Dec 20 2008 2:06pm

SF Scene: KGB Fantastic Fiction 12/17/08

The December KGB Fantastic Fiction Reading series featured appearances by two talented young authors: Alaya Dawn Johnson, whose first novel Racing the Dark came out last year, read her short story “Down the Well” (full text online at the excellent Strange Horizons); and Chris Barzak read from his second novel, The Love We Share Without Knowing, which is just a few weeks old.

Because New York city saw its first (fluffy, gorgeous) snowfall on Tuesday and had its first major (and consequently less gorgeous) snowstorm forecast for Friday, I decided to pose the following scenario for this month’s Ridiculous Survey:

You find yourself snowbound in a cabin in the mountains for a week, but you’ve cleverly brought along two books: one to read, and one to burn for warmth. What are they?

Let’s just say that it’s pretty amazing how candid people become when they have a socially acceptable reason for holing up with some books and setting others afire. Check out the KGB-goers’ (heartfelt? irreverent? cruel?) responses beneath the cut and let us know what books you would have picked as cabinmates.

  • Alaya Dawn Johnson: Read: Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. Burn: One of George R. R. Martin’s big fat books—A Clash of Kings, perhaps.
  • Ben Francisco: Read: Ursula K. Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. Burn: Laurell K. Hamilton’s Micah—hot and steamy, so, good for burning.
  • Catherynne Valente: Read: Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves. Burn: Robert A. Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love.
  • Chris Barzak: Read: Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle. Burn: James Joyce’s Ulysses.
  • Chris Cevasco: Read: the latest by Bernard Cornwell. Burn: the novelization of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Happening (if it exists).
  • Douglas Cohen: Read: George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones. Burn: Terry Goodkind’s The Pillars of Creation.
  • Ellen Datlow: Read: the new Dan Simmons, Drood. Burn: There’s so many...any Sidney Sheldon.
  • Ellen Kushner: Read: one of the big, fat Neal Stephenson books. Burn: a bestselling fantasy involving swords, dwarves, elves, and men who refer to women as “my lady”.
  • Eugene Myers: Read: J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Burn: anything by Robert Jordan.
  • Genevive Valentine: Read: Willa Cather’s O Pioneers!. Burn: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.
  • J. D. EveryHope: Read: the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe. Burn: anything by Ayn Rand.
  • Jason Eric Lundberg: Read: George Orwell’s 1984. Burn: Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.
  • Jim Freund: Read: anything by Terry Pratchett, because it will keep my spirits up. Burn: anything by L. Ron Hubbard, because his books are thick and worth it.
  • John Joseph Adams: Read: Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. Burn: Robert Jordan’s The Fires of Heaven—terrible, and also has fires in the title.
  • Jordan Hamessley: Read: the Robert Silverberg-edited Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume 1. Burn: the entire box set of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight.
  • Josh Jasper: Read: Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. Burn: Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.
  • Josh Starr: Read: Dan Simmons’ The Terror—should fit the snowbound theme. Burn: J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: expunge the epilogue.
  • Kris Dikeman: Read: a book about the Donner party. Burn: Samuel Pepys’ diaries, because there were so many volumes.
  • Liz Gorinsky: Read: Thomas Pynchon’s Against the Day. Burn: the New York City phonebook.
  • Mary Robinette Kowal: Read: a Kindle with several books. Burn: the Braille edition of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, because the pages are thicker.
  • Matt Kressel: Read and burn: David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, because there’s so much to go around for both.
  • Meghan McCarron: Read: Roberto Bolano’s 2666. Burn: Stephanie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn, ’cause it’s bigger (that’s a smackdown on Genevieve)
  • Mercurio D. Rivera: Read: Frank Herbert’s Dune. Burn: the NYC phonebook.
  • Mike Greenhut: Read: Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. Burn: Any book in David Eddings’ Belgariad series, in HC.
  • Monica Byrne: Read: Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast novels. Burn: Robert A. Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.
  • Nora Jemisin: Read: Stephen King’s The Gunslinger—not the best book I’ve ever read, but does the most for my imagination. Burn: any romance novel with poser figurines on the cover.
  • Pablo Defendini: Read: Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle. Burn: L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics.
  • Rich Blint: Read: James Baldwin’s Just Above My Head. Burn: John Updike’s The Terrorist.
  • Rose Fox: Read: the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary. Burn: the unabridged Oxford English Dictionary.
  • Tempest Bradford: Read: China Mieville’s The Scar. Burn: anything by Elizabeth Bear.
  • Terrence Taylor: Read: Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange. Burn: the Bible, because of the volume and length.
  • Veronica Schanoes: Read: Burning Your Boats, the collected Angela Carter. Burn: George Eliot’s Middlemarch.

If I mistranscribed your answer—or if you'd rather I linked to a different webpage or didn’t use your full name—please let me know via my shoutbox. And if I missed you this time, please come find me at the next event!

[Image by Flickr user Anosmia, CC licensed for commercial use.]

Declan Ryan
1. decco999
Read: Any of the Stephen R Donaldson "The Gap Into ..." series. Enthralling, brilliant, and long.
Burn: Any of the Stephen R Donaldson "The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant". I know the latter are deemed to be classics of the genre, so maybe I'll warm to (!) them this way (I tried "The Illearth War" and "Lord Foul's Bane").
Colleen Lindsay
2. cbl
Hmmmm...this is a tough one. I think I'm gonna have to cheat and go with...

To Read: my Sony Reader, loaded up with books, and the new China Mieville manuscript. (Really, ANY China Mieville novel)

To Burn: L. Ron Hubbard's Mission Earth (the entire ten volume unabridged edition).
Chris Barzak
3. Chris Barzak
Just a footnote to my "burn" book: Ulysses, only because it's so hefty. I figure I can keep warm with it for a long time.

The NYC Phonebook would be smarter, though, definitely. :)
Amy Paul
4. redtailedhawk
Read: L. E. Modesitt Jr's Recluse Saga (15 books might last the week)

Burn: patient charts (after they've been electronically backed up)
David Lev
5. davidlev
Read: The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams
Burn: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
David Lev
6. davidlev
Read: The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide by Douglas Adams
Burn: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan
Rich Rennicks
7. RichR
Read: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan, because I'd better memorize it before one of you firemen comes & burns it.

Burn: With extreme pleasure, pausing to savor the blacking and spark of each turgid, mean-spirited, imagined-slight-redressing page, The Corrections, by that Franzen guy who used to be critically popular. (On second thoughts, the smoke would probably be especially noxious and toxic, full of distilled oedipal desires and long-festering resentment, so I'd probably settle for burning anything by a graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Maybe a Jane Smiley: hefty & overblown, but devoid of anything to truly love or loath.)
Chris Barzak
8. Ellen Kushner
I would like to add that Liz Gorinsky is a genius: what a great question to ask us all!

The pathetic thing is how grateful I was to be able even to merely consider the proposed scenario: Incommunicado? For a *week*? With nothing to do but ***read***??!

Paul Henning
9. henningish
Ha! I like the idea of burning braille. Anything embossed would do.
Chris Barzak
10. EmmetAOBrien
I thought this was one of the few little things The Day After Tomorrow did well; if you are stuck in a library with the temperature plummeting and have to burn something, well out-of-date tax documentation is probably the least worst.
Chris Barzak
11. donnaidh_sidhe
Read: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Though it's a bit short for a week, but I can re-read it without getting tired of it.

Alena McNamara
12. aamcnamara
In asking my friends this question, I have noticed that there are two types of responses.

One is, "Well, I'd definitely burn X. I don't know what I'd read . . . maybe Q."

The other is, "I'd read Y. I don't know what I'd burn. . . maybe C."

I'm the second type, apparently, as I'd bring Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell to read, but have about fifteen ideas for things which I might or might not burn.
Chris Barzak
13. Jeremiah Rush
Read: Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan. Mainly because thats the one Im on.
Burn: My old Algibra text book from school.
Michael Johnston
14. unary
Read: Anathem.

Burn: Fahrenheit 451.
Liz Gorinsky
15. TooMuchExposition
Yay, crowd participation!

Chris @ 3: Sorry if I accidentally left off your rationale. Plenty of people picked big fat books to burn just because of their size, so we needn't necessarily assume you were burning on merit. :)

Ellen @ 8: Thank you, but I can't take *too* much credit--it's really just a twist on the old forced choice scenarios. I often think about taking reading vacations as well, only to realize that they would be ruined by the guilt of all the things I'm actually *supposed* to be reading.

aamcnamara @ 12: I had the same experience--about as many cries of "But there are so many!" for each half of the scenario. I thought of my "burn" answer immediately because I'm a dirty cop-out, but there are any number of giant tomes I'd love to escape to a cabin with for a week.
Chris Barzak
16. Terence Taylor
So nice to be asked!

My first visit to FF@KGB, and had a great fun time. Missed January, but will have to make sure I get back for February. Thanks for the link to my site -- one "r" in Terence, though -- Terences are sooo picky -- ;)

And my good friend Rich was kind enough to point out that "volume and length" would be redundant, so I must have left my mental thesaurus on again, or had more wine than I remember; though if I did, I suppose I wouldn't... ;)

Back to writing horror in a world gone mad...who knew I'd start looking like comic relief?

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