Marissa Lingen (mrissa) wrote,
Marissa Lingen
mrissa

Books read, late January

Kage Baker, Rude Mechanicals. This is in the Company universe, but not in the main line of stories. It's slight and frankly not one of my favorite of Baker's short Company pieces. It felt to me like too much of the action was described after the fact by characters not very good at vivid descriptions, and if you're trying for screwball and fall a little flat, there's not much left.

Tony Cape, The Cambridge Theorem. Spy novel by yet another person failing to be Anthony Price. You know what you should not do? Name characters Derek Smailes. I know that the fella in This Is Spinal Tap is Smalls, not Smailes, but nonetheless, I don't think Cape wanted me picturing Harry Shearer in big floppy handlebar mustache for his protagonist. And yet there we were. If this had been an outstanding book, I would have gotten past this very trivial point. Even if it had been a very good book. It was...one of those books where the author absolutely could not resist hitting the obvious spots in the history of his topic. Kim Philby is getting to be a bit like John Dee for me: you have to really, really stick the landing, or you get points off for even including the element.

Jenny Davidson, The Explosionist. I am a hard sell on alternate history, and the alternate-ness of this alternate history felt more like a literary game than a fully realized world to me, although of course the line between the two is difficult. But it was a literary game I could enjoy playing. It had chemistry and Hanseatic states. As hard a sell as I am on alternate history, I can be easily bought with chemistry and Hanseatic states.

Sarah Dessen, Keeping the Moon. Hmm. This could have been worse in many ways. And yet I just didn't love it, either. All of the relationships the main character had felt very surface to me, was I think the problem. Also I am really, really against letting your friends bully you into dating somebody, no matter how awesome your friends or the person they want you to date might be. You can't go out with somebody because your friends think that person is great. You need to go out with somebody because you think they're great, or it's not fair to either of you.

Ken Dryden, The Game. Best hockey book. <3 <3 <3. It's not a history of hockey, so there are all sorts of topics left untouched. It's a memoir of hockey, and of learning, and of being Canadian, and a dozen other things. This is my nominee on the If You Only Read One Hockey Book list so far.

Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I think this book was solving a problem I don't have at the expense of factors I really can't spare. For me, kneading is not the problem. Having to tend to bread is not the problem. I work here. If I want a loaf of bread, I generally don't mind the bit where you punch it down and let it rise another half hour and shape it and let it rise again. But fridge space is at a premium around here, with all the milk I drink and the fresh vegetables and fruit we all eat and so on. So while I think the idea here is great for families where there are multiple people and the adults work outside the house and everybody takes sandwiches, it really looked like the three of us would just be better off with bread made on an as-wanted basis, complete with kneading.

Tony Hillerman, Skinwalkers and A Thief of Time. Chee and Leaphorn converge. Not perfectly. The not-perfectness of it is good.

Terry Pratchett, Nation. Another alternate history, this one rather sweet. I am ridiculously hard to please on depictions of pregnancy, labor, and delivery in books, so let's just pretend that part never happened, because it's not anybody's fault when they don't do the exact right thing that would make me happy unless it was the wrong day and didn't.

Brian Francis Slattery, Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America. So I was going to remember to talk about reading this in the same time frame as watching Battlestar Galactica. Hmm. The thing is, BSG has a touching faith in the trappings of industrial civilization. People only run out of things when it's strictly necessary for the plot. There aren't generally subplots or throwaway lines about being short of stuff, or about the difficulties in obtaining new stuff; there is no character who gripes or is griped at over the use of stuff. Why? Frankly, because the writers are not very good at this. Because here in industrial civilization, people only save walnut shells for dye if they are Doing A Project, and you can always send out to a plastics modeling place for a model of the new ship you've just encountered and never heard of before. (If I had been writing this, a pencil sharpener would have been used on the tactical planning board as the representative of the resurrection ship. Or one of Gaeta's socks. "Gaeta, what the hell is that?" "It's a resurrection ship, sir." "Looks like a salt shaker to me!" "Tell you what, Colonel: next time we're on Tauron, you get their plastics guys to make us a perfectly painted model with all the ribbing and that. In the meantime, we're going to use this salt shaker, and you can pretend you have an imagination.") Bill Adama tells Laura Roslin a story about his father, a trial attorney, breaking his pencil before going into the courtroom, as a symbol of sorts. Laura Roslin does this. Nobody says, "Well, crap, lady, do you think pencils grow on trees? And where did you think we were going to get trees? Because the fleet has a very limited number of them!" Nobody is later seen in the background trying to write with the stubs of the pencil she wasted. They may talk about how things are Different Now, but that only really comes up when there's political hay to be made--which is a fine and dandy metaphor for the politics of post-9/11 America if you want it to be, except that this is science fiction, so when you literalize your metaphors, they damn well stay literalized. If you turn the ravenous landlord into a dragon that eats people, you have to let him eat people.

So. What does this have to do with Liberation? Well, Liberation felt like it put me in the middle of a spectrum with it and BSG. Slattery's book has no faith in the trappings of industrial civilization; not only that, it has precious little faith in industrial civilization, or in the people who inhabit it. This is a book where people can figure out a way to fly in multiple d.j.s for parties in Las Vegas but cannot find someone to fix the water supply routing system so that thousands upon thousands of people do not die. And to be clear, the parties are not thrown by the rich and powerful at the expense of the poor and needy. No. The poor and needy are the ones with the parties. Here's the other thing: this is not a book where it's important whether someone can fix the water supply routing system. No one tries. It is a book where a line something like, "No one knew how to fix it," is to be taken at face value: oh! No one knew how to fix it! Okay then! If they would pull that out just a little more in Battlestar Galactica--"We don't have any plumbers, jerkface, you just sent the last one out the airlock because you didn't like his politics!"--it would make me happy, because there are so few people there. But in Liberation, it merely makes me frustrated. Because my social circles are not the ones that fly in d.j.s, for the most part, even for wicked cool countercultural Burning Man Lite shindigs. Mine are the ones where somebody says, "Water supply is broken? No one knows how to fix it? Well...I can try, I guess...I'm mostly a different kind of engineer, but we have to have water...isn't your cousin Ted a plumber? Can you get him on the phone while I'm in there?" And that, at least, is something BSG does: I don't know how to do this, but it needs doing, so I guess I will try.

My sense of Liberation is this: did you watch the second Matrix movie? Did you like it? If you liked it, I wholeheartedly recommend Liberation. If the "world is crashing down around us but at least we have this awesome dance party" thing is not as much to your taste, I think Liberation is going to be a bit more annoying in spots.

Lucy A. Snyder, Installing Linux on a Dead Badger and Other Oddities. This is a very short collection of short stories, which is just as well. Frankly I wish it had lived up to its title, because it didn't feel to me like other oddities, it felt like the same oddities for the vast majority of the book. The last few stories made it feel like Snyder had more range than the rest of the collection was showing. If you enjoyed "Installing Linux on a Dead Badger" when it first came out, there's more like that, but that was really the best of its type.

Charlie Stross (autopope), Saturn's Children. Fun SF, with some referential tics of the voice ("Welcome to [place]!") that annoyed me. Also, I know that the robots were based on their human Creators, but for a post-human society, it was still awfully human. The robot genders felt weirdly inconsistent to me considering the range of bodies involved.

Anthony Trollope, Framley Parsonage. Discussed elsewhere.

Jo Walton (papersky), Tooth and Claw. Discussed elsewhere.
Tags: bookses precious, small screen
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