November 30, 2014

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, November 2014

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Kathleen Tierney (= Caitlin Kiernan), Blood Oranges
Mind candy: it's hard out there for a hustler on the fringes of Providence's supernatural demi-monde.
Nicole Peeler, Jinn and Juice
Mind candy; frothy contemporary fantasy, mostly picked up because it's set in Pittsburgh, and written with obvious, affectionate local knowledge. Improper use of plural nouns as singular (e.g., "Magi") set my teeth on edge; the larger problem is that the narrator simply does not come across as someone born a thousand years ago in Khorasan. (Though I did like [ROT-13'd] gur frpbaq gvre ivyynva orvat n grrantr Nstuna tvey, jvgu gur fnzr anzr nf zl nhag.)
Robert C. Richardson, Evolutionary Psychology as Maladapted Psychology
Rather to my surprise, my few notes about this little book are growing into a full review. More later.
Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Mind candy literary fiction, secret-histories-in-books flavor. Going into it without having read any plot spoilers, I was a bit disappointed that the bookstore and the weird books turned out to be (ROT-13'd) zreryl n praghevrf-byq frperg fbpvrgl frnepuvat sbe gur xrl gb vzzbegnyvgl, naq abg, zber vagevthvatyl, cneg bs n pelcgbtencuvp flfgrz pbzovavat obbx pvcuref jvgu bar-gvzr cnqf.
Gail Simone and Jim Calafiora, Leaving Megalopolis
Comic book mind candy, grimdark superheroes flavor. I rather hope this happened because Simone got tired of writing life-affirming stories, and just wanted to smash stuff for a while.
K. B. Spangler, Digital Divide and Maker Space (purchase links from Spangler's webpage)
Mind candy science fiction. The technological enhancements are not believable, but then Gibsonian cyberspace never made a lick of sense as a user interface (as opposed to a form of shamanism). They're spin-offs from Spangler's web-comic, but I read them without having first read the comic, and some of the loopier elements of the comic are, wisely, suppressed here.
Katherine Addison, The Goblin Emperor
Mind candy fantasy: ugly duckling as absolute monarch.
Jenny White, The Abyssinian Proof and The Winter Thief
Mind candy historical mysteries, sequels to The Sultan's Seal; more local color for late 19th century Istanbul, from the perspective of a progressive, privileged believer in the Ottoman Empire.
Kameron Hurley, Infidel
Mind candy. Sequel to God's War, so more science fiction set on a world where (at least) two rival descendants of present-day Islam are fighting it out on a world where advanced technology is based on genetically engineered insects. (There are also elements which look supernatural, but I hold out hope for a rational pseudo-scientific explanation.) Since Nyx and much of her crew re-appear from the first book, there is a lot of profanity, brutality and heartbreak. ROT-13'd so as not to spoil one of the best bits: Ubyl fuvg gung fprar jvgu gur jryy .
Gail Simone and Walter Geovani, Red Sonja, 2: : The Art of Blood and Fire
Comic book mind candy, of course, but perfectly respectable as such.
Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim
I wish I had something intelligent to say about it, beyond "read it".
— It's remarkable how entirely the whole plot depends on everyone's accepting a premise of white superiority, and yet almost all of the white characters are moral reprobates, and the easterners, from the pilgrims through Jim's native friends, are better than them by just about any culture's moral standards. (Also, Jim's ultimate downfall comes not just from his guilt, but from his buying in to bullshit white solidarity.) Whether this was deliberate on Conrad's part, or his material getting the better of him, I couldn't presume to say.
(It took me a while to get over the fact that the audiobook I listened to had the same narrator as my copy of Democracy in America.)
Iain M. Banks, Use of Weapons
I continue making my way through the early Culture novels. This time: This is everything a space opera should be but hold on I did not see that coming wait what no no no no no.
Hans Zinsser, Rats, Lice, and History: Being a Study in Biography, Which, After Twelve Preliminary Chapters Indispensable for the Preparation of the Lay Reader, Deals with the Life History of Typhus Fever
This has been a favorite for (dear me) more than twenty years, but not read for more than ten. Mercifully, it has not been visited by the Suck Fairy, and only very lightly dusted by the Racism and Sexism Fairies. It's one of those monument to eccentric erudition which, while having a lot to say about its ostensible main subject, also manages to touch on half of everything under the sun. Re-reading it makes me want to learn about typhus and the phylogeny of lice and Gertrude Stein on automatic writing and many other things besides. And it makes me want to bring Zinsser back from Limbo to prepare an updated edition. (Just imagine what he'd make of the possibility that tuberculosis was spread around the world by seals.)
(Zinsser, following the usage of his period, often uses "virus" to mean "disease-causing organism". Our "virus" is roughly his "ultra-virus" or "filterable virus".)
ObLinkage: Zinsser's eloquent but too-long-to-quote passages about how typhus and all the other old scourges are waiting to come back whenever the defenses of public health and sanitation are lowered makes for extra frightening reading in the year of Ebola, for the reasons Zeynep Tufekci explains.
ETA (3 April 2015): I am astonished to learn that this was a top-10 bestseller in 1935. It's hard to come up with an exact contemporary analogy, but imagine someone like Tara C. Smith writing a popular book on epidemiology filled with very opinionated chapters on everything from contemporary art to military history, and then out-selling basically every book about how to win a mate or decode the Bible.

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; The Commonwealth of Letters; Tales of Our Ancestors; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; The Natural Science of the Human Species; Biology; Minds, Brains, and Neurons; Writing for Antiquity

Posted at November 30, 2014 23:59 | permanent link

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