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Eight books - Qualified Perceptions
Eight books
The Sharing Knife (books 1, 2, 3) by Lois McMaster Bujold
These were audiobooks (which are good for complicated knitting, or walking, or cooking...). I have a sort of mixed reaction to them - twe said they were slow, and I can't disagree. And I wasn't that excited about the romance. But... it took me a little ways through the first book to figure out what was going on - it's not an adventure, it's an email puttering run! There are a few fights, but they're few and far between, and the combat mechanics are extraordinarily brief. But there's all this talking and sorting out social customs and struggling against prejudices and then, figuring out how your weird shit mechanics work, or dealing with the camp voting mechanic... I'm not sure how exciting it would be for someone who wasn't recasting everything in email rpg terms. :)
Last Argument of Kings (by Joe Abercrombie)
This is the last in the trilogy starting with The Blade Itself and Before They are Hanged, which I talked about before. The cover is blood-spattered and burnt, and so is the story. The story does end, though very few people get anything like a happy ending. Remember when I said book one was dark, and book two was darker? Well, book three just gets black. Additionally, there's a development that happens over the course of all three books that turns one of the most classic tropes of epic fantasy upside down, and I don't even want to talk about it behind a spoiler warning because it really crept up on me well and I don't want to ruin it for anyone else. Four stars for the whole thing.
In the Company of Liars (by David Ellis)
The big shtick of this mystery/thriller is that it's in reverse chronological order, so instead of learning whodunit, you spend the book waiting to learn how the apparently disparate bits tied together at the start. There are a few of the reverse chronology tricks, more towards the beginning, that the author uses that I think are a bit of a cheat; as the book progresses, they end up more legitimate. It's hard to do a reverse chronology mystery. Memento I thought was brilliant, and it has the extra bonus that the main character never really knows more than the audience, due to his amnesia, so that in some sense makes it easier to fool us without lying to us. Merrily We Roll Along is also in backwards order; I'm not sure why, but it doesn't cheat, possibly because there's no real mystery. Here, there are a couple of ways information is hidden: one example is testimony in court about a conversation; later in the book, we see the actual conversation and learn that it wasn't about who we thought it was (or who the prosecutor thinks it was). That's fair, and well done. The other sort of example is the omniscient view of the main character, thinking things, but her thoughts carefuly gloss over things we won't learn until later. That feels more like cheating to me. Anyway, it's more legitimate than not, and some very clever plotting to justify why various conversation scenes turn out to have been / will be lies. On the minus side, there's one big question that I seem to have missed the answer to, and the terrorist/pharmaceutical premise seems to me to have some fairly huge holes in it. All in all, it's an impressive technical accomplishment. Three and a half stars.
One for the Morning Glory (by John Barnes)
I read this the first time before I started obsessively documenting my reading, but it was worth re-reading. It's still brilliant, and I actually liked it better the second time, because I knew it wasn't going to answer the questions that I wanted answered (and, in some cases, there was even foreshadowing promising answers!). Very early on, some characters describe some portents that should form a pattern, but instead only form a space where a pattern should be. The whole book is like that, one large space where a pattern should so very obviously be. The replacement-words game (people shoot with their pismires and hunt for gazebos) was more disruptive than funny; usually it was clear from context, but occasionally there would be something like a character working in a stupor (where a stupor is meant to be a Vulgarian tavern), perfectly grammatical but wrong. Four and a half stars.
House of Shards (by Walter Jon Williams)
This is book two in the Drake Majistral series (yes, I read them out of order), and included here only to mention that if anyone wanted to borrow them, I do have all three now. :)
The Yiddish Policemen's Union (by Michael Chabon)
I haven't read Kavalier and Clay yet, so this is my first Michael Chabon. It won the Nebula and has been nominated for a Hugo, which seems funny to me for something that doesn't read to me as science fiction. But it's alternate history, which has long been part of the genre, so I don't know why I have such a hard time with it. It's set in a part of Alaska which is the Jewish homeland after Israel folded in 1948, but it's a warmer Alaska because of global warming, and the lease is about to run out and for most people it's not clear where they'll go. So you can see how the atmosphere is pretty thick with resignation and despair, which has never really been my favorite flavor. On the other hand, Chabon's ability to write is really very impressive. He has a knack for phrases, to say something funny that still makes you think. So... the book is a very well-written, well-crafted example of something that isn't my thing. Like a really gorgeous silk umbrella, with a beautifully carved handle and silver spokes, but I don't really use umbrellas (except in the assassin plot sense).
4 comments or Leave a comment
rifmeister From: rifmeister Date: July 27th, 2008 07:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmmm. I guess I don't know you that well. I somehow thought the Chabon would be your thing. I still recommend Kavalier and Clay, which is more in genre for you, and less noir despair.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 27th, 2008 09:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
I guess I don't know you that well.

Good heavens, that's a sweeping statement from mis-predicting how much I would like one book! :)

(I like tragedy and sacrifice; I don't like petty grey despair. Not everything is easily classifiable into one bucket or the other, but that was my best guess as to why I only liked it okay despite thinking that the writing was very good.)
ricedog From: ricedog Date: July 28th, 2008 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)

Reverse Chronology

Have you read Use of Weapons?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 28th, 2008 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Reverse Chronology

I sort of suspect that I have, though before I started reviewing, so I no longer have any idea what I thought. :)
4 comments or Leave a comment