Category Archives: Books

Bankruptcy

So, I’m way behind in my reviews.  I’ll never catch up, especially since I’m reading new books and getting behind in those.  So, I declare bankruptcy on the following books.  I’ll give them my rating, and maybe a sentence or two about it.  One day I might go back and do a full review, but I make no promises.

  • Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert.  A pop-psych book that presents some very good research on the psychology of happiness.
  • Not in Kansas Anymore by Christine Wicker.  A study of magic and magical thinking in America.
  • Mainspring by Jay Lake.  Er… Sapient monkey sex?
  • Escapement by Jay Lake.  An improvement, largely effected by changing up the characters and ditching inter-species intercourse.
  • The Collapsium by Wil McCarthy.  Some serious hard sci fi in a world of abundance and immortality.
  • Wellstone by Wil McCarthy.  The same as the above, but with a bit less flow.

  • On Writing
    by Stephen King.  Half memoir and half guide to writing.
  • Norse Code, by Greg van Eekhout.

The Oubliette

Sometimes, for whatever reason, I just quit reading a book.  It doesn’t mean that the book is bad, though that is sometimes the case.  At times I’m in the mood for something else.  Or maybe I’m just not the right person at the moment to enjoy it – there have been times that I gave up on a book only to love it when I eventually returned to it.

I don’t review books that I don’t finish.  So what do I do with books that I don’t get through?  They go to the Oubliette.  (Metaphorically – I have a neurosis about allowing books to be damaged.)  Some of these books are bad.  Some merely competed with a new, more anticipated book that I got my hands on.  Some just didn’t tickle my fancy.

Some of these might hope to see the surface world again, and others shall be forever regulated to darkness.

The Oubliette currently (recently) includes:

  • The Summoner, by Gail Martin
  • The Child Thief, by Brom
  • Crystal Rain, by Tobias Buckell
  • The Unincorporated Man, by the Kollin brothers

Oh, and I do recognize the irony of keeping records in something called the Oubliette.


Redeem Yourself – The Graveyard Book

A man cannot step into the same river twice, Heraclitus taught, because it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.

Sometimes I read a book or watch a film and it just doesn’t gel with me. I can recognize the quality, perhaps, but I’m just not in the state in which I can enjoy it or appreciate it. Thus, in these Redeem Yourself segments – in which I return to a book that I’ve previously reviewed – I won’t specify whether it is the book or myself that I feel is in need of redemption when I get it another shot.  Feel free to speculate.

So I read Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book again, and I think I have a clearer understand of why this book doesn’t wow me like so much of Neil Gaiman’s work does, as much as I liked it.  The book is arranged in chapters that are essentially short stories, much in the same mode that Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The chapters span the years of Bod’s childhood and gradually weave into the larger story of those that murdered Bod’s family when he was but a baby.

This is the crux of lack of impact I feel.  Each chapter is terrific – some more than others, of course – but so many of them, while they develop themes and develop Bod as a character, don’t push along the plot.  The chapters that work the best for me are those which bring Bod closer to confrontation with his enemies.

The final chapter does much to tie together Bod’s adventures, but it is in some sense too late for me.  I didn’t feel the rising action all the while, so when we reach the climax, it seems as though I’ve only climbed a hill rather than scaled a mountain.  And so much of Gaiman’s work is Alpine.

Each story is a star, but they don’t, for me, assemble into a constellation.  So, while I enjoy the book and admire it, it doesn’t fill me hope, sentimentality, and joy (among other emotional cocktails) that I’ve come to expect from Gaiman’s work.

Thus:

 

But, hey.  It won a Hugo, and nabbed both the Newbury and Carnegie Medals.  So, as LeVar Burton used to say, don’t take my word for it.


The Half-Made World

 

Author: Felix Gilman

I think the allure of Westerns comes down to two points: the mystery of the frontier and the simplicity of the white hats versus the black hats (though often those white hats are trying to wipe clean the tarnish of their past). 

It’s hard to capture the spirit of exploration these days.  There are few mysteries left to the surface of the Earth.  I can crack open Google right now and see any place on the planet.  Mention the name of an exotic culture, and I can find out most of what there is to know about them from Wikipedia in a few minutes.  How do you capture the since of vastness of the world that Westerns have provided to generations past when the whole of the world seems known?

In The Half-Made World, Felix Gilman solves the riddle.  Set, roughly speaking, in a parallel 1860s, the world exists on a continuum between the well-known, well-solidified East, and the mysterious, tumultuous West, where Creation itself is not yet complete.  In between is the vast frontier of the Half-Made world, stable enough for living, but plagued with Powers unintentionally called forth from mankind’s subconscious.

It would be easy to label Half-Made World as Steampunk.  After all, it’s got steam – in the form of the demonic Engines that rule the bureaucratic army that is the Line – and it’s got punks – the chaotic Agents of the Gun.  But to label it as such overlooks the fantastic (in both senses) elements.  The Line and the Gun are engaged in a Great War between mankind’s lesser attributes – as the Agent Creedmore put it, humans made the Gun out of their spite, and the Line out of their fear.

While Gilman solves the riddle of the frontier by making the world only half-made, our heroes are not white hats.  One might be, the Doctor Liv Alverhyusen, who is broken but ultimately recognizable as a civilized person.  But Creedmore, possessed of a demonic Gun and a certain joie de guerre, is complex but ultimately sympathetic.  The clear villain, Lowry, is a middle manager of the Line, proud and ambitious despite the Line’s distain for individualism.

All three are charged with recovering a General whose mind was nearly destroyed by a weapon of the Line.  But this General may know a secret would could forever change the balance in the Great War.

The book charges through at a bullish pace, but if you cling to, you’ll come to learn a lot about these conflicted characters as the evolve under the pressures of their missions.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the book feels almost unfinished (I’ll spare you the wordplay).  This isn’t quite fair, the story promised in the opening is the one that is closed.  But there’s a cliffhanger – a clear invitation to a sequel.  The story I wanted to see finished will carry on, probably for many books to come.

But, really, if the worst you can say about a book is that you want to read more of it, that’s hardly so bad, right?


Lamb

Lamb

Author: Christopher Moore

Chris Moore is a very capable writer who skillfully mixes humor, fantasy, and truly deep emotional elements into very compelling novels.

Lamb is perhaps his most famous (notorious?) work, a story of Jesus’s childhood as related by his buddy, Biff. Biff tells us of their travels, their travails, and the growth of Jesus’s understanding of his role.

Some may have a reaction against such a premise, but despite Moore’s generally irreverent humor, Jesus comes off very sympathetic. Essentially, Jesus plays the straight-man to Biff’s goofy, lewd, or numskulled comedy.

The book in genuinely hilarious, yes. But interestingly, it explores some interesting philosophical terrain with shocking depth. There are a few lines that I’ve added to my own personal worldview as a result.  In particular (though I’ve been unable to confirm whether it is original):

The three jewels of the Tao:  compassion, moderation, and humility.  Balthasar said compassion leads to courage, moderation leads to generosity, and humility leads to leadership.

There are scenes that made me squirm – sexualized young teens, for instance – but these are few, and can be defended as appropriate for the book, both in terms of history and plot.


Ariel


Author: Steven R. Boyett

What happens when all technology suddenly fails, and magic, however reluctantly, comes to life in the world. Ariel is the tale of a young man and his smart-ass unicorn on a quest to fight the evil Necromancer of the ruins of New York City. Fast and gripping, but touching. The only significant drawback is the pages and pages and pages and … and pages about hang gliding, which are enough to convince you that hang gliding most be a sport accountants pick up when cranking Excel gets too hectic. But, really, focus on the smart-ass unicorn. Her name’s Ariel.

Ariel was recently re-released ahead of Boyett’s long awaited sequel (which he swore he’d never write), Elegy Beach.


Bridge of Birds


Author: Barry Hughart
This story is a watercolor painted on a silk screen, beautiful and simple. Don’t know what I mean? Maybe you should read the book.

It is a story of “ancient China that never was,” a fairy tell of sorts, but wrapped around a heist, or perhaps a mystery. It’s funny, charming, and engaging. You will likely figure out the ending before it’s delivered, but seeing the story unfold is no less pleasurable for it.