curgoth: (Default)
( Oct. 11th, 2012 09:26 pm)
Waargh, let this go too long without posting it again.
26. The Apocalypse Codex by Charles Stross
More Laundry! Not nearly so bleak and depressing as the previous installment. I enjoyed it, but found the ending a tad abrupt. I was expecting more epilogue than there was. I am starting to get more of a feeling that there's a larger story with an actual ending going on behind the books here. So, I think it's possible that we may eventually get a book title CASE NIGHTMARE GREEN that ends the series.
27. John Dies At The End by David Wong
This is not the right book to read while camping. There is a lot of bug-related body horror going on. That said, it was a nice, solid creepy horror novel that play with Lovecraft's toys in a manner quite different than Stross.
28. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This was a decent book, and I get why it's gotten so much attention. It was, very obviously, written to be turned into a movie.

Not that there's anything wrong with the story, but it's got all the biases of a Hollywood movie. A straight white teen-aged male who's smarter than everyone else overcomes adversity by being smart and brave, with the help of his friends who aren't white, straight or male enough to be heroes. The significant female character is the love interest, who has a relatively minor flaw that the protag can overlook, showing how deep and pure his love is when he gets the girl as part of his reward. Which makes it sound like I didn't like it. I have just come to expect a bit more of my literature in terms of trope awareness. I'm sure the movie will do well. Michael Bay could direct!

The other aspect of the book that's interesting is the 80s nerd culture fixation. Again, it's pretty specifically the nerd culture of the straight white kid who grew up middle classed in the 80s. It's extremely detailed, and makes it pretty clear that the book is not only fantasy for a certain kind of dudenerd, but a dudenerd of a certain age. I'm pretty close to the target demographic myself. It's this element that has gotten the book so much attention, I think. It aims itself directly at the classic SF audience. I assume the details will be sanded off for the movie version to make it more accessible to today's teens.
29. Colder War by Ian Tregillis
I confess, when I read book one of the Milkweed Triptych, I didn't realise that it was part of a trilogy. Which made the state of the end of book one rather bleak and miserable. Book two is, well, overall pretty bleak and miserable, but there are shards of hope glimmering here and there. Set 20 years after book one, Colder War does marvelous things with the terrible remains of book one. There's not too much I can say without spoiling one of the two books, but I was very happy with the way the character development was handled. I want book 3 now.
30. Distrust That Particular Flavour by William Gibson
A collection of William Gibson's non-fiction essays spanning the length of his career. It's interesting seeing the various ways he, as an author who hasn't done all that much non-fiction, has influenced the memetic atmosphere. It's more interesting when he analyzes that impact and mentions that he didn't really know what he was talking about at the time.

Which is of course, the other reason to read the book - Gibson is a fantastic writer, whose style makes everything interesting, even when it wouldn't otherwise be.
31. vN by Madeleine Ashby
Living, self-reproducing robots created as helpmeets for those left behind after the Rapture (which didn't occur).

These are the vN (von Neumann machines), a human created rival sapient species on Earth. Ashby does a fantastic job extrapolating from her premise, and builds out from Asimov's three laws, Blade Runner's Replicants and the various androids of SF's past.

There's a lot of pondering on the nature of Free Will, Humanity, etc. Also, killer androids on the loose! I loved the heck out of this book, and really hope there's more forthcoming.
32. Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
The elevator pitch: standard D&D party fantasy novel, but! it's all set in a fantasy version of the Baghdad of 1001 Arabian Knights. Smart, rich fantasy that doesn't need a white dude to hang the reader's viewpoint off of.

Ahmed passed my most important test for good characterization - those moments where I say to myself, "Oh, Doctor Adoulla!" because the character has done something endearing or touching that is so very consistent with the traits that character has shown so far.

[ profile] mycrazyhair, you can read this one; the characters suffer, but none are actually broken.
33. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear
And, without planning it, here's another non-white, non-Eurocentric fantasy where I can almost hear the dice rolling in the background.

The setting really knocked me for a loop at first - the trick with the skies took some time to wrap my head around. And I still have questions about how the moons work.

Because this is Bear, though, it wasn't overly distracting, because Bear's strength is her amazing characters and their living dialogue. I fell for Timur (our !Mongol warrior prince) and Samarkand (Our !Tibetan(I think) wizard and former princess), and Dumpling the horse, and the refreshingly titless tiger woman Hrahima. As always with Bear, the characters felt like real people, and people I'd like were I to meet them.

Plot-wise, there's some standard questiness and a sinister evil in the form of someone whose the head of a cult that borrows a lot from the story of Hassan-i Sabbah and Alamut. There's some interesting plot nuggets of various amounts of obviousness placed throughout - enough for me to enjoy playing my game of trying to figure out if X is foreshadowing what I think it's foreshadowing.

I'm looking forward to the next book.
34. The Prose Edda by Snorri Sturlusson (translated by Jean I. Young)
I had never actually read this before. The translation I was reading was from the 50s, and the translator made some weird choices - in some places the beverage of the gods is translated to mead, in others, wine. The Jotnar are referred to as "frost ogres" instead of "frost giants". There are a lot of lists of names of things and places, and the translator frequently uses footnotes to explain the literal translation of about half of them, with no explanation of why those are translated and others aren't. So, not the best translation.

As far as the content goes, I was somewhat surprised by the amount of work Sturluson had to do to place the Norse myths into a contemporary (for him) context - I'd never run into the bit about placing the Aesir as wayward Trojans from an era when, after the Flood, man had somehow forgotten the Christian God (except for a desert tribe in the Middle East, naturally). The amount of mental gymnastics going on is impressive, but given that he was writing only a couple hundred years after Iceland converted to Christianity, he had to walk on fairly thin ice to get away with writing it at all.

The stories themselves I had already read elsewhere, in more coherent and internally consistent adaptations, and I'm left with an urge to do more research - it seems to me that we've got at least a little more references for Norse myth than I ran into here.

Which is not to say I didn't enjoy it, or get anything out of it.
35. Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher
I went into this book braced for the sort of clever, winking, self-aware sort of superhero deconstruction of Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible or Minister Faust's From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain. What I actually found was a fairly decent first novel that took a straight shot at the superhero genre. No smirking deconstruction required.

The basic setup is that Tony (whose name was derived from the Pixies song), finds himself with superpowers one day, in a fictional not-LA where the last superhero team battle frequently and inconclusively with the last supervillain. There's a couple deleted scenes at the end that I think really shouldn't have been deleted - certain bits of skulduggery fall through the cracks without one of them, and an important character change doesn't make any sense without another.

On the whole, I think the character development is on the weak side - I didn't see enough to understand why people were doing things, so a lot of character action seemed random. Things seemed pretty clearly set up for sequels, and I did enjoy it enough to read the next book at least.
36. The Rook by Daniel O'Malley
A British secret society tasked with recruiting super-powered people, and using them to combat supernatural threats to the nation! Our protagonist, one Mwfanwy Thomas, comes to covered in bruises, surrounded by dead people in latex gloves, with no memory of who she is or how she got there.

So, superpowers, White-Wolfian secret societies, and Identity Horror?


O'Malley did not disappoint me. This book was fantastic and wonderful, and hit so many of my literary kinks that I am still sad that it ended. On his blog, O'Malley states his intention to write more books, some in this world, some not.
Which saddens me only in the implication that there aren't more waiting in the publication queue already.
curgoth: (Default)
( Apr. 23rd, 2012 02:13 pm)

9. Zero History by William Gibson

Gibson continues to be amazing. Wrapping up the Bigend/Blue Ant
trilogy, Zero History focusses on the world of fashion in a very weird
way. In addition to some interesting points about men's fashion and
its relationship to the military, he covers camera drones, weird
darts, and Gurkha martial arts.

This trilogy really only gets filed as science fiction because it's
Gibson; none of the not-quite-real stuff in the books is all that
strange, and I'd have to check to confirm what is and is not
technically possible with today's tech.

The key part, though, is that Gibson is a brilliant writer. His prose
trigger synaesthetic visions of cold blue and grey and flat techno
like the Dust Brothers' Fight Club sound track. Which isn't really a
review useful to anyone but me, but there it is.

10. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

An ancient, corrupt aristocracy that has several gods on leashes
as a result of an ancient divine war that left One True God ruling

Then a young girl, daughter of a princess, dark of skin and hair, gets
tossed in the middle of a battle for succession, and gets pulled into
the plans of the captive gods.

It's like Anne Bishop's Dark Jewels books, but with less rape and more
agency for the heroine. Which is really what made this book for me;
Yeine (the protag) really does drive the story by making choices.

11. Soulless by Gail Carriger

At first, I was afraid that this book was going to be a period
romance with werewolves, vampires, and cogs glued on to things to make
it look steampunk. And there's a bit of that going on.

What saves this book, and made it intensely enjoyable, is the sense of
humour; it doesn't take itself seriously, and is, moreover,
hilarious. I had to keep stopping in the middle of a paragraph to
laugh, and then read the line out to whoever else was in the room.

12. Sex At Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern
by Christopher Ryan, Cacilda Jetha

Again, I have this problem with non-fiction where I worry that I
think it is brilliant and insightful in direct proportion to how much
it agrees with the ideas I had going into it.

That said, I though Sex At Dawn was brilliant and
insightful. It takes as its central idea questioning of monogamy as
the "default", "normal" or "natural" state for humans. The evidence
supporting the idea that humans are no more hard-wired to exclusive
pair-binding than bonobos or chimps is fairly compelling.

The authors devote a fair bit of time to (with some occasional snark)
examining the published works of other researchers' claims; much like
Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender, there's a lot of
researchers bending over backwards to try to force the data to support
their preconcieved ideas. In a number of cases, the researchers seem
to go as far as to say something like "but that would imply that
humans aren't monogamous, and we are, so it must be wrong".

The information on primate sexual biology and societies were new and
interesting to me (as a layperson), and the writing was clever and
entertaining. I'd recommend it to anyone who is interested in sex or

13. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I confess that I had seen this book around, and parsed the title
as "The Lay Of Loch Lamora", and hence categorized it as some possibly
Outlander-ish Kilts-and-Claymores romance.

This is not that sort of book.

The Lies of Locke Lamora is a caper book of the first order;
the titular Locke Lamora is a thief and a con man, who operates in a
magic-fueled Not!Venice. If you like White Collar and Leverage, odds
are you'll like this.

14. The Broken Kingdoms by N. K. Jemisin

The follow-up to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Also good,
also concerned with a mortal-god romance, but with a different god and
a different mortal. [ profile] mycrazyhair points out that she found
the ending of this a lot more bleak than I did.

15. Pattern Scars by Caitlin Sweet

This book reminds me of Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds. Both
books are concerned with knowledge of the future, and both books are
unflinchingly tragedies. In the classic Shakespearean "then everyone
is miserable or dead, the end" mode.

My brain kept wanting to read Pattern Scars as a standard
heroic epic fantasy; it has the markers, a young girl with magic
powers (ability to see the future, in this case), a sneering villain,
warring kingdoms. But Sweet doesn't follow the heroic model.

The protagonist, Nola, starts out dirt poor and miserable, until her
powers manifest, and she's taken to a better place and finds people
who care for her. Then all of that is taken from her, and we get to
watch her being abused for eight years. I kept waiting for her to find
a way to use her power to fight back and free herself, defeat the
villain and get a happy ending. This does not occur. There is even a
moment where, reading, I saw an opening for her to use her power
against her abuser, hoping for a "and then she realised that hers was
the greater power!" moment. A few pages later, Nola berates herself,
having missed her chance, not having seen the opening until it was too
late. She never really gets a chance to fight back. She never really
has any choice or ability to affect the outcome of events.

Pattern Scars is certainly a well-written book, and one that is
aware of the tropes of the genre while playing with them. It is also a
bleak tragedy that never extends hope without then crushing it.

16. Tiassa by Steven Brust

Vlad! Now with alternate POVs, including the ever-lovable Paarfi
of Roundwood. I even liked the Cawti section.

curgoth: (Default)
( Aug. 22nd, 2010 08:51 pm)

24. Dzur by Steven Brust

Foodie Vlad is a foodie. Also, there's something in there about him interfering in Cawti's life again, allowing him to save her while being a douche. But the primary focus of the novel is clearly dinner at Valabar's.

25. Jhegaala by Steven Brust

Ass-kicked Vlad is ass-kicked. Vlad gets beat up a lot in this book. It's like someone pointed out that Vlad seems to get away with risky stuff without consequence too often to be believable, and this book was the answer to said criticism. Even by the end, when things are resolved, it's not really cathartic.

26. Gardens of the Moon by Steven Erikson

Book one of the epic, ten book long "Malazan, Book of the Fallen" series. This grew out of a shared RPG setting that Erikson and his co-GM wrote years ago, first for D&D and then for GURPS. As often happens with GMs who love world building, they realised that players would never explore the setting satisfactorily, and became authors. I myself have a strong urge in this direction. So, there was a decent chance of me enjoying this book on those grounds. My coworker had been urging me to read it for some time, as he's a big fan of the series.

Unfortunately, I didn't really like it. It feels too much like an RPG setting in a lot of places - the place names and character names and randomly looted from real world sounding names. Kruppe (who I assume pronounces his name like a German) lives in Darujistan, where one of the major noble families has a French last name.

The other, more distracting issue I had with it is that it felt like being in a 90s comic book. Like being trapped in Wolverine's sideburns. *Everything* is grim, gritty, dark and dire. People only smile blackly, ironically or cruelly. I keep imagining the characters as drawn by Rob Liefeld, making that 90s Liefeld shouty-face. There are multiple obese wizards whose movement is surprisingly graceful for their bulk. I prefer my miserable fiction to at least have some humour and self-awareness in it. This is nearly as bleak as China Mieville, but without the awareness and genius that he puts into his books.

Also, the world has drow. And I hate drow.

On the plus side, the world is very racially diverse, and you can't pick out good or bad guys by the colour of their skin, or even their race. It even passes the Bechdel test, though it might be a technicality based on one of the conversants being possessed by a male diety at the time. Women in the setting are free to be damned by their terrible choices and ground into powder by the relentless misery that is existence.

Additionally, the setting is very detailed, and I'm told that even small details in the first book are still having impacts by the tenth. The series also really does actually end in the 10th book, though Erikson and the other guy who writes in the world have other books in the same world on the go. So, it avoids the Wheel Of Time problem and the Song of Fire and Ice problem - the series does have a solid end, and book ten is written if not yet published.

Which is to say, I can see why the books are popular, and why some people enjoy the, I just don't think that I will ever be one of those people.

27. Misframing Men by Michael Kimmel

The basic theme of this collection of essays is that feminism is good for men, too, and that we should be allies for the feminist cause. Kimmel examines various social constructions of masculinity, and looks at how they're breaking down, how thier at odds with how a lot of men are living thier lives, and how they constrain and cripple us. This includes looking at the sense of entitlement that is a part of traditional masculinity, and the reactions that are drawn from that. This was a fascinating book, and I spent a lot of my time reading through it saying "Ooh, yeah, that, that exactly!" to myself. I can't really do justice to the content in a review this short, but I stronlgy recommend it to my feminist and feminist ally friends. [ profile] northbard, lemme know if you want to borrow it; I'm giving you first dibs.

28. For The Win by Cory Doctorow (ebook)

Doctorow did a really fantastic job here. The book is, essentially, a near future YA book about MMPORG enconomies and global labour. It avoids the "What These People Need Is a Honky" trope while having well-developed characters from multiple countries. Also, I really like that the global gamer union got called the IWWWW, aka the Webblies. Doctorow's growing as a writer in just the right ways for me - there's an ever-increasing realism to his optimism, and his charcter continue to be better and better developed. It'd make an interesting counterpoint against Stross' Halting State, in some ways, if anyone knows kids looking for books to do essays on.

29. The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

Neuromancer, grown up and moved to Thailand. I'm working my way through the Hugo nominees, starting here. TWG is set in a nearish future where peak oil has come and gone, global warming has raised the sea levels, and GMO food products and custom plagues have wiped out the world's food supply. The only food crops are those purchased annually from the big food corporations. Except in Thailand... Bacigalupi paints a believable and unsettling future, with the kind of accelerating future shock that reminds me of William Gibson. It's not a cheerful book, but it is wonderfully written.

curgoth: (Default)
( Jun. 4th, 2010 12:41 pm)

18.Issola by Steven Brust

Cosmic Vlad is cosmic. Also, *sniff*. Chronologically, this is as far as I got when I initially read the Vlad books.

19.More Eric Meyer On CSS by Eric Meyer

Eric Meyer's a pretty good writer, and I am interested in CSS. However, my last big drive to learn a pile of CSS a few years ago covered most of the new techniques Meyer presents, so I mostly got some incremental improvements to my skill set. Also, it reminded me why I stopped getting excited about CSS and web design - to make pretty designs you really need to be either a good artist, a good photographer, or have access to a really nice stock photo library. Next time I'm doing web design I'll probably be glad for all the IE bug workarounds from this, though.

20.Athyra by Steven Brust

Paternal Vlad is... not so paternal actually. Hi Dee Hi Dee Ho la. Step on out.

21.Orca by Steven Brust

Financial Vlad is financial. Surprise endings! (not that surprising if you were paying attention)

22.Dragon by Steven Brust

Military Vlad is military. Some day I think I might work up something about the never-ending fantasy series and the apparent need for one installment wherein the hero enlists. Vlad does it, Tavi of Calderon does it, and I'm sure comparisons can be pulled out for Miles Vorkosigan and Harry Dresden, too. Tangentially, there's also a common theme of premise threat and having it followed through late in the series, but that's a different post that requires spoiler warnings and footnotes. Some times I just need to remind myself that I always hated writing essays in school.

23.Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors by Jennifer K. Stuller

My Fandom Has a Publisher! This is a great book. Stuller writes from what seems to me to be a distinctly fannish meets academia POV. The book examines female heroes in comics, movies and TV. It covers how they're portrayed in contrast with male heroes, where they succeed and fail from a feminist perspective, and how the archetype of the female hero is forming. I especially like the parts about how the female hero's journey (in constrast to the Conradian hero's journey) is shaping up in popular culture. This is, in a lot of ways, the book I had been hoping for with Mike Madrid's book on femlae superheroes in the last booklog post. Stuller's language use is interesting - she uses feminist/academic terms fairly casually, but also uses what I think of as fan language - "The Scoobies", "Uber-whatever", etc. All in all, I am quite happy that I picked this up. It's given me a lot to think about, especially for gaming and writing female heroes.

So, my next Vlad books will be ones I actually haven't read before. Next up, Dzur, followed by Jhegaala. Then I have to wait for paperbacks. I should probably head to chapters and put in my next order...
curgoth: (Default)
( Apr. 29th, 2010 10:07 am)

8. Chill by Elizabeth Bear

Probably my favourite Bear setting. Nanotech! A decadent aristocracy fighting back form the brink of annihilation! In spaaaaace! I had forgotten how much influence this had on the Nano-Victorian Future setting. I want a basilisk.

9. Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

Steampunk! Zombies! Airships! Believable characters! Boneshaker's up for a Hugo, and it deserves to be.

10. The Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios

*This* is the book on science and superheroes I wanted. Kakalios clearly loves comics in a way that Gresh and Weinberg (of "Science Of Superheroes") do not. His basic approach is to grant each superhero a single "miracle exception" - say, the Flash's ability to run really fast - and see how much of the portrayal of the character otherwise obeys the laws of physics. I have a better understanding of relativity and quantum mechanics after having read this book. AND it's an enjoyable read! I highly recommend this book to foolks with an interest in any of a) phsyics, b) superheroes, or c) education - the book comes from open lectures Kakalios gave at the university he teaches at.

11. Jhereg by Steven Brust

(reread) After the latest Vlad Taltos book came out, I realised that, since I'd read a number of them from the library and hadn't been logging them at the time, I had no idea which ones I had and had not read. So I'm starting over and re-reading all of the Draegara novels. I think, in total, there are something like 20 of them. Reviews will probably be brief and as spoiler-free as can be. For Jhereg; meet Vlad. Charming Vlad is charming.

12. Yendi by Steven Brust

Clever Vlad is clever.

13. Teckla by Steven Brust

Conflicted Vlad is conflicted!

14. Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

Definitely the weirdest Cory book I've ever read. I found the politics felt a bit pasted on to what was an otherwise interesting novel. Not that there was anything deeply wrong with the poltical unwiring and dumpster diving parts, they just didn't really fit in with the rest of the stuff.

15. The Supergirls by Mike Madrid

One of those non-fiction books with a really long subtitle that I am not typing out. Madrid attempts to cover the history of women in superhero comics with a feminist viewpoint. He certainly covers the range of women in comics, and clearly knows his underwear perverts, but I think the feminist angle could use more work, and the book as a whole could use a more vigorous editorial staff. To be fair, it is put out by a small press with a bit of an agenda, so I'm inclined to forgive a certain lack of polish. I found Madrid's language was quite casual - at times, I think, a little too casual for a feminist reader. I cautiously suggest that the book could use a little more jargon. There were places where the male gaze was sort of talked around, for example. I'm also a bit annoyed that Madrid used the old saw about a woman's sexuality being a sort of power over men without pausing to deconstruct it.

I'd say The Supergirls is a book about comics with some feminism in it, instead of a feminist book about comics. It's not awful, and I'm glad I read it, but I think it needed to be about twice as long with more editing to really give the subject matter a solid exploration.

16. Taltos by Steven Brust

Novice Vlad is a novice!

17. Phoenix by Steven Brust

Frustrated Vlad is frustrated.

Now I just need to get the next Vlad books back from [ profile] mycrazyhair, and wait for my Chapters order with the five after that to show up.
curgoth: (Default)
( Feb. 15th, 2010 10:26 pm)

6. Science of Superheroes by Lois H Gresh and Robert Weinberg,

A book about superheroes and science written by two people who, so far as I can tell, hate superheroes. But they like science. And also Donald Duck. This reads like the obnoxious guy who keeps interrupting folks discussing stuff they like to tell them why it's stupid and they shouldn't like it. I grabbed this at the bookstore in a rush - what I really wanted was the Physics of Superheroes by James Kakalios, who from his youtube vids seems to actually like superheroes.

7. Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge

I've heard a lot over the years about Vinge, and how brilliant and thought-provoking he is. No one mentioned that he's also a pretty good writer. I really enjoyed this - smart in a similar way to Charlie Stross, but not quite as manic.

curgoth: (Default)
( Jan. 29th, 2010 10:48 am)

1. Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher


2. Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher


3. First Lord's Fury by Jim Butcher

The Codex alera series is finally brought to a satisfying conclusion. Especially after re-reading all of the books in one shot, I found it really interesating a) how many world details are still unexplained, and b) how much happens off-screen. A lot of important events (graduation, weddings, attempted assassinations, etc.) happen off-screen, and are just casually mentioned as having happened. This might bother me, except that the series was already six books long - if Butcher hadn't trimmed so carefully, the series would have had to be a lot longer. I think Butcher did a good job of focusing on the dramatically interesting events, as opposed to those important tothe characters. All in all, I heartily recommend this series.

4. Stiff by Mary Roach

Roach investigates the science and business of death. She is, as always, engaging, thoughtful and wonderful to read. Be warned, though, the book is pretty graphic in its discussion of dead bodies.

5. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

YA novel, steampunk done right. Darwinian bio-ships and mechanical walkers! Set at the beginning of WW1.

Now I'm all out of Mary Roach books to read, so I need to go get more non-fiction. come to think of it, I'm out of fiction to read, too, once I finish the Zelanzy short story book I'm on now.

I need to sit down and go through the Stephen Brust Dragaera novels and figure out which ones I have read and which I have not, and pick them all up. I notice that Indigo has none of them, but at least amazon seems to carry them.
curgoth: (Default)
( Jan. 4th, 2010 01:27 pm)
I've gone off-goal for a bit, serious book-wise.

34. The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes

A Victorian stage magician and his giant mute assistant. They fight crime! Good Victorian silliness.

35. Furies of Calderon by Jim Butcher


36. Academ's Fury by Jim Butcher


37. Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher


And that's it for 2009. 2010 begins with finishing my re-read of the Codex Alera series in preparation for diving in to the sixth and final book.
curgoth: (Default)
( Dec. 16th, 2009 11:59 am)
At Thanksgiving, I picked up three books without reading the back blurb or looking at the cover art. I picked them up because all three authors were folks who seem to be highly regarded by folks I like, and authors I had never read a novel by. Scalzi's Old Man's War was the first of the three.

29. Escapement by Jay Lake

I wanted to like this book. Steampunk! Submarines! Airships! It just didn't work for me, though. I found that I didn't connect with any of the characters. I didn't buy into the setting (a world where literal clockwork makes everything go, and a giant wall divides the north and south hemispheres concealing much of Earth's gears etc.). In some settings, magic gets turned into technology (Mieville's New Crobuzon, Brust's Dragaera, Butcher's Alera), and that really works for me. Here, Lake does the opposite - technology gets abstracted into magic (and not in a Clarke-ian way, either), and I found it irritating. The female characters spent what seemed like an unreasonable amount of time self-consciously examining the injustice of the patriarchy to a degree that felt anachronistic.

30. Bone Dance by Emma Bull

I think Emma Bull is getting adopted into my list of "My People" authors. She was already on the nomination list for her work on Shadow Unit, but I think Bone Dance may have cinched it. "My People" authors write characters who feel like people I could know and get along with, who react in a way that I expect people to react in. In the set of three new authors, Bull is the clear winner. I will be buying more of her books. And reading the rest of Shadow Unit S2 if I have to convert it to ebook format myself.

31. Spook by Mary Roach

Mary Roach, a skeptic, looks into spiritualism and evidence for life after death. I'll be honest - if Mary Roach wrote a book called "Toast", I would read it, and probably enjoy it. She's an indrebily engaging author. Spook wasn't quite as rivetting as Bonk, but it was still pretty good.

32. Princeps' Fury by Jim Butcher

SQUEE. Book 5 in the Codex Alera. This round brings out a lot of the best stuff in the series. I am fighting to hold to my policy of not buying hardcovers. But book 5 came out in paperback the same day book 6 came out in hardcover. I am not sure how long I can wait to read book 6 (which ends the series).

33. Makers by Cory Doctorow (ebook)

Wow. While Cory's previous books didn't suck, this one shows some major technical skills. Makers solves some of the issues I had with previous Doctorow books - like Spider Robinson, a lot of Doctorow's work is just too fundamentally optimistic about the human condition. Makers is certianly not a a mope-fest, but the way the characters evolve and act feels a lot more real. The characters make mistakes, and sometimes they just can't fix things. Sometimes things that don't make sense happen, but they feel like the way things don't make sense in the real world. Unlike Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, the Disney love in Makers didn't bug me. Defintely worth reading, and, in my opinon, Doctorow's best work so far.

curgoth: (Default)
( Oct. 19th, 2009 06:12 pm)

24. All The Windwracked Stars by Elizabeth Bear

This book starts with the end of the world, and goes from there. The thing I love most about Bear's writing is, I think, that all her characters seem like people I know - or people I would know, if my friends and I were post-human vikings. I am eagerly awaiting the next book in this series.

25. The Drowning City by Amanda Downum

Pirates! Ghosts! Zombies! Wizards! My only regret is that Adam didn't get more time. I enjoyed the heck out of this book, and want to give Isyllt a big hug.

26. Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Fehhhh. My review: The Law of Uppercase, The Rule of Myopia, and Stickiness. Gladwell Uppercases a lot of Words. I found it Annoying after a while. His section on crime in New York (praising the Broken Window theory) is trumped by Freakonomics' coverage of the same topic, which presents data indicating that crime dropped off throughout America, even in places that weren't using the Broken Window method. OTOH, I found Gladwell's section on how fashion trends spread nicely complimented the material in The Rebel Sell - one covered how, the other why. I think I will wait before trying another one of Gladwell's books. Combined with the storm of negative press I'm hearing about SuperFreakonomics, I'm thinking a vaction from... whatever the genre of books is that includes Gladwell and the Steves is in order. Time to go gtet sick of Atheists instead!

27. Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Scalzi's homage to Heinlein's Starship Troopers. Scalzi avoids getting mired in the political lecturing that ST is famous for. My main complaint was that the protagonist never seems to really make any choices, as such - the story sort of happens around him, with the situation and his moral character dictating the action. Still worth a read, and I will bet that [ profile] the_nita would like it.

28. bonus: Shadow Unit Season 1 by a lot of people(ebook)

!!!! Squee! An FBI procedural about scary mutants (sort of). It captures the magic of the early NCIS cast or Fringe. I am glad this isn't a real show, because if it were, it would be amazing, and then get cancelled by Fox halfway through seaosn 2.

curgoth: (Default)
( Sep. 11th, 2009 11:45 am)
This is the cycle of authors named Steve who publish with their middle initial.

22. Freakonomics by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner

These two Steves ramble around studying numbers and looking at wacky correlations of data about crime, sumo wrestling and other things that seem unconnected. The Steves do a decent job of hammering home that correlation != causation while doing a decent job of trying to find actual causes. A decent read, and much quicker to get through than I expected. I hated the end note style - notes were unreferenced in the text, so you had to go flip to the end of the book and see if they put in a note for the fact you wanted to check.

23. Ariel by Steven R. Boyett

A boy and his unicorn in a fairy tale post-apocalyptic world. I'm looking forward to the sequel.

curgoth: (Default)
( Aug. 27th, 2009 03:16 pm)

18. An Unlikely Utopia by Michael Adams

The serious book for this cycle. The subtitle for this is "The surprising triumph of Canadian Multiculturalism". Adams wrote this book basically to refute a couple articles he saw in papers and magazines. Which is to say, it's a book length letter to the editor. Stylisitically, this is a departure from Adams' previous book, in that a) most of the research referenced is not from Environics, and b) it focusses less on the value graphs that I found so fascinating in the previous books. This one is unrelentingly optimistic, taking the stance (on multiculturalism and, to a lesser extentm racism in Canada) that we're doing better than we used to, and improving where we suck, and that this is showing clear benefits for both Canada and new Canadians. I think he is a little too optimistic about the situation of recent immigrants, and doesn't give racism quite enough weight, but on the whole the book left me feeling pretty good about being a Canadian, and about my fellow residents.

19. Knight by Gene Wolf

Excellent. Weird. I frequently found myslef turning a page, reading, then flipping back to see if I'd missed a page. The story jumps around alot in time and space. The book is written in the style of a long letter to the protagonist's brother, and the protagonist is a young teen, and the style does support that. It takes some getting used to, but it really goes a long way to establishing the strange headspace of the protag.
20. Wizard by Gene Wolf

The second half of Knight. The progtagonist is older in this book, and the writing style catches up with that. The world building in this duology is fantastic, and the characters are interesting. The style takes some getting used to, but it's worth it. There are plenty of female characters, but I do think Wizard Knight still manages to fail the Bechdel test - most of the female characters talk to men, and not each other, and for the most part, the female characters are sexual objects. That said, I'd still strongly recommend the pair of books to any fantasy buff.

21. Farthing by Jo Walton

A sort of Agatha Christie/Alternate British History combo. The setting can be summed up with "What if the UK made peace with Hitler and let the Nazis have Europe?". Walton takes that setting and puts a murder among aristocrats in the English countryside in it. It reminds me, in an odd way, of District 9 in the bleak, miserable picture it paints of humanity. [ profile] mycrazyhair should not read this book. I fairly enjoyed it, and am looking forward to hunting down the sequel later.

I find myself in need of a non-fiction book sooner than expected - I read nearly all of Farthing on Wednesday while waiting in the ER.

On the plus side, I'm finally reading Shadow Unit, having found that it's available in ebook format.
curgoth: (Default)
( Jul. 22nd, 2009 10:50 am)

15. My Own Kind of Freedom by Steven Brust (ebook)

Brust wrote a Firefly novel with someone I know written into it. Sadly, it was not amazing - once the novelty wore off, it just didn't work for me.

16. Captain's Fury by Jim Butcher

Book four in the series. I know I read this some time in the past year, but couldn't find it in the booklog. The romance threads are getting too pat for my liking. Still going to read book five now that it's in paperback. Logged here so I have some record of it.

17. Set This House in Order by Matt Ruff

A book about a character with dissociative identity disorder (aka multiple personalities). The premise is interesting, and the initial setup of the protagonist is interesting. Ruff gives the reader enough to set things up before moving on with the story. I thought I knew where it was going, and was only slightly right, which pleases me.

I am now out of free ebooks. Anyone have suggestions for new ones to grab? Ideally, I'm looking for ones where the author wants them distributed for free. I've gone through Cory Doctorow and Peter Watts already.

I'm also going to be through my stack of to-read non-fiction after my next book, so suggestoins there wouldn't be a bad idea either.
curgoth: (Default)
( Jul. 14th, 2009 10:33 am)

12. The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

Short form review; Dawkins is right, but I wish he wasn't such a dick about it. In more detail, the earlier parts of the book work well - Dawkins does a good job of presenting the logical, rational arguments against religious belief. His later sections on arguments about religion being a force for "evil" hold up less well, in my opinion - many of them hinge on fanaticism being bad, and religion as a strong force for fanaticism. I'm not sold on the slippery slope Dawkins uses. Additionally, I found myself twinging at some instances of subtle sexism and other isms. Dawkins has more than a little bit of That Guy in his writing, and it irked me.

13. The Player of Games by Ian M. Banks

Okay, I finally read Banks. Years ago, I started Use of Weapons and gave up a third of the way in. With this one, I found I didn't really get hooked until about halfway. I think it was the robots that sold me. I definitely enjoyed the space operaness, and think I will revisit more of the Culture novels later.

14. Saturn's Children by Charles Stross

Moar robots! Asimovian robots built to serve humans in a universe where mankind has gone extinct. The protagonist is a sexbot built not long after the last man died. Robots have developed thier own society. Because it's Stross, there's weirdness, and awesomeness. I would say more, but I don't want to spoil it.

curgoth: (Default)
( Jun. 9th, 2009 08:50 pm)

9. Coyote Kings of the Space Age Bachelor Pad by Minister Faust

Take one part Tim Powers, one part Kevin Smith three parts just plain awesome, and you have Minister Faust. Why haven't you read this book already? There is plenty of fanboy/geek fodder, weird stuff, relationships, egregious displays of writer-craft, and it's all wrapped up in one enjoyable hell-of-a-ride. This book is good enough that it made me want to hang out in Edmonton.

10. ßehemoth by Peter Watts (ebook)

The last of the rifter books. The last book heaps yet more damage and horror on everyone before bringing things to a satisfying conclusion. On the whole, I do believe that Watts is significantly more of a pessimist than I am. I still enjoyed the series, and will read more Watts as it comes out.

11. The Court of the Air by Stephen Hunt

Like China Mieville if he were more of an optimist. I mean, only a *bit* more. Also, more pulpy, and more steampunky. Magic, steam-powered robot men, airships, political commentary and a few refreshing variations from the classic fantasy/hollywood story elements.

curgoth: (Default)
( May. 3rd, 2009 07:42 pm)

7.Feminism: Issues and Arguments by Jennifer Mather Saul

When I last tried to read a proper book on feminism, it didn't work out so well. That book seemed to assume a solid background in academic literary/film criticism that I, as a failed CS student, lack.

In the preface to this book, Saul writes

For several years I have taught feminism to students with (in many cases) no background in feminism or philosophy, and no prior commitment to feminism. I found it extraordinarily difficult to find an appropriate text for this group. Because much feminist philosophy begins from a critique of more traditional philosophy, feminist writing tends to assume a familiarity with the basic philosophical literature.

In other words - this is a text on feminism written, more or less, for someone exactly in my position.

It's very much an introductory text, each section covering a broad topic (such as porn) in about 30 pages. This was just the kick start I needed.

The book has nine chapters:
1. The Politics of Work and Family
2. Sexual Harassment
3. Pornography
4. Abortion
5. Feminine Appearance
6. Feminism and Language Change
7. Women's 'Different Voice'
8. Feminism, Science, and Bias
9. Feminism and 'Respect for Cultures'

The chapter on porn gets credit for finally presenting Dworkin and MacKinnon in a way that didn't immediately get me so defensive I couldn't pay attention to the message. I still disagree with them, but at least I feel I have given their position half a chance. A question for my readers, especially the women: Did you, upon first viewing porn, immediately understand it as something that encourages men to be violent towards women and viewing women as exclusively sexual objects? I can certainly think of porn that doesn't seem to me to project that image, but then, I grew up in a world where Dworkin and MacKinnon were already published.

I had a hard time with "Women's 'Different Voice'", primarily because I have Issues with Essentialism - any time someone says "boys are like X and girls are like Y", I will bristle. I recognize that some of that is my Issues while still fighting the point.

There are some fantastic quotes in chapters 5 and 8, but I am not up to retyping them all just now.

I strongly recommend this book for folks who want to get started with feminist theory. [ profile] mycrazyhair is first on the list to borrow it, followed by [ profile] neeuqdrazil. The author's brother, of course, would like to encourage everyone to buy their own copy. :)

8.World War Z by Max Brooks

The future history of the zombie war. A sort of documentary novel set about twenty years in the future - mankind has had ten years of being at war with the living dead, and ten years after the war to recover. A creepy book to be reading during The Swine Flu Apocalypse. It starts stronger than it ends, but I suggest all zombie fans read this book - it is essential in discussing anti-zombie survival plans.

curgoth: (Default)
( Feb. 24th, 2009 01:22 pm)

4. Maelstrom by Peter Watts (ebook)

Book two in Watts' Rifter trilogy. Still dark and doom-laden. Watts seems to get a little caught up in the "oh, and also, $COOLTECH also arrives!" thing that happens in a lot of hard SF. I had similar twinges with some of the later KSR Mars books - too many tech revelations muddies the waters, I think. Then again, I may just be clinging to the idea that hard SF should only deal with one bit of "magic". One could argue that that is a stupid rule that gets in the way of storytelling. In any case, I am still enjoying the hell out of Watts' books.

5. Becoming Batman by E. Paul Zehr

Zehr is a kinesiologist, neurologist, and a long-time martial artist. He examines the physical realities of becoming Batman - which is to say, becoming the world's best, undefeated martial artist, capable of subduing bad guys without killing them. He looks at the kind of training you'd need to go through to aspire to that ideal, and the science behind it. In the end, he looks at how long you'd be able to continue to train at that level of intensity, and how long you could be the best. The end conclusion is that yes, you could be Batman if you had the resources. You could even be really good for decades. But you wouldn't be able to stay a proper Batman - you'd likley only manage to go a couple years before either killing someone by accident or being beaten by another skilled opponent.

6. Fledgling by Octavia Butler

At this point, I'm very surprised when I come across a vampire book that doesn't, er, suck. Fledgling was amazingly well-written - this is the first time I've read any Butler. I'm very sad that she died before writing sequels to Fledgling, and really need to go get more of her work.

curgoth: (Default)
( Jan. 18th, 2009 03:36 pm)
First list for 2009. Being sick for two weeks has meant lots of reading. I skipped over the next serious book because Becoming Batman in addition to being interesting, is likely to motivate me at the gym. Since I can't exercise right now, it seems a waste to read it before I recover.

1 Anathem by Neal Stephenson

The first quarter of the book slogs. I was getting ready to track down Stephenson and pummel him for making me push through all of his made up jargon. After a while, though, it all starts to make sense as the brain figures out where he's pulling references from, and for the most part, the plot overrides the annoying bits. The premise and science are interesting, and done in a way I don't think I've seen before, which is always nice. And, for a Stephenson book, it actually has a reasonably satisfying ending.

2 Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

Mwa Ha Ha HA! *ahem* A solid deconstruction of the superhero vs. supervillian genre. More serious, but with less social commentary than From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain.

3 Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow (eBook)

I got less out of this than some might - I have no nostalgic fondness for Disney, and I've never been to one of their theme parks. The whole whuffie idea is interesting, but I found I wasn't terribly emotionally invested in any of the characters.

curgoth: (Default)
( Jan. 5th, 2009 10:48 am)
To round of 2008...

29. New Amsterdam by Elizabeth Bear

Magic, vampires and zeppelins! Bear's alternate universe paints an America still under British rule, and where magic is as much a part of every day life as the technology the Industrial Revolution has brought. I especially loved the character of Abby Irene. But then, I would. It's been a while since anyone got me to enjoy a vampire book.

30. The Merchant's War by Charles Stross

Book four in Stross' Family Trade books. It feels a bit like a middle book, which it is - a lot of stuff happens, and nothing gets resolved. I'm glad, though, that the series has a defined end - there are supposed to be two more books until things get tied up. I'm still enjoying the books, but I am glad there's an end in sight.

I have a stack waiting for me, and I'm slogging my way through Neal Stephenson's Anathem right now.
curgoth: (Default)
( Sep. 17th, 2008 03:47 pm)

17.Spook Country by William Gibson

Actually a good followup to Halting State. If the last Gibson you read was one of the cyberpunk novels, consider picking this one up to give him another try. I found myself repeatedly impressed with his writing, and he's come along way to addressing some of the most common criticisms of his earlier writing. I really enjoyed the book. It follows three characters - a junky linguist, a cuban-american criminal, and an ex-rock star journalist, set in the general "now" time period.

18.Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Roach has a really good sense of humour. Both informative and funny. It's also fairly depressing how much we don't know, in large part because we're too squeamish to fund proper research unless there's a potential viagra on the other side.

bonus.Doktor Sleepless by Warren Ellis (comics)

There are some of you for whom this is mandatory reading. One part Batman, 5 parts Crooked Little Vein, and 10 parts of Future Science Jesus/Tesla Boy Ganster. [ profile] sabotabby, [ profile] northbard and [ profile] uniquecrash5 *must* read this. Steal a baby and sell it on ebay if you have to. In the near future, a mad scientist shows up and starts stirring things up. Both unsettling and optimistic in that bizarrely Warrne Ellis way.



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