9.28.2006

Three Days to Never. Addenda.

This morning I remembered the other thing I was going to say about Three Days to Never. One of the things about this book that really rocked my socks off was the way that Powers played with history. In this book, history is not exactly fluid, but it's not static other. There's really an aspect of the multiverse here, in that multiple time lines can exist concurrently and can be manipulated even after they've officially "happened." In a way, how Powers had his characters use time travel to change their own pasts really reminded me of the movie The Butterfly Effect, but in a much less melodramatic way.

9.27.2006

Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers

I think karma and/or poetic justice has just slapped me upside the head. I don't think I've blogged about Tim Powers before, although there may be a review somewhere on my old Web site about one or two of his books, but the thing that strikes me every time is how little he actually explains what's going on in his books. And this, after I write about Mistborn and complain about too much explanation. Tcha.

This book isn't nearly as over my head as some of his other books (Declare, Last Call, The Anubis Gate, etc.), but there's still an awful lot going on in this book. There's time travel, Einstein, quantum mechanics, psychics, astral projection, Charlie Chaplin...In this book, I think Powers has unbent a little and used his story to explain what's really going on, especially towards the end. Or, it could be that reading Dante's Equation and some of the other works of fiction that borrow from the world of physics has prepared me a little bit for this.

But I think what I really like about Powers comes down to two things. One, he is absolutely fabulous about blending fact and fiction. It makes it hard to tell what really happened and what didn't--especially when your book involved time travel and alternate histories--but it makes for a very involving story and a smooth read. The other thing that I like about Powers books, and this one in particular, is the way that he pulled in other works of fiction. The Tempest plays a really big role in this one. The only other author I've read who's managed to do this (though he took it to a whole other level) is Dan Simmons who blended The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Tempest with science fiction and created Ilium and Olympos.

Tim Powers is an acquired taste, I'll admit, but he is well worth it. I've never found anyone who writes quite like he does. I never know what to expect when I hear he has a new book out.

Small Announcement

I have been recently invited to post at Library Vixens, which was created by a friend and co-worker of mine. In order to have something worthwhile to post over there, I'm thinking that most of my library-related posts are now going to appear on that blog.

But I think I'll keep the funny ones here, like my Louisa May Alcott story.

9.17.2006

Quote of the Day

Me: Love means never having to say, "Sorry I almost shoved an Anzac biscuit up your nose."

During a family visit to Idaho Falls, we had lunch at a restaurant called Aussie Eats. Good food, and the desserts--which I haven't gotten to yet--look amazing. As we paid for our meal, our waitress gave us some free Anzac biscuits. Yum!

9.14.2006

Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson

I'd been looking forward to another book from Brandon Sanderson since I read Elantris, and this summer, Mistborn: The Final Empire came out. Sanderson is one of the few genuinely fantasy authors I read any more. If you read a lot of fantasy, you'll probably agree that a lot of it is all the same--a set of easily recognizable archetypes for characters journey to and fro in a world that looks an awful lot like medieval Europe, with magic and/or creatures from a beastiary thrown in, with a plot that seems to come from a standard play book. Because of the conventions that govern what fantasy is, it's hard to find original fantasy.

The originality factor is what made me love both Elantris and Mistborn. Sanderson obviously puts a lot of thought into the construction of his novels and his writing style delivers ripping stories. (I have one minor criticism about writing style, though, which I'll get to later.) In this book, Sanderson delivered an intriguing and new style of magic, a very formidable set of villains and henchmen, a fully realized society, history, and culture, a very charismatic duo of heroes, and a plot that--though I knew roughly were it would end up--that kept me wondering how the protagonists were going to pull it all off.

One thing about this book that I really liked was the way that Sanderson handled gender in this book. In fantasy novels, there are a limited set of female characters--the damsel in distress, Amazons, evil sorceresses, etc. But in Mistborn, Sanderson gives us Vin, a character who visible grows during the novel from a frightened abuse-victim to a powerful Allomancer (the name for someone who practices the magic system in this book) who helps to finish the work that her mentor started. Vin's story was amazingly fresh and believable, and I look forward to seeing more of her in the next books.

Oh, and a short word about Kelsier, the other protagonist. I really wish there were more characters like him in fantasy. He was a lot of fun to watch.

The only criticism I have about Sanderson's writing style is that often, when he was describing how the magic system worked, there was too much telling and not enough showing. In a few sections, it felt like I was getting a mini-seminar on Allomancy, the magic system. I know there was a lot to cover, given that this system is unique in fantasy, and you can't bring prior knowledge to bear, and that telling is really the most efficient way to cover the necessary background. But it did slow things down. Hopefully, the future books will have more showing, given that we readers have the basics down now.

That said, I am really glad there are going to be two more books in this series--there is a lot more I want to know about this world. (And, in the mean time, I have Warbreaker to keep me busy.)

World War Z, by Max Brooks

I finished this book last night, around 1:40 in the morning. This one was a very fast read, given that I worked yesterday and was in class for a couple of hours and I only started reading it Tuesday afternoon when it came out.

World War Z, by Max Brooks, is a follow up to his fantastic book, The Zombie Survival Guide, which was all it's title promised. Really, if there were zombies, the Guide would be perfect.

Essentially, this book is a collection of interviews with the survivors of a global zombie attack that wipes out most of humanity. This book follows that outbreak from it's origins (as far as they can figure), through to the end of the Zombie War--though people are still finding zombies on the ocean floor and frozen in the extreme northern and southern parts of the world.

This book was a lot of fun. I had my nose in this book every chance I got, just to find out how people survived. I even found myself thinking some of the same thoughts I had when I read the guide, about zombie-proofing my house: how can I board up the doors and windows, how long would it take to get rid of the stairs, should we run for it instead of staying, &etc.

In retrospect, I am amazed at how much thought Brooks put into this book. On top of all the zombie action, this book has a lot of social and political commentary about our society and it seems like Brooks knew exactly were we would fracture. I daresay that some of this commentary--which gets pretty anti-Bush, anti-corporate, anti-celebrity and material culture, and so on--may be hard to take for people who on the other end of the political spectrum from me. And even for me, some of the comments made by the survivors stung.

The Lost Cosmonaut, by Daniel Kalder

I have mixed feelings about reading The Lost Cosmonaut: Observations of an Anti-Tourist, by Daniel Kalder. There were a lot of things I liked. I really enjoyed that I got to tag along on Kalder's trips to places that, according to a New York Times review I read when the book first came out, even Russians haven't heard of. This is why I read travel books in the first place. This book also had the added benefit of some philosophy about places we have never heard of. For example, there's this bit on page 24 of the trade paperback version, where Kalder talks about discovering the cultural figures of these places:
The existence of these invisible geniuses disturbs me. We take no notice of their music, their books, their causes, or their history, altough they are and it is European. But it's unknown, a whole other Europe, a shadow Europe, that does not exist for us...I know people are reguarly tortured and murdered for causes I've never heard of. So the existence of ghost canons and traditions shouldn't really disturb me at all. But it does. I shiver when I think about them. They are a mystery, an existential riddle I cannot solve.
It's a little trite to say that this book really made me think. But it did. There are so few books that I read that I really think expand my consciousness and make me think about all the other billions of people on the planet and what their lives are like.

Kalder also has a really odd sense of humor that appeals to me. One of my favorite bits is this one, where Kalder's friends have gone off to visit a Kalmykian Buddhist temple: "I preferred to sit on a bench and observe the emptiness. That, and not Buddhism, was what I had come for" (111). I am sure this little funny was entirely deliberate, but I like those moments in a book when the reader and the person who wrote the book--as opposed to the narrator persona--get to share a laugh.

But I get mixed feelings about this book around the beginning of the second half. After a while, the author really struck me as kind of a putz. And you know how hard it is to enjoy a trip with someone you don't like? Who doesn't enjoy the same things you do? It felt like this after a while. I stuck with it, hoping that Kalder (or the version of him in the book) would stop being so snide and world-weary. That didn't happen, unfortunately.

The first two parts of the book are good. They're odd and funny, and I learned a lot about parts of the world that I would never have heard of otherwise. But the last two parts of the book, well, I still learned things, but I didn't enjoy it near as much.

9.03.2006

Souls in the Great Machine, by Sean McMullen, Part I

I don't know why, perhaps it's the impending release of World War Z by Max Brooks, but I find myself interested in post-Apocalyptic literature and zombie movies lately. Something about the idea of surviving a catastrophe that wipes out most of humanity and then rebuilding society fascinates me. And I don't mean fascinate in a good or bad way. Rather, I'm fascinated by human ingenuity and the endless ways in which human society can defend and organize itself. So, the next time you're feeling guilty about watching 28 Days Later or Dawn of the Dead (like I did this weekend) or about reading most of S.M. Stirling's works, remind yourself that you're being a kind of sociologist. :)

One of the books I'm in the middle of right now is Sean McMullen's Souls in the Great Machine, a book set in Australia about one thousand years after the present. Humanity has survived some ill-fated attempts to combat global warming and managed to create new cultures. What interested me about this book is the prominence of librarians in this book. Being a librarian-in-training myself, I get a kick out of the idea of librarians who fight duels with flint- and matchlock pistols and earn ranks with the word "dragon" in them. (Maybe if they taught dueling in library school, we would have more students. But then again, maybe not. :) ).

On a more serious note, another fascinating aspect of this novel is the way that humanity has recreated technology. Rather than using coal, steam or electrical power, technology is powered by human beings. The train system functions in a Flintstones/paddle boat way and the massive mainframe computer in the central library is made up of human components rather than circuitry or even vacuum tubes.

Aside from these points though, I've found it easy to be distracted from this book by other things. Namely, I've been distracted by The Lost Cosmonaut, a book I recommended to my public library and that has finally arrived and been checked out to my hot little hands. The characters in Souls are interesting, but there are rather too many of them for me to really bond with them, and there's so much going on and so much not explained that, again, I'm having a hard time sticking with it. I will stick with it though, as I've gotten half way through the book and I would be annoyed with myself for getting that far and then giving up.

9.01.2006

For the benefit of several readers

Just for you Jenny, As complete a list of books I've read in the past year (I've probably forgotten some):
  1. Something Rotten, by Jasper Fforde (Blogged)
  2. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte (Blogged)
  3. Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens (Blogged)
  4. The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin (Blogged)
  5. Murder on the Leviathan, by Boris Akunin
  6. The Turkish Gambit, by Boris Akunin
  7. The Zombie Suvival Guide, by Max Brooks (Blogged)
  8. A Breath of Snow and Ashes, by Diana Gabaldon (Blogged)
  9. Olympos, by Dan Simmons
  10. Ilium, by Dan Simmons
  11. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan (Blogged)
  12. The Outlandish Companion, by Diana Gabaldon
  13. Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson (Blogged)
  14. Mistborn, by Brandon Sanderson
  15. Thud!, by Terry Pratchett
  16. The Truth, by Terry Pratchett (Blogged)
  17. Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks (Blogged)
  18. The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde (Blogged)
  19. Dies the Fire, by S.M. Stirling (Blogged)
  20. The Protector's War, by S.M. Stirling (Blogged)
  21. The Difference Engine, by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling (Blogged)
  22. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, by Mary Roach (Blogged)
  23. To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis (Blogged)
  24. A Dirty Job, by Christopher Moore
  25. The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant (Blogged)
  26. A Writer at War, by Vasily Grossman (Blogged)
  27. House of Leaves, by Mark Danielewski (Blogged, but not completed)
  28. The Hanged Man's Song, by John Sanford
  29. One for the Money, by Janet Evanovich
  30. Two for the Dough, by Janet Evanovich
  31. Three to Get Deadly, by Janet Evanovich
  32. Four to Score, by Janet Evanovich
  33. High Five, by Janet Evanovich
  34. Hot Six, by Janet Evanovich
  35. Seven Up, by Janet Evanovich
  36. Hard Eight, by Janet Evanovich
  37. To the Nines, by Janet Evanovich
  38. Ten Big Ones, by Janet Evanovich
  39. Eleven on Top, by Janet Evanovich
  40. Twelve Sharp, by Janet Evanovich
  41. The Egyptologist, by Arthur Philips
  42. The Thrall's Tale, by Judith Lindbergh
  43. Dante's Equation, by Jane Jensen
  44. The Black Angel, by John Connolly
  45. Definately Dead, by Charlaine Harris
  46. Break No Bones, by Kathy Reichs
  47. Bad Men, by John Connolly
  48. Dead Witch Walking, by Kim Harrison
  49. Fistful of Charms, by Kim Harrison
  50. Any Which Way But Dead, by Kim Harrison
  51. The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, by Kim Harrison
  52. Distraction, by Bruce Sterling (Blogged)
  53. The Last Cato, by Mathilde Asensi (Blogged)
  54. The Misanthrope, by Moliere (Blogged)
  55. V for Vendetta, by Alan Moore
  56. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vol. 1, by Alan Moore, et al.
  57. Y: The Last Man, by Brian K. Vaughan, et al.
  58. First two volumes of the Sandman series, by Neil Gaiman, et al.
  59. Lamb: The Gospel of Christ According to His Childhood Friend, Biff, by Christopher Moore (Blogged)
  60. A Canticle for Liebovitz, by Walter Miller (Blogged)
  61. In Your Dreams, by Tom Holt (Blogged)
  62. Earth, Air, Fire, and Custard, by Tom Holt (Blogged)
  63. Faust Among Equals, by Tom Holt (Blogged)
  64. Flying Dutch, by Tom Holt (Blogged)
  65. Fledgling, by Octavia Butler (Blogged)
  66. Shelters of Stone, by Jean Auel (Blogged)
  67. The Hard Way, by Lee Child
  68. The Cold Moon, by Jeffrey Deaver
  69. Garlic and Sapphires, by Ruth Reichl
  70. Kushiel's Dart, by Jacqueline Carey
  71. Kushiel's Chosen, by Jacqueline Carey
  72. Kushiel's Avatar, by Jacqueline Carey
  73. Kushiel's Scion, by Jacqueline Carey
  74. Danse Macabre, by Laurell K. Hamilton
  75. The Messenger, by Daniel Silva (Blogged)
  76. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood (Blogged)
This list is in no particular order. Textbooks have been omitted, because I didn't read them for fun.

Also, I'm currently reading Souls in the Great Machine, by Sean McMullen--but mostly for the dueling librarians. But I will post more about that on Sunday, probably.