swynn gets back to the DAWs in 2017
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Expect a mixture of the following, in decreasing density:
Science fiction and fantasy
Crime & mystery novels
Popular history (American, mostly)
Library science/history of the book
Also, I tend to read impulsively so there will also be not necessarily categorizable things that happen capture my attention.
I didn't complete the 50-state challenge in 2015, and didn't wrap it up in 2016, and don't plan to make a special effort in 2017. Still, I'll keep track of state-specific reading here, in case you're looking for a Delaware read or something.
Regardless of plans, priority usually goes to things that must be returned to the library. This is a stack generated more by whim & hope than by plan, which I call "The Tower of Due." Here's what it looks like now:
Running posts disappeared last year, but I am still running. Last fall I ran 5Ks and a 4-miler, once or twice a month.
I'm battling some foot problems that make longer distances difficult, but have plans to address that and am hoping to get back to some longer runs soon. Optimistically I've registered for the Med City Marathon in Rochester, MN on May 28. I've plenty of time to prepare, and plan to use it.
And oh, the DAWs.
For newcomers: DAW is the first American imprint exclusively devoted to science fiction & fantasy publishing. It launched in 1972 under the editorship of Donald A. Wollheim (hence the name), and continues today. A neat feature of DAW books is that each bears a "Collectors Series" number, basically the title's catalog number, incremented one at a time since the publisher's first title, Andre Norton's Spell of the Witch World.
I've been reading the DAWs in sequence, but got stuck at #88, Michael Shea's A Quest for Simbilis. Problem with that one is, it's a sequel to The Eyes of the Overworld, the second book in Jack Vance's Dying Earth series. Which means I have to read that first -- and before that I have to read Vance's first book first (right Liz?) All of which I've been putting off.
I have an omnibus edition of all the Dying Earth books, and am giving it priority this month. I've spent a good chunk of today reading through The Dying Earth and, damn, it's just as good as everybody says. Maybe better even. Michael Shea has to be some kind of something special to think he's up to following this act. I'm skeptical, but I guess I'll find out soon, and soon after that I'll get to proceed to, oh, say, a Lovecraft pastiche by Brian Lumley, also book #3 in Brian Stableford's super-fun Hooded Swan series, and a homoerotic retelling of the David & Jonathan legend by the fantastic Thomas Burnett Swan, and so much more! (Like Gor. Which is a whole 'nother story.) Coming soon! (Too soon, in the case of Gor. Let's enjoy Jack Vance first.)
(1) Dragon Coast / Greg van Eekhout
(2) Two for the Dough / Janet Evanovich
(3) All the Birds in the Sky / Charlie Jane Anders
(4) A Quest for Simibilis / Michael Shea
(5) Nightwise / R.S. Belcher
(6) History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 / James Ford Rhodes
(7) Still Life / Louise Penny
(8) Borderline / Mishell Baker
(9) Red Queen / Victoria Aveyard
(10) Midsummer Century / James Blish
(11) Creepers / David Morrell
(12) The Glass Universe / Dava Sobel
(13) Alanna / Tamora Pierce
(14) The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse / Vicente Blasco Ibañez
(15) Junky / William S. Burroughs
(16) Paper and Fire / Rachel Caine
(17) Mindship / Gerard F. Conway
(18) Hero of the Empire / Candice Millard
(19) Dark Matter / Blake Crouch
(20) Rendezvous with Rama / Arthur C. Clarke
(21) The Art of the English Murder / Lucy C. Worsley
(22) The Burrowers Beneath / Brian Lumley
(23) The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon / Tom Spanbauer
(24) The Man of the Forest / Zane Grey
(25) Countdown City / Ben H. Winters
(26) Latin@ Rising / Matthew David Goodwin, ed.
(27) The Genius of Birds / Jennifer Ackerman
(28) Promised land / Brian Stableford
(29) The Evening Spider / Emily Arsenault
(30) The Diamond Deep / Brenda Cooper
(31) Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day / Seanan McGuire
(32) Death on Demand / Carolyn G. Hart
(33) Famous Modern Ghost Stories / Dorothy Scarborough, ed.
(34) Impulse / Dave Bara
(35) Die Trying / Lee Child
(36) Three to Get Deadly
(37) Lost Among the Stars / Paul Di Filippo
(38) Raiders of Gor / John Norman
(39) Infomocracy / Malka Older
(40) Main Street / Sinclair Lewis
(41) Still Midnight / Denise Mina
(42) The Overlords of War / Gerard Klein
(43) If Winter Comes / A.S.M. Hutchinson
(44) Half-Resurrection Blues / Daniel Jose Older
(45) Crosstalk / Connie Willis
(46) Phantom Pains / Mishell Baker
(47) The Tetris Effect / Dan Ackerman
Happy New Year Liz! Whatever crap this year holds at least we'll have some cheesy seventies science fiction.
I suppose I should also warn anyone dropping by: I think that the incoming President is a dangerous whackadoodle and will probably say so, maybe frequently. We'll see what happens.
I try to avoid confrontation, especially political confrontation, and am not about to turn my thread into a Facebook frenzy. But given the circumstances, especially His Tantrumship's promised hostility to First Amendment issues, it's sort of my New Year's resolution to be less reticent about issues that matter to me. The list of issues that matter to me could begin with the words of the First Amendment, verbatim.
Competing opinions are welcome and will be respected. Disparaging comments will be directed at the dangerous whackadoodle and his enabling cronies and will always except present company. Present company, after all, are here because your attention span exceeds 140 characters, which alone makes you more respectable than the Child in Chief.
Responding to Roni in a message on the 2016 thread:
I should read more Hoover; The Rains of Eridani went fast, so others probably wouldn't be a big burden. I do not remember the existence of anything like it in elementary school or Junior High, and goodness knows I looked. (Grr, my school librarians, grr.)
I agree that How We Learn was interesting and engaging. It made me want to take a class to try out some study strategies. Of course, many things make me want to take a class ...
I am part of the group.
I love being part of the group.
I love the friendships bestowed upon my by dint of my membership of this wonderful fellowship.
I love that race and creed and gender and age and sexuality and nationality make absolutely no difference to our being a valued member of the group.
Thank you for also being part of the group.
Happy new year and new thread - wishing you a great year of reading and running.
Hi, Steve! So glad you're with us again this year!
And I'm with you on the Whackadoodle in Chief. May we live in interesting times...?
I've found you, Steve, and firmly stapled your thread into my notebook. I share your apprehensions about the Whackadoodle-in-Chief, and have never wished more strongly for time travel to be an actual thing.
Dropping by to set a star and wish you a happy new year!
>7 swynn: dangerous whackadoodle
Not gonna get any argument from me.
Welcome Paul Charlotte Amber Julia Jim Roni Katherine Kriti Mickey Karen!
I didn't read as much as I had hoped today. I spent most of the day trying to replace the deck on a hideaway bed. Fortunately there were excellent instructions. Unfortunately, the mechanism on our bed is not actually built as the instructions describe. Several false starts and an email to tech support later, we're still hideawayless. One way or another though, it'll be done tomorrow. I have a drill and an idea. Also no mechanical aptitude. The suspense should be thrilling.
"I have a drill and an idea. Also no mechanical aptitude. The suspense should be thrilling." - *snork!*
Hey Steve, star dropped.
I don't run nearly as much as you, but I'm glad to see I'm not alone with the foot problems. I was off the road for about 7 months in 2016 and boy am I paying for it now that I'm running again.
Looking for a good reading year!
>20 scaifea: Well, the suspense wasn't thrilling after all.
I got a response from tech support which explained the problem: our "unit" is in a series which was discontinued because it is impossible to replace the deck.
So I talked to a guy at the hardware store who talked me out of my drill idea (*whew* and, rats), then to someone at a furniture store who suggested an idea for altering the deck, then to a seamstress who recommended a furniture, who currently has the couch. (By the time we're done I might could have just bought a whole new unit, but ... take *that*, "impossible.")
>24 Kassilem: Welcome Anita, Jeff and Melissa!
Apologies to Anita and Jeff for giving the sofa update before a welcome. Guess it's clear what my preoccupation has been. I'm happy to report that the hideaway bed has returned to its proper place. The upholstery guy's solution involved a welding torch, *so* much better than my pantywaist power drill. And, I guess, so much better that it wasn't wielded by me.
Hi Steve! I love any story that ends with a welding torch! So glad your hideaway bed has returned to it's proper place.
I'm reading All the Birds in the Sky now. I'm about a third of the way through and the story seems to be picking up. I'll be interested to hear what you think of it!
>23 swynn: Well, maybe the suspense wasn't thrilling, but the solution certainly was - welding!! WOOT!
>28 scaifea: I know, right? Impossible, schmimpossible.
>29 The_Hibernator: Welcome, Rachel! I'm looking forward to Dark Matter also. Just a few more books ... Like this one:
The Compleat Dying Earth. Book 1, The Dying Earth
This is a collection of six interconnected stories, each told from the viewpoint of a different character, set in the distant future when the sun is cooling, Earth's population has dwindled, technology has been replaced by magic, and even most of the magic has been forgotten. This book had a profound influence on the game Dungeons & Dragons, so a description sounds almost painfully familiar: characters are wizards, warriors, and thieves who go on quests to find items of magical power. The prose is artfully elaborate, with many archaisms and indirection.
I loved this, and also don't expect anyone else to like it. Let's address some potential turn-offs: most characters are unsympathetic and some are despicable. The plots are simple and predictable, largely of the Quest variety. Treatment of women is so 1950s: the first things we're told about any female character is her beauty (or not) and her marriagebility (or not). And the language is a barrier: the stilted diction will turn some readers away.
And yet: I loved that the characters don't care whether I like them or not. Yes, presumptions about gender are occasionally awkward, but really Vance has more interesting women characters than, say, Tolkien. Okay, low bar: let's say there are more interesting women characters here than you'll find in most fantasy literature not actually written by women. Take T'sais, a vat-grown warrior woman to whom beauty is ugly and ugliness is unbearable. Or Lith, who
So: recommended or not, depending on your tastes. I'm delighted to have finally read it and discovered that it lived up to its reputation.
Happy New Year, Steve. I hope to see you in Iowa City next week?
We'll have to plan something if you are in town for the Med City marathon in May, as well. Maybe we can lure some Iowans...
>33 BLBera: Hi Beth! Yes, I'm cautiously planning to be there -- although the 10-day forecast is currently calling for ice Monday morning, which would be a deal-killer. I'm hoping the forecast improves.
I'm definitely up for a Rochester meetup. The race is on Sunday, so I'm wide open on Saturday.
>34 swynn: I have been unhappily eyeing that forecast as well, Steve. Apparently Mother Nature is not on LT ...
I would potentially be interested in a May meetup in Rochester, so I'll keep an eye on your threads for more details.
Let's talk more as it gets closer - May seems far off right now. And Julia might come - the only problem is that we don't have a great indy bookstore here, just a boring old B&N.
Chiming in to say that I'd try to make it, too, if you wouldn't mind me being there...
1) Dragon Coast / Greg Van Eekhout
Third and (at least for now) last in Van Eekhout's "Daniel Blackland" series, set in an alternative California where magicians acquire power by consuming the bodies of magical creatures -- including other magicians. Daniel Blackland is the son of an especially powerful magician, forced to live in the streets when the Hierarch of California murders and eats his father. In the streets he acquires skills and friends, and the books are a series of capers in which Daniel and his friends undermine the plans of powerful sorcerers.
This one picks up where the second leaves off. More information would be spoilery, so I'll just say that the end is satisfying.
Cover art is by Cliff Nielsen.
>39 swynn: - Belatedly chiming in to say that I might be up for a trip to Rochester too. I hope that Mother Nature behaves this weekend! Ice is never any fun.
>40 swynn: I need to get back to that series, after reading the first one quite a while ago. The author is a local, to boot.
The Compleat Dying Earth. Book 2, The Eyes of the Overworld
The first book in the "Dying Earth" series was a set of interrelated stories with multiple viewpoint characters. This one is a fixup of stories about a single character, Cugel the Clever. Cugel is a grifter who makes the mistake of robbing the wrong wizard. He breaks into the mansion of Iucounu the Laughing Magician but falls into a trap. Iucounu offers Cugel his life in exchange for a service: Cugel will travel to the Land of Cutz to retrieve a "cusp" -- a hemispherical object of violet glass -- to match a cusp in Iucounu's possession. Fond of his life, Cugel agrees to the service. Doubtful of his sincerity, Iucounu employs Firx, a creature of hooks and barbs, which wraps around Cugel's liver, where it can deliver a motivational squeeze when needed.
Cutz is a far distance away, so Cugel is carried there by demon. He finds there a pair of villages. Both villages have extreme poverty, but the inhabitants of Smolod wear violet cusps over their eyes. Through these eyes they see the luxurious "overworld", where a hut and dinner of porridge becomes a mansion and gourmet feast. In contrast, the inhabitants of Grodz work at hard labor all their lives waiting their turn for a pair of cusps, which become available only when someone in Smolod dies. Cugel is invited to join Grodz in hopes of acquiring his own cusps in just a few decades. But waiting is not Cugel's style, nor is labor, and he dishonestly acquires a cusp more rapidly.
The rest of the book recounts Cugel's adventures as he makes his way back to Iucounu. It's a long journey, full of monsters, peril, and attempts to avoid the consequences of his own reprehensible behavior. I liked it, though not as much as The Dying Earth, which was a richer experience for the variety of viewpoints.
2) Two for the Dough / Janet Evanovich
Yes, I'm the last person on the planet to read this series.
Yes, I liked it and laughed a lot but I probably won't pick up the pace.
Yes, Granny Mazur should have her own series. Heck, she should hook up with Morelli -- except I'm not sure he could keep up with her.
The single-digit books in that series were all harmless fun. I stopped reading around Twelve because they seemed repetitive. Granny Mazur is definitely the star, though!
>45 swynn: I read the first one and enjoyed it but haven't actually made it to picking up any more of them. Props for making it to book two!
Happy 2017, Steve!
>7 swynn: Sounds like my kind of place. His "press conference" yesterday was horrific.
>46 rosalita: That's one of the complaints I hear about the series. I figure if I space them out sufficiently they'll retain some fun. And if I never get around to reading them all, well, it's not like I haven't read them all already ...
>47 MickyFine: I'm not the last on the planet after all! Company is nice.
>48 BLBera: Another vote that there's no hurry. I'm sticking to my plan.
>49 rosylibrarian: Oh. Man. I keep almost convincing myself that no matter what happens the republic will survive this. We survived Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding, right? How bad can it be? Then Zaphod Beeblebrox does something like open his mouth and I realize: pretty bad.
>51 scaifea: Hm. Let me weigh the pros and cons
Arguments in favor of the Zaphod Beeblebrox parallel: ZB is....
"Crook? Quite possibly."
Gets himself elected President in order to steal from the public trust.
Zaphod Beeblebrox? President? Not the Zaphod Beeblebrox? Not the President? Many had seen it as clinching proof that creation had finally gone bananas.
Arguments against the ZB parallel: ZB has ....
Been a hippie
Style deficit so deep that it's stylish
Sense of humor
And he pretends to be stupid but is actually quite clever ... ouch. Fair enough. I'll stick to "whackadoodle."
*snerk* I had forgotten about the getting himself elected bit.
Generally, though, we've survived some pretty bad Presidents. I think the next 4 years will be fraught with drama, but in the end the country's pretty strong. But then, I'm mostly an optimist. :)
>50 swynn: We also survived John Tyler. (Sorry, just wrapped up a book about him, and wow - he sold us out for the Confederacy, so that's pretty bad.)
>50 swynn: That's a good plan for the Plum books. Space 'em way out, don't expect the usual series niceties like character development, and you'll be fine. I enjoyed the ones I read.
>52 swynn: Excellent assessment, with which I agree. The Wackadoodle isn't nearly clever enough to be compared to Zaphod.
Last year (? I think? Or maybe two years ago?) I re-listened (well, listened - I've never listened before but have read the whole series several times over) to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, read by Stephen Fry and LOVED it on audio. I definitely recommend that version.
>53 drneutron: Jim: I hope you're right. I'm usually an optimist, too, but I admit that I'm nervous right now.
>54 brodiew2: Oh, Brodie, really?! Oh, man, you're in for a treat if you haven't read those yet!
>53 drneutron: I'm trying to keep my optimism high. But I can only avoid news so long.
>54 brodiew2: What Jim said. Zaphod Beeblebrox is variously referred to as "the two-headed,
>55 rosylibrarian: Note to self: John Tyler. I never thought I'd be interested in stories about former rotten presidents as a mood-improver. But here I am.
>56 drneutron: Note to self: James Buchanan.
>57 rosalita: So far, so good.
>52 swynn: Is rather worrying. I fear Trump would also survive the Total Perspective Vortex...
>64 charl08: Maybe not. IIRC, the Total Perspective Vortex worked by showing its victims their inconceivably puny significance in the universe;
Then again, there is The National Enquirer-verse, where Deetee appears to have ascended to royalty, maybe godhood. I'm not sure TNE counts as an alternate universe, but I understand the editorial board knows some space aliens who might be able to make it happen. But even in that universe would his significance shrivel in comparison to Elvis? We can only hope.
... but let's talk about something more pleasant.
3) All the Birds in the Sky / Charlie Jane Anders
Mixed feelings about this one. It's about the friendship between Patricia and Laurence, a couple of kids who meet in middle school. Social misfits, they bond with each other; but as young adults they find themselves on opposite sides of a war between magic and technology. The writing is breezy and mostly engaging, but also sometimes annoyingly chatty -- "super" and "way" are overused as intensifying adverbs. Tone was also very uneven, ranging from whimsical to morbidly fatalistic, and I had a hard time deciding how seriously I was supposed to take the whole thing. The story's okay, but it I felt it lost direction in the middle, and the ending seemed too tidy. That said, it kept my attention, things blew up when they needed to, and there wasn't ever a time I wasn't enjoying it; I just wasn't sure what to make of it.
Others have enjoyed it, and Amy has a more positive review. So check that out for a different response.
>68 swynn: - Steve - I think you've captured what made me feel like All the Birds in the Sky was "a bit discontinuous." It was the uneven tone. I kept trying to figure out if this was one I would recommend to my middle-school son. At times, it seemed like a good fit, but as the book neared its climax, I thought it was very dark. I also thought there was much untapped potential in the juxtaposition of magic and science. Have you read other books that have woven the two together well?
I hated that we didn't get to meet up today. We didn't end up venturing out, although now I think it has warmed above freezing.
>70 porch_reader: I'm bummed about missing the meetup today, but I am certain it was the best decision. To make it to Iowa City by 10:00 we'd have had to leave by 7:00 at the latest, and our local roads were in no condition to drive at that time.
I can't think of another book that takes Anders's approach of treating technological and supernaturalist approaches as equally valid, equally flawed, and (apparently) mutually incompatible. So I'm disappointed her book didn't resonate with me more. (It may not have helped that I disagree, but I'm pretty sure I was up for the ride.)
As for books with both magic and science, there are plenty. Poul Anderson frequently mixes the two, since he has a deep interest in folklore and mythology but also a bent for hard science fiction. One of his most effective is the terrific novella "The Queen of Air and Darkness", which has the colonists of an extrasolar planet encountering the fairies of Celtic mythology. Another of my favorites from Anderson is Operation Chaos, an alternate-World War II adventure featuring a werewolf and a witch.
Back in high school I read and loved Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept series, which had encounters between a world where magic worked, and one whose physics was more familiar. It's been years since I visited that series so I don't know how well it holds up. My experience with Piers Anthony is that he hasn't, mostly.
On the other hand, what's magic? What's science? Some of my favorite books blur the line. In the Dying Earth books it's not clear how much of the magic is really magic and how much is forgotten technology. One of my favorite books of last year was Yoon Ha Lee's Ninefox Gambit, which has a spaceship under the command of an undead captain launching an assault on a space station whose physical laws have been changed by rearrangements of its calendar.
What recommendations do others have?
>71 swynn: Le Guin's early stories in the Hainish Cycle (Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions) have an sf meets magic feel although the magic only seems to be magic and is forgotten technology.
Ninefox Gambit is definitely on the list for this year - I've heard lots of good things about that.
I knew that this was the right place to ask for recommendations. Thanks! I'm fairly new to fantasy and science fiction, but my TBR in these areas is growing fast.
The Invisible Library series that I'm reading now (the third book just came out) posits a continuum of alternate world that move from high order (dragons rule, science and machinery likewise) to high chaos (fae rule, magic abounds) with the Library seeking to maintain a space for humans to exist in the middle section of this continuum. It's a fun adventure story.
I was another who is lukewarm about All the Birds in the Sky.
>72 drneutron: I remember Witch World more as an alternate universe where magic worked, but I never got very far into it. I did read the first two Dragonrider trilogies and remember being disappointed when it turned out that everything had a science fiction explanation.
Hope you like Ninefox Gambit!
>73 souloftherose: I'm not familiar with the Hainish Cycle. I should fix that. And hope you like NG too!
>74 porch_reader: There's so much good stuff, Amy! It occurs to me that lots of urban fantasy series will have a tension between magic and science, especially those worlds where the supernatural is a secret. And there's the X Files of course.
>75 ronincats: The Invisible Library series is also on my list. And thanks for the company on All the Birds in the Sky.
>76 swynn: I suspect Jim was thinking of how the enemy of the Witches in the first book was the Kolder, a high tech society that was seeking to conquer the Witch World with machines.
>77 ronincats: Yup, though in fairness, my memories of the book are pretty vague at this point. :)
4) DAW #88: A Quest for Simbilis / Michael Shea
Tagline: An epic fantasy of the Dying Earth
Short version: Maybe I'm just in a Dying Earth groove, or maybe I've been missing the DAW project, or maybe this is just good. For whatever reason, I quite enjoyed Shea's authorized sequel to Jack Vance's Eyes of the Overworld (post #44, above). Shea stays mostly true to the Cugel character, and mostly captures the tone and spirit of the series. Years later, Vance changed his mind and wrote his own sequel, so this volume isn't "canon." But as Dying Earth fan fiction it's solid.
SPOILERS FOLLOW for this and for Vance's The Eyes of the Overworld.
In The Eyes of the Overworld, the antihero Cugel steals from the magician Iouconnu, who sends him halfway across the world to the Sea of Cutz. Cugel gradually (and barely) finds his way back to Iouconnou, plotting vengeance the whole way. But just Cugel is completing his revenge, he mispronounces a spell, making himself its accidental target. In a case of frustrating poetic justice, the spell transports Cugel right back to the beach where he began on the Sea of Cutz. That's where A Quest for Simbilis picks up.
This time, Cugel meets a traveling companion: Mumber Sull, Thane of the fishing village Icthyll. Icthyll was founded generations ago by the legendary wizard Simbilis. Once upon a time Simbilis protected Cutz from an invasion of monsters from the subworld beneath the ground. After the invasion, Simbilis took the land around Cutz and divided it with his ally Slaye. Then Simbilis disappeared, somewhere to the West. Lately the House of Slaye has been in a colonizing mood, has colonized Icthyll, and has booted out its Thane. Mumber Sull is now on a quest to find Simbilis, who may be lost but who is immortal and therefore cannot be dead. He invites Cugel to join in this quest.
Mumber Sull is a prig, but Cugel is a pragmatist and recognizes the value of a traveling companion in dangerous lands. He's going west anyway, but hopes to dump the tedious and moralizing Thane as soon as he can. Well, as soon as he can after lifting his purse, anyway. Poor Cugel, he's stuck with Sull for the rest of the book.
Like the Dying Earth books, this one is episodic: Cugel and Sull getting caught up in an attack on a cannibal fortress; they come to a bridge where they must gamble all their possession in order to cross; in another village Cugel pretends to be a great magician and is pressed into treating an epidemic of incubus possessions. Along they way they pick up additional traveling companions. And occasionally lose them. Eventually they follow rumors to the subworld, where Simbilis is supposed to have disappeared.
They do indeed find Simbilis, but he has lost all interest in Icthyll. Simbilis knows that the Earth is in its last days, and he is preparing a ship to send out to the stars to preserve Earth's memory. The cargo of the ship will be the memories of people Simbilis has chosen to represent the Dying Earth. He chooses Mumber Sull, who is a prig but at least he's a rare sort of one. Of Cugel's sort he has plenty of examples already so he returns Cugel to the world above, where Cugel begins planning his next scheme.
It's fun, and Mumber Sull's fussy moralism is a humorous counterpoint to Cugel's lack of scruples. I don't think Vance would have invented Sull, or if he had he would have killed him off quickly. But Shea makes the pair work. This was Shea's first book, and he didn't publish another book until 1982's Nifft the Lean, which won the World Fantasy Award. It's also DAW #508, so I won't get to it soon in this project.
That cover with its hungry green lizard monsters is by George Barr. We'll see more of him.
>81 swynn: Yes, you should! I adored Rendezvous With Rama both when I was in school and it was my first science fiction, and a couple of years ago when I re-read it.
Hi Steve! Great to see you back on the trail of those DAWS!! I'l certainly follow your progress with interest now you have become unstuck! I've also caught a bb in the form of Ninefox Gambit and been slightly cheered from my state of major depression about the politics of the moment with your SF/politics analogies. Good stuff!!
>88 lyzard: Multiple involuntary noises are appropriate. Just remember to wipe down your screen when you're done.
>86 rosalita: I'm on this one. The Kindle version is available for two bucks, so it's on my tablet and waiting for me to finish The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Which should be early next week.
>87 HanGerg: Yay, more eyeballs for Ninefox Gambit! I'm going to be really embarrassed if it's a bust.
5) Nightwise / R.S. Belcher
First in an urban fantasy series by the author of the weird western Golgotha series. This one precedes The Brotherhood of the Wheel, but has an almost entirely different cast and no overlap in plot, so you wouldn't miss anything by reading the trucker fantasy first like I did.
The hero here is Laytham Ballard, a wizard who has seen and done it all. He has no illusions left, not about the world and not about himself, but like an old-fashioned noir detective he just keeps kicking against the darkness anyhow. When his dying friend asks Ballard to track down the Serbian war criminal who killed his wife years ago, Ballard promises to look into it. Problem is, nobody seems to know where the bastard is. Worse problem is, plenty of other people -- like the Illuminati and secret government groups and worse -- want to know the same thing, and they're not about to let Laytham Ballard find him first.
Belcher has a kitchen-sink approach to world-building: he throws in so many different pieces that the whole doesn't always feel well coordinated. But granting some leniency there, and assuming that future volumes will flesh things out, It's dark, it's violent, and the ending ain't all happy, but I found it fun and am ready for the next entry.
I loved the Golgotha series - will have to add this one to the TBR!
So this happened: A few months ago one of Mrs. swynn's friends moved into a nursing home, and Ms has spent an hour or two most nights helping her out. Moving her friend from the bed to the chair or the wheelchair is a two-person job, though, so Ms calls for an aide as needed. Last night, the aide enters the room saying "Yessuh massa yessuh." As casual racism goes, this is far from the worst Ms has seen but still it was another case of "and-now-I-have-to-put-up-with-this-crap" at the end of a long week.
So Aziz Ansari's Saturday Night Live monolog last night was spot on and especially welcome in the swynn home. "Thank you for your service and go back to pretending" indeed. Please.
6) History of the Civil War, 1861-1865 / James Ford Rhodes
This won the Pulitzer Prize for History in 1918. The author was an industrialist who made his fortune by middle-age, then quit to study American history. From 1893 to 1906 Rhodes published a seven-volume History of the United States from the Compromise of 1850. Then in 1917 he published this single-volume account of the Civil War, an event covered by volumes 3-5 of his original series. In a preface Rhodes explains that this single-volume edition is not simply a summary of the three-volume account but is rather "a fresh study of the subject in which I have used my work as one of many authorities." (Indeed, most of the footnotes seem to reference his own work.)
I'm not enough of a Civil War buff to say how Rhodes's account differs from our current understanding. I can only say that I enjoyed it, that I learned a few things, and that it seemed fair. Rhodes gives more attention to western campaigns than I remember covering in high school and college courses, and pays close attention especially to the rise of Grant. It seems to me that Grant is for Rhodes the real hero of the war, more so even than Lincoln whom Rhodes treats with both praise and criticism -- more criticism than I'm used to hearing about Lincoln. It's also engaging: Rhodes is fond of dramatic (and occasionally melodramatic) flourishes in his stories of battles. A couple of especially interesting chapters near the end cover conditions on the home front in both the North and the South (Did you know that for some time during the war postage stamps were used as currency in the North? I didn't.)
In addition to factual narratives, Rhodes adds a generous amount of analysis. One of his favorite subjects is the cause of the war, which he identifies as slavery -- or, as James Carville might have summarized, "It's slavery, stupid." Apparently already during the war people argued that the war wasn't about slavery: it was about the right of a state to secede, or about the preservation of the Union, or about the tariff, or about ... whatever. According to Rhodes, the tariff argument was especially popular in England, where cotton merchants wanted to trade with the South but also convince themselves they weren't supporting slavery in doing so. Rhodes frankly and repeatedly calls baloney: the war was initially and always about slavery. The Southern states would not have seceded had they not perceived a threat that Lincoln's Republicans would halt the spread of slavery into new territories. The Northern states dealth very gingerly with the border states, whose membership in the Union was strategically vital. But from very early in the war Lincoln worked to convince slaveowners in the border states to release their slaves because he understood what the war was really all about.
On points relating to civil rights, Rhodes is occasionally a victim of his time. He implies that the abolition of slavery and granting of voting rights to former slaves proceeded too quickly, and that a more gradual change would have been better for all concerned. He writes approvingly of schemes to compensate slaveowners for their loss of property, but it never seems to occur to him that former slaves might justly be compensated for their loss of liberty. On this point he does not lack for company even today.
Overlooking some historical winces, though, it's a solid and richly detailed story.
>93 swynn: Oh, gross. I'm sorry Mrs. Swynn had to experience that. Ick.
I haven't watched Ansari's monolog yet, but I'm planning to do so today.
>93 swynn: Do I have this right? MrsSwynn is just helping out a friend, she doesn't work there. And when she has the effrontery to ask for help from someone PAID TO HELP THE PATIENTS, she gets racist sass? Unbelievable. I don't watch SNL but a friend recommended the Ansari clip and it was good.
>95 scaifea: Do see it!
>96 rosalita: You have it right -- not only that, she's volunteering to stand in for one other person paid to help the patients. What uppity nerve.
She did report the incident, and also vented on Facebook -- where she got some positive support and one of her friends forwarded the post to the nursing home's owner. So it's possible that it will be addressed.
>97 swynn: Good! I hope the nursing home takes some action. That can't be the attitude they want their staff displaying, you would hope.
>98 rosalita: I hope so. She's since talked to someone who told her that this isn't the first time that aide had been written up for inappropriate comments to patients & families. (Supervisors: WTF?!?) Either way, she's done talking about it so I will be too.
On a much (much much) more pleasant note:
7) Still Life / Louise Penny
I know, I know. Y'all have been telling me about these for ages now. Consider me on the bandwagon. Gamache reminds me strongly of one of my favorite detectives, the thoughtful and low-key Jules Maigret. Except that Gamache is Maigret as a team player! I'll definitely read more.
>99 swynn: I've had that one on my shelves for a good while - I need to get round to it, too!
I'm so happy to see another Penny fan. Go Steve! You are lucky to have a whole bunch of good books ahead.
And I won't mention the other thing. Shameful.
>99 swynn: Such excellent company for that series. I'm looking forward to more.
8) Borderline / Mishell Baker
Launch to another paranormal series, this one featuring the "Arcadia Project," an agency that mediates between Hollywood and Faerie, a sort of "Men in Black" with fairies instead of aliens; and the agents, instead of James-Bond-types, are mostly people with emotional disorders. Millie Roper, for example, has been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. She is a former film school student, recovering from a suicide attempt in which she lost her legs and disfigured her face, when she is offered a position at Arcadia. Her first case involves a missing actor who is also a noble from the Seelie Court. Investigating the actor's disappearance, Millie rubs shoulders with an influential Hollywood director who revives her dreams of a film career. She also meets an Unseelie noble with a fondness for blood ...
This one's pretty good. The paranormal bits are satisfying if not very surprising. There are bits of potential romance, but it's complicated. What really makes the book: Baker takes her characters' disabilities seriously. She doesn't play them for laughs and she doesn't play them for maudlin tragedy, she plays them as people who sometimes make self-defeating choices for emotional reasons. They're both sympathetic and exasperating, and I'll follow them into the next installment, due in March.
10) DAW #89: Midsummer Century / James Blish
James Blish was a prolific author in the 1950s and 1960s, though I'm afraid I know him mainly for his work adapting episodes of Star Trek and the first original novel for the franchise, Spock Must Die. He passed in 1975, which makes this one of the later books in his oeuvre. It contains a novella, "Midsummer Century," and two novelettes, "Skysign" and "A Style in Treason."
The cover's expressionistic Icarus is by Josh Kirby.
Astronomer John Martels has an accident while adjusting an experimental telescope, falling down its tubular wave guide. The fall would certainly be fatal, except that somehow he is projected forward in time 23 millennia, where he wakes up inside the brain of some other being.
In the intervening 23,000 years, humanity has nearly gone extinct and been reborn four times. Martels's brainmate is the "Qvant of the Third Rebirth," the only survivor of mankind's "third rebirth," who has been preserved inside some sort of case. The Qvant is trapped but at least he is alive and can pass his ancient knowledge to the latest go-round. Tribesmen of the fourth rebirth come to beg wisdom and favors. Qvant occasionally helps them with instructions for rituals or incantations, but increasingly he won't help them even that much. He despairs of humanity's chances for survival against birds, who have evolved intelligence that makes them a serious threat. Qvant's pessimism does not please Martels, who thinks there must be some way to fight the birds. He resents how Qvant has not only given up on the humans but will not even let Martels help them.
Despite their differences, Martels gets some explanations out of Qvant, based on the science of juganity. Juganity treats personality as a semistable electromagnetic field, which grounds explanations for phenomena like ghosts, telepathy, and the ritual magic Qvant used to feed the humans. It also explains Qvant's survival: the mechanism housing him is an environment designed to power and integrate Qvant's juganic field. That very function caused the mechanism to act as a juganic receiver, catching Martels' personality when it had been unseated by the accident in the wave guide. The next time a supplicant comes to beg for help, the Qvant possesses him, in order to illustrate juganic principles. Martels quickly follows Qvant into the tribesman's brain.
The three personalities -- Martels, Qvant, and the tribesman Tlam -- now go wandering. First they visit Tlam's home village, but their ultimate goal is the Antarctic, where a high-energy civilization is supposed to be, with a computer to maintain Qvant's juganic field. To get there, they have to cross the land of the birds, who drive Tlam to a bizarre three-legged tower in the middle of the woods, at the top of which they meet the King of the Birds, who clearly means them no good. Rather then wait for their doom, they build a glider from poles and feathers and fly away.
Fortunately, they are rescued by the Antarctic humans, who transfer Martels to the computer. Martels and Qvant have a sort of psychic fight, which Martels wins. From his new seat, Martels helps the humans fight off the birds, ensuring that humanity will survive for a fifth rebirth. Qvant and Martels make up, and prepare to guide the humans of Rebirth V together.
Nobody would write this stuff today, and its oddness is its strongest appeal. It's infodumpy: more words are spent explaining juganity than describing the climactic bird-battle. None of the characters are remotely appealing. And yet. I liked its surreal worldbuilding, its huge scope, its dianetics-y pseudo-philosophizing, its unapologetic nerdishness -- this is the sort of thing the project is for, and I found this story to be the volume's gem.
In Skysign a mysterious alien ship hovers over San Francisco, and the military seeks volunteers to board the ship. Fantasy fan and hobbit fanatic Carl Wade is such a volunteer. Upon boarding the ship, Carl meets two aliens who demonstrate their superior technology, which they can use to alter Wade's perceptions and can appear to move instantaneously. The implication is clearly that Wade is their prisoner and that he cannot outrun them. Wade is impressed, but determined to be nobody's prisoner. He takes some time to explore the ship within the limits he is allowed, and meets another human, Jeanette, who is attractive but intimidatingly intelligent -- she is a volunteer from NASA and reads an awfully mathy textbook for pleasure. Wade abandons any hope of wooing such a snobbish girl and launches a plan to test the limits of his imprisonment. Through an unlikely series of coincidences he puts everyone on the ship but himself to sleep and takes over the ship. Realizing he will never figure out the controls by himself, he wakes Jeanette. The two briefly enjoy their new toy, but soon Jeanette realizes that Wade's plan is use the ship's powers to take petty revenge on every bully who ever hurt him and every woman who spurned his advances. She uses his own trick against him -- when he next wakes up the ship is in the hands of NASA.
"Do you believe in God?" she asks Wade.
"No of course not," he says. "Do you?"
"I don't know whether I do or not. But there's one thing I was sure of, right from the start. You'd make a damn poor substitute."
A Style in Treason
I'm not quite clear on the economics and politics of A Style in Treason, but it imagines a galactic empire in which some government agents specialize in treason. Traitors deal in the secrets of their own employers, though whether a given secret is actually true is open to question. Simon de Kuyl is the Traitor-in-Chief of High Earth, and has come to Druidsfall in order to sell Earth to the highest bidder. Although in fact his true aim is to buy Druidsfall for Earth. He arrives per protocol at the Druidsfall Traitors' Guild, but his trade is refused; instead he is given 12 days to leave Druidsfall. Simon does not give up so easily: instead of fleeing he dallies with a pleasure girl for a few days -- only to wake up and find her dead in bed beside him a few days later. The girl's brother Da-Ud is a sort of rural noble and also a traitor, so Simon disguises himself and runs to Da-Ud's castle. He lays out a plan for revenge: he will sell High Earth to DA-Ud, who will in turn sell it to the Traitors' Guild, half of the secret now, and the other half later when the contract is complete. But instead of delivering the second half of the message, Simon betrays Da-Ud, igniting a war between the Traitors' Guild and Da-Ud. It's a messy business, but exposes yet another party, shapeshifters of the Green Exarchy, who have infiltrated the Druidsfall Traitors' Guild. Simon manages to turn the Guild against the shapeshifters, then forges an alliance between Druidsfall and High Earth against the Exarch. Mission accomplished. I think.
Next up: Mindship by Gerard F. Conway
>105 swynn: That's a Blish I haven't read. I of course read his Cities in Flight and A Case of Conscience followed by Black Easter in the 60s. Looks like I also have The Star Dwellers and one collection, The Seedling Stars. Looks like I stopped reading him about the time he started specializing in Star Trek. Been a while since I've read these but I've held onto them.
>106 ronincats: For me it's just the Star Trek books and The Devil's Day, an omnibus of Black Easter and the The Day After Judgment. I haven't retained much from The Devil's Day, just a vague memory that I thought it was okay. I have copies of Cities in Flight and A Case of Conscience but haven't yet gotten around to them.
11) Creepers / David Morrell
A bunch of urban explorers go wandering into an abandoned hotel on the Jersey Shore. They run into trouble.
I liked it pretty well. It's very page-turney and the prose stays out of its own way. The plot took a couple of twists too many to refrain from an eye roll or two, but it's a thriller and it does what it promises. I have the sequel on my shelves and will get to it sometime.
This shared the Bram Stoker Award for best novel in 2005; the other winner was Charlee Jacob's visceral and squirm-inducing Dread in the Beast. Creepers is a fun thriller, but a horror novel it ain't. No contest, Jacob's was the more worthy winner.
12) The Glass Universe / Dava Sobel
This is a history of astronomical research at Harvard in the late 19th & early 20th century, from the perspective of the "women computers" whose assigned role was cataloging stars from photographs taken with the university's telescopes. In fact, the women developed methods of spectrographic classification, discovered variable stars, and made huge contributions to astronomy.
I'm disappointed to report that as a pleasure read, for me it was mostly a dud. I found myself repeatedly reading pages and having no memory of what I'd just read. And I'm not sure why: the science is appealing to me, as are the social issues. I think it's because of all the things Sobel could have focused on: the science, the women's personal lives, their lives in broader society, details of the classification systems ... she seems to be most fascinated by administrative details. I get enough of committees and budgets and personnel issues at work, thanks. On the other hand and reviewing bits of it, I can't honestly find a passage that illustrates that sense of imbalance. For whatever reason, it didn't ring my bell. Maybe it's the right book but just the wrong time for me. It happens.
Anyway, I can't recommend it except to note that plenty of others have liked it better than I. If the subject sounds intriguing, don't let me put you off it.
>110 swynn: Yeah, the subject is intriguing and I'll probably read it eventually.
>111 qebo: I hope it keeps your attention better than it did mine, Katherine.
It's very possible that real life is just making it difficult to focus on any pleasure reading other than genre fiction right now.
>114 brodiew2: I agree that it's a good premise, and good execution too. Also some good opportunities for atmospheric effects on audiobook. It's not usually my thing, but I might try to get the audiobook sometime for a long drive ...
13) Alanna / Tamora Pierce
A girl disguises herself as a boy in order to train as a knight. There's good and less good here. Topping the list is the clear and effortless prose. Less good is the way that everything seems to work out too easily for Alanna, up to and including (SPOILER!) a climactic fight with elder gods which our heroine has no business winning just yet. But then I fall outside the target audience so take my opinion on that for what it's worth. The writing is good enough that I'll probably read the next.
After reading about the Whackadoodle's comments on Black History Month I find myself weirdly reassured. I imagine Frederick Douglass rising with a rumbling "HELL no" and shambling angrily and hungrily Washingtonward.
So thanks for that image, Whackadoodle. It will keep me going a few days.
Alanna does tend to be a Mary Sue, but I agree you are WAY outside the target audience, and this was a fairly early fantasy series with a powerful female lead character.
>118 swynn: Wow, just wow. Those comments were unbelievably stupid and crass. I hope Frederick Douglass catches up with him soon.
>119 ronincats: I won't argue about its importance. In my recollection there was very little juvenile/YA science fiction or fantasy when I was young enough to enjoy it -- and what I was aware of, was mostly written for boys. Hooray for Tamora Pierce who certainly helped expand the audience.
Of course, I'm learning that there was a lot more being written than I was aware of, and I'm enjoying discovering stuff I missed even though I'm no longer the target audience -- or in this case, never really was.
14) The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse / Vicente Blasco Ibañez
The bestselling novel of 1919 is a translation of a Spanish family drama centered on the Great War.
Marcelo Desnoyers is a Frenchman who flees to Argentina in order to avoid service in the Franco-Prussian War. In Argentina he goes to work for a rich landowner, and eventually becomes the landowner's son-in-law and trusted partner. The landowner has another daughter, who marries an expatriate German. After the landowner's death Desnoyers and his German in-laws move back to France and Germany respectively, where the settle in just as tensions are building. The story follows Desnoyers as he builds riches in peacetime and counts his losses in war. It also follows his son Julio, an effete slacker with notions of being an artist, though he spends more time dancing tangos than making art. Julio has a melodramatic love affair with a married woman whose husband joins the army when he learns of the affair. When the husband returns wounded from the front, Julio cannot compete with such a heroic figure and so joins the army himself.
It's mostly pretty good, barring purple description and anti-German rants. The highlight is the Battle of the Marne, in which the elder Desnoyers becomes hopelessly trapped, and which is effectively horrific. Compared to other bestsellers we've read, this one has held up better than most.
>124 swynn: That actually sounds interesting, Steve. I'll have to look for it.
Trivia about Four Horsemen: it's been adapted to film at least twice: the first version, a 1921 silent directed by Rex Ingram, is arguably the film that made Rudolph Valentino a star. Valentino played the artist/tango dancer/soldier/son Julio Desnoyes. It was remade in 1962 by Vincente Minelli. The 1962 version moved the action to WWII, and featured Glenn Ford as Julio.
Not arguably, absolutely. June Mathis had to fight hard to get him cast in the the first place since he was a relative unknown, but the film was a smash and Rudy became an overnight superstar.
I re-watched the silent version recently---as per Quo Vadis, I have since had the experience of discovering that a film's famous ending isn't in its source novel. :)
>129 swynn: Thanks for the clarification, Liz! I was hedging my bets, since I assumed a case could be made for The Sheik. I haven't seen the silent version yet, but have it checked out from the library, and will probably watch it after this silly football game.
The Sheik consolidated it, but Four Horsemen was the one that "rocketed him to stardon", as the saying goes. :)
The issue with seeing the film first is that it tends to make you feel that Julio is the main character, whereas that isn't really the case in the novel.
Enjoy your silly football! I usually give it a look but I'm having trouble getting enthused about the teams this year.
>131 swynn: So I've seen the movie now. I found it not bad -- better anyway than that stupid football game. And yes, Ingram seemed to know he had a hot commodity with Valentino. It reminds me of what Elia Kazan did with East of Eden, turning a muligenerational family drama into a James Dean vehicle.
I got belatedly interested in your stupid football game after people starting comparing it to my own (local) football team's notorious choke-loss some years ago. Hurtful but accurate... :D
Yes, interesting to compare with East Of Eden!
I watch approximately one football game per year, and that was it.
A few years ago my son became interested in the Superbowl because everyone he knew was talking about it, so we watched it and it was kind of fun and we thought we'd do it again next year. Enthusiasm has waned for the game as a family activity: I watched it alone this year, so I guess that tradition is spent.
My interest this year was based on a friend's hatred of the Patriots (he calls them the "Cheatriots" for reasons he gleefully enumerates upon request), on this year's political context, and on the hope that someone would join me for a ritual that holds small personal appeal. And it sucked. Frankly, the whole "return in the fourth quarter from impossible odds" narrative felt as choreographed as Lady Gaga's halftime show.
Anyway, I'm unlikely to endure it again next year. I'll just skip right to the post-game movie -- or better, read a book. I have a few of those around ...
We are sporting people here and it's an important slice of life, but I must admit I bailed on our grand final day last year. Ordinarily my brother comes over and we make a day of it, but he and his family were away this year and the two teams involved were the two I hate most, so left to my own devices I---guess what?---read a book instead. :)
When these things become something you're "obliged" to do, it robs the event of its fun and therefore its point.
>133 swynn: I haven't been able to watch the NFL or Super Bowl for years because I don't have a TV and the broadcast networks won't allow people to access their allegedly free programming via online streaming. It's annoying, but I've learned that I don't really miss it. Too bad for them, I reckon. I chose to read another chunk of Middlemarch last night instead and consider my time well spent!
>134 lyzard: Agreed: fun things are fun. Everything else needs a reason.
>135 rosalita: I've read that viewership of football is in decline. I wonder how much of that is due to access restrictions.
In other news, the swynn home has a new lodger. The shelter called him "Bozo," but that name will not be spoken in his new home. Mrs. swynn has dubbed him "Buddy," which is an unarguably better name.
Buddy's not a reader yet, but I'm working on him.
>136 swynn: What a handsome fellow you are, Buddy! You have found yourself an excellent family to lodge with. Just don't chew on the books and you'll be fine.
Frank & Anita, Liz, Julia, and Amber: thanks for the greetings! I've passed them on to Buddy, who expressed that all that was just fine with him but what he really needed was a belly rub. I therefore administered one on behalf of all well-wishers.
15) Junky / William S. Burroughs
This is a semi-fictionalized memoir (just how "semi" is a fun game for critics, apparently) of Burroughs's life as a heroin addict and small-time dealer in post-WWII America. The goal is to explode myths like "reefer madness," without romanticizing drug addiction. The straightforward tone and journalistic style accomplish this pretty well but sometimes you wonder whether he's gone to far. He says, with no apparent intended irony, that kicking addiction is easy, after all he's done it himself dozens of times.
If you only know Burroughs from The Naked Lunch you'd be surprised at how accessible this book is. Everything is in chronological order and the only hint of Naked-Lunch style phantasmagoria is in accounts of his experiences with hallucinogens. My edition came with a critical introduction describing the work's history and its relation to the rest of Burroughs's work. I'm not familiar with the rest -- I tried reading TNL some twenty-five years ago and didn't last through page 10 -- but might give it another try sometime soon.
>136 swynn: Hi Buddy! Pass on a scratch between the ears for me, please Steve.
Took my cat to the vet this week (just a regular check up) and was enthusiastically greeted by a puppy (my guess would be a German Shepherd cross of some kind) named Tucker, which I thought was an excellent dog name.
>143 MickyFine: Buddy approves of your greeting. I agree that "Tucker" is also a good dog name.
>144 ronincats: (Extra scratch from Roni.) That's the stuff.
Buddy is settling in well, getting plenty of walks and lots of attention. Mrs. swynn growses that she's never tolerated such a clingy man. It's all bluff though: she loves him. Shelter dogs rule.
16) Paper and Fire / Rachel Caine
Second in Caine's "Great Library" series, set in a world where the Library of Alexandria never burned, but instead becomes the world's ruling power. The crew of Ink and Bone are now scattered; this volume follows their efforts to reunite and subvert the Library's abuses of power.
It wasn't as fresh as the first book, but then it could hardly be that. It's a decent continuation, and I found it fun enough to follow into a third book.
17) DAW #90: Mindship / Gerard F. Conway
Tagline: Mental cork for a cosmic bottle
This is Gerard F. Conway's second and last novel. His first, The Midnight Dancers, was published by Ace in 1971. I've not read it, but reviews are uniformly negative so I'm in no hurry to seek it out. This one is not bad, and it would have been interesting to see more from him. But as "Gerry Conway" he was already making a solid career writing for the comics. When Mindship appeared in 1974, Conway was scripting Marvel's flagship title The Fantastic Four. He'd already completed a historic run on The Amazing Spider Man, where he wrote the death of Gwen Stacy and the debut of the Punisher. Later, he'd go to work for DC where he and Al Milgrom created Firestorm, one of my favorite DC characters. Eventually Conway went on to work in Hollywood and television, which doubtless brought better compensation than a career in novels or comics. Still, Mindship is an interesting work and you can't help wondering what his next would have been like.
It's a space opera of sorts, where interstellar travel is powered by emotional energy. Every ship has "cork", a psychically sensitive officer responsible for monitoring and moderating the crew's moods. The cork also feeds their emotional energy to the captain, who uses that energy to drive the spaceship. But the cork's job is emotionally taxing, and nervous breakdowns are an occupational hazard. If a cork "pops" at the wrong time, the ship's entire crew is at risk.
Kilgarin was once a cork. On his last trip he came dangerously close to popping. So he has grounded himself and now runs a space-station brothel. But when a mindship captain comes with an unfilled contract from Kilgarin's younger brother. Kilgarin thought he had left his family behind with his career, but can't help an interest in his brother. The captain explains that the brother had signed on as a cork but popped on his very first voyage. His brother did not survive. Kilgarin investigates and quickly concludes that (a) his brother lacked the skill and experience to fill the contract, that (b) the captain should have seen that his brother was unqualified, and that (c) offering him the contract anyway might as well be murder. Kilgarin probes the captain's mind to learn his motive, but the answer hides behind an impenetrable mindblock. Kilgarin agrees to fill out his brother's contract, but his only interest is investigating his brother's death. He keeps his motive of course to himself.
While Kilgarin signs on, several of his friends sign on as crew. This is not a good sign -- personal attachments to crew will only increase his risk of popping. Worse, Kilgarin is not really a very good friend, and focusing on the murder investigation is not likely to make relationships easier. Complicating things further his friends have issues of their own, all of which prove distractions (and red herrings) to Kilgarin's investigation.
Let's get the obvious out of the way: a spaceship powered by feelings is just silly. On the other hand it's sooo seventies that for this project I'm giving it a pass. Granted the premise, the setup is promising. We have secrets and revenge; we have weary and broken characters, including a very flawed hero; we have a setting designed to be a powderkeg. Bring on the boom.
For me though it never really went boom. It didn't turn into action adventure, didn't even trurn into smoldering noir psychodrama. Pacing suffers as Kilgarin spends too much time chasing what are obviously red herrings. When the resolution does happen it's out of the blue and the wrap up is too tidy and wincingly Freudian. On the other hand, characters were interesting enough that had there been a sequel I'd have been up for it DAW or no.
So, a flawed but very interesting book from an author who went on to do very interesting other things.
The freaky faces-in-space cover is by Kelly Freas.
Next DAW: The Burrowers Beneath
18) Hero of the Empire / Candice Millard
A young Winston Churchill (the *other* Winston Churchill) loses his first political campaign. Hoping to make a name for himself, he goes to South Africa as a war correspondent covering the Boer War. He gets caught. He escapes. In short, his plan for calling attention to himself succeeds brilliantly.
Also succeeding brilliantly is this book, which makes Candice Millard 3 for 3 in turning historical footnotes into riveting narratives. I'm kind of geeked out that Millard is visiting a nearby book festival in April. They're headlining some "Rushdie" guy, but I'm going for Millard.
19) Dark Matter / Blake Crouch
No summary, no teaser, and no way no spoilers. Just this: it does what a thriller is supposed to do. So if you like 'em, read this one.
>152 rosalita: I haven't read Run, but I've liked his Abandon and his Wayward Pines trilogy. Neither of those has an airtight plot, and Dark Matter doesn't either. It's true that Crouch hides some story weaknesses behind a breakneck pace, a strategy that I'm often willing to forgive.
That said, one thing I liked about Dark Matter is that there was one point about two-thirds of the way through when just as I was thinking, "Waitaminnit. Given his premises X and Y, why isn't Z happening?" And then Z happened and I thought, "Nice."
20) Rendezvous With Rama / Arthur C. Clarke
Thank you Brodie and Julia for prompting me to read this finally! Loved it.
I've known about it of course for ever, as a canonical "big dumb object" book. A mysterious cylindrical object appears in nearby space. Humans go to investigate. By the book's end many questions remain unanswered.
That's actually a pretty fair description so the story didn't surprise me. Here are things that did.
First, the date. I had thought this was from the 1950s, contemporary with Asimov's Foundation and early robot stories. But 1973 is contemporary with the DAW books I'm reading. That means it's post-New Wave, written in a context where other writers were looking to be more literary: experimenting with prose, writing complicated characters, and making social and political commentary.
Which makes the next surprise all the more surprising: how completely unconcerned Clarke is with trickeries of style, character arcs, or social awareness. Not that his characters are uninteresting. Clarke' describes several social groups with competing political or religious agendas, but he doesn't seem to be commenting on current events so much as he is creating a world in which events have moved on from current preoccupations. Even thirty-four years later it does not feel dated.
Another surprise: I knew that questions would be unanswered. What I didn't know was that *every* question would be unanswered. Things got curiouser and curiouser until it was just over. And yet: physics still applies so despite a lack of answers it always *feels* like the answers are there. They taunt like one of those problems in number theory that are simple to state but difficult to prove: you always feel the result would be obvious if only you could find the right approach. I can see why this book attracts such strong devotion.
Last surprise: I knew that a sequel (Rama II) came years & years later in response to persistent requests from fans. What I didn't know was how strongly Rendezvous With Rama seems to promise a sequel, or how badly I'd want one too. I hear it's disappointing. I'm reading it anyway.
Swynn! I am so glad you took the plunge with Rama. Your review is fantastic! I started to reread it last month, but got distracted and put it down. I'll get back to it shortly.
I may be in the minority, but I loved the sequel trilogy. The more you know, the more you don't. LOL. I hope you enjoy it.
>150 swynn: >151 swynn: I also enjoyed both of these last year. Millard's Destiny of the Republic remains a favorite. As you said, Dark Matter is a good thriller.
>155 brodiew2: Glad to hear that the sequels are not universally disliked. Something to look forward to, I hope!
>154 swynn: I read that one last year and liked it, too. I'm not going to try the sequel, though, I think - I like not having the answers...
>157 scaifea: I also like the idea of everything being enigmatic ... but the thing about an enigma is that I want to know more, whether "all is revealed" or not.
21) The Art of the English Murder / Lucy Worsley
Here's a fun idea: a history of the public consumption of murder narratives in Great Britain. Murder mysteries come immediately to mind but they turn out to be a later development. Worsley begins in the early 19th century with the Ratcliff Highway murders, which inspired Thomas DeQuincey's On Murder Considered As One of the Fine Arts. She covers many topics: murder tourism, public executions as entertainment, Madame Toussaud's waxworks, "penny dreadfuls", and the rise of the literary detective. The final third is reserved for an appreciation of the classic mystery format, with special attention to Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers.
It's written as a companion to the BBC television series, "A Very British Murder." As you might expect with a television tie-in, it's polished, attractive, accessible, and light. Fortunately, Worsley offers suggestions for further reading: Judith Flanders' The Invention of Murder promises to offer more detail on the bits I found most interesting.
I read The Invention Of Murder the year before last, I think: I was familiar with most of the cases covered thanks to a long personal history of true-crime and Victoriana reading, but it puts a lot of things into context---as well as alternately making my blood boil and chill with its accounts of evident miscarriages of justice. What I came away with chiefly was a vivid understanding of how the invention of the amateur detective in the late 19th century was a direct response to public concern over the (mis)conduct of Scotland Yard: the idea of the infallible righter of wrongs must have been a comforting fantasy.
>154 swynn: Great review, Steve! I'm so glad you loved Rama as much as I did. It was my first-ever sci-fi book and I was captivated completely. As for the sequels, follow your instincts, I guess. The next one isn't too bad, but IMO they get progressively worse. I felt like I could really tell the switch in main author (to Gentry Lee) to the detriment of the story, but I could have been imagining things. And as I said, I have little experience with SF (a little more now than then), so perhaps the things that bothered me wouldn't bother someone more experienced with the genre.
Please consider posting your review, so I can give you a thumb!
>21 FAMeulstee: Sounds like one I need to find, and probably the Flanders too.
The Worsley books looks good, Steve. I must check out the series as well.
>160 lyzard: Good to hear you found TIOM useful. One of the interesting things to me was how police services and procedures (and public expectations of them) evolved with public interest in crime. It will be interesting to read Flanders's take.
>161 rosalita: Thanks, Julia! My review is posted. Your comments make me even more interested in Rama II.
>162 drneutron: Hope you like them, Jim!
>163 BLBera: Hope you like the book, Beth. If you can find the series online somewhere, let me know!
>165 rosalita: None taken! It will probably be at least a couple of months before I get around to it. Probably longer.
22) DAW #91: The Burrowers Beneath / Brian Lumley
Tagline: The earth's original rulers are waking!
Brian Lumley is probably best known for his very successful series Necroscope, which features a psychic polymath vampire hunter. What we have here is Lumley's first published novel, featuring a psychic polymath hunter of Lovecraft monsters.
In somewhat clearer detail than Lovecraft would have done, Lumley lays out a history for the monsters which goes something like this: in the distant past the Elder Gods ruled the Earth. The Great Old Ones, including beasts like Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth rebelled against the Elder Gods but were defeated. The Elder Gods confined the Old Ones within the earth and sealed their prisons with various wards and enchantments. Those seals have survived the millennia down to modern times, when the seals are being broken one by one by humans who disregard the old superstitions as they go digging or mining or exploring.
Enter Titus Crow, a seventy-something occult investigator and psychic who monitors news around the globe for evidence of awakened Old Ones. For example: Crow's interest is piqued by a story of a mine inspector who descended into an abandoned mine in Yorkshire and reported tunnels that no known machinery could have excavated, chanting sounds that filled the mysterious tunnels, and curious "cave pearls" which the inspector discovered and fetched to the surface. The inspector's story is ridiculed by all but Crow, who is convinced that the inspector stumbled into a lair of an Old One, probably Shudde-M'ell. Worse: the cave-pearls turn out to be Shudde-M'ell's eggs, and the Old One is anxious to retrieve them.
Unlike Lovecraft's heroes, who are helpless against ancient powers, Lumley's heroes fight back. Crow and his Watsonish sidekick Marigny hook up with the Wilmarth Foundation, an agency working out of Miskatonic University in Massachusetts. The Wilmarth Foundation crew knows of a growing number around the world of Shudde-M'ell's spawn. They also have plans for trapping and killing the monsters, and even for confronting the great Shudde-M'ell itself. Action and terror ensue.
It's a mixed bag. There are bits -- the inspector's exploration of the eerie mine, for instance, or a story about an ill-fated drillship -- which manage a Lovecraftish creepiness. On the other hand, you can't fight monsters unless they have weaknesses, and once you know their weaknesses the monsters just don't feel Lovecraftian anymore. (Especially when they can be killed by
The cover is gorgeously ententacled by Tim Kirk.
Yes, the paradox with monster stories, isn't it??
Ugh, least favourite disposal method ever. It's even worse than
>169 lyzard: I could forgive it if our setting were Arrakis or even the Sahara. But Yorkshire. No wonder the Elder Gods won ...
23) The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon / Tom Spanbauer
I have deeply mixed feelings about this, the story of a mixed-race son of a prostitute in 19th-century Idaho. Shed's life is an unpleasant one: his father disappears sometime before the book begins; he is raped by one of his mother's clients, who soon afterward kills his mother. He becomes a prostitute himself while still a young adolescent. He leaves town to explore his heritage and becomes sexually involved with a man he believes is his father. The story is full of sex. consensual and otherwise, murder and meanness, plenty to make a reader uncomfortable, and Shed presents it all as if were a series of quirky stories by flawed but mostly goodhearted characters -- a sort of Lake Wobegon with incest. One of the more disturbing bits comes near the end, when Spanbauer introduces a traveling Black minstrel show, for the sole apparent purpose of having them killed off by repressed religious baddies. And yet: it's terrifically written, and one can't help but admire the way that Shed shapes meaning from a life determined to wear him down. No recommendation either way on this one, but it's likely to stick with me for awhile.
24) The Man of the Forest / Zane Grey
This was America's bestselling book in 1921. It's Grey's second book with that distinction, the first having been The U.P. Trail, which Liz & I read a couple months ago and which, you may recall, featured the abductedest girl in the West. For this book, Grey slows the pace way down, to its benefit, which is not to say the book is problem-free.
Milt Dale is a reclusive man of the forest in the White Mountains of Arizona. By accident Milt overhears some badguys planning to kidnap Helen Rayner, daughter of rancher Al Auchincloss. Helen is traveling west to help her aging uncle manage his land, and to take it over when he passes. The baddies intend to abduct her from the stagecoach and force Al to sign over his land. Dale jumps into action, intercepting Helen and her sister before the kidnappers have their boots on, and spirits them away to a forest hideout until they can meet safely with their uncle. The bad guys of course don't give up so easily.
It's a better book than The U.P. Trail: the pacing is nowhere near as frenetic; the hero behaves more heroically; and there's some nice scenery. There's also some clumsy homespun philosophizing but that stops before it gets too thick. It even lacks the mean anti-Mormonism of Riders of the Purple Sage. At times it's quite fun, as when Helen's sister is abducted by outlaws (you knew it had to happen eventually) and treats it as a grand adventure. (Genuine outlaws! Hooray!)
On the other hand, the characters aren't very complicated and the plot holds few surprises. Worst, Grey's racism is on display, and a certain sufferance is required for terms like "half breed" and "greaser" and the attitudes that accompany them. Despite its strengths I won't seek out more Zane Greys.
>172 swynn: Zane Grey is one of those iconic authors that I have always meant to read, because I have a soft spot for old westerns. Then Joanne (I think) reviewed a couple and I was shocked at how terrible he was. I realize "in the context of his era" blah blah blah, but I decided life's too short. Now I'm just hoping no one spoils my impression of Louis L'Amour before I get to reading him!
>173 rosalita: Well, *I* won't be the one to talk you into sampling Zane Grey. I'm not much of a Western reader, though I have enjoyed some of Elmore Leonard's westerns and a couple of Max Brand's -- though the Brands have been years and years ago and I'd be hard-pressed to name titles. I don't think I've ever read a Louis L'Amour, so I won't spoil anything there.
My father was a western buff and, for what's it's worth, preferred Louis L'Amour and Max Brand. I don't remember him reading Zane Grey.
25) Countdown City / Ben H. Winters
Second in Winters's "Last Policeman" series, featuring Henry Palace, a police detective in New Hampshire, in the last few months before human civilization is wiped out by a doomsday meteor. In this one Palace has been laid off along with most of the rest of the police force, but when a childhood friend asks him to track down her disappeared husband he can't say no-- after all he's a policeman and after all what else is there to do? Meanwhile, his sister is getting involved with a fringe group who think that the government is suppressing a strategy that could save everybody.
It's an excellent book that finds a perfect mix of fatalism, persistence, and mystery. Too bad there's only one more book. But then, how many more could there be?
>176 brodiew2: I'm looking forward to them too, Brodie! Too bad it didn't work for you -- I've heard mostly good things about it so I'm hoping for a better experience.
>177 swynn: I need to get round to that series soon - it looks so good...
26) Latin@ Rising / Matthew David Goodwin (ed.)
This is a collection of science-fiction and fantasy stories and poems by Latino and Latina (hence the typographical elegance "Latin@") authors. Like most anthologies, there are a few standouts, a couple of duds, and a big middle ground ranging from pretty good to not my cuppa. The standouts for me are:
Junot Diaz's "Monstro," about a bunch of kids hanging out in the Dominican Republic on the eve of a doomsday contagion;
Sabrina Vourvoulias's "Sin Embargo," a linguistically playful story told by a woman who works with survivors of state violence -- including, maybe, a creature of folklore;
and Richie Narvaez's "Room for Rent," about a poor slumdweller dealing with an infestation of humans.
The excellent cover art is by Liliana Wilson.
27) The Genius of Birds / Jennifer Ackerman
Not so long ago it was believed that birds were not especially bright; that the physics of flight selected for light bodies and, since brain tissue is relatively heavy, small brains. It turns out though that some birds are bright. And some are *really* bright.
A bird's intelligence is not necessarily the same sort of thing as a primate's intelligence. Or even another bird's. Some researchers even hesitate to use the term "intelligence" with all its baggage. Ackerman suggests the alternative "genius," in the sense of a mental skill that is exceptional compared with others. And she gives anecdotes and examples of birds who have exceptional mental skills.
Among birds there are species with remarkable tool making abilities: as far as we know there are exactly two species on the planet who craft hooks as tools, and the second is ravens. Other birds excel socially: different species display teaching, parenting, courtship, philandering, and consoling behavior. It's even suggested that some species' intelligence is related to a need to manage the social demands of multiple sexual pairings. Others are vocally brilliant, able to learn, modify, and teach one another complex songs. Some seem to have an aesthetic sense, notably the Australian bower bird, whose nests are so carefully built that European explorers mistook the for aboriginal dollhouses. Others, like the homing pigeon, are expert orienteers: they seem to maintain mental maps of their home terrain and navigate the maps using multiple senses: sight, sensitivity to magnetic fields, probably smell, and who knows what else. Ackerman closes with a chapter on a skill that many species will need in the coming decades of climate change: adaptability. She singles out sparrows as being remarkably adept at finding new places to call home and finding new things to call supper. Other species like herons will have a more difficult time.
It's fascinating and well written and recommended to those who find the subject interesting.
Interesting look at our feathered friends, Steve. This isn't about birds, but have you been following the latest research on bumblebees? Apparently they are capable of learning new tasks, AND also teaching them to other bumblebees. Amazing little creatures!
>186 rosalita: I can't say I've been following the research closely, but I did read a story in the New York Times a couple of weeks ago about researchers who trained bees to move a ball. Very interesting.
One thing that Ackerman talks about is the assumption that brain size determines mental ability. Turns out that's not true. The important thing is density of neurons, and if you can pack more neurons into a small brain than your neighbor does into his larger one, then there are probably tasks at which you can outperform him. So yeah, tiny bees tiny brains but that doesn't mean they're dumb.
28) DAW #92: Promised Land / Brian Stableford
Tagline: Where all is harmony and only man is vile
This is the third in Stableford's "Hooded Swan" series featuring starship pilot Grainger and the mental parasite sharing his brain.
In this one, Grainger is between missions on his home base planet of New Alexandria. Grainger is joyriding through the countryside when he sees a girl fleeing from a couple of thugs. He rescues the girl Alyne, but only temporarily -- it turns out that Alyne has run away from a nearby colony of Anacaona, which is where the law assumes she belongs. It further turns out that the colony is run by Grainger's boss, who also employs the thugs. When the law catches up to Grainger they return Alyne to her colony, and Grainger to an unamused boss.
The very next day Alyne disappears from the colony. Grainger is briefly suspected, but it is quickly discovered that another Anacaona colonist has kidnapped the girl and is taking her to the planet Chao Phrya. Grainger's next mission: follow the girl and her abductor. Get her back.
Here's the thing about Chao Phrya. It was colonized by humans traveling on a generation ship, the Zodiac. The human colonists had a religious bent which only bent more over the generations-long voyage. Chao Phrya was their Promised Land, and that promise did not change with the news that Chao Phrya was already inhabited. The humans of the Zodiac just took over, wiping out the native culture and making the Anacaona slaves. Odd thing was, the Anacaona seemed not to mind.
But while the Zodiac pilgrims made their way to Chao Phrya, human civilization expanded and technology advanced. The Zodiac colony was barely established when someone arrived from the New Alexandrian empire to tell the colonists what they could and couldn't do -- and slavery topped the "couldn't" list. That's when New Alexandria established the Anacaona colony, far from the religious colony's interference, in order to preserve and study what culture remained.
Grainger arrives at Chao Phrya well ahead of the kidnapper, but the Chao Phryan government won't let him land. But then the kidnapper does arrive, and lands without authorization far from human outposts, presumably in the vicinity of some remote Anacaona village. Reluctantly the Chao Phryans admit Grainger and arrange for him to accompany an expedition to the landing site.
The expedition takes up the remainder of the book. It's a difficult journey through rough terrain but fortunately the expedition has Anacaona leaders. From other members of the expedition Grainger learns about a myth of the "Indris," a race of Anacaona gods, now extinct. This myth is relevant because the Anacaona may believe the kidnapped girl to be an Indris reborn. As the expedition continues, the journey wears on its members: the Anacaona fall ill, the other get lost, and Grainger finds himself surrounded by a swarm of giant spiders.
Grainger never reaches the Anacaona village on his own strength, but after his rescue from the spiders he meets the kidnapper, who wraps up the mystery: the girl is in fact an Indris, but the Indris were not gods. Instead, the Indris were a race of humanoid space-travelers who ran an interstellar empire long before humans came on the scene. The Anacaona were derived from Indris stock, genetically engineered for compliance. For some uncertain reason the Indris disappeared from Chao Phrya, leaving behind their Anacaona servants. Bred to serve, the Anacaona were happy to serve their new human masters and to adopt the human culture. Somehow Grainger's boss had figured out the Anacaona's heritage and decided to try to resurrect its parent race. Alyne was that very experiment: a girl genetically retroengineered with the old Indris genes. That explains her value to Grainger's boss, but as a living piece of their heritage she was valuable to the Anacaona also. The Anacaona conspired to return Alyne to Chao Phrya in order to expose all Anacaona to Indris, to balance their exposure to humans. Now that this had happened, the girl could be returned to New Alexandria, satisfying Grainger's boss and completing Grainger's mission.
I quite enjoyed the first two books in this series, but this one has such a lot going on that it's difficult not to feel conflicted about it. Props to Stableford for addressing issues of colonialism back in 1974 in a way that acknowledges complicated relationships between colonizer and colonized. But it's hard to feel any resolution to the moral drama. It's hard to see how mere exposure to the Indris fixes anything. There is some noise about "communicating the being of the Indris," which sounds to me like "I'm near my required word count so I'll just wrap this up." Worse, Alyne has no agency at all: she's just a football, and the story's resolution doesn't change that. It doesn't help that Grainger makes offhand dismissive remarks about "lady pilots" along the way. So 1970s.
So: very flawed but ambitious and interesting. Looking forward to the next.
The cover's freaky orchid-fungus is brought to you by Kelly Freas.
It doesn't help that Grainger makes offhand dismissive remarks about "lady pilots" along the way.
But isn't it reassuring to know that not everything will change in THE FUTURE!??
Pity the giant spiders didn't suck him dry...
>189 lyzard: Pity the giant spiders didn't suck him dry...
In this one he sure had it coming. But it's just as well they didn't for the sake of the psychic parasite, who seems a decent being.
Oh, I forgot! Yes, you're right: I guess we'll have to give him a pass for the sake of his passenger.
29) The Evening Spider / Emily Arsenault
Here's a nice counterpoint to "Don't need no lady pilots." It's a thoughtful and effective ghost story about Abby, a young mother living in a haunted house in Connecticut, alternating with chapters about Frances, another young mother living in the same house a hundred and some years earlier. The contemporary narrative involves Abby exploring Frances's diary and her mysterious commitment to a mental institution, even as events in her house grow ever more disturbing. The historical narrative explains the mystery, in context of an actual 19th-century crime.
The mood is quietly creepy and the resolution is satisfying. Recommended.
>193 swynn: It is, Julia! Hope you like it if you decide to check it out for yourself.
30) The Diamond Deep / Brenda Cooper
Last fall I read and enjoyed Edge of Dark, a space opera pitting transhumans against environmentalists and corporatists. It was the first book in a series, but it turns out the series is a sequel to an earlier series. Book one of that series was The Creative Fire, which was essentially Evita set on a generation ship and which I didn't enjoy nearly as much, mostly because the heroine was a Mary Sue based on a politician whose appeal eludes my understanding.
The Diamond Deep is an improvement over The Creative Fire. The generation ship has come home to the system where Edge of Dark takes place. We get our first encounter with the transhumans and step into the political maneuvering that helped make Edge of Dark so interesting.
But still, it's not as satisfying as Edge of Dark. The heroine's appeal continues to elude me. (Call me crazy, but reading about a vain populist hero whose primary skill is a naive showmanship ... it's just not very entertaining right now.) I had problems with the ending, which tries to wrap things up too neatly in a compressed and implausible courtroom drama. Also with the plot, in which a villain who is supposed to be a crafty Macchiavel, carries out a plan dreadful in its unsubtlety. Although I suppose the fact that our heroine falls for it so easily argues for not asking vain populist celebrities with no political experience to run your !@#$ country.
Ship, I mean. Ship. I digress. Deep breath.
My enthusiasm for the series(es) has obviously waned, but I'm still going to read the sequel to Edge of Dark, in which the Evita character will not appear. That at least should help.
The series does deserve some credit, though for having two covers featuring fully-clothed redheads. (See Liz? Everything *will* change in the future!) Both covers are by John Picacio.
31) Dusk or Dark or Dawn or Day / Seanan McGuire
Others have loved this, so I'm a little sorry to say I was disappointed. For me the story spent too much time explaining rules, many of which felt arbitrary (In what way is a bone more "dead" than a rock? Does it matter if the rock is granite or calcite?) It's short, but felt longer than it needed to be.
I am very grateful, though, for the story's introducing me to Martha Keller's poem "Widow," which is the source of the line "Dusk or dark or dawn or day"; and is the gut-punching piece of writing that I wish the story had been.
But mine is the minority opinion. It's short, it has ghosts, and it's by Seanan McGuire. You probably know whether you're going to read it, and if you do I hope you like it better than I did.
32) Death on Demand / Carolyn G. Hart
First in Hart's "Death on Demand" series featuring amateur detective Annie Laurance, who runs a mystery bookstore when she's not solving murders. In this one the victim is an unlikeable author about to publish a gossipy book about the private lives of his fellow mystery writers. He drops inconveniently dead in Annie's shop, making her a prime suspect. Annie is joined in the investigation by her upper-class boyfriend Max Darling, who provides some entertaining patter. Among the book's appealing features is its frequent references to golden-age mysteries. There are quite a few overt references to specific titles, and I expect there were even more that I missed due to lack of familiarity.
It's okay, but didn't made me eager for the next.
Hi Steve - The Evening Spider looks good. I read the Hart series years ago and enjoyed it; I wonder if it would age well? From your description, I suspect my tastes have changed, and it wouldn't hold up.
I had a great meet-up in Portland; I'm anxious for the marathon meet-up in May? As the dates get closer, let me know. I think Julia is interested as well.
>202 BLBera: Hey Beth! I'm still planning to do the Med City Marathon in May. The race is on Sunday May 28, but I'll need to be in town on Saturday for free beer. I mean packet pickup. Well, also beer.
I expect that Saturday will be the ideal day for a meetup, but I'm flexible. I'll probably take a day or two on either side, or both sides, to visit family in the area.
33) Famous Modern Ghost Stories / Dorothy Scarborough (ed.)
A collection of weird tales from the late 19th and early 20th century. Except for the Poe and the Machen these were all new to me. I found this so fun that I plan to read more of these vintage anthologies. My favorites are the ones by Blackwood, Andreyev, Bierce, and Steele.
The Willows by Algernon Blackwood.
Two guys go canoeing down the Danube in flood season. They find themselves stranded on a temporary island in a marsh, where they encounter something(s) very old and not fund of humans.
The Shadows on the Wall by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Conventional ghost story about murder and revenge.
The Messenger by Robert W. Chambers
A collection of old bones are unearthed from an 18th-century battlefield in Brittany. One of the skulls belonged to the infamous Black Priest, who betrayed his countrymen to the English and who doesn't care for being dug up ...
Lazarus by Leonid Andreyev
Jesus may have raised Lazarus, but Lazarus arose not quite right. This story follows his life after the miracle story, in which Lazarus becomes not a sign of divine grace but an unpleasant and unwelcome reminder of mortality.
The Beast With Five Fingers by W.F. Harvey
I'm not quite sure what to make of this story about a possessed severed hand. At least it doesn't take itself very seriously.
The Mass of Shadows by Anatole France
A pious lace-maker wanders into a church during a mass attended by the dead.
What Was It? by Fitz-James O'Brien
In a New York boarding house reputed to be haunted, two new boarders capture an invisible creature, but then cannot decide what to do with it.
The Middle Toe of the Right Foot by Ambrose Bierce
Story about murder and revenge, centered on a duel in a haunted house.
The Shell of Sense by Olivia Howard Dunbar
A ghost watches as her still-living husband and sister become close. At first she jealously tries to drive them apart, but eventually accepts their relationship.
The Woman at Seven Brothers by Wilbur Daniel Steele
An apprentice lighthouse-keeper finds himself an uncomfortable observer of the senior keeper's difficult marriage. The old man married a girl half his age, and she does not abide well the isolation of the lighthouse. One day the old man and his bride go out for an excursion and only come back sort of ...
At the Gate by Myla Jo Closser
Ghosts of dogs wait at the pearly gates for their masters to pass over.
Ligeia by Edgar Allan Poe
A widower can't get over the loss of his perfect bride, and finds a way to remake his new wife in her image. Critics seem to love this story, but I've never cared for it much-- I like the idea well enough, but for my taste Poe wastes the first half with an overlong and overworked ode to Ligeia's beauty. Half as long would have worked twice as well.
The Haunted Orchard by Richard le Gallien
A city boy rents a lonely New England farmhouse for the summer. One afternoon while reading under an apple-tree in the empty orchard he hears a sad voice singing an old French song.
The Bowmen by Arthur Machen
This story about heavenly forces covering a retreat of British forces in WWI is the source of the legend of the Angel of Mons.
A Ghost by Guy de Maupassaant
A soldier meets an old friend; the friend relates how he was briefly married but that his wife is now dead. Since her death he has not reentered his home and instead lives in a nearby hotel; now he needs some papers from the house, but cannot bear to return. The soldier agrees to fetch the papers for his friend. At the house he meets his friend's dead wife.
34) Impulse / Dave Bara
First in the "Lightship Chronicles" space opera/military-sf series. Peter Cochrane is a son of the Quantar nobility and a young officer about to take his first assignment in the Royal Navy. But when the lightship Impulse is attacked by forces unknown, losing most of her crew and barely limping back home, Cochrane is reassigned to it. The Impulse's next mission: return to the scene the attack and figure out what happened and who did it.
This series has gotten a lot of good press, but I can't share the enthusiasm. You've got a miltary where orders from superior officers are routinely questioned or disputed, and where risky assignments are rotinely given to ranking officers. There's actually one bit where a ship is hijacked after the ship's commanding officer goes exploring dangerous territory on a shuttle; the second-in command follows in another shuttle just in case the boss finds trouble; and when trouble finds him anyway the third ranking officer leaves in yet another shuttle to save numbers one and two. The good news for recruits, I suppose, is that a red shirt is probably the safest uniform on board.
There's more: the prose tends to ramble; and there are a couple of wooden attempts at romance. (Cochrane, of course is irresistible to women.)
I'll probably continue the series eventually since it's published by DAW, but I'll be in no hurry about it. (And since it's DAW #1,679 it's unlikely to sneak up on me.)
35) Die Trying / Lee Child
Second in the Jack Reacher series. In this one Reacher takes on the Montana militia. Guess who wins?
>205 swynn: The good news for recruits, I suppose, is that a red shirt is probably the safest uniform on board. LOL
36) Three to Get Deadly / Janet Evanovich
I know I said I wasn't going to continue this series anytime soon. But a friend told me I really should read at least the first three in the series, since the third was one of her favorites. And I have to agree: the first two entries were enjoyable, but in this one Uncle Mo's predicament drew me in and the ensemble cast hit the right balance. From the first two I think I understood the series's broad appeal, but it's this one that makes me appreciate it. I'll probably read another one soon, but had better be careful not to binge.
Hello, Steve! I need to get round to Evanovich at some point, I think.
The ghost stories sound good, Steve.
I agree about the third Evanovich. It's my favorite.
"Please spay or neuter your pets. They will be happier and will love you for it."
Yeah, right. Why do I feel like he's plotting his revenge?
>214 swynn: Awww. There's no look quite like the "stuck in a cone of shame" look.
>214 swynn: Oh boy, that's definitely A Look you're getting there. At least it's a see-through cone, which must make it slightly more pleasant for the pup.
>215 MickyFine: I think you're right. Once the drugs wore off he was back to his old self -- except when wearing The Cone.
>216 ursula: It's unique all right. I sympathize but tell him that if he'd keep his tongue out of his crotch he wouldn't have this problem. (To which his look replies: admit it, Two-Legs, you're just jealous.) His disgust is actually kind of adorable.
>217 rosalita: I expect it's better than an opaque cone, but it's small consolation. Even though it's transparent the cone is awkward, heavy, and humiliating. We're only making him wear it at night and are keeping a close eye on him through the day. The whole family will be glad when it's over.
>218 swynn: Sounds about right. I recently took my cat to the vet for a check-up and wasn't sure how he'd react as the only previous visit we'd done was when he was neutered a couple years ago. He was the definition of chill, which was a relief as my previous cat HATED the vet with a passion.
37) Lost Among the Stars / Paul Di Filippo
Collection of 11 stories. My favorites were "City of Beauty, City of Scars," set in a pyramid-shaped city where physical beauty is power and affluence; "The Kings of Mount Golden," a steampunk retelling of the Grimm fairy tale "The King of the Golden Mountain"; and "Ghostless", about a medium who connects departed souls with people needing a haunt.
38) Raiders of Gor / John Norman
Sixth in Norman's Gor series (think John Carter with a bondage fetish and a pathological hostility toward women). In this one Tarl Cabot gets himself captured. Cabot is given a choice between an honorable death and slavery; to his own surprise he chooses slavery. He's not a slave for long, of course, but his entire self-image is shattered by his dishonorable choice. He goes to Port Kar, a den of thieves and pirates reputed to be the least honorable city in Gor. There he plans to live only for himself, accumulating as much money, power, and women as possible. In spite of himself he becomes Admiral of the Port Kar Navy in a couple of weeks and saves the city from a dastardly plot.
It's a particularly whiney entry in a series that's not recommended anyway. Fortunately, I have only one more pre-DAW volume to go.
39) Infomocracy / Malka Older
This is a political thriller set in a near future of microdemocracies. The world (except for Saudi Arabia and maybe a few other spots) is divided into thousands of "centones", districts with population around 100,000, each of which democratically elects its own government. There's also a federal government, occupied by whichever party earns the "supermajority" across all centones. The "thriller" part involves plots by one party to gain advantage, or to to sabotage another paty's advantage, and plots to gain the supermajority by whatever means necessary. It's a fun romp through an interesting political landscape. As it happens, my world doesn't seem to be moving in the direction of increased democracy so it's nice to imagine one that is, warts and all.
40) Main Street / Sinclair Lewis
This is a re-read for me. I first read it back in 2010 -- goodness me has it been that long? I remembered little about it, just that it was about a a young librarian who married a rural doctor, that she had various plans to reform her husband's small town, and that the town didn't want reforming.
Apparently I found it very funny back then, and it made me chuckle again this time around. I apparently also thought it was very much a period piece. I don't remember exactly what I was thinking when I wrote that, but my guess is that I thought small-town life had changed quite a bit since 1920, especially with respect to communications technology. You no longer have to wait for a visitor from the city to know what fashions are in vogue, nor even to have a conversation with a friend in New York City. Changes in transportation also mean that most small-town residents can participate in city life if they choose to do so. If that's what I was thinking then, I have to say I was a little bit right and wrong. Rural life can still be isolating and depressing, and residents of small towns can still be frustratingly smug about its supposed virtues. For many people stuck in small towns, the improvements in communications and transportation only makes the isolation worse. (This comes as no news to many readers I'm sure.) To my older and less sanguine self Main Street feels more relevant than it did seven years ago.
Though it's not without its flaws. There's a meanness that I interpreted as a general misanthropy, but which is probably related to what Liz identifies as a masculine bias. The mean streak undercuts Lewis's message about the dullness of small-town life, making it seem dismissive of human beings as a whole.
Still: it is frequently funny. I was right about that at least, seven years ago.
Hugo nominations are out, and they look really good this year!
"Really good" as in, "normal." The last couple of years there have been concerted efforts by a couple of groups to dominate the ballot with their own preferences or with angry mock-nominations like My Little Pony and bizarre space-dinosaur porn. Really. And the space-dinosaur porn play backfired because its author handled the situation so entertainingly well that he got a (righteous, IMO) nomination this year for "Best Fan Writer."
I'm voting again this year, so I'll read through as much as I can. Here's the novel ballot:
All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
Death's End by Cixin Liu
Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee
The Obelisk Gate by N.K. Jemisin
Too Like the Lightning by Ada Palmer
All of these I've either read or were on my radar. I've read the Anders, the Lee, and the Jemisin. (I had mixed feelings about the first, and unmixed enthusiasm for the second and third.) The Palmer is already sitting on my table waiting to be my next read. I don't expect to rank anything below "No Award" this year, despite my mixed feelings about the Anders. The Anders and the Liu are continuations of series I first have to catch up on -- but the first book in Chambers' series is already on my Kindle. I'll just bump it up a bit.
In other awards news, Wolf Erbruch has won the Astrid Lindgren award for children's literature. Erbruch illustrated one of my favorite children's books, Vom kleinen Maulfwurf, der wissen wollte, wer ihm auf den Kopf gemacht hat, which has been variously translated as The Story of the Little Mole who Went in Search of Whodunit, or "The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business" -- but whose proper translation is "About the Little Mole Who Wanted to Know Who Pooped On His Head." (Or even more properly, " ... Who Had Pooped On His Head," but who's a grammar nerd? ) We had the German edition so for my son the translation was mine and he would ask for the book as "The Mole Who Pooped on His Head," which I thought was an even better title to an even more interesting story that remains to be written.
And yes, I have an inner two-year old who thinks it's *hilarious* to run around with poop on your head asking all your friends and neighbors, "Pardon me, is this yours?" Considering the popularity of fart jokes in this group I think I'm in excellent company.
41) Still Midnight / Denise Mina
First in Mina's crime series featuring Glasgow detective Alex Morrow. In this one a couple of inept kidnappers take an elderly immigrant shopkeeper hostage and hold him for ransom, believing that he's somehow related to a powerful and unimaginably rich con man. Alex Morrow is due to be assigned to case, which could be a career-maker, except that it's given instead to a more experienced (and male) detective instead, to whom she's given a subordinate role. This doesn't lighten the chip on her shoulder, which is already pretty heavy.
Moody with bursts of violence, it's noiry noiry noir. I liked it.
>224 swynn: I think you mean Jemisin and Liu are continuations of series up there. I've read two of the novels, also with mixed feelings about the Anders. I was entranced by Too Like the Lightning, although there were some elements near the end that struck me as over the top. However, I'm willing to see where she goes with that in the second book. I have no excuse for not reading the Jemisin yet--it's been on my nightstand for months and I really liked the first book of the series. I also liked the first Chambers book, and I've got the first Liu book on my Kindle and on my schedule for this month. And Dr. Neutron's review got Ninefox Gambit on my reserve list at the library.
Now of the series nominations, I think they are really good.
The Craft Sequence, Max Gladstone (Tor)
The Expanse, James S.A. Corey (Orbit US; Orbit UK)
The October Daye Books, Seanan McGuire (DAW; Corsair)
The Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz; Del Rey; DAW; Subterranean)
The Temeraire series, Naomi Novik (Del Rey; Harper Voyager UK)
The Vorkosigan Saga, Lois McMaster Bujold (Baen)
I'm up to date on the Vorkosigans, the Craft Sequence, Peter Grant and October Daye. I petered out after the third Temeraire book although I hear the last few books in the series picked up again. And I've had the first book of the Expanse series in my tbr pile forever and have heard good things about it.
Good morning, swynn!
>221 swynn: This review was quite humorous. Thanks. I've heard of this series, might even have owned one once, but never read it.
>226 ronincats: Actually Chambers and Liu are the continuations I have to catch up on.
I am caught up on the Jemisin, and liked The Obelisk Gate well enough to nominate it. My other nominees that made it to the final ballot are: Ninefox Gambit in the novel category; The Ballad of Black Tom and This Census-Taker in the novella category; and Geek Feminist Revolution in the related work category. I'm pretty happy to have five of my nominees make it to the finals -- but I'd have been really really happy to see City of Blades there.
On the series, here's what I've read so far:
Craft sequence: first two
Expanse: first two
October Daye: first one
Peter Grant/Rivers of London none
Vorkosigan: Number 12 (Komarr)
I haven't read the 2016 entry for any of them, and am not inclined to read it out of order -- even for the Vorkosigan series which I've already spoiled. I'll probably read how other voters are handling the dilemma to decide what feels right. I may even skip this category; this year I'd believe any winner was justified.
>227 brodiew2: Yeah, Gor is ... Gor. I can't think of another series quite like it. Its reputation is that the first few books are pretty good sword-and-planet adventures, but somewhere it goes off the rails with long monologues about how the natural place of women is to be subservient to men, so slavery makes women happier and better lovers. I'm not sure where it's supposed to go off the rails; I'm six books in, and its attitude has turned me off from book one.
I've been told that it's popular among part of the BDSM crowd, and I kind of get that. The master-slave dialog tends to be so ridiculous and PG that it frequently feels like consenting adults role-playing. But during the long expository bits -- where he argues that no woman knows what it means to be a woman until she's been a slave -- it's hard to maintain the illusion that it's just kink.
When it's possible to ignore the social/sexual preoccupations, the worldbuilding is frequently interesting: Norman either has a huge store of knowledge about premodern technology and military strategy, or he fakes it really well. He'll go on for pages comparing bows to crossbows, or a square sail to a lateen -- and the information frequently pays off later in terms of plot and action. But the whole "Yay slavery" thing is ... Gor.
So why read it? It's a completist thing. I'm working through the DAW catalog, and the Gor series was picked up by DAW in 1974, with volume #8, Hunters of Gor.
Here's a fun fact: the latest Gor novel (#34, Plunder of Gor) was published in 2016, making it eligible for the inaugural Hugo for Best Series. Considering the last couple of years, I half expected to see it make the final ballot.
>228 lyzard: Yes, it's mean. But mutual: I frequently get a kick out of your comments about a book that you've hated, the sequel to which you're going to read anyway.
Then you may be happy to know I have another of the 'Elsie' books on the agenda this month----gaaaccckkk!!!
Hi Steve - You've hit me with some fine recommendations. I can tell LT is expanding my horizons. I'm not much of a SF reader, but I recognized most of the titles of the Hugo nominees. I read the first Chambers, which I liked a lot.
I've been meaning to start Mina, too.
So, about our meet up. Saturday, May 27? Do you have marathon-related events that day? What time would be good for you? I think Julia is interested, so I'll ask her. I'll also mention it to Amy. Any others you can think of?
>232 lyzard: The Elsie books are among my very favorite books I will never read! I look forward to your comments.
>233 BLBera: Sometime between 10 AM and 7 PM I have to stop by the fitness expo for packet pickup. I can definitely schedule it whatever else is happening, so consider my schedule wide open!
42) DAW #93: The Overlords of War / Gerard Klein
This is the third of DAW's translations (from the French) of Gérard Klein's science fiction novels. They're heavy with social speculation and tend to be talky; but either this one has a better story or I'm getting used to the style. I've been in a bit of a reading slump lately, and even more a reviewing slump; which is too bad, because I'm now fuzzy on the details of the plot. Suffice to say it's a time-travel story, the sort where events occur that make little sense until the hero crosses his own path later in the narrative. If you like that sort of thing then this is worth a look.
George Corson is a secret agent for the Solarian Empire in its thirty-year war against the Urians. Corson's assignment is to deliver a Monster to the Urians' home planet; the beast is dangerous, difficult to kill, prolific, and gravid. What makes the Monster so hard to kill is that it can see several seconds into the future, giving it the ability to dodge the bullet you haven't shot or avoid the trap you haven't yet sprung. But Corson's ship comes under attack while landing on the Urian world. Just before the crash, the Monster rescues itself by displacing itself and its surrounding space in time -- including Corson, who happens to be nearby. They land without injury, and run in opposite directions.
As Corson contemplates his new situation as a human stranded on the Urian homeworld, another ship lands. The ship is piloted by a human woman who tells him that she is a local resident. Furthermore, she tells him that humans and Urians have been living together in peace for a millennium. She takes him to her home city which does indeed appear to be almost Utopian. Corson of course cannot help thinking about the Monster reproducing in the wilderness and the coming apocalypse. As if more complications were needed, Corson finds himself recruited by the agent of a government several hundred years in the future. Then a human army arrives riding a herd of Monsters. For some reason, the human soldiers recognize Corson as the hero of a battle he's never even heard of.
As with Klein's other books there is much social speculation, this time in the context of war and peace. Corson eventually meets the "overlords of war," a trans-human race of puppetteers who guide individuals and societies toward peace. Along he way are excellent examples of science-fiction niftiness. It's an unexpected gem, and recommended if you happen to come across it.
The translation is by John Brunner, who is himself a DAW author (most recently #85, Polymath).
The cover is by Karel Thole.
43) If Winter Comes / A.S.M. Hutchinson
This is 1922's bestseller. It's a soap opera about Mark Sabre, an author of grade-school textbooks for a firm specializing in supplies for schools and churches. He is a bit of a social misfit, though, due to his ability to see multiple sides to any conflict and his inability to hold rigid convictions. In short he's a decent sort of fellow, but he's trapped in a marriage to a woman who shares none of his interests or perspectives, and in a job where he is repeatedly passed over for promotion. When an old flame shows up Sabre is tempted to escape his marriage, but the war intervenes to postpone his clash with village mores. It cannot be put off forever, though: after the war he takes in a young unwed mother who has nowhere else to turn. Sabre's ability to see other perspectives fails him in this case, since he does not realize how easily an external observer might conclude that Sabre is himself the baby's father. The wife begins divorce proceedings, Sabre's employer invites him to resign, and finally the girl kills herself in a way that leaves Mark a suspect. This attempt to turn Sabre into a Christ figure fails pretty dramatically: instead of tragic it feels cynical and manipulative. Which is too bad: I found the Sabre character sympathetic through the first four-fifths of the book, and thought he deserved a better final act.
Sorry to hear about your reading and reviewing slump, Steve. Here's hoping it lifts soon!
Thanks, Julia! I'm sure it will -- this month has been a bit odd, with disrupted schedules. Mrs. swynn and I both took time away from home, separately: me to go to a library conference in Maryland then a family event in New York; then later in the month, Mrs. swynn took about a week and a half for a family event in Oklahoma. (You might think that would give me some extra reading time, but I mostly spent the time taking extra long walks with Buddy and on Netflix binges. So I've still barely cracked Too Like the Lightning but I'm happily current on "Better Call Saul.")
Things should settle down to something more like normal now. And I have all that delicious Hugo reading ...
44) Half-Resurrection Blues / Daniel José Older
Here's another where plot details have already started to fade, though I liked it well enough to continue the series. It's an urban fantasy set in Brooklyn; the hero is Carlos Delacruz, a half-dead enforcer for the Council of the Dead. His job is to kill dead things that have become a nuisance. His latest assignment turned out to be another half-dead person like himself, which came as a surprise since Delacruz believed himself unique. Even more surprising, as the target finishes dying he gives Delacruz a photo of his sister and asks Delacruz to protect her from the Council of the Dead. Delacruz has only the haziest memories of his own death and of his own half-resurrection, so the request initiates questions about who he is and where he comes from -- questions whose answers are only complicated as the story unfolds.
I liked the noirish setting and the, um, ethical complexity of the characters. I'll read more.
I cannot find a credit for the badass cover art. If anyone knows the artist responsible, I'm curious.
It's official. Find the May Martians and Magic Theme Thread here: http://www.librarything.com/topic/256332
Please come aboard. Just share all your reading in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, fairy tales, myth or magical realism with us here on this thread during May. Share your favorite recommendations, talk about the new books you are reading, discuss the classics.
Thanks Roni! I still have a couple of sf things from last month to post about here, but I'll head over there for this month's reading.
45) Crosstalk / Connie Willis
Briddey Flannigan works in a telecommunications company trying to develop a phone to compete with the latest Apple gadget. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Trent has suggested that they get the very very latest in communications technology: a surgery that will let Briddey and Trent sense each other's emotions. But when Briddey wakes up from the surgery she discovers that it didn't work as expected but on the other worked a little too well: she can't sense Trent's emotions, but she *can* hear the thoughts of everyone around her. Calamity ensues.
It's very light. Willis makes some points made about ubiquitous communication technology and information overload, they are the usual ones (Too much! Unplug! Slow down!) and uncontroversial. The book's strength is its pattering dialogue and sense of timing, which are good. It's a sort of screwball comedy about telepathy.
And check out the cover Liz: that redhead is falling out of everything *except* her clothing. It's by Jamie Carr who can compose an attractive book cover but clearly does not understand redhead physics.
>241 swynn: I enjoyed that one a lot when I read it earlier this year. Glad to see it found another appreciative reader.
In context all I can say of that book is, "Your argument is invalid." :)
I've got her Oxford Time Travel books on my list - this one sounds good too!
46) Phantom Pains / Mishell Baker
This is a follow-up to Baker's Borderline, an urban-fantasy story about the Arcadia Project, an agency that monitors traffic between Faerie and the mundane world, with an office (where else?) in Hollywood. The Project tends to choose agents with emotional disorders -- the series's viewpoint character has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder -- and the series' strength is the way Baker handles these characters realistically and respectfully.
This one follows closely on the cataclysm that ended the first book. Millie thinks she's through with Arcadia Project, but of course she is not. While trying to clear the scene of the first book's climactic battle, Millie's friend and former boss Caryl finds herself framed for murder. Millie is drawn into the effort to find out what's really going on, only to learn that the plot they thought they had foiled is still very much alive.
It's fun, though I didn't enjoy it as much as the first one. I really liked the team of misfits from the first one, and this sequel didn't have anything quite like it. Here we have scary domineering directors of the worldwide Arcadia Project, and more participation by power-players of Faerie, but I miss the angry flawed ensemble. Still, I'll read the next.
Too bad that Phantom Pains isn't quite up to the first, which I greatly enjoyed.
47) The Tetris Effect / Dan Ackerman
The videogame with the falling blocks has an interesting backstory, and this book recounts it. The game was developed in the pre-Glasnost Soviet Union on computers that were a already couple of generations old. Copies leaked to Eastern Europe on floppy disks, where it was discovered by Western software companies looking for games to license. The licensing story is the really interesting part: Western game companies wanted to sell the game quickly and market it aggressively, while in the Soviet Union there was really no market for videogames (there was barely a market for home computers), software licenses were unfamiliar territory, and everything moved with glacial speed.
I liked this. There's a good bit here about the history of the videogame industry, and a sprinkling of curious Tetris-related tangents. The title is taken from an expression for a psychological phenomenon in which some players find the game intruding on their perceptions of the real world. But the really remarkable thing is that Ackerman has made an entertaining story about terms in software licenses. He does get a bit verbose sometimes and occasionally supplies a dubious detail -- at one point somebody "gleefully" sends a fax, a process I can't quite imagine -- but for making story out of license negotiations I'll cut him some slack.
>250 swynn: Snork at gleeful faxing.
If you like video game history there's a new book coming out this year that looks at the broader history of video games and their cultural influence. It's called Bit by Bit by Andrew Ervin (can't get a touchstone for it).
>252 swynn: Nice! Always feel like a good librarian when my reader's advisory pitch succeeds. :D
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