9.29.2007

Getting Stoned with Savages, by J. Maarten Troost

Getting Stoned with Savages
Getting Stoned with
Savages
I must have a highly developed sense of schadenfreude because I love travel books written by the accident prone and the naive. Which is why I've enjoyed J. Maarten Troost's books about his life in the South Pacific so much. Troost also has a gift that I've noticed with certain British writers. The man can turn a phrase and he's wonderfully sardonic. Getting Stoned with Savages is Troost's follow-up to his first book, The Sex Lives of Cannibals Cannibals documented the two years he spent on Kiribas. Savages is about his life on Vanuatu and Fiji with his wife and first son. In it, he encounters some wonderful intoxicants, foot long centipedes, a cyclone,  the aftermath of a coup on Fiji, and parenthood.

Unlike a lot of travel books, Troost shows you the non-tourist side of these islands. In fact, he tends to shun the touristy spots. Instead, he tries to find people who either were cannibals or witness cannibalism and spends a lot (a lot) of time drinking kava with his neighbors and becoming one with the dirt.

Troost spends some time at the beginning and end of this book reflecting on escapism and his need to escape the American way of life or, more specifically, escaping the American work life. It makes him itchy, apparently, and long to be somewhere where happiness is easier to achieve--probably because you're knocking yourself back down a few rungs on Maslow's hierarchy of needs

Making Money, by Terry Pratchett

Making Money
Making Money
I have been eagerly awaiting this book since the moment I finished Going Postal. Well, truth to tell, I would have eagerly awaited any Terry Pratchett novel. No one else I have ever read has his gift for combining satire with mayhem.

Making Money is the second book to feature the unfortunately named Moist von Lipwig.  This time, he's put in charge of the Royal Bank and the Mint and told to whip them into shape. And von Lipwig uses the opportunity to introduce paper currency. Meanwhile, a rich man with an identity disorder is trying to kill him.

I've read the review of this book over at the Guardian, and I have to agree.  This book just didn't have the sparkle or the bite of Going Postal. Some of the most entertaining characters--Stanley, Adora Belle Dearheart, the golems--barely registered in the book. Also, von Lipwig, who has the ability to talk anyone into anything, seems to be off his stride. Ah, well, I've learned that when you read Pratchett, you take a risk. Either you'll get a book that is fantastically funny, or you'll get one that will provide a chuckle or two wile you wait for the next fantastically funny one.

9.23.2007

The Stand, by Stephen King, Part II

I never noticed this before, but Randall Flagg has some similarities to one of my favorite villains: Richard III (as Shakespeare wrote his story). In Richard III, the eponymous Richard can talk anyone into anything. In The Stand, Flagg has a similar ability—though his persuasion is aided by the fact that he can scare the bejeezus out of anyone. But the big similarity I see is that it all starts to go wrong once these characters loose their abilities to control other people’s behavior.

I was also surprised to learn, from reading his entry in Wikipedia, that Flagg appears in other King books. It’s sort of being in on an inside joke, being able to spot characters from other books. And it’s probably why I like Jasper Fforde’s books so much. From what I understand, though, King’s books are very intertextual. There are frequent references to other villains, other towns, other heroes. After a while, it starts to look like King’s books are all part of one big, scary-as-hell story. I know I’ll never read every thing he’s written (because I like a good night’s sleep), but it would be interesting to see how it all works together.

9.21.2007

The Stand, by Stephen King

The Stand cover
The Stand
I’ve read The Stand before. The first time I read it, I had to stop every 60 pages or so and read something light and frivolous, simply because the story was really creeping me out. This time though, I was really paid attention to the sociology of the whole thing. The first time I read it, I remember being irritated by Glen Bateman’s dissertations on society. This time, I was fascinated by them. Perhaps I’m more of an armchair sociologist that I used to be, but I find it fascinating to watch how humans build their societies—especially when they set about putting together governments from scratch. I’ve always thought that, besides their entertainment value, books are also thought experiments. You can throw characters and situations together and see what happens. (If you read Laurell K. Hamilton’s blog, you’ll realize that authors are not always in control of their creations. Hamilton frequently writes about how her characters simply won’t do what she wants them to, and decide to go off in another direction.)

Right after I finished reading The Stand, I read Dies the Fire (S.M Stirling). It’s a fantasy that explores what might happen if something altered the way the world worked and electricity, explosives, and steam power stopped working and people were reduced—mostly—to medieval technology. As I read these books, I was reminded about how removed most of us are from the basics of life. I know a few people who grow some of their own food, as a hobby. But you have to go a long way to find someone who can provide for themselves from what they can grow and hunt. When we need food, we go to a grocery store. The store gets the food from warehouses, and the warehouses are supplied by farms from around the world. If you look closely, you can see that your bananas might come from Ecuador, some of your spices may come from Asia. Both The Stand and Dies the Fire look at what might happen if the whole system grinds to a halt. And it’s pretty scary.

The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson

The Well of Ascension
The Well of
Ascension
I sincerely hope that Sanderson keeps writing. Even though he writes fantasy novels, his books are a lot different than I’ve come to expect from fantasy. The Well of Ascension is the sequel to Mistborn, and is basically the story of what happens after the revolution, after the evil dictator/emperor/whatever is killed and the survivors have to work out how things will be run. Unfortunately, a lot of the heavy-hitters from the previous regime have managed to scare up armies and are now fighting each other and our heroes from Mistborn. Meanwhile, there is a deeper, mystical problem brewing and our hero, Vin, has to figure out what is going on before she can solve the problem.

I really enjoy books where you get to see what happens after the heroes triumph. I’ve always been a fan of the epilogue. Probably because I’ve get really attached to good characters. I think the next book in the series is going to be fantastic. Not only do our heroes have to contend with politics, but there’s the issue with the Deepness. I don’t want to spoil the ending of The Well, but I was really surprised at the twist at the end. For those of you who have read this book and Good Omens (Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman), it reminded me of the end of the introduction, when Crowley (a demon) wonders to Aziraphale (an angel) if he did the right thing by talking Eve into eating that apple and the angel had done the wrong thing by giving his flaming sword to the first couple when they got kicked out of Eden.

What I like about Sanderson is that he can write novels where the plot just hums along, and still have some profound character development going on at the same time. I’ve said it before, but I really think it’s the characters that keep me coming back to books. And if I can get a book were the plot winds me up and I can’t put it down even though I know I really ought to go to bed, well, that’s heaven for me.

One interesting idea that Sanderson brought up in the first book, and that’s carried through into this book is what the Keepers do. Essentially, they remember cultures, histories, and religions from before the hegemony of the Final Empire wiped them out. The problem with the Keepers is that it’s been so long since there was independent culture, that nobody seems to want to know about the way things were in the past anymore. One the one hand, I think that people need to know about their heritage. On the other hand, why try to resurrect dead languages, customs, and religions if the world has moved on? Something to think about.

9.15.2007

The List, 2006-2007

This blog is now two years old. Last year I posted a list of books I'd read in the past year, and because I'm curious about how graduate school has affected my reading, I'm going to do it again.
  1. The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield
  2. In the Merde for Love, by Stephen Clarke
  3. The Beekeeper's Apprentice, by Laurie R. King
  4. A Monstrous Regiment of Women, by Laurie R. King
  5. A Letter of Mary, by Laurie R. King
  6. The Moor, by Laurie R. King
  7. O Jerusalem, by Laurie R. King
  8. Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers
  9. World War Z, by Max Brooks
  10. The Complete Zombie Survival Guide, by Max Brooks
  11. The Lost Cosmonaut, by Daniel Kalder
  12. Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde
  13. First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde
  14. Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol
  15. Well of Lost Plots, by Jasper Fforde
  16. Something Rotten, by Jasper Fforde
  17. The Prestige, by Christopher Priest
  18. If on a winter's night a traveler, by Italo Calvino
  19. Hannibal Rising, by Thomas Harris
  20. Eragon, by Christopher Paolini
  21. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling
  22. Armageddon Rag, by George R. R. Martin
  23. Monstrous Regiment, by Terry Pratchett
  24. Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett
  25. Thud!, by Terry Pratchett
  26. Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett
  27. The Truth, by Terry Pratchett
  28. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett
  29. Declare, by Tim Powers
  30. Possession, by A. S. Byatt
  31. Mistral's Kiss, by Laurell K. Hamilton
  32. You Suck, by Christopher Moore
  33. Sourcery, by Terry Pratchett
  34. Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett
  35. Hat Full of Sky, by Terry Pratchett
  36. For a Few Demons More, by Kim Harrison
  37. The Burning Road, by Ann Benson
  38. The Plague Tales, by Ann Benson
  39. Phoenix and Ashes, by Mercedes Lackey
  40. The Serpent's Shadow, by Mercedes Lackey
  41. Poison Study, by Maria V. Snyder
  42. Magic Study, by Maria V. Snyder
  43. Twilight, by Stephanie Meyer
  44. Bad Luck and Trouble, by Lee Child
  45. The Killing Floor, by Lee Child
  46. Die Trying, by Lee Child
  47. Tripwire, by Lee Child
  48. Rainbow's End, by Vernor Vinge
  49. Kitchen Confidential, by Anthony Bourdain
  50. Forty Signs of Rain, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  51. Fifty Degrees Below, by Kim Stanley Robinson
  52. Lean Mean Thirteen, by Janet Evanovich
  53. These is My Words, by Nancy Turner
  54. Florence of Arabia, by Christopher Buckley
  55. Still Life with Crows, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
  56. Watchmen, by Alan Moore
  57. Dream Country, by Neil Gaiman
  58. All Together Dead, by Charlaine Harris
  59. Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman
  60. Daywatch, by Sergei Lukyanenko
  61. The Secret Servant, by Daniel Silva
  62. Dawn, by Octavia Butler
  63. Kushiel's Justice, by Jacqueline Carey
  64. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman
  65. The Harlequin, by Laurell K. Hamilton
  66. Across the Nightingale Floor, by Lian Hearn
  67. Grass for His Pillow, by Lian Hearn
  68. The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson
That's all I can remember. I really need to keep better track in this coming year.