The Library of Babel: May 2002

This page contains the archived copies of book log entries for May of 2002.

Current Book Log

Return to Archive Index

Personal Announcement

Kate and I got married.

I cast around for a while to find a way to give this some sort of literary relevance, but, well, it's hard, and Kate already beat me to the idea. I'm not real big on poetry, so it's hard to think of good verses to quote, and while most of what I know about romance is drawn from song lyrics , those tend to lose something when quoted without the music. And even with the music, they tend to range from the sublime to the ridiculous, to the not-in-polite-company. Not to mention the fact that even weirdly inappropriate songs (or cover versions thereof) can have personal significance when played at a wedding reception.

As for books, well, literature (especially the sort that I read) tends to be a bit short on really positive love stories. The great classic romances, or romances in the classic mode, tend to be of the depressing one-or-both-end-up-dead sort, or at least somewhat tormented and operatic, with maybe an element of noble self-sacrifice. The genre fiction I favor, on the other hand, tends to involve romances which are incidental, accidental, inexplicable, warped, or just plain weird. Not to mention offstage, stilted, and all-but-nonexistent (and possibly unconsummated, depending on how you read things...). I'm not sure I'd want any of these as a role model.

Anyway, we're married now, and settling into domesticity at the moment. Opening and unpacking dozens of boxes of stuff (not to mention the actual wedding itself...) has cut into my reading somewhat, and we haven't yet gotten to the point of merging libraries. We won't be merging booklogs, though, and more stuff will be posted reasonably soon.

| Permanent Link

May 31, 2002

Death of a Dude by Rex Stout. This is a late Nero Wolfe book, and pretty minor. In fact, given the premise (Archie Goodwin encounters a murder while taking a vacation on Lily Rowan's ranch in Montana, commits to solving the crime, and Wolfe comes out to speed the process up, lest he have to cope without Archie for an extended period of time...), and lacking much knowledge of the series, you might say this was the shark-jumping point... Of course, you might've said the same about The Black Mountain, for more or less the same reasons (a contrived plot to get Wolfe out of New York and into some exotic location indicates a lack of better ideas), but some of the best books in the series come after The Black Mountain. And A Family Affair, the last Nero Wolfe novel Stout wrote, is actually pretty good, so it may be that the series never jumped the shark.

As I said, this one's pretty minor. There's one absolutely brilliant bit late in the book, though, when Wolfe is interrogating ranch hands (Archie Goodwin reporting, as always):

"Dang Brodell," Emmett said.

Actually, that isn't what he said. But about a year ago I got a four-page letter from a woman in Wichita, Kansas, saying that she had read all of my reports and that as each of her fourteen grandchildren reached his or her twelfth birthday she gave him or her copies of three of them just to get them started. I I go ahead and report what Emmett Lake actually said I would almost certainly lose that nice old lady, and what about the grandchildren who aren't twelve yet? I don't like censorship any better than you do, and if the pay-off was going to be that it was Emmett who shot Brodell, I would have to report him straight and kiss Wichita goodbye. Be he just happened to be around because it was a ranch and he was a cow-hand, so I'll edit him. Those of you who like the kind of words he liked can stick them in yourselves, and don't skimp.

"Dang [AG] Brodell," he didn't say.


"... Every breathing [AG] female [AG] alive is a born siren [AG]. The reason I called him an atrocious [AG] scourge [AG] was because he didn't belong here and all the panting [AG] dudes can thumping [AG] well leave their outstanding [AG] bats [AG] at home when they..."

Oh piffle [AG], that's enough. Censorship is too much work.

The idea that the books are really true-crime accounts written by Archie and sent out for publication has never really made much sense, but then Stout never took it too seriously, and has real fun with it on a couple of occasions. He thus neatly anticipated Lawrence Block's hommage by a few decades...

This isn't an easy book to find (we'd been looking for it for a while before it turned up in New Haven), and is really recommended for die-hard fans and completists only.

| Permanent Link

May 28, 2002

Miss Manners On Weddings by Judith Martin. I've never quite decided what to do about guidebooks and cookbooks and suchlike when it comes to the book log. My inclination is not to post them, since they're not the sort of thing one reads cover to cover. I haven't definitively decided on a policy, though.

Posting this doesn't count as a precedent because, well, I read the whole thing (in idle moments while in New Haven for Kate's graduation, the kick-off to a rather busy week....). It's hard not to, given the looming relevance of the subject matter, and the sharpness of the writing:

DEAR MISS MANNERS-- At a wedding reception I attended, the bridegroom took off the bride's garter with his teeth. Is this considered inappropriate wedding etiquette? Is it considered appropriate or not for the bride to sit on the best man's lap while the groom takes off the bride's garter?

GENTLE READER-- You know the answers, and the people doing these things don't care. So why spoil Miss Manners' day? It's times like these that make her wonder why she went into the etiquette trade instead of something easy, like teaching canaries to fetch sticks.

Four days left (three, by the time most people read this). And there will be no removal and flinging of undergarments at the reception, thank you very much.

| Permanent Link

May 22, 2002

The Grey King by Susan Cooper.

On the day of the dead when the year too dies,
Must the youngest open the oldest hills
Through the door of the birds, where the breeze breaks.
There fire shall fly from the raven boy,
And the silver eyes that see the wind,
And the Light shall have the harp of gold.

By the pleasant lake the Sleepers lie,
On Cadfan's Way where the kestrels call;
Though grim from the Grey King shadows fall,
Yet singing the golden harp shall guide
To break their sleep and bid them ride.

This book log sometimes turns out to be a bit of a mixed blessing. Knowing that I'm going to post something about each book I read forces me to read a little more carefully than I might otherwise, and think a little more about them. These are positive developments. On the other hand, sometimes thinking about the book I've just finished reading makes me think about something else I read long ago, and then I go digging through dusty boxes of paperbacks and re-read something. Which is fun, and all, but doesn't really help put a dent in the towering "To-Be-Read" pile...

Pre-book-log, I probably would've just shrugged off The Weridstone of Brisingamen, but having written it up for the book log, I was reminded of Susan Cooper's books, and having recently re-read The Dark Is Rising, I went for The Grey King this time out. (I note with amusement that the re-read of The Dark Is Rising was also prompted by an Alan Garner book...)

As the book opens, Will Stanton (the hero of the series, and the youngest of the Old Ones, a mystic race of servants of the Light, in eternal war with the evil magic of the Dark) is gravely ill, and sent to stay with cousins on the Welsh coast to recover. In addition to basic R&R, he has a deeper mission (which almost deserves a capital "M")-- a quest to obtain a magic golden harp for the Light, one of the significant Objects of Power in the war between the powers. The rhyme quoted above holds the key to the quest, which Will faces together with Bran Davies, a somewhat mysterious local youngster.

This is probably the strongest book of the series, as a novel, though The Dark Is Rising isn't far back. The struggle between Light and Dark isn't actually that clear-cut in this book: the Dark is portrayed as thoroughly vile, but the Light does some deeply unpleasant things of their own. The most hurtful acts of the entire book are actually perpetrated by unaligned persons (well, one person, anyway).

If you hold to the idea that none of the elements mentioned in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland should ever be used for any reason, you'll hate this book, and the whole series. Plot Coupons are collected, Mystic Doggerel is deciphered, Prophecies are Fulfilled. Cliches are only really bad when they're handled ineptly, though, and Cooper does a very good job with the elements of her plot (and, indeed, wrote these before the cliches were really cliches...). It would be easy to say snarky things about the plot (Why is it that Objects of Power are always awarded as prizes for answering mystic trivia questions? Why aren't there more fantasy stories where prophetic doggerel turns out to be wrong?), but what's done well is done very well indeed, and it's easy to overlook the flaws.

These were among my favorite books as a kid, and they've held up well over the years. I'd recommend them to anyone (start with The Dark Is Rising). If nothing else, what little I know about Welsh pronunciation I owe to The Grey King...

| Permanent Link

May 20, 2002

Black Orchids by Rex Stout. There are two versions of this book-- one is a collection containing two stories, "Black Orchids" and "Cordially Invited to Meet Death," while the other is just the title story. Kate and I have had a copy of the single-story version for a while now-- a somewhat faded Mercury Mysteries paperback with a note in the back apologizing for the thinner format necessitated by the War Production Board's restrictions on paper use-- but the collection was one of the few Nero Wolfe books we were still looking to find.

It turned up this weekend, in a new printing with "AS SEEN ON TV" in big letters on the cover. Which is a little puzzling, as neither of the stories contained in the book has appeared in the tv show at this point... Maybe a future episode will feature "Cordially Invited to Meet Death" ("Black Orchids" is unlikely to be it, as it features Johnny Keems, a character not appearing in the tv show), though it's not on the schedule at the A&E site. It's a pretty good story, in which Wolfe is hired to find the person sending anonymous letters in an attempt to ruin the career of a noted party planner. It contains the only scene I know of in which Wolfe takes cooking tips from a woman, and it's got one great bit of Wolfe-and-Archie banter that I can't imagine Timothy Hutton passing up:

"There is nothing in the world," he said, glaring at me as if I had sent him an anonymous letter, "as indestructible as human dignity. That woman makes money killing time for fools. With it she pays me for rooting around in mud. Half of my share goes for taxes which are used to make bombs to blow people to pieces. Yet I am not without dignity. Ask Fritz, my cook. Ask Theodore, my gardener. Ask you, my--"

"Right hand."


"Prime minister."




"Accomplice, flunkey, Secretary of War, hireling, comrade..." He was on his way to the elevator. I tossed the [piece of evidence] onto my desk and went to the kitchen for a glass of milk.

This was only one of several Nero Wolfe paperbacks in a moderately large display at Borders, all with "AS SEEN ON TV" on the covers. Whether you like the show or not (and I know some fans of the books who don't like it-- personally, I like it a lot), it's a good thing to have more of these back in print. All the books in the display were pretty good (quick summaries are available on this site (though the background pattern is horrible) if you'd like to know what you're buying), and I recommend the series (both books and tv) highly.

| Permanent Link

May 19, 2002

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner. This is perhaps the best-known book by the author of Elidor-- if nothing else, it's the one I've seen cited most frequently. Again, it's a children's novel of sorts, in which two nearly modern (the book was written in 1960, though the setting feels a little more primitive than that) British children are drawn into an epic conflict between heroes and villains drawn from Celtic mythology.

As with Elidor, though, my reaction to the book is sort of ambivalent. The book gets points for doing a few nice things: it does not actually feature the Celtic Armageddon-- the conflict is a major battle, but not the final one; it contains some very good (and realistically unpleasant) descriptions of tramping around in the cold and wet, and one deeply claustrophobic sequence of cave-crawling that will make most readers squirm; and while there is a prophecy in verse, and it is fulfilled in this book, nobody makes a big deal about it, or frets about what the cryptic rhymes mean.

On the other side, though, there are some other factors which downgrade the book: the plot relies at times on the peculiarly British notion that something ten miles away is almost unimaginably distant; there are basically no civilians in the book-- every farmer in the Cheshire countryside is apparently in thrall to Ultimate Evil, save for the kindly, hulking, and dialect-stricken Gowther Mossock and his wife; the mythological characters (particularly the Dwarf counsins who help the children in their quest) have a tendency to declaim their lines in a Tolkienesque pseudo-epic style which grates a bit; and despite the immediacy of the unpleasant bits, something about the prose is oddly distancing. I can't quite put my finger on what the problem is, but while the writing is quite strong when it comes to making you feel the discomfort of the characters when they're in tight spots, it's oddly standoffish when the characters are happy.

The story is well done, and it's a fast read, but somehow the book never really reached out and dragged me into the story in the same way that Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising and its sequels do. I could never quite identify or sympathize with Colin and Susan in this book the way I can with Will Stanton in Cooper's books. Maybe this is a "The Golden Age of SF is twelve" issue, and I just didn't catch Garner at the right age, but the book just isn't quite as effective as it could be.

| Permanent Link

May 15, 2002

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. Three updates in three days-- almost a record. Actually, this isn't as much of a reading blitz as it seems-- I read 80% of this one on airplanes over the weekend, and the Sandman books cited in the previous entry read really quickly.

This is the story of Josef Kavalier and Sammy Clay (born Samuel Klayman, he changes his name to something less Jewish), an escapee from Nazi-occupied Prague and a bookish kid from Brooklyn, respectively, two cousins who are part of the Golden Age of comic books, circa WWII. Their first and most famous creation is the Escapist, a superhuman escape artist described as "Houdini, but mixed with Robin Hood and a little bit of Albert Schweitzer." Initially, this is a bit of a tough sell:

"I like it," Anapol said. He put on his glasses and leaned down to examine the cover. "He's a blond. All right. He's hitting someone. That's good. What's his name?"

"His name's the Escapist."

"The Escapist." He frowned. "He's hitting Hitler."

"How about that."

Anapol grunted. He picked up the first page, read the first two panels of the story, then scanned the rest. Quickly, he scanned the next two pages. Then he gave up.

"You know I have no patience with nonsense," said the Northeast's leading wholesaler of chattering windup mandibles. He put the pages aside. "I don't like it. I don't get it."

Eventually, Sammy (the idea man of the pair) talks Sheldon Anapol (his boss) into buying the idea, and Amazing Midget Radio Comics is born. The Escapist is launched, as are the careers of Joe and Sammy, who go on to experience all the triumphs and tragedies of the WWII era and the comic book industry.

The book is very much the sort of thing you would expect from the author of Wonder Boys, and the writing is great throughout. There's actually not a whole lot I can say in praise of this book that hasn't been said better elsewhere-- it won the Pulitzer Prize, after all.

Being a contrary sort, I'll voice a couple of slightly idiosyncratic complaints about the book (which I enjoyed a great deal, don't get me wrong...) instead. I only had two real complaints, and both of them are sort of endemic to the genre (if "sweeping pseudo-historical narrative of American life in the Twentieth Century" counts as a genre).

The first, and the pettier of the two, is that the book falls a little too much into the trap of having important historical personages appear as characters. It's not as bad as, say, The Alienist in this respect, but everybody who's anybody in comic book history appears, along with cameos by Alfred Smith, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dali. It's a bit too cute-- DeLillo's Underworld includes most of the significant characters of Cold War America in the story, but there they're not interacting with the ordinary people who make up the main part of the story.

The other problem is that the troubles which beset Sammy and Joe are a bit too... "operatic" is as good a word as any. Having the Kavalier family dies in Europe is fine, but the section in Antarctica is a bit over the top. I realize Chabon's going for epic sweep, here, and it's entertaining reading all the way through, but even beyond the gratuitous character torture aspects of the thing, it's just a bit much to swallow.

Those are minor quibbles, though, as this is an excellent book and well worth reading. As grand, sweeping novels of the American Experience go, it's not as good as the aforementioned Underworld (to be fair, it's not really trying to be...), but it's a fine novel, and deserves most of its good press. I suspect the experience would only be enhanced if you know anything at all about comic books (though it might exacerbate the first of my complaints...).

| Permanent Link

May 14, 2002

The Kindly Ones and The Wake by Neil Gaiman. I made the tactical error of referring to a scene from one of these in a comment thread on Nathan's weblog, and then I just had to go check to see if my recollection was right. Next thing I knew, it was one in the morning, and I was just finishing The Wake. I guess it's a good thing I didn't drop a reference to something in Preludes and Nocturnes, or I never would've gotten any sleep last night...

These two volumes are the culmination of Neil Gaiman's epic Sandman series of comic books graphic novels. Strictly speaking, they're separate stories (and The Wake is a collection), but I find it deeply unsatisfying to read The Kindly Ones without following it with the last two stories in The Wake.

The Sandman of the title is Dream of the Endless, King of Dreams, and indeed, the very embodiment of the human impulse to dream. He's one of a family of archetypal siblings: Dream, Despair, Desire, Destruction, Destiny, Delerium, and Death (whose embodiment as a perky young girl in black jeans has served as inspiration to many a tiresome Goth...), who squabble with each other, meddle in the lives of mortals, and generally exercise absolute power over their respective dominions. As befits a series with the King of Dreams at the center, these are largely stories about stories, and myths and legends from all around the globe are drawn into the story, re-imagined, and spun out in new and interesting ways. They're also stories about, well, everything else: life, death, duty, honor, power, responsibility, love, loss, and magic.

Regular readers of this book log (all five of you) will note that I like to pull some quote from whatever book I'm entering to give some idea of the flavor. Unfortunately, that's all but impossible here, both because these are the last two books in the series, and thus all the best lines are either spoilers or require too much context, and also because these are graphic novels, and the words are inseparable from the artwork. Most of the good bits here require you to read the words and see the pictures at the same time (though, sadly, the artwork in The Kindly Ones is cartoonishly abstract, and really doesn't work as well as the art in some of the other volumes), and I'm not going to start posting massive images to my book log.

There's really very little I can say about these books without giving the ending away, so I won't say much. Gaiman manages to tie most of the sprawling plot threads running through the books together into a generally satisfying whole. This is a tremendously ambitious set of books, and the ending easily could've fallen flat-- that it works as well as it does is a testament to Gaiman's talent. These comic books pack more emotional punch than most novels, and this final chapter is a terrific story.

If you haven't read Sandman before, do so at once, but don't start here. The story really begins in Preludes and Nocturnes, but Season of Mists is probably the most acessible starting point. Save these two for last.

If you have read Sandman, well, go re-read it.

| Permanent Link

May 10, 2002

Something Fresh by P. G. Wodehouse. (Back-dating to Friday, when I actually finished this one...) This is the first of the Blandings Castle stories, the second of Wodehouse's three famous series (after the Bertie Wooster stories, and before the Psmith series). It's much more restrained in tone than the Wooster books, and written in a style which I tend to think of as "Omniscient With Asides"-- the narrator is privy to the inner thoughts and feelings of the characters, but throws in the occasional first-person comment on the story thus far. Kate cites a good example in her book log comments. There's probably a technical lit-crit name for this sort of thing, but I don't know what it is.

Being much concerned with matters matrimonial these days (I read the book on a plane on my way to a firend's wedding in Lexington, KY, in addition to my own wedding 18 days off), I particularly enjoyed this passage:

From his fourteenth year onward Ashe had been in love many times. His sensations in the case of Joan were neither the terrific upheaval which had caused him in his fifteenth year to collect twenty-eight photographs of the principal girl of the Theatre-Royal, Birmingham, pantomime, nor the milder flame which has caused him, when at Oxford, to give up smoking for a week and try to learn by heart the Sonnets from the Portugese. His love was something that lay between these two poles. He did not wish the station platform of Market Blandings to become suddenly congested with Red Indians, so that he might save Joan's life, and he did not wish to give up anything at all. But he was conscious, to the very depths of his being, that a future in which Joan did not figure would be so insupportable as not to bear considering, and in the immediate present, he very strongly favoured the idea of clasping Joan in his arms and kissing her till further notice. Mingled with these feelings was an excited gratitude to her for coming to him like this with that electric smile on her face; a stunned realization that she was a thousand times prettier than he had ever imagined; and a humility which threatened to make him loose his clutch on the steamer-trunk and roll about at her feet, yapping like a dog.

If that doesn't work for you, well, get your own booklog, and pick a quote you like better. You're bound to find something worth quoting in this, as it has the sharp writing and deft eye for character that you find in all of Wodehouse's novels, and, indeed, all great humorous fiction.

| Permanent Link

May 9, 2002

The Last Guru and Young Adult Novel by Daniel M. Pinkwater. These are the last two novels in a five-novel Pinkwater omnibus I bought at Boskone last year (and the last two I hadn't read). I read both last night, which is less impressive than it sounds since together they're not quite 150 pages.

Daniel Pinkwater (to choose one of the many permutations of his name that have appeared in print) was one of the great discoveries of my juvenile reading days. He's something of an acquired taste (Kate's not wild about them, for example), but if you like demented inventiveness in your YA fiction (and don't mind occasional lapses into total incoherence), there's nobody better. (He also does some radio shows for NPR. Information about these things, and other weirdness, may be found at The Offical Pinkwater Page.)

That said, these books are fairly minor Pinkwater (odd though it seems to type those words-- his best books are so daft it's hard to call them "major"...). The Last Guru is the story of Harold Blatz, who bets six hundred dollars on a horse race at age twelve, and quickly parlays that into the world's third largest private fortune, before running off to "such a remote corner of Tibet that no one has been able to find it, on purpose or by accident, for the past seven hundred years" to find enlightenment with the Silly Hat sect, after which he returns to Rochester, New York, and blows the doors off the billion-dollar guru business. Young Adult Novel tells the story of the Wild Dada Ducks (The Honorable Venustiano Carranza (President of Mexico), the Indiana Zephyr, Charles the Cat, Captain Colossal, and Igor), and their attempts to create Art in the halls of (Margaret) Himmler High School. (I told you his plots were daft).

There's not a whole lot to either of these books, alas, though in places he does manage some real satirical bite:

At Kennedy Airport, in New York City, and Air-India jetliner had just landed. It was the midnight flight from Bombay, India. Waiting in the airport were thousands of young people, dressed in white, and carrying bunches and garlands of flowers. Lined up on the runway were more than a dozen shiny black Roll Royce, and Cadillac, and Mercedes-Benz limousines. The airplane taxied to a stop. The movable staircase was wheels up to the airplane, and the door opened. Standing in the doorway was a tiny old man, dressed in white, with a flowing white beard, and a white turban. Hundreds of the young people, dressed in white, gave a cheer, and rushed out onto the field, singing and throwing flowers. The old man in the white turban was carried by the young people to one of the waiting limousines, and driven away. The young people ran after, singing and throwing flowers.


It went on for some time; the midnight flight from Bombay gave up guru after guru, and the crowd of devoted followers gradually diminished.

Unnoticed by anyone, a group of men stood in line, awaiting the call to board the just-after-midnight flight Bombay. these men had expensive trench coats on, over their white clothing, and had their white beards tucked inside the collars of the trench coats. They all wore expensive Italian slouch hats, and sunglasses. Each one was carrying a stereo set, or an electric all-purpose kitchen utensil, or a set of Wilson golf clubs.

Occasional great images aside, though, there's not much to these stories. They're amusing enough in spots, and he does a number on the whole Eastern-mysticism concept, but there isn't as much fun stuff in these as in Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars or The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death. Oddly enough, what does them in is that they're too focussed-- there isn't the manic spiral into utter chaos that marks the best of his work. He's got a point in mind (and whatever the Honorable Venustiano Carrazo (President of Mexico) might say about the Dadaist nature of the stories, there's a point to each (if not a moral)), and once he's made the point, he stops, without throwing in bizarre flourishes like gigantic space chickens or Osgood Sigerson, the world's greatest detective.

They're still a fun read, and a nice change of pace from the fairly weighty history book I was reading earlier in the evening, but (to my mind, at least), they're not his best work.

| Permanent Link

May 5, 2002

Diplomatic Immunity by Lois McMaster Bujold. This is the latest novel in the Miles Vorkosigan series, sure to be nominated for a Hugo next year. I borrowed this from Kate while in Boston for another round of Wedding Preparations (26 days and counting). As with all the other installments in the series, it's a fun read, and the plot moves along nicely.

In this one, Miles is intercepted by Imperial couriers while on the way home from his honeymoon. They bear a message from Emperor Gregor, Miles's immediate boss and childhood pal, ordering him to proceed at once to an obscure station where a merchant fleet and its military escort have been detained. It seems a Barrayaran Lieutenant has gone missing, some other navy personnel have been arrested, another has deserted, and an ill-advised attempt at a jailbreak led to a firefight which caused enough damage to put the Imperial relationship with the station and all of Quaddie space ("Quaddies" being humans genetically engineered to have four arms and no legs, ideally adapted for life in free fall) in jeopardy. Miles, paragon of tact and subtlety that he is ("'So,' said Miles gently, 'after we shot up the police station and set the habitat on fire, what did we do for an encore?'"), is given the task of straightening the whole mess out.

"What are the most important things I need to know?" [Miles asks Bel Thorne, the station's Portmaster and a comrade in previous adventures]

Well, for one, we really haven't seen your Lieutenant Solian. Or his body. Really. Union Security hasn't stinted on the search for him. [Admiral] Vorpatril-- is he any relation to your cousin Ivan, by the way?"

"Yes, a distant one."

"I thought I sensed a family resemblance. In more ways than one. Anyway, he thinks we're lying. But we're not. Also, your people are idiots."

"Yes, I know. But they're my idiots."

Surprising no-one who has read the earlier books in the series, Miles quickly finds himself caught up in a deeper and darker plot than anyone suspected. Miles could be sent down to the corner to fetch the Imperial dry cleaning, and he'd stumble over three assassination plots and a major diplomatic crisis. Miles has to scramble to unravel a subtle and complicated scheme, which takes the whole Empire to the brink of war before the whole thing is done. Honestly, I don't understand why Gregor sends him anywhere...

The book is pretty much everything one would expect from a Vorkosigan book. There's snappy dialogue, twisty scheming, the occasional buckling of swashes, and Miles saves the day in the end. I don't regard that as a spoiler, since this book continues the trend of earlier volumes, in that I never for a minute feared that Miles might actually fail to save the day. There are moments which will delight long-time fans of the series (the re-appearance of Bel Thorne is perhaps chief among them), and a wonderful scene depicting a free-fall ballet.

Bujold's books draw the sort of praise and almost obsessive attention that tends to put my back up a bit (see, for example, my past comments about Tolkien), so I have to struggle a bit to avoid saying really snarky things about the books. I don't dislike the books-- on the contrary, I enjoy them a lot, and think they're popcorn reading of the very highest quality-- but hearing lots of worshipful things said about them makes me a little twitchy. I will confine my negative comments about this book to one, for the moment (I have a second detailed complaint, but it's a spoiler): I thought there was rather a lot of cross-referencing to other books, and kept being half kicked out of the story by references to earlier installments in the series. Something about the many refernces struck me as clumsy while I was reading-- I'd try to nail it down better, but I'm back in Schenectady, and the book is with Kate.

Anyway, this is another worthy installement in the "James Bond in Space!" saga of Miles Vorkosigan (or "Dave Duncan in Spaaace" as Mike Kozlowski puts it). By myself, I wouldn't buy this in hardcover, but I'm not unhappy that Kate did, and I got to read it sooner rather than later.

| Permanent Link

As I'm not as ambitious or conscientious as Kate is, this isn't using any weblogging software at the moment-- I don't figure it will be updated regularly enough to require automatic archiving and the like.

The comment feature is provided by YACCS, and is dead simple to install. If you're looking to add comments to a weblog, it's a good way to go.

Obligatory silly little counter:

Begun: 7 August, 2001