Wednesday, August 22, 2012

ReaderCon: Last year's novels reviewed

This post is the 4th in my series of reports about ReaderCon, held July 12-15, 2012, in Burlington, MA. We last mused over the panels "The Works of Peter Straub" and a reading of new material by John Crowley. Then, at last, your devoted narrator slept, in spite of every intention of devouring a substantial portion of one of the many new books she had acquired the day before.

Breakfast was a pleasant affair, spent in the company of a fellow member of the All Hallows' group in the hotel's restaurant. After breakfast, running a little late, your fearless narrator clambered into the packed Rhode Island room and managed to squeeze herself into a corner, where she perched against the back wall.

Unfortunately, my lateness meant I didn't get a copy of the list of the year's notable novels, as there were more attendees than copies available. However, the panel discussion was not hampered for those of us missing out, and Don D’Ammassa, Natalie Luhrs, Liza Groen Trombi (leader), and Gary K. Wolfe proceeded to mull over all the various delectable morsels that the publishing industry had seen fit to present to readers in the year since ReaderCon 2011.

Here is a list of those titles with brief notes where available:

Mechanique: A Tale of the Circus Tresaulti by Genevieve Valentine was rated a fast and entertaining read, sparse but very good.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was applauded.

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness was described as one of those books that gives the reader an addictive craving compared to smoking literary crack. It was apparently a very fun read, but not terribly substantial in hindsight.

Annoyances were aired that the new Christopher Priest, The Islanders, was still available only in the UK. American readers will know him as the author of The Prestige, already adapted into a major motion picture.

The Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch was called out as another promising read for those of us who like to drive ourselves crazy waiting for the next book.

John Connolly's name was brought up by Don D'Ammassa as a dark horse in fantastic literature. Those of us who are fans of his writing know he is skilled at spinning a tale, and often forget that part of the tale is fantastic due to his skilled weaving of elements. Ghosts give clues even in his hard-boiled Charlie Parker mysteries, and The Gates and The Book of Lost Things absolutely fall under the umbrella of fantastic fiction, with a fairy tale or fable-like feel to them. I can only hope that in future years Connolly is invited to ReaderCon -- I think he will be surprised at how many old fans he finds, and how many new fans he creates by his presence. Also, I suspect he will have a lot of fun.

Ernest Cline's widely acclaimed Ready Player One was an obvious addition to the list for the panel.

Neal Stephenson's Reamde was rated by most as more of a really good international spy thriller than anything else, which readers of his early book Zodiac will not find surprising.

Mieville's Embassytown with its inscrutable aliens engaged the panel and audience in lively discussion, and the audiobook solution for the aliens' perplexing speech patterns was lauded. Mieville's name was mentioned repeatedly, with great deference.

Mark Hodder's Burton and Swinburne series was recommended as a good addition to the steampunk genre.

Lavie Tidhar's book Osama, which takes place in a parallel universe where Osama bin Laden is a character in a book, received serious note from the panel. PS Publishing released it in North America.

A number of books released as Young Adult novels received note, including The Drowned Cities by Paolo Bacigalupi, author of The Windup Girl, and Bitterblue, the latest installment in the Graceling series by Kristin Cashore.

George R. R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons was duly mentioned, and speculation as to whether the series would ever be completed was likewise duly raised.

2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson received a fair amount of discussion, with varying reviews. The general consensus seemed to be that it was a sort of utopian "solar system" novel, but the overarching plot was not a main focus. Rather, the book tours the reader through the solar system planet by planet, and uses that for the sequence structure.

As talk turned to upcoming and anticipated titles, Hydrogen Sonata by Iain Banks, the latest in his series of Culture novels, was mentioned, as well as Shadow of Night, the 2nd installment in Deborah Harkness's "All Souls Trilogy," which was happily anticipated by those who had yet to pick up their just-released copy of the book.

This discussion was a great capsule overview of the prior year's books of note in the fantastic fiction field, especially useful for someone like me who is in the secondhand book field, where volumes are only encountered months and often years after their initial release. Not only were the standard adult fiction selections discussed, but note was also taken of promising young adult series, audiobook versions of texts, and other peripheral versions of the traditional book format.

Prior posts from my ReaderCon report series are here if you missed them:

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