Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Holiday Reading: Redux

In case all the tweeting and yesterday's post hasn't given the game away, my holidays are, much to my dismay, well and truly over.

I had just the loveliest time.

No surprises there, I suppose. The company was all I could hope for. The cottage was just lovely; warm, spacious, stocked and perfectly placed. As for Skye itself, well, suffice it to say last week wasn't my first time in the Western Isles - nor my tenth, come to that - but the weather was with us, and there were, as per usual, some incredible sights to be seen.

Yes, I took that. Didn't I go up high! :)

We took in the Faerie Glen, the Old Man of Storr and the Quirang; there was no shortage of fun to be had in the ruins that dot the island; and in Portree - the only place populated enough that you might call it a town - we idled a beautiful day away by the pier and in a great veggie-friendly restaurant that I'd urge everyone who goes to Skye eats in at least once. Cafe Arriba might have cooked up the only cheese and leek fritters I've ever had, but I don't doubt that they were the very best. Dee-licious!

But the Speculative Scotsman is no place to be burbling on about food and local landmarks - however good the food and however historic the landmarks. First and foremost, this is a blog about books! And wouldn't you know it, somehow, in between all the gallivanting around, I found the time to get some serious reading in too.

As detailed in The Curious Case, I took eight books on holiday with me. Actually, that's a bit of a fib. You see, I managed to catch the Amazon man before I left, and - I've no idea how - a ninth novel snuck into my suitcase: Shadow and Betrayal, an omnibus of the first two volumes of Daniel Abraham's sprawling quartet, The Long Price. The first half of which I read, and loved. I'll hold off on saying any more till I've finished the second part.

Of the remaining eight books, I read three, and started two others. Not half bad considering the sun was blazing down every day but for one (my birthday) when I'd fully expected it to be a spiteful no-show so early in the year.

For no particular reason, the first novel that I read from the little library I took on holiday with me was A Dark Matter by Peter Straub. Short of a review and an interview on The Book Smugglers, I really haven't seen much coverage of this one, which is a shame. It's not a perfect piece of speculative fiction - scattershot in places and a little too metaphysical for my tastes, to be honest - but nonetheless, it's an accomplished story by turns creepy and baffling that kept me turning pages well into the wee hours of an evening.

Stay tuned for more on A Dark Matter within the next few weeks. In fact, you can expect a review of that - not to be a tease, but it's already in the can, waiting for the right moment to make a break for it - as well as my takes on the other two books I read from cover to cover within the next few weeks. Which is to say, Alexey Pehov's apparent Night Watch-killer Shadow Prowler and Kat Falls' fabulously inventive all-ages underwater thriller, Dark Life - both of which I enjoyed, although to varying extents. You'll have to wait and see which book's first third nearly had me at my wit's end...

Of course, I had both the winner and the runner-up of February's holiday reading poll in with my luggage, too, and though I'm afraid to say I didn't manage to give the latter - Scar Night by Alan Campbell - another go, as I'd planned to, I did manage to read roughly 400 pages of Gardens of the Moon, the first volume of The Malazan Book of the Fallen. I have the 10th anniversary edition of Steven Erikson's fantasy debut, and the author's down-to-earth introduction had me worried that I might be among those readers who "bail on the series in the first third".

I did not. I suppose there's time yet - but I sincerely doubt that I'll turn my back on the series given how much I've enjoyed what little I've read of it. It was hard going to start with, I'll grant, dense and intimidating at every turn, but soon enough I'd fallen in with the rhythm and flow of Erikson's prose, and from there on out I really began to get into Gardens of the Moon.

So much so, in fact, that in a few weeks you'll be seeing the first in what I hope will be a regular feature series here on The Speculative Scotsman. For the moment, I'm calling it The Malazan Diaries, and whatever particular shape or form it might take, it's going to be a chronicle of my experiences with The Malazan Book of the Fallen from the very first page of the first book in the sequence to the last page of The Crippled God, which still doesn't have a release date yet, though given Erikson's track record should be along sometime in 2011. If I've time enough, I may even take in the novella-length side-stories, not to mention co-creator Ian Cameron Esslemont's novels of The Malazan Empire.

It's going to be quite the trip, and God knows, it could take years for me to make, but I mean to be good and ready for the last novel in The Malazan Book of the Fallen when it arrives. For now, I'll say no more - only advise that you keep your browsers and RSS readers tuned to The Speculative Scotsman for more details on The Malazan Diaries shortly. And if you're feeling particularly kind, you can even help spread the word. This promises to be a long and involved discussion of one of the great fantasy sagas of all time, and if you know a Malazan fan, please do point him or her on over here; I'd love to have everyone with even a passing interest on the series along for the ride, and the participation of an experienced Erikson reader could make for a perfect counterweight to what I'm sure will be a wealth of uninformed observations and assumptions.

So there we have it. My holiday reading. I'm sad, of course, that my break is over, but it was a lovely time, and I'm grateful for that.

But let's be honest: the reading certainly won't stop just because my holiday has!

That's it for today. Expect the usual assortment of news, reviews and interviews to return with a vengeance as of tomorrow. For one thing, it's finally come time to share my interview with Sam Sykes with you all, not to mention my thoughts on Tome of the Undergates, an exciting giveaway... and much, much more.


  1. "I didn't manage ... Scar Night by Alan Campbell" - Sounds like your holiday reading poll was a bit of a waste of time then.

  2. @Afront - Um. Not to be a stickler, but the winner of the holiday reading poll was The Malazan Book of the Fallen, which I did start reading. I only took Scar Night up with me because clearly some TSS readers were interested to hear about it. It was the runner-up and I made no promises. That said, it's got pride of place on the TBR stack and I will be giving it the second chance I'd hoped to on holiday just as soon as I've addressed a few more immediate releases.

  3. Not to be a stickler either, but TSS readers voted for The Malazan Book of the Fallen and Scar Night - you didn't read either of these but you read 4 other books instead. This is why I thought it sounded like your holiday reading poll was a bit of a waste of time.

    Anyway keep up the good work.

  4. @Afront - Wait, what? I did too read The Malazan Book of the Fallen. Gardens of the Moon is what I spend the majority of the above post writing about. And the other books I read are for review on the blog in any event.

    But please, let's not squabble. I'll be reading Scar Night in due course and there's going to be a bunch more coverage of Erikson's novels here on TSS - and it was they, not they and Scar Night, which won the holiday reading poll.

  5. Ah OK, sorry I thought you said you'd only managed the first 400 pages of the poll winner. I've never read any Erikson myself but I have read fellow Scot Alan Campbell's trilogy and think the first two were superb books.

    Mostly though I'm just whining because it sounded like you had a great holiday and I've not been away myself in ages :p

  6. @Afront - Despite all the preparatory burbling about my week away, this holiday honestly took me a bit by surprise, too. Wasn't planning to be off for at least another month, but the cottage emptied out and off we went.

    I have to say I've been a bit spoiled in terms of holidays since last year. Belgium, Hungary and Croatia all in the space of 2009, and now a week in Skye. My other half's a mad traveller, so what am I going say? No? ;)

    It was a great time, all things considered, though now that I'm back there's just so much catching up to be done it's hard to believe. I've been home two days and I'm still nowhere near up to speed. But hey, I'm not complaining.

    You have my word, mate: I'll read Scar Night and report back just as soon as I can. I'm sorry I didn't manage to get to it while I was on holiday, but I'd thought I would have more time to devote to the reading than I did, and that's just how things turned out.

  7. Well done - and welcome aboard the Malazan band wagon. Awesome stuff - and enjoy reading the rest of the series. I've read all currently published books (including ICE's side novels and the novellas) twice now and will again just before The Crippled God comes out. This series is so dense and brilliant it benefits from re-reads... and whatever you do, don't bail after GOTM before giving Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice a go - two absolute masterpieces. I say this because some people didn't overly like the ending to GoTM - don't let it deter you if you end up feeling the same... (I didn't).

  8. "This promises to be a long and involved discussion of one of the great fantasy sagas of all time"

    Can't wait! :)

  9. I'm looking forward to a Malazan Diary, and I won't mind more photos and stories of Scotland, either. Love that country.