Friday, December 14, 2007

weird tolkien thing

So I was reading this article:

http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2007/12/14/unholy_trinity/

For my non-link following reader, it's an article about state-sponsored terrorism.

In the Death Squads section, the author describes Vietnamese terror squads using what sounded to me like the Eye of Sauron as a marker on victims. And in Guatemala, they used the white hand of Saruman.

Weird.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Kenneth Oppel "Airborn"

The boy got this one for Christmas a couple of years ago, and I had to pretty much force him to read it (actually I read it to him, but anyway). I don't know what the problem was -- maybe it looked too set in real life, or too old, or to young, or like the books about aircraft and submarines that are so often read around my house. Maybe he was deterred by the Governor General's seal of approval on the cover. But once we started reading it, he got totally into it and asked for more pages than was reasonable on a nightly basis. If I wasn't there to read, he would read himself, which was good, really, except that then I would have to catch up before continuing. And even Ed, who so often takes no interest in the bedtime books, got into it.

The prologue to this story has the main character, Matt, working on a derigible in an alternate universe victorian era. He's on watch duty, and sees a hot air balloon, apparently in trouble. He helps rescue the balloonist, who dies shortly thereafter.

The main story takes place a year later. Matt is a 15-year-old boy who has been working as a cabin boy on the derigible Aurora for a couple of years and wants to move up to a more technical position, junior sailmaker. Sailmakers repair the skin of the ship, and they repair the giant bladders that hold the hydrium -- sort of like helium, I guess, that make the ship lighter than air. Matt's father was a sailmaker (until his untimely shipboard death). So a position opens up for jr. sailmaker, and Matt thinks it's his, but it goes to the son of the owner of the airship line instead. So there's a bitter rivalry there. And there's a female interest, Kate de Vries, a wilful rich girl who is onboard to investigate some mysterious flying creatures her grandfather had written about in his flightlog a year before.

The Aurora crashes on a mysterious island that has more on it than you would expect.

Maybe the hardest thing about reading this book out loud was that much of the character development was driven by dialog, and a lot of that dialog was written without "He said" and "She said" identifiers. I didn't start off doing good enough voices to distinguish between the various characters, and I wonder if it wasn't painful for the boy to listen to sometimes. There were also pages and pages, sometimes, of solitary action. And sometimes I needed the map of the ship that was in the front of the book.

That said, I really liked the characters, I liked their interactions and their problems. So did the boy. He really felt for Matt, having to work with the better-looking guy who got what he thought of as his rightful position. It wasn't the sort of thing I would have chosen for myself, but sometimes it's good to stretch a little.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Doomed, I tell you

So I was typing an innocent corporate email today, and when Outlook automatically spellchecked it before sending, it offered me the following as a correction to my corporate Oracle login:

HAMLET.

The hatchet of doom is hanging over me, I think.

Monday, November 26, 2007

"Three Bags Full" by Leonie Swann

Any book that has a blurb on the back saying "Probably the best sheep detective novel you'll read all year!" can't take itself too seriously. I read a review of this one near the start of the summer, maybe on www.salon.com. I think it was part of a "beach reads" article. I requested it through interlibrary loan, and got it 3.5 weeks ago. It was very fun. I wanted to read it because I want to write a "Watership down of (insert name of animal here)" kind of book, and the idea of limited thought processes, skills and abilities in a mystery appealed to me.

The sheep can understand human speech (English but not Gaelic), but we can't understand them. They have lots of sheepy limitations -- they don't like to be alone, they eat all the time, they know they are edible, they generally (except Mopple the Whale) have poor memories. They have many sheepy advantages -- they can tell if a person is lying because they can smell it; no one is very concerned about them listening because they're, well, sheep; they can eat many things.

The book opens with the murder of their shepherd, George. The sheep (well, actually, Miss Maple, the smartest sheep in the flock) decide it's their duty to find out who committed the murder. In their investigations, they uncover details about a previous murder, enter the Smartest Sheep contest at the pub, one sheep goes to confession, they listen to many private conversations and meet some other sheep who seem sort of stupid compared to them. And they solve the murder.

These were special sheep. George used to read to them, and specified in his will that not only were they to be taken on a trip to Europe, but they were to have a shepherd who would read to them, 30 minutes per day. He read them Pamela novels, which seemed like a series of dreadful bodice-rippers, and a book about sheep diseases, and half of a mystery novel (before he threw it away in disgust). Their understanding of human interactions seemed deeply coloured by the Pamela novels, and they at one point used their knowledge of sheep diseases to great effect (they faked what looked to me like mad sheep disease). Their new shepherd read them "Wuthering Heights" which they would have liked more of, and threatened to read them "The Silence of the Lambs" next. They thought that sounded all right.

I quite liked that the resolution of the murder didn't make sense to them, because they are sheep. When I was done with this book, Ed read it too, and he liked it. That surprised me. It was probably because of Othello, the black 4-horned sheep.

Friday, November 09, 2007

"Artemis Fowl: The Arctic Incident" by Eoin Colfer

This book didn't offend me. I read it to the boy, and it moved along well enough and with enough humour to entertain him. Something that amazes me (and I suppose this is a criticism of him, not the books) is that the books were sitting around for maybe 18 months before we ran out of other things to read and wound up reading the first one, and then this one in quick succession (and I believe tomorrow I will get to purchase the third volume in the series). Why is he so reluctant to try something new?

Though we were casting about for something to read "in the meantime" a couple of nights ago, and he declined to start Harry Potter again. He said there was no point, now that there was nothing to anticipate. Fascinating.

Update on my coworkers making fun of my clothing:

Yesterday the person who referred to one garment I wear as my "elf suit" wore a boxy green jacket with a large applique weasel wrapping around the neck. The head was on her left shoulder, and the tail was down the right. She is now in no position ever to comment on my clothing again.

Okay, I might be exaggerating. It could have been a badger.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

"Briar Rose" by Jane Yolen

Found this in the Young Adult section of the library and picked it up without reading the back because I like fairy tale things. I hadn't realized I had read another book in this series, "Snow White and Rose Red", which featured two girls named Blanche and Rosamund (neither of those names sounds particularly beautiful to my ear, maybe because I hear them with a New England accent). I just looked it up on Amazon to get the title right, and considering that I got it out of the library at Toronto City Hall, I must have taken it out at least twelve years ago. I'm amazed I remember much of anything about it. And I discovered it was by Patricia C. Wrede, whose Enchanted Forest Chronicles I quite liked.

I had a hard time getting into this book. I read the first 40 pages or so, which alternate between short chapters where Gemma (the grandmother) tells Sleeping Beauty in different snippets to her three granddaughters (abandoning the story at a later point each time for a different reason), and present-day, where the girls are all grown up and Gemma dies in a nursing home.
I actually had to renew the book at this point.

After I had taken this book out of the library, I kept coming across the name Jane Yolen on blogs I read, in reviews I looked at. She came up in Garth Nix's favourite YA authors list, for example, and she was reading at something, I forget what. This seemed weird, because somehow I had been unaware of her before. Maybe I had read something by her a long time ago, and not noticed. Maybe I just don't get down to the Y section of the bookshelves often (though I seem to spend a good amount of time nearby at W). I probably wouldn't have even finished this book if there hadn't been such a freaky buzz about Jane Yolen in Robyn's world.

When I was describing "What I'm reading right now" to my coworkers (I'm thinking I might talk too much at work, maybe I should watch that) I called it "Sleeping Beauty in Auschwitz". But that would only be because most people haven't heard of Chelmno. I know I hadn't, but then I haven't read that much about the holocaust.

Anyway, after I finished a couple of other books, one day I just sat down and read about 100 pages. This was good, because I had another new book out of the library (one I had requested several months before, which took a long time to come) and I wanted to finish this one before starting that. YA novels are good for finishing.

And that's when I got to the good part, I guess. I initially found the "wrapping" story-within-a-story device kind of annoying, and just wanted her toget on with the tale. But it was very good, because it set up Sleeping Beauty as being true in its own horrifying way. It was profoundly sad, and honest I think, in a way that fantasy literature often doesn't have to be. People seem to walk around attempting genocide and the like in fantasy without much guilt or responsibility.

Anyway, I won't wreck the story for you. You should read it. And I think I'll look for more Jane Yolen in the future (and not because Garth Nix told me to).

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

"A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again" by David Foster Wallace

"A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again" by David Foster Wallace

Seven essays. First one was about peaking in Tennis at age 14. It was okay.

Second one was about TV, written in 1990. I learned some things. To whit:

  • Malignant addiction is defined by two things: an addiction that causes problems in the life of the addicted person, and that purports to solve the very problems it causes. In his essay TV is a malignant addiction. Written before the internet.
  • The success of TV is based on everybody having both highbrow and lowbrow tastes. Everybody's lowbrow tastes are the same, and everybody's highbrow tastes are different, which explains why everybody I know can sing "Hotblooded" by Foreigner, but I'm the only one who knows who David Foster Wallace is. It also explains the "long tail" marketing thing about the internet and kind of predicts its hockey stick shape.
The funny thing about that essay was it quoted extensively an article which seemed (from a future perspective) to be predicting the internet, except that it forgot all about copyright. Like, we're all going to be taking TV shows and recombining them to create something unique... except that then Fox or the comedy network will sue us. DFW seems to have thought the whole thing was BS anyway.

Third one was about some literary theory I managed to avoid remembering, even though I have an English degree. Fortunately it wasn't too long.

Fourth was about a trip to a midwestern state fair. I didn't care that much for it, though it did have some amusing moments.

Fifth was a 60-odd page preview of David Lynch's Lost Highway, which I quite enjoyed. DFW went to the set for a few days, and Lynch's house, and his production company's office. I haven't seen the movie, or most of Twin Peaks, or Firewalk With Me, or anything else since Wild at Heart, which I liked (except for the Diane Ladd lipstick scene, which I found profoundly disturbing).

Sixth was another story about tennis, this time about a player I've never heard of at the Canadian Open. It was funny to me because it talked about Canada stacking the qualifiers with Canadian players, etc. as if the US and every other country doesn't do that.

The last one was what I got the book out for. It's the title piece, and it's about going on a cruise. I got this book out of the library because in the story I'm working on, the characters have to write a "what I did on my summer vacation" essay. One of the characters writes about going on a cruise, and another character accuses her of making it up, because many of the details indicate that she has never been on a cruise. Well, I've never been on a cruise either, so I needed some details to get totally wrong. I'm not plagairizing from DFW; pretty much the opposite. And this essay didn't make me want to go on a cruise, either. In fact, it didn't make me want to be a tourist at all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Robynettely






Which sci-fi crew would you best fit in with? (pics)
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Serenity (Firefly)

You like to live your own way and don't enjoy when anyone but a friend tries to tell you should do different. Now if only the Reavers would quit trying to skin you.


Serenity (Firefly)


94%

Moya (Farscape)


88%

SG-1 (Stargate)


88%

Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


75%

FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


75%

Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


75%

Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


69%

Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


69%

Heart of Gold (Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy)


63%

Enterprise D (Star Trek)


56%

Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


50%

Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


44%

Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


25%


"Magic for Beginners" Kelly Link

Must have read a review or something, I don't remember where. It was on order at the library forever. For months and months.They ordered eight copies, I was 9th of 11 when it eventually arrived.

It's short stories. I hadn't read any stories by her before (I don't read whatever magazines short stories are published in) so it was all new.

I loved "Stone Animals", which has one of the best openings I've ever read. I was happy to see it on someone's top-10 list of opening lines, I forget where. "Some Zombie Contingency Plans" had a fabulous ending. I loved "The Hortlak", though I had to go online to find out what the title meant just now (maybe when I go home later I'll check and see if it ever turns up in the story in the phrases that I mostly skipped over). Reading it while listening to Joanna Newsom was extremely disturbing.

Not so much "The Great Divorce" and "The Cannon".

And then I lost the book, I think at a band concert at Mel Lastman Square back in July. This was doubly lame because there's a library at Mel Lastman Square, so if someone had come across it, they could have just stuck it in the book return slot. Anyway, so that happened with two stories left, one of them the title story. So, after a sufficient mourning period, and after paying for the book, I requested it again so I could finish it.

I loved the title story. There was a line in it that that I sort of stole to explian myself to people: "Amy wasn't that much stupider than everybody else, it's just that she thought out loud." I'm writing that from memory, but I think the nuance is there.

The last story, "Lull", is a whole bunch of stories within stories, and they all wrap up within about three pages. This amused me, but it might not amuse other people who don't write short stories. Like, I explained it to Ed and he thought it sounded stupid. Which led me to wonder if perhaps the only people who read short stories are people who write. I rather like reading short stories, but the thing is, if you have a collection of short stories, you have to come up with ten endings, whereas someone who writes novels only has to write one. And endings seem to be the hardest part of a story to write for most people. So especially those 12-book "fat fantasy" series that I read sometimes are a bit of a cop-out, because you never have to write an ending anyway, and then you die (not that I'm thinking about anyone in particular...)

I liked this book, I liked it a lot. A lot of people might not have the patience for the unexplained self-contained worlds the stories take place in, but if you just go with it, well, for me these stories were like really good chocolate.

There's a Kelly Link story online right now here:

http://www.tinhouse.com/mag/issue_current/current_feature.htm

It's not in the book. I don't know how long the link will work.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Just a comment

Last night at band practice, I told the 1st clarinet who sits next to me (who was fretting about how he freezes up when he has to play a solo) that when you're playing a solo, people are rooting for you. They don't want you to fail. When you're playing a solo, the room is totally on your side. Music is the opposite of car racing, where the audience only watches to see cars crash and burn.

And then this morning I remembered Britney Spears performing at the 2007 MTV Music Video Awards. Yeah, right.

Friday, October 19, 2007

"Artemis Fowl" Eoin Colfer

This is the first book in a series, and introduces 12-year-old criminal mastermind Artemis and the fairies he takes on. He's the only person to ever get away with fairy gold, fair and square. Well, not exactly fair but you have to start somewhere.

The fairy society that lives underground is well developed, and the rules of their magic seem well thought-out. The technology that Artemis employs seems modern, not dated (which seems like a risk when you write a book these days, it taking so long to get a book into print from when you write it).

It was funny, too. I read this with the boy, and the next day we started the next book in the series, so I guess he enjoyed it, too.

It seems strangely appropriate to me to be thinking about this book right now, because my coworkers have taken to calling my green jumpsuit my LEPrecon outfit, thinking it's some kind of a joke or a dig or an insult, I guess. However, I think I won't be dressing up as Holly Short for Halloween. I suspect I'm the only one in my immediate team who knows about the Lower Elements Police Recon unit (LEPrecon) after all. And once you make a garment part of a costume, it's always going to be part of a costume, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

"Smell It" Hal Niedzveicki

Because he's the Writer-in-Residence at the TPL this quarter, I thought I should read something by him.

This is a collection of extremely short stories. Some of them seemed like poems, especially in the way that they required me to think about them to even have a clue what they were about. Smetimes the title gave a hint. I had to put the context to them, figure out what was going on that the people would hurl insults at each other that way. Not that I minded. It was like doing a crossword puzzle in a way. I'm just not used to that in a book.

The longest was 10 pages. I found the longer ones easier to deal with, actually. The smaller ones I had to use up energy trying to figure out what they were about. I was thinking it was a good thing probably that I got it out of the library, because that meant I had to bring it back eventually (and on time) which provided a motivation to finish it. Short stories are a catch-22. They're great for reading in short bursts, but often there's nothing to draw you back once you've set it down, and especially when the stories individually aren't that palatable, seeing as most of them seemed to have, well, a penis fixation. At the same time, I found them much more enjoyable when I read a bunch in a row, like 40 pages. So I read the entire collection in I think four sittings.

There were some really priceless moments, though. It was a library book, so I don't have it any more to look up titles and such. But there was one about why the couple aren't married, where the guy says to the woman, "I don't want to be buried next to you. I don't know why, I just don't." Man, that was beautiful. It sums up a relationship with so much quiet complexity. Like, 50 years I can handle, but eternity, no.

It made me want to write something short, though. I am so easily led. When I'm reading kidslit, I want to write kidslit. When I'm reading short fiction, I want to write short stories. When I'm reading extremely short stories...

Well, maybe I'll post something sometime.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Circle Opens: Book 2 "Tris's Book" by Tamora Pierce

The first book can't have been that bad, because when I was at the library the next weekend, I picked up the next book in the series.

The problem is, I don't feel like there was a grand plan. Nothing is set up in the first book in order to make the second book work. What I"m looking for here is a JKRowling-esque preplanning where there are characters mentioned in passing in book three that become features of book six, (like the thief I forget his name who is always ripping off the order of the phoenix). We never hear about Tris's cousin in book 1 (that I remember anyway). Right before she needs to be able to see magic, the concept is invented. JKR would have put that in book 1.

I think this may be the nature of being a professional writer who is making a living off your books. I think she writes one and then has to get it published, and then has to write the next one, in some kind of a madcap schedule.

Did I mention before the "about the author" bit at the back? Robin Hobb's has got to be my favourite. "Robin Hobb lives in Washington State." How's that for "It's none of your business!" Well, Tamora Pierce totally goes the other way. It may be the only one of these things I've ever seen that was longer than a page. And the acknowledgements are hidden in the front with the ISBN number. It's totally shocking.

Why I read this: well, right now, my 1st draft project is a story about four young adults at a boarding school. It's definitely different than Winding Circle, this school they're at, and different from Hogwarts, too. But I'm curious about how other people handle the situation. Maybe I should talk to other people who have gone to boarding school, such as Ed, his sister, and my mother, about conventions. Does every school have students organized into houses? Are friendships the same as at Hogwarts, where three or four kids basically do everything together and seem to have no interactions other than classroom ones? I mean, Ron has no hobbies, he's in no clubs. He has no life except when Harry is around. I don't want my characters to be like that.

Second library book I've lost since August, though. This is getting expensive. I have to start carrying around my own books, I guess, and reading library books at home.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

"Stephen Fair" by Tim Wynne-Jones

It was an entertaining read with a good amount of suspense. I read all the way through because I wanted to find out why Stephen was having the nightmares and what Brenda was hiding.

But...
It was exactly the same as the other TWJ book I read in so many ways. (That other book was "A thief in the house of Memory")
Main character male, approximately 15
Has younger sister, approximately 7
Lives in an architecturally wacko house
Family was abandoned by one of the parents
Figuring out why that abandonment happened is the main quest of the book
Small exurb town (I take that word to mean that it's farther out than a suburb, with farms around, but is still like a feeder community, but I could be wrong)
School friends who are outrageously precocious (in this book Stephen writes whole poems out of only the letters in a person's name, and another person's name; in Memory a girl spends whole days only using words that don't contain the letter e)
Coffee shop scenes
This left me depressed, and here's why. I want to be a writer. I write things--long things, short things, novels, stories, computer manuals to pay the rent, little rants. Clearly TWJ writes to make a living (other than the money he makes as WIW and teaching a MFA program in Vermont). I really want each thing I write to stand apart from each other thing. When I read even books by authors I really like, sometimes I feel like I'm reading the same book over and over. This particular book seemed like an extreme case -- same main character, same minor characters, same plot. But for example, the relationships between the main character and her love interest each Ann McCaffrey novel all seem the same after a while. And they're all set in the same world.

When you're a writer, in order to have an audience and a market, do you have to keep writing the same thing? Is that somehow required by the genre you're trapped in? Do you really have to always write in the same genre if you want to keep getting published? If you write a vampire book, are you always doomed to write vampire books, and maybe every once in a while a book about a demon instead, or a fallen angel (since those are pretty much the same genre)? Why do people stick to genre so much? I've always thought of myself as a warrior-mage, doing lots of different things (some might say it's more of an excuse for not finishing stuff). And it takes longer to develop a warrior-mage than a specialist, but when you're done, it's way more useful.

And while I'm writing ranting questions, are series really the way to go, and the only way to make a real living in genre? Because I don't think I have the attention span for three or twelve books. In fact, I don't think a lot of the other people who write them do either.

Wow, I don't really think it's fair to dump all this on poor TWJ's shoulders.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

"Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon

One of the women in my band had mentioned she read some of this series, and they are full of sex but a good read nevertheless. I had a feeling the sex made her embarrassed. But then, I suppose she probably reads things that are generally a bit less racy, as she teaches Grade 4.

My mother also mentioned she was in some trading thing where the books were being passed around, and I thought to myself, "Hey, I have the first two of those!" She offered to let me in on the trading thing, but I figure if I never read the first two, which had been on my shelf for years, then maybe that was a bad idea. however, I threw it into my bag when we went camping as a 'backup book', and found that I could read about a hundred pages per day.

I don't read many bodice-rippers, but this one definitely has some of that. It's the romance novel version of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, except set in the Scottish Highlands. I find when I sit down with it, I have no trouble getting through 80-100 pages.

When I was around page 400 or so, Ed picked this up and started reading. I hate it when people do that; it ruins the story for me, because one of the great things about reading is that you can do it any time. And if someone else has the book, then I can't read it any time. There is, for me, a great deal of security in having a paperback that I've started that I can carry around.

So I picked it up occasionally through late July and early August, but I read a couple of other books in the ensuing period. And then I went on vacation again, and I finished the book while I was at the "family" cottage in Maine (not really family, as it belongs to my sister through my dad but whatever). So I would say it was good vacation reading. I left it there, since my dad's ex-girlfriend came up last fall and pretty much cleaned out the mostly mystery paperback collection that was there (our theory was that she was going to sell them for a quarter each in order to finance another month of her retirement).

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Piers Anthony just a comment

So, for my current writing project, I was looking at Wikipedia for stories about evil stepmothers, and I came across this line:

"More subtly, Piers Anthony depicted the Princess Threnody as being cursed by her stepmother..."

I had never thought of Piers Anthony as being subtle.

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Power of Three" by Diana Wynne-Jones

It probably wasn't fair to read this just after that Tamora Pierce book, because poor Tamora can't compare. DWJ's voice is just so strong, and her story structure is so well thought out. She's one of my writing heroes. When I'm trying to put together a story, I often come back to Chrestomanci, and the way there are so many small crises that all build up into one frenzied conclusion.

This book was in the Children's section of the library, and "Sandry's Book" was in the teen section, but I would say "Power of Three" had a much more complex writing style. The sentences are more varied, there are more commas.

The book mainly is about three children--two who have talents and one who thinks he doesn't. They live in a society reminiscent of celts in fantasy literature (not real celts). They are in a constant war with the Dorig, another species who live underwater, and are in constant fear of the Giants. Well, the giants turn out to be us, and the Dorig turn out to be pretty similar to the "people". Well, the three kids wind up meeting two Giants, and then two Dorig, who are about the same age as they are, and have to work together to save the moor. Or at least, the giants and "people" want to save the moor. The Dorig would greatly benefit from the moor being flooded.

It reads like a myth, like something out of the oral tradition. I would love to read this book out loud, there are so many statements that want to be said not just in my head. They often argue about who gets to call themselves "people" and other rather complex questions like that, which was to me kind of reminiscent of that quote I saw so much in the last week from Madeleine L'Engle, about how she wrote children's books that were too difficult for grown-ups to understand.

As an aside, it's interesting that the grownups who grew up reading that stuff are now being accused (i.e. in the media and the like) of not being willing to grow up. It takes us longer to accept that we have to get a real job, and move out of our parents' homes, and have kids, and then when we do we teach them to like The Pixies and buy comic books to leave around the house to encourage them to read. There's probably a rant in there somewhere, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the one to write it.

Anyway, this book seemed out of that tradition. I totally recommend it.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

"Sandry's Book" by Tamora Pierce (Circle of Magic, book 1)

Ah, formula fantasy, my old friend.

Tamora Pierce is a name I've come across a lot, but I had never actually read one of her books. So, yesterday when I was at the library and needed an easy excuse to talk to one of the staff, kind of an opening so I could mention casually that I had lost a book ("Magic for Beginners" by Kelly Link, and I didn't get to finish it, and I am disdraught), I picked a Book 1 up. Clearly it wasn't that bad, as I finished it in less than a day.

It's one of a series of four books, and in formula fantasy way, it has four main characters. Back in my mis-spent teens and 20s, I apparently had a lot more reading time than I do now, and I read a lot of, you know, DragonLance and Forgotten Realms, and that "Master of the Five Magics" and "The Black Company", Shanarra, David Eddings, and things like that. There's nothing wrong with those books, but a steady diet of that type of fantasy, well, it's kind of like eating at the same restaurant all the time. I don't regret reading all that stuff, but I kind of wish I had read a few things that were a little more meaningful. (Well, actually, that Black Company stuff was really good.)

This one is for Young Adults (I found it in the teen section of the library) though the characters are all, I think, 11. This spares them from puberty, I suppose. So this group of four young misfits who can't get along with anybody find themselves in their last-chance house together and amazingly, they manage to get along with one another quite well.

Being book 1 of a series, there's a lot of what I refer to as "quest theme". The characters are each introduced, then about a quarter of the way through they meet up. The next hundred pages or so involve them slowly finding out they have Talents (with a capital T, yet). Then right at the end a crisis appears and they use their talents to mitigate the disaster. There were some horrible moments. Any time there was a paragraph that outlined the four characters, in one sentence each, applying their particular perspective (if it's Briar, then it's to do with plants; Tris is all about weather; Sandry is a fiber artist; and Daja is into metalsmithing), I cringed. It just seemed so un-subtle.

At the same time, the book seemed really well-researched. I know nothing about growing bansai or making wire, but the descriptions seemed believable to me. Maybe someone from the SCA would be appalled, I don't know. But it flew in the face of my tendency to avoid anything technical on topics I know nothing about. I probably need to do some small bit of research about, say, canoe tripping, or making reality television, for my stories. But anyway.

And there were some wonderful moments of interaction between the characters. Briar was sitting on the roof, and Tris came up, and he couldn't figure out why she wasn't doing all those annoying things that girls always do that are the reason that he didn't want her around. It was a really nicely written scene.

But then, one of the good things about a lot of those fantasy novels that I read in my "wasted years" were the interactions between the characters. They're there to provide me with a good read, not to explain why all Americans are to blame for 9/11, and I should feel guilty about that.

A pleasant, harmless read. I might pick up book 2 next week when I'm at the library again. And when the boy looked at the book, he asked if he could read it next. When your child says something like that, it's hard to think there's something wrong.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

HP7 JK Rowling

I've already posted on this book once, but that was way earlier on in the story, when all I had read was spoilers and the first 150 pages. Since then, I have finished the book and gave myself time to think about it. This one was another forced binge finish, because the Boy was coming back from camp "tomorrow" and so I needed to finish it "tonight". Tonight actually bled a little into the morrow as I finished it after midnight.

Since it's the last book, I would have liked to see more wrapping up. Maybe that's lame, I don't know. Sometimes the better book ends with questions (Tigana comes to mind, though I always loved the way GGKay wrapped up minor storylines in the middle of a book, to let you know that we won't be seeing a character again, but he did live happily ever after nevertheless. In fact, that's one of my favourite Kay-isms). Did Luna Lovegood ever find out what her father did? How did she react? She's clearly much more a descendent of Rowena Ravenclaw than the Grey Lady or her father, in terms of her intelligence and lateral thinking.

I was very satisfied with the outcome of Snape's storyline, though I understand other readers' annoyance with a trip to the pensieve at the climax of the book. My team leader sent me a link to the Leaky Cauldron chat with JKR about wrapping things up. I was disappointed in what she said about Snape there; I quite liked him and thought he had a pretty unhappy life, but maybe that's because I have always had a little infatuation for Alan Rickman.

There are a few convenient magical devices that I find to be annoying crutches:
The pensieve
The room of requirement (I don't think it should have been allowed to make a tunnel to Hogsmeade)
Portraits of the headmasters (why not get some chocolate frog cards, and communicate everywhere? And how much intelligence and free thought do those things get to keep? Where do they keep their brains?)
Polyjuice potion -- how long is this stuff supposed to last? I remember in Book 2, they had an hour. In book seven, they seem to have half a day, and wearing off seems a slower process.
Sometimes these devices seem like they were brought up earlier in the series just so they could reappear in later books. Not that that's a bad thing. I prefer that to the type of book where the magical device appears for the first time when it solves a crisis. I just would have a liked a more architectural framework.

The magic has always seemed a little too convenient, too. I much prefer something like the Bartameious trilogy, where the magicians are always trying to hide how little they can actually do, and all of their power is basically derived from summoning demons and then creating charges for them. I really like a consistently thought-out magic that obeys, you know, the laws of thermodynamics or something. Just you want until I publish my Best-Selling Fantasy Novel (BSFN for short) so you can pick apart my inconsistent magic.

Still, I'm glad I read it, if only because it means I can talk about it now.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

"Sarah" by JT Leroy (Laura Albert)

I read this because I had read on GalleyCat that the real author had been sued for some absurd sum like $1.1M by the person who bought the screen rights to the book. He sued her because he had bought the rights on the basis that the book was written by a 19-year-old transgendered ex-prostitute, and this was a semi-autobiographical work.

Let me say, if anyone thinks this was autobiographical, they are a sick, sick individual and America has way bigger problems than Iraq. And those problems seem to involve child prostitution at truck stops in West Virginia. Giveaways that it was not strictly true abounded, however. The patron saint of truckstop prostitutes is a magical jackalope that hangs on a wall with its ever-growing antlers, and they have to keep expanding the room it's in because the antlers are so large? Racoon penis talismans? A patron saint of truckers who protects them from speeding through weigh stations and from trouble over falsified logbooks?

That said, this was an excellent read. The ending was absolutely fabulous, way better than "Shooter" which I watched on the weekend (Shooter's ending was more suitable for a Steven Seagal movie, if you ask me).

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

"An Ice Cream War" by William Boyd

This book sat on my shelf for a couple of years. I think my mother read it with her book club. Then my sister read it while she was visiting, and so with no one else to give it to, my mother left it with me, saying "You might not like it." I started it while I was at karate camp. One of the black belts came up to me and asked what I was reading. I showed the cover and said it was about WWI in Africa, and he seemed impressed. He went on and on about how interesting it was that I was reading a book about war, and he'd like to read it when I'm done. And I finished it while we were camping, and gave it to Ed, who had finished the book he was reading (something about clans and the giant walking, fighting machines they ride in and the far future where humanity has divided into two streams). He finished it also, so we've gotten our money's worth out of this one.

The book is about WWI in Africa, and written in that British self-effacing style, very funny. That's probably why I could read it. There were sections where people walked around with guns and did strategic stuff, but perhaps not enough to appeal to my black-belt friend. More there were scenes where people coerced other people into doing things that weren't in their own best interests, and giving people poor advice, and debauching. There was some spying, and lots of grissly death.

The most frustrating thing about this book was that I never "got" the title. I went online trying to find out what the title meant, and eventually found a website that said something about fighting a war in Africa, the british were going to melt like ice cream. In the process of gleaning that, I read many reviews of the book and other books by Mr. Boyd, and apparently this isn't his best work. A lot of the reviews online were sort of the same which I found interesting, as if people can't come up with original reviews very often. That's sad. many of them referred to WWI in Africa as "a war they continued after the Armistice because no one told them to stop" which wasn't exactly my impression. I mean, maybe they kept fighting for a day or two, but that happens when there's a world war and poor communications, right?

And then my August issue of Fashion came in the mail, and it had a one-page article about him, talking about his newest book which just came out. Dunno if I'll read it.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

"Dreaming in Code" by Scott Rosenberg

This one I picked up because I read an excerpt on Salon.com, which made it sound enticing. And the first half was. It's about a group led by the guy who invented Lotus 1-2-3 (the early dominant spreadsheet program). They are trying to create something that they never called an Outlook killer though it seemed like one to me, and they're having a rough time. The book is non-fiction, something I had to keep explaining to the people I was telling about. I write computer manuals and dabble in project management in my day-job, and a lot of the anecdotes told in this book made me chuckle and shake my head. They had problems with the word "item", which meant different things depending on the person using the word; we have problems with the word Devices, and the word Preset (we have a Preset folder on the interface, and then subfolders that are also called Preset folders, but those preset subfolders hold presets, and are also called presets. I rewrote the documentation using a hierarchy of Preset folder, preset subfolders, and presets which can be activated individually or in a subfolder group.) Anyway, this was a book that I kept referring to at work while I was reading it; a lot of it related.

And then, halfway through the book, the story disappeared. I don't expect a plot per se for non-fiction, but there were two chapters of summations from different experts about why software sucks, and how it should suck less, and the history of sucking software. These anecdotes were interesting, but they went on too long. I mean, Chandler, the outlook killer, was barely mentioned for about 65 pages. And then there were the last two chapters, which seemed like an afterword, really. I felt like the author had abandoned the team. And in a sense he had. They had been working for years, and they were supposed to have shipped product by now, but I guess the book had to go to print. The ending was totally unsatisfying. I'll ruin it for you: Chandler didn't ship as of the publication date. I just checked the project's website (yay, google!) and they released version 0.7 on November 30, 2006. I guess they missed their 1.0 release date of spring '07, because, well, Spring ended last week. Maybe I found the ending unsatisfying because the book was due and I had to finish it because the library wouldn't let me renew (someone else had a hold on it) so I had to finish it in a two-day 150-page binge.

I will still quote this book to other people -- I learned a lot. "Your project will take longer than you think, even if you take into account that it will take longer than you think." "Software is hard." But the first half is way better than the second.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

HP7 wonder who wrote that

Ed confiscated all my other reading material, so I had to read the first 200 pages of HP7 last night. He was upset about the cavalier death of Hedwig. He felt Rowling had never liked the owl, and never developed the character properly. What did Hedwig want? He kept asking me over dinner. What were Hedwig's needs and desires? What did Hedwig do when she went out flying at night? Did she have friends? Who mourns Hedwig?

I told him the editors probably made Rowling kill Hedwig because it just wasn't PC to keep sticking her in Hermione's magic bag. It's not like she can turn to the reader and say "Do not burn down a house. Do not light cats on fire. Do not put your pets in a magic bag, or any other bag for that matter, not knowing when it's going to be safe to take them out again." That's not the tone she's cultivated for the last six books, and I don't think her readers will tolerate it now.

I didn't come up with the burning down a house, or the lighting cats on fire. That was a quote from one of the confiscated books.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter madness

Yeah, I don't have the book, and I'm reading two other books with a third waiting for me at the library. Plus I may have read some spoilers. Don't worry, I'll read it, just so I can communicate with the Boy. Just not this week, I'm thinking.

But I did get sorted. Yeah, Slitherin, but it was a close thing. I got a 79 for Slitherin, but a 78 for Ravenclaw, and a 65 for Griffindor, but just a 36 for Hufflepuff.

Do the survey here! http://www.personalitylab.org/tests/ccq_hogwarts.htm

Note it's really long, but that's why it's so accurate.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

"Then We Came to the End" by Joshua Ferris

Another book that arrived after a long wait at the library, this one was a quick read. Part of the fun of it was that it was written in first person plural, so "We did this, we did that..." It's about an ad agency that is slowly failing in Chicago after the turn of the millennium, with the last chapter happening five years later, where everybody has a sort of reunion. There were moments that were laugh-out-loud funny, to me maybe because I work in an office where people do creative work, but nothing is as creative as the work we do filling out our time sheets.

There's a woman who's in charge of all the characters, and she may or may not have cancer. The "We" all spend a huge amount of time gossiping, really getting nothing done. The worst portion of the book for me was the only chapter that was written in third-person, the chapter about Lynn Mason, she who might have cancer, at home. We needed to know what the truth was of all the gossip, but I wonder if the writer would be all that good at writing a 'conventional' novel written in the third-person, or if the whole "we" schtick was all he had.

However, I did enjoy the read.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

"The Last Templar" by Raymond Khoury

Like "The Da Vinci Code" but without the lame puzzles. I found the characters much more likeable in this book. It moved along just as well for me as Da Vinci did, without insulting me, and somehow even the story seemed a little more believable.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

"Managing the Design Factory" by Donald G. Reinertsen

The dude who wrote this book came to my office for two one-day seminars to turn all of us R&D types into more efficient designers, and the person who hired him bought some copies of the book, which he left around for us to read. Being a bit of a keener and wanting to get ahead, I took one home.

Wow. The presentation we took was eight hours of PowerPoint and anecdotes, and the book seemed like it was written pretty much from those same slides. The anecdotes weren't nearly as great when written down. It seemed like there were less of them, or maybe there was just more content in between them. I finished the book on a vacation day in one giant 90-page slog because I just wanted it over with, and wow, every section seemed like it was a fleshed-out slide heading, and then a list of bullet points underneath, kind of like this:

Reducing Boring Reading
There are four reasons to reduce boring reading, as described in the next paragraphs.
First of all, you should not read boring books, because they will make you fall asleep, which leads to napping, which in turn leads to poor night time sleeping.
Second, boring books make you start to hate reading, and knowledge comes from reading.
Third,

Well, I can't think of a third, but you get the idea. Each chapter had an extensive introduction, that was like a powerpoint overview slide. Each chapter had a summary at the end, which added nothing except a recap. I kept wishing he'd used more commas. The book didn't seem that well copy-edited. And when I notice that sort of thing, you can bet I'm bored.

I would say, if you can afford the course, do that. It will leave you way more inspired to reduce your queue sizes and plan better for your fuzzy front end.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

"A Thief in the House of Memory" by Tim Wynne-Jones

Notwithstanding the author having the same combined last names as one of my favourite kids' authors, he is also the current writer-in-residence at the TPL, so I thought I should get out one of his books and read it so if I went to one of his events I could at least look intelligent. It's like going to a job interview and having read at least the one-page corporate bio on a company's website.

It took me about two weeks to actually get around to starting this book. I read the first two pages when I got it out, and then sort of abandoned it to the point where I read an entire book that I almost randomly picked up (the Book of Absinthe) before returning to this one. But yesterday I decided to bite the bullet and get started.

And today I'm writing the review, so clearly it was a one-day read. At only 180 pages and with a light word words per page ratio, this was not a "stay up all nighter". The chapters were short, often four or six pages, though there were a few that were two pages long. That might have been something that kept me going, in a knitting "Just one more row" kind of way. Short chapters certainly make it easy to read while I'm cooking dinner or something like that.

The book is about Declan Steeple, a 16-year-old boy who lives I guess outside of a suburb of Ottawa with his sister, father and father's girlfriend (?). The relationship between the father and Birdie is a little vague, for the reader and for Dec. Dec's mother abandoned the family six years ago, and an incident where a thief dies in an apparent accident after breaking into the old, abandoned family home (they live in a new house down the hill from it) brings questions to the surface of Dec's mind about what happened to his mother.

Nothing really happened after the "inciting event". Most of the transformation and conflict was inside Dec's head, and in conversation with him and his father and step-mother. There wasn't much action at all, really. But it mostly worked, I thought. It wasn't boring, and Dec's young friends seemed totally unrealistic to me (it was like the prodigies from about eight different towns all wound up at one school), but I finished it.

And then I went to the author's event, and I was totally glad I'd read the book. This one took him 13 drafts, and he sent the fifth one to his editor, so I guess he struggled with it pretty hugely. He got the idea while thinking while washing the dishes.

The event was interesting. I've not been to anything like this in a very long time. There were about 60 people, and maybe 10 of them men (why am I fascinated by the demographics of things like this?) The youngest person was probably 12 or 13, the average was probably my age, there were some very old people, most of the room looked to be caucasian. One woman was way more talkative than the rest of us, and in a way that I thought was vaguely irrelevant. She had read a collection of the author's short stories, and seemed to quite like one of them, and asked over and over where he got the idea for one of the characters. When she finally got the answer to that question, she asked whether she should get a mac or a PC when her computer needs replacing. OMG who cares.

The whole thing didn't exactly inspire me to go home and edit, which is probably what I ought to do. But, it did give me a bit of optimism about my future as a writer.

Monday, June 11, 2007

"The Book of Absinthe: a Cultural History" by Phil Baker

Picked this up once before at the library and read the intro, but put it back because I had too many other things to read. So on Saturday I was sort of trapped at the library for an hour or so (the horror!) and sought it out.

Cultural histories are the way history should be taught. I've read a few -- John Hawkwood's bio, the Basque History of the World... This one had amusing interludes about why more writers tend to be drinkers (maybe because it's a job you can't exactly escape from, though I've found things like running through dance steps sometimes keep me awake at night, so maybe any job can stick in your brain and not let you go), the interesting timing of Absinthe being banned in France (just after the start of World War I, the invading teutonic bock-drinkers were going to overrun the deranged Absinthe drinkers), a bit about the american goth subculture.

But it did seem oddly organized at times. It didn't run linearly from the invention of absinthe to its banning and its current status, though it did end with a review of the current brands. I guess it started with the height of absinthe culture (if it could be called that) with Oscar Wilde and some dude named Dowson (Edmund?), then it went back to the invention of absinthe and forward to what it actually does as compared to other types of alcohol. I found it somewhat unbelievable that people would drink some of the things they did -- Gin and DDT? I shudder to think what sort of fetal alcohol syndrome that would cause.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"The King of Attolia" by Megan Whelan Turner

The boy gave me this book for Christmas, probably as one of those gifts that's for me, but really for himself. I had given him "the Thief" which was the first book in the series, in the same spirit. I believe I reviewed "The Queen of Attolia" in January.

Well, this book picks up where the last book left off. It's all about Eugenides still, but the story is told this time through the eyes of an Attolian guardsman named Costas. He doesn't have a whole lot of respect for Eugenides.

One of the things I like about these books are the moments when the reader knows something that the character doesn't. For example, Costas receives a set of notes about a lesson that has been provided about the language of the Medes. He doens't know who theyr'e from, and I was of course saying "they're from Gen, aren't they?" You find out at the end that of course you were right. But she doesn't feel the need to tell us right away. I love that. It's something I need to learn how to do in my stories.

Some of the chapters were exceedingly long, like more than 50 pages. That slowed me down a bit, because I like the feeling of a small commitment -- I'll read a chapter and then put it down, and that takes only a few minutes.

This book moved quickly, and it had an entertaining story without too much boring detail. The main characters, Eugenides, Costas and Attolia, were likeable but flawed, and that made them all the more compelling. This one probably stands less well on its own -- the whole book is based around the problem that ended the previous story in the series. I fully expect there will be another book in the series, probably called "the King of Sounis"? But unlike other franchise series, for some reason this one doesn't annoy me. While reading the series out of order would ruin the fun of each book's conclusion, at least each book comes to an end of its own. I wish authors of other series (Robert Jordan, are you listening?) would do that.

Monday, April 30, 2007

"CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella" by George Saunders

In a review of another work (which is still outstanding on my requests list from the TPL), George Saunders was mentioned as writing short stories about work, which apparently not many other people do. I was immediately curious, because a lot of the notes that are stuffed in my "short stories to be written" folder are about work, so I was wondering what the competition was. Were the stories I was contemplating already written? Was there any point?

If this volume is representative of George Saunders' work, then I think I can write my stories in peace. These aren't what I would write at all. And that's a good thing, for both him and for me. there would be little more depressing than reading something that got published that I would have written, like literally (wishing I had written something is completely different). The stories are manic and a little bit futuristic. Theme parks feature big.

I preferred the six short stories to the novella. I read the first three stories quickly, but then I got stuck on "The 400-pound CEO". I found the character intensely depressing, at the same time that I quite enjoyed certain turns of a phrase. The last conversation the main character has with his father I found wonderful, and the climax of his "moment of very big mistake" (I won't say what it was, because that would ruin the story) made me laugh out loud (while I was sitting in a room full of people, no less). "Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz" had a wonderful ending but ultimately left me confused and unsatisfied. Maybe after I got to the end I should have gone back to the beginning and started again, but the book has gone back to the library, so it's too late now.

The novella, "Bounty", had too many characters that talked too much, and they all seemed to talk with the same voice. However, unlike some of the other stories, at least the ending was upbeat (though it also seemed sudden and contrived). The whole story seemed too long. I hope George's other books are full of just short things; I don't think the long form suits his style.

Friday, April 20, 2007

"The Patron Saint of Plagues" by Barth Anderson

After a couple of searches, I figured I must have read a review of this book on the "How the World Works" blog on http://www.salon.com/. Interesting, because Andrew Leonard mentioned it there on April 10, 2006 -- so close to a year ago. I got it out of the library two weeks ago, and I didn't have a long wait on interlibrary loan, so I might have requested it two weeks before that. The interesting thing is that it stuck in my mind so long that I wanted to read it. I don't remember what triggered me to request it after all that time.

It was really good. I can't comment on the science, but it seemed ripe with so many details -- about the economics of farming, and translation between Spanish and English, and religion, and viruses and immunology and planting transmitter/receivers inside people's brains, and it seemed so fully realized to me. I think it's set in 2061 (that year was mentioned once, though fairly early on; we were discussing when it took place, and Ed's guess was 75 years in the future) mostly in Mexico City, though the introduction takes place in Wisconsin. the one mention of Canada that I noticed was to "The Holy Republic of Quebec".

I told one of my more vocally anti-American colleagues about it, and he was totally unimpressed. This annoyed me inordinately, but perhaps I annoyed him by saying "I read a book you'd like, because you're Anti-American" in my typically well-carrying voice in our cube farm. He worked in the states for a while, and sometimes I wonder if he wasn't forced to leave by immigration officials, he has such a passionate hate-on for the US. But that's beside the point.

In this imagined future, Mexico has risen to be a first-world nation, while the US is struggling economically because its agriculture system has been compromised by a series of rampant plant diseases. Mexico and the US are having a war over Texas, and there's a communications embargo. Much of the US population has returned to farming co-ops (quops) in order to survive. So, when our hero Strake is asked to go help with an outbreak that might be Dengue fever, it's not exactly an easy journey. Once Strake gets to mexico, he has to work within a maze of politics and mistrust, both from Mexicans and people from other countries who he thought were allies or friends to solve the problem. I won't go into the who and the why, but you do find out, which always makes it satisfying for me.

There were just a couple of stylistic annoyances. The main character rarely uses the verb "to be" which I think makes him talk like a Klingon. The first time it came up, I thought the book was horribly copyedited, but then a few pages later it was explained. I had a hard time keeping track of the Mexican government officials -- maybe one of those fantasy novel character lists would have helped me (I read it much more quickly than I read most books, so it wasn't like when I spent two months reading War and Peace and had to keep a glossary of characters as a bookmark because I couldn't remember from week to week who was who). I'd like to think it wasn't racism or anti-hispanic-ness that caused me to have trouble with that.

However, those minor quibbles aside, I really liked this book. (So did Ed. When I brought it home, he read it first.)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

March Book Reviews (not much more timely)

“Good Omens” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

To sum it up, I would say: too much Terry, not enough Neil. The plot was entertaining enough, I guess, but I got tired of the sense of humour after a while.

"The Dialectic of Sex" by Shulamith Firestone

I read this one because I Blame the Patriarchy was doing a readalong. Apparently I am not a participator, because I know they discussed at least the first chapter and I never said anything, but I also hate not knowing what people are talking about, so I read the book anyway. It was far more entertaining than the title and cover made it seem. My favourite chapter was the one titled "Down with Childhood", which asked, among other things, what an adult is, except a larger child with more life experience. Though the book was published in 1970 when Shulamith was about 25, and then she spent a good part of the next 30 years in and out of mental hospitals. My guess is she suffers from Bipolar disorder, though it's not fair to diagnose people from their writing.

She has a good sense of humour, and at 224 pages, it certainly didn't kill me to read.
I hate the fact that I often choose what book to read based on its size.

"Light" by M. John Harrison

This book was sent to me via interlibrary loan after I went looking for any book by M. John Harrison. And, I wanted to read a book by him because I followed a link from mumpsimus.blogspot.com to Hal Duncan's web site where he wrote two exceptionally long posts about what's wrong with fantasy, and used Harrison as an example of where SF can work. Most of the Harrison books in the Toronto library system seemed to be "for the exclusive use of the Merrill Collection" which bugs me, as when am I ever going to be near enough to the Merrill Collection with nothing to do for a day than enjoy an entire book, even if it is only 218 pages? It smacks of book hoarding to me, and I hate hoarding in other people (I make an exception for myself, of course).

Reminds me of Joan Vinge's "Snow Queen" and "Summer Queen", I couldn't tell you why; surprisingly good for a science fiction novel about quantum physics. Actually, maybe I could tell you why -- because that's probably the last real hard SF I read, and I read it three or four years ago.

I have a nasty habit when I'm reading fiction--when I've read 50 or 60 pages, I usually flip to the back and read a little bit of the ending. I'm not trying to ruin it for myself, I'm just curious as to where it's going and maybe a bit impatient. With "Light", I wish I had read a little more of the ending. That's probably because I don't read that much science fiction, and I forgot that so much of it is "ambitious" and winds up with the main characters leading to the salvation of humanity or something like that. I wish I had known where it was all going, because then I might have been more tolerant of the ending when I got there. The scene at the end with the Shrander seemed totally a letdown to me. There were also a couple of spots where I felt like the author had gotten bored and just decided to wrap things up in a paragraph. Sure, I feel that way sometimes, too, but that's what the second draft is for (fleshing those paragraphs out).

It had some quirks I found jarring: "Here's what happened:" statements at the start of long stretches of exposition. But it had fabulous moments as well. Around 70 pages in there was an explanation of space travel that said that once they got out there, it was incredible they hadn't done it before, because apparently everything worked. Every wacko theory could propel you through space, even theories that cancelled each other out.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

february book reviews---really late

Reviews

So my goal for this year is to read 3 books per month, 36 books total. Last year I read 24 (my goal was to read 26, or one every two weeks). I may be goal-ridden to the point of joylessness, but whatever. I am not doing so well this year. It’s probably because of Beadwork.

“The Queen of Attolia” by Megan Whelan Turner

This sequel to “The Thief”, which I read last year, might not have been as good as the first one… but that’s only because it has the same main character, and it would have been really difficult to have as big a surprise at the end as the first one did.

I read it after the boy did (he’s 12). He was quite impressed by the suffering that Eugenides went through – almost going blind, losing his hand, etc. There wasn’t a lot of boring exposition in this book – that’s why I love kids’ books: they don’t have long boring sections, but if they need to explain something they tend to get to the point. I wonder if it’s the editorial decisions they make when deciding the target market for a book that I am appreciating here. But, kids’ books tend to start with a bang and then drive relentlessly towards a conclusion. Or maybe I only read good kids’ books, and lots of good quality adult literature has the same quality.

She also left things to the reader’s imagination. Without ruining anything, there was for example a scene where Eugenides is in a battle, and is being watched from afar by someone else. The whole time there’s another character with him, and I as a reader kept yelling at the viewer, I know who it is! This is the sort of thing that makes a book a page-turner for me, because I want to know if I’m right.

One thing that I particularly liked was how the world seemed alive. Garth Nix books often seem like there are about 12 people in the whole world. Not so with these. I think next Garth Nix book I read will probably be “Sir Thursday”, since I bought the boy “Lady Friday” on Saturday.

The boy bought me the sequel to this one, “King of Attolia”, for Christmas. So, I guess I’ll be reviewing that soon. It's on the pile.

“American Gods” by Neil Gaiman

I recently read an interview with Neil Gaiman where he talked about audience, and he said the only thing he thought about in terms of audience was perhaps age. That made a lot of sense to me reading this book, because there were a lot of cultural references – music, TV etc., which might not make sense to someone who is considerably younger or older than me. It does make me wonder what the shelf-life of novels is these days. Most of them don’t last that long, I guess.

I loved this book. It moved along really nicely without a lot of boring exposition about peasants in Russia or anything. A lot of the characters were easily recognizable as archetypes but with quirks so they weren’t too boring. The background of the main character was always ambiguous, but obviously the author more details than he needed to share. Like, he knew way more about how Shadow wound up in jail in the first place than he felt the need to share.

The acknowledgements section at the end name-dropped a couple of people I’ve heard of before, which is always a nice gift. Apparently Diana Wynne Jones and Terry Pratchett read drafts of this book.

The ending tied up all the loose ends very nicely. It dealt with the dead wife in a delicate way, and Shadow returned to Lakeside and tied up a whole bunch of loose ends very quickly and logically.

“The Economics of Attention” by Richard A. Lanham

It took me forever to read this book. It was around 270 pages long, but seemed longer. It was dense with tons of name-dropping from ancient (Greek?) philosophy, most of which were above my head. The chapter early on that discussed Andy Warhol’s and Christo’s (and Jeanne-Claude’s) art was interesting, but I wish more of the book had been like that, with concrete real-world examples. Maybe I wasn’t the intended audience, though I can’t guess who were. For someone who claims to be interested in style, the style of this book was leaden. It felt like someone who is wearing so much jewellery they can’t barely move.

There were some interesting ideas, but there were a few things I disagreed with. The chapter on copyright outlined the general problem of copyright as we move into the future (to sum it up, copyright has the potential to stifle innovation, which it is meant to protect), but didn’t delve into any sort of solution to the problem.

The chapter on education was one great big rant about Richard’s own personal experience as a professor. Notable to me was the last note in the acknowledgements at the back, which was a thank you to UCLA for the opportunities provided by their early retirement system. It only addressed higher education and mentioned only in passing the idea of applying Lean Manufacturing principles (I took a course on applying the Toyota CanBan system to R&D a couple of weeks ago, so this was perhaps in my “atmosphere of thought”) to education. I would have loved to see that chapter also address “lower” education, like primary, middle, and secondary school, because everyone is subjected to those. Certainly I think education should be a life-long activity and more accessible to all, but

The book ended with a section about “Why there isn’t more Economics in this book”. This seemed an apt question, as both economics courses I took in university (intro to Micro and Intro to Macro) involved little to no math. The author had a serious chip on his shoulder about “not being allowed into the Economics club” due to his lack of math, but I thought it might have been due to his lack of ability to conceptualize science. Economics is, after all, a soft science, and that’s got different requirements than anything in Humanities. Not that there’s anything wrong with an English degree. I have one of those.

Bridge to Terebithia (movie)

I read the book when I was about 10. The boy hadn’t read the book, but he saw the commercials and asked to "see a new movie, in the theatre". Afterwards, he remarked that the commercials had made it seem more like “Narnia”, but he still liked it.

There was something that didn’t quite work about the imaginary creatures part of Terebithia (before the end when Jess brings his sister over). It wasn’t that the animation was bad or anything… though it seemed like the frame rate on the effects was backwards or something. Fantasy play-acting the way kids do (or used to before they watched TV and played video games all day) doesn't translate well to the screen. It came across as kind of condescending. I would have liked the filmmakers to believe in it more. As it was, it seemed too “Blair Witch” to me.

I had some trepidation about how they would handle the part where Leslie dies -- the movie had Disney involvement, after all. But it was kind of the point of the book, and they plowed on through it. Jess’s confusion about the whole thing was really poignant. I cried, of course. Apparently the book is the seventh most challenged book in US school libraries. I wonder if that's because of the death, or because of the sacrilegious discussion of whether Leslie (who is athiest) will go to hell.


I guess I'd better get started on my March reviews now, as I've read two books already. Oh, and figure out how to put pictures on again, since the link broke when I "upgraded" blogger. Grrr.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Beadwork update

I started Beadwork on the 6th of September, and when I finished two pair of socks in the last few weeks, I started to be annoyed with the number of unfinished, and in fact somewhat abandoned, projects around the house. So I pulled out Beadwork with the intent of finishing something. Well, at least a sleeve. All I had done was 10" of the first sleeve, no body, nothing. So I was at least going to finish the sleeve.

I worked on it for about two weeks.

And then Saturday morning, I had to pull out about 12 rows (just over an inch) because I realized I had made a planning error in the sleeve cap (I'm modifying the pattern a little bit...) and when I started feverishly reknitting the rows I had lost, I realized that my right hand was going numb and losing its grip strength. And I thought to myself, "This isn't good."

I put it down and made myself lunch. And then I went back to Beadwork, and finished the 4-row rep that I was on. I had to stop every twenty stitches or so and flex my wrist. And I decided that was enough Beadwork for one day.

Then Sunday (yesterday) I picked it up again. I knit in 4-row stretches with plenty of reading mixed in ("American Gods" by Neil Gaiman, very good) and I did 16 rows total, but my right hand was not happy.

So I started "Rustic" from the Winter 06 Rowan.