Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Books read, early January, and a few other things.

I am, uff da, tired today, and the dog is ready to play. I sometimes forget how much more tiring it is to do things like making a salad or deviling eggs when I have to work to keep my balance the whole time. And then I go to do them "just quick here" and then am surprised: wait! I'm tired! Well, yes. It works that way.

The people who are going to replace the shower said they would start March 24 or so, and then they called back today to say, "How about Monday?" and I said, "Okay." So there's that. March 24. January 21. They're almost the same. In geological time they're identical. (But I really don't want timprov and the tub falling through the kitchen ceiling one day, so: Monday. Fine.)

I have gotten a Christmas present, two random presents, and something nifty I ordered for myself, so far this week in the mail. So that's kind of cool.

John Barnes, The Armies of Memory. So this was a mistake. Not the book itself, but my timing of reading it: I thought it was the last in its series, which it was. I thought the series was a trilogy. Not so much, it turns out. So thanks to the kindness of one of you, the actual third book is winging its way towards me, and I hope it's still interesting having skipped ahead to the end accidentally.

Anyway. I enjoyed much of this book. Big sections of this book were lots of fun. But I did that thing where you peer suspiciously at the amount of book remaining and you think, "He's not going to be able to do all this in the time he's got." And in fact he was not, and he handled it by totally not doing one of the things I most wanted to see. One of the things that provided for interesting tension was just...left. And I have every reason to think he's done, so...enh. Also I am absolutely sure that the thing I didn't like about this ending would not have been better if I'd gotten the third book where it was supposed to go.

Also I think there are a few bits where he slips on the interface of planetary and interplanetary culture. And also I am really not pleased with the handling of female physical attractiveness and particularly Margaret. NB: you do not count as enlightened when you write a plain woman with a big ass as the love and lust of the main character's life and then go waaaay out of your way every time you turn around to tell us how kinky and atypical this is, how across the manymany planets with manymany cultures everybody likes approximately the same thing in girlses, and when they don't, it's because they personally are total weirdos. These cultures have difficulty agreeing on, say, what the place of sex in society is, or when and how violence is appropriate, or what governance means and how it should be handled. They come from all sorts of blends of earth ethnotypes. And yet they all like exactly the same pretty narrow range of visual things in women? Riiiight.

This is one of the things that has bothered me about Giraut throughout the series. Who is worse than the guy who won't date your intelligent, funny, wonderful, large-assed friend because of the size of her ass? (See also: flat-chested, bespectacled, irregular-featured, etc. etc. as local cultural standards dictate.) The guy who does date her -- and tries to tell her at every turn that he's the only one who will ever want her. Do I need to spell the implications of that lovely piece of behavior out for you? I hope not; and I hope that rather few of us have been in the position of doing the "dump him because he is not worth you dump him dump him DUMP HIM NOW" dance for such a friend. But I suspect it's come up for more people than we'd like; I know a couple people on my friendslist have lived that one from the inside. Combine that piece of ick with the belated revelation that Shan, the boss, had made all of his women employees constantly aware of whether he had the hots for them, and this aspect of the series totally creeps me out. "Oh, women want to be attractive to everyone, not just one guy." No, Giraut, you asshole, they want you to shut the hell up about how open-minded you are to be able to sleep with them. Shut up shut up shut up I hope you get eaten by brain-eating alien robots SHUT UP.

(I will still be reading the third book. But: ew. Ew.)

Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road. Swashing. Buckling. I think it mattered a great deal more to Mr. Chabon that the swashbucklers were Jewish than it did to me -- not from the text of the book, but from the author's note after. He wrote about how he'd told people this book was called Jews With Swords or something like that, and everybody had laughed. I think he needs a better social circle, because mine would mostly have nodded and waited to hear what the Jews with the swords were doing. This may mean I know too many people who are or have been in the SCA. So be it; I wouldn't trade them.

Lisa de Gorog, From Sibelius to Sallinen: Finnish Nationalism and the Music of Finland. Do you care about when Finnish music got the pentatonic vs. the diatonic scale? Do you care about how the tuning of the kantele relates to the Finno-Ugric languages' structural elements? Can you read music and hear in your head what it's doing? If not, this is not the book for you. I wallowed. It was lovely, just exactly what I wanted it to be, and also it did that creepy thing where it supported my secret history in ways I hadn't even thought about. Go, dense and obscure little book!

Nancy Goldstone, Four Queens: the Provencal Sisters Who Ruled Europe. Where by "Europe" we mean "not really most of Europe" and by "ruled" we mean "in some cases not ruled at all." This book suffered some, in my opinion, from an excess of wishing to be popular, as a genre of history. The overstated subtitle, for example. The scattering of clunky metaphors (fairly clearly intended to be vivid) throughout the text. Hint: if one is comparing a sword and a needle in a medieval context, one need not specify a "sewing needle." No one will stop and say, "Wait, does she mean a hypodermic in this metaphor? What if it's a knitting needle? Perhaps a darning needle?" Also, the sword/needle thing is not actually all that worthy of repetition. On the other hand, trying to get from limited records on these people to actual readable story is hard, and I think worth doing. It's the sort of matrilineal thing that's obscured in a lot of histories but entirely relevant to the time under consideration.

Ken MacLeod, The Execution Channel. So the feeling of this was dead-on. The feeling of this book was more 21st century than just about anything I've read. People throw around "post-9/11" this and "post-9/11" that, but this was a book written with awareness not only of 9/11 but of the political mistakes and wrong turns since then. However. The fact that it was an alternate history and the direction in which it took that detracted strongly for me -- I almost always object to alternate histories that end up substantially the same as the real thing, and this one even more so, on the grounds that that kind of political defeatism is the last thing I need at the moment. Also, the ending? Not my favorite thing, let's say. If you're headed straight for a depressing ending, sticking in a deus ex Sino-machina does not make it less depressing.

John Matteson, Eden's Outcasts: the Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Father. This started with just Bronson Alcott. We all know how I feel about Bronson Alcott, right? (Hint: the working title of one of my future YA projects is, variously, Bronson Alcott Must Die or Screw You, Bronson Alcott or Stupid, Stupid, Stupid Bronson Alcott. I can provide further clarification in the comments as necessary, if you're still not sure how I feel about Bronson Alcott.) So there was awhile before Louisa was old enough to be a character when I was not sure I was going to make it through this book. It is sensible of the author not to have written a biography -- even half a biography -- of someone he hated. I wouldn't want to do it either. But I just want to reach back through history and shake Bronson Alcott until his teeth rattled, which I wouldn't even want to do if I hadn't read Little Women, because the thought just didn't occur to me that one would do such a thing. But then Louisa got to be a person, and it got more interesting from there. And it was very useful for what I wanted, and I knew I wasn't going to like Bronson Alcott anyway.

Priscilla McMillan, The Ruin of J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Birth of the Modern Arms Race. Last Oppie book on my pile at the moment. McMillan doesn't have time to explain to you about who is what and who hung out in Copenhagen with whom and how they met their wives. She wants to talk about exactly what the title says. And she has enough interesting tidbits to cram into doing so that it's worth reading this book even if you've read half a dozen other Oppie and/or Teller books in the last few months. Which I have, so I'd know. Points of polemic were brief.

I am nothing like objective here. For as distant as all this was from me -- before my time by a long shot -- I know people involved personally. I had Philip Morrison for a professor for a semester-long seminar on science and culture, and he was one of Oppie's grad students -- one of the ones who actually was a Communist for awhile. And for a similar (and totally different) seminar the next year I had Freeman Dyson, with whom I ended up spending even more time than I did with the Morrisons, and Freeman was not exactly neutral on this topic, either. But it's the problem I have with the news media these days: sometimes people are not neutral for damn good reasons. Sometimes their bias comes from somewhere reasonable and good, and assessing their bias doesn't automatically mean discounting their ideas because of it.

E. Nesbit, The Book of Dragons. I recommend this to a Nesbit completist, mostly. It's short stories, all featuring dragons, all...very Nesbitty. But there's not much room in short stories for the things I like best in Nesbit to come out, so mostly it just made me want to go read Five Children and It again.

Karl Schroeder, Queen of Candesce. Swash! Buckle! Giant gas bag with planetismalish thingers and minisuns inside! Whee!

Charles Stross (autopope), The Merchants' War. He'd better be giving me some story arc endings in the next book, dammit. And this [spoiler] plot: if it goes somewhere lame and limiting for Miriam, I will be out for blood. Bloooood. I'm just sayin'.

Scott Westerfeld, Extras. I am running out of book-notes brain rather quickly. Like book. Yes. Like cultural shift, like difficulties, like characters' mistakes, like book. Um.
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