Friday, December 05, 2008

And the Father-In-Law Responds!

Okay, folks, for all of you that helped suggest sci/fi and fantasy titles for my father-in-law (and those that may have watched with passing interest) here's the verdict. Yes, I just heard back from Laughton, and figured I might as well share his response, especially as this has been a collaborative effort. Here's what he wrote...

I clearly did not know what I was asking of you! I'm overwhelmed, by the time and thoughtfulness that you and all your correspondents have put into this and... by my ignorance of modern fantasy and sc-fi. You know I read a lot but this is literally (in both senses) another world.

I am pleased to say that I have read one of the suggestions... Ursula LeGuin's The Left Hand of Darkness, probably in the early 70s. When I discovered the joys of the A Wizard of Earthsea trilogy for the children I went on to read everything of hers that I could get. Lately, her writing took on the later style and topics of Doris Lessing's 'fantasy' (although the latter has moved on/back again) and she no longer appeals to me.

My choices from your list may well then be a little conservative (I am getting old). The last thing I want is to settle down (perhaps that's stretching it a bit) on the long flights and restless airport lounges and find that the thick book with the crisp pages is not to my taste!

Robert Heinlen's Stranger in a Strange Land is appealing, probably for nostalgic reasons... I read masses of sci-fi in the late 5
0s, 60s and 70s. Less of Heinlen than I thought when I look at the shelves; they seem to contain more John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Azimov, Arthur C Clarke, Frank Herbert etc (just name-dropping). I wonder how many of your correspondents have read A Voyage to Arcturus by the Scottish writer David Lindsay (who died fairly young)? So, Heinlen would be stepping back rather than forward...

I have my eye on a couple of recommendations, partly based (I was going to say 'mostly' but that might worry you) on your comments; I have a great respect for you judgement!

But the others...

A Game of Thrones by R R Martin sounds like a big boy's read. I think I will have to graduate to that. Maybe when I get home in January, when the nights are still long and dark and it's blowing a gale out there, I will take the plunge. No, not maybe, let's not be too tentative and timid here... I will go for this in the new year.

Richard Morgan's Thirteen/Black Man... hhmmm. The 'over-sexed' comment puts me off. Not that I would under-rate sex, but in one's late 60s I'm looking for subtlety.

Dan Simmons' Ilium? I guess I will just leave this for the reasons you know. Like I know the story of Franklin so well... incidentally, it was an Orkney man, John Rae, who first brought the news of the horror of the fate of Franklin's men, and one of his few companions was a Shetland man. Lady Franklin also makes a brief appearance in a book of mine. I felt the 'actual' story was scary enough.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson, The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolf and Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light, I will keep on my list for later.

I suspect I will be raising a few hackles with my very short and dismissive comments, but what do we all do when faced with so many choices?

China Mieville's Perdido Street Station. With a title like that, it sounds quite intriguing. Plus your 'bloody good read' comment. I am tempted here. Likewise, I am tempted by your comments on Dreaming Void by Peter F Hamilton. These I might try later along with, or before, RR Martin. So, they are sort of third/fourth choices.

I am going to take two then. Did you intentionally/unintentionally put them in order of your own preferences? (No you didn't did you! You put them in alphabetical order so as to appear completely unbiased...)

However, I am going to take your first two. Second choice is American Gods by Neil Gaiman. Not because he is British writer but because it sounds frighteningly contemporary. Tell me if my hunch is way wrong.

The one that I instantly went for, though I am not sure why, is Octavia Butler's Parable of the Sower. On second thoughts, perhaps because I see that the author is a black woman whom I would hope might bring some fresh perspectives. Or am I the marketing man's dream who simply picks the first shiny one on offer? Like the previous book, there is a contemporary feel to it which attracts me... and... you liked it.

So thanks to you all and forgive me for my many presumptions... I'll let you know!

Thanks, David,


And just so you know who has been talking, here's a photo of the man himself (along with his youngest daughter - and my wife).

Okay. Works for me. Butler and Gaiman. They both rock. I do hope you'll have both of them with you, Laughton, just in case either doesn't do it for you.

Octavia Butler is... well, she's the first sci/fi writer to get a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship, isn't she? (Jonathan Lethem scooped one more recently. As far as I could tell, he bought really suave new glasses with the cash.) I know pretentious literary prizes aren't everyone's cup of tea, but I wouldn't say no to $500,000 "Out of the Blue", with no strings attached, just for being... geniusy. And, yes, in many ways Ms. Butler's racial identity informs her writing. She would've been brilliant anyway, but she has a wide, empathetic perspective that I'm quite sure was influenced by the particular details of the skin she lived her life in.

And, yes, Gaiman does strike me as "frighteningly contemporary", at least in reference to American Gods. Neither author is one that I assume everyone will like, but both have a measure of brilliance that I'd encourage anyone to at least try. Notes on two other titles... I finished The Dreaming Void recently. Liked it very much, although as I rounded the last hundred pages or so I got to suspecting there wasn't going to be much in the way of resolution at the end. I wasn't wrong. Mr. Hamilton wraps things up like a professional, but this is clearly just the beginning of this particular story. And Perdido Street Station got another celebrity shout out recently - John Scalzi spoke of it as one of his favorite books on several occasions at LosCon. As we all know, Mr. Scalzi is a very smart guy.

Okay, I think that brings the "Help Me Pick a Book For My Father-in-Law" segment of this blog to a close. Thanks for playing. In closing... I'm curious. Anyone read A Voyage to Arcturus, by David Lindsay?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yor F-I-L sounds like a great, no-bull kind of man, I'm glad he's zeroed in on what he'd like to read. :-) I followed the link to wiki-arcturus and it sounds great (haven't heard of it before), but I'll definately be hunting this one down. :-)

6:00 AM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

All I have to say is - the man's name is Laughton! That is a Man's Name. "Laughton" is the guy who helps you out of a jam with the mob. "Laughton" is the guy who loved one woman one time, but so much that he let her go - and no woman will ever take his heart again. "Laughton" captain's his own merchant marine vessel, smells like salt and wind, and spends his free time showing up Hemmingway.

Cool name. And he sounds like a pretty awesome guy. Good book choices, although I would say I don't really remember the sex in Th1rte3n, so either I felt it was pretty pedestrian or it didn't detract from the story in any way.

6:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oddly enough, A Voyage to Arcturus was on my Christmas List, and I do believe my wife has squirreled it away in a closet of shiny goodies... I've been checking out some of the pre-LotR fantasy writers in the last year, and hope to conintue. Mervyn Peake, E.R. Eddison, William Hope Hodgson (his The Night Land is staring down at me from the shelf right above my laptop, and it's next on my "To Read" list once I finish Cryptonomicon... which is not the shortest book I've ever read, so who knows when that will be). A Voyage to Arcturus was the next on that list of old time fantasy novels I wanted to check out. Looks really interesting. Anyone want a book review sometime in January? :)

My best, as always,

11:56 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


You've got him pegged. :)

Interesting, Bryan, that A Voyage to Arcturus was on your list. I hadn't heard of it. Do definitely give us a review when you read it.

3:20 PM  
Blogger Neil Gaiman said...


4:45 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Uh... I mean, ah... Did that really just happen?

5:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've read a Voyage to Arcturus. And it's one of the stranger books I've read--dated in certain ways, but still unique. The ending is very powerful.

9:46 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Hey Caleb,

Interesting. But...

Am I the only one to notice what just happened? Neil? Neil Gaiman! Neil Gaiman posted a comment on my blog! I know it was only one word, but... well, "Hurrah!"

10:07 PM  
Blogger Corby Kennard said...

Heh! Very cool! Now you know how I felt when you commented on MY blog!

The funny thing is, we were just talking about Neil at LosCon - how serendipitous. :)

Good on ya.

1:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

O_O *speechless*

4:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome! :-) Sorta like a peekaboo! :-) Hehehe

5:03 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Yeah. It made me pretty goofy yesterday...

On the question of A Voyage to Arcturus, I got another response via email from my French translator. Here's what he said...

Hi David,

I read on your blog site that you were wondering about A Voyage to Arcturus. I didn't read it myself, but I translated what Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials trilogy) thinks of it, in a book called The Magical Worlds of Philip Pullman.

For Pullman himself, Arcturus is a very important book, describing a voyage to a distant planet, but most of all related to what he calls "the myth of gnosticism", the idea that this world is the creation of a false god, and that Gnostics have a mission : to escape from the false beauty of the physical world and find the way that leads to the true God...

Pullman considers that David Lindsay is a bad writer, with a poor style, but a most powerful one in what he passes on. Among writers who influenced him the most, he compares Lindsay to William Blake.

Sounds like Arcturus might be a little dated in the writing, but most interesting in what it tells. Which is only my point of view, but of course I share it (!)

Hope all that can help you to have a better idea of the book.

Best from France,


6:57 PM  
Blogger BHer said...

Would love to hear his thoughts on them - especially Parable. (And he better be inclined to read the second...) Please try and post a follow-up with his thoughts!

And Neil is clearly an intelligent, hip guy if he is posting here!

11:24 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Thanks, Brian. :)

I'll ask Laughton for a report eventually. I have to admit that I'm never sure what's he's going to like... We'll see...

3:15 AM  

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