Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

Okay, so there's this planet, see, whose entire economy is based on these carpet makers who each spend their entire life making one carpet out of the hair of their wives and daughters. And they send the carpets to this sort of god-emperor in space...but then it turns out that there isn't an emperor any more, and maybe there are other planets making these carpets, and I won't tell you how it all turns out, but it will BLOW YOUR MIND, MAN.

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow

A guy whose father is a mountain and whose mother is a washing machine (and no, this is not metaphorical, that's really what they are, and one of his brothers really is an island and not in the John Donne way) gets involved with a winged girl and tries to bring wireless connectivity to Toronto while battling his murderous dead brother.
I am not making this up.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Melusine [and] The Virtu by Sarah Monette

Well, I discovered Sarah Monette by linking to something in her LiveJournal a few posts back, and it turns out she is a fantasy writer so I checked out her first novel, Melusine (I'm too lazy to find the e with the accent mark).
And...it's good! It's not really medieval-style fantasy, it's more...17th or 18th century-ish? A bit? I'm not that up on my historical eras due to not reading a lot of historical novels and almost NO historical nonfiction, so I apologize.

Again, it's one of those things that switches between two narrators, something that always kind of irritates me because you never really get to settle into the story and you're always having to remind yourself who everyone is again. And this became even more a of a problem by the second one (The Virtu, no accent marks) because there are so many details to remember! There are all these different schools of magic, and lots of historical characters and sects and gods and goddesses and cities and we're traveling across a continent and back, and argh.

In the end of The Virtu, for example, the Big Bad Guy is all, "I'm actually [Other Person]!" And everyone is all "OMG GASP!!" but I, um, forgot who [Other Person] was, and I think maybe it was in the first book where they explained why [Other Person] was important, or maybe I just was reading too fast and missed it, but either way it kind of dulled the excitement.

Still, I like the characters a lot and I DO actually care what happens to them, if I can still remember what already happened by the time the next book comes out. Her writing is interesting and the world-building is great, and obviously I liked it enough to read both books, but I have to say reading it feels the tiniest bit like...work.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dandelion Wine and Farewell Summer by Ray Bradbury

Well, I got assigned to review Ray Bradbury's new book, Farewell Summer, which is a continuation/sequel/related book to Dandelion Wine, Bradbury's classic novel of lyrical boyhood in the 1920s.

So I figured I ought to read DW first, and, well, hm. I can see why it's a classic; it's kind of like Tom Sawyer but if Mark Twain was suffering from an attack of Beautiful Writing and Sentimental Nostalgia. The descriptions are lovely, and there is basically no plot.

But come on now! It was published when he was 37, and parts of it appeared elsewhere when he was as young as 24. Is there really a need for such relentless nostalgia at that age? It's almost suffocating. I mean, I guess he just reeeeally liked being a kid in 1928. The book follows Doug, who is pretty much the author as a boy, and his brother Tom, through an idyllic summer in the midwest. They go around and do kid things, and there are weird old people, and ice cream, and a scary killer in the ravine. It's all nice, it's just a bit...front-porchy.

Farewell Summer, according to the author's note, was mostly written at the same time, and was supposed to be part of Dandelion Wine but was left out due to length. (Which seems odd, DW isn't especially long.)

I think it would in fact work better if the two were combined into one book--FS is actually a bit more plotty and gives the whole thing somewhere to arrive at. Basically, FS takes the story into more of a Peter Pan territory, where the boys of DW are waging war against the old men of the town in order to not have to grow up. Of course, in the end they discover girls, and they decide that maybe they can grow up a little.

This is the sort of thing that would be awesome if you like this sort of thing. I don't really like this sort of thing that much.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Brother's Price by Wen Spencer

So the thing you need to know about this book is that in its world, men are only about 5% of the population, so men's and women's roles are basically reversed. Men are protected and basically treated as property, and the women fight and run businesses and so on.

Other than that, it's a fairly straightforward historical romance, where the beautiful but poor son of farmers falls in love with a woman far above his station, etc. etc.

I wasn't too into it at first, and I really wished it had taken the role reversal thing to another level somehow. Other than the different family structure [which was cool--basically one man will marry a whole family of sisters, and they have like 30 kids in order to have at least one or two boys] you could have just switched all the pronouns and had a pretty normal romance novel.

Gradually, though, it grew on me and I found myself shirking my very important chores and so on to find out what happened.
There was a lot of interesting stuff about their society that was only touched on in passing, and it made me hope for a sequel that would really go into the issues that only got a surface treatment here.

Notes From the Labyrinth says it much better than I did, although I don't mind the "clair" thing like she does. (A useful term!)

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lobster by Guillaume Lecasble

I don't want to give the impression that I have some kind of lobster fetish--it just happened that I read two lobster-related books this month.

But if you have a lobster fetish, have I got the book for you!

Okay, so there's this lobster, right? And it gets caught, along with its family members, and they are taken on the Titanic (yes, that Titanic) and served to the guests.
Except that the hero lobster has just been plunged into the boiling water when the ship hits the iceberg, so he escapes and ends up under the skirt of a lady passenger. And this lady, who has never been sexually satisfied, has her first orgasm by means of the lobster. (I forget the mechanics exactly.)
Then she rescues him, but they are tragically separated in a lifeboat, and she later suffers a terrible mutilation while trying to . . . recapture the magic, shall we say, with a different lobster.

I can't say I exactly liked this book, but I'm glad I read it because it's certainly something I would never have thought of. Sometimes you just get so tired of yet another legal thriller or space opera or tenderly written literary novel that you just need some lobster porn to wake you up a little.
Besides, it's very short.

Also, check out the review in the Guardian--most excellent.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Fledgling by Octavia Butler

The universe is a cruel, cruel place.
The first writer since Anne Rice (I know, I know, Rice has been a total hack since she fired her editor, but Interview and Lestat were awesome, come on) to do something new and interesting with the vampire myth (okay, pace Joss Whedon, but he didn't write novels), and she goes and dies without writing the CLEARLY NECESSARY sequel(s).

Still, don't let that keep you from reading this, because it is excellent. The basic idea of the story is that the protagonist is a vampire who can go out in daylight partly because she is black...but for a world-building freak like me the really cool part is all the details of the vampire society--they have a legal system and everything!

A new twist here is that the vampires don't just go out and feed on anybody--they have particular human symbiotes that they get their sustenance from. The relationship is more or less consensual, with some benefits for the humans, but there are also some unpleasant overtones of slavery, something that I think Butler was planning to address in later books. (WHICH WE WILL NEVER GET TO READ NOW! IT'S SO FREAKING SAD.)

I seriously haven't been this upset about an author's death since Douglas Adams died.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Okay, I have made a decision. I am not reading any more Russian novels in translation.
I'm sure this book is AMAZING if you are actually Russian, and get all the references.

But even with the annotations, it felt like when you go meet your new boyfriend's best friends, and he's all "oh, right, we always say that when someone drops a fork" or "that's the name of Jeff's old band" or something, and you kind of laugh but it just doesn't have the resonance.

It is worth it for Chapter 21, "Flight", though. Just read that bit.

The Best People in the World by Justin Tussing

So while I was reading this I kept having a strong sense of déjà-vu, even though I was sure I hadn't read any books before about a kid in high school who runs away with his teacher and a random homeless guy to live as squatters in Vermont in the early 70s.

But then I realized that basically it's a combination of three Basic Plots:
a) Let's Move to the Middle of Nowhere and Live Off the Land
b) We Don't Get Along With (or Have) Our Own Families So Let's Make Our Own
c) It All Ended Badly But First Let Me Tell You How Beautiful It Was While It Lasted

Sigh. I really kind of hated this book, but the first chapter, where he describes the power plant where the kid has a summer job? So good. Really.

So okay, Justin Tussing. You're a good writer, and you've gotten your "first novel" off your chest. Now go write something more interesting, less sentimental, and preferably including killer robots. Thanks.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Doctors & Nurses by Lucy Ellmann

This was a weird little story. It was kind of DISGUSTING and filled with words in ALL CAPS, but ultimately turned out to be PRETTY DAMN ENTERTAINING.

It's about this nurse who is REALLY FAT, and a doctor who is a TERRIBLE HORRIBLE PERSON, but also about how our SELF-HATRED and EMBARRASSMENT/LOATHING of our BODIES is totally RUINING OUR LIVES.

Which is kind of true.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

Holy mackerel, the authors of Gingerbread and Boy Meets Boy have written a novel together.
And guess what, it is ten kinds of awesome.

They take turns writing chapters, and the whole thing takes place in one night, where two high-school age club kids in New York meet and fall for each other while listening to agressively hip punk bands.

Oh yes, and they meet because Nick is trying to make his old girlfriend jealous, so he asks Norah to be his GF for five minutes, and she thinks it's ridiculous but they kiss...and oh my god, is it true love?

Well, unfortunately my advance copy was missing every other one of the last ten pages, so I'm not sure, but yes, I think it is.

And of course, bonus points for the Thin Man reference.

Oh, and speaking of the Thin Man, did you know that the character of Nora Charles was supposedly based on Lillian Hellman?

Friday, May 19, 2006

Accelerando by Charles Stross

Okay, so the only thing you really need to know about this book is:


People always come up to me and want to know about the book I'm reading, and then I have to stop and give them this whole explanation, which is kind of annoying.
But with this book, all I had to say is "well, there are these space lobsters..."
and the person would be all, "Ohh. Okay."
and go away.

I was a little worried about this book after my Princess of Roumania experience, because all the same people liked it.
And a bunch of other people said that they didn't really get it, which is understandable because it's kind of weird, but if you're the kind of person who reads Vernor Vinge or BoingBoing.net a lot, you will totally get it. Trust me.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier

Here's one where I thought, "Finally, a really good book!"

Basically, after you die you go to this sort of intermediate place, where you live kind of like on Earth but you can pretty much do whatever you want. Most people have jobs and just live regular lives, and you stay there until there's no one left alive who remembers you.

So what happens is, there's a global pandemic, and the inbetween place starts filling up with people since so many are dying, but then it empties out because everyone who remembered them has also died. Finally, there are only a few thousand people left in the city and they figure out that they all knew the same woman, somehow, and she must be the only person left alive. Which she is, since she is stranded in Antarctica.

Cool, right?

There's more to the story, of course. Check it out.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park

Well, here's another one I didn't finish. It got these great reviews, was on everyone's "Year's Best Fantasy" list, Ursula Freaking Le Guin loved it, but I just couldn't get into it.
It was one of those books where they switch back and forth between two places and sets of characters every chapter, and though this can work sometimes, in this case it was just irritating. Every time I'd just about get interested in one half of the action, he'd switch to the other half and I'd have to start all over again.
Ultimately, I read about two thirds of it and just gave up. Life has been crazy lately and I just don't have the energy to care about some girl whose friend gets turned into a dog.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Little Birds by Anais Nin

And so totally the inspiration for Mistral's Daughter by Judith Krantz.

Monday, February 27, 2006

A Taxonomy of Barnacles by Galt Niederhoffer

[did not finish]

I guess the first question you have to ask yourself when deciding whether to keep reading this book is:
Do you think that having every character's name start with the letter B is fun, or annoying?
Because it comes up.

We have:

and then, to emphasize his outsider status, there is poor Christopher, called "Trot", who is Bridget's boyfriend (or is it Bell's?) but of course she's really in love with Billy, or possibly Blaine, whichever one was the Red Sox fan.

And then there's this whole thing about how the father [there are six sisters] wants them each to try and make the family name famous, and whoever is most successful will get a bunch of money...but I skipped ahead to the end to make sure that I wasn't missing some great ending, and it turns out to be a total anticlimax anyway.

Despite the really excellent cover with its convenient diagram of the main characters and their names and ages [which must be referred to approximately twice a sentence], this book just kind of made me want to put a pillow over my head and scream.

Friday, February 24, 2006

The Luzhin Defense by Vladimir Nabokov

I wanted to like this book a lot since I loved Lolita, but I thought it was kind of lackluster, I think because it was translated. I always find myself wondering what they really said when I read something in translation.

Basically, there's this guy who is a chess prodigy, and he grows up to be a weird unpleasant man (there is much dwelling on how fat he is, like that makes him a bad person) and for some reason a girl falls in love with him, or at least she marries him whether or not she loves him, and he goes crazy from the chess and has a nervous breakdown.

I like reading books about people who are obsessive game players, like The Queen's Gambit or Word Freaks, but this was less about the chess playing and more about the descent into madness, and it wasn't even very interesting madness.

Next time I think I'll read one of the other ones he wrote in English.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

Since it's Awards Season for juvenile literature, I've been trying to read some of the winners. I Am the Messenger was a Printz Award honor book, and I have to say I liked it better than the winner, Looking For Alaska. (I thought LFA was a bit too preachy, and suffered from that "It's a YA novel so there has to be some kind of tragedy" syndrome.)

I Am the Messenger was sweet without being too sentimental, and takes place in Australia, which makes a nice change. It was definitely a page-turner, and despite taking a weird, unnecessary metafictional detour at the end, the plot was fun and unusual.
I thought the writing was a bit overwrought in places, but all in all it was a good read and a worthy use of a few hours.

Friday, February 17, 2006

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall

[did not finish]

This book got a lot of good reviews, and won awards, so I read the first few chapters, and well, it's a very sweet little story about four sisters (ages about five to thirteen, I think) who rent a summer cottage with their father, and there's a mean lady, and a nice boy, and a cute gardener, and I'm sure I would have enjoyed reading it if a) I was ten years old or b) I was in a doctor's office with only The Economist to read instead.

But since my books-to-read list is just getting longer and longer, I have to ask myself the hard questions. Do I really care what happens to these nice little girls and their garden and the boy?

The answer, sadly, is no.

Temeraire by Naomi Novik

The American title of this book is His Majesty's Dragon, but I think Temeraire is much better. I don't know why everyone thinks Americans are too stupid to understand the original titles of books, really I don't.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone?
What is that, some book about existentialism? Too hard for us!
Northern Lights?
Sounds Canadian or something. We're Americans!

Whatever you call it, Temeraire is a really excellent debut novel that sort of combines Patrick O'Brian and Anne McCaffrey into something that ends up being more satisfying than either, a classic sea story (but with dragons instead of ships) that treats the dragons as completely normal and not fantastical. Great characters, great action, great plot. Plus, Novik has two sequels due out this spring, and the only thing better than a good book is a good book with two sequels!