Monday, January 12, 2015

The Great SFF Book Bonanza of 2015

Okay, y'all.  I have an ugly confession to make. I'm warning you right now: it's bad. It's real bad.

Are you ready? Promise not to be mad?

All right, here it is: I basically didn't read last year.

And before your monocle drops in the champagne, let me clarify: I DID read. I totally did. I read for work - let me tell you, I am now the James Wood of 10th- and 11th-grade Catholic school booklists - and for my friends, several of whom have manuscripts so amazing that my fists curl in disgust every time I realize that you guys can't read them yet.

But in terms of voluntary, published, pull-it-off-the-shelf-and-buy-it leisure reading - forget keeping abreast of new releases; I haven't even glimpsed a side-boob.

It is most definitely time to change that.

So this is where I throw myself at your feet and clasp your knees like a Greek supplicant and say "help me, benevolent literarian - deliver me from my prison of ignorance and squalor."  Would you, could you, pretty please with a cherry on top:
  1. Recommend me a book, novella, or short story
  2. of the sci-fi/fantasy/spec-fic persuasion
  3. that was professionally published in 2014
  4. and that you thought was terrific.
I know - it's a tall and oddly specific order. But here's the thing: the Hugo and Nebula nominations are open for a limited time only (and man, if anybody knows when the Hugo noms close, clue me in, because my and Google's best guess is mid-March).  And as someone who is now actually eligible to vote in both, I am anxious not to let some wonderful deserving Uncle-Ben masterpiece languish and die on the cold streets of collective indifference before I learn to use my powers for good.


see what I did there

If you are likewise of the SFF awards-voting persuasion, let me tell you about this amazing novel. It's called One Night in Sixes (but would have been better titled A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, if that bastard Eggers hadn't beaten me to it) and it is NOT ONLY Hugo and Nebula eligible, BUT ALSO a seminal entry in what is sure to be this year's hottest subgenre: epic fantasy literary Western culturepunk (or "rural fantasy" for short.)  Behold the stunning literary triumph that readers are calling "bad shit happens... then worse shit happens"! Marvel at what Publisher's Weekly hails as "murky" and GCE calls a "sweaty hot mess"! (The town of Sixes, that is.)  And if you like the sound of a slightly-wrecked Dark Tower-esque fantasy world with a funky, multicultural Deep Space Nine aesthetic, cowboy up and get you some.


(And if your gunnysack is coming up short on folding-money, hit me up. One Night in Sixes e-scholarship program available for a limited time.)

Okay, but anyway. Stories. Recs. Give them to me! And lest you think I'm completely helpless, here are the gems of 2014 I've already got jockeying for top spot on my TBR pile:
 Russ Linton - Crimson Son 

"Because when the Black Beetle invades your ice-hole, you grab your multi-tool and GTFO." I'm actually angry I haven't read this yet.  SUPERHERO BILDUNGSROMAN, GET IN ME.
Chuck Wendig - Blightborn

Because his dystopia is cooler than your dystopia. Because evil corn, that's why.

Beth Cato - The Clockwork Dagger 

Clerics and airships and murder and semi-rescued puppies and I KNEW HER BEFORE SHE WENT MAINSTREAM, dammit!
J.K. Cheney - The Seat of Magic

Her fishmen are sexier than mine. Her covers are colorier than mine. And her research - oh, let's not even talk about mine. Look, it's gaslamp fantasy with sirens in Portugal. Don't act like you're not excited.
Cixin Liu - The Three Body Problem

Confession: I don't know what this book is about. I don't WANT to know what this book is about. All I know is, 85% of my favorite people are completely over the moon about it, and I cannot wait to sit down and have the most amazing blind-date ever.

Okay. So those are my starter Pokemon. Think yours can compete with mine?  Prove it!  Put up your recs - my TBR pile can take anything you can dish out!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

How Not to Finish

You guys.  I seriously have no idea about this blog.  Has it turned into some kind of bi-monthly zen koan with pony pictures, now?  Should I rename it from "The Tex Files" to "Tex's Pithy Navelgazing Emo Jams?"  I don't know.  TAKE WHAT I GIVE YOU AND LIKE IT.

Okay, but seriously.  We're still less than a week past New Year's, which means y'all are all probably still freshly resolved.  Not gonna eat the donuts!  Not gonna smoke the smokes!  Not gonna finish things!

Yeah, you heard me.  See, it's like this: I spent the weekend having a nice little staycation at an Undisclosed Location, and while I was there, I did PHENOMENAL amounts of nothing.  Let me tell you, it was a rigorous, back-breaking regimen of zilch, nada, and bupkis.

Not to be confused with Blanko, Nawt, and Bupkus, et al.

Anyway, but there was a puzzle.  I did a puzzle.  Well, sort of.  It was one of those things that sounded SO FUN in my head, and I was so excited to finally do something *completely* self-indulgent and unproductive, and it was, and I did!  For about an hour, and then the next day for a couple of hours, and then a couple more.  At the end of five hours, this is all I had:

No, you don't get to see the picture. My Lisa Frank fetish is mine alone.

I know what you're thinking: "Oh Christ, please, not a puzzle metaphor." 

Nothing like that, I promise (cuz if you want heavy-handed literary analogies, you'll have to buy my books).  It could just as easily have been a ship in a bottle or a stained glass painting or a macrame dickey.  Anyway, I started to realize that finishing was going to take way longer than I thought.  And I was only there for the weekend.  And there was no way I was going to get it all done without turning idle fun into serious work, and how silly would that have been?

But here's the thing: the prospect of crumbling it up and putting it away was seriously, irrationally daunting.  Maybe this is only because - while I am a master-class partier, socializer, and all-purpose enjoyer of things - I am horribly out of practice at solitary and deliberate fun-having.  Maybe this next bit will be as massively obvious to you as... as a massively obvious thing.  I hope it is!

But I doubt I'm the only one who's forgotten how not to finish things.  And it occurs to me that all our moral programming - well, all of mine, anyway - has been geared towards Achievement, Accomplishment, Commitment.  Clean your plate.  Finish what you start.  Go the extra mile.  Just do it.  Growing up, we are taught that the worst thing you can be is a quitter.  Look, even the Tick says so, and he's basically the soul of America:

Seriously, don't.
And I guess it's good that we get the message, because you sure do need that grit and git'r done to learn what hard work and accomplishments feel like, and grow a foundation for your self-esteem, and become a self-motivated person and all of that. 

But like... you know, as we grow up and take on heavier loads - hella college, serious jobs, home-havership, parenting, etc. - that soft, wholesome coal gets compressed into this harder, sharper edge, doesn't it?  We share around all these tips and tricks for maximizing your efficiency, and figure out innovative new ways to choreograph our days around the almighty to-do list, and write splashy horseshit magazine articles about how you can do a whole workout in seven minutes or get almost-as-good-as a whole night's sleep if you nap for exactly 18.3 minutes, like Homer Simpson compressing five pounds of spaghetti into one handy little granola bar and then downing it in a bite.  It's productivity porn, and just like actual porn, it leaves us exhausted, addicted, and unable to enjoy the real thing.  

In other words, we learn to always finish whatever we start (which leaves a lot of us terrified to start, and a lot more ashamed of not failing to finish), because we've let ourselves believe that any time spent on an unfinished thing is time wasted, and anyone who doesn't finish things is a gormless flake, and anything finished is an achievement - even if all we got out of it was the grim satisfaction of finally having the damn thing done.  (For the try/fail version of this vicious mentality, go read Hyperbole and a Half's This is Why I'll Never Be an Adult.)

Isn't it grand, though, the way little kids live?  Wouldn't it be nice to have that back again - to remember how to leave food on your plate, and how to stop watching a movie or reading a book or building a Lego-castle when you aren't having fun anymore, and not even worry about whether or when you might go back to it?  I kind of want to find my way back there again - to enjoy the actual doing, not just the having-done, and to finish just the important things, not ALL of the things.

Anyway, so that's my New Year's resolution: this year, I'm going to practice not finishing.  In fact, I'm going to stop writing this right now, and go play with my kitty.

Michael, I did nothing. I did absolutely nothing, and it was everything that I thought it could be.