Note: Yes, it's been a too long since I've had time to
update this page. I do have a stack of books sitting around to add
to it, but it's been so long since I read some of them that I'll
have to read 'em again.
I should have started this years ago, when I was reading a lot more, but
then again, the World Wide Web didn't exist then. At some point it'd be
cool to list my entire library, with short reviews, but since that's
boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of books that I haven't unpacked
yet, for the forseeable future let's just see how I manage to keep up
logging what I read for the next few months.
For those who are simply curious about me, or for those who find
capsule-form book reviews useful in their search for interesting
books, this page records my opinions and observations about some
of the books I've read recently.
May I ask a favour of you who read this page? I'd like some
opinions on a format
question. Should I keep the bibliographical notes at the end in the
traditional last-name-first format for authors' names, or it it easier
to read if I just put the names in straight?
My Gender Workbook
Kate Bornstein posing a whole bunch of questions about gender.
When I heard about this book I knew I'd have to read it -- her
earlier Gender Outlaw made a big impression on me.
Fortunately one of my housemates brought home a copy from a gender
conference and left it where I could find it. :-)
The Timeless Way of Building
This is a book about architecture, which I expect to find
interesting on that basis, but the main reason I'm reading
it is that one of my housemates suggested it to help me
understand the concept of a "pattern language". Unfortunately
the author seems to be a better architect and philosopher than
writer. This is an easy book to get distracted from.
Thieves Of Light
This is a Photon(TM) novel. I picked it up expecting it to be
terribly cheesy. It turned out to be moderately cheesy, but
awfully heavy-handed. The premise of the novel is that Photon
game centers are actually recruiting centers for an alien
alliance (the Photon Alliance) engaged in a war against forces
of darkness ("Arrians"). The high school protagonist suddenly
finds himself recruited into this army and has a lot of adjustments
to make. Unfortunately there's not a lot of subtlety about any
of it, and with various other do-good tidbits stirred into the
mix (such as his finding himself in a situation (strategy &
tactics training) where he has to study, understand history, and
deal with all the academic stuff he coasted on back on Earth),
and the result is klunky and often predictable. Now there
are some fun bits, and the early chapters did succeed
in kindling a bit of nostalgia for Photon, a game I've not played
in many years -- so it did what Photon Marketing Limited wanted
it to do (is it still around?) -- but overall it feels like it
was written in a hurry and written to a formula. (Funny thing,
but it also made me want to go watch "The Last Starfighter"
again. Go figure.) A perfectly innocuous way to waste an afternoon
if nothing more worthy is close at hand, but hardly one to go out
Tiger! Tiger!, also published as
The Stars My Destination
A classic, and deservedly so. I picked up Tiger!
Tiger!, thinking, "Well I liked The Stars My
Destination and The Demolished Man, so
maybe I'll like this." It turns out Tiger! Tiger!
was the original title for The Stars My Destination,
but since the fifth time I read it was several years ago, I
decided it was time to read -- and enjoy -- this novel again.
Set in the twenty-fourth century, against a backdrop of impending
war brought on by economic changes wrought by the discovery of
teleportation on one hand, and over-the-top ostentation, self
importance, and conspicuous consumption among captains of industry
on the other, this is the tale of a lowbrow, no ambition spacer
who remakes himself with a drive stemming from a desire for revenge.
While the story focusses on Gully Foyle, his quest for revenge, and
the changes he undergoes along the way, even most of the supporting
characters are fleshed out enough to be interesting in their
own right (though never developed the way the protagonist is).
As I said at the start, a classic and deservedly so.
The Shapes Of Their Hearts
Melissa Scott does it yet again. Even this, my least-favourite
of her books so far, is a fine science fiction story and well
worth the time to read. The doublethink of a peculiar
religion (everyone will be able to find parallels among
real-world churches, though they may disagree as to which
ones) is the underlying setting for this novel, a "who is
chasing whom" adventure.
The Greater Trumps
This is a short novel concerning a very special deck of
Tarot cards. A sort of mystical thriller, the somewhat
interesting premis is alas handled rather clumsily. Some
very interesting-seeming characters never get really
fleshed out fully, and what drives the characters is
disappointingly simplistic. I really wanted to like
this story, but I could not. Even the symbolism of
the major arcana becomes mere background detail, and
only The Fool is explored at all. Even that card is
never understood by any of the characters despite their
preoccupation with it.
A novella about determination, art, and thinking outside the
box, this story deals with artists who are driven to create
and the limitations they must overcome. Although much of
the story takes place on a space station, I really got the
impression that the story would be completely accessible to
people who are not science fiction fans until shortly before
the ending. An inspirational story.
An engaging detective-adventure story which just happens to be
set on a planet with an interesting astrophysical quirk, this
tale moves along nicely, providing enough clues to figure out
what's going on a little before the protagonist does. I would
not call it a classic -- for one thing, this novel doesn't
exactly break a lot of new ground -- but it is certainly a
well-crafted story, worth reading. Unless, of course, you
despise detective stories. *shrug* The author manages to
do an excellent job of having his characters explain the
background phsyics without falling into the, "corny excuse
to lecture the reader" trap, and the planet and city which
are the setting are interesting in their own right.
The Day The Magic Stopped
No, this isn't part of Niven's magic-as-a-non-renewable-resource
world; it's an anthology, edited by Christopher Stasheff, which
poses a slightly different question: What happens if the magic
stops briefly? Start with a Constantinople bristling
with conspicuous, and often frivolous, magic: now where were you
when the lights went out? The anthology as a whole does work,
but the theme is perhaps a little too narrowly drawn, for after
a few stories the reader gets into the pattern: "Okay, here's
this author's setup, and here are the folks who rely too much
on magic and here's the one who is accustomed to doing without.
Now in a few pages, the magic stops, the floating buildings come
crashing down, and let's see what interesting predicament the
characters in this story have to deal with ..."
The most refreshing stories in this book are, not surprisingly,
the ones which deviate from that mold. Judith R. Conly's
"Alternative Medicine" stands out in that regard: the protagonist
is not a magically-deficient person temporarily elevated nor a
magic-waster brought low. Also Shariann Lewitt's "Loyalty",
which isn't about the temporary magic blackout but
simply uses it to facilitate a turning of the plot. While none
of the stories would disappoint on their own, the anthology would
have been better with fewer of them or with a looser starting
Get Off The Unicorn
Short stories by Anne McCaffrey. A pleasantly diverse
collection. The one weak point for me was the one dragonrider
story included -- while it was well told, it was a little
obvious and failed to remind me why I liked the dragonrider
novels so much in high school. But Ms. McCaffrey is certainly
not one of those authors who writes the same story -- or even
the same style -- over and over.
A page-turner of a science-fantasy with hard-SF imagery, I also
get the impression that the author was thinking of movies when
he wrote it. (And a hefty special-effects budget.) After it
became clear that faster-than-light travel was distorting the
very fabric of time and space, it was banned: various stars
that had been colonized are now cut off from each other. The
action takes place a couple centuries later in a planetary system
where time has been severely distorted -- there are planets which
only have one season each, another planet which does not orbit
remains a cipher, and interplanetary travel can be accomplished
in time frames convenient to the author. (Note that he escapes
my criticism of The Space Scavengers, below.
Mr. Hopen provides clear justification for the liberties he takes
with physics and is clearly writing science-fantasy. I therefore
do not hold this novel to the standards of "hard SF".) On these
worlds, where there is no formal law (though there is power
concentrated in guilds), an ex-warrior who has forsaken violence
for the sake of her deeply religious husband, a man who brought
her back to her Jewish origins, picks up the blaster and the
sword again to rescue him from those who have taken him from
her: the most powerful of all the guilds, the slavers. I called
this "science-fantasy", but perhaps "SF-fairy tale" is more
appropriate. The characters are more roles and archetypes
than people, but in this story that works just fine.
All My Sins Remembered
This books lacks some of the urgency-of-pacing of other Haldeman
novels I've read. Without bonking the reader over the head
with a clue-by-four (except in a couple of places), he manages
to redirect the reader from the "Oh my, what happens next?"
reading of the adventures to the moral and philosophical questions
raised. The blurb in the Science Fiction Book Club monthly flier
that I've seen repeatedly for as long as I've been a member sets
up the basic premise but doesn't do a thing to convey the flavour
of this story. What are the unexpected ramifications of using
hypnotic training and "personality overlays" to set up a secret
agent's cover? What is the self? Here is one disturbing slant on
those questions, sprinkled into a set of secret-agent adventures.
In the last one, we even get the pleasure of reading Haldeman-esque
aliens, a special treat.
Chicks In Chainmail
A collection of humorous short stories taking shots at the
"barbarian woman warrior" of paperback cover art and looking
for ways to approach women warriors from different angles.
From the expected "turn gender discrimination/stereotypes on
its head" to Hillary Rodham Clinton meeting the Valkyries and
a fun new twist on Cinderella. Delicious. I think my
housemates have at least one of the follow-up volumes around
Sci-Fi Private Eye
As a child, I read and enjoyed mysteries until I discovered
science fiction. So it'll come as no surprise that I
appreciated this book, an anthology of nine science
fiction crime/mystery stories. Once I got past that
amazingly cheesy title that is! The earliest story in
the volume was first published in 1954, the latest in
1977, but they're mostly timeless -- with the exception
of the Philip K. Dick story, none of them feel like
relics of their respective decades. My only complaint
is that the Niven story chosen is a Gil the ARM story
that assumes the reader is already familiar with Gil's
phantom arm -- it's mentioned but never explained.
Fortunately, I'd already read the ARM stories.
The Wind from the Sun
I'm glad I read this, but I think I prefer Clarke's
novels to his short stories. There are a few gems
in here, a few cute ideas, and a few stories that read
more like synopses/outlines. This is a 1987 reissue
of a 1971 anthology, with a new introduction and three
new stories. The title story is, in my not-so-humble
opinion, the best of the lot, and I rather enjoyed
the very brief tale, "Reunion", "The Cruel Sky", and
"A Meeting with Medusa", but apart from those I'd
have to say this is not Clarke's best work. I was
never bored, mind you, but disappointed because I
expected more from an Arthur C. Clarke anthology.
The Space Scavengers
I was surprised to note the 1975 copyright date on this
book, as the stories in it have a pronounced 1950s feel
to them. Spoiled by reading hard-science SF lately,
I found some of the "we don't need physics (or consistency)"
aspects of the author's approach to be annoying.
[When I read a book which ignores the difference in scale
between interplanetary and interstellar distances and treats
spaceships as though they were ocean liners, I prefer that
the author pull it off with at least as much of a "Yeah I
did that on purpose and it's fun" attitude as Stanislaw Lem
manages in the Star Diaries. Alas, Cartmill is
either a collection of short stories with a recurring cast
of characters or an "episodic" novel as Tristan And
Isolde or The Firebird are. In either
case, it's a set of short tales of the crew of a single-ship
space-salvage outfit, told in the first person. Each story
presents at least one puzzle which must be solved cleverly.
Yes, this longtime Niven fan has finally gotten around to
reading N-Space, a collection of old short
stories, essays, excerpts from Niven's novels, and a couple
of new short stories. I enjoyed the familiar material
and its accompanying comments from the author, and of
course I enjoyed even more the bits I was reading for the
Bimbos Of The Death Sun
I enjoyed it the first time I read it, nearly a decade ago.
I enjoyed it the second time I read it, a few years ago.
And I still enjoyed it the third time around, though I'm
starting to see the point of the folks who complain that
Ms. McCrumb's depiction of science fiction fandom is too
harshly one-sided. On the other hand, I did recognize
each stereotype from a real-life example. Bottom line:
it's an entertaining murder mystery which derives much
(but not all) of its humour from a skewering of certain
personality types who show up at conventions (while largely
overlooking other, less-skewarable ones). If you haven't read it
before, it'll keep you guessing as well as laughing.
The Kinsman Saga
This is a retelling of two of Ben Bova's novels,
Millenium and Kinsman.
Although I didn't actually spot any of the differences,
I can say that the "Kinsman" half felt as though it
hung together better than the original Kinsman,
and that the "Millenium" half seemed to flow by more
quickly than I remembered. Millenium was
one of the first books I got from the Science Fiction
Book Club, back in the 1970's when I joined, and it has
long been one of my favourites: despite the way history
has turned out differently from Bova's novels, it is
still easy to remember how plausible it seemed then.
And it's still an exciting story. When I first read
Kinsman, the "prequel", I found it to be
a good book and a good background to help me better
understand the protagonist, Chet Kinsman, but it wasn't
as good a novel as Millenium. I told friends
to read both, but read them in the order in which they
were published: Millenium first. In this
version, that has changed. The new reworking of the
"Kinsman" first half of this book is actually the better
story, and works to set up, rather than explain, the
"Millenium" second half. Now I shall have to tell my
friends to read The Kinsman Saga instead
of the earlier two novels. I still hate the ending,
but unfortunately it's the right ending. Ah well.
Another science fiction novel looking at matters of gender
and our perceptions of it. (See Shadow Man,
below.) I read the description in the Science Fiction
Book Club newsletter and just had to order it, especially
since I found the author's previous novel,
Expendable, to be an engrossing story, very
well written, and thought-provoking. The setup for this
one is that in one particular village, each summer all the
children between the ages of one and twenty change sex.
When they're twenty they have to decide which sex to remain
as adults. Those who refuse to choose are exiled (and
considered repugnant). The novel starts the night before
the protagonist's commitment ceremony, with a surprising
encounter with a stranger.
The Spider Garden
I actually found this erotic graphic novel disappointing.
Although the subject matter and presentation showed
considerable potential, I found the plot to be too
disjointed (with far too much unexplained). Furthermore
I found the art, while quite beautiful in its detail,
too "busy" to help convey the action effectively. The
overall effect was of a beautiful but hastily thrown
together photo-essay (but in drawings instead of photos),
in which the images clearly have a sequence, but
the story they tell really isn't so obvious. Unfortunately
the voice ballons didn't fill in all the gaps. I'll read
the sequel in case the artist lives up to some of the
potential I saw in this volume -- there were a few panels
which conveyed important elements cleanly and beautifully
without a word, but too few to redeem the book. As for
the erotic appeal, while the situations presented are the
right ones to push several of my buttons, when I have to
carefully analyze each line of a drawing to figure out
what's going on, the images lose much of their impact; and
being story-oriented as I am, the disconnectedness of the
plot was a further impediment.
Despite being a sequel to Legacy Of Heorot,
which I also enjoyed, this book stands perfectly well
on its own for a reader who hasn't read the first novel.
This is an Impressive novel, though given the
list of authors and the job they did on the first one,
one could only expect something truly impressive.
In the framework of a story which can be read quite
enjoyably as simply an adventure, the authors examine
inter-generational conflict, and to some extent the tug-of-war
between progress and tradition. After chewing on my
impressions of it for a couple weeks, I think this would
be an excellent book to include in a high-school English
100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories
A cute concept, and a hundred very good, extremely short
stories, but unfortunately too many of the ideas are
repeated by several authors. This is really a book to
pick up, read one story out of, and set down until later.
I read it over the course of a few days, which was probably
too quickly. It'd be great to leave in the bathroom for
guests to read, or in a waiting room somewhere.
Mother Of Storms
On the whole an enjoyable novel with some interestings twists
in it, but flawed, I feel, at both ends. The first several
pages felt amateurish to me, though it quickly picked up and
got better. I had more problems with the ending, which suffers
a flaw similar to the end of Greg Bear's novel, Blood
Music (which was not a problem in the short story version):
by the end of the novel it feels as though the author is
trying to describe something he can't adequately imagine or
describe. *sigh* And the ending was a little too "neat" for
me. Ah well. Despite those complaints, it's a fascinating
story about global disaster, and a fascinating glimpse at some
important physics (assuming Mr. Barnes didn't fudge the math,
which I should ask more meterologically-cluefull friends about).
It feels as though Mr. Barnes wanted to teach his
readers while entertaining us, and fortunately, until the
"gee, how do I finish this" ending, the entertainment
does not suffer.
Handbook of Better Photography
Photography has changed a bit in fifty years since this book
was published (at least the edition I wound up with), but I'm
counting on a lot of the advice regarding composition and lighting
to be universal -- especially since I'm interested in doing more
work in black & white. Cameras change, but I figure the pictures
don't, much. Admittedly it's a little disconcerting that the
book mentions exposures for "slow" and "fast" film, and I get
the feeling that the "fast" film is considered slow today...
Anyhow, I picked up a bunch of useful advice from this book,
and additional advice that looks like it'll be useful once I
figure out how to apply it. More concrete examples, and maybe
some exercises, would have made this more useful to me, and about
twice as long.
Cycle of Fire, by Hal Clement
While I could not help thinking of Hal Clement's lectures at
science fiction conventions (on such topics as creating
biologically plausible aliens and such) and applying what I
remember from those to this novel, that did not distract me
from the plot and the characters. It did remind me that
Mr. Clement's students, when he was teaching school, must
have been very fortunate to have him as a teacher. I found
the setup interesting:
a glider pilot crashes in unfamiliar territory and encounters
a strange creature -- a human -- whom he assumes is native to the
region, while the human, who has been stranded on the planet,
initially assumes the glider pilot is not native to
the planet. The development of the communication between the
two main characters, and the gradual unfolding of the riddles
of the planet, occur at a believable pace. Although I was not
completely satisfied with part of the story shortly
before the ending, I did enjoy this book.
Sandman (the) Brief Lives
This is the second Sandman graphic novel my friend Crystal has
loaned me. The first showed me the difference between a graphic
novel and a comic book. I enjoyed this one as well and may be on
my way to getting hooked on this series. I loved Delerium!
The Callahan Chronicals
This is a collection of the first three Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
books into one volume. I've read them before, but it was about
time for a reread, so receiving this volume as a gift was nice.
It was also nice to read them all at one sitting, for a change.
Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook
This is an impressive book. I borrowed it expecting
something along the lines of, "Here are some pointers
and general rules of thumb for setting up a sound system,
and here are the parts". But no, this is more like
"Sound Reinforcement 101", minus the
homework exercises. It starts with general principles
(physics and electronics) and works forward, making sure
the reader understands the reasoning behind the
advice and rules of thumb eventually presented. Apart
from some "That's beyond the scope of this book" comments,
which appear to be well warranted, this book is thorough.
You don't get to microphones until chapter 10, and loudspeakers
don't come in until chapter 13. There's a complete chapter on
nothing but cables and connectors. But you know what's really
nifty about this book? Not only is does it give you a thorough
grasp of the fundamentals, but it's well written and fun.
At least it's fun for someone who's been curious about this
stuff for a while and isn't afraid of diving into a 400+ page
book. It makes me interested in going back to school to study
the topics that are too advanced (or just too detailed) for this
book. Heck, I'd even do the homework.
Shadow Man by Melissa Scott
Okay, this isn't exactly recent but it seemed too
recent to include under "old favourites" below. If you're
interested in a great science fiction story exploring
cultural differences between two societies, read this book.
If you're transgendered or know someone who is, read this
book. If you want to read an example of fine writing with
a strong visual impact (I WANT TO SEE THIS STORY MADE INTO
A MOVIE!), read this book.
Larry Niven's "Known Space" series. A few years ago a friend
and I were discussing some point of "history" in the Known
Space universe and we wound up citing all sorts of details
from various stories. Finally I said, "Y'know, it's pretty
scary that I have a better grasp of the history of Known
Space than I do of real-world history." I like pretty much
all of Niven's work, but I have a special fondness for Known
Space. And Draco Tavern.
Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino.
Don't read the blurb
on the back cover -- it makes the novel sound cheesy. This book
is hard to put down, and when you finally finish it, even on a
reread, you're left with a feeling that you can go out and Change
The World. Every musician should read this story.
Another Fine Myth by Robert Asprin.
While I have
not yet tired of this series, the first few books are still my
A Night in the Lonesome October,
by Roger Zelazny
This is a novel with an unusual structure. It begins on the
first of October, narrated by a watchdog of human intelligence,
the familiar of a fellow of a magical bent. Each of the
thirty-one chapters covers the events of a single day. Some
chapters are of a reasonable length. Some are one or two pages.
Zelazny does not merely get away with this -- he makes it an
asset to the telling of the tale. The first time I read this
book, I started reading on the first of October and forced
myself to stick to only one chapter a day, which was quite
difficult as the mystery developed. The mapping of read-time
to story-time was quite interesting, however, and I do not
hestitate to suggest the same exercise to other readers.
My Gender Workbook;
1998, Routledge; New York, NY.
Note that I'm looking at the Advance Uncorrected
Proof, so I don't get to see the illustrations
by Diane DiMassa. Incentive to go buy a real
The Greater Trumps;
1954. 1980, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,
Grand Rapids, MI (first published in 1932 by
Victor Gollancz, Limited);
LC shelf number: PZ3.W67144Gr8 (PR6045.I15)
LC catalog number: 76-18873
Dewey Decimal: 823'.9'12