- 1/1/98: City of Truth by James Morrow
Novella-length tale that exhibits Morrow's great talent for
taking a philosophical question, creating a science
fictional setting which embodies the question, and riffing
on it to yield deeply thought provoking and yet funny
stories. The city in question is in a future society where
everyone always tells the truth. Even advertisers. Even
politicians. But there are rebels, the dissemblers, who
buck their conditioning. Our protagonist seeks them out in
the hopes that they will teach him to lie to his young son
who has contracted a fatal illness.
- 1/7/98: Snow Crystals by W.A. Bentley & W.J. Humphreys
Consists almost entirely of over two thousand photographs
of individual snowflakes. The pictures were all taken by
Mr. Bentley in the early part of this century. If there
were no text at all, the pictures alone make fascinating
The accompanying text explains the basis for categorizing
the various forms revealed as well as how the photographs
were accomplished. The text is not very instructive on how
the crystals may have formed and it is unclear whether this
is due to a lack of general knowledge on the subject or the
author's inability to communicate the salient details
within the constraints provided by the publisher who seems
to have demanded text comprehensible to the lay reader
which has sadly resulted in a narrative which wildly
vacillates between learned topics like atomic structures
and appeals to folk metaphors like Jack Frost.
- 1/9/98: Messies 2 by Sandra Felton
Felton is the founder of Messies Anonymous, a group aimed
at helping people overcome their clutter-prone natures.
This is her second book on the subject of clutter reduction
and home beautification. It reads like she only wrote a
second book in response to demand and was scrounging for
good stuff to fill it up with. I found the predominant
focus on the suburban housewife's situation somewhat
offputting, but there are enough good suggestions that I
did finish it. I'll go read the first one now.
- 1/10/98: The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
This edition, recently released by Tor is a reprint of the
Little, Brown, and Company edition of 1888 by an unknown
translator. It is a wonderful adventure story with
intrigues and action galore. The writing virtually drags
you along from chapter to chapter until it is done.
- 1/22/98: Time & Money by William Matthews
I hate the way I discovered this poet, but I'm glad I did.
A friend's father died and in talking about it he mentioned
that he had been a poet. A quick net search revealed that
he was not just a poet, but a highly regarded award winning
The topics in this book range from the title subjects to
Bob Marley, from reminiscences of the 50s & 60s NYC jazz
scene to cancer, from opera to Folsom prison. The language
is uniformly breathtaking. The ideas are complex, insightful
and realistically ambiguous. This is the work of a gifted
artist at the top of his game. He died last November, the
day after his 55th birthday.
- 1/24/98: The Messies Manual by Sandra Felton
The predecessor to Messies 2 (obviously),
this one is better. Gives good inspiration for changing the way
you look at housekeeping and turning your habits around. Includes
many practical suggestions and is written by a recovering Messie so
she understands what goes on in your head.
- 1/28/98: Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic by Terry Jones
In a word: dreck. This is a novel based on a video game
based on two lines from Adams's Life, the Universe, and
Everything. Since Adams was busy working on the video
game, he farmed out the writing of the novel to former
Monty Python member, Terry Jones.
You'd think that if anyone could reproduce or simulate or
approximate the Douglas Adams hyper-absurdist gonzo skiffy
style it would be a Python alumnus, but Jones fails almost
completely in eliciting more than an occasional chuckle
where Adams even in the later Hitchhiker books where the
series had degenerated into hack writing often had me
laughing too hard to read on. So the writing isn't
particularly funny. Add to that the fact that there is
only the simplest and most predictable of plots and you
have a book that I only finished reading so I could write a
review saying how truly unpleasant it was. Perhaps the
video game would be more fun.
- 2/1/98: Talk's Body: A Meditation Between Two Keyboards by David Sudnow
Sudnow is a sociologist who has taken to writing
observations of his own learning processes as they happen.
The keyboards of the title are those of the piano and the
typewriter between which he perched while working to become
a jazz pianist. The writing comes out equal parts Douglas
Hofstadter, Gertrude Stein, and Charlie Parker. Great fun
to read aloud, but expect some rolling of eyes from your
audience cause this stuff is kinda hard to get your head
around and it sounds like melodic and learned gobbledygook
out of context.
- 2/6/98: Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth by Bill McKibben
Written somewhat in response to his earlier The End of
Nature which was evidently all doom and gloom about our
decimation of our planet's ecosystem, in this book, as the
title implies, McKibben tries to give some cause for hope.
He finds that cause in the partial reforestation of parts
of the NE United States, but also in a couple of places
which have managed to build human societies which live more
lightly on the earth while providing better quality of
life. Those two places are the city of Curitiba in SE
Brazil, and Kerala, a region in the South of India.
Both these places do inspire hope with their impressive
divergences from some of the major follies of the First
World countries. Now to see if we in the First World are
willing to follow their lead in order to backtrack from the
damage we are causing.
McKibben's writing lends an excitement to this good news
that caused me to read the book very quickly. I expect
I'll read it again and try to slow down.
- 2/7/98: The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation by Bill McKibben
McKibben considers the plight of Job who having been
brought low in spite of his righteous ways questioned God's
sense of justice. In response God gave Job a stern talking
to in which he points out all the marvelous and humanly
inexplicable things that He has done in effect saying to
Job, "who are you to question my logic?"
McKibben compares Job's new understanding of the nature of
the universe to our increasing acceptance of the fact that
unending economic growth is not necessarily the best thing
when it comes at the expense of a damaged planet. McKibben
sees God's demonstration of His greatness using parts of
our world which do not serve man directly (the ostrich, the
fact of rain in the wilderness where there are no humans)
as a message to Christians that the planet is not ours to
do with as we will, but that we are just another cog in its
inexplicable and divine machinery--equally at risk if we
break it as the other creatures that we cause to become
- 2/7/98: Over Our Heads: A Local Look at Global Climate by John C. Ryan
The latest from Northwest Environment
Watch gives an overview of what will happen to the
Northwest as global temperatures rise (it's not pretty).
Also gives a list of things you can do to reduce the amount
of greenhouse gasses you produce directly and indirectly.
This is a no nonsense book with excellent credentials. And
it takes only about an hour and a half to read it.
- 2/10/98: Vanishing Point by Michaela Roessner
One day 90% of the Earth's human population disappeared.
Thirty years later, those left are still trying to figure
out where they went and how and what it all means. Add to
the trauma the fact that weird stuff is starting to happen
and you have a fascinating twist on the post-apocalyptic
novel. On top of that, a good part of it is set in the
Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA and other
locations around Silicon Valley. A great fun creepy read.
Superb characters and SF ideas. Worthy second novel after
her first, the award winning Walkabout Woman.
- 2/14/98: The Phoenix Guards by Steven Brust (repeat)
This is the start of Brust's homage to Alexandre Dumas.
Having recently read the original Three Musketeers
in Brust's favorite translation, I must say that he has
the feel down to a tee. Great fun.
- 2/16/98: the Saskiad by Brian Hall
Saskia is entering her teens and attempting to make sense
of the adult world. The fact that it doesn't make any
sense isn't much help. The choice to use a Sally Mann
photo for the dust jacket was a good one since Hall
captures that same feel of the unlimited possibility and
fantasy of a child's world in much the same way Mann's
photos do. This is a sparkling, thought-provoking coming
of age novel.
- 2/22/98: Catapult: Harry and I Build a Siege Weapon by Jim Paul
Jim gets it into his head that it would be fun to throw big
rocks and that a catapult is the way to do it. Problem is,
Jim is not exactly mechanically inclined. Enter Harry.
Harry is skeptical, but says "If you can get the money,
I'll help." Jim writes up the idea as an art project and
manages to get a $500 grant to help them "observe the
impulse" to build a catapult. The book is the story of the
impulse and the construction interlaced with looks back at
the history of large-scale weapons and the escalation of
their power from the earliest catapults to the atomic
This seems to be very much a guy book. My wife kept saying
"why?" the whole time I read the book, and the women
friends of Jim and Harry had pretty much the same
reaction. I've long made the observation that men are
pretty well obsessed with action at a distance. We love
things that let us make stuff happen far away. Witness the
TV clicker, and before that the garage door opener and
remote control airplanes and guns. Any ball sport. Even
fishing. All these hard-core guy things are really based
in action at a distance. Why do we dig this so much? Why
don't most women?
Anyway, the book is very readable and frequently funny.
- 2/26/98: Frameshift by Robert J. Sawyer
Wonderful characterization and suspenseful story made this fun to read,
but it's a little scattered (Nazi war criminals, Nazi Hunters, genetic
science breakthroughs, health insurance scams, telepathy, human evolution,
genetic disease, neo nazis, human cloning, and more) and the plot is
moved along too often by very intelligent characters doing very stupid
things. I enjoyed it enough that I'll seek out more of Sawyer's books,
but I suspect this is not his best.
- 3/1/98: Derelict For Trade by Andre Norton & Sherwood Smith
I guess this is a continuation of one of Norton's old
series, but I never read any of the originals (most of the
Witch World books, but not the Solar Queen
ones). Kind of a merchant marine Star Trek. Fun, decently
written adventure. Sprinkled with a number of unusual
words that had me reaching for my dictionary; an excellent
trait in a novel aimed at the juvenile market IMHO.
- 3/1/98: How Much Is Enough? by Alan Durning
Durning's first major book. Written for the Worldwatch
Institute for which he worked at the time. Subtitled "The
Consumer Society and the Future of the Earth", it examines
the growing gap between the poorest and richest people on
Earth, mostly through the lens of the three attributes:
what they eat, how they get from place to place, and what
and how much stuff they use. The book questions whether
consumerism is really enjoyable individually or desirable
societally, economically, or ecologically. (The answer to
all four questions is, of course, no.)
Posits that the way to fight consumerism is to debunk the
myth that eternal growth is a prerequisite for a quality
life. Suggests that we should move out from under the yoke
of the ubiquitous advertising we have come to take for
granted which inspires in us a plethora of artificial
needs. And finally points out that we need to be
constantly moving towards modes of life which are
sustainable in that they use resources without using them
up. Pretty tall order, but no less necessary for that.
- 3/5/98: Through A Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman
The writing in this first novel is just lovely throughout.
Some of the characters have a great subtlety of internal
conflict and motivation, but some of them are pure
cardboard. The plot tries to keep from being a vanilla
fairy tale, but doesn't settle on anything else very
securely, so it comes off a little unfocused. Still, a
- 3/15/98: Bardic Voices: The Lark and The Wren by Mercedes Lackey
Except for some brief musings on the purpose of governments and religions,
this is pretty much completely fluff. It's decently written engaging
fluff. Good escape.
- 3/22/98: The Robin and the Kestrel by Mercedes Lackey
Second book in Lackey's Bardic Voices series.
Much ado about not much. Our heros foil the plots
of a power hungry church dignitary. Not much happens
in this one, and the things which do happen are rather
implausible. Only barely tolerable.
- 3/26/98: The Eagle and the Nightingales by Mercedes Lackey
Better than volume 2 in the Bardic Voices series. This one
is solidly about prejudice and discrimination and makes its
point pretty strongly. Still, it's all kinda contrived.
I think I've gotten my fluff fix for a while.
- 4/5/98: The Stars Dispose by Michaela Roessner
Roessner's third novel is arguably her most ambitious. Set
in 16th century Florence, Italy and using dozens of real
people as characters, she traces the fortunes of Catherine
de Medici over the course of several years through the eyes
of a fictional family of master chefs (and magicians, yes
there is some fantasy in there) Her characterizations are
marvelous and the fantastical elements of the story gave me
chills. The final conclusion is somewhat lacklustre, but
as a whole the book is well within the high standards set
by her earlier works. I wouldn't dare try to predict what
her next novel might be about.
- 4/11/98: Endangered Species by Gene Wolfe
As inconceivable as it may sound, Wolfe's short stories
rival his novels for quality and impact. This collection
has dozens of stories, many only a couple of pages long,
that inspire the same sense of wonder as his longer works.
The man is a treasure. Styles from hard SF to Dickens
- 4/19/98: Children of God by Mary Doria Russell
This is the sequel to her marvelous The Sparrow. By
the time I had finished the first book I'd heard she was
writing a sequel and I couldn't imagine why. She has
written a fine sequel, but I still think it was literarily
unnecessary. I was perfectly capable of finding settlement
of Emilio Sandoz's story without having Ms. Russell write
it out for me. The future of Rakhat was less sure, but I
pretty well had that one worked out in my head as well.
Those objections aside, as I said, it's a fine book.
Similarly to the first, there are a few glaring cases of
authorial license taken (though more often and more
jarringly in this book), but the writing is fresh and
engaging and the progression of the plot is well executed.
For the first book I had nothing but raves, and for this
one I have nothing but nit picks. Ah well. The
Sparrow was a tough act to follow.
The about the author says Ms. Russell is at work on her
third novel. I eagerly await its release and hope (again)
that she leaves Emilio and Rakhat to go about their
business in peace and brings her formidable talents to bear
in a new milieu.
- 4/30/98: Steichen: The Master Prints 1895-1914 by Dennis Longwell (Museum of Modern Art, NY)
Edward Steichen was a painter and photographer from the
American midwest. This book reproduces 73 of his early
photographs. The painterly eye is very much in evidence in
the composition, but also the execution of the pictures.
Some of the photos are almost completely dark with just a
few bright areas that still manage to convey a vibrant
total image. His series of images of Rodin's sculpture of
Balzac commissioned by the sculptor himself and taken by
moonlight are especially powerful. Well worth seeking
- 5/2/98: User Friendly by Spider Robinson
Collection of short stories and essays. A fair portion of
the material is semi-rant about the degradation of modern
society. Spider has a great way with metaphor and analogy,
but he goes a bit over the top when he gets his dander up
so if you don't enjoy observing eloquent people fly off the
handle you may have some slogging to do in order to ferret
out the gems buried in the muck. The stories here are
enjoyable in the way Spider's stories always are.
Especially fun is a modern fable illustrating why one
should not disturb a writer at work. Also includes
tributes to his three mentors: Robert Heinlein, Theodore
Sturgeon, and Ben Bova. I've barely read any Sturgeon, so
I'll have to go work on filling that gap in my SF-nal
- 5/7/98: Earth Made of Glass by John Barnes
Nominally a sequel to his A Million Open Doors it
stands alone quite well. (Only crossover is two characters
and the universe).
Barnes is exploring the age old questions of "why can't we
all just get along?" and "why are we here in the first place?"
in interesting ways. The answers suggested aren't necessarily
anything incredibly new, but the reevaluation is skillfully
handled. There are some fascinating characters and settings
and a slam-bang exciting story. Good stuff.
- 5/9/98: Eisenstaedt Remembrances by Alfred Eisenstaedt
How do you do a career retrospective book of a photographer who
had 86 Life magazine covers to his credit? Many of the pictures
in this book will be familiar since Eisie's images have had such
broad distribution, but many are from his private collection and
hadn't been seen before this book. Just the range of well known
personages in this book is impressive.
- 5/12/98: Ship of Magic by Robin Hobb
Set in the same world as her Farseer Trilogy, here's
another open-ended series of big fat books from Ms. Hobb.
She has a distinct skill for writing bad guys (male and
female, but mostly male) who are truly repugnant yet still
human and three dimensional. There is some degree of
resolution, but we're clearly in for at least one more book
in this Liveship Traders series.
Once again I hope that Ms. Hobb is raking in enough bucks
from these popular series to maybe be able to take the time
necessary to write as Megan Lindholm again. As Lindholm
she wrote nice tight short novels and while the Hobb books
still show her skill, they're more expansive and flashy
than her best work. IMHO
- 5/30/98: E Pluribus Unicorn by Theodore Sturgeon
Another of the classic masters of SF/fantasy I somehow
managed never to read until now. Yipes! This collection
of short stories doesn't miss once. Interesting
speculative fiction elements wedded with artful prose
nicely drawn settings and some really cool narrators.
Thanks to Spider Robinson for giving me the nudge I needed
to look up Mr. Sturgeon. This collection was originally
published in 1953.
- 6/1/98: Golden Fleece by Robert J. Sawyer
This is a murder mystery, but the mystery is not who did it.
The computer did and since he narrates the action, it's no
secret to the reader. The mystery is why. The answer ends
up being pretty interesting, but getting there isn't very.
Only my second Sawyer book, but both share the property of
having lots of ideas playing a part, any one of which could
have been its own novel. Okay read since it's short, but it
could have used more plot.
- 6/5/98: Steel Rose by Kara Dalkey
I finally got around to reading Ms. Dalkey when I read that
she is married to John Barnes. She'd been on my list
anyway, the association just bumped her up a few notches.
Steel Rose is an urban fantasy set in Pittsburgh.
It's distinctive for not treating the faerie folk as a
single group and for not wimping out and giving an answer
to the unanswerable question of what is more desirable
between wilderness and civilization. Bears striking
resemblance to Emma Bull's The War for the Oaks, but
mostly just in the broad strokes. Good read.
- 6/6/98: The Latin Deli by Judith Ortiz Cofer
Stories, essays, and poetry. I snagged it from the library after
hearing Ms. Cofer read one of the pieces on the radio. Clearly the
work of a writer who takes writing very seriously. I enjoyed the
essays most for their very personal voice relating her experiences
growing up Puerto Rican in the US.
- 6/7/98: Misplaced Blame: The Real Roots of Population Growth by Alan Thein Durning and Christopher D. Crowther
Published by Northwest Environment
Watch, this book looks at the reasons behind the
population explosion in the Northwest US. As usual with
NEW publications it is meticulously researched and reasoned
and provides much food for thought. The authors'
conclusions are that growth here is due to "poverty, sexual
abuse, underfunded family planning services, subsidies to
domestic migration and ill-guided immigration policy" in
that order of importance. Well worth the hour or two it takes
- 6/8/98: Watertrail: the Hidden Path Through Puget Sound by Joel W. Rogers
This is a gorgeous book, due to Rogers' stunning
photographs and excellent design and production from Sasquatch
Books. The Cascadia Marine Trail is a recently formed
web of campsites throughout Puget Sound open only to human
powered water craft travellers. The book details Rogers'
400-mile kayak paddle covering a good portion of the sites
on the Trail. His account combines personal observation
with local history and perspectives on efforts to preserve
Puget Sound's diverse ecosystems.
- 6/11/98: War for the Oaks by Emma Bull (repeat)
After reading Kara Dalkey's Steel Rose I wanted to
go back and reread Bull's War. Lo and behold, Ms.
Dalkey is one of the people Bull thanks at the beginning of
the book. While the basic plot of the two books is quite
similar, the similarity ends there. Dalkey's book is spare
almost to the point of being stark. Bull's prose is lush
and stylish and sparkly. In War, Eddi
McCandry--guitar player, singer, poet--is recruited
(shanghaied) to be the pawn of a faction of the folk of
Faerie in a war for domination of the part of the world
known as Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN. Bull has a gift for
writing characters who crawl right into your heart. I
remembered most of the book from my last reading, but still
found myself staying up way too late to read just one more
chapter. Great book.
- 6/13/98: End of an Era by Robert J. Sawyer
Okay, he's king of the twelve idea SF novel. Wild ideas that
would be whole novels from other authors are offhand asides in
Sawyer's books. End of an Era is fun with time travel and dinosaurs.
Yeah, that's been done, but has anyone else written one that
explains how they died, how they got so big in the first place,
how Mars got that way, how the fifth planet became an asteroid
belt, what caused the big bang, and how the cure for aids was
developed? Didn't think so. And in with all of that is a decent
human-level story or two. Big fun.
- 6/14/98: Godbody by Theodore Sturgeon
Sturgeon's last book, published posthumously has a foreword by
Robert Heinlein and an afterword by Stephen Donaldson. The basic
plot involves the appearance of a messiah-type figure and loosely
follows the standard form of that story. Sturgeon tells the story
in first person from the points of view of a series of different
characters as the story unfolds. The writing is quietly stunning
and the message of what's wrong with Christianity has real bite.
Even if you think you've got your views of religion all nailed
down, give Sturgeon a chance to show you a different angle and see
if he doesn't make you wonder.
- 6/20/98: Dragonfield and Other Stories by Jane Yolen
Yolen is the modern master of the fairy tale form. There
are 27 stories and poems in this volume and some of the
stories actually contain multiple other stories. They're
fun to read and they stay with you. I was especially
suprised to read "The Thirteenth Fey" as I can't recall any
other faerie story told from the faerie's point of view!
- 6/27/98: The Age of Missing Information by Bill McKibben
McKibben got volunteers to tape all 24 hours of all 100
stations of the Fairfax, VA cable system on May 3rd, 1990.
Then he watched all the tapes. And yet the book is less
about TV than it is about where we are. It's about the
place in which North American culture takes place. He
contrasts his 2400-hour day with a day spent camping in the
woods near his home in the Adirondacks.
The title refers to TV's relative lack of interest in
anything that happened before the hey day of TV, and to the
fact that in the last couple of generations we've gone from
a large share of people being able to make their own way
(grow their own food, build their own homes, etc.) to the
point where few of us can.
Funny in places, disgusting in others, but
- 6/28/98: The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
We were planning to watch the movie (John Huston's
directorial debut starring Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, and
Peter Lorre nominated for Best Picture in 1944) so I
figured I'd give the book a try. The epitome of the
hard-boiled mystery. Hammett's style is simultaneously
spare as a police report and rich with artful description
and sizzling dialogue. I read it in two sittings and had
lots of fun.
- 7/2/98: Goa by Kara Dalkey
The first book of Dalkey's Blood of the Goddess
series, Goa follows the trail of Thomas Chinnery, an
apprentice apothecary on his way to Cathay to secure trade
contacts for his London master. The time is the sixteenth
century, and through a series of misadventures the ship
Thomas is travelling on is stranded on the shore of India,
and Thomas encounters a strange powder that has the power
to bring the dead back to life. Thomas is captured and
ends up in the care of the Santa Casa, the arm of the
Portugese Catholic church which is carrying the Inquisition
to the subcontinent. And that's really just the
beginning. The setting is brilliantly drawn and the
characters are complex. The look at the inside workings of
the Inquisition are chilling. In an ending author's note
Dalkey details what portions of her historical fantasy are
truly historical which was good because in the book fact
and fantasy are sewn together quite seamlessly.
- 7/5/98: Bijapur by Kara Dalkey
Blood of the Goddess volume two picks up right where
the last book left off. Thomas Chinnery is released from
his trials in the Inquisition by promising to guide a group
in search of the source of the rasa mahadevi, the
substance that brings life to the dead. Only problem is
that he doesn't really know where it is except that the
city of Bijapur is on the way. This is the middle book of
a trilogy with all that implies. Most of the action simply
sets the scene for the final volume. Some of the
characters learn some new things about themselves and life,
but while there are a few more hints about the true nature
of our hero's quest, nothing is revealed clearly.
- 7/10/98: Bhagavati by Kara Dalkey
Final volume of the Blood of the Goddess series.
Thomas Chinnery's quest for the source of the
life-restoring rasa mahadevi has been joined
together with that of a small army of Muslims in search of
the same prize. As the story progresses we begin to see
these two strong faiths, the Catholic and the Muslim,
played against eachother and against the older "pagan"
faiths of the Greeks and the Hindus. Dalkey takes an
impressively even hand in these comparisons which are
presented in the characters of men wholly dedicated to
their respective faiths and yet at least somewhat tolerant
of the beliefs of others. Half-way through this volume it
seems as if the story is coming to a close, but the action
escalates progressively and plausibly to a series of final
confrontations that provide a satisfying conclusion to this
- 7/11/98: Ten Fun Things To Do Before You Die by Karol A. Jackowski
The "fun" in the title is added as if an afterthought (with
editors marks on the cover of the book), but Ms.
Jackowski's style makes it obvious that the fun in the book
was no afterthought. She's a nun, and her ten things are:
As self help books go, this one is a kick to read, and her
advice is good food for thought. And it's just over 100
pages so it doesn't take long to read. Worth a look.
- Have more fun than anyone else
- Get some insight
- Get some depth
- Find a place to escape reality
- Write something at the end of every day
- Think about being a nun
- Make yourself interesting
- Live alone for a while
- Treat yourself
- Live like you have nothing to lose
- 7/14/98: Presentation Piece by Marilyn Hacker
Here I am trying to figure out what to say about poetry again. Some of
these poems are truly inscrutable, but most are lyrical accounts of life's
mundane details. Well, that could be said of most poetry. I guess I'll
just say that I enjoyed this book of poems. Some were especially interesting
for telling about events I first read about in Samuel Delany's The Motion
of Light in Water.
- 7/25/98: Antiquities by John Crowley
Crowley is known mostly for his novels (which he takes an
inordinate amount of time to write. He's currently in the
midst of his Aegypt four-novel series the first of
which was published in 1987, the second in 1994, and the
third still nowhere in sight), but these seven gem-like
short stories prove that he is capable of writing
entrancing shorter works as well. Another lovely edition
published by the Seattle-based Incunabula, it was a joy to
hold as well as a joy to read.
- 7/30/98: Godric by Frederick Buechner
Godric is a fictionalized biography of a 12th
century English holy man, Godric of Finchale. Buechner's
Godric is a man of contrasts, tortured by his sinful
tendencies and yet ever mindful of his perceived duty to
God. The narrative voice is Godric's and I've seldom read
such a forthright, no nonsense character. There's no
preaching here, just the account of a man's struggle with
the day-to-day necessities of his faith. Nominated for the
Pulitzer in 1981, the book stands out in my mind partially
because I needed my dictionary more reading Godric
than any other book in recent memory. And yet once found,
the words I didn't know always turned out to be simply
archaic English usages perfectly appropriate to Godric's
12th century milieu.
- 7/31/98: Memoirs of a Beatnik by Diane Di Prima
Half reminiscence about the early days of the Beats, half
Penthouse "Forum". Di Prima's account of langorous
days living in various garrets in mid 50's New York City
give a rose-colored nostalgic view of the new Boehmian
movement. And yet in this book, the whole scene comes off
sounding self-concious and contrived. But maybe that's
just because I read it shortly after watching Easy
- 8/1/98: Dragons in the Stars by Jeffrey A. Carver
This one starts out looking like the old SF/Fantasy cliche
of disadvantaged girl makes good despite vast powers
arrayed against her, but as the story unfolds, Carver does
a nice job of distinguishing his treatment. The
protagonist is a "rigger", one with the special set of
skills, training, and (seemingly) neuroses required to
successfully navigate a starship through "the Flux", a sort
of hyperspace realm that is traversed via mental control of
imagery representing the ship's relationship with the
structures of the Flux. The dragons of the title are
semi-mythical creatures that some riggers claim to have
encountered in a particular region of the Flux. Naturally
our hero encounters these dragons and rather than simply
fighting them as others claim to have done she has a
completely different sort of encounter. The first half of
the novel is a novellette originally published in
Science Fiction Times, and while the seams show a
bit between the first and second halves, Carver has done a
good job here of extending that work plausibly (as much as
the basic premise allows ;-) and to a satisfying
- 8/11/98: Star Rigger's Way by Jeffrey A. Carver
Another one extended from a story, this time from
Galaxy. I had a really hard time getting through
this novel set in the same universe as Dragons in the
Stars though written earlier. The main character is a
man (though it is quite unclear from the book just how old
he is supposed to be) who in an attempt to refine and prove
his rigging abilities has taken a position on a four-rigger
freighter. Unfortunately they encounter a "Flux abcess"
which fries the other four riggers leaving him to navigate
the ship back to civilization alone. Fortunately he
encounters a stranded alien rigger (age also complete
undeterminate) and together they endeavour to build enough
rapport to successfully get home.
The main character seems to be emotionally about 12 years
old and doesn't grow up in any appreciable way until the
last pages of the book. The alien rigger evolves more
significantly through the novel, but since he starts at the
evident level of a five-year-old, he doesn't really have
anywhere to grow but up. Add to this the fact that
the alien's speech is delivered in a clumsy attempt at
representing difficulty of pronunciation which is
frequently unreadable, and you have a book that, unless
you're a big Carver fan, you'd probably be better off
- 8/21/98: Worms Eat My Garbage by Mary Appelhof
Everything you ever wanted to know about using worms to
turn kitchen waste into dirt. Plans for bins, reviews of
commercial products, and lots and lots of info about
worms. Very readable, very interesting. I see a worm bin
in my future.
- 8/21/98: Nearer, My God by William F. Buckley Jr.
The icon of conservatism talks about his Catholic faith.
Subtitled "An Autobiography of Faith", there are quite a
lot of personal life details that won't suprise any reader
of his Blackford Oakes spy novels. Buckley is a very sharp
guy, and even if you disagree with his politics (or his
religion), there is still plenty of food for thought here.
He discusses Vatican II, alongside his own childhood in the
church and even constructs a panel of adult converts to
Catholicism to whom to pose a number of questions about the
Catholic church in particular and Christianity in general.
And, as usual with Buckley, keep the dictionary handy.
- 8/26/98: Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold
Bujold had been on my list for a long time, and a
protracted discussion in rasfw about whether her
works should be considered Literature (a discussion I did
not read except for seeing the subjects go by every day)
finally induced me to pick up one of her books. Naturally
I got the second book of a series. But she gives just
enough background to make things make sense while making me
look forward to reading the prior volume. The book is well
written socio-political SF. The characters are likable and
hyper-competent. The plot, while hingeing on a rather
unlikely far distant future culture is at least internally
consistent. Capital-L Literature, probably not. Thoroughly
enjoyable escape reading, certainly.
- 8/28/98: Caesar's Bicycle by John Barnes
Barnes has become my favorite SF author. This is the third
volume of his "Timeline Wars" series. The series is fun,
but it's clearly written mostly just to pay the bills. The
premise is that a war is raging in all the alternate
timelines between the freedom-first good guys and the
totalitarian fascist bad guys. The bad guys can't be
reasoned with because they know they're right and must take
over the universe (all of the universes, actually) so our
hero gets to use cool gadgets to get them any way he can.
To Barnes' credit, his hero has begun to question the
ethics of his methods. Really, the depth of depravity that
we humans can sink to while in other respects being "good"
is the predominant theme of much of Barnes' work. It often
makes for unpleasant characters and situations, but is no
less praiseworthy for all that, IMHO.
- 9/4/98: Shards of Honor by Lois McMaster Bujold
The predecessor to Barrayar tells the story of how Cordelia Naismith
came to be Lady Vorkosigan. An interesting love story with lots to say about
conflicts of class and politics. Bujold's characters have a nice way of acting
decisively and consistently, but still mindfully. They have to make choices in
morally ambiguous situations and Bujold lets you inside their heads to see how
they weigh their options.
- 9/5/98: The Warrior's Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold
I'm kind of bingeing on Bujold's Vorkosigan books, aren't I?
They're fun. I'm not sure anyone actually thinks as fast as Miles
does, but I suppose it's possible. And I don't think there are many
17-year-old people with physical disabilities that could build up a
huge fanatically loyal mercenary force in a matter of weeks. But, hey,
that's why they call it fiction ;-)
- 9/14/98: Little Sister by Kara Dalkey
A hero's journey story. 13-year-old Mitsuko is the little
sister of the title. Her sister's new husband is brutally
murdered and the sister goes into a stupor. Mitsuko takes
on herself the task of seeking out the lost spirit of her
sister who she presumes is following her husband into the
world of the dead. Mitsuko is an interesting hero in that
her powers are limited to her innocence and her
perseverance. Her journey takes her on a tour of Japanese
folklore and mythology, and her success ends up depending
more on her ability to inspire her supernatural friends than
on any power of her own. A fascinating and charming story.
- 9/17/98: The Deadline by Tom DeMarco
Subtitled "A Novel About Project Management", this book
kept me up late reading which is not something you'd expect
from a book about project management ;-) DeMarco's hero,
Mr. Tompkins, is kidnapped by the secret service of a former
communist bloc country and given control of 1500
well-trained software engineers and the task of
re-implementing six popular software products. With so many
engineers at his disposal he is able to embark on that most
desired project, a controlled experiment in software
management. He staffs three groups for each project and
gives them different constraints.
The book ends up being less about this ivory-tower sort of
experiment and more about a more realistic situation of
dealing with a tyrranical and clueless upper manager. Along
the way, Mr. Tompkins records the lessons that he learns
about successful management and these are the pearls of the
book. But the story is a lot of fun too. Like his
Peopleware, the book is full of wisdom about how to
get the most out of your people and should be required
reading for every manager and engineer. Great stuff.
- 9/25/98: Longitude by Dava Sobel
The great scientific challenge of the 18th century was how
to reliably determine your current longitude. This book
became an unlikely bestseller telling the story of the race
to solve the longitude problem. The hero of the book is
John Harrison, a self-trained clock maker who, through
various innovations built clocks capable of keeping
near-perfect time even when subjected to the vagaries of
long ocean voyages. (By knowing the time difference
between where you are (say at high noon), and where you
left from, it's fairly straightforward to determine how
many degrees East or West you are from your starting point)
Sobel writes with an excitement and care for detail that
makes this book a lot of fun to read in spite of what could
be quite dry subject matter. Penguin did a fine job on the
production for the trade paperback copy I read, it's as
nice looking a book as you'll find in that format. I only
wish they had included some larger color plates of
Harrison's clocks instead of the postage stamp-size
pictures on the frontispiece.
- 9/30/98: The Horns of Elfland by ed Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Donald G. Keller
This collection of fantasy stories having something to do
with music is just mind-bogglingly wonderful. None of
these stories miss. I don't even want to tell you about
them because I want you to go right out and if the topic
sounds even vaguely interesting, buy the book and read it
and have as much fun as I did. Each story is introduced
by a brief preface written by Ellen Kushner, and if you have
heard her public radio program, Sound &
you'll recognize her voice right away.
- 10/8/98: The Essential Bordertown by ed Terri Windling and Delia Sherman
The latest collection of stories set in the borderlands
between a re-emerged Fairy and our world. This one is
interlaced with text purporting to be kind of an
underground lonely planet-style guide to travel in
Bordertown. There are some good stories in here, but this
is really the weakest of the Bordertown collections so
far. They don't have the spark and shimmer that the first
few volumes had. But maybe it's just because it pales in
comparison to The Horns of Elfland. Steven Brust's
sailing ship short story is fun. Ellen Kushner's
talking teapot romantic comedy has its charms. Wait for
paperback unless you're a Bordertown freak like me.
- 10/18/98: The Organ Grinders by Bill Fitzhugh
Fitzhugh's first book Pest Control combined issues
surrounding the use of insects for pest control mixed into
the world of hired assassins. His latest is a little more
focused. Paul Symon is an eco-activist, but he's no Earth
First!er, he does all his protesting within the system. Of
course his results are less than impressive using those
means. Paul's nemesis is an evil corporate mogul whose
latest project is perfecting a method of performing
successful baboon to human organ transplants.
Supported by a cast of dozens of bizarre minor characters,
the book is simultaneously very funny, unnervingly gruesome,
and yet filled with interesting musings on issues of vital
importance to our survival as a species. Cover your eyes
through the gruesome passages and you'll find it an
exciting, thought provoking read. If nothing else, it's
great fun trying to spot all the Paul Simon lyrics scattered
through the book in the guise of dialog and narration.
- 10/27/98: Dragon by Steven Brust
The first Vlad Taltos book to be printed by Tor in
hardcover. Dragon falls chronologically toward the
beginning of the extant Vlad timeline and tells the
oft-referenced story of the Battle of Barritt's Tomb.
While there are elements here of the smartass Vlad of the
other early books, the Vlad here is more introspective than
There are actually three timelines in the book. The first
relates Vlad's experiences during the actual Battle. The
second relates the events that got him there. The third
relates events occurring while he tells the story (years
later than the other lines, years before the latest Vlad
books) The first two timelines form the bulk of the book
with a few interludes for the third. Each chapter starts in
the first timeline and ends in the second, but it was four
or five chapters before I noticed that I'd never noticed the
transition, and even after I noticed that I wasn't noticing
and started trying to notice, I still missed a few and had
to go back and see when he switched. Very nicely done.
There is also some dialogue in the book (one sequence in
particular) that is very funny knowing what we know from
the later Vlad books that Vlad doesn't know in this one.
If my count is correct this is the eighth Taltos book of the
projected 17, and Brust shows no sign of sinking into
mediocrity as so often happens in series of this length.
- 10/29/98: Critical Chain by Eliyahu M. Goldratt
Goldratt seems to be the originator of the business book as
novel. I picked this one up from the library after
attending a session on its topic at the Pacific Northwest Software
Quality Conference. It's about applying the Theory of
Constraints to project management. While the subject
matter is nearly as dry as it sounds, having the skeleton
of a story propped up around it does make it easier to get
through the book, and the ideas are actually pretty
interesting. Goldratt has his own website for the
curious. The only thing that really bugged me about the
book was the main protagonist and his wife's desire for
conspicuous material wealth. Not that it's necessarily out
of character, this is aimed at buisiness people after all, I
just found it distasteful to read lines like "It was my
dream car, a fully loaded sport utility vehicle" (quoted
from memory). Gag.
- 11/1/98: The Fermata by Nicholson Baker
The narrator has the ability to halt time and move about
among the frozen rest of humanity and the world. He mostly
uses this power in order to undress women without their
knowledge so that he can admire them at his leisure before
restoring their garments prior to letting time run its
course. Later in the book he takes to writing erotica
("rot") and leaving it for chosen women to find so that he
can observe their reactions. These stories within the story
are the only X-rated part of the book. His actual actions
are almost exclusively merely R-rated (well, except for all
There are some interesting ethical musings in the book, and
the narrator's actions are sure to inspire more of the same
in the mind of the reader. The thing I really enjoyed
about the book was the narrator's slightly skewed
perceptions of the world. He sometimes goes on for
paragraphs about some visual oddity you or I would never
have noticed. The erotica he writes is fairly
straightforward, though there are some amusing
absurdities. I guess as a simple character study the book
is okay, but as a novel it leaves quite a bit to be desired
(like a plot? more than one major character?) There is,
actually, a degree of uncertainty as to the reliability of
the narrator, and the ending comes off as being much more
likely to be yet another fantastic rationalization rather
than an actual occurrence. Interesting if not wholly
- 11/7/98: Heaven's Reach by David Brin
The conclusion of Brin's latest trilogy in his Uplift
universe, Heaven's Reach is better and better written
than either of its predecessors in the trilogy. But not
better enough. Way back in Startide Rising, Brin
hinted at some mysteries that spanned five galaxies and
hundreds of starfaring species and he left us hanging about
what exactly the big deal was. This trilogy seemed to want
to tie up some of those loose ends, and it does. But the
resolution isn't very satisfying. The galactics come off
seeming even more petty than in past books, and our heroes
make it through one miraculous escape after another, but
even with all the action not much really happens.
Disappointing. With this trilogy, Brin fell off my
buy-on-sight list. (Read this one from the library)
- 11/14/98: The Golden Globe by John Varley
Varley has always been better in short stories than novels,
and this fat tome doesn't sway the trend. The plot is a
chase scene across the solar system. There's only really
one character. And while it's clear from the beginning
that The Golden Globe is set in the same universe
and same basic time as Varley's last novel, Steel
Beach, it's not until the last few pages of this one
that you realize that The Golden Globe is the middle
book of a trilogy begun in Steel Beach and presumably
to be continued (concluded?) in some unspecified forthcoming
third big blue novel. After all that, it's kind of
surprising to me that after finishing the book I kind of
like it. Everything else aside, Varley can still turn a
phrase and follow the implications of an idea better than
- 11/20/98: Headcrash by Bruce Bethke
There's blurbs all over this thing painting it as the
funniest SF novel ever. I guess it was fairly amusing.
There are parts where Bethke does some nice subtle satire
of cyberpunk and of corporate culture and of big fatcat
bestseller writers. But it's mostly mired in atmospherics
and techno hipster babble that tries to emulate Gibson and
Stephenson while lampooning them and frankly just doesn't
do it well enough to seem more than a pale imitation of the
first few pages of Snowcrash which, if you go back
and read it, did a pretty good job of lampooning itself.
- 11/24/98: Second Nature by Alice Hoffman
Second Nature is a fairy tale set in modern times,
and that attribute of the plot is wonderfully enhanced by
Hoffman's lyrical prose. To describe it sounds painfully
cliche: young boy is only survivor of plane crash in upper
Michigan and is adopted by wolves. Hoffman's novel picks up
the story after the boy has been captured and is about to be
placed in a mental institution when the sister of the
psychiatrist who'd been treating him rescues him almost
accidentally. Hoffman uses an omniscient point of
view which peeks into every character's head at some point,
and sometimes several people in a single sentence and yet
she pulls it off without distracting. There are some rough
spots toward the end of the book, but those aside, it's a
good read with some interesting things to say about our
supposedly civilized culture.
- 11/25/98: Hundred Dollar Holiday by Bill McKibben
Subtitled "My Case for a More Joyful Christmas", McKibben's
slim volume (less than 100 narrow pages) describes the
evolution of the Christmas holiday as we know it and
proposes a way to make Christmas both more meaningful and
more fun. A third of the book is dedicated to the history
of the Christmas holiday, and its evolution into the form
we know in North America. The remainder of the book
explores what we might want to change about the holiday.
McKibben argues that our lives are so busy all the time
that busy is not what we need for a holiday.
Instead we need a break from our fixation on stuff. We
need time away from the noise of our world. We need to
recognize that for most of us time is far more
valuable than money and do our gift giving accordingly. We
need contact with the natural world. We need contact with
our neighbors. And we need contact with what McKibben
calls "sense of the divine".
The book closes with examples of ways in which McKibben and
his family have turned their holiday away from stuff and
noise and busyness and toward nature, neighbors, and the
- 11/28/98: After the King by ed Martin H. Greenberg
A collection of fantasy stories written in honor of J.R.R.
Tolkien. These aren't set in Middle Earth, there are only a
couple that even have the ususal selection of faerie folk.
The stories are more in acknowledgement of the fact that
Tolkein's books virtually created the commercial market for
fantasy writing as a genre. The authors represented are all
well known in the field, and the stories run the gamut of
what fantasy has become over the years. I was going to list
some highlights, but I can't choose. Very good collection.
- 12/5/98: Aliens 4 by Theodore Sturgeon
Four novellas, Killdozer!, Cactus Dance,
The Comedian's Children, and The (Widget), the
(Wadget), and Boff. Killdozer!, while the only
one I'd heard of, is the most lightweight of the bunch.
tWtWaB is the best with a very explicit instantiation of
the SF work as thought experiment, and the first thing I've
read in ages that's actually honestly optimistic about homo
sap's chances of transcending our current sorry state.
- 12/12/98: Nightside City by Lawrence Watt-Evans
Mr. Watt-Evans is a frequent poster to rec.arts.sf.written
where I am a dedicated lurker. This novel is noir set in
far far distant future. And a grim future it is despite
lots of whizz bang spiffy techno gadgetry (as if such are
ever likely to engender a moral society in and of
themselves). The protagonist has a keen sense of ethics
though she seems to bend her rules a bit. It's got
a cool SF setting: a city built in a crater near the
terminator of a planet which is not quite tide-locked (The
sun is very very slowly coming up and once it's up it won't
go down for a long long time) and has no ozone layer to
protect it from the UV the dawn will bring. It was a good
story with interesting characters and enough to encourage
me to read more of his work.
- 12/14/98: The Call by David Spangler
Spangler writes about how to recognize when you're being
called to do something with your life, and what to do about it.
It's a thought provoking book, and suitable for seekers of any
religious background despite Spangler's (I want to say "grounding", but
that doesn't quite fit...) background in the New Age movement.
- 12/18/98: Angry Candy by Harlan Ellison
Collection of short stories, most dealing with death.
Not exactly a chipper cheerful book, but this is Ellison
after all. The stories are scary and touching and moving.
- 12/19/98: Mockingbird by Sean Stewart
This one kept me up reading until 6am. It's mostly about
the women of a family in Houston, Texas. It's unusual in
that the magic in the book is based in voodoo rather than
the much more common european magical traditions. But the
real joy of the book is that every character is distinct
and interesting and deep. Good stuff.
- 12/21/98: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I've been going through a stack of books recommended on r.a.sf.w, and this one
is a winner. It's loosely a retelling of Cinderella, but
if the passivity of the traditional Cinderella ever bugged
you, this book will make you very happy. Ella is given a
gift at birth that is really a curse. Her curse is to
always be obedient. To everyone. No matter what they tell
her to do. Yikes! The story that ensues is a fine swiss
watch of a tale with elves and giants and ogres and
stepsisters and fairy godmothers and a charming and funny
heroine. Wonderful, wonderful book.
- 12/22/98: The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter
I like this book, but I think I read it too fast, cause I
never quite got it to gel. The book is set in a far
distant future Earth where the brain to machine interface
has been perfected. Among other things. It's a convoluted
tale with at least four or five different morals. The main
character is a telepresence reporter who is caught up in a
story bigger than she thinks it is and learns some startling
stuff about herself and her world in the process. I'll be
reading it again.
- 12/25/98: Potatoes not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons
DesMaisons approaches depression from the point of view of
determining physiological causes rather than dispensing
treatment. Her research has been with alcoholics, and with
that mindset of addiction, she's extended the potential
causes of depression from just serotonin to include
deficiencies in beta-endorphin, and in problems with
maintaining consistent blood sugar levels. All of these led
her to a theory of "sugar sensitivity" which tends to lead
to a sugar addiction. This looks like the same syndrome
that has been addressed in the past by the Hellers'
Carbohydrate Addict's Diet, and Sears' The
Zone, but unlike those books which create a fairly
structured dietary program, DesMaisons puts the program in
your hands by having you simply keep a food journal,
recording what you eat and how you felt physically and
mentally throughout your day. With this information and
some guidance from her theories you can then start
determining what the factors are that send your mood
plunging or soaring. She's also refreshing over Sears in
that she seems to have a clue about what science is, and
admits up front that her theories are just theories waiting
for sufficient clinical evidence. (While Sears claims to
have everything nailed down despite the fact that the
studies he quotes were conducted on samples of on the order
of ten people. Gah.) Worth a look if "sugar sensitivity"
or "depression" sound like things that are problems for
For more info, check out DesMaisons'
- 12/31/98: The Fortunate Fall by Raphael Carter (repeat)
Okay, I read it again, and slower this time. I like the
book. I like a lot of what Carter seems to be trying to
say. But. The last third of the book gets really dense
with ideas that need more elucidation. I found myself
having to reread paragraphs over and over just to get clear
in my head what Carter was trying to say. It's possible
that I'm just dense, but I think things could have been a
lot more clear and still been faithful to the spirit of the
setting and characters.