Books, May 2012

*** Ken MacLeod – The Restoration Game. Huh. Even after reading a description of the plot, I don’t remember reading this. I gave it three stars, so I guess it was at least decent.
*** Murray Leinster – The Pirates of Ersatz, Scrimshaw, Talents, Incorporated. Good, old-fashion science fiction. All entertaining, mostly forgettable.
**** George R. R. Martin – A Game of Thrones.
**** George R. R. Martin – A Clash of Kings.

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Books, April 2012

Man this was a long time ago and I’ve forgotten some of these books. Very short reviews follow.

*** Drew Magary – The Postmortal. Some entertaining speculative fiction — what would life be like if we couldn’t die? Not so great, it turns out. I enjoyed it.
** Neal Stephenson – Reamde. If this had been a lot shorter, it would have been a good escapist thriller or whatever, but it just went on too long without a whole lot of interesting stuff happening. I also didn’t really enjoy the female lead character who was clearly intended to be the kind of kickass female character who doesn’t just sit around waiting to be rescued — who spent a lot of the book sitting around waiting to be rescued.
** Joe Haldeman – Forever Peace. I don’t think I actually read this. I may have started it.
** John Steakley – Armor. Started this and was unable to be interested.
*** Charles Stross – Halting State. Moderately entertaining, pretty silly. Doesn’t really make me want to seek out more of his books, but I would be okay if I were stuck with it on a long flight.
*** Thomas Marcinko – Astronauts and Heretics. Entertaining short stories, but nothing that really stuck with me.

Books, March 2012

**** Christopher Priest – The Separation. An interesting alternate-history novel. It’s often unclear which of several parallel workings-out of WWII we’re in, and the various threads weave together and apart throughout, such that the overall impression is of a gestalt of possiblities and secrets than of a specific point about plot or identity. I really enjoyed it.
*** Ted Chiang – The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate. This was really more of a short story than a novel — it was nice, but basically more a tossed-off idea than a fully-realized story.

Books, February 2012

** John Sandford – Rules of Prey. These books are supposed to be good, but I ended up deciding I didn’t really want to read another book about a guy who stalks and murders women. Or at least, not this one.
*** Richard K. Morgan – Broken Angels. Good future science fiction space adventure war thriller stuff.
*** Philip K. Dick – The Man in the High Castle. Kind of random and dated-feeling alternate history WWII stuff. The end, I think, is meant to be some kind of holy-shit moment, but it just read as half trite and half confused. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy it as entertainment, but the things the characters cared about weren’t very compelling and the layers of self-reference kind of made it abstract and hard to connect with.
*** Charles Stross – Rule 34. Pretty cool exploration of what our near future might look like, extending a lot of current trends in terms of internet, connectivity, data, and identity. But it all feels a little too in-the-moment — in 10-20 years it could feel wildly prophetic or incredibly dated.

Books, January 2012

*** Algis Budrys – Rogue Moon. A great idea for a story, explored in a fascinating way. I found a lot of the interpersonal hoo-ha kind of annoying and distracting, but the basic elements of the story and the characters involved were good. And there are some great twists along the way.
*** Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall. Pretty good. The main character was pretty interesting, but honestly most of the book was about Henry VIII’s desire to divorce/annul Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. And therefore, the fact that the book ends before we get to the end of Anne’s story (i.e. beheading) made it feel incredibly incomplete. Yes, I know the book was (supposed to be) about Thomas Cromwell, but the story of Anne Boleyn really became the dramatic center of the book, and the arc of her story should have defined the book’s.
**** Frederick Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth – The Space Merchants. Written in 1952, The Space Merchants is a surprisingly insightful look at our possible future — one ruled by consumption, commerce, and advertising. If Pohl and Kornbluth’s conception of advertising is a little heavy-handed, it’s still far more prophetic and nuanced than many of the alien invasions and future dystopias of mid-century science fiction.

Books, December 2011

*** Patrick Rothfuss – The Wise Man’s Fear. This second book of the Kingkiller trilogy again kept me turning the pages. The slight problem with this one was the sheer arrogance and unbelievability of the main character. In the framing device of these books, he’s a legendary figure, with all kinds of stories and myths told about him. In the first book, we started to learn the story of his younger days, before he was such a legend. As such, he was vulnerable and made mistakes. In this second book, he’s starting to come into his legend and his deeds become more grandiose and unbelievable. Rothfuss perhaps takes it too far — some of what his character accomplishes is unbelievable, and it might have been better to reveal a more humble truth behind the legends. Still, I’m looking forward to the third book, and I hope to like it as much as the first.

Books, November 2011

*** Patrick Rothfuss – The Name of the Wind. Incredibly engaging, kept me turning the (many) pages and made me want to read the next book (it’s the first of a trilogy) as soon as I was done. Many aspects of the story and characters are certainly cliched, but Rothfuss manages to give them enough life and interest that you don’t really mind.
* Diana Gabaldon – Outlander. Awful, if occasionally gripping, romance novel. It was recommended to me as good fantasy, but aside from using time travel to throw the heroine into historic Scotland, there is absolutely nothing fantastic or science-fictional about this book at all; the heroine could just as well have been a visitor from another country, and the story would have been about the same.
** Mervyn Peake and Maeve Gilmore – Titus Awakes. Awful. What this has to do with the Titus Groan of Peake’s Gormenghast novels, aside from sharing his name, I couldn’t say. Admittedly, my memory of the third book isn’t as strong as the first, so maybe this one arises more naturally from it (and it is based on fragments Peake left behind). But still.. not good.

Books, October 2011

* Joseph Conrad – The Secret Agent. Blaaah. Could not read.
*** Raymond Feist – Magician: Apprentice.
** Raymond E. Feist – Magician, Master. These two books are apparently the two halves of what was elsewhere released as one book, and the beginning of a series. The first set up the standard “nobody stable boy makes good” type story, teasing the idea that he would become a mighty magician, and hinting at the working out of a complex and interesting system of magic. But then everything got caught up in a big transdimensional war that never made that much sense or had that strong an emotional pull for me. At some point, the kid does become a master magician, but we never get to enjoy the “system of magic” exploration — it just sort of happens like blah blah time passes and then he was super magic. I was interested enough to finish these two books, but left with no curiosity about the rest of the series.
**** John LeCarre – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Masterful.
*** Elmore Leonard – Get Shorty. Amusing. Is the movie good? Maybe I should see the movie; it seems meant to be a movie.
*** David Foster Wallace – The Pale King. It’s unfinished, and of course it felt like it ended just as it was getting going. Which is interesting, since I read somewhere that DFW had said most of the book as he intended it was done. So.. whatever. I wish we’d gotten the final book; I don’t know if I’ll read this fragment again.
*** David Foster Wallace – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I dipped into this book again. Some bits are very good, but as a whole it doesn’t hold your attention. I should finish rereading it, but don’t feel like I need to right away.
*** John LeCarre – Call for the Dead. Not as good as Tinker Tailor, but I definitely need to read more Smiley and more LeCarre in general.

Books, September 2011

*** Alfred Bester – The Stars My Destination. Great vision of the future, great (anti)hero. I’ve been going through Alfred Bester (who I’ve never read before) recently and I just wish he’d written more full-length novels.
*** Alfred Bester – The Demolished Man. Another fascinating future with fascinating characters.
** Alfred Bester – Hobson’s Choice and Fondly Fahrenheit. Both throwaway short stories, cute more than genuinely interesting. I don’t think I’m a big short story fan any more.
*** Ben Bova – Mars. I started this knowing nothing about it, and so had no idea what to expect. This worked out really well as I kept being unsure whether bug-eyed green-skinned aliens were about to pop out from behind a rock (or at least from tiny bacteria in the air). This book (and his whole series about exploring the solar system) are fairly hard-science-realistic though — focused on the details and difficulties of traveling to other planets and learning about them. It was very interesting but, at the same time, I’m not sure I’m interested in reading many more of them.
*** Octavia Butler – Wild Seed. A book about two (essentially) immortals in a world of mortals who meet and uneasily try to figure out how to coexist. The “science fiction/fantasy” elements are really beside the point here: they just serve as the background situation in which to explore characters. Butler isn’t really that interested in the whys or hows of those elements. Unfortunately, I think, without some exploration of where they come from, why they do what they do, or where they’re going, these characters seem to be just floating in a void, and I was unable to maintain as much interest in them and their problems. The story was good and much of the characterization well done, but I was bored at times.
*** Thomas Perry – Silence. Pretty good thriller, some interesting characters and a good plot, even if you do have to suspend a fair amount of disbelief to buy the basic premise.
** Thomas Perry – The Butcher’s Boy. Perry is hugely praised for this one (his debut novel, I believe), but I was mixed on it. The story follows a mob hit man and a justice department agent as they commit and solve murders, respectively. The parallel structure is nice, but it doesn’t really work here because the agent is mostly presented as an idiot. She makes a number of mistakes and misses things that are obvious to the reader long before they happen, and she just doesn’t have much personality. The hit man’s lack of personality, at least, can be read as intentional; he’s a faceless killing machine who does his best to be nondescript.
*** C.S. Lewis – Out of the Silent Planet. Great vision of a possible alien civilization, and generally enjoyable, but a bit preachy, especially at the end.

Books, August 2011

*** David Foster Wallace – Fate, Time, and Language: an Essay on Free Will. I did not read all of this. It took me back to a time in my life when I was more interested in working out the logical puzzles necessitated by thinking deeply about philosophy or linguistics. Wallace had a good argument and did a good job making it clear, and that was enough for me. I didn’t need to read all the tedious working out of the details.
** Lee Doty – Out of the Black. This book was okay while I was reading it, except for the forced and very unconvincing banter. And then the kind of wtf ending. And the kind of hard-to-follow timeline back-and-forth (like, if you’re going to do the split timelines thing, make them palpably distinct, not like two days apart). I liked the attempt at doing hard-boiled mystery and what he tried to do with magic and technology. But then it just kind of turned to mush in my mind, and then I made the mistake of looking at the Amazon reviews, where the author replies to every single negative review in a way that is just not good.
** Douglas Adams – Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. It’s Douglas Adams, and it’s fun to read, but the whole thing just doesn’t hang together enough. It feels to me like, with the Gently books, Adams just didn’t define enough what was and wasn’t possible in that universe, and so he feels free to just make up anything and the result is kind of aimless. Entertaining but ultimately empty and sort of pointless.
** Douglas Adams – The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul. See above.
** Beth McMullen – Original Sin. This book was okay. I’m interested to see if she continues the series and gets better with the character, but this one wasn’t that compelling.
*** Roald Dahl – FFantastic Mr Fox. Roald Dahl is pretty much always good, and this was no exception. Of course, there’s not that much to it.
** Kurt Vonnegut – Cats Cradle. I expected more from this rereading it for the first time in 20+ years, but meh. There really isn’t much there. Sure, ice-9 is a fun concept but otherwise, snuh.
** Terry Jones – Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic. Terry Jones doing a passable imitation of Douglas Adams. Pretty forgettable, and it’s fairly obvious that it’s a novelization of a game; it was hard not to be aware of how the plot points were determined by game dynamics rather than, you know, interesting storytelling.