One of my traditional pastimes at [personal profile] dancinghorse's wonderful writing/riding camp is reading random books off her well-stocked shelves. Last year I read The One Where Everyone Gets Rapes and the Heroine's Sister's Foot Gets Eaten by Forest Animals. This year I read Nancy Kress's
Brain Rose, an ambitious sf novel with a great premise, which dissolves into an incomprehensible mystical mess by the end. I recall a lot of sf like that in the 80s, and also the 70s.

Simple, safe, elective brain surgery enables people to access memories of past lives. This is a very new procedure, so only a handful of people have had it. Much of the book follows a few characters who have the procedure, then explore their past lives and grapple with the implications for their current lives. This part of the book is excellent, and if Kress had stuck to that, it would have been a very good book.

However, other stuff is going on. There's an ecological catastrophe and a band of eco-idiots who promote pollution on the grounds that Gaia will fix everything. There's a plague which destroys people's ability to form new memories. (That part was good.) Gay sex has been banned and the government controls reincarnation.

Brain Rose was published in 1990, which does not go nearly far enough to explain why not only has gay sex been banned in America due to fear of AIDS (reasonable extrapolation, given homophobia), but no one in the entire book ever mentions that AIDS is also transmitted heterosexually. Or that safe sex is possible, even if you're gay. There is discussion of how terrible it is to prevent people from having a sex life, but no one ever points out that the entire premise of the law is false, and that gay sex, in and of itself, is not the problem. I was a volunteer AIDS educator at the time the book was written, so I know it's not that the information wasn't out there. Very peculiar.

The other problem is that about halfway through, it turns out that everyone who's ever had past life surgery gets memories of past lives in which they know this one other guy who also had past life surgery. His name is Brekke, which is also the name of the woman in Anne McCaffrey's Pern books whose dragon tragically dies. Brekke the personality-less plot vector ushers in the second half of the book, in which people discuss the less-than-clever reasons for this, and occasionally commit terrorist acts.

Read more... )
The original meme is a basic list, available here, which simply shows which writers you're familiar with.

My version: Drop the authors you’ve never read to the bottom. For the remainder, discuss or rec at least one of their books with at least one sentence of explanation about why you do or don’t like it. Ask your readers to tell you about the authors you’ve never read.

Cynthia Felice. I only read the book she co-authored with Connie Willis, Water Witch, which was enjoyable but not memorable.

Diana Wynne Jones. One of my favorite writers of all time. Click her tag for more reviews and discussion. My favorites of hers are The Homeward Bounders, Fire and Hemlock, Witch Week, and Charmed Life. The last two are in print in the USA in omnibuses, as The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 2: The Magicians of Caprona / Witch Week and The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1: Charmed Life / The Lives of Christopher Chant.

Gwyneth Jones. I’ve read some of her YA written as “Ann Halam.” It tends toward the awesomely depressing. (Dr. Franklin's Island (Readers Circle): Kids are utterly helpless prisoners as they are slowly mutated against their will; Taylor Five Everyone the teenage heroine loves dies horribly, and the orangutans whose survival they all died for go extinct anyway.) The only one I’d rec is her least depressing book, Siberia: A Novel, which has the wonderful idea of growing animals out of high-tech kits.

Leigh Kennedy. I only read her infamous short story, “Her Furry Face,” about chimpanzee bestiality. Okay, it’s really about how the main character is such a sexist pig that he’d rather have sex with a chimpanzee than a woman, because the former will look up to him adoringly and make no demands. But still. Kids! Grow animals from high-tech kits! Then have sex with them! No, I am not going to add a “chimpanzee cunnilingus” tag.

ETA: My bad. It was actually an orangutan. (No wonder they're in such desperate straits in Taylor Five.) I'm not making an "orangutan onanism" tag either.

Lee Killough. I only read her collection of linked short stories, Aventine, which are set on a high-tech artsy/bohemian planet, and are about new and alien technology turned to the service of art. The plots are predictable “biter bit” tales, but the ideas are quite cool. I especially liked the one in which actors take drugs to make themselves really get into character.

Nancy Kress. She’s famous for idea-driven sf, but my favorite of her books is the quirky fantasy The Prince of Morning Bells. It’s clearly influenced by The Last Unicorn in its mix of fairy-tale beauty and eeriness with clever metafictional references, but manages to carve out its own identity as well. I also enjoyed her classic sf novel Beggars in Spain, about the implications of what at first seem to be a small genetic alteration, to remove the need for sleep. But I like the original novella better. The novel is worth reading, though, and stands on its own. Don’t bother with the sequels. I also don’t rec her mainstream thrillers or anything involving reincarnation. But her short stories and novellas are often quite strong.

Authors I’ve never read, H-K: Monica Hughes, Katherine Kurtz. . If you’ve ever read anything by either of them, please discuss in comments.
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