First, "The Alchemist", by Paolo Bacigalupi. I would suspect this is a chapbook -- not clapbook, as I first wrote. Paolo has broken out as a science fiction author with near future tales of global ecosystem catastrophe. This short story is a fantasy -- in the preface he says he wanted to try something different. It is a very pleasant read, with a nice fairy tale feel.
Secondly, "Redshirts", by John Scalzi. I would characterize this is a meta-story that borrows from the Star Trek mythos. Sometimes I like meta-stories more than others. The first I remember was "Beasts", by John Crowley (1976), where you gradually realize that the characters are mostly fairy tale and fable archetypes placed in a science fictional background -- it was magical and charming. Even better from Crowley was the award winning "Little, Big" (1981), where the characters themselves by the end have realized that they are characters in a fairy tale. More recently, I loved the stories within stories of "The Fractal Prince", by Hannu Rajaniemi, about which I blogged here.
But on the other hand, I remember blasting Heinlien's "The Number of the Beast" in this blog post to the effect that "reusing literary figures is a kind of a cheap ploy, and I usually interpret it as a lack of imagination". And I remember my first reaction was annoyance when a writer as good as Dan Simmons ended the award winning "Hyperion" with the characters linking arms and singing "We're Off To See The Wizard".
"Redshirts" I reacted to somewhere between these two extremes. The fact that Star Trek is pop culture (and a favorite of fanboys) rather then more general archetypes made it a little cheezy for me. Like I was wondering, could someone who had never seen Star Trek, or who wasn't vaguely a Trekkie, have enjoyed this at all? I guess they probably wouldn't have picked up a book titled "Redshirts" -- no, they wouldn't have gotten the reference, would they, they might still have picked it up randomly?
"Redshirts" also seemed to end rather abruptly, and then was followed by 3 short addenda, told from the viewpoint of three somewhat ancillary characters. I liked the third of these, but this still seemed gimmicky -- almost like alternative endings, or fan fiction. I guess I mostly like getting sucked into a main narrative and staying there.
Finally, "The Cold Commands", by Richard K. Morgan. Sequel to "The Steel Remains". Morgan broke out in 2002 with "Altered Carbon", which I thought was great. After a couple sequels to that, he did "Thirteen", which was very good as well. Then he switched to a sword-and-sorcery fantasy, but very gritty, and with a gay protagonist, and explicit homosexual sex scenes. I'm always up for some good sex with my action and adventure, but the male homosexual stuff definitely sets off my "yuck" reaction.
Reading the full library edition, with dust covers and all, I always enjoy reading the synopsis, "about the author", etc. -- kind of like appetizers for the main course, the book itself. This was one case where that was a mistake, because the synopsis says "the characters are going to be doing this", but apparently "this" got pushed to the 3rd book. So the pacing seems off throughout. Aside from that, a good read. The homosexual stuff seemed toned down a bit (phew) -- and a lesbian sex scene I of course found totally unyucky. I'm hoping Morgan will get back to sci-fi after this fantasy trilogy concludes.
On a different topic, I made the decision to retire (rather than work at a new 50-60 hour per week startup) Labor Day weekend of 2012. So it's been 4-1/2 months now. I sleep late; exercise every morning; go to lunch a few days a week; and read, fool around online, blog in the afternoons. I cook 2-3 times a week. I haven't been playing as much music as I expected due to the arthritis in my hands acting up. The long and the short of it is, I'm acting like I'm on a prolonged vacation, and will probably continue to do so until it no longer seems appropriate. My mind seems to be smoothing out with regard to worries, ambition, etc, like ripples in a pond dying down. Getting in touch with my inner buddha -- or my inner complete slacker, one or the other. I did have an idea for an iPhone app last week that I'm exploring -- very slowly. But from this point on, I think I will only work again if it's something I (or conceivably a good friend) come up with.