Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday, 5/4/2012

May the 4th be with you, and etc.

Library yesterday, got two books:

Theda Skocpol and Vanessa Williamson - The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism

Skocpol is a leading political/cultural historian, and Williamson is (clearly) one of the luckiest PhD candidates on the planet. This is their analysis of the Tea Party movement and what it means. Skocpol (it's pronounced scotchpole, btw), I have found, tends to be somewhat dense in her prose, but the introduction and the beginning of the first chapter seem clear enough - I shall (as I have in the past) evaluate this as a book for historians and for non-historians.

Darynda Jones - First Grave on the Right

The third book in this series (Third Grave straight Ahead) was on the new book shelf, so I thought I'd grab the first one and take a look. It's about a Grim Reaper who dabbles in private detecting - could be delightful, could be cheesy, could be delightfully cheesy....

I also read two books this week:

Actually, I've been picking at the Fritz Leiber collection, but his work doesn't lend itself to a rapid reading - and there's a lot in the book. But, on Sunday, I needed something a little more portable, because I was going off to an event where I expected a certain amount of downtime. So I grabbed something I have been meaning to re-read -

C.J. Cherryh, The Pride of Chanur

I adore Cherryh's books, but I was a little nervous. It's been some time since I read this one - the last time I looked at it was in the "golden age" of science fiction (15-20, or thereabouts) and I was afraid that it would not have aged well. I'm happy to report that I was wrong to be nervous - this is still a fantastic book.

The book describes a first contact (between humans and aliens), from the perspective of the aliens. Cherryh plays with similar themes in Cuckoo's Egg, but this is a little more action-y, and a a little lighter in the themes. The "Chanur" of the title refers to a family of hani - basically bipedal lions, although, since the whole book is from the point of view of the hani, they are never described that way - who operate in the "Compact Space" universe - a network of trading partners, all non-human, all space faring. The "Pride" is the name of the space craft central to the story. Pyanfur Chanur is the captain of the ship. At the beginning of the story, an alien gets onto the ship, and, through the use of basic counting symbols, indicates that si is sentient. Tully, the alien, is a human. He is described entirely in terms of reference from the point of view of the hani - he has less of a mane than the hani, he has features which are closer to those of the mahendosat, etc etc. Tully has escaped from some other ship. His arrive on The Pride pitches Pyanfur and her crew into a trans-galactic mess involving several species in the Compact, and threatening the fabric of the galaxy, and the hani way of life.

The book is fast paced. Cherryh has obviously given some thought to the science of interstellar travel, but not so much that the science bogs the story down. She is also a master of world-creation, so her galaxy sparkles, and the various races a excellent - each unique, each recognizable. The book has politics (on several levels), it has space ships shooting at each other, it has intrigue and adventure. Although there is a trilogy (and another stand alone novel) in the Trade Pact setting (all featuring the Chanur family), this book stands entirely alone, and is a perfect place to enter into the universe. I highly recommend it.

[edited - "Trade Pact" is, of course, not Cherryh, but Julie Czerneda - also excellent, but not the same.]

Bryce Moore - Vodnik

Another excellent novel. Moore spins a delightful yarn about a young man who returns, with his parents, to Slovakia. There he discovers a world of myth and folklore that is far more complicated than he expected, as well as a "real" world which is full of perils ranging from decaying Communist infrastructure to enduring anti-Roma (gypsies, but gypsy is crazy rude - the equivalent of the n-word) racism.

Tomas and his family have had a tough life. They left Slovakia when he was five, due to an accident which has left Tomas disfigured with burns.  When their house in the US burns down, the only viable option is to return to Slovakia, which they do. Tomas quickly discovers that he is in peril - he is threatened by a fire vila (sort of like a fairy, tied to an element), a water spirit (vila are the elements, spirits are of the element, if that makes sense), and a vodnik (a Slovakian water vampire - they drown people, and then keep the souls of the drowned in tea cups for all eternity.) At the same time, Tomas is visibly part Rom - his skin is darker than the general population - and suffers periodic attacks from a trio of local bigots. On the plus side, Tomas' uncle works at the local castle, and gets Tomas a job as an English speaking tour guide. Tomas' cousin, Katya, quickly becomes Tomas' friend, and that helps, especially once he is able to give her a potion allowing her to also see the fantasy world. Oh - Death also features, in the person of a wise-cracking embodiment of the Slovakian death goddess, Morena.

Moore gleefully and delightfully knits the real world and the fantasy world together. His characters crackle and fizz, and are exactly the right level of snarky. Moore prefaces each chapter with a snippet from a guide book for "deaths" - the folks whose job it is to collect souls - which are fantastically amusing, and sometimes even relevant. The story line is relatively simple, but there's plenty of action, and enough twists that predictions are difficult. This was an entirely enjoyable read, an amazing first novel (well, second, but perhaps the first doesn't count?), and you should go and read it. Right now! Your life may depend on it...