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

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Books read, late April. [May. 1st, 2012|10:57 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon. Oh, I like this. Ghuls, ghuls, ghuls! And dervishes and tea and lion-girls and cranky ladies and and and stuff. And the slaying of things. More of this, pls.

Robert Jackson Bennett, The Troupe. Discussed elsewhere.

Holly Black, Black Heart. Third in a trilogy. I really feel that the strength in these books is Black's eye for teenage relationships and dialog. The con artist angle can be fun, but it can also kind of ramble off in not as much connection with its own moving parts as I'd prefer. But the characters and their interactions are the things that I read for, and they're still going strong in the last installment of this story.

Leah Bobet leahbobet, Above. So there is a thing in my lj profile where I say that I like interstitial arts, and then I say that I like stitial arts also. This is what I mean with the stitial arts. Above is doing its own thing with a thing that has been done before, but with...um. Okay, so my father? My father has an older sister, and sometimes he would propose things when they were small, and Aunt Ruthie would demand to do them all FIRST FIRST FIRST. And then if she got hurt or they were no fun or whatever, Dad would go, "Ah, okay, bad idea." She was the stunt sibling. Above has stunt siblings. Above has noticed the problems of fictional runaways with perfect lives and fictional mental illness that is magically cured or magically consequence-free. Above has thought about how segregating out the people in one minority group has worked in the past in the real world without magic and how maybe magic might not help that much. And by Above here, I mean Leah. So there is room here to do the new stuff without faceplanting, because there is also old stuff someone has already faceplanted on, and that only helps if you are paying attention and learning from prior mistakes. And learning from someone else's prior mistakes is even better than having to go making them yourself.

Byron Farwell, Queen Victoria's Little Wars. This is a much older book than I thought it was, because what was listed was the reprint date, and...oh gosh. Farwell is not so clear on why people might not all be just absolutely keen to be ruled over by upper-class male Brits. He can report on it in detail. And he sees that absolutely everyone who is not upper-class, male, and English--not even British but English specifically--has some kind of revolt in the period he covers. But he's very hazy on why they are all so annoyed, which...it turns out is kind of important. On the up side, I got new favorite riots out of this book. (Rebecca Riots FTW!)

Anders Fryxell, The History of Sweden, Volume I. This is one of those histories written in the nineteenth century, where mythic sources and historical sources are given equal weight, so the history of Sweden starts with the cow licking the frost-giant out of the ice. Um. So that has its own psychotic charm, but unless you're fairly well-versed in Swedish history and just looking for obscure little bits of the histories of the aristocratic families--which in fact I was--this is probably not the thing for you. It's the sort of history where you have in a single page a well-documented historical treaty and the reports of the dreams of the king's possibly apocryphal stepsister. It's trippy and awesome in its own way. But its own way is not really the way we call historically accurate; it's more a window on the nineteenth century than on the era it purports to be describing. (Errm. I mean, it's a perfectly accurate window on when the cow was licking Ymir out of the ice, but after that....)

Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor, Naming Infinity: A True Story of Religious Mysticism and Mathematical Creativity. Mathematicians are such gossips. There was some math and religious content here, with the Russian Orthodox monks going down to Greek monasteries now in the news and so on, but mostly mathematician gossip a hundred years old, so juicy, my word.

Andrea Hairston, Redwood and Wildfire. Vaudeville and magic and a good book to read after reading The Warmth of Other Suns. The down side is that it is what made me notice that the small press books I'm reading don't necessarily have more or larger flaws than the larger publishers' books, but they tend to have different flaws. Specifically, I have not run into larger publishers who put out books early in a novelist's career with the pacing problems this one has. I wonder if some of it is the difficulty in talking about pacing in the first place--that many of the ways of talking about pacing problems make it sound like you want every book to be paced like a Hollywood action movie, which I don't, that's not what I mean by pacing problems at all. It's not a problem if not everything goes bang-bang-bang-KABOOM-done. It's a problem if things are uneven. It's a problem if your interesting stuff is feeling unmoored and floaty and getting lost, or if your reader doesn't know which interesting bits they're supposed to be attaching to which other interesting bits. Redwood and Wildfire is doing a lot of interesting things. I just wish it was doing them at better/more consistent pace.

James L. Haley, The Buffalo War. Grandpa's. Wow, what a depressing book. The introduction is basically, "White folks: gosh what jerks they were in this era." Then more tales of white folks committing atrocities. Then, for variety, some Native Americans also committing atrocities. Atrocities all around! Atrocities for everyone! Not, I hasten to add, equal atrocities. Although this is an old book and Haley's language sometimes leaves a great deal to be desired, he does not make the mistake of equating the people who are coming in and slaughtering the buffalo for fun and profit with the people whose land it was and who needed the buffalo to survive.

Jonathan Lethem, The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfiction Etc. Jonathan Lethem is unsurprisingly a great deal more interested in Jonathan Lethem than I am. He did not manage to make this enthusiasm for his favorite topic infectious. In fact, there was a little anecdote in this volume that made me seriously consider whether I want to keep reading Jonathan Lethem at all, whether it will be worth my time, because he came off not only as a jerk, but as the kind of jerk who is deliberately surrounding himself with people who will make him feel like the smartest guy in the room rather than people who will help him stretch and improve as a writer. James Brown is kind of interesting, though, so who knows.

Ken MacLeod, The Night Sessions. Robots and theology. Robots and a very Scottish-Calvinist theology. I was more intellectually than emotionally engaged with this book, and the space elevator threat...I am kind of tired of space elevators always being the same gun on the mantelpiece. I don't think that if there is a gun on the mantelpiece in act one, you have to shoot Susan Jane Ericson of Billings, Montana, by the end of every single play. This is a metaphor.

Walter Mosley, On the Head of a Pin and The Gift of Fire. Discussed elsewhere.

David Nugent, Modernity at the Edge of Empire: State, Individual, and Nation in the Northern Peruvian Andes, 1885-1935. There were so many places in the 19th century that seem to have taken the word "election" as a magical talisman that would make their government okay, rather than as a description of a process that they should do. This is a pretty detailed regional description of shenanigans related thereto. Further chipping away at Mrissish ignorance here.

Tim Powers, Hide Me Among the Graves. You know how there's good Powers and mediocre Powers? For me this is good Powers. It's very full of vampires and Rosettis, which I would ordinarily identify as elements that would not appeal to a Mris in a book, but: Tim Powers. So if The Stress of Her Regard was a good one for you, I would recommend this highly, and if it wasn't but you might have an interest in Rosettis, it's still worth a look.

Jonathan Strahan, Eclipse Four. Sometimes I think I am part of the problem in the field, because I liked each story in this well within the expected bell curve of the author. I liked Jo's best and Nalo's second best and Emma's was not my favorite Emma story but well towards the top of the anthology and...I sort of started to feel like the horrible people who don't read any short fiction at all and say, "What shall I nominate for the [award]? Well, what has [author they like] written this year?" And yet I actually did read all the stories, and I did think about them as stories, and I'm going to continue to do that rather than telling people that things are brilliant if I haven't read them. So there's hope for me yet. Also, wow, lots of dead people in this anthology. Er. Characters, not authors.

Walter Jon Williams, The Green Leopard Plague and Other Stories. Oddly like a cross-section of his recent longer work, with "oh, look, this is what I didn't like about this novel" and "hey, this is like what I loved about this novel" and like that. Which I don't really expect a short story collection necessarily to have, because people don't always write fractally at all lengths, so it was kind of fun that it worked out that way.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: moiread
2012-05-02 04:14 am (UTC)
I love that you have favourite riots. You are the best Mris ever.
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[User Picture]From: moiread
2012-05-02 04:17 am (UTC)
PS: I guess I gotta go pick up some Saladin Ahmed now. Gosh, new books. Life is so hard.
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[User Picture]From: txanne
2012-05-02 04:48 am (UTC)
Throne of the Crescent Moon is REALLY REALLY REALLY GOOD.
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[User Picture]From: redbird
2012-05-02 12:19 pm (UTC)
This was my favorite bit as well, if not the review most likely to send me to the library.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-02 12:22 pm (UTC)
Well, I had favorite Riots before, see, but these are better.

Also I am pretty fond of you.
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[User Picture]From: txanne
2012-05-02 04:50 am (UTC)
I would like to hear the Mrissish account of the Rebecca Riots. I could go read the book myself, but it wouldn't be the same.

Also, Anneish ignorance is vast just now, because the school musical is Friday and Saturday. Why are Greek monasteries now in the news?
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-05-02 06:19 am (UTC)
Unless I've missed something more recent, the Greek financial crisis was precipitated by the financial shenanigans that one of the Greek Orthodox monasteries on a particular peninsula was engaged in. When people got wind of the fact that people in the Greek government were basically trading away public lands to said monks in exchange for them not pursuing some arguable property rights they had, it lead to revelations about Greece's insolvency that precipitated a bit of a chain reaction.

This is the article to read if you want more information.

The same author (Michael Lewis) also did a similar article on Ireland, which isn't quite as OMG WTF in the trappings, but was also quite good.

Edited at 2012-05-02 06:21 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: auriaephiala
2012-05-04 06:12 am (UTC)
Seconded.

And you can read both those pieces and more in Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World, Lewis' latest book. I would have liked a bit more rigor (such as Paul Krugman might have provided) but as a story and as a cautionary tale -- and one that hangs together very well (in all senses) -- it's very good.
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[User Picture]From: markgritter
2012-05-02 06:40 am (UTC)
Wow, Alec is so much more thorough than I am.

The book starts with Russian (Tsarist) soldiers rooting out heretics at Mount Athos, an Orthodox monastery in Greece. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imiaslavie#Storming_the_monastery

The same week I finished the book, I read this article in the Economist about Putin visiting Mount Athos: http://www.economist.com/node/21552240

"Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president-elect, is a familiar visitor to Mount Athos, a nearby enclave of Orthodox monks. He may even attend Orthodox Easter festivities there on April 15th. Abbot Ephraim of the Vatopedi monastery enjoyed a warm official reception in Moscow last year despite facing investigation at home for alleged involvement in a land-swap scandal."


Edited at 2012-05-02 06:41 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-02 12:25 pm (UTC)
Some Welsh people! They got upset at the oppressiveness of toll gates and various other aspects of being Welsh farmers at the time! And the ones who weren't already women started dressing up as women and addressing their local leaders as Rebecca as part of the protests of this.

I'm not even kidding. Nineteenth century protests were awesome. "Let's all call each other Rebecca!" "You have noticed that we are dudes, Dafydd?" "...Yes? So?" "Okay good! Rebecca it is then!"
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[User Picture]From: davidgoldfarb
2012-05-02 05:19 am (UTC)
I didn't re-read The Stress of Her Regard, which I recall as being a bit dull, but Hide Me Among the Graves worked OK for me -- though I didn't exactly find that it broke new ground for Powers.

One thing I found mildly interesting (a slight spoiler, so I'll ROT13): I have a private theory that books in which gjb crbcyr'f svefg frk npg erfhygf va certanapl graq gb or jevggra ol jbzra; ohg guvf bar vf ol n zna.
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From: arkessian
2012-05-02 07:14 am (UTC)
Ooh, the Rebecca Riots. I have an ancestor who -- maybe -- participated in those, so they're kind of my favourite riot as well.

Also Queen Victoria's Little Wars -- who came up with that dreadful description? It isn't just the book you read -- I have one (unread so far) on my bookshelf subtitled: Eye-Witness Accounts of Victoria's Little Wars. Do they think if they label them "little" nobody will notice what thugs we (the British) were?
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From: swan_tower
2012-05-02 08:11 am (UTC)
Maybe it's a period phrase?
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2012-05-02 05:14 pm (UTC)
Historical Tidbit - one of the first commercial war games was H.G. Wells' "Little Wars". I don't know how much currency the phrase had before that, though.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-02 12:32 pm (UTC)
I am somehow satisfied that I have picked favorite riots of which my lj friends are now saying, "Oh, right, our uncle did that one," or the like. It makes me feel I have taste.

Actually that part looked pretty sound: he talked about how the main British populace talked of this period as a long peace, of how it was being "at peace," and yet there was not a single year when the troops were not being deployed very actively to smash somebody somewhere in the empire in her entire reign. So he was talking about these as actual wars, but wars that managed to fly under the radar of the British public at the time, not so much managing to fly under our radar now. (And he wrote it in 1973, so that was his now.)
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From: diatryma
2012-05-02 12:23 pm (UTC)
I would like to hear more about the space elevators. I know I've read books with them before, but the only one I remember is Kenneth Oppel's Starclimber, which I liked quite a lot. If the space elevator plot is said elevator falling down, it does have that, but for different reasons. Probably.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-02 12:29 pm (UTC)
Falling down for sure. "But what if the space elevator was used as a"--stop and take a deep breath and ask yourself, "Is this really necessary? Really? Because everyone else who ever had a space elevator thought so too."
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From: diatryma
2012-05-02 12:39 pm (UTC)
Clearly I need to read more space elevator stories. It seems to be a corner of fiction I was unknowingly out of touch with.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2012-05-02 04:10 pm (UTC)
Opera house?
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[User Picture]From: moiread
2012-05-02 04:34 pm (UTC)
I would read that.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-02 04:36 pm (UTC)
So would I. Unsurprisingly.
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[User Picture]From: timprov
2012-05-02 05:33 pm (UTC)
Clearly it has to involve orphaned children who are introduced to the opera by a kindly adult acquaintance and discover it to be the element missing from their lives.

The title, of course, is obvious.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2012-05-02 12:28 pm (UTC)
See, I do not understand people's families wherein history is not like this in spots. This is the normal way for history to be. I mean, to the best of my knowledge my family never had anything to do with the Rebecca Riots, although St Fagans is now on my list of Things I Will Drag My Mother To When We Go To Wales Together Some Day And She Will Like It. But the bits where nobody was alive for a thing and it's still fraught now, that's the kind of history and family stuff I understand.
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From: gwynnega
2012-05-02 11:15 pm (UTC)
Jonathan Lethem is unsurprisingly a great deal more interested in Jonathan Lethem than I am.

The other day I was listening to an interview with Lethem on his new book about Talking Heads' Fear of Music, and I had the identical reaction!
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[User Picture]From: cissa
2012-05-09 07:49 pm (UTC)
It's not only humans that have stunt siblings.

A few years ago we trapped and adopted a pair of feral kittens who had been born in our shed: 1 stripy boy and 1 tortie girl. We ended up naming them Gunn and Heidi, which are really pretty appropriate- he's a sleek and dapper lad, and she has plans for World Domination. Anyway, if ANYTHING is different, Miss Heidi says to Gunn, "It could be dangerous! YOU go!" and Gunn says "OK!" and bounces off.

They adore each other, though, and I love the complicated dynamics.
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