This imaginative-literature reading list is composed of some of the books that various members of the committee think are especially notable and deserving of greater attention, and reflects our eclectic interests. It was created for Readercon_13, and distributed at the convention. There will be a new edition for Readercon_14.
Ellen Brody, editor
Bernard Malamud's The Natural is hard to top, but this is a serious contender for the best baseball novel ever written. As always with Bishop, the characters are real and unforgettable and the prose masterful yet unobtrusive; the evocation of time and place and circumstance--low-minor league baseball in Georgia during World War II--is extraordinary. It would be a great novel without the sf element, which is one of those ideas that you can put in a single sentence and sell to Hollywood (as Bishop indeed did); if you haven't heard what the gimmick is, don't let anyone spoil it for you. If you know (as I did), be assured that there are many, many other pleasures here beyond the working out of the central mystery. [Eric M. Van]
Best read in the original Middle High German. Fischer has an excellent side-by-side MHG/modern German edition with wonderful critical apparatus. This is an awesome read. A much better tale than Wagner's Ring Cycle would lead you to believe. (Wagner worked mostly from the Old Icelandic Volsunga Saga, and though I haven't read it, I bet it is also much better than his invention.) It can be read very much as a tale between the sexes with Hagen and Kriemhild as the main combatants, and when the woman transgresses her prescribed role and attempts to wreak revenge (which she legally can't do), watch out. For best effect, watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon soon after. Also the Fritz Lang silent movies Sigfried and Kriemhild's Revenge, which hew closely to the Lied, though some of the Wagner stuff is at the beginning of Sigfried. [Amy West]
Khaled is an imaginative Arabian Nights fantasy from the late nineteenth century. Like its eponymous hero, it isn't subtle, but it offers a strong plot, some of the most beautiful and charming descriptions you will ever read, and an interesting contrast with much of the literature published today. [E.B.]
The youngest woman of forty imprisoned in a cage underground after some planetary apocalypse, must first invent herself in a world in which she has no remembrance of a life before and where intimacy of any kind is not allowed. When, after years, the women are suddenly and unexplicably abandoned and find freedom, this woman must again reinvent herself in a world she has never known. A bleak and haunting story, but an extraordinarily thought-provoking contemplation on what it means to be human.
Harpman is a prize-winning Belgian author and psychoanalyst. This novel was her first to be translated into English. [Lois Powers]
Seamus Heaney's side-by-side translation. Heaney's translation is a good crutch to the OE if your Old English is rusty or if you're starting to learn. At times it's not as literal translation as I would like, and it could benefit from some critical apparatus, but if you pair it with the notes and vocabulary from Wrenn, it'll work. This is the most beautifully designed book I have ever seen. The rules on the page not only give you plenty of room for marginal notes but also a nice feel for the layout of a manuscript page. [A.W.]
First-time novelist David Herter takes the classic young-boy-coming-of-age science fiction adventure story on a wonderfully innovative and refreshing ride through our strange and wonderous future. My pick for best first novel of 2000. [L.P.]
If you enjoy reading about science fiction almost as much as reading science fiction, as I do, you are likely to appreciate this collection of Jones's essays, conference papers and book reviews, many previously published over the last decade in various magazines and journals. Essay topics in the collection include (and surely I am oversimplifying here): SF and modern literary theory, cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk, gender, feminism and SF, aliens in SF, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. Her reviews examine the work of some of our favorite authors (and former Readercon GoHs!): Ursula K. Le Guin, Neal Stephenson, Suzy McKee Charnas, William Gibson, Sheri S. Tepper, David Brin, and C. J. Cherryh. Admittedly I was curious about her opinions and ideas because she was a Brit and a woman but mostly because her own science fiction novels are thoughtful, well-written and oftentimes difficult reads. I was not disappointed. [L.P.]
At his best, King challenges our notions of what is ``literary.'' This is not only an outstanding novel of suspense (with a nicely underplayed supernatural element), but a major contribution to the sizeable body of fiction that uses the game of baseball as a metaphor for life. For one magical season (1998), Tom Gordon was the Red Sox' almost unbeatable ``closer.'' The closer is the pitcher who comes in late in the game, with the game on the line. Do the Sox live or die today? Does little Trisha? It's up to Tom Gordon. In the hands of a lesser writer, this equation might have been obvious and labored. King's solution to the equation is unexpected and dramatic, even magical. If you love baseball, you'll find your intense feelings for the game intermingling perfectly with your fondness for this little girl lost in the Maine woods; the climax is powerful and moving. [E.M.V.]
The book review is itself a literary genre. Lem's book is a collection of such reviews--but of non-existent books, books Lem has imagined. This approach lets him range amusingly through his interests, including cybernetics, and the difficulty of finding new directions in a culture grown too complex for any one person's comprehension. Most of these books would embody terrific ideas, but you wouldn't find the time to read them, which is a part of Lem's point that would have been lost had he simply written essays. One example is ``Pericalypsis,'' which would propose that the impossible glut of modern creative work is best dealt with by paying new artists not to create. Naturally, the first review is a (negative) one of ``A Perfect Vacuum.'' [Michael Matthew]
Writers are too easily pigeonholed. One such division is between writers whose work is challenging and thought-provoking, and writers whose work is first and foremost meant to entertain, to remind us of things we already know while evoking the corresponding and sometimes precious emotions. Barry Longyear has earned a reputation as a writer of first-rate entertainments; in ``Enemy Mine'' an almost cliched theme (``united we stand, divided we fall'') is adroitly revitalized (no mean feat). Even his superb autobiographical Saint Mary Blue is in this mode--an essentially familiar story told with special acuity. So here, spilling gloriously out of the pigeonhole, is Sea of Glass, a dystopia which (like M. J. Engh's Arslan) is off the thought-provoking scale in the direction of disturbing. Of course it's as compulsively readable as Longyear at his best. And when I got to the end, I had no idea of whether Longyear supported or opposed the radical notions he puts forth. This utter suppression of the author's attitudes in favor of the characters' is perhaps the most remarkable feature of this hugely overlooked and underrated gem. [E.M.V.]
We are adults now and it's time to hear the other side of the story about that nasty, greenish witch who terrified us so in the past. Surely, we know now that it cannot be so simple a story of good and evil. Well, it isn't and it's a credit to the author that we can finally have the real story of Elphaba, The Wicked Witched of the West, without destroying the story we grew up with. Wicked is an intelligent, unique, thought-provoking story which will keep you spellbound (pun intended). [L.P.]
Merril's annual collections of the year's best SF stories were the most significant of the late 1950s and the 1960s, and the entry point into the New Wave for many of us. This final installment in the series features Merril fully committed to the New Wave, with long, thoughtful introductions relating the stories to events elsewhere in the pop culture of the '60s. Few anthologies have ever matched this list of great contributors and stories: Barthelme, two each from Ballard and Lafferty, Leiber, Burroughs, Aldiss--clever, grim and funny, many of the stories are signature works of the respective authors. At the end, Samuel R. Delany's wonderful ``The Star Pit.'' The dawn of today's era when well-written SF is easily found. [M.M.]
In this steampunk/dark fantasy, a man/bird creature, a garuda, comes to a rogue scientist in New Crobozon for help in restoring his ability to fly. The scientist, intrigued by the challenge, immerses himself in research that will unwittingly unleash something horrendous into the city. This is the most literary, imaginative, and intense piece of work that I've read in years! Miéville's abilities as a writer is truly awe-inspiring. It's like reading some strange collaboration between Dickens, Dante, and Kafka . . . it's truly an exceptional read.
This is the second book by Miéville, a British writer, who is reading for his Ph.D. at the London School of Economics. [L.P.]
It's been called ``black comedy,'' ``absurdist,'' and ``satirical'' and who am I to add to that list? Omon Ra is the story of one boy's dream to become a cosmonaut in the Soviet Space Program and the ultimate fulfillment of that dream--a one-way ticket to the moon. This short novel is a clever, refreshing, humorous piece of imaginative literature and a strange and warped peek into the space program we competed so heavily against. [L.P.]
Chip Delany likes to talk about ``reading protocols,'' ways of thinking about the text we are reading that are usually below the level of consciousness because they are so well-ingrained that we never even think about examining them. Delany's original argument related to the different ways people learn to read SF and non-SF, but there are certain unspoken agreements between the reader and the writer of any sort of fiction, rules we live inside so completely that it's difficult to imagine having them broken without it being seen as a fatal weakness.
But there's always an exception. Icehenge tells an involving story based around the consequences of living extremely long lives, but the real payoff comes at the end, where Robinson takes the implied contract between reader and writer, rips it in half, stomps on it, and burns it. As a reading experience, it's every bit as exhilarating as having a tall building pulled out from under your feet, without the usual consequences. [Bob Colby]
Our culture has been doing a lot of self-examination lately, mostly in the form of self-criticism. It's nice to see a serious examination of what we've got right for a change. [Robert van der Heide]
A teeny-tiny late Middle High German--early New High German dialogue (actually it's constructed as court case) between a bereaved widower (plaintiff) and Death (defendant: watch how he pleads an affirmative defense). It stands very much on the cusp of the Renaissance and can be read as a debate between Renaissance and Medieval worldviews. This work draws very much from Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy for its form and structure, and is a nice German parallel to the Middle English dream-vision Pearl, which also draws from the Consolation. [A.W.]
This is a picture book abcedarium that follows a mission to Mars. The portrayal of the mission is very sound and the big illustrations are quite nice. We read it to both our under 2-year-old and our 5-year-old. There are simple text blocks and more detailed text on each page, so you can include more for older or more patient readers. There's also a supplemental ``Mars A-B-Cyclopedia'' in the back that we haven't even touched yet, so this book has quite a few more years in it. Was a Children's Book of the Month Club selection. [A.W.]
The full set of annual Recommended Reading Lists:
RC_12 RC_13 RC_14 RC_15