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Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early May [May. 16th, 2010|09:08 pm]
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C.L. Anderson, Bitter Angels. I was wondering whether to say that this is really Sarah Zettel. Then I turned to the copyright page, and there it was in black and white: Sarah Zettel. Right then. Byline notwithstanding, this is probably my second-favorite Sarah Zettel novel, and it circles around some of the same concerns and fascinations as my favorite one (Fool's War) did. If you were saying to yourself, "We in this genre are a beautiful garden with many kinds of flowers and do not need to denigrate other people's favorite flowers but I want more of the kind of flower that bloomed in Fool's War, dammit," this is that flower. Family relationships that are complicated by having people in them, for example, rather than by having too large a cast of characters. And the people in them are having genuinely science fictional difficulties in their familial relationships. So yay.

Jim Butcher, Changes. Meh. Meh, I say! Meh! The first line of the book is the big reveal, and I just did not buy how he handled it from there. Instant motivation, just add water: meh. Also people were given credit for nobility who in no way deserved it, in my opinion.

Kylie Chan, Blue Dragon. I think the lesson Chan learned from reading Chinese epics is that it's perfectly okay if the beginning takes you 1500 pages. And that's what we've had in this trilogy: 1500 pages of beginning. The next book starts a trilogy that's the middle of the story. It's not that these books aren't cracktastic, because they are. It's that they are a crack requiring rather a lot of patience.

Michael Connelly, The Brass Verdict. A perfectly middle-of-the-road LA murder mystery. Inscrutable are the ways of Swedes--not the author or the characters but my Swedish uncle, who recommended this specific volume as the starting point for Michael Connelly. It's the second in its series and gets this detective together with his other detective and then something happens to them as a pair of people. Which, if this is the first you've seen of either of them, just has a great deal less resonance. I still regard Parker Center as a fictional location and every story that references it as shared-world fiction. Which I suppose it could be, but really: not everybody who has lawyers head over to Parker Center is referencing Murder One. Sometimes they have just chosen to set their story in LA. It happens.

Elizabeth Enright, Tatsinda. I love the Melendy family books, but this just did not hit me as positively. I think I was put off fairly early by the "everybody except the prince thought she was funny-looking because she was what we would think of as conventionally beautiful" thing, and there just wasn't enough there to win me back. I suspect I read it about 25 years too late.

Philip Jenkins, Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1500 Years. More or less what it says on the label. If you've ever wondered where on earth all the winding clauses in the Christology of the Athanasian Creed come from, this book is a starting spot on that. Jenkins is particularly good about not presuming inevitability of historical outcomes, which is a hard thing for an historian to do.

Nevil Shute, A Town Like Alice. This is my second Shute, and I would say there's nothing like him. If I'm wrong you should certainly tell me, because I would be fascinated to see someone riffing off the sorts of things he's done in the two I've read but with a more modern sensibility. There is an extensive and fascinating flashback to a civilian prisoner of war story in WWII, and then it goes forward from there. It's the kind of casually racist that is trying in spots to be progressive for its time--I learned a new (-to-me) ethnic slur from this book--but if you can deal with that in the context of its era, the story of people trying to make concrete, measurable improvements to the possibilities available to the people around them is really worth the time.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: kalmn
2010-05-17 02:23 am (UTC)

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there is more zettel in the world? hurray! i shall go procure some, then!

_the brass verdict_ is actually the 20th in the bosch series. and while i'm not sure where i would have recommended for an entry point, that wouldn't be it. hm.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-17 02:25 am (UTC)

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If you come to it cold, Bosch does not read as the detective/protag at all. He's the random police guy in the background of the first half of the book, increasingly important to the lawyer detective in the second half. But Bosch does read as A Guy You Should Know, just not as a guy you do know.
[User Picture]From: wordswoman
2010-05-17 02:36 am (UTC)

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Ahh, I've been a Nevil Shute fan forever! He does not seem to be much read anymore, which is a shame. A Town Like Alice is my favorite, but Trustee From the Toolroom is a close second...it's such a quiet but determined little story, with such an unlikely hero. On The Beach is his classic, of course, but it makes me so deeply sad that I rarely re-read that one.

Did you ever see the PBS adaptation of A Town Like Alice? It came out around '80, I think. Netflix has a 1956 movie version (which I have never seen), but the one I remember was a Masterpiece Theatre miniseries, 5 or 6 hours, with Bryan Brown as the Australian, Joe Harmon. I'd love to see it again if I could track it down somewhere.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-17 11:37 am (UTC)

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The other one I've read is Trustee from the Toolroom, and I have to say I like it even better than A Town Like Alice. I never had any interest in On the Beach until now that I've read those other two and am beginning to think I should just get all his books from the library except the one I have left on my to-read pile.

I have not seen the adaptation. I checked, and our library doesn't have it. Sigh.
[User Picture]From: coalboy
2010-05-17 11:35 pm (UTC)

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Find the video. It's wonderful. I love Trustee and Town so much that I bought Trustee in hardcover and only allow myself 1 reread per year each.
[User Picture]From: auriaephiala
2010-05-17 02:43 am (UTC)

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Thanks for the recommendation of the Jenkins book.

Is Zettel writing SF different from Zettel writing fantasy? Because I vaguely remember enjoying an SF book by Zettel, but I absolutely hated every fantasy book by her that I tried -- totally bounced off them (and I tried at least three of them because I had remembered enjoying the first book).
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-17 11:47 am (UTC)

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I think Zettel writing SF is different from Zettel writing fantasy. I also think Zettel writing fantasy is different from Zettel writing fantasy: she has at least two different fantasy styles that I've experienced. I would absolutely try Bitter Angels if you liked an earlier SF thing of hers.
[User Picture]From: daharyn
2010-05-17 03:33 am (UTC)

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Arrgh, I have not gotten to Changes yet, having decided to reread all before doing so and only just now being at Turn Coat through sheer force of reading will. And I don't want it to be just "Meh." *stamps foot* A girl needs her relaxation reading, but just because it's relaxation reading it doesn't mean she wants it to be anything less than awesome.
[User Picture]From: markgritter
2010-05-17 03:59 am (UTC)

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It *is* awesome. Anything that can blow up does, in fact, blow up! Boom! (Or is that only the Michael Bay definition of awesome? Darn.)

I had less problem with the "instant motivation" than Marissa did, and still enjoyed the read. But it was not as engaging as others in the series.
[User Picture]From: daharyn
2010-05-17 12:52 pm (UTC)

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Heh. ;) You know, the Michael Bay definition of awesome is okay once in a while...
From: mackatlaw
2010-05-18 04:07 am (UTC)

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I read through "Changes" faster than any of the previous Dresden Files books, and I've read them all, plus the short stories and the comic books! I don't know where "meh" comes from. :) I bought Harry's motivation regarding both his past and his noble impulses. If you agree with that, then you should like "Changes". Everything does blow up, go fast, or go zap.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-18 04:12 am (UTC)

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It's not that I didn't buy his noble impulses, it's that I did not believe they were as noble as he wanted to believe, and I really didn't believe that some other characters' were noble at all. Which would have been less of a problem if Butcher had been willing to do some of the things he's done before where the main character and the book are not really in agreement, but I didn't see much of that here.

Also, I feel that if you-the-author are sick of the props you've given characters, simply not using them is fine, rather than lovingly and carefully blowing every single last damn one of them to Kingdom Come. In some ways losing one cherished possession is worse than losing bunches of them in fiction--reads less like an inventory.
[User Picture]From: sartorias
2010-05-17 04:01 am (UTC)

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Definitely Tatsinda is one of those "Read before third grade" books.
[User Picture]From: cloudscudding
2010-05-17 05:33 am (UTC)

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A Town Like Alice was one of the books in the small library available when we lived in Africa, and I must have read it a dozen times when I was in my teens. Loved it. It's been so long...have requested it again from the library. Ah, nostalgia.
[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2010-05-17 05:56 am (UTC)

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I want to know who the Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors are, and neither the cover copy nor the Amazon reviews of that book are telling me. Halp?
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-17 01:12 pm (UTC)

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Eudocia (wife of Theodosius II), Galla Placida (wife of Constantius III and mother of Valentinian III), and Pulcheria (daughter of Arcadius and sister of Theodosius II) are the clear choices for the three queens, but having read the book I'm not at all sure who the four patriarchs and two emperors are meant to be, as he talks about a great many more than that as important. And even with the queens, he talks about Theodora also, so...yah. I suspect that the subtitle was added later for the sake of catchiness or else was the first concept of the book that later had to be edited down for length's sake? Rather like the very pleasant history of the 18th century that was in no way a history of Five Revolutions and No More Nor Less Than Five.
[User Picture]From: arkessian
2010-05-17 08:50 am (UTC)

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Oh, Nevil Shute... I find it hard to decide if A Town Like Alice or Requiem for a Wren is my favourite book by him. Requiem for a Wren is sadder, but still hopeful in its way, and I think it wins by a hair. As you say, it would be good to read similar work with a more modern sensibility about ordinary people trying to make small differences.
[User Picture]From: papersky
2010-05-17 11:47 am (UTC)

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I've got more spare copies of Shutes you can have, I'll bring them to Fourth Street.

The racism I think is a case of perfectly genuinely being well ahead of his own time but well behind ours. And I've never come across that particular racial insult anywhere else either, which makes it easier to take than the one in In the Wet.

A Town Like Alice is unusually like nothing else even for Shute because it is about building civilization -- "we could have a factory and an ice-cream shop and soon this would be a nice place to live" isn't something you see done very often.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-05-17 11:54 am (UTC)

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Oh, lovely! Thank you so much.

And yes, with the ice cream parlor having a counter for the Aboriginal Australians and the reaction that got: it was very clear that introducing the segregated version at all was a major step of progress over just making ice cream completely unavailable to non-whites, and yet from where we sit, wow.

But ice cream in particular as a sign of civilization and generally nice things: you can see where that would sit well with me.
[User Picture]From: freelikebeer
2010-05-17 06:24 pm (UTC)

Boy howdy!

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... not presuming inevitability of historical outcomes, which is a hard thing for an historian to do.

My step-bro-in-law studied medieval french literature and it's hard on me when he starts preaching the Gospel According to History. A body might think there was no such thing as free will.
[User Picture]From: nolly
2010-05-19 10:40 pm (UTC)

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I am also quite fond of the Melendy family -- I grew up with my mother's copy of The Four Story Mistake, and later found the other ones. The Gone-Away Lake books were also enjoyable. Haven't read Tatsinda; I think I will proceed wih caution if I encounter it.