Monday, December 20, 2021

Reading Into the Past: Week of 12/20/99

Some weeks, I get new books, and write about them here for a Monday morning. When I don't have anything new to mention, I write about old books instead, digging into my reading notebooks to see what I was reading "this week" sometime during the stretch when I was keeping track of books read but not cataloging those books in this blog. (That's roughly 1991 to 2007.)

This week, it's Option Two, and the year I'm heading back to is 1999:

Gregory Benford, Eater (bound galleys, 12/12)

I read this for work (I was Senior Editor at the SF Book Club at the time), and I'm pretty sure I bought it for work. I feel like I've only read Benford's more straightforward books - not the wide-scale, galaxy-spanning crazy-hair stuff, just the more near-future, serious-science books. (And I wonder how that happened, since my personal inclination is very much the other way.) This one is about a wandering black hole that comes into the solar system and turns out to be intelligent, or inhabited, or something like that -- I forget the exact details twenty years later. I think there was a lot of "political leaders argue about what to do," which is the failure mode for a lot of Hard SF: that's what would happen in most Hard SF situations, but it's deadly boring to read about.

Frankly, I have more memory of the packaging of this book than the story. Avon was experimenting with what I thought of as "non-SF" look for a lot of their books: usually small-format hardcovers, design-y covers without SFnal art. It wasn't trying to look like literary fiction, which is the usual thing - it was, I think, trying to make an entirely different visual identity for a certain kind of SF. I don't think it worked, in the end, but it was really interesting to watch them try.

James Lee Burke, Heartswood (12/14)

I thought this was a Dave Robicheaux book, since I read all of them up to about this point, but I'm wrong: this is from another, loosely related series about Billy Bob Holland, a defense attorney in Texas (not a on-and-off police detective in Louisiana like Robicheaux). I remember absolutely nothing about Billy Bob, not even that I read any books about him. I do have vague memories of Dave: he was an alcoholic, and some of the books about him walked the line between delirium tremens and magic realism in a really exciting way. (I want to say In the Electric Mist With Confederate Dead is the high point there, but my memory is not reliable.)

Billy Bob's books, as far as I can see, are more conventional than Dave's; that may be why I read fewer of them, as I slowed radically down on reading mysteries. The Dave books came closer to the borders of the kinds of genres I was still reading a lot of, so they stayed in the mix longer.

Linda Barnes, Flashpoint (12/16)

The title makes me think of the DC Comics crossover (which I never read), and that doesn't help bring this book to mind. This was a mystery novel, in a series about Boston PI (and cab driver, I think) Carlotta Carlyle, and I don't remember the details of this story. It was fairly new at the time; I probably got it through work.

Fred R. Shapiro, Stumpers! (12/17)

Stumpers-L was an internet group, made up of mostly reference librarians, that answered weird and hard-to-research questions for each other. Basically, some patron would ask how much German potato salad would be needed to fill Death Valley to sea level, or what was the name of Genghis Khan's third-favorite horse's sire, or something equally random, and it would get posted to that list, and someone would be able to give an answer.

The group became a book, as all things on the Internet - especially the early Internet - turned into books. This is that book; it was published in 1998 and covered queries from the previous six years.

It's sad and amusing to look back at what the Internet was and could have been before social media and commerce colonized it for all of the worst impulses of  mankind: this was the kind of thing we thought there would be a lot more of. Sadly, more people want to have their prejudices validated and to buy junk than to learn the truth about anything.

The Stumpers-L site now gives a "could not be found" error. Of course.  

James Frenkel, ed., Technohorror (12/18)

I'm pretty sure this was a reprint anthology of SFnal horror stories (or horrifying SF stories, depending on how you want to spin it). I read a lot of random anthologies in those days, because, although we said then that anthologies didn't sell, they sold better then than they do now. (Though less well than they had a decade before, and so on back to the early days of SF.)

According to ISFDB, it has 16 stories, including "Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes," "The Veldt," "That Hell-Bound Train," and "Descending." Looking at the TOC there, it's pretty much exactly the horror SF anthology you'd create in about 1999 if you had the budget and a bend towards the classic. It's more of a '60s-'70s-'80s anthology than something really current at publication date, but it looks really solid for that era even now.

Cathy Fenner and Arnie Fenner, eds., Spectrum 6 (12/19)

I definitely can't remember which pieces of art were in this one. I eagerly grabbed each of these annuals for nearly twenty years - for a few years after I left the SFBC, since I had a vain hope for a while that I could get back into the SF field. (You can never get back. Once out, there's no way back in.) I'm sure this was an awesome book: all of them were. This was a series of the best fantastic art across a wide variety of areas: advertising art, books, movies, and so on. They might still be awesome books; I'm not sure if they're still coming out. 

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