Books finished in 2003

No more new reviews here for now

I'm going to be putting my reviews in my blog for a while to see if that's going to work for me long-term. You can see the reviews only, or browse my whole blog.

03/08/2003: Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom by Cory Doctorow
This is Doctorow's first novel, and it's getting lots of buzz from the way that he and Tor Books have chosen to market it. Rather than making an excerpt available for download, the entire novel has been released as a freely redistributable e-book. Cory has a whole page about it. The book is set in a post-scarcity future. What that means is that technology has developed to the point where physical resources are easily available in sufficient quantity that it is no longer economically feasible for people to profit from their sale. This has made our current concept of money meaningless. In its place has come an economy of status. For reasons which never became clear to me, this status currency is called "Whuffie". The mechanics of Whuffie are never really explained, but they seem to be tied in to the fact that people have basically all gone cyborg by having small computers implanted in their bodies. This computerization allows ubiquitous communication, extraction of the status information that makes Whuffie work, and, most importantly for Doctorow's plot, backup and restore of human minds. Near the beginning of the book, the main character is murdered. And restored from backup. The rest of the book is part murder mystery, and part engineering adventure. The engineering adventure comes in because the main character is part of an adhoc which runs Disney World. In post-scarcity society (called bitchun society, again for reasons that elude me), large corporations don't run things, instead groups of people who care spend their time and energy supporting activities that are important to them. If the existing group starts slacking off, a new group with energy and bright ideas will come along and take over. The main character in the book finds himself in the midst of such a takeover. Doctorow has imagined a fascinating future society and has woven an interesting story around it.

3/2/2003: Tapping the Dream Tree by Charles de Lint
de Lint's Newford stories are almost a genre in themselves. Set in and around the fictional city of Newford, they depict the interaction of magic with the "real" world. And they don't stick just to the kinds of magic you've heard of, but stray into lots of other cultural traditions, showing their mysteries alive in modern North America. It's great escape literature for people who wish that the mystical and mythical played a larger, more visible part in our lives. But these stories are not just escapist, but show characters with real-world problems dealing with them in constructive ways. While the magic that contributes to their lives is unreal to those of us who don't live in Newford, you can't help but be a little more receptive to the more mundane magics that we become immune to in our lives. Magics like human kindness and natural beauty are around us every day, and de Lint's writing makes me more aware of them.

2/9/2003: The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
Set in a post drug-war America. The drug lords said to the US, hey, leave us alone and we'll take care of your illegal immigration problem for you and stop selling our wares in the US. The US and Mexico agreed and the country of Opium was born along the border between the two. In this setting, Farmer tells a story not about drugs, but about what it means to be human as seen through the lens of how a little boy (who happens to be a clone) is treated. Farmer uses a palette rich in shades of grey to portray characters who run the gamut of moral variety and yet are all still clearly human. Add to this that the setting and culture are fascinating, and you get a very satisfying book.

1/26/2003: The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkein (repeat)
Continuing my practice of reading the books after seeing the movies. With Fellowship, I had very few gripes with Jackson's handling of the story. With Two Towers, it's harder to rationalize some of the discrepancies. Why make Theoden run from a fight? Why have Aragorn fall off a cliff (and float down a stream and ride a horse back into the story)? Why make the Ents clueless? Not at all to say that I didn't enjoy the film (I've seen it three times so far), but it's just a bit puzzling. Again, he got a lot of it right, most notably Gollum who is so close to perfectly like the character in the book that it's not even worth arguing over. As a book, Two Towers suffers the most from the scars of chopping a single big book into three volumes. In the beginning it's not so bad, but at the end, we are left hanging most uncomfortably from a very high cliff. The joy in these books is the depth of imagination that Tolkein invested in Middle Earth. There is history and meaning behind every gesture and artifact, and depth of character behind every person. Wonderful epic stuff no matter how you look at it.

1/24/2003: Picnic, Lightning by Billy Collins
Billy Collins was the US Poet Laureate starting in June of 2001. If there is such a person as an accessible poet, Collins is he. His poems are friendly and outgoing. But they're also capable of surprising you into seeing things you haven't seen before, or saw without seeing. Early in his term as Laureate, he started a program called Poetry 180 which strives to have a poem read each day in high schools across the country. The first is his own "Introduction To Poetry" which will give you a pretty good idea what his poems are like (as much as any poem can give a feel for any other...)

1/12/2003: The Rule of Saint Benedict by St. Benedict
The copy of this I read is edited by Timothy Fry, O.S.B. I got this from the library to satisfy my curiosity about how "work" was thought of in the monastic tradition. I sort of expected a kind of zen-like work-as-meditation-and-service, but what I got from reading Benedict was more a work-as-distraction-from-evil. In fact, the whole thing seems focussed far more on obedience to preserve order more than anything I would construe as spiritual or religious. I admit that this could be my modern secular viewpoint rebelling against any hint of blind obedience being a valuable trait. Anyway, it would be interesting to read a Rule as written for a modern monastic community.

1/1/2003: The Translator by John Crowley

This is a lovely little book. Crowley is the author of a handful of widely acclaimed novels usually shelved in the fantasy section of the book store. This novel will probably suffer for that genre-ghetto effect. It is completely a literary mainstream work distinguished mainly by the fact that it's better written than most. (IMNSHO ;-)

Christa Malone is a young woman just entering college in the early 1960s. She has been recognized for some poetry she wrote in high school, so when she discovers that Innokenti Falin, a defected Russian poet is teaching at her college, she takes his class. The book follows the evolution of their relationship set against the turbulent political environment of the time. The plot is as nuanced as real life, and populated with interesting minor characters. An extremely satisfying work.

1/1/2003: A Poetry Handbook by Mary Oliver
I picked this up while I was reading John Crowley's The Translator whose main characters are poets. Oliver's book is aimed at both readers and writers of poetry. She explores the mechanics and magic of how poems are constructed and understood. The tone is casual and quiet but imbued with the sort of delight with the material that you would expect from someone who is an accomplished poet herself. Well worth reading if you'd like to get more out of poetry.

jeffy's books 2003
up to jeffy's Book Page