Monday, August 29, 2022

Reading Into the Past: Week of August 29, 2002

So this blog series is silly; I know it. When I don't have new books to write about for a Monday, I instead use a random-number generator to pick a week from the span 1991-2007 (when I was at least nominally adult, kept a reading notebook, and hadn't yet started putting up blog posts about everything I read) and write up quick memories of whatever I was reading "this" week that year.

It's puckish, and usually an exercise in demonstrating just how fallible memory is. But here we go again...and I first got 2006 (middle of a Book-A-Day run! posts already existing for all books!) and then 2007 (almost as bad, a week I was reading two books a day and writing about all of them!) until finally getting 2002:

Tamora Pierce, The Woman Who Rides Like a Man (8/24)

At the SFBC, we liked to think we were ahead of the hoi polloi, but we couldn't keep track of everything and probably had as many blind spots as any other group of readers. In particular, I think we were only intermittently plugged in to YA/middle-grade publishing - we always saw the gigantic things (usually because they came into the larger, more prestigious clubs), but didn't always realize someone was doing awesome work until they started being GoHs at major cons and similar giant flashing lights alerted us to their presence.

Which brings me to Tamora Pierce, who was on a roll at this point - she'd been writing books about Tortall (mostly in four-book series) for nearly twenty years, and had recently expanded into a second fictional universe. I don't know remember exactly what triggered us to check out her books - could have been colleagues in the kids' clubs, could have been a conversation with her publisher, could have been any of a dozen things - but I read her first Tortall series that August, and we turned them into a SFBC omnibus later that year. (Only about a dozen years after the fourth book came out, but better late than never.) I went on to do two more 4-in-1s of the next couple of Tortall series, but the books after that (Beka Cooper) were in progress when I was canned, and I think the club never did them.

So this is a good series, aimed at younger readers and particularly good for girls, especially those who are maybe not as "girly" as some people in their lives want them to be. And it's, I think, still the best place to start with Pierce.

Los Bros. Hernandez, Music for Mechanics (8/24)

I don't think this was the first time I was reading Love and Rockets, but maybe I was doing a re-read from the beginning. My sense is that I discovered it in my Iron Vic years (Iron Vic's was my local comic shop while at college in Poughkeepsie, where I discovered and was reading mostly indy stuff, on the grounds that I was a college student and that was expected) and read new L&R stuff as it came out more or less from that point on, filling in the gaps before randomly.

Anyway, this is where it all began, with stories originally published started in in 1980. This edition is out of print, I think - the current set of reprints puts each brother's work separately (which makes more sense; they never told stories together, just side by side). If you wanted to start reading L&R these days, you'd pick up either Maggie the Mechanic (for the Jaime side) or Heartbreak Soup (for the Gilbert side).

Tamora Pierce, Lioness Rampant (8/25)

See above; this was the fourth book of the same series.

Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (8/27)

This is a classic of world literature; I hope you've heard of it. I re-read it just a couple of years ago (for the second time? or was the 2002 reading the second?) and so let me just send you to that link for more coherent, better informed natterings.

Robert A. Heinlein, The Door Into Summer (8/28)

A lot of people in SF have a love-hate relationship with Heinlein these days. (Well, that leaves out the ones who only hate him and the ones who don't care - probably much larger groups these days, thirty years after his death.) He was always a smooth, facile writer - the cleanest, clearest, most pleasant and readable major SF writer for decades, and massively popular because of that - but he was also the King of Hobbyhorses, and the epitome of the writer whose characters are Right Because They Agree With Him.

But, generally, his earlier and shorter books are better - the ones where editors could still keep him focused, before he became Robert! A! Heinlein! This is one of those, an early-'50s time-travel story with problematic elements you can ignore if you squint and a relative lack of infuriating old windbags. Like so much Heinlein, it's hugely readable, and, as I recall, the world-building still holds up pretty well.

You don't have to read Heinlein. (You kinda did in the '70s and '80s, if you cared about SF, but no more, unless you're studying the history of the genre.) If you want to, this is a decent choice. The mid-period juveniles are the other good place to start.

Poul Anderson, Three Hearts and Three Lions (8/29)

I find Anderson books drop out of my head with blinding speed. They're pleasant to read, and he's good at plotting and his characters have more blood and less cardboard in their DNA than most of his contemporaries, but I tend to retain only the most obvious thing. This is the one about a Danish Resistance fighter in WWII who gets whopped on the head and ends up in a fantasy world: that's pretty much all I ever retained of it.

Anderson told good stories, and did a whole bunch of major plots and ideas first in SFF, so he's worth reading for those reasons. (Also: he wrote in the era when books were short, so you can speed through a half-dozen Anderson classics in a week without a problem, if you want to.) 

In case you're wondering why I hit those last two books in a row; I was clearly reading for the first series (collecting eight 1950s novels) of the SFBC 50th Anniversary Collection, which I was editing over the next five years. Following these two books, I continued with The Space Merchants, The City and the Stars, City, More Than Human, Under Pressure, and The Stars My Destination within the next eight days. And those eight books did become the first series of that project, meaning I actually got all of my first choices - go, 2002 Andy!

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