After finishing The Grand Sophy, I was in the mood for more Regency novels, but didn't have the energy for something new (between dreading the upcoming move back into school, moving, fretting about the mold on my stuff that had been in "climate controlled" storage, and being just plain tired). Patricia C. Wrede's Mairelon the Magician and Magician's Ward were just the thing.
These are set in the same Regency-London-with-magic as her charming Sorcery and Cecelia, co-written with Caroline Stevermer (a notoriously difficult to find book; if you find a copy cheap, grab it, because someone will want it, even if you don't.). In Mairelon, the title character is a real magician pretending to be a fake one. He was framed for a theft from the Royal College of Wizards, and he's trying to track down the items—with the help of Kim, a thief he caught breaking into his wagon and enlisted in the charade. A lot of other people also want to find the missing items, generating a number of absurd encounters where imposter upon thief upon eavesdropper upon plain old homicidal maniac all turn up and chase after a big silver platter. Oh, and did I mention that there are an unknown number of forgeries floating around as well?
This is a very silly and enjoyable book, and though I couldn't quite keep track of everyone on the first time 'round, at the end there's a "the detective solves the mystery and gives a speech to the parties explaining it all," so fear not. At the end, Kim learns she has an aptitude for magic, and agrees to shed her boy's disguise and become Mairelon's ward and apprentice.
The sequel, Magician's Ward, is both a more straightfoward story and a more typical Regency plot. A number of elements will be familiar to Heyer readers: the heroine with an unusual background being introduced to Society; the horrible straight-laced female relative to whom propriety is everything; and even a monkey (what is it about Regencies and monkeys?). Kim gets to manage all this while trying to help Mairelon figure out why someone keeps trying to break into his library, and how it's connected to a mysterious attack on Mairelon . . .
These are both highly entertaining, with strong main characters, interesting details about the world and the magical system, and wit and charm. Heyer fans could do worse than to pick them up. (Mairelon is to be reprinted soon, but the books stand alone fairly well.)
I'd read Terry Pratchett's Thief of Time before when it came out, but I'd had the Apocalypse on my mind because of Good Omens, and as Thief features the Fifth Horseman, it seemed like a good pick.
This is the most recent of Pratchett's many Discworld books and one of my favorites. The Discworld books are comfort books for me; they take our world and history, twist it X number of degrees (Ankh-Morpork, the biggest city, is about what London might have been around the Industrial Revolution, if, sometime prior, all the fantasy creatures had said, "Hey, we're here and we want jobs."), point up the absurdities inherent therein and then add some more, but—and this is the key point—as part of good stories with funny bits. The books can be loosely divided up into sub-series based on the main characters; this one is a Death/Susan book (Susan is the daughter of Death's adopted daughter, and has stood in for Death in prior books. Genetics are a funny thing on the Discworld.). Death, on the Discworld, is your traditional skeleton with a scythe and a big white horse; the horse's name is Binky, though, and Death is much more sympathetic to living things than some of the other things in the Discworld. Like the Auditors.
He recognized them. They were not life-forms. They were . . . nonlife-forms. They were the observers of the operation of the universe, its clerks, its auditors. They saw to it that things spun and rocks fell.
And they believed that for a thing to exist it had to have a position in time and space. Humanity had arrived as a nasty shock. Humanity practically was things that didn't have a position in time and space, such as imagination, pity, hope, history, and belief. Take those away and all you had was an ape that fell out of trees a lot.
Intelligent life was, therefore, an anomaly. It made the filing untidy. The Auditors hated things like that. Periodically, they tried to tidy things up a little.
This time, they've found a human to make the first truly accurate clock. Why this means the Apocalypse, and who the Fifth Horseman is, and what the History Monks are going to do about it, and what happens when an Auditor takes on flesh, and why Nanny Ogg thinks it's all gone myffic ("'Mythic?' said schoolteacher Susan. 'Yep. With extra myff.'"), and whether there can be a perfect moment even with nougat ("a terrible thing to cover with chocolate, where it can ambush the unsuspecting") . . . well, you'll have to read it to find out.
I'd resolved, when I got back to school and moved my stuff out of storage, that I would start making a dent in the pile of unread books I owned. However, it's not really the best time to read new things when you've had a migraine since Monday, are very tired, but can't sleep yet because your thoughts are going around and around on a friggin' hamster wheel of pain. (I actually read most of a book once while coming down with a migraine, Pat Murphy's There and Back Again. I don't think it would have been very good even without the migraine, though.)
Thus, I grabbed Tamora Pierce's Circle of Magic: Daja's Book nearly at random last night. As the title suggests, this is part of a series. At the beginning, four children (around 9 or 10 years old, I think) are rescued from various situations (Daja was the sole survivor of a shipwreck that killed her entire family, for instance) by a mage who realizes that they have undetected magical talents. Misfits in the temple community where they're brought, they are moved into a cottage together with two of the temple dedicates. There, they become friends and start to explore their magic.
It sounds pretty generic put that way (and the titles don't help), but these are really very well done. The four friends have craft or nature talents—Daja's is metal work, Briar's is plants, for instance—which are a nice change and quite soothing to read about. Pierce's very earliest books (the Alanna series) had a whiff of Extruded Fantasy Product about them (mostly in the worldbuilding); the books quickly found their own voice, though, and the world here is concrete and well-realized. Pierce's characters are always vivid and engaging, and I particularly enjoy the tight, central friendships in these books. Daja's Book is the third of four in the series; there's another series set a few years later, The Circle Opens, which is still in progress. Since the Circle books all stand alone, I've managed not to get sucked into buying these in hardcover, just for the sake of my budget (I admit, I did have to buy the latest in her other ongoing series, Squire, as soon as it hit the shelf). I do recommend all of Pierce's books, though.
I wanted to like Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. A friend recommended it to me, the bit of the beginning I read in the bookstore had charm and felt a bit like John Barnes' wonderful One for the Morning Glory, and having the protagonist turned into an old woman by an evil witch seemed like a promising start for a fantasy novel.
Unfortunately, there's too much about this book that I just don't believe. The first example came just a few hours after Sophie is enchanted:
A countryman came whistling down the lane toward her. A shepherd, Sophie thought, going home after seeing to his sheep. He was a well-set-up young fellow of forty or so. "Gracious!" Sophie said to herself. "This morning I'd have seen him as an old man. How one's point of view does alter!"
I don't know about anyone else, but if I were magically transformed into an elderly woman by an evil witch, I don't think I'd be already thinking like an old woman on the very same day. I'd be much more likely to be surprised and offended when the shepherd called me "Mother"; even if my joints creak now, I've still got the same mind and experiences—twenty-odd years worth—as ever.
But that's a small point, and I'm sure that I could have enjoyed the book as a whole if that were the only thing. It's the ending that's the real problem for me: I just don't believe it. As those characters were written, the ending simply refuses to ring true for me. Which is a pity.
Perhaps I'll re-read Spindle's End next. McKinley's working in something of the same area in that book, only in a way that I find much more satisfying.
I'm in the process of writing a review of Spindle's End, which I finished last night, so more on that anon.
In the meantime, I read "Changeling," by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, set in the same universe as Partners in Necessity. This is a short story originally printed in Absolute Magnitude and available electronically from Embiid Publishing; it tells the story of Ren Zel and how he came to be a pilot on the Dutiful Passage. It's a perfectly fine story, and, well, I don't have much more to say about it than that.
I do hope, though, that the numerous Liaden stories currently available in chapbook form will eventually be made available through electronic versions, or, preferably, a print collection (the chapbooks being considerably out of my price range). They apparently fill in some of the gaps I'd noticed in Partners in Necessity (like what the heck Priscilla's exile was about), and while I still wish the authors had done a smoother job papering over those holes in the background, it's nice to know that the stories exist somewhere.
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As promised, a review of Spindle's End by Robin McKinley is now up.
I'd said that Spindle's End was working in something of the same area as Howl's Moving Castle, which probably deserves explaining. They're both doing a low-key version of One for the Morning Glory's attitude toward stories; in this case, it's that fairy tales have actual practical lessons to be learned. Thus, the second quote in the Spindle's End review mentions bread turning into starlings, and in Howl's Moving Castle "everyone knows" that the oldest of three children (such as Sophie) is doomed to fail when she sets out to seek her fortune. Of course, the plots are also based on fairy-tale-like situations, but with atypical elements stirred in.
For some reason, the prose also felt a bit similar to me. Upon thumbing through Howl's Moving Castle, though, I can't figure out why. Spindle's End tends toward rich, long sentences, while Sophie's narration doesn't. I may have been misremembering Spindle's End, or thinking of something else.
Perhaps now that I've got Spindle's End out of my system (though it was enjoyable to do so, as I really like that book), I can get back to reducing my to-be-read pile . . .
I was unable to get a phone call through to the local Red Cross here in New Haven this afternoon, so I thought I'd just go up there after class, if I ended up having class, and see if they were able to deal with the undoubted influx of volunteers right now. I went to grab the book I'd been reading last night, because I never go anywhere without a book if a wait is expected, when I realized that I just couldn't read it anymore. Not because it wasn't a good book, but because the main characters are fending off planetary invasion and serious combat looked to be imminent when I put it down last night. I was simply unable to deal with that right now, or possibly for a while. (The book is Plan B by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, sequel to Partners in Necessity, and if being unable to read it were the worst effect today's had on my life, I would be thrilled. Needless to say, this is not the case, though I am fortunate in that most people I know seem to be accounted for, and the few I haven't heard from yet are unlikely to have been hurt, as they weren't that near the World Trade Center. I hope.)
This book log is going to divert abruptly now into a journal, because I feel like it. If you don't like it, go away and come back some other time. And anyway, I didn't end up reading anything fiction today because I found out in the meantime that two blood drives will be going on tomorrow.
An hour ago, I was curled up on a couch in the law school dining hall, eating a comfort bar of Haagen-Dazs and trying to decide if I was angry or not. I feel like I ought to be, but I can't seem to get past the sick sinking feeling in my stomach every time those horrible images of the Towers collapsing replayed in my head. Which is often. (I stopped watching the TV news after about 11 a.m., because I could not bear to see that footage one more time. Even Challenger was not so sickening to me. Truly, I can only think of one or two other sights that would be so horrible—the main being watching various loved ones die in front of me while I was helpless, that level of horrible—and I can only hope with all the fervency I can muster that I never see anything like that again in my life.)
I don't think I'm angry. It's hard to say, because all the various bits of me seem to be in disarray. It's almost a physical feeling of discomfort, as though nerve connections have loosened and my stomach has hopped onto a roller coaster just at free-fall and my lungs have shifted around to be pressed on by my rib cage and my heart is laboring under being squished by something else nearby. Concentrating has become the kind of effort I experience during migraines, and my eyes are showing a tendency to water for no apparent (immediate) reason.
When I manage to piece together my emotions, I think I'm scared and upset rather than angry. I'm upset at what's already happened—I don't think I need to elaborate on that—and I'm scared at what might happen next. Call me a pessimist, but even if, by some miracle, cool heads manage to prevail enough that retaliation is not taken out on innocent people—the least I think we will see is further shrinking of civil rights in America, as well as increased prejudice against people with Arab or Islamic origins. The last time we had federal "anti-terrorism" legislation, we ended up seriously curtailing the rights of convicted prisoners to seek post-conviction relief from the courts. Given the number of innocent people who have been recently exonerated while on death row, this should not be considered a good thing, even by those who would be happy to see the people behind today's attacks executed. And that's not even considering the further powers investigative agencies might gain, powers that might start out in use against terrorists, but if history is any guide, will be expanded to deal with all manner of domestic crime.
I want nothing more than to see the people responsible for today's horrors brought to justice. I want this never to happen again. But I am scared of so many things: that this signals a new era of terrorist attacks on the U.S. (as far as I know, it's damn hard to prevent attacks by people who are willing to die in the process), that the country will bomb someone innocent in the haste to show that we will not take this lightly (if anyone could doubt it!), that any last shred of hope for peace in the Middle East will vanish if this turns out to be related to the region, that the Constitution will get further trampled on in efforts to prevent more attacks (see "suicide attacks," above), and that I will never feel safe again flying.
Looking at that list (I'm sure I could come up with more, too), I really ought to be angry at the people who have brought this upon all of us. But I can't seem to be, yet. Perhaps later I will be able to move past the sickness and fear.
- categories: personal
I'm feeling better—more stable—today, though still the physical effects linger.
The weird ironic thoughts keep popping into my head. Yesterday morning, I watched the news until about 11 a.m., and one of the things I wanted to hear was someone telling us that it was okay, it wasn't going to happen anymore (at least today), that it was over. While I was sitting desperately hoping for this, one of the thoughts that popped into my head was "Boy, atheism really isn't much of a comfort, is it? Can't pray, after all . . ." And this morning, when I heard more news about the knives allegedly used in the hijackings, out of nowhere I thought, "Geez, Chad wouldn't have had to lose that copy of The Dragon Never Sleeps if we'd known we could carry knives on" (that being the groom's gift to his attendants at the wedding we were at, and why he checked the bag). This is, well, strange.
But I'm definitely starting to get angry. I can't say it's a cold anger, because it doesn't feel cold. (Isn't it amazing how physical strong emotion is?) It's starting to feel like a determined anger. I keep thinking of messages from people I know, such as this one about setting up dessert as a counter-symbol, who are resolved that this terror (say it, Kate. You just spent two hours in a class discussion, thinking to yourself how hard it was for people to say the words), that these attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, will not force us into unreasoning terror and hopelessness.
In particular, I think of an e-mail a friend sent, asking that it be passed along to a Usenet group so everyone would know he was okay. The last bit just ran through my mind all this morning. It might not be the most eloquent statement I've seen, but it resonates with me.
Now, as I look at the gaping hole in the skyline, I *know* that they will be rebuilt like giant middle fingers jutting into the sky.
Also, as I was watching the devastation, the mail came.
The mail came. Take that.
Off to go give blood.
Take that, indeed. I am now ashamed of myself for having contemplated, even (only) for a minute, getting a ride to Boston on Friday instead of taking Amtrak. While I wouldn't disparage other people's fears—remembering how afraid I was yesterday, and still am to some degree—what I can and will do, in order to feel myself again, is refuse to let the bastards, whoever they are, dictate my life. Why should I give them even such a minor victory?
Today, I am going to donate money to the Red Cross, if I can get through to their site, and I'm going to donate blood. And then, I'm going to just be myself as hard as I can: sit outside and appreciate the beautiful weather. Continue talking with friends and sharing our feelings. Read the books that I couldn't bear to look at last night, because they would remind me too much of the day. (I ended up reading tax law before bed, because all my other classes are in criminal law, which would remind me of my fears for civil liberties, and just about all of my fiction had someone dying or at war or otherwise in great peril.) Even do some work for classes.
Yesterday was a terrible day, and I don't regret having accomplished basically nothing as I glued myself to Usenet and the web. But today is going to be different.
Addendum: The Red Cross web site says that it's experiencing heavy volume on its online donation form. If you can't get through, try Amazon or PayPay for other credit card donation links. You can also send a check to your local chapter or to
American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013
- categories: personal
I think this will probably be the last post on this topic, at least for a while; I hope to go back to books when I have a minute to put down coherent thoughts about the book I just finished.
On the second day after, some things are just starting to hit. There was a Borders on the ground floor of the World Trade Center, which I went to often over the past two summers (I worked about a half-mile away each summer, though in different places). Last time I was there, a nice staffer found me a copy of The Curse of Chalion, the new Bujold I'd been eagerly anticipating, from a bin or something upstairs; they weren't out on the floor yet. There was a Godiva store in the underground mall, where a woman slipped some extra chocolates into my bag when she heard I was buying them for a treat after a bad day; I found them when I got home and was touched and surprised. It's just now become real that those places aren't there anymore. (Borders says all their people got out safe; I have no reason to think that the rest of the mall wouldn't have.)
And things still have the power to make me cry. There was an article in this morning's (okay, now yesterday's, by just a hair) Washington Post about a man who's helping search the Pentagon, looking for his wife; reading it, I could very nearly feel my heart being ripped from my chest:
By 11 a.m. — 25 hours after he arrived — Foster found refuge in a Metro bus, parked next to the makeshift morgue he manned the night before. He was determined to stay.
"I'm going to be here to see my wife come out of there alive," he said, staring out the bus window, his head in his hands, a look of utter exhaustion in his face. "I know she's alive, I just know it."
Yesterday evening, he resumed his post near an area now used as a temporary morgue. He prepared to stay another night.
Even pasting that text in now, a full twenty-four hours after I first read it, makes me choke up.
Though I haven't had so much success in getting back to school work (<sheepish look> I know, I know), I realized something recently. Not only is getting on with my life, in itself, a defiance of terrorists, but even more so is getting my degree and becoming a kick-ass public interest lawyer—being a prosecutor who prevents or punishes civil liberties violations like those I fear, or an attorney for the poor who might, in the process, stave off some despair and alienation, or, well, you get the idea. Law school hasn't beaten the ideal of public service out of me yet, and if anything, this only strengthens it.
So now I really have to get back to my reading . . .
(Oh, and while I'm finding can still laugh at things (like that squirrel carrying in its mouth a snack-sized Nestle's Crunch bar—fully wrapped), well, no lawyer jokes today, okay?)
- categories: personal
I finished the most recent (in internal order) Liaden book, Plan B by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, before the weekend. Overall, this has both the virtues and the vices I noted in its predecessor, Partners in Necessity. I enjoyed it quite a bit—Anne McCaffrey writes (rather gushingly) in the intro to Partners that they're her comfort books, which I can definitely see—but I have to say I don't feel like the plot's been advanced that much, since the whole book was basically spent dealing with an invasion that happened to be of the planet that Our Heroes happened to be on, which is largely unrelated to the enemy set up by the last books. Also, we have an even more prominent appearance of the weird sfnal theme of lovers merging into one person, living in each other's heads, taking each other's injuries, etc. (Yeah, it's a good line when, in Shards of Honor, Cordelia says of Aral, "When he's cut, I bleed"—but she was being metaphorical.) It's a wish-fulfillment theme that I can't say does much for me (I like being separate people). Will I still buy I Dare the instant it comes out next year? You bet.
- categories: books » sf and fantasy » Liaden universe
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Over the weekend, I read Lawrence Block's Burglars Can't Be Choosers, the first of the Bernie Rhodenbarr series (not currently in print; I got it from the library). The general pattern, for people unfamiliar with the series: Bernie tries to steal something, gets involved in a murder as a result (often as the suspect), and must figure out who the real killer is, cracking wise along the way and often getting entangled in dubious romantic relationships. In later books, he buys a used bookstore and acquires a henchperson and best friend in Carolyn, whom I like even better than Bernie. (People who've read Westlake's Dortmunder books might like this idea for a cross-over between the series, courtesy of James Nicoll on rec.arts.sf.written.) This isn't the best of the series, but it's certainly good enough that I would have kept reading them, if the library had had it on the day I decided to try Block.
Re-read Tamora Pierce's First Test, Page, and Squire, the first three books in the awkwardly-but-accurately named Protector of the Small quartet. (Lady Knight will be out next year.) I read Squire when it came out this summer (suckered into buying it in hardcover by Ms. Pierce's displaying the beautiful cover at Boskone; tricky, that), but my plan to re-read them in sequence was foiled when I cleverly managed to bury the first somewhere in summer storage.
These are set in a different world from her Circle books, and pitched at a slightly older level. Ten years after the proclamation that girls could be trained as knights, the first has finally stepped forth. (Alanna of Trebond, now King's Champion, disguised herself as a boy to win her knight's shield; see the The Song of the Lioness quartet, Pierce's first books.) Keladry of Mindelan is ten when she enters training, big for her age, entirely unromantic (in the shining-armor sense, not the Cupid sense), quiet, stubborn, and possessed of a fierce hatred for bullies. (She also has no magic or close personal relationships with deities whatsoever. This is refreshing.) She is forced into a probationary year by the training master, a stiff conservative; this is the topic of the first book. Page deals with the rest of her time as a page, while Squire covers the last four years of her training before she is knighted.
I like Kel a lot, and the company she keeps is enjoyable as well. (A couple of her more casual friends have sufficiently small parts that I can never remember who they are, but this is probably inherent in the school setting and the limited word count available to young adult novels.) The stories are a good mix of adventures and interesting training bits; I haven't the faintest desire to joust, or weave, or do fancy woodwork, or any of the other things that I read about in novels, but I always find it rather soothing. (Occasionally this leads to a slightly episodic feel, because there isn't a specific overall plot arc like Alanna's enmity for Roger of Conté.) I'm not sure that these break a lot of new ground, but I like the sensible and realistic tone they bring to the sub-genre, and enjoy them a lot.
Lawrence Block's The Topless Tulip Caper is an affectionate homage to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin books. Chip Harrison (first seen in No Score, a non-mystery) has been hired by Leo Haig, reclusive genius detective, to be his Archie:
"Barckover, right." I was supposed to remember things like Barckover's last name, Haig had told me, just as I was supposed to be able to repeat all conversations verbatim. If Archie Goodwin can do something, I'm supposed to train myself to do it, too. (Sometimes, let me tell you, Archie Goodwin gives me a stiff pain.) "Barckover," I said again, carefully training my memory. "And Andrew Merganser—"
"You mean Mallard."
"Well, I knew it was some kind of duck. The hell with Archie Goodwin, anyway."
Indeed, Haig's hired Chip in part because Chip's a writer: "If it weren't for Dr. Watson, he says, who would have heard of Sherlock Holmes? If Archie Goodwin never sat down at a typewriter, who would be aware of Nero Wolfe? Anyway, that's why he hired me, to make Leo Haig The Detective a household phrase, and that's how come you get to read all this."
The first half or so of the book is quite amusing, laying out the conceit of the book and introducing the characters. (It's a murder of tropical fish, which turns into a murder of a person. Did I mention that fish : Haig :: orchids : Nero Wolfe?) The second half is less so, as the freshness wears off. I think the weird little interlude with Ruthellen marked the turning point for me; I was going to say that it left a bad taste in my mouth, but that would be a really unfortunate phrase, so I'll just say that I found it unpleasant. (There was something like it in No Score, which I forgot to mention then. Chip, perhaps because he's a 1970s kind of guy, has an attitude towards sex that I'm just not so comfortable with.)
More importantly, as the book goes on Haig gets more and more like Nero Wolfe, which just points up the inescapable fact: Chip Harrison is no Archie Goodwin.
First, let me say that I can't look at the cover of this book. While I like the cover for Partners far & away the best of the reprints, it's not so much the image as the grating lack of an apostrophe anywhere in the title (choice of a pilot, or of pilots, it's possessive, damnit).
Second, readers of the previously-published volumes should be aware these are more like Conflict of Honors than the others, being standalones concerned, in varying degrees, with a romance and with someone coming into their own. Local Custom opens with Er Thom yos'Galan being told that he must enter into an arranged marriage to produce his heir, for the good of the clan. (A particularly absurd two-part first name; I can deal with Val Con, but Er Thom sounds like his parents were afflicted with indecision at the naming ceremony.) He goes to find the woman he met three years ago, Anne Davis, and has never forgotten—intending only to tell her that he loved her, before he has the memory of her removed. To find out that she had a son from their relationship.
Much cultural baggage is added to the plot at this point, as the lovers agonize over what's going to happen to Shan, their son, and to them. Personally, I found some of the agonizing a bit overwrought at times, especially when I wanted to shake them and say, "Just talk to each other!"—though to be fair, a lot of the misunderstandings sprung from the sort of cultural baggage you hardly know is there.
I enjoyed Scout's Progress more. Aelliana Caylon is a brilliant mathematician who teaches Scouts (explorers) about the practical implications of the math behind piloting and the faster-than-light drive. She's also abused and thoroughly cowed by her brother, a nasty cruel piece of work who is unfortunately heir to the clan. Realizing at the start of the book she has to leave, she finds herself winning a Jumpship in a card game. She meets Daav yos'Phelium while working for her Pilot's license, so she can escape the planet. The focus of the book is on Aelliana coming out of her shell and learning to excel at piloting and having friends; the romance is well done and far less wrenching.
I liked this one a lot, but unfortunately, my knowledge of subsequent events put a bit of a damper on things (Aelliana get assassinated while Val Con is still fairly young, and Daav disappears). Also, the lifemates things that I complained about in Plan B is here as well, in both stories, and it still bothers me: it seems to be a manifestation of One True Destined Love of a Lifetime, which I frankly regard as a dangerous myth. (Then again, I might be reacting more than I would normally to this because having my best-beloved 200 miles away makes me cranky . . . )
One last thing. Er Thom and Daav seem to me to sound awfully like their sons (or rather the other way 'round, I suppose); it was a bit disconcerting at times. I guess I'll have to re-read the other two volumes to check. Oh, what a burden. *grin*
(I meant to add this to the note on Plan B and forgot. At the end of that book is a copy of Clan Korval's Tree and Dragon seal (also visible at the authors' website). It's a perfectly nice seal, of course, and it's not its fault that the Dragon looks like Aylee, an alien in the comic Sluggy Freelance. In her most recent phase, she eats potatoes (she used to eat humans) and then when she's full, she changes shape—oh, and releases an EMP, too. She looks fairly like the Dragon in the strip with her first flight, and rather a lot like in the second-to-last panel of this strip, where she attacks a demon-possesed Gwynn. But Korval's Dragon probably never went water-skiing . . . )
- categories: books » sf and fantasy » Liaden universe
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Another early Lawrence Block book, The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep. This is the first Evan Tanner novel, and as the title suggests, a head injury in the Korean War means that Tanner doesn't sleep. He spends his time reading, learning, and writing people's theses and dissertations for them to earn money. He is also a hopeless devotee of lost causes. From a conversation with a girlfriend and a thesis he's writing, he puts together a plan to recover $3 million in hidden gold from Armenia.
It's a daft premise, but an amusing one, though the books aren't humorous the way the Bernie ones are. Alas, this was another example of books being wrong for people through no fault of their own: Tanner's hopeless causes include things like the Flat Earth Society, the Industrial Workers of the World, and the Libertarian League—but also include the Society for a Free Croatia, the Serbian Brotherhood, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, etc., etc., and he ends up calling on most of them to get across Europe. At one point he talks of intending to bestow some of the gold on the IRA (despite a Republican sympathizer telling him "You'll want to think that over. What would those bloody fools do with so much gold? They'd be after blowing up all of Belfast, and all be getting into trouble"), and at another he unwittingly foments a short-lived revolution in Macedonia.
This is not exactly the kind of thing I was looking to read about. (I'd decided to save the re-reads of the other Liaden books for when the next one came out.)
There were several Tanner books written in the 1960s, and then another one a few years ago; I might pick up the most recent, but probably not for a while.
[Addendum: I picked this up to bring it back to the library and noticed the back cover copy. Boy, who writes these things? Unlike No Score, this at least gets the genre right, but it was apparently written by someone who'd never actually read the book. "Smuggling [a ravishing blonde] across the border of her native country"? I don't think the girlfriend is even mentioned again after Tanner decides to go after the gold; she certainly doesn't come with him.]
I got a copy of Jennifer Crusie's The Cinderella Deal recently; Crusie is a great author I discovered in the last year or so, and I've been trying to pick up her out-of-print category romances used. This isn't the best one of hers I've read, but I liked it very much.
There's a bit of similarity to her Strange Bedpersons, which is unsurprising as that started out as a re-write of The Cinderella Deal, but developed into a different book; The Cinderella Deal was eventually published a couple years later. The main resemblance is the protagonists, but I like the ones here better. Linc is a college professor who really wants a particular faculty position, and in a moment of insanity tells his interviewer that he's engaged. Of course, now he needs to produce a fiancée when he goes back to give a talk on his research. He asks Daisy, his downstairs neighbor, because the card over her mailbox reads "Stories Told, Ideas Illuminated; Unreal but Not Untrue." (Also, she's friends with one of his ex-girlfriends, who vouches for her. He hasn't lost his mind that badly.) Daisy's broke and stuck in a rut with her painting, and agrees to help to get her back rent paid.
Pretending to be a couple is of course one of the standard ways romances throw together their protagonists, and there's nothing wrong with that when it's well done, as it is here. Crusie often paces her stories differently than other category romances (the general rule is, when in doubt, flip to the very middle of the book, because that's probably where the characters go to bed for the first time), letting the story develop around the characters and their relationship with each other. Linc gets the job, Daisy goes home, and that would have been the end of it, even though they miss each other:
. . . Daisy would have loved the house. As he worked patching and painting the walls, he could see her trailing her long skirts across the gleaming living room floor . . . , sitting on the solid oak stairs and explaining the world to him through the ornate railing. Once he found himself holding an imaginary argument with her as he painted, convincing her that it was practical to paint all the walls white. The really irritating thing about that hadn't so much been that he caught himself doing it as it was that she'd been winning. . . . And it was his fault; he'd started it with that first dumb story he'd told about his fiancée. Everything Daisy had said about stories came back to him: the stories you told were unreal but not untrue; she wasn't really there, but she was everywhere.
He sighed and kept on painting, and when he moved his chrome and leather furniture into the big old rooms, he knew what Daisy would say, and he had a feeling she was right, so it was a damn good thing she wasn't there to say it.
But of course circumstances bring them back together, and they learn about themselves and each other and how to accommodate their differences, and about the power and danger of the stories that people create about their lives. And there's humor and good friendships and the trademark slightly deranged animals and a happy ending, and it's all good.
Enough of this imitation Archie Goodwin; I want the real thing. So I got a couple of books out of Yale's library, including the collection Homicide Trinity (one of the more generically named ones). I grabbed this because it has "Counterfeit for Murder," which has Hattie Annis, who is one of my favorite characters ever in a Nero Wolfe book. (How can you not like someone who calls Wolfe Falstaff?) I'd forgotten, though, that the other two stories are quite good too. The first is the hideously named "Eeny Meeny Murder Mo," a satisfying little story about yet another person killed in Wolfe's office. (This was adapted by A&E recently, though annoyingly I can't remember if the denouement was presented the same way.) The other is "Death of a Demon," which starts with a woman telling Wolfe, "That's the gun I'm not going to shoot my husband with"—except that he's already been shot, by someone else. This was a pleasant surprise with which to pass dinner.
I picked up a used copy of Charles de Lint's The Ivory and the Horn for a friend. This and an earlier collection, Dreams Underfoot, consist of urban fantasy stories set in the fictional city of Newford; I'd read them both several years earlier and then stopped reading Newford stuff, because they'd just gotten too preachy for me. (Admittedly, the stories in Dreams Underfoot had Messages too, but there were enough that were really good in spite of that to make it worth while.) I flipped through it today to see if my memory was correct; alas, it was. However, I was pleased to discover that I continue to like "Coyote Stories" because of its narrative voices.
This Coyote he's not too smart sometimes. One day he gets into a fight with a biker, says he going to count coup like his plains brothers, knock that biker all over the street, only the biker's got himself a big hickory-handled hunting knife and he cuts Coyote's head right off. Puts a quick end to that fight, I'll tell you. Coyote he spends the rest of the afternoon running around, trying to find someone to sew his head back on again.
"That Coyote," Jimmy Coldwater says, "he's always losing his head over one thing or another."
I tell you we laughed.