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As I mull over the usual new year stuff (does money from aunts get reported on tax forms? Why is January evil? Why is it sixty-five degrees out? Okay, that's not usual), it occurs to me that there's some business from last year I never finished up: the book list!

I never got around to doing the November list because I didn't finish a single new novel. I checked "Flights" (edited by Al Sarrantonio), a '90's-ish SF anthology whose title I've forgotten, and Dozois' Year's Best 27th or so out of the library, and read pieces of from those volumes. Highlights were "Pat Moore" by, um someone whose name I've forgotten. "The Problem of Susan" by Neil Gaiman was just weird, and the two Nancy Kress stories I read confirmed that Kress comes up with cool ideas that I will never appreciate because I hate her characters so much. Which is a shame, because they're generally really nifty ideas, arg.

I did reread Diplomatic Immunity (Lois McMaster Bujold) over Thanksgiving break, as well as Ethan of Athos after break and through early December.

That was November. Like I said, not much going on except busting butt on classes. Which is exactly how it should be.

Thanks to the end of classes, December was a bit more lively: nonfiction, Le Guin, Suzette Elgin Hayden. )

2004 reading statistics:
12 nonfiction
32 fiction, new
36 fiction, reread
80 books total. Plus occasional short stories and one abandoned reread.

It seems high, but... I think it could be said that that the family tendency toward addiction has manifested in in my reading. Granted, some of these were very short books (The Silent Gondoliers comes to mind), but some of them were also very long as well, so it likely balances.

I did manage last year's resolution, at least: I read about 11 more nonfiction books in 2004 than in 2003. Yay me!

If I'd gotten around to New Year's resolutions this year, any literary resolutions would've likely been:

1.) More nonfiction
a.) course textbooks and lecture notes are nonfiction, too!
2.) Less fiction. If you had a point to make, it's been amply made.

Which means that today's plan needs to include less Watson and more McMurry.
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October books: I read them, I logged them, I was 85% done with the post when the Great Hard Drive Meltdown happened. This is the reconstructed version.

The Swords of Lankhmar (Fritz Lieber): One of the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories. Lieber is one of the authors who makes me want to complain about the need for SF to get back in the gutter where it belongs - the science is nonexistent and the creativity more than makes up for it. (For my next trick, I will speak passionately on the need for rigorous hard SF to reinvigorate the field. Watch this space!) Lieber invented some of the gimmes that plague the contemporary fantasy field; his stories self-evidently inspired a number of writers who escaped Tolkien's long shadow. Brust's early Vlad novels feel like some sort of Lieber-meets-potboiler-mysteries-in-Faerie fusion, to me. People with tastes as low as mine may recall Simon Green's 'Hawk and Fisher' books. I'm sure people reading this can name other sword-and-sorcery duos that follow the pattern.

One thing that surprised me when I read this was the bawdiness and scarcely euphemized Evil Overlord's sadistic turn-on. A little wenching is expected; the erotic naked skeletons had my eyebrows climbing. And the smutty almost-threesome-! Despite the '70's-ish pub date, the F&GM books always feel a little older than that to me, so the quantity and explicitness of the carnal lust caught me by surprise.

Anyway. If you like to know where some of the gimmes come from, read Lieber. If you want silly fun reading, read Lieber. If you like your overlords really neurotic and corrupt - you know the drill.

The Well of Lost Plots and Something Rotten (Jasper Fforde): Third and fourth Thursday Next novels. If you liked the first two, you'll appreciate these; it's more of the same madcap english lit fantasy on acid. Fforde's enjoying exploring the quirks and crannies of his series. Plot arcs are resolved, but the major worldbuilding's happened. I'll definitely read the fifth book in the series if-and-when it comes out, but I'll probably check it out of the library, saving it for comfort reading. Fforde's working in the light and happy side of the spectrum for the moment, and I wish more people could do so with as much panache.

Lyra's Oxford (Philip Pullman): Mostly consisting of the novelette (?) "Lyra and the Birds" wrapped in a sumptuously red thread hardcover binding. The Pretty nearly outweighs the substance of the post-HDM trilogy story.

The Road to Middle-Earth: How Tolkien Created a New Mythology (Tom Shippey): What autumn is complete without gratuitous Tolkien? The importance of words, poetic sagas, and the tension of asterisk/reality in Tolkien's life. What I am most struck by, in retrospect, is the impression of Tolkien trying to write stories that drew strongly on the traditions he studied professionally, and infusing them with his own experiences, and trying to avoid that 'contamination'. Tension, therefore fusion: a table of Rangers, standing silent to face West; an addictive Ring that brings out a stoicism fit for Ragnarok; victories told by the ones who are slipping out on a rising tide. And on the other side, the inconsistencies that might have inspired Tolkien: contradictions in the sources he studied that grew into critical elements of his fiction. And some of the enduring images that spun everything else off.

Hey. I liked it.

I would also like to take note of The Martians, by Kim Stanley Robinson, because I reread most of it in little bits this October. If I had to name my formative authors, I think they'd be KSR, Tolkien, Bujold and Cherryh. To no one's surprise. Though tying in with earlier comments about tension, it's an interesting group of authors: try to stick them on four corners of a semantic rectangle (thank you, Stan Robinson), and some discussions of power, government, optimism, and gender relations sort of immediately spring to my mind's eye. Lois Bujold said at the LoC Book Fair that "genre is a group of books in close conversation" which sort of works for any three of the four, and makes me want to write many more words on formative influences, and why they were.

Coming up in November: Short stories, in several collections, of varying quality. I find it hard to put novels down; short stories cut themselves off if you read too long.
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You know the drill. Cuts usually for length, but may be for spoilers as well. This time the spoiler-happy cut is probably The Madness Season. Also, note shiny new icon. I post so much about books two dedicated icons seem necessary. What I really need, though, is a good general SF/F icon.

Contact (Carl Sagan):: Reread. Radio astronomer and SETI advocate Ellie Arrroway is enmeshed in the reception and decryption of a radio message from Vega, and the world's construction of the strange and fascinating machine the message describes.

I wish I could say that I decided to go on a "putting the 'science' back in 'science fiction' " kick after reading Forty Signs of Rain at the end of August, but it was actually a nifty Dar Williams songvid that got me to pull this off the shelf. Sometimes I bring new connotations to "shallow," oh yes.
(05.09.2004)

A Live Coal in the Sea (Madeleine L'Engle):: Family drama. The story of how Camilla Dickinson's granddaughter isn't her granddaughter, technically sort of, as told through flashbacks to Camilla's life with her deceased husband and related contemporary experiences. L'Engle's less overtly fantasy novels always drive me slightly crazy - whose family, in the crush of upsetting events, is that calm and not prone to shouting at each other?

(Right. Rhetotical question. [livejournal.com profile] kd5mdk, [livejournal.com profile] mearigh, the message has been delivered.)

Other than that... mostly-contemporary mainstream fiction isn't something I read a lot of, so I can't comment on adherence to or deviance from the tropes of the genre. The writing style felt a bit jerky; Catherine Asaro's prose style, particularly in The Phoenix Code and Skyfall, came to mind. I think that's not new in L'Engle, but it was easier on my mental ear when I was 12 or rereading one of the stories I'm hopelessly nostalgic over. In some ways the entire novel's an exploration of the effects the main character's mother had on subsequent generations of the family. It's sort of an oblique theme, though, and may be a misread on my part.

The Madness Season (C. S. Friedman):: Friedman's novels drive me insane. )

New Voices in Science Fiction (Mike Resnik, Ed.):: About what the title says: a collection of short stories by authors of rising prominence circa 2003. I wasn't overwhelmed by any of the stories, but some struck me as more interesting, incomprehensible, or irritating than others. )
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The story of why the famous gondoliers of Venice no longer sing, as S. Morgenstern tells it. Short, accentuated with elegant ink sketches by Paul Giovanopoulos, very much in the style of The Princess Bride. I'd love to ask people who like Shel Silverstein's poetry what they think of this. A good grace note after a busy day.

(07.09.2004)
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Near-future novel about science policy, rapid climate change, emerging biotech, stay-at-home working fatherhood, Buddhists in Washington, and water in unexpected places.

Anyone who picks up this book smacks into KSR's heavily environmentalist slant within the first pages, and people familiar with his other novels won't be surprised by the disparagement of contemporary American conservatism, the Buddhist influence on the narrative (embodied in the embassy staff of the fictional nation Khembalung, which I've almost certainly misspelled) or the strength of the warm fuzzy feelings for the scientific community and method.* Suggestions about the interaction of scientific exploration, politics and funding aren't particularly new, but the National Science Foundation's prominence in the plot really foregrounds those considerations.

*I'm slowly coming to realize that scientific results are fascinating, but actual lab work tends to be dead boring. There's a lot of waiting, either for the protein to crystallize, or the filtrate to come off the column, or the NMR lab to finish running your sample, or... you get the picture. Maybe being a working stiff adult is dead boring in general. I really hope not.

More specific spoilers. ) Having Forty Signs land on my lap at the end of August was an interesting coincidence of timing and placement, the exquisitely unpredictable whim of chance throwing me a huge hint: this is how you got here. Where are you going next?

(An exercise for the student: impending climatic catastrophe as a metaphor for dynamic life change. Discuss the narcissism of the review writer.)

Forty Signs of Rain hits all my narrative buttons. When's part two due out? I may have to get it in hardcover.
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A collection of stories, most standalone and some set in the same universe as her series. Serii? The first three ("Leaving His Cares Behind", "The Briscian Saint", "Desolation Rose") are set in the same universe as her novel The Anvil of the World. The bulk of the book is standalones - "Miss Yahoo Has Her Say", "What the Tyger Told Her" , "Nightmare Mountain" (the Cupid and Psyche myth mets a vaguely Poe or Gaiman-ish sensibility), "Merry Christmas From Navarro Lodge, 1928" is an elegant one-trick time travel short; "Her Father's Eyes", set shortly after WWII, is inspired by Tam Lin according to Baker's website, but seems to be only the first half the story; "Two Old Men"I think is about God and the Devil making a deal; "The Summer People" is the meeting of California trailer trash with Hollywood-ish Elf types (not happy Tolkien Elves, the morally chancy sort from ballads); I don't know what "How They Tried to Talk Indian Tony Down" is; "Pueblo, Colorado Has the Answers" deals once again with time travel technology, this time with government cover-up; "Mother Aegypt" is the story of a swindler out to get rich, a Zeus Company Immortal who desperately wants to die, and the Immortal's strange servant Emil. The standalones are dominated by stories set in California, often told by or about fairly normal people caught in the fringe of strange events. Subtly strange little stories. When's the next Company novel due out again?
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The terrible thing about reading something at the age of ten is that it's really hard to reread with anything like objectivity later in life. It's warm and fuzzy comfort reading. You tend to overlook a lot of flaws. This is probably also true of movies, and likely goes a long way toward explaining my unkillable love of the original Star Wars trilogy and my bitter disappointment in the prequels. Well, that and the terrible directing and dialogue.

Thank goodness for professional fanfic.

The thing that struck me this time is how much Zahn likes misdirection and playing with the flow of information. Huge spoilers, of course. )
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I really need to work out a better booklog system. The end-of-the-month smorgasboard makes for long entries, but the individual entries seem to just wind up clumped together at the end of the month. Grr.

Anyway. The summary. )

The backtalk. )

Take my grumbling with a grain of salt. It's a SW novel, after all, which makes it sort of fluffy reading by definition. The length was the real killer; 250 or 300 pages of action with numerous nods to related material is fun, but the rest is just filler.
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A woman in an airport terminal slips between world-planes, visiting a number of places far more interesting than the terminal she's stuck in. The bulk of the book seems to be traveller's anecdotes of their travels. I got 64 pages into this 246 page novel before realizing the entire novel was a gentle exercise in fragmentary worldbuilding (one world per chapter) and throwing my hands up in disgust, because at this point in my life I want a narrative in my pleasure reading. I really wish I'd thought to read this as a collection of fragmentary, narratively unrelated short stories, rather than looking for a story more coherent than "collection of traveller's anecdotes", because I've inadvertently run into more than one lately. It's not a form that does much for me, thanks much. So whether I finish Changing Planes or toss it back to the library with a cry of disgust for old women who aren't exploring is in the air at the moment.

(Me? Annoyed? Probably more than merited. It's astonishing how external forces will influence one's ability to appreciate a novel.)
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There is nothing more beautiful than the university library's copies of good books. They feel like the library. They smell like my paternal grandparents' guest bedroom. And they endure grab and go abuse much better than modern paperbacks. (Which I shouldn't be saying, after the grief I've handed out to people who hurt my books.)

Anyway. Classic adventure story of espionage in British India. The plot wanders across India in ways that made me long for a map. Very much rooted in its time; British rule of India is an unquestioned constant, opposed only by evil Russian agents and the mad, and women are extremely secondary to the plot. A variety of characters are vividly drawn on a dizzying background of casually mentioned cultural subgroups (religions, castes, etc). Seeing India from Kim's point of view is great fun - he's an irrepressibly cheerful character who's willing to talk to anyone. The novel makes me think Kipling really loved India, even if he did lay on the "hail Britannia" stuff pretty thick. The descriptions alone make me long to travel there and see the Himalayas rising from the hot, dusty plains with my own eyes. What's a paltry century or two going to do to that sight?
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[livejournal.com profile] kate_nepveu read the first four Russell/Holmes novels recently and while discussing A Monstrous Regiment of Women says, "not only does it set up false choices for Russell, it then deliberately takes them away from her!" She also mentions Gaudy Night. ("[S]uffers badly from wanting to be Gaudy Night and failing miserably." Ouch.) The juxtaposition of those two comments made my brain leap universes and think about Ekaterin's choices, particularly that question about her aunt the Professora.

Spoilers for both the Vorkosigan and Russell/Holmes series, plus one big Gaudy Night spoiler. )

Nepveu also asks in her post, "I'm starting to wonder if this is a subgenre, books written in obvious tribute to Gaudy Night." It makes me wonder how much of Ekaterin Vorsoisson's and Mary Russell's character arcs were inspired by GN, and whether the resolutions I found so incomplete might be an inadvertent effect of the authors echoing GN's plot and some of its themes, but changing things around enough that the conclusion of the romance doesn't tie things up as neatly as Sayers did in GN. (If she really does resolve things that well in GN - I read it once, when I was 15 or 16, it was my first Sayers, and I know I missed things left, right and center. Currently, I can scarcely remember what happened in the story.)
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Summary: Roca Skolia, telepath, former ballerina, diplomatic leader, falls in love with a young man from a technologically backward planet. Her son Kurj has Oedipal angst with his grandfather. Occasional discussions about starting an interstellar war thread through the family drama.

Long ago (high school) I inhaled Catherine Asaro's then-entire canon in short order and was addicted for life. That's the only excuse I have for nabbing Skyfall off the library shelf and burning through it in one late evening last week. This is shameless space opera/romance fusion: the men are real men, the women kick butt, everyone is beautiful and no one breaks a nail, and babies don't need diapers changed at inconvenient moments. The characters live in beautiful romantic worlds of white castles, blue snow, golden suns, strange and shimmering alien technologies, elegant open homes surrounded by invisible, ferocious security. And oh, they're impossibly powerful telepaths who can kill you with their brains who can be killed by their brains. Asaro paints a very colorful canvas, but it's painfully two-dimensional. Characterization and plot readability is badly hampered by clunky dialogue and infodumps as well integrated into the narrative as bricks embedded in stained glass.

Those comments are true for several of Asaro's novels, but Skyfall suffers an additional handicap: it's set a generation earlier than the bulk of the Ruby Dynasty novels and narrates events that are background knowledge in those stories. Writing prequels that don't sag under the reader's knowledge of where events will end is tough, and Skyfall really falls down on that point. Almost every important plot point has already been mentioned somewhere else in the series.

Discussion of plot. One major plot point massively spoiled. Too bad it's backstory for the rest of the series. )

This isn't good literature, or even particularly fun techy hard SFnal lit. But this is beach reading in the most classic sense: best enjoyed with your feet dug into the sand and an alcoholic drink near to hand. Asaro can do Nifty Ideas in fiction (I keep reading her novels in the forlorn hope that she'll do something as cool as The Radiant Seas) but hasn't used that ability in Skyfall to more than color by numbers she sketched in earlier novels.
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Borderland (Ed. Terri Windling et al): I think I read this when I was 15, and promptly forgot most of it. )
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Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler): Reread. The journals of Lauren Oya Olamina from 2024 to 2027, a time when America is slowly crumbling into embattled, isolated enclaves as global warming and political corruption take their toll. Octavia Butler's novels tend to be as disturbing as history and as strange as anything SF has dreamed. I'm never sure if I like her novels, but I keep reading them, once or twice a year.

Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler): Reread; sequel to Parable of the Sower. Extracts from Olamina's journals during a vicious Christian Right presidency, framed and connected through commentary written by her estranged daughter fifty years later. President Jarrett and his followers are like a slightly scarier version of contemporary politics, so if you're already on the "OMG Bush is Teh Evil" bandwagon you may want to put off reading this until November.
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Shooting Digital: Pro Tips for Taking Great Pictures With Your Digital Camera (Mikkel Aaland): Nifty book that covers what it promises to. Twelve chapters of suggestions on how to improve your photography skills and post-shooting tweaking, with examples of what professional photographers or very serious amateurs do with their cameras. It's very useful, but a slightly tough read for me, since it uses the technical vocabulary - f-stops, aperture, white balance, depth of field - that I have very little experience with and can mostly merely approximate with my splendid little camera. It makes me eye the expensive professional and "prosumer" models frequently referenced with dreams of avarice. The two driving themes of the book seem to be "with forethought and practice, you can take great pictures with any camera" and "more equipment and more software never hurt, if you know how to use them." Both are true; one of them is much more useful for people who aren't planning on sinking lots of money into their photography in the near future. I'm tempted to say this book was pitched for people a little more familiar with photography and cameras than I am, but it was still really useful. Though I suspect I'm not going to understand what f-stops and aperture do until I get a camera that lets me experiment with them.
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A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Laurie R. King): As with many good things in life, it's really hard to stop with just one LRK novel. Or two. Mary Russell gains her majority. It’s a story about love. Love of friends, partners, God, not necessarily in that order. And I didn't really notice until I spent some time poking around LRK's website, which, given that this was my second reread, probably goes to show that coherent theme adds important texture and cohesiveness to story.
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Sethra Lavode (Steven Brust): The final volume of the "Viscount of Andrilankha" sort-of trilogy. People die. People live. The novel pretty much filled expectations without overflowing them. The cover art is astonishingly bad.

The Afterword is astonishingly incomprehensible, and if someone could shed some light on it I'd appreciate it.

Instead of commentary, quotes, because Brust's dialogue is a delight. Massive spoilers are inevitable. )
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The Sandman: Endless Nights (Neil Gaiman et al): Gaiman being himself, with very pretty art. )

Unifying themes: Endless, gorgeous artwork. Reader comprehension: minimal. Viewer art drooling: very high.
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Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! (Richard Feynman): Autobiographical collection of stories about Feynman. It gives the impression (like a plaster cast or paper-mache mask)of a man who passionately wants to know why. It also reads like a plaster cast, light, fast and a little superficial: an impressive number of anecdotes set together by quick sketches of the background information necessary for each story. However, the variety of the collected stories, spread across time, geography and interests, puts some of the depth back into the collection. It's a light, fast read I kept bouncing out of because it was so casually strung together. Good bedtime reading.

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