A Readercon Committee Recommended Reading List
For Readercon_15 (July 11-13, 2003)

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. We have included nonfiction as well as books for children this year.

Ellen Brody, editor


Atwood's latest story is future extrapolation with flashes of satire and poetry stabbing fiercely through. Its plot is familiar (already tackled by Tiptree among others) and so is its structure (flashbacks and present narrative collide) but it's the detail and execution that always make the difference for me, and here they are both masterful. My warnings: (1) even darker than The Handmaid's Tale; (2) temporarily caused me to doubt my own talent, worthiness to breathe air, et cetera; (3) worth reading despite (1) and (2).  [Julianne Chatelain]

We saw this first at Nick's school book fair. There was another Star Wars juvenile there, but I picked this one on the spot because of the author, and the gamble payed off. Terry avoids cliches, yet makes Boba Fett a sympathetic character. The novel follows a 10-year-old Boba Fett as he is affected by the events of Attack of the Clones and is ultimately left to fend for himself by his father's death. Despite the lack of illustrations the story held our 7-year-old's interest, and after having read it to him, he started reading it on his own. There are two subsequent books in the series: Crossfire, also by Terry Bisson, and Maze of Deception by Elizabeth Hand.  [Amy West]

We have Episode 1: Horus's Horrible Day and Episode 3: Nergal and the Great Space Race. Shana Corey places the recognizable situations of adjusting to First Grade and not being the best in a competition in the alien landscape of Mars. There is a second in the series, and possibly others.  [A.W.]

This novel of a maze connecting points throughout space and time has all the elements of a 1930s adventure sf story--repellent aliens with designs on Earth, a secret society, an adventurous young man. But it was written in 1965 by Avram Davidson, and those elements, though still enjoyable for themselves, serve as the armature of a much more witty and elegant story than anything from that earlier era. Read this as a way station on sf's continual improvement in quality over the decades--or just for the fun 1930s stuff.  [Michael Matthew]

Anthologies are better nibbled than gobbled, but this series rewards both styles of reading. The editors write, ``It was our aim with this series to have some queer characters write fantasy [or science fiction or horror] for the first time, and for some genre writers to explore queer characters.'' The stories vary in tone and content but their quality is consistently high, and each one creates a world; I only wish I could list them all here. At the risk of slighting the other excellent stories, my favorites in the science fiction volume were by Ellen Klages, Kathleen O'Malley, Stephen Baxter, Allen Steele, and Carrie Richerson; in the strong fantasy volume I was particularly stunned by Charlee Jacob's ``Cloudmaker'' and thrilled by a glimpse inside Ellen Kushner's and Delia Sherman's writing process in the form of an early novella version of their 2002 The Fall of the Kings. This fine series continued in 2001 with a horror anthology, but I won't be reading that until real life becomes less horrible. One bit of good news: the Supreme Court has just ruled it is legal to read these stories in the privacy of our own homes, in addition to our favorite outdoor cafes. To quote the editors, ``We all need to see representations of ourselves in the world, whether that world is real or not.''  [J.C.]

In the flood of fine sf novels these days, many just recently out of print can be overlooked. But some keep returning to mind, repeatedly through the years. One such, for me, is Jablokov's first novel. A quest across the twenty-fourth century solar system, involving great sculpture and exotic chemical elements, this story is filled with the sort of imaginative details that one retains, such as the aristocrat's mansion located on Fresh Pond, in a depopulated Cambridge, Massachusetts. A reminder of the many ways in which sf can excel.  [M.M.]

This retelling of the ancient Cupid and Psyche myth, to which Lewis adds his personal philosophical spin, is a story about the nature of love, faith, pride, and human frailty, recounting the history of a woman trying to make the best of the hand she was dealt by powers she cannot control. It is certainly a work that affects readers differently when read at various stages of their lives, so it is worthy of rereading. And it is also noteworthy for its use of strong female central characters, an uncommon occurrence in Lewis's work.  [E.B.]

This extremely literate, elegant, and lyrical second novel by Ian MacLeod tells the story of an alternate Victorian England, a dark and magical place, teetering on the edge of change and of Robert Barrows, a young man hoping to ``witness the unravelling of some lost, exquisite mystery.'' MacLeod has created an England, a London; an ``age'' so credible, so complex and so ultimately compelling; I am hard-pressed to find comparisons with other things I have read in the genre (although, bear in mind that I haven't read everyone and everything). And if I have to wait another six years for MacLeod's next novel, I have no doubts that it will be worth it. Also recommended is his first novel, The Great Wheel, Harcourt Brace, 1997.  [Lois Powers]

Henry P. Baloney must explain to his teacher, Miss Bugscuffle, why he is late to class (again) or risk permanent, life-long detention. Henry's story of looking for his trusty zimulis involves razzo journeys caused by pressing the wrong buttuna and encounters with aliens who like his piksas. The story is told with words from Finnish, Swahili, Dutch, Welsh, Latvian, Inuktitut, and many others. There is a glossary at the back, but you won't really need it, other than to find out from which language each word comes. Another classic by the author and the illustrator of The Stinky Cheeseman and Other Fairly Stupid Stories. Bob Ingria would have loved it.  [Karl Wurst]

The story of von Kemplen's chess-playing automaton that confounded the public for over 200 years. Standage makes a good case for The Turk inspiring Babbage to develop the analytical engine, Poe to develop the mystery novel, and (by being the first automaton to appear to think) spawning the field of Artificial Intelligence. The tours of The Turk bring it (and the reader) into contact with the celebrities of late 18th and early 19th centuries including Franklin, Napoleon, and Barnum. Standage carefully catalogs all of the (ultimately incorrect) exposés of The Turk's inner workings before finally letting the reader in on the secret at the end.  [K.W.]

To a backwater planet ruled by a repressive, interstellar human government comes the Festival, the vanguard of a post-Singularity civilization. The techonology brought by the Festival overthrows the established order and triggers an interstellar war, also involving representatives of more-advanced human worlds and, possibly, Singular minds far beyond even the Festival's. The Singularity is Stross' great subject, as seen in the exfoliating density of ideas of his ``Accelerando'' story series, currently appearing in Asimov's. He approaches that density in places here, while delivering a fast-paced space opera as well, witty, politically thoughtful, and informed by up-to-date speculation in science and technology. You might want to remind yourself of what a light cone is, before starting. [M.M.]

In the tradition of the great magical realists of the last century The Long Silence of Mario Salviati unravels deliciously the magical, mysterious, sad, and often violent story of Yearsonend--a small community in South Africa whose people seem to be stuck in a unusually tangled past. This captivating and imaginative tale by an award-winning Afrikaans writer (who has been honored with every major South African prize for fiction) weaves together the past and the present; the real and the magical; and wraps it around a very gnarled family tree that includes the Mario Salviati of the book's title, a deaf, dumb, and blind Italian stonecutter.  [L.P.]

This small novel, published as a chapbook, is a light fantasy rather in the child's-tale vein, but displaying an inventive playfulness of language that imag-lit readers of all ages can take great pleasure in. It's the adventure of four young ``misps,'' or childlike fairies, who have stowed away in a large balloonish vehicle that plies the skies full of floating ``skyslands.'' There's an odd pianist whose instrument flies, and a huge music festival in the air. Obstacles are overcome with the aid of magic, sometimes too easily, but the real magic here is the author's virtuosic invention of new uses of words to act as parts of speech outside of their usual ones, combined with utterly vivid and delightful metaphoric phrasings. It somehow manages to come off fairly naturally. The wordslinging may sometimes stray into self-indulgence and overuse, but the images and quasi-poetic similes are often so delightful, provocative, and laugh-inducing that it's well worth it. And wait 'til you find out about the culinary pleasures of dead-letter mail.  [Richard Duffy]


The full set of annual Recommended Reading Lists:
RC_12 RC_13 RC_14 RC_15


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