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Books read, early February - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, early February [Feb. 16th, 2011|02:43 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Niall Ferguson, The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World. This book is for people who want their economic history leavened with interesting historical anecdote. If you're ever wondering what bonds are and how they work, and you'd rather get cool stories about the Napoleonic Wars and the Rothschilds along the way, this is the book for you. I felt that things like bonds and limited liability corporations and etc. were rather too carefully defined for what I needed, but it was fairly easy to skim the bits that were too elementary. My other complaint is that while it was called the ascent of money, it wasn't really. It was how Western European/American finance grew up and how it spread--and the other parts of the world are mostly handled when and to the extent that they impinge on Western Europe and the US. So how things may have developed differently in, say, India or China was not really handled. He acknowledged that the Chinese had money very early, but what sorts of things they did with it was not a subject of this book until the Chinese started doing things with it that were directly related to the European powers.

Istvan Hargittai, Martians of Science: Five Physicists Who Changed the Twentieth Century. You remember when I used to call Otto? And how Otto said, "I speak five languages, they're all Hungarian, so what difference does it make?" Mr. Hargittai is perhaps a bit like that. It's not that any of the book is all ungrammatical. It's just all...immensely Hungarian. The five physicists in question were John Von Neumann, Theodore von Karman, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, and Eugene Wigner. For me this was a book about Leo Szilard with some other people in, but the structure was not actually supportive of my bias. There is a lot of tightly packed crazy in this book, not all of it belonging to the author. I'd only recommend this book if you're specifically interested in one or all of these people, because it's not inspiringly written or organized; there are other places to find out about that period of physics in general, or that period of Budapest (later Germany, still later the US).

Reginald Hill, Child's Play. This is the last of the Dalziel and Pascoe books I hadn't already read. It's #9, so smack in the middle of the series. Mr. Hill is still alive and still writing books, so it's entirely possible there will be more for me to enjoy later; on the other hand, he writes books outside the series and is not as young as he used to be, so it's entirely possible there won't. This is one I would definitely not recommend starting with. In fact, I'm rather glad I read it last, oddly enough. Without having so much of the characters, the scene where Wield comes out to Dalziel and then the subsequent scene where Dalziel tells Pascoe would not have been such a complete beautiful joy. It wouldn't have had nearly the weight. This more than anything I've read so far argues against reading this series in publication order, which is also internal chronological order. Even if you believe me that it's a wonderful series, even if you're committed to going through the lesser early books to get to the better later ones--still, I think it's most effective to have some of early closeted Wieldy and some of later happily out Wieldy before you come to Child's Play. Sometimes things work better out of chronological reveal--this is why authors use flashback structure within a book, or framing devices--and I think this is one of them.

Michael Innes, The Case of the Journeying Boy. This is third or fourth layer out from The Prisoner of Zenda: it relied upon that and Brat Farrar and the like for some of the suspense in the early part of the novel, though not for the resolution. Short, entertaining British mystery of its period; I have two more of Innes's books on my pile and will be glad to read them, but I'm not in love yet.

Jay Lake, Green. Discussed elsewhere.

Primo Levi, A Tranquil Star. This makes me wonder whether Italo Calvino is just the guy who gets translated most, because most of these stories were very much in the same vein as the Calvino I've read. They had less structured story story and were more snapshots/ideas than most of what I read, but it was a very short collection and didn't really have time to get annoying that way. What did annoy me was the listing of them as "unpublished" work, when what they mean is unpublished in English. For someone whose primary language was Italian, the difference is really important. I'm not an unpublished author just because I haven't been published in Italian, for heaven's sake; English is not All That.

David Liss, A Spectacle of Corruption. The sequel to A Conspiracy of Paper, this is the further adventures of Benjamin Weaver in 18th century London. This time he's in the middle of a Parliamentary election, with all that entails in that period. Good fun, not nice people. I will be glad to read the next one.

Duane Schultz, Over the Earth I Come: The Great Sioux Uprising of 1862. Good heavens what a bad book. You can look askance at the title first, because none of the people in the period in question seemed to be referring to themselves as Sioux at all; they were all Dakota. I understand that the modern reader is likely to see "Dakota" as meaning a territory or a couple of states rather than an ethnicity, but that is where the writer has a responsibility to educate the reader. Every time he's quoting directly from a source of that ethnicity at the time, they refer to themselves as Dakota. Every time. And every time he's not quoting directly, he refers to them as Sioux. This is not a good sign for the book. Then he constantly shorthands "group of Dakota women" as "squaws" and "group of Dakota men" as "braves." In a book written in 1992. Seriously. And then, while he is very clear that the Dakota had very legitimate reasons to be thoroughly furious with the US government, he takes all white settlers' testimony as unbiased. There is some extremely standard atrocity narrative in this book, and he never says, "You know, it may have happened exactly like that, but this is a 12-year-old boy who has lost a lot of blood and seen his family killed just before the events he's describing, and the stuff he's saying is exactly like stuff we know to be stated and unsubstantiated in other conflicts, so...it's possible that he was emotionally rather than factually accurate." And there's a lot more testimony from the white people whose first language was English and whose culture was at least somewhat more based on written language, go figure, but there is no accounting for this whatsoever. It's just badly written history, is what it is. There were things in it that you could sort out as factually verifiable. But seriously, dude: 1992 was far too late to be talking in authorial voice about squaws. (Squa is an Algonquin word. How many Algonquins were there in Minnesota? Not too damn many.)

Adrian Tchaikovsky, Blood of the Mantis. This is my favorite in this series so far. It's a little shorter than the others and a lot punchier. People making war machines! People spying and plotting! Bug kinden of all kinds!

Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, Steampunk II: Steampunk Reloaded. I used to feel guilty when I would read an anthology and think that the best story in it was by a friend of mine; I suppose I would have felt even worse when the friend in question gave me the said anthology as a gift. But then I realized that this is a small and friendly field, and if I was constantly finding somebody's stories interesting and cool, I could write to them and say, "Hey, great story!" and they would probably say, "Oh, thanks!", and odds were non-zero we would end up cordial acquaintances at the very least. So I am no longer feeling the least bit guilty that shweta_narayan's story was the best story in this volume. I'm glad that's settled. Some of the other stories were also cool, and some were okay, and others were far too self-indulgent for my taste. (Trying to reverse engineer a steampunk version of blogs, blog comment sections, and twitter? Seriously? It is to roll one's eyes.) That's how anthologies usually go.
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Comments:
From: swan_tower
2011-02-16 09:29 pm (UTC)
Haven't read the Liss books, but they appear to be a good example of how I'll forgive Noun of Noun titles if one or more of the nouns involved are interesting enough. I quite like the sound of A Conspiracy of Paper.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-02-16 11:03 pm (UTC)
To me it was the book it sounded like. And I wanted that book. Your mileage, of course, etc.
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[User Picture]From: swords_and_pens
2011-02-16 11:27 pm (UTC)
I've enjoyed all of Liss's books so far. "The Whiskey Rebellion" is his latest, and was quite fun as well.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-02-17 12:03 pm (UTC)
That was actually the first of his I read. I liked it a lot. I felt it was like one of his writer geek friends had shouted, "Do a flip!" while he was writing it, and then he did. Structurally. I was so pleased.
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[User Picture]From: matociquala
2011-02-16 10:10 pm (UTC)
"There's a lot of tightly packed crazy in this volume, not all of it belonging to the author" is my favorite sentence so far today.
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[User Picture]From: supergee
2011-02-16 11:40 pm (UTC)
I'm going to look for the Hungarian scientist book.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2011-02-17 01:11 pm (UTC)
Given my fondness for Zenda and Brat Farrar, sounds like I need to go find me some Innes.
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