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Games Wizards Play (Diane Duane) (2016): Nita, Kit, and Dairine mentor younger wizards in a wizardly science fair: Dairine's mentee presents a spell that can stop earthquakes... if she can work through a few issues with her large and wizardly connected family... while Nita and Kit struggle with a mentee whose personality is even more flamboyant and flawed than his ambitious solar spell.

Climax destroying spoilers. )

Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love (David Talbot) (2012): Popular history of San Francisco from the Summer of Love through the HIV crisis. The focus is the welter of conflict that gripped the city through the '70s, culminating in the devastating two weeks of November 1978 when the Jonestown deaths rippled through the Bay area and Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were shot by Milk's fellow supervisor Dan White in city hall.

Talbot's uplifting redemptive finish is Feinstein's nine-year mayoralty. The HIV crisis is presented as San Francisco getting its act together, compared to what came before, which strikes me as a little off-base.

The Martian (Andy Weir) (2011): Fictional account of the survival of an astronaut stranded on Mars.

Spoilers, I suppose. Spoilers of meh. )

Sin is a Puppy That Follows You Home (Balaraba Ramat Yakubu, 1990) (trans. Aliyu Kamal, 2012): a littattafai na soyayya novel, one of the occasional series I think of as "NPR books", ie, books I read becuase NPR made it sound interesting. This is a story of virtue rewarded and misdeeds punished: the wife and mother Rabi is thrown out of her husband's home at the insistence of a new wife, and must support herself and her nine children in Kano, Nigeria. The bad behavior of spouses is the recurring theme of this novel, as Rabi's oldest daughter Saudatu catches the eye of a wealthy businessman and finds her virtue rewarded with a loving and wealthy husband, Abubakar. Alhaji Abubakar casts off his previous wives as their flaws come to light. Greed, selfishness, and irreligiosity play their roles in revealing who is moral and upstanding and who is not. Ultimately, Abdu's fortunes crumble and he is forced to take back the hardworking Rabi, though now Rabi is in charge. "She was the one who handed out the day's provisions, who distributed the detergent and soap. She was the one responsible for giving the house a lick of paint when needed, and deciding what should go where."

To say this is outside my usual reading is an understatement. And I love that! Sin is a bit of a soap opera and a bit of a romance and perhaps a bit chicklit, or at least the story of dense community. Rabi appeals to her siblings for support, her brother-in-law chastises her husband, her children pitch in, her neighbors are part of her support network. Saudatu is able to catch Abubakar's eye when she is visiting with an aunt. But it's also threaded through with profoundly Islamic and Nigerian ideas: routine polygamy, separate spaces for men and women - when Rabi begins selling food from her house, the novel casually mentions her sons helping to take food outside to adult male customers, since of course these men cannot step foot in her house, it would violate purdah - the routine Islamic prayers, woven into the fabric of the characters' lives. It's a short, fascinating look into someone else's culture.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars (Nathalia Holt) (2016): Pop sci history. The JPL computer department, founding to its transition from "computer" to "engineer".

This is a little more memoir than I like my pop sci. Rise of the Rocket girls is descriptive. It's subjective. It recounts women coming to JPL, their experiences in and outside the computer department. It doesn't go the extra step to correlate this to wider trends. It mentions that the JPL computers hired a black women, it doesn't explore the link that to a century of racial discrimination in the sciences. It passes over the the hiring of a first generation Chinese woman without thought. It mentions that the JPL computer department consciously and consistently hired only women for decades, from almost its inception until its dissolution, and treats this lightly, rather than turning it around from all its fascinating angles: is this a form of affirmative action? Is this a variation of reverse discrimination? Did this impact the payment, the structure, the labor assigned to computers at JPL, compared to mixed or male-only computer groups? There's recounting that women left to get married, left for their first child, came back because they missed working, came back and got divorced, left to salvage their marriages, and the creeping change from "babies end careers" to "single mother supporting her family" happens utterly unremarked, it's just another variation in anecdotes. JPL launched a rocket, so and so got hired, JPL proposed a space mission, so and so left right before the birth of her child, and so forth and so on. It doesn't put in the work to step from fluffy to significant. And that's a shame. This book about these women, and this moment in the history of space exploration, of women's involvement in the military-industrial complex, of women as computer programmers and engineers and mentors and advocates for their junior colleagues, is so slight it's going to slip right out from notice and take these stories with it. Rise suffers a lot from failing my hopes; it disappointing and frustrating that such an interesting topic is not assayed with more rigor and depth.
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So, er, I found some book logs I started in July, and put somewhere unusual for me, and just found this week. And I remembered I had finished Lifeboats, so here's some novels.

Ancillary Mercy is getting its own post. It's moved me that much.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) (1997 trans. Jay Rubin): Absolutely surreal Japanese fiction about a milk-mild fellow, Toru Okada, and a dry well. Also mysticism, Japan's collapse on the Manchuran front during WW2, fate and free will, and Noboru Wataya, an academic, rising politician, and also the brother of Kumiko, Toru's wife.

It's a floating novel, as Okada wanders through life with very little idea what he wants, or what he stands to lose, until he loses the thing that defined his life. The narrative is fragmentary, filled with negative space during Okada's periods of unemployment and isolation, and with elliptical loose connections between the characters who erratically interact with Okada: May Kashiwara, a teenaged girl who lives in Okada's neighborhood; Malta Kano, a clairvoyant, and her sister Creta Kano; Lieutenant Mamiya; Nutmeg and Cinnamon Akasaka, mother and son in a clairvoyant family business; Mr. Hondo, another clairvoyant. It's a little tricky to judge prose and style across translation, but what has survived the translation is something extremely controlled and literary, with a control of language that gives the reader the sense Murakami knows exactly what he's doing. It took me a really long time to get into the novel, but at the end I was tempted to flip back to the beginning and start rereading in light of knowledge revealed by the end of the novel.

"Penric's Demon" (Lois McMaster Bujold) (2015): A novella in the Five Gods universe, about an accident with a demon and a Very Nice Young Man. It's a nice Bujold novella, that doesn't break any new ground if you're familiar LMB's fiction, but average Bujold is still very solid entertainment.

Lifeboats (Diane Duane) (2015): Joins "Not On My Patch" and "How Lovely Are Thy Branches" as the third minor "interstitial" story between A Wizard of Mars and Games Wizards Play. At 90,000 words, it's not terribly minor. And thematically, it doesn't feel minor: Kit, Nita, and most of the usual suspects are called up on an emergency mission of mercy. As a story about when flashy displays of wizardly power aren't the solution, I really liked it. The teenage angst about Valentine's Day was cute, in a sappy "aw, teenagers" way. It's a lot of fun watching Nita and Kit grow up; I'm enjoying how Duane is developing their characters and relationship.
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The Big Meow (Diane Duane): Third novel about with the feline wizards responsible for Grand Central's worldgates. This time, they're on a consulting trip to mid-20th C Los Angeles. I was fairly "meh" about this one; the question of "defeated entropy incarnate twice, what next?" is answered with "lovecraftian horrors, of course. And time travel. Again."

Implicit spoilers. )

Cat's Cradle (Kurt Vonnegut): Inspired by Mor's pining for a karass in Among Others, I snagged this from a library shelf. What Mor seems to have missed is that the major karass of Cat's Cradle isn't necessarily harmonious nor bent on increasing the net joy in the world. Cat's Cradle is clever, but not particularly nice, particularly with respect to its female characters. For example, the woman who is repeatedly described as a sex symbol gets to make one significant decision in the novel, and that decision is to die with her people.

Wiki tells me "[Cat's Cradle] explores issues of science, technology, and religion, satirizing the arms race and many other targets along the way." I'm starting to think that old satires make good reading for book discussion, but are rarely cheerful or uplifting. I don't like admire Vonnegut's thought-experiment on a moment in history, on the scientist as hero, on what people will do in the name of religion (or a religion-like cause), but I can admire its strengths.

Reread O Jerusalem (Laurie R. King), which has not aged terribly well.

Power skim of The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness) in preparation for reading the sequel, The Ask and the Answer. Knife was more violent than I remembered - not surprising, I read it from a Tiptree nominee perspective, and focused more on the feminism elements on the first read - and continues to descend into suffering and human brutality in Ask. I'm wishing for an editor to cut the trilogy down a bit; these books are long reads without much levity. How Ness plans to pull a happy ending out of the three-way war with the threatened co-option / destruction of the impending fourth party is beyond me.

Spoilers, discussion of violence, and spoilers. ) Ness is doing something interesting with the trilogy, but two-thirds of the way through I'm wondering if this ride is going where I want to follow.

Power reread of Childhood's End (Arthur C. Clarke), classic science fiction tale of the end of Earth. Very much a thought experiment; the characters seem to exist mostly to further Clarke's exploration of an End of Days idea.

A Midwife's Tale (Laurel Thatcher Ulrich): Nonfiction. A meticulous reconstruction of midwife Martha Ballard's life through her diaries. I didn't expect to find a post-Revolution Maine woman's life so interesting, but Ulrich lays out a fascinating puzzle. Her assembly of facts and fact-finding tools turns fragments of formal records, oral histories, and Ballard's diary entries into a sense of one Maine community at the end of the 18th C and the beginning of the 19th. Ulrich's agenda is to reclaim the legacy of women who worked tirelessly without leaving obvious marks on the world; their energy sustained people, rather than records. My exposure to Very absorbing in unexpected and welcome ways: I'd strongly recommended this to anyone interested in feminism.

I also reread Darkover novels in April and May. More about that later.

Numbers game: 7 total finished. 4 new, 3 reread; 6 fiction, 1 nonfiction.
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Scott Pilgrim vol. 4: Scott Pilgrim Gets It Together (Bryan Lee O'Malley): It took almost exactly one commute to read this. It's hard to tell if I disliked this less because of circumstances (commuting to PT job on bus) or because SP's storyline is "how to suck a little less at being a grown-up person."

The Best American Science Writing 2009 (Ed. Natalie Angier): Snapshot of last year's pop sci writing. I'm playing find the agenda in my nonfiction this month, so I'm very drawn to articles playing with fire - "The First Ache" (fetal pain and abortion), "A Cloud of Smoke" (9/11 hero possibly wasn't) - and/or arguing an agenda: "The Truth About Autism", "The Sky is Falling", "Birdbrain". This year's collection is weighted toward bio/sociology, a change from some earlier anthologies stuffed with astrophysics and computing stuff. I was surprised that Catherine Price's recounting of her week trying to be as untraceable as possible didn't trip my "more sigmas from mainstream than I'm really comfortable with" flag.

Table of Contents, for future reference: )

The House of the Stag (Kage Baker): Prequel to Baker's fantasy novel The Anvil of the World, describing the rise of the Dark Lord and his wife the Saint. Highly entertaining: Baker wasn't an extraordinarily inventive worldbuilder, or a deathless prose writer, or the most clever at plot devices, but her universes hold together on their own terms, the prose is stylistically appropriate, and the stories serve the plot. What Baker does is humor, especially satire.

Goodbye to Yesterday's Tomorrow (Alexei Panshin): Short story collection. Surprisingly philosophical, occasionally to the point where the message nearly obliterates the story. Panshin's intro calls the collection's theme "what does it mean to be an adult human being?" and that nicely binds stories set in standalone worldbuilding, the same universe as Panshin's Hugo-winning novel Rite of Passage, and the present day. The diversity of style doesn't always work to the collection's advantage: if "Sky Blue" is trying to make a point about communication through its idiosyncratic made-up words, the message was largely lost in my frustration with the style. "When the Vertical World Becomes Horizontal" wants to be a folk story, and succeeds mostly as post-'60s faux-folk. When I read this, I felt the general attention of the story moved from broad questions of responsibility and general ethics questions - mirrors about questions of the day - to more explicitly time-sensitive questions of environmental impact and right thinking in a very '70s American idiom. "How Can We Sink When We Can Fly?" pulls this off in an interesting way; "Lady Sunshine and the Magoon of Beatus" nearly inspired me to bounce the book against the nearest wall. I'm deeply dissatisfied by most "literary" and politically-motivated fiction, and found some of the the more experimental stories interesting, but not entertaining.

A Wizard of Mars (Diane Duane): Giant spoiler. No, not that spoiler. )

The Good Soliders (David Finkel): Army unit in the 2007 surge, as witnessed by a Pulitzer-winning reporter. This reinforced some notions I already had: being an American army officer in Iraq is the very definition of "bad day"; superlative emergency medicine breeds catastrophic long-term medical bills. It's interesting to note the battalion commander's relentless optimism and "big picture" focus clash with soldiers' daily frustrations, stresses, deaths, disasters. Who is right?

The topic is such I feel I ought to have more to say, especially since I haven't really talked about the actual book, but then I'd get into journalist agenda, military objectives, culture and politics, and I'm not feeling up for that.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 5: Scott Pilgrim Versus the Universe (Bryan Lee O'Malley): The bus distraction level continues to trump the energy investment barrier of library holds. Barely.

Doctor's Orders (Diane Duane): My reactions to "leave McCoy in charge of the Enterprise for a shift; of course it's going to get complicated" suffer from coloring from the new movie and Duane's other novels. I see walking tree-like organisms and think, "hey, proto-Demisiv!" When I sit at the keyboard, I think "someone's going to remix this for the reboot, yes? Hmm?" Doctor's Orders isn't a heartbreaking work of deathless prose, but like most early Duane, it has a sufficiently interesting plot. It's my engagement with the text taking an unexpected spin. Why get one story when you can get three? (Original story, reboot version, and the culture meditation between them.) This served as reasonable light entertainment, but I need to stop visualizing Kirk as Chris Pine to get something like the intended effect.

The Prince of the Marshes (And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq) (Rory Stewart): Some books just keep giving; Marshes was littered with other people's bookmarks. I found this deeply interesting in combination with my sporadic military memoir reading; Stewart has different priorities in Iraq than most of the writers I've read so far, and that colors his account of events. I get the impression his approach to priorities is very goal-oriented; justice is postponed in favor of avoiding further violence and disintegration of the remaining structures of authority. Over and over Stewart potrays his CPA offices as bodies trying to to compromise between oppositional groups (moderate middle class, Sadrists, tribes, Marsh Arabs, etc) sometimes with positive outsomes, sometimes backfiring. I read his reaction to Abu Ghraib and find myself thinking about situational ethics and lines in the sand: "I almost resigned . . . I realized I had always known, without admitting it to myself, that such things were going on . . . Military culture was often about bending rules to get results; a certain ruthlessness was admired; many of these things happened in hazing rituals." (The Rule of Law" p343 HC) Again: I had always known, without admitting it to myself, that such things were going on. Where do you draw the line, and start really angering the local powers who likely will inherit authority the CPA arrogated to itself? The common thread in non-Iraqi accounts of the Iraq war and occupation is disillusionment: soldiers, British CPA employees, officers, and American civilians all say, "we came, we achieved our military objectives, we failed our diplomatic objectives." I can't attest to the accuracy or inaccuracy of this as nonfiction, but it's an interesting piece of the Iraq jigsaw.

A description of the first meeting of the CPA-appointed Maysan provincial council reminded me of Bujold's fiction, in a very Barrayaran Age of Isolation way.

On our right was the Prince's faction; the Islamist leaders sat on the left. In the front row were clerics and sheikhs; young mayors, women, and technocrats sat in the back. This seating arrangement, which had not been planned, echoes both Western parliamentary divisions (conservatives on the right, radicals on the left) and more traditional Iraqi codes of precedence. I knew these people well. Most had killed others; all had lost close relatives. Some wanted a state modeled on seventh-century Arabia, some wanted something that resembled even older, pre-Islamic tribal systems. Some were funded by the Iranian secret service; others sold oil on the local black market, ran protection rackets, looted government property, and smuggled drugs. Most were linked to construction companies that made immense profits by cheating us [the CPA]. Two were first cousins and six [of 39] were from a single tribe; some had tried to assassinate each other. This dubious gathering included and balanced, however, all the most powerful political factions in the province, and I believed that if anyone could secure the province, they could. -"Our Successors", p253 HC


What's colorful in fiction becomes stressful and sometimes horrifying in real life.

A Conspiracy of Kings (Megan Whalen Turner): Fourth in the series; this time Sophos is the main character and storyteller. It's important to remember this is YA and the characters act in, hmmm, fictionalized tropes (Attolia and Attolis! Augh!), and not always the way real people would. However, the wildly unreliable narration continues to draw me: knowing that MWT isn't letting her characters share the full truth, what is actually going on in any given scene? Also, what side-stories are happening just offscreen to the characters who aren't the PoV? The entire series feels a bit indulgent to me: the protagonists are drawn a bit larger than life. Turner likes her characters, even as she makes them suffer; one gets the sense that Everything Will Be All Right In the End. The sense of humor lurking behind each story doesn't hurt, either. These may not be novels of great depth, but they're good stories for distraction,

Numbers game: 10 total finished. 10 new, 0 reread; 7 fiction (2 graphic novels, 1 short story collection), 3 nonfiction (1 essay collection)
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Mirror Dance, Memory (Lois McMaster Bujold): Ah yes, the classic signs of a bad day: you are in complete sympathy with Howl, in a "let's go to Macy's and buy several hundred dollars of makeup and professional clothes I don't need" way. (I didn't go to Macy's. I may have browsed the website, though. Ironing gets really old.)

These two are both technically excellent Bujold novels, but really dark; I'd elided some of the nastier bits of MD right out of my back-brain, and barely made it through the first third. Memory has far fewer painful scenes, and it's a different sort of reading agony: Mark's got a lot less to work with than Miles, even when Miles is at the bottom of his personal well. I'm still feeling more more empathy for Mark's struggles this month, in the deep uncertainties of post-move establishment.

A Wizard Abroad (Diane Duane): Reread. Diane Duane moves to Ireland, and writes a book! (Um, seven years later. I stand corrected.) "Abroad" is cute, but it's a weak follow-up to the first three novels, which have a clear evolution of evil (possibly transformative Lone Power, "good" but scary Ed vs. Lone Power, Dairine vs LP Ultimate Wizard Smackdown and redemption). The series sort of flounders in the comics mode after that: having defeated ultimate evil, what do you do next? In "Abroad", the answer is "defeat different ultimate evil, teamwork version". I really want the series to grow up a bit and fight evil on a small-scale context: not a giant fireworks-and-shadows magical climax, but more like Nita confronting Joanne at the end of So You Want to Be a Wizard. As a standalone, Abroad is fine, but it doesn't build on the context provided by the preceding three novels. Having read the following novels, I'm tempted to call the structural weakness an effect of series construction shift, but without rereading the entire series I'm not wedded to the theory.

A Grave Talent (Laurie R. King): Reread: when in San Francisco, why not read books set in the city? It's not bad, but it was published in '93. The social agenda and lack of cell phones gives it a flavor of its time.

The Best American Science Writing 2005 (Ed. Alan Lightman): catching up on my pop sci. A very mixed bag: my appreciation can be predicted by knowing whether the writer was covering contemporary science or being contemplative. Therefore, high marks for "Einstein's Compass" (Peter Galison), "The Genome in Black and White (and Gray)" (Robin Marantz Henig) for getting me frothing about how we need to stop screening for stuff and boost the technology so it's cheaper and more effective to outright test for conditions, and Laurie Garrett's "The Hidden Dragon" on the politics of HIV in Vietnam; low marks for Edward Hoagland's "Small Silences", and Andrea Barrett's "The Sea of Information". "The Sea of Information" particularly irritated me because it's not about science, it's about feelings and the writing process as an author of fiction. Old news in baby-steps packaging.

Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, The Last Command (Timothy Zahn): For a set of Star Wars novels I started reading when I was ten, these have remarkable staying power. I don't think I've ever actually read the trilogy through from Page One to the very end, so it's a pleasure to find it holds together, both as a story and as an adult reader. These aren't deep novels, but they deliver a story I still like with style and fun. Zahn captured some key elements of the movies and franchise, and puts in clever plot tricks, which make some writing tics bearable. He's also not afraid to expand on the universe as it stands, and can write original characters who carry the narrative where it needs to go. Like most media tie-ins, the Thrawn trilogy isn't deep, but unlike many tie-ins, it's entertaining and rereadable.

Scott Pilgrim vol. 3: Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Bryan Lee O'Malley): Things I dislike: hipsters. Things I like: comics with video game references, snappy writing and witty fourth-wall breaks. If the series weren't at the absolute minimum effort threshhold, I wouldn't keep reading it. Yet I am compelled to continue in a quest to understand why other people like it. I suspect it's the hipsters.

The publishing industry does me the favor of using key adjectives in book descriptions. For example, I forgot that "lovecraftian" is publishing code for "this book will scar me for life". I didn't finish John Scalzi's The God Engines; actually, I didn't really start it. I opened the novel, read the first page, flipped to the last page, and slammed it shut.

Numbers game: 7 total finished. 2 new, 5 reread; 6 fiction (1 graphic novel), 1 nonfiction (1 essay collection)
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The library notified me of two novels on hold for me: Geoff Ryman's Air and A Wizard of Mars, the latest in Diane Duane's Wizards series. I am pretty sure cracking a beer and opening a YA book like Mars is some flavor of wrong.

It's been brought to my attention that the library has books and DVDs. What should I watch? So far I'm thinking The Godfather, Oceans 11 (and 12, & etc), Across the Universe, The Last King of Scotland, and Up, if I can get them. I know I'm missing movies, because the last time I tried to do this I wound up with a handwritten three page list.
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Anathem (Neal Stephenson): I finished Anathem! Perhaps it will stop eating my brain despite my obvious attraction to the avout lifestyle.

Okay, blurb: depending who you ask, the scientist-monks of Arbre (a world similar to, but not identical to our Earth) have either withdrawn from the world outside their concents or been locked away for everyone's good for a long time. Like, 3700 years long. This is the story of one avout's interactions with the non-avout world. Also, it's a 900 page fight between not-Realist versus not-Nominalist scientific philosophers, and the story of the research/technology/politics interfaces, and - it's pretty mindblowing.

This is a Stephenson novel: all the girls act like Amy Shaftoe. The character development is Boy To Man. The plot is not derailed by infodumps: the infodumps are the plot. Science is awesome. Technology is awesome. Stephenson lost me in the philosophical thickets a couple of times - page after page of abstract reasoning, while I wondered when something would be welded or blown up or buried by magma - so I'm not wholeheartedly recommending this. Parts of it were awesome, like the following spoilers. )

Also there is an Anathem wiki. If parallel processing could be directly inputted into world peace, we would live an a golden age of fraternal harmony.

There was the epic Diane Duane binge of November - December '09, encompassing parts of all three Door novels, rereading all seven eight Young Wizard novels, and a pair of Star Trek novels new to me: three rambly paragraphs of recap and reaction behind the cut. )

I think what I like about Duane's novels is her people, and her characters' optimism; her worldbuilding is usually fun and hits my "sense of wonder" spot on visuals, but fails when I throw my brain at the structures of good and evil. (I take the bus to work. I have plenty of time to contemplate the nature of morality in genre fiction.) So I enjoy Duane's novels a lot with significant caveats.

I tried to read The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense (Suzette Haden Elgin) but found the approaches not particularly useful. It's 2010, not 1988, and some of the concepts carry over, but many of the examples are dated. Tolerance is in, at least superficially, and that influences how people verbally assault each other. I also think I was actually looking for one part "negotiating the workplace" and one part "managing your inherited bad traits: how to not revert under stress, and how to get through mandatory family time without verbal bloodshed", and this is just not that book.

The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro (Zachary M. Schrag): A scholarly history of DC's heavy-rail public transit system from the perspective of a great partisan. Schrag tries to tell a multidisciplinary story - metro as DC peculiar politics; metro as an example of public transit of a certain era; race and class in DC - and only partially succeeds. Schrag dismisses the Georgetown metro stop as completely false, but dad played the "I was there" card and remembers some fuss. Possibly it was all Washington Post letters to the editor, but the debate - and the fact it's remembered at all - says something about DC.

Fantasy: The Best of the Year (2006) (Ed. Rich Horton): For my own future reference, I am c&p'ing the table of contents from Rich Horton's website. I did indeed read:
the contents of this collection. )

Okay, I gave up on "The Gist Hunter" three pages in because it had boring, confusing demons not amenable to interruptions and I had a 2 AM metro ride with many other New Year's revelers, but I tried. All of these were okay without hitting anything special; some of the stories that I would call horror-tinged have stuck in unpleasant ways ("Sunbird", "Invisible", "By the Light of Tomorrow's Sun"); some of the stories with more worldbuilding made me think more might be okay ("The Secret of Broken Tickers", "By the Light of Tomorrow's Sun"), and some were charming or interesting without being deep ("Pip and the Fairies", "On the Blindside", and yes there is a theme there). "Five Ways Jane Austen Never Died" is like Jane Austen fanfic, sometimes with vampires. The only story that moved me deep in my soul was "The Emperor of Gondwanaland", but I'm moved to eviscerate it for retelling the "unfulfilled white man gets the girl and oh, is King of Awesome" story which I loathe. What a waste of good worldbuilding! I want to write 2,000 words of unauthorized homage where the main character loses the girl, isn't king, and turns out to be pretty happy with some variation of middle- to upper-middle class living in Gondwanaland.

Fantasy is my predictable genre: I am unlikely to be deeply moved, but I am likely to be distracted as long as necessary. Horton's '06 Best of collection is a perfect example of this: nothing made me want to seek out more of the same author, but most of it was readable, if not always to my taste.

Numbers game: 16 total finished, 1 unfinished. 6 new, 11 reread; 13 fiction, 3 nonfiction. 1 short story collection.
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It's almost October, I should probably post my August books. I am particularly motivated to do so tonight because I learned it is Banned Books Week. I'm tempted to do a Banned Books Readathon and donate funds to a civil liberties or book-related charity. Unfortunately, tonight's nonfiction selection is neither banned nor particularly likely to be. Apparently atypical genetic inheritance isn't salacious enough to get the citizenry up in arms.

Ella Enchanted (Gail Carson Levine): Cinderella retelling. Ella is cursed with perfect obedience at birth. That's probably my definition of Hell right there. The story is about how she struggles with this and eventually overcomes it by will and love, but the mechanics of "obedience" are the clever bit and the part I want to poke at: Ella must obey the letter, but she's not an automaton: tell Ella to clean the silver, and she has to, but unless you say otherwise she can scratch it all up after getting the tarnish off. That's kind of subversive and interesting. The story itself is a borderline children's / YA book, and has a very simple plot that I was less interested in.

The Plague (Alfred Camus): Oran, Algeria, is hit with bubonic plague. I read this in translation, and was distracted by my unfamiliarity with French: there was something in the grammar of the translation that made me wonder if the translator was emulating French grammar, or trying to retain some spirit of the original that evaporates in translation, out of context. I do not think "abstraction" in English renders the same meaning it does in French, or perhaps I would be baffled in both languages.

The wiki article says the themes concern destiny, but it seemed to me the novel was more focused on the isolation of experience: three people in a room are three people alone, yearning to be with others so they can connect, but incapable of perfect knowledge of another.

I was tremendously distracted by the lack of female characters, and Rambert's attitude toward his unnamed wife. Characters pined for their absent women, but didn't even mention their names, or particular characteristics they longed for. I found it very notable of a certain time and attitude.

Dark Mirror (Diane Duane): It's a shame this wasn't filmed for the costumes alone. )

Incomplete, The Innocents Abroad (Mark Twain / Samuel Clemens): Americans tour Europe by boat. I had to put this down because I couldn't distinguish Twain's satire from Clemens's obnoxious and genuine 19th century perspectives.

Latitude (Dava Sobel): Short, entertaining story focusing mostly on the 18th century British strugge with an essential navigation question: "how far out to sea is my ship?" North/South is apparently a relatively easy problem to solve, since one can reference the equator, but longitude is a completely arbitrary thing. I was distracted by the descriptions of the lunar and clock methods of finding latitude as "the clock of the heavens" and "the clock of the sea", because really, isn't that beautiful language? I'd recommend this for beach or bus reading any day.

A House Like a Lotus (Madeleine L'Engle): Polly O'Keefe is 16 and struggling with feet of clay. I read this sometime in my teens, and I forgot some of the plot but rememberd most of the themes. )

Numbers: 5 total. 4 new, 1 reread; 4 fiction, 1 nonfiction. 1 unfinished.
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I am posting this now because my opinions will only stale in my head.

The Samurai's Daughter (Sujata Massey): Japanese-American antiques dealer becomes embroiled in the fallout from WW2 forced labor and comfort women when a series of attacks suggests someone wants the past to stay buried. Murder mystery novel, middle of a series.

I picked this up while house-sitting and between books, otherwise I would never have read it. I had a very hard time taking the protagonist seriously, since she considers herself middle-class while exhibiting many characteristics I associate with the wealthy. "My parents aren't like the rest of the neighborhood! They made one good real estate deal in the '70s, that has nothing to do with their extensive social network and the vintage clothes and antiques and other hallmarks of an affluent life I am narrating!" For a self-employed foreign worker who says more than once she only has so much to live on, Rei spends an awful lot of time not thinking about things like, oh, dental insurance. (Cough. Bitter, bitter, paying out of pocket until coverage kicks in October 1st cough.) So the themes were interesting, and I enjoyed the story a lot more when I decided the protagonist was an unreliable narrator. I also enjoyed it more when I wasn't entirely aware it was a mid-series book; the background felt very textured until I started wondering how much of it was recaps of previous events I just hadn't read about. Not strongly recommended, but I'd be curious to know what other people thought of the series.

Zoe's Tale (John Scalzi): Latest in the "Old Man's War" universe. I knew how much (or minimally) I would enjoy this going in, but was lured into giving it a shot this summer by its nomination for the Hugos, and by Scalzi saying many, many times, "I ran the first draft past actual women, and based on their dramatic thumbs-down, I tossed much of that draft!"Zoe's Tale reads very smoothly, but like The Last Colony, I found it frustratingly shallow. Also, I still think the entire Roanoke name gives away the premise - a premise which is amazingly poorly considered, in my opinion. So every time someone talks about the colony of Roanoke, I want to stop and shout at all the characters, "no! Don't be obvious! No!" It detracts from my enjoyment significantly.

Schuyler's Monster (Robert Rummel-Hudson): Okay, remember how books don't make me cry? Forget that noise. Apparently I just don't cry for fake people over the age of 10. Nonfiction account of one parent's discovery of his daughter's profound disability, but more importantly a story about how he was affected by his wonderful, beloved, very different daughter.

I found out about this book while surfing book blogs, and had mostly forgotten about it by the time my hold came through. The creeping discovery that Schuyler isn't quite right, evolving into a parental nightmare, is nicely handled, but Rummel-Hudson's frankness about his reactions and feelings are what wrecked me a bit. I'd like to go through and point out the good bits, but a lot of this is personal reaction, and I'm typing this in August. So: recommended, incoherently.

In a completionist fit, and a desire for emotional lightness, I read the second through fourth Rihannsu novels: The Romulan Way, Swordhunt, The Empty chair (Diane Duane). They are entertaining tie-in novels, but I can't shake the sense that Duane's invoking a pan-series multiverse and I should be looking for wizards. It's fairly distracting.

Numbers: 6 total. 6 new, 0 rereads; 5 fiction, 1 nonfiction.
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Wow, I really failed at serious nonfiction this month.

To Visit the Queen (Diane Duane): I am officially to old to read this novel. The flaws are more prominent than the entertaining bits. ) This particular novel seemed below Duane's usual standard, and I may be trying to see something more interesting than exists.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X (as told to Alex Haley) (Alex Haley, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz): The reinvention of a man, and the names he used in those reinventions: Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, Malcolm X, El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz. I picked this up because I was curious, and stayed because the two men - X and Haley - told a fascinating story. I am not sure I believe all of it, but I think it's a narrative told by a very smart survivor, and wish I'd read it when I was younger, preferably with a reading group who'd help tear apart the truth from the glosses.

The Book of Night with Moon (Diane Duane): Grand Central Terminal is a NYC hub for trains... and other means of transit. The wizardly team of cats that maintains the worldgates of Grand Central troubleshoot at a deeper level than their norm. Entertaining and coherent; the themes and plot are well aligned.

Zahrah the Windseeker (Nnedi Okorafor): YA novel; teenage girl with special powers braves the Forbidden Forest to find a fabled cure for her dying friend.

Adorable coming of age story. Light, entertaining, predictable (think fast! Will Zahrah's quest fail and her friend die?), and oh, on another planet with magic (magic?) and lots of plant-based tech. It's a straightforward and not particularly subtle story about exploring and growing into the unknown; I'd recommend it for people looking for YA.

I first ran into Nnedi Okorafor's writing in a short story collection a couple of years ago, and thought the story interesting enough that I wanted more, but my library failed me. Eventually, I remembered ILL. So here is a takeaway thought: explore your own environment, and use ILL early and often.

To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee): Childhood classic, which I don't really remember reading. I am now old enough to appreciate Lee's dry sense of humor, but I think I am missing the point, because I don't see what makes this book, above many other books, a literary gem.

Overcoming Underearning: Overcome Your Money Fears and Earn What You Deserve (Barbara Stanny): The phrase "throw the book against a wall" is a custom I generally honor in the breach, especially with library books. This is the second book in all of my 26 years which I have closed, contemplated, and deliberately hurled across the room. I really question financial books which promise to raise your income and lower your weight, and I only regret not throwing this across the room sooner.

Numbers: 5 (+ 1 thrown across the room) total. 2 new, 3 rereads; 4 fiction, 1 (mostly?) nonfiction.
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Since I have already finished one book this month, it must be time to put up last month's book log!

Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand (Samuel Delany): This is "how Marq Dyeth falls in love with Rat Korga" in the same way that Memory is "how Miles became an Imperial Auditor". Which is to say, it's where the novel goes, but it's not what the story's goal is. It's the plot-scaffold on which all the interesting parts of the novel are grown.

Korga is a "rat", a slave caste which has undergone Radical Anxiety Termination. He is also a survivor of catastophe.

Marq Dyeth is an Industrial Diplomat1, whose family has a castle (sort of) and ties to a dead tyrant. The castle brings students, among them the extraordinary Rat Korga, who may have some of the dead Vondramach Tyrannus' character, or who maybe is having that imposed by society.

It takes Delany something like half the book to get these two in the same room, and the story is so interesting that I don't care. I am all about the worldbuilding and the relationships between people in this story. (With the one exception of Rat and Marq, because there's emo romance moping. From a 36 year old.) There's also some really interesting things Delaney is doing with how people form families, and how they evaluate each other, and cultural assumptions. Okay, I'm starting in on quotes:

Cut for spoilers and length. I really, really enjoyed this book, in all its dense strange-to-me worldbuilding. )

Since I did not do well with Babel-17, I was very surprised to discover I was really enjoying Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, and would have been happy to follow the characters around for another 400 pages.

The Millionaire Next Door (William D. Danko, Thomas J. Stanley): How to get rich slowly. )

I'm at a bit of a crossroads: do I pursue full time grad school, do I work and take classes toward an M.Sci or MBA, do I jump ship for something else entirely? My experiences in life have cemented in me a belief that money is not freedom, but its lack is certainly a cage. I don't think I have the interest or ambition to make Avi and Randy's "fuck-you money", but I have also have no desire to spend the next 20 years living paycheck to paycheck, freaking out about life after 65, and crashing on couches when I go on vacation because I have no other choice if I want to go on vacation. For me, The Millionaire Next Door is a reminder that I have to think about my money if I want to keep and control the way I use it, so I can achieve my goals in life.

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (Dan Ariely): In which people are consistently not rational operators, using pure logic to shape their decisions. In fact, kind of the opposite. Kept my attention in transit during vacation with descriptions of experiments demonstrating how people react to "free" versus one cent and other examples of how people's brains do not operate on pure logic.

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness): The blurb on the back (attributed to Frank Cottrell Boyce) says, "One of the best first sentences I've ever read and a book that lives up to it!"

I will not keep you in suspense: the first line is, "The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say."

I was completely underwhelmed. Fortunately, it got better from there.

When the book opens, Todd Hewitt is 30 days from his 13th birthday and manhood in Prentisstown, the only town on the planet, where all the settlers are men, survivors of a war that killed their women and left them hearing the Noise of every living animal, including each other. That's Todd's world - until he finds an empty hole in the Noise.

Cut for a late-book out of context quote and length. )

This is a book about living in violent times, and it's absolutely riveting despite some really gross injuries I could have lived without reading about. I'll be reading the sequel, The Ask and the Answer, as soon as the library gets it.

My Enemy, My Ally (Diane Duane): If I had read this when I was ten*? Awesome. Unfortunately, I will be 26 in less than a week, and I am fully cognizant of Duane's writing quirks. So some of Ael's reflections on Powers and elements threw me right back into Duane's Young Wizards series, which I do not think was the intended effect. It's a perfectly reasonable story of James T. Kirk and the Enterprise on a mission of derring-do, with heavy Duane flavor. It just didn't scratch my post-reboot itch.

*I say ten because, to the best of my reconstruction, that's when dad left a library copy of Star Wars: The Last Command lying around, introducing me to media tie-in novels. Before I broke up with the Extended Universe I had read such deathless works of prose as Young Jedi Knights: Crisis at Cloud City.

Numbers: 5 total. 5 new; 3 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
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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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A Slight Trick of the Mind (Mitch Cullin): I've read maybe two Arthur Conan Doyle stories in my life, but I keep picking up the ancillary fanfic fiction. This is emotionally awful - I don't care who you are, being 92 is a rough thing on a good day - and reasonably good fiction.

Future Washington (Earnest Lilley, Ed.): Lilley stood up at a WSFA meeting and said, "wouldn't it be cool if there were a collection of SF stories about Washington, DC?" This collection is the result. I am captivated by the central conceit, because DC is the city I've orbited since I was six, so of course I grabbed this as soon as I could. It's not as good as the anthology I read last month, but it includes several stories that made me very intellectually happy. So between the good, the bad and the joy of analyzing the downright ugly (see below), I think I got my money's worth.

The good: humans follow ants, an epistolary story that did not suck, overenthusiastic sociobiology. )

The ugly: Punctuation has migrated to friendlier climes. )

That was the good, and the ugly. The merely bad included "A Well-Dressed Fear" (B. A. Chepaitis), which I challenge anyone familiar with fanfic to read without whispering, "Marissa Amber Flores Picard!", and Thomas M. Harlan's noir-ish "Hothouse", which had me cheering for the Black Hats.

Minor notables in the collection: Joe Haldeman's "Civil Disobedience", which demonstrates what control of narrative pacing can do, has a little local color and includes a nicely ambiguous protagonist; "Hail to the Chief" (Allen M. Steele), an ironic, brutal little piece about the end of the two-party system.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Marjane Satrapi): Autobiographical graphic novel. Living in Tehran after the revolution seems to be a universally miserable experience for women.

Wizards at War (Diane Duane): One day, I will learn my lesson and stop reading books in one day. Really. Promise. Until then, the flaws will stand out more than the good bits.

Spoilers, with minor Bujold reference. )

Next month: bio nonfiction, hopefully. Also, much physics nonfiction, in the form of Serway's "Physics for Scientists and Engineers, Vol. 1". The class is - well, you've heard how the class is - but the textbook is shockingly good.
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Late, they say, is better than never. This has only been sitting in my "trim loose ends and post" queue for ten days now.

Wizard's Holiday (Diane Duane): Fluffy! )

Tam Lin (Diana Wynne Jones): Reread. )

Fudoki (Kij Johnson): Found this one via word of mouth. )

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (J. K. Rowling): First spring break book. )

The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers (Tom Standage): Hey, nonfiction! )

The King's Name (Jo Walton): Sequel to The King's Peace, and wraps up the duology. Very good, in a quiet way. I need to keep an eye out for Walton's books.

Lost in a Good Book (Jasper Fforde): Starting with a slightly off-kilter quote, and proceeding to massive spoilage. )

Crown Duel and Court Duel (Sherwood Smith): Low density fantasy. )
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In June, I read a heap of new novels, a nice change from rereading pieces of old favorites. Almost everything was of fair to good quality, which was a nice change from the large number of "eh" novels I read in May.

The Riddle-Master Trilogy, Patricia McKillip:
The Riddle-Master of Hed
Heir of Sea and Fire
Harpist in the Wind

Read these in one large gulp at the end of May/early June. I think. This was my first time reading the trilogy; I suspect I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I'd read it when I was younger. As it stands, I want to natter on about its similaries and differences to Le Guin's original Earthsea trilogy, with an occasional side slant to Duane's Door series for style comparisons. Watch this journal for further developments.

A Wizard Abroad Alone, Diane Duane [Edited 08/07/2003 to correct my fingers' hardwiring; thank you Sam L.] : The latest in the Young Wizards series. Came out last October, but life in the form of classes kept me from the library for a long time. Duane doesn't go anywhere significantly new thematically, but does write an enjoyable romp in the established YW canon. One aspect of the book bugged me a lot, but I need to check some facts and hash out the autism thing with [livejournal.com profile] herewiss13 before posting any definitive statements (read: publicly shove my foot in my mouth).

Night Work, Laurie R. King: The one novel in one of King's series I hadn't read. The intersection of religion, feminism and murder was reminiscent of A Monstrous Regiment of Women, which either says something about the author or about the endurance of some themes throughout the twentieth century, take your pick. This and Monstrous Regiment might make an interesting paired reading for that reason.

Green Rider, Kristen Britain: Written up seperately. Short version: if you think Mercedes Lackey and Robert Jordan ought to collaberate, this may be the book for you.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: I came, I read, I owe [livejournal.com profile] norabombay for letting me have first crack at her copy. Still haven't posted my own emotional fangirl response, but the short version is, I'm definitely keen to see what happens in book six.

The Sherwood Ring, Elizabeth Marie Pope: Have you ever read a book that you're reasonably certain would have had you on the edge of your seat earlier in life? When I was ten or twelve I would have adored this book. Unfortunately, it's ten years later, and I merely liked it a lot. It was very interesting to read a book written in the '50's set in a house deliberately preserved in the colonial era; it gave the story a more historical bent than I suspect the author intended. Also, I think I found a fandom tie-in, though; certain wine glasses from The Sherwood Ring may have migrated to fic author E. H. Smith's Harry Potter/Vorkosigan crossover "Without Enchantment." (Note: second in a trilogy. Fortunately, all three are available on Fictionalley or the Sugar Quill. And if anyone is aware of any other fics by Ms. Smith, I'd be ecstatic if you sent me the URL. She's a great writer, in my opinion.) I like The Perilous Gard more than The Sherwood Ring, but definitely want both on my shelves, and wish Pope had written more before passing away in 1992.

The Moon's Shadow, Catherine Asaro: Jaibriol Qox the Third assumes his forefathers' throne in the wake of the devastating Radiance War. Political maneuvering ensues. M'sS is a middle-of-the-road novel in her Skolia series, focusing on political fallout from the recent war and shaping the groundwork for the uneasy detente/cold war in Catch the Lightning, set fifty years later. The romantic and cutting edge science that have pervaded Asaro's novels are a bit subdued in this novel, but are still very present. Asaro does slide in some nifty science metaphor stuff, not unlike the romance/quantum bonding metaphor in The Quantum Rose. A moon's shadow on a planet is an eclipse, of course, but somehow I didn't make the connection until Asaro pointed it out in the author's afterward. At which point a planet with a complex moon system and a tradition of naming those moons after the Emperor's consort goes all sorts of interesting places. The Radiant Seas remains my uncontested favorite Asaro novel, but The Moon's Shadow is worth reading if you're fond of Catherine Asaro's novels.

I'm hoping July will continue the trend of good fiction, especially since I have a long list of Hugo nominees I haven't touched yet. And I think I really need to read some books not written by women. Nothing wrong with female writers, but I seem to be reading a lot of them at the moment, and not nearly as many men.

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