One of my favorite books. I like "To Say Nothing of the Dog" so much I've given a copy to almost everyone I know, along with the first several tracksOne of my favorite books. I like "To Say Nothing of the Dog" so much I've given a copy to almost everyone I know, along with the first several tracks of my amateur audiobook version of it. That's right - I love the book so much I did a vanity audiobook recording of me reading the book. Connie Willis is a great author in general (though I found her most famous book, The Doomsday Book, to be a bit harder to read), but this particular story is my favorite of hers. So far.
The story involves a literary scholar who works for a futuristic government's division of time traveling historians. He is sent back in time to address a blunder that already happened, but experiences a series of unfortunate and often hilarious setbacks in the execution of the task. Most of the difficulties arise directly or indirectly from problems with the mechanism of time travel itself: disorientation and emotional fallout of the transfer, the universe's temporal inertia, and so on. The story jumps around through different time periods in recent English history, and Willis is good at portraying the different time periods and the cultures of the different times as well. Since her character is a literary scholar, Willis is able to indulge herself (and us) with a good amount of entertaining literary references as the character travels to different locations where authors are working or have been inspired in their work. A significant part of the book takes place on the river Thames in and around Oxford in different eras, and has a good deal of the pacing and tone of an Oscar Wilde drama, with all the attendant mistaken identities, confusion, and slapstick that implies.
In other words, this is a very well-executed time travel comedy....more
A great book that I enjoyed very, very much. It's a detective novel set in the ultra-high-tech society that Alastair Reynolds has written about previoA great book that I enjoyed very, very much. It's a detective novel set in the ultra-high-tech society that Alastair Reynolds has written about previously in books like Chasm City. Apparently I'm a sucker for such juxtapositions of genre, as I loved this book as much or more as one of my other favorites, Walter Jon Williams' Voice of the Whirlwind. The book follows three characters who are all prefects of Panoply, the legal enforcement organization. It's simple to think of them as cops, but their charter is unlike any police force in the real world; their only authority is to enforce the application of democracy, as realized in this futuristic world. That is to say, all of their authority (and the only crimes they can prosecute) is based on a citizen's right to vote. Tamper with a citizen's ability to vote, and you've committed a crime. Since voting is done through the omnipresent "abstraction" (a wireless computer network that anyone can access with any variation of a network terminal - most characters in the world have the network access built into their brains), very little can actually impede the voting process. Kidnap a person? Not a crime, unless the kidnapper somehow cut off the citizen's ability to connect to the network. Torture? Not a crime...unless it interrupts the citizen's ability to connect to the network for voting. In this book, we primarily see three variations on this "interrupting democracy" crime: actual vote tampering, network interruption, and murder. The primary protagonist is Tom Dreyfus, a Field Prefect who is training his subordinate, a new graduate for prefect training named Thalia Ng, to effect Panoply's justice in a case of vote tampering. Matters quickly escalate from there, as they gradually connect a series of crimes in a vast conspiracy that will have profound effects on the entire civilization. I found the book particularly gripping.
Superficially, Reynolds' setting has a great deal in common with Iain M. Banks' Culture novels, and at the same time strikes chords with Daniel Keys Moran's Tales of the Continuing Time, but it's interesting to see how different authors approach far future humanity with regards to artificial intelligence. Each of these authors has created a far future society in which extreme body modification and cybernetic connection to the network is the norm; people in each can and have reformed their bodies into exotic and disturbing forms, to the extent that it's unlikely that a person could come up with a configuration that hadn't been tried already. Want to implant your brain and neural network into the body of a giant butterfly? It's been done. Realize that you will live your entire life in space and never enter a gravity well, so you wish to replace your legs with another set of arms? You'll have plenty of company. But for all their similarity, they each have a very different take on machine intelligence. Moran assumes that AIs will be present in the far future, but rigorously policed as inherently dangerous. Banks, like Asimov before him, sees AIs as omnipresent caretakers of humanity and inherently benevolent, so no control or limitation is in place. Reynolds is somewhere in between; in the Glitter Band, AIs exist, but most are recreations of human personalities..."back-ups," if you like. Artificial intelligences that aren't based on human minds are all at the level of "smart" machines, and the society does not contain or even anticipate sentient AI. So in order to enjoy each setting, you have to accept these assumptions about AI; for some readers, this may be too difficult, but I was able to roll with it in each instance....more
WARNING to my friends: do NOT read reviews or summaries of this book on Goodreads, as every one I've seen has casually given away a big portion of theWARNING to my friends: do NOT read reviews or summaries of this book on Goodreads, as every one I've seen has casually given away a big portion of the book, explaining what's going on in a way that the book intentionally takes a long time to reveal. A second NOTE: this book stands alone, so do not be fooled by the "Radix #4" label, as if it is fourth in a larger cycle.
That said, this is an A.A. Attanasio book. Among other things, this means that it is a big story that has been intentionally and lovingly crafted to resemble another author's style exactly. This book is Attanasio's Jack Vance science fiction book. Jack Vance writes stories that feature complicated space opera/science fantasy plots with a vast array of improbably hyperbolic settings, dispassionate and sarcastic characters, and an indulgently elaborate vocabulary. Attanasio emulates all this and the distinctive style of Vance's prose flawlessly. It's a great story, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of science fantasy, space opera, and/or Jack Vance....more
Simply put, this is the best vampire novel I have ever read. I'm biased towards stories that involve the Romantic poets, of course. This is a Tim PoweSimply put, this is the best vampire novel I have ever read. I'm biased towards stories that involve the Romantic poets, of course. This is a Tim Powers novel set in the past, which as always means that it is excellent....more
The term "role-playing game" carries a lot of baggage with it, ultimately because the role-playing games that most people have experienced are eitherThe term "role-playing game" carries a lot of baggage with it, ultimately because the role-playing games that most people have experienced are either frameworks for telling fantastical adventure stories, or are games (like video games) based on such frameworks. Fiasco is, in some respects, the most role-playing oriented role-playing game I've ever seen, even though it lacks most of the things that have become essentially synonymous with the term. For instance, it doesn't have character sheets, levels, skills, character advancement, attack tables, combat rules, equipment lists, or treasure of any kind. Thinking of it that way, one could make an argument that it isn't a role-playing game at all!
But it is. It's just wholly different than any other role-playing game ever written. As such, I feel the need to clarify that Fiasco is a "collaborative acting and story-telling party RPG." The book describes how to play the game of Fiasco. In a game, a table of 3 - 5 people play the characters in a psychological drama usually involving some kind of crime or heist that goes horribly awry, that they make up as they go along.
The book describes how the people at the table - all players - choose a setting (what the game calls a "playset") for the story that they're going to tell. Each playset consists of four pages, with each page presenting random tables for four sorts of things that connect the different characters: relationships (mandatory for adjacent players), objects, locations, and needs. Somebody rolls a pile of dice and then the players take turns selecting dice from the results that correspond to the choices they find particularly interesting. Then, having relationships and at least one other connecting element between each player, the people at the table fill in some detail, collaborating on creating their characters. Once that's done, each player takes a turn, performing improvised scenes with his character and another player to advance the plot and develop the relationships. The dice act as a nice guiding mechanic, as other players either get to tell you what the scene you perform will be, or get to decide whether it ends well for your character or not. Halfway through the game, two players are selected at random to determine what "goes wrong" to mess up the flow of the action, and the players take a break to discuss how the game is going, what they liked, and ideas for where it will go (this break is a mandatory part of the game, written into the rules). Finally, the players get back together and continue performing scenes as before, working toward the climax and resolution to the plot.
It's a wonderful game, that results in very interesting and often very funny stories that you build with your friends. I highly recommend it, particularly for people who like to write, act, or otherwise tell stories.
Even though I love the game that results from the book, I have to gripe a bit about the book itself. Like most RPGs, the book leaves a lot to be desired as a reference work. The book is geared for one reading, walking the reader slowly through the steps of the different phases of the game. Unfortunately, it's clearly was not made for repeated readings, much less being able to look stuff up during play. The instructions are scattered throughout the entire volume, and so finding what you want to look up is often an exercise in re-reading entire chapters of the book. Thankfully, the game is pretty elementary, and players should know how to play the game after actually playing it once or twice....more
A Tim Powers novel in a time other than our own. If you know my reaction to Powers' novels, you know that's shorthand for "absolutely great adventureA Tim Powers novel in a time other than our own. If you know my reaction to Powers' novels, you know that's shorthand for "absolutely great adventure story." Like The Drawing of the Dark, The Anubis Gates, The Stress of Her Regard, and Dinner at Deviant's Palace, On Stranger Tides picks a setting (this one in the Americas of the early 18th century), applies a bit of the supernatural, and results in a fantastic adventure built around a normal person being swept up by events into a quest much larger than what he originally set out to do.
Although I knew that this book was the inspiration for the fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" film (it's not even remotely the same, by the way), I was surprised to read somewhere that this book is also considered the source upon which all the "Monkey Island" video games are based. That makes at least as much sense as the Disney film; all three are pirates stories that involve the supernatural and undead....more
A relatively late Discworld novel, Making Money is the second book featuring career con man Moist von Lipwig, and it picks up shortly after Going PostA relatively late Discworld novel, Making Money is the second book featuring career con man Moist von Lipwig, and it picks up shortly after Going Postal ended (though it is not necessary to have read that first - it's never necessary to read any of the Discworld novels in any particular order, except to see how Pratchett has changed as a writer). Moist has reformed the post office, now the Patrician offers him a way into a new challenge: save the Ankh-Morpork bank. This ends up involving taking over the mint and the formation of printed currency. Moist refuses the offer, but as usual Moist gets maneuvered into taking the challenge, as the chairwoman of the bank leaves half of the bank's stock to her dog, and gives the dog to Moist. So he's involved whether he likes it or not.
This is one of the better Discworld novels. I find the character of Moist really appealing somehow, and the character of Mr. Bent - the chief cashier at the bank - is fabulous. Like all the more recent Discworld novels, it's nowhere near as absurd or action-packed as the early ones; Making Money is much more focused on whimsy and character interactions. Also, many of the later novels follow something of a template, involving both a focused exploration of one theme (football, currency, postal service, police, the military, etc) for satirical advantage and one quirky mystery character whose exact nature is only discovered at the end. Of all the Discworld novels I've read so far, Mr. Bent is the best iteration of these quirky mystery characters (better than Albert and Mr. Nutt, for instance). ...more
This is a wonderful book by an author completely unknown to me. It's also first in a series called "The Dagger and the Coin." If I had to give it a HoThis is a wonderful book by an author completely unknown to me. It's also first in a series called "The Dagger and the Coin." If I had to give it a Hollywood pitch, it's "a light cross between Stephenson's 'The Baroque Cycle' and Martin's 'A Song of Ice and Fire.' Like both of those series, this one follows a diverse cast of characters across a number of parallel stories. It has the brutal politicking of both, as well as the financial maneuvering of Stephenson's books. It also has a framing device similar to Martin's: it begins and ends with an ancient threat resurfacing which is more dreadful than anything else that happens, and to which everyone in the body of the book is completely oblivious. But [u]The Dragon's Path[/u] reads as more polished than either Stephenson or Martin; it's like their books boiled down to core themes and concepts, then written in a tight and often humorous style that keeps the pages turning.
An interview with the author is appended to the edition I read; in this interview, Abraham states both that he wanted to recapture the excitement he felt when reading Eddings as a teenager and to present an epic fantasy with little violence. Both are very telling statements, and get at the core of why I liked this book so well: it is a compelling story engagingly written with a minimum of self-indulgent description or soapbox-preaching (like Eddings), and it manages to be as suspenseful and bleak without the graphic sex and violence of either Stephenson or Martin. Yes, there is sex and there is violence, but both serve definite purposes of character development and/or necessary plot.
The story is so well-crafted that it induced giggles of glee when I realized how seemingly inconsequential details Abraham had set up in the beginning finally revealed their purposes more than a hundred pages later. Nothing is wasted, and pretty much everything in the book sets up or informs something that comes later. It's like an intricate puzzle, and admiring the many layers of the work is nearly as satisfying as just reading the thing.
The world-building is also quite enjoyable for me, though I can imagine for many it would be off-putting. There are nearly as many races here as in Talislanta or Jorune, and few have clear analogues in other fiction. Abraham doesn't present a cast of characters, an appendix, or a glossary to help the reader keep track or to visualize what each race looks like. I found this very refreshing. His one concession to standard fantasy is to include a map, which really isn't necessary and is actually a bit distracting.
In general, I love the idea of "The Ancients" in science fiction and fantasy both. Here the Ancients are dragons. The dragons were emperors of the world that created the various sentient races as servitors. Then, when the dragons were killed off in a war, the various races were left to fend for themselves, and all of civilization and all of history stems from that time onward. Similarly to Jordan's "A Wheel of Time" series, the very mention of "dragon" sends a shudder of fear and revulsion into the heart of anyone who hears it, even after thousands of years. One reminder of the horrible power of the dragons is the omnipresence of a material called "dragon's jade:" an unbreakable green glass-like substance that remains, unchanged thousands (or is it tens of thousands?) of years after the dragons themselves have gone...most notably as a network of roads that served as the transportation network for the slaves (since they can't fly like the dragons).
Not much of a spoiler, but: (view spoiler)[Marcus Wester is a famous warrior-general who retired from leading armies after his wife and daughter were killed when his lord betrayed him. He now works as captain of a group of mercenaries, though the story begins just as he discovers that his men have been thrown into prison. Cithria is a teenaged girl who was made ward of a bank in Vanai when she was orphaned as a toddler; as a result, she's been learning the world of finance while being raised by bankers. Master Kit is the charismatic leader of a troupe of traveling actors. Dawson Kalliam is a Baron and friend since childhood to the King of Antea; Dawson works to protect the integrity of the throne from outside influence, rivalries within the court, and even from the King himself, who has a habit of making poor decisions. Geder Palliako is the spoiled fat slob of a minor noble, sent with a force of knights and soldiers to settle a dispute with Vanai. Geder is the butt of many jokes, though he just wants people to like him and let him read in peace. All these characters' stories overlap and intertwine wonderfully. (hide spoiler)]
I very much look forward to reading the next book in the series.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This is another Discworld novel, and the first to feature career con man Moist von Lipwig. As it is a later Discworld novel, it focuses on satiricallyThis is another Discworld novel, and the first to feature career con man Moist von Lipwig. As it is a later Discworld novel, it focuses on satirically exploring one theme (the post) and on one character (Moist). Unlike many of Pratchett's other novels, there isn't really a mystery character whose true nature is not discovered until the end, though the hired killer Mr. Gryle is not far from one.
The book begins with Moist having been caught and sentenced to death. He's hung until nearly dead, declared dead, and taken away. Sometime later, after his neck has mostly recovered, he is brought before the Patrician. Vetinari is concerned with the Grand Trunk clacks system (a sort of steampunk telegraph/semaphore) and the people running it, particularly the fabulously-named Reacher Gilt. So he has set up a plan to have Moist challenge the clacks with the postal service. He can't know how it will play out, but he knows both men and figures that the overlapping services will clash - effectively setting one con man against another. He doesn't reveal any of this to Moist, of course, just the offer to run the postal service. Moist considers the likely alternative and accepts. To ensure his faithfulness, Vetinari assigns a golem (Pump #19) to be Moist's tender, and Moist starts work. Moist loves a challenge and can't help but raise the stakes - he lives for the gamble - and so soon he's making promises that somehow, miraculously, he manages to keep, until he's conned everyone in the city into believing in him. He also meets the daughter of the founder of the clacks system, who is a drop-dead gorgeous harridan and very bitter about everything. Moist can't help but fall madly in love with her. He creates stamps which quickly become an alternative currency. The book inevitably develops into a showdown between Moist and Reacher Gilt, which is resolved in a very satisfying way using Reacher's own clacks to trap him. The book is neatly bookended by Vetinari meeting with Reacher Gilt and making him an offer to run the city's bank. Clearly he thinks using the criminal you know is better than relying on ones you don't...and all the better if you have some leverage on that criminal. This neatly sets up a later book, Making Money.
It should be noted that Pratchett cleverly sends up two institutions in this novel, rather than the usual one: both the postal service and telephone service are ridiculed to good effect here. Moist is a compelling character with a very strong narrative voice, and the long-lived golems are used quite well, too....more
Awesome. I'd read this a decade or so ago, and I recalled being very impressed with it, but not much else. So I re-read it, today. I'm very, very imprAwesome. I'd read this a decade or so ago, and I recalled being very impressed with it, but not much else. So I re-read it, today. I'm very, very impressed with Sachar's writing, particularly his plotting, and how every tangled detail ends up being relevant to the story...it's up there with Jones and Kingsolver and McDonald in terms of the sheer craft that went into this book. By the end, I was laughing out loud just as I did with The Bean Trees, which is to say out of sheer delight for the artistry I was witnessing. I'm selling it too high, I know, but I am very, very impressed.
I'd love to read this aloud to my kids, but I hesitate. Some books benefit from being read aloud, and some are best read aloud - Keillor's works spring to mind - but many books are so perfectly crafted for the printed word that they lose something in just hearing them. This, I think, is one of those.
On one level, the book is about a boy named Stanley who is convicted of a theft he didn't commit, and given the choice to work at a penal camp or go to prison. Thinking it would be preferable, he and his family choose the camp, Camp Green Lake. On another level, the book is about the history of several immigrant families, the reasons they left their homes, and the history of the Texas community where they arrived in the United States.
This book stands easily with Nancy Farmer and Diana Wynne Jones' books as some of the best YA fiction out there: compelling, wonderfully crafted, andThis book stands easily with Nancy Farmer and Diana Wynne Jones' books as some of the best YA fiction out there: compelling, wonderfully crafted, and with a universal appeal beyond typical 'teen subjects.' It reminded me of both George R. R. Martin's character Arya and some of the best psychological thrillers (I'm thinking of making a playset for 'Fiasco' based on the book)....more
Card continues to impress me. This book continues the story started in "The Memory of Earth," detailing the tension between the pressure of high-stakeCard continues to impress me. This book continues the story started in "The Memory of Earth," detailing the tension between the pressure of high-stakes dramatic events in the lives of many characters and the directions they receive from their god, the caretaker computer system called the Oversoul, which knows best what they should be doing. Do they act out of their own knowledge, or trust the Oversoul to know what's best, even if the actions seem counter-productive, or even foolish?
Broadly speaking, the setting reminds me of Cherryh's Hammerfall - in that there is apparent inspiration from Exodus, and a vast non-human power that communicates with its people in the desert. The writing and style of storytelling reminds me much more of "The Song of Ice and Fire," though Card manages to develop and present similar ambitions, passions and jealousies of nuanced characters in about a fifth of the length that Martin does.
Here's what happens: (view spoiler)[ The Oversoul sends dreams to the people it has caused to be in the city of Basilica, trying to convey both direction and a sense of urgency. At the end of the last book, Nafai had slain Gaballufix, but his army of disenfranchised outcasts is still in the city. Fearing reprisals against everyone involved, Nafai's mother Rasa sends away the faithful gate guard, Smelost, who let Nafai out of the city. She thinks quickly and writes a note of introduction to the warrior nation of Gorayni. Smelost flees from the city and heads north. Gaballufix's steward, Rashgallivak, attempts to lead the mob and consolidate control of Basilica, but the teenaged raveler Hushidh both prevents him from taking Rasa's monstrous daughters Sevet and Kokor (who seem to be monomaniacally obsessed with getting the upper hand over each other) and destroying his hold over the mob. So the mob runs rampant through the city. In the north, Smelost arrives and conveys the information of unrest in Basilica to the Gorayni's greatest general, nicknamed Moozh (a diminutive of his much longer name, which also has a meaning of "husband"). Moozh stages a scene in which he kills the imperial spies that were set to watch him, pins it on Smelost, and kills Smelost as an assassin. Then he picks a thousand men from his army and they quick march south through the desert to take Basilica. In the desert, Nafai's older brother Elemak, jealous of his kid brother's prominence in his father's attentions, shares the dream he had, in which he and all the men of his family had new wives. Nafai and his father correctly interpret this as direction from the Oversoul, and they sneak back into Basilica to fetch wives. Meanwhile, the mob and the city guard fight a pitched battle, and looting and destruction abound in the city. In the midst of this, Moozh arrives and ingratiates his way into the city guard's trust, offering to help. Quickly he takes control of the city, killing all the mob and seizing control of key points in the city. Nafai and his brothers arrive at Rasa's house and take refuge there, quickly pairing up with their intended betrotheds with the Oversoul's help. Moozh recognizes Rasa as the only real threat to his control of the city, and he tidily manages that situation by discrediting her and setting her up as a villain in the public's eye. She is confined to house arrest, but since everyone is there already, this only helps the Oversoul's plans. She marries her wards and her (husband's) sons, and then Moozh arrives to inform them that Hushidh (who is intended for Issib, the only son to remain in the desert) will be his wife, thus consolidating his control over the city. But at the last, the Oversoul's plans all come together, and Moozh is convinced to let them all go into the desert as he takes control of Basilica, shepherding the City of Women in its final years. (hide spoiler)]
Card has always been an impressive writer, and this book is very, very well done.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more