- 1: 1/1/96: The Reindeer People by Megan Lindholm
Can't really say too much about this until I've read the
sequel since nothing is resolved at the end of the book.
This Ace paperback is distinctive for a cover whose art
and text have absolutely nothing to do with
the book it encloses. Very finely crafted like all of
Lindholm's work. This is not a happy book.
- 2: 1/3/96: Wolf's Brother by Megan Lindholm
Don't let anyone tell you that this and Reindeer People
are two books. Together they form one richly well-imagined
fantasy saga. Megan Lindholm never disappoints.
- 3: 1/15/96: Falcon by Emma Bull (repeat)
The second time through this book, I couldn't shake the
similarities to Dune. Mostly just the similarities
between Paul Atreides and Our Hero Niki, but other things
too. I also saw shades of Delany and Le Guin in the
setting universe. Bull gets a little preachy in places,
but I don't mind a good sermon once in a while, especially
when the message is a valid one. There is some really
beautiful writing in this book, and Bull shares Steven
Brust's skill for making my mouth water when she describes
food. When I wrote a retrospective review of this last
year I said that I couldn't remember whether the Big
Secret that the plot hinges on was cheesy or cool.
It's not cheesy. Well, not very.
- 4: 1/21/96: Distant Stars by Samuel R. Delany
Delany is still one of my favorite writers. This is an
illustrated collection of some of his shorter works. Some
of which aren't collected anywhere else. With one
exception, I found the illustrations more distracting than
anything. The exception is Empire Star where they
wrap through and around the story nicely.
- 5: 1/21/96: Cats Have No Lord by Will Shetterly
I had thought that there was some connection between this
book and Shetterly's The Tangled Lands, but that was
just standard Ace misdirection: both seem to be
This is a fairly standard fantasy quest with some annoying
deus ex machina going on. A sprinkling of social
commentary that won't surprise anyone who has read
Shetterley's posts to
rec.arts.sf.written. The main characters are all
interesting, with some good understated background, but the
general effect is shallow, feeling more like a novelization
of an RPG quest than a real novel.
- 6: 2/2/96: Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck
My friend Beth threw this at me last week. I'd never heard
of it. It's a sequel to Cannery Row. I'd never
read Steinbeck for pleasure before, but got a great deal of
it from this book. Sometimes you read a book, and the
first few pages are written as if every word was carefully
considered, and then after that it just starts to flow into
a more generic style. This book never stops seeming like
it was carefully considered. And yet it's funny and
touching and a real page-turner.
- 7: 2/12/96: Pecked To Death By Ducks by Tim Cahill
Cahill writes about his travels and adventures. Some of
the pieces in this book are hilarious. For some, I have to
thank him for the vicarious pleasure of watching him doing
things I would never choose to do myself. Some inspire me
to get out and have my own adventures. And some gave me
chills of revulsion at the evil that men can do. Highly
- 8: 2/12/96: Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
Saw the movie made of this play a few days before
reading it. The movie was fun and thought provoking
and kind of confusing. The play is even more fun,
even more thought provoking, and significantly less
confusing. The play is very much a play
since the bulk of its action happens behind and
between the scenes of Hamlet. The movie did a
remarkably good job of translating the stage references
to the screen, but it cannot be fully faithful to
the genius of Stoppard's original.
- 9: 2/17/96: Orca by Steven Brust
Has nothing to do with the ocean mammal of the same name.
The 7th in the Vlad Taltos series. This one sees a
return to the first person narration that was pointedly
lacking in its predecessor, Athyra, however, Vlad
is not the only narrator. Well worth reading for anyone
who has enjoyed the other books. Worth plodding through
Athyra if it wasn't to your tastes to have the
- 10: 3/2/96: 'Tis a Gift to be Simple by Barbara DeGrote-Sorensen and David Allen Sorensen
This is a voluntary simplicity book from a Christian
perspective. It practices what it preaches in that it is a
very simple book giving hints and theological and
scriptural ideas for how to begin to live with less.
Concludes with six weeks' worth of devotional verses and
prayers to help you on your way.
- 11: 3/4/96: Ecotopia Emerging by Ernest Callenbach (Repeat)
This is actually the prequel to Ecotopia, but I wanted to
see how they scanned out of publication sequence. Actually pretty
well. This is the story of how Northern California, Oregon and
Washington decided to begin putting the environment first and
ultimately seceded from the US. Callenbach doesn't give much
detail on how the proposed society would work in practice, though
I think a lot of that is in Ecotopia which I'll read again
soon. I also don't share Callenbach's optimism about people
being willing to give up private automobiles, but it sure could
- 12: 3/7/96: Religions, Values, and Peak Experience by Abraham Maslow
My dad recommended that I read Maslow, so I got this one
and a couple of others from the library. This book is a
presentation of his (Maslow's) opinion that the parts of
humanhood which are usually considered the province of
organized religion should actually be dealt with as a
further aspect of science. Specifically, he asserts that
the scientific study of what we call human nature can
reveal the true basis of all existing religions (in that
they are inspired by the revelations of human beings)
Certainly an interesting idea, and fits in well with the
way I've been thinking about matters spiritual, but I'll
have to think about this some more.
- 13: 3/20/96: A Collaboration With Nature by Andy Goldsworthy
- 14: 3/20/96: Hand to Earth: Sculpture 1976-1990 by Andy Goldsworthy
Goldsworthy is an English sculptor who works in nature
with materials found on the site. Some of his works
are breathtakingly beautiful, but all of them are
startling for how well they augment and point out the
intrinsic beauty of nature. Media in the sculptures
depicted in the photographs in this and the last book
range from leaves torn and stuck together to stacked
stones to patterns drawn in sand. Remarkable work.
- 15: 3/23/96: Computing Across America by Steven K. Roberts
This is the story of Roberts' dropping out of his yuppie
lifestyle to become a nomad pedalling a recumbent bicycle
laden with techno gizmology of all descriptions. The book
traces his initial voyage from Columbus, Ohio down the
Eastern seaboard to Florida, across the South and through
the Southwest ending up in Southern California.
It's a voyage of adventure, self-discovery, sex, and
community, both in the real world of long days on a bicycle
and in the parallel world of the net which provides a
semblance of social stability. Well worth reading for
anyone who has ever dreamed of the alternatives to office
life offered by modern technology.
These days the BEHEMOTH (the descendant of the first trip
bike which came to be called the Winnebiko ;-) is more of a
museum piece with the new project being a technologized
sailboat. Find out all about it at the Nomadic Research Labs
- 16: 3/26/96: Mindkiller by Spider Robinson
This book isn't as suspenseful as some of his others have
seemed to me, but maybe I'm just getting used to his tricks.
Told in two parallel, seemingly unrelated stories in alternate
chapters. They do converge, of course. Robinson's characters
tend to be wildly analytical, capable of examining their own
motivations and those of others using cold logic. It's
interesting, but somehow not quite believable watching his
people think things through. At one point in this book, one
of the characters has trouble thinking through his own motivations,
and likens his thought processes to a slipping transmission in
a car. Heck, I feel like that most of the time! This is as
fun as Robinson always is, but the ending is morally troubling.
- 17: 3/31/96: Time Pressure by Spider Robinson (repeat)
The last time I read this book,
I hadn't read Mindkiller to which this one is a sequel
even though it takes place chronologically before the events in
Mindkiller. This time through it made a little more
sense toward the end where our hero finally finds out what's
I think I've said this before, but what I really like about
Robinson's books is that he's grappling with big questions.
Mostly the biggest question: "How is the human race going to
keep from obliterating itself or stagnating?" The thing that's
depressing about his books is that he has to go to such
outlandish lengths to provide an answer to the question (mostly
involving world-wide telepathy, or alien intervention) This book
has the added bonus of providing a "scientific" explanation for
the sameness of accounts of near death experiences.
- 18: 4/5/96: A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt
A story about a man who chose death over breaking his
principles. And about the rest of us. And about the faith
that let Thomas More give up his life in preference to truth.
A moving play.
- 19: 4/11/96: The Wizard's Tide by Frederick Buechner
This is about a family weathering the depression in the
Eastern US. It's told in a very simple style that includes
vast amounts of detail without being the least bit
plodding. Closer to novella length, it has the feel of
other Buechner books without being very much like them if
that makes any sense.
- 20: 4/19/96: The Infinity Concerto by Greg Bear
Really only the first half of a two book cycle, though it
does read decently as a standalone.
- 21: 4/21/96: The Serpent Mage by Greg Bear
The first Bear fantasy I've read. He continues to show his
obsession with Really Big Stuff.
This is actually an alternate interpretation of history
mundania meets/is faerie story, and is really tight, even
for Bear. The final conclusion is a bit rushed, but it's a
satisfying conclusion/non-conclusion. Good stuff.
- 22: 4/25/96: It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
This is a book about the facts of life and adolescence
written for adolescents and pre adolescents. There's
apparently been some controversy about it, but I'm not sure
why. It could be because the book talks about stuff like
masturbation and homosexuality with the title firmly in
mind. But this is no license for promsicuity. The book is
up front about the realities of sex in the AIDS world,
using the more accurate term "safer sex", and
repeatedly pointing out that the only 100% protection from
pregnancy and STDs is abstention.
The illustrations by Michael Emberley are funny and
instructive. All the illustrations are drawn by Emberley,
there's no photographs.
I'd recommend this book to any adolescents or parents of
same as a relatively painless way to encourage
conversations on the subject of sex and approaching
- 23: 5/3/96: Double Feature by Emma Bull & Will Shetterly
This is the nearly complete collected short works of Bull
and Shetterly. I'd read most of them before in other collections,
but it's fun to read them again in this setting and read the
authors' comments. A very nicely produced volume from NESFA Press.
- 24: 5/8/96: Making Book by Teresa Nielsen Hayden
Another from NESFA Press. This is a collection of carefully crafted
essays and memoirs. The blurbs alone are fun to read, but Ms. Nielsen Hayden's
prose is wonderful. She writes fabulous sentences. There are a few
pieces that require some pretty esoteric sf fan knowledge that I seem
to lack, but there's plenty here to interest even non sf readers. Topics
range from the abuse of money to the Mormon church to narcolepsy to
educational financial aid to Disneyland. I'm actually kind of glad NESFA
is sold out of the slipcased edition of Double Feature so I ended
up with this, my alternate choice.
- 25: 5/13/96: Rosie by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott's characters always let me think "maybe I'm not
that neurotic after all." ;-)
This book is really great and funny and touching until
towards the end when it seemed like Lamott started thinking
"How am I going to resolve this? How am I going to show that
this not-very-likable character has worth?" and went about
solving those problems in ways that strained my suspension
of disbelief (which considering the stuff I usually read
isn't all that easy!). But the sum of the book is still
great and funny and touching, so I'd still recommend it.
- 26: 5/20/96: Compost This Book! by Tom Christopher and Marty Asher
They're serious about the title. Printed on chlorine-free
paper with soy-based ink, all but the cover and binding are
compostable. This is a great book for demystifying the
age-old practice of composting. I'll start my first bin
real soon now. Here's a very compact composting tutorial online.
- 27: 5/24/96: Pretty Girls by Garret Weyr
We recently processed a large donation of new books to our
local library Friends group, and
some of the boxes were chock full of those young adult
books with the really lame covers. You know the ones.
Mass market paperbacks with photos of pretty girls pining
after pretty boys. This book stood out from the others
with some decent cover art and blurbs from some decent
places. It was enough to make me want to read it to see if
it was any good.
It is a pretty good book. The characters are interesting
in spite of having a few too many textbook neuroses. There
were a couple of places where I was jarred by what I
interpreted as a guy's failure to write convincing girls,
but I don't know that the author is a guy, so I
could be wrong, and being a guy myself, I could be way way
off base. ;-)
p.s. I was! (off base that is) The power of the net
reveals that Weyr is, indeed, female. (Thanks, Peter!)
- 28: 06/04/96: The Door Interviews by ed Mike Yaconelli
The Door is sort of the Mad of religious magazines.
They're irreverent and outspoken and generally don't let anyone
get away with anything without giving them a poke or two. This
is a collection of almost forty interviews from the magazine of
people from Madeline L'Engle to Mr. Rogers, from Frederick Buechner
to T. Bone Burnett. The interviewers don't pull any punches, and
what they get are some wonderfully forthright statements from
all of these people about the christian church, and their own
faith. Fascinating reading.
- 29: 6/8/96: Peopleware by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister
Peopleware is a book about managing intellect workers for
maximum productivity. I'm not sure I agree with everything
they say, but most of it sure makes a lot of sense.
Anybody working for a company that manages using DeMarco
and Lister's tactics, give me a call if you need a UNIX tool
Mostly just common sense, but like most things which fall
under that heading, it's anything but common. (Do you have
100 square feet of office space and a door and a window? I
sure don't.) Concentrates mostly on physical environment (If
you expect me to think for a living, you better give me a place
where I can do it) and team building (and keeping).
If you manage intellect workers, you should read this book.
- 30: 6/13/96: Blue Champagne by John Varley (repeat)
Varley's short fiction is great fun. The first few in here
are loosely connected in the same universe with a couple of
others thrown in. He's kind of a cross between James Tiptree
Jr., Samuel R. Delany, and Douglas Adams ;-).
- 31: 6/18/96: God Is Closer Than You Think by Juan Carlos Ortiz
I felt a little self-concious reading this book since it
looks like one of those touchy-feely Christian books. And I
thought the chances of my ever reading a book with a foreword
by Robert Schuller were next to nil.
Ortiz is one of the people interviewed in the Door Interviews,
and his comments there seemed very down-to-earth, so I checked the
library for his name, and this book popped up.
It really is one of those touchy-feely Christian books,
but Ortiz's view of what Christianity is all about seems, to this
non-christian, to be very close to what Jesus might have intended.
- 32: 6/26/96: Joe Jones by Anne Lamott
This is a beautiful book about love and human families
and that's all that I'm going to say about it except
that it's funny and sad and very very real. Read it.
- 33: 6/30/96: The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron (repeat)
I read this a million years ago, and the cover drawing dredged up
the original feeling of wonder the book inspired. On reading it
again, I discovered that I had practically no memory of the details
of the story. Originally published in 1954, the science is mostly
imaginary, but the story is great fun and a definite classic.
- 34: 7/1/96: The Dilbert Principle by Scott Adams
In between all the clever analogies and sarcasm are some
great laughs for anyone who has ever worked with geeks or
been one. And, wonder of wonders, Adams steps down off his
cartoonist's perch and actually makes some (relatively)
serious suggestions about how we should run our
companies. So you might even be able to justify the book
on an expense report ;-)
- 35: 7/5/96: The End of the Road by Tom Bodett
Stories from Bodett's radio show (which I haven't heard) about
the residents of the town of "the End of the Road" Alaska.
Pretty much a cross between Keillor's Wobegon stories and the
Northern Exposure television show at least conceptually, but
these are in no way derivative (though NE might be...)
There's gut-busters and tear-jerkers galore in here. Lots of
fun to read.
- 36: 7/12/96: Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach (repeat)
After reading this and its sequel out of sequence this time
through, I'll say read this one first. Callenbach's wildly
optimistic view of a utopian society built from the seccession
from the US of Washington, Oregon, and Northern California and
based on biological stable-state principles is alternately
inspiring, depressing and puzzling. Mainly because it's so far
away from the way things are now, and it's difficult to see how
they could be changed so drastically. He attempts to answer the
question of how in Ecotopia Emerging, but the two books
don't quite connect in either time, or figurative place.
Still, this book is in the running for my entry to the one book
list (see my books page for a link to
it) assuming I ever make up my mind ;-)
- 37: 7/14/96: Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams
Adams has a true gift for the novel metaphor. This is a sci-fi
murder mystery with enough of the absurd wit readers of the
hitchhiker books have grown to love to make it great fun.
Immediately went to the bookcase and got the sequel down after
finishing this one (it is not a cliff-hanger, I just wasn't
ready to say goodbye to Dirk)
- 38: 7/20/96: The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
Dirk is pretty much an innocent bystander in this one, but
Adams' twisted humor makes it great fun.
- 39: 7/22/96: Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
Fairly vanilla court-intrigue fantasy, told from the point
of view of the bastard child of royal blood. The writing
is decent and fits with the rumors I've heard of Ms. Hobb's
actual identity, but the book seems motivated more by
publisher request ("give us something to compete with that
guy who writes all those humongous epic fantasy books that
sell so well for Tor") than by any inspiration on the part
of the author. The plot is fairly simplistic, and our hero
is slow to pick up on the obvious traps he walks into.
This book ends with him maybe 15 years old, though, so as
long as he gets a clue in the later books I suppose I can
let it pass. A pleasant diversion.
- 40: 8/5/96: Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
Wonderful cap to Robinson's three-part Mars novel (Red
and Green being the first two parts) There's an astonishing
number of ideas in these books about science and engineering and
nature and politics. There were some parts near the end where I
kept having to allow him to use his artistic license, but all in
all I really enjoyed this one.
- 41: 8/8/96: Callahan's Secret by Spider Robinson
Can you say "deus ex machina"? I knew you could.
is a down-in-flames-style finale to the Callahan's books.
There's an annoying number of gratuitous rabbits pulled from
various hats, and implausible psychologically healing
revelations. He should have stopped after two, then he
wouldn't have had to protest too much about not having
written a trilogy. (of course then there's
Stardance, Starseed, Starmind,
hmmm... I guess he doesn't have any literary pretensions
left after all. Oh, and isn't there a sequel to
Mindkiller and Timepressure in the works? ;-)
- 42: 8/17/96: Life On the Border by ed Terri Windling
Third of the
collections. This one is much less romantic about the re-entry
of faery into our world. The stories concentrate mostly on the
young runaways attracted to Bordertown by the hope of adventure.
All the stories are good, but I had to take them in small doses
cause they're all pretty dark.
In reading the "About the Authors" I had to look three or four
times to convince myself that one of them (Michael Korolenko)
lives right here in my little town of
- 43: 8/25/96: Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
This is the second in Ms. Hobb's (alias Megan Lindholm so the
gossip goes) Farseer series. There's no indication of how
many books there will be, but the first two each end fairly
conclusively, so they're not exactly cliff-hangers. This
one's ending was fairly contrived, but the book in general
has some interesting things to say about loyalty in all
its manifestations. Fun addictive reading.
- 44: 8/27/96: Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie
Recommended by a friend from work. Wonderful story about stories.
I haven't read any of Rushdie's other work, but I will now. There's
more literary and cultural references in here than you can poke a
stick at, yet it's an effortless read. Suitable for all ages.
Reminded me of Lewis Caroll. The book also provided some useful
words and phrases like P2C2E. Fun and thought provoking.
- 45: 9/4/96: The Memory of Whiteness by Kim Stanley Robinson
Struck me as sort of a cross between Delany's Triton, Nova,
and Babel-17. Depicts music as the language capable of expressing
the universal laws of physics. It's an exciting thriller with some
very interesting characters. I'm still trying to decide who the POV
- 46: 9/10/96: Life With UNIX by Don Libes and Sandy Ressler
A very cool book. Gives a competent introduction to all
aspects of UNIX, from its history to user-level commands to
application support to admin-level commands to general
philosophy. I'd recommend it for anyone planning on using
UNIX in any capacity for more than a week. While it's not
a reference to using UNIX, it's got enough information to
show you how some of the more bizarre features got the way
they did, and how to figure them out.
I read the fifth printing of the first edititon which,
copyright back in the dark ages of 1989 has wonderful
statements like "[In January of 1987] there were 235
newsgroups [in Usenet]. There were 5,300 sites with an
estimated 157,000 readers. Wow!" ( wolfenet carries over
10,000 newsgroups as I write this, not quite 9 years later)
and "[In 1984] the price of a 300 dpi laser printer was
less than $10,000, making them more popular than
daisy-wheel printers." Progress marches on. I believe the
book is still in print, and I have to assume it's been
revised since there's lots of vendor information that isn't
worth much now.
- 47: 9/14/96: Teckla by Steven Brust (repeat)
The third (publication order...) Vlad Taltos book. Vlad is
forced to examine his occupation and lifestyle and the
motives that brought him to them in light of the condition
of others of his race. My goodness, social conscience in a
fantasy novel. It's great to see Vlad being so totally
convinced that he's right about things when it is perfectly
clear to us as reader that his justifications for his
actions are so much bunk. Reminds me of me.
- 48: 9/22/96: Mother of Storms by John Barnes
This guy is a master of the what-if science fiction book.
With one major advance in human technology, plus one
plausible change to the environment, Barnes throws us onto
a roller coaster of a journey. (The changes I'm thinking
of are 1. the direct neural interface, and 2. the sudden
release of an enormous quantity of trapped methane into the
The events that result affect every level of human existence.
- 49: 9/27/96: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The story of a young man who hiked into the wild in Alaska
and died there. Krakauer was assigned the story for
Outside magazine, and, after the article was published,
still found himself empathizing with Chris McCandless. The
book follows the path that brought McCandless to his
death. It questions whether he was worthy of respect for
clinging so tenaciously to his convictions that he allowed
himself to starve to death, or whether he was simply a fool
who got in over his head and paid the ultimate price. I
guess I'd submit that the two choices are not mutually
- 50: 9/29/96: Luther by John Osborne
Play about Martin Luther. It probably views better than it
read. Interesting contrasts with A Man For All
Seasons in that Luther was a tormented (and evidently
inconsistent) social misfit who, nonetheless had a sweeping
impact on the Christian church, while Thomas More was a
gentleman in all senses of the word who, though he clung to
his convictions and faith to his death, had only limited
effects on the church. Reading Luther made me aware
of my ignorance of Luther the man despite my attendance for
the last three years at a church which bears his name.
Actually, I think this says something good about the
Lutheran church, but I'm now curious.
- 51: 10/6/96: Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster
A Christian perspective on the inward, outward, and corporate
disciplines that (from the Christian perspective) help to make
one receptive to God's will. As a non-Christian, I sort of
glossed over all the explicit Christianness and translated it
into my own interpretation which is something like disciplines
that help you be open to the truths that you already know but
are unable to hear throught the noise of everyday life. Very
interesting book, and I can see how adhereing religiously to
the practices described could be really valuable to the inward
- 52: 10/9/96: Callahan's Legacy by Spider Robinson
It is not a spoiler to say that the gang at Mary's Place save
the human race from an unstoppable foe by getting telepathic.
Pretty much what happens in all the Callahan's books. This
one is a little different in that not all of the problems
presented are solved. Some get the non-answer that there
just is no solution and that's life. Somewhat refreshing.
Some good stories about how a few of the original denizens
of the old Callahan's found the place.
Spider also includes a HUGE plug for Red House Records
which has re-released Jake's favorite album, Spider John
Koerner's _Running, Jumping, Standing Still_ along with
a lot of other truly great folk music.
- 53: 10/12/96: Tucker's Last Stand by William F. Buckley, Jr.
I don't generally read spy novels, but I read the first few
of Buckley's Blackford Oakes series back when they first
came out, and when I saw this one in our Friends of the
Library book sale a couple of weeks back I figured it'd be
fun. And interesting. This one is set in the time before
and immediately after the Tonkin Gulf incident in Vietnam
in 1964. It's especially fun to see Buckley's portrayal of
prominent public figures of the time, most notably Barry
Goldwater and LBJ.
- 54: 10/14/96: Fugitive From the Cubicle Police by Scott Adams
Despite the fact that the man has become a franchise and
there's more merchandising around this strip than Garfield,
the comics are still funny and often dead-on to at least
my view of corporate america.
- 55: 10/17/96: Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich
Found out about this book from the Amazon Underground.
Illich maintains that compulsory schooling as it is known
in most parts of the world is the cause of most of
society's ills, especially rampant consumerism (school
presents learning as a product which teachers produce and
students consume which leads to students thinking in terms
of producer consumer forever after) The collapse of the
education system which Illich saw as imminent in the late
1960s has, of course, not yet come to pass, but his ideas
are interesting. I was especially struck by this (long!)
I believe that a desirable future depends on our
deliberately choosing a life of action over a life of
consumption, on our engendering a life style which will
enable us to be spontaneous, independent, yet related to
each other, rather than maintaining a life style which only
allows us to make and unmake, produce and consume--a style
of life which is merely a way station on the road to the
depletion and pollution of the environment.
And this passage:
[The telephone and postal networks] are true public
utilities, whereas the [highway system] is a public service
to the owners of cars, trucks, and buses. Public utilities
exist for the sake of communication among men; highways
[...] exist for the sake of a product. Auto manufacturers
[...] produce simultaneously both cars and the
demand for cars. They also produce the demand for
multilane highways, bridges, and oilfields. The private
car is the focus of a cluster of [production oriented]
institutions. The high cost of each element is dictated by
elaboration of the basic product, and to sell the basic
product is to "hook" society on the entire package.
Illich's proposal to replace the existing system of education is what
he calls a "Learning Web" (remember this is 1970) which consists of
four elements which I'll paraphrase as:
- Access to educational materials. Basically a public (and probably
widely distributed) library which
includes not only books, but such resources as computers, lab
equipment, and other things needed to learn about stuff.
- Skill exchanges, by which he means a way to hook up people who
already know a thing and are willing to demonstrate it with those
people who would like to learn that thing.
- Peer matching, whereby people with similar interests can find
eachother for the purpose of mutual encouragement and learning.
- A directory of and access to masters of various fields who could
serve as needed as mentors or advisors for those pursuing similar
fields of study.
His description of 2 and 3 sounds a whole lot like Usenet ;-)
The concept of learning as something one does, rather than something
one is given is the thing that resonated most with my way of thinking.
The book is worth reading. It's also out of print, so check your
- 56: 10/23/96: One for the Morning Glory by John Barnes
If he hadn't already made it, this book would have catapulted Barnes
into my buy on first sight list. This book is a fairy tale. And
a meta-fairy tale. Full of fairy tale motifs and wordplay. If I
hadn't recently read Haroun and the Sea of Stories, I wouldn't
have anything to compare it to.
And on top of all that, it has an excellent cover! The most
important characters are all portrayed and bear great resemblance
to my images of them. There are also references to various events
throughout the book. The artist clearly read the whole thing.
- 57: 10/26/96: Deep Water Passage by Ann Linnea
We bought this book at North Wind Books in Eagle Harbor,
Michigan on the shores of Lake Superior. If you're ever up
there, stop in. It's a tiny store, but they have wonderful
books and are fascinating people.
Deep Water Passage is Linnea's story of her summer
trip around Lake Superior by kayak with a friend. Of
course it turned out to be the coldest, stormiest summer in
100 years... There is quite a bit here about the mechanics
of the trip, and the sights seen along the way, but the
book is much more about Linnea's inward journey to
reevaluate her life and work through her grief at the loss
of a friend to cancer. The book is a grippingly honest
emotional account of that journey and brings tears as often
in sympathy with her pain as in joy at her accomplishments
and the kindness of some of the people she meets along the
way. My only complaint about the book is that her paddling
partner for much of the trip is barely portrayed, but I
think this is as much due to his inward focus as to
Linnea's. It would be fascinating to read his account of
- 58: 11/10/96: Dreams Underfoot by Charles de Lint
Loaned to my by a friend at work (Hi Janet! ;-) This is urban
fantasy set in the fictional and placeless city of Newford
which has a high concentration of people who haven't forgotten
how to see the signs of Faerie in our world. Many of these
stories differ from the Borderland books in that on the Border,
magic has become almost mundane since everyone can see it, but
here there are only a few people who are able to perceive the
fantastic easily. For everyone else, their glimps of something
strange is troubling and sometimes terrifying. Nice current
of creepiness that's missing from the Border books. One thing
I did miss from the Border was the variety of authorial voices,
but if I hadn't read the whole book in a few sittings this
wouldn't have been a problem ;-)
- 59: 11/19/96: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
What fun. Interesting idea for how to unite mankind in a
common cause. Also a decent proof that the meaning of life
is fundamentally unknowable.
- 60: 11/19/96: My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl
Too long, but otherwise cute diversion. The tale of how
Uncle Oswald made his fortune. Suffice to say that it
was through various judicious applications of the powder
of dried Sudanese Blister Beetles, the strongest
aphrodisiac known to man.
- 61: 12/02/96: Luther the Reformer by James M. Kittelson
Very readable biography of Martin Luther and his impact
on the Christian church. If nothing else, Luther is
remarkable for his confidence in the correctness of his
own interpretation of the scriptures. He felt he was
right, and he had the debating skills to ensure that he
could win any argument on the subject.
What's remarkable is how popular Luther's vision became in
light of the fact that it is so much more conceptually
complex than what the Catholic church was offering. The
Catholics were saying, "do good stuff and you'll go to
heaven," while Luther's take is that no matter how much
good stuff you do, the good never overwhelms the inherent
sinfulness of each of us, and that only Jesus' sacrifice
redeems us and allows us entrance to heaven _if_ we have
faith in him. Come again? Of course with the Catholic
redemption through works plan, you're subject to the
current letter of the law as interpreted by the current
batch of lawyers, I mean priests. So maybe it makes sense
that the protestants have become so widespread after all.
- 62: 12/5/96: The Charwoman's Shadow by Lord Dunsany
Originally copyright 1926, this is a lyrical tale of a
chivalrous apprentice magician, and how he strives to serve
his family's wishes while following his own sense of
adventure and duty. Lovely book from one of the
grandfathers of modern fantasy.
- 63: 12/12/96: Halo by Tom Maddox (twice)
I liked this book enough on first reading to turn right
around and read it again. Haven't done that in a long time.
On second reading, the rough spots show more, but it's
still a good cyberpunk/Machine intelligence book. Interesting
take on hierarchical/bureaucratic decisison making versus
- 64: 12/19/96: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Knopf is expecting huge things from this book and the two
to follow for an eventual trilogy. The rumor I heard is
that the first printing is 100,000 copies which is just
unheard of in a young adult title. I tried to buy another
copy as a gift last Saturday, but all the stores I tried
were out of stock. It's got big hype attached.
For the most part, I'd say the hype is well deserved. It's
the story of an orphaned girl who grows up in an
Oxford-style boarding school as the joint charge of the
faculty and staff. She quickly finds herself thrown into a
gripping adventure. The world in which it's set is similar
to our own, but the differences are striking. For one, the
sciences, instead of being scorned by the religious
community have been absorbed by something like the Catholic
church. "Experimental theology". But the difference most
integral to the book is the fact that every person is born
with a sort of familiar called a daemon that in childhood
can take the form of any animal at will. Sort of a
built-in best friend.
While it is the first book of a trilogy, the book stands
well alone. It's great fun, but the differentness of the
world and the way Pullman uses it ask pointed questions
about our own culture. A note at the beginning of the book
indicates that the second volume will be set in our world,
and the third will move between the two. Should be fun.
- 65: 12/25/96: Infinity's Shore by David Brin
Middle book of a trilogy. Sigh. Suffers from the same
fragmentation that the first book, Brightness Reef
did. Too many viewpoint characters, too many subplots.
Amazingly enough, Brin is a good enough writer to make the
book compelling in spite of these flaws, but there's not
enough resolution to make it satisfying. Brin continues to
hold the carrots of the Progenitors, the various plots of
the Galactics frustratingly out of reach. If we don't see
some big payoff in the closing book of this sequence, I'll
- 66: 12/26/96: Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James
Subtitled "100 ways to slow down and dnjoy the things that
really matter," this is mostly just another in the
seemingly endless string of simplicity books that have
turned the simplicity movement into the simplicity
industry, and none of them seem to see the irony in
this. (I got it from the library ;-)
This book does have some good suggestions, and St. James is
no zealot, so for those unwilling to give up the creature
comforts, but interested in getting rid of some of the
baggage in their lives, it's worth reading. And it's
pretty short, so there's not an outrageous investment in
- 67: 12/27/96: A Million Open Doors by John Barnes
Delightful. Set in a universe where at some point
interplanetary colonization became both desirable (for some
reason) and affordable, and every culture on earth that
could scrape together the cash sent a colony to preserve
their culture on a new world. Separated by light years,
the various settlements live basically in solitude until
someone invents instantaneous travel, and the fold begins
to be regathered. The book begins on a planet whose
culture was based on the swashbuckling, honor-bound,
style-obsessed kind of thing that never existed on earth
except in The Three Musketeers, and Barnes makes it
seem as exciting and colorful as that implies. Our main
character soon travels off to a planet which has newly been
reconnected to the thousand cultures, and through his eyes,
their world, based on a form of Christianity married to a
kind of controlled capitalism (hmmm.), looks like a hell of
repression and blandness. But as he begins to interact
with the people, the contrast with his own society throws
its flaws into stark relief. Our hero's leaving behind his
prejudice comes a bit too easily, perhaps, but it's
heartening to think of a human being dealing with the
situation as well as he does.