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Only two? December loses at life!

Crytonomicon (Neil Stephenson): reread. Total geek romance. For people who identify first as a geek, there are more important things than sex and your one true love. The more important geek thing is work that engages your brain. Spoilers! )

Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (Oliver Sacks) is a lighthearted collection of colorful and sometimes tragic music-related brain quirks. Sacks does a lot to humanize patients he could reduce to a list of problems and neurological misfirings, which is a talent. It also means the book is somewhere between a collection of case studies and limited glimpses into the lives, which makes this a bit fluffy. If anecdotes about musicians losing their hearing or people with massive anterograde and retrograde amnesia can be considered fluffy.

2007 book stats: 65 total, 37 new fiction, 3 short story collections (including one reread), 1 graphic novel, 8 new nonfiction, 16 fiction rereads. But many of those were very short! Or, to break it down exactly as last year: 65 total, 57 fiction, 8 nonfiction.

My 2008 book resolution is to avoid romance novels unless a trusted prescreener shoves it in my hands with a bang-up rec. By "bang-up rec", I mean they indicate it's shockingly akin to a science fiction novel in drag, or deals with my favorite themes in a way counter to most romance tropes. My other 2008 book resolution is (as always) to read more nonfiction. I did slightly better this year, but the raw numbers obfuscate that I included Girl, Interrupted and The Vagina Monologues in the nonfiction count. That's pretty fluffy. Also, the non/fiction ratio's way off compared to other years.
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Empire of Ivory (Naomi Novik / [livejournal.com profile] naominovik): Way to cliffhanger, Novik! )

Ha'Penny (Jo Walton / [livejournal.com profile] papersky): Remember what I was saying about writing to entertain? Walton is writing to tell an idea in story form. Her character's trucks are gonna break, their dogs will be shot, their wives will leave them. I want to say something about gender roles and Carmichael and Jack, whose PoV would probably be enlightening. Why doesn't Jack get a job too? I come from the two income household assumption, and also from the "construction workers are hot" mindset, so I may be missing the point here. Series structure note: Carmichael PoV limited 3rd past; female protagonist limited 1st epistolary. Nifty trick, since it gives you a reserved point of view, and a distorted one.

Uncle Tungsten: Memories of a Chemical Childhood (Oliver Sacks): For anyone like me, who hasn't been paying attention, Oliver Sacks is awesome. The title pretty much encapsulates the book: childhood, science, colorful twist. It's a love letter to science. Sacks talks about such and such a part of growing up - uncles, parents, the nanny, World War Two child evacuations - and then wanders off to talk about physics, or the history of chemistry. Sacks also includes many, many entertaining footnotes (he blames Mendeleev's footnotes in The Principles of Chemistry, which he writes about in terms that make me want to read it too). Sacks loves science, and is well-versed in the history of science, which he uses to lead into and out of his own childhood. Sacks had a large family, including several uncles involved in industry and applied chemistry or physics. If you think this didn't impact his life, you'd be so wrong. There's something to be said for family expectations and how they play out in your life (see also Sacks's mother arranging an introduction to human anatomy at age fourteen - because every 14 year old wants to dissect the corpse of another 14 year old). It's difficult to write a biography without saying something about the people who impacted that life, and in this case, chemistry and chemical concepts are at least as prominent as the people. Very fun biography.
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I didn't intentionally read two novels of alternate history focusing on the UK this week, but that's what happened. If you ever need an illustration in the difference between honor and reputation*, do Empire of Ivory and Ha'Penny as paired reads.

*The Bujold definitions, with honor being what you know about yourself, and reputation being what others know about you.

I'm a lot more worried about Carmichael's ultimate fate than I am about Laurence's, but that's what having a dragon who's smarter than you will do for your luck roll.
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My Deep and Meaningful post was derailed by [livejournal.com profile] norabombay and I trying to write science fiction epics on the phone again, so I will instead offer this thought: my second, scattershot dip into The Sharing Knife: Legacy is not reconciling me to the romance or Fawn; it's making me gesture emphatically at The Steerswoman's Road instead. I am not supposed to be annoyed at plucky Fawn, but oh, I really, really wish her selfish recklessness were not presented as courage.
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A Swiftly Tilting Planet (Madeleine L'Engle): Reread. Charles Wallace and the unicorn Gaudior have really cool adventures. I am frustrated by Mom O'Keefe spoilers. )

Parable of the Talents (Octavia Butler): Also a reread. I like Parable of the Sower more, but I think Talents may be the better book. It uses the contrasting narrative voices well, and I like the device of the entire book being told through written words, however improbable. History is written by the victors - and the bystanders - and the people too stubborn to stop writing, and reflects those different perspectives. Sometimes, one must question who won. I keenly feel the mother-daughter estrangement, Asha / Larkin's bitter insight and refusal to fall into Lauren Olamina's orbit. When I was younger I had more sympathy for Marc, Lauren's minister brother, but now I have understanding without necessarily sympathy. Marc and Asha manage "alone together" quite well. You can tell how much Butler engages me because I get all tangled in character and motivation and lose perspective on the fact that this is all fiction.

Many Waters (Madeleine L'Engle): Still rereading! My least favorite of the Wrinkle quartet. Similar manifestations of evil show up in L'Engle's Wrinkle novels and Diane Duane's Wizard series; evil is something other, is the cruel man offscreen or the destroyer cloaked in soft, wasteful lies. Evil is pretty clearly telegraphed as such; these aren't the universes of good intentions harming people.

Many Waters spoilers. )

Tehanu (Ursula K. Le Guin): Yes, I did my best to reread the entire series, except for The Other Wind. I understand why, thirty years later, Le Guin might have felt the original trilogy didn't serve her goals, but I am less sympathetic to the execution of her patch-work. Several scenes do logical jumps I still barely follow, three rereads later, and I am displeased with Spark's plotline. (Moment of truth? I want a story where he sells Oak Farm and uses the money to buy a legitimate ship, co-financed by his ex-pirate boyfriend. If Spark doesn't know Tenar, well, I'm willing to imagine that Tenar doesn't know Spark, either. I want everyone to be complicated and more than they seem. Call it the iceberg theory of characterization.)

Anyway. Logical jumps, and other spoilers. )

A Wizard of Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin): The first Earthsea book, where evil is the Old Powers and your own shadow. Le Guin does heartstopping moments of poetry and fun ethnological worldbuilding, and I am unfazed by its age. The story holds up well enough for me.

Power skimmed Tales from Earthsea (Ursula K. Le Guin), which is exactly as I remember it. It turns out some pieces imprinted deeper than I thought, which goes to show the power of a good storytelling idea, even in the face of raving alchemists.

Bloodchild and Other Stories (Octavia Butler): Also a reread, because some days nothing will please you but a bloodcurdling love story with male pregnancy. There's two short essays in the back, and story notes after each story, which I like because it shows another angle of Butler's thoughts, and lets me sputter, "but - but -" when I slam into the places I thought one thing and she thought something else.

Notes on particular stories: "Bloodchild" will always have a special place in my heart for being completely alien; "The Evening and the Morning and the Night" is like Hell crossed with proto-Clay's Ark; I actually managed to wipe "Near of Kin" out of my memory, which shows where my lines lie; "Speech Sounds" has one of the best twist endings ever; "Crossover" scares the daylights out of me. Questions?

Goodbye, Descartes: The End of Logic and the Search for a New Cosmology of the Mind (Keith Devlin): Nonfiction. Devlin on logic, and attempts to apply logic to human communication, and how this has spectacularly failed to produce good working models of how people talk to each other. Eleven or twelve chapters, and I'm not sure if I've retained anything more than the briefest highlights of any of it. It's a topic well-treated by someone who knows what they're talking about, but it's dense; I picked this up in late August, and only now finished it. Someone who knows more about logic - in other words, isn't starting from "what is logic?" - may find this an easier read.

The Marquisarde (Louise Marley): Professional flutist and Parisian Ebriel Serique runs into the flip side of priviledge when her husband and daughter are killed in a terrorist raid that might be anything but. Her grief and hunger for revenge propel her into a well-heeled resistance group and the path of James Running Bull.

I liked the idea, but the execution was shaky. Spoilers! )

Overall, good idea, hampered by one personal quirk, a weak B-for-Boy plot, and some strangely passive prose. However, I am sufficiently intrigued I'm poking around for other books Louise Marley's written.
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I have fever, but it's of the sort that conks me out, without completely incapacitating me between naps. So have some book chatter.

The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi): The adventures of Jared Dirac, Special Forces clone of a brilliant rogue scientist. A sort of sequel to Old Man's War: same universe, overlapping characters. Spoilers and stuff. )Conclusions: good light genre fiction, but don't think about it too hard. Also, if you have a problem with cute kids, run away.

Crystal Soldier (Sharon Lee and Steve Miller): First half of the adventures of M. Jela Granthor's Guard and Cantra yos'Phelium; prequel to the Liaden novels by the same authors. I read several of the Liaden novels in my late teens, and very little has stuck with me beyond one sentence: here we stand: An old woman, a halfling boy, two babes; a contract, a ship, and a Tree. Clan Korval. How Jela would laugh. I found the writing in the Liaden novels tended to use a lot of gimmes in ways that don't interest me, but I wanted to know more about this "old woman" and her backstory, which sounded much more interesting than her arch descendants.

Prequel writing is tough. This example didn't do it for me. )I should say that Crystal Soldier did one thing I liked: no completely superfluous B-plot to pad the page count. Also, for all my gripes about the SF content, the romance did not completely and intrinsically irritate me, as so many romance novels or stories do.

The Outback Stars (Sandra McDonald / [livejournal.com profile] sandramcdonald): Jodenny Scott, survivor of one of those space disasters, gears up for the next round. Terry Myell just wants the bullying to stop.

Australia love! )Conclusions: uneven, but promising. I'll make the library hold the sequel for me.

The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula K. Le Guin): Second book in the Earthsea trilogy. Reread. I read the Earthsea trilogy out of order - Tombs, The Farthest Shore, then A Wizard of Earthsea last. I'm trying to remember if I read Tehanu before Wizard, but I'm pretty sure I read the first book in the first trilogy before finding the first book in the second trilogy. Mostly sure. Needless to say, this misreading order has colored my feelings about the series in interesting ways. What do you mean, the trilogy's overwhelmingly important protagonist is Ged?

The original Earthsea trilogy might technically be considered epic fantasy, since it's the story of restoring the peace and the monarchy, but any Fat Fantasy Epic conventions are undercut left, right and center. Tombs is awesome about this: it's a classic "steal things from the Temple of Evil!" story, but it's told from the perspective of Evil's scornful young and nubile high priestess, and having the McGuffin solves nothing immediately. Magic can be flashy - and from his staff and his hands leapt forth a white radiance that broke as a sea-wave breaks in sunlight, against the thousand diamonds of the roof and walls: a glory of light - but it's also useful for curing goat diseases and mending things, like the Ring of Erreth-Akbe. At the end of the story, the hero sails into port, victorious, but the object he went to fetch is carried by the girl. I can see why Le Guin went back and tried to fix her universe years later - there are fundamental injustices, but life is unfair - but the books stand on their own just fine, I think.

Parable of the Sower (Octavia Butler): Also a reread. The world ends. Lauren Olamina keeps going. One of the things I love about postapocalyptic fiction is the inevitable settling toward a new equilibrium, and Butler does an awesome job of that in this story. Historical injustices aren't repeated identically, but similar situations arise. I want to wave my hands and discuss the political setup and race and how everyone's wrapped up in their children.
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Eight, including one nonfiction. I have got to change my non/fiction ratios up.

I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith): I should know better than to read novels in gigantic chunks; resolution of any novel makes very little sense at 3 AM. Epistolary novel that almost worked for me, except I empathize with the father's lazy genius too much, so it's a little painful.

Old Man's War (John Scalzi): I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army. Starship Troopers, except for the wife thing. Which actually is sort of late Heinlein, if you have a twisted brain. However, it doesn't follow through for me, because Johnny Rico is supposed to be an everyman, and John Perry is a little more special. Spoilers, quotes, rambling. ) Points off OMW for not being deep, worldbuilding, and Special Protagonist Effect; points to OMG for engaging characterization of non-POV characters and snappy dialogue. Conclusion? Scalzi stays on the "to read" list.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (Jon Krakauer): Journalist's experiences during the 1996 climbing season, supplemented by interviews with climbers who survived the circumstances that killed eight people in less than 24 hours. The mountain would ultimately claim 15 lives that season, the greatest number of fatalities in one year.

The Everest fatality list lists deaths up to and including 2002. There's been a death on the slopes every year since 1978. So when I say, "people die every year on that mountain", people do, in fact, die every year on that mountain because they put themselves in harm's way. Enthusiasts with limited experience throw thousands of dollars at the opportunity to experience significantly subzero wind chills, hypoxia, and did I mention possibly death?

However, this makes for great drama. Guides and their clients are pushing the envelope so far there's not much margin for error when something doesn't go to plan. I am fascinated, if convinced I am never, ever doing it without a winning lottery ticket and five-year training program. Good nonfiction.

I should disclose that I read Into the Wild, Krakauer's book about Christopher McCandless, the summer before my senior year of high school. I loathed it, because I had no sympathy for No Map McCandless in my cautious soul, and Krakauer inexplicably (to me) did. My loathing of Into the Wild is a reflection of my fundamental difference in worldview from McCandless and should not be taken as a reflection on Krakauer's writing, which is extremely readable. Oh hey, there is an Into the Wild movie less than a month from release. I had no idea!

Faking It (Jennifer Cruise):
Then the light caught Tilda's crazy blue eyes again, and she looked stubborn and difficult and exasperating and infinitely more interesting than Eve, if he could keep from maiming her. And he already knew she could kiss.
And so it was that on page 76 I said, "thank God, one romance novel is finally talking to me."

However, it doesn't say the things I really want to hear. That's not a winning conclusion in a fluffy book. )

Fire Logic (Laurie J. Marks): The Shafthali resistance, as seen through the eyes of Zanja na'Tarwein. There, have a useless blurb.

The usual strategy for epic war fantasy novels is to focus on the battles and political maneuvering. Marks focuses on the resistance, on avoiding and seeking out small local skirmishes, and on the toll armed hostilities take on the people and the land: farms destroyed, lives sacrificed to duty, etc. Marks gets points for LGB content and a fantasy system which does not actively irritate me. She also gets points for quietly telling a story featuring women interacting with women, which is a weird thing to say, but consider the last five SF novels you read and ask yourself how many of them featured a scene with three people doing a job, all of whom happen to be of the XX persuasion. According to her biography, Marks is in a writing group with Rosemary Kirstein, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Didi Stewart. People who know me know that I think Kirstein's Steerswoman series is doing awesome stuff, and that I may break the bank for a hardcover copy of the next one, if published in that format, to get it faster. So I am very excited that I have other authors who seem to be in a conversation I want to eavesdrop on.

The Machine's Child (Kage Baker): From the diary of Labenius, an Immortal: Book 7. Still not 2355!

Spoilers. Though after that last sentence, do you care? )

V for Vendetta (David Lloyd, Alan Moore): Graphic novel of 1982 - 1988 comic series. I saw the movie first, rushed through the comic in the two days after I realized I had a due date coming up, and in some ways like the movie more. Yes, gasp, horror, shock, get it out of your system so I can explain. Ready?

Two paragraphs of rambling. )

The Sons of Heaven (Kage Baker): IT IS FINALLY 2355. )
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I read several popular books that I think I will get more out of discussing than I did out of reading them. Ditto with the minor novels by major authors. So comment away.

The Puppet Masters (Robert Heinlein): Mind controlling aliens invade Earth. Nudity ensues. Heinlein proves once more that he may have been ahead of his time, but not that ahead.

"Listen, son - most women are damn fools and children. But they've got more range than we've got."


How this tallies with "Mary"'s devolution from dynamic female character to plot device and wifely appendage is an essay waiting to happen. I find the limited acknowledgment that having your body possessed by an alien entity who treated you rather less well than, say, humans treat horses really disturbing in the context of Sam's final internal monologue about wiping the mind-controlling "slugs" out of existence. Oh, and don't get me started on the fun father-son non-relationship. Fold that in with the Mary devolution for a general "dear RAH, please don't try to write family" essay.

Redeeming qualities of novel: um. Justified nudity? Aircars? Secret agents save the world from mind controlling aliens? The aliens come complete with flying saucers! Okay, let's admit I started The Puppet Masters in a moment of weakness and finished it out of blind stubbornness. The plot was well done, but the characters and patronizing author voice shining though the characters drove me nuts.

The Sharing Knife: Legacy (Lois McMaster Bujold): One aspect of ideal romance plot is finding your partner and your place in a community. Being part of relationship that improves your ability to do stuff. So it should surprise no one who has read Legacy that I, um, may not be on Dag and Fawn's side.

By the end of Legacy, a number of my least favorite romance tropes have come into play: May-December, "us against the world that would divide us", new romantic partner being your everything, a plucky and precocious young female protagonist. (I really, really hate the "everything" trope. Words cannot contain the sense of entrapment and co-dependence that sort of story brings on me in conjunction with "us against the world".)

Many rambling spoilers. )

War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda (Jonathan Tucker): Exactly what the subtitle says: a nonfiction account of the evolution of chemical weapons from mustard gas to Novichok agents. This is an absolutely straight recitation of facts, facts and more facts, with very little emphasis on the interconnections between facts that makes nonfiction enjoyable for me. I also would have enjoyed more emphasis on the biochemical side, like tedious diagrams of relevant enzymes and receptor kinase cascades, this may just be my biology geekiness showing again. The focus is on development, treaties, governments breaking treaties, new development, and government budget fights. It's an excellent education on the social/historical side, but less so on the science side, because that's just not Tucker's interest.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (J. K. Rowling): Last in the series. Harry must face Voldemort and his destiny. And all that jazz.

Spoilers. ) I've been reading the books mostly to keep up with pop culture for a while, so I'm just as glad they're over, though I sort of wish I hadn't lost my copy on the plane.

The Blue Castle (L. M. Montgomery): Valancy Stirling's 29th birthday brings nothing but gloom to an old maid in the making. Not until a doctor tells her she has a year to live does Valancy choose to upend her prim life. Mild havoc and romance ensue.

The book would have been vastly improved had it started on chapter three and cut out the first 25 pages of moping. I was completely unsurprised to learn Valancy's husband was John Foster, though the revelation about his fortune was a pretty twist. Her subsequent artificial dithering, however, was not. This is lightweight LMM, which is saying something. I'm glad to have it checked off the to-read list, but I'm relieved I ILLed it, and didn't spend money on it.
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Month of dystopia, apocalypse, war, and the occasional terraforming near-miss. This ain't a scene, it's the Kanye West remix of an arms race.

Fortress of Ice (C. J. Cherryh): Elfwyn gets the band back together. I remain bitterly disappointed by the lack of Cefwyn/Ninvevrise/Tristen interaction, because I keep trying to read this as Cherryh's not-Arthurian epic, and I am not sure that's actually where the multi-novel arc is going. The idea of joining the two kingdoms in a pax Tristen, then razing them with a side of brother-against-illegitimate-brother angst, amuses me a great deal, but I don't know that Cherryh's intention is to follow that model. Civil war yes, civil war crashing civilization no.

Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury): overrated. Book of its time. Bradbury is a loon now, but people latched onto his story and saw their future reflected in it. Consider Montag's cross-city flight in view of Big Brother and other reality TV shows. In fact, consider the entire novel in light of contemporary America. However, remember that old classics were once new potboilers (Moby-Dick, Dickens novels, I am looking at you).

Brave New World (Aldous Huxley): Needs context. Once I got to the color-coding, I had it.

"...all wear green," said a soft but very distinct voice, beginning in the middle of a sentence, "and Delta Children [sic] wear khaki. Oh no, I don't want to play with Delta children. And Epsilons are still worse. They're too stupid to be able to read or write. Besides they wear black, which is such a beastly colour. I'm so glad I'm a Beta."
-BNW p27, Harper Perennial Modern Classics 2006 edition.


Now that you have your _Cyteen_ referents locked in, have fun. )

The Golden Acquarians (Monica Hughes): Walter Elliot is plucked from his comfortable home in Lethbridge, Alberta, when his father decides he needs a man's example to be a real man. Walt's new life on Aqua, his father's latest terraforming project, is abruptly changed by a discovery that could derail the planet's transformation from swamp to economic goldmine.

If I'd read this when I was 12, when I read Invitation to the Game and Keeper of the Isis Light, I might have fallen in love. Walt is a nature-loving boy who writes poetry! And has massive dad angst! And a plucky girl sidekick! I am older now, and find the environmental issues and contrasting of Colonel Dad's "men must be real men!" attitude with Walt's liberal arts-ish-ness blatant. Elliot's changing understanding of his dad is still rewarding, though the final resolution is a pat little deus ex machina vindicating the environmental hippies at the expense of a nuanced viewpoint. A lighthearted take on disaster and father-son relationships, bridging Huxley and McCarthy's deadly seriousness.

The Road (Cormac McCarthy): Boy and father travel on foot after the end of the world. I had to turn on "A Sorta Fairytale" after this (the five minute version, with the nice bridge transition) in a desperate attempt to cheer up. Notice how I turned on Tori Amos to cheer up. Reaction shot: bring your own story. )

This was violent, riveting, brutal, and as finely drawn as razor wire stretched across an abandoned trench. I may never read another novel by Cormac McCarthy ever again, but I've been acutely aware of the profligate greens and stunning blues and sweet yellows of the world this month.

Keeper of the Isis Light (Monica Hughes): Olwen's tenth Isis birthday brings news of an impending colonial transport that will change her understanding of herself and the planet she calls home.

That is the worst summary ever, but I loved this book so much when I was in middle school! It prefigures a lot of the things I love now, with vague spoilers. )

The Isis Pedlar (Monica Hughes): Moira Flynn cleans up after her father Mike's latest caper. And yes, that is how the title is spelled.

I was completely unimpressed with the Irish stereotypes from page one. The alcoholism, the blarney, the appeals to a Catholic God, all on the first page: this made reading the book somewhat problematic. I have no idea if I would have tolerated or hated that if I had read this when I was the target audience. This would be 90% forgettable if it weren't the third book in the Isis series/trilogy, and if I hadn't gotten to play the "fill in the book two blanks" game. However, I will forever love Moira and David N'Kumo's courtship for the scene where... oh, drat. Spoilers for one late-novel bit. )

July preview: there are high odds that I'll be reading the new Bujold and the new Harry Potter. Also, Vegas, so there's four hours of uninterrupted reading time right there. Watch this space for stabs at nonfiction.
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6xH: Six Stories by Robert H. Heinlein (Robert A. Heinlein): 1961 collection of "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants", "All You Zombies", "They", "Our Fair City", and finally, "And He Built a Crooked House".

Cut for length and one Unpleasant Profession spoiler. )

I think the unifying theme of the collection (other than, "hey! We have the rights to six random Heinlein stories!") is the all-consuming Idea, the single sense-of-wonder moment when your mind expands a bit to contemplate a new perspective. Most contemporary SF fails at this, possibly because we've come to emphasize other writing components: character, plot, elaborate worldbuilding, meta. Instead of the writing building to that vertiginous Moment of Cool, we get the more considered Novel of Interesting, and occasionally very interesting genre conversation. But I came for the cool, for the morning of the world, and its afternoon sometimes fades compared to the remembered joy of the Idea.

Girl, Interrupted (Susanna Kaysen): Autobiographical vignettes of a year as a mental health resident. This could have been a downer, this could have been emo, this could have been just terrible. However, Kaysen sticks to her strengths - pithy, sharp turns of phrase - which forces the reader to pay attention to snapshots of life in the ward as they come. I will not say that it rewards close attention, though people paying more attention than me might find something to say about the psychology and biochemistry mental illness; life in the United States, 1967 - 1969; or health care in the same time and place, and now; but I do think the prose is astonishing. If Diana Wynne Jones' prose is a very workmanlike basket for holding story, if Lois Bujold's is a yellow brick road of practicality and flippant whimsy, then Kaysen's is a lens or a prism, catching the light and forcing your eye to follow it where the lens-creator intended.

Related link: Girl Interrupted in her Music, a painting by Vermeer. There is a connection between the book and the painting.

The Collapsium (Wil McCarthy): This is not a fixer-upper novel. It's an expanded novella! I think expanding previous works is the worst idea ever, and submit for consideration Asimov's "Nightfall", Card's "Ender's Game", and Kress's "Beggars in Spain", as well as "Once Upon a Matter Crushed", which was expanded for this novel. After you get past that, it's pretty fun. )

I also reread great swaths of the graphic novel version of Stardust, a pretty little fairy tale written in Neil Gaiman's comptetent fashion and brought to life by Charles Vess's illustrations. I think the words-only version is much inferior, and strongly urge you to hold out for the graphic novel for many reasons, including the Vess panel on the very last page, which works magnificently with the concluding written paragraphs.

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein): A 208 page political polemic I managed to miss in my feckless teen years. Papa Heinlein, educate us all on how life as the infantry is the best way to train hot-blooded men to value their electoral franchise.

I thought I didn't have much left to say about this, but apparently not! )

Polio: An American Story (David M. Oshinsky): Entertaining account of the creation of the polio vaccines. Oshinsky juggles the glut of characters and their agendas very nicely. This is more a book about the social side than the science side; I was hoping for tangents into the biochemistry of polio, but this is more about the whos and whys than the science. But what a story. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis very conciously manipulated the public to wring donations "for the children" from them, through tactics like the March of Dimes and FDR's involvement. It's disturbing to read a level-voiced account of fundraising, but that may be a personal quirk. Three cheers for heavily footnoted histories!

I could do a knee-jerk reaction to Dr. Isabel Morgan's contributions to polio research, and how they came to a screeching halt when she married and Dr. Morgan got sidelined by Mrs. Mountain, but if you're reading this, you're probably familiar with the story of women's careers getting shafted by their gender and marriage.
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My book notes are on the baby laptop's hard drive. Until I can pull them, paired reads for the books I remember finishing. Subject to modification should I recall further titles.

Girl, Interrupted (Susanna Kaysen): Girl Interrupted At Her Music, Vermeer.
The Collapsium (Wil McCarthy): nonfiction about exotic physics and/or materials engineering.
Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein): Ender's Game (military and morality) or Rite of Passage (enfranchisement, or maturity).
Polio, An American Story (David M. Oshinsky): more epidemiological histories, especially malaria.
6xH (Robert Heinlein): I'd need six pairs for the six shorts in here, so I'm only doing it if asked.

Fragmentary rereads:
Stardust (Neil Gaiman, Charles Vess): Lord Dunsany's The King of Elfland's Daughter. Inspiration? Homage? You decide!
Last Herald-Mage trilogy (Mercedes Lackey): Cherryh's Nighthorse novels (bacon!)
Paladin of Souls (Lois McMaster Bujold): A.) nonfiction on the history of medieval Spain, especially religion and the Reconquista; B.) fantasy novels dealing with spirit. Perhaps Fortress of Ice.

It is ninety degrees out (32 C for the metric people), so I am, of course, reading Fortress of Ice (C. J. Cherryh), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), and just finished a book on polio (see above). For my next trick, I will start the history of chemical warfare I picked up at the library yesterday, or possibly reread the Judith Butler extracts in the comp. lit. course packet I found while cleaning, or maybe find some nonfiction about doomed polar expeditions.
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Today - yesterday, technically - I finished reading Starship Troopers, and I feel the need to mention my ongoing wish for novels where more than half the cast is female, and it is no big deal. Our protagonist Juana does lots of plot-related stuff and interacts on a regular basis with her coworkers Danielle, Desiree and Beth, as well as Ryan and Miles, and this has almost zero effect on the plot, which is about FTL physics or is a murder mystery set in (22nd century) LA or something. It just so happens that about 55% or more of the people Juana works with in this book, or who she has strong connections to, happen to be - gasp! - women, in much the same way that there are almost no women in Starship Troopers, and the plot-important characters happen to be 100% male. And no one says anything, because it's completely irrelevant to the physics or the crime scene or what have you.

Consider this my response to the WisCon posts showing up on my f-list. I'm still mulling over how to address how radically my opinions diverge from Heinlein's on a number of topics, but it helps to remember that I am reading this as a 23-year-old in 2007 and the book was published in 1959, when Heinlein was 52. What author and reader would consider normal would likely make a pretty set of contradictions.
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Late, they tell me, is better than never.

Star Wars: Alleigance (Timothy Zahn): Rebels post-Yavin, Imperial corruption, Emperor's Hand, shake well and mix. Who cares about the details, it's Zahn writing a SW original trilogy novel! We all know that I am a gigantic fangirl for Zahn, what with the original characters I don't want to die and the prose that I can read without wincing, so this is all about the happy indulgent storytelling. Seriously, people: lightsabers!

One for the Money (Janet Evanovitch): Stephanie Plum has lost it all - her job, her savings, even her car. Her last hope for financial solvency is Joe Morelli - or rather, the $10,000 she can earn by bringing the New Jersey cop-turned-killer to justice. Will Stephanie overcome her mixed feelings for Joe to make the case, or will Rex the hamster be forced to eat hamster kibble for the rest of his days?

[livejournal.com profile] cathydalek recommended this, and she was smack on the money. I kept thinking of people while reading this - if [livejournal.com profile] norabombay lost her car, this would be her life - every sketchy NJ city story [livejournal.com profile] aoumd mentioned - the possible appearance of a cousin of [livejournal.com profile] cathydalek's family's Biscayne in the next book.

Pure junk reading, literally. I read this while compulsively chomping Cheetos.

Sixty Days and Counting (Kim Stanley Robinson): If you know KSR's previous novels, you know how this one goes, except maybe with Phil. I'm putting the gigantic rant below the cut, becuase it boils down to the novel (and the trilogy) being a policy story, not a policy secondary impact story.

There is a river dividing Anacostia and Arlington. )

Fortunately, I'm 80 pages from the end of a nice nonfiction polio book, so there's only so much griping you can expect in the May list.
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If I do not post this now I will never finish it.

The Vagina Monologues (Eve Ensler): The play which gets annual stage time on college campuses (and youtube). Since it's a play, it really should be seen, not read, to get the full effect. However, I keep brilliantly noticing it's playing about a week after the performance(s).

Too much girly feelings-sharing makes me nervous. I know I have schizophrenic trust issues, and I mostly accept this. The Vagina Monologues are all about sharing your feelings, and getting a little TMI, and safe spaces, and it probably says something that my favorite piece was "Because He Liked To Look At It", which is one of the funny pieces, not one of the Deeply Tragical monologues. (Links: YouTube - and it says a thing that I only got one hit on that monologue - and text.) Letting it all hang out goes against my grain, unless it's done with courtesy, intelligence and humor that cuts sharper and quicker than rage.

Star Wars: X-Wing: Starfighters of Adumar (Aaron Allston): Wedge Antilles breaks up with girlfriend Qwi Xux, and is conveniently assigned to a diplomatic mission on a pilot-lovin' planet with which the New Republic would really like an alliance. Recommended after romance complaints for Wedge-and-Iella content. Complete fluff. Allston has a weakness for repetition that drives me nuts, and could really use a copy editor to clean up sentences like, "she was beautiful, but it was not her beauty that jolted Wedge - not her beauty that made him feel as though he had taken a punch to the gut."

The romance: it was a B-plot in an action story and did what it was supposed to, which is give two secondary characters a happy relationship. I was surprised by how little bearing it had on the A-plot; "Wedge and Iella in love" could have been "Wedge and Iella in best friends forever land" with much the same impact on the main action story.

Plot comments: pilots, no Jedi. Flying, no fathers. Comedy, not tragedy. Deep like the puddles you happily splash through in your small yellow rainboots. If there's a message or theme, it is that you should treat people with respect and honor, and they'll reward you with courage, love, and gaudy cloaks you want to burn. And nothing don't mean nothing if it ain't free.

Edit: Shoutout to [livejournal.com profile] scifantasy for being a total fanboy and correcting the title.

Farthing (Jo Walton / [livejournal.com profile] papersky): A prominent politician is murdered in 1949 Britain, eight years after a peace settlement with Nazi Germany.

By the way, this is alternate history.

I've read most of Walton's novels to date, because how can you not root for an author whose usenet sig reads, I kissed a kif at Kefk? Really solid fun. )

Glasshouse (Charles Stross): A postop memory surgery job decides to participate in a psychology experiment simulating pre-Acceleration social dynamics.

Readable, but not memorable. )

Conclusions? Rec for the SF crowd; not running down the street trying to shove this down people's throats. Adequate storytelling.

In the Bleak Midwinter (Julia Spencer-Fleming):
Live son of dead girl:
detective complications.
Snow sweeps Millers Kill.

A baby on the church steps brings together Police chief Russ Van Alstyne and Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson in an investigation that points at the most and least respected families of small town Miller's Kill. (Together, they fight crime!) Kill is an example of borrowing from Dutch, and refers to a creek. The doubled English meaning is merely convenient for mystery writers.

Cut for spoilers and length. Together, they fight crime! )

Conclusions: I would rec this to romance readers looking for a mystery; I might rec this to mystery readers who don't mind romance; I am saving the rest of the series for trashy travel reading, or any time I want an excuse to displace some yelling about characters flying in the face of sense. The blurbs are compelling, and the characters given sufficient backstory and depth that I am curious about what happens next ("together, they fight crime!"), but my curiosity is tempered by the occasional character idiocy.
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Only two books, and both - by an extremely flexible definition - romances. In revenge compensation, I intend to spend March reading The Vagina Monologues and popular science nonfiction.

Outlander (Diana Gabaldon): I think I hated this book in plot-spoiling detail. ) Also, everyone else hates it, all for different reasons, so just this once, I'll go with the majority opinion.

My One True Romance goes something like this: Person A and Person B must solve a problem. Resolving the McGuffin brings them closer together. Plot, smartass banter and comedy ensue. Ultimately, the problem is solved, and A+B form a lasting romantic partnership with smartass banter, comedy, and possibly cohabitation. Steamy sex scenes or fade to black on the smooches both acceptable. I know exactly the emotional charge I want here.

It occurs to me, at least four years after the fact, that Gaudy Night may have set or reinforced some of my romantic preferences, and also that I may have done myself a grave disservice when I said, "Lord Peter novels? Well, everyone gushes over Gaudy Night, I'll start there!"

Another example of my One True Romance:
SAX RUSSELL: After 2 1/2 novels of fighting with each other, I am not in love with Ann. We're friends. Really. Friends who are both lab rat die-hards, except for the part where she doesn't want Mars terraformed and I'm one of the stars of the terraforming effort. Denial is a river in Egypt!
ANN CLAYBOURNE: Sax? Evil. Really. Evil terraformer. I hate his guts. I am not in denial of any mutual spark!
Sax: Hey, remember Antarctica?
BOTH: Aw, f-
AND THEY LIVE HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

Please note this is a secondary (or tertiary) thread in a 900-plus page epic about colonizing Mars.

Having read a modern romance, I dug into my "to read" pile and found something a little more related to the literary concept of romance.

The King of Elfland's Daughter (Lord Dunsany): The peace of the vale of Erl is slowly undone after the Parliament of Erl asks for a magic lord.

I had two major reactions, to the plot and the prose. Both are pretty spoiler heavy. )

I feel like I should try to broaden my reading horizons, but bad books are a real turnoff. If you can, reccomend me one (1) romance, one nonfiction book, and/or one mystery.
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A Brother's Price (Wen Spencer): Regency romance set in a world where women outnumber men about ten to one. This is a really cool idea; my favorite thing in the world is wacky worldbuilding ideas, which is why I love the sf/f field so much. So why not take a wacky idea, and explore it in the context of a standard plot. Is there any more paint-by-numbers cliche than a regency? However, regencies are implausible and silly, and this is no exception. The plucky grandchild of thieves and army spies marries royalty for Twu Wuv? Um, no. So it's my profound problem: there's this one great worldbuilding thought, and one really clever concept for integrating a novel idea with a cliche plot, but I dislike the Cinderella romance of the plucky country gentry and the dashing, swashbuckling royalty. Also, the secondary effects are incompletely considered. This is one of the books which is lots of fun to talk about, I think, because it's got one really cool idea embedded in workday prose and slightly cracked worldbuilding.

Shiva's Fire (Suzanne Fisher Staples): Children's/YA. Parvati is born on the first day of the life-giving monsoon, the day a tornado wrecks her village. She grows up in the shadow of this tragedy, surrounded by unlikely miracles and her love of dance.

Staples seems to have written the bharata natyam equivalent of a "go to ballet boarding school" book, and manages a nice fusion of "go to dance school" with South Indian culture. Miraculous events are presented as Things That Happen, which are often two-edged. I've been reading Staples since Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind provided a vivid demonstration that first person present tense can be used to really suck readers in, so I may be a bit biased toward her writing. With that in mind, I think she approached the material in an interesting fashion: Parvati's surprising episodes with dance and music are presented in a matter-of-fact way that reminds me of magical realism. I don't think that's the genre Staples is trying to write; I'd say she's going for a child's novel infused with the feel of Hindu religious epics. She scores fairly well on that front. The late-novel romance is resolved in a way that works very well on the story level, but that annoys me slightly in a larger context.

Spoilers. I prove I should never have been allowed to take that Intro to Women's Studies class. )

The Ghost Sister (Liz Williams): First contact with a long-lost Earth colony, complicated by the crippling disability one of the natives is burdened with. There is a heavy-handed subplot about inflexible religious conservatives which drags down the worldbuilding, which isn't bad. The plot with the older woman as open-minded adventurer is a gentle departure from the sf/f norm. This is the sort of book that's okay for an afternoon, but that would be greatly enhanced by tipsy 2 AM IM chats about feminist motifs and fake sci-fi illnesses.

I finally finished The Short Fiction of C. J. Cherryh, which is about what you'd expect from Cherryh: trust no one; keep your family close; outlive the bastards. Your perception is wrong, always, but if you are bold and desperate, you may bring your enemies to ruin.

I also reread Green Mars and Blue Mars, the back two-thirds of Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, and The Martians, which reads as if someone had pulled out the "work in progress - does this fit?" drawer and dumped it into book form. I will never stop quibbling with the educational system as presented: how do your offspring of back-to-nature hunter-gatherers compete with the pampered urban youth? And what about the descendants of those asteroid exiles? How much of your history do you get to shed when your parents are Martian exiles? KSR presents a glowing vision of the unified Martian culture, but the writing doesn't entirely bear out authorial intent. Possibly I am missing something, but from my perspective, Blue Mars fails to carry the second-order worldbuilding effects to a logical conclusion. This drives me nuts because the first two books are awesome, and the third comes out a little cute in comparison. (I am looking at Sax and Ann as I say this. Yes, high "awwwww, sweet!" factor, but a little convenient.) There is a book I like a lot more hiding in the BM worldbuiling.

The Martians includes the novella "Green Mars" (not to be confused with the novel of the same name), which somehow makes mountain climbing the most awesome thing that I am too chicken to do, and "A Martian Romance", which is not elegiac.

I love Green Mars with all of my heart. The revolution sequence is awesome. Definite desert island book.

Snow Day!

Feb. 14th, 2007 08:29 pm
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Today I blew off work. I feel really bad about it, but I'm reluctant to scamper around ice storm debris when I'm lugging a laptop without a really compelling reason. I stayed home, finished the novel I've been reading, and ate pasta and oranges, not at the same time. I also started typing up my reaction to my novel, and realized I was a little disgusted with it. People who know me: tell me at least one reason why I do not like Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. "It's a romance" does not count. Discussion in comments.

At some point I realized it was Valentine's Day, and that I was trashing a romance novel, and that if I'd been on the ball I could have had chocolate today. I think this means I've failed to observe every major American holiday but Thanksgiving and Halloween in the last six months: Christmas, Hanukah, the Superbowl... anyway.

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