A Pair of SF Penguins

I stopped into Twice Sold Tales today to check up on their excellent SF collection. Strangely, while I was there I cracked open Greg Bear’s book Darwin’s Radio (I was thinking of re-reading it) and the page I turned to described the characters getting off I-5 at Denny Way and heading up to Capitol Hill. Weird, because Twice Sold Tales is at the corner of Denny and Harvard on Capitol Hill.

I didn’t buy that one but I did pick up a couple of Penguin Science Fiction titles, neither of which I’m hugely interested in. But they’re Penguins, and they’re in great shape, so I was more or less unable to resist. The only Penguin SF I own otherwise is the batch of Olaf Stapledons (Last and First Man & Last Man in London, Star Maker and Sirius). Blish-tdajIn Germany I had five or six others that I found at the marvelous Open Door Bookshop in Rome — the best non-UK cache of Penguins I’ve ever found, hidden away in a little side street in Trastevere — but those books didn’t survive the cull for our move back to the States, unfortunately.

First up in today’s haul was James Blish’s The Day After Judgement. I’ve read A Case of Conscience and Fallen Star, and I like Blish’s work well enough. This one seems a bit more magicky than sciency, which isn’t normally my thing — but it’s short, and for all I know I’ll love it.

Next was Deathworld, by Harry Harrison. Not sure what to make of this one — I’ve never been too interested in Harrison’s books, but I’ll give it a try. In any case what really seals the deal here is the author photo, which should by all rights be a classic:

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He looks like Cory Doctorow at the proctologist’s office, or at an NSA convention, or something. Right? How was that author photo a good idea?

Browsing used bookstores is making me realize the one reason I really miss having a smartphone. (I had one for about two years, Deathworldbut gave it to my son a few months ago because I sort of prefer a dumbphone instead. I felt a little too plugged in, a little too internetted — though two hundred years from now when we’re all posthuman with embedded neural-comm interfaces I’ll gladly hop on.) It would be super-useful to be able to check the Seattle Public Library’s online catalog when I’m browsing for used books. I was choosing between Damien Broderick’s nonfiction compilation of writers’ speculations on the far future Year Million, and Greg Egan’s Quarantine; and I figured the library would carry the second but not the first. So I bought Year Million, which of course the library carries, and left behind Quarantine, which of course they don’t. I don’t regret getting Year Million — it looks fascinating, with contributions from Rudy Rucker, Gregory Benford, George Zebrowski, and a bunch of other interesting folks on how things will shake out in AD 1,000,000. But Quarantine seemed intriguing enough that I hope it’s still there on the shelves the next time I go.

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Capitol Hill Book Buying, December 2013

Yesterday afternoon I drove up to Capitol Hill in the damn freezing cold to take a look at science books at Ada’s Technical Books. It’s been a while since I’ve been up on 15th Avenue — in the late 90s my wife and I lived on 18th (around the corner from the Singles apartment building) and 15th was our main drag. We’d eat at Coastal Kitchen and Hopscotch (where I first tried spaetzle, igniting a powerful love affair that later carried me through many a winter night in Germany) and rent VHS movies at On 15th Video, and browse used books at Horizon Books. But once our son was born — at Group Health on 15th Ave, right down the street — we moved to Queen Anne and we’ve been here ever since.

9781848310872-532x760Sadly, Hopscotch has been gone for years now; meanwhile, Ada’s just recently moved into the spot where Horizon Books used to be. It’s pretty swank — they replaced the charming but rickety old house that Horizon was in with a fancy, white, high-ceilinged building that includes a cafe in addition to the bookstore. They don’t have a huge selection but I did find Introducting Fractals, which is in the same series as the book on quantum theory that I read last month. It looks like it’s right up my son’s alley, since he digs learning about hidden mathematical patterns in the world around us. So a good find for Christmas.

I also stopped at Twice Sold Tales — the commentor MKUltra over at Science Fiction Ruminations mentioned it — and made a few good finds.

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I read Galaxies Like Grains of Sand back in college — it was my first Aldiss, and I’ve been a fan ever since. TheGreenManLooking forward to a re-read there. The Green Man is described on the back cover as “a violent, fast-paced novel of ancient Britain — a brutal land steeped in wizardry, revenge and sinister superstitions” (but apparently not steeped in the Oxford comma). I read Treece’s Viking saga a few years ago and enjoyed it without actually retaining a single detail of it, which I would argue is probably the purest sort of reading experience. In the moment! This one has a cover of unsurpassed awesomeness — if I were the big green guy I wouldn’t be turning my back to that sultry half-dressed lady with the shiv. Treece wrote a ton of historical Britain-based fiction that skirted the divide between kids’ fiction and adults’, which is a sub-sub-sub-genre I have a real weakness for (another writer in that sub-sub-sub-genre is the magnificent Rosemary Sutcliff).

pavaneKeith Roberts is criminally under-appreciated. Most folks know Pavane, which got a re-release last year bearing the classic Leo and Diane Dillon cover from the original Ace Science Fiction Specials edition. But for my money The Chalk Giants is a better book, or at least a more vital one. It’s easy to see why Pavane is held in such high esteem: it’s decorous and stately, like its title dance, and it shows a classic “literariness” in its restraint and careful structure. But The Chalk Giants is an ambitious, shamanistic mess — or at least appears to be a mess, until at the end it resolves perfectly into a survey of human culture at its roots. Pavane is Tolstoy and The Chalk Giants is Dostoevsky.

The Furies, meanwhile, is about giant insects swarming over Britain after a nuclear holocaust, so I’m not sure where that’d slot in with the Russian writers analogy. Gogol, probably.

mervyn-peakeThe last two are, hopefully, a treat. I haven’t yet read Mervyn Peake and didn’t even know until a few weeks ago that his Gormenghast trilogy was published in a set of Penguin Modern Classics. So it was a real treat to look up at the new arrivals shelf and see these two sitting there. Unfortunately, they only had the first and third books of the set, Titus Groan and Titus Alone. so I’ll have to keep looking for the second volume, Gormenghast proper.

Of all the Penguins, the Modern Classics from the ’60s and ’70s are my absolute favorites, with their sea-green spines (though as I mentioned before, I prefer the pre-Facetti era) and it’s hard to resist buying them no matter the title.

I passed on buying a few books, carrying them around the store until the end before replacing them on the shelves: Geoffrey Household’s freaky Dance of the Dwarfs (which I’ve read already but no longer own, and would like to) and a pair of Horatio Hornblower novels in the orange-spined Penguin editions from the 70s. I read the first Hornblower book a few years back and enjoyed it, as well as Forester’s Death to the French and his cannon-as-protagonist novel The Gun. So at some point I’d like to read more Hornblower, but I couldn’t quite pull the trigger on these two.