Books finished in 1997

1/6/97: The Female Man by Joanna Russ
A classic in the science fiction cannon. One of the first books to explore women's roles in society using SF as a vehicle. The book gave me the impression that things, while still not perfect, have gotten better for women in our society since it was written. But then, I am male, so my view is necessarily skewed. Interesting stylistically too which made it more fun to read than, say, Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. I finally pulled the book off the shelf because I'm working on Samuel Delany's Silent Interviews where Russ' work is referenced repeatedly.

1/11/97: Hogg by Samuel R. Delany
This is a hard book to review. Let me say up front that Hogg should not be read lightly. The behavior of the characters in the book is so far out on the fringes of human behavior that it begs the question of whether beings who behave like these can even be called human. Don't come crying to me if you read it and are offended.

Actually, since Delany is a Science Fiction writer (capitals fully intended), I approached this book as a reader of SF and being in that mindset was able to almost unconciously treat Hogg and his cronies as aliens whose bizarre sexual proclivities were, if not socially acceptable, at least comprehensible. I'm not sure how I would have read the book had I not had both a background in reading SF and a familiarity with Delany's other writing (unusual sexual practices run through virtually all of his books). And since as a critic of Science Fiction writing, Delany has characterized SF itself as "a way of reading," I wouldn't be at all surprised if the fact that reading the book as SF makes it easier to swallow (so to speak) were part of what he intended.

But reading it as SF didn't neutralize its impact. The activities depicted left me feeling nauseous on several occasions. It's kind of amazing to me that fiction can bring that kind of physical response, and examining that experience and trying to figure out how (and, indeeed, why) the book inspires such feelings is a lot of what made reading it an interesting if not pleasant experience.

There's a lot going on in the book, from investigation of S/M roles (the first person narrator (not Hogg) is almost completely passive, submitting to whatever is asked of him, while Hogg is pretty much uncontrollable) to some pretty amazing narrative gymnastics. I could write more, but I'll close this review with the back cover blurb from Norman Mailer of all people. It sounds to me like the next sentence would start off with "But..." ;-)

"There is no question that Hogg by Samuel R. Delany is a serious book with literary merit." --Norman Mailer

01/20/97: Contact by Carl Sagan (repeat)
An excellent science fiction novel from the late great Carl Sagan. SETI (the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) finally succeeds, and the Message from the ET's is the instructions for the construction of a machine.

From Sagan's afterword, the book grew out of a treatment for a motion picture and indeed, it has finally been made and is slated for release this summer starring Jodie Foster and directed by Robert Zemeckis. It will be interesting to see what Zemeckis, the king of the action adventure does with this story, mostly of ideas.

Sagan explores the political, scientific and theological impact of the Message with a remarkably even hand given that we have a pretty good idea up front what his view of the subject must have been (not to say that he doesn't grind some axes, particularly in the areas of women's under-representation in the scientific and political community, and the self-serving nature of the career bureaucrat/politician).

He gives a particularly intriguing nod to the possibility of rationality in religion in the person of Palmer Joss, a former side-show performer (tatooed with a map of the earth!) who switches to Christian evangelism after a near-death experience (struck by lightning during his act!). Wonder how much of that will make the movie? ;-) (and, yes, I did say rationality)

A fun and fascinating book. If you haven't read it, do so.

2/6/97: Bible Stories for Adults by James Morrow
Actually, only about half of these stories are retellings of stories from the Bible. I haven't read a short story collection this consistent in forever. Every story is interesting, alternately funny and profound, and memorable. The topics range from the environment to evolution vs creationism to commentary on war. Excellent book.

I read it after reading Evelyn C. Leeper's review.

2/22/97: The Man Who Pulled Down The Sky by John Barnes
One of Barnes' earlier novels. Mostly about the politics and economics of revolutions, in the setting of an early 21st century solar system. Interesting ideas, and plenty of action, but some of the speeches and lectures stop the story in its tracks, especially in the first couple of chapters. Still worth reading.

2/23/97: The Ruby In the Smoke by Philip Pullman
Picked this up from the library just to see what Pullman's other books are like (see The Golden Compass from my 1996 list.) This one is a fairly straightforward young adult mystery with some fun characters, and a mystery that I didn't figure out though I think someone more familiar with the genre probably would have. I believe there are a few more books with the characters introduced here. Fun.

2/27/97: A History of the Early Church To A.D. 500 by J.W.C. Wand, D.D.
Originally published in 1937, Wand's history is remarkably readable due to his economical use of the English language and a wonderful dry sense of humor.

I was loaned this book by a friend when, after reading Luther the Reformer, I was driven to ask how the Catholic church got that way (legalistic and driven by the worldly ambitions of its leaders).

Well, perhaps the real answer is that it's run by humans and could hardly be any different. But, it looks as if the Christian faith managed to stay relatively institution-free up until somewhere around the second century A.D. at which point the lawyers got a firm hold on it and started trying to nail all points of faith down into the one true way to believe after which, if you'll pardon the expression, everything started to go to hell.

Which came first? Lawyers or Civilization? Can we have the latter without the former? More reading needed.

2/28/97: The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
I read the 1989 edition which includes two additional chapters as well as copious commentary on the 1976 original's eleven chapters.

Dawkins has a remarkable mind, and spews ideas forth in all directions, not all of which contribute to his thesis.

This is not an easy book, but as far as I understand it, Dawkins makes abundantly clear that his concept of the gene (or more generally, the replicator) as the propagating unit and driving force behind evolution is fully adequate to explain the variety of life on Earth. In addition, one of the newly added chapters which attempts to condense his book The Extended Phenotype, extends the explanation to justify the existence of us complex biological critters in the first place. Remarkable.

3/3/97: The Off Season by Jack Cady
A novel about the 20th century. And about the biggest battle between good and evil ever. Set in the fictional town of Port Vestal which bears striking similarities to the author's home of Port Townsend, WA. Except that Port Vestal is chock full of ghosts. And cats. And Victorians.

A very funny book that glitters with similes like a bucket full of minnows.

3/8/97: Freedom and Necessity by Steven Brust and Emma Bull
Despite the blurbs which encourage one to think that these two authors who have published mostly fantasy in the past would continue to do so in their collaboration, this is straight fiction. Set in mid-nineteenth century England and told almost completely in the form of letters and journal entries passed between the principal characters, it's a marvel of careful writing. I never really doubted that two of my favorite authors could pull off the research and carry it through to execution, but I'm still impressed with how easy they make it look.

But while the writing is beautiful, the plot leaves something to be desired. The buildup is breathtaking, incorporating a plethora of mysteries that seem to involve everyone in England, but about two-thirds of the way through the book, things start getting simpler instead of more complex, and the philosophical/ political angle becomes all but non-existant.

Still, the characters live and breathe, and make real mistakes and real revelations and interact in interesting ways. Not quite the classic-to-be I was thinking it might be, but still a gripping and mostly satisfying read.

3/9/97: Grendel by John Gardner (repeat)
Here in Seattle there is a performing arts group called Book-It which has been performing short stories without changing any of the words (right down to the "he said"s and "she said"s) for a number of years to wonderful effect. This year has been the first when they've begun to move into adapting longer works to the stage with an eye towards preserving as much as possible of the original text.

Their latest effort is a production of Grendel, John Gardner's novel retelling the Beowulf story from the point of view of the monster.

I reread the book after seeing Book-It's production, and all in all they did a remarkably good job of catching the tone of Gardner's work: the loneliness and ultimate futility of Grendel's chosen life's work of abusing Hrothgar's minions. The Danes seen through the eyes of their tormentor show at once all that is beautiful as well as all that is repugnant in Man and Society.

3/17/97: The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
I first heard of this book from Nancy Pearl, and have since seen many respect-worthy people recommend it.

A message consisting just of alien music is detected coming from Alpha Centauri. For reasons that are fairly plausible, the first mission (so to speak) to investigate is mounted by the Jesuits. Forty years later (Earth time, remember relativity, it's only been about 5 years for those on the mission), Father Emilio Sandoz returns to earth, physically and mentally scarred, the only survivor.

The book flips back and forth between the events that led up to the mission and Sandoz's return, and the investigation after his return of what happened. On one level the book is a carefully and plausibly written first contact story, but it is equally an investigation of how God is percieved by those who believe in him.

A powerful first novel. Rumor has it that a sequel is in the works. I can't imagine why. This book stands adequately on its own, and any revisitation of the themes and characters is unlikely to add any value. By all means, Ms. Russell should write more books, but this one is done. IMNSHO

3/23/97: Assassin's Quest by Robin Hobb
Locus reported last month that Robin Hobb is, indeed Megan Lindholm. This volume pretty much concludes the Farseer trilogy. However there is plenty of room left for further installments. This book feels like it was padded out to make it nice and fat; there are a number of events that could as easily have been left out. Lindholm is still a good writer, and many of the peripheral characters are likable even if the main one is not. The trilogy as a whole pretty much went downhill, though the slope is shallow and at its lowest point surpasses other hack fantasists. I hope the popularity of the series fills the coffers well enough that Ms. Lindholm can concentrate on something with a bit more depth and a bit fewer pages.

3/23/97: The Car and the City by Alan Thein Durning
Published by the Northwest Environment Watch, gives an overview of how we came to the state of car-centrism and sprawl that chokes our communities. Only 65 pages and packed with information. Gives an outline of what steps can lead back towards a high-density, high-quality of life path of development. Well worth reading.

3/29/97: Hard Laughter by Anne Lamott
This is Lamott's first novel, and maybe her best. She is one of the most honest writers I've ever read. This book follows a family's journey as the father goes through treatment for a maybe cancerous brain tumor. It's a pretty heavy subject, but the title describes the book well in that you will laugh hard and uncontrolably at the same time as it will be hard to laugh because everything is so intense. Lamott gives clear demonstrations of Spider Robinson's maxim, "Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased."

3/30/97: Lifehouse by Spider Robinson
This is a sequel to Time Pressure and Mindkiller (recently released in a single mass-market paperback under the title Deathkiller)

It's a Spider Robinson book. There are puns, there are painfully analytic people in outlandish no-win situations, there's telepathy, there's sex, there's another song. Oh yeah, and the universe gets saved from certain destruction. Imagine that. Fun, but...

4/6/97: Encounter With Tiber by Buzz Aldrin and John Barnes
Really two novels in one with one split in half and the other plunked in between. The first novel is a story of the progress of human spaceflight from the end of the 20th century into the second half of the 21st. Aldrin's experience as one who's actually "been there, done that" gives this part of the book the ring of truth from the hassle of dealing with NASA public relations people to the hassle of dealing with the reality of the difference between weight and mass. Part of this story is the discovery of an alien signal coming from Alpha Centauri which tells where to find stuff left in our own solar system by an alien visit 7000 years before.

The other novel is the story of that visit and the people who made it.

The book hammers home the point that since science is one of the few occupations guaranteed to give us endless sources of new and exciting things to do and discover, and since space is a place where we can have access to truly new discoveries rather than endless refinements of what we already know, we would be insane not to avail ourselves of the opportunity.

4/12/97: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn
Ishmael is only superficially a novel, and the sort of Socratic dialog that fills most of the book works only marginally to make the ideas presented sink in. That's unfortunate because the ideas are pretty mindblowing.

Quinn draws a convincing picture of "how things came to be this way" (i.e., how our culture became the planet-destroying juggernaut we all know and live with). He also lays out the basic paradigm shift that needs to happen if we're going to survive as a culture.

Required reading for anyone who's dissatisfied with the direction we're going ecologically and culturally.

4/13/97: Green Shadows, White Whale by Ray Bradbury
Wonderful fictionalized account of Bradbury's experiences as a young author living in Ireland to write the screenplay for a film adaptation of Moby Dick for director John Huston. Paints a vivid picture of Ireland at the time.

Makes me wonder what all the women in Ireland do while their men are spending all their time at the pub? All the work, I suppose.

4/16/97: A Snowflake In My Hand by Samantha Mooney
Mooney works in the cancer ward of a veterinary hospital, and this is an account of some of here experiences with the patients and their owners. The book is probably for cat lovers only in that there are only passing references to other animals. The book is about death and mourning as much as about cats. Mooney's resilience and positivity in this environment is remarkable. Real tearjerker.

4/17/97: Mad Monks On The Road by Michael Lane and Jim Crotty
A couple of guys, a motor vehicle or two, a few cats, a Macintosh, and the road. Lane and Crotty left their semi-settled lives in San Francisco and set out on a journey to discover themselves and their true family. Sort of what you might expect Hunter Thompson to write if he stopped doing drugs and started eating all macroneurotic foods. New age gonzo road journalism.

4/18/97: Stuff by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning
This is the latest book from Northwest Environment Watch. It attempts to follow some of the actions of a typical Northwest citizen through to their actual impact on the environment. As the book is careful to point out, the assessments are done based on generic industry data rather than trying to trace the life of a particular french fry or coffee bean. The book was great for giving me an idea of the kinds of hidden impacts seemingly innocent objects can take.

4/19/97: Silver Lady and the Fortyish Man by Megan Lindholm
This is a limited edition chapbook (~1500 copies) of a short story. It's kind of urban fantasy, but it's written as if the point of view character is Lindholm herself, so it makes you wonder if it might be semi-autobiographical. Usual high quality from Ms. Lindholm.

4/19/97: Alvin Journeyman by Orson Scott Card
Truly lightweight continuation of Card's Alvin Maker series. I remember the earlier books (Seventh Son, Prentice Alvin, and Red Prophet) as being pretty meaty, but it's been years since I read them. This one is heavy on words and color and moralizing and light on plot and point. Card still writes good readable prose, but there just wasn't enough story here to make it very interesting.

4/24/97: Superluminal by Vonda N. McIntyre
Somewhat like early Delany space opera, this book is about a future elite composed of those who are biologically suited to the trials of multi-dimensional, faster-than-light interstellar travel. It's about levels of perception, and the cost of progress. I really enjoyed the characters, and the feel of the future McIntyre depicts. Didn't hurt that the earth-bound scenes are all set in Puget Sound ;-)

4/26/97: Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe by Br. Peter Reinhart
Reinhart is one of my favorite food writers. This one is half cookbook, half memoir about Brother Juniper's Cafe, a restaurant and bakery in Santa Rosa California founded by Reinhart and his wife, conceived as both an outlet for their passion for good food, and their calling to minister to people in meaningful ways.

And while I found the book (and its older brother, Brother Juniper's Bread Book, which has seen me through a number of bread baking adventures) inspiring for Reinhart's mission, it's also culinarily inspiring; my mouth watered through the whole thing, and waters now just thinking about it. A joy.

4/27/97: Crooked Little Heart by Anne Lamott
A sequel to her Rosie, Lamott follows the same characters into Rosie's adolescence. She continues to amaze me with each of her books that she can so clearly describe the sort of crazed internal dialogue that we have with ourselves when our rationality is held at bay by the force of strong emotion. I don't know how she does it. A very beautiful book.

Lamott has a regular column in the internet magazine Salon

4/28/97: Rodin on Art by Paul Gsell
A series of dialogues between Gsell and Rodin on various topics relating to art. Fascinating look at the philosophy and background of the brilliant sculptor. A sample:
... there is a continual exchange of thought between all the brains of a generation -- the journalists, the popular novelists, the illustrators, the makers of pictures bring within the reach of the multitude the truths discovered by the powerful intellects of the day. It is like a spiritual stream, like a spring pouring forth in many cascades, which finally meet to form the great moving river which represents the mentality of an era.

5/4/97: Enter the Zone by Barry Sears and Bill Lawren
Simultaneously intriguing and repulsive. In the introduction, Sears announces that his goal was always to get rich, and the shoddy science he cites repeatedly as proof proves only that he wasn't lying.

However, I think he may actually be onto something, it's just unfortunate that he expects us to believe it because he does. The mechanism he describes is similar to that in The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet by Drs. Rachel and Richard Heller. I've used the carbo addict's diet, and saw relatively painless steady weight loss that only stopped when I stopped using the diet because I wasn't willing to restrict my diet as required.

On the other hand, a quick net search makes it pretty clear that Sears is now into multi-level marketing schemes to sell this diet and his handy dandy meal-in-a-candybar product. No Zone for me, thanks.

5/8/97: Virtual Girl by Amy Thomson
A brilliant young man builds an anatomically correct female robot and designs an illegal artificial intelligence to animate her. The cover would have us believe that he did this in order to provide himself the ideal boy toy, but in the book it is clear that this is the farthest thing from his mind (at least his concious mind). Arnold, the creator, is a bit disturbed, and it becomes clear why as the story unfolds. He lives on the street and makes his living through salvage and scrounge. The AI is designed with this kind of life in mind.

The story really doesn't take off until Arnold and Maggie part ways and Maggie has to take care of herself and start learning how to be a grown up AI. This story of personal growth, though is really almost a backdrop to the real story going on about how people survive a life on the street, and what that life is like.

5/11/97: The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle
I'd always assumed from the title that this was a much deeper book than it turned out to be. It's a first contact story (seem to be a glut of those passing through my hands this year) set in a far future human space empire. It was fun, but not earthshaking.

5/12/97: Only Begotten Daughter by James Morrow
By the same fellow who brought us Bible Stories for Adults, as the title implies, this is the story of the birth and life of Jesus' little sister. Half sister. On God's side. Born by a virgin birth to a Jewish man in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It's a funny and thoughtful book about religion and the meaning of life. Worth reading if you're into that sort of thing.

5/23/97: At Home With Books by Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm, and Christopher Simon Sykes
Loaned to me by a friend who had checked it out of the library, so I'll have to remember to return it. At Home With Books is a coffee table book with beautiful color pictures of wonderful home libraries from the incredible to the mundane, the humble to the hoity-toity. Accompanied by fun bibliomane-oriented text, there's lots to drool over and to inspire.

5/24/97: Spokesongs by Willie Weir
Well known to Seattle radio listeners, Willie Weir has spent a good part of his life on solo bicycle tours to the far corners of the globe followed by visits to local libraries and bicycling groups to tell of his experiences. He puts on a great show, mixing his skills as an actor with beautiful pictures from his journeys, sounds recorded along the way, and stories of his exploits into a thrilling multi-media experience. I've seen three of his presentations: India, South Africa, and the Balkans. If you get a chance to see him in action, don't miss it.

These same three trips are now immortalized in his new book, Spokesongs: Bicycle Adventures on Three Continents. The book is made up of short essays illuminating the joys of travelling by bicycle. Great fun for the armchair tourist, and probably for the seasoned traveller as well (I wouldn't know ;-). Published in a limited run of 3000 copies, the book is available in a few Seattle independent bookstores as well as by mail from

Pineleaf Productions
7812 Stone Ave N
Seattle, WA 98103
(206) 689-6286

$11.95/copy + $2 s/h

Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Pineleaf Productions, and don't expect to get any kickbacks in the event that you buy their book. It's fun reading, though.

5/24/97: No Turning Back by Wallace Kaufman
Anyone with a passing interest in the environmental movement should read this book. Kaufman has worked as an environmentalist, and in this book questions both the goals and the methods being used in movement.

He states his case very clearly and carefully, and I don't think I can paraphrase his message without making it sound like he's Rush Limbaugh or something. If you're interested in the environment, and in preserving it, read the book. You may not agree with his message, but it will make you think.

I see this book as a skillful and convincing rebuttal of Daniel Quinn's Ishmael

5/25/97: Thomas the Rhymer by Ellen Kushner
A lyrically told classical faery story. Told in the first person from four different points of view in successive sections. Lovely.

5/30/97: Dogland by Will Shetterly
Dogland is one of Shetterly's best works so far. It's set in a magical-realistic late 1950s, early 1960s Florida, and told from the point of view of a young boy whose parents have started a minor tourist attraction showcasing all of the AKC approved dog breeds. The fantasy elements are nicely understated. The real joy of the book, though, is the effortless way Shetterly handles the first person narration which is clearly written from the character's adulthood, but still fully captures the level of understanding his younger self had of the events at the time they happened, and yet also gives the detail that lets us see the implications of the events which the young Chris couldn't have understood. But it's still told from a 6-year-old's point of view, and none of the extra detail ever jarred me into considering the older Chris' perceptions. Stunning.

5/31/97: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny
The fun of reading these old SF classics is trying to see who influenced them, and who has been influenced by them. In this case, the biggest similarity is with Zelazny's later stuff, especially the Amber books.

6/2/97: Solo by Noel Perrin
Perrin was shamed into buying an electric commuter car when he was teaching Environmental Studies 1 at Dartmouth in 1991, and was forced to admit he drove a gas hog to work every day. This is the story of his search for a zero pollution car way back then, and his experiences as an owner of an all electric vehicle. Very interesting, and fully suited to the techno novice. Need to look for something more up to date now.

6/12/97: The Wrath of Khan by Vonda McIntyre
After reading her Superluminal and discovering that she had written the novelizations of the Original Series Movies (after the first), I was curious to read these. This one was fun. Kirk comes across much less annoying when not manifested through Shatner. McIntyre adds lots of background on some of the characters, especially Saavik.

6/14/97: Starfarers by Vonda McIntyre
Managed to find the first three books of this series at one of my favorite used bookstores, Yesterday's in Modesto, CA. The first book is a cliffhanger, the circumstances of which would be a spoiler. A starship has been constructed which will ride cosmic strings from here to there. (The ride being theoretically possible in the book, but never having been tested, of course, the first trial is to be conducted with a ship containing a whole university's worth of people and a complete ecosystem. This is explained away by requiring a large mass for the string ride. I guess a big rock wouldn't do at all.) Anyway, the characters are an interesting lot, and it will be interesting to see how McIntyre uses them in the three books following this one.

6/16/97: Transition by Vonda McIntyre
Second in the series. Spends a bit too much time rehashing the setting and character development from the first book. Again, our heroes are left hanging from a cliff. The mission receives a cryptic alien message from a moon of Tau Ceti II (the destination of their maiden voyage). The message is never explained in the book (Two more to go, though). The welcoming party runs away, and the starfarers follow to discover that the party is made up of two humans who claim to be 3700-year-old alien-rescued survivors of the volcanic destruction of Crete. I say "claim to" just cause they act pretty strange for a welcome party even if the people being welcomed announced their arrival with a nuclear explosion (read the book). On to volume 3.

6/20/97: Metaphase by Vonda McIntyre
Third book in her Starfarers series. The alien contact bits are okay, but otherwise, this one reads like soap opera in space. There's so many characters and so many romantic entanglements and so many intrigues, none of which are resolved. I'll read the next (last?) book, but only to see if McIntyre is going to pull off a miraculous conclusion.

6/21/97: The Cage by Audrey Schulman
The first day of summer was an ironically fitting day to read this chilling first novel about a woman nature photographer who goes to the arctic to photograph polar bears from inside a steel cage. I kept expecting to find ice in my hair. A pageturner that touches on issues from eating disorders to the environment.

6/24/97: Nautilus by Vonda McIntyre
Last (?) book of her Starfarers series. This one redeemed the others to some degree by concentrating mostly on the aliens who were generally more interesting than the humans. I found it odd that our heros would be as eager as they were to join a galactic society whose members refuse to answer your questions especially when they already show evidence of being fully as legalistic as 20th century Americans. Do they all sign contracts without reading them? (actually she did show at least one place where the characters involved did exactly that ;-) But on behalf of the entire human race? All in all, though, an okay first contact series.

7/5/97: The Art of Breaking Glass by Matthew Hall
This is the first book I've ever read because the author sent me email recommending it. And, it's pretty good. A thriller set in Manhattan addressing some very interesting issues. The characters are well drawn and believable in their various levels of sanity. Written with a highly cinematic sensibility, it could translate easily to the screen. Worth a look.

7/5/97: The Indoor Cat by Patricia Curtis
Addresses the issues relating to cats who live strictly indoors.

7/12/97: Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh
Heard about this on NPR a couple of months ago. A down-on-his-luck entomologist turned exterminator gets mistaken for a professional assassin. The plot is fairly predictable, but the character and setting details make it worthwhile. Very very funny book.

7/13/97: Bellwether by Connie Willis
The main character works in the R&D department of a large corporation ("HiTek" ;-). Her research involves the origin of pop culture fads (specifically hair bobbing in the 20's) A lot of it reads like sort of a cross between Dilbert and James Burke's Connections. This is full of commentary on the herd-like nature of popular culture. Laugh out loud funny. A bellwether is a leader among sheep. Sort of. A Nancy Pearl pick.

7/22/97: Driftglass/Starshards by Samuel R. Delany (partial repeat)
This volume encompases all the stories from Delany's collection Driftglass, though not in the same order or even contiguously, and includes a number of other previously uncollected short works. I've read some of these stories dozens of times and they still feel fresh to me with few exceptions. This time through I was trying to read them with an eye towards construction and language use, but it's very hard for me to not get caught up in Delany's stories and charge through to find out what's going to happen rather than enjoying the scenery along the way.

7/31/97: The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
His Dark Materials Book 2, Pullman picks up right where he left off at the end of The Golden Compass. Stands very well alone for a second-book-in-a-trilogy. There is a central plot which is resolved within the covers of the book. This is as much of a pageturner as the first book, and ups the ante for the series as a whole. Exciting, satisfying and intriguing. Can't wait for the conclusion.

8/2/97: The Wine of Violence by James Morrow
Morrow's first novel is an exploration of the role of violence in human society. Excellent use of SF as a vehicle for exploring moral issues. Despite the grim nature of the subject matter, he manages to write a remarkably light-hearted book as strange as that may sound. Good stuff.

8/7/97: Candide by Francois-Marie Aroue Voltaire
Voltaire's reduction to absurdity of the idea that whatever happens is for the best. I guess I'd agree that the concept is absurd, but in the book, Candide's continued belief in it doesn't do him any harm. In fact, it allows him to continue to pursue his desires in spite of ridiculous hardships. So maybe the right attitude is not belief in the value of whatever happens, but acceptance of the past's immutability.

8/12/97: The Mad Man by Samuel R. Delany
Gay fiction. This book is infused with an outrage at the fact that no large scale studies are being performed of how AIDS is transmitted. According to Delany, the last large scale study examining what behaviors transmit the disease was in 1987. The book is filled with sexual practices for which that study (included in an appendix) found no major correlation to AIDS transmission. We're not talking about safe sex. This is uncertain sex. There's one case in the book of sex using a condom. This out of hundreds of sexual encounters in the book.

The book does have a plot and characters, and they are interesting. And Delany could write the phone book and I'd read and enjoy. But this one could have been a whole lot shorter and not lost much.

8/14/97: Time Travelers Strictly Cash by Spider Robinson (repeat)
A few Callahan's stories and some fan writing. I meant to just read the speech about Heinlein to remind myself what book of his that Spider kept mentioning. I ended up reading the whole book again (except for "God is an Iron").

8/19/97: Hard Wired by Walter Jon Williams
Cyberpunk. All atmosphere and action without a lot of meat. Kind of a cross between Zelazny's "Damnation Alley" (this one quite intentionally), and Barnes' The Man Who Pulled Down the Sky, with a big dose of generic cyberpunk spice.

8/20/97: Exegesis by Astro Teller
A graduate student in artificial intelligence (Alice) has a conversation via email with her thesis project (Edgar) who has inexplicably woken up over the Christmas break.

Teller's setting is perfectly portrayed in that it didn't cause this UNIX geek to flinch more than once or twice. The book doesn't do anything too novel with the idea of a sentient computer program, but covers the basic arguments about how to tell if one's alive, and what it might be like. The lack of expansion of these ideas kind of clashes with the fact that the discussions between Alice and Edgar are at a plausibly high level (her being an AI researcher and him being an AI, you can't expect them to explain to each other what a Turing Test for example, and they don't).

Not much new combined with a high level gloss on the old stuff makes this pretty light reading at least for someone with some knowledge of the domain. Fun, but not earthshaking.

8/29/97: Constance by Jane Kenyon
I'm a prose reader for the most part, so I don't really have the language for talking about poetry. And usually when I read a volume of poetry I don't read the whole volume, but flit from poem to poem in a more or less random fashion, so my main criterion for putting the book in my list (read the whole book) is not satisfied, so I don't write about it. This probably is telling me that I need to work on my criteria.

In any case, I read this one all the way through (twice), so it's here. One section of the book is devoted to poems talking about Kenyon's experience with depression, and those poems ring very true to me. I'd recommend them to anyone who is experiencing depression and needs someone to tell them they're not imagining the whole thing. I'd also recommend them to anyone who knows someone who is suffering from depression and doesn't understand what their problem is.

However, the depression stuff is only about a third of the book, and Kenyon's insight and eloquence suffuse the whole volume. Good stuff.

9/23/97: Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley
McKinley's first book, Beauty, was a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast. Now, twenty years later she's written another retelling of the classic tale. The two books could hardly be more different and still tell the story. Rose Daughter is a lyrical surrealistic version of the story, concentrating mostly on symbolism involving roses. I read it in a couple of sittings and enjoyed it quite a bit. I think I still like Beauty better. Look for a fresh review of it here when I've finished rereading it.

9/25/97: Beauty by Robin McKinley (repeat)
McKinley's first book is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. It's just lovely. One of my favorite fantasy books.

It was originally published in 1978, long before the Disney folks came along and did their retelling of the story in 1991. When the Disney version came out I was struck by how many little details (not of plot so much as setting (the Disney plot (as usual) bears little resemblance to the original or McKinley's version)) seemed to come straight from Beauty and yet I never saw any connection drawn between the two works in the press.

9/27/97: Deus Irae by Philip K. Dick & Roger Zelazny
This is an odd post-apocalyptic novel from two of the giants of the SF genre. I'm guessing from the stuff that I did understand from the novel that there are a lot of things I didn't understand. This one is written in a very dense style that I had a hard time getting started on, but which flowed once I got used to it. It's mostly about the evolution of religions and religious iconography.

9/30/97: Looking at Photographs by John Szarkowski
Subtitled "100 Pictures from the Collection of The Museum of Modern Art", Szarkowski provides a very brief essay with each picture giving an outline of what is important about it from the point of view of furtherance of the craft of photography, evolution of its art and or significance within the body of work of a given photographer. Not even vaguely comprehensive, of course, but a fascinating skip across the surface of the photographic art from a Daguerrotype c. 1850 to documentary and artistic photos of the late 1960s. Published in 1973.

10/2/97: Publisher's Lunch by Ernest Callenbach
An introduction to the ways of modern publishing and the pros and cons of self-publishing vs using a publishing house. This is a cute book written in dialog style between an author and an old friend who happens to be an editor for a smallish press. They have a series of lunches over which they discuss the ways of the wily publisher (and author). Recommended reading for anybody who wants to know how the business works, though it doesn't seem to be very complete on the distribution side of things. But then everything I know about publishing is hearsay.

10/5/97: Job: A Comedy of Justice by Robert A. Heinlein
Heinlein plays with Christianity. Drags a bit getting up to The Rapture, but after that buzzes along at a good clip. Also an interesting comentary on the mutability and subjectivity of social mores. Fun quick read.

10/19/97: Legacy by Greg Bear
A prequel to his Eon and Eternity, this one is only peripherally set in Thistledown. A good portion is SF on the high seas of another planet. Bear's skill at building believable science fictional worlds shines here, but the characters are a bit stilted and the plot is one of the oldest stories in humanity. But that's pretty much the point. Still, despite its shortcomings, it was an interesting ride.

11/02/97: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie
I'm almost completely ignorant about the Koran which seems to be a huge part of what this book is about. I'm also completely ignorant of the reasons behind the controversy about this book (which probably has a lot to do with my ignorance about the Koran).

That said, I had a lot of fun reading this book. It's laugh-out-loud funny on most pages. But it's so tightly woven that explaining why it was funny at any given point pulled so many threads of the plot that I would have had to tell Becky the whole story to make any given quote make sense out of context. It's a marvelous feat of stylistic storytelling that never lets up. I'll have to go fill in a bit on my areas of ignorance and read it again.

11/3/97: Edward Weston Photographer: The Flame of Recognition by Edward Weston
56 photographs accompanied by excerpts from Weston's journals and correspondence. The text shows how concious and intentional he was about creating photographs, and what his ideas were about art and artistry. A remarkable photographer.

11/7/97: Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
A modern-setting retelling of Sleeping Beauty. A young woman's grandmother, whose favorite story was Sleeping Beauty, dies leaving a box full of clues to her past. The young woman follows the clues back and discovers the impact of the holocaust on her grandmother's life.

I read a good part of the book in public places and kept having to brush the tears away. It's very intense. And that's fairly remarkable in itself since I feel like I'm pretty well numbed to the events of the holocaust. It's been the subject of so much of my cultural education that it seems almost fictional, and I don't really have any personal sense of the horror of it. This book actually made me feel a bit of the impact the holocaust had on its survivors, and for that reason alone, I recommend it.

But on top of that, the writing is just wonderful. Jane Yolen a master of the fairy story style, and this book shows every bit of her art. She has a talent for including the little odd details about a character that make them live. While there are some liberties with plausibility taken to move the story along (our protagonist finds people who knew her grandmother rather more easily than one would expect), the greater story is strong enough to make them easy to overlook. An important book.

11/7/97: The Bookman's Wake by John Dunning
I don't generally read mysteries, but Becky insisted that I read this one, so... Hard boiled murder mystery with hard-core book collector angle. Demands to be read straight through. The mystery is engrossing and the characters are entertaining. And you learn something about book collecting along the way. So, does anyone know just how orange the title page of Nickel Mountain is on a first First?

11/8/97: Patton's Spaceship by John Barnes
Hey, it's fluff, but it's entertaining fluff. Alternate history novel that starts off in something very like our world, then jumps to an alternate where the Nazis won WWII. The overarching setting is a battle between the good guys and their dimension hopping fascist enemies. Great fun, and not quite a waste of Barnes' copious talents. Seems to be an open-ended series. Second volume is already out.

11/11/97: Fault Lines by Kate Wilhelm
Despite the fact that this was published under Pocket Books' Timescape imprint which I had always associated with SF titles, there is nothing of SF in this book.

A woman looks back on her life from a precarious position at the beginning of her old age. Sort of a survey of the events of the 20th century. It reads simultaneously as a laundry list of what has been wrong with (mostly American) society during the period and a celebration of the good that can be accomplished by a determined individual.

11/13/97: Photographs, 1970-1990 by Annie Leibovitz
A selection of photographs, mostly portraits, mostly shot for Rolling Stone. Ms. Leibovitz must be a remarkable person. Her pictures depict public people with such a feeling of non-chalance and comfort and yet it's always clear that here is a person having their picture taken by another person who is not pictured but is nevertheless present and perceptible. Remarkable. There are many striking pictures in this collection, but the one I kept coming back to was her Greg Louganis which is just breathtaking.

11/15/97: Small Steps: The Year I Got Polio by Peg Kehret
Kehret is a multi-award-winning young adult author. When she was 12 years old she got polio. This is the story of the progression of her illness and recovery. It's written for young adults, but all the fear and pain and hope and triumph of her battle come through just as clearly to an adult reader even though the language is fully accessible to the grade school set. Wonderful book.

11/22/97: Washington's Dirigible by John Barnes
Second volume of his Timeline Wars series. The dirigible of the title is actually King George's. The main alternate history in this book is an intenionally modified one where technology has been accelerated to be significantly further along by 1776 when the action of the story takes place. Somewhat refreshing in that our hero starts to have some scruples about his wantonly violent tendencies in the first volumes. Be interesting to see where Barnes goes from here with it.

11/28/97: Principal Products of Portugal by Donald Hall
Prose pieces by the poet. The topics range from Basketball to War, and from Reading to Henry Moore. His writing is remarkable for being evocative to the point of fading to invisibility at the same time it draws attention to the fact that it is being written by a Writer. I'm at once humbled and inspired. Not to mention ashamed of how often I resort to the word "remarkable" in these reviews. Time to start varying the vocabulary a bit.

11/29/97: The Faces of Science Fiction by Patti Perret
Portraits of SF authors accompanied by their brief comments. Many of the pictures are taken in the place where the writing is done and they are a delight for showing the this and that which clutters the working environs of people like Ray Bradbury or Fritz Leiber. The words by each author serve to link their outward appearance to the reality they already possessed in my mind from their writings. Lovely to be able to tie the two together so nicely. The book is also amusing for the procession of ailing philodendrons which are probably more a comment on the mid 80's when the pictures were taken than to the gardening prowess of their owners.

11/29/97: The Faces of Fantasy by Patti Perret
Twelve years after publishing The Faces of Science Fiction, Perret returns to picture the Fantasy end of the speculative fiction spectrum. Follows the format of the earlier book, though fewer desks and typewriters are pictured. She has grown as a photographer as well, the new portraits being a bit more artful than in the earlier book. It doesn't hurt that the production values of the book itself are quite a bit better (different publisher (Tor), deeper pockets). Fascinating reading and viewing for any lover of fantastic fiction. There are hardly any houseplants in this one, but the ones which do appear seem healthy.

12/2/97: Driven To Distraction by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey
An adult friend of a friend was recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, and it was the first I'd heard of the condition except as related to hyperactive children. Turns out ADD has many faces including a non-hyperactive version and often persists or appears into adulthood. The authors of this book point out that "Deficit" is not really the right word for the condition, that it is more an inconsistency of attention. So this morning I might spend two hours meticulously cleaning every crack and crevice in the shower tile, while this afternoon I flit from activity to activity without being able to stick with any one for more than five minutes. The treatments that have been developed seem to consist of medication (mild stimulants or tricyclic anti-depressants) along with what the authors call "coaching" whereby a therapist or friend provides reminders and suggestions for improving organization (isn't this what spouses are for? ;-). Interesting book for anyone who suspects they have problems with consistency of attention.

12/4/97: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
This could have been a vanilla court intrigue fantasy, but Kushner's characters are so humanly unhinged that the effect is much more original. Add to that a setting with some well integrated moral differences from the usual stuff and you have a field for an engrossing story. If you like to read subtle conversation and wordplay, (not to mention swordplay), this is a must read.

12/10/97: This Place On Earth: Home and the Practice of Permanence by Alan Thein Durning
Durning is a former researcher for the Worldwatch Institute, and founder and director of Northwest Environment Watch, an organization whose mission is "to foster a sustainable economy and way of life in the Pacific Northwest." This book examines the natural history and human history of the Pacific Northwest with an eye towards what makes the region unique and what threatens its survival. Durning does a great job of presenting the facts without becoming too strident about what he thinks must change if the Northwest is to retain its beauty and health. Not to say that he does not have opinions; he does, and he expresses them, but without attempting to fix blame. His approach is simply to show where we are, where we need to be, and how we might begin to move from here to there. This is an important book on weighty matters, but it's surprisingly pleasant to read for all that. Highly recommended.

12/11/97: Immediate Family by Sally Mann
Photographs, mostly of her children in a variety of situations which are just unlikely enough to be believable. All were taken with an 8" x 10" view camera which may account for a certain attitude of resigned tolerance in the faces of her subjects. The photos display a level of surrealism that gives the feel of capturing the child's perceived world, almost like catching fairies on film. Striking.

12/14/97: The Serpent's Egg by Caroline Stevermer
Wonderful court intrigue fantasy. Richly drawn characters in a plot which is less contrived than is usual with this sort of book. However, what little magic there is seems tacked on and does practically nothing to further the story. Notable for having the most pleasingly understated romance of any book I've read in recent memory. Also has female characters who manage to be strong and in control without violating the constraints of their medieval social roles.

12/17/97: Organizing For The Creative Person by Dorothy Lehmkuhl & Dolores Cotter Lamping
The aim of the book is to use the Right Brain/Left Brain distinction to explain some people's constant disorganization and to guide the Right Brain person through the distressing path toward better organization (the Left Brain person presumably doesn't need the help). I think the RB/LB explanation is taken a bit far, but the paths the book treads to avoid the rationalizations and hangups of the chronically scattered work for me. There's lots of help here if you feel overwhelmed by a seemingly insurmountable morass of tasks and clutter.

12/17/97: Like A One-Eyed Cat: Photographs 1956-1987 by Lee Friedlander
Friedlander has big eyes. These photographs capture mundane scenes in a way that reveals layer after layer of imagery and meaning. Very deliberate, sometimes funny, and rich enough to sustain many viewings. Fascinating use of the medium. Unfortunately, some jackass cut all the nudes out of this library copy. Grr.

12/20/97: The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis
These letters from an experienced elder devil to his beginning protege were written during WWII. They have aged very well. The effect of the letters is to point out all the ways in which humans fail to behave in the way that they would like. It gives an idea of the larger societal effects of these individual failures. They're great fun to read with Lewis' reversed point of view yielding great turns of phrase like "the Enemy" for God, and "Our Father Below" for Satan. Regardless of your views on Christianity, Lewis has an excellent grasp of the mental processes that lead us astray. Whether he's right about their origin I'll leave to the interested reader. There is an audio tape version of the letters (most of them, anyway) that exhibits the best possible casting of voice for the elder devil: John Cleese. Be sure to give it a listen if you look at the book.

12/21/97: Endymion by Dan Simmons
Sequel to his earlier dyptych, Hyperion and Fall of Hyperion, this completes the parallel between the book titles and Keats' poems. The book bears an unfortunate resemblance to David Brin's more recent uplift books in that the plot and revealed information are very thin relative to the length of the book. It all feels engineered much more than the first two books did. But Simmons is a great writer, and the pacing is very fast, so the book ripped along fast enough that its shortcomings didn't detract too much from the experience. On to the final volume.

12/26/97: Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons
The final chapter of Simmons' epic. Significantly meatier than its predecessor Endymion, Rise gets into the new Messiah events that the first book only hinted at. The messages here aren't really too new, but the SF framework that Simmons put together is such an elegantly complex thing that seeing it unfold and resolve is breathtaking. These four books, (Hyperion, Fall of Hyperion, Endymion, and Rise of Endymion) comprise a landmark work in the genre. Wonderful stuff.

12/31/97: Getting a Life by Jacqueline Blix & David Heitmiller
This book is sort of a pep rally for the 9-step process for financial intelligence/integrity/independence that is described in the book Your Money or Your Life. It details the authors' and others' experiences as they work through the nine steps. There's some inspiration to be found here and good practical examples beyond what's in YMoYL. It could have used a good edit or six to tighten it up, but if you're willing to skim through the chatty bits it's not too bad.

jeffy's books 1997
up to jeffy's Book Page