Reading Journal Entry: The Warslayer by Rosemary Edghill

I like Rosemary Edghill's work a lot. She's been very successful co-authoring books with Mercedes Lackey that I don't like very much - I'm just not a Lackey fan. This is a stand-alone work that came out in 2003. I'm surprised I didn't see this when it came out. But I didn't! Until a search last week turned up some new Edghill stuff for me to enjoy.

The Warslayer is about the star of a syndicated TV show inspired by Buffy and Xena. Gloria McArdle is a failed Australian Olympic gymnast who somehow landed a role as Vizen the SLayer, guarding medieval English against the incursions of witches and demons with a pudgy nun sidekick, Sister Bernadette. She's on a publicity tour in the US when three sweet looking bald aliens show up at her door and ask her to save their race. Glory is trying to explain that she's not really a warrior princess when, woops! The magic goes off, and she gets taken along for the ride.

There's quite a bit borrowed from Galaxy Quest here, with a sharper eye to the foibles of fandom. The Allimir definitely need rescuing, and Glory finds herself suckered into trying. If only she could get rid of the completely impractical chain metal bikini that serves Vixen the Slayer as a costume....

An enjoyable adventure, and it did manage to surprise me just a little bit.

Reading Journal Entry: Kiln People by David Brin

Brin has been one of my favorite modern science fiction authors; his one failing is that he tends to let plots spiral out of control. Kiln People is a stand-alone work, and although the twists and turns get a bit grandiose, he manages to keep everything under control and wrap up most of the loose ends in a neat little explanatory package. Which is no little challenge, because this isn't just a very ambitious science fiction work, it's a mystery as well, and it's written from multiple points of view (who are all the same person).

Kiln People takes place in a world where you can literally send yourself to work and stay home to play computer games. You can create disposable versions of yourself. These 'dittos' are imprinted into special clay that begins to decay a short time after imprinting - you 'upload' their experiences back into your head at the end of the day.

The world looks very different with an unlimited supply of artifical golems running around. Brin explores it through the character of Albert Morris, private investigator. Morris does most of his investigative work through golems, keeping his 'realbody' at home when possible. So we get slices of life from multiple golem perspectives as different iterations of Albert pursue different lines of investigation.

I believe one of the quotes on the back of the book used the phrase 'intellectually engaging'. It caught my eye, and I haven't been able to abandon the phrase. Brin's work is so interesting. I can forgive the occasional digressions and meanderings.

Friday's Review: Where's My Cow? by Terry Pratchett

The existence of this book makes me laugh.

Featured prominently in Terry Practhett's best-selling fantasy slapstick series, Where's My Cow is the picture book that Commander Vimes reads to his son every night in Thud!. It's also a book about that book. Dizzying, I know! Yet not necessarily worth it for those who aren't already devoted fans.

It's fun, I'm glad I read it, but I don't know how suited it would be for real kids. And Vimes doesn't look at all like he does in my head.

Great Books: Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger

I stayed up late at night to finish this book. I've been in sleep deficit for a week. I hope that's a strong enough recommendation.

Peace Like a River isn't on Robert Teeter's list of Great Books, but I'm labeling it that way anyhow because of home field advantage. When I conducted a poll of best works of American fiction, Peace Like a River came in second, with five votes.

It's very good. A magnetic read. It's about a boy growing up in the Midwest is the sixties; it's about his father, who can perform miracles; it's about his sister, who writes lyric cowboy poetry; it's about the older brother who changes their lives. Enger excels at producing tension; I knew that there was always something awful lurking around the corner because there WAS always something awful lurking around the corner.

I'm almost inarticulate in terms of describing how much I liked this book. I loved Swede's silly cowboy poetry and the way it changes as her family gets into more and more trouble. I love the way I could smell the cold as they drove along in the Badlands, and the cinnamon buns.

Reading Journal Entry: The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean

Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean have collaborated on a number of projects; two or three kid's books (including The Wolves in the Walls, now adapted into a stage work) and the movie released last year, Mirrormask.

McKean's art is lovely and layered, with a multimedia look that makes me go all oogly inside. Combine this with crushworthy Neil Gaiman's writing prowess and what do you get? Millions of screaming fans, that's what. Here's their fun collaboration website.

The Day I Swapped My Dad For Two Goldfish is a picture book. It doesn't have the utter creepy scariness of Coraline; instead it's kind of sweet and silly but sassy too. This book has a bad attitude, and I love it. Dad gets swapped around town something fierce, clinging to his newspaper and his silence the whole time.

Gaiman's prose works are bestsellers (American Gods, Anansi Boys) which I've enjoyed, but his best work in my opinion is in illustrated media. This is one of his best. Is it earth shattering? No (and Coraline was). But it is a great example of a 'best of breed' type book.

You can tell he's a dad.

Reading Journal Entry: The Great Pretender by Millenia Black

I checked The Great Pretender out because of a brou-ha-ha on the author Millenia Black's blog

Ms. Black spoke out with a vengeance when her publisher (New American Library), threatened not to publish her next book unless she made the characters black.

She prevailed in that dispute. Her book The Great Betrayal will be published with white characters as it was originally written. I imagine NAL got a ton of bad publicity out of that one (good move guys!)

So, yeah, brou all over the place, followed by a 'ha ha'. I had to check out her work.

I'm afraid The Great Pretender was one of the worst books I've read all year. I only finished reading it so I could write a review. The characters were horrible, unlikeable, poorly motivated paper cut-outs. The writing was stiff. The dialogue was unbelievable. The plotting was clumsy. If a gun is introduced in the first act in the form of a divorcing friend who knows dirty secrets, I expect a gun to go off in the third act in the form of said friend actually revealing some secrets, not getting laid with yet another minor character who I don't care about. There were not one, not two, but THREE unintended pregnancies. Plus an STD.

There was really nothing good about this book. It was one of those books that says 'hey, if this got published, maybe YOU should try writing a book again! Because this sucks!'

At a loss for words....

I was surprised by this review:

"I was also interested in Stirling’s choice of Wiccans as his protagonists. Juniper Mackenzie is kind, intelligent, and clearly sincere about her Wiccan religion; and the fact that she practices what she preaches leads many other characters to adopt Wicca as the book progresses. I find that troubling.

If you think of religion as primarily an internal thing, as a way of viewing the world that helps you cope, then it may well be true that there are many paths that lead to God, as Juniper says at one point. By that view, Wicca makes as much sense as any other religion. But if you think of religion as being based in truth, as being our confrontation with ultimate reality, then obviously some views of the Godhead are truer than others. As a Christian, I believe that Jesus Christ is God and the Son of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Wiccans are not satanists, as such, and I do not hate them or wish to persecute them; I’m sure the proportion of good and bad people is much the same within Wicca as without. But they are, at best, misled–and as teachers, at best misleading. It troubles me to see them lauded in what is arguably a mainstream novel. That said, one of the basic messages of the book is that courage, fortitude, decency, charity, and other virtues are survival traits, and that’s a message worth spreading."

I find it sad that a positive description of characters following a different religion is 'troubling'.

Reading Journal Entry: The SFWA Grand Masters Volume 1, edited by Frederick Phol

This was another short story collection that I read during my long weekend. And it was like revisiting old friends.

The SFWA Grand Masters collection includes significant works from recipients of the Grand Mast Award. This volume, #1, includes works from Heinlein, Jack Williamson, Clifford D. Simak, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fritz Leiber.

I am very familiar with the works of four out of five, but Williamson was a nice surprise.

Frederick Pohl provided some nice biographical material, but not nearly enough information about the stories themselves. I wanted to know date of publication, awards won, reasoning behind inclusion. This lack was especially baffling since several selections were (ok, seemed to be, I couldn't be sure since there was NO INFORMATION ABOUT THEM) nonfiction or autobiographical essays.

The real reason I picked this up is because I read at Nicholas Whyte's webpagethat it contains one of those SF stories that have won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards - Grotto of the Dancing Deer by Simak. I enjoyed it, but it's one of those great ideas that has been ripped off so many times that forty years later, it seems old hat..

Reading Journal Entry: Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

This was a short-story-licious vacation.

Sedaris has been writing for This American Life for a while now, and he's a real powerhouse when it comes to convincing people to be his adoring fans/loyal minions. Apparently he draws hundreds of people to his readings. My theory is he's planning a world takeover.

Luckily, he has a sense of humor. So dictatorial rule under Sedaris can't be worse than the current regimes.

This collection contains a number of vignettes from childhood and adulthood - funny and poignant.

I much enjoyed the ones about living in France and learning the language (or trying). They jibe with my own expat experience.

But, strangely, I can't think of much more to say.

They were funny. I enjoyed them. But....?

Reading Journal Entry: Mothers & Other Monsters by Maureen McHugh

My first experience with Maureen McHugh's writing was China Mountain Zhang, which I picked up off the stacks of the Newport Beach public library about ten years ago. How many award-winning science fiction books are there about gay asian men? Not many, I'll tell you. I was smitten. The skill with which China Mountain Zhang is written was rewarded by a Huga, a Nebula nomination, the Tiptree award, a Locus Award, and others, as well as my undying devotion and a sincere girl crush.

I've been longing to read this collection of short stories, Mothers and Other Monsters since I saw her read from it at the Science Fiction Museum last month. Some of them are paranormal. Some are science fiction. Most are about families and relationships that seem so real they almost walk off the page. With a bonus kick in the gut. At the end of almost every story in this collection I had to close the book, put it down, and recover before going on to the next.

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.

Reading Journal Entry: The Art of Detection by Laurie R. King

I'm back! And boy did we have fun. I got a lot of reading, in, too. My favorite kind of vacation - exhaustion , naps, reading in regular rotation.

I finished Laurie R. King's latest, The Art of Detection. King manages to join her two best-selling mystery series in this: Kate Martinelli, a lesbian detective in San Francisco, is called in to investigate the murder of a Sherlock Holmes enthusiast. Said enthusiast had just discovered a lost Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story set in San Francisco; the text of the story is made available to the reader. It's a lovely bit of meta-book-action to read King's Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery within a story in a mystery being solved by King's Martinelli.

The action gets kicked off with the discovery of a body in a gun emplacement in Marin County Park, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. There's a bit of exposition which some will skip - I found it all fascinating because a few years ago I explored that very park and toured a Nike missile site that had been turned into a museum.

Very enjoyable.

Great Book: Kim, by Rudyard Kipling

After reading The Game, by Laurie R. King, I had to read the British classic that inspired it, Kim by Rudyard Kipling. Kim appeared as a character in The Game, which takes place in early twentieth century India. He was a mature adult, an experienced player of 'the Game' (fun with spies!) and functioned as a player and a prize.

I wasn't at all familiar with Kim, so I didn't have the background. Kim is the son of an Irish soldier - the legitimate white son of an Irish soldier. He is orphaned and raised in the streets by his father's native mistress. He apprentices himself to a Tibetan monk, and after a series of misadventures, is discovered by the staff of his father's unit, who drag him off to school and eventually recruit him into the service of The Crown as a number-letter combination. That's the plot. The meat of the book is a travelogue-ish description of the sights and sounds of India and the glory of 'The Road', the development of Kim from a devilish child to a devilish adult, and the lama's spiritual journey.

Poor Kim. I wonder why 'the woman who looked after him' receives such short shrift. She is, at the beginning of the book, the only soul who cares about him, but he walks away from her without looking back. He is so bereft of human connection that after only a few short weeks on the road with the lama, he can't bear to be parted from him.

What is the connection between them? The description of Teshoo Lama's faith is surprisingly accurate. He is seeking to divest himself of passions & emotions; to find his purest self so he can travel to the next plane and leave the Wheel of existence. Perhaps it's this lack of connectedness that attracts Kim, chameleon and orphan, to him. Kim isn't a Hindu or a Muslim, Kim has no caste, and he isn't really a Sahib either. Though he can't disguise himself as Kim is taught to do, Teshoo Lama is one of the few people in India who share his lack of definition and identity.

Reading Journal Entry: The Baby Inheritance by Ann Roth

I grabbed this randomly off the shelf at the library and two days later Bam does a cover snark on it. So I had to actually read it and find out if it was as cheesy as she predicted.

Pretty much. A warm-hearted veterinarian who saves injured wild animals inherits a cute baby. Naturally she has a dark secret. Naturally she has a hot neighbor who also has a dark secret. Naturally, they are drawn to each other, but it just doesn't make sense for them to be together.

Actually, this wasn't half bad. Kind of lukewarm. As plots go it wasn't too outrageous. My main objection: the internal conflicts were kind of stupid. So, her kid sister died. So what? Go to therapy already! I don't have a lot of patience with stupid people in real life - on paper, even less. I could have bought it if she had subconscious resistance to the idea of raising a child because of a traumatic incident. But for a character to sit down and calmly explains that the reason she can't give her cousin's child to a loving family to raise is that her kid sister died of SIDS when she was five - that's stupid. Because you know what? Unless she's stupid, she already knows, intellectually, that it wasn't her fault. Some Johnny Hotpants saying, 'Hey, it wasn't your fault' shouldn't be earthshattering.

Reading Journal Entry: Best Places San Juan & Gulf Islands

I've been using this and other guidebooks to plan a short vacation trip next weekend. It will be my fifth wedding anniversary. Husband and I have been together for eleven years total. For several years in a row we have gone back to Ithaca, NY, where we met. But we're both so busy this year that we decided it's time to start a new tradition in a new place. So we're visiting Orcas Island, which is within driving distance.

This has been by fat the best resource. It succintly describes each island and its individual resources in a way that the others really didn't. Very well organized. Highly recommended. And I'll tell you about the Island when we get from the trip.

Monday's Review: Year's Best SF11

Year's Best SC 11, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer.

It's been several years since I've read one of these 'best of' collections. Back then they weighed a bit more and were still edited by Gardner Dozois (LEGEND IN HIS OWN TIME)(I'm not teasing. It's true. He is).

This volume contains stories from 2005. It was a very nice change to read something brand new for a change. Very big names, and some of my favorites, too. My favorite was the second story, Deus Ex Homine, by Hanna Rajaniemi.

Trends: posthumans. Yea, once we get enough processingpower/nanobots/whatever, we will beomce as gods. I find this a bit tiresome and I hope it plays out soon.

There were a number of short shorts from Nature, which apparently has been publishing one-page SF shorts in every issue. I had no idea. They were fun and made me think of Petrona. I approve of this intrusion of levity into science's sanctum.

Well worth reading or buying.

Great Book: The Plot Against America by Philip Roth

Roth's The Plot Against America was nominated by some critics for the New York Times' best book published within the last 25 years contest. And it's also this month's book club selection for my Jewish Book Club.

The premise is that of a faux memoir or alternate history memoir. Philip Roth writes in the first person about his childhood growing up in a Jewish suburb of Newark in the forties. The crucial difference is that in this life, Charles Lindberg enters the Presidential against Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 on a platform of keeping America out of the war. He wins by a landslide, precipitating a dangerous slide in American politics towards the kind of anti-semitism indulged in by Hitler.

This is the first work by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Roth that I've read. I can see why he's so popular. He does a superb job of invoking the sights, sounds, and smells, the fears, hopes and relationships of this community and of his family.

The premise is ambitious and intriguing, and carried out very thoroughly. Lindberg WAS a known anti-Semite and Roth builds a completely believable scenario.

Then the end of the book happens. The house of cards collapses. Roth fails to pull an astonishing ending out of the bag. Perhaps because Lindberg was a real individual Roth was reluctant to demonize him to the extent that would have made this a really ground-breaking, mind-blowing 'it could happen here' story. But then why write the book at all?

I am frankly perplexed by the ending of the book. And disappointed.

Thursday's Review: Ranger's Apprentice: Book One: The Ruins of Gorlan by John Flanagan

Yay, another derivative adventure series! Will is too small and spindly to enter 'warrior school' so he gets apprenticed to a 'Ranger' who taches him how to 'Move Silently', 'Climb', 'Backstab', 'Track', and a number of other skills stolen straight from Dungeons and Dragons. Guess what? Then he Saves the Realm! Mediocre story, derivative setting, boring characters. Interesting monster, I'll give it that.

Is it me? Have I outgrown this kind of book? I know not all young adult books are awful. I love Diana Wynne Jones. But the last several YA or YA-type books that I've read just seem so flat and bad to me lately.

Maybe it's because I'm reading them in between the classics, but I've been doing that for over a year now....

I am now blond.

I expect to start having more fun any minute now.

Reading Journal Entry: Island on the Sea of Time, by S. M. Stirling

I heard a lot of good buzz about this book. I was expecting more from it.

It's a high-concept book: Nantucket gets catapulted to 1250 BC. Coast Guard boat too close to shore gets pulled along too. What shall the soft-bellied inhabitants of the twentieth century do? Eric Flint pulled off much the same trick with 1632, except in West Virginia.

This meaty premise is treated with all the delicacy of a butcher. The writing is atrociously poorly edited, the characters are flat and endlessly unsatisfying. Stirling has made an effort to include different points of view, but the black lesbian Coast Guard Captain speaks with the same 'voice' as the white Prostestant police captain. The lack of introspection is monumental. We never learn the names of the children Our Lesbian Hero left behind. The island's only two Jews marry each other, but never mention their religion.

I thought this book would never end. It's this kind of mechanical, juvenile wish-fulfillment (the lesbian ends up having sex with a blond teenage Druidic warrior chick) that gives science fiction a bad name.

I got nuthin'

What a pitiful showing last weeks - 3 out of 5.

Well, maybe I'm a little blogged out for the moment. I need a few days to catch up on my reading. And since it's a holiday, I'll take some time off. I'll be back with more reviews on Wednesday, July 5th.