Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Morning Library Post 2/3/2012

While we prepare to leave the house for the morning commute, and again after.

Three books from the library yesterday:

Holly Black - Tithe

It's Holly Black. It's billed as a "Modern Faerie Tale". Kaye finds herself trapped between rival factions of faerie, in New Jersey. Good enough for me.

Christopher Priest - The Separation

Priest created something of an internet stir recently when he posted a rant about the short list for the Clarke Awards, and the general quality of science fiction writing at this particular moment in time. Many many people disagreed with his assessment of the short list, but, by and large, the general agreement was that the rant was exceedingly well written. John Scalzi described it as an exemplar of the form, which is high praise. The thing is, Priest is one of the grand masters of British sci fi, and I had never heard of him prior to this incident (although I've seen the movie version of his novel The Prestige). Jo Walton mentioned him in Among Others! This was, clearly, a Sign, and so I grabbed the only (!) book by him that our main branch had - this one. It's an alternative history set in a 1941 where England has signed a treaty with Nazi Germany (including the removal of European Jews to Madagascar), and involving twins, and who knows what all else. The Prestige is at a different branch, and if I enjoy this book, I may well grab that one as well.

Heather Donahue - Growgirl

Donahue was one of the actresses in The Blair Witch Project. After that film, she vanished from public view. This is the story of what happened later - she went to California and started growing marijuana, legally. So, it's about that, which is of some interest to me. Not because I'm a pot head (I'm not), but because the peculiar intersection of law and social mores, and state law and federal law - look, it's just interesting. Also, the cover of the book is highly provocative:

clearly, I won't be reading this book on the bus...
 The Lenten book for the week is

Tee Morris and Lisa Lee - Moravi

Tee Morris was a voluntary guest at the convention that my wife and I ran, way back when - he sent us an e-mail, said "I have written a book - will you give me a guest pass if I drive myself to your con?" and we said yes, which was totally the right answer. Tee was a fantastic guest, he didn't pick fights with the other guests, he was a nice guy, and he bought my wife and I lunch when next we were in the DC area, which was just delightful. So, I've got a copy of his first book, I've read it, I'm going to read it again, and see if I want to keep it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday Night Review, 4/1/2012

You know what my problem is? My problem is that I'm lazy. I was going to do some sort of April Fools type thing, where I said I was going to switch the format of the blog from reviewing books to doing, I don't know, stock tips - but it seemed like a lot of work, and I can't even reliably post on the schedule that no one is actually holding me to, so.

Anyway. I read books this week.

Elizabeth Moon - The Echoes of Betrayal

The most recent of the Pakesenarrion books. These continue to be excellent books, strong writing, fantastic characters, especially the women. This one was a little slow, I thought. I finally decided that it was slow because it isn't the last book in the trilogy, it's the third book in a four book series. (Hopefully four books - the internet doesn't say one way or the other) As such, it suffers, a little, from middle book syndrome - there's material that needs to be gotten through in order to arrive at the climax, but the climax is postponed until a later book. It's still good, but I felt it dragged a little in the middle.

Trigger warning - there is a scene of miscarriage.

Jo Walton - Among Others

This is Walton's semi-autobiographical novel about growing up as a sci fi reading girl in Wales and England. It is a fantasy story, involving fairies (perhaps) and magic (perhaps), but what it really is is a love letter to the science fiction genre, and to libraries, and to fandom. The tone is highly confessional, and felt very true to the 14 year old protagonist. The story is related via diary entries, and the book is peppered with references to the books that Mori is reading - almost entirely science fiction, with some Plato thrown in for good measure. It's set at the end of 1979 and the beginning of 1980, which was a good period for sci fi.

The plot hinges on the existence of fairies and the ability of some people to do magic. However, the fairies are difficult to pin down, and magic, as presented in the book, is entirely circumstantial. In the opening scene of the book, Mori and her sister put some flowers into a pool of water outside an iron works, in order to rid the taint of the factory. The next day, the newspapers announce that the iron works will be closing down. Is there a causal relationship between the flowers and the decision by the company to shutter the factory? Mori and her sister think so, but the only evidence they can offer is that the fairies told them to put the flowers into the water, and Mori and her sister are the only ones who can see and hear the fairies. So.

That all sounds fiendishly complicated, but, really, the book is not about the plot - the plot exists to provide structure to the aforementioned love letter. Which is delightful (or, as Mori and her friends say, Brill!), and entirely worth reading - assuming that you are able to tap into your inner 14 year old geek fan - the sort of reader who, when confronted with a review which suggests that Lord Foul's Bane is "like Tolkien at his best!", becomes incensed, because nothing could possibly come close to Tolkien. (I had a friend who refused to read The Fionavar Tapestry because of such a review.) That is the heart of the book, that uncomplicated love of finding new books by old favorites, and then sharing them with others. The fairies? Entirely incidental, as they should be.

Trigger warning - a scene of near incest.

Zoran Drvenkar - Sorry

This is a German import. The premise is that four friends form a company which apologizes on behalf of other companies - offering the right words to employees unfairly fired, defusing complicated situations with hostile takeovers, that sort of thing. The four say what the executives ought to have said, but were unable to. They are good at it. And then, a serial killer learns about their company, and decides that this is exactly what he needs to begin his first killing spree - someone to apologize to his victims for him.

The premise was encouraging, but perhaps the book loses something in translation. First, the narrative shifts from first person (I, me) to second person (you) to third person (he, she, they), which is disconcerting (especially since the serial killer bits are in second person, as if the reader is some how complicit in the murder - ugh.)

Second, it's a revenge book as much as it is a mystery novel. The serial killer is "justified" in his actions, because he is exacting revenge for fairly heinous wrongs committed against him when he was a child. The presentation of his justification is unpleasant and fairly graphic (you can consider this a trigger warning), and seems unnecessary in its length, and its placement in the novel - it removes the mystery from the story, turning this from a detective novel into a horror thriller. The only mystery becomes "how many of the 4 friends will die before the novel ends?" - which is horrible in its own right, since the four friends had nothing to do with the crimes against the killer in the first place.

I did not finish this book.

Lenten book:

Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow, eds - Letters from Young Activists

I picked this up for free somewhere. Following the 2004 elections, Berger, Boudin, and Farrow, upset at the state of the radical youth movement, decided to marshal the troops. They solicited and collected letters from a wide range of leftist radicals - labor radicals, and gender warriors, and elements of the QUILTBAG movement, and immigrant rights advocates, and race warriors, and just a whole rainbow of young, passionate authors struggling for equality on many levels. This collection is the result. The letters are hopeful, and despairing. They are wise, and naive. They are angry, and loving, and sad, and joyful. The letters encourage, and excoriate. In short, there's a lot in this book, and much - indeed, most - of it is delightful on one level or another. It's well worth a read.

That being said, I won't be hanging onto this book. It was a delight to read, but it does not, as the Quakers say, speak to my condition - I am, perhaps, too old (I'm over 30, and thus can't be trusted!).  While I appreciate and support the views expressed by the letter writers, my activism is differently focused. I shall put it where it will do the most good - on the free book table on campus. Perhaps some young radical will be inspired - I can hope.