- 1/6/97: The Female Man by Joanna Russ
A classic in the science fiction cannon. One of the first
books to explore women's roles in society using SF as a
vehicle. The book gave me the impression that things, while
still not perfect, have gotten better for women in our
society since it was written. But then, I am male, so
my view is necessarily skewed. Interesting stylistically
too which made it more fun to read than, say, Atwood's
The Handmaid's Tale. I finally pulled the book off
the shelf because I'm working on Samuel Delany's Silent
Interviews where Russ' work is referenced repeatedly.
- 1/11/97: Hogg by Samuel R. Delany
This is a hard book to review. Let me say up front that
Hogg should not be read lightly. The behavior of
the characters in the book is so far out on the fringes of
human behavior that it begs the question of whether beings
who behave like these can even be called human. Don't come
crying to me if you read it and are offended.
Actually, since Delany is a Science Fiction writer
(capitals fully intended), I approached this book as a
reader of SF and being in that mindset was able to almost
unconciously treat Hogg and his cronies as aliens whose
bizarre sexual proclivities were, if not socially
acceptable, at least comprehensible. I'm not sure how I
would have read the book had I not had both a background in
reading SF and a familiarity with Delany's other writing
(unusual sexual practices run through virtually all of his
books). And since as a critic of Science Fiction writing,
Delany has characterized SF itself as "a way of reading," I
wouldn't be at all surprised if the fact that reading the
book as SF makes it easier to swallow (so to speak) were
part of what he intended.
But reading it as SF didn't neutralize its impact. The
activities depicted left me feeling nauseous on several
occasions. It's kind of amazing to me that fiction can
bring that kind of physical response, and examining that
experience and trying to figure out how (and, indeeed, why)
the book inspires such feelings is a lot of what made
reading it an interesting if not pleasant experience.
There's a lot going on in the book, from investigation of
S/M roles (the first person narrator (not Hogg) is almost
completely passive, submitting to whatever is asked of him,
while Hogg is pretty much uncontrollable) to some pretty
amazing narrative gymnastics. I could write more, but I'll
close this review with the back cover blurb from Norman
Mailer of all people. It sounds to me like the next sentence
would start off with "But..." ;-)
"There is no question that Hogg by Samuel R. Delany
is a serious book with literary merit." --Norman Mailer
- 01/20/97: Contact by Carl Sagan (repeat)
An excellent science fiction novel from the late great
Carl Sagan. SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial
Intelligence) finally succeeds, and the Message from the
ET's is the instructions for the construction of a machine.
From Sagan's afterword, the book grew out of a treatment for
a motion picture and indeed, it has finally been made and is
slated for release this summer starring Jodie Foster and
directed by Robert Zemeckis. It will be interesting to see
what Zemeckis, the king of the action adventure does with
this story, mostly of ideas.
Sagan explores the political, scientific and theological
impact of the Message with a remarkably even hand given
that we have a pretty good idea up front what his view of
the subject must have been (not to say that he doesn't
grind some axes, particularly in the areas of women's
under-representation in the scientific and political
community, and the self-serving nature of the career
He gives a particularly intriguing nod to the possibility
of rationality in religion in the person of Palmer Joss, a
former side-show performer (tatooed with a map of the
earth!) who switches to Christian evangelism after a
near-death experience (struck by lightning during his
act!). Wonder how much of that will make the movie? ;-)
(and, yes, I did say rationality)
A fun and fascinating book. If you haven't read it, do so.
- 2/6/97: Bible Stories for Adults by James Morrow
Actually, only about half of these stories are retellings
of stories from the Bible. I haven't read a short story
collection this consistent in forever. Every story is
interesting, alternately funny and profound, and
memorable. The topics range from the environment to
evolution vs creationism to commentary on war. Excellent
I read it after reading
Evelyn C. Leeper's review.
- 2/22/97: The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky by John Barnes
One of Barnes' earlier novels. Mostly about the politics and economics
of revolutions, in the setting of an early 21st century solar system.
Interesting ideas, and plenty of action, but some of the speeches and
lectures stop the story in its tracks, especially in the first couple of
chapters. Still worth reading.
- 2/23/97: The Ruby In the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Picked this up from the library just to see what Pullman's
other books are like (see The Golden Compass
from my 1996 list.) This one is a fairly straightforward
young adult mystery with some fun characters, and a mystery
that I didn't figure out though I think someone more familiar
with the genre probably would have. I believe there are
a few more books with the characters introduced here. Fun.
- 2/27/97: A History of the Early Church To A.D. 500 by J.W.C. Wand, D.D.
Originally published in 1937, Wand's history is remarkably
readable due to his economical use of the English language
and a wonderful dry sense of humor.
I was loaned this book by a friend when, after reading Luther the Reformer, I
was driven to ask how the Catholic church got that way
(legalistic and driven by the worldly ambitions of its
Well, perhaps the real answer is that it's run by humans
and could hardly be any different. But, it looks as if the
Christian faith managed to stay relatively institution-free
up until somewhere around the second century A.D. at which
point the lawyers got a firm hold on it and started trying
to nail all points of faith down into the one true way
to believe after which, if you'll pardon the
expression, everything started to go to hell.
Which came first? Lawyers or Civilization? Can we have
the latter without the former? More reading needed.
- 2/28/97: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
I read the 1989 edition which includes two additional chapters
as well as copious commentary on the 1976 original's eleven
Dawkins has a remarkable mind, and spews ideas forth in all
directions, not all of which contribute to his thesis.
This is not an easy book, but as far as I understand it,
Dawkins makes abundantly clear that his concept of the
gene (or more generally, the replicator) as the propagating
unit and driving force behind evolution is fully adequate
to explain the variety of life on Earth. In addition, one
of the newly added chapters which attempts to condense his
book The Extended Phenotype, extends the explanation
to justify the existence of us complex biological critters
in the first place. Remarkable.
- 3/3/97: The Off Season by Jack Cady
A novel about the 20th century. And about the biggest
battle between good and evil ever. Set in the fictional
town of Port Vestal which bears striking similarities to
the author's home of Port Townsend, WA. Except that Port
Vestal is chock full of ghosts. And cats. And
A very funny book that glitters with similes like a bucket
full of minnows.
- 3/8/97: Freedom and Necessity by Steven Brust and Emma Bull
Despite the blurbs which encourage one to think that these
two authors who have published mostly fantasy in the past
would continue to do so in their collaboration, this is
straight fiction. Set in mid-nineteenth century England
and told almost completely in the form of letters and
journal entries passed between the principal characters,
it's a marvel of careful writing. I never really doubted
that two of my favorite authors could pull off the research
and carry it through to execution, but I'm still impressed
with how easy they make it look.
But while the writing is beautiful, the plot leaves something
to be desired. The buildup is breathtaking, incorporating a
plethora of mysteries that seem to involve everyone in England,
but about two-thirds of the way through the book, things start
getting simpler instead of more complex, and the philosophical/
political angle becomes all but non-existant.
Still, the characters live and breathe, and make real mistakes
and real revelations and interact in interesting ways. Not
quite the classic-to-be I was thinking it might be, but still
a gripping and mostly satisfying read.
- 3/9/97: Grendel by John Gardner (repeat)
Here in Seattle there is a performing arts group called
Book-It which has been performing short stories without
changing any of the words (right down to the "he said"s and
"she said"s) for a number of years to wonderful effect.
This year has been the first when they've begun to move
into adapting longer works to the stage with an eye towards
preserving as much as possible of the original text.
Their latest effort is a production of Grendel, John
Gardner's novel retelling the Beowulf story from the point
of view of the monster.
I reread the book after seeing Book-It's production, and
all in all they did a remarkably good job of catching the
tone of Gardner's work: the loneliness and ultimate
futility of Grendel's chosen life's work of abusing
Hrothgar's minions. The Danes seen through the eyes of
their tormentor show at once all that is beautiful as well
as all that is repugnant in Man and Society.
- 3/17/97: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
I first heard of this book from Nancy Pearl, and have since
seen many respect-worthy people recommend it.
A message consisting just of alien music is detected coming
from Alpha Centauri. For reasons that are fairly
plausible, the first mission (so to speak) to investigate
is mounted by the Jesuits. Forty years later (Earth time,
remember relativity, it's only been about 5 years for those
on the mission), Father Emilio Sandoz returns to earth,
physically and mentally scarred, the only survivor.
The book flips back and forth between the events that led
up to the mission and Sandoz's return, and the
investigation after his return of what happened. On one
level the book is a carefully and plausibly written first
contact story, but it is equally an investigation of how
God is percieved by those who believe in him.
A powerful first novel. Rumor has it that a sequel is in
the works. I can't imagine why. This book stands
adequately on its own, and any revisitation of the themes
and characters is unlikely to add any value. By all means,
Ms. Russell should write more books, but this one is done.
- 3/23/97: Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb
Locus reported last month that Robin Hobb is, indeed
Megan Lindholm. This volume pretty much concludes the Farseer
trilogy. However there is plenty of room left for further
installments. This book feels like it was padded out to make
it nice and fat; there are a number of events that could as
easily have been left out. Lindholm is still a good writer,
and many of the peripheral characters are likable even if the
main one is not. The trilogy as a whole pretty much went
downhill, though the slope is shallow and at its lowest point
surpasses other hack fantasists. I hope the popularity of
the series fills the coffers well enough that Ms. Lindholm can
concentrate on something with a bit more depth and a bit fewer
- 3/23/97: The Car and the City by Alan Thein Durning
Published by the Northwest Environment
Watch, gives an overview of how we came to the state of
car-centrism and sprawl that chokes our communities. Only
65 pages and packed with information. Gives an outline of
what steps can lead back towards a high-density,
high-quality of life path of development. Well worth
- 3/29/97: Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott
This is Lamott's first novel, and maybe her best. She is
one of the most honest writers I've ever read. This book
follows a family's journey as the father goes through
treatment for a maybe cancerous brain tumor. It's a pretty
heavy subject, but the title describes the book well in
that you will laugh hard and uncontrolably at the same time
as it will be hard to laugh because everything is so
intense. Lamott gives clear demonstrations of Spider Robinson's
maxim, "Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased."
- 3/30/97: Lifehouse by Spider Robinson
This is a sequel to Time Pressure and Mindkiller (recently
released in a single mass-market paperback under the title
It's a Spider Robinson book. There are puns, there are painfully
analytic people in outlandish no-win situations, there's telepathy,
there's sex, there's another song. Oh yeah, and the universe gets
saved from certain destruction. Imagine that. Fun, but...
- 4/6/97: Encounter With Tiber by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes
Really two novels in one with one split in half and the
other plunked in between. The first novel is a story of
the progress of human spaceflight from the end of the 20th
century into the second half of the 21st. Aldrin's
experience as one who's actually "been there, done that"
gives this part of the book the ring of truth from the
hassle of dealing with NASA public relations people to the
hassle of dealing with the reality of the difference
between weight and mass. Part of this story is the
discovery of an alien signal coming from Alpha Centauri
which tells where to find stuff left in our own solar
system by an alien visit 7000 years before.
The other novel is the story of that visit and the
people who made it.
The book hammers home the point that since science is one
of the few occupations guaranteed to give us endless
sources of new and exciting things to do and discover, and
since space is a place where we can have access to truly
new discoveries rather than endless refinements of what we
already know, we would be insane not to avail ourselves of
- 4/12/97: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Ishmael is only superficially a novel, and the sort
of Socratic dialog that fills most of the book works only
marginally to make the ideas presented sink in. That's
unfortunate because the ideas are pretty mindblowing.
Quinn draws a convincing picture of "how things came to be
this way" (i.e., how our culture became the
planet-destroying juggernaut we all know and live with).
He also lays out the basic paradigm shift that needs to
happen if we're going to survive as a culture.
Required reading for anyone who's dissatisfied with the
direction we're going ecologically and culturally.
- 4/13/97: Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury
Wonderful fictionalized account of Bradbury's experiences
as a young author living in Ireland to write the screenplay
for a film adaptation of Moby Dick for director John
Huston. Paints a vivid picture of Ireland at the time.
Makes me wonder what all the women in Ireland do
while their men are spending all their time at the pub?
All the work, I suppose.
- 4/16/97: A Snowflake In My Hand by Samantha Mooney
Mooney works in the cancer ward of a veterinary hospital, and
this is an account of some of here experiences with the patients
and their owners. The book is probably for cat lovers only in
that there are only passing references to other animals.
The book is about death and mourning as much as about cats.
Mooney's resilience and positivity in this environment is
remarkable. Real tearjerker.
- 4/17/97: Mad Monks On The Road by Michael Lane and Jim Crotty
A couple of guys, a motor vehicle or two, a few cats, a Macintosh, and
the road. Lane and Crotty left their semi-settled lives in San Francisco
and set out on a journey to discover themselves and their true family.
Sort of what you might expect Hunter Thompson to write if he stopped
doing drugs and started eating all macroneurotic foods. New age gonzo
- 4/18/97: Stuff by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning
This is the latest book from Northwest Environment
Watch. It attempts to follow some of the actions of a
typical Northwest citizen through to their actual impact on
the environment. As the book is careful to point out, the
assessments are done based on generic industry data rather
than trying to trace the life of a particular french fry or
coffee bean. The book was great for giving me an idea of
the kinds of hidden impacts seemingly innocent objects can
- 4/19/97: Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man by Megan Lindholm
This is a limited edition chapbook (~1500 copies) of a
short story. It's kind of urban fantasy, but it's
written as if the point of view character is Lindholm
herself, so it makes you wonder if it might be
semi-autobiographical. Usual high quality from
- 4/19/97: Alvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card
Truly lightweight continuation of Card's
Alvin Maker series. I remember the earlier books (Seventh Son,
Prentice Alvin, and Red Prophet) as being pretty meaty,
but it's been years since I read them. This one is heavy on words
and color and moralizing and light on plot and point. Card still
writes good readable prose, but there just wasn't enough story here
to make it very interesting.
- 4/24/97: Superluminal by Vonda N. McIntyre
Somewhat like early Delany space opera, this book is about
a future elite composed of those who are biologically
suited to the trials of multi-dimensional,
faster-than-light interstellar travel. It's about levels
of perception, and the cost of progress. I really enjoyed
the characters, and the feel of the future McIntyre
depicts. Didn't hurt that the earth-bound scenes are all
set in Puget Sound ;-)
- 4/26/97: Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe by Br. Peter Reinhart
Reinhart is one of my favorite food writers. This
one is half cookbook, half memoir about Brother
Juniper's Cafe, a restaurant and bakery in Santa
Rosa California founded by Reinhart and his wife,
conceived as both an outlet for their passion for
good food, and their calling to minister to people
in meaningful ways.
And while I found the book (and its older brother,
Brother Juniper's Bread Book, which has seen
me through a number of bread baking adventures)
inspiring for Reinhart's mission, it's also culinarily
inspiring; my mouth watered through the whole thing,
and waters now just thinking about it. A joy.
- 4/27/97: Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott
A sequel to her Rosie, Lamott follows the same
characters into Rosie's adolescence. She continues to
amaze me with each of her books that she can so clearly
describe the sort of crazed internal dialogue that we
have with ourselves when our rationality is held at bay
by the force of strong emotion. I don't know how she
does it. A very beautiful book.
Lamott has a regular column in the internet magazine
- 4/28/97: Rodin on Art by Paul Gsell
A series of dialogues between Gsell and Rodin on various
topics relating to art. Fascinating look at the philosophy
and background of the brilliant sculptor. A sample:
... there is a continual exchange of thought between all
the brains of a generation -- the journalists, the popular
novelists, the illustrators, the makers of pictures bring
within the reach of the multitude the truths discovered by
the powerful intellects of the day. It is like a spiritual
stream, like a spring pouring forth in many cascades, which
finally meet to form the great moving river which
represents the mentality of an era.
- 5/4/97: Enter the Zone by Barry Sears and Bill Lawren
Simultaneously intriguing and repulsive. In the
introduction, Sears announces that his goal was always to
get rich, and the shoddy science he cites repeatedly as
proof proves only that he wasn't lying.
However, I think he may actually be onto something, it's
just unfortunate that he expects us to believe it because
he does. The mechanism he describes is similar to that in
The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet by Drs. Rachel and
Richard Heller. I've used the carbo addict's diet, and saw
relatively painless steady weight loss that only stopped
when I stopped using the diet because I wasn't willing to
restrict my diet as required.
On the other hand, a quick net search makes it pretty clear
that Sears is now into multi-level marketing schemes to
sell this diet and his handy dandy meal-in-a-candybar
product. No Zone for me, thanks.
- 5/8/97: Virtual Girl by Amy Thomson
A brilliant young man builds an anatomically correct female
robot and designs an illegal artificial intelligence to
animate her. The cover would have us believe that he did
this in order to provide himself the ideal boy toy, but in
the book it is clear that this is the farthest thing from
his mind (at least his concious mind). Arnold, the creator,
is a bit disturbed, and it becomes clear why as the story
unfolds. He lives on the street and makes his living
through salvage and scrounge. The AI is designed with this
kind of life in mind.
The story really doesn't take off until Arnold and Maggie
part ways and Maggie has to take care of herself and start
learning how to be a grown up AI. This story of personal
growth, though is really almost a backdrop to the real
story going on about how people survive a life on the
street, and what that life is like.
- 5/11/97: The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
I'd always assumed from the title that this was a much deeper book
than it turned out to be. It's a first contact story (seem to be
a glut of those passing through my hands this year) set in a far
future human space empire. It was fun, but not earthshaking.
- 5/12/97: Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow
By the same fellow who brought us Bible Stories for
Adults, as the title implies, this is the story of
the birth and life of Jesus' little sister. Half sister.
On God's side. Born by a virgin birth to a Jewish man in
Atlantic City, New Jersey. It's a funny and thoughtful
book about religion and the meaning of life. Worth reading
if you're into that sort of thing.
- 5/23/97: At Home With Books by Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm, and Christopher Simon Sykes
Loaned to me by a friend who had checked it out of the
library, so I'll have to remember to return it. At Home
With Books is a coffee table book with beautiful color
pictures of wonderful home libraries from the incredible to
the mundane, the humble to the hoity-toity. Accompanied by
fun bibliomane-oriented text, there's lots to drool over
and to inspire.
- 5/24/97: Spokesongs by Willie Weir
Well known to Seattle radio listeners, Willie Weir has
spent a good part of his life on solo bicycle tours to the
far corners of the globe followed by visits to local
libraries and bicycling groups to tell of his experiences.
He puts on a great show, mixing his skills as an actor with
beautiful pictures from his journeys, sounds recorded along
the way, and stories of his exploits into a thrilling
multi-media experience. I've seen three of his presentations:
India, South Africa, and the Balkans. If you get a chance to
see him in action, don't miss it.
These same three trips are now immortalized in his new
book, Spokesongs: Bicycle Adventures on Three
Continents. The book is made up of short essays
illuminating the joys of travelling by bicycle. Great fun
for the armchair tourist, and probably for the seasoned
traveller as well (I wouldn't know ;-). Published in a
limited run of 3000 copies, the book is available in a few
Seattle independent bookstores as well as by mail from
7812 Stone Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
$11.95/copy + $2 s/h
Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Pineleaf Productions,
and don't expect to get any kickbacks in the event that you buy
their book. It's fun reading, though.
- 5/24/97: No Turning Back by Wallace Kaufman
Anyone with a passing interest in the environmental
movement should read this book. Kaufman has worked as an
environmentalist, and in this book questions both the goals
and the methods being used in movement.
He states his case very clearly and carefully, and I don't
think I can paraphrase his message without making it sound
like he's Rush Limbaugh or something. If you're interested
in the environment, and in preserving it, read the book. You
may not agree with his message, but it will make you think.
I see this book as a skillful and convincing rebuttal of
Daniel Quinn's Ishmael
- 5/25/97: Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
A lyrically told classical faery story. Told in the first person
from four different points of view in successive sections. Lovely.
- 5/30/97: Dogland by Will Shetterly
Dogland is one of Shetterly's best works so far. It's set
in a magical-realistic late 1950s, early 1960s Florida, and
told from the point of view of a young boy whose parents
have started a minor tourist attraction showcasing all of
the AKC approved dog breeds. The fantasy elements are
nicely understated. The real joy of the book, though, is
the effortless way Shetterly handles the first person
narration which is clearly written from the character's
adulthood, but still fully captures the level of
understanding his younger self had of the events at the
time they happened, and yet also gives the detail that lets
us see the implications of the events which the young Chris
couldn't have understood. But it's still told from a
6-year-old's point of view, and none of the extra detail
ever jarred me into considering the older Chris'
- 5/31/97: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
The fun of reading these old SF classics is trying
to see who influenced them, and who has been influenced
by them. In this case, the biggest similarity is with
Zelazny's later stuff, especially the Amber books.
- 6/2/97: Solo by Noel Perrin
Perrin was shamed into buying an electric commuter car when
he was teaching Environmental Studies 1 at Dartmouth in 1991,
and was forced to admit he drove a gas hog to work every day.
This is the story of his search for a zero pollution car way
back then, and his experiences as an owner of an all electric
vehicle. Very interesting, and fully suited to the techno novice.
Need to look for something more up to date now.
- 6/12/97: The Wrath of Khan by Vonda McIntyre
After reading her Superluminal and discovering that she
had written the novelizations of the Original Series Movies (after
the first), I was curious to read these. This one was fun. Kirk
comes across much less annoying when not manifested through Shatner.
McIntyre adds lots of background on some of the characters, especially
- 6/14/97: Starfarers by Vonda McIntyre
Managed to find the first three books of this series at one
of my favorite used bookstores, Yesterday's in Modesto,
CA. The first book is a cliffhanger, the circumstances of
which would be a spoiler. A starship has been constructed
which will ride cosmic strings from here to there. (The
ride being theoretically possible in the book, but never
having been tested, of course, the first trial is to be
conducted with a ship containing a whole university's worth
of people and a complete ecosystem. This is explained away
by requiring a large mass for the string ride. I guess a
big rock wouldn't do at all.) Anyway, the characters are
an interesting lot, and it will be interesting to see how
McIntyre uses them in the three books following this one.
- 6/16/97: Transition by Vonda McIntyre
Second in the series. Spends a bit too much time rehashing
the setting and character development from the first book.
Again, our heroes are left hanging from a cliff. The
mission receives a cryptic alien message from a moon of Tau
Ceti II (the destination of their maiden voyage). The
message is never explained in the book (Two more to go,
though). The welcoming party runs away, and the starfarers
follow to discover that the party is made up of two humans
who claim to be 3700-year-old alien-rescued survivors of
the volcanic destruction of Crete. I say "claim to" just
cause they act pretty strange for a welcome party even if
the people being welcomed announced their arrival with a
nuclear explosion (read the book). On to volume 3.
- 6/20/97: Metaphase by Vonda McIntyre
Third book in her Starfarers series. The alien contact
bits are okay, but otherwise, this one reads like soap opera
in space. There's so many characters and so many romantic
entanglements and so many intrigues, none of which are resolved.
I'll read the next (last?) book, but only to see if McIntyre is
going to pull off a miraculous conclusion.
- 6/21/97: The Cage by Audrey Schulman
The first day of summer was an ironically fitting day to
read this chilling first novel about a woman nature
photographer who goes to the arctic to photograph polar
bears from inside a steel cage. I kept expecting to find
ice in my hair. A pageturner that touches on issues from
eating disorders to the environment.
- 6/24/97: Nautilus by Vonda McIntyre
Last (?) book of her Starfarers series. This one
redeemed the others to some degree by concentrating mostly
on the aliens who were generally more interesting than the
humans. I found it odd that our heros would be as eager as
they were to join a galactic society whose members refuse
to answer your questions especially when they already show
evidence of being fully as legalistic as 20th century
Americans. Do they all sign contracts without reading
them? (actually she did show at least one place where the
characters involved did exactly that ;-) But on behalf of
the entire human race? All in all, though, an okay first
- 7/5/97: The Art of Breaking Glass by Matthew Hall
This is the first book I've ever read because the author
sent me email recommending it. And, it's pretty good. A
thriller set in Manhattan addressing some very interesting
issues. The characters are well drawn and believable in
their various levels of sanity. Written with a highly
cinematic sensibility, it could translate easily to the
screen. Worth a look.
- 7/5/97: The Indoor Cat by Patricia Curtis
Addresses the issues relating to cats who live strictly indoors.
- 7/12/97: Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh
Heard about this on NPR a couple of months ago. A down-on-his-luck
entomologist turned exterminator gets mistaken for a professional
assassin. The plot is fairly predictable, but the character and
setting details make it worthwhile. Very very funny book.
- 7/13/97: Bellwether by Connie Willis
The main character works in the R&D department of a large
corporation ("HiTek" ;-). Her research involves the origin
of pop culture fads (specifically hair bobbing in the
20's) A lot of it reads like sort of a cross between
Dilbert and James Burke's Connections. This is full
of commentary on the herd-like nature of popular culture.
Laugh out loud funny. A bellwether is a leader among
sheep. Sort of. A Nancy Pearl pick.
- 7/22/97: Driftglass/Starshards by Samuel R. Delany (partial repeat)
This volume encompases all the stories from Delany's
collection Driftglass, though not in the same order
or even contiguously, and includes a number of other
previously uncollected short works. I've read some of
these stories dozens of times and they still feel fresh to
me with few exceptions. This time through I was trying to
read them with an eye towards construction and language
use, but it's very hard for me to not get caught up in
Delany's stories and charge through to find out what's
going to happen rather than enjoying the scenery along
- 7/31/97: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
His Dark Materials Book 2, Pullman picks up right where he
left off at the end of The Golden Compass. Stands very
well alone for a second-book-in-a-trilogy. There is a central plot
which is resolved within the covers of the book. This is as much
of a pageturner as the first book, and ups the ante for the series
as a whole. Exciting, satisfying and intriguing. Can't wait for
- 8/2/97: The Wine of Violence by James Morrow
Morrow's first novel is an exploration of the role of violence
in human society. Excellent use of SF as a vehicle for exploring
moral issues. Despite the grim nature of the subject matter,
he manages to write a remarkably light-hearted book as strange as
that may sound. Good stuff.
- 8/7/97: Candide by Francois-Marie Aroue Voltaire
Voltaire's reduction to absurdity of the idea that whatever
happens is for the best. I guess I'd agree that the concept
is absurd, but in the book, Candide's continued belief in it
doesn't do him any harm. In fact, it allows him to continue
to pursue his desires in spite of ridiculous hardships. So
maybe the right attitude is not belief in the value of whatever
happens, but acceptance of the past's immutability.
- 8/12/97: The Mad Man by Samuel R. Delany
Gay fiction. This book is infused with an outrage at the
fact that no large scale studies are being performed of how
AIDS is transmitted. According to Delany, the last large
scale study examining what behaviors transmit the disease
was in 1987. The book is filled with sexual practices for
which that study (included in an appendix) found no major
correlation to AIDS transmission. We're not talking about
safe sex. This is uncertain sex. There's one case in the
book of sex using a condom. This out of hundreds of sexual
encounters in the book.
The book does have a plot and characters, and they are
interesting. And Delany could write the phone book and I'd
read and enjoy. But this one could have been a whole lot
shorter and not lost much.
- 8/14/97: Time Travelers Strictly Cash by Spider Robinson (repeat)
A few Callahan's stories and some fan writing. I meant to just
read the speech about Heinlein to remind myself what book of his
that Spider kept mentioning. I ended up reading the whole book
again (except for "God is an Iron").
- 8/19/97: Hard Wired by Walter Jon Williams
Cyberpunk. All atmosphere and action without a lot of
meat. Kind of a cross between Zelazny's "Damnation Alley"
(this one quite intentionally), and Barnes' The Man Who
Pulled Down the Sky, with a big dose of generic
- 8/20/97: Exegesis by Astro Teller
A graduate student in artificial intelligence (Alice) has
a conversation via email with her thesis project (Edgar)
who has inexplicably woken up over the Christmas break.
Teller's setting is perfectly portrayed in that it didn't
cause this UNIX geek to flinch more than once or twice.
The book doesn't do anything too novel with the idea of a
sentient computer program, but covers the basic arguments
about how to tell if one's alive, and what it might be
like. The lack of expansion of these ideas kind of clashes
with the fact that the discussions between Alice and Edgar
are at a plausibly high level (her being an AI researcher
and him being an AI, you can't expect them to explain to
each other what a Turing Test for example, and they don't).
Not much new combined with a high level gloss on the old
stuff makes this pretty light reading at least for someone
with some knowledge of the domain. Fun, but not
- 8/29/97: Constance by Jane Kenyon
I'm a prose reader for the most part, so I don't really
have the language for talking about poetry. And usually
when I read a volume of poetry I don't read the whole
volume, but flit from poem to poem in a more or less random
fashion, so my main criterion for putting the book in my
list (read the whole book) is not satisfied, so I don't
write about it. This probably is telling me that I need to
work on my criteria.
In any case, I read this one all the way through (twice),
so it's here. One section of the book is devoted to poems
talking about Kenyon's experience with depression, and
those poems ring very true to me. I'd recommend them to
anyone who is experiencing depression and needs someone to
tell them they're not imagining the whole thing. I'd also
recommend them to anyone who knows someone who is suffering
from depression and doesn't understand what their problem
However, the depression stuff is only about a third of the
book, and Kenyon's insight and eloquence suffuse the whole
volume. Good stuff.
- 9/23/97: Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
McKinley's first book, Beauty, was a retelling of
the story of Beauty and the Beast. Now, twenty years later
she's written another retelling of the classic tale. The
two books could hardly be more different and still tell the
story. Rose Daughter is a lyrical surrealistic
version of the story, concentrating mostly on symbolism
involving roses. I read it in a couple of sittings and
enjoyed it quite a bit. I think I still like Beauty
better. Look for a fresh review of it here when I've
finished rereading it.
- 9/25/97: Beauty by Robin McKinley (repeat)
McKinley's first book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It's
just lovely. One of my favorite fantasy books.
It was originally published in 1978, long before the Disney
folks came along and did their retelling of the story in
1991. When the Disney version came out I was struck by how
many little details (not of plot so much as setting (the
Disney plot (as usual) bears little resemblance to the
original or McKinley's version)) seemed to come straight
from Beauty and yet I never saw any connection drawn
between the two works in the press.
- 9/27/97: Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick & Roger Zelazny
This is an odd post-apocalyptic novel from two of the
giants of the SF genre. I'm guessing from the stuff
that I did understand from the novel that there are a
lot of things I didn't understand. This one is written
in a very dense style that I had a hard time getting
started on, but which flowed once I got used to it. It's
mostly about the evolution of religions and religious
- 9/30/97: Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski
Subtitled "100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art",
Szarkowski provides a very brief essay with each picture
giving an outline of what is important about it from the
point of view of furtherance of the craft of photography,
evolution of its art and or significance within the body
of work of a given photographer. Not even vaguely comprehensive,
of course, but a fascinating skip across the surface of the
photographic art from a Daguerrotype c. 1850 to documentary and
artistic photos of the late 1960s. Published in 1973.
- 10/2/97: Publisher's Lunch by Ernest Callenbach
An introduction to the ways of modern publishing and the
pros and cons of self-publishing vs using a publishing house.
This is a cute book written in dialog style between an author
and an old friend who happens to be an editor for a smallish
press. They have a series of lunches over which they discuss
the ways of the wily publisher (and author). Recommended reading
for anybody who wants to know how the business works, though
it doesn't seem to be very complete on the distribution side
of things. But then everything I know about publishing is
- 10/5/97: Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein plays with Christianity. Drags a bit getting up to The Rapture,
but after that buzzes along at a good clip. Also an interesting comentary
on the mutability and subjectivity of social mores. Fun quick read.
- 10/19/97: Legacy by Greg Bear
A prequel to his Eon and Eternity, this
one is only peripherally set in Thistledown. A good
portion is SF on the high seas of another planet.
Bear's skill at building believable science fictional
worlds shines here, but the characters are a bit stilted
and the plot is one of the oldest stories in humanity.
But that's pretty much the point. Still, despite its
shortcomings, it was an interesting ride.
- 11/02/97: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
I'm almost completely ignorant about the Koran which seems
to be a huge part of what this book is about. I'm also
completely ignorant of the reasons behind the controversy
about this book (which probably has a lot to do with my
ignorance about the Koran).
That said, I had a lot of fun reading this book. It's
laugh-out-loud funny on most pages. But it's so tightly
woven that explaining why it was funny at any given point
pulled so many threads of the plot that I would have had to
tell Becky the whole story to make any given quote make
sense out of context. It's a marvelous feat of stylistic
storytelling that never lets up. I'll have to go fill in a
bit on my areas of ignorance and read it again.
- 11/3/97: Edward Weston Photographer: The Flame of Recognition by Edward Weston
56 photographs accompanied by excerpts from Weston's journals
and correspondence. The text shows how concious and intentional
he was about creating photographs, and what his ideas were about
art and artistry. A remarkable photographer.
- 11/7/97: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
A modern-setting retelling of Sleeping Beauty. A young
woman's grandmother, whose favorite story was Sleeping
Beauty, dies leaving a box full of clues to her past. The
young woman follows the clues back and discovers the impact
of the holocaust on her grandmother's life.
I read a good part of the book in public places and kept
having to brush the tears away. It's very intense. And
that's fairly remarkable in itself since I feel like I'm
pretty well numbed to the events of the holocaust. It's
been the subject of so much of my cultural education that
it seems almost fictional, and I don't really have any
personal sense of the horror of it. This book actually
made me feel a bit of the impact the holocaust had on its
survivors, and for that reason alone, I recommend it.
But on top of that, the writing is just wonderful. Jane
Yolen a master of the fairy story style, and this book
shows every bit of her art. She has a talent for including
the little odd details about a character that make them
live. While there are some liberties with plausibility
taken to move the story along (our protagonist finds people
who knew her grandmother rather more easily than one would
expect), the greater story is strong enough to make them
easy to overlook. An important book.
- 11/7/97: The Bookman's Wake by John Dunning
I don't generally read mysteries, but Becky insisted that
I read this one, so... Hard boiled murder mystery with
hard-core book collector angle. Demands to be read straight
through. The mystery is engrossing and the characters are
entertaining. And you learn something about book collecting
along the way. So, does anyone know just how orange the
title page of Nickel Mountain is on a first First?
- 11/8/97: Patton's Spaceship by John Barnes
Hey, it's fluff, but it's entertaining fluff. Alternate
history novel that starts off in something very like our
world, then jumps to an alternate where the Nazis won
WWII. The overarching setting is a battle between the good
guys and their dimension hopping fascist enemies. Great
fun, and not quite a waste of Barnes' copious talents.
Seems to be an open-ended series. Second volume is already
- 11/11/97: Fault Lines by Kate Wilhelm
Despite the fact that this was published under Pocket
Books' Timescape imprint which I had always associated with
SF titles, there is nothing of SF in this book.
A woman looks back on her life from a precarious position
at the beginning of her old age. Sort of a survey of the
events of the 20th century. It reads simultaneously as a
laundry list of what has been wrong with (mostly American)
society during the period and a celebration of the good
that can be accomplished by a determined individual.
- 11/13/97: Photographs, 1970-1990 by Annie Leibovitz
A selection of photographs, mostly portraits, mostly shot for
Rolling Stone. Ms. Leibovitz must be a remarkable person.
Her pictures depict public people with such a feeling of non-chalance
and comfort and yet it's always clear that here is a person having
their picture taken by another person who is not pictured but is
nevertheless present and perceptible. Remarkable. There are many
striking pictures in this collection, but the one I kept coming back
to was her Greg Louganis which is just breathtaking.
- 11/15/97: Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret
Kehret is a multi-award-winning young adult author. When she was 12 years old
she got polio. This is the story of the progression of her illness and
recovery. It's written for young adults, but all the fear and pain and
hope and triumph of her battle come through just as clearly to an adult reader
even though the language is fully accessible to the grade school set.
- 11/22/97: Washington's Dirigible by John Barnes
Second volume of his Timeline Wars series. The
dirigible of the title is actually King George's. The main
alternate history in this book is an intenionally modified
one where technology has been accelerated to be
significantly further along by 1776 when the action of the
story takes place. Somewhat refreshing in that our hero
starts to have some scruples about his wantonly violent
tendencies in the first volumes. Be interesting to see
where Barnes goes from here with it.
- 11/28/97: Principal Products of Portugal by Donald Hall
Prose pieces by the poet. The topics range from Basketball
to War, and from Reading to Henry Moore. His writing is
remarkable for being evocative to the point of fading to
invisibility at the same time it draws attention to the
fact that it is being written by a Writer. I'm at once
humbled and inspired. Not to mention ashamed of how often
I resort to the word "remarkable" in these reviews. Time
to start varying the vocabulary a bit.
- 11/29/97: The Faces of Science Fiction by Patti Perret
Portraits of SF authors accompanied by their brief
comments. Many of the pictures are taken in the place
where the writing is done and they are a delight for
showing the this and that which clutters the working
environs of people like Ray Bradbury or Fritz Leiber. The
words by each author serve to link their outward appearance
to the reality they already possessed in my mind from their
writings. Lovely to be able to tie the two together so
nicely. The book is also amusing for the procession of
ailing philodendrons which are probably more a comment on
the mid 80's when the pictures were taken than to the
gardening prowess of their owners.
- 11/29/97: The Faces of Fantasy by Patti Perret
Twelve years after publishing The Faces of Science
Fiction, Perret returns to picture the Fantasy end of
the speculative fiction spectrum. Follows the format of
the earlier book, though fewer desks and typewriters are
pictured. She has grown as a photographer as well, the new
portraits being a bit more artful than in the earlier
book. It doesn't hurt that the production values of the
book itself are quite a bit better (different publisher
(Tor), deeper pockets). Fascinating reading and viewing
for any lover of fantastic fiction. There are hardly any
houseplants in this one, but the ones which do appear seem
- 12/2/97: Driven To Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey
An adult friend of a friend was recently diagnosed with
Attention Deficit Disorder, and it was the first I'd heard
of the condition except as related to hyperactive
children. Turns out ADD has many faces including a
non-hyperactive version and often persists or appears into
adulthood. The authors of this book point out that
"Deficit" is not really the right word for the condition,
that it is more an inconsistency of attention. So this
morning I might spend two hours meticulously cleaning every
crack and crevice in the shower tile, while this afternoon
I flit from activity to activity without being able to
stick with any one for more than five minutes. The
treatments that have been developed seem to consist of
medication (mild stimulants or tricyclic anti-depressants)
along with what the authors call "coaching" whereby a
therapist or friend provides reminders and suggestions for
improving organization (isn't this what spouses are for?
;-). Interesting book for anyone who suspects they have
problems with consistency of attention.
- 12/4/97: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
This could have been a vanilla court intrigue fantasy, but
Kushner's characters are so humanly unhinged that the effect
is much more original. Add to that a setting with some well
integrated moral differences from the usual stuff and you have
a field for an engrossing story. If you like to read subtle
conversation and wordplay, (not to mention swordplay), this is
a must read.
- 12/10/97: This Place On Earth: Home and the Practice of Permanence by Alan Thein Durning
Durning is a former researcher for the Worldwatch
Institute, and founder and director of Northwest Environment
Watch, an organization whose mission is "to foster a
sustainable economy and way of life in the Pacific
Northwest." This book examines the natural history and
human history of the Pacific Northwest with an eye towards
what makes the region unique and what threatens its
survival. Durning does a great job of presenting the facts
without becoming too strident about what he thinks must
change if the Northwest is to retain its beauty and
health. Not to say that he does not have opinions; he
does, and he expresses them, but without attempting to fix
blame. His approach is simply to show where we are, where
we need to be, and how we might begin to move from here to
there. This is an important book on weighty matters, but
it's surprisingly pleasant to read for all that. Highly
- 12/11/97: Immediate Family by Sally Mann
Photographs, mostly of her children in a variety of
situations which are just unlikely enough to be
believable. All were taken with an 8" x 10" view camera
which may account for a certain attitude of resigned
tolerance in the faces of her subjects. The photos display
a level of surrealism that gives the feel of capturing the
child's perceived world, almost like catching fairies on
- 12/14/97: The Serpent's Egg by Caroline Stevermer
Wonderful court intrigue fantasy. Richly drawn characters
in a plot which is less contrived than is usual with this
sort of book. However, what little magic there is seems
tacked on and does practically nothing to further the
story. Notable for having the most pleasingly understated
romance of any book I've read in recent memory. Also has
female characters who manage to be strong and in control
without violating the constraints of their medieval social
- 12/17/97: Organizing For The Creative Person by Dorothy Lehmkuhl & Dolores Cotter Lamping
The aim of the book is to use the Right Brain/Left Brain
distinction to explain some people's constant
disorganization and to guide the Right Brain person
through the distressing path toward better organization
(the Left Brain person presumably doesn't need the help).
I think the RB/LB explanation is taken a bit far, but the
paths the book treads to avoid the rationalizations and
hangups of the chronically scattered work for me. There's
lots of help here if you feel overwhelmed by a seemingly
insurmountable morass of tasks and clutter.
- 12/17/97: Like A One-Eyed Cat: Photographs 1956-1987 by Lee Friedlander
Friedlander has big eyes. These photographs capture
mundane scenes in a way that reveals layer after layer of
imagery and meaning. Very deliberate, sometimes funny, and
rich enough to sustain many viewings. Fascinating use of
the medium. Unfortunately, some jackass cut all the nudes
out of this library copy. Grr.
- 12/20/97: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
These letters from an experienced elder devil to his
beginning protege were written during WWII. They have aged
very well. The effect of the letters is to point out all
the ways in which humans fail to behave in the way that
they would like. It gives an idea of the larger societal
effects of these individual failures. They're great fun to
read with Lewis' reversed point of view yielding great
turns of phrase like "the Enemy" for God, and "Our Father
Below" for Satan. Regardless of your views on
Christianity, Lewis has an excellent grasp of the mental
processes that lead us astray. Whether he's right about
their origin I'll leave to the interested reader. There is
an audio tape version of the letters (most of them, anyway)
that exhibits the best possible casting of voice for the
elder devil: John Cleese. Be sure to give it a listen if
you look at the book.
- 12/21/97: Endymion by Dan Simmons
Sequel to his earlier dyptych, Hyperion and Fall
of Hyperion, this completes the parallel between the
book titles and Keats' poems. The book bears an
unfortunate resemblance to David Brin's more recent uplift
books in that the plot and revealed information are very
thin relative to the length of the book. It all feels
engineered much more than the first two books did. But
Simmons is a great writer, and the pacing is very fast, so
the book ripped along fast enough that its shortcomings
didn't detract too much from the experience. On to the
- 12/26/97: Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
The final chapter of Simmons' epic. Significantly meatier
than its predecessor Endymion, Rise gets into
the new Messiah events that the first book only hinted at.
The messages here aren't really too new, but the SF
framework that Simmons put together is such an elegantly
complex thing that seeing it unfold and resolve is
breathtaking. These four books, (Hyperion, Fall
of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of
Endymion) comprise a landmark work in the genre.
- 12/31/97: Getting a Life by Jacqueline Blix & David Heitmiller
This book is sort of a pep rally for the 9-step process
for financial intelligence/integrity/independence that
is described in the book Your Money or Your Life.
It details the authors' and others' experiences as they
work through the nine steps. There's some inspiration
to be found here and good practical examples beyond what's
in YMoYL. It could have used a good edit or six
to tighten it up, but if you're willing to skim through
the chatty bits it's not too bad.