Books finished in 1999

1/2/99: Towing Jehovah by James Morrow
God is dead. His two-mile-long body is floating in the mid Atlantic. Face up. Smiling. The angels, before they die of empathy, commission an oil tanker captain (haunted by an oil spill that happened under his command) to tow the body to the arctic for interment in an iceberg.

If you fear retribution for blasphemy, best read this one indoors and ungrounded. Morrow has lots of fun with this premise and provides a thoughtful tour of the potential consequences of the sudden revelation that the God of Abraham did exist, but doesn't any more.

Within the story, a book is published recounting the events, and its agent calls it "the finest surrealistic sea adventure ever written" which suits Towing Jehovah quite well.

1/9/99: Stardance by Spider and Jeanne Robinson (repeat)
The novel Stardance is actually a trilogy of novellas. The first is the only one that really stands alone, but it does so wonderfully. It's the best expression of the Robinson's optimism about the human race. I had tears running down my face at the first conclusion and that's unusual for me. The overarching story is of a gifted dancer who begins to work out what free-fall dance should be. The second novella is a typical middle work of three--not much happens except as setup for the final conclusion. And the final novella revolves around one really cool idea(tm). Of course Stardance the novel is also the first book of a trilogy of novels so there's more fun to come.

1/16/99: Caviar by Theodore Sturgeon
Sturgeon is one of the greatest writers of the SF short story. This collection is copyright 1955 with stories from as early as 1941. Amazingly enough they're still fresh and interesting and chilling today.

1/20/99: The Silent Gondoliers by S. Morgenstern
Attentive readers will recognize S. Morgenstern as the man William Goldman claims is the actual author of The Princess Bride. This book is a charming fable telling how the gondoliers of Venice went from being the greatest singers in the world to not singing a note. The Del Rey edition I got from the library is further improved by pen and ink illustrations by Paul Giovanopoulos. It's unfortunately out of print, so try the library.

1/20/99: How Like a God by Brenda W. Clough
The story of a man who wakes one day to discover that he can read people's minds. Not only that, but he can also change them. The book follows his efforts to control and understand this ability. His journey is exciting and scary and fun. He eventually seeks the help of a microbiologist who is significant not only for being a realistic scientist in an SF novel, but also for being a non-stereotypical Christian in an SF novel.

1/25/99: Midshipman's Hope by David Feintuch
Sea adventure in space. Feintuch's prose is unobtrusively engaging making the book easy to whip through. Decent fluff, but not really my thing.

2/13/99: Time Present, Time Past by Bill Bradley
A memoir of Bradley's years as Senator from New Jersey. Thought I'd read this one since he has recently thrown his hat into the ring for the 2000 presidential campaign. The book is part memoir, part history, and part rant. Bradley seems to have a real talent for absorbing all the details of complex issues, getting a sense for the big picture, and constructing an opinion based both on the facts and his own personal values and sense of what's right. Not a bad trait in a potential president if you ask me. The book could have done with a good edit (he tends to go on a bit). He also shows a refreshing disinclination to tell the people what they want to hear. A lot of the opinions he voices in this book aren't very popular, but by and large I think they're the right ones. It will be an interesting race for the Democratic nomination next year.

2/25/99: The Child Garden by Geoff Ryman
Ahhhhh. What a fine book. I've been savoring The Child Garden for the last couple of weeks. Ryman's writing is wonderfully lush and just begs to be read slowly and with relish. The setting is a far-distant-future London. Ryman doesn't tell us too much about how it got the way it is, but the most obvious difference from the world we live in is that genetic engineering has become trivially easy and ubiquitous; as a result of that, Cancer has been wiped out. Unfortunately it turns out that we needed it. Without cancer, the people of Ryman's world cannot live much past the age of 35. There's lots more going on, but that's the real biggie. The joy of the book is in watching the world unfolding and in getting to know the fascinating characters Ryman has imagined. Delightful.

3/1/99: Kiss Off Corporate America by Lisa Kivirist
Subtitled "A Young Professional's Guide to Independence", this book is all about giving up the false security of the mundane corporate track and creating your own independent work paradigm. The emphasis is on entrepreneurship, but most of the stuff Kivirist talks about applies equally well to other alternate relationships with work and money. The style of the book is quite readable and often funny if you like a casual slightly irreverent tone. Lots of good food for thought if you're one of those people who've stopped laughing at Dilbert because it's too true.

3/24/99: Finity by John Barnes
This is a relatively light book compared to Barnes' other work. The SF scenario is that of the many worlds hypothesis from quantum physics--not exactly virgin territory. It's pretty lopsided as well with a long buildup and a rushed conclusion. The main characters are nearly indistinguishable from those in his A Million Open Doors and Earth Made of Glass. Not his best.

3/26/99: Flying in Place by Susan Palwick
A novel about a young girl enduring child abuse. The cover blurb from Jane Yolen says it very well: "...a novel, not a polemic or a tract, the book is impossible to read without being moved to fury and tears." Palwick does a fine job of showing the victim's point of view in a crime that is generally portrayed in the media with no consideration for the victim. Protecting the victim is worthwhile, but leaving them voiceless reinforces a perception of them as powerless to escape their torment which makes it that much easier for a predator to abuse a child in fear. Palwick shows that the greatest hope a child has is to call for help in spite of their fear and very real danger. And shows that we adults have the responsibility to recognize those cries for help no matter how timid and circumspect they may be. A very good book.

4/3/99: Bone Dance by Emma Bull (repeat)
I really really like this book. It's set in a post-disaster USA that is one of the more believable versions of that particular SF conceit that I've run across. The main character is suffering from gaps in memory with no clear explanation. The search for the reason for the gaps and the attempt to stop them makes for a gripping thriller plot, but there's an even larger plot lurking behind the surface mystery. Wonderful writing, page-turning plot, and fascinating characters. Highly recommended.

4/14/99: The Secret Country by Pamela Dean
After many summers of playing an intricate game set in a made up land, five children find themselves somehow transported there and locked in to playing their parts except everything is subtly different than they had imagined it. This is the first book of a trilogy (whose last book is apparently very hard to find. Fortunately my library has a copy ;-) the characters are interesting and seem to act reasonably for their ages, the writing pulled me along nicely and was quite evocative. I want to like this book, but there are dozens of mysteries introduced, and no satisfying conclusion of any of them. It's quite confusing. Of course the characters are in the same boat, but that's little consolation. There are many references to classic fantasy literature, and it almost feels like that's the book's only reason for being--to quote as many parts of the fantasy cannon as possible. I'll keep going in the trilogy and see how (if?) things work themselves out.

4/16/99: The Impractical Cabinetmaker by James Krenov
Musings on the process of cabinetmaking. Krenov tries to capture his thought processes as he builds several different projects. There's stuff here not only about cabinetry, but also about art and aesthetics in general. He talks about the nature of work and the relationship between an artist and his patrons. Interesting stuff.

4/19/99: The Hidden Land by Pamela Dean
Sequel to The Secret Country from a few days ago. This one has advantages over the first in that things happen that are somewhat comprehensible in the context of the novel, and some of the things that were completely incomprehensible about the first book became less so. But there's still some big honking mysteries that are not even vaguely explained. The writing remains quite enjoyable and the characters do grow a bit as one would expect of them going through some major traumas. On to book three.

4/30/99: The Whim of the Dragon by Pamela Dean
Third book of the trilogy started in The Secret Country. In this volume, our heros finally start being honest with some of the people who populate the land they thought they had made up. With their secrets out in the open, it finally becomes possible to start solving all the mysteries they had been grappling with for two books. Whim on its own is the best book of the series, and for me makes it clear that the series would much better have been a thickish single novel rather than three slim ones. While the writing of all the books is uniformly enjoyable, the dearth of resolution in the first two makes it hard to sustain interest. Finally the three books make a good story, but be sure to have a copy of the third book in hand before you start the first.

5/2/99: Working With Wood: the Basics of Craftsmanship by Peter Korn
Korn gives a quick overview of wood and the tools used to work it followed by detailed instructions for four-squaring stock with either power or hand tools. He gives step-by-step instructions for forming mortise and tenon and dovetail joints using hand tools. He wraps up the book with two small projects using the skills taught earlier. I haven't done any of the exercises in the book, but Korn did a fine job of making the idea of doing fine joinery by hand attractive. I guess I'll have to go buy some chisels and sharpening tools and make some shavings.

5/3/99: Starlight 2 by ed Patrick Nielsen Hayden
Marvelous collection of new SF & F stories. Two Hugo nominees, one of which, Ted Chiang's "Story of Your Life", is stunning both for the writing and for the ideas he's playing with. First first contact story I've read that had what seems to be a realistic take on the linguistic challenges that scenario presents. But that's only the last story in the book, and they're all good.

5/9/99: Woodworking for the Serious Beginner by Pamela Philpott-Jones & Paul L. McClure
Good content if you can overlook the slightly condescending tone and the authors' tendency to present their way as the only way. Starts off with overviews of tools and safety precautions and a brief chapter on wood and dealing with lumber yards. The projects (table saw extension tables, a bench, a router table, and a tool cabinet) are spelled out in nice detail. The use of story poles instead of tape measures is especially refreshing and unusual in my experience. Very power-tool-centric.

5/9/99: Mr. Bunny's Guide to ActiveX by Carlton Egremont III
I don't use ActiveX and don't plan to, but that was no obstacle to my enjoyment of this book. Mr. Bunny and his pal Farmer Jake explore the world of ActiveX. Well, sort of. This is a parody of a computer book. Kind of what you might get if Lewis Caroll, Hunter Thompson and Mister Rogers got together to write a computer book. I read it in short doses, and when I was in the right mood was giggling uncontrollably. When I wasn't in the right mood it just seemed kind of dumb. Nice as a palate cleanser after too much time with the latest computer language reference. Do not expect to learn anything useful about ActiveX.

5/12/99: Growing Up Weightless by John M. Ford
The sense of wonder and engaging characters of the Heinlein juveniles written with a literate stylistic subtlety that makes it a joy to read. Ford tells the story of a future moon-based culture through the eyes of a teenaged boy yearning for adventure and his father, an administrator with more practical (if essential) concerns (other characters POVs are occasionally used, but these two are the main ones.) Ford does a great job of showing the near-complete lack of understanding these two have for each other while making their strained love for each other shine through. A very fine SF novel that makes me want to go back and read John Barnes' Orbital Resonance to see if the two share as many similarities as I think.

p.s. over 250 pages with no chapter breaks and you barely notice that fact. Pretty impressive trick.

5/21/99: Starlight 1 by ed Patrick Nielsen Hayden
The first volume of Tor's new original speculative fiction annual. Full of marvelous short works. The main character of Jane Yolen's "Sister Emily's Lightship" is Emily Dickinson. Susan Palwick's "GI Jesus" could start a whole new sub-genre: tabloid-SF. Martha Soukup's "Waking Beauty" is about life in the corporate world and strongly echoes Michael Swanwick's "The Dead" about a future where most labor is performed by zombies. Andy Duncan's "Liza and the Crazy Water Man" is a kind of Appalachian magical realism that gave me chills. The trio formed by Carter Scholz's acclaimed "Mengele's Jew", John M. Ford's "Erase/Record/Play: A Drama for Print", and Mark Kreighbaum's "I Remember Angels" give witness to the evil that can be done in the name of principle while Maureen F. McHugh's "The Cost to Be Wise" shows that the principle isn't even necessary. As a whole, Starlight 1 is a very dark collection, but the quality of the work is excellent and thought-provoking. I look forward to the continuation of this series.

6/4/99: Cyteen by C.J. Cherryh
Well, actually divided into three volumes subtitled respectively: The Betrayal, The Rebirth, and The Vindication but it is a single novel. And a big fat one at something over 900 pages of paperback. Pretty good after the first hundred pages. The basic setting is a research facility specializing in human programming and genetic engineering. The plot involves an attempt to recreate a person via cloning and careful upbringing to simulate the first incarnation's life. Fun, if too smart to be real, characters make the book readable. I need to go look if there are further books.

6/13/99: Orbital Resonance by John Barnes (repeat)
Set not far enough in the future (published in 1991, takes place in 2025 on an asteroid turned into space station. I guess it's still possible, but seems unlikely at this point), but I'm perfectly happy to mentally edit the dates farther out. This is a great short science fiction novel that shares something with Cyteen in that the most evident fictional science is the level of advancement visible in psychology. Told in first person from the point of view of a twelve-year-old girl who was born and raised on the asteroid ship. The book can easily be read as a sf coming-of-age yarn, but there is disturbing background that gives it more depth than that. A fine novel that bore up well to this repeat read.

6/29/99: The Silence of the Langford by Dave Langford
A collection of the writings of the multiple-Hugo-winning SF fan writer. Many are so deep in fan references that they're well-nigh incomprehensible, but Langford has such a pleasant, loping, British style that even the incomprehensible ones are fun to read. A number of the essays are scathing criticisms of the annoying habits of some of the icons of SF writing (still fun to read). Published by NESFA Press.

7/3/99: Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp
While visiting Italy, de Camp's archaeologist protagonist finds himself mysteriously transported back in time to the 6th century where he immediately commences an effort to avert the impending Dark Ages. Which would be fine except he does it exclusively out of self-interest with seemingly no consideration for any other human being's feelings or life. He consistently manipulates the people around him as if they were machines. He's a scumbag. And the changes he instills are predictable and implausible. Not exactly a great novel.

7/10/99: The Menace From Earth by Robert A. Heinlein (repeat)
Classic collection of eight short stories written in the forties and fifties. I read them first many years ago (before high school at least), and it was an interesting experience rereading the collection now. I had a very clear memory of the title story. Clear but wrong. I had the POV character being the boy (who is named Jeff which might have something to do with it) when he barely even appears in the story! I thought I remembered a couple of the other stories, but I was mostly mistaken. Amusingly enough, I read the same copy that I read all those years ago, and young-me had the foresight to rate the seven stories in order of preference on the table of contents (I have no recollection of performing this little ritual, but won't deny that it was (is) in character). This time around I have a much harder time ranking the stories since they all have plusses and minuses, and I enjoyed reading each of them for what they were. But were I to rank them, the order would bear little similarity to young-me's. For which fact I guess I can be grateful.

I picked this one off the shelf because I've read a couple of things lately that screamed Heinlein pastiche, Orbital Resonance by John Barnes, and Growing Up Weightless by John M. Ford. And, yes, they are (at least in part) in the style of (and with some situations from) Heinlein.

7/12/99: The Woodwright's Apprentice by Roy Underhill
One of the books from Underhill's Woodwright's Shop television program featuring twenty wood projects using only muscle-powered tools. Underhill personifies what the crew on the rec.woodworking Usenet group call the woodworking neanderthal ethic (the flip side of which is, of course personified by Norm Abram and his New Yankee Workshop with every electric-powered gadget known to man)

Not having the space to dedicate to a stable of finger-munching power tools, I'm leaning toward the Neander end of the spectrum, and Underhill's zest for the quieter subtler form of woodworking leans me even further. Neat projects (from a fold up workbench to a revolving windsor chair) and a fun read.

7/18/99: Fine Woodworking on Planes and Chisels by the editors of Fine Woodworking magazine
29 articles about woodworking hand planes and chisels. There's a wealth of info in this collection on everything from restoring old tools to building new ones. Several of the articles treat the topic of blade sharpening from various points of view (some with direct contradictions ;-). I especially liked Ian J. Kirby's articles with their emphasis on proper form in the use of these tools with pictures showing how to hold them, how to stand in relation to the work, and how to actually use the tool to remove wood. This isn't just a collection of reprints either, there are cross-references among the various articles as well as an index added. Nice book.

7/24/99: The Night Watch by Sean Stewart
In the not-too-distant future, magic comes back into the world. And not nice controllable magic like in the fantasy novels, but magic with a mind of its own. Magic with many different individual characters. Magic that can barely be reasoned with. Stewart's prose is shockingly lovely. And with many voices to match the many characters through whose eyes he shows this dynamic world. There are times where it seems like the plot gets moved along more by authorial whim than through any internal drive, but they are minor blemishes in an otherwise pleasing portrait of a world in flux. Invigorating.

7/27/99: Just Checking by Emily Colas
Subtitled "Scenes from the life of an obsessive-compulsive," this book is hard to read and hard to put down. It's written in short clumps (none longer than a few pages) that describe Colas's thought processes in some situation. The clumps are almost all funny to some degree, but it's amusement tinged with a painful sympathy because Colas is not a fun person to be. Towards the end of the book, medication enters the picture and controls her symptoms making her much more normal and yet there's a hint of regret in her writing. You get the sense that her OCD was what defined her (to herself) and that the book ends before she has really settled into a new identity. Still, it's a relatively happy ending for a fascinating little memoir.

8/3/99: Apostrophes & Apocalypses by John Barnes
A collection of short stories and essays by Barnes. It's spotty, but overall pretty good. The short stories show his usual breadth. There are some that explore the dark side of human nature, and others that are less disturbing. Some of the stories are previously unpublished. His essay on literary style, "That Style Thingie", does a great job of looking at style as it relates to SF and storytelling. The foreword has an impressively information-rich one-paragraph (half-page) autobiography. Overall, required for Barnes fans and a decent bet for everyone else.

8/14/99: The Woodwright's Companion by Roy Underhill
Underhill is into recreating the tools and techniques used by woodworkers of days gone by. He's got a nice conversational writing style that makes it easy to actually read his books all the way through. (unlike a lot of the other woodworking books I've been reading lately which don't make my list because I don't read the whole thing) The techniques he describes are interesting, but the book gets really fun when he gets off on some tangent and just tells a story. Fun reading. History, woodworking and humor.

8/21/99: Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary by Pamela Dean
Generally I prefer books that are more plot driven than what Pamela Dean writes. This book has only the barest whiff of a plot. And yet Ms. Dean's mastery of character and setting are so entrancing that I couldn't help but enjoy it. Juniper, Gentian, and Rosemary are sisters in the throes of adolescence. They are all frighteningly intelligent, and implausibly well read. Someone mysterious moves in next door. That's about all there is to the plot. And it's all the book really needs. There's a definite scent of the Murry family from Madeline L'Engle's classic A Wrinkle In Time about J, G, and R's family, but just a scent. They're originals.

9/4/99: Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
Stephenson's books when you line them up on the shelf in order of publication, display a troubling tendency towards increasing girth. This is his most massive tome to date, weighing in at 900+ pages and enough pounds and ounces to make it a truly unpleasant bedtime reading experience. If the increased volume of the volume resulted in a significant increase in the quality of the story contained therein, all would be forgiven, but sadly most of the padding reads like padding (kind of like this review) with passages like the five pages on the proper preparation and consumption of a bowl of Cap'n Crunch cereal. The book kept bringing to mind Alexandre Dumas who was notorious for his paid-by-the-word verbosity. Still, the book is fun to read for its convoluted plot, and fun depiction of actual historical characters (especially Alan Turing though this seems to be an alternate history where he was not subjected to unspeakable abuse by the British government). Rumor has it that the book was nearly twice as long when Stephenson submitted it, and due to the limitations of book binding technology and SF buyers' wallet contents it was split into two volumes. I can't decide whether I anticipate the sequel with excitement or dread.

9/15/99: Little Birds by Anaïs Nin
Little Birds is a slim volume of erotic short stories by the notorious diarist. It's gratifying to read erotic stories that are such finely written literary short stories. The characters, though eccentric, read as real people, and the situations are not too absurd. Good stuff.

9/18/99: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J. K. Rowling
Rowling's wildly popular young adult fantasy is set in a world where our mundane existence shares space with a parallel society based in magic. Rowling's world building has lots of cute and funny details that make the book lots of fun to read. It's clear from the beginning that Potter is destined for great things, so the book isn't really a rags-to-riches story so much as a lost-prince-comes-into-his-kingdom one. Fun if slight.

10/5/99: Outside Lies Magic by John R. Stilgoe
Subtitled "Regaining history and awareness in everyday places", the book is about learning stuff by walking around and paying attention to what you see. Stilgoe does a great job of motivating the concept that we pass by intriguing things every day, we just don't take the time to notice and ask questions about what we see. The book talks about power lines, railroads, the mail, strip malls, interstates, gated communities, and many other things with all of the reported insights stemming from real world observations. Fascinating and inspiring book.

10/5/99: Make a Chair From a Tree by John D. Alexander, Jr.
Just what the title says, Alexander goes through the steps needed to "bust a chair out of a tree." Everything except the felling of the tree is done with hand tools. The book illustrates nearly every step and makes it seem nearly possible for someone with no experience working green wood to build a chair. Neat.

10/6/99: Callahan's Lady by Spider Robinson (repeat)
As the title implies, this book is loosely connected to Spider's Callahan's Place books. The Lady Sally books are set in the world's coolest brothel. At Sally's place, people leave their hangups at the door (except where the plot dictates otherwise ;-), and a utopia of tolerance and mutual love ensues. Of course shit happens and super-humanly capable loveable characters narrowly avert disaster while spewing bad puns. Hey, it is a Spider Robinson book. But seriously, for all the silliness inherent in Spider's books, they're a blast to read, and while the characters are inhumanly sane (as in free from the usual hangups that all us real humans suffer from) it's nice to visit a world where people can be that sane.

10/7/99: Lady Slings the Booze by Spider Robinson (repeat)
Second in the Lady Sally's Place series. This one is written from the point of view of a private detective in a hard-boiled style. Notable for having Nikola Tesla as a main character (he's been dead a while, you know), and for being a Spider Robinson book in which a main character dies and stays dead (sort of).

10/9/99: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin (repeat)
I picked this up again while staying in the San Juan Islands of Washington State, an environment that shows striking (and not coincidental) resemblance to Earthsea. The book is much darker than I remembered it being with a sense of impending doom nearly from the first pages. Ged finds that he has a talent for magic, but his yearning to prove his power leads him to use power beyond his ability and release a spirit that only he can vanquish. This is one of those books that starts off with a very particular tone of voice and actually stays with it all the way through. The writing is stunning. I'm going to try to work my way through the rest of the series so I can reread the final book, Tehanu, in the context of the earlier books. (The first time I read it was long after I'd finished the trilogy)

10/9/99: Tickets For a Prayer Wheel by Annie Dillard
Dillard is one of those writers who labors over every word and every line she writes and yet the end result seems unforced, elegant, and rich. These poems have an intensity and depth that belies their simple subjects. The book is 127 pages, but only the odd pages are used. Odd.

10/9/99: The Country of Marriage by Wendell Berry
Berry, like Donald Hall, lives on a farm that has been in his family for generations. His poems are lyrical and learned odes to a life more in touch with the basics of reality than our own. My favorites are the three poems attributed to "the Mad Farmer Liberation Front"

10/10/99: After All: Last Poems by William Matthews
I can't really write about these poems. William Matthews died of a heart attack just after his 55th birthday, just after completing this book. They're fine poems.

10/10/99: The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R. Delany (repeat)
One of Delany's early novels. It's the story of aliens who have come to Earth long after our departure and have taken it on themselves to attempt to recreate our society (kind of like the Borges story where a man attempts to rewrite Don Quixote, not by reinterpreting the story, but by putting himself in the mental space Cervantes was in and thus being able to recreate the book word-for-word). The narrative of the novel is interlaced with excerpts from the author's journal from the time when he was writing the book while travelling in Greece. It's not a very comprehensible book, but I suppose that's somewhat by design. It's still evocative of lots of things, and I see its influence in many of the SF books written since (both Delany's own and those of other writers) A strange experience.

10/11/99: The Happy Man by Donald Hall
Poems about life and baseball and livestock and family.

10/16/99: For The Time Being by Annie Dillard
When we think about the "meaning of life", I think we mostly mean the meaning of our own individual lives and what we should be doing with them. Dillard takes the question of the meaning of life up to the larger context of what all of us homo sapiens critters are doing now and have done throughout history on this here rock in space. She considers this question through the lens of several seemingly unrelated topics. In her words: "Several subjects recur and resume in each of seven chapters. They are: scenes from a paleontologist's explorations in the deserts of China, the thinking of the Hasidic Jews of Eastern Europe, a natural history of sand, individual clouds and their moments in time, human birth defects, information about our generation, narrative bits from modern Israel and China, and quizzical encounters with strangers." It's a fascinating book.

10/17/99: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
The best part about the first book in the Harry Potter series (franchise?) was the plethora of small details Rowling used to show the world. In Chamber of Secrets, very few new details are revealed. The plot depends on the characters consistently making foolish choices. The characters are annoying. I'll start the third book since I've already got it on the shelf, but if the quality is similar to this second volume then I'm all done with Mr. Potter.

10/30/99: Starman Jones by Robert A. Heinlein
Max Jones is a farmer boy who dreams of being an astrogator on a starship. Through external events, a bit of deceit, and his own inhuman competence (including his eiditic memory) his dream comes true. After reading Starman Jones, I am now aware that David Feintuch's Midshipman's Hope is pretty much a retelling of Starman Jones. SJ is a far better book and thankfully quits while it's ahead rather than spawning endless tiresome sequels. SJ is also fun for Heinlein's failure to predict the advances in computing technology. There's computers on board his starship, but they have to be programmed directly in binary and are basically single function calculators. Well, it is copyright 1953 after all. Fun stuff.

11/3/99: Out of My Mind by Richard Bach
The jacket copy on this book insists that it is a novel, but I beg to differ. With only 82 pages containing text, and with the fullest of those holding only 22 lines of about 10 words each, we're talking somewhere on the order of 18,000 words which by my reconning is a long short story or maybe a novella. But matters of semantics aside, This is a Richard Bach book and contains the usual sort of interesting speculation about the nature of the universe. In the book, Bach catches a glimpse of a face as he's mentally working on a design problem with his airplane. He eventually manages to have an out-of-body experience which finds him at the Saunders-Vixen Aircraft Company, which doesn't exist on the earth you and I and presumably Bach inhabit. You have to admire the guy for having the guts to use this title. It's a cute little book.

11/13/99: Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett
I'd thought of Pratchett as a humorous SF/Fantasy writer, and that's not the style that generally floats my boat, but somebody said this one was good so I gave it a try. The story begins with a wizard bequeathing his staff and his power to the not yet born 8th son of an 8th son. Problem is the 8th son turns out to be a daughter. The plot from there is about what you'd expect, but the details and characters are fun and sneak in a thought provoking turn or two. Actually a nice palate cleanser after the dreadful second Harry Potter book.

11/15/99: The Princess Test by Gail Carson Levine
By the author of the wonderful Ella Enchanted, The Princess Test is a retelling of "The Princess and the Pea". It's cute, but doesn't come near to the caliber of Ella.

11/17/99: Seattle Homes: Real Estate Around the Sound by Jim Stacey
Stacey writes about the ins and outs of buying and selling real estate in the Puget Sound region. This book helped me immensely in understanding all of the details and processes that go into a real estate transaction. We might actually put this information to use one of these days. It's a great book for debunking your false assumptions about how things work, and for showing what steps to go through as a buyer to get as much house as you can for as little money as you can with as little risk as possible.

11/21/99: The Vor Game by Lois McMaster Bujold
A Miles Vorkosigan book, the plot revolves around political and military issues. These books are fun to read, but plotwise they resolve down to a series of puzzles or set pieces that Miles must understand and solve. There is little complexity to any of the characters, and Miles' solutions to the problems he encounters rely on the other players continuing to act as he expects them to and by the motives that he has determined. Real people aren't this consistent in my experience.

11/26/99: The Bicycle Wheel by Jobst Brandt
Half about the physics of how bicycle wheels work and what stresses they experience. The other half is how to build and repair them. The book is clearly written by an engineer with very carefully phrased explanations supplementing detailed diagrams. A must read for anyone who even considers building or repairing their own wheels.

11/27/99: Mad Ship by Robin Hobb
There are at least a couple of dozen point of view characters in this second installment in Hobb's "Liveship Traders" series. In the hands of a less talented and experienced writer, that would be a recipe for a hopelessly confusing book, but Ms. Hobb manages to make every character distinct, and even the less likable characters at least interesting. The other thing that strikes me is that most of the characters experience a reasonable amount of personal growth in the course of the book--something that was completely lacking in Fitz, the main character in her "Assassin" series. I finished Mad Ship eager to see how these characters will manage to get through the challenges ahead of them. The plot isn't insanely creative, but the characters more than make up for it.

12/3/99: The Art and Science of Dumpster Diving by John Hoffman
Hoffman, an accomplished dumpster diver, teaches everything the beginning diver might want to know. Everything from technique to post processing your haul to how to find incriminating information on your enemies. The practical details are fascinating and inspiring, but what makes the book really fun is Hoffman's slightly skewed view of society which he lays out in great detail. A very interesting book published by those great folks at Loompanics Unlimited who have an astonishing selection of counterculture stuff and have the distinction of being the only non-sex site I've ever encountered that requires that you say you're 18 before entering.

12/3/99: Callahan's Crosstime Saloon by Spider Robinson (repeat)
A good friend let slip that she loves bad puns so I had to introduce her to Spider, but I figured I better read the book again to see if there was anything in there that would put her off. It passed well enough, and the word I've heard so far is that she thinks it's pretty weird, but is enjoying it. Works for me. This is the first set of stories set in Callahan's place, a bar where people go for love. A bar where the patrons frequently have to get telepathic to save the world from certain destruction. A bar that isn't very plausible but is pretty fun.

12/6/99: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Third book in the Harry Potter saga. This one is worlds better than the dismal second book. A psychopathic killer escapes from the dreaded prison Azkaban and of course he's after Harry. With a franchise like this it's a safe bet that Harry will survive, but at least in this book interesting stuff happens along the way and we learn more little details about Rowling's funny little universe.

12/21/99: Full Exposure by Susie Bright
Bright is an omni-sexual porn-star activist whose message is basically "grow up and accept the fact that we are sexual creatures". Her writing is entertainingly intense, and she's clearly thought about this stuff a lot and gained some pretty keen insight into our shared human sexuality and our societal hangups about same. She gets a bit scattered at times, but in general she shows a refreshing frankness and security about things sexual and erotic. And the book has a great cover.

12/22/99: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
What a fabulous SF epic! I've been hearing about this book for ages and finally got around to reading it. It takes place in a society that spans the entire Milky Way galaxy. Except it's a Milky Way that is divided into zones. Near the mass-dense galactic core thought is impossible. Farther out, thinking creatures live. Farther still, machine intelligence and FTL travel are possible, and at the outer reaches of the galaxy thinking beings become transcendent. The conflict of the book spans the zones and threatens the denizens of all. Add to this scope some truly fascinating alien characters (one whose individuals are made up of packs of physically independent creatures, another a race of surf-dwelling plants with no innate short term memory) and this becomes a book that's hard to put down. Excellent.

12/28/99: The Clock of the Long Now by Stewart Brand
The Long Now Foundation is an organization formed to promote long-term conciousness, and not any mamby-pamby five-year plan, but more on the order of 10,000 years. Brand's book is about how to think on that scale and what the consequences of such consideration are. The title refers to the foundation's plan to build a clock designed to not only endure for tens of thousands of years, but to also keep accurate time over that period. The idea of the clock is to serve as an icon to assist people in thinking in such long terms. Would make good paired reading with Annie Dillard's For The Time Being.

jeffy's books 1999
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