Mad Times

“To be sane in a mad time is bad for the brain, worse for the heart.” – Wendell Berry

September 29th, 2007 at 12:49 am

Wagon ho!

cat in a bright green toy wagon

Not much of a picture, but I was lucky to catch her at all. Alice has a very finely developed sense of propriety and while in her mind it’s okay for her to do the silliest things, it is decidedly not okay for anyone to see her doing them. I got my camera out and got two shots off and the second is nothing but a blur jumping out of a wagon. Pumped the exposure up four whole stops and dramatically cropped in Lightroom, so that’s why it looks like it was painted by Monet before he had his cataract surgery. Do I get points for using the word “cataract” in a Friday cat blogging post?

September 21st, 2007 at 10:40 pm

Belly rub?

marmalade cat presenting his fuzzy white belly for rubbings

That’s our friend’s cat, Narnia. He cannot get enough petting.

September 21st, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Must kill unknown thing

cat attacking folded mini tripod

September 13th, 2007 at 12:13 am

The Gospel of the Knife by Will Shetterly

glowing gold chalice and obsidian knife with a boarding school in the backgroundLet’s get this out of the way. The book is written in the second person. Yes, the book is all about you. (The second paragraph starts “You’re pedaling home.” Yes, like that). Some people object to this. It didn’t really bother me.

The book is nominally a sequel to his novel Dogland. I say “nominally” because while the fantasy in that book is so subtle you could easily miss it, this book takes a left turn into deep fantasy territory pretty early on. I think it’s better to think of them as completely separate books. I’m a little worried about rereading Dogland after reading Gospel. It’s definitely going to color it a little (pun totally not intended).

But let’s talk about this book. Christopher Nix is a rebellious teenager in 1969. He’s a hippie wannabe. He has run-ins with rednecks. He meets a girl. He has a strangely distant relationship with his family. One day he finds out that a benefactor will pay for him to go to an exclusive prep school and he decides to go. That decision makes a mind-boggling change in Chris’s life and turns the book into something completely different. Later on some other weird stuff happens that leads to a story within the story and it is this section that gives the book its title.

All very vague, but enough that I can talk about the book without spoiling it too much, I think. The book is about class. As in “class struggle” or “class war”. This subject matter will come as no shock to anyone familiar with Shetterly’s non-fiction writing. Shetterly thinks it’s an important subject and should be talked about more. I don’t disagree, but that motivation is too visible in this book. It feels preachy. No surprise for a book with “Gospel” in the title, I suppose. That gospel section of the book is a fictional lost gospel story with another take on the whole New Testament story. Preachy.

I can almost forgive the preachiness since he’s attempting some interesting narrative tricks to get his message across (beyond just the second person thing). The book is repeatedly surprising in the way that it steers away from cliched solutions to problems (never mind that it has to get into cliched situations to be able to get out of them in novel ways). I wish I could read the book with a younger mind. I think I would have liked it better if I’d read it when I was less of a curmudgeon.

Note that if you decide to read it you might want to know that Shetterly has already revised it, adding a new last line.

September 12th, 2007 at 10:32 pm

Territory by Emma Bull

A white horse morphing out of a treeI was a little skeptical when I heard that Emma Bull’s new book was a western. Not only a western, but a historical western set in Tombstone, Arizona at the time of the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. But while skeptical, I couldn’t really help assuming that she would win me over, and in that I was right.

The book centers on two fictional characters who are peripheral to the feud between the Earps and the MacLaurys and Clantons. One is Mildred Benjamin, a widow working as a typesetter in one of the town papers. The other is Jesse Fox, a stranger who comes to town in the first chapter. But while the events are seen through the lens of these two’s perceptions, the main players in the historical drama are featured players as well, especially the enigmatic Doc Holliday.

This is a fantasy novel, though, and that aspect comes in as a kind of secret history where magic is at work in Tombstone, adding another layer to the things that happen there.

I don’t want to say too much about the book, but I will tell you one thing that I was glad to have known before I read it. There’s a second part to this story. The book isn’t a cliffhanger exactly, but it does leave a great number of things unexplained. In my view, this is cause for celebration, not lamentation. I have been heard to proclaim a few times since finishing this book, “I want to read the second half of Territory!” I’m really looking forward to finding out what happens to these characters in the concluding volume.

September 10th, 2007 at 10:48 pm

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling

harry in robe on broomI don’t really have much to say about this book. I didn’t envy Rowling trying to bring this series to a conclusion that would be satisfying to her legions of fans. I think she did a remarkably good job. Now I don’t envy the filmmakers who will have to turn this book into a satisfying movie. A pretty large portion of the book consists of Harry and various supporters setting up and breaking down camp in various unpleasant corners of England. Not exactly dramatic gold, but I’m sure they’ll manage.

September 10th, 2007 at 10:29 pm

Boundary by Eric Flint and Ryk E. Spoor

dinosaurs attacking a crashed space shipI got this from the library because I read the Livejournal of one of the authors (Ryk E. Spoor, otherwise known as “seawasp”). I read his journal because I used to enjoy his posts on rec.arts.sf.written back before Usenet became more noise than signal. I’d never read any of his fiction and one day decided that was dumb and put a hold on this, the only book of his in my library. I would never have picked the book up based on the cover. I don’t know if you can tell from that little thumbnail, but it depicts a pack of dinosaurs tearing into a crashed spaceship. Dinosaurs and spaceships together don’t really push my buttons. Plus I’d never read Eric Flint and had some vague association that he wrote military SF, another sub-genre that doesn’t turn my crank.

The book starts off on a paleontology dig in our near future where a totally new fossilized animal is found alongside some better-known dinosaurs. Adding to the interest is that it’s found right on the K-T boundary (the stratum between the Cretaceous and Tertiary Periods. Right on the line where mammals started taking over from the reptiles.

The rest of the book concentrates on two different efforts to make a manned flight to Mars, one by NASA, another by a private company. At first glance these two story lines don’t seem to have anything to do with each other, but Flint and Spoor do a fine job of slowly revealing the connection.

The disparate disciplines also provide a nice array of characters. There are paleontologists and engineers and astronauts (and paleontologist engineer astronauts!), all believably smart and quirky and human. And there are the politics of all of those disciplines to mix things up.

So if you see the book, ignore the cover and know that inside is a hard SF book that takes an interesting poke at some of the big unknown questions in several disciplines. Very fun!

September 10th, 2007 at 9:31 pm

No more gloves

It just occurred to me that I never announced here that I had decided not to photograph lost gloves any more. I think I said something on Flickr and forgot to bring the message back here to the blog.

I was starting to groan when I saw them instead of being amused and excited by the challenge of getting a new picture. I let a few go by and didn’t feel any remorse, so I’m done. Not saying I won’t shoot if I see something extraordinary, but the series is over.

One of my rules when I was photographing them was that I didn’t move or take the gloves. So now that I don’t have to hew to that constraint I’ve started collecting them. Not sure what might come of that. Maybe nothing. I pick up all kinds of stuff on the side of the road from nails to lost credit cards to a Jaguar hood ornament, so picking up the gloves is just another thing. Maybe when I’ve got a big enough pile of stuff inspiration will strike.

September 10th, 2007 at 9:22 pm

Running behind

I’ve got a stack of eight books here that need reviewing. I’m going to try to buzz through them this week.

Sorry the blog has devolved into just cats and books, but for a domain called TomeCat, I guess that’s no surprise. I expect it will get more diverse again at some point. Thanks for staying with me.

September 10th, 2007 at 9:09 pm

One for the Money by Janet Evanovich

One for the Money coverFirst of Evanovich’s books about the unlikely bounty hunter Stephanie Plum. Becky had been talking these up for a while and a friend from work with very different tastes from Becky also liked them. Even my mom read a few. So I tossed this in my bag when I had a long bus ride one day. I was able to read over half of the book on my way to lunch and back (which says more about how hard it was to get to lunch on Metro than it does about the book, I know).

Stephanie Plum is at the end of her financial rope when her mother sends her to talk to a loose relation who is a bail bondsman. She goes in looking for a clerical job and instead picks up a bounty hunting contract. She probably wouldn’t have gone after a cop accused of murder who skipped out on his bail, but Stephanie was wronged by the cop in question in a romantic relationship in high school and she kind of holds a grudge.

The writing is snappy and the plot moves right along. Stephanie is an amusing basket of quirks and tics. And there are some pleasingly complex romantic entanglements. Light entertainment.

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