Wednesday, November 04, 2020

Reading Into the Past: 1995

I'm cheating this time. My first roll of the RNG gave me 2000, which was too close to last week's 2001 and the week before's 1999. Second roll was 2008 and third was 1995 -- I'll look at 1995 first, and if the list is too short, call a mulligan and try 2008.

Wow! 1995 was the height of my read-all-the-time years, before home Internet and children and a million other distractions. Here's what I was reading in the week leading up to October 29, 1995:

(Note that I read two books a day for the three days prior to this as well. I don't know what else I was doing in my life, but it couldn't have been much.)

(Also note that I started this post -- ran the RNG, typed in the titles, added intro & outro -- a week ago, but it sat from then until Halloween.)

Byron Preiss, John Betancourt, & Keith R.A. DeCandido, editors, The Ultimate Dragon (10/23)

This was one in a series of anthologies Preiss was doing at the time -- add a standard fantasy/horror proper noun after "Ultimate," and they probably did or, or it was on Bryon's master list to get to eventually. I believe it was a mixed original/reprint anthology -- a couple of stories by Big Famous People, plus some new stuff by people Not Yet Famous. Like a lot of packaged books, it had a vague whiff of Product, but Preiss's iBooks did a lot of solid SFF publishing, and short-fiction markets are never something to be disdained.

Matt Feazell, Ert!: Not Available Comics (10/23)

A collection of Feazell's Cynicalman comics, which are now and were then wonderful, funny things. His publishing arm is Not Available Comics, so the slogan can be "In the future, all comics will be...Not Available." Feazell is somebody who I knew would never be hugely popular, but still resented that knowledge: he's funny and his work is like no one else's, and that should be enough, right?

Walter Mosley, Black Betty (10/24)

The then-new novel in Mosley's Easy Rawlins mystery series. I haven't kept up with Mosely as well as I'd like, since he's very prolific across a number of areas. And I have a sense that he should be a more major writer than he gets credit for: he's Black and prolific and mostly writes genre fiction, which is a triple whammy. If he'd kept to one turgid book a decade he'd have a chair at Harvard and be listed in Nobel round-ups by now.

I am lousy at remembering which old mystery novel was which, but I will say the Easy Rawlins books are great, as many of them as I've read. (I'm probably several behind.) And particularly meaty for east-coast white people like me. 

Ian McDonald, Evolution's Shore (typescript, 10/24)

This is the alien-plant-invasion-in-Africa book, right? (Goes to look.) Yes, it is -- published as Chaga in the UK, and there's at least one sequel (Kirinya) that I don't think I ever read. This was a stuffed novel: there's the whole alien ecosystem spreading down from Mt. Kilimanjaro, not as invasive or hostile as something like David Gerrold's Chtorr, but still weird and alien and transformative. And a plucky female reporter shoving her way into the middle of the story to figure it out. And what I recall as reasonably well-done African politics around the Chaga and the transformations it brought. McDonald is one of those writers who seems to disappear from public consciousness between books, and then every new book reminds people "oh, yeah, he does really good stuff." 

Stephen Dobyns, Saratoga Fleshpot (bound galleys, 10/25)

A mystery novel from a poet and college professor about murders at the famous racetrack; the ninth in the series. (A lot to unpack there: dunno if I actually will.) This is a series I haven't thought about in twenty years: it was pleasant and I was happy to read them when I was reading mysteries like candy corn.

George Perry, The Life of Python (10/25)

Monty Python, not the programming language or the reptile. This was a pretty standard story-of-the-group book, I think loosely related to the documentary of the same name, and I agree with a lot of other commentators that Monty Python's story is a lot more like a rock band's than that of earlier comedy acts -- there were a bunch of them, they came together like a supergroup, and kept separating and reforming from that point. I imagine there are newer, more complete books since this one -- but, then again, anything after Graham Chapman's death is as definitive about Python as it's ever going to be, isn't it?

John Harvey, Off Minor (10/26)

Another book in a mystery series: Harvey is British, and his main character is a police detective. (Don't ask me why I seemed to exclusively read hardboiled private-eye books by Americans and police procedurals by Brits; I don't know if there ever was a reason. But the pattern is pretty clear.) Harvey is someone I periodically think about starting back up with; he's had a whole new series since I stopped reading mysteries like yardgoods, and he was always an incisive, excellent writer.

Jamie Malinowski, Lisa Birnbach, & Kurt Andersen, Loose Lips (bound galleys, 10/26)

Before I search, I'm going to guess that this is some kind of quickie frivolous book -- probably of random quotes. (Astute readers will have noticed that I'm reading two books a day during this stretch -- a mystery on the commute and something short and silly at home that night, probably to work down the giant piles that then threatened regularly to fall over and bury me.) Ah! I see it wasn't random quotes -- it was all leaked private conversations of famous people, usually saying scandalous things, and eventually turned into some kind of Off-Broadway show.

As is probably clear, I have no independent memory of it, though the cover does look vaguely familiar. 

Stuart Kaminsky, Lieberman's Thief (bound galleys, 10/27)

Yet another mystery series -- this is one I only intermittently read in the first place, so I know even less about it twenty-plus years later. Actually, let me walk that back even further -- I think I read intermittently in Kaminsky's Toby Peters series, about a PI, but only this one book about Abe Lieberman, Chicago PD detective. Kaminsky was a very prolific writer of mysteries for a bunch of decades (he died in 2009), but I only engaged with his books here and there. My memory is that they were perfectly OK, but I mostly threw them in when I wanted to read a whole bunch of mysteries in a row.

Linda Barnes, Bitter Finish (10/27)

This is interesting -- I was assuming this was part of her Carlotta Carlyle series, which I kept up with for the '90s and then lost track of. (Having children will do that to you.) But it's not: it's actually the second book in an earlier series, from the early '80s, about a PI/actor/winery owner. I have absolutely no memory of ever reading it, but "PI/actor/winery owner" sounds like the kind of thing that eventually got me drifting away from mysteries.

Peter Robinson, Past Reason Hated (10/28)

Another series mystery; Robinson is British so therefore it's a procedural. I would always bounce Harvey and Robinson off each other in my mind -- Harvey was more cerebral and individual, with books about one detective, and what he did, while Robinson's books were larger, with central characters who were important but the POV would shift among several of them, within one book or during the course of the series. Both really good at what they did, but clearly doing different things with the form.

I see from reviews that this was fairly early in this series -- I think Robinson got better as he went, as we all hope we do -- and that it's the one set at Christmas. Robinson's coppers are somewhere out in Yorkshire, if that interests anyone.

Gordon R. Dickson, The Dragon and the Djinn (typescript, 10/28)

This I obviously read for work. And I bought it, and many, many SFBC members bought it in their turn. I assume they read it; I assume they enjoyed it. This isn't the work Dickson thought would be the core of his career, but they were pleasant light fantasies, and I gather they gave him and his family a nice income for a couple of decades. I will admit I was not hugely fond of the series as a reader, but I loved how they sold and I loved how quick and zippy they were, so I could get through one easily and like it well enough in the reading.

Jeff Smith, The Complete Bone Adventures. Vol. 3 (10/29)

Before the giant omnibus, the Bone series was collected into nine much slimmer books, starting while the series was still coming out. I'm pretty sure this one was new at this point. The individual volume title -- a little searching shows me that the whole series is still available in the nine-volume version, probably because they're sold mostly to middle-graders these days -- is Eyes of the Storm. And my memory is that this is where things started getting creepy and complicated, with the Lord of the Locusts (maybe not even named yet) showing up and the rat creatures showing they could be something other than just stupid, stupid.

I'd recommend adults just grab the omnibus and read that. And I'm a bit agnostic on the color-or-B&W question; I read it in B&W as it was coming out, but the color version is nice as well. But Bone is one of the major comics achievements of the past generation, and the fact that it's also easily accessible for younger readers is only a bonus.

Dan Simmons, Endymion (10/29)

The first of the two-book follow-up to Simmon's career high diptych of Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion. As I recall, this and The Rise of Endymion were not as new and exciting as the first two books -- as of course they couldn't possibly be. I also vaguely remember thinking they were more pedestrian, moving along a single line rather than bouncing excitingly like the Hyperion books did. Still: big exciting space opera by someone who does that well, full of Neat Stuff. "Not quite as awesome as the author's very best work" is a minor quibble, and probably an unfair thing to say, especially twenty-five years later.

How did I read so much? Well, I read "for me" on my commute (an hour each direction) and, in those days, usually at lunchtime as well (about an hour). So when I was reading mysteries, like this week, I could generally knock one of those off in less than three hours. Then I would have reading time at home -- either bigger/bulkier books that didn't transport well, or manuscripts & things for work.

So, all in all, the answer is: because I was reading at least 5 hours a day, and reading quickly.

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