Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen

Books read: late September

Not one of my bigger fortnights for reading. These things happen.

Jim Butcher, Dead Beat. One of my favorites so far in this series. I am not going out and buying number eight in hardcover, but I might go get it from the library. We'll see.

John M. Ford, The Final Reflection and Heat of Fusion and Other Stories. The former was new to me. I think I have an unreasonably high notion of the quality of Star Trek novels, because I never read them as a teenager. The only ones I've read are by Mike or Diane Duane or Joe Haldeman or...oh, there was one timprov liked that wasn't by anybody whose work we know otherwise. But anyway, I liked The Final Reflection very much, no "despites" or "even thoughs" required. And then after his death I picked up Heat of Fusion and read it again in dribbles over the last week. I smiled when I came upon the epigraph for Sampo in it. I bit my lip and had to close the book and go do something else a couple of times. There's some really gorgeous stuff in there, and funny stuff, too.

John D. MacDonald, Free Fall in Crimson and Cinnamon Skin. Astute observers who have read the McGee books themselves will note that this leaves me with one more to go. Frankly, I'm glad: Free Fall in Crimson in particular was pretty meh for me, and having to decide when things were getting just too meh to continue with a series is always frustrating. And when the methods of addressing the repetition are getting repetitive -- well.

James Morrow, The Cat's Pajamas and Other Stories. Morrow's fixations baffle me, but not in a bad way. It's just not how I approach writing at all.

K. Langloh Parker, Wise Women of the Dreamtime. Umm. I picked this up for some Aboriginal Australian legends, and indeed there were some. But the formatting of it -- well, I bought this book used, so I didn't look at it as carefully as I might. And it was a bit woowoo. (When I said this to one of you on e-mail, it sparked a discussion about whether "woowoo" is a Minnesotanism. The person who suggested this theory had only ever heard the word from me and a Minnesotan with whom she resides. Anybody else? Does everybody know what I mean by it? Do you use it yourselves?) The structure of it was as follows: long introduction about the patriarchy, particularly the Western version, and its ills, and then stories, each followed by an interpretation. The "X symbolizes Y" sort of interpretation. I am allergic to this kind of interpretation. "And here the feminine principle is symbolized by --" No. Shut up. If I cannot spot the feminine principle for myself, having some hack in the publisher's office edit it in for me with a neon arrow is not going to help matters. So I started skipping the interpretations, which was fine, except that it made a short book even shorter.

Julie Phillips, James Tiptree Jr.: the Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon. There is a reason everybody and their little yellow dog is reading this book: because it is good and interesting. The class issues in particular fascinated me, though, and I'm not hearing people mention that aspect of it much. I am also, always, fascinated by people who theoretically have the same gender as I do but seem to find it very much different in practice. I think Phillips backed up her statements of Sheldon's take on female sexuality as passive to the hilt -- I don't think she was shaky on that at all. But it did make me make funny crinkly faces, because that's not at all what it feels like from in here. (And once again I am reminded of how very glad I am that I was born in 1978 and not much earlier. Contact lenses, birth control, and parents who were not utter freaks for giving me a chemistry set -- yay!)

Alexander McCall Smith, Dream Angus. This is what happens when mainstream writers play with myths.

Rex Stout, Triple Jeopardy. I was skeptical of the collections of three Nero Wolfe stories at first. I am coming around.

Rob Thomas, Rats Saw God. Hoooo boy, where do I begin. This is the Rob Thomas responsible for Veronica Mars, which (for those of you who did not buy the souvenir program) is the TV show that makes me gasp in full-on breathless ingenue voice, "I've never felt this way about a TV show before!" I hate total orderings, but in my PO-set of TV, Veronica Mars is greater-than-or-equal-to. (I'm still not watching it live this year. Nor even tape-delayed. I will be squirming for the DVDs all year long. I will do my best to avoid your discussions, but please do not leave spoilery comments in this lj where I can't avoid them. Aaaaanyway.)

So. Rob Thomas. And wow, can you ever tell it's him. And wow, can you ever tell he's learned a few things about the construction of narrative since writing this book. Not that it is a bad mainstream YA. No. I felt that some parts of the present-day strand of the plot were underdeveloped, but generally it was fine. It's just...well, Steve, the main character, felt like he was groping towards Veronica's voiceovers, except when he was occasionally opening his mouth and letting Logan pop out. There were some things done very subtly well: the bits that were written by the main character were slightly less sophisticated than his first-person narrative, for example. I was a little bothered that the love interest in RSG had the same name as Duncan's rival for student council president in Season 1 VM: did a Wanda Varner break Rob Thomas's heart once and he'd like to think he's totally over it except he sort of isn't? Or did he expect no one to have read his novel and decide to use the name as an in-joke or tribute or something? There are lots of names to be combined in this world; I don't really like authors reusing the whole name for different characters. It interfered, for me.

Honestly, the weirdest thing was that it was very much like VM except set when I was in high school. So Kurt Cobain's death, Sinead O'Connor's Pope picture thing, all that was the current events of RSG.

I can't tell whether it was his own maturation as a writer or the switch of media or both, but the background cast, the setting, all of the bits that make a story feel like it goes past the backdrops -- those were much better in VM than in RSG. On the other hand, the Thomas emotional gut-shot plot-twist was already there and ready for me, and I didn't see it coming because other things about the book were less self-assured. Yikes.

Steve is a good deal less tough than the main characters of VM, less sexually assured at 16-to-18, less polished. There are reasons for that in both cases, and in that sense RSG was its own fully realized thing and not just practice for VM. One thing that was consistent is that I think Rob Thomas has more respect for teenagers than about 95% of the adults out there. He knows that sometimes teenagers drink responsibly; that sometimes they are fully equal to the adults they're with and able to make equal choices; that yes, they're still growing into themselves, still learning things, but adults are, too. He is a moralist, but not along simplistic lines. He is old-fashioned, but again not along simplistic lines -- honor and loyalty, not "in my day...."

I don't know if I'd recommend this to adults who aren't interested in writing YA, even if they were big VM fans. Maybe. But I do write YA, so for me it was definitely worth the time.
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