folk
  • Khepri: Insect people, the females are sentient, but the males are smaller and seem to exist only for mating.
  • Wyrmen: Gargoyle-esque knuckle-heads
  • Vodyanoi: Frog-like folk who have a really cool innate “watercraeft” that allows them to temporarily stabilize the structure of water. Made for a very cool dock-worker strike in the book.
  • Cactacae: basically cactus people… i wanted to like them more but they never really seemed as neat as the other races.
  • Also of note: The Remade (mostly victims of the criminal justice system, their bodies are “enhanced” with freakish modifications like pincer hands, or their heads turned around, etc etc.); the Construct Council (a group of mentally linked sentient machines); the Slake Moths (the baddies of the story); and everyone’s favorite The Weaver (an inter-dimensional shifting giant spider beast who talks like a beatnick poet spewing a never-ending stream-of-conciousness performance)

Every race seems to have it’s own unique world view and sub-cultures that paint how the communicate with and move through the world.

The Meh…

Honestly the story-line wasn’t the most compelling. For a world as complex as this one i kept expecting the story to come together. Instead of feeling like a piece of story-craft it instead felt like a window into something happening in a different universe. Here’s what i mean by that: Stories have conflict and conclusions, there are story arcs, things often resolve somewhere along the way and you reach the end realizing that you’ve reached The End. The story line in Perdido Street did almost none of those things. It was a mass of tangled threads all thrown into this beautiful world-building basket together. Some things were left hanging that left me thirsting for some completion, things happened that hinted at deeper workings that we never get to see, the book ended and it didn’t feel like a “The End”…

The more i think about it the more i start to like what Mieville did with that… The story feels more like “Real-life” (IF real life had nightmare moth-men, crazy giant spider things, cactus people, and insects that sort of poop out art…) than many sci-fi/fantasy stories.

A few real plusses for me were: The “resolution” of Yagharek’s (a disgraced Garuda who has been de-winged as a punishment) and Isaac’s (the main protagonist) storyline/relationship was very interesting and well-done. Another high-point for me was the evolution and complexity of Isaac and Lin’s relationship through the story.

I’d give Perdido Street Station a C as a book (admittedly though it gets better the longer i chew on what i read. If it was shorter it would be a B-) , but an A+ as a setting. Reading the book really felt like reading the campaign notes from an amazing tabletop RPG. In fact if anyone ever turns Mieville’s world into an RPG setting, sign me up!

The setting is so rich and deep that although i wasn’t blown away by the story-line i do hope to one day read the other two novels in this series: The Scar, and Iron Council. They’re set in the same world (Bas-Lag) as Perdido Street Station and i’m interested to see what other great sights await us in Mieville’s universe!

NPR’s Top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books, a personal project

Things i enjoy include: good books, good book clubs, nerdiness! Those three things combine into one mighty personal project!!!

To Read ALL the Things on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Book list!!!!!

I’ve been a part of a book club for a while now, i recommend a good book club (focus on the GOOD book club part of that) if you’ve never been a part of one give it a whirl. Book Club pushed me to read so many books i’d never have given a chance on my own, and i was blown away by the experience. Due mostly to the chaotic and hectic nature of this thing we call life: that book club may be on an extended hiatus. So, i, in an effort to push myself to read more started: Book Club of One! (Discussion in my book club can get really heated, which garners some real looks when Book Club of One is held anywhere public!) NPR’s list of Sci-Fi books has become my source list for this project: to push me to read books i may not otherwise pick-up but that are still well within my personal wheel house.

Many of the books on the list i’ve already read. Some will be re-reads because it has been literal decades since i read them last. I’m a quite a few books deep into the project and it’s been quite fulfilling so far! i’ll be posting reviews here on a fairly regular basis from here out so keep your eyes peeled to see what a middle-aged fellow thinks about books that have been deemed worthy by a troop of reviewers and voters.

If you want to check out the list for yourself click here, it’s very good and hopefully it may steer you to read something new for yourself: NPR’s article and link on their top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books


If you want to see the most up-to date data on my progress you can click here, this is a current doc of my journey through the books with a color code of recommendation (Green = Read it, Yellow = Read it if you have time, Red = pass on it); there are also brief notes on my overall thoughts on the books here as well:  My Progress on NPR’s top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy Books 

(a link to my list is also on the side-bar of my blog page)