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Four Books (Or: Laura Waffles about Ratings) - Qualified Perceptions
Four Books (Or: Laura Waffles about Ratings)
Air (Or: Have Not Have) by Geoff Ryman
There were many very complimentary things about this book written on the back cover, and in reviews at Amazon, and the like. So I feel I ought to have liked it better. I quite liked the dialogue and the cultural setting (a tiny village in "Kazistan") - it felt very placeish, and very foreign/alien, but believable. (I like believable aliens)! The 2/3 of the book that was grounded in that setting, plus the science-fiction advance of "Air" (essentially satellite network beamed into people's brains) was fun to read. But the 1/3 of the book that required more suspension of disbelief than Air did (some of it extra-science-fictiony, some of it just extreme biological implausibility) bothered me enough that I kept being jolted out of the setting, which was particularly sad because it was so strong otherwise. Hovering betwen three and a half and one and a half stars.

Season of Sacrifice by Mindy Klasky
I don't remember why this was on my list of books to read, but I put it on my Palm at some point. But bookstores didn't have it and MITSFS didn't have it in circulating, so it sat there on the list for a long time. Enh, it could have stayed there. Children get kidnapped. Fiesty villagers go to save them. The big bad world is scary. Children are mush-minds. Evil dukes are evil. Two stars.

Souls in the Great Machine by Sean McMullen
I started out loving this book. It's grand, epic, clever, actiony, mysterious, surprising -- and Dragon Librarians control the world (that's their title, they're not actually dragons, and only partly librarians). What's not to love? But by the end, I can't endorse it as whole-heartedly as I thought I would at first, because it careens a little too much. It starts out at one speed, and then five years randomly pass between paragraphs while various characters undergo training montages. (This was originally two books before being rewritten; the five year gap might be between the original two books). Unique powers prove not so unique. One character's charm seems limitless - why? There are excactly two short scenes set in North America (the rest is Australia) for unclear reasons (I suspect setup for the next book, which takes place there). I'm still going to give it four stars, because even with the careening, it had more interesting bits than most books do.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
You'd think it would be a particularly small niche market, writing for foodies with an interest in how role-playing a persona affects your real personality. But the book spent about ten weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, so it's a larger niche than you'd expect. Anyway, the premise is the (then) new NYT restaurant critic disguises herself, including new personalities, lest she be recognized and given special treatment. Her first review contrasts the meal she gets at a very fancy New York restaurant when she's a dumpy nobody (tasty but rude, including stupid little things like they don't bother to tell her the specials) versus when she's recognized (amazing food and service). That, plus descriptions of meals I totally want to eat, is about half of the story; the other half is how becoming these different people affects her. What does it mean to have your family like your role-played exuberant friendly person better than your real you? (She kinda contradicts my previous belief that it's hard to role-play someone genuinely nicer than yourself). On the other hand, she also easily drifts into becoming unlikeable people as she becomes tired of the job, and what does that mean, that you can so easily become the same sort of person you moments ago loathed? The biggest flaw with this part of the story is that (probably because she's mostly naturally a nice person) she describes her unpleasant-person dialogue with what must be an afterthought patina of reasonableness. So there's one scene where her husband gets upset at how she's behaving, but she just comes across to me as pedantically enthusiastic. Three and a half stars for normal people; four and a half for those who fall into the described niche.


14 comments or Leave a comment
dzm From: dzm Date: September 5th, 2006 02:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I liked Souls in the Great Machine, though it definitely did have the plot issue that you turn a page and five years have passed and a main character has gone batshit insane. Actually, I wound up reading The Miocene Arrow first and really liked it except for being totally confused in the first half of the book; actually reading the books in order helped that a lot.
ricedog From: ricedog Date: September 5th, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
It would've been better if he hadn't tried to sew the two books together, just called them Part I and Part II. I can see The Miocene Arrow</a> being ungodly confusing without the intro of the continuing characters.

firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 5th, 2006 08:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I only ended up realizing it was originally two books because his author bio in Souls in the Great Machine talks about his new novel, Mirrorsun Rising. So I said agh, is it another book in the Greatwinter Trilogy that I don't know about? It's clearly related because of "Mirrorsun" but where does it go in the series? It took quite a while for me to sort out what had happened. :)
jencallisto From: jencallisto Date: September 5th, 2006 02:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
i actually really enjoy role-playing people genuinely nicer than myself, at least occasionally. the thing is, i usually role-play by taking things that already exist inside me and messing with them, enhancing some and nearly eliminating others. so such characters are not necessarily nicer than my nicest bits, but they have a lot less of the bits of me that are really not-so-nice.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 5th, 2006 03:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Cool. :) It sounds like you have more control over parts of your personality than many people (including me) do. Hmm. Or maybe it's a question of reaction v. action - to make up random examples, if what makes someone not-nice is that they fly off the handle easily, that reaction is (presumably) hard to suppress or they would have done that already in real life, but if what makes someone not-nice is that they ask lots of embarassing personal questions of total strangers, that's an active thing that can be more easily suppressed.
jencallisto From: jencallisto Date: September 5th, 2006 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
well, i try at least. it doesn't always work, but there does seem to be slow improvement. i have a very strong belief in self-awareness -- there are always parts of yourself you don't see or understand, but the more you become aware of them and deal with them, the better your interactions with the rest of the world.

so basically, i've spent the many years since about third grade actively monitoring my reactions to things and extensively observing the reactions of others.

the thing is, someone with a bad temper is often aware that that is one of their main issues. so they can try to be on the lookout for that reaction and develop ways of shifting into a calmer mindset. i see your point, though, about wondering why they can't do it in real life if they can do it while role-playing... i guess for me, when role-playing i'm willing to more actively suppress parts of myself that in real-life need some kind of outlet, replacing them with more of a different part of myself. i mean, if it's a person who in real life doesn't ever manage to not fly off the handle, then changing that might be impossible. but if it's someone who can occasionally see things from a different perspective such that they calm down, then i think it may be easier to use that skill more often in roleplaying than in real life... experimentation without larger consequences, sort of.

*wry smile* i almost think that the person who asks a lot of embarrassing personal questions is less likely to change, as many such people seem completely unaware that they're being not-nice. (or, they're doing it semi-involuntarily/thoughtlessly-but-not-maliciously and feel badly about it afterwards, which then almost belongs in the reaction category, i think, because it's basically speaking without thinking, usually in reaction to something earlier in the conversation.)
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: September 5th, 2006 02:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Is Garlic and Sapphires borrowable?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: September 5th, 2006 03:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Sure! (I should check to make sure you still think you have Time Traveler's Wife, yes?)
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: September 5th, 2006 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, I meant to mention that. I have finally gotten around to reading Time Traveler's wife, and expect to finish it shortly. (Yes, I spend more time reading non-fiction from the library than borrowed fiction from friends. Weird, I know.)
mijven From: mijven Date: September 5th, 2006 10:15 pm (UTC) (Link)

(Speaking of which... was I expecting books from you at some point, or has my brain frozen again?)
chenoameg From: chenoameg Date: September 5th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yup, shipping you books remains on the top of the list of things I should do in the office. (Sad to admit how long it's been there, though...)
mijven From: mijven Date: September 5th, 2006 11:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Given how many things I am many months behind on (I finally have a reason to REALLY look forward to my kids attending school!) I have ZERO complaints. Mostly the thought had occurred to me, but I was uncertain if it actually originated from you or from within my own fevered brain.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: September 6th, 2006 08:25 am (UTC) (Link)
Please put me in queue, too! That sounds like totally my niche.
From: readsalot Date: September 5th, 2006 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Garlic and Sapphires was probably helped by being the third of Ruth Reichl's memoirs (and there may be more coming), so people who liked the earlier ones will come back for more. I really liked the first one, which was about growing up, and her relationship with her somewhat-crazy mother, and food.
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