Discoverability Challenge: Six months in

Let’s face it, I’m not doing good with this one.

I’ve read two books on my list. I’ve got a third waiting to be read.

I think I have two major problems.

The first is that these aren’t books that fit into my usual reading lists. I know the aim is to read something outside that, but frankly, I don’t have the time. In between review reading and the books I want to read for pleasure (which usually ends up being slightly ‘work’, as they’re in the same field as me) I am struggling to fit additional reading. With women authors, I had so many that I wanted to read anyway, it was just a case of prioritising those books on my lists! With this, I have to read specific books – and that means they get added to the pile along with everything else, or purchased specially. (Yes, I know I should do libraries. My local has awful opening hours – even when I was freelance and working from home I struggled to get down there!) and Gloucester Library doesn’t have a particularly good stock collection. I struggle with libraries, despite being a librarian.)

And the second problem is that my commute isn’t as long. I don’t have as much time where I’m doing nothing; I am struggling to fit my review reading into my schedule anyway. Lunchtimes seem to be the best bet so far…

I’m going to leave the challenge up, but hold up my hands and say that it’s a lot harder than it was last year. Onward with the reading!

Review: The Left Hand of Darkness

This was picked as part of my 2017 Discoverability Challenge. I wanted to read things I hadn’t read before, and picked ‘classics’. I’ve already managed to pick up Never Let Me Go, and I’ve got The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley on my pile as well.

left hand coverGenly Ai is an ethnologist observing the people of the planet Gethen, a world perpetually in winter. The people there are androgynous, normally neuter, but they can become male or female at the peak of their sexual cycle.

They seem to Genly Ai alien, unsophisticated and confusing. But he is drawn into the complex politics of the planet and, during a long, tortuous journey across the ice with a politician who has fallen from favour and has been outcast, he loses his professional detachment and reaches a painful understanding of the true nature of Gethenians and, in a moving and memorable sequence, even finds love . .

The Left Hand of Darkness is a short book, but it’s packed full of tangles. It’s something you read once and then need to read again, both for the plot and the intertwining of the two stories and points of view, and for the language and references once you know more about the world. It’s strange and politically detailed, with a myriad of different cultures and views that are alien to us as well as to Ai, who’s there to observe. It’s also intricately laced with details about society, kemmer, the rituals and traditions, the food…and the world itself, Winter, is as alien as the people and viewpoints are. The details are wonderful: the winter doors are ten feet up because of the snowdrifts, and Ai is constantly cold in a society that exists between two glaciers.

The story is strange, told from both Ai and Estraven’s points of view, giving us a strange duality on events. I ended up seeing Ai as an alien, as the society does; Winter was strange, yes, but Ai’s observing position and knowledge of his own strangeness gave it a reserve. The plot is interesting, and intricate; I loved the ice-field and their strange, eerie journey.

Some period gender references that have not aged well; describing something as “womanish” doesn’t sit well with me, considering I have no such construct in my head – and it’s something my father says, which doesn’t endear it. But it’s a minor point – just something that stuck out to me. I also found it interesting to consider how the same book would have been written in the modern era – and it would have been very, very different. It’s a book that’s made me think about my own writing, and my own method of storytelling; not that I am likely to change immediately, but…it’s something that will help me grow, I think.

So. Odd, eerie, intricate, detailed, political and alien. Definitely a book worth reading once in a lifetime.

Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

never let me goIn one of the most memorable novels of recent years, Kazuo Ishiguro imagines the lives of a group of students growing up in a darkly skewered version of contemporary England. Narrated by Kathy, now 31, Never Let Me Go hauntingly dramatises her attempts to come to terms with her childhood at the seemingly idyllic Hailsham School, and with the fate that has always awaited her and her closest friends in the wider world. A story of love, friendship and memory, Never Let Me Go is charged throughout with a sense of the fragility of life.

My overall impression of the book is fatalistic. It’s beautiful, haunted, tinged with the unquestioning acceptance of fate; sad and nostalgic while still somehow evoking an ideal childhood, a weave of friendships and memories and loves that pervades Kathy’s life even into her adulthood. But every character accepts the world as it is; there are only vague dreams of change, never a desire or a drive to actually make a difference.

The first section is placed at Halisham, a boarding school; the children have lessons, create art, compete with each other and learn and grow. They always know there’s something different about them, something odd – it’s not important, but they know their lives are set and their futures set onto a certain path, even if they don’t entirely understand what the path is. The story is tinged with the children’s inventive plots and dreams as they try to make sense of the hints they’re given. The second section is after school, when the teenagers move away to the Cottages; allowed more freedom, they talk and have sex and wait for their lives to begin. They try to find out a little more about their paths and their backgrounds, but…it’s still not important. It’s a dream, an adolescent fantasy, and by the time they step onto their paths they accept the course taken. And the final section is Kathy as an adult, a carer looking after her classmates and peers, waiting for her own turn. She travels, spending long hours thinking over the past and turning her memories into dreams.

Ishiguro’s writing style is incredibly readable; I was turning the pages almost effortlessly. The story flows very well and even though events jump back and forth, there’s no sense of confusion – everything fits and works within the overall frame. There’s some beautiful language and phrasing, and Ishiguro effortlessly evokes the idyllic nature of growing up fading into a horrifying reality.

While I love the book, when I think back over it, the fatalistic nature of the characters annoys me. None of them try to fight. None of them try to leave. They accept the boundaries and even when they try to break out, it’s still within the confines they’ve been given. I don’t know if I missed some vital part of the background that sets their place within the society they live, or if it’s just the way the characters have been set. I don’t necessarily want a Katniss-style revolt, but…some flash of something from someone would have made it a little more realistic for me.

So – beautiful, haunting, dystopian and readable. Definitely worth at least one read.

This was part of my 2017 Discoverability Challenge.

A Year of Writing: 2017 – the start

For a start, I’m going to brush up on my touch typing. I’m drafting this in the dark with a cat on my lap, and I need to learn how to a) touch type better, and b) type with one hand. It’s needed!

So, 2016 was my Year of Hard Work. I wrote a lot of words, didn’t quite finish what I wanted (GreenSky) but did complete some new things (No Man’s Land), and I also just had news that I’ve had a fifth short story accepted, so my aim of 6 in a year wasn’t quite so ambitious! I’m really happy.

So, 2017? While I’m not doing a Year Of Anything or setting official goals for myself, I’ve got some ongoing aims:

I want to try to get 6 short stories accepted in 2017. It’s the same aim as 2016, as it keeps me writing and keeps me interested in things other than the ‘big’ stories, and I think that’s a good thing. It also sparks ideas – No Man’s Land came from a short story!

Write two ‘other’ stories per month. I’ve got a little side project going, under another name, and I want to continue writing flash fiction for that – 2 stories per month.

Finish the GreenSky series. Hopefully this should be in the next few months; I’m editing at the moment, and I need to get Book 10 finished. I’m aiming to have that wrapped up soon. Potentially I’ve also got the novels to work on, but at the moment I seem to be pushing on with other things.

Do something with No Man’s Land – currently in progress. I want to finish the series, too, or at least get them plotted out.

Other work? We’ll see. I’ve got the Shadows series to re-plot, Madcap Library if I feel like picking that up, some Dresden writing to potentially re-work (although my energy for that is going into gaming at the moment), and some odd stories to pick up if I felt like it. I’ve got enough to be going on with, I think!

Reading? Well, I’m still doing the Discoverability Challenge, which is 12 – or 24 – books in the year. I also want to read & review two books a month for SFF World (down from my previous one a week, but then I’m not commuting at the moment so don’t get the dedicated reading time), and I don’t think four books a month is particularly ambitious for me.

I’m going to update my sidebar to reflect the changes, and I’ll see how things progress over the course of the year. It feels exciting – I’m looking back to 2016 and thinking “wow, I didn’t expect No Man’s Land, I didn’t expect the short stories, I’ve had so much fun with the Discoverability Challenge…”

I wonder what this year’s going to bring?

The Discoverability Challenge: 2017

Over 2016 I took Jo Hall’s Discoverability Challenge. Well, in 2016 I want to continue the challenge, but I want to do something different with it. I haven’t read a lot of the classics – Ender’s Game, Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Watership Down, Gormenghast, any of the Elrics or Conan, Slaughterhouse 5, The Mists of Avalon, A Wrinkle In Time…I don’t think I ever managed to pick up 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, either. So while I do have a lot of classics on my ‘read’ pile, I’ve also got a large stack on the “haven’t quite got round to yet”!

I’m using this list from Flavorwire of 50 fantasy and sci-fi books that everyone should have read, as it looked comprehensive but not overwhelming! I’ve read 19 out of the 50 and crossed them off the list, and I’ve also read quite a few books from some of the authors (eg. Ursula Le Guin…) if not the actual one listed. I’m going to pull 12 off this list to start with, and have another 12 in reserve for if (when?) I finish those 12.

You can find the complete list below, or check out the updated Discoverability Challenge page to see what I’ve picked. Are there any you’d add? What should I have read that you consider a classic?

  • Ubik, Philip K. Dick
  • Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood
  • Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany
  • A Song of Ice and Fire, George R.R. Martin
  • Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
  • The Gormenghast series, Mervyn Peake
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Robert A. Heinlein
  • Kindred, Octavia Butler
  • The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Nine Princes in Amber, Roger Zelazny
  • Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Susanna Clarke
  • Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut
  • The City & The City, China Miéville
  • The Once and Future King, T.H. White
  • The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Zone One, Colson Whitehead
  • The Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling
  • The Time Quartet, Madeleine L’Engle
  • The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis
  • His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
  • The Female Man, Joanna Russ
  • Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Jules Verne
  • Brown Girl in the Ring, Nalo Hopkinson
  • Solaris, Stanislaw Lem
  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
  • The Dune Chronicles, Frank Herbert
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
  • Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson
  • The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
  • Neuromancer, William Gibson
  • American Gods, Neil Gaiman
  • The Foundation series, Isaac Asimov
  • Discworld, Terry Pratchett
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • Among Others, Jo Walton
  • Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
  • The Last Unicorn, Peter S. Beagle
  • The Drowned World, J.G. Ballard
  • Witch World, Andre Norton
  • Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury
  • The Time Machine, H.G. Wells
  • Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Little, Big, John Crowley
  • The Dragonriders of Pern series, Anne McCaffrey
  • How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, Charles Yu
  • The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Patricia C. Wrede
  • The Castle trilogy, Diana Wynne Jone
  • The Giver, Lois Lowry