Welcome to the first installation of the GeekDame’s Guide to Holiday Gift-Giving for the Discerning Geek! Today, we are focusing on BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS and what you should be giving the bookish geeks in your life.
For the purposes of this post, I should specify that we mean SFF geeks! If they are biology geeks or computer geeks or immunology geeks, they may look at you funny upon receipt of the following volumes. Well, the immunology geeks would probably find Mira Grant’s work quite engaging. But still. SFF geeks. Get it? Got it. Good.
URBAN FANTASY FOR THE ONES WHO READ FAST OR DON’T FEAR COMMITMENT:
The October Daye Series by Seanan McGuire.
This series represents some of the best urban fantasy around, starring a changeling private detective in San Francisco. I know that sounds pretty textbook, but Seanan McGuire will blow you away with the depth and breadth of her worldbuilding – the urban isn’t just window-dressing in this urban fantasy – while also treating you to flawed characters who actually grow and change from adventure to adventure, leaving you very invested and heartbroken at the inevitable tragedies. Nothing is black and white, Toby is an excellently wry narrator, and there are plenty of laughs among the gasps, shrieks, and occasional tears.
There are currently five books out, but the first three should be enough to get your giftee hooked and they can spend their ubiquitous holiday gift cards on Late Eclipses and One Salt Sea.
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.
I’m well aware that actually giving the entire extant series to someone might break the bank, and that’s why I recommend the more moderate first four volumes. Yeah, you heard me: four. I say this because the first book is absolutely not representative of the series, but a necessary evil to introduce you to Harry Dresden and get you rolling in his world.
The Dresden Files series is for anyone who enjoys fundamentally flawed characters trying to do their best, becoming progressively more badass, and building complex relationships along the way. It’s also for anyone who enjoys the more horror-oriented urban fantasy, along with messy mysteries. I’m nine books in and loving it more with each subsequent volume.
(I did a video review of the first eight books, but it has spoilers. You’ve been warned.)
FANTASY FOR THE ONES WHO DON’T FEAR COMMITMENT AND WANT SOMETHING TO SAVOR FOR YEARS, THE MORE THE BETTER, NO SERIOUSLY:
The Discworld series by Sir Terry Pratchett.
The Discworld series is a brilliant institution of SFF satire – incredibly humorous, and both lightly and seriously critical of an incredible bevy of tropes from the mystery genre to rock ‘n’ roll to the press (and more!), with fathoms-deep thoughts and wise observations on the nature of humanity, family, storytelling, and – seriously – more. With ubiquitous footnotes as humorous as the text itself, and unforgettable recurring characters in the witches of Lancre, the City Watch, Death himself (and so on!), I want Discworld to last forever, and am sad that it must eventually be a finite collection. Start your giftee out with The Colour of Magic, The Light Fantastic, and Equal Rites this holiday season.
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin.
One of the best epic fantasies unfolding today, and recently an award-winning HBO television series starring the likes of Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Charles Dance, and more talented actors than you can shake a stick at. I burned out on epic fantasy a while back, but this is the series that got me back into the subgenre. They’re dense volumes of intricate politics, interweaving storylines, and… well, really, this series is just the entertaining history of an entire other world. There are currently five volumes, with at least seven total planned: give the first three as an introductory set, and then tell the lazy bastard to get him- or herself to a bookstore for the other two when they come panting for more.
SCI-FI FOR THE ONES WHO ARE OBSESSED WITH WARHAMMER 40K AND DON’T FEAR COMMITMENT:
The Black Library! I’m not actually a proper fan, so I’ll let my husband take it away here for a moment.
Eisenhorn: The Omnibus and Ravenor: The Omnibus by Dan Abnett.
Andy says, “There’s nothing closer to literature in the Black Library than these books. Dan Abnett masterfully crafts a story over the course of these two omnibuses that not only gets to the heart of what makes Warhammer 40k great, but actually gives you an absolutely compelling story independent of the whole Warhammer universe. Fans of Warhammer 40k should consider this required reading – if your giftee hasn’t read them already, you should really help him or her get on that.”
The Horus Heresy, by many different authors and counting.
“While it’s exceedingly long and has its messes,” continues Andy, “The Horus Heresy is the heart of all that is Warhammer 40k. It is the epic Lord of the Rings of the Warhammer universe. Any Warhammer fan you know should be seventeen books into this series by now! If not, well, memorize the covers above, hunt them down in the bookstore, and toss them wrapped all pretty in your recipient’s lap.”
Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett.
Andy concludes, “Lastly, but most certainly not least, the Gaunt’s Ghosts series – again, going back to Dan Abnett, the best writer of Warhammer, Gaunt’s Ghosts is just stupidly fun as well as being another superb representation of all that is Warhammer 40k. Gaunt may not be the best character in the entire 40k universe but he is the easiest to relate to and his Ghosts are one of the most relatable groups of characters that can be found in the entirety of that fictional universe.
If you’re a Warhammer fan, you’ve probably already read all these. If you haven’t, you should. And if you don’t know what Warhammer is, schedule a time to talk: I’ve got an army to sell you.”
SCI-FI FOR THOSE WHO AREN’T HYPOCHONDRIACS OR ZOMBIEPHOBES:
The Newsflesh series by Mira Grant.
Mira Grant’s sci-fi politico-blogging thriller about zombies burst onto the scene last year and made a run for the Hugo Award for Best Novel — a run that was only blocked by Connie Willis writing a doorstopper about time travel. Feed is ridiculously good science fiction and deeply affecting, and you must understand that I say this as someone who really doesn’t like zombies. It is hands-down one of the best science fiction novels I have read in the past five years, and its sequel Deadline continues the story in interesting and surprising ways. Countdown, a novella, seals the deal with a look at how the Kellis-Amberlee virus (the zombie plague) consumed the world in the first place.
Fair warning, though: this is a trilogy, which means that Deadline ends on a cliffhanger. Your giftee probably won’t eat your brains in some twisted and ironic protest if you assure them Blackout, the final volume, is just around the corner with a release date in May 2012.
FOR THE YOUNG AND ANYONE WHO CAN APPRECIATE FAIRY TALES, WHICH SHOULD BE ANYONE, SO REALLY JUST READ THIS NOW:
There are those books people talk about as touchstones for their lives, filled with pages where they recognized themselves or the people they wanted to become or the friends they wanted to have and the experiences they wanted to share – the books that built them, if you will. Valente’s Fairyland is one such book for me, and I was 29 when I read it the first time. This is a fairy tale for both children and adults, filled with meta moments, a brilliant heroine, a wyvern who thinks he’s a library (and why shouldn’t he be?), blue boys to be wrestled for wishes, migratory bicycles, anthropomorphized winds, and so, so much more.
Purchase @ Amazon:
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.
FOR THOSE WHO LIKE WHAT YOUR GRANDMA OR GRANDPA MAY VERY LIKELY REFER TO AS FUNNY BOOKS:
Anyone interested in storytelling through sequential art should read Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman and let there be no ifs, ands, or buts between us! This is a brilliant series of adult fiction, drawing from nearly every genre and trope in fiction to weave a compelling and heartbreaking tale of… well, living. The premise involves seven supernatural siblings, being the anthropomorphized personifications of key human experiences: Destiny, Death, Dream, Desire, Despair, Destruction, and Delirium (who was once Delight). Our main focus is Dream and his intersections with the mortal world both willingly (mainly via his job as the Lord of Dreams) and unwillingly thanks to nefarious machinations. There are ten volumes in the main storyline with a few side-stories out there; giving your giftee the first three will put them well on their way to an unforgettable literary experience.
I mention fairy tales quite a bit around here, but I won’t apologize! I’m a fairy tale maven, that’s me. Those of us invested in the appreciation and study of fairy tales often harp on about how the original fairy tales were dark stories full of grim adventures and cautionary notes, as we rigorously defend the genre against Disney deprecations and depredations (although I do love some Disney, make no mistake). Fables is probably one of the best-packaged arguments to open people’s minds to the concept that fairy tales and their characters are no innocent confections, but multilayered creatures viable for contemporary adult tales. In other words, the fairy tales in Fables inhabit our real world and they’re not shy about kicking ass and having political scandals.
If your giftee loves sensational adventure and dastardly intrigue spanning countries and eras, get them Fables. If they like those things but think fairy tales are for kids, get them Fables with a side of Fables. If they already like fairy tales and haven’t read Fables? Get them Fables and then ask them where the hell they’ve been for the past decade.
AND FINALLY, HOLY CRAP, JUST READ THESE NOW, GIFTER OR GIFTEE:
The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins.
The film based on the first book in this trilogy is coming out in a few months, and it would be a crying shame if someone you know and care about sees the movie before ever reading the books. The Hunger Games is harrowing, absorbing, and exciting – give them the gift of experiencing it in the superior theatre of the imagination before they see it on the silver screen. Also, go ahead and give them the whole series because they’ll want more-more-more of Panem before they close the covers on The Hunger Games with shining eyes. Classified as YA, this series is some of the most compelling dystopian sci-fi I’ve read in a while.
Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente.
Are you an adult? Do you like intense depictions of grim historical situations, such as WWII in Russia? Do you like fantasy literature wherein there are daring fights and mysterious villages and trying trials of tantalizing terror? Do you like fairy tales, and long to know where Koschei keeps his death, or desire to find a firebird, or discover domovoi and rusalka and see how men are birds before they fall in love? Do you like sexy fiction that cracks your heart right open and shows you in vivid detail the light and darkness that lives therein? If you anwered yes to any of these questions (or answered yes for anyone else), BUY THIS BOOK. And read it twice. Then read it again, because fairy tales often do things in threes.
Purchase @ Amazon: Deathless.
Pro-tip: many of the above are also available on your favorite e-reader (which is sure to be another popular gift this year)! Check it out. And, you gift-giving masses of the Internets, what other books do you consider particularly giftable for the SFF geek this holiday season?