The Book Thread - February 2006

Yay I get to continue the book thread thing I initially started :)

— Alan

The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard - not your everyday book about love

A Brief History of Everything, Ken Wilber - expand your mind and try to find logical flaws in this dense philosophical/metaphysical jaunt

Blindness, Jose Saramago - so what would happen if everyone in the world went blind? It’s a harrowing book by a nobel prize winner for literature, so expect it to hit hard.

I love Blindness!

On deck:

Shaping Things, by Bruce Sterling
A Storm Of Swords, by George R.R. Martin
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
Behind The Seen, I can’t remember the author, it’s the book that chronicles Walter Murch editing Cold Mountain using Final Cut Pro.

Still waiting for The Thousandfold Thought, by R. Scott Bakker. I think it comes out today, in which case I’ll post some kind of mini-review. Absolutely phenomenal series.

I just finished reading Robert Sawyer’s Hominids. It was pretty good, an interesting little lightweight SF novel. Interesting take on things, I’ll probably pick up the next book in the series and give it a go.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffeneger

Normally, I loathe time travel stories. However, I loved The Time Traveler’s Wife mainly because it’s so different from other stories on the subject. In fact, the book isn’t about time travel per se. It’s about Henry, a time traveler, and Clare, his titular wife.

In other words, nobody goes back in time to fight Nazis or alter history. It’s a small-scale story about a man who involuntarily and spontaneously time travels, and the book explores a variety of questions that would come up if that kind of thing were real. The questions are occasionally mundane (Would you cheat the lottery and stock market or would you try to live a normal life?) but most often very thoughtful (If you, as a grown man, repeatedly met your wife as a little girl, how would you treat her? If you knew when and how you were going to die, would you tell your family? If you met your daughter in the future, what would you say to her?). The only flaw it has is that the couple is just tooooo over the top in love. It’s eye rolling sometimes.

Planet Simpson by Chris Turner

I love me some Simpsons, but I really didn’t like this book. Ostensibly it’s about The Simpsons television series and after reading the dust jacket I expected to find stories and anecdotes about the show, its history, its creators, and the like. Instead, Planet Simpson turns out to be a platform for the author’s politics, with amusing Simpsons quotes thrown in when relevant.

If I had to pick one word to describe this mess, it would be “undisciplined.” Turner may start a chapter by sticking with a promising topic (e.g., an analysis of the different kinds of humor employed by the show), but he invariably traipses off into la-la land within a few pages.

Also, there’s only so many times I can tolerate phrases like “cultural zeitgeist” or “sisyphean endeavors” or “postmodern deconstructionalist.” Imagine a book written by the love child of our own Brian Koontz and Penny-Arcade’s Tycho Brae. It’s worse than that.

The Tommyknockers by Stephen King

Aliens infest rural Maine with bloody results. 'Nuff said.

Having finished Masters of Doom, I’m now reading another Christmas present book, “Dungeons and Dreamers,” which talks about the rise of computer games, MMOs, and fantasy role playing in general. It seems to be focused mostly on Richard Garriott, which is fine by me as I’m a fan of his work from way back.

War of Honor I couldn’t resist and got the latest Honor Harrington book now that it’s out in paperback. I hate when decent pulp authors get too successful and are no longer edited, or forget to write the stuff I originally liked and load up on the filler that I got through to get to the stuff I liked. Hey Authors! Keep writing the stuff that entertains me and stop writing the stuff that doesn’t!

That’s a convoluted way of saying that I’m 550 pages into this book and Honor Harrington hasn’t shot anything, fought a duel, commanded a fleet in a daring maneuver, taken over a planet with a bit of gum, some scotch tape, and a stick, or used an old space-freighter to single-handedly win a war.

I get scandal and politics. Yeah, yeah, I get it, one’s England (the good guys), one’s France (the bad guys, but with honor now), and one’s Germany (unknown, but aggressive and militaristic). Now can we get to the shooting?

I’m sticking with it, because maybe someone will shoot something soon. Hope springs eternal.

Bond Books – Was watching the Bond marathon on AMC on and off in January so I decided to check out some Ian Fleming. Read From Russia With Love when I was a kid, along with those 80s books by John Gardiner, and really liked them. Read (well, skimmed) Russia, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Diamonds Are Forever, and Goldfinger. Another childhood memory destroyed. Talk about boring, clumsy, crap. Plots are convoluted, Bond is a bit of a pussy, and the racism is out of control. Especially in Live and Let Die, where Fleming has the black folks talking about nothing but jazz and saying things like “dem” and “sho’nuff.” Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu books weren’t this bad. Anyhow, I’m amazed anyone saw enough promise in these novels to turn them into movies in the first place.

Petra Rediscovered and Petra and the Lost Kingdom of the Nabateans – Still on an Roman kick from HBO’s Rome and reading a lot about the Roman east again. Great books on Petra and Rome’s Arab provinces. Love that entire region.

Marvel Essentials – Marvel has been just cranking these out lately, so it seems like I’ve always got one on the go. Just finished Spider-Woman Vol. 1 and Avengers Vol. 4. Both better than expected, particularly the Spider-Woman, although it got awfully bad towards the end.

The Gardiner stuff is a bit different about that surely?

I have no new books to report about, am still in the middle of all the previous ones.

— Alan

I just started one of Iain Rankin’s Rebus novels, ‘Fleshmarket Close’. Standard crime fiction stuff, but Rankin is a good wrtiter and DI Rebus is a sympthetic character - Edinburgh based, alcholic tough guy cop with a conscience, so it’s recommended if you like the genre.

“The Age of Gold: The California Gold Rush and the New American Dream,” by H.W. Brands.

This is a great non-fiction book about the 1860’s Gold Rush, as told from many different perspectives, from Australian to Chinese to American, as taken from diaries newpapers and other well researched sources. The thing I’m liking a lot is that its telling the story without the romanticism that surrounds it. As someone who is a California native, and who had to learn some of the history in school, I’m finding that I’ve learned quite a bit.

It also covers some of the national issues that California statehood sparked (slavery issues, which inevitably sparked the Missouri compromise and eventually the Civil War,) as well as how it affected the social aspects of the country.

I just read Already Dead by Charlie Huston. Huston has a written of couple fairly decent tough guy / crime type novels and I picked up this fantasy / vampyre novel on a lark. I use the word vampyre intentionally as this book is not a mere riff on vampire myth but more specifically on the whole urban vampire / goth type myth. Specifically I felt he was riffing on the White Wolf Vampire: Masquerade stuff to some degree.

This was surprisingly good. Its a short book and I ripped through it in one evening and wanted more :). Recommended for vampyre lovers.

PS Went to a big box book store today to see if they had Thousandfold Thought: no joy as yet.

Kafka on the Shore, by Haruki Murakami. This seems pretty standard murakami, and while I enjoy his style, his prose, and his ideas. I can never seem to drive myself to read any of his novels in one sitting. (Other than Sputnik and Norwegian Wood) Kafka isn’t much different.

The Believer’s book of writer’s talking to writers. Wonderful book on a bunch of writers, everyone from Dave Eggers, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith, Joan Silber, etc etc talking to one another about writing, californian politics, coffee, yadda yadda yadda. It’s really inspirational for anyone who’s writing.

Reflections. Another collections of people talking about their job. This time its cinematographers and how they approach lighting whatever film they’re doing. It’s extremely technical and detailed, like telling you exactly what light, how much power and where it was put.

Hmmm - not sure if you will be very happy with “War of Honor” in the end but stick with the series because I personally found “At All Costs” (the latest book in hardcover) to be much more action packed… though I do tend to skip over many of the soap operish elements that David Weber has tended to add to the series at times…

I am also waiting on The Thousandfold Thought. I can’t wait to see where Bakker goes with the ending.

I am now in the middle of Clash of Kings by GRR Martin.

I only managed to finish a couple of books last month, though that’s actually much better than I’ve been doing since the baby was born. Anyway…

Smartbomb by Chapin & Ruby – Found an uncorrected proof of this and thought it looked pretty decent. I suppose it was alright, though I rather dislike the fluffy, magazine-esque ‘celebrity profile’ feel of some of the writing.

Gun, with Occasional Music by Jonathan Lethem – I haven’t read Fortress of Solitude, or any of his other stuff for that matter, but I thought this was pretty good. I don’t know if it was the preconceptions I brought to it or not, but I did find myself frequenting reflecting on how much of a ‘first novel’ it felt like. I’m definitely interested in getting ahold of some of Lethem’s later work.

There were a few other things I started, but I haven’t gotten very far into any of them yet…

Old Man’s war by John Scalzi. Just finished reading this a second time (just to double-check my original opinion) and while it’s an entertaining read, I found it fell a bit flat.

It’s military sci-fi with the premise that only people over the age of 75 can join the Colonial Defense Force. Make what you will of that.

It’s an easy-to-read book that got a lot of smart-alleky humour in it (kinda like stainless steel rat) but there was no major plot line or conflict within the story. The three parts were more like three seperate star-trek episodes as compared to a single star-treck movie. Fun abut a bit flat.

Dove hard into Last Call by Tim Powers last night.

Woke up this moring with bizarre dreams. Coincidence?

From now until; the end of the year, apparently, I’ll be reading John Crowley’s “Little, Big.” Recommended to me by two people in the same month after I liked Johnathon Strange and Mr Norrell" and it’s good but the slowest reading novel I think I’ve ever read. In two hours of straight reading while waiting on hospital time to see my son’s orthopaedist, I only read about 40 pages. WTF? I’m travelling at the end of the month so I’ll take it with me as I know I won’t finish it mid-trip but I may need to move on if I’m not done by March.

At work I’m reading Larry McMurtry’s “The Colonel and Little Missie” about Buffalo Bill Cody and Annie Oakley. This is the first bit of non-fiction I’ve ever read by McMurtry and, like everything he writes, it’s interesting and readable but it turns out that the whimsically random prose and plotlines of his fiction are not so much a stylistic choice as a sign of a disordered mind. In his non-fiction this makes for some bad writing as he attempts to bring clarity and order through the use of phrases like, “Earlier I said such and such and I meant to add…” or “This is a fact and later on in the book I’ll discuss it more in depth but first, here comes the end of a chapter.” “And then I’m starting a new chapter here. Also, this is book one, not to be confused with the introduction which came earlier or book two and book three which come later.” 'Not that I’m qualified to criticize anyone’s writing style. It’s just funny is all ;)