What You Should Have Read This Year: ArmadilloCon 2006 panel

ArmadilloCon traditionally has a panel “What You Should Have Read This Year”. The panelists are usually people who are closely familiar with science fiction, fantasy, or horror genres: most of them are book sellers (like Willie) or editors (like Diana Gill). In this panel they talk about new noteworthy books that they recommend to everybody who likes these genres. This year the panelists were Bill Crider, Willie Siros, Diana Gill, and Zane Melder.

First, some funny or memorable quotes I’ve heard in this panel


Willie. There are British editors who tell me with a straight face that they don’t buy books that need editing.

Having recommended a new book by Patricia McKillip “Solstice Wood”, Willie adds: Patricia McKillip is another of our masters. I wish they (?) had tapped her on the shoulder instead of JK Rowling.

Bill Crider warns that his must-read book list is less serious than that of other folks. He recommends a novel by Christopher Moore, “A Dirty Job”. It starts out with a guy who’s deeply in love with his wife, they had their first child, they’re in a hospital, and she dies. And it’s hilariously funny. Christopher Moore can do a very funny book about death. His next book is called “You Suck”.

Kurt Baty, who was sitting in the audience, mentions that this convention’s Guest Of Honor, Julie Czerneda, has a new book out that has interesting aliens that are not human prototypes at all. “More alien aliens. Not just a man in a rubber suit”, adds Zane Melder.

Willie, as always, has all sorts of amusing stories about the quirks and absurdities of the publishing world. For example, when a certain American fantasy writer’s book sales were declining, her publisher, Bantam, did not extend her contract. The she sold her books to a British publishing house under a pseudonym. The British publisher sold it back to Bantam, which didn’t know that the pseudonym was the same writer whose books they already declined. When they had rejected her (under her own name), they motivated it by saying her books were “too dark”. But evidently, they think it’s OK for British writers to be too dark.

And now, the list of recommended books

All the errors in this list are my own fault. The panelists were naming authors and novel titles in a rapid succession, and I may not have caught some of the names, and misattributed some titles to other authors. To the panelists’ credit, I think they had an intention to write down the names and titles on a whiteboard. After years of doing this panel they must have finally realized the public might like to take notes. But none of them could find any markers. Thus, good intentions remained firmly embedded in the pavement of the road to hell.

John Scalzi‘s “Old Man’s War” has been nominated for a Hugo, but Willie found it disappointing. He’s been compared to Heinlein, but Willie thinks he misses Heinlein’s point. His writing doesn’t have Heinlein’s heart.

Zane Melder recommends David Hartwell’s new anthology “The Space Opera Renaissance”.

A woman in the audience recommends an author named Chris Dolley.

The panelists remember that Charles Stross has a few new books out. A short debate arises whether Charles Stross’ “Clan Corporate” series is fantasy or SF. Willie argues that Clan Corporate is not fantasy, but a Piper parallel world science fiction. (“Piper parallel world” must be an adjective. I can only guess Piper was an author who wrote parallel world stories that resemble Charles Stross’s.)

This short conversation pretty much covered the notable new titles in science fiction. The fantasy list is much longer, as is expected.

Willie Siros, Diana Gill, and Zane Melder on the What You Should Have Read This Year panel

What You Should Have Read This Year panel at ArmadilloCon 2006
CIMG3747 Willie Siros, Diana Gill, and Zane Melder on the What You Should Have Read This Year panel at the ArmadilloCon 2006

Willie recommends “Beguilement” by Lois McMaster Bujold, which is a start of a new series.

Wilie is a huge fan of Charles De Lint, and of Dave Duncan, who writes in a very quirky style of fantasy. One of the series he’s been following has been “Bonehunters”. It’s the best imagined world with elements of Glen Cook and elements of Zelazny. It’s an incredibly complex work, with hundreds of subplots.

Diana Gill. “I started reading it 5 times, I got 4 chapters in, and that was it. Then I read book 2, and it was better.”

Willie. Robin Hobb has a new book “Forest Mage”, the second of a new series. As with Robin Hobb’s some other books, it has a really dark undercurrent, which is just fabulous.

The panelists agree that Robin Hobb likes to torture her protagonists.

Willie also recommends these writers and books:

Greg Keyes, who is very knowledgeable in folklore, and his books mine folklore for what it’s worth, often referencing older, less known versions of forgotten stories.

“The Tourmaline” by Paul Park, which is a sequel to “Princess of Roumania”. It is a meta-alternate fantasy. It has an interesting plot twist about which version of reality is toing to turn out to be a valid version, which we won’t know until the last few pages.

“Three Days To Never” by Tim Powers. Nobody does secret history better than Tim Powers, says Willie, except maybe John Crowley.

“Wintersmith” by Terry Pratchett is one of the non-mainline Discworld books, it’s a YA book with Tiffany as a protagonist, and Willie is convinced that she’s going to be a replacement of Granny Weatherwax.

Brandon Sanderson has a new novel “Mistborn”. Willie found his first novel was fairly amazing. It was much tighter than a lot of first fantasy novels are.

Another of Willie’s favorite first fantasy novels is “His Majesty’s Dragon” by Naomi Novik. It is a novel about Napoleonic war from the backs of dragons. She has all the dragons worked out, their geneologies. But the world is sort of the way it was, with the same alliances. The book is about a culture clash experienced by a man who rose through the ranks of navy, to find himself in the Air Corps, which has quite a different culture. The war stays mostly in the background.

Bill Crider’s not-so-serious list

As I said above, Bill Crider warns that his must-read book list is less serious than that of other folks. In addition to Christopher Moore, he recommends these books:

“Chinatown Death Cloud Peril” by Paul Malmont.

Two books by Gideon Defoe, called “The Pirates!: An Adventure with Scientists” and “The Pirates! An Adventure with Ahab”.

Bill Crider. They are very surreal. But they got pirates in them. It’s impossible to describe, but if you like British Humor…

Willie. It has the tone of a hip YA book for kids who already gotten bored with whatever required reading they were stuck with.

Bill Crider. If you are in a right mood, they are very, very funny. There’s a little sex, but it’s surreal.

A. Lee Martinez, a new Texas writer, has a book out called “Gil’s All Fright Diner”.

Another Texas writer, Will Clarke, who is from Dallas, has published a book “Lord Vishnu’s Love Handles”. The CIA has a secret group of people with paranormal abilities. They recruit a guy who’s already having trouble with IRS and his wife. They recruit him because he owes 5 million dollars to the IRS, and they say they can make it go away. Things get really odd after this.

Diana Gill testifies that it’s ridiculous, over the top, and hysterical. (She means, very, very funny.)

Left to right: Bill Crider, Willie Siros, ArmadilloCon Editor Guest Diana Gill, and Zane Melder.

What You Should Have Read This Year panel at the ArmadilloCon 2006
CIMG3748 Bill Crider, Willie Siros, Diana Gill, and Zane Melder on the What You Should Have Read This Year panel

James Morrow “The Last Witchfinder”. A lot of people don’t like his work because he’s a doctor of theology, and a lot of his work is controversial. But “The Last Witchfinder” is about a girl who goes out to prove that witches don’t really exist, and at some point she gets herself put on trial.

Diana Gill says it’s narrated by an actual book, Principia Mathematica. In this novel all the books talk among themselves.

Diana Gill also has another book to recommend: John Picacio‘s “Cover Story”, about how he does the covers. He’s done some absolutely stunning covers.

“The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana” is an amazing piece of work, according to Willie. Its author Jess Nevins must be another librarian with too much time on his hands, to do all that research.

Kurt Baty. For a while we had a huge burst of military SF, most of which was crud. But one series [he really liked] was David Sherman‘s “Starfist”.

Zane Melder agrees “Starfist” is good. In his day job he interacts with military pilots, and he showed “Starfist” to some pilots. And they liked it… except for the science fictional element.

Wilie Siros. Jasper Fforde has a new book “The fourth Bear”, because evidently the Grimm Brothers failed to record the full text of what happened to all the bears. This book is an investigation of what Goldilocks did with the fourth bear.

The new book by Charlaine Harris is “Definitely Dead”.

A nanotechnology book by John Ringo “There will be dragons”.