October 31, 2015

Books to Read While the Algae Grows in Your Fur, October 2015

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

Anne M. Pillsworth, Fathomless
Mind candy, sequel to Summoned (which I seem not to have blogged about), being the further education of a Lovecraftian sorcerer. Pillsworth tries very hard to maintain faithfulness to the canon, but with a sensibility which is a just a bit less freaked by its own attraction to the not-like-me than Lovecraft was. It's clearly aimed at younger readers, but I'm not sure how many of them will have read enough eighty-year-old stories to appreciate it.
Mur Laffery, The Shambling Guide to New York City and Ghost Train to New Orleans
Mind candy: the adventurous life of a travel-book editor, who discovers that the big city is, in fact, full of monsters — and she is, arguably, one of them.
Shirley Jackson, We Have Always Lived in the Castle
I remember this being a favorite book as a teenager, but I'd not read it for decades. It turns out I'd forgotten the last half or so, and it blew me away, again.
Oscar Kempthorne, Design and Analysis of Experiments
Very old-school, but very clear, experimental design; Kempthorne is extremely sound on the role of randomization, and what it does and does not let one estimate. Reading this now, it's amazing just how little one could actually calculate back then, outside of additive-and-Gaussian models, and so how much of the formal machinery was really about simplifying calculations. (Look at the gyrations he goes through to avoid having to explicitly invert matrices when getting least-squares estimates.)
Jeffrey E. Barlough, The House in the High Wood: A Story of Old Talbotshire
Mind candy, of a very odd sort; only semi-recommended. On the surface, it's a dark historical fantasy set in rural 19th century England, complete with scenes of village life and a haunted mansion. The deeper in one goes, the more elements appear which are bizarre even for such a book — elements which are never explained. My best guess — n cnenyyry jbeyq jubfr uhzna vaunovgnagf ner qrfpraq sebz crbcyr jub pnzr sebz Ivpgbevna Oevgnva naq uryq ba gb gubfr zberf gb n evqvphybhf rkgrag (qryvorengr geniryref? fangpurq ol fbzr zlfgrevbhf sbepr? zreryl ivpgvzf bs enaqbz vagreqvzrafvbany jrveqarff?), cyhf n ybg bs ceruvfgbevp navznyf rkgvapg va bhe jbeyq, oebhtug bire ol gur fnzr cebprff — turns out to be not what the author had in mind, though not that far off either. This setting, I have to say, did nothing for me, but I can see how many would like it (*), and Barlough certainly has real skills as a novelist.
*: Bgure crbcyr zvtug fcrphyngr ba gur nccrny bs na vzntvanel jbeyq jurer gur fbyr yvtug bs pvivyvmngvba vf na Nzrevpna jrfg pbnfg vf ragveryl vaunovgrq ol JNFCf, jub qvqa'g rira unir gb rkgrezvangr nal angvirf gb trg gur ynaq, ohg jung qb V xabj nobhg Oneybhtu'f zbgvirf, be gur sne zber inevbhf barf bs uvf snaf? Jung V pna fnl pbasvqragyl gung, nf n jbex bs fcrphyngvir svpgvba, gur jbeyq-ohvyqvat vf ynhtunoyl jrnx. Gung na nygreangr irefvba bs bhe jbeyq jurer gur Vpr Ntrf arire raqrq, jurer gurer vf ab thacbjqre, naq jurer gur Nzrevpnf jrer havaunovgrq orsber Rhebcrnaf cynagrq frggyre pbybavrf, jbhyq unir n Oevgnva, zhpu yrff bar jubfr phygher va 1839 jnf whfg yvxr jung vg jnf urer, fubjf n gbgny snvyher bs uvfgbevpny frafr. Guvf vf bayl zngpurq ol gur vqrn gung n praghel naq n unys yngre, nsgre n tybony raivebazragny pngnfgebcur vapyhqvat, nzbat bgure guvatf, gur gbgny qvfehcgvba bs nyy ybat-qvfgnapr genqr, gung phygher jbhyq erznva pbzcyrgryl hapunatrq. (Naq vg qbrfa'g rira frrz gb or gung gurl bayl guvax gurl'ir cerfreirq guvatf hapunatrq.) Jbeyq-ohvyqvat vf, bs pbhefr, abg gur bayl iveghr sbe fcrphyngvir svpgvba --- zhpu gur fnzr pevgvpvfzf nccyl, zhgngvf zhgnaqvf, gb Anbzv Abivx'f vzzrafryl sha Ancbyrbavp frn qentba fgbevrf --- ohg urer vg xrcg wneevat zr.
I say this as someone who likes the idea of a North America which still has all the old Pleistocene megafauna.
Peter Straub, Houses without Doors
Mind candy: a collection of his horror stories, though two of these are really too long to be stories ("The Buffalo Hunter", 130 pages; "Mrs. God", 166). "Blue Rose" and "The Juniper Tree" were fine (they relate to Straub's novels, but stand alone); I did not care for "The Buffalo Hunter" at all. "A Short Guide to the City" is creepy (*), as is "Something About a Death, Something About a Fire"; in neither story does much of anything at all happen. "Mrs. God", finally, is a Gothic extravagance with a haunted stately house, hostile villagers, mysterious manuscripts, eerie parallels across generations, morally and biologically decayed aristocrats, a viewpoint character who doesn't so much have perceptions as a continuous running pathetic fallacy, and, because this is Straub, poetry. (Also, again because this is Straub, no explanations of anything at all.)
*: And, I'm afraid, just a bit racist in the way it describes the South Siders. Which is a shame, because that bit is also one of the best parts of the story.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Mercy
At the end of the last volume, I thought there was no way this series could be satisfyingly finished in one more book. I should have had more trust in the author.
Spoiler-ish comments: V qvqa'g frr ubj Oerd pbhyq cbffvoyl jva ntnvafg Nannaqre Zvnannv --- abe qvq V guvax gung nsgre nyy guvf, Yrpxvr jnf tbvat gb unir Oerd hygvzngryl qrsrngrq. (Gubhtu n zrnare nhgube zvtug unir.) Jung V qvq abg pbhag ba jnf Oerd'f zvffvba bs crefbany ergevohgvba ribyivat vagb na NV yvorengvba zbirzrag, phyzvangvat va sbhaqvat gur Phygher.
Seth Dickinson, The Traitor Baru Cormorant
Mind candy fantasy epic. I picked this up on the recommendation of Kameron Hurley, and was not disappointed: it is the only fantasy novel I have run across which turns on questions of economics and imperialism, and still manages to avoid cynicism. (Which, come to think of it, is hard with realist fiction.) Further comments ROT-13'd for spoilers: Gung Oneh jbhyq orgenl gur eroryyvba jnf boivbhf rabhtu gb zr sebz gur zbzrag gur ercerfragngvir bs gur Uvqqra Znfgref znqr pbagnpg jvgu ure --- uryy, boivbhf rabhtu sebz gur gvgyr. Rira gur trareny angher bs gur svany grfg jnf boivbhf. Naq lrg vg fgvyy jnf dhvgr nssrpgvat, qrfcvgr zl univat abguvat crefbanyyl vairfgrq Oneh'f cnegvphyne inevrgl bs sbeovqqra ybir.
Whether Baru emerges at the end triumphant yet tragic, or merely tragic, I hesitate to say.
Raziuddin Aquil, Sufism, Culture and Politics: Afghans and Islam in Medieval North India
This divides fairly cleanly into three parts. The first is about the history of Sher Shah Sur, who, depending on your perspective, either was the successor to the Afghan (=Pashtun, pretty much) Lodi dynasty as sultan of Delhi and emperor of Hindustan, or was a rebel against the Timurids, temporarily expelling Humayun and setting the stage for Akbar. Aquil does a good job of setting out all the accouns from all the primary sources, which left me, at least, in a great deal of doubt about what exactly happened when. The second part is about the administration of the Afghan dynasties and their incorporation of local Rajputs into their imperial project. The third is about the political role of Sufi orders (including their stories about beating Hindu yogis in displays of supernatural force; disappointingly, Aquil does not inquire what stories contemporary yogis told about sufis) and the role of sufis in cross-religious syncretism. These are only loosely coupled to each other, though there are some connections.
Aquil presumes a reader familiar with at least the outlines of the political and religious history of northern India during the 15th and 16th centuries, and makes no concession to ignorance on this score. (I am not ashamed to admit how much I relied on my memories of Amar Chitra Katha comics read as boy.) With even the minimal necessary background, however, he has some fascinating things to say, both about massive empires rising and falling over little more than a decade, and how this was intertwined with both profound mystical spirituality and gross superstition (with, naturally, the superstition predominating).

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Scientifiction and Fantastica; Writing for Antiquity; Islam; Enigmas of Chance; Cthulhiana

Posted at October 31, 2015 23:59 | permanent link

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