Vacation has a way of bringing us back to ourselves. Well, if we do it right that is. Far too often people want to rush to some place and crowd in with ten thousand more individuals to observe some historic place or natural feature, thus changing the potential commune with our soul into a logjam of “human behavior,” with all the negatives that implies. All the stuff we go on vacation to get away from, we surround ourselves with while there (except work, if you’re lucky).
We didn’t want that this year. So the wife and I went up to the tiny town of Brooksville, Maine, with Cooper, our golden retriever (who is the Best Boy and did very good on the car ride, what a good boy he is). We rented a cabin on the coast, not terribly far from some of the worst of the sweaty human vacation logjams, but with no plan to visit those spots ourselves. Just the three of us in the woods at the end of a barely passable dirt road on a cliff in the pine trees overlooking the sea. Barely any internet, either. With exceptions on two days to go visit family, it was us and the water. Eagles, ravens, seals, a kayak…
And a lot of books.
I read voraciously as a child. In summers, I’d be at the library at least once a week, usually to return a few books and take out a few more. I became so well known by the librarian she’d buy books simply because she assumed I might like them. Get to know your local librarian, folks, its a joy. When she retired, it was the death of me. The new librarian didn’t know me, and it smarted a little that she didn’t buy things I loved in particular (though she did buy enough fantasy and science fiction to keep me happy).
In the last decade or two, I’d read a lot less. There’s so much television to take in; so many video games to play. My efforts at writing. I’ve been reading plenty of short stories, but much less long-form. Precious few novels and novellas. Yet my TBR pile of books kept growing ever larger. With the expectation we’d be mostly cut off from humanity and technology (definitely no TV at the cabin, and the internet was too spotty to play any games), I took a bunch of books with the intention of getting through at least a couple of them.
We left on Friday, July 2. By the next Thursday, I had to go to the local bookstore to find another book to tide me over. And even THAT book I finished the next day. All told, in one week I read:
5 novels; 2 novellas; maybe 20 short stories.
I was in the middle of a re-read of Snuff, a discworld novel, when we left. I finished those two hundred pages pretty quickly on the Saturday and Sunday after we arrived. Always enjoyable reading one of those, and I still have many more to get to (some I’ve read, but many I still have not). Sunday being a rainy day, I quickly moved on.
One of my writing friends, Beth, had recommended I check out A Night in the Lonesome October, a book by Roger Zelazny I’d somehow missed in all my years of loving his work. I brought a copy along with me and tore through it on Sunday afternoon and Monday morning. Really fun, light read, and quite enjoyable. An interesting conceit, one done many times now by others. Not sure how early he was to the “famous literary and/or historic characters placed in a new setting” motiff, but he carried it off admirably.
Next up was Harrow the Ninth, follow up to the massively successful Gideon the Ninth. This was a VERY different book than Gideon, though. Gideon was all sword play and swagger, bravado and meme culture, wrapped up in a science fiction goth necromancy swashbuckling fantasy setting. Where Gideon was dark humor, Harrow placed a broken main character at the forefront and fleshed out the work with thick, layered descriptions. Gideon felt lean and rapid fire, while Harrow felt long and darkly languid. And that is in no way meant to denigrate Harrow, which is a great book in its own right. It’s just a very DIFFERENT book then its predecessor and needs to be understood in that light. I was somewhat confused for 300 pages, but had “ideas” about what was going on. Ideas that proved correct, and led to one hell of a worthy payoff and ending. Harrow was dark and often depressing – one of the negatives of writing unlikable and broken main characters – but still glorious to read. Loved it immensely.
I had copies of two Fritz Leiber novellas on my Kindle, so I turned to those. Ill Met in Lankhmar was already familiar to me, having read all the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories several times when I was younger, but it was great reconnecting with them (and realizing the influences these stories had on my own novelette, Fox and Troll Steal Math, which remains held for consideration at the latest place I submitted it). Ship of Shadows was not one I’d read before, and I loved the way what felt at first like a fever dream fantasy story became something entirely different by the end. Both fantastic reads and fun (though the first suffers on re-read from “hindsight is 20-20” on the trope meter for its ‘fridging of not one but two women connected to the main characters).
Realizing I preferred to hold a book in my hand rather than read on the kindle, we headed for the bookstore on Thursday. We also got lobsters and lobster rolls for lunch, so it was really a two-fer trip. I picked up The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, a book I’d wanted to read for a long time. Absolutely not disappointed, either. Fantastic alt-history story grounded in strong historic truths, with fascinating “what ifs” about the world and the space program. I enjoyed it so much I immediately ordered the two sequels on Friday, knowing they would be available by the time I got home.
The only book I bounced off of was Planetfall, by Emma Newman. I started it on Friday, but had only gotten maybe a third of the way before we left and I’m not really planning on continuing it. It was written well enough, but I didn’t really connect with the main characters and didn’t find it’s science fiction mash up of religious fever and planetary discovery to be something that held my attention. I consider that more about me and my preferences, my need to read more uplifting books, then the work of this author (Harrow being the exception to that rule of course).
I also read the most recent issue of Metaphorosis magazine, some stories in Clarkesworld, the Daily Science Fiction posts, and some other things which are escaping me at the moment. Is it any wonder I can’t remember them all, though?
Then we drove thirteen hours home, and Cooper was once again a Very Good Boy. The first of the follow ups to The Calculating Stars awaited me on arrival. Sure, there are still video games to play. We had an episode of Loki to catch up on. Black Widow awaited us on Disney+. But I’ve already read 190 pages of The Fated Sky and have no intention of letting go again of this love for reading that I’ve reconnected with.
Now I’m planning a trip to the local library. Gotta get in good with the librarians there so I can ensure they’ll carry what I love.