60. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Best Tales of Mystery and Imagination (446 p.)
(Contents: The Pit and the Pendulum; William Wilson; The Fall of the House of Usher; A Tale of the Ragged Mountains; The Murders in the Rue Morgue; The Domain of Arnheim; The Cask of Amontillado; Landor's Cottage; The Gold Bug; The Island of the Fay; Ligeia; Eleonora; Berenice; Morella; The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar; The Man of the Crowd; MS. Found in a Bottle; Shadow--A Parable; Silence--A Fable; The Black Cat; The Tell-tale Heart; The Colloquy of Monos and Una; The Conversation of Eiros and Charmion; The Oblong Box; The Assignation; King Pest; The Oval Portrait; A Descent into the Maelström; The Purloined Letter; Metzengerstein; Hop-Frog; The Duc De L'Omelette; The Premature Burial; The Adventure of One Hans Pfaal; Mellonta Tauta; The Balloon-Hoax; The Thousand-and-Second Tale; The Imp of the Perverse; The Spectacles; The Man that was Used Up; X-ing a Paragrab; A Predicament; The Mystery of Marie Roget; Some Words with a Mummy; 'Thou Art the Man'; Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether)
61. Spoor, Ryk E. Phoenix Rising (The Balanced Sword, bk. 1) (562 p.)
October total: 1,008 pages
2014 YTD total: 16,132 pages
Not many books this month, but still a respectable page-count.
I've read most of the classic Poe stories before and some of his others, but most of these were new to me. Poe may be best known for his gothic psychological horror, and there is plenty of that here, and I knew that Poe largely invented the modern mystery genre (thus the name of the Edgar Award), but I was somewhat surprised to find light fantasy, ironic slice-of-life, broad humor, and hard (for the day) science fiction well-represented in here, too. (I think the pre-Verne science fiction surprised me the most.) Overall, I'd thoroughly recommend reading these stories, except for two major drawbacks: First, Poe's most major verbal tic (which I believe was common for American writers at the time, so he can't be totally blamed) is his tendency to toss entire phrases of French, Italian, or Latin into a story as key sentences in a paragraph (sometimes multiple phrases in the same paragraph, and not always in the same language), and then not only does he not translate them, but he doesn't provide enough context clues to figure out what they mean without a dictionary. It's usually not anything totally critical for following or understanding the story as a whole, but its hard to know that without taking the time out of the story to translate them. The second drawback is the awful puns he frequently uses as names (especially in the humorous, ironic, and science fiction stories), some of which spoil the story's twists when read out loud, and others are simply unnecessary and overly distracting. Aside from those points, the next-most major drawback for me was the frequent use of dry, highbrow syntax and word choice, making basic parsing of the page harder than I'm used to--some of these stories kept putting me to sleep no matter how well-written they were. Other than that, it's great stuff, and the classic, must-read stories are still classic, must-read stories for a very good reason, and many of the less-commonly-known stories are also must-read stories.
I picked up Phoenix Rising on a whim, because I had some cash burning a hole in my pocket and a compulsion to spend it on some fantasy & science fiction books I'd heard about but had never gotten around to reading myself. (That's not a back-handed compliment; I don't often go out to buy books, so this was something of a special occasion, and the store had this in stock, so it seemed appropriate for it to come home with me.) I got to the end of this and immediately wanted to read more, only to discover that the next book won't be out in mass-market paperback for a while yet (and thus wouldn't sit next to this one on my self if I were to buy it now). In a nutshell, it's the first part of a save-the-world quest story with a strong female protagonist (one who, contrary to the trope, is that way without having a history of being sexually assaulted) and some traveling companions she teams up with, including a talking toad who is a magician of sorts. The main character becomes a kind of paladin-like being over the course of the book, so if you like A Deed for Paksennarion, you'll probably also like this. The world is so incredibly fleshed out behind the scenes (as a result of being the setting for a few decades of role-playing sessions) that the book doesn't have to spend much time on world-building, it just has to occasionally describe what's already there, and every place feels like it's full of its own, separate stories going on around the edges, a level few fantasy novels achieve. (And most that do need twice this many pages to get half as far, and tend to bog get distracted and bog down telling the side stories rather than focusing on the one at hand.) One thing I didn't much like (and this is personal preference rather than a weakness in the story) is the presence of a group of essentially near-future-Earth characters. A second criticism is that so much of the book is spent building up the central conflict for the whole series that when the action ramps up and the climax hits, it feels both like it's over a bit too fast compared to the pacing & tempo of the rest of the book (in other words, it doesn't feel like the extended boss-fight that it's intended to be, but rather keeps about the same level as most of the previous fights), and that it doesn't really satisfactorily resolve anything enough to call the book self-contained, even though it does technically pretty thoroughly resolve the main plot that started off the book and drives the action throughout. That sounds like a contradiction on my part, and it is, but it is how I felt after finishing it--however, rather than that making me feel let down like I usually would, I wanted to read more of the story. Overall, I'd recommend this unreservedly to fantasy-lovers, and more generally to those who might dabble in the genre. (Disclaimer: I've known Ryk online going back around 20 years now or more, and used to talk shop about Dungeons & Dragons back long before he got paid for writing this sort of stuff. Not that I remember any specifics, but it's likely that elements of this story's world came up in those rec.games.frp.dnd Usenet conversations. Thus, consider that bias in my review.)
Feudalism: Serf & Turf