Archive for the ‘books’ Category

Declare + The Jennifer Morgue

I read Declare and The Jennifer Morgue a few months ago, due to responses to my post about The Atrocity Archives.

First, I was expecting Declare to inhabit the same intersection of genres as the others — hackers plus Cthulhu plus spies.  I was mistaken.  It is a supernatural spy novel, but there are no hackers and it is not set in an obviously Lovecraftian world.

One funny thing is that some characters appear in both books.  Since I’m largely ignorant of British spy history, I wasn’t aware that these were real figures.  That’s too bad, I think that sort of knowledge makes the books a bit richer.

The Jennifer Morgue has a great name and is a typically fast-paced Stross book.  However, I generally dislike books that go meta, and the whole geas thing was too cutesy for me.  I finished this book mostly out of stubbornness,.  Also, I find that the frenetic style of Stross or MacLeod wears on me after a while.

Declare was a much different book — slower paced, more detailed, with more history and character development.  It was a bit repetitive at times and perhaps a bit long; but I thought the ending was rather clever and I enjoyed it overall.  For some reason the title Declare has stuck with me and I think of it often.

The Atrocity Archives

What is going on in Scotland?  There are too many creative SF writers there.  I demand that they be forced to churn out fantasy books until they have lost their edge.

I recently read The Atrocity Archives, by Charles Stross.  Following my general theme of SF ignorance, I hadn’t heard of him until I read about him on a blog last week.  This book is a high-speed collision between hacker culture, the Cthulhu mythos, and the spy genre.  Awesome stuff!  Be warned, the “atrocity” bits are pretty atrocious.  That sort of thing takes a toll while reading — and based on an experience in a writing group, while writing as well (we all wrote short stories about offensive things… it turns out that I have a deep, dark streak in my imagination).

The hackers in this book are absurdly archetypal.  This makes for great reading, but I think I’d hate them in real life.  ESR single-handedly turned hackerdom from a genuine culture into something that can only be an affectation: when your culture and attitudes and slang are codified a reference manual, and actually referenced, it is time to mutate and move on.

The Eyre Affair

Our friend Jennifer recommended this the other week.

Initially I put this book into the same category as The Yiddish Policemen’s Union — which is to say, tough competition.  And, while enjoyable, The Eyre Affair is not really up to the same standard; the writing is decent but not popping, the ideas are fun but, after a while, perhaps a bit obvious.

By midway through I decided that this book fits more into the genre of The Hitchhiker’s Guide.  It has a similar approach to logic and reality, and I found it enjoyable in a similar sort of way.  Where Union, improbably, is a serious book in goofy trappings, Affair makes no excuses for its goofiness — every character has an absurd, jokey name.

Affair is the first of a series.  I read the second (good as well) and the third (less good).  The series went meta — events happening inside of books in the book — and I lost my connection with the characters.  Though… even the third has some gems, like the discussion of “had had” and “that that”.

I realized after a while that sometimes I am not positive enough about the good books, or detailed enough about my reasons for liking them.  You really ought to read Union.  It is great.  Soon I Will Be Invincible is another one — I wrote about it tepidly, but it really is a must-read.

The Dog Said Bow Wow

Years ago I read Vacuum Flowers and loved it — it was, and remains, one of my favorite cyberpunk novels. I remember believing at the time that Swanwick was a mysterious author; I heard a rumor about a sequel to Flowers but nothing else.

The other day I ran across The Dog Said Bow Wow in the library, and now I suspect that, as usual, I simply did not pay any attention to developments in the SF publishing world, but instead just believed I would somehow know. Most likely (continuing my tradition: I didn’t look), Swanwick has had a robust and verbose career.

Anyway, Bow Wow is a series of delightful short stories. I read it in one sitting. You probably will too.

Three Bags Full

We checked out Three Bags Full from the library on a whim — Elyn grabbed it off the shelf to show to me, and I immediately thought of somehow using it to poke fun at a friend of ours who likes cat mysteries. A mystery solved by a flock of sheep sounds like the next logical step!

This turns out to be a great book. I was hooked from the first page, titled “Dramatis Oves”, and I got a lot of pleasure from reading the rest of it. It is at turns hilarious, scary, existential, sad, and moving. It is consistently creative and a great comfort read.

Dark Tort versus The Little Sister

A while ago I read The Little Sister, by Raymond Chandler, and also Dark Tort, by Dianne Mott Davidson.

I had sworn not to read any more of Davidson’s books, but, like Marlowe, boredom and angst got the better of me. It was just sitting there, on Elyn’s side of the bed, promising relief. “Look at me”, said the cover. “I am not the terrible books you have already read. I am different.”

Naturally it lied.

I tried to picture Marlowe living in Aspen Meadows, working for a caterer. Anything to make it through the book, the reading of which, for some reason, had become like a duel. I could best Davidson: her bad writing, her undistinguished observations of Colorado life.

She tried to wear me down. First she had all the characters phrase statements as questions? Over and over? As if she had learned a new writing trick? I perservered.

Next she enumerated the many ultimate comfort foods — a specialized torture which had successfully broken George Will. I was stronger than that, more flexible. I can accept that Apple Betty is the ultimate one day, but Mac and Cheese the next. I have three ultimate comfort foods before breakfast.

Wily, evil Davidson tried repetition as well. Perhaps she could lull me into complacency with warm, fresh bread. Never just bread, only warm, fresh bread, a mantra to destroy my reading skills.

But what drove me to picturing Marlowe was a vignette picturing Boulderites. It’s as if she were writing for me, trying to probe my pet peeves. We Bouldarians are flighty. We’re paranoid. We think that garbage trucks are evil. We’re little old ladies. Sure, Boulder has its whatevers and et ceteras; but wasn’t Traven rumored to live on Spruce Street? That should be dark enough for anybody.

Someday, I hope, Davidson will lose it a little and write her own anti-novel, something that will annihilate her previous work. We’ll see Aspen Grove as it truly is; perhaps a corrupt small town with a machiavellian caterer pulling the strings. Marlowe will move there from Los Angeles to cure his vapors, and proceed to confront the yokel sociopaths and fight and shoot his way through the cafes and dog-washing businesses. Someday.

Soon I Will Be Invincible

Never say pomo didn’t build anything — there’s a small genre of books that take fresh looks at old stories, usually adopting the outsider point of view. Soon I Will Be Invincible is the latest such book, the story of a supervillain (Doctor Impossible) and his attempts to take over the world. I stayed up late to read this book in one sitting.

This book follows all the comic book conventions — evil genius trying to take over the world, super heroes, etc. The universe seems to be Marvel-esque; there are alternate dimensions, and magic, and aliens, and gods. Soon makes funny references to the comic book world as well, with a mention of the “golden age”, and generally drawing implicit parallels between the life stories of its characters and the evolution of comics themselves.

It reminded me of Lint in that it is a bit repetitive at times. It is a nice read, though, and I recommend it.

The No Asshole Rule

I heard of this book a few weeks ago and I bought it at the airport and read it on the plane. It is an extended defense of the idea that assholes are detrimental to working conditions in many ways and should be either retrained or gotten rid of.

This is the sort of book that, in my fantasy world, all execs read and implement.

The book carefully distinguishes between assholes and temporary assholes — we all have our weak moments and, I feel certain, have all acted like jerks on occasion. The author offers two diagnostic tests to identify chronic assholes. First, does interacting with the person consistently drain your energy and leave you feeling oppressed or humiliated? Second, how does the person treat other people less powerful than him- (or her-) self?

The author also differentiates between “not being an asshole” and being a wimp. In particular he understands the virtues of disagreement and conflict, provided they are done properly — assholes have trouble disagreeing without being disagreeable. Conflict avoidance is also a bad approach, though, so people have to learn to fight fair.

I found the writing in this book a bit odd, as if it is targeted at high school students. But, I didn’t mind; it has nice anecdotes, many research references, and is generally a good read. It has a bit of information on how to cope with assholes even if you are (institutionally) powerless, though not as much as I would have liked.

Please read this book.