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Books read, late March. - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Books read, late March. [Apr. 1st, 2012|10:37 am]
Marissa Lingen
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An unpublished manuscript, which I make a policy of not talking about here, plus a bunch of spy novels I did not finish but returned to the library with a thanks-but-no-thanks. A really big bunch. My land, is there a lot out there in the way of spy novels I don't need to read. Every genre's got stuff, but I had not taken the time to explore what was out there and not for me amongst the spy novels. And now I have. Hurrah for the library system that I could do it at very little cost and effort.

William Boyd, Restless. This is a spy novel that was for me. It's two layers of historical novel, one during WWII and one during the Seventies, and it's doing a lot of stuff with parenting and what happens when people get mature enough to realize that their parents are people with prior lives they didn't know about. Boyd is doing several things at once here, and for me he succeeded with all or most of them. He also has a keen sympathy for the human consequences of several tropes that many spy novelists trot out casually--there are a couple of places where he seems to be saying, look, this is not furniture, these are people. Which I appreciate very much regardless of the genre.

Ed Brubaker, Sleeper: Season 2. Wrapped up with dysfunction and angst, as appropriate.

Tobias S. Buckell, Arctic Rising. Discussed elsewhere.

Mike Carey, Lucifer: Inferno and Lucifer: The Divine Comedy. A great deal better for my mood than the other things I was reading on that day, which tells you much, I should think.

Peg Duthie, Measured Extravagance, Discussed elsewhere.

Andreas Eschbach, The Carpet Makers. This starts out reading like a fairly typical European magical realist novel and then weaves itself (yes, very deliberately weaves) into a thing that is saying, you want collapse of interstellar empires? You want vengeful near-gods? This is how it would go. And ouch, it is.

Barbara Hambly, Dead and Buried and The Shirt on His Back. So I thought I knew which direction she was taking this series, and um. I was so wrong. There is back-story for a long-running series character. And then for another. And...okay, I mean, this is fun, these went pretty well, although I am a little more skeptical of her portrayal of Native American cultures than the rest of her research. (I have no particular grounds to poke holes in her research, it just didn't ring with quite as much assurance.) I'm still enjoying the series, and there's another left to go before I'm caught up to the present. I just...hope I'm not completely wrong with where she's going in future, because I have to confess I'm a bit baffled. I don't mind a bit. Just baffled.

Matthew Hughes, The Spiral Labyrinth. More of Henghis Hapthorn in a world that is switching over from rational causality to magic, this time hitting a world vice versa. Short, punchy, Vancian. There is a bit in the middle where he flirted with the "nerds love taxonomies" thing but pulled out before it became too taxonomical for words. If you like this sort of thing, he does it well and doesn't let it become tedious, but this probably isn't the place to start with it.

Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America. First: there is no magic. None. Why there is magic in the subtitle, I cannot tell you. It is not even a metaphor. Unless the author feels that his Unique Insights into distracting from a fairly interesting story about building a world's fair with a story that's fairly standard psychopathic serial killer by virtue of the fact that he has filled in the bits he doesn't know with textbook psychopathic serial killer was magic. Unless that. Other than that no magic at all. timprov was right: if you care about the architects building the Chicago World's Fair, this was kind of interesting, and otherwise meh. Meh! Blah blah blah murder, blah blah blah murder, not even blah blah blah well-documented murder particularly.

Helen MacInnes, Double Image. A reasonably competently executed example of a post-WWII spy novel, sub-category: Nazi-hunting. An interesting contrast to the previous one of hers I read, where she didn't know how the war was going to come out. Fun but not outstanding.

Jodi Meadows jmeadows, Incarnate. The library engages in conspiracy when my friends have books out. It dumps upon me all sorts of other things that are not my friends' books, all on a deadline. So it took me longer than I expected to get to Incarnate, and there it sat on my pile, having Jodi's icon right there in the flesh, which was frankly a little strange after all these months. But! I finally fended off the library long enough! And was glad I did. I did not expect the ending to go at all the way it did. I'm not sure how to flag that the main character comes from an abuse background without spoilers, so I guess I will just say so: she does, and it's a very chilly kind that will make those of us who have friends who have survived that kind of thing want to go hug them all over again; can't speak for those for whom it's more personal than that. So if that's a thing in your life, be aware of timing of when you pick it up, because I felt it was very vivid.

John Julius Norwich, Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy. A chatty episodic history of the Popes. Norwich self-describes as a Protestant agnostic in the introduction, so this is by no means hagiographic. On the other hand, he's not going out of his way to do a hatchet job--there are times when he apparently went in thinking there was a scandal and came out thinking there was--wait, you can't really use smoke metaphors casually with the papacy, or you'll have an antipope on your hands before you know it. Well, let's just say that while there were plenty of juicy stories in this volume, Norwich was also just as glad to damp down juicy stories that didn't seem to hold up to scrutiny. There were a couple of things he simplified a bit for my taste, but that's often true in popular histories. I won't go so far as inevitable. But likely.

Stephen R. Platt, Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom: China, the West, and the Epic Story of the Taiping Civil War. The two words "the West" in the title of this book are extremely important. Platt is not trying to write a comprehensive history of the Taiping Civil War, he's trying to write about its interactions and intersections with the Western nations. I think that for many Westerners, this means that they will want another book that does more of just the Chinese side in order to make sense of it all. I know I will. He calls it the Taiping Civil War rather than the Taiping Rebellion or the Taiping Uprising for what I feel are idiosyncratic reasons of his own: he feels that "Rebellion" and "Uprising" carry connotations that the violence was all on the side of the rebels, which...really? That is not my take on that at all. At all at all at all. But anyway, this is the one where the Chinese guy decided that he was Jesus' younger brother and that God and Jesus and he were going to take over China together. And he actually got a pretty big chunk of it for part of the 19th century, and the West wibbled over whether this was a good thing (up side: he was not the existing emperor, the part of China he had also had the stuff they wanted to trade for; down side: heresy! not entirely stable! about to be crushed by the existing emperor), and it was...a bloodbath. Millions died. Millions. It really looks like a major factor was that the Chinese people were so unhappy that if you walked up to them and said, "Hey, my cousin Mr. Hong is Jesus' little brother," they would say, "Whatever, good to know," and if you then said, "And he's overthrowing the Emperor," they would say, "Oh, good deal, sign me up." But as I said, I need a more Chinese-side history to make more sense of it. Unless it's like the French Revolution and more information does not correlate strongly with more sense, which is also good to know if true.

Mark Waid, Irredeemable Vol. 3-8. Too much alien, not enough Volt. But still worth my time, still good stuff, still...one of the bits I always find to be a sticking point if it's not addressed is how little kids and adolescents deal with magic or superpowers. And Mark Waid is addressing it. Oh is he ever addressing it.

Walter Jon Williams, The Praxis. All right now, this is more like. Way to redeem yourself after The Fourth Wall, WJW. Apparently galactic empires collapsing is a theme for the last week for me or something? Anyway, this is in an entirely different mode from The Carpet Makers, far less magical realist-esque and far more classic space opera. And yet it's space opera in which people have read space opera and are determined not to fall into some of its more annoying tropes. I'm enjoying the heck out of this and am very glad I have the other two books of the trilogy on hand so that I didn't have to get to the end and go, "WHAT? You call this an ENDING?" but rather, "Ooh, I will be glad when I have the time to read the rest of this thing."
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: sartorias
2012-04-01 03:54 pm (UTC)
I've had trouble finishing spy novels, too--noting this one.
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[User Picture]From: mechaieh
2012-04-01 06:25 pm (UTC)
Unless it's like the French Revolution and more information does not correlate strongly with more sense, which is also good to know if true.

I wish I'd known this during the third quarter of my first year in college. But since I don't have to do anything with anything to do with the French Revolution this afternoon, I can just nod appreciatively at it being articulated by you.

He also has a keen sympathy for the human consequences of several tropes that many spy novelists trot out casually--there are a couple of places where he seems to be saying, look, this is not furniture, these are people.

This is reminding me of the preface to Jennet Conant's 109 East Palace, where she mentions the pain that her grandfather's secrecy and lies for the sake of Los Alamos inflicted on her family.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-04-01 07:26 pm (UTC)
This is reminding me of the preface to Jennet Conant's 109 East Palace, where she mentions the pain that her grandfather's secrecy and lies for the sake of Los Alamos inflicted on her family.

You interest me strangely.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2012-04-01 08:27 pm (UTC)
That is a very odd connotation for him to assume for "rebellion" or "uprising." Does he really expect his readers to take "rebellion" to mean that the Taipings tried to overthrow the emperor by force, and were defeated entirely by finances and oratory? The only connotation that "uprising" has for me is "we are looking at this from the viewpoint of history, and we know they lost." "Rebellion" doesn't even suggest that (though if I wanted to signify success, I would probably use "revolution").
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-04-01 09:14 pm (UTC)
He takes it to mean that the horrible, violent peasants meanly, horribly tried to overthrow the nice, just emperor, and were put down by the nice, just troops who had the nice, just force of the state on their side.

I don't have any idea why he feels like people would assume this. It makes no sense to me. Because even among people who would get characterized by libertarians as extreme statists, the phrase "the nice, just force of the state" gets a sort of hollow laugh.
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[User Picture]From: shana
2012-04-01 09:26 pm (UTC)
Have you read Manning Coles's spy novels? I am particularly fond of the second one A Toast to Tormorrow, but I'm a sucker for stories about amnesia.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-04-01 09:37 pm (UTC)
I haven't yet, but they're on my list. Unfortunately, the library doesn't have them, so it's a longer-term list rather than a shorter-term list.
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[User Picture]From: shana
2012-04-01 11:02 pm (UTC)
I'll try to remember to bring a couple to Farthing Party.
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[User Picture]From: zalena
2012-04-02 12:12 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you liked Restless. I thought it was very good. And worth mentioning even though it was a tiny bit outside the proscription of your request. (About women, but written by a man).

I've read some of Boyd's other books, and so far this is the one I like best. But I will say, even for his book's I don't like (Brazzaville Beach about primatology and the way research is colored by the perspective of the researchers) they are always very interesting.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-04-02 01:51 pm (UTC)
Well, the library has a few more, so they're worth putting on the list. Am I right in thinking that he is not generally a spy novelist?
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