Archive for the 'reading' Category

SF Book Cover Carnival

Tech guru and fellow SF fan Shawn tweeted last week about how his taste in SF is sometimes influenced by cover art and sometimes not. I thought that was a great subject for a blog post!

What influences me most? Either an author whose work I know and like, or the recommendation of a friend with similar reading taste. If I’m browsing online, I’ll take a look at the book description and read random reviews. If I’m in a brick-and-mortar bookstore, I’ll read the cover blurb, flip through the book and read a sample paragraph or two, and then finally look at the cover art.

Good cover art can make me pick up a book, and bad cover art can cause me to leave it on the shelf, visit after visit. I realize good and bad are subjective, but I tend to avoid overly cliched or prurient cover art, excessively romantic art, and am annoyed by covers where the author’s name is bigger than the book title. I also pretty much avoid books where the publisher thinks the author is too special to print a blurb on the back anymore.

Here are some random examples of books I have picked up because the art was excellent – and books I have not picked up because the art is so unappealing or downright annoying.

Books I’d Buy Books I Wouldn’t

by Gregory Maguire
Cutout-style graphics are striking, colorful, bold and related to the story – subtitle use is excellent.
White as Snow

by Tanith Lee
She’s a good author who I haven’t read in quite some time, but this cover seems insipid, pale & florid.
Red Mars

by Kim Stanley Robinson
The Mars series has one of the best hard SF cover designs I’ve seen. I admit; bought the books because of it. Nice use of black and color, great font choices & sizes.
Winds of Fate

by Mercedes Lackey
This cover tells me it’s a hyper-cliched sword and sorcery romantic fantasy, with bonus pretty ponies! Plus the swirly purple background is annoying.

by Jay Lake
Great thematic cover art, the unconventional upside down warrior woman is compelling, and the cover shouts “adventure” at the reader.

by Lynn Viehl
Neither toned pecs & abs, Fabio hair, nor mesmerizing eye closeups do much to sell a novel to me. (Although Ms. Viehl writes a heckuva blog: Paperback Writer.)
A Fistful of Sky

by Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Utterly lovely color art that’s relevant to the story, great font choices, very compelling title – very innovative contemporary fantasy cover.
Midnight’s Daughter

by Karen Chance
Enough with the butt shots of paranormal fantasy heroines – this is only one of many such. Plus, the author’s name overshadows title.
Sunrise Lands

by SM Stirling
I’m a total sucker for the iconic hero or heroine riding off into the sunset. This cover executes it well. Yes, the author’s name is too large. :(
Game of Thrones

by George RR Martin
This cover is plain to the point of being blah. I will admit: I own and enjoyed this book, it’s Martin!

Click over to for a really hilarious read on bad fantasy and science fiction book covers; most of the art is badly dated but the commentary is priceless.

Posted on Monday, October 26th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: reading | 7 Comments »

I Read Banned Books!

CensorshipWHEREAS, the freedom to read is essential to our democracy, and reading is among our greatest freedoms; and

WHEREAS, privacy is essential to the exercise of that freedom, and the right to privacy is the right to open inquiry without having the subject of one’s interest examined or scrutinized by others; and

WHEREAS, the freedom to read is protected by our Constitution; and

WHEREAS some individuals, groups, and public authorities work to remove or limit access to reading materials, to censor content in schools, to label “controversial” views, to distribute lists of “objectionable” books or authors, and to purge libraries of materials reflecting the diversity of society; and

WHEREAS, both governmental intimidation and the fear of censorship cause authors who seek to avoid controversy to practice self-censorship, thus limiting our access to new ideas; and

WHEREAS, every silencing of a heresy, every enforcement of an orthodoxy, diminishes the toughness and resilience of American society and leaves it less able to deal with controversy and difference; and

WHEREAS, Americans still favor free enterprise in ideas and expression, and can be trusted to exercise critical judgment, to recognize propaganda and misinformation, and to make their own decisions about what they read and believe, and to exercise the responsibilities that accompany this freedom; and

WHEREAS, intellectual freedom is essential to the preservation of a free society and a creative culture; and

WHEREAS, conformity limits the range and variety of inquiry and expression on which our democracy and our culture depend; and

WHEREAS, the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year as a reminder to Americans not to take their precious freedom for granted; and

WHEREAS, Banned Books Week celebrates the freedom to choose or the freedom to express one’s opinion even if that opinion might be considered unorthodox or unpopular and stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of those unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints to all who wish to read them; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the Smug Puppies blog celebrates the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, September 26-October 3, 2009, and be it further

RESOLVED, that Smug Puppies encourages all libraries and bookstores to acquire and make available materials representative of all the people in our society; and be it further

RESOLVED, that Smug Puppies and its author, Jeri Sisco, encourage free people to read freely, now and forever.

September 28, 2009
Poulsbo, WA

Note: this is copied and adapted, with permission, from the ALA’s Banned Books Week proclamation.

Top 100 most frequently Banned or Challenged Classics
I challenge you to read one – or more – this week!

Posted on Monday, September 28th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: reading | 3 Comments »

Modern Bookselling

I am out of new reading material, so wandered by the book rack at my local Fred Meyer – a big box store. They typically have a pretty decent selection of both science fiction/fantasy and mystery, a couple of well stocked racks of both.

I prefer SF/F, but came away with nothing new. Why?

  • 75% of what was on the shelves was series fiction – and most of the books were book 2, 3 or 4 in that series.

  • 25% of the books (also mostly series) appeared to be paranormal fiction, many featuring the backside of some butt-kicking heroine who would be fighting vampires, demons, shapeshifters, etc.

  • 10% of shelf space was media tie-in books – Star Trek, Star Wars, Forgotten Realms, etc.

  • 3 or 4 books were vintage SF – a Charles Gibson, Timothy Zahn, Gregory Benford. Excellent books, but I’ve read them.

  • Of the several books remaining, most were by known authors I dislike (William Dietz, David Weber)

I can understand why publishers might want to publish series – they get stickiness, a set of readers that stay with the author through the series of books. I’d suggest, though, that serial works see a diminishing level of return, depending on book quality, publishing frequency and author prominence.

On the flip side, you get readers like me, who would love to browse a bookshelf and pick up a standalone book, but who are not interested in a middle book in a series (which is often all that’s available) nor a long term commitment to a given author.

I’d suggest that the sales lost in the latter case exceed the potential market retained through the life of most series, with rare exceptions.

Come on, booksellers, publishers – how about more standalone books? I can’t remember the last time I saw a one-off fantasy book. And while we’re at it, could we try to put out a little more space opera/hard SF and a little less vampire romance?

Posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 by Jeri
Under: books, reading | 4 Comments »

A Novel Question

I’ve recently been reading a series – or maybe more accurately, a serial novel, by Charles Stross, whom I admire. He could write a preface to a phone book and I’d enjoy it, but in this particular instance, I’m finding myself becoming annoyed. He’s triggered my three main pet peeves of novel writing, so I’m probably done for now.

The Endless Series
I like stories that wrap themselves up in a single book. I enjoy multiple novels set in the same universe, chronologically (see: Vorkosigan, Miles) but I’m not crazy about never-ending story arcs. In some cases I can tolerate trilogies if there is some story resolution within the larger arc, giving definition to the individual novels, but I can’t think of a longer series I’ve enjoyed. In a sprawling series, I dislike the proliferation of characters at the expense of character development, the lack of forward momentum on the plotline giving a “perils of Pauline” feel to the story, and the introduction of more questions than answers into a story (see: Wheel of Time series). I especially detest the cliffhanger ending; the lack of resolution actually has the opposite effect on me, I’m much less likely to buy the follow-up novel because it makes me highly annoyed with the story and the author.

Diverging Points of View
When writing a sprawling series, it’s very difficult to tell a story of broad scope and scale through a single hero’s point of view. As the story grows more complex, and groups of characters split, divide, and go their own way, the point of view splits, divides, and follows different groups of characters, interwoven throughout the book. (see: Clancy, Tom) This creates multiple interlocking story lines that are interdependent upon each other, that converge and impact each other, and that affect each others’ pacing. When used sparingly it can be effective; when overused it can kill a story. All too often, if there are too many groups of characters that the reader is not sympathetic to, or story lines that are faltering, it drags the whole story down with it – plus, the author can create a sense of chaos by trying to follow too many different points of view simultaneously.

The Mary-Sue Heroine
The Mary Sue is a term originally coined in fan fiction but extended to regular fiction to describe the hero or heroine who is too perfect to be possible in the universe at hand. It’s used to describe an over-the-top and clichéd character whose features, such as exotic hair and eye colors, mystical or superhuman powers are greater than those of the other characters. This character often has exotic pets, possessions or origins, or an unusually tragic past, often glaringly out of keeping with the inner consistency of the universe. The character is often improbably lucky in romance, adventure, battle or popularity, and the rules and customs of the universe bend for him or her. (see: Wright, Jim) In this particular series, the main character is believable, but a couple of the supporting heroines keep developing Mary Sue type qualities in deus ex machina ways. “Oh, we need X talent? Oh, in spite of what it seemed like, she has the talent, she’s had it all along, she’s just been a covert operative hiding that capability.”

What are your reading pet peeves – what makes you so annoyed that you are not likely to finish a book, continue a series or continue buying from an author?

Posted on Monday, December 22nd, 2008 by Jeri
Under: reading, writing | 15 Comments »

On Books

What was the last book you bought?
My last books bought were Ghosts of Vesuvius, The Great Deluge and Disaster Archaeology.

Name a book you have read MORE than once
I re-read many, many books, given my voracious reading speed! Here are some of the more frequently re-read: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Dune, The Clowns of God, Ender’s Game, Lucifer’s Hammer, anything by Lois McMaster Bujold, CJ Cherryh, Neil Gaiman, Robin McKinley, Robert Heinlein, Greg Bear, Connie Willis, Elizabeth Moon or Dick Francis.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?
There are a few. The Clowns of God and Anne Lamott’s books have given me a fresh perspective on faith, Memory is an incredible tale of resilience and Heinlein’s books have influenced my political beliefs.

How do you choose a book? (E.g. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews?)
Primarily, I choose books by authors I enjoy or recommendation, secondarily by the jacket summary, and finally by cover design and reading random pages. Good cover art won’t sell a book to me, because I realize how little it sometimes has to do with content, but bad cover art will veto a choice for me because I’d be embarrassed to read it in public.

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?
Fiction – reading is my mental vacation. When I read non-fiction it’s very focused, either based upon a recommendation or a specific professional or personal line of research.

What’s more important in a novel, beautiful writing or a gripping plot?
Both – if either is lacking, the book falls flat. I’m having a tough time finishing Perdido Street Station because the writing is amazing but the plot and pacing take a backseat to style.

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)
Cordelia Vorkosigan. Jani Kilian. Heris Serrano. Aragorn. Eowyn. Paul Dekker. Nicholas Seafort.

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?
Ghosts of Vesuvius. Expanded Universe. Perdido Street Station.

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?
The last book I finished, before NaNoWriMo started, was Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?
Occasionally. But I’m more likely to keep reading, hoping it will improve at some point throughout the book – and then, at the end, flip it into the “trade” stack in disgust.

Thanks to Ilya for the meme!

Posted on Monday, November 24th, 2008 by Jeri
Under: reading | 1 Comment »