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Ten Books - Qualified Perceptions
Ten Books
* for audiobooks

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry (by Gabrielle Zevin)
A charming book about a bookstore and its people. Or a bookseller and his people. I felt vaguely guilty for reading it on an e-reader, as it is such a non-independent-bookstore thing, but I admit I have never really asked a bookshop for advice on what book to get (though I did of course take advantage of their selection algorithms when looking over shelves and tables). This is one of those books that I wonder how I ended up picking it up, as it's not SFF or mystery (well, it's slightly mystery), but it was certainly enjoyable. Three and a half stars.

The Martian (by Andy Weir)
On the third Mars mission, there's a disaster, and one astronaut is left behind, believed dead. He's not dead. This is his story. And it's a great story. Well, it's a really compelling story if you thought Apollo 13 was a compelling story, which I did. It's all about (science fictional) engineering and making do, and Mission Control fussing and thinking very hard, and space heroics. And, the thing that takes it from being a good story to something I mostly couldn't put down, is the voice. The lost astronaut is a perfect nerd with all the cultural hallmarks of my people, including coping with stress through humor. There's a lot of humor, but it never rings false or forced. Here's one bit.
I've been thinking about laws on Mars.
Yeah, I know, it's a stupid thing to think about, but I have a lot of free time.
There's an international treaty saying no country can lay claim to anything that's not on Earth. And by another treaty, if you're not in any country's territory, maritime law applies.
So Mars is "international waters."
NASA is an American nonmilitary organization, and it owns the Hab. So while I'm in the Hab, American law applies. As soon as I step outside, I'm in international waters. Then when I get in the rover, I'm back to American law.
Here's the cool part: I will eventually go to Schiaparelli and commandeer the Ares 4 lander. Nobody explicitly gave me permission to do this, and they can't until I'm aboard Ares 4 and operating the comm system. After I board Ares 4, before talking to NASA, I will take control of a craft in international waters without permission.
That makes me a pirate!
A space pirate!
Five wandering stars.

Indexing (by Seanan McGuire)
This was a Kindle serial, but having subscribed to it, I ended up just putting off reading until it was done. I find that I don't want to go back to a story one chapter at a time, I just forget what happened. Anyway, I liked this quite a lot - the Enumerated Weirdness here is fairy tales (which are generally very perilous when instantiated), with a bureau dedicated to stamping them out. Sort of like a cross between Thursday Next and Fables. Fun, and nicely dramatic. Occasionally there were some oddnesses or dropped plots, that might have been a function of being written as a serial (so no going back and editing early bits later), but in general it managed to combine individual episodes with overall arc quite well. Four stars.

Delia's Shadow (by Jaime Lee Moyer)
A well-written but also subtly disappointing book. Premise: At the turn of the previous century, Delia is haunted by ghosts, including one particular ghost who is trying to badger her into doing something about the serial killer who killed her and has returned to kill again. Delia teams up with the police and a medium, plus her cousin. The writing is good, the characters are likable and a little quirky. The love plots make me feel warm and fuzzy instead of embarrassed. And some bits seem kind of interestingly novel - the ghost is neither wholly benign nor malevolent, there's a little side plot with the old lady and her ghosts that is left interestingly unexplained, the women seem strong despite being old-fashioned ladylike (and when they swoon, it didn't bug me, as "reliving the very nasty death of a murdered-by-serial-killer victim" seems worth swooning about.). But... it's a little slow-moving, with scenes that seemed to repeat previous scenes. And the interaction between the mystery and the police is seriously disappointing, from a mystery reader point of view. There are some clues (some of them sent by the killer because... craziness and overconfidence, I guess), but they don't actually help. The killer is madly omnipotent. Even after everyone involved knows the killer drives a cab and that's how he's grabbing victims, they STILL LET THEMSELVES BE LURED AWAY WITH A NOTE AND TAKE A CAB TO WHERE THEY ARE GOING AND OF COURSE THEY ARE GOT. I mostly enjoyed it, but I felt like it could have used a pass by a mystery editor instead of just the paranormal-fantasy editor. Three stars.

Parasite (by Mira Grant)
It's interesting how Mira Grant (pen name) and Seanan McGuire (real name) have very distinctive, very different, styles. Parasite is has all the same fingerprints that Feed et al do - zombie(ish) apocalypse, handwavium science instead of supernatural, Inexplicably Evil corporate and government conspiracies - and is about as much fun. (That's not sarcastic, I did think Newsflesh was a ton of fun). Maybe slightly less fun - Feed starts post-apocalypse and has all sorts of exciting zombie fight sequences, while Parasite starts in the pre-apocalypse, so it's more of a conspiracy thriller and less of an action thriller. Anyway. Sal is probably the first character I've read who uses all the modern Use Your Words and empowered boundary-setting that appear in a lot of blogs I wander into. For example, there's a bit where Sal's dad is trying to explain that she has to trust him, because it would take too long to explain (Digression: this always makes me want to bite the character who tries it. If you waste more than fifteen seconds on the lecture about how there is not enough time to explain, you are Just Wrong.). Sal puts her foot down and calls him on it. No, she doesn't have to trust him, and he does have to explain if he wants her trust. Later, talking to Mom: "I need to know that I'm not with people who don't even trust me enough to tell me what's going on in my own life. I need to know that I'm not with people I can't trust." This isn't a perfect example, but it's still trying to frame things as "this is about me and what I need right now to be okay, not about blaming you or arguing over what you did", and is the sort of thing that comes up in those blogs, and it was interesting to see it implemented in fiction. (I'm not clear where Sal gets it, since she's still learning colloquial English and doesn't read well, but maybe it's podcasts...). Sadly, the handwavium science bothered me more than it did in Newsflesh. I try to give the initial premise of the book a pass and willingly suspend disbelief, but since the details of the Symbiote Parasite get revealed slowly, they mostly piled up until they overwhelmed my plausibility suppression. Having specifically tailored tapeworms to counter allergies and autoimmunity, okay, sure, all those words are in the same ballpark, I'll let you have that. But once you add in "Since then, the implants have become responsible for everything from maintaining insulin levels in diabetics to controlling issues with human brain chemistry and secreting natural birth control" I kind of derailed. Some medical conditions are treatable by a hypothetical steady stream of some drug, but I don't think diabetes is one of them. Plus now it's not really an over-the-counter parasite pill, if it has to cover all these different conditions. (Maybe they sell 2^n different versions?) Finally, I am deeply dubious about the question of whether a tapeworm is a slave to its host, and whether a tapeworm that can become sentient by parasitizing a brain gets to complain about humanity enslaving sentient creatures. (But quibbling about the motivations of the zombie hordes is almost certainly missing the point.) Four stars, and if you liked Newsflesh you'll probably enjoy this. It is going to be a trilogy, though, and it's not done now.

New Celebrations: The Adventures of Anthony Villiers (by Alexei Panshin)
This is a collection of three shortish books; in theory there are four in the series, but the fourth was never written. It is beautifully, brilliantly, written, and is... um... is a series of stories about an itinerant lordling who is always waiting for his money to catch up to him, who things kind of happen near. (A longer review and better summary is here.) The world-building is fascinating, and it is both clever and funny (the release-as-three-books claims it as a precursor to the Hitchhiker's Guide, and there's also a bit of a Wodehouse flavor to it). And the narrator is oddly opinionated. I wanted to love the book, but I mostly just liked it, and highlighted lots and lots of text to quote. Here is some of it. (Actually, most of what I highlighted was from the first book; maybe not liking the second two as much is why I only liked the book rather than loved it.)
There was an attempt on Adams' part to ape his usual buoyancy, but beneath it there was a tone of sullenness. It was much like a small boy who has been taught that good manners should mask unpleasant emotions, but who still wants you to know that his unpleasant emotions are being masked by good manners. The result, if the boy isn't so small that his natural feelings overwhelm him ("Well, I tried to be nice."), is a peculiar sort of well-bred sulkiness. It's a tense and difficult effect to achieve properly, and mark it to Adams' credit that he was successful.

Adams said slowly, "Sir? I've been thinking. Haven't we trapped ourselves? They've all escaped. If we try to get out, all they have to do is wait by the doors."
"On the contrary," Villiers said, "we've won."
"But, no, sir. We're trapped."
"Mr. Adams, do I understand you to believe that we are trapped here?"
"Yes, sir."
"Mr. Adams, here is a spaceship."
"Yes, sir."
"Star Well is a piece of rock. We are a spaceship. We are on the outside. We are the universe. They are inside, and we have them surrounded."
"Oh," said Adams. "Yes, sir."

There was an essential difference between Shirabi and Godwin: If they were both drinking cider and eating summer sausage, which I hope you will agree they both might do, and each dropped his piece of sausage between the cushions of his chair, both would fish for it among the trash. But they would assume different attitudes for their search, and they would search for different reasons.

I think it might be a desireearmfeldt book, but I am not sure.

House of Bathory (by Linda Lafferty)
Some while ago, I discovered that Amazon Prime lets you "borrow" (some) books from Amazon. I poked around and borrowed this one, and then promptly left it on my Kindle for months. This behavior is why I had to pay hundreds of dollars of fines to MITSFS over the years. Anyway, this is an (only barely weird-shit) vampire story, a combination of historical fiction of Elizabeth Bathory, and modern-day Jungian psychiatrist versus Bathory-wannabe crazy person, with bonus Goth. Having two parallel stories running made both of them a little thinner than they could be, and the parallelism was a little muddled. The psychiatrist is decended from the Bathory family, but the two sisters have a possibly reborn Countess Bathory and a (Goth) Taltos who matches the horsemaster in the history - the mapping is all over the place. The historical fiction side wasn't bad, and was genuinely creepy; the plot of modern side was kind of a mess. Two and a half stars, but it was free!

* The Woman in White (by Wilkie Collins)
Collins, a contemporary of Dickens, is generally credited with inventing the mystery novel. Woman in White is more of a suspense novel than a true mystery, but is his most famous book. I think I'll also read The Moonstone, which is the mystery. ("the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins and not by Poe" - T.S. Eliot). Some years ago, I read a book ( - and that's the post with the review of Angels and Demons, if you like rants) in which the central villain, Count Fosco, was a guest star. I no longer remember that book, but Count Fosco is a very compelling character. Of the two villains, the other one is a jerk with some good acting skills, but Fosco is interesting. He's somewhere between dramatic and overdramatic, smart, has his own weird code of honor, and is terribly full of himself. Random anecdote: There's a character who shows up at the very beginning, to start things rolling. Much later, he gets mentioned again, and I said out loud "Hah! Professor Pesca! I had forgotten about him!" The next sentence was "The professor has been so long absent from these pages that he has run some risk of being forgotten altogether." I thought it was very impressive of Mr. Collins to know what I was thinking so far in the future. Anyway, after a deduction of half a star for a little bit of a deus ex machina in the ending, and an addition of half a star for being Literature, I'll give it four stars.

The Pines (by Blake Crouch)
This was advertised on my Kindle, and was either very cheap or Prime-borrowed, I forget which. "A Secret Service agent comes to a town which it turns out no one may ever leave." In an afterword, the author describes how he was aiming for Twin Peaks in writing this book - the feeling in the early episodes that things are not as they seem (especially the owls), and then they just get creepier and wronger. To give him credit, he nails that. The book starts with a feeling that things are a little wrong, and they just get creepier and wronger. And, also like Twin Peaks, it goes kind of off the rails and into a wall at the end. (Though not the same way Twin Peaks did - the explanation for The Pines did mostly fit all the data, I just found it... unsatisfactory.) My other vague complaint is the style, which uses a lot of choppy sentence fragments:
His backward momentum stopped, and he tugged himself forward by the tips of his fingers until his forehead grazed the wall.
Took everything in his power to swing his right leg up and make himself stand.
This ledge was half the width of the last one and his feet hung off the edge.
Would've been impossible to sit down or to remain here for any extended length of time.
Bugged me.

Anyhow, I think the best way to experience this book is to read it about two thirds of the way through (maybe to the bonfire scene), and then stop. That way you get the true experience of the creepiness and wrongness, and you'll always wonder how it turned out, knowing that there is an explanation.

Forecast (by Jane Tara)
A goofy little romance, because it was free. Every so often I toy with some other genre (Non-fiction! Literature! Essays!). Sometimes they're awesome (non-fiction: The Guns of August), and sometimes they are not (literature: Cricket on the Hearth, which was free on Audible for Christmas, and I just could not get past the first five minutes). I liked Outlander, as romances go. This one was cute, but I didn't a lot of the secondary characters. I suppose if I wanted everything to be Guns of August, I would be disappointed all my life. Mostly I wouldn't bother to list this at all, but every so often someone asks me how many books I read, and I'm vain enough to not want to under-count.


12 comments or Leave a comment
marcusmarcusrc From: marcusmarcusrc Date: July 31st, 2014 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
First, as usual, thank you for all the entertaining book reviews. (I'm currently reading the necromantic lawyer book, which I am assuming I found through your livejournal).

But on a science note regarding diabetes: since my undergrad days, I think that Professor Langer at MIT has been making a career out of, among other things, long-term diabetic treatment research, where you implant a device that slowly releases the right drugs (ideally at a rate that is a function of blood sugar levels): e.g., http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2013/nanotechnology-could-help-fight-diabetes-0516. Of course, I haven't read Parasite, so I don't know if the science is actually compatible with the story, but based on your one sentence description, it could be?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: July 31st, 2014 11:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
The book doesn't really go into details either, but "a function of blood sugar levels" is what I was getting at - you can't just tell the parasite "Make insulin" and be done with it, it's more complicated than that. On the other hand, I suppose if you can stuff arbitrary biologic controls into your parasite, "detect sugar and make insulin in response" isn't any less plausible, and the intestine might actually be a better place to detect it than the bloodstream.
From: desireearmfeldt Date: August 1st, 2014 01:55 am (UTC) (Link)
I think it might be a desireearmfeldt book, but I am not sure.

Could be? "Kind of like Wodehouse" is a genre I often enjoy. :)
lillibet From: lillibet Date: August 1st, 2014 04:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Alexei Panshin was one of my very first science fiction loves. Have you read Rite of Passage? We'd call it YA now and I don't know how it would stand up to a first reading when one isn't twelve--though it did win the Nebula it's year--but I loved it. I loved the Villiers books, too, though they're very different. I think of Torve every time someone asks me to "wait one minute". Have you read Walter Jon Williams' Allowed Burgler stories? They're very similar, down to the first one being the best, but with more interesting world-building.

firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 1st, 2014 12:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think I may have read Rite of Passage a long long time ago; it's now on my list of things to get to. :) And yeah, the Williams books were a lot of fun too. (Ooh, that post has the review that I think convinced Jo Walton I was homophobic. That was when I stopped searching for links to me. :) )
lillibet From: lillibet Date: August 1st, 2014 12:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speaking of writers-named-Jo...have I already asked if you've read Jo Graham's Black Ships?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 1st, 2014 01:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
At your recommendation, even! :)
lillibet From: lillibet Date: August 1st, 2014 01:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Alrighty, then. I'll stop :)
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: August 1st, 2014 10:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
I may need to read The Martian on the strength of that description and quote.

Reading an entire book in the style of the quote from The Pines would drive me bonkers or have me talking like that all the time -- quite probably both.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: August 1st, 2014 10:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read several quotes to mjperson at lunchtime and he had finished reading his own copy by the end of the next day. It's a strangely contagious book!

The Pines isn't constantly that style - it seems to be more of a conceit for the action scenes. (But it was in that style enough that it bugged me.)

Edited at 2014-08-01 10:50 pm (UTC)
ironrat From: ironrat Date: August 3rd, 2014 06:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hm, this is also probably enough to also get me to read The Martian. I had seen a review of it a while ago that was positive, but this was more compelling. :)

Also, I just finished A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin, and it was enjoyable and might be worth checking out if you're needing some London urban fantasy.
From: brilit Date: August 8th, 2014 04:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
I quite liked the Martian too. Enjoyable main character and it stayed on hard science fiction. I kept thinking some weird shit would show up but it nicely didn't.
12 comments or Leave a comment