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Six Books - Qualified Perceptions
Six Books
Fragile Things (by Neil Gaiman)
I don't think I've ever read an anthology of stories, that I liked all the stories, no matter how much I usually like the author(s). This one is no exception. Sadly, my favorite ("A Study in Emerald") was also my favorite from Shadows Over Baker Street, which I seem to have not reviewed; it's the Sherlock Holmes / Lovecraft mashup, and most of the other authors did the same version of "Holmes investigates something spooky! Ooh, monsters." (Oddly, the inside cover blurb for Fragile Things is factually incorrect in the description of the story, leading me to suspect that the blurb author missed the the twist). I also really liked "Goliath", which was written for the Matrix web site. And "Sunbird" works well for what it is. (I think I like the stories best where one, something happens, and two, I understand what it is that happened. Rather like my reaction to the ten-minute play festival.)
Carnival (by Elizabeth Bear)
Like Undertow, the first of Bear's books I read I found this interesting, but not as gripping as I would have liked. I think I may just not be on the right wavelength for her; I have no real complaints. There's some interesting sparring over a class of cultures ("You cull people and practice fetal murder!" "Well, *you* infantilize and eat animals, and enslave men!") The main (New Amazonia ("What, you think our founders had no sense of humor?")) society keeps their "stud males" mostly at home because they're dangerous, and lets "gentle" (gay) males out. The plot is sort of like a two-person Assassin game that I think I missed many of the complexities of, in part due to consistently confusing the two characters (for which I have no excuse). Once I finally sorted them out, and the action picked up towards the end, I was less muddled. Mostly, I think I was a poor reader of this book. Three somewhat ambivalent stars.
The Well of Ascension (by Brandon Sanderson)
Book two of the Mistborn trilogy. This book is kind of closer to the main plot stolen for Tourmaline than either Tzalmir or Ankh-Morpork, but I didn't read it until now. In book one, the heroes defeated the permanent empire; in book two, they're trying to put their city government back together in the chaos while trying to advance a more liberal social agenda and keep their serfs free. :) Anyway, I'm really enjoying the series, though I wish he would resolve a few more of his mysteries sooner. Four stars.
The Plutonium Blonde (by John Zakour & Lawrence Ganem)
A science fiction pulp detective novel. About as silly as you'd expect from that name and description, but it's smart about its silliness, if that makes any sense. The quick description of the setting is "... after a handful of species-altering upheavals, Earth-shattering cataclysms, history-changing extraterrestral contacts, and pop-culture disasters, the world is now a pretty safe place." It doesn't tell you about any of the cataclysms in the backstory, that's just the setup to "and now it all looks like what we thought the future would look like in the 1950s." Fluff, but fun.
The Alienist (by Caleb Carr)
An interesting combination of historical fiction and serial-killer thriller that somehow didn't manage to feel right as an example of either genre to me. Watching the characters try to develop profiling was interesting (as opposed to in many modern books, where it's something of a magic wand wielded by NPCs); the main detective was a little too annoying for me, and the narrator was probably more opaque to me than he should have been. More of a "not so much for me" book than anything I can really complain about. Three stars.
Off Armageddon Reef (by David Weber)
I seem to have much less patience for books I don't like when I listen to them as audiobooks, probably because I can't skim or skip the boring parts. Well, I had no patience for this one, and only listened as far as I did because it was my airplane audiobook. It appears to be the adventures of a super-powered (and sapphire-eyed) Mary Sue named Merlin (but who is really Nimue in android disguise (?!)) who comes to save the One Good Country in the World Of Bad Religion. I rather think that if my civilization and everyone I had ever known got wiped out by aliens, the highest thing on my priority list would not be making sure the last vestiges of humanity were mindwiped into worshipping me as a god until I died of old age, but that's the flavor of villain we're dealing with. (The one good thing about listening to it as an audiobook was that it let me mostly ignore what is apparently a highly eccentric naming convention: Zhenifyr, Zhasyn, Zhozhef, and so on.) One star.

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14 comments or Leave a comment
From: desireearmfeldt Date: December 30th, 2008 10:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
If the Elizabeth Bear is borrowable, I'd be interested in borrowing it, to a) gather more data on the Laura-to-Andrea book-enjoyment conversion algorithm, b) read an actual example of matriarchy-with-semi-enslaved-men premise, and c) see if I like Elizabeth Bear, since she's a name I recognize but haven't actually read. :)
arcanology From: arcanology Date: December 30th, 2008 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read one by her which scared me off ever reading anything else she ever wrote...
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: December 30th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
I thought you borrowed Undertow from me? Or did I just promise to let you borrow that and Shadow in Summer a year ago? (I'm reading the sequel to that now...) I'll send Carnival (plus or minus the other two) with Jan tonight!
From: desireearmfeldt Date: December 30th, 2008 11:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Huh (having gone back and looked at the ref, since the title didn't ring a bell), yes, you did lend me both of those, so I guess technically I have read Elizabeth Bear. Well, I wasn't so crazy about Undertow, but I'd be interested to read Carnival anyway. :)

(Have you read the sequels to Shadow in Summer? I should get around to that at some point.)
From: desireearmfeldt Date: December 30th, 2008 11:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
Bah, apparently not doing so well on my reading-all-the-sentences-in-your-comment-at-once skills tonight. Disregard stupid question. :) :)
arcanology From: arcanology Date: December 30th, 2008 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ah yes, I borrowed Armageddon Reef from the library. It was in fact quite dreadful.
marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: December 31st, 2008 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Oh, hey, you might want to try the Inkheart series. A bit on the young adult side, and occasionally the characters are a little dumb (and don't take full advantage of their powers), but they are fun so far.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: December 31st, 2008 04:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I started Inkheart a while ago on audiobook, and it tripped my "I don't have as much patience for this" reaction and I didn't finish it. In retrospect, I think there might have been some bits that were meant to be tongue-in-cheek (like about how very very evil and scary Capricorn was because he sent guys to stand in the yard for four days in a row) which were read as perfectly straight by the narrator? I'm not sure.

(I also was really bugged by the book-burning scene, when the "last" copy of Inkheart is burned - it should be heartbreaking, the death of the last hope to get Mo's wife back - but nobody actually seemed to be half as tragified as I was, so that seemed Just Wrong.)

I suspect it would have been a reasonable book had I been reading it in print. :)
twe From: twe Date: December 31st, 2008 04:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I have a print copy you are welcome to borrow.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: December 31st, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
Charles also does too, so I'm good if I do decide to try it again. :)
From: readsalot Date: December 31st, 2008 01:21 am (UTC) (Link)
I thought Carnival was ok, and I'm about halfway through Undertow now and it's ok, too. I liked the Jenny Casey series (Hammered, Scardown, Worldwired, but that might not be the right order) better, and also the first two of her Promethean Age books--haven't gotten to the other two yet. The Jenny Casey series has politics and near-Earth space travel and aliens and is kind of cyberpunk-ish; the Promethean Age books are about conflicts between Earth and Faerie. I think it's that the characters in those series are mostly more likable than the ones in Carnival and Undertow.

All I know about David Weber is that his older brother Mike used to hang out in rec.arts.sf.fandom, and sometimes made amusing remarks about his brother.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: December 31st, 2008 04:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read several of the Honor Harrington books, and enjoyed the first ones enough that I was hopeful about Armageddon Reef; I sort of thought he might be one of those authors whose series go downhill as they go along, so starting a new one would help. :)
jdbakermn From: jdbakermn Date: December 31st, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just picked up the first Brandon Sanderson book on Kindle. :) I'm going to have to refresh my memory with "Off Armageddon Reef", because while I remember the title, your summary doesn't spark any recognition. But in my head it's got 1.5 stars of disappointment associated with ti. How come this one was an audiobook? Do you do that often?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: December 31st, 2008 04:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have an iPod that I use just for audiobooks - mostly for when it's inconvenient to read a real book, like while walking or cooking or when I forget to pack the hold-the-book-open-while-knitting widget. I started out with the Guards subthread of Terry Pratchett's books, which I already knew I liked, but I finally finished those and have had to try to find something else to listen to. I've been kind of lame about consistently reviewing audiobooks, though.
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