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Books that, Remarkably, I Liked All Of. - Qualified Perceptions
Books that, Remarkably, I Liked All Of.
Across the Nightingale Floor, Grass for his Pillow, Brilliance of the Moon
(Caveat: there's a fourth and last book in this series, but it's only in hardback, so I don't have it yet). This series is sort of a stately epic of love and war and tragedy and treachery, but set in a fictitious Japan-ish kingdom populated with honorable warriors and mildly superhuman spies and assassins. It seemed a unfair that the Tribe gets magic powers when the Clans don't, but then, ninjas do have ninja powers and samurais don't really have samurai powers, just a lot of skill, good weapons, and armor. (They're never called samura or ninja, which I appreciated; it seemed less campy that way). There are meditations on power, and art , and class and sex inequalities. Love at first sight (a little annoying, but the Hand of Fate seems to be pretty active in the story). For whatever reason, I found the story quite visually evocative, as well, with imagined scenes that could have belonged in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. There were a few plots that I could have used either less of or more of, but overall, a very nice story. Four stars.

Century Rain, by Alastair Reynolds
About 2/3 of a great book, and 1/3 of a not-bad book. Reynolds has previously specialized in fairly grand-scale space opera, and this is a bit of a change; an alternate-historical noir mystery, embedded in a space opera. The combination isn't as odd as it sounds, but I liked the alternate-history Paris bits more than the finale of the book, which is back to straight space opera. I really liked the way the mystery played out, and the spookiness of the "war babies", and the main character interplay. The spy battles at the end, a little less so. And I really really wanted an explanation of who put alternate Paris in a jar, and why, but there wasn't anything more forthcoming than "Great Old Ones, long gone," which was a disappointment. Three and a half stars, though much of the book is closer to four and a half.

Learning the World, by Ken Macleod
I need to read another terrible book to write a bad review of! But this one wasn't it. :) One thread follows the politics of a generation ship; a nice modernized version of such, with blogs and micro-economic markets. The other thread follows the "aliens" on the planet about to experience first contact gone somewhat awry. I could have used more from either thread (especially once it hit the ending), and while I did appreciate the discoveries the locals were making, I found a few of them a little implausible to be discovering and inventing all at once. A bit of a lighter read than I was expecting when I started, but worthwhile. Four stars.

The King's Peace and The King's Name, by Jo Walton.
This is a very solid alternate-Arthurian story, in a reasonably gender-neutral fantasy setting. There's magic, and gods, and Fate, but it reads very non-epically. In part, because the narrator and main character, Sulien, is quite like Celine (my Auria paladin) - very straightforward and fighterly, and possessed of a conversational broadsword. It's a little hard to keep track of all the characters, but the main ones do stand out. Urdo, the king, shines. Morthu, the Mordred-equivalent, is quite well done, both eloquent and poisonous. (I appreciate it when characters who are supposed to be good at talking are actually written with good dialogue).

The conceit of the story is that it's all written by Sulien at age ninety, long after the events described. The second book has a rather odd preface, written in the future by historians who are squabbling over whether it's real or a forgery. At first, this seemed entirely pointless. But I think there's a point, albeit a sort of fuzzy one. First, it's not actually the future: the date is in the 2700s, but the numbering scheme is ACE instead of AD. So it's actually the alternate-present, in the reader's time, but in the world in which Sulien existed and thus the Arthur story turned out Differently. The oracles in the book all note that *this* is the only world, out of the possible worlds, in which there's a Sulien: she "has no shadow." So, that's the point - in that one version of the Archtypal Story, there's another character. The bones are the same - uniting the kingdoms, the treacherous sister's son, the tragic queen (though oddly, no real Lancelot, though I hear he's a later addition) - but there's just the one tweak, and even though there is still the inevitable tragic end, there's still the ray of light afterwards, it's not as bleak and hopeless as the end of Camelot usually is. So in that one different version, things go differently - the world turns out different by now. I think that's the point of the preface, but I'm still not sure it was worth the jarring in tone. I'm going to give the pair of books four and a half stars, because I'm always a sucker for Arthurian fantasy. (There's a third book in the setting, Prize in the Game which takes place before these two books and sets out the backstory of some of the medium-sized characters. I thought I reviewed it a few years ago, but I don't seem to have. It was good too; less wide in scale, more romantic, more personal.)

All of these are borrowable; I didn't dislike any of them enough to send them away to paperbackswap.

Current Mood: sleepy sleepy

10 comments or Leave a comment
arcanology From: arcanology Date: January 26th, 2007 05:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd like to borrow the otori books sometime, I keep seeing those around and being curious, but not buying level curious.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 26th, 2007 06:35 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sure, I'll bring them to Auria next week.
From: readsalot Date: January 26th, 2007 11:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like Jo Walton's books. I read the first one because she was a regular in rec.arts.sf.fandom (which I was reading regularly at the time) when her first book was accepted by a publisher, which was exciting, and then I liked the books, so I kept reading them. She's papersky, by the way.
mijven From: mijven Date: January 28th, 2007 02:51 pm (UTC) (Link)

Speaking of paperback book swap, are you buddyable? Assuming I ever figure out how to READ my buddy list.

Yeah, I finally joined (it was one of my resolutions) but trust me, you want nothing from my list. (Fortunately it appears that other members might - that's what I get for acquiring "book club books." Two of my listings were on someone else's wishlist!)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 28th, 2007 03:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
(search search search *friend*, wait, no, hmm, that doesn't look right. Ah, of course, your last initial is Z, not B. *smacks head*.)

I'm listed as "Laura B." / boojum, which should be sufficiently identifiable. :)
mijven From: mijven Date: January 28th, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC) (Link)

That's amusing. I'm fairly sure I used the same parameters before (Laura and your location) but couldn't find you. Now I search and you're there! Is that some state that you changed?

BTW, do you mail from home or the post office? I've never done the from-home option before (and generally like the walk to the post office) but some recent mailing from you suggest that you're more efficient. (Only, do I need a functional scale? Aie!)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 28th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
I mail from work (and get packages there, so searching for me does say Cambridge rather than Somerville, which may have thrown you off). We have a scale in the mail room and mailing via work apparently gets around the restriction that you have to hand packages of greater than a pound to an actual clerk.
mijven From: mijven Date: January 28th, 2007 03:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Whew. (The post office has been sending me all these "still mail from home?" messages. Which makes me think I should be cleverer or something. But I suppose I'll remain inefficient. And PBS implies that they're setting up a pre-pay option eventually. Assuming that even happens, it'd be good to have some experience mailing out single books before I attempt that.)

Any packaging advice? Small quantities of bubble wrap in those brown manilla envelopes okay or uncouth?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 28th, 2007 04:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
For normal small paperbacks, I wrap it in plastic (saran wrap is easiest, but whatever plastic is okay; that's just so if it ends up left somewhere wet, the book doesn't get all soggy), and then use the standard PBS mailer. For larger books I wrap in plastic and then brown paper. (This requires packing tape, too). Other people use bubble mailers or padded envelopes or the like; most anything should work, as long as it's fairly strong at the places where the corners of the book will try to poke their way out.
mijven From: mijven Date: January 28th, 2007 04:11 pm (UTC) (Link)

I searched for the term "standard PBS mailer" and FINALLY found the help page I needed. (http://www.paperbackswap.com/help/how_to_wrap.php) I've no idea why it took me so long, but the level of detail is priceless (and sadly for me, required!) They even calculate postage, based presumably on the weight of the book in their system. I'll still probably head to the post office and verify the shipping cost for my first few forays, just to be annoyingly anal. :)

Thanks for the tip on plastic. I actually have a bunch of those cheap small plastic bags which I used when shipping kids clothes via ebay. (Now the stuff is so much bulkier - and doesn't fetch the baby-prices - so I've stopped. ;)
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