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That took entirely too long.


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!


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.
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6xH: Six Stories by Robert H. Heinlein (Robert A. Heinlein): 1961 collection of "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", "The Man Who Traveled in Elephants", "All You Zombies", "They", "Our Fair City", and finally, "And He Built a Crooked House".

Cut for length and one Unpleasant Profession spoiler. )

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is ninety degrees out (32 C for the metric people), so I am, of course, reading Fortress of Ice (C. J. Cherryh), Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury), and just finished a book on polio (see above). For my next trick, I will start the history of chemical warfare I picked up at the library yesterday, or possibly reread the Judith Butler extracts in the comp. lit. course packet I found while cleaning, or maybe find some nonfiction about doomed polar expeditions.
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The Tapir's Morning Bath (Elizabeth Royce): Nonfiction. Journalist spends a year in and out of Barro Colorado Island, studying the scientists. Subtitled, "Mysteries of the Tropical Rainforest and the Scientists Who Are Trying to Solve Them", which is the most ponderous part of the book, right there, so the rest of the narrative can leave that behind and be charming and light and interesting. Somehow, Royce manages to write about the bugs, the spiders, the experiments, and and the weather, and still make this an interesting read. Good for Nonfiction Lite reading, when you're not feeling up to heavy contemplation.

I reread Downbelow Station (C. J. Cherryh) for the first time in years. Intentionally or otherwise, Cherryh created a universe peopled by people that feel more damaged, bitter, and uncontrollable than my relatives at their worst, then wrote stories about how these characters shook worlds and brought economic empires to their knees. And this is getting a separate post, because I'm three disorganized paragraphs in, and haven't really said what I want to. So I'll toss out this thought instead: Lois Bujold talks about doing the Worst Possible Thing to her characters; discussion on the LMB mailing list suggested this might be modified to, "the Worst Possible Thing the character(s) can learn from." Cherryh pushes her characters just a little... bit... farther. Oops. Since I was introduced to the two authors' works within a year and a half of each other, they've sort of formed a continuum of good intentions and bad consequences. Downbelow Station was one of the first three Cherryh novels I read, the other two being Cloud's Rider and 40,000 in Gehenna (Yes, I read the Rider books out of sequence), and so made the greatest impression on me. I was fascinated by the Mazianni's unapologetic evilness, and the continual falling to new lows: just when the characters thought things had settled, someone sprang new and unpleasant events on them, until climatic spoiler moment ). And after the battle's lost and won, and there's a nice little dinner party/celebratory feast, the book just stops, which left me going, "but wait! Whiplash!" and I was well and truly hooked. I didn't so much "get" Downbelow Station as it got me.

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens): Probably not a proper novel, but rather a novella, by today's standards, but what the heck. Dripping with a sensibility that wavers between witty side-notes and obnoxious sentimentalism, A Christmas Carol is exactly the sort of story we're all glad was made into a Disney movie many years ago. All the story plus Scrooge McDuck. If this seems flippant, well, remember that I thought the most interesting characters in A Tale of Two Cities were Sidney Carton (until he got all noble) and Madame Defarge.

Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman): "Fat" Charlie Nancy's father dies. Fat Charlie's brother (the one he didn't know about) arrives at his flat one crimson dawn. British slapstick ensues. Cut for length and low taste in exemplar quotes. No real spoilers. )
Nonetheless. While liking the novel less than the vocal fangirls, I still liked it. A little predictable, once you set your mind to Monty Python, but worth picking up at the library.

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen): Girls meet boys. Mother of girls goes into flutters. P&P gets a lot of good press among the bibliophiles I know, but I'm not much for regencies or romances. I must confess that I still am missing the innate attractiveness of Mr. Darcy. Favorite character: the deadpan Mr. Bennett. I enjoyed Austen's dry wit, but the book is more fun, in a mannered sort of way, than deep, and so suffers easily from overblown expectations.

One final book of note: I am not done with Alan Lightman's The Discoveries, but I've stalled on it, and I can't let it go back to the library without comment. When the author's intent is to present what he thinks are the 25 most important papers of the 20th century, with some background about the author, the paper's context, and lay interpretations of the more technical bits, it seems to me that it flies in the face of the author's stated purpose to cut parts of the papers because he believes them to be irrelevant to the paper's scientific import. It doesn't work that way: you have to do the tedious, niggling, absolutely nit-picking work to prove that your hypothesis both explains the available data and that no other theory you are aware of explains that data as well. So cutting the "yes, it's not [list of alternatives] because [experimental data]" saves you space and lay boredom, but it misses the point in ways that - self-evidently - drives me up a wall. Not counting in my '05 stats because I may get take another stab, but I feel like this is aimed at the Book World audience who wants to feel educated and cultured, without doing the dirty work of deciding on their own what parts to skim.

Year-End Stats: Counting anthologies as "one book", 55 total, 34 fiction (including 10 rereads and 2 graphic novels), 21 nonfiction. Since last year's not-resolution was "less! And more nonfiction!" (or see version 1.0, bottom of post, with 2004 stats), I think I can consider 2005 a literary success.

2006 ambition: Peg reading increases to nonfiction increases, and maybe diverify a bit, get some non-science history and such in there. Balance with academics.
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The Sandman: Endless Nights (Neil Gaiman et al): Gaiman being himself, with very pretty art. )

Unifying themes: Endless, gorgeous artwork. Reader comprehension: minimal. Viewer art drooling: very high.
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This has been moldering for almost half of June; I'm just going to post what I've got. Only one cut, for length and frank discussion of stuff that happens in the third book of a trilogy. So you might call it a spoiler.

Mars trilogy (Kim Stanley Robinson): Nice, meaty... reread. )

Random comment: was skimming Cyteen last night and came across a quote: "The interests of all humans are interlocked . . . and politics is no more than a temporal expression of social mechanics." KSR draws optimistic social systems; Cherryh likes to play with the places where the system breaks down. I would love to see both of them on a panel discussing political systems in SF.

American Gods (Neil Gaiman): Reread. Archetypes, coin tricks, and other deceptions. Gaiman's style is distinctive, and I'm still not sure if I like it or not. But I keep reading his books, which must count for something.

Two-Bit Heroes (Doris Egan): Reread. Theodora and Ran Cormallon's sort-of honeymoon is derailed when they're swept up by a band of outlaws in the Northwest Sector of Ivory, the only planet where magic is known to work. The Ivory trilogy (The Gate of Ivory, Two-Bit Heroes, and Guilt-Edged Ivory) is comfort reading for me. Easy prose, vivid characterization, scattered literary references, and occasional use of magic to remind the reader that yes, this is an sf/f novel. Two-Bit Heroes features adaptation to the bandit life, calculated application of the Robin Hood myth, and some very effective "yes, it's all fun and games until they stick your head in a noose" moments. Doris Egan ([ profile] tightropegirl) hasn't written any fiction in about a decade, being employed in Hollywood and having (apparently) no time for it, but if she ever does I may have to add an author to my "buy on sight" list.

Digital Photography for Dummies (Julie Adair King): Not a reread. Buying and using your first digital camera, with trial image processing software and suggestions on how to use it. I already had the camera, so I skimmed to the "using it" section, and have enough experience with photoshop that a lot of the post-production stuff was review, but the "point and shoot" sections were written in a clear and entertaining style. I'm only getting around to trying the shareware CD today (6/14), since I suspect there's at least one addictive, expensive program in there, which I don't need.
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Back from crashing at [ profile] fairestcat's and studying oncampus. Studying went reasonably well; I now have a much better idea what I need to bug my organic TA about. Crashing at Cat's was just dangerous, because she had books I don't: Legends II and Irresistible Forces. Cat generously let me hijack both for late evening/bedtime reading, so I got to inhale Neil Gaiman's Shadow novella, "The Monarch of the Glen", "Winterfair Gifts" by Lois Bujold, and Catherine Asaro's "Stained Glass Heart."

"The Monarch of the Glen" is typical Gaiman. Shadow deals with oddness and makes a decision. I am not one of the die-hard Gaimanites of the world, but I do like reading about Shadow. He meets the most interesting people in some odd places.

I am, however, a relatively hard core Bujold fangirl. "Winterfair Gifts" was really good. I don't think there's much more to say about the story, except perhaps to wish to be a fly on the wall when Arde and Cordelia first ran into each other in Vorkosigan House. And what's up with Baz's "deserter" status these days? I guess it's cleared, but it's not specifically mentioned.

"Stained Glass Heart" was... okay. A longer explanation of why. )

[ profile] fairestcat also let me borrow Contact Imminent, which I've been meaning to read for months. So my study schedule today may be kind of doomed. Whoops.
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. . . so maybe I read a little bit more than I think I do. I’m chalking September’s long list up to that hurricane-shaped thing that came through in the middle of the month.

Putting all comments behind cuts, regardless of length, for formatting and to save friends pages.

The Paths of the Dead, Steven Brust. In Which the Writer Enacts the Dance of Fangirl Glee. )

Two by Octavia Butler: Adulthood Rites and Imago )

Butler’s protagonists tend to be thrown into situations nearly as stressful, upsetting, and invasive as Cherryh’s protags; at some point I may have to do some sort of Cherryh/Butler comparison.

Lirael, Garth Nix. )

Abhorsen, Garth Nix. A bit sharp. )

Sabriel, Garth Nix. )

1602, Issues One and Two, by a Numeber of Hands )

The Phoenix Code, Catherine Asaro. In Which Romance Fails to Overcome Theme Underdevelopment. )

A College of Magics, Caroline Stevermer. Solid not-medieval fantasy. )

The Secret Country, Pamela Dean. )

Cowboy Feng’s Space Bar and Grille, Steven Brust )

Sorcery and Cecelia, Caroline Stevermer and Pat Wrede. )

I've heard it said more than once that Stevermer and Wrede are working on a sequel, The Grand Tour. If this ever comes out, I'm definitely going to read it.
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I know exactly how late this is. I'm still posting this, so I've got it on hand if I want it.

Fortunately, the August book list needs only formatting, so anyone who's eager to see that up (me, and... me, I suspect) isn't going to have to wait nearly as long.

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett: Perky K. gave this to me for my birthday in June. It is as funny as advertized. I suspect I would have gotten more out of it if I watched more B-grade apocalypse horror flicks; even with that, ah, cultural handicap the book rolls along. I can see why people wanted to make this into a movie; I can guess why it failed. Read the book, people; this parody of apocalyptic flicks will never translate to the big screen, and will leave you falling off the couch with laughter.

The Bones of the Earth, Michael Swanwick: Nominee for 2003 Hugo for Best Novel. (Winner will be announced at the Toronto Worldcon. Hit the con if you have a chance, it's a lot of fun.) Paleontologists are given the opportunity to travel back in time and observe dinosaurs live in their natural habitat. Research, restrictions and the occasional disaster ensue.

Reactions and spoilers. )

Other than my inner feminist getting in a tiff, the novel was a fun romp - Swanwick obviously did his research on the field, burying me in scientific names and strange plants. I'm not sure I've vote for it to get the Hugo, but I think the nomination is justified.

The Other Wind, Ursula K. Le Guin: A sorcerer visits Ged on Gont. Ged sends him to Tenar and Therru, visiting Lebannen in Havnor. Therru grows up. Lebannen resigns himself to marrying his beautiful bride. Le Guin breaks her worldbuilding and a bit of my heart.

I knew going in it wasn't going to be high on the list of books I liked, but it wasn't until I started typing that I really got on a roll about why. )

Anyway. World messed up. Author fanficcing her own universe. May try to read The Other Wind again in a year or three, when the sting's worn off a bit.

August books to follow RSN. I hope.


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