Saturday, 30 January 2016

Book Blogger Hop!

Book Blogger Hop 
Book Blogger Hop is hosted by Coffee Addicted Writer
For more info, check out this post.

The Question:
Can you pass by a book store without stopping in? 

My Answer: Yes, of course. There aren't enough hours in the day to go into every bookstore. I tend to wait until I've got a good amount of time to browse,  have gone to the bathroom recently, and feel like it's time. Once in, though, I rarely buy. There are exceptions, books I just have to own, but my house is not large, and the library system in my city pretty good. Almost without exception, I buy books I've already read and know I need to have in my own copy. Buying an unread book is very rare.


Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara

*Some Spoilers Below*

Appointment in Samarra is about the final destructive week of a rich young man in Prohibition-era America. Julian English is a bigshot in his town, part of the country club, a Cadillac dealer (I think Cadillac, but it's been a week since I finished the book, so I could be wrong.)  He has a beautiful wife he loves, even if he fucks around on her. He's respected in the business community.

Yet, he finds the society he lives in restrictive, and wants to be able to do whatever he wants...when whatever he wants is throwing his drink in the face of an irritating partygoer, for no greater crime that talking too much or too long. Hard to really sympathize, and harder when he then starts to double down on the belligerence.

O'Hara's writing about both the hypocrisies of society life, but also the ways in which they do smooth over some of the rough edges. As well as the ways the high life depends on the lowlife who delivers the illegal booze.

The self-destructive slide of the main character is well written, and the book is snarky about the mores of the town. It's had to sympathize with Julian, though. I mean, even after the first thing, he keeps digging his own damn hole, and if he just waited for a week or two, odds are this whole thing would blow right over and people would barely remember the time he threw a drink in someone's face.

It's funny, because this book might be an answer to people who are determined that online shaming is an entirely new thing, and for some aspects of that, I feel like time is also rarely considered - people will not remember every damn thing in a month. But more to the point, this book is about a guy who believes his actions will cause shaming in his community, costing him his wife, his job, his livelihood, and his membership in the club.

He's mostly right, but that's because he keeps doing the things that make that inevitable. Yet again, though, we see that our time period did not invent societal disapproval, any more than it invented sex or having lots of acquaintances who aren't really friends, but with whom you are friendly. Come on, guys, these things were around before - why are we surprised they transferred to the internet?

Julian's an idiot, and given that the second thing he does to sink himself is sleep with another woman while he's out on a date with his wife, in such a way that makes sure his wife will see what he's done.... He's hard to sympathize with.

Which is not the say that the book isn't worth a read. It's a quick one, and as a little glimpse into Prohibition era rich society outside of the big cities, it's well worth it. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Dust Cover Dust-Up: Round Three, Part Two!

Glasshouse by Charles Stross vs. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

That's a weird match-up, chilling science fiction about gender vs. James Joyce writing about, well, becoming an artist. They are vastly different books, and nearly impossible to compare. I guess it has to come to down to which I'd reach for if they were both set down in front of me. I'd have to say it would be The Portrait of an Artist. The prose is just too good for it to be otherwise.

Winner: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Farthing by Jo Walton vs. The Martian by Andy Weir

I enjoyed The Martian so much. I really did. It's not that it was great literature, it's that it hit almost all my personal sweet spots. It was funny, it was tense, it featured NASA working the problem...what's not to enjoy? However, when it comes to this particular battle, there's no way it's winning out over Farthing. Jo Walton's look at an England where they made peace with Nazi Germany is genuinely chilling, and is one of the books that has stuck with me the most this last year.

Winner: Farthing

Let Me Explain You by Annie Liontas vs. A Fire in the Sun by George Effinger

It's funny. This year marked the first time (and so far, the last), that a publisher has sent me an advance reader copy of a book. In fact, they sent me two. And the one they just popped in to the package I ended up enjoying far more than the one they set out to send me. Let Me Explain You caught me entirely by surprise, and it's beaten some pretty impressive opponents in this competition so far. It suffers from some first-novel problems, but it might be worth your time. However, this is the battle where it falls. A Fire in the Sun did everything for me the first book in the same series did not, and the exploration of power corrupting is absolutely fascinating. More science fiction like this, please.
Winner: A Fire in the Sun

Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway vs. Unpossible and Other Stories by Daryl Gregory

If last battle, I went in favour of the science fiction over the mainstream, in this case, I'm reversing the trend. I really like Daryl Gregory, and many of these stories were indelible, but I still think his particular strengths lie more in the long-form novel. More to the point, when it comes up against Tomson Highway's Kiss of the Fur Queen, I have to go with the latter. It's strongly-written, beautifully phrased, difficult to read, and hard to forget.

Winner: Kiss of the Fur Queen

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton vs. Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

So, apparently I am all about inconsistency in this round. I didn't pick the book of short stories in the last round, but I definitely am in this round. The Man Who Was Thursday was enjoyable, but it wasn't a book I truly loved. And many of Elizabeth Bear's short stories take place in her existing universes, and even those that don't are so, so very good. The pendulum swings back to SF/F.

Winner: Shoggoths in Bloom

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

One of the big science fiction books of the past year. Winner of the Nebula Award. The first book in a trilogy all of which were released in a single year. It's a slim little book, and I'd certainly heard some of the hype around it, although really nothing about the content. What little I'd heard made me think of The Maze Runner, which is really not the comparison you want running through your head. (God, I hated The Maze Runner.) So I went into this with very few expectations, and was more than pleasantly surprised.

It is obviously the first book of a trilogy, in that by the end of the first book, there are far more mysteries than there are answers. This works for two reasons: 1) I know the other two books are already out, and so it didn't bother me in the way sometimes the first book in a trilogy usually does, but more importantly, 2) the character's story comes to a satisfying conclusion, even if there are still larger questions about the world unanswered. We don't cut off at a random point - her story comes full circle to a deeply unsettling end. It feels like a complete book that is part of a larger work, and I'm sorry to realize how few trilogies accomplish both those things.

What this book accomplished is being damned creepy without pushing so far into horror that I was out. I'm a huge chicken when it comes to scary stuff. This skirted that edge, and yet made me think my horror-loving husband might really appreciate the book. It's on the atmospheric edge of horror, where it's small revelations that are unsettling, not big things lunging at you from the dark.

The main character, who we never know by name, is one of four women who make up the 12th expedition into Area X. What exactly Area X is, how it came to be, and what it is becoming, are never entirely delved into. Partly, it seems that no one knows, but it's not far from a city where life goes on much as we know it. Except there are some unsettling suggestions of difference. She is the biologist, along with the psychologist, the surveyor, and the anthropologist. Other expeditions have been larger, or smaller. Some have disappeared utterly. Some have mysteriously reappeared back in the city, but changed. 

It would spoil the effect to get in to what they find there, but from the beginning, there is something deeply unsettling about the moment where they find a passage leading down into the earth, and the biologist is only able to think of it as a tower. None of the other agrees, but it creates a dissonance every time she thinks of The Tower, and that helped set the unease in my shoulders as I read further. 

This is the biologist's story, as much as it is that of the expedition. Who she is, what drove her to sign up for the expedition in the first place, and how that drives her to interact with the uncanny nature of Area X, form the emotional core, and it is equally unsettling.

As I said, in the end, we don't find out exactly what's going on in Area X, but we are given revelations that were exactly the type to make my spine crawl. Good work, Jeff Vandermeer.  At the end, that character comes to a point in her journey that is a satisfying, if also creepy and ambiguous, ending. It's a good combination of answers and questions, and makes me eager to go on to book two, although I'll probably try to hold out for a while.

I didn't know if I'd like this book, given the hype. Turns out, I liked it quite a lot.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Dust Cover Dust-Up: Round Three, Part One!

And we arrive at Round Three! Things should start to go faster now, and the decisions more difficult.

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry vs. The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Now this is a decision I feel guilty making. I was struck hard by A Fine Balance, and it's probably a more "important" book. It's a difficult choice to make. But in the end, I just purely loved The Magicians too much to not pick it. The prose, the themes, the characters, it was all just truly mindblowing. Quentin might be a difficult protagonist to like, but the book isn't hard to love.

Winner: The Magicians

Scardown by Elizabeth Bear vs. Adulthood Rites by Octavia Butler 

Also a difficult choice, between two female science fiction authors I really enjoy. Scardown made me cry. Adulthood Rites made me uncomfortable. Which wins out? On one side, we have Jenny Casey, a truly indelible protagonist. In Adulthood Rites, we have one of the first generation of human/alien hybrids, who ends up advocating for the rights of the humans. It's such a hard pick. And the reasons I'm making the choice I'm going to are largely because a) I know there are other Elizabeth Bear books left in this competition, and b) I know how the next match-up is going to end. Which isn't to say Adulthood Rites doesn't deserve to win. It does. It's just a close enough battle that factors like that matter.

Winner: Adulthood Rites

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie vs. Imago by Octavia Butler 

Second battle with Octavia Butler in a row, which should suggest how very good she is, and how indelible her books are. Imago was perhaps the most unsettling of the three in this series. That's a good reason to put it through to the next round, but then we come to the part where the other book is by Salman Rushdie, and utterly delighted me from beginning to end. It didn't touch me as deeply as the next book in the same world, but it was pretty close.

Winner: Haroun and the Sea of Stories

The Magician King by Lev Grossman vs. 
In the Cities of Coin and Spice by Catherynne Valente

It feels weird to put two books by the same author through in one set of match-ups, but there's really no choice here. As much as I love Catherynne Valente's writing (and I do!), I found The Orphan's Tales, both volumes, difficult to keep a hold of, even while I was reading them. And in The Magician King, there's a plotline I struggled with for a long time before deciding I liked it quite a lot, and a line of dialogue that still takes my breath away. I rarely remember direct quotes, so that's saying something.

Winner: The Magician King

Telempath by Spider Robinson vs. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Oh, wow. Am I really going to desert my favourite author here? Yes, but mostly because I really have read Telempath many times, and I'm not even sure it's anywhere near his best. While I wasn't as enthralled with The Bone Clocks as I was with Cloud Atlas, subsequent David Mitchell books have reframed it in such a way that I am absolutely dying to read it again. Given that, this round goes to Mitchell.

Winner: The Bone Clocks

Monday, 25 January 2016

Matter by Iain M. Banks

I have read so many Iain M. Banks so quickly this year, due to the series read my online book club has undertaken. I'm generally a couple of months behind, but am trucking away. All the way along, it feels like I've been enjoying these books well enough, but there's still something missing. Something where Banks and where he puts his attention does not exactly align with what I want out of my science fiction.

It's a vague dissatisfaction - I like these books, and while I'm reading them, they don't make me angry or disappoint me. It's just that when I close the pages, there's still a sense of something not quite being right. I am having a hell of a time figuring out what it was. In the last review, I talked about not really connecting to the characters, and I think that's true.

This time, though, I'm feeling like the pacing is odd. Not wrong, again. Nothing here is overtly wrong. I'm just somehow out of tune with these books. I like meandering books, for the most part, as long as I'm accompanying characters I really enjoy as they wander from place to place. But when these books wander, it feels haphazard, or maybe it's because I do so rarely get invested in his characters. 

In this book, the ideas, which are the strongest part of the Culture novels, are all about what matters. or to be more specific, how what matters is often a function of scale. When you can interfere, when should you? Where do you draw the line? On what scale are your interferences? What room is there for personal attachments? (This last would be stronger if any of the characters had strong personal attachments, rather than strong ideological ones.)

When a feudal kingdom is crumbling under an attack from inside, that can feel incredibly imperative to the heir who sees their father's plan crumbling. To a galaxy-spanning civilization that only interferes in much larger conflicts that threaten civilization or planets rather than individuals, it feels like they can't get involved in everything. And when you're the daughter of the murdered king and an agent of Special Circumstances, different things matter under different circumstances. And if suddenly small matters seem about to blow up to a huge scale, where do your loyalties lie?

These are intriguing ideas, and as I've said, that's where Banks is strongest. But if they cause deep internal turmoil, when someone is torn between two impossible choices and either decision will hurt...that we're not seeing. Or only seeing obliquely, not being allowed into the realm of emotion. The characters keep us outside their heads, to some degree, even when the narrator is telling us what they think. For me, that never seems to break through to what they feel.

In the long run, it comes down to what you want out of your science fiction. The ideas are enough to keep me reading to keep up with my book club, but without that goad, I can't honestly say I would have continued this far into the series. It's not that it's bad, it's that it doesn't satisfy my desire to be experiencing these ideas through characters instead of having the characters move in front of them without the ideas ever quite touching them. 

I feel like I'm being overly critical. It's just that these books are so close to being great without quite reaching that point. I want that breakthrough, that moment where the writing makes me understand how a character feels and thus makes me see an idea in an entirely new way.

Friday, 22 January 2016

How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson

Tonight (by the time this gets posted, it will be yesterday), I go to my book club, where this was our choice this month. I don't mind reading non-fiction, although I am not entirely sure what we will be talking about. This book was entertaining, not as deep as The Ghost Map, and...neat?

In his favour, Johnson's writing style is as accomplished as ever. He's an engaging writer of popular history, and the way he writes is unobtrusive. In this book, he looks at "six innovations that made the Modern World," although truthfully, what he's looking at is a theory of innovation that depends not on the lone genius, but on the necessary preconditions for certain discoveries, and the ways in which their impacts are broader and unexpected, in ways both good and bad. 

I'm trying to remember what the six are, and it may not be the greatest sign for how well this book will wear that I'm not sure I remember all six, even though I finished it less than a week ago. Let's see. There's...Glass. Sound. Light. Cold. And...hmmm.  And...nope. Gone. I'll have to look them up.

Clean and Time! There we go. 

It's sort of a strange way of dividing it, one obviously done to tie in with discrete episodes of television, as it's less a single innovation than a constellation of innovations around a general topic. That's harder to put in a blurb, though. 

The thing is, this book is just chock full of interesting little facts and insights. When he looks at cold and ends up by tying the growth of cities in hot areas to air conditioning, I am fascinated. There are tons of interesting linkages here, ways of looking at the effects of technologies that I had not thought of.

And yet, it remains a bit scattered. Unlike The Ghost Map, where he was bringing a really great sense of making nuance accessible, in this book it seems a little more surface. It would be interesting to compare this to the TV show, because writing is able to go into ideas in depth that an hour long show just is not going to be able to. And while he is able to bring some depth to the writing, it doesn't amount to a lot more than a ton of admittedly fascinating anecdotes.

But if that's all we get, fascinating anecdotes are perhaps enough. As is the idea that great inventions are far more than a moment of inspiration by one lone inventor. The problem is just sort of this...I'm about two thirds of the way through the normal length of a review, and I've run out of things to say. I think everything from this point would be a reiteration of "boy, there sure are some good tales in this book!" 

So maybe I'll leave it there, a slightly shorter review, but not really a negative one. Just not a hugely enthusiastic one either.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Dust Cover Dust-Up: Round Two, Part Six

The Uncertain Places by Lisa Goldstein vs. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

So, two fairy tale books come head to head, and everyone knows how much I love a good fairy tale. Luckily for me, this isn't a heartwrenching choice - I liked Ella Enchanted well enough, but I certainly didn't love it. Lisa Goldstein's book, on the other hand, gives us a dangerous fae who have been learning from their mistakes for millennia and aren't about to help us poor mortals beat them. It's a fantastic melding of the fairy tale world into the real.

Winner: The Uncertain Places

River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay vs. 
A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

This battle, on the other hand, is a little bit harder. I quite enjoyed both these books, particularly how complex and nuanced they both were. It's a hard choice, given that these are authors I follow. I think, though, that Kay's second venture into a declining fictional Chinese empire, with all the elegiac sadness, is going to win out over a delightfully complex look at bonding with wolves, and where that might conflict with human patterns.They're both good, but River of Stars is a tiny bit better.

Winner: River of Stars

The Known World by Edward P. Jones vs. The Trouble With Poetry by Billy Collins

Interesting choice. Very strong fiction about the brutal and subtle violences of slavery vs. a book by a poet I really love. They're both excellent. I think, though, that The Known World has stuck with me in a way that this slim volume of poetry hasn't quite. It was a difficult read, but a powerful one. 

Winner: The Known World

The Scar by China Mieville vs. The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott

We're back in another mainstream fiction vs. genre fiction battle, and I think my well-documented predilections should make the outcome obvious. I liked The Jewel in the Crown, with its twisty story around the decline of the English in India, but it's so hard to top China Mieville. The Scar was enjoyable to read, and continues to grow on me. Like a fungus? Time will tell. But I keep coming back to my memories of reading this book, and it wants to be read again.

Winner: The Scar

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm vs. Fortune's Pawn by Rachel Bach

Two science fiction books written by women, but unfortunately, neither was among the science fiction that knocked my socks off this year. So do I go with the Hugo-winning look at cloning, or the adventure/romance in space with fearsome beasts and battlesuits?  Certainly Fortune's Pawn is geared to be more pure fun. However, although Wilhelm's book isn't breathtaking, her ideas about human nature and what can be lost in a crumbling world, they're more vivid in my mind. 

Winner: Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang

And thus we end Round Two. One to Round Three!

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed

I have tried to start this review three or four times now, and I'm having trouble getting going. I think I may have finally put my finger on what was holding me back. It's that this book is really good, and yet it wasn't quite as breathtaking as I wanted it to be. Which, don't get me wrong, is not a bad review. When I say it's really good, it's really good. I think that in my head, though, I was expecting it to be a masterpiece, and it's not quite that.

So why did I have that expectation? I suppose it's because I follow Saladin Ahmed on Twitter, and really enjoy reading what he has to say there. And because the one short story of his that I've read (and reviewed) was amazingly good. I suppose I knew that this had made a big splash when it came out, was nominated for a ton of awards. I think it was deservedly nominated for those awards.

It's just, unfortunately, how I built it up in my brain. Prolonged expectations are often not your friend, as it creates a mindspace that very damned little could have lived up to. 

So let's try to put that weird expectation aside and look at what this book is - very good fantasy, in a Middle Eastern setting, in as far as that's a good term for a fictional world, which it kind of isn't. But this isn't Nordic questing for a ring or a cup or some other damned thing, and I'm grateful for it.

Instead, we start with an elderly ghul hunter, Adoulla, who is proudly a city dweller, and has protected his home from ghuls for most of his life. He's practically the last of his kind - his best friends in the trade, a married couple, having retired. He is helped in his duties by Raseed, a dervish warrior who is trying to be far more pure than Adoulla would really like. While out in the desert tracking down some particularly nasty ghuls, they run into the last survivor of a nomadic band, a girl who can take lionshape in battle.

Going back to the city, they are attacked by even more deadly creatures, of a kind Adoulla has never seen. Strong necromantic powers are on the move - and internal politics are scarcely less dangerous. The new khalif is really a terrible ruler, and a popular leader and thief who calls himself the Falcon Prince is inciting a rebellion.

The core of this book, and something I really enjoyed, is people trying to figure out what a good life looks like, with varying amounts of strictness, and then trying to reconcile that with the world as it is. Tie into this a more dire threat than has arisen before, more than three experienced ghul hunters and two inexperienced but talented young people, and the question of how a city should be rules - there's lots here, and it's all exactly up my alley.

So I need to let go of whatever book I had floating around in my head, and appreciate this book for what it is - damned good fantasy, with provocative ideas and characters who are trying to be true to themselves in the midst of chaos. I appreciate that it's urban, too - it's enjoyable to see a different kind of city from the modern metropolis or steampunk London, with a main character who is a city dweller and loves it. We have so much pastoral fantasy that I enjoy the shift in emphasis.

Seriously, this book deserves the recognition it got. I'm not convinced it's a masterpiece, but it's really good fantasy, and I look forward to more.


I read this book as part of an attempt to read all the Hugo Nominees

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Dust Cover Dust-Up: Round Two, Part Five

Rule 34 by Charles Stross vs. Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi

These are both authors I like, and books that I really quite enjoyed. It's a toss-up - they're both excellent science fiction. However, there's a little more meat to Rule 34 than there is to Agent to the Stars. The Scalzi is so much fun, and entertaining to read, but Rule 34 was truly unsettling at times, and when you can make me think while entertaining me, that's all to the good.

Winner: Rule 34

Baby of the Family by Tina McElroy Ansa vs. Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

I really did like Baby of the Family, but that's not why it's winning this round. It's because I wasn't that fond of Goliath. This Scott Westerfeld series never really grabbed me, so I have no problem knocking it out of the competition. Besides, Baby of the Family was a very enjoyable read.

Winner: Baby of the Family

Saga Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughn vs. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

I'm really not sure how to pick in this particular case. While I have loved Saga as a whole, this one felt too stretched out, a bit padded with false drama. I'm still looking forward to the next, but it wasn't my favourite. In the other corner we have a children's classic, which I quite enjoyed. I think this round actually goes to the brightly coloured children's book, rather than the brightly coloured book that's definitely for adults.
Winner: The Lorax

S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline vs. The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson

Finally, I get to kick not that sexy erotica off the list. It's not terrible, it just didn't do it for me. In the other corner, we have a really excellent work of popular history, with a strong sense of nuance, and an author that avoids the pitfalls of seeing people in the past as obtuse.

Winner: The Ghost Map

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson vs. The Puppet Masters by Robert A. Heinlein

While I didn't love The Puppet Masters, it had at least one good idea that I wished it had made more of. That, however, can't hold a candle to the fervent passion that Written in the Body still kindles in me months and months later. (We're reading it for my book club in March, and I can't wait.) There is no question that this is some of the most amazing prose I've read all year.

Winner: Written on the Body

Monday, 18 January 2016

Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch

I go back, very happily, to the world of Peter Grant. Except that it's the world outside of London this time, as Peter ventures into the countryside. Two girls have disappeared in a small town, and Peter heads out that way to cross an old magic practitioner off the list. When that doesn't appear to yield any fruit, Peter sticks around to help the police, who are surprisingly willing to ask him to consider stranger causes, because they aren't getting anywhere.

What initially appears to be utterly mundane begins to slowly unfold into something that is much more up Peter's alley. Of course, it couldn't possibly be aliens, could it? Or a unicorn? How ludicrous.

We're back into the British police procedural/urban fantasy, except that it's noticeably more rural. Nightingale is barely in the book, as Peter spreads his wings, but we do get a cameo from Dr. Walid, His parents are absent, but that may be because they never leave London. Beverly Brook shows up for quite a lot of the book, which makes me happy. The nature of her relationship with Peter begins to shift, and I'm interested to see where it goes.

On the new side, we have a charming gay rural police officer, Dominic, and his sheep-farming boyfriend, Martin. And his drugged out friend-from-high-school, a girl named Stan. There's a large UFO spotting community in the area, and they have their own theories. Oh, and there's a woman who may be more like the bees she tends than is obvious on first inspection. 

For the first half of the book, we get the frustration of a case that appears to have stalled. It's worse when it involves children, and the police know that the longer it goes, the worse the odds get. 

As an entry into this series, I enjoyed it quite a lot, although there was one point where I wanted to shake Peter because I spotted a clue before he did. By book 5, young man, any time there's a reference to a phone not working...don't you think that should be first on your action list?

More than that I don't want to say, but I quite enjoyed the variety of magical creature that appears in this book, and the particular spin Aaronovitch puts on them. I also liked the answer to what had happened to the girls, and the theory that it's not how you're born that matters, it's how you're brought up. 

I was hoping for more of Lesley, because of course that is the big burning question after the last book. (I am being purposefully vague here.) We do get a couple of interactions, but it's more to reassure us that that storyline is out there slowly building, and this time we get a timeline. Hard to know how that translates in terms of books.

As always, Peter is a charming companion, and when the chips are down, willing to sacrifice himself in order for others, even when that seems like it might be A Very Bad Idea Indeed. I'm interested to know quite what the ending means, though, as there is something odd that Peter wants to ask about as well, but doesn't. That had better be explained in a later volume. 

At any rate, five books in, and I'm still into it. I'm not bored, or lagging, or feeling like the stories are repeating. I fell in love with Midnight Riot, and at Foxglove Summer, the glamour  hasn't worn off yet.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson

This was a really fun book to read that I enjoyed all the way through. Unfortunately, the end did not live up the rest, leaving me sitting there wondering just a little bit what the point had been. It wasn't bad enough to spoil the enjoyment I got out of reading this book, but it was certainly a little jarring.

On the other hand, I didn't feel distant from Gibson's prose, which is a problem I had in particular with Neuromancer. It wasn't unreadable, it just felt like it kept the reader at a deliberate arm's-length. There are no such problems here - it's accessible, it's breezy, it's fairly light.

Cayce (pronounced, in this case, "Case") is a trademark guru. That is to say, she's physically allergic to trademarks that permeate the landscape, but she can use the side effects from that to tell whether or not designs for new logos are going to to work on a mass scale. So she freelances for firms around the world, coming in just to tell them yes or no when she's shown the work of a graphic design firm.

However, she's also an aficionado of these strange little bits of film that have been popping up on the internet at intervals, fascinating a small segment of the population. They're obviously masterfully done, but no one knows really how they connect, or even whether they're part of a completed work being distributed out of order, or if they're being put out as they're finished. There's a community that has formed around theorizing about them.

She gets hired by a Steve Jobs-like figure to find out where the bits of film are coming from, and almost immediately discovers that the apartment where she's been staying has been broken in to. And that her phone might be tapped. She starts on an series of trips around the world to try to uncover what's going on with the bits of film.

This is all a great deal of fun, and her search has resonance with the backstory that her father disappeared in New York on 9/11, presumed dead. The character is engaging, and her descent into justified paranoia interesting. However, there's a however. At the end she finds out who has been making these bits of video, and that answer isn't unsatisfying, what's unsatisfying is that that's then the end. 

There's absolutely no "this is where the films are coming from, and therefore...." There's no third act. It just doesn't amount to much - she discovers the truth and it feels curiously weightless. But more than that, it feels like that discovery should mean something, and it just...doesn't. 

If this is the start of a trilogy, that's vaguely excusable, although there should seriously still be some kind of hint in this book of where it's going to go and what it's going to mean. I don't need it all laid out. I just need it not to suddenly stop, wash its hands, and say "well, that's done!"

The process of reading this book was very enjoyable. The denouement frustrating. How do you rate a book that does that to you? Do I put more emphasis on the process or the outcome? A great book would give you both. This is merely a good book, but it is frustrating that it isn't just that one step better, that Gibson didn't look at that answer and then write what that means or why it matters. Perhaps he does in later books. That doesn't make this one satisfying. 

But it was fun to read. 

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Dust Cover Dust-Up: Round Two, Part Four

A Fire in the Sun by George Effinger vs. Hammered by Kevin Hearne

Here we have one book about body and mind modification in a vaguely Middle Eastern city, versus a two-thousand-year-old druid in Arizona. Well, in this book, Atticus the Druid is also in Asgard, trying to kill Thor. Who deserves it. However, George Effinger's book has more depth, about how one might slowly compromise oneself in a world rife with corruption, and I enjoyed it a hell of a lot. 

Winner: A Fire in the Sun

Kiss of the Fur Queen by Tomson Highway vs. Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon

Not a hard choice, and no offense to the hardcore Pynchon fans. This was my first venture into his oeuvre, and I'll definitely be going back for more. However, Mason & Dixon, while amazingly original, was also frustratingly difficult at times, and so in this battle, it falls to Tomson Highway's amazing rhythmic prose on subjects difficult to traverse. It's beautiful and painful and a work of art.

Winner: Kiss of the Fur Queen

Unpossible by Daryl Gregory vs. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

I wasn't a huge fan of this particular entry into the Temeraire series. It got though to this round because it was up against a book I liked even less. Also, I really love Daryl Gregory's writing, although I think his particular knack is better suited to novel-length endeavours. Still, ti's not a hard choice. Unpossible all the way.

Winner: Unpossible

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton vs. That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis

This is a match-up I was secretly hoping for. Two giants of Christian literature, two very different books. Do I go with the science fiction, or the absurd. I think I'll pick the absurd - That Hideous Strength was enjoyable, but lacked the sheer "what the fuck am I reading?" that permeated my journey through The Man Who Was Thursday. I may not have understood what was going on, but I enjoyed it.

Winner: The Man Who Was Thursday

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny vs. Shoggoths in Bloom by Elizabeth Bear

Weird. This'll be the first year since I started doing the Dust Cover Dust-Up where there wasn't a Louise Penny in the top ten at the end. I did like The Long Way Home. It's just that coming up against Elizabeth Bear's amazingly good collection of short stories, I going a different way this year. If you like Elizabeth Bear, you'll love these stories, which often expand on her previously existing fictional universes.

Winner: Shoggoths in Bloom