A Tower of Babel Built of Books

That's what my to-be-read list looks like, how about yours? Be careful that it doesn't topple!

Issue #8, Sunday 31 October 2021

New and Upcoming Releases

Yet again, heaps of new and interesting books coming out. So much so that I’ve broken them down by genre. When am I ever going to find the time to read them? Don’t say never, I’ll cry.

Crime Fiction

In particular, there’s a swag of new crime novels by Australian authors arriving. Here’s just the pick of the bunch:

Crime novels

Those Who Perish by Emma Viskic

The thrilling finale of the groundbreaking Caleb Zelic series, from the award-winning author of Resurrection Bay

Caleb Zelic can’t hear you. But he can see everything.

I’ve really enjoyed this series by Emma Viskic featuring her deaf protagonist Caleb Zelic. This is the fourth and, it appears, the last. I’ll definitely be buying this.

Wild Place by Christian White

In the summer of 1989, a local teen goes missing from the idyllic Australian suburb of Camp Hill. As rumours of Satanic rituals swirl, schoolteacher Tom Witter becomes convinced he holds the key to the disappearance. When the police won’t listen, he takes matters into his own hands with the help of the missing girl’s father and a local neighbourhood watch group.

Christian White’s last book, The Wife and the Widow was terrific, with a sensational twist he conceals very cleverly until just the last moment.

Buy it at Readings.

The Way It Is Now by Garry Disher

The enthralling new novel by Garry Disher, one of Australia’s most loved and celebrated crime writers.

Set in a beach-shack town an hour from Melbourne, The Way It Is Now tells the story of a burnt-out cop named Charlie Deravin. Charlie is living in his family’s holiday house, on forced leave since he made a mess of things at work. Things have never been easy for Charlie. Twenty years earlier his mother went missing in the area, believed murdered. His father has always been the main suspect, though her body was never found.

Until now…

Disher is probably Australia’s best writer of crime fiction, with a swag of awards (and almost 40 novels to his credit). I was hoping for another installment of his series featuring Paul Hirchausen, but this stand-alone novel looks very tempting.

Buy it at Readings.

Speculative Fiction

Some very interesting-looking SF or genre-adjacent books out recently, or on the way, three of them by Australian authors:

In Moonland by Miles Allinson

Released 31 August 2021

In present-day Melbourne, a man attempts to piece together the mystery of his father’s apparent suicide, as his young family slowly implodes. At the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, in 1976, a man searching for salvation must confront his capacity for violence and darkness. And in a not-too-distant future, a woman with a life-altering decision to make travels through a climate-ravaged landscape to visit her estranged father.

Buy it at Readings.

The Hush by Sara Foster

Everything can change in a heartbeat … The pulse-pounding new thriller from the bestselling author of You Don’t Know Me.

A multigenerational, female-led thriller, and a terrifying conspiracy that goes right to the heart of the British Government. Six months ago, in an English hospital, a healthy baby wouldn’t take a breath at birth. Since then there have been more tragedies, and now the country is in turmoil. The government is clamping down on people’s freedoms. The prime minister has passed new laws granting authorities sweeping powers to monitor all citizens. And young pregnant women have started going missing.

The Hush is a new breed of near-future thriller, an unflinching look at a society close to tipping point and a story for our times, highlighting the power of female friendship through a dynamic group of women determined to triumph against the odds.

Sarah Foster is an Australian author who has written seven novels so far. I read and enjoyed her novel Shallow Breath last year, and this one definitely looks interesting.

Buy it at Readings.

The Last Woman in the World by Inga Simpson

Released 27 October 2021

It’s night, and the walls of Rachel’s home creak as they settle into the cover of darkness. Fear has led her to a reclusive life on the land, her only occasional contact with her sister.

A hammering on the door. There stand a mother, Hannah, and her sick baby. They are running for their lives from a mysterious death sweeping the Australian countryside.

This looks to be a “must-read”. Inga Simpson’s books have been long-listed for both the Miles Franklin Award and the Stella Prize.

Buy it at Readings.

Fractured Fables by Alix E. Harrow

This author’s novel The Ten Thousand Doors of January was well regarded and nominated for last year’s Hugo Awards. She’s now gone in a rather different direction with these short reworkings of classic fairy tales, which seem like fun.

USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow’s A Spindle Splintered brings her patented charm to a new version of a classic story. Featuring Arthur Rackham’s original illustrations for The Sleeping Beauty, fractured and reimagined. A vivid, subversive and feminist reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, where implacable destiny is no match for courage, sisterhood, stubbornness and a good working knowledge of fairy tales.

Buy it at Readings.

A Spindle Splintered was released on 5 October 2021, and the sequel, A Mirror Mended has already been announced:

A Mirror Mended is the next installment in USA Today bestselling author Alix E. Harrow’s Fractured Fables series.

Zinnia Gray, professional fairy-tale fixer and lapsed Sleeping Beauty is over rescuing snoring princesses… Just when Zinnia’s beginning to think she can’t handle one more princess, she glances into a mirror and sees another face looking back at her: the shockingly gorgeous face of evil, asking for her help. Because there’s more than one person trapped in a story they didn’t choose. Snow White’s Evil Queen has found out how her story ends and she’s desperate for a better ending. She wants Zinnia to help her before it’s too late for everyone.

More details

Bookish News

Alan Garner: ‘You don’t want to have a brilliant idea for a novel at the age of 87’

I was gobsmacked (though delighted) to discover that Alan Garner, writer of such classics of YA fantasy as The Owl Service, Red Shift and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is not only still alive, but is still writing and publishing.

As the much-loved fantasy writer publishes yet another ‘final’ novel – about a healer who can cure everything but jealousy – he talks about being made a pariah by Oxford and almost dying three times

More details

Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction to Launch in 2022

The Ursula K. Le Guin Literary Trust will award the first-ever Ursula K. Le Guin Prize for Fiction in 2022.

The Le Guin Prize for Fiction is an annual $25,000 cash prize given to a writer for a single book-length work of imaginative fiction. This award seeks to recognize the kinds of writers that Le Guin invoked in her 2014 National Book Awards speech—realists of a larger reality, who can imagine real grounds for hope and see alternatives to how we live now.

The nomination process for the prize is open to all, and the nomination period for the 2022 Prize will begin on February 1 of next year. The trust will create a shortlist of finalists from the nominated works, and a panel of five jurors will read the shortlisted works. The inaugural year’s jurors are adrienne maree brown, Becky Chambers, Molly Gloss, David Mitchell, and Luis Alberto Urrea. The first prize will be awarded on October 21, on what would have been Le Guin’s 93rd birthday.

More details

The Every Makes a Stand for the Little Guy

The Every is a sequel to the best selling The Circle - which also spawned a film version starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks (in a very rare bad guy role) - and centers a former forest ranger named Delaney Wells who is taking on The Every, which exists as a kind of amalgam of Amazon, Facebook, and Google, and dominates the moment-to-moment lives of everyone by dictating what you buy and are exposed to online.

My Reading

Completed Since Last Issue

A couple of non-fiction books this time, plus two classics of the SF/Fantasy genre read for purposes of the “Hugo Time Machine” segment in our podcast.

The Library by Stuart Kells

This is a compilation of information about books, libraries and book collectors over the centuries. It’s full of very interesting material, and there’s a general chronological order, moving from oral traditions through to the first forms of writing, through books in the form of scrolls to codexes like modern books, and of course there’s plenty about libraries ancient and modern.

On the down side, at times it feels like a rather arbitrary compilation of facts, not particularly well organised within a chapter. Quite often, the author skips back and forward in time within one paragraph, say jumping from the discussion of book thieves in the 18th Century to similar examples from the 21st Century, and then back to the 19th Century without taking a breath.

And the book could really do with an index, which it rather astonishingly lacks.

So from my point of view it’s a book to dip into, pick out an interesting piece or two, and then put down, rather than read solidly from beginning to end.

Dead Wake by Erik Larson

Erik Larson has written several very well researched and well-written books about historical events. Probably his best-known work, which is really excellent, is The Devil in the White City, published in 2003, which is an account of the World’s Columbian Exposition—a huge trade fair—held in Chicago in 1893. Running parallel to that fascinating story is an even more compelling one: that of the serial killer Doctor H. H. Holmes.

What makes Larson’s books so good is the amount of detail he gives about the invidual people involved in the events he describes: everything he talks about has a really personal, human touch which places you firmly in the time and place of the story. These accounts are backed up by detailed research.

Anyway, on to this book, Dead Wake, published in 2015, which is about the sinking of the passenger liner Lusitania by a German submarine during the First World War. Larson draws on a huge variety of resources such as personal letters and diaries to give us an intimate look at the passengers who boarded the Lusitania in New York in May, 1915.

Even though we know what is coming, Larson successfully keeps up the tension as he takes us closer and closer to the fatal moment. The Lusitania was torpedoed and sank less than 20 minutes later. Almost 1,200 people died, and the event caused a storm of protest and condemnation around the world. Some 170 of those who died were American citizens. Though it took another long two years after the sinking before America finally abandoned its neutral stance and joined the Allies, the tragedy of the Lusitania was part of the reason they eventually did.

Look, this isn’t a cheerful subject, but the sinking of the Lusitania is a very important historical event about which I knew very little. And the way Larson brings the story to life and humanises it is well worthwhile. He has certainly researched it thoroughly: the ebook version I read has about 150 pages of notes and citations of sources.

Babel-17 by Samuel R. Delany

Babel-17 won the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1967, and was also nominated for the Hugo, though it lost out to Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, in my eyes a much inferior book.

I remember reading this for the first time in my late teens, and the freshness of Delany’s writing grabbed me immediately: I remember trying to write my own stories in a similar style (but failed abysmally, of course). Delany sure could write.

The story here is less important than the main characters: Rydra Wong, poet, linguist, cryptographer and starship captain; and the Butcher, an ex-criminal with abiding amnesia about his early years, now the lieutenant of a privateer helping defend Earth and the Alliance against another group of humans they call the Invaders.

Wong is asked by the Alliance to decode a series of messages in a code they have dubbed Babel-17, messages which are transmitted just before each of a series of major incidents of sabotage. Wong soon figures it out that it’s not a code. It’s a language.

There’s some wonderfully descriptive writing—I’m tempted to call it baroque—as Wong gathers together her starship crew from the bars and seedy areas of a futuristic city and sets off to locate the saboteurs and whoever it is who speaks this amazingly powerful and concise language.

Though the plot ends a bit limply, I thoroughly enjoyed re-reading this. Though it’s 55 years old, I reckon it would stand up very well against most of this year’s nominees for the Hugo Best Novel. They don’t write them like this any more.

Too Many Magicians by Randall Garrett

Set in an alternate timeline in which Richard the Lionheart did not die while on crusade, but returned to England and became a long-lived, wise ruler. In the 20th Century of this new timeline, magic has become a respected science.

Against this interesting background, Garrett places his Sherlock Holmes-analogue, the investigator Lord Darcy, and his Watson-esque assistant, the Master Sorcerer Sean O’Lochlainn, tasked with solving a baffling locked-room mystery at a magician’s convention.

This was another re-read, and it’s a lot of fun. Garrett takes his characters and the plot completely seriously—it’s not written to be a parody—and the solution to the mystery is satisfying and clever.

Currently Reading

And another two weeks whizz by! Thanks for reading. Please share this with your friends and encourage them to subscribe (it’s free!). And if you are so inclined, listen to our podcast, Two Chairs Talking.

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