Ricardo Sanchez Book Bin

Ordering "lots" of old books on eBay is how I pick what to read next. This blog is about some dusty old books you may have missed, and what I'm working on now.

Songs of the Dying Earth

Songs of the Dying Earth: Stories in Honour of Jack Vance - Tanith Lee, Dan Simmons, Phyllis Eisenstein, Mike Resnick, Robert Silverberg, Tom Kidd, Tad Williams, Walter Jon Williams, Elizabeth Moon, Gardner R. Dozois, Howard Waldrop, Glen Cook, Jack Vance, Terry Dowling, Kage Baker, Liz Williams, Elizabeth Hand, John C. Wright, Pau The Dying Earth - Jack Vance

Jack Vance has been one of my favorite writers ever since I first read his short story "Nopalgarth." I immediate read my way through everything of his I could find, and when I finally encountered The Dying Earth, my mind was blown. The merger of science and magic and the idea of an Earth so old nobody remembers it's history opened me up to a bunch of new fiction and established my taste in reading and writing.


On a recent plane trip I realized I'd forgotten to pack any books, but the airport book shop had Songs of the Dying Earth, an anthology or original short stories from mega names like Neil Gaiman, and edited by George R.R. Martin. I bought the book despite that (I'm the only guy I know that doesn't really like either of those writers, but my mixed feelings about Martin's bibliography is another post) because I figured the big names of sci-fi and fantasy wouldn't just phone it in, and for the most part, that's true. The stories do a great job of evoking Vance, although none quite captures the almost foreign feeling you get from the original stories. Story telling has changed a lot since then, so I chalk it up to different sensibilities for modern writers.


Of the wide variety of stories in the anthology, "An Incident in Uksvesk" by Elizabeth Moon was my hands down favorite. This particular story felt the least like something Vance would write, while at the same time doing an outstanding job of feeling like it belonged in his world. I won't spoil the fun by telling you more.


Some other writers you might recognize that also contributed to the anthology include Silverberg, Tad Williams, Tanith Lee (her stories have always felt Vance-like to me) and Terry Dowling.

The Shockwave Rider by John Brunner

The Shockwave Rider - John Brunner

Brunner is always good for an interesting read. As a writer, he stewed up plots that, to my mind, are rarely matched in originality by other more celebrated writers. As much as I admire Brunner and his work, reading The Shockwave Rider was a real struggle despite the fact that I suspect the novel was fairly influential on what would become cyberpunk. 


The core concepts behind the book lie in Alvin Toffler's Future Shock. The basic premise is that the culture of early 21st century America moves at hyper speed, too quickly for most normal peopleto cope with. The protagonist, Nick Haflinger is no ordinary person though. He's a computer genius who can also create new personalities, not just new identities, but new personalities, to keep himself one step ahead of a secret government/military school, called Tarnover, that he's escaped from. 


Most vintage sci-fi, whether it is from the 40's or 70's, has artifacts like memory tapes or everyone smoking cigarettes, but it rarely makes the story difficult to get through. But the paranoia, fears, and sense of a radically changing world in Shockwave Rider are all very rooted in the 1970's. So much so, that it is often difficult to get past the 70's zeitgeist that is threaded throughout the story. Much of what Brunner wrote was fairly prescient, like computer worms on a global internet (the book is actually credited with being the originator of the term computer worm,) or light speed interpersonal communications, but culturally, we've moved past so much of what made the so called dangers identified in Future Shock that it's too hard to understand or empathize with some of the various characters' goals. 


If you're a Brunner fan and haven't read it, and you're a completist, I wouldn't stop you, but this book is only for the hard core fan.


Nopalgarth by Jack Vance

Nopalgarth - Jack Vance

Vance is one of my favorite writers. The man could come up with the most outlandish ideas and turn them into great stories. Nopalgarth, which is basically a novella, is a great example. 


What if there were invisible creatures squatting on your head that fundamentally altered your perception of the world? And what if there were a war raging from star to star to exterminate these invisible creatures, and it was discovered that Earth was their home planet?


It sounds dumb, but Vance makes it terrifying. One of his better and more accessible short stories. 

The Night Shapers by James Blish

The Night Shapers -  James Blish

My latest airplane reading was a relatively short book by James Blish. Most of his work is straight up sci-fi, but Night Shapers is quite a different work altogether. The book takes place in 1900-ish Africa, and posits what would things have been like if many of the primitive beliefs and powers of African witch-doctors were real?


It's a great premise, and not something I've run across elsewhere (as opposed to the dystopian future meme) so if you're interested in something short and off the beaten track, give the book a whirl.