November 30, 2015

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur, November 2015

Attention conservation notice: I have no taste.

John Scalzi, The End of All Things
Mind candy science fiction, latest in the series begun with Old Man's War. At the surface level, it's a fun series of skiffy adventures, in which there are schemes, explosions, gadgets, secret lairs, etc., etc. Inter-textually, this is Scalzi sticking the knife in in dialogue with Starship Troopers, having begun (in the first book) with a set-up which seems like a re-tread of Heinlein's ideology in that book, and then systematically having that universe collapse under the weight of its internal contradictions (as my ancestors would've put it). I admit that taking pleasure in the latter aspect of the books is a recherché taste, and that I generally prefer my mind candy to be less inward-looking.
Sarah Vowell, Lafayette in the Somewhat United States
In which Vowell tackles the American Revolution, our memory of the Revolution, and how we owe our entire national existence to the French.
Kathleen George, Hideout
C. J. Lyons, Snake Skin
Two mind-candy mysteries, both, as it happens, set in Pittsburgh (*). George's is part of a continuing series of police procedurals, distinguished by really good characterization; here, the stand-out characters are the rather hopeless criminals. (One distinctive feature of her books: the reader usually knows whodunnit very early on.) Lyons's, which I picked up by chance without realizing it had a local connection, is at once less elevated in its story-telling and more over-the-top in its action, but still passed the "I want to know what happens next" test.
*: Both are pretty good at the local color, at least by my standards as a mere ten-year resident rather than a real Yinzer. I admit I boggled at Lyons describing the immediate vicinity of the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts as a "blue collar" neighborhood, but then it occurred to me how rarely I go four blocks that way from it...
Jeff VanderMeer, Acceptance
High quality mind candy science fiction/horror, sequel to Annihilation and Authority. Here, at the end, we get to see the marvels hidden inside the terrors — and inside the marvels, more terrors. I actually found the fragment of an explanation we got fairly satisfying, and liked that it was only a fragment, though I realize that tastes may differ here.
John Milton, Paradise Lost
I tried this as a teenager, but don't think I got beyond the bit early in Book III where the God the Father starts monologuing his plans to the Son. On this attempt I listened to an excellent audiobook (read by Ralph Cosham), and I loved it. The language is magnificent, as is Milton's attempt to depict action on a more-than-terrestrial scale. (Though his standards for mind-boggling vastness are comically small, compared to the actual universe shown to us by astronomy.) The ideology is rubbish, of course. So: score one for approaching literary classics in maturity, rather than as a callow youth.
Stray thoughts, doubtless already immensely refined in the libraries written about this book: (1) Those are some really vivid accounts of how things looked, for a blind man. (2) Sometimes it seems like Milton's trying to excise classical-mythological allusions in favor of Biblical ones (e.g., the places named in the invocation of the heavenly Muse at the very opening), but it's like he just can't stay away from them. (3) Similarly, I think there are very few historical or contemporary-geographical allusions to places in Europe, compared to quite striking ones for Asia (e.g., X 431ff) and even Africa ("Serraliona", X 703); if that's right, why?
Finally: I kept thinking, as I was immersed in this book about a creature bent on vengeance against its all-powerful creator, "What would Justice of Torren One Esk Nineteen make of this?"
(N.) Lee Wood, Kingdom of Lies and Kingdom of Silence
Mind candy mystery novels. The first is a combination of a procedural and an amateur-sleuth mystery; the second is just a procedural. They're well-told, with good characterization, but too many coincidences for me to be completely satisfied in the mysteries. (Picked up because of the quality of Wood's older science fiction and fantasy, particularly Looking for the Mahdi and Bloodrights.)

Books to Read While the Algae Grow in Your Fur; Pleasures of Detection, Portraits of Crime; Scientifiction and Fantastica; The Beloved Republic; Writing for Antiquity; The Commonwealth of Letters

Posted at November 30, 2015 23:59 | permanent link

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