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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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Air (Geoff Ryman): Absolutely worth reading. Do you know why this got a Tiptree? Because it's a story about a woman in a fake -stan. There's a number of interlocking plot threads that dovetail and swoop around each other to say more than the sum of their individual stories. Do you know why you've never heard about this story? Because there's really iffy fake quantum technology and magical realism biology. I want to rave about this, because it's working with some really cool themes, and falters just enough for me to get some science critique in, but I mostly wave my hands and stammer when trying to explain the many small and large storytelling moments that made this so enjoyable. I like messiness and technology on a deadline!

All the Fishes Come Home to Roost (Rachel Manija Brown): I don't know what to say about this one. Halfway through, I lamented to a friend it didn't include more context for Indian history, ashram traditions, "Westerners in India" stuff, etc. At nearly the end of the book, the writer emails several chapters of the manuscript to her mother, and her mother emails back extraordinarily detailed refutations of events small and large, closing the email "with love from the horrible, stupid, despicable [mom]." That's when it clicked: the frontispiece opens with a George Bernard Shaw quote, "if you have skeletons in the closet, you may as well make them dance," for a reason. I know that self-depreciating tone and the attitude that goes with it. This isn't a book about India. This is a book about surviving a catastrophic failure to equip one kid with the tools or protection to deal with the world, with a touch of comedy. Think Running With Scissors (which the author namechecks in the final "post-India" flash-forward). In that it succeeds. There's a different, more substantial book that could be that story and include more context, yadda yadda, but that's not what Brown was doing. Sometimes you're writing a honking big three-course book, and sometimes you're doing a really excellent soup and sandwich. This is the soup-and-sandwich, and excellent.

Watership Down (Richard Adams): Children's classic. A group of bachelor rabbits flee their threatened - later destroyed - home warren and establish a new warren. Did anyone actually read this as a child? It got several awards, and is a perfectly reasonable bus read, but I'm trying to figure out how it fits into the geography of British literature.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot): This is about the life of the (black) woman whose cancer gave (mostly white, often male) medical researchers a critical lab tool. Wait, this is about the impact of medical research on the Lacks family. No, this is about bioethics, as well as changes in law and human research practices!

This is a book trying to serve many goals: if you're looking for a broad overview on these topics, it's great. If you want depth, you'll wish it was more focused, and had better endnotes.

More detailed op-ed cut to spare the uninterested. )

Palimpsest (Catherynne Valente / [ profile] yuki_onna: This novel is the bastard child of Dunsany and Tanith Lee. If you like delicate, considered, ornate prose and lush (even "intoxicating", thank you cover copy) imagery, you will love this novel. If you like tight worldbuilding, clearly stated themes, and plot, you're going to contemplate throwing this one across the bus. A lot. I was pretty disappointed: Valente's blurb on Scalzi's blog sounded like the setup for some really awesome worldbuilding from a Tiptree winner, so I ignored the signs this was not the novel I was looking for. )

I want to emphasize, if you're into the prose game, you're going to be all over this; if you like slowly unwinding urban fantasy, you might like this; if you're into Tanith Lee? You will absolutely adore Palimpsest. I'm none of those categories, so I found myself, at the end of the novel, resigned to a writing style that - I'm going to guess - plays to Valente's strengths, but tooth-grindingly irritated by escapism which failed to illuminate the human condition or lighten my days with humor and distraction.

I skimmed Laurie King's The Language of Bees before tackling the sequel, The God of the Hive. The previous novel ended with Russell and Holmes splitting up, both wanted by New Scotland Yard, possibly in connection with events surrounding Holmes' brother Mycroft. When I read Bees I said, I keep waiting for tragic foreshadowings of WWII and Holmes' passing, and remain disappointed that so far, this has not been played for significant pathos. This remains mostly true, but parts of Hive mention Holmes' increasing age, which gives me hope. What didn't give me hope was the unfocused plot - several hundred pages of multiple points of view, two protagonists mostly in the dark, one PoV a fairly unreliable narrator, and the fourth a terribly uninteresting gloating villain. If this were a more dynamic series, I'd say the unfocused plot and theme are set-up for serious Mary-Mycroft moral conflict in a future novel, and maybe Mary taking over Mycroft's job, but I don't think it's that sort of genre novel.

Numbers game: 6 total finished. 6 new, 0 reread; 4 fiction, 2 nonfiction.
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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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I had brilliant plans for a special two-month deal, but then I noticed it was swiftly heading for a three-month book log. So here's September.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University (Kevin Roose): The subtitle says it all: a Brown University student transfers to Liberty University, bastion of evangelical thought, to learn what's behind all those conservative Christian stereotypes.

Basically, I was sold in the first section, "Prepare Ye", where Roose seeks help from one of his Christian friends to prepare for "Bible boot camp":

"So, do you think you're ready for a semester of Christianity?" she asked ... "No, that's not what I mean. I mean, are you spiritually ready?"

She took my silence as a no.

"Kev, places like Liberty are designed to transform skepticism into belief, and you're not going to be immune to that. You have to be open to the possibility that this semester is going to be bigger than you think." (p14)

Roose's frankness about the participatory nature of his semester (culturally) abroad is a key point: he talks about the changes in his perspective and ingrained behaviors as a result of obeying Liberty's stringent written and unwritten rules. He also takes a very human approach to his exploration of Liberty's culture, focusing on his interactions with individual dorm-mates and other people on campus. This is, fundamentally, about the building blocks of culture: individuals, in concert with their environment. One of Roose's Brown friends comes down for a weekend, and on seeing him interact in the dorms, Roose reflects: "Liberty students who struggle with lust. Secular Quakers who enjoy prayer. Evangelical feminists who come to Bible Boot Camp out of academic interest. I used to think my two worlds were a million miles apart. But tonight, the distance seems more like a hundred thousand miles. It's not a total improvement, but it's not meaningless, either." (p213) Which is not to say it's all smooth sailing, but Roose does a great job reminding liberals that hey! Conservative evangelicals are people too.

The Language of Bees (Laurie R. King): First of a two-part Russell-and-Holmes adventure which - about - I keep trying to type "Holmes' illegitimate son by Irene Adler comes for assistance finding his missing wife and daughter" with something like a straight face, and I cannot do it. Small adorable girls make a cameo, people race about England in dramatic fashion, and the arts world is mildly mocked. This is the umpteenth in the series, do not start here; people who like the series, you will like this. I am not sure if I should mention the thing with the ending or not; it's a spoiler but might be nice to know going in. I keep waiting for tragic foreshadowings of WWII and Holmes' passing, and remain disappointed that so far, this has not been played for significant pathos. I am not in love with the Holmes canon or character, so other people may have different reactions.

Science Fiction: The Best of the Year (2007) (Ed. Rich Horton): I saw this on the discount shelf and picked it up because [ profile] ann_leckie had a story in it, and I realized I hadn't read any of her fiction, even though we've been reading each other's LJs for a couple of years now. I liked her story, and would love to do a book club sort of discussion of it, because I think different people would get different things out of it it. It wasn'tmy favorite in the collection, because Walter Jon Williams made an appearance in the table of contents. WJW is one of those writers who isn't high on my radar, but rarely fails to entertain me. Carolyn Ives Gilman's "Okanoggan Falls" also happened to hit several bullet-proof story attractors, including a major hook for further development. I am a novel-reader at heart. Blurbs for particular stories cut for space. )

Numbers: 3 total. 3 new, 0 reread; 2 fiction, 1 nonfiction. 1 short story collection.
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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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Climbing Mount Improbable (Richard Dawkins): Dawkins on natural selection as the power behind life and evolution. A number of interesting case studies showing the gradual accumulation of "irreducible" complexity. Unfortunately, the book didn't really gel for me, or engage my intellect at the level which The Selfish Gene did. Some that may be the timing; this was published in 1997, and uses a lot of computer modeling that was hot stuff in the mid-90's.[1] Today, we have spiffier software. But Dawkins' ability to turn a phrase doesn't utterly desert him. Take a look at this paragraph from the chapter on figs and fig wasps, for example:

Much of the deciphering of the wasp-pollination story would simply have involved slicing figs open and looking inside. But 'looking' gives too laid-back an impression. It wasn't a passive gawping but a carefully planned recording session yielding numbers to be fed into calculations. Don't just pluck figs and slice them. Systemically sample figs from a large number of trees, from particular heights, and at particular seasons of the year. Don't just stare at the wasps wriggling inside: identify them, photograph them, accurately draw them, count them and measure them. Classify them by species, sex, age and location in the fig. Send specimens to museums for identification by detailed comparison with internationally recognized standards. But don't make measurements and counts indiscriminately just for the sake of it. Make them in the service of testing stated hypotheses. And when you look to see if your counts and measurements fit the expectations of your hypothesis, be aware, in calculated detail, how likely it is that your results could have been obtained by chance and mean nothing.

Now, imagine doing a great deal of that outside. In the heat and humidity. That's science. And I am so glad my specialization doesn't require field work.

[1]I remember the '90s. I remember when the CD-R drive was the Hot New Thing on our computer, and when we got the ten gig hard drive, and how we wondered how anyone could fill it up. As I write this, I have forty gigs of data clogging my laptop hard drive. Five gigs of that's just program files. The WINDOWS folder gets 2.75 gigs all to itself. And let us not even start on the music folders.

Star Wars: Outbound Flight (Timothy Zahn): The Outbound Flight project gets off the ground and shot out of the sky. Whoops.

The narrative uses umpteen PoVs to cover the umpteen sides dancing on the head of a pin. I thought this was pretty fun, but then, I was getting a kick out of all these people from other Zahn novels showing up. Zahn's done a fairly unobtrusive information control job on the facts of the OF in the past (right up until Survivor's Quest, where people needed to be beaten with an "ask questions, fools!" stick), so the climatic destruction didn't feel like a retread. Recurring characters felt younger, crazy Jedi masters proved that bad cloning merely exaggerates pre-existing megalomania, Obi-Wan and Anakin had an extended cameo that didn't really affect the plot. Was this deep? No. Was this fun? Yes. Thrawn was a bit of an over-manipulative supergenius, but that's his role in the series. I really was hoping Car'das would hijack one of Thrawn's plans for his on purposes, but no joy. On the other hand, there were smugglers, but no Bothans. Cheers!

There's also a thing to be said about how this means I've been reading fanfiction since I was, like, ten, and didn't notice. Not that I was tempted to describe any part of the OF plot as crack. Okay, maybe I am. See also "strategic supergenius who reads alien psyches through their art."

Fifth Business (Robertson Davies): I have no idea how to classify this. I think it might be genuine, plain fiction. And I have no idea how to discuss this. There are a ton of pithy quotes, but I have no idea how to approach what the book is "about". It seems to be Dunstable Ramsay's account of the interlinked fates of himself, Paul Dempster, and Percy Boyd Staunton. But that's speaking to the bones of the novel, not the spirit and heart of the story. This may be a case of the theme whooshing over my head, and it makes me want to hash the book out with people.

The Art of Detection (Laurie R. King): A mild collision of series when Kate Martinelli must solve the mysterious murder of a die-hard Sherlock Holmes fan.

I'm most tempted to compare this to A Letter of Mary, where a manuscript of sorts also acts as the McGuffin, but I'm also compelled to note that there's a 100 page Holmes pastiche wedged in the middle of the book. It was an entertaining pastiche, mind, but it does break up the story a bit.

Randomly: internal evidence dates the book's conclusion to mid-February 2004. Which end was very schmoopy, and pretty cute, but felt a little tacked-on. Discuss in comments.

The Vitru (Sarah Monette/[ profile] truepenny): Felix isn't crazy. Pity, that; we liked him better when we was.

Felix is Justin Warrick. Why am I still talking about this? )

This suffered from bad packaging: for the full effect, it should be read back-to-back with Melusine. I lost a few character names and biographies between volumes, and I still feel like there's some unresolved stuff going on; it should come as no surprise that Monette's writing two more books in the same series.

Monette's written some engaging characters, and some fairly intricate worldbuilding (contrast the city of Melusine to Lankhmar or Tai-Tastigon), but the things the characters make me roll my eyes and want to throw popcorn. I've read enough of her LJ that I can't believe it's accidental the characters are behave in such a compellingly human fashion, but that isn't helping me suppress the urge to hand out love-taps with a clue-by-four. I think I'm skipping Monette's next book, unless someone vets it for me and tells me it's awesome in all the ways the first two books weren't.

Also read sundry essays from Understanding The Lord of the Rings (Rose A. Zimbardo and Neil D. Isaacs, editors): "The Dethronement of Power" (C. S. Lewis) - a classic "my friend wrote a book and it's really cool, you should all read it!" only in Oxford Don English - "Men, Halflings and Hero Worship" (Marion Zimmer Bradley) which I read twice because I'd forgotten I'd already been through it once, "Frodo and Aragorn: The Concept of Hero" (Verlyn Flieger) academic and dry-ish, "Another Road to Middle-earth: Jackson's Movie Trilogy" (Tom Shippey) academic and entertaining. Also picked up Meditations on Middle-Earth (Ed. Karen Haber), essentially a collection of authors discussing some aspect of their own reactions or analysis of LotR. "A Changeling Returns" (Michael Swanwick), "Rhythmic Pattern in The Lord of the Rings "(Ursula K. Le Guin), "The Longest Sunday" (Diane Duane). I power-skimmed the Card essay; Ender's Game may be a classic, but I really can't get into Card's oevre. I keep trying to find something Card's written that doesn't turn me off, but he is my anti-author with shocking consistency.
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Instead of reading books I read the paper and did logic puzzles. I am hopeless at Sudoku, so my reading list lost a lot of ground to the numbers 1-9.

Garlic and Sapphires (Ruth Reichl): LA Times restaurant reviewer switches coasts to become the NY Times restaurant reviewer. If books could be foods, this might be a meringue. ) Recommended for light reading.

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin): Reread. But this time, I got it. )

Califia's Daughters (Leigh Richards/Laurie R. King): I didn't like it. )

In related news, King is working on a Kate Martinelli/Sherlock Holmes novel. I'm desperately trying to reserve judgment until I've actually read the book.

A Fisherman of the Inland Sea (Ursula K. Le Guin). Reread. I vaguely recalled some short stories about FTL in the Hainish universe, eventually remembered which volume I'd read them in, and finally got a copy via ILL. It's a short, small collection, so rereading the entire thing wasn't too time-consuming. Le Guin was herself; "The Rock that Changed Things" is a nice, rock-ish parable. "Newton's Sleep" fails to move me. It's the triumph of the Message over logic, plot, and simple coherence. "The Shobies' Story" and "Dancing to Ganam" need to be remixed for increased perception screwiness and didactism effacement. "Another Story"/"A Fisherman of the Inland Sea" is fairly minor, but pleasant. The remaining stories failed to move me to more than passing irritation or fleeting amusement.

And, like, wow. Cyteen sequel in the works. Original announcement on Cherryh's journal/ progress report,
August 25 '05. Given the decade of rumors preceding this, I'll believe it when I am holding the hardcover. (And yet. Posting about it - you really can't kill hope.)
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Locked Rooms (Laurie R. King): In all my griping about plausibility and suspension of disbelief, it's easy to forget is how fun the Holmes/Russell books are. Deep? Reflective? Heck no. On the other hand, Erratic spoilers. )

Someday, there may be WWII!Russell books. Scary thought. And that's as profound as I'm going to get. (7.13)

Four Loves (C. S. Lewis): Nonfiction. Lewis examines several categories of human interaction - affection, friendship, romantic love, charity - with an eye to their similarities to and impediment of relationship with the Divine. Several years ago I saw the book mentioned in someone's attempt to clarify character relationships and decided I wanted to try reading it. Stalled three pages in on someone else's copious underlining and my complete incomprehension of Lewis' central thesis. I think my personal history with God (or rather, the complete lack thereof) continues to explain most of my difficulties with this book, a state of events that says more about me than about Lewis' thoughtful and reasonably readable work. Lewis' control of his words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters awes me, since I can't consistently start and end livejournal entries where I intend to. (7.16)

Posted and backdated August 4th, 2005
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The worst part about these long entries is spellchecking them. Apparently I am incapable of implementing the "i before e" rule with any sort of consistency. And in my defense, I finished four of these after finals. I still need to get out more. To save people's friends pages, I'm cutting for length. No spoilers under the cut unless noted.

Edited to add: Not a bit of nonfiction this month. Have no fear: by the end of June I should have finished Unweaving the Rainbow, another Dawkins book. (And much lighter than The Selfish Gene. I'm not sure if I'm relieved or disappointed.) By the way, is there a Stephen Jay Gould book that won't insult my intelligence? I stalled in the preface to Full House around the fifth assurance that the "disappearance of the .400 batting average in baseball" would be explained later in the book. I would've settled for the one paragraph explanation of batting averages and a footnote explaning why I should care.

Anyway. On to the actual content.

A Darker Place (Laurie R. King): Alternative religions expert Anne Waverly gets around to integrating her shattered personality during an undercover investigation of a religious community.

Minor spoilers. )

If you like LRK, you'll probably enjoy this. I can't speak to mystery readers in general, since I don't know how well this conforms to or defies the tropes of that genre.

The Knight (Gene Wolfe): Our boy Able chases cloud castle out of America and into seven worlds of legend and myth. Interesting worldbuilding, everything else take-or-leave. )

I reread The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Laurie R. King) instead of packing for a wedding and studying for my evolutionary bio final. Since I got an A in evol bio and I was still packed (late) Friday night, I don't feel that bad about the wasted time. Its charms and flaws remain as they always have; great comfort reading.

Swords in the Mist (Fritz Lieber): Continuing my gradual assimilation of the "Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser" series. Two adventurers meet strange (yet alluring) women and go questing in ancient Earth history. The prose is deliciously purple, the plots absurdly direct, and the essentially serial nature of the stories baldly apparent. Great school-season reading: you can say, "gee, it's late," and put it down. Try doing that with Tolkein or Bujold. (By the way, may I just say how relieved I am that Hallowed Hunt came out after finals?) One mistake: don't rush it. I tried to hurry the last few pages one night and it just fell apart.

People are getting so psyched about the Miyazaki adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle (Diana Wynne Jones) I snagged a copy for plane reading. I can see why they're buzzing. )

Folly (Laurie R. King): A crazy woman, a house, a tragedy and a granddaughter. Think A Darker Place with multi-generational family issues and a history of mental illness. There's a heavy investment on the theme of folly instead of alchemy, obviously, with somewhat less subtlety. I don't know that psychological thrillers are really my thing; I keep waiting for things to start blowing up. And I'm not talking about the psychological stuff.

The Hallowed Hunt (Lois McMaster Bujold): Ingrey kin Wolfcliff is charged to convey a murdered Prince's body and the subdued murderess to the Weald's capital. Easy, right? If only life could be that simple.

Fairly random comments follow, because I am definitely still in the ponder-and-reflect reaction stage. Comments even more strongly encouraged than usual.

'Wild accusations,' murmured Lewko, 'a questionable source, not a shred of material proof, and the third highest lord in the land. What more joys can this day bring me? No, don't answer that. Please.' Spoilers ho! )

Overall, I think this is my favorite book in the Chalionverse/Five Gods universe. I like my plots twisty, oh yes.
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[ profile] kate_nepveu read the first four Russell/Holmes novels recently and while discussing A Monstrous Regiment of Women says, "not only does it set up false choices for Russell, it then deliberately takes them away from her!" She also mentions Gaudy Night. ("[S]uffers badly from wanting to be Gaudy Night and failing miserably." Ouch.) The juxtaposition of those two comments made my brain leap universes and think about Ekaterin's choices, particularly that question about her aunt the Professora.

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

Nepveu also asks in her post, "I'm starting to wonder if this is a subgenre, books written in obvious tribute to Gaudy Night." It makes me wonder how much of Ekaterin Vorsoisson's and Mary Russell's character arcs were inspired by GN, and whether the resolutions I found so incomplete might be an inadvertent effect of the authors echoing GN's plot and some of its themes, but changing things around enough that the conclusion of the romance doesn't tie things up as neatly as Sayers did in GN. (If she really does resolve things that well in GN - I read it once, when I was 15 or 16, it was my first Sayers, and I know I missed things left, right and center. Currently, I can scarcely remember what happened in the story.)
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A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Laurie R. King): As with many good things in life, it's really hard to stop with just one LRK novel. Or two. Mary Russell gains her majority. It’s a story about love. Love of friends, partners, God, not necessarily in that order. And I didn't really notice until I spent some time poking around LRK's website, which, given that this was my second reread, probably goes to show that coherent theme adds important texture and cohesiveness to story.
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In case it wasn't evident, I'm posting in order read. I'm messy like that.

The Game (Laurie R. King): Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes in India, searching Kimball O'Hara, a missing English operative. As always, Laurie King's knack for vivid characterization and use of the historical setting makes me want to run into the history and lit fiction library stacks.

The fictional detectives' search for a vanished Rudyard Kipling character makes me think of Jasper Fforde. There's a similar delight in literature, history and blurring the edges of both at work in LRK and Fforde's writing.

The Beekeeper's Apprentice (Laurie R. King): I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him. In my defense I must say it was an engrossing book, and it was very rare to come across another person in that particular part of the world in that war year of 1915. And I was fourteen when this fell into my hands (by way of, all people, my father), and I keep rereading it despite my wavering opinion on the Mary Sue-ishness of the main character. The premise may be a bit fangirl, but the execution is attentive to details, is propelled by a nicely twisty narrative and includes several vivid, interesting characters (all electrified by Sherlock Holmes' presence) and generally holds up really well to rereading. This is comfort reading of the best sort.
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See? Not as late as July! Go me!

Cutting for major spoilers and some space. May come back and cut for space more once I post this and see how much space it hogs.

(Nine books. Nine. Shoot. Granted, some of them were short, but others were five hundred pages. Probably won't read this many novels again until I get another insane commute like August's. Given where I live, it shouldn't be more than three years... anyway. On to the stories.)

The Years of Rice and Salt, Kim Stanley Robinson (Nominated for the 2003 Hugo Award for Best Novel): The Black Plague devastated Europe in the Middle Ages, killing an estimated third to half of the continental population. What if it had wiped out 99% of the European population? How would history play out if Chinese and Islamic culture dominated, rather than European? And what if souls reincarnated, grouping together in multiple lifetimes, so that stories set a thousand years apart might be the adventures of the one protagonist? Kim Stanley Robinson throws a monkey wrench in the mechanics of history and writes down how it might play out. Sort of.

Spoilers? What spoilers? You mean the ones under this cut? )

On the balance, it’s KSR. If you like his relaxed writing style and socialist/environmental politics, you’ll probably enjoy The Years of Rice and Salt.

O Jerusalem, Laurie R. King: Mary Sue Russell and her mentor/partner Sherlock Holmes temporarily escape a messy and potentially lethal case in London, risking their lives in the Holy Land in January 1919. Set smack in the middle of The Beekeeper's Apprentice, the first book in the series, but written between The Moor and Justice Hall (see below).

If I recall correctly, I first read this during a Laurie King binge a couple years ago. Beats The Moor hands down.

Justice Hall, Laurie R. King: A very direct sequel to O Jerusalem. The most striking thing about it, for me, is a theme it shares with LRK’s Martinelli series: an authorial love of generational continuity and expensive houses intersecting with some less rooted or more ambiguously rooted characters. Russell gushes about the centuries of history imbued in Justice Hall's very walls; Kate Martinelli and her partner Lee sink sweat, time and money into Lee’s dead... aunt’s? mother’s? house on Russian Hill. The central mystery, such as it is, unfolds with authorial deliberation and enjoyable twists, but is almost incidental to LRK’s interest in continuity and the changing British social landscape of the 1920's.

The King’s Peace, Jo Walton: Would you believe I didn’t pick up that this was an Arthurian retelling until two hundred or more pages in? Comments waiting on finding and finishing The King’s Name the second half of the story.

The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin: Everyone dreams; most people’s dreams don’t affect reality. George Orr’s do, and it terrifies him. The state-assigned psychiatrist he is forced to see after a drug overdose read as an apparent suicide attempt is fascinated by these "effective dreams" and uses George to rewrite the world a bit. Okay, more than a bit. George is disturbed. The reader resists the urge to earmark and pencil in examples of Le Guin’s bulletproof literary kinks pet ideas.

Dawn, Octavia Butler: The War is gone, as is most of the human race. Lilith Iyapo (people famliar with Bible-based religious traditions will note the significance and irony of the name) is one of the survivors saved by the Oankali, aliens without the human biological imperative for conflict, but with an imperative to "trade" genetic structure with other species, willing or otherwise. The novel narrates Lilith’s reluctant acceptance of a role as the resentful bridge between the humans and the Oankali.

The Oankali have a classically cool S.F.nal idea going for them: a three sex reproductive system, involving up to five participants. They also subvert a lot of classic memes. Their behavior toward humanity is peaceful, benevolent and more invasive than any "conquer the puny Earthlings" military campaign. Their trade imperative is read by most of the characters as infecting the human genome with frightening, alien characteristics. Science fiction has reiterated the clash of cultures theme from a dominant culture’s point of view plenty of times; Dawn is about the effects on (and by) the "weaker" culture. Humans hate and fear the Oankali, but are prized by that species of assimilators for their adaptability and creativity.

This has some obvious applications to the history of the United States, and the Americas at large.

Ill Met in Lankhmar, Fritz Leiber: All hail the adventures of the indomitable Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser! Old school sword-and-sorcery of the type much mocked by The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, but with a flair for dramatic language and humor. The city of Lankhmar has probably inspired a number of D&D games, and several series currently in production, such as Steven Brust’s Vlad novels and P.C. Hodgell’s Jaime books, very likely also trace some roots to Fritz Lieber’s novels. If you find any of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser novels, they’re slightly dated in attitude and their use of language, but very much worth reading for their lively protagonists and fantastical plots.

The Service of the Sword, David Weber et al: latest collection of stories set in the Honorverse. People who have read the previous three collections know the drill: Weber writes a story about Honor, the Navy, or the treecats and other authors fill in gaps that interest them. This time, Jane Lindskold, Timothy Zahn, John Ringo, Victor Mitchell, and Eric Flint step up to the Honorverse. )

A Wolf at the Door, and Other Retold Fairy Tales, Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, eds: Short story collection filed under YA at the library. I checked it out for the Garth Nix story, a rather gruesome retelling of Hansel and Gretel, but really enjoyed several other stories in the collection. A fast, easy read, including contributions from a lot of big name authors, including Neil Gaiman, Tanith Lee and Jane Yolen. Possibly my favorite story in the collection was "Swans" a retelling of the same myth used in [ profile] pegkerr's The Wild Swans, which was about family, love, noise and silence when I wanted to hear about those things.

Edited Sept. 12 to add: The Cinderella retooling annoyed me, though, smacking into current buttons regarding the importance of self-motivation and determination in life.

Edited Oct 17 to add: Forgot about Sorcery and Cecelia, which I had to have read sometime in August.

September's book list will almost certainly be shorter, unless people are keenly interested in a blow-by-blow account of my struggles with functional groups in two different courses, but I've got some good stuff on hand: more Octavia Butler, The Paths of the Dead (finished it this weekend, and... oh. Even fangirl squeals fail. I think Brust may be leaping up the purchase priority list as soon as I confirm the pub date for The Enchantress of Dzur Mountain. And oh, thank any and all deities and divinities for interlibrary loan, which granted me Paths and will eventually eventually land The Lord of Castle Black in my trembling hands.)
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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 [ 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 [ 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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Have not managed to do that chem studying. Sprawled out with the textbook, started trying to remember why enthalpies were so important, and was out for two hours before I knew it.

Am slightly annoyed with myself for this. Am tempted to take it out by enumerating the people who have annoyed me in the last two days, but that's incredibly childish, and besides, the rest of my life's going too well. This evening brought a fantastic thunderstorm that tempted me to dance in the rain like I was twelve again, I had delicious french toast for dinner, [ profile] miriel is back from her Japan trip, and I've still got a day before the Class That Will Move Fast (at eight in the morning!) starts.

Also, am looking back at May as June comes roaring up. Unremarkable reflection on two months. )

Books read this month:

Brightness Falls From the Air, James Tiptree, Jr. [Alice Sheldon]. I want to say I started it in April, but it's been long enough I'm not sure. Interesting premise, but something about Tiptree's characterization always irritates me, which made the story drag.
A Grave Talent, Laurie R. King. A little light rereading during exam week.
Vacuum Flowers, Michael Swanwick. Nifty but overwheling. Of course, my opinion's probably been influenced by the astonishingly middle-of-the-road '80s cover. Not as incredibly awful as the Warrior's Apprentice Battle Nightie cover, but bad in a similar, less dynamic style.
The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett. A fluffly reread on one of the few sunny afternoons.
The Memory of Whiteness, Kim Stanley Robinson. And I thought Icehenge was irritatingly manipulative in the name of Making A Point. The Memory of Whiteness annoyed me even more because I couldn't figure out what the Point was.
Also skimmed significant portions of several B5 novels- To Dream in the City of Sorrows and most of the Psi Corp trilogy- during an IM conversation with [ profile] herewiss13.

This month I am so reading better books, or I'm going to go into withdrawl. I'm backlogged on multiple authors- Diane Duane (blog feed available for LJ at [ profile] outofambit), Kim Stanley Robinson, Steven Brust, and Garth Nix, to name a few- so if I can get myself to a library, I should be set for weeks.


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