Books finished in 2001

1/3/2001: Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris
A wicked little Christmas book. Sedaris writes about his experience as a department store elf in service to the all-important S. Claus. He tells about "Dinah, the Christmas Whore". There are even a few pieces what appears to be fiction. They're all funny and shocking to varying degrees, and in a weird way, they're nice Christmasy stories.

1/13/2001: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (repeat)
I wanted to re-read this because after reading Patricia C. Wrede's Dealing With Dragons I was thinking that the two books had similar settings. Dealing With Dragons is set in this fairy tale land where everyone is very aware of the fairy tale patterns and compensates for them ("It wouldn't do me any good to go on a quest, I'm not a seventh son", stuff like that). I was thinking that Ella Enchanted had a similarly self-aware setting. It doesn't. It's still a pretty good book. Ella is a good strong cinderella. The prince actually has a personality. It actually makes sense that Ella doesn't just leave when the step-beasts take over her life. Worth a read if you haven't, but not in the same basket as Dealing With Dragons and its kin.

1/20/2001: 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (repeat)
Well, here we are in 2001. How does Clarke's vision hold up? Well, we _could_ be closer than we are. Commercial scheduled service to space station and moon. Capability of sending manned probes to the outer planets. Turing-testable computers (maybe not this one). Maybe we need an obelisk to egg us on. The book claims to be based on Kubrick and Clarke's screenplay. I seem to recall that the screenplay was based on an original short story by Clarke. The book isn't much more comprehensible in its conclusion than the movie is, but it's still an impressive first contact story.

1/26/2001: The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
I'd never read this, and (to my friends' never-ending astonishment) never seen the movie either. Of course, it's practically impossible to not know most of the story even so. The story of Dorothy's journey via cyclone to Oz, and her adventures once there in an attempt to get back to Kansas. Reading this, it has the feel of being a self-concious attempt at writing a fairy-tale-style story without any too-heavy-handed moralizing (and Baum says this was his intent in the introduction). The story just felt over-engineered to me, but it is cute enough, I suppose. I may try another book or two in the series to see if it gets better later on.

2/1/2001: A Point of Honor by Dorothy J. Heydt
Heydt's second novel (her first published as Katharine Blake is The Interior Life), Point is set in a near-future where virtual reality has become viable, and follows a young woman named Mary who fights as a Knight in a VR game called Chivalry. She wins the title to a manor in a bout of jousting, and suddenly people are trying to kill her in the real world as well as the virtual one.

Heydt's writing is just a joy, and the setting gives her near-infinite leeway with setting. It's all kinds of fun to read in spite of the relatively weak plotting. Rumor has it that a sequel is written, but not sold. Grr. Think I'll go send an email to her publisher.

2/3/2001: An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender
I read this on the recommendation of Fup in the Powell's Books newsletter. What a strange and cool book. Mona Gray is a deeply neurotic 20-year-old woman with a thing for numbers. She lives in a town which is any town in a surreal and circumscribed way. She gets a job teaching math to 2nd graders. Very strange and yet eerily realistic things happen. Bender has a direct connection to that part of her brain that really sees the world and can throw words together in such a way to make you see it too. This book is an experience.

2/17/2001: Book of Enchantments by Patricia C. Wrede
Wrede has a clean and moving style that is shown off to good effect by this collection of stories. Though they touch on some of the traditional fantasy patterns, none of them fades into the genericism that plagues the genre. Plus, they're all fun to read. Wonderful stuff. There's even a recipe ("After-battle triple chocolate cake"), and the stains on this library copy attest that it's been made a time or two!

2/21/2001: The Riddle-Master of Hed by Patricia A. McKillip (repeat)
I read this a year or two after it came out in 1976. At that time, I had not read Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, so I could not have seen the similarities between the two books. But while similar in setting and framing devices, there are differences. Le Guin's Ged was alternately seeking and running from his capacity for evil while McKillip's Morgon is in a similar dilemma over his potential for heroics. While not quite up to Le Guin's lofty standards of prose lyricism, McKillip is no slouch in the turning-a-phrase department, and frankly she is Le Guin's better when it comes to plot and character. I greatly enjoyed re-discovering this book and I'm looking forward to the remainder of the trilogy.

3/4/2001: The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin (repeat)
On its surface, Tombs is the cliche story of the wizard hero who rescues the beautiful young priestess of a dead god, but told from the priestess's point of view. Deeper in, it's a complex coming of age tale. Arha, the priestess, is raised as the reincarnation of the Eaten One, the priestess whose soul is eaten by the Nameless Ones, who is reborn endlessly to serve them. Taken at the age of 5 and trained or re-trained in the ways of the priesthood. The arrival of a wizard striving to steal an ancient relic from her domain pits her against her own training, and eventually results in her awakening to her own power and freedom. The wizard, of course, is Ged from The Wizard of Earthsea whom we get to see from the outside for the first time as a strange, kind, charismatic figure. As usual, Le Guin writes with quiet and moving elegance. Even in a book whose setting is mostly under ground with no light at all, her words sparkle.

3/7/2001: V For Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
I was surfing the One Book List, and reserved a few things from the library that people had put on it. This one is a graphic novel (comic book with airs) set in a 1984-esque fascist future England. It's dark and troubling. It's about anarchy as a tool for social change. Worth reading, but not earthshaking.

3/10/2001: The Farthest Shore by Ursula K LeGuin (repeat)
Third in LeGuin's Earthsea trilogy. Ged is the Archmage, an aging man at the height of his power. Something is threatening the use of magic throughout Earthsea, and he sets off with a young prince named Arren to find and stop the threat. In a nutshell, this book is about the fear of death. Of course reducing any LeGuin book to a nutshell is a disservice. The landscapes she paints are bleak, but the words she uses imbue them with magic. She pulls a Tolkein at the end and warps everyone home from the edge of the world rather than have them face the tedious mundane return journey, but what goes before is graceful enough to let her get away with it. This marked the end of the series until many years later when she wrote Tehanu.

3/12/2001: Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield
A friend kept insisting I read this and finally just bought me a copy. It's an amazing book. Amazing and horrifying. The book tells the story of the battle of Thermopylae at which a relatively small army of Spartans and other Greek allies held off a vastly larger invading force for six days. The story is told as if narrated by the sole Spartan survivor of the final stand. He tells his tale to his captors in a rambling looping narrative that spans his entire life, telling not just the story of the battle itself, but of how the soldiers who fought there came to be the people they were.

I had a hard time getting through the book since I have no stomach for the realities of warfare. Pressfield describes the experience of the battlefield (and the training that leads up to it) in gruesome detail.

I kept reading because these Spartans are fascinating characters. They spend their whole lives training to be warriors to protect their way of life which is being warriors. As far as I can tell they were not interested in conquest, but in defense. Their highest honor was bestowed on those who could most effectively join with their brother soldiers to vanquish the enemy. It seems to me an empty pursuit, but Pressfield presents its virtues with great skill.

3/15/2001: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
This got made into a pretty good movie last year, though they changed the setting from the book's UK to the US. It's the story of Rob, who's just been dumped by his girl friend. Rob is about as self-involved as it is possible to be, constantly evaluating everything that happens for how it impacts him. He has two interests: pop music, and women. It's a very funny book, and simultaneously pretty depressing. Hornby's rendition of the thirtysomething single man who never grew up is spot on.

3/17/2001: 2010: Odyssey Two by Arthur C. Clarke (repeat)
Nine years after the events of 2001, an expidition is launched to try to figure out what happened out by Jupiter to Hal and the crew of the Discovery. The pacing is quite similar to the earlier book in reflection of the tedium of realistic space travel. The joy of reading Clarke is that he saturates his books with carefully worked out scientifically valid detail. The orbital dynamics are right, the speculation about the nature of Jupiter and its moons are based in what was known of them when the book was written. The plot is pretty thin, but it does clear up some of the mysteries left at the end of 2001 in a reasonable way.

3/18/2001: The Light of Other Days by Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter
This one is a "breakthrough and its consequences" book. The breakthrough is the discovery of a way to use wormholes as long-distance cameras, then the follow-on breakthrough is learning how to send the wormholes not only to any physical location, but also to any point in the past. Most of the book just explores the implications of this cool gadget. It's pretty cool, but not really cool enough to support the 370-page span of the book. I had a hard time getting through the inconsistent characters and grammatical errors (though those at least seemed to taper off later in the book). I also had to double check and make sure it wasn't written by Spider Robinson because at the last minute everyone gets telepathic and saves the Earth from certain destruction.

3/24/2001: The Number of the Beast by Robert A. Heinlein
Well, golly, this is a fun little fantasy novel. With spaceships. It's full of magic. I suppose it's the Clarke's Law variety of magic, but there's so much hand waving about whatever tech is involved that the tech disappears and we're left with just the magic. But that doesn't really matter cause most of what the book is about (apart from a couple of couples who are on the run from mysterious aliens because they (the couples) have an airplane capable of transiting alternate universes) is the nature of command. Each member of the two couples gets a chance (sometimes against their will) to be "captain," and in each we get to see good and bad ways of leading a group. This aspect of the book is actually pretty interesting. Otherwise the book is quite similar to other of his late novels where he builds up a big complicated mess for his characters and cleans it up by sending them to Lazarus Long where they find out they were just in training for some time tweaking, they just didn't know it yet because they already did it. Or will have done. Or something like that.

3/25/2001: Carfree Cities by J. H. Crawford
I already had this checked out from the library and sitting on my to-read stack before I got hit by a car while riding my bike to work a couple of weeks ago. Really!

Crawford has realized that cars are noisy ugly stinky space-sucking menaces to society. Rather than grumble about it, though, he has put together an elaborate thought experiment in how a city could be built that can house a million people with comfort, quiet, joy, and convenient transportation.

His proof-of-concept is a city designed to be built from scratch as an auto-free zone. His layout consists of 80 districts on three looping metro lines which abut eachother in a group of high-density central districts. Each district is roughly circular of a radius that can be comfortably walked in 5 minutes. Each district houses 20,000 people in four-story buildings. The zoning is mixed use with small businesses and bakeries and shops all mixed in with residences. He's got all the issues worked out from freight delivery to sound-proofing.

Though he does talk a little to converting existing cities to a carfree model, the point of the book is really just to show that a modern city could be carfree.

I'd love to give it a try.

Oh yeah, there's a webpage:

3/31/2001: Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
Stargirl Caraway is one of those misfit, but somehow transcendent characters who is destined to become a classic. She enters a high school in Arizona, and cheerfully, and innocently disrupts every habit and pattern of student life. First the other students just think she's strange, then they grow to love her, and then things turn ugly. All of this is seen through the eyes of Leo Borlock, a boy who falls in love with her, or at least one of her aspects. It's a touching, tragic, funny book. I read it in one sitting.

4/1/2001: Crystal Sage by Kara Dalkey
According to the about-the-author, Dalkey is working on a series of modern fantasies set in American cities. The first was Steel Rose which was set in Pittsburgh. Crystal Sage is set in the fictional Dawson Butte, Colorado. There's no connection between the two books (except for an amusing but unimportant passing reference). Down-to-earth and practical Joan runs her own housecleaning service with her assistant, the somewhat flighty, new-age Miriam. On one of their jobs, they discover that their client, Gillian, a student of musicology, has been turned into a guitar. The rest of the book follows as they travel all over Colorado trying to get the bad guy who changed her to change her back. As usual, Dalkey does a great job weaving together mundane reality and the world of myth. The characters are realistic and interesting (despite the cookie cutter descriptions I imply above). Add on an interesting tour of Colorado, and you've got a fun book.

4/6/2001: Crusader by Edward Bloor
I picked this up at a library booksale a while back based on an interesting cover and a passing page 72 test. It's a very odd book. It's told from the point of view of a 15-year-old girl named Roberta. But Roberta is so closed off that it doesn't feel first person at all. Roberta works for the family business, a virtual reality arcade in a mall. Her father is far more interested in his new girlfriend than his teenage daughter. A fair way into the book we learn that her mother was murdered when Roberta was 9. Roberta aspires to a career in journalism, and it's hard to tell whether the tone of the book is a result of her attempt to write in a detached journalistic style, or due to her denial of any emotional response in defense against some pretty horrible things that have happened to her and her friends. Either way, I slogged through all 400 pages to find out if the style would ever be explained, and if Roberta would ever come to life as a character. I was disappointed on both counts.

4/11/2001: Lying Awake by Mark Salzman
I got this for my birthday (Thanks, Steve & Hazel!) and it's a lovely little book. Salzman tells the story of a Carmelite nun who discovers that the headaches and visions she has been experiencing as the presence of God may be a result of epilepsy caused by an operable brain tumor. She has to decide whether to have it removed, and live with the revelation that what she thought was a close relationship with a living god may actually have been a manifestation of a physical illness. But the plot is not the star of this book, the characters are. Salzman evokes the people and setting (which is almost a character in itself) in this book so vividly that the words and the pages just disappear into the background. I don't recall a single word or sentence that drew attention to itself rather than illuminating the characters in the story. It's an artful and touching book.

4/12/2001: The Return by Buzz Aldrin & John Barnes
The second collaboration between Aldrin and Barnes is a slightly alternate near-future novel. The main thrust is a "what would have to happen to get us back into space in a big way" story wedded to a whodunnit plot. It's a quick read, and it has some nice moments, but the lengths these two really smart guys have to go to to make a new space race seem plausible are pretty depressing.

4/14/2001: Schismatrix by Bruce Sterling
Schismatrix is a sweeping political epic set in a distant future where mankind has moved into space, residing in innumerable orbiting habitats. The main character is Lindsay, a genetically modified "diplomat" where diplomat means something closer to con-man. He has a gift for turning every situation to his advantage (not without some personal cost, mind you), and the parallel gift of knowing when to run for his life. The book is extremely dense with detail both of setting and of the political environment that hints at reams and reams of backstory.

4/16/2001: 2061: Odyssey Three by Arthur C. Clarke
This is the most action packed of Clarke's 20xx books, mostly due to the fact that by 2061 we've figured out how to get around the solar system a lot faster than we could in 2001. There's a landing on Halley's comet followed by more fun in the Jovian system. Not particularly mind bending, but a pleasant diversion.

4/18/2001: Idoru by William Gibson
Idoru is a big time page turner, but not due to any particular depth or excitement, but more to the simple expedient of having two likeable point of view characters in separate plot lines in alternate chapters each of which ends with a cliff hanger. Not big cliff hangers, but enough to keep you reading right past the ends of the short chapters. Laney is a 20-something data miner with a gift for absorbing the gestalt meaning of mass quantities of seemingly meaningless information. Chia Pet McKenzie is a 14-year-old fan of a rock group. Neither one of them knows what's going on until near the end. It's a fun book, but exceedingly light when compared to Gibson's early novels.

4/20/2001: Heir of Sea and Fire by Patricia A. McKillip (repeat)
Heir is the second book in McKillip's Riddle-Master trilogy. I got myself into thinking of the books in parallel with LeGuin's Earthsea books when I re-read the first. In Heir there's still some similarity. Raederle is the "second most beautiful woman in An", and has been promised in marriage to whoever might win a riddle game with a particular ghost. Fortunately for her (and probably for her father who made the promise) she likes Morgon who won the game before the action in the first book. Then he went missing. In Heir, Raederle and some other stubborn, intelligent young women go hunting for him and eventually find him. The women coming into their powers theme matches up pretty well with the similar stuff going on in Le Guin's The Tombs of Atuan.

4/22/2001: Harpist In the Wind by Patricia A. McKillip (repeat)
In this final book of the Riddle-Master trilogy, Morgon and Raederle track down the High One, and find out why he's been in hiding. Their powers grow seemingly without bound as they battle the shape changers and their own weaknesses in their quest. In the end, the book ends up being about the changing of the guard, the passing on of duty from one generation to the next. It's a nice contrast to Le Guin's The Farthest Shore which looks more at the ways an individual can face the prospect of finding meaning in life in the face of certain death. McKillip presents the passing of the torch and training the future torch-bearers as a worthwhile raison d'être.

4/29/2001: Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold
Fun little engineering SF novel. Leo Graf is a career engineer for GalacTech and is assigned to teach his methods to a new genetically engineered workforce. The quaddies have been designed as the ideal null-g workers with arms where our legs are. But despite the fact that apart from anatomy they're people, GalacTech treats them like property. Guess what happens. The revolt, when it comes has to overcome dozens of setbacks, both technical, political, and just random. As with all of Bujold's books, the characters are all three dimensional, and even the evil jerks make a kind of demented internal sense. It's lots of fun and leaves plenty of room for sequels that appear to have not been written (well, the Miles Vorkosigan books are in the same universe).

5/5/2001: Tam Lin by Pamela Dean
This lovely novel is from Terri Windling's Fairy Tale Series that started off with Ace books and then moved to Tor. Each book in the series is a retelling of some fairy tale for sufficiently loose definitions of "retelling". And in this case, for a pretty loose definition of "fairy tale" as Tam Lin is actually a sixteenth century Scottish ballad. Dean sets her retelling on the campus of a small midwestern liberal arts college, and the woman hero of the ballad who rescues her love Tam Lin from the grip of Faerie is an English major there. The book follows Janet and her friends through four years in the college, tracking them as they have all the usual experiences of college life, but imbued somehow with a glaze of mysterious magic. I tell people that Pamela Dean writes books without plots, but this one suffers least of her books that I've read from that as a malady since the arc of college life propels the story along nicely without detracting at all from Dean's gift for character.

5/8/2001: Legends by ed Robert Silverberg
Legends is a collection of novellas by most of the modern masters of epic fantasy. Each previously unreleased story is set in the same world as the author's major works. I didn't read the stories for worlds I haven't visited before, so the only ones I read were "Discworld: The Sea and Little Fishes" by Terry Pratchett, "Tales of Alvin Maker: Grinning Man" by Orson Scott Card, "Earthsea: Dragonfly" by Ursula K. Le Guin, and "Pern: Runner of Pern" by Anne McCaffrey. There were more that I didn't read than did, but epic fantasy has never been the top of my list. Each story I did read was worth seeking out the book for if you're a fan of one of these worlds.

5/9/2001: Cannery Row by John Steinbeck
I read Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday which is a sequel to Cannery Row a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. This year, Book-It! performed Sweet Thursday and I enjoyed it again, so I figured it was time to get around to reading this one. The book is a portrait of "Cannery Row in Monterey in California", both the place and a raft of imaginary denizens. Steinbeck is a master of painting a picture or a mannerism or a feeling with a few deft sentences. This is a great book to burn through as fast as you can or to savor a single sentence at a time. Wonderful.

5/18/2001: Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede
Another in the Fairy Tale series, this one sets the story of the two sisters in Elizabethan England and twists it up with the tale of Thomas the Rhymer in the person of his two sons by the queen of Faerie who run afoul of an experiment in magic being conducted by John Dee, astrologer to the queen. Whew! As much fun as that sounds like, something just didn't quite grab me about this book. I'd think it was the authentic Elizabethan language, but I stopped noticing that after the first couple of chapters. There was just a sense of distance and deliberation in the book that was at odds with a story that while fantastic should have been engrossing. Maybe it was a result of too much careful design, or maybe it was just me not reading it consistently enough to get sucked in. It's good, it's just not my favorite of the series, or of Wrede's work.

5/20/2001: 3001: The Final Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
Frank Poole, remember him? He's the one that Dave Bowman went chasing after in 2001 even though he was already dead at the remote hands of the mad computer, Hal. In this book, set in 3001, a ship out in the far reaches of the solar system harvesting comets for the water they contain, gets a call to check out an unknown object. The object is Frank Poole's body. Through the magic of sufficiently advanced technology, Frank is brought back to life, and what follows is half Looking Backward and half family reunion as Frank comes to grips with the changes in the world since he left, and eventually reunites with the current manifestation of his old crewmates. The changes in the world are really pretty minimal for 1000 years worth of progress. Space elevators and a full ring space station have been built and an artificial gravity thingy has been invented. Missing are the astronomical discoveries based on extrapolations of current knowledge that made the other books in the series so infused with sensawunda. Still, it's a fun quick read.

6/1/2001: By Any Other Name by Spider Robinson
A collection of short stories and a few samples from his column for the The Globe and Mail, "The Crazy Years". The columns are great fun, looking at normal every day life and pointing out the insanity of it all. Sort of the thinking humanoid's Gallagher. I'd already read most of the stories in other places, but there are a couple I haven't run across, and they all have that Spider charm.

6/9/2001: Kaleidoscope Century by John Barnes (repeat)
Ack, this is the second time I've read this and I still can't quite make sense of it. It's an alternate future history with time travelling psychopaths who loop through a hundred years or so repeatedly, working to make them the kind of hundred years that they'd like to live through. There's some very nasty violence in a few places, so be warned if can't take that sort of thing. The main character is alternately sympathetic and repugnant so that it's hard to tell what his true nature is (although it seems likely that the dualism is the thing.) It's set in the same universe as several of his other books. (Candle at least, and maybe The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky, and Orbital Resonance too.)

6/10/2001: Brothers In Arms by Lois McMaster Bujold
Miles Vorkosigan leads a double life. As Miles, he is the son of the Barrayaran regent with all the political obligations and complications that implies. As Admiral Naismith, he leads the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet, a semi-outlaw military outfit with which he has offended enough planetary governments that there's a price on his head. In this book, Miles and the Admiral both have to operate in the same locale, and in a panicked attempt to preserve his cover, Miles invents the story that Naismith is his renegade clone. Or is it a story? Bujold has a gift for the twisty political plot. Great fun.

6/14/2001: Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman
Subtitled "Confessions of a Common Reader", this is a collection of Fadiman's essays on topics bookish. If you love books, even if they're not the same books Fadiman loves, you'll love this book. Hear about her family's obsession with copyediting restaurant menus. Live the trials of integrating your library with that of your partner. Ponder the difficulties of gender-neutral pronouns. Rail against the book damage perpetrated by those who dog-ear pages or leave their tomes-in-progress face down. Yes it's all terribly snobbish, but what's wrong with that?

6/24/2001: We Seven by M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., Donald K. Slayton
The story of the Mercury Program told by the seven astronauts chosen to train to be the first Americans in space. There are only a few brief editorial passages by the editors of the book, the rest is made up completely of chapters each written by one of the astronauts. It's a fascinating book, and points out that the astronauts were not glorified test animals, but actually took an active role in every part of the push to put an American in space. They were project managers, designers, testers, and sometimes guineau pigs too. It's moving to read in their own words about the tense moments on the launch pad and the rushed but transcendent ones in orbit. Inspiring, exciting, and depressing all at once. I wonder if we will ever again see this sort of unified national effort to make a scientific acheivement.

6/27/2001: The Soloist by Mark Salzman
The story of Renne Sundheimer, a lapsed child prodigy cellist approaching middle age. In the midst of his funk, he acquires a new student, a young, gifted Korean boy. At the same time, he is called to jury duty, and ends up on the jury for a murder trial involving a young man who goes berzerk during a zen buddhist retreat and beats his teacher to death. It sounds totally bizarre, but Salzman's skill carries this character through all that weirdness just as if it were real life. Which it closely resembles. Renne is a kind but tormented character, and every thought through his head rings true. The supporting characters are just as real, and the final effect is emminently satisfying.

6/29/2001: Issola by Steven Brust
The latest in Brust's Vlad Taltos series, in this one Vlad tells us all he knows about courtesy and etiquette as they relate to dealing with members of the houses of Dragaera. We learn quite a bit more about the world and some of the characters in it, but as with all the best kinds of learning, the new knowledge just brings up a whole raft of new questions. Quite fun.

6/30/2001: Farnham's Freehold by Robert A. Heinlein
Atomic holocaust strikes, but Heinlein's characters are pretty well prepared, so when it turns out that the bomb blasts didn't disintegrate them, but instead sends them to an alternate version of Earth with no people in their locale, they're fairly well prepared to survive. Then they find out that it's not an alternate Earth at all, but their own version over 2000 years after the bomb. The bomb wiped out the population of the Northern hemisphere, and the people of color end up on top with their paler neighbors put into subservience. Heinlein's got a lot of non-PC traits, but racism isn't one of them. The book is pretty standard RAH, right down to the smart pretty twenty-something woman falling for the middle-aged man instead of one of the younger male options. It's kind of cute, really.

7/7/2001: The Dragon Waiting by John M. Ford
Historical fantasy set in the time of Richard III brings together a Welsh wizard, a woman doctor to the de Medici's, a roman soldier, and a vampire. Which makes it sound completely cheesy, but it is anything but. Ford takes these characters and weaves them into the more or less historical events of the time (I couldn't say what's real and what's not, being almost completely ignorant of the events described, but it reads well). Historicals aren't usually my cup of tea, but Ford grabbed and held my interest.

7/9/2001: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Kind of The Sandman meets The Hitchhiker's Guide To the Galaxy. Richard Mayhew helps a wounded young woman he finds on the street one night, and finds himself fallen out of the real world and into the underground London which has a sort of parallel reality alongside the mundane version. The underground London is populated by the sort of fantastic and bizarre people you'd run into in a Sandman book, but Gaiman does a nice job of keeping this novel separate from his graphic novels' world. The characters are nicely ambiguous except when they're gruesomely unambiguous, and there are enough plot twists to keep the whole thing interesting.

7/16/2001: The Telling by Ursula K. Le Guin
Le Guin's first novel set in the Hainish universe in a gajillion years. The Telling feels as if it's structured quite similarly to The Left Hand of Darkness with its focus on an observer from the Ekumen trying to fathom an alien culture. In LHoD, the differences with our own culture highlighted the meaning of gender roles in society. In The Telling, the contrast is between a newly arising totalitarian thought-control culture and the now-outlawed one based on the preservation and dissemination of all that is true and meaningful for extremely loose definitions of those words. The plot is minimal, and the resolution is rushed and incomplete, but the culture of The Telling is the real star of the book, and who better to make such a thing engrossing than Le Guin?

7/19/2001: In a Shallow Grave by James Purdy
The story of Garnet Montrose, a Virginian hideously disfigured in the Vietnam war (though it could be any war for as little time setting as there is in the book, indeed, a movie made of the book changed it to be WWII). Montrose tells the story from inside his head, and intellect, while not damaged directly by his injuries, is seriously twisted first by the distance his appearance puts between himself and his fellow man, and second by his habit of reading from the myriad strange old books left to him (along with the house that contained them) by his grandfather. His main distraction is writing love letters to "the Widow Rance", a lovely, twice-widowed (she married the brother of her first husband after his demise) woman he knew in his childhood. Into this tableaux stumbles Potter Daventry, a troubled young man whom Garnet enlists to deliver his epistles. When Daventry arrives, the story becomes more and more surreal with "all sorts of prophecies, prognostications, forecasts and so on". The climax of the novel is simultaneously tragic and transforming. It's a very odd, but touching book. I read it after seeing it performed by Book-it. That performance seemed eliptical and disjointed, but their record for perfectly capturing the essence of the books they adapt for the stage led me to read the book to see how well they did this time. The performance was as near to identical to the experience of the book as to make no difference whatsoever.

7/21/2001: The Making of an Ex-Astronaut by Brian O'Leary
O'Leary was selected as one of 11 in NASA's second group of scientist-astronauts. His scientific background in planetary astronomy would seem to be a near ideal foundation for a space-bound scientist. The book is a very personal account of the time he spent before and during his tenure with NASA, and the things that caused him ultimately to resign from the program. He is honest enough to admit that the requirements of the space program at that time (living in Houston, being away from his work in pure research, the requirement that he pilot jets) just didn't fit with his inclinations and personality. But he's also scientist enough to question whether a program that requires such things will ever result in a space program that values science over the adrenaline rush of its test pilot roots. O'Leary makes a strong case that it can't.

This book was a great foil to We Seven, and in part explained the tone of that book. In those days of the early manned space program, all of the astronauts signed a contract with Time-Life giving that publisher exclusive rights to the astronauts' stories (in exchange for an annual cash payment while they were in the program (which supplemented their rather paltry civil-service pay scale)). We Seven reads very much like a work produced by a monopoly with a mission. Making of an Ex-Astronaut reads like a work produced by an intelligent, creative person with a healthy disdain for misguided authority.

7/28/2001: Home Building and Woodworking in Colonial America by C. Keith Wilbur
Goes from tree to finished house explaining the processes and tools which would have been used by the early American colonists. Fully illustrated with line drawings, and hand lettered. Very interesting and educational.

8/13/2001: Starlight 3 by ed Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Nielsen Hayden has assembled another batch of great SF stories. This installment of the Starlight series is notable for being the most overtly political, but that should come as no surprise considering its publication in the year following the 2000 "election". The stories are all good, in fact, I'm ready to reread a few of them here a week and a half after finishing the volume.

8/20/2001: The Workshop by Jim Kingshott
Subtitled "Designing, Building, Equipping", Kingshott really does cover the woodworking workshop from ground to roof. There's a fair amount about accomodating woodworking machinery, but Kingshott is enough of a friend to the hand tool that I find much to learn from here.

9/1/2001: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Read this after seeing the recent film. I'd have to say the movie is only loosely based on the book. Greene's writing is rich and engrossing. The characters in here are, none of them, particularly likeable, but they're interesting, and bring up meaty situations for consideration. Pretty good stuff.

9/20/2001: Teckla by Steven Brust (repeat)
This is the first book of the Vlad Taltos series in which Vlad is forced to think about the ethical and moral issues surrounding his chosen occupation (paid assassin). His wife, Cawti, joins a group of Marxist (except this is not Earth so that's not what they're called, but still) revolutionaries set on overthrowing an unjust class system. Vlad initially thinks they're suicidal fools, but by the end of the book isn't quite as convinced. It's good to see Vlad questioning some of this stuff, and while it sounds like this story would be a major bore full of philosophical musings, you can trust Brust to include enough action to keep you awake.

9/28/2001: Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
Subtitled "Some Thoughts on Faith", Traveling Mercies is a memoir of Lamott's faith journey. She's had a rough life, and it's good to see that she's found some way of finding meaning in her hardship. Of course since this is Anne Lamott, it's not a preachy whiny book, it's more along the lines of chatty and goofy with a little bit of schmaltzy thrown in. To this agnostic, just about everything Lamott attributes to divine intervention looks more like the power of the love of fellow human beings, but that's a power that can inspire some faith of its own when you think about it. Except for the biographical bits in the first third of the book, the chapters of the book are more polished versions of Lamott's column in Salon magazine.

10/13/2001: Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
Ehrenreich set out to determine just what it takes to make ends meet on an entry-level job in America. Her experiment isn't very scientific, but to her credit, she erred on the side of giving herself more advantages than real working class people are likely to have rather than less. The experiment was to start off with $1200 and a car in a new town, find a place to live, get a job, and try to make enough money in a month to pay the next month's rent. In Florida she worked as a waitress and as a hotel maid. In Maine she worked at a managed care facility (old folks home), and for a house cleaning service. In Minnesota she worked at Wal-Mart. This is someone with a PhD in Biology, so she's not stupid or lazy. She went to fairly extreme lengths to make enough money to get by. She failed in all three cities.

The book is entertaining and horrifying and it shines a bright light on the falacies our rulers use to justify gutting our social welfare system. Ehrenreich was making about $7 per hour in each location, a couple of dollars above the current national minimum wage and yet was basically forced into homelessness in a month of full-time work (with a fair amount of double-time thrown in). She didn't blow the money on drugs or alcohol. She didn't gamble it away. She spent it on the cheapest lodgings she could find and food. It wasn't enough.

If you're reading this (you have access to a computer connected to the internet), then I expect that reading this book will make you ashamed of the way our society treats these people who make our affluence possible. If nothing else, it will make you double the amount you leave in tips, clean your own house, and pick up after yourself when shopping.

10/17/2001: The Ivory and the Horn by Charles de Lint
A wonderful collection of some of de Lint's Newford stories. Newford is somehow closer to Faerie than the rest of the world, and these stories weave through the denizens of that city, with lots of overlap from one story to another. The characters are all from the underside of the city: social workers, musicians, artists, homeless folks. de Lint manages to write emotional stories about the concerns of his characters without getting maudlin, and the touch of fantasy skews the view of life enough to catch your attention.

10/19/2001: Top Ten: Book 1 by Alan Moore
Moore is the writer of the V for Vendetta graphic novel. These comics are much lighter. Neopolis is a city populated completely with super heroes. Top 10 is the nickname of the police precinct where the main characters (also super heroes) are officers. There's a nice mix of dark danger and goofy in-joke silliness. Fun if a bit fluffy.

10/20/2001: shopgirl by Steve Martin
Novella about Mirabelle, a clerk at the Nieman-Marcus glove counter. Martin writes in a matter-of-fact omniscient style that reveals the truth from each character's point of view. The characters are all recognizable, a little quirky, and give you reasons to like and dislike them. Just like real people. In complete defiance of the "show, don't tell" rule of writing, Martin tells every bit of the story, but it works, and works very well. The result is a charming fable of modern relationship building.

10/26/2001: Stardust by Neil Gaiman
Pretty typical hero's journey tale where a young man journeys into faerie on a quest and ends up finding exactly what he was looking for even though that wasn't what he thought he wanted. Or something like that. Gaiman does his usual fine job with language, character, and setting. Kind of Pratchettesque, this one.

10/28/2001: Forests of the Heart by Charles de Lint
Don't think I've read a novel by de Lint before. He's as good in this longer form as he is with short stories. Forests is set in and around (for sufficiently loose definitions of "around") his fictional mid-west city of Newford. The novel is mostly concerned with a collision between the Green Man legends of the British isles, and the native spirits of North America, but he takes us there through the eyes of a raft of characters, some comfortable with magic, and some not. He's got a record store setting in this one which bears a striking resemblance to the one in High Fidelity, but fortunately its owner is a bit more mature than the one in Hornby's book.

11/5/2001: Taltos by Steven Brust (repeat)
Vlad walks the Paths of the Dead. After the relatively heavy political tone of Teckla, Taltos, with its setting long before any of the events to date in the series, is a breath of fresh air. Despite the fact that it consists mostly in a journey to the nearest thing Dragaera has to Hell. Notable for telling the story of how Vlad met a number of the important characters from the series (including Loiosh, Sethra, Morollan, and Spellbreaker).

11/9/2001: Borders of Infinity by Lois McMaster Bujold
Three novellas all featuring Miles Vorkosigan, loosely tied together into something that looks vaguely (very vaguely) like a novel. Miles is the ultimate over-acheiving short guy. He's far too smart and too lucky to be real, but it's still fun to follow the cocky little sucker around and see him get out of impossible situations.

11/12/2001: Starseed by Spider and Jeanne Robinson (repeat)
I wanted to loan this to a friend, but I didn't have a copy. So I went and bought one and so of course I had to read it again. This is a continuation of the story started in Spider and Jeanne's Stardance novel. This one has all kinds of fun details about living in freefall plus some interesting things about the use of zen to prepare for entering the symbiotic telepathic community introduced at the end of the Stardance novel. (I keep saying Stardance novel to distinguish it from the original novella of the same name that forms the first third of the novel since all sorts of stuff happened in the second two thirds. Stuff that some people seem to think never should have been tacked on to a truly great novella. But it's there and it's fun, so whatever.) Feels like a middle book of a trilogy, and sure enough, that's what it is. Followed by Starmind.

11/13/2001: The Sandman: Season of Mists and The Kindly Ones by Neil Gaiman and a horde of artists (repeat)
I just looked back to see what other of the Sandman collections I had read, and it turns out I read The Kindly Ones last year when I had my first Sandman feeding frenzy. I didn't remember it at all. Weird. These two collections work together pretty well since the first sets a fair amount of the stage for the second (despite the fact that the first is volume 4 and the second volume 9). Gaiman put together an engrossing mythical pageant in this series, and the consistently excellent quality of the art just pushes it over the edge into masterpiece territory. There's still four volumes I haven't read.

11/28/2001: Phoenix by Steven Brust (repeat)
This one picks up where Teckla left off, bringing us back to the Vlad who questions whether killing people is really what he wants to do when he grows up. That uncertainty gives him the freedom to get into bigger trouble than he's ever gotten into before. This could be the wisecrackingest Vlad book. Some of his snide remarks had me giggling uncontrollably.

11/28/2001: The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell
An interesting look at how ideas propogate through society. Gladwell points out the similarities between the way disease epidemics spread, and the way fads and opinions travel and pervade. The book is full of references to various studies about seemingly unrelated subjects that end up tying in to the central thesis. Required reading for anyone interested in culture or how to change it.

11/30/2001: The Sandman (The Doll's House, Dream Country, A Game of You, and Brief Lives) by Neil Gaiman, et al
While they're volumes II, III, V, and VII of the series, they're the last in my reading order. Volume III Dream Country is notable for having Gaiman's script for one of the comics included for those (like me) who wondered how much he dictated the artwork to go with his words. It was neat flipping back and forth between the script with its textual descriptions of the panels to the artist's execution. All four of these volumes lived up to the high standards set by the rest. Overall, the series is amazingly consistent given what a vast variety of settings and topics covered. Next time through I'll have to read them in order.

12/12/2001: The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald
The first of MacDonald's Travis McGee novels. I got led to try these out by the ravings of Spider Robinson. McGee is a fun character, estranged from society, yet able to thrive in its fringes. The book is finely structured despite its rough and tumble P.I. exterior. The pace is fairly consistent, but the tone gets darker and darker as the book progresses, with the events and people McGee encounters getting more and more hopeless and bleak until the "exciting conclusion".

12/17/2001: The Final Reflection by John M. Ford
I'm not a huge fan of media tie-in lit, but for some authors I'll make exceptions. John M. Ford is one of those, and this book pays back the effort handsomely. The story is set a few decades before Star Trek's original series, and is about and told from the point of view of the Klingons. Ford does a great job of filling in the culture that produces the vicious but thoughtful Klingons. A couple of the series characters make appearances, but they are just cameos.

12/18/2001: Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain
Subtitled "Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly", Bourdain tells about his rise through the world of restaurant cooks and chefs. His account is vulgar, shocking, and hilarious. I haven't read such a page turner of a memoir in a long time. If nothing else, this book should be required reading for anyone daft enough to think it would be fun to run a restaurant. If Bourdain can't disabuse you of that notion, then maybe you can actually pull it off. There are even some cooking tips. Think gonzo foodie writing, and you'll get the idea.

12/19/2001: Walking the Labyrinth by Lisa Goldstein
In my impatience to read Michaela Roessner's yet unpublished final book in her deMedici's from the kitchen series, I went hunting to see when it might be done. I didn't find out, but I did find that she has allied herself with two of her fellow SF writers in a mutual promotion group called the Brazen Hussies. The other two hussies are Pat Murphy, and the author of this book, Lisa Goldstein.

The book tells the story of Molly Travers who after being contacted by a private investigator discovers a complex history in her family that she had never suspected. Turns out the aunt who raised her was part of a family of performing magicians, and as she digs deeper it seems that their magic was more than just illusion. The characters are all well drawn, and the special effects are dazzling. I can excuse the mystery not being all that mysterious, since the journey of discovery was so much fun.

12/21/2001: Nightmare In Pink by John D. MacDonald
The second of MacDonald's Travis McGee books follows a similar pattern to the first, at least in the broad strokes. McGee sets out to recover an unknown sum of money for reasons that have less to do with his professed motive of avarice, and more to do with his uncontrollable urge to do the right thing. Again, the beautiful women fall at his feet. Again he knows just what to do in nearly every situation. But this time, refreshingly, his enemies are smart enough and powerful enough that he finds himself way over his head and only is able to escape through help from friends and a hefty dose of luck.

12/26/2001: Vox by Nicholson Baker
Two improbably articulate people have a long conversation on a phone sex line. Baker's rendering of the bizarre (but plausible) details of the various factors which arouse his characters borders on the rococo. The overall effect has its charms, but it feels as if he was going for a sort of voyeuristic look at a blossoming sexual relationship, but I couldn't believe either of the characters enough to make it seem real to me.

jeffy's books 2001
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