Mon, 12 Feb 2007
E Pluribus Unicorn
E Pluribus Unicorn is a collection of short stories by Theodore Sturgeon. All of the stories were written between 1947 and 1953, though they don't seem very dated, aside from occasional archaic-sounding language usage.
The stories are mostly fantasy, though some could be considered almost horror; many are certainly unsettling, most notably The Professor's Teddy-Bear, with Bianca's Hands (and perhaps A Way of Thinking) a close second. Die, Maestro, Die! reminded me of Edgar Allan Poe, in structure, if not in style. There's an element of melancholy in several of the stories, including The SIlken-Swift, Scars (which has no elements on fantasy, but is simply a good story), and especially A Saucer of Loneliness.
Overall, I enjoyed the collection; I hadn't read much by Sturgeon before, and I quite like his writing.
Thu, 22 Jun 2006
War of Honor
It's past five in the morning. I've been up reading for almost the last four hours because I wanted to finish the book. It's good. The pace is much slower than I remember previous Honor Harrington books being, but things do move along.
Reading all of the Honor anthologies before this book is highly recommended.
Mon, 07 Mar 2005
The Child that Books Built
I occasionally venture beyond my fiction readings into the realm of non-fiction, and I'm pretty sure it counts even if the book is itself about reading. I saw The Child That Books Built mentioned in a post on Neil Gaiman's blog and it sounded interesting enough, so I bought it the next time I was in a bookstore.
I found the book to be a rather mixed bag. There were parts that I, like Gaiman, found eerily similar to my own experiences--the way reading can blot out all that transpires in the surrounding world, the discovery of SF, reading The Hobbit, reading the Narnia books. (Though in my case, the Narnia series were the first "real" books I read with The Hobbit following shortly thereafter.) There were other parts that didn't necessarily resonate with my experiences but which I nevertheless found interesting--the discussion of lingual development in children, for instance. Some things were just there as autobiographical but didn't have echoes in my life--much of Spufford's childhood reading differed from mine, being separated by both distance and time, while there were books that interested him but not me, such as the Little House on the Prairie series. Possibly related to those were the parts where I felt that the book rambled without any clear purpose or result--the discussion of the primeval forest, or the exploration of small-town America.
Overall, I found it interesting but not really compelling. Yet another book tucked into the category of, "Huh? Oh, yeah, I've read that."
Perdido Street Station
While Perdido Street Station certainly falls under the broad-reaching umbrella of "speculative fiction", it's hard to pin it further than that. Like the city of New Crobuzon and many of its inhabitants, the book is a blend of several things; there are fantasy aspects and steampunk aspects and horror aspects and probably half a dozen other sub-sub-genres scattered throughout.
There are many good things about the book, but the most immediately obvious is Miéville's writing style. When he's being descriptive, his prose drips adjectives, each chosen for just the right shading of connotations. As I read, I could almost feel the sludge-filled river or the miasma of smoke above the industrial sector. And after I stopped reading, my mind would race along thought passageways, seeking to maintain the same dense, rapid flow of words to which it had become accustomed. Many scenes left me breathless with their coiled tension, the languor of subsequent events providing some relief.
The world in which New Crobuzon exists is well thought-out and very detailed. It's obvious that Miéville has put significant effort into fleshing things out. All of the parts hold together, which is important, because part of the enjoyment derives from exploring this whole other world, with cactus-people and insect-headed women and demons and causal-spinning spiders and well, you get the idea. Many of the details presented tie back into the story eventually, but plenty of things exist simply because they would be there in a complete world.
The story itself is good, as well. There are too many branches and joinings to describe succinctly; you'll have to read it yourself to learn of Lin and Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and Too Too Abstract Individual Yagharek Not To Be Respected and everyone else.
In short, it's a well-written book with a beautiful, distinct writing style. Go read it.
The Alleluia Files
This book forms the third in Sharon Shinn's Samaria trilogy, being preceeded by Archangel and Jovah's Angel. I still think Archangel is the best of the set, though The Alleluia Files is a fairly decent book.
The Alleluia Files again contains many trappings of romance, though there are two romances this time, and consequently neither is as well developed as previous books'. For me, the one in Archangel is still my favorite, which I realized is probably because of the way Shinn weaves music throughout the romance and the rest of the book. It's still a very important part of this book, but not to the same degree as in Archangel.
I'm afraid I'll have to do the majority of my discussion of the book below the spoiler barrier, since I don't want to spoil either this or Archangel for those that have not read them.
The Diary of Anne Frank
Sometimes, it seems that everyone except me had to read The Diary of Anne Frank in school. (The fact that I probably got more out of the book because I didn't is a piece for another day.) While I was reading, I learned from a friend of mine that I was reading an edited version. Though it is not indicated anywhere in the copy I have, it was edited by Anne's father before publication. (This despite the declaration "unabridged" on the title page.) I am told Anne's father removed much about Anne that was specifically Jewish or related to her burgeoning sexuality. (The former because he wanted her to be a more religion-neutral hero, the latter presumably because he didn't want people reading that about his daughter.) So I suppose I'll have to read the fuller version at some point. Regardless, this one is quite good.
Anne Frank was a talented writer. She does a good job of expressing what her life was like during the two years of her family's hiding from the Germans. At times, I did feel that I was an interloper in someone else's thoughts, especially during the time when she was exploring her feelings for Peter, but that lends to the feel of the book. It tells the tale of a young girl thrust into a situation where she has little control over her life and how she manages to live with that.
I'm not sure what I think of the translation. Anne originally wrote in Dutch, which doesn't work well for a sadly monolingual American such as myself. The translation is very much one for a British audience--in addition to things like footnotes translating guilders into shillings and pence, much of Anne's translated language usage involved very British phrases like, "had a jolly good row with so-and-so." For the most part this was relatively unnoticeable, since the phrasing flowed very smoothly through my understanding, but occasionally I was struck by the contrast inherent in a Dutch girl being given a British voice. I understand the reasons for the mode of the translation, but I do wonder what exactly Anne really wrote. (For a real answer, I'd have to learn Dutch, and for a real answer, I'd probably have to grow up in Holland.)
What strikes me most is Anne's generally unflagging optimism throughout the whole book. In one of her final entries, she waxes very introspective, examining her thoughts and behaviors carefully. Near the end of that entry, she writes, "It's really a wonder that I haven't dropped all my ideals because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet, I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can't build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death."
Endless Nights is another book from Neil Gaiman in the world of The Sandman. It contains seven stories, one for each of the Endless. It is ... impressive.
Each of the stories captures the personality of one of the Endless. Possibly the weakest of them in that respect are Death's and Dream's, but they're also probably the most prominent characters in the Sandman series, so the lapse is forgivable, especially since Dream's gives some very nice backstory for the Endless.
Probably my favorites from the set are Desire's and Destiny's stories. Each is a succinct encapsulation of its respective Endless's personality, combined with some stunning artwork. Death's, Dream's, Delirium's, and Destruction's are all good stories, with excellent artwork of their own. Despair's story is probably the one most different from the others, and while it's very well done, I can't say that I enjoyed it, largely because it isn't really meant to be enjoyed. I'll say simply that it is very well executed, contains superb artwork, and I had to rest for a while after reading it to recover.
If you're a fan of Sandman, buy this book. If you're not familiar with Sandman, a lot of the point of this will be missing. It's probably still worth reading for the artwork alone, but the Endless are what really drive this book.
For my part, I'm very happy to place this book on my shelf beside my other Sandman novels.