|more books than most Februarys can shake a stick at
||[May. 5th, 2009|09:51 am]
Agent of Antiendarkenment
Italicized entries are rereads (including if I read it twice this year). Order is chronological unless I forget. Descriptions should be spoiler-free, but I do not promise to make them sensible to others (yes, this means you).
This year's books:
- Kim Stanley Robinson: Years of Rice and Salt
Alternate history where the Black Plague wipes out Europe in the thirteenth century or so. The bit up to the early Enlightenment or so was pretty cool, but it ended up diverging from my interests a bit. The history thermalizes, losing connection with the conceit and with real history (not that unrelation to reality is usually a problem for me, but context). The later chapters also focus more on religious philosophy, which I find pretty boring.
- Murray Leinster: Space Platform
1953 (four years pre-Sputnik) tale of the launching of the ultimate high ground "for totally peaceful purposes, of course". Ok, so I am pretty sure that overwhelming force does not lead to peace and having the first artificial satellite be an enormous station constructed on the Earth is a bit of a (n understatement) stretch, but the idea that dictators would resort to terrorism to retain their power is pretty neat. Also interesting to read some perceptions of space travel before we actually could do it.
- Frederik Pohl: Alternating Currents
Short stories, only one of which I recall having read before.
- Sergei Lukyanenko: Last Watch
Four! There are four books in the Nightwatch series! Four! Although, I found it not quite as compelling; probably I just more used to his style, but potentially this was a publisher-inspired rather than muse-inspired book. Still, I rather hope that the rest of his oeuvre gets translated and I get translation implants soon.
- Jean-Paul Sartre: No Exit
L'enfer, c'est les autres!
- Marjane Satrapi - Persepolis
Became more topical with that election fiasco.
- Charles Stross: The Atrocity Archives
A naive hacker stumbles across an infoverse connection between advanced mathematics and Lovecraftian horrors, and is conscripted into a secret organization devoted to saving humanity from gibbering horror. The Church-Turing theorem figures prominently.
- Susanna Clarke: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell
- Jay Lake: Mainspring
Would have made an excellent short story. The world is fantastic, but the characters are wooden and without development and the execution of the plot is lame and drags. Also, the clockwork Earth is revolving backwards - the sun still rises in the east, but the ellipse of orbit travels inside a brass track with a wall of gear teeth at the equator which mesh at midnight. This means that, looking down at the north pole, CE is rotating anti-clockwise but revolving clockwise; tidal forces from the sun will destabilize this arrangement.
- Philip K. Dick: Dr. Bloodmoney
Nuclear war, psychic powers, and psychology.
- China Miéville: Iron Council
Blood and blast, now I need to reread The Scar, as I had filed it as somewhat better than IC, but now may need to revise my rankings of my tast. Life is tough.
- Baroness Orczy: Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel
Kinda fun but not all that intriguing. Perhaps would work better as a television series where the cleverness of the Pimpernel's various disguises could be shown off to good effect.
- Brian Sanderson: Elantris
Dude will do a good job with the rest of TWoT. Elantris has a deus ex ending (well set-up, but still), screams for additional books in the universe, and is profligate with ideas.
- Jack Vance: Tales of the Dying Earth
Love child of ER Eddison and Roger Zelazny.
- KC Cole: First you Build a Cloud: and other reflections on physics as a way of life
Pop-sci, reads like a newspaper column. Fubarred indeterminacy in one place, but otherwise does a decent job communicating the joy of finding the physics in the quotidian everything.
- Alastair Reynolds: Revelation Space
On the one hand, it was off to read this already knowing from having read Chasm City what is the Melding Plague and what is going on with the Great Filter, but on another that is a better book. Revelation Space is Reynolds' first novel and it shows occasionally, but his oeuvre is so far quite worthwhile.
- Roger Zelazny: Changeling
Reread from sometime in high school, I think. Apparently there is a sequel I need to find.
- Tim Powers: Strange Itineraries
Short stories. Good for a sense of melancholy futility without hopelessness; the one about the pants could almost have been Bradbury. A few use the same ghost system as Last Call.
- Jonathan Barnes: The Domino Men
Shades of Atrocity Archives with a little more New Weird. I like the narrative style, but the sense of squamous horror was underdeveloped.
- John Allen Paulos: Innumeracy: mathematical illiteracy and its consequences
A classic that, sadly, has lost none of its relevance. A bit pedagogical at points, and probably aimed at a YA audience.
- Leonard Mlodinow: The Drunkard's Walk: how randomness rules our lives
Engaging style, with a good mix of history, anecdote, and example. The Pascal and the Bayes bits were especially nice. Could have done with a bit more emphasis on necessary but not sufficient at points - picking which movies will become blockbusters is essentially random (on a human scale of complexity) after a threshold of technical competency is passed. Similarly, the presentation of the "hot hand fallacy" (tendency to not want to "interrupt" a good streak) glossed over underlying competency as weight, and concentrated on the lack of streakiness.
- Alastair Reynolds: Pushing Ice
Reynolds worked for the ESA before deciding to write full time - this may explain why his ideas tend to jive with me so well.
- Pauline Réage: Story of O
Not quite satisfying, as it kept wandering in and out of phase - sometimes timeless, but stuck in the 1950s; good portrayal of bisexuality, but sexist and promoting rigid gender roles; exciting descriptions of the freedom of submission, but crossing jarringly into rape. Also, none of the characters except O do anything or matter in any way.
- Glen Cook: Black Company
All of the wizards are mad with their own power and have no particular dreams or goals beyond enjoying its exercise. Does a remarkably good job of showing their idiosyncrasies of spell-casting without ever mentioning it; the older and more powerful seem to have better-defined styles. Also, the main characters are not so much "morally ambiguous" as "well, this mercenary company was a lot worse when it was in the hire of a pain god".
- Glen Cook: Shadows Linger
Good job with the faux-Medieval economics, too. Pronounced "shadow-slinger".
- Eoin Colfer: And Another Thing ...
Posthumous Douglas Adams. It has its moments, but suffers from an excess of linearity.
- Glen Cook: The White Rose
Delves a little more into the limits of power - flying carpets are expensive, running an empire is complex and requires constant attention (especially given ambitious and unscrupulous underlings). When some of them put things on their daily planner like "burn home province to hide my true name", it is a wonder that not all wizards are strangled at birth.
- Glen Cook: The Silver Spike
Was a little worried about a loss of dramatic tension as a side effect of stilling the ancient powers of the world, but tricksiness is the best force multiplier and makes for good reading.
- Donnie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt: The Ethical Slut: a guide to infinite sexual possibilities
Enh, good advice (know what makes you happy and sad, and try not to be sucky to others or yourself), but not really presented in an engaging style.
- Glen Cook: Shadow Games
Good RPG novel fluff. Croaker hit tenth level and has started attracting followers. I hope he goes more into the mechanics of the magic system at some point.
- Alastair Reynolds: Redemption Ark
Good point-counterpoint societal reaction to Gaia-motes that can be implanted forcibly. Interesting take on causality-violation gives balefire backlash.
- Joe Abercrombie: The Blade Itself
Fantastic description of a berserker rage, all-around engaging characters with just the right amount of world-building bleeding through.
- Karen Miller: Empress (GodSpeaker trilogy)
Definitely in the world is better than the characters camp; though Hekat freaks me out something fierce. I am pretty sure that there actually is a scorpion god, but damn if that society is not perfectly set up for abusing a lie. Hoping for more demons (and demon-touching wink*wink) in book the second.
- Iain M. Banks: Against a Dark Background
Reads remarkably like Matter despite being different in almost all of the particulars. The Lazy Gun does a remarkably good job of blending creepy with sexy.
- Daniel Abraham: The Price of Spring
Fourth and final book of the Long Price Quartet. A good picture of falling in love and passing the torch to the next generation. The epilogue is especially well written. Curious I am whether Servility or Upsetting the natural balance could be bound and how they would react.
- Charles Stross: The Jennifer Morgue
Oddly reminiscent of Nightwatch by Lukyanenko. Would have liked more playing with the magic system and more translation of the traditional Bond action stuff into Howard's hacking forte. Pulls it off remarkably well for such a self-conscious conceit.
- Joe Abercrombie: Before They are Hanged
Very much Double-R meets Cerebus. No need to wait between volumes
- China Miéville: The Scar
Does not reread as well as I had hoped, but I suppose much of the fun of Miéville is in tasting the new ideas and approaches. My opinion of this book had been steadily rising since last I read it a few years ago, but I think Perdido is still my favorite.