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The Library of Babel: A Book Log

"This much is already known: for every sensible line of straightforward statement, there are leagues of senseless cacophonies, verbal jumbles and incoherences." -- Jorge Luis Borges


Monday, October 10, 2005

Thud!

Terry Pratchett has a new Discworld book out. And really, what is there to say other than that?

Oh, all right. It's a Watch book, involving ethnic strife between dwarves and trolls that threatens to wreak more havoc than usual in Ankh-Morpork. On the way to a solution, Sam Vimes needs to deal with religious zealots, board games, the theft of a huge painting, pressure to put a vampire on the Watch, and still find a way to get home by six to read Where's My Cow? to Young Sam.

I'd quote from the Sam Vimes version of Where's My Cow?, but it requires too much context, and anyway is sold separately. Instead, here's a bit about the Patrician's approach to art criticism:

"Freedom? If it hwas ever on the market, it hwould probably fetch thirty thousand dollars," said Sir Reynold [Stitched, the curator of the Royal ARt Museum].

"For a bit of wood with a nail in it?" said Fred Colon. "Who did it?"

"After he viewed Don't Talk to Me About Mondays!, Lord Vetinari graciousleah had Ms. Pouter nailed to the stake by her ear," said Stitched. "However, she did manage to pull free during the afternoon."

"I bet she was mad!" said Nobby.

"Not after she hwon several awards for it. I believe she's planning to nail herself to several other things. It could be a very exciting exhibition."

It's a Discworld book, and a pretty good one. And that really is about as much as needs to be said.

Posted at 8:09 PM | link |
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Anansi Boys

Neil Gaiman's new novel, Anansi Boys is a sequel of sorts to American Gods, but it really doesn't feel like one. It's a much lighter book, emphasizing humor over deep thoughts about the nature of reality and suchlike.

Anansi Boys centers on Charles "Fat Charlie" Nancy, who isn't an archangel, but is the son of Mr. Nancy, an African trickster god encountered in American Gods. Of course, Fat Charlie doesn't know about his divine parentage-- as far as he knows, his father is simply an embarassing old lech, living a shiftless and carefree life in Florida. Until he drops dead on a karaoke stage, and ruins Charlie's life.

This is a very funny book in many places, but that's not to say that it's insubstantial. There are a few dark moments, and the story of how Charlie comes to terms with his family is nicely handled. There's a touch of screwball comedy in the way the various romantic entanglements sort themselves out, but it never gets out of hand.

I enjoyed this quite a bit. It's a very charming little book, not too terribly deep, but very skillfully done. It's also something of a relief to find Gaiman writing something that isn't ridiculously in-jokey or self-indulgent. After Endless Nights, 1602, and the Holmes/Lovecraft story of a couple years back, I was starting to worry.

Posted at 7:56 PM | link | no comments


Accelerando

I made some snide comments about Charlie Stross's Accelerando a little while back, on my other blog. Since then, I've actually finished the book, and I probably ought to follow it up with a full booklog post.

I should probably begin with the positive elements, so let me say that I did enjoy the story in which the somewhat Mary Sue-ish Manfred Macx has his external brain stolen. It's amusing to watch him fumble around trying to cope with the world using only his un-augmented natural faculties, and the bits where the street punk who mugged him tries to use the stolen information are cute.

Sadly, that's about it for the book, as far as I'm concerned. The other eight stories going into the fix-up all fell flat for me. Worse than "fell flat," actually-- the last couple were actually difficult to force myself to finish (though in an absolute sense, they might be better than some of the earlier stories-- I was just sick of it by that point).

The book is really a distillation of everything annoying about Singularity Sky. It's not so much a story as a rapid-fire recitation of every bit of daft futurism that happened to strike Charlie as cool while he was writing it. A fair bit of the material seems badly dated already, and a lot of it is kind of silly. And the sex bits are just embarassing.

The worst thing, though, is that at every stage, the characters spend pages and pages explaining things to each other, in excruciatingly stilted dialogue. There's no shortage of nifty ideas, but none of them are allowed to sneak past without being held up for closer examination. It ends up reading kind of like a Robert L. Forward novel with panache.

I knew going in that this was quite probably going to annoy me, but I thought it was worth reading because these are the stories that really made Charlie's reputation in the field. I wasn't prepared for just how much they would end up annoying me. I just hope that the relatively restrained nature of Iron Sunrise reflects a real maturation of his writing, and isn't just a blip.

Whether you end up thinking this is a work of genius or a pile of crap probably depends on where you stand with regard to the nature of SF. If you're a person who puts the emphasis on "ideas," as in "Literature of ideas," you'll probably enjoy this book. If you prefer some literary virtues in your literature of ideas, you might want to give it a miss.

Posted at 7:35 PM | link | 2 comments


Peeps

Scott Westerfeld's latest YA novel, Peeps is not about gigantic mutated marshmallow treats that run rampant through New York City around Easter time. That's a good thing-- it would be hard to stretch that conceit into a short story, let alone a novel...

Instead, Peeps is a vampire story-- the title is slang for "parasite positive," vampirism being the result of a parasitic infection in this universe. The infection turns people into vampires, more or less-- it enhances reflexes and senses, but also encourages antisocial behavior and general insanity. The narrator, Cal Thompson is a carrier of the parasite, employed by a secretive agency to hunt down and capture other people who have been infected-- carriers like Cal get some of the benefits, but not the crazy anti-social bits.

As with So Yesterday, Westerfeld does a great job with the narrative voice-- Cal sounds like a real nineteen-year-old (okay, a little more articulate than most), and he gets some good mileage out of Cal's struggle with the parasite (which is spread by sexual contact, and makes its carriers perpetually horny) without sliding into Teen Angst.

The plot is well thought out, and the dialogue is snappy. The main story is intercut with short chapters describing the behavior of real parasites, which is a cute touch (if occasionally a little gross), and all of those sections end up being relevant (so pay attention to them). The story moves along briskly, with plenty of action, and things that are not what they seem, and the resolution unfolds very nicely.

I really enjoyed this book, like So Yesterday and Midnighters before it. It's a pity that the central conceit of his other YA series (Uglies and the forthcoming Pretties) sounds so incredibly awful, because he seems to have mastered the art of writing a good YA novel.

I'll just have to content myself with the thought that he's working on a sequel to Peeps...

Posted at 7:07 PM | link | one comment


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Re-launched: 21 August, 2004

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