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

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Books read, early August [Aug. 18th, 2011|01:22 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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This is only up through the 15th; I wrote the book post early on the 16th but didn't have a chance to post it until now. Some of my baroque plans and recent experiences will go in another post soon.

Dan Abnett, Brothers of the Snake. This is Warhammer 40K fiction. It is incredibly well-done in that context, but if you don't want a platoon of giant space marines going around having adventures, this is not the book for you. If you do like that sort of thing, however, the fact that it's a media tie-in should not stop you.

Peter S. Beagle, The Line Between. Short stories, all very Beagle, varying in quality. Some of them lean very hard on his previous works being known and loved. Others stand very well alone. And then there's the last story, which he says is the most personal for him, and...the thought I had there was that being a genius does not make you less self-indulgent, and being self-indulgent doesn't make you less a genius. I read the entire story because Peter Beagle is enough of a genius that I still wanted to, but about every two pages I said aloud, "Really, Peter? Really?" So I guess my advice here is not to start with this one, but if you have liked other Peter Beagle--probably more than one other Peter Beagle--go on ahead to this one.

Mike Carey, The Unwritten: Dead Man's Knock, The Unwritten: Inside Man, and The Unwritten: Tommy Taylor and the Bogus Identity. I like these. These are the sort of thing I like, and they're done well. And yes, okay, they're comics/graphic novels, and I am not the world's best apprehender of the medium, being a very non-visual person, but these are a case where the story is well-enough done that even if you are not a visual person, it works very well indeed. There is all sorts of deconstruction and meta stuff going on here, but not in a way that I ever feel gets cutesy; if I had to recommend a single graphic novel series to gaaldine, this would be it. I find myself in the curious position of looking forward to the release of the next in a series of comics. Usually I am the person who reads them years and years later when some knowledgeable friend can swear they will get to be worthwhile. He has not yet tried a landing, so he has not yet stuck a landing. Still. This is what people mumble about The Magicians being and The Magicians isn't.

Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. Some books are not trying to work on a logical level, or at least I think they aren't, because it's incomprehensible that someone could be trying to make a book work on a logical level and failing so badly. I think Suzanne Collins's problem here is that she gets too specific with things like district populations, leading me to go, "What? That makes no sense. It simply could not work that way. You don't have the personnel, and you don't appear to have amazing enough AI in other ways, or else you are incredibly stupid about using it." I think the thing about The Hunger Games is that it's one of those books that really, really succeeds on an emotional level for a lot of people, and that drags them past the point where they think about population logistics--they do a lot of the clever and interesting work for the author. I even had one moment late in the book that I thought was so genuinely affecting I could see why people felt that way about it. But just the one; I won't be reading the others because of the number of times I found myself going, "Yah, I just don't buy that."

Colin Cotterill, Killed at the Whim of a Hat. Cotterill's Dr. Siri books have delighted me for years. This is a new one, modern Thai setting instead of historical Laotian, and his writing remains quite readable, but the characters are not in my heart the way Dr. Siri and Geung and Dtui and Civilai and the rest are. I will probably read whatever else he comes out with next, but this is not the Cotterill to start with unless you really strongly prefer contemporary to historical fiction.

Dyan Elliott, Fallen Bodies: Pollution, Sexuality, and Demonology in the Middle Ages. The best part of this book was watching the 12th century rush to pretend that Christian clergy had always been prohibited from marriage, and the propaganda fallout from same. If you're interested in concepts of human sexuality evolving from late Roman Empire to just before the Reformation, it's a fascinating account; it's just what I hoped it would be, in a fairly straightforward way.

James Ellroy, White Jazz. This is the author whose book LA Confidential became the movie LA Confidential, and there's some overlap of events and characters here: the Nite Owl case is in these characters' past. It's brutal, nobody is a particularly good person, and the style is very self-consciously Fifties-hepcat. It's very well done if that's the sort of thing you want, but I suspect that the violence and general nastiness are not going to be a good fit for a lot of readers; while I'm not sorry I read it, I don't know that I'll be reading more Ellroy soon.

Felix Gilman, Gears of the City. Kindle. This book starts slowly, and it's the not-very-direct sequel of Gilman's first novel, Thunderer, so I can see why it didn't sell particularly well. Still, the fact that it's out of print already is a bit alarming. There are some interesting things going on here with time and gods and consequences of Thunderer, but I think the earlier book is a better one, so try it first and then see; this is a worthy follow-on (or follow-sideways), but I'm not sure that it would all make sense to someone who hadn't read Thunderer. The birds in particular, oof. I liked that, but someone who hadn't read Thunderer might well find it baffling. A formatting note on this book: it was a gift in actual for-pay Kindle edition for my birthday, and I wish I knew of a means of complaining about the formatting of the book without down-rating the book itself. Gilman and his writing don't deserve that, but for a book that was offered for cash dollars, it was far, far worse in its copyedits than any of the free downloads I've read. There were consistent errors that honestly looked like errors from scanning a work to text--italic question marks, for example, never, ever showed up correctly. The Gutenberg people care about getting things right on a moral or personal level. I wish the commercial publisher of this book did.)

Ken MacLeod, Giant Lizards from Another Star. This is a collection of poems, short stories, and essays. Some of the essays read to me a lot more like indifferent blog posts than like outstanding essays that were more worthy of collection than any other random blog post. I liked the short work. I think the most noteworthy thing about this collection was its fannishness: it's one of NESFA's Boskone books, and as a result is definitely skewed in its intended audience. If you're not very embedded in fandom yourself, you're unlikely to like big chunks of it, and I wanted more short fiction--but I was pretty pleased with the short fiction I got from it.

Colleen McCullough, The First Man in Rome. This is huge and lurid and...wow. Yah. It's the kind of book where the author feels the need to balance the detailed fruits of her research with sex and violence; on the other hand, it's about the late Roman Republic, so the sex and violence are entirely appropriate and in-period. It wanders, and I'm not sure why it ended where it did and not earlier or later, but I tend to complain that books about Rome are about the Empire rather than the Republic, and that books about the ancient Mediterranean in general tend to be short on women, and this one was not either. (It did tend to take the patrician sources of the time at their word about the plebians and what they're like, but--Rome. One cannot expect books about it to hit the categories of person I mostly care about.)

Moliere, Tartuffe. Kindle. I hadn't read any Moliere in quite some time, and traveling with the pre-loaded Kindle turns up random moments like that. I think the thing that struck me most about Tartuffe was its assumption of narrative density and complexity, that is to say, an extremely low level of assumptions. The entire beginning of the play was, "OH HAI HERE IS WHO WE ARE AND HOW WE KNOW EACH OTHER" "YES THAT IS CERTAINLY WHO WE ARE AND HOW WE KNOW EACH OTHER," but there were a few funny moments, and it didn't take long. It just struck me as a lot less narratively dense than not only modern works but also Shakespeare, who was much temporally closer--much more similar to a Noh play in terms of how much it was trying to do at once.

Edmund Morris, Colonel Roosevelt. This is the last volume of the three-volume Roosevelt bio Morris wrote, the post-Presidential years. As with the pre-Presidential years, I found the level of exhaustive detail to be mostly interesting and occasionally a bit wearying, but I'm glad I read it all. If you're interested in Theodore Roosevelt, it's definitely a good biographical set; if you're only mildly interested, I think Theodore Rex is the book most likely to be of interest unless you have specific interests in other periods of his life. As with many historical works, it reminded me of other, related avenues of interest: the Progressive Movement in the US and its bipartisan nature in its era, and also its death. Morris seems to blame Taft for everything that might be criticized about the Republican party in the 20th and early 21st centuries. I'm not sure how convincing I find that, and I will probably look for more general Progressive historians as well as a Taft biographer for some more perspective on that.

Victoria Strauss, The Burning Land. This book should have been better than it was. There was nothing in it that didn't follow the implied arc, which can feel good in spots but also tedious and frustrating in spots--especially when it waited until the last twenty pages to bring about things that had been heavily, heavily foreshadowed, so I had gotten to the point of thinking, "Oh, good, at least she didn't do that obvious thing," and then no, she did that obvious thing, just belatedly and without much denouement. My favorite thing about this is how everyone was wrong, though. Nobody got to be the Perfect True Right One: everyone, wrongety wrong wrong wrong about at least one important thing.

Dan Wells, I Don't Want to Kill You. Well, my complaints that Wells didn't have secondary characters act enough was not carried through to this book. I still found several of the points of the ending obnoxious, predictable, and far too pat. Particularly, there were two female characters whose fates I predicted based on their appearance, and I was absolutely right and very angry to be right. I liked the early-book development of Marci, but not enough to balance out how I loathed the belated and hasty late-book handling of Brooke. And then there was John's own belated and hasty denouement stuff; blarg. I don't know; Wells has a very smooth and readable voice, as you can tell by the fact that I have complained bitterly about some aspects of this trilogy and still read the whole thing in fairly short order. I'm still interested in seeing what he does next. I just keep making unsatisfied noises.

Helen Wright (arkessian), A Matter of Oaths. Kindle; available at for a free-will donation in several formats. The aliens in this one are not prominent enough to make it exactly the kind of planets-and-aliens book I've been missing, but it's pretty close. It's one of those books about a starship crew and politics, and I like those, and I liked this example of those. (There was in particular one thing that was worldbuilding without being particularly foreshadowing, and from the other events, I said, "Oh, she's not going to do Obvious Thing X!", and I was right, she did not, hurrah.) If you either like CJ Cherryh or want to like CJ Cherryh but find her depressing in spots, I can wholeheartedly recommend A Matter of Oaths. Even if you don't--really, it's an out-of-print SF novel for whatever you want to pay for it, and it's well-written if rather first-novelly in spots, and what have you got to lose?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: rysmiel
2011-08-18 06:49 pm (UTC)
I understand that there are a few more horse-chokingly large Colleen McCulloughs in the series after that one, so the reason for it ending where it did may be bookbinding technology rather than story-related.
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[User Picture]From: sartorias
2011-08-18 07:47 pm (UTC)
Hunger Games is rigorously logical compared to the worldbuilding in number two and especially number three.
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[User Picture]From: cathshaffer
2011-08-18 08:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I'm kind of disappointed that we won't be able to see Mris froth over that. She's obviously too clever for us.
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[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2011-08-18 11:13 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was going to say, most people seem to trip over the worldbuilding in the later books, when it's impossible not to, as opposed to with the first book, when most of them want to be emotionally arrested.
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[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2011-08-18 07:59 pm (UTC)
Which moment in Hunger Games?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-08-18 09:38 pm (UTC)
The bread.
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[User Picture]From: buymeaclue
2011-08-18 09:41 pm (UTC)
Ahhh. That was my favorite.
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[User Picture]From: rushthatspeaks
2011-08-18 09:24 pm (UTC)
Where should one start with Cotterill?
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2011-08-18 09:38 pm (UTC)
The Coroner's Lunch.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2011-08-19 12:26 am (UTC)
Somewhere you can read all seven of the Dr. Siri books without interruption. I made the mistake of being across the country from books 3 and 4 when I started, and that was a bad idea. They go fast and once I was in that mood I was ready to be in it for the long haul.
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[User Picture]From: bad_latin
2011-08-18 09:39 pm (UTC)
I listened to the audiobook of Ellroy's Black Dahlia on a (quite disastrous, not that it's relevant) road trip a couple years ago. It's pretty unflinching, as I expect all his books are, and there are a few parts that are really astonishingly (to me) brutal. Overall, my feelings were definitely, "Wow, there is a lot of compelling craft and talent in this book, but AUGH AUGH AUGH I DIDN'T NEED TO HEAR THAT"
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2011-08-19 12:25 am (UTC)
Not so oddly, I finished A Matter of Oaths on the subway home today. There are significant chunks of the world-building that I flatly do not believe in (specifically, the idea that there are multiple "near-human" species who are cross-fertile with humans, and that hybrids are visible as such but eligible to inherit meaningful titles of nobility). But there's quite a bit there I like, including the ways that the characters are suspicious of apparent coincidence (no details here because it would be a spoiler).
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[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2011-08-19 01:46 am (UTC)
I like Morris, incidentally, he's solid and he gives facts, even if he also has opinions. The opinions just make me want to read more things, to see if his opinions are logical are not, so it's a win/win, really.

Also, I like Carey, so I'll have to look for those.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2011-08-19 06:05 am (UTC)
McCullough.. I always found that the lurid bits made me feel that her research was less believable. I feel the same way about Clan of the Cave Bear.

Mockingjay Books - the first book hit me emotionally. The subsequent books hit me the way you put it here. Also, if you hate population improbabilities do nor read Across the Universe.
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[User Picture]From: adrian_turtle
2011-08-19 03:44 pm (UTC)
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<iSome books are not trying to work on a logical level, or at least I think they aren't, because it's incomprehensible that someone could be trying to make a book work on a logical level and failing so badly. </i>

I distinguish between "nightmare logic" and actual logic. A book can work just fine on nightmare logic. (William Sleator's do.) It seems to be really common in horror, and sometimes it's effective. I think it's also part of the magical realism toolbox. The problem is that making the actual logic bits more detailed or rigorous, doesn't improve the nightmare logic bits. It mostly makes them look worse, unless the transition is very, very, smooth.
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