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I am disappointed I didn't get to wish anyone a merry frelling Christmas, but as 2008 disappointments go, that one's pretty small.

2008 book roundup: 41 novels, 16 nonfiction, 11 graphic novels, 2 short fiction collections, 1 unfinished. 54 (+1 unfinished) new, 16 old. Total: 70. I beat the 50 book challenge I didn't join! Looking back at my 2007 resolutions (avoid romance novels not strongly recommended; read more nonfiction) I totally rocked my objectives. I read one hideously bad romance, and doubled my nonfiction. For 2009 I have no special reading resolutions: more nonfiction again, I guess.

Doing a best/worst books of 2008 isn't my thing. I liked the academic tomes with footnotes a lot for educating me (except when it didn't); I liked the fiction for entertaining me (except when it failed to).

Closing some tabs:

Google images from LIFE magazine. It's by decade; I picked one decade totally at random. (Um, not.)

My joy cannot be expressed in ranges audible to the human ear. Shame about those howling dogs, though.

Anyone have experience with Swaptree? I have five boxes of books I want out of my life. And a 24" TV. Anyone want a TV?
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All of these feel incomplete, and the nonfiction should probably get strong "bias! Read carefully" disclaimers, but this entry is long enough already. As usual, my opinions are mine, and are based on my experience: my flaming hatred of the Republican party should not be confused with an inversely high opinion of any other political party. (I have high hopes for the incoming administration because I expect them to be competent, not because I expect them to do what I'd like all the time.) I'm a fiscal conservative with a socially liberal bent: I disagree with everyone some of the time.

So, books!

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic (Randy Shilts): Nonficton. Title doubles as description. The human disregard for an infection ravaging a disliked minority group is the real story of AIDS in the '80s. )

Shilts rocks for capturing the helplessness and agonizing deaths of the '80s, and for getting me mad about it 20 years later. Rock on, Randy Shilts, and rest in peace: you did good work on Earth.

Jade Tiger (Jenn Reese): Martial artist Shan Westfall reunites five ancient jade artifacts lost when the all-female Jade Circle was destroyed during her childhood. This would make a rocking awesome wuxia movie! Shen's martial arts skills, the CGI-enhanced "jade animal" fight, the dramatic soundtrack as the action moves across three continents and through multiple wardrobes of high-class awesome - this would be amazing.

As a book, I was entertained for an afternoon on the metro. The romance is as subtle as a gold brick applied between the eyes, but Shen's angst about not living up to her beloved dead mom's perfect example was enjoyably angsty. Sidekick Lydia's fluttery personality is disappointing - I want awesome women, all the time! - but internally consistent. Ian the archaeologist - whose name I had to look up - is cute, in a bland "moneyed, sweet guy who follows you around" way.

The Fellowship of the Ring (J.R.R. Tolkein): Reread. I can say nothing that hasn't already been said. I find bits of the movie intruding at times, but that's the consequence of putting a book on screen.

The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle): Fantasy novel. A nameless unicorn leaves her forest when she realizes the other unicorns have vanished from the world. I am missing the bandwagon of book love on this one, possibly because I'm being distracted by insane feminism.

Let me digress on this. )

I'm glad I've checked off another piece of the Western SF/F canon, but I have no real affection for the The Last Unicorn itself.

Rent (Jonathan Larson): The liberetto, with supporting material. I've been listening to the original cast recording since my sister bought it, but I've never seen the play live, and wanted to see what's cut. So I read all the non-libretto parts first. (Hah.) What's striking is how much the Rent's evolution shows Larson's evolution as a composer/writer, from 1989 to 1996. At 35 he was just learning what he could do; he was barely getting started! What's also striking is how many people it takes to put the 15 actors onstage.

Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (Rajiv Chandrasekaran): Nonfiction. Adventures of the Coalition Provisional Authority, 2003-2004. Oh my rage, let me show you. )

Serendipity: Americans return Green Zone to Iraqi control today. It's about time.
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Why yes, I do fail at keeping my book log up to date!

SEPTEMBER

Spice: The History of a Temptation (Jack Turner): Nonfiction amble through Roman and medieval times by way of the exotics. I was hoping for a history focusing on the Indian, Indonesian, and generally Far East (whatever the PC term is today) perspective, so I was disappointed, but the book taken on its own terms isn't bad. Turner illustrates spices' culinary, medicinal, and ceremonial uses with generous quantities of examples, and emphasizes the altered role of spices - from a European perspective - now that they're no longer as expensive and storied as gold and silver. Turner's thesis can be summed up in about a paragraph.

More description and reactions. )

Solid book, but it took me something like three weeks to read it, twenty minutes at a time, on the bus, so I got pretty tired of the umpteen illustrative examples.

Cordwainer Smith short stories: "Scanners Live in Vain", "The Lady Who Sailed The Soul, ""The Game of Rat and Dragon", "The Burning of the Brain", "The Crime and the Glory of Commander Suzdal". I suspect my lack of enthusiasm for Smith can be traced to him doing the tropes first - not always in the most polished way - as well as his affection for cats outweighing mine by an order of magnitude.

Hurricane Moon (Alexis Glynn Latner): having subjected [livejournal.com profile] meril to some rants about SF/romance novels that might be more accurately described as "romance... IIIN SPAAAAACE", she recommended I try this.

Mixed bag. I try again with my theories of genre! )

I really wonder if there isn't some prose standard I've unconsciously absorbed from SF/F: in the cross-genre and "pure" romances I've read, the prose often seems very choppy on a sentence or paragraph level. It doesn't flow; there's some connection I'm supposed to make that I don't. I've tried saying this before, but I'm not sure I'm getting my point across.

ETA, 11/30: The Steerswoman (Rosemary Kirstein): Reread. I discovered the hard way that the original Del Rey publication has a printer's error: pages 217 to 248 were replaced with pages 221 to 252 of The Last Stand of the DNA Cowboys. Crying shame that a critical piece of the climax was replaced with another book.


OCTOBER

Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance (Atul Gawande): Lightweight nonfiction. Succint and entertaining. Gawande takes diligence and making a "science of performance" as his thesis, with interesting supporting examples from Indian surgery, battlefield care in Iraq, cystic fibrosis maintenance care in the US, and child delivery in the States. Excellent bus reading; pretty good for anywhere.

Larklight (Phillip Reeve; David Wyatt illustrator): YA steampunk novel. Entertaining for what it is: Kipling-esque However, the illustrations of the freaking huge evil spiders did not sit well with me. Someone else want to say something on the topic of missing moms with missing pasts and superpowers? I feel like there's something going on there.

The Gate of Ivory (Doris Egan): Reread. Deep like puddle, entertaining like puddle. When you have a sailboat and are emotionally five years old. Oh, snap, this is a romance! I've just been distracted from its schmoopy qualities by the blood-feuds, spaceships and tarot cards! And Theodora's slightly mousy but quite stirling personality! Eeek, squishy girl emotions!

Yeah, you're prying this comfort reading out of my cold, dead hands.


NOVEMBER

Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens (James Davidson): What the titles says: a study of where wastrel Athenians spent their money. Entertaining and generously endnoted, it earned triple bonus points for analyzing and destroying some of Foucault and Halperin's more bizaare conclusions about Greek sexuality. This makes me feel much better about wondering what Halperin was smoking when I read the relevant essay during college. Penetrative model out, pleasure model in, yay.

Davidson also delights me by throwing around ten-cent vocabulary with the constructed abandon of the academic class. Nice followup to Spices, since it starts with Athenian culinary excesses.

Little Brother (Cory Doctorow): High schooler Marcus Yallow cuts school the day of the Bay Bridge bombings and learns from hard personal experience that the Department of Homeland Security is evil with bells on. With one friend missing, last seen in DHS custody, Marcus vows to take down DHS, one technology hack at a time.

Spoilers and reaction. Really, do *not* read torture scenes when you're stuck in a metal tube underground! )
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My scarf came back! I lost it somewhere between produce and checkout Monday night, and I was sure it was gone forever. But I went back, and the lost and found had it! This is a vast improvement over this afternoon, which I want a mulligan on.

Also, cycling endorphins rock, even those achieved though night rides in just above freezing temps. Or maybe especially. I need to find some time of day the condo exercise room doesn't have - ugh - other people in it, so I get life-affirming exercise all the time.

Depth is being sidetracked by reading; I'm up to January '83 in And the Band Played On, and am selfishly holding my breath until I find out if the blood banks started decent sample testing* before or after a certain June c-section. Okay, wait, I just went looking for spoilers, and, well, isn't that interesting.

*"decent": antibody or other test for virus of interest. Screening by pint and not by lifestyle.

Back after a fifty more pages of death, suffering, and horrible death. I'm going to be a complete wreck at work tomorrow. Or maybe I'll put this aside and reread The Fellowship of the Ring. Nazgul are less upsetting than viruses; they're fictional.
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The subject is most of I have to say about the bailout, and the bailout not passing. Unless you want a five-paragraph rambler that about magical thinking on a national level and liberals voting in line with conservative Republicans, which is so yesterday. My roommate M and I caught up on this and other topics while I was making dinner and flipping channels. I'm done with Heroes; I didn't make it through the first half hour last week, and next week's preview suggests a strong correlation between non-blonds and evil. I want this show to be something it's not: smarter than its antecedents.

My actual thought of the day was about novels. [livejournal.com profile] meril has listened to me try to articulate my dislike for romance novels on more than one occasion, and recommended I try Hurricane Moon as a nice balance between sf and romance. Briefly: SF and romance foreground different concerns. This shift in focus changes pacing, worldbuilding details attended to, and the very definition of "good story". If you start really thinking about this, it may explain why romance reads as a SF story in dire need of editing at the sentence level: the prose is not doing what I think it's trying to do. If this were a knitting project, one is a vest, and the other a sweater. Also, I keep trying SF/romance fusion novels that are first novels, which probably doesn't help. Compare and contrast the first novels of: Catherine Asaro, Alexis Glynn Latner, and... I don't know, the "in death" series? What's the prose doing on a sentence level, other than driving me completely insane with all the talking about feelings?

Ack! Bus! Leaving now!
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That took entirely too long.

JULY

The Yiddish Policeman's Union(Michael Chabon): Noir set in Sitka Province as the clock ticks down toward its reversion from a Jewish resettlement state to the governance of the United States. Meyer Landsman must fight his alcoholism and his superiors to solve the murder of a chess-playing heroin addict with surprising connections. The afterward, where Chabon essentially says, "I'm proud of my 90's work [which was Serious Lit], and now I'm having an adventure" endears Chabon to me.

Short Fiction for the WSFA Short Fiction Award: Amundsen to VandeMeer. )

Black Powder War (Naomi Novik): Reread. The adventures of William Laurence and his dragon Temeraire, volume three: overland Asian trip to Sharpe territory by way of Turkey. I was struck by my own weaknesses when reading the Lien and That Guy cameo in this book. Briefly - short, crazy smart, adaptable: why are we fighting Napoleon again? I'm having warm and fuzzy Bujold flashbacks here.

Ciao, America!: An Italian Discovers the U.S. (Beppe Severgnini): Short essays written during a year living in Georgetown, in DC. Lightweight reactions to shopping, neighbors and the house. I was hoping for some deeper reflection on the people Severgnini interacted with during that year, but alas: deep like puddle.

In the Shadow of Islam (Isabelle Eberhardt; Sharon Bangert trans.: Bangert translated someone else's (edited) publication of Eberhardt's journals, so who knows how much truth is left. But the imagery that survives the double translation is pretty cool, and some personal color remains. Eberhardt's attention to the desert is worth mentioning; so is her unrestrained racism towards black Africans.

Snow Crash (Neal Stephenson): Hiro Protagonist: hacker, pizza Deliverator, greatest swordsman in the world, versus an insidius virus that turns computer programmers into drooling vegetables and just enslaves everyone else.

Cut for size. )

Empire of Ivory (Naomi Novik): So possibly I rotted my brain this summer with rereads of beach-worthy novels. My absolute favorite character in the entire book is and may always be Hannah Erasmus, who is living an entirely different story that Laurence does not notice until it's forced down his throat. Oh, Will. You never see it coming!


AUGUST

Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik): Reread. More entertaining fluff than I remembered; Novik isn't deep, but she has a very smooth writing style. What impresses me is that I remember this as "the book set in China", but 2/3rds of the action happens before the protagonists get anywhere near that country.

Victory of Eagles (Naomi Novik): Gigantic spoilers. )

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (Tennessee Williams): Play/script. The family gathers for "Big Daddy" Pollitt's birthday, and to vie for the money he'll leave when cancer kills him. I picked this up on a half-considered "hey, educate yourself" impulse, and was struck by how crystal-clear the staging directions were. williams has a Vision, and is very clear in describing that vision, which helped me reconstruct his intentions to my enjoyment. It's interesting to notice that, for the purposes of the play, it makes almost no difference whether Brick Pollitt is gay or straight; what matters is what everyone else thinks about him. There something about assumptions and scandal in there I'll pick apart some other time.

When the King Comes Home (Caroline Stevermer): Set in the same world as A College of Magics, but in the medieval era. A runaway apprentice encounters Good King Julian, 200 years after his death. If you like Stevermer, you'll like this. If you're kind of "meh" on Stevermer, you'll remain "meh". I found parts interesting - more of the apprenticeship would have been cool, for example - and should have liked things like the battle. Entertaining, but not deep.

Marvel 1602 (Neil Gaiman and many other awesome people): The thing about comics is that they're a pain in the neck to log. Writer. Artist. Inker. Colorist. But sometimes the results are pretty cool. This makes more sense now, after some wiki-enhanced knowledge of the Marvelverse, than the last time I tried to read it, in 2004. (On a side note, it's hysterical how much I haven't changed in four years. Same authors, same themes. Letting the android loose in Vegas is still hysterical.) Very pretty, and makes me feel bad for Steve Rogers, but like Snow Crash works best if you think about the pretty pictures and maybe the themes, but not the world construction.

A Streetcar Named Desire (Tennessee Williams): Play/script. Blanche DuBois stays with her sister Stella and Stella's husband Stanley Kowalski. I was completely distracted because I saw Due South before I ever read the play, so I have skewed associations for Stanley and Stella Kowalski. Blanche reminds me of some of my relatives, so I, um, find her really chilling, and suspect that in a different era Stella and Stanley would be filing for divorce sometime before their kid turns five. Domestic violence is bad.

Good play. Lousy at analysis here. Go read it yourself.

Indulgence

Aug. 5th, 2008 11:21 pm
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This week I am house-sitting for fans off to Worldcon. You know what this means: car! It also means playing dodge-truck at I-95 speeds during rush hour, but that's what you get when you volunteer to drive people to BWI. Today's other awesome moments were the accidental Home Depot trip (my much-abused mint is finally properly potted, yay) and realizing - 12 hours after my airport adventures - that I had the car keys but not the house-key.

When I am not courting death on the interstates, I'm reading Naomi Novik's latest novel. My first reaction is that I want The Adventures of Perscitia and Iskierka: A Scientific Treatise, because you know what would happen? They would set things on fire. A lot. And this would be awesome. [livejournal.com profile] wmslawhorn fake-spoiled me for nuclear bombs, and I almost fell for it. Because it's that sort of crack. I am possibly a little giddy with how many of my buttons are lighting up, ding! ding! ding! as I burn through the book. This is serious emotional manipulation, and I am all for it. Rock on, Novik!

Also, the part of Laurence's scruffy mid-to-late book stubble will be played by Viggo Mortenson's scruffy stubble.

Holy surprise, aCyteen sequel for Christmas! We were wrong! The thing is, I'm not sure I want a second Cyteen novel. The first was pretty much Cherryh's SF masterwork, her Big Statement: how do you top that? I'm not sure anything could live up to that sort of anticipation, not to mention one's uncritical 17-year-old reactions.

The rest of this week: pick-up soccer after work tomorrow, happy hour downtown Thursday (odds of my lateness are sadly high), day trip to Baltimore sometime this weekend. [livejournal.com profile] norabombay and I took 1h40m of off-peak time to decide we absolutely must go to Wiscon next year, which memberships I shall be buying August 15th, aka payday. (This may or may not trash any possibility of making Worldcon in Montreal, and that'll be an update for a different day.) Tonight I sleep; I put a baseball cap on my head at 9 for no logical reason and it's still there. The clarion call for sanity-restoring rest is making itself felt.
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Possibly I am less than enthusiastic about this writeup because I read all of these, oh, weeks and even months ago. I feel like I'm forgetting a novel or two, but I think there's several I started last month, but abandoned, or finished in July. Oh! The late-month reading time got sucked up by trip planning. Yes, that was it! (Ha.)

Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander(Ann Herendeen): a novel by the grace of having a page one and a page last, rather than any redeeming plot, enjoyable romantic tropes, compelling characterization, or thoughtful worldbuilding. (The worldbuilding could be best described as third-generation photocopied Regency, with some liquid paper touch-ups.) It's like the writer took her NaNo draft straight to the press, with very few stops for editing. Disappointing; I saw "guy/guy/girl romance" and said, "Hey! Where is the bad?" Now I know: bisexual romance with no threesome action. And it started off with such a promisingly dubious premise and bad prose! All the fun bits were done in the first hundred pages! Editor machete, please!

Deep Wizardry and High Wizardry (Diane Duane): Rereads; second and third in the Young Wizards trilogy. I like this most when I try not to think about the deep worldbuilding too much, because I get as far as "so how do, say, African or Bangladeshi wizards find the leisure time to be wizards?", try to integrate Hinduism and Tao into a magical philosopy strongly rooted in the European monotheistic tradition, and then my head explodes. Also, the older I get, the less I parse Tom and Carl as BFFs and the more I think they need to run away to Massachussetts and have a big gay wedding. Amazing how ten or 15 years will change your perspective.

Gentlemen of the Road: A Tale of Adventure (Michael Chabon): Amran and Zelikman, two wayward Jews, in 10th century Khazaria. It's like Fafrd and the Grey Mouser meets historical swashbuckling. With elephants. The afterward, where Chabon essentially says, "I'm proud of my 90's work [which was Serious Lit], and now I'm having an adventure" endears Chabon to me. Deep? No. Fun? Yes.

Pride of Baghdad (Brian K. Vaughan & Niko Henrichon (art)): Graphic novel; the lions of the Baghdad Zoo during and after the American invasion. Vaughan, Henrichon, your political leanings are subtle like a missile strike.

Prince Caspian (C. S. Lewis): Reread. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy return to Narnia. My absolute favorite image in the book is Caspian escaping his uncle's castle as celebratory fireworks burst over the sky.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (C. S. Lewis): Reread. "There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he nearly deserved it." My favorite of the series.
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My to-do list hasn't been stalled by any reluctance to put on real clothes. It has been stalled by 92 degrees of misery with 54% humidity. (In case you missed it, I loathe and abhor any temperature above 80 F when the humidity is above, oh, 20%. Who spent a few formative years in a desert? Hi!) Today may be a good day to learn what bribes my roommates will accept for taxi services.

In the meantime, May reading:

Babel-17 (Samuel Delany): The beautiful poet and genius linguist Rydra Wong is recruited to unravel the other side's code in an interstellar war. Spoilers! )

Someone lent me two graphic novels, The Tale of One Bad Rat and Fun Home. I tried and failed to read both. Rat nearly got hurled against a wall by spinal reflex for being unexpected Child Abuse Is Bad fiction; I got as far as the back cover copy for Fun Home and nixed it for proximity to Rat, as well as general indifference, before I ever cracked it open. Neither were the fantasy or SF tropes I was expecting.

If I finished anything else, it's been lost in the shuffle. May was nuts and fruitcake and a very short attention span.
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Technically, I finished the Sharing Knife: Passage (Lois McMaster Bujold) on May 2nd, so it should go in the May log, but it was remarkably not-obnoxious so I want to give it a shoutout.

Plot: newlyweds Dag and Fawn Bluefield embark on a flatbed trip to the ocean, gathering people along the way: Fawn's younger brother, a sympathetic flatbed captain, the captain's uncle and nephew, and one, then two, young Lakewalkers on the outs with their camp. Narrative as great American river trip: Dag explores his ground-manipulation skills, and the flatbed captain asks at every single stop what became of her missing father, brother and fiancee.

Spoilers, and assumes you've read the novel. )
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Faust in Copenhagen: A Struggle for the Soul of Physics (Gino Segre): a physicist's love letter to the quantum revolution. Segre opens with a 1932 gathering of prominent physicists in Copenhagen, and the humorous parody of Faust younger members of the meeting put on for their seniors, then bounces back and forth through time and across Europe to explain how they got there, and why it was important to quantum physics. This is really all about the awesomeness of the big players: Bohr, Dirac, Delbruck, Einstein, Heisenberg, Meitner, Pauli, Schroedinger, and others. It's a little scattered, because the focus is on people more than science, but is extremely enjoyable. Strongly recommended.

Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Edwin A. Abbott): Mathematical fiction; allegory; satire or parody? A. Square, a quite regular parallelogram, is opened to life beyond two dimensions and status measured in rigid sides.

Shattering the Stereotypes: Muslim Women Speak Out (Fawzia Afzal-Khan, ed.): Collection of written works by Muslim women. It's divided into six sections: nonfiction essays, poetry, journalism, religious discourses, fiction, and plays. Unsurprisingly, the nonfiction sections spoke most strongly to me. I especially had issues with the plays: scripts are the bare bones of a theatrical work, and constructing the mental stage, actors and actresses, props, voice intonation and the like was exhausting.

Anyway. Things to like: multiplicity of authors bringing a different focus to bear on the same topics, diversity of mediums. Things that drove me nuts: New Yorkers retelling September 11th stories. I get it! Fear, anger, hate, dark side! If that's the point - in the face of hate, we are all victims - it's been made. And made. And made some more. Now, solving of the problem, please.

Bunches of quotes )

Again, I liked the nonfiction parts a lot. And this is a good anthology for getting a better understanding of where Muslim women are coming from, and how as a group and individuals these women don't need saving as much as they need respect for their persons and goals. Islamic feminists make compelling arguments that the Koran is a pro-woman document, which has been distorted by human patriarchies. Not all of these writers - if any - are arguing from the secular Western background many Americans associate with feminism, which is a compelling reminder of the diversity of women calling themselves "feminists".

Arrows of the Queen trilogy (Arrows of the Queen, Arrow's Flight, Arrow's Fall) (Merccdes Lackey): Reread. Purest wish fulfilment: by working hard and feeling self-pity and being nearly drowned or freezing in a horrible blizzard or being horribly tortured until you want to die you'll be loved forever by everyone. (The underpants gnomes' business model was recently brought to my attention. It's that sort of logic.) Trashy teenage girl emotional porn; literary Kit-Kats. Later Lackey novels are closer to stale waxy discount chocolate, but the Arrows trilogy is the fresh, pure product.

I got 194-odd pages into the 720-odd pages of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (Steve Coll), so it deserves an honorable mention. I made it to 1986, and I think I got the highlights: covert ops leak, don't give money to Pakistan - or other organizations who you 90% disagree with - and wow, made peace, not war.

The Family Trade (Charles Stross): Boston tech journalist Miriam Beckstein loses her job and finds her birth family - a clan of universe-hopping feudal smugglers - in one of the more eventful months of her life.

I've struck out on Stross' Hugo-nominated SF twice, so I was pretty dubious when someone recommended giving his fantasy novels a shot. In this case, third time does pay out: Beckstein has the hallmarks of a wish-fulfilment character (also known as Mary Sue) but transcends her mysterious past and rare magical gift to be mostly her own person. Stross' solid grip on early 21st C assumptions works for him in this case: readers can sympathize with (overqualified) Miriam - tech journalist, ex-med student, budding businesswoman - while reveling in her adventures in a Boston run by medieval-tech-level Viking descendents.

Stross follows the rule! Miriam & Paulette's dating-related conversations don't start until Miriam actually falls for a guy.

I skimmed most of Eva (Peter Dickinson), which I originally read in middle school. Eva wakes up in a hospital bed after an accident and has to cope with the consequences.

The Invisible Cryptologists (Jeannette Williams): Nonfiction account of African-American employment at NSA and its predecessors from WW2 through the '50's. Dry, but informative: as usual, white employees had significantly better salaries and more and better opportunities for advancement. Draws on NSA documents and interviews with former employees to unearth a piece of buried history.

About Mothers and Other Monsters (Maureen F. McHugh): Short fiction collection. I'd completely forgotten I'd already read one of the stories - "Presence" - before, and I'd forgotten where it ended. I'd tacked on three months and a page or two. Thematically, got a bit old by the closing stories, but individual stories stood up pretty well. I especially liked "The Cost to Be Wise" (advanced world colonists use "primitive" natives for their own ends) and "The Lincoln Train" (post-Civil War AU).

The Hidden Family (Charles Stross): Sequel to The Family Trade. People travel between worlds a lot. Woman start businesses together. Entertaining, but this was my reaction to the end of the book: [Miriam] dared to hope the worst was over. "And then," my inner 12-year-old piped up, "a bomb exploded."

Realizing this is the seond of a series rather than the middle volume of a trilogy, I'm in no rush to keep going.

Technically, I finished the Sharing Knife: Passage (Lois McMaster Bujold) on May 2nd, so it should go in the May log, but it was remarkably not-obnoxious so I want to give it a shoutout. Standalone post to follow RSN.
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First, icons:

1. 2. 3.

If you want to use, please comment and credit.

Second, reaction: I am still not a romance novel reader. I am torn between Bujold's essential readability and how little I care about plucky little Fawn. I'm not going to regret checking it out of the library, but I'm glad I didn't plan to shell out for the hardcover. More importantly, I find HarperCollins' Browse Inside format incredibly frustrating. Just release a PDF or HTML file so I can port this to a PDA and read it on the metro, genius marketing people. It would make one weekday that much more pleasant.
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I think there's an unintentional theme this month. You figure it out.

The Whale Rider (Witi Ihimaera): Reread. Picked it up the first time after seeing the movie. What's picked up a little in the movie is the intersection of the daily and the supernatural. What isn't picked up is how much of the book is influenced by the narration by Kahu's uncle. Paikea's the focus, but Rawiri leaves New Zealand (Aotearoa, to call it by the Maori name) for Australia and Indonesia, which shapes the edges of the narrative. If I haven't said it, this is one of the small novels that stay with me.

The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation (Gene Roberts and Hank Kilbanoff): Awesome. )

Touchstone (Laurie R. King): Harris Stuyvesant, American Bureau of Investigations agent, strikes out to England on the trail of an anarchist bomber. His nice simple quest for justice - vengeance – is tangled in the fate of Bennet Grey and an explosive conspiracy for – oh, who cares. This was much better after I threw my assumptions out the window and grooved on the instant friendship between the very damaged Bennett and the more subtly cracked Harris. The denouncement was suitably dramatic and entertaining, and I enjoyed the story before and after that point. Many of LRK's themes show up - World War I, British nobility, a little religion, the push of change after the War, all that dissipating jazz - in ways that mostly contribute to the story. Good entertainment reading: not deep, but not completely shallow either.

A Burst of Light: Essays by Audre Lorde (Audre Lorde): Five essays. Summaries and personal response. )
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Three nonfiction, one reread (fiction). Victory to the nonfiction resolution.

Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde (Alexis De Veaux): Nonfiction. Academic biography of a unique "black, lesbian, feminist, mother, poet warrior". Footnotes abound.

I love footnotes. )

This was long and dense, and I'm mostly disappointed that it pretty much skips life between 1986 and her death in 1992. Why?

Mirabile (Janet Kagan): Reread. Light, sweet and funny, with wacky SF biology and a grumbly old woman protagonist. Consistent worldbuilding across a series of short stories, tessellated into a novel with thin framing device grout. Strongly rec'd for charm.

I am in fierce denial that Kagan passed away on 1 March 2008, several weeks after this latest reread. I can't mourn the woman, having never met her, but it makes me sad that I'll never be able to say, "hey, I read your fiction, and it's cool." Kagan wrote exactly three books that I know of, and though they are cute and fluffy bordering on cotton candy overdose, you will have to pry those crumbling paperbacks from my hands against my most strident protests. I think that's a good eulogy for an author.

Greek Fire, Poison Arrows and Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World (Adrienne Mayor): Nonfiction, like the title says. Great idea, lousy execution. Mayor clumps her cites at the end of paragraphs or ideas. If you want to draw a line between "Arabic sources report[ing] great stocks of naptha were stored in Byzantine churches" during the Crusades and 2003 BS about Saddam Hussein sticking WMDs in Iraqi mosques, you have to work a lot harder than bare-faced assertions: I want to see a breakdown of the religious and political implications. Did political authorities or priests stick this naptha in churches? (see p137, HC) Was it even there, or were 11th - 13th century Arabs as gullible as contemporary Americans? Also, Richard Preston's thriller nonfiction fails as a good source to cite (p141 and elsewhere). This is a cute idea, but Mayor didn't pull together the primary sources to make this really amazing and cool. Mayor failed to go deep enough when drawing lines from the ancient to the contemporary; take the Archimedes mirror scheme compared to modern experiments with mircowave or heat devices. (For bonus points, note the criticism of same, p218 - 219. What does criticism of contemporary shenanigans have to do with ancient biological or chemical weapons?)

Some moments stood out: vinegar and fire; naptha as a concept, elepants scaring the dalights out of the uninitiated. Single best sentence in the book: The most famous example occurred in Britain in 55 BC, when the Britannis' chariot-horses fled at the sight of Julius Caesar's monstrous war elephant covered in iron scales and clanging bells emerging from a river with a tower of archers balanced on its back (p199).

Conclusion: this needed to be 50 pages shorter or 200 pages longer, in smaller print.

The Conscience of a Liberal (Paul Krugman): Nonfiction. Presents hypothesis that New Deal legislation flattened America's economic profile - the poor got less poor, the rich got less rich - that this was a good thing, and that the rich or super-rich have been in bed with a number of other unhappy splinter groups trying to undo this so they can be really really rich like the Good Old Days (19th C).

Brief suspension of the PG-13 rule for cursing and politics. Cut for length and tangents. )

There's some things Krugman does that are worth noting. He pulls together an argument that streches across nearly 80 years of American politics, and makes it sound reasonable. He left me with a lot of people and incidents to look up (what I forget is that the '95 federal shutdown could have affected me), which means he was engaging my intellect. However, this is also a weakness: he makes sweeping statements I would like to see followed up in greater detail. ("Veterans of the Environmental Protection Agency have told me that the Nixon years were a golden age." Could you support this statement with names, budget figures, Superfund rulings, please? p159) The fact I'm this het up about it says that Krugman is doing something interesting with ideas, though I'm annoyed he's written an idea book instead of an idea book underpinned with fact after fact after fact.
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This got kind of long. Oops? If you only read one thing in this post, read me gushing about Y: the Last Man.

Contact (Carl Sagan): Reread. Alien message, alien machine, human field trip. Surprising how books will imprint on you in ways you don't notice until you come back ten years later, and well. There you are.

If I had to summarize the themes, I'd say it's science and religion balanced on a fulcrum of faith. Or maybe love. It's interesting to reflect on the ways time's changed the book in large and small ways. Apparently no one saw the fall of the USSR coming, but the slow creep of women into hard science continues to drag. No one's done us the favor of a TV ad auto-mute, or low Earth orbit habitats, or a female President. But the characters' reactions to events ring true, or at least ring compellingly. Who wouldn't dream of a world where a giant project encouraged humanity to rise to the challenge and strive to our best, instead of sinking to our worst.

Quotes to entertain and challenge. )

The Last Colony (John Scalzi): Third in the "Old Man's War" series. Two ex-soldiers and their daughter are recruited for a human push for a new colony planet. Life gets a little more complicated than getting the crops in before winter. Spoilers, spoilers, and what's this? Spoilers! )

The story's playing with tropes I know, which makes it a soothing read, but doesn't make it particularly good. Take, say, characterization: Space cut. No spoilers here! ) I know what I'm getting when I pick up an OMW-verse book, which is soothing when I'm stressed, and less entertaining the rest of the time.

Tomorrow, When the War Began (John Marsden): YA. Seven teens return from a backcountry trip to find their homes deserted and their families captured by an invading army. Epistolary format, which I usually find awkward, but for a plot that could only be improved by an invading army from space, I will cope. Marsden is an Australian writer, and it shows in the slang, the grammar and the familiar approach to the landscape. (See also previous comments about Midwest Man vs grandchild of India.) This rocks my Americentric little world more than it should.

The Demon in the Freezer (Richard Preston): Smallpox, anthrax, and bioweapons. Narrated in a dramatic or even thriller style, but the essentials seem to be nonfiction: smallpox is bad news, but was annihilated in the wild by an epic World Health Organization campaign. Anthrax is scary, but less scary than smallpox. Biowarfare is not as hard as counterterrorism people would like it to be. Easy, fun read.

A Companion to Wolves (Elizabeth Bear/[livejournal.com profile] matociquala & Sarah Monette/[livejournal.com profile] truepenny): Fantasy. Njall the jarl's son is taken for the wolfheall tithe and bonds a queen trellwolf. It's like an earn-your-R-rating version of animal bonding fantasy. With wolves. Cut for space, no major spoilers. )

Final note: I liked this, but I also read it right after pop sci nonfiction on smallpox and traumatizing postapocalyptic fiction, so this may not be as harmless I think. I also watched the last episodes of Farscape before writing down my thoughts on the novel, (John: "I can't believe it - I left a nuclear bomb in an elevator." Chiana: "Hey - you've done worse." Sadly, he has) so I may be really skewed on appropriate sapient interactions.

All-of-a-Kind Family (Sydney Taylor): Children's book based on the author's experiences as part of an immigrant family in New York City's lower east side. I consistently file this next to Cheaper by the Dozen in my mind, and forget which one I've read. (Possibly both.)

Y: the Last Man: 1 - 8: Unmanned, Cycles, One Small Step, Safeword, Ring of Truth, Girl on Girl, Paper Dolls, Kimono Dragons (Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra): It's like Vaughan sat in on the feminists of LJ ranting about the treatment of women and minorities in fiction and took notes. Yorik Brown and his capuchin monkey Ampersand are the sole male survivors of a mysterious event that strikes down every mammal, fetus and sperm with a Y chromosome. In the first graphic novel he travels to Washington, DC, and Boston, teaming up with a federal secret agent and a biomedical researcher to find out why he and Ampersand survived. In later editions they travel across the country to Dr. Allison Mann's West Coast backup lab, getting a roadside view of America after the men.

So, so good. Let's go down the checklist of likes and watch the series light up every button. )

The series is lighter than it could be, but also violent, messy and prone to killing minor characters. Other than the 3 billion (less one) men who died in the first issue. This is a story that could be the ceaseless pornographic romps of The Last Man on Earth, and in the first three graphic novels - the first 17 issues of sixty - Yorik gets it on with... well, he kissed two girls. Maybe two? See, there's this girl, who he was proposing to when the world ended... right.

I don't just rec Y, I will actively push it on unsuspecting people. This is your only warning. Speaking of warnings, I have 11 issues / 2 collections left to read, and if you spoil me past the end of Kimono Dragons, I will hurt you.

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