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I've just added "The Meaning of Tingo" to the pile of books to be got rid of.

I can only assume that the "Absolutely Delicious" attributed to Stephen Fry on the cover was either relating to something else entirely, or an explanation that the best thing to do with the book was shred it finely and use it to add some bulk to your "absolutely delicious" cheesy mash.

The author starts off by observing that the Albanians have "no fewer than twenty-seven words for [...] mustache, ranging from mustaqe madh, meaning bushy, to mustaqe posht, one which droops down at both ends."

That's not 27 words for mustache. It's 27 adjectives that can be used to describe mustaches, like "bushy", "extravagant", "feeble", and so on. I suspect that with a bit of effort, anyone likely to be reading this could come up with at least another 24 examples in English.

And it didn't honestly get any better from there. Well, I suppose possibly it did, but I got bored after trying half a dozen dips that weren't any more interesting or revelatory. Spanish, he reveals, has a word to describe the job of someone who is paid to climb telegraph poles and fix problems with the wires at the top. So does English ("Lineman" is the correct technical term), but presumably he doesn't know that. (Possibly because the specialised job has now largely disappeared and been subsumed into the more general purpose "Engineer", leaving Lineman little-used). I'd expect a decent modern dictionary to still contain the older term (and, on checking, my Concise OED does indeed give it with that meaning, followed by one to do with sport). Did you know some languages have words to distinguish between food that's "stale" and food that's "rotting"? It may sound amazing, but it's true!
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I meant to post these as the year went along, and completely failed to. Also, it seems I never posted the last two months for 2009 either. Whoops!

Anyway, in 2010, I seem to have read a total of 69 books I'd not previously perused. Of those, 37 were borrowed from the library, and another eight were borrowed from other people, meaning that I only actually removed twenty-four books from my huge stack of unread books. I suspect I added at least that many (indeed, quite a few of the books on this list are either new buys or gifts), and certainly the bookcase remains full to overflowing. Diana Wynne Jones contributed a total of eight of the 69, while no other author was responsible for more than about three, but I think I've now run out of her back catalogue of stuff I'd not read, so I suspect that won't happen again. This year, I may try and keep track of re-reads, too, although if the list gets too embarrassing I won't make it public ;)

Full list behind the cut in blocks of ten; quite a few books are lacking any comment, especially near the beginning of the year, and there's even one where I failed to note the title. Organised: we'z herd of it.

Read more... )
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Thus beating my initial target in ten months instead of twelve. (And I'm only a fortnight behind on the write-ups, too.)

90) Trick or Treatment? (Simon Singh, Edzard Ernst). A sensible, rational book that examines the evidence for "complementary and alternative medicine", reaching the conclusion (fairly obvious to anyone paying attention to the real world, rather than webternet frothing or newspaper 'debate') that some kinds of "CAM" are appropriate for treating some conditions (but are often oversold as panaceas by their advocates) while many don't work at all. The advocates of the latter, funnily enough, range from genuine (but sadly mistaken) believers to deliberate frauds preying on ill people. The front cover quotes the Daily Mail describing the book as "definitive - if controversial"; controversial only with people who make money selling CAM that doesn't work, oddly enough.[borrowed]

91) Going Under (Justina Robson). The third part of the series that started with (69) and (74), which continues to improve with each book. The porn and Sue-ism have now essentially departed, and the protagonist faces some interesting and difficult situations. I still don't feel any particular sympathy with any of the characters, but they're not actively problematic and the story and writing are both good.[Library]

92) The Android's Dream (John Scalzi). The first thing of Scalzi's that I've read. He has a good reputation, and I can see why. A book about robots, aliens, human identity, scientific dilemmas, and... sheep. Great fun, in a bouncy personal-action sci-fi way.[Library]

93) The Time-Traveller's Wife (Audrey Niffenegger). The story of a woman who spends her whole life waiting for Mr Right, with the unusual twist that she really does know who Mr Right is - and that he will turn up and marry her. Well written and enjoyable; I can see why it won awards, even if no aspect of it is particularly groundbreaking. Also, as an afterthought, it's interesting to see a book about a time-traveller that's written largely (about 2/3, at a guess) from the point of view of the primary non-time-travelling character.

94) The Reality Dysfunction (Peter F Hamilton). A vast book filled sci-fi space opera stuff. The writing isn't bad, but the problems are many. Some - most notably the apparent anthropocentrism, and the fact that the author appears to use sex scenes as a substitute for character development - are countered in later volumes, but some aren't. In particular, I found the author's violent (but probably unconscious) homophobia both disturbing and offensive, and that (while less obvious after the first book - mostly because they lack the continual sex) is a running sore throughout the trilogy. (There are problems with the depiction of female characters, too, but nothing to compare with the sole non-heterosexual.)

95) Counterfeit World (Dan Galouye). An interesting, gratifyingly complex book about the problems of artificial intelligence - both definitional and moral and ethical - as well as some nice work on questions like whether it's possible to distinguish reality from simulation - and whether it really matters. I'll be looking for other stuff by the author.

96) Brontomek! (Michael Coney). For the first few chapters, I wondered how this had won a "best novel" award, but I did come round to it. The eponymous big machines only turn up a couple of times, and are frankly irrelevant to a really quite interesting (and cynical) book about identity, humanity, slavery, and corporate ethics. Worth reading, if you can find a copy.

97) The Neutronium Alchemist (Peter F Hamilton). Which resolves some but by no means all of the problems I had with the first one (without introducing any new ones), and is slightly smaller but still a humungous wodge of a book. I'm really not sure I would recommend the trilogy to people, simply on the basis that there are plenty of well-written books out there that have caused me far less desire to thwap the author round the head with a copy of his own substantial work.

98) Shadow of the Torturer (Gene Wolfe). "The Book of the New Sun" is widely held to be one of the classic decaying-high-tech-universe fantasy novels, and in some ways I can see why. Unlike (48), this is Wolfe at his (famous) best; well written, involving, and memorable. But the story of Severian's journey from apprentice Torturer"Seeker for Truth and Penitence" to Autarch does seem to me to be telling in ways that the writer never intended. If this was the only thing of Wolfe's I'd read, I'd be uncertain whether the powerful misogyny was that of the author or the - self-admittedly self-centred - narrator, but it isn't, and I'm not (although, to be fair, I think it might be intentionally emphasised here). The four novels that make up TBotNS are worth reading, but with caution, because of this attitude.
99) Claw of the Conciliator (Gene Wolfe). Probably the best of the four, overall; the interplay between the characters is interesting, and there's plenty to learn about Severian's world. Provided you can cope with having to read about WolfeSeverian's assorted lust objects all the time, of course.
100)Sword of the Lictor (Gene Wolfe). Not as good as the first two, but with slightly less of their weaknesses, as well as less of their strengths.
101)Citadel of the Autarch (Gene Wolfe). Which comes to a reasonably satisfying ending, but is probably the weakest of the four novels nonetheless given how much it flops in the middle.
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September contained a lot of re-reading, hence only four new books.

86) The Meaning of it All (Richard Feynman). Strangely, I've never previously read this collection (three short essays on science and society), which achieves the usual brilliant Feynman qualities. They're straight transcripts of lectures, rather than 'proper' written essays, and thus less focussed than Feynman's written works, but still much more worth reading than many more recent (not to mention lengthier:) books on the subject.[Library]

87) Dark Space (Marianne de Pierres). Good grief, what an awful book. Skiffy that doesn't even try to achieve "Sci-fi" status, with a rather thin plot and pretty poor writing to boot. The one-dimensional female characters cover a range from monomaniacal to utterly selfish, while their male counterparts vary from monomaniacal to simplisticly evil. Then, twenty pages from the end, the author decided to try rape-as-plot-device to see whether that made anyone want to read the next volume. I certainly don't; I needed a wash after merely remembering reading this one.[Library]

88) Blue at the Mizzen (Patrick O'Brian). Alas, no more. Well, there's the "unfinished voyage", which I might read, and unless O'Brian's will was written carefully, there'll probably be a generation of descendants who decide to go all Fleming, but I almost certainly won't be reading those....

89) The Blind Watchmaker (Richard Dawkins). Dawkins is a bit variable, to my mind. Most of this book is good, but it suffers from what I've come to regard as his usual problem - he's much more readable when discussing something he's interested in (like evolution) than when ranting about something he disapproves of (like religion); this book is, of course, mostly the former. I'm not entirely convinced it deserves its high status among popular science books, but it certainly isn't a bad explanation of how evolution works (and how we know how it works - and can prove it).

Bringing me up-to-date (or at least up-to-only-a-month-behind), at last. October's list takes me over a hundred new books for the year with two months in hand!
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Still catching up; some of these were written up at the time (or not long after), while others have just had notes made based on what I remember two to three months later. This may or may not show :)
No O'Brian this month, alas; I had to wait until August to get my hands on a library copy of "The thirteen-gun salute".

69) Keeping It Real (Justina Robson). In my traditional threeway classification, this falls on the boundary between sci-fi and skiffy. I'm sure someone recommended Robson to me, and I can only assume that some of her earlier books (nominated for a whole range of SF awards) are better than this. After a few chapters of pretty tedious and clumsy exposition, it settles down into a lightweight but moderately entertaining adventure story, but there's no science and very little depth, and the heroine rapidly goes from slightly overpowered to full-on raging Sue-ism. Then the final third of the book descends into "Mary-Sue has l33t healing sex with elves" (complete with classic hurt-comfort. Yaay!) interspersed with occasional moments of rampagingly obvious political allegory and stunningly trite moral observations. Since Robson can certainly write well, I'll probably try and look out one of her earlier, award-nominated, books, in the hopes of some proper science fiction, rather than this self-indulgent second-rate-fanfic stuff. I might consider reading the sequel for light entertainment, since I can cope with the awful cheese between the adventure bits, but I'd probably rather have... well, about anything from June's list, to be honest.[Library]

70) Nation (Terry Pratchett). Which is a good book and highly recommended, and which I should probably read again so that I can offer some more coherent comments now that I'm trying to write about it a couple of months later. I did have slight problems with the couple of points where (things that are very difficult to explain without resorting to) supernatural events are used to hurry along the plot of a book that is, basically, a diatribe about the need to apply rational thought to everything without exception, but mostly it does pretty well. Good solid Pratchett, and definitely recommended to all three people who hadn't read it before me :)

71) Science of Discworld 3 (Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart, Jack Cohen). Um, not bad, I guess. The story parts are fairly entertaining (if unavoidably anthropocentric), and the other half is perfectly adequate pop-science explanation of evolution and related stuff (which totally failed to grab me because I know that much anyway).[library]

72) Unjust Rewards (Polly Toynbee, David Walker). Another polemic against the way that the country (and most of the world) is run for the benefit of the few rather than the many. Unlike many, however, Toynbee and Walker don't just complain about the problems - they suggest solutions (and indeed solutions that might actually work, in many cases, since they're much less based on wild-idealism-against-the-facts than some I've seen). Also well-written and, for both those reasons, much less depressing than most similar books I've read.[Library]

73) In God We Doubt (John Humphrys). "Confessions of a failed Athiest", the cover has it, and in theory he's talking about agnosticism, which I thought might make for a good book; there are plenty of books advocating either religion or atheism, but rather fewer for the position of doubt. The early parts of the book, where Humphrys is discussing his research and discussions with various theologians, are excellent. Then he starts burbling and giving his own thoughts on matters, and the prose style falls off rather - while the content disintegrates completely (anthropic fallacies and argument from incredulity everywhere, never mind the other problems). In addition to showing that Humphrys is a good journalist but a poor theologian, I have to agree with the various interviewees who told him that he was a confused theist rather than an agnostic - he so obviously wants to believe in something (anything!).[Library]

74) Selling Out (Justina Robson). OK, so I saw this (the sequel to (69)) in the library and decided to have a quick flip through the first few chapters. I then proceeded to read the rest of it, with some degree of skimming. Much better than the first; still no science, but highly enjoyable writing, an entertaining spy-thriller plot, and no cheesy porn.[Library]

75) Bad Science (Ben Goldacre). Which is very much in the style of his blog. I don't think I gained anything from the book except for details relating to a few specific cases, but it would make a fairly good basic primer for people who need an introduction to thinking sceptically and doubting authority - which is, after all, Dr Goldacre's intention. I'm a bit uncertain how much of an audience it's likely to get among the people who actually need it, though; it seems more likely to be picked up by people who already read his blog or Guardian column....[Library]
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Still catching up on my backlog. I'm cheating a little bit here by not putting individual comments for each volume of the series, but there is some overall commentary in the notes on the first book in each case.

50) Between Planets (Robert Heinlein). Solid plot, plausible characters and good writing; one of the best Heinlein "juveniles", IMO, though not as good as "Have Space-suit - will travel".

51) Rocketship Galileo (Robert Heinlein). An OK "Boys' Own Adventure" type story, but nothing special. To be fair, it is Heinlein's first published novel, and not bad for a first novel, if very much of its period.

52) His Majesty's Dragon (Naomi Novik). Pretty good, although I found the structural flaws became more obvious in the sequels. The errors of fact were irritating (all the more so because I actually read these three interspersed with the early O'Brian novels), but the world-building failures were more problematic, for me at least. So fun, but frustrating, and arguably a good demonstration of the problems with using not-quite-the-real-world; the contingent changes aren't thought - or followed - through. ISTR that I also found the way that the ethical issues of the relationship between the two sentient species - humans and dragons - were (largely not) treated in the first three books more than a little disturbing.
53) Throne of Jade (Naomi Novik).[library]
54) Black Powder War (Naomi Novik).[library]

55) Master and Commander (Patrick O'Brian). Strangely, although I've been surrounded by these for a long time (as [personal profile] mobbsy has cause to know:), and I've read and enjoyed short passages from several, I'd never previously read any of the series properly. So, I started at the beginning.... (Arguably cheating a little, since while I haven't read them, they're not coming from my bookcase full of unread books, but hey ;-) I can happily assure anyone here who hasn't read them that the series lived up to my high expectations with ease.
56) Post Captain (Patrick O'Brian).
57) HMS Surprise (Patrick O'Brian).
58) The Mauritius Command (Patrick O'Brian).
59) Desolation Island (Patrick O'Brian).
60) The Fortune of War (Patrick O'Brian).
61) The Surgeon's Mate (Patrick O'Brian).
62) The Ionian Mission (Patrick O'Brian).
63) Treason's Harbour (Patrick O'Brian).
64) The Far Side of the World (Patrick O'Brian).
65) The Reverse of the Medal (Patrick O'Brian).
66) The Letter of Marque (Patrick O'Brian). Where I had to stop, for the time being, as we don't seem to have a copy of the next one ("The thirteen gun Salute").

67) The Stars My Destination (Alfred Bester). (Originally published in the UK as "Tiger, Tiger!".) Perhaps less well-known than "The Demolished Man" (which won the first-ever Hugo best-novel award), but IMO a better book (and a better story) - and TDM is extremely good. Everything by Bester is good, but Haldemann is right to describe this as one of sci-fi's "few works of actual genius".[library]

68) Changeling (Roger Zelazny). An entertaining, although not wildly original (especially by Zelazny's standards) magic-versus-technology tale of stolen and swapped children. Good enough to pass a couple of hours in light fluffy reading, but no deep thoughts here. [Library]

Which leaves me only two and a half months behind.
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I seem to have got a bit behind, somehow, and a four month backlog is a bit embarrassing, so I've finally got round to making notes on the missing one of these ((46), for what it's worth) and put them up. June's batch to hopefully follow fairly soon, followed by July and August :)

42) Professor Branestawm's Perilous Pudding (Norman Hunter). Fairly standard Branestwam fare, with the usual mixture of stories from so-so to brilliant illogicality.

43) A Plague of Demons and other stories (Keith Laumer; ed Eric Flint). There's some good stuff in here, but nothing really brilliant, and either the author or the editor is obsessed with the idea that teh hooman brane is speshul and not subject to the laws of physics. And the title story is actually two unrelated shorts nailed together; it's just that the author didn't know how to finish one or start the other. Definitely disappointing relative to (38), but I don't know which is more typical.[Library]

44) Morning Child (Gardner Dubois). It occurred to me that while I'd read numerous collections edited by Gardner Dubois, I'd never read any of his work as an author. All of the stories in this collection are well written, and present interesting variations on the themes they consider, but somehow they never quite clicked with me. I'd definitely recommend that other people try Dubois's work, but I probably won't be reading it again. Strange, really.[Library]

45) Newton's Wake (Ken MacLeod). Not at all bad, and suffers less from MacLeod's problems with producing endings than some of his other stories, many of which seem to just trail off while you're waiting for the.... I'll probably be reading this one again at some point.

46) Seeds of Earth (Michael Cobley). Highly enjoyable, with some interesting ideas. There's some rather obvious political stereotyping-cum-association, and a total of exactly one major female character, but definitely better-than-average sci-fi.[Library][ETA: I've just bought a cheap s/h copy of this, and might add more detailed commentary when I've re-read it!]

47) Born Under Mars (John Brunner). From Brunner's ridiculously productive patch in the mid-1960s. Simple but ingenious, with a plot that works and nicely drawn characters (no female ones of any significance, although the female walk-on parts do at least get to be doctors and scientists in higher proportion than the men). Not heavy-weight Brunner, but enjoyable and well worth reading twice.

48) Starwater Strains (Gene Wolfe). Five weeks on, I remember nothing about the contents of this book except that they didn't excite me much while I was reading them. I don't think the stories were bad, particularly, but they've very completely failed either to grip me or be memorable in any way at all.[Library]

49) Queen of Candese (Karl Schroeder). Which, by the time I finally wrote it up in September, I still remembered more about than I did about (48) after a fraction of the time. But I couldn't remember all the details, so I got it out of the library to reread. Worth re-reading, although slightly disappointing in comparison to many of Schroeder's other books. I suspect (and the reread reinforced the suspicion) that that's because it takes place in a world that he's already described in a previous book (Sun of Suns); this is an excellent story, with well-written text and solid characters, it's just that - unlike most of Schroeder's books - you're not having to get to grips with the physical and social properties of a weirdly-constructed world at the same time. (While this is set in a different part of Virga to Sun of Suns, and the local societies behave somewhat differently, there's nothing very startling about them, and the underlying physical structure is already known.)[Library]
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34) Arguments for Socialism (Tony Benn, ed Chris Mullin). An interesting discussion of the challenges faced by Britain-as-an-industrial-country in the 1970s and 80s, based on speeches made by the then-minister (for industry) and edited together shortly after Labour left power in 1979. It's depressing to see how much of his proposed plan of action is still (often urgently) needed in order to address exactly the same problems (or to reduce the problems that he predicted would occur if things weren't changed, and which have duly come to pass). And how little of it the current Labour party shows any sign of interest in. Some things have changed, of course, and Benn has been shown wrong in a few of the predictions made, but not all that many. Also, see my comment on (27) :)

35) The Saliva Tree and Other Growths (Brian Aldiss). Sorry, that won a Nebula? (Reasonable pastiche of HG Wells, written 'to mark' the centenary of his birth, which probably explains it.) The rest of the collection is pretty mediocre, too, and hasn't done anything much to make me reconsider my opinion of Aldiss. It's all better than "White Mars", but that's a pretty low bar. He has written better stuff (I'm going to mention "Hothouse" and "Non-stop" again, because they're the two examples of interesting work by Aldiss that I can think of) - but, apparently, not very much of it.

36) The World Turned Upside-down (eds David Drake, Eric Flint, and Jim Baen). 'Compares favourably with any collection in the past 50 years' according to... David Drake. Actually, it's not a bad assortment of stories provided you bear in mind that they're ones the editors read when they were young - only three of the stories date as late as the 1960s. But there are quite a few by lesser-known authors, and some less-known stories by well-known authors too.

37) The Mind Cage (A.E. Van Vogt). I've long felt that Van Vogt produced better short stories than novels, and this - a novel based on one of his short stories - has done nothing to change my mind on the matter.

38) Bolo: Annals of the Dinochrome Brigade (Keith Laumer). Described on the cover as "the classic of space war", thus somewhat missing the point. While most of the authorised spin-off stories (and more than a few of Laumer's own later stories) are essentially war tales, the best of his original Bolo stories (which are gathered in this book) are actually about either coping with the tidy-up, or the problems of combat veterans in peacetime. The fact that the veterans in question are multiple-thousand-tonne artificially intelligent tanks merely serves to disguise the ways in which the stories relate to more normal veterans....

39) The Magician's Apprentice (Trudi Canavan). Sturdy (and substantial) prequel to her original "Magician's Guild" trilogy. Probably a bit over-long, and flags somewhat in the second half, but entertaining enough. It did, though, rekindle my long-standing desire to write a novel in which a boy and a girl from different backgrounds meet as teenagers and have to work together despite disliking each other on sight (and having strong prejudices against everything the other stands for), and still don't like each other at the end of the book. Hard-earned respect is fine, but do they always have to fall in love? [library book]

40) The Homeward Bounders (Diana Wynne Jones). Passable (better than "Black Maria" or "Time of the Ghost", but not by much), but not especially good - certainly well below average for DWJ. I liked the ending, though; a neat way of avoiding cliches. I don't feel the time spent reading it was wasted, but it's very unlikely to get re-read the way the Howl or Chrestomanci books do. [borrowed]

41) Eight Days of Luke (Diana Wynne Jones). Still not brilliant, but better IMO than either (40) or "The Game", which is the most directly comparable of her other works. I definitely prefer DWJ's own worlds (well, the more amusing ones :) to her experiments with existing mythologies, but this try is more successful than that one. [borrowed]

And that's the end of April. Only a week behind.
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I think I have to give in on this one; it's simply too tedious and offensive to finish. I've managed about sixty pages and have yet to find anything that makes me think there will be anything in the rest that makes it worthwhile ploughing through the mind-numbing text and revolting sexism. I cannot imagine recommending this book to anyone for any reason, except possibly as a doorstop if they have a copy lying around for some reason.

(Update on books towards the hundred to come later. I don't really think this one counts :)
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32) 44 Scotland Street (Alexander McCall Smith). I actually read this way back at about the same time as the Myth books (22-24); you can tell how much of an impression it made by the fact that I'd forgotten about it until now. In the words of [livejournal.com profile] shimgray, "people who like this sort of thing will find it the sort of thing they like", but while this had all the leisureliness of the Precious Ramotswe books it completely lacked their charm. The first couple of those I found fairly enjoyable in a laid-back sort of way, but this was just boring.

33) The Time of the Ghost (Diana Wynne Jones). I definitely prefer DWJ's silly books (Chrestomanci, Wizard Derk and family, and the Howl series) to those that - like this one - are essentially serious in tone. Probably the least-enjoyable thing of hers I've read (competing for the title with "Black Maria"); not actually bad, but definitely not brilliant, and probably not one I'll re-read.

Which brings me to about 8pm yesterday evening, and thus the end of March. OOI, would people prefer that I put these behind a cut?
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(Also, I read the last couple of stories in (21) somewhere during this lot.)

25) The Mindworm (C.M. Kornbluth). Curiously enough, I'd never previously read "The Marching Morons". Having done so, I don't think it's Kornbluth's best work by some margin; not least, I'd say that he appears rather uncomfortable with the subject matter (which doesn't entirely surprise me - most of his other work shows a fairly positive attitude towards human nature). Overall, a good collection of stories by an excellent writer, of which the only one I'd read before was the (equally famous) "Little Black Bag".

26) Propaganda (Lindley Fraser). An interesting short discussion of the subject from a late 1950s viewpoint, including discussion of propaganda generally as well as some specific types (notably WW2, Stalinist Russia, and commercial advertising). The author takes the position that propaganda is inherently neutral because the only effective way to get people to believe you in the long term is to tell the truth, but doesn't always argue this convincingly.

27) The Best Democracy Money Can Buy (Greg Palast). An investigative journalist talks about who Bush and Blair (and, to a lesser extent, their predecessors) sold the US and UK to, and how (and how much) they were paid. With digressions on globalisation, the IMF, and other problems of the modern world. [livejournal.com profile] stripey_cat has wondered aloud why I read this sort of book, since I already know at least the general outline of what they're going to say, but nonetheless get worked up about it without actually going out and starting a political party that isn't in the pocket of the usual 'special interest groups'. (After all, who'd vote for us?)

28) The Family Trade (Charles Stross). Not bad, although for the present I prefer Charlie's other works. I'll certainly be continuing with the series, especially since this book is effectively only the first half of the first novel. Fun, but less to my taste than the Laundry books or something like Glasshouse.

29) Octagon (Fred Saberhagen). Annoying sexism, mediocre writing, moderately interesting plot idea (that was probably pretty new at the time, since it relied on knowledge of the internet and the book was published in 1981, but has been heavily revisited since) that's best expressed in a single chapter towards the end of the book. Meh.

30) The Best of Kuttner 2 (Henry Kuttner/C.L. Moore). A good collection of often rather weird stories by the excellent husband and wife team. I turned out to have read a good few of these before (I don't always catch the many pseudonyms they used), but most of those were worth rereading anyway. (As a general rule, I prefer the stories that tend more to her style than his; of their solo writing before they married, I definitely regard hers as superior from what I've read.)

31) Extinction is Forever (Louise Lawrence). A reasonable-but-not-brilliant collection of short stories by an author I'd never previously encountered, with general apocalyptic overtones (as you might guess from the title). Good enough that I'll probably keep an eye out for other works in the library and charity shops.

Which is me actually caught up with what I've read to date for once. If I keep up this rate (unlikely), I'll be on about 130 new books read in 2009 when the year ends.
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19) A Dark Travelling (Roger Zelazny). One of Zelazny's more off-the-wall science-and-fantasy mixtures: a werewolf, a ninja and a witch set out to rescue the wolfboy's missing scientist father. Not demanding or particularly enlightening, but certainly fun.

20) The Vorkosigan Companion (Eds: Lillian Stewart Carl/John Helfers). Includes a couple of brief but not uninteresting essays by LMB on the subject of being an author, as well as a few short bits and pieces (on Vor genetics, for example) that are available online anyway. Then there's a brief history in the form of novel summaries, followed by a set of, um, novel summaries, and finally the 'concordance', which is intended to be more equivalent to something like the Discworld Companion - a task at which it fails tediously. The entries mostly fall into three categories:

  • short and useless - "Tau Ceta V: One of the Cetagandan satrapy planets. (C)"
  • mid-length and uninformative - there's a half-page definition of "spaceship", for example
  • lengthy and repetitive - major characters get page-or-longer (Miles gets five pages) entries, which take the form of... yet more plot summaries for the novels they're in. Yay

I'm not quite sure how many almost-identical summaries of each novel there are, but since there are multiple sets in the rest of the book anyway, I don't see much advantage in a synopsis of a book in the entry for every character who appears in it. I'm also not sure why anyone thought this book was a good idea; it contains approximately no new material and - unlike the Discworld Companion - completely fails to be interesting, enlightening, amusing, or even very useful for looking things up in. Sorry, this has turned into more of a rant than I'd intended, but when I was lent it, I had expected something more akin to CMOT Briggs' work.... [ETA: The person who lent it to me apparently feels exactly the same way about it, but didn't want to prejudice me by saying so before I'd had a look.]

21) The Mammoth Book of New Sci-Fi 20 (Ed: Gardner Dozois). The 2006 entry in his long-running series, containing the usual mixture of interesting stories by authors both new and well-known. (I'm slightly cheating here, as there are actually a couple of stories in it that I've not yet read at time of posting, but...)

Then I spent most of a week in bed feeling sorry for myself (nasty virus, followed by a secondary chest infection, which the antibiotics are now getting under control) and reading meaningless fluff when I was up to reading anything at all. Most of said fluff was old comfort-reading (Diana Wynne Jones for teh win again), but I did also fit in three new books:

22-24) MYTH Inc in Action; Sweet Mythtery of Live; Something MYTH Inc (Robert Aspirin). The continuing myth-adventures of Skeeve and his band of misfits. I'd swear there was more (or at least more overt) sexism in these later books than in the earlier ones, but that might be a side-effect of the female characters being more prominent, and it's still much less than espoused by many. (And there are several strong independent female characters, all of whom are at least as plausibly drawn as their male counterparts, as well as having their own clearly defined traits, goals, and character strengths/flaws, which is not something you can say for every male author by any means. [ETA: which is not intended as a defence of Aspirin's flaws, merely to note that he is better than many.])
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14) A Fate Worse than Debt (Susan George). Being the other counterpart, in a sense, of book (13). That described the work put into persuading corrupt third-world leaders to bankrupt their countries building pointless vanity projects (and into encouraging corrupt leadership where it didn't previously exist). This describes the deteriorating conditions that their populations face as a result. Sadly, despite the book having been written in the late 1980s, many of its lessons remain unlearned.

[After this I took a break for a while and read some cheery Diana Wynne Jones books, for my mental wellbeing.]

15) The Island of Lost Maps (Miles Harvey). A disappointingly tedious book about a potentially interesting subject. The author never manages to make his own investigations sound interesting, and frequently seems at pains to tone any potential excitement out of the text. Yawn.

16) The Willows in Winter (William Horwood). To describe this book as a travesty would be to miss one of the few chances presented to me to use the word 'abomination' and really mean it. "Wind in the Willows" is a classic childrens book for good reasons; this is not in any way a good follow-up. It should probably come with a warning label: "Contains laboured and irrelevant theology, characters with the same names as the originals but no other resemblance to them, an over-inflated sense of the author's importance where Grahame had a sense of leisurely enjoyment, tedious maudlin sections, and repeated deus ex machina episodes in place of any actual plot".

17) To Die in Italbar (Roger Zelazny). One of Zelazny's more famous novels, and a hugely enjoyable change from (15) and (16). Good writing, with consistent characters and a plot that makes sense and emerges from the interactions between traits and goals that the characters have right from the beginning.

18) The Sharing Knife: Horizon (Lois McMaster Bujold). Which is the best book in the series, and also brings it to a reasonable conclusion. Thankfully, Bujold has now returned to writing other things, and we can hope that the new Vorkosigan book will be, if not another "Civil Campaign", at least worthy of praise less faint than 'the best Sharing Knife book'. (If you've already suffered throughread the first two SK books, it's worth reading the second pair as well; they really are much better, and this last one is roughly as good as Bujold's least-interesting other works. If you haven't... I leave it to your judgement:)

a) The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy (Tim Burton). In which Tim Burton proves that while a more-than-competent film director, he isn't Edward Lear and shouldn't pretend to be. I'm not sure this counts as a full book; it only took about 20 minutes to flip through it. If it had been longer, I might have resented the time wasted; as it is, it's not worth the effort....

(Still not caught up; I must try to keep more up-to-date with these, but atm I've been sat at the computer too long and my throat is dry. Coming up soon: More Sci-fi.)
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10) Y: The Descent of Men (Steve Jones). An interesting and well-written book on the genetic problems of maleness - a chromosome that never gets the chance to recombine suffers all sorts of degeneration, beyond having mutations that can't be swapped out. (ETA: the book does cover a fair bit of other gender- and reproduction-related genetic ground as well.)

11) Tideland (Mitch Cullin). I did not like this book. I can see why Terry Gilliam wanted to make a film out of it, and I might even watch the film some day, but I have no desire ever to read the book again. Not recommended to anyone, frankly. The interesting but increasingly infrequent bursts of childhood wonder completely fail to compensate for the unpleasantness of the rest of the book.

12) Camouflage (Joe Haldeman). An entertaining enough semi-thriller, although I at least thought the twist was obvious quite early on. I continue to be irritated by Haldeman's need to finish each book with a monogamous heterosexual happy ending regardless of how poorly this fits with what has gone before (in this case cut for spoilers. )) I'm also not sure whether to be amused or annoyed by the idea of positron radar for scanning ocean trenches; I expect better science from Haldeman.

13) Confessions of an Economic Hit Man (John Perkins). Nothing particularly new to those who've stayed awake to the way the world runs, but an interesting insider's description of resource-rich third-world countries being manipulated to keep them under the economic and political thumb of (powerful countries in general but in this case) the USA. An interesting read, to be taken with however much salt you regard as appropriate for such books.
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6) The Mammoth Book of Extreme Science Fiction. Which serves as quite a good reminder of why you should never buy anything with "edited by Mike Ashley" on the cover. But it was only 20p, and there were several stories in it that I didn't otherwise own copies of. There is, however, nothing 'extreme' about it, except for the opinions the editor expresses in his introductions, which range from merely ignorant to extremely offensive. I really should have remembered, because they did actually manage to detract from my enjoyment of the other contents.

7) Nova Scotia: New Scottish Speculative Fiction. A nice collection of good stories; their definition of "Scottish" is a little flexible, but who cares when you have so many good stories by different writers gathered together? (Including a couple of authors I'd not encountered before, but will be looking for in future....[Hannu Rajaniemi; Deborah J. Miller])

8) Halting State (Charles Stross). Charlie's reliably interesting, and Halting State is good near-future sci-fi[1]. I'm not entirely convinced by the second-person viewpoint - I can see why he's done it, and it does work nicely in some ways, but I still found it interfered with my involvement in the book; in a sense that enhances one of the effects, but it did function as a slight mental itch that distracted me, and I suspect I would have enjoyed it more if it was written from a traditional third-person perspective. A highly enjoyable plausible (and consistent) speculative near-future Scotland, where the difference between computer games, the real world, and the people who write one and live in the other isn't quite as clear as some might hope. [Library book.]

9) Fermat's Last Theorem (Simon Singh). Singh's popular science books are always well-written and interesting, and this is no exception. It's much more story than explanation, though, so don't get it expecting to learn much about the actual maths!

Also a couple of re-reads - DWJ's "Year of the Griffin", and "Accelerando" and "The Atrocity Archives" (because Charlie is like popcorn or tigers - you can't stop with just one:).

[1] I've now (I think) read everything of Charlie's except the Merchant Princes books. I'd say that the Laundry books are his best, although I'm the right type(s) of geek to get all three sets of jokes, which probably helps. The MP series will have to wait until the first one is in the library on the same day I am, unfortunately, which might be a while.
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This cold hasn't done much for my attention span over the last week or so, so I've been consuming various collections of short stories. There are a couple of others part-read at present that should make it through the finishing line soon. Since these three were, in effect, read concurrently, depending on what I was in the mood for at the time, the order is arbitrary, as if that matters :)

3) Orsinian Tales (Ursula Le Guin). A series of skits and vignettes about human nature, in all its various forms. Not Le Guin's most penetrating work, but still worth reading.

4) Jizzle (John Wyndham). The great advantage of Wyndham's short stories over his novels is that he got to give them the endings he wanted, rather than being expected to tack on a happy one. Also, you get a whole range of strange off-beat ideas explored just enough to leave you thinking.... (I think my favourite in many ways was 'reservation deferred', which contains a number of observations I agree with, albiet in a slightly different context. Most of the stories are good, though; the title story is weaker than most of the others, but does have a memorable name, which is presumably why they chose it.)

5) The People Trap (Robert Sheckley). Entertaining stories with satisfying twists, although I'm not sure that all of them will repay re-reading (some will, but not all). Also introduced me to the fishing-for-eels meaning of the word 'sniggle', which can't be a bad thing.
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Both borrowed from my mother, which rather defeats the original purpose of the exercise, but hey.

1) House of Many Ways (Diana Wynne Jones). DWJ says in the author's note that she had fun writing this book, and it shows. A somewhat-more-direct follow-up to "Howl's Moving Castle" than "Castle in the Air" was, and every bit as enjoyable as the former. I'll be getting my own copy :)

2) The Graveyard Book (Neil Gaiman). The interesting (and peculiar) tale of the growing-up of Nobody Owens, and his peculiar (and interesting) friends, teachers and guardian(s). I don't agree with those who say that it's the best thing NG has ever written (not even his best novel), but well worth the reading, and likely to reward re-reading, too. I'll probably be buying this, too.

I couldn't help but be amused that HoMW has a NG quote saying how good DWJ is, while TGB has a quote from DWJ saying how good NG is. They both deserve the praise, but I still found it funny.


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May 2017

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