Most people who know me are probably aware that I am very pro-cyborgs. (I even wrote a four-page comic featuring my terrible art and a woman made into a cyborg for my Comics & Graphic Novels class.) The idea fascinates me and given half a chance I’d probably volunteer myself to get wired up. So this book caught my interest immediately, though how exactly Amazon knew to promote it at me, I’m not sure I want to know.
It was published in 2004, so in terms of the technology, it’s a little behind. It talks, for example, about the clunkiness of then-current e-reading technology. I read it on my little Kobo with its e-ink screen — you know, the little device that I actually bought for £24. But in terms of concerns about technology, we haven’t moved much past it. Some of them I was less convinced by (alienation, disembodiment), while others remain a concern, like the “digital divide”.
The main thrust of the book, however, is the theory that we’re already cyborgs, in a sense. Human beings are tool users; we’re not the only ones, but we’re the most sophisticated ones we know of. We’ve had a form of external memory for thousands of years — writing. Though most of us can’t hold numbers in our heads for complicated equations, given a piece of paper, we can work through it and produce the answer. (Given a piece of paper and appropriate time, even I can calculate the heritability of a certain gene in the population, for example, and yet I struggle with remembering how to calculate percentages.) And now, there’s the internet, information at our fingertips. When you grow up with these things, you learn to use them as semi-consciously as you do your own hands: I don’t consciously calculate where the keys are as I’m typing this any more than I consciously calculate how far to lift my hand to turn a door handle.
This aspect of the book hasn’t dated badly. I found it interesting and convincing, and while I don’t share all the author’s ideas about where the links between biology and technology are going, I do agree that the lines are blurring. Perhaps one day we’ll be indistinguishable — after all, our mitochondria began as separate to the cells that were our ancestors.
So a while back my mother made a bargain with me: £5 for every so many books I managed to finish from my to read list. Well, I never finished that list, but now it’s back! And we have renegotiated so that I get £5 for every ten books I finish. This seems fair. Wish me luck! And here’s the list.
(I’ll even come back and update it with strikethroughs, this time.)
Bold denotes that I’ve already started it, underline that it’s an ARC.
Sarah Addison Allen, Garden Spells. Rosie Best, Skulk. Lauren Beukes, Zoo City. Katherine Beutner, Alcestis.
Alan Bradley, Speaking from Among the Bones. Alan Bradley, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches. Gillian Bradshaw, Render Unto Caesar. Wesley Chu, Deaths of Tao. Cassandra Rose Clarke, The Assassin’s Curse. Anna Cowan, Untamed.
Jeffery Deaver, The Empty Chair.
Diane Duane, The Door into Shadow.
Diane Duane, The Door into Sunset.
Steven Erikson, Deadhouse Gates.
Steven Erikson, Memories of Ice. Ian C. Esslemont, Night of Knives. David Gemmell, Ironhand’s Daughter.
David Gemmell, The Hawk Eternal. Nalo Hopkinson, Midnight Robber. Jason M. Hough, The Darwin Elevator. Jason M. Hough, The Exodus Towers. Jason M. Hough, The Plague Force.
Matthew Hughes, Costume Not Included. Matthew Hughes, Hell to Pay. Guy Gavriel Kay, A Song for Arbonne. Nicola Griffith, Hild. Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings. Bruce Holsinger, A Burnable Book.
Margo Lanagan, Tender Morsels. Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice. Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Death. Fritz Leiber, Swords in the Mist. Fritz Leiber, Swords Against Wizardry. Stephen Leigh, Dance of the Hag. Stephen Leigh, A Quiet of Stone. Karen Lord, The Best of All Possible Worlds. Scott Lynch, Republic of Thieves. James A. Moore, Seven Forges. Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop. Rachel Neumeier, Black Dog. Thomas Penn, The Winter King. James Renner, The Man from Primrose Lane. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris. C.J. Sansom, Heartstone. Julianna Scott, The Holders. Julianna Scott, The Seers. Melissa Scott, Shadow Man.
Michael J. Sullivan, Avempartha. Michael Swanwick, Dancing With Bears.
David Weber, The Honor of the Queen.
David Weber, The Short Victorious War.
David Weber, Field of Dishonor.
David Weber, Flag in Exile.
David Weber, Honor Among Enemies.
David Weber, In Enemy Hands. Helene Wecker, The Golem and the Djinni.
Chuck Wendig, Mockingbird. Chuck Wendig, Cormorant. Tad Williams, The Dirty Streets of Heaven. Chris Wooding, Retribution Falls.
I’ve been a supporter/fan of Angry Robot and their sister companies, Strange Chemistry and Exhibit A, since… well, early on, really. So I’m glad that the second author I get to host here on this blog is Strange Chemistry’s Rachel Neumeier, promoting her new book, Black Dog. I haven’t finished reading it yet, but my review will be coming up soon: for now I’ll just say I’m intrigued by the Mexican-American heroes and heroine, and I think Neumeier is doing something fascinating and new here.
Anyway, I came up with a whole list of topics Rachel Neumeier might like to post about. I’ll let her introduce herself now!
“Thank you, Nikki, for inviting me to post at The Bibliophibian – it’s a pleasure to be here!
I liked the idea of picking out a Top Ten list of werewolves, but quickly discovered that ten was beyond me . . . I simply haven’t read enough UF or paranormal to manage a top ten list, yet. I know that’s kind of shocking. I haven’t read anything by Eileen Wilks yet – though I want to, and have her first book on my Kindle. I haven’t read Nalini Singh. I’ve heard great things about NIGHTSHIFTED by Cassie Alexander, but I just haven’t found the time, yet.
I will say, any werewolf story that is more horror than fantasy isn’t likely to make my Top Ten list. I like the modern shapeshifters of urban fantasy and paranormal much better than the old-fashioned horrific werewolves.
Let me start with werewolves and then move on to other shapeshifters – including at least two that I bet have never before appeared on “best shapeshifter” lists, though they totally qualify.
Okay, I discovered my all-time favorite werewolves in MOON CALLED by Patricia Briggs. And my favorite little coyote, too, of course. I totally fell in love with Bran Cornick not to mention Samuel and Charles. And Adam, of course. Scarily competent always works for me.
It’s hard to overstate how important the Mercy Thompson series was to me – without this series, it’s very unlikely I would ever have written BLACK DOG. I would have stuck to straight secondary fantasy and maybe branched out into SF, but UF or paranormal? Very unlikely.
Is it cheating to pick two books in the same series? But it’s my favorite series, so I think I will go with it. IRON KISSED, the third Mercy Thompson book, is a really powerful story and made me really love Ben as a character.
Even though I haven’t even begun to read All The Things, I think the best wolves in UF/Paranormal are probably found in BITTEN, by Kelly Armstrong. I don’t mind when werewolves don’t act a bit like real wolves no matter what form they’re in – but I am not so keen on werewolves that are supposed to act like real wolves, but don’t. I really love the way the werewolves in Armstrong’s series act so much like real wolves when they are in wolf form. Armstrong does by far the best job of capturing the playfulness and joie de verve of wolves.
The very first werewolf book I ever read was BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE by Annette Curtis Klause. This story hits all the werewolf tropes – and it does it very well, too. It’s easy to get pulled along by the new, shiny titles as they hit the shelves, and of course we all have ever-expanding TBR piles – but this one is well worth looking up.
I’ve read other werewolf stories, of course, but none that would make a Top Ten list. Instead, I’m going to expand the parameters to other kinds of shapeshifters and see if I can fill out the rest of a Top Ten list that way.
And that leads me to an obvious choice, because, hey, Ilona Andrews! For me, the Kate Daniels series did not hit its stride until the third book, MAGIC STRIKES. Everyone insisted I should keep going, and I’m glad I did, because with the third book, everything pulled together and the series stepped up from “okay” to “can’t miss.” Now Ilona Andrews is an auto-buy author (s) for me. Because, Kate! And Curren! And their amazing chemistry. Everyone needs to read this whole series just so they can appreciate the “Oh, sorry, we broke your rock,” line in MAGIC RISES. There are probably other werelions out there, but I bet no one else does it as well as Ilona Andrews. And, of course, there are also some fine werewolves in this series as well.
Another story which has werewolves, but I love the cat better, is DEFINITELY DEAD by Charlaine Harris. Quinn! I can’t even imagine. What an amazing creature a weretiger must be. I was sorry it didn’t work out between him and Sookie.
There are no werewolves at all in WAR FOR THE OAKS by Emma Bull, but every single person who loves UF should give this one, published in 2004, a try. Because the Pooka is amazing. And, hey, a Pooka who turns into a big, shaggy, black dog is sort of werewolf-like, right?
While we’re on the subject of black dogs, the ones in Deb Coates’ DEEP DOWN are not shapeshifters, so they don’t count. Yet this is an UF . . . well, a rural fantasy . . . that readers who love the genre might not want to miss. The black dogs in this one are not a bit like mine, being instead the classical harbingers of death. If you’re the sort of person who can see ghosts, you may find these black dogs following you around and chatting with you, which may be a bit disconcerting.
Returning to shapeshifters, but departing from anything even vague dog-like, one of my favorite shapeshifters in fantasy is found in THE GREY HORSE by RA MacAvoy. You will surely have no trouble guessing what kind of shapeshifter we find in this story, a beautiful, quiet fantasy first published back in 1987, set in Ireland. I’m delighted to see that this one is now available on Kindle, though I have to say, I definitely preferred the original cover.
And, while we’re on the subject of shapeshifter stories that also make the horse lovers among us happy, DUN LADY’S JESS by Doranna Durgin approaches the concept of shapechanging from the other direction: a horse that is turned into a woman. This story is actually a portal fantasy, clever and beautifully written, and anyone who ever went through a horse-crazy period (or is still horse-crazy now) should definitely look it up.
And that’s ten! Werewolves, werelions and weretigers, pookas and black dogs, and a couple of wonderful horses: a shapeshifter menagerie. At the moment, I don’t plan to ever write shapeshifter stories set in any world other than that of BLACK DOG – but who can say?
Thanks to Rachel Neumeier for stopping by on her blog tour. Don’t forget to check out her site, and if you’re interested in Black Dog but haven’t got your hands on it yet, I’m doing a giveaway! Just use the Rafflecopter linked below to enter, and I’ll contact you if you’re the lucky one!
Natividad is Pure, one of the rare girls born able to wield magic. Pure magic can protect humans against the supernatural evils they only half-acknowledge – the blood kin or the black dogs. In rare cases – like for Natividad’s father and older brother – Pure magic can help black dogs find the strength to control their dark powers.
But before Natividad’s mother can finish teaching her magic their enemies find them. Their entire village in the remote hills of Mexico is slaughtered by black dogs. Their parents die protecting them. Natividad and her brothers must flee across a strange country to the only possible shelter: the infamous black dogs of Dimilioc, who have sworn to protect the Pure.
In the snowy forests of Vermont they are discovered by Ezekiel Korte, despite his youth the strongest black dog at Dimilioc and the appointed pack executioner. Intrigued by Natividad he takes them to Dimilioc instead of killing them.
Now they must pass the tests of the Dimilioc Master. Alejandro must prove he can learn loyalty and control even without his sister’s Pure magic. Natividad’s twin Miguel must prove that an ordinary human can be more than a burden to be protected. And even at Dimilioc a Pure girl like Natividad cannot remain unclaimed to cause fighting and distraction. If she is to stay she must choose a black dog mate.
But, first, they must all survive the looming battle.
What did you recently finish reading? Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, by Simon Baker, which was okay but not wondrous. And before that, Jo Walton’s What Makes This Book So Great, which is wondrous and a joy to read — it distracted me from work, a lot (or made work easier to handle).
What are you currently reading? Slow Fall to Dawn, by Stephen Leigh. It’s one of the books I found in Belgium that I’d never heard of before. Apparently it’s from the 80s, but it doesn’t seem too dated, probably because the author sensibly decided to set it after a civilisation crash (and rebuild). I’m enjoying it: at times, the writing seems a little clunky (like introducing a tiny detail and then two pages later, in the next chapter, bashing you over the head with the This Is Plot Relevant mallet).
Aaand Black Dog, by Rachel Neumeier. I’m taking my time with it, really. I’m quite enjoying that it doesn’t feel like YA, aside from in having adolescent protagonists — the characters aren’t instantly falling in love, they’re wary around each other, things aren’t easy, sibling bonds are more important than most other things… Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour swings by my blog tomorrow, so look out for that if you’re interested. There’s a giveaway as well.
What do you think you’ll read next? Well, so far this year I’ve followed a fairly steady pattern of working on books I’ve already got started while reading one new, recently bought book that I obviously thought was shiny, while it’s fresh in my mind. So after Slow Fall to Dawn, I’ll probably read the two sequels, and after that… I might get round to Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen.
As for finishing books I’ve already got started, I think Katharine Beutner’s Alcestis and Gillian Bradshaw’s Render Unto Caesar are my next targets.
And I’d like to note that I haven’t bought any books since the Jo Walton, yet. I’m expecting an ARC and I won a LibraryThing giveaway, but I’ve been restrained.
Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire, Simon Baker
Simon Baker’s Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire is a good introduction to Roman history, covering various key points in the history of Rome. Probably not the same key points that someone else would choose, but he makes a decent case for the importance of each stop on the tour. Some people’s reviews say that if you have the most basic grasp of Roman history, this is too simple: I wouldn’t say so. I have a GCSE and an A Level in classical studies, but the effect was a very similar kind of ‘tour’ of Roman history that just picked out different stopping points. So there were some things I didn’t know much about at all.
One thing that is a little disappointing is the transitions between each chapters. It isn’t really made clear how the transitions between the different time periods were made — it goes straight from Constantine, for example, to the attacks on Rome by Alaric, without covering the intervening time at all. Even a little timeline at the start of each chapter would’ve helped.
Still, Simon Baker’s prose is pretty readable and accessible. If you’re not especially interested in the topic, I still wouldn’t recommend this, as despite the six turning points it uses, it’s still a 400 page volume. A Very Brief Introduction it ain’t.
All in all, for me it was okay, but I’ll be donating my copy to the local library rather than keeping it.
If you’re looking for SF must-read novels, I would say to start here (or by exploring the original posts on Tor.com) rather than with something like the “100 Must Read” books I’ve been reviewing recently. They barely scrape above the level of a list: while they include a bit about each book and why it’s worthwhile, Jo Walton is more passionate, more excitable, more like another fan — she doesn’t claim any kind of authority for her choice in books, doesn’t hedge about including one book over another because it was more influential. Those “100 Must Read” books are a reference, a list; this book is a conversation.
It’s rare for a non-fiction book to keep my attention so strongly as this one did. Part of it is, I guess, that various things Jo Walton’s written resonate right through me — and I also know a little of her personal warmth and kindness. While I’ve spoken to a few authors and even trade tweets semi-regularly with a couple, Jo Walton is the only one who makes me feel that she cares about me as a person and not as a fan to be casually courted. So there’s that: I’m utterly and completely biased about her and her work, and there’s some similar stuff going on in our backgrounds (Welshness, for one thing), and even our non-SF tastes like Heyer and Sayers (and casual references to the same, even in the context of talking about SF). So it’s no surprise that I adored this.
It also helps that it’s very easily bite-size. I could read a few entries, then roll off my bed and reluctantly transcribe another few words — or take some of her enthusiasm and interests with me into my slush reading for Lightspeed, or have lunch with my family, or watch a lecture on astrobiology.
It’s the enthusiasm that really makes it, though. She makes me want to hurry up and read all the books, not just the ones she talks about, but all of them. And then reread them. She made me sit up in delight and grin and go yes, me too. Or hey, I want that.
The books may not all be conveniently in print, as the editors of “100 Must Read” books and others of that species try and arrange, but there’s a love of the possibilities of a tiny second-hand bookshop and the charity shop find that had me scrawling down a list of stuff to look for. It’s not a catalogue, a marketing ploy, a competition to be the most well-read — it’s just sharing books and the love of books and our idiosyncrasies about books.
100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels, Nick Rennison and Stephen E. Andrews
100 Must-Read Science Fiction Novels is, like its fantasy counterpart, pretty predictable in many ways. There are some I hadn’t heard of, but it’s still predominantly from the white male establishment. There is some lip service to the increasing diversity of science fiction in the introduction, but that isn’t really carried through to the books. Flicking through it, I landed on female SF writers only twice in 84 pages.
On the other hand, the introduction is an interesting whip through of the foundations of the SF genre, and there are a fair number of novels here that I hadn’t heard of or hadn’t got round to yet that are now (higher) on my reading list. As long as you realise that it is limited in scope and not a definitive list of the best SF novels out there, it could be a useful resource.
It’s time for Stacking the Shelves again! If you’re new to it, basically we all show off what books we’ve got in the past week. It’s hosted at Tynga’s Reviews, and you can find a ton of other people’s posts linked there too. So here’s my haul for the week — very restrained, for me: I think my partner will be shocked. At least if she discounts the ARCs, some of which I requested ages ago and some of which were unsolicited.
I think I’m most excited about reading Jo Walton’s book. It’s sort of a companion to Among Others, in a way, talking about fantasy/SF, a lot of which is probably mentioned in Among Others. That book meant a lot to me for personal reasons, but the range of books discussed in it was amazing too. I’m interested in the Sally Ride biography, too; women in space!
And for those who’re just dropping by this blog for this post, and aren’t planning to look around at the rest of it, may I tempt you to stay?
Posts coming up on The Bibliophibian sometime soon:
-Comparison of ereaders.
-Reading and the blind/partially sighted (written as an RNIB volunteer, but however not officially representing the RNIB or blind people in any way, just my personal experiences).
-Lord of the Rings Online as an adaptation of the books.
-A post in Rachel Neumeier’s blog tour for Black Dog, with giveaway!
Plus, of course, the usual reviews of a range of books and comics!
I can understand people who feel that Through the Language Glass didn’t quite fulfill its promise. The subtitle might be more accurately, “does the world look different in other languages?” And the answer is yes, but in a limited way that won’t be satisfying to those who want the answer to be an unequivocal yes. People feel that the world is different (for them) in different languages, and even that they are different in other languages, but there just isn’t the scientific data to back those feelings up.
(For me, and this is a brief digression, I do suspect that those who “feel different” when they speak other languages aren’t taking into account context. For example, say you speak Hebrew with your family and English in school. You are a different person in those two contexts, but not because of the language you speak. You’re adapting yourself to the situation, including the language. I suspect that even years after that division is so clear, where you might speak Hebrew to someone in the workplace, the associations remain.)
Anyway, I found the book itself a bit dense and prone to repetition, but overall, very interesting. I loved the discussion of the issue of colour in Homer’s work, as it’s something that inevitably came up when discussing his epithets in class. Why “wine-dark sea”? How could the sea look like wine? And this book has the answer.
It’s fairly conservative in its conclusions, not going beyond the available data — and mocking rather people who did go beyond their data — and explaining everything at some length rather than packing in various new ideas. It does include a lot of examples and interesting facts about various languages, like languages which don’t use egocentric directions but always geographical ones. I would’ve been interested in a bit more on gendered language, but it doesn’t seem as if the work has been done there, yet. It also gives some credit for ideas that were ahead of their time, even if they were founded on shaky principles, which was interesting.
Ultimately, Deutscher explains why early assumptions that language affects the way we perceive the world were wrong — but then goes on to explain that that instinctive feeling isn’t wrong in itself.
Captain Marvel: Down, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Christopher Sebela, Dexter Soy, Filipe Andrade
As with the first Captain Marvel book, I liked half the art (Dexter Soy’s work) and then hated the latter half. More so in this one. Carol just looks deformed in half of this. But story-wise, this is another good volume: Carol as Captain Marvel is rash, determined, unstoppable, and the latter half of the book with the worries about her health kept me interested. It doesn’t matter that I’m lacking some of Carol’s backstory — and the Helen Cobb story from the first volume seems to be playing a bit into this, too, which I enjoy. I’m even a bit anxious about Carol and how exactly this will play out.
I love her interactions with the people around her. I haven’t read anything with Monica Rambeau as Captain Marvel — actually, I haven’t got round to anything with her in it at all — but I loved her back and forth with Carol. I enjoyed the inclusion of Spider-Woman, too, and Captain America and Tony Stark’s brief appearances.
Really need to get hold of The Enemy Within, pronto.