“What are you reading, Ken?” I assume you are asking for purposes of today’s post.
I’m glad you asked. As usual, I have several books going at any one time. This week I finished “The Hunted” by Elmore Leonard. Typically outstanding work. It is also an example of how cell phones have changed everything. The same story could not be written as a contemporary piece. Still, excellent 70’s-vintage Leonard.
Philip Jose Farmer (or P.J., as Appendix N has him) was a prolific author of pulp adventure. (By the way, I don’t need to keep spelling out what Appendix N is, do I? If you’re reading this web log you’re probably hip to the reference.) I’d call him an acolyte of Edgar Rice Burroughs. He mined the same story veins, and even wrote in Burroughs’ worlds, including some straight-up Tarzan books, as well as spin-offs. Check out his Opar novels, fantastic pre-history, lost-civilization adventures spun off from Tarzan’s adventures in Burroughs’ fictional Opar.
Farmer is noted in Appendix N for his “World of Tiers” novels. I’ve not read them all. Something I should, perhaps, remedy. What I think of when I consider Farmer is his “Riverworld” series. I picked up “To Your Scattered Bodies Go” when I was twelve or thirteen. And I proceeded to devour the entire series. Those books started a fascination with Richard Francis Burton that lasted until I learned a lot more about the famed explorer’s true character and actions. I like Farmer’s Burton much more than the original.
The conceit of “Riverworld” is that everyone who has ever lived on Earth wakes after death upon the banks of a world-encircling river. The reader is tossed into the story in the point of view of Burton, and learns the mysteries of “Riverworld” along with him. There’s a lot of great action as well as spot-the-historical-figure fun. These latter include Alice Liddell and Samuel Clemens. At least, I think so. It has been decades since I read these books, but they did leave an impression.
Farmer was an obvious fan of genre fiction. His oeuvre is replete with pastiches of Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage, and Tarzan. (Yes, I did just serve up the phrase “oeuvre is replete.” Deal with it.) I doubt I presume too much suggesting that Farmer’s taste in stories aligned closely with that of Gary Gygax. It’s hard to imagine Farmer not appearing in Appendix N. (Though I imagine “J.C. on the Dude Ranch” was less to Gygax’s liking. I recall reading that story with appalled fascination as a kid.)
The man was a pro, a solid entertainer. He’s not going to knock your socks off with his prose stylings, but he wrote competent, engaging fiction. If you pick up one of his books you’re practically guaranteed a fun read.
I am usually reading three or four books at any given point, all at varying points of completion. Call it the book chute. There are books upstream, queuing up to enter the chute, and there are others just emerging from the chute, freshly read. So here’s a snapshot of the book chute now, and it is fairly representative.
I finished Robert Sheckley’s “Immortality, Inc.” recently. And I’m about a quarter into Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash.” Yes, I’m late to the party on both of those. “Snow Crash” I’ve meant to read for years, but I wanted to buy a copy instead of checking it out from the library. I’m also cheap, so I wanted to buy a used copy, but have never been able to find anything other than new. Birthday gift card to the rescue! Actually my intent was to pick up the latest of Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos novels, but Barnes & Noble didn’t have a copy in stock (odd, since they’d been pushing it in the inescapable online advertisements that accompany my web browsing.)
I mention “Immortality, Inc.” and “Snow Crash” together because I find it interesting to read almost side by side two visions of the future written about fifty years apart. Both still hold up despite missing certain developments. Sheckley didn’t forecast the computer revolution. And it is disconcerting to read so much about telephone operators and pay calls. The nineteen-fifties permeate the book, but it is still an inventive take on the future. Stephenson stuck with the cyberpunk conception of the internet as an immersive, virtual world, navigated on foot by avatars, interfacing with programs on an almost physical basis instead of through the intermediation of a keyboard. And he didn’t take wi-fi far enough, not envisioning the speed and data capacity we now take for granted. But I’m digging the book to this point.
I’m also reading M.A.R. Barker’s “Flamesong.” I finished the first of his Tékumel novels, “The Man of Gold,” a couple of months ago, and moved on to “Flamesong.” The world-building is first rate, and hyper-detailed. Perhaps overly so. I almost worry there will be a test once I’ve finished the book.
I’m reading “The Thousand” by Kevin Guilefoile. Think Dan Brown, but with more originality and a bit of a sci-fi component. And, so far, better writing.
Then there’s the collection of Sherlock Holmes stories sitting on the upstairs toilet tank, “The Improbable Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.” One must have a bathroom book, right?
In line I’ve got a couple of Violette Malan’s Dhulyn and Parno novels, conveniently combined in a single volume, and a John Ringo novel, “Live Free or Die.”
So long as I keep the chute fed, I’m content.
I think the pages of Sherlock Holmes pastiche I’ve read equals or surpasses the volume of “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” I have on my shelves. And I’m certain I’ve barely scratched the surface of the short stories, novels, comic books, etc. featuring Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creation. I’ll be able to skip three of the stories in the anthology of Holmes stories I’m currently reading since I read them already in another anthology I own. Has anyone ever performed a count of non-Canon Sherlock Holmes stories? I imagine the tally would be obsolete by the time it was completed. And the number is even larger if we include anonymous appearances by the great detective, e.g., Roger Zelazny’s “A Night in the Lonesome October.”
It is a rare and wonderful feat for a character to outlive its creator. Few characters capture the imagination of large enough swathes of the reading public to inspire new adventures after the original author dies.