|Books read, early August.
||[Aug. 16th, 2012|05:38 pm]
Richard Cytowic and David M. Eagleman, Wednesday Is Indigo Blue: Discovering the Brain of Synesthesia. This is a very good basic introduction to synesthesia. It also has lots--no, really, lots of tables and mappings of various people's synesthetic experiences of the alphabet, numbers, months, days of the week, etc. The net result for me was a lot of stuff I already know plus making me feel like a reeeeally special snowflake, because my synesthetic experiences are--those of you who know me well are already mouthing the words to this chorus with me--primarily non-visual on either side. That is, not in input nor in result. Special, special snowflake, apparently, from the statistics they gave. Whee. Ah well. Kind of neat to see people drawing the months of the year in color, even if that's not how I roll. Wanted more actual neurology here, though.
David Grann, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. Lots of exploration, contemporary and historical. Lots of examples of "these people already know where their stuff is, thanks, and they don't particularly want you to." The early searchers for Z started out kind of sort of rationalish and then...and then...uff da. The sunk cost fallacy on steroids, I think: as they kept not finding what they were looking for, it kept getting inflated in their heads. On the modern end, this seems to have played out similarly: people kept telling Grann, who added a very personal note to his side of things, that people who searched for the explorers and for Z, were mostly more than a little nuts. And the ending was--quite abrupt, particularly for people who are actually interested in potsherds and would want to hear more about potsherds once they are found.
Adam Hochschild, To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918. This is not only a good book in itself, it made me say, "Oh, right, Adam Hochschild! He's good, I like him!" and go off and put more of his things on my library list and Amazon list. (And by good, I do not mean cheery. The previous thing I read of his was about the English abolition of the slave trade. Everybody sing! I mean, better that than if they had not abolished the slave trade. Still.) This book covers some of the territory from Pat Barker's WWI trilogy but goes into a great deal more detail and also goes off on its own into more Pankhursts, more of Sir John French and Charlote Despard, more of all sorts of radicals and their rationales. And you should already want to give Douglas Haig a good kick, but if you didn't, read this book and you will. Seriously, urgh. Now I want even more Pankhursts. Wow. Wow, wow. (Caution: if you are prone to getting "The Green Fields of France" in your head, well, you might, despite the fact that it is nowhere mentioned in the book. I did. Well. These things happen. It is a risk in life.)
Robert O'Connell, The Ghosts of Cannae: Hannibal and the Darkest Hour of the Roman Republic. Fast, fun read; if you know nothing at all about the ancient world, O'Connell will hold your hand through it. Also he has never met an anachronistic war metaphor he did not like. If you know a great deal about the ancient world and are likely to be annoyed by anachronistic war metaphors, this is probably going to be redundant for you and not really the book you want, but it won't do most of you any harm. Poor elephants, though. Poor, poor elephants. They tried to make it clear how little interest they had in war. All that was left them was the indiscriminate trampling. Which I would too, in their place.
Tamora Pierce: Tortall and Other Lands: A Collection of Tales. All right, straight up: I found this disappointing. Many--most--of the stories were the thing you get with novelists who have a successful novel series and have been asked for or think people want "more with those characters" and don't feel the need to make it a functional short story. SPOILERS HERE. MOVE ON TO THE NEXT BOOK IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS. LA LA I MEAN IT SPOILERS RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW. THE NEXT BOOK IS IN THE NEXT PARAGRAPH. THIS PARAGRAPH HAS SPOILERS. NOT THAT THEY MATTER BUT SERIOUSLY. Take the story about Alanna's daughter and her spouse and their newborn children, for example. What is the central question of this story? Well, supposedly it's "Will Alanna the Lioness's son-in-law leave Alanna the Lioness's daughter and their newborn triplets to go back to life as a crow? And/or will he murder one of his children for being born with dwarfism?" And seriously: no. He won't. Does anybody seriously think that he will? He totally won't. You don't even have to read the story to know that he won't. Not just because of how I phrased it--even if it was "Somewhat Sympathetic Main Character of Story" rather than "son-in-law of beloved main character of classic YA series," this would just not be an expected behavioral choice. (Oh yes, tons of protags commit infanticide! It's the done thing these days!) But seriously seriously, monkeys. You cannot build suspense into that question. The reader cannot be at the edge of her seat. If that is where you have tried to put the suspense of the story, it is a badly structured story. And it is. You have to either have him make one of the shocking decisions and carry through with it (not likely) or else put the weight of the story on the consequences of him not doing what we all know he will not do, have that be more than a few pages. But just "oh, thank God, I did not decide to drop the wee babe out the window and walk out on her mom, whew, what a close one"--yah, pull the other one, dude, nobody bought that it could possibly happen. That is going to be a hard sell in short story form, because of the constraints of the genre--even more so with the constraints of working in a series where the reader already knows the characters and world. And the more Tamora Pierce continues to write stories where the expected thing happens, the more a reader who is not 12 is going to expect the expected thing to happen. And when you already know everything that's going to happen the minute you have the setup, you have to make it all happen absolutely beautifully. And...that doesn't happen here. So: disappointed.
Greg Rucka, Smoker. This was not the standout Alpha was, nor is it even my favorite of the Atticus books. But it still was a thriller that was a perfectly cromulent thing to read on the plane and in fact a better thing to read on the plane than many. I was a little frustrated with the arc relationship plot pacing, but I liked how the people screwed up like people screw up.
Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Important book for people to read and understand about cell cultures and what we do and don't know about how to make them work, also about medicine and US race relations. If you've been paying attention at all, the cell culture stuff should be a lot more surprising than the US race relations stuff, but it's still all worth paying attention to.
Laurel Snyder, Penny Dreadful. After Any Which Wall, I have been so eager to read Laurel Snyder's books, and so disappointed. Penny is such a wet noodle! I got into a discussion of the Betsy-Tacy books about this on Facebook, because Penny identifies in passing with Tacy, and...there is a reason Tacy is not the protagonist of those books. (Several reasons. In the later ones she is barely permitted to do anything at all. Poor Tacy, abandoned in high school for more boisterous companions. But I digress.) Everyone in the book is more interesting than the protag. Well, everyone except her father. And that can make for a pretty frustrating book. It's smoothly written. I keep thinking she can get to the level of AWW again. I just...this is not it.
Charles Stross (autopope), The Apocalypse Codex. This is my favorite of Stross's series. In this one, Bob is up against some seriously divergent evangelicals in Colorado. Not my favorite entry within the series but still fun.
Christine Weightman, Margaret of York: The Diabolical Duchess. If you're hoping for a great deal of diabolism in this book, you will come out of it dreadfully disappointed. The Duchess of Burgundy was not a particularly evil woman--as princesses/duchesses/dowager duchesses went, she seems to have been on the pleasant end--but she was not particularly thrilled with Henry VII. And sponsored the pretender uprisings against him, so he, in turn, was pretty full of propaganda against her. Hence her reputation. So not only did he kill off her brother and take his throne, but he ended the economic preferences that her home nation of England had previously shown her marital duchy of Burgundy. And you know how irrational and flighty women get about emotional girly stuff like trade preferences. (Seriously, that seems to have been Henry VII's propaganda position: "Haterz gonna hate. Bitchez get all crazy about shit like that, yo." And then through the centuries the Tudor propaganda machine is all oooooh what a meanie Margaret of York is! You have to give it to the Tudors, they could work the propaganda machine for all time.) Anyway, Margaret of York, could have been worse, not very diabolical Akshully.
Elizabeth Wein, Code Name Verity. WWII YA girls' spy novel, centered on female friendships and relationships. Things are not as they seem. Of course they aren't.
Walter Jon Williams, Conventions of War. I'm glad to find that there is another after this in e-book format, because this worked a lot better for me as an intermediate ending than it would have as a series ending. It felt like it was setting up a lot more than it was wrapping up. Which--vagaries of publishing. Okay.
Patricia C. Wrede, The Far West. This, on the other hand, wrapped up like crazy. You want some wrapping up? Here is your wrapping up. Up: it is wrapped. markgritter and I had to hash out some bits of Upper Midwestern thaumatogeography at the dinner table after reading this, but there were cool squirrels and theorists. (Not theorist squirrels. Consecutive, not concurrent.) A bit more Hijero-Cathayan stuff but not a lot; ah well. I suppose having the Hijero-Cathayans storm over the Rockies riding steam dragons would have been a different series completely. Which leaves one of you free to write that series, since it wasn't what Pat was aiming for here, so that's all right then! Onwards!