Thursday, November 26, 2020

Reading Into the Past: 1993

I am still planning on doing these "Reading into the Past" posts, digging out pages from my old reading notebooks and seeing what (if anything) I remember about books I read ten to thirty years ago. They may not go up on any clear schedule, since I'd prefer to write about books I just read (when I have just read a book), but there might be one most weeks for a while.

Or I could disappear for weeks at an end again: who knows!

This week, though, I'm burying this on what is traditionally one of the very lowest-traffic Internet days of the American year. And I'm looking pretty far back, to 1993, since that's what the RNG gave me. Here's what I was reading this week twenty-seven years ago:

I seem to be randomly hitting these weeks-of-mystery-book-reading consistently this time around with "Reading Into the Past," for whatever mysterious reason. I think I did read a lot of mysteries during the '90s, probably hitting a cluster like this at least quarterly, but it wasn't as common as it might seem. (Or maybe it was, and I'm forgetting? Maybe I really did read more than a hundred mysteries every year, and that's one reason I was able to read so much?)

Anyway, I read all of the first burst of Easy Rawlins books, and they were all marvelous. Like so many mystery series, remembering the details of which one was which is difficult, so I won't give more details here. But Devil was the very first Easy book, and I see I got to it three years late -- I was generally looking for mystery series with several books at the time, things I could continue with if I liked the first one.

What I remember most about this was that the entire SFBC office -- Ellen Asher, Moshe Feder, and I -- all agreed unanimously that the title of this book should be I, Asimov (with a comma, not a period) and kept bugging Doubleday about that (mostly Ellen, I think) almost up to publication. We did not prevail, obviously, but I still think we were right.

This was the third and last of Asimov's memoirs, published after his death. I still haven't managed to read the first two books, from the '70s -- In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt -- and probably never will at this point. So this one was mostly "here's what my life was like once I was relatively rich and famous and settled, and spent all of my time in my apartment writing books." It was not particularly exciting, but Asimov had a great writing voice, and that voice was always better-suited to non-fiction than stories anyway.

This is the seventh of the Garrett books, about a hardboiled PI in a fantasy world. I eventually became a fan of Cook's "Black Company" books (very dark fantasy, basically about a mercenary company after their boss Dark Lorded over the world), and clearly I was reading a lot of hardboiled mysteries, so maybe this seemed like it would be right up my street.

Although, looking at the publication timeline, I started working at the SFBC during the Black Company hiatus between Books of the South and Glittering Stone -- I've still never gone back to read the original trilogy and Books of the South -- so I probably didn't read a Black Company book until Bleak Seasons in '96.

Anyway: this looked like my kind of thing, and my memory is that the SFBC had done two 3-in-1s of the prior books (though Wikipedia claims that was later). I didn't like this series as much as I did the Black Company: it's more than a little jokey, and I don't recall Cook taking his setting all that seriously -- it's kind of a generic D&D fantasy world from the '80s. In those days, I was passionate about what PIs and fantasy world-building should be, and Garrett didn't really match. Still good books; still a lot of fun -- but Young Andy could not bring himself to entirely approve.

The ninth of an eventual eleven books -- Valin is not yet dead, but the last one was in 1995 -- about a PI named Harry Stoner in Chicago. I came to it only a couple of years after publication, so this was a series I was catching up with. I remember the "Chicago" thing, and that it was pretty dour -- my sense is that Valin was aiming for Ross MacDonald-style family stories, and at least got the misery and complication and craziness part down. Other than that, the Big River Bookstore tells me it's the one where Stoner drives to Cincinnati one snowy winter to investigate the disappearance of a rich guy's teen daughter. (I suspect there are a lot of mysteries about "the disappearance of a rich guy's teen daughter," and that most of them have not aged well.)

I'd never read Peake before -- and I don't think I've read the Gormenghast books since, either -- but I got through them in the fall of 1993. I finished Titus Groan on October 20, Gormenghast on November 13, and then this third, short one on the 24th. To emphasize just how damn much I was reading then, I got through fourteen other books between Groan and Gormenghast and then sixteen more before Alone -- including novels for SFBC like Diamond Mask (Julian May), Green Mars, Mirror Dance, and Larque on the Wing (Nancy Springer).

This, as we all know, is the third and least of those books, written while Peake was more-or-less dying. It doesn't match the first two, which are already pretty weird -- almost Victorian in their slowness and majesty, chilly and distant on purpose -- but, if you're reading the trilogy, you want to get to the end.

I'd like to think I'll read the Gormenghast books again someday, but I'd probably need to get to a point in my life where I'm reading at that speed again. And I really don't see how that would happen, absent the kind of injury that leaves me stuck in a bed for months on end. (Note: I am not looking for such an injury.)

The second of Brust's Dumas-inspired spin-offs from the Vlad Taltos books, which is one of the most marvelously puckish and ridiculous projects in all of SFF: Brust wrote five novel-length books, roughly following the Three Musketeers trilogy (yes, there are three books, and the third one is absolutely elephantine, basically a trilogy in itself), written in a self-consciously ornate style mimicking a 19th century translation of Dumas he loved as a child.

Yes: exactly. These books are not easy to read, but they are tremendously fun, and Brust has a wonderfully unreliable narrator telling us all manner of swordplay and derring-do, set only a century or so before the main Vlad sequence, and giving us a (albeit deeply unreliable) different view of that world, from the viewpoint of its masters. This is a series of books I do intend to re-read some day; I think I've gotten all of them again, after my flood, and someday it will happen.

Thanksgiving was the 25th that year, and I finished up three books that Sunday as well -- two comics (Mark Martin's oversized 20 Nude Dancers 20 Year One Posterbook and Daredevil: Love and War by Miller and Sienkiewicz) and the fantasy novel Witch and Wombat by Carolyn F. Cushman.

I blame the Internet: before doomscrolling, I just read books instead.

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