February 26, 2005

Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott

happybaby.jpgI checked this out of the library after reading a brief interview with the author in the Powell's bookstore newsletter. The book seems to be semi autobiographical, telling a series of stories from the point of view of a man named Theo who grew up in foster care in Chicago. The stories are in very nearly reverse chronological order, showing Theo as an adult and then moving farther back into his past as the book goes on.

The thing that caught my eye in the Powells interview was the author saying that it was a book about S&M, and then going on to talk mostly about the book's style of writing. I've enjoyed some other books that could be discussed in similar terms. It's not my kink, but there's something about pain play and humiliation play that speaks eloquently of the human condition.

And Elliott speaks eloquently indeed. There's not much flash in the writing in this book, but he manages to perform that magic that puts you behind the eyes of a character despite having characters with whom I have almost no experience in common. I often say this about books that I enjoy, but in this case it's especially true: the characters and situations seemed real to me. With this kind of material it would be easy to slip into caricature and to stylize the events into being more palatable to a general audience. Instead, Elliott keeps things raw, seeming to tell the stories the way they happened or at least the way the characters saw them.

All that said, the book's probably not for everyone. Some of the sex and violence content is consensual, but some is decidedly not. Caveat lector.

Posted by jeffy at 08:38 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

February 25, 2005

Siamese couch

cat compressing couch cushion
Some days it seems like Theo and this couch cushion are joined at the hip.

Posted by jeffy at 11:55 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (1)

February 19, 2005

'S Wonderful

Last night we went to UW to see 'S Wonderful, a new musical review of songs by those two powerhouse songwriters of the last century, Cole Porter and the team of George and Ira Gershwin. There's no dialogue (well, one two-word line hardly counts, does it?), but there's so much narrative content to these songs that director and vocal arranger Scott Hafso was able to assemble a melange of interlocking love stories that are so engaging we hardly noticed the lack of speaking parts. This is very much a play made up of well known songs, not (like some reviews I've seen) just an assemblage of pretty tunes.

But wow, what songs! There are 44 different songs in this 90-minute piece, and almost all of them were familiar, and the few that weren't were so catchy that I wonder why they're not better known. I can't think of anyone working today who's putting out so many memorable and charming melodies and lyrics.

The cast of eleven (6 women, 5 men) is almost entirely composed of members of the UW's Professional Actor Training Program, and every single one of them had a chance to shine in the production. They weren't all stellar singers (though many of them were!), but they all managed to portray winning and sympathetic characters through interpretation of simple lyric and melody. I have to admit to having developed a bit of a crush on every single one of them by the end of the show. And that crush was only enhanced by seeing them all in street clothes in a question and answer session following the performance.

The one member of the cast who is not a student is the piano player, Jose Gonzales, who was simply marvelous playing continuously throughout the 90 minute show in a dozen different styles and moods. He apparently has a jazz trio that plays occasionally at St. Clouds in Madrona. Might have to check that out.

Anyway, if it isn't obvious by now, the show completely lives up to its name. 'S wonderful! It's playing through the 27th.

Posted by jeffy at 12:38 PM in Bloggage | Comments (1)

February 18, 2005

Watching the British come ashore at Normandy

cat on inverted egg carton

Posted by jeffy at 10:36 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (3)

February 17, 2005

The Ganymede Club by Charles Sheffield

abstract space station asteroid belt planetoid cover artI'd never read Sheffield before, but I found myself in the Twice Sold Tales on University with half an hour to kill before my bus home, and a hankering for some good sci fi. This one looked like it would fit the bill, and did, keeping me entertained for my bus ride home and for a couple of evenings later.

The book opens in 2032 aboard a ship exploring the Saturn system. The crew finds something unexpected. And the book jumps ahead 31 years to introduce another character, this time on Mars. The next chapters jump a few more years to 2066. (I had to sit back and marvel over that far distant year for a minute. It's the year I'll turn 100. :-) More characters are introduced and then one more 6-year jump and the rest of the book proceeds in something like real time in 2072.

That last jump spans The Great War, one which makes the one we call that now look like a minor skirmish.

The characters who play out the main story are Lola Belman, her kid brother Spook, Spook's friend Bat, and a mathematician named Bryce Sonnenberg. Lola is a Haldane, a psychiatrist with better drugs and equipment than have been invented yet. Her brother and his friend are Masters in the Puzzle Network, a kind of intramural logic competition. Bryce is Lola's patient: he's experiencing memories that seem to be of someone else's life.

These four come up against the inheritors of the Saturn explorers from chapter 1 and things get complicated.

There are mysteries galore, and most of them get wrapped up satisfactorily in the end. The one thing that bugged me is that there's no explanation of the unexpected discovery from chapter 1. Well, the "what" is explained, but the "why" and "how" are left quite unexplained. It seems an awfully big coincidence. There is room for a sequel I suppose. Ah. A little web searching reveals that this is the middle book of a sort of trilogy. Sigh. First book is Cold As Ice, third is Dark As Day. Obviously, since I didn't notice this until now, the book works fine as a standalone. Very nice hard sf potboiler. Guess I'll have to track down the others and see what references sailed over my head.

Posted by jeffy at 01:04 AM in Book Reviews | Comments (1)

February 13, 2005

The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson

big strange blue monolith viewed by tiny startled humansThis is the third novel I've read by Wilson. I didn't like the first two very well, but a friend insisted that this one was really good. It was the same friend who said that about Blind Lake, but he put it in my hands so I gave it a whirl. It's pretty good.

Scott is an American living in Thailand with his wife and daughter when, one night, an enormous towering obelisk appears in the jungle. Inscribed in this edifice is a statement commemorating a battle 20 years in the future.

The book plays out in an exploration of the meaning of coincidence, prophecy, and destiny set in the turmoil that accrues from the appearance of the series of inexplicable monuments.

I think what made the book more satisfying to me than the others of Wilson's that I've read was the way that the plot and the character relationships echoed the time loops implied by the obelisks. The other books were similarly driven by a single advanced technological intervention in the fabric of normal reality, but those didn't feel as well integrated in the fabric of the book. It's a fine line. I could easily see that integration making it all seem too contrived, but in The Chronoliths, Wilson makes it work.

Posted by jeffy at 12:40 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

February 11, 2005

Undercover cat blogging


Yes, that rug is there to keep the ottoman free of cat hair. Theo didn't get the memo.

Posted by jeffy at 10:53 PM in Cat Blogging , Photo Log | Comments (2)

February 06, 2005

Through a Brazen Mirror by Delia Sherman

brazenmirror.jpgThat isn't the cover of the copy I read. I'd picked up a copy of the original Ace Fantasy Special after reading some of Ms. Sherman's short fiction in one of the Bordertown collections, and in Ellen Kushner's wonderful The Horns of Elfland. The cover pictured here is from the relatively new Circlet Press Ultra Violet Library edition. This edition is marketed towards the lesbian/gay/bi/trans market which seemed odd to me until I started trying to look at the book through that lens.

I tend to read books very much on their own terms, accepting the worlds depicted as they are without considering the individual elements that make them up too closely. Brazen Mirror is set in the Middle Ages. Its protagonist (though she is never the point of view) is a woman (Elinor) who, following a personal tragedy, dresses as a man to find a place in a castle's kitchen staff. She makes a meteoric rise through the castle staff until she is working directly with the king himself. We learn that the king's great love (though unconsumated) has been one of his male friends who is now dead. The king (and some women) fall in love with Elinor believing she is a man.

These are radical simplifications of the plot and characters of the book in order to separate out the gender issues from the larger story. The main plot element of the book is the conflict between Elinor and Margaret, her birth mother whom she has never met. Margaret is a sorceress who believes that her daughter will be her undoing and so is single-mindedly working to destroy Elinor's life without taking the karmically deadly step of harming her directly.

The book is complexly structured with past and present timelines interleaving and recurring in successive sections. I'm no historical scholar, but it seems that the language and conditions of Middle Ages life are rendered accurately. At a few points it seemed as if the book was a result of way too much time in graduate history classes in college, but those were only fleeting moments. As a whole the book has the feel of true events within a true world.

Like many Ace titles, the original didn't sell initially and basically disappeared. Perhaps it will find its audience in its new packaging.

Posted by jeffy at 03:29 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

Gaudeamus by John Barnes

flying saucer and alien with ray gunI don't think I've ever read a novel that was written in first person from the author's point of view. Most of the action consists of events as told to Mr. Barnes by Travis Bismarck, a private investigator working on what at first appears to be a simple case of industrial espionage. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that there is much more going on including breakthroughs in neuropharmacology, transportation, and power generation, plus alien first contact.

That doesn't give away much more than the cover art does. Barnes is great when he's writing adventure stories with intrigue like this. Well, I think he's always great, but this book lacks the darker element that I've seen frequently derided in his other books, particularly Mother of Storms and Kaleidoscope Century. If I weren't paying attention I might have thought this was a Spider Robinson book since it shares some of the weaknesses of Spider's work, in particular a need to devise incredibly outlandish scenarios in order to write an optimistic near-future story. That whole "getting psychic to save the world" thing. Barnes does truly entertaining things in this book and, as usual, writes about them with panache. It's a fun, silly little book.

Posted by jeffy at 02:24 PM in Book Reviews | Comments (0)

February 03, 2005

Library card monitoring

If you're like me, you check out way more books and magazines and videos and comics and CDs and things from the library than you could ever be expected to actually consume in the time allotted, let alone keep track of and remember to return.

Of course it's the library, so it's free, so the over-consumption thing is fine if you can just manage that "remember to return" part. This is complicated by the inexplicable need of library management software to present your checked out items to you in any order other than the order the items are due in.

I wrote a little script to mine the checked out items for my family's cards, sort them by due date and send me email every day. It was great.

Then my library changed their software. I was starting to try to figure out how to make it work again and I saw this post at 43 Folders.

The library ELF absolutely rocks. You create an account with them and you can enter all your different library cards and it will send you email when you have books coming due or have holds ready to pick up. And not just email, they also do SMS and RSS.

They have a growing list of libraries they know how to talk to, and they're incredibly responsive to requests for new libraries. They didn't have mine and had added it in less than 24 hours from receiving my request. It's flagged as a beta service, but it's worked flawlessly for me. I've made a couple of requests for feature tweaks, and those too were acted on almost immediately.

If you're an avid library user this is a great service. If you're responsible for a family of avid library users, you won't know how you lived without it.

Posted by jeffy at 10:04 PM in Bloggage | Comments (1)