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Three Books, Some Ranting - Qualified Perceptions
Three Books, Some Ranting
This is only three books, but I kind of went on at length. Shadow in Summer is borrowable (and you should borrow it, people-who-follow-my-book-advice!), but the other two will go off to paperbackswap if no one wants them.

A Shadow in Summer (by Daniel Abraham)
This is one of the good ones. It's a beautifully written game of houses, and conspiracy, inside an odd but believeable culture, with a poetic and disturbing magic system (well, more like binding a djinn: "You had captured Removing-The-Part-Which-Continues. Called Sterile in the north, or Seedless in the summer cities." The merchant houses of the city that holds Seedless use it to remove the seeds from cotton, giving them a big advantage.) I've been trying to come up with a way to describe what it's about, and the best I can do is "different people, on different sides, trying to do the right thing. Or, some of them, doing what they know is the wrong thing, because it's the thing their side needs done." Nobody is an utter villain, which is very refreshing. Cruelty and evil happens, but it's never gratuitous, never unnecessary, and the people doing it usually wish they didn't have to. There's a lovely example of "Just because it's wearing a red headband doesn't mean it's telling the truth!". Really, the only complaint I have about the book is the back cover, which features a plot summary written by Kirkus Reviews (lame), which is both inaccurate in parts and blithely spoilery in other parts. Plus it calls one of the characters "a woman trade advisor", which irritates me. This is the first book in a four-book series, but that's made quite clear on the cover (yay!); the second book is out in hardcover, the other two not yet. Five stars.

Undertow (by Elizabeth Bear)
Colonial and corporate politics on an alien world, with digressions into quantum and the ethical ramifications of cloning. It's an interesting book, slow but not plodding, and oddly cerebral. When musing about questions like "how much guilt should/does a clone bear for the actions of their parent, and does that change if they have the memories of the original?", the emotions and memories surrounding the original actions are not really explored. So it's a thoughtful contemplation of the question, rather than angst. There's a character who could summarize to Ace (the criminal, who veers into going straight and even becoming a hero, while learning to manipulate probability...), and interesting aliens. Three and a half stars, which I think is the default score for "I liked this, but didn't love it quite enough to tell other people YOU MUST READ THIS." The exerpt from Dust, printed at the end of the book (sort of Nine Princes of Amber versus angels) compels me to order it, sight otherwise unseen, for mjperson.

The Gist Hunter (by Matthew Hughes)
A collection of short stories, which fall into three categories: Hengis Hapthorn stories, Guth Bandar stories, and miscellany. The two story series are almost like short episodic novels; there's a lot of arc plot carried between them. The style is heavily iconic; I found that worked well for the Guth Bandar stories, which involve exploring the collective unconscious an interacting with archetypal characters, situations, and events (the Big Bad Wolf is a combination of a Hungry Eater archtype and a Storm archtype). The Hengis Hapthorn stories are a little more annoying in their iconicness; Hapthorn is a "discriminator" (basically, a private detective), but we never see the process of figuring anything out in a way that mere readers can understand. "I had by now discovered the puzzle's form: a ring of nine braided processes that modified and influenced each other wherever one strand crossed another. I had an inkling that if I applied eight-level consistencies to the formulation, a constant paradigm might pop out of the matrix, and that would show me a beginning place from which I could unpick the whole." It's just "I tech the tech"; decorative, but not meaningful. I actually liked the miscellaneous stories best, especially "Shadow Man", which packed a a lot of creepiness and a real surprise into about four pages. The main character is a young sociopath, and I love this line: "When he was nine he told the mom." "The mom" conveys so much brokenness in two little words. Unfortunately, the next short story ("The Devil You Don't) is in some ways the same story, but I like it much less. (SPOILERS SPOILERS) It's a "what if?" alternate history (again, only about four pages), asking "what if a time traveller visited Winston Churchill in ~1940, told him that England won the war, and offered him his memoirs and all the secrets of Hitler's plans?". The answer as given is "Churchill would kill him and burn the books, because knowing they win is enough that he doesn't want to alter the timestream" and I DO NOT BUY THIS. Sure, if it were a rock paper scissors tournament, you don't want to divert from the record because it could all go differently. But actual war has a lot more momentum, and the Allies were already playing the "we know more than we can afford to let on" game with Enigma. Anyway, the collection as a whole, perhaps only two and a half stars, but "Shadow Man" was four and a half.


4 comments or Leave a comment
From: desireearmfeldt Date: January 3rd, 2008 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd totally be interested in borrowing the first two,if no one else has dibs. :)
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 3rd, 2008 04:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
You appear to have first dibs. :) I can try to get Jerry to drop them by tomorrow during his errand-running before we flee to California, or I can wait until I see you again once we return, depending on how many books you have waiting to be read.
From: desireearmfeldt Date: January 3rd, 2008 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Either is fine. :) Thanks!
mijven From: mijven Date: January 3rd, 2008 05:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

I don't think I can take your book advice ever again. I'm still enjoying the warm glow of having read Un Lun Dun over the holiday season... and it's so hard to find the motivation to read Book Club books now. (Also, the third one sounds too complicated for my poor tired brain right now. ;)
4 comments or Leave a comment