Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review: Warm Worlds and Otherwise

James Tiptree, Jr. was the pen name of science fiction writer Alice Sheldon (1915-1987). This collection of short stories and novellas dates back to the late 60's and early '70s and translates fairly well to the '00s.

(Except, perhaps, for that carful of stoned anarchic hippy xenophiles driving around Washington, DC. But I enjoyed that story, too.)

This is not, repeat, is not a book for very young or sensitive readers. My People informs me that she would have been too embarrassed to read many of these tales when they first came out.

Tiptree/Sheldon spins a fast-paced and rollicking good yarn, but expect to be titillated, horrified and challenged.

Challenged, especially. So much so that I feel like I've grown a second head --

(pauses and looks around)

-- Mea culpa. The second head belongs to my brother Walter. (yanks WW&O out from under a quietly snoring silver tabby) Hey! Get your own blog.

Warm Worlds and Otherwise by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon):
  • "All the Kinds of Yes"
  • "The Milk of Paradise"
  • "And I Have Come Upon This Place by Lost Ways"
  • "The Last Flight of Dr. Ain"
  • "Amberjack"
  • "Through a Lass Darkly"
  • "The Girl Who Was Plugged In"
  • "The Night-Blooming Saurian"
  • "The Women Men Don't See"
  • "Fault"
  • "Love is the Plan, The Plan is Death"
  • "On the Last Afternoon"

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Review: Dragons of Spring Dawning (Part 2)

Dragons of Spring Dawning, Part 2 completes the Devil's Due Publishing serialization of Weis and Hickman's Dragonlance Chronicles. Part 1 was reviewed here back in April 2008.

Most of my comments about Part 1 still hold true: The slower pacing of Spring Dawning works much better than the mad dash through the first two novels in the trilogy. The art is good, and also stable -- The characters look like themselves and stay looking like themselves. And, for the most part, the dialogue is spot-on.

Astreja K., who has several gazillion Dragonlance books lying around the house, has spotted one typo, one missing mini-subplot involving a door lock, and one green dragon who must've been on his coffee break when the pencil artists came by to rough out the scene. She also found the artists' rendition of Raistlin a bit jarring (being accustomed to the Larry Elmore and Matt Stawicki portraits), but admits that this version much better explains the average Krynnish person's reaction to Mr. Majere.

The included collection of comic book covers, particularly those by Jeremy Roberts, are a nice touch.

But I may need a bit of help trying to calm my People down -- Apparently DDP is going to do Dragonlance Legends next. (grabs Astreja K. by the ankle and hangs on for dear life)

Review: The Blind Watchmaker

This book is a slow, slow read. If I had a bag of cat treats for every time my People rubbed Her eyes and put the bookmark back in place (and Her head down on the desk)... Well, let's just say I would no longer have my svelte and girlish figure.

But oh! the information in here. And not just the big words, either. Professor Dawkins has taken a lot of time and an extraordinary amount of effort to explain exactly how complex stuff comes from simple stuff.

My feline understanding of the whole thing:

If you have enough time...

...And very, very small changes are taking place as a result of chemicals and biology and physics... (pushes Cartoon Guide to Physics off bookshelf and opens it with a few nudges of her nose) ...Like these 'gamma ray' things, here...

...And you only keep stuff that works better than other stuff...

...You will eventually end up with a cat who writes book reviews.

I *yawn* rest my case. Good night.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Review: Sidney's Comet

Brian Herbert's book Sidney's Comet is a very odd little story, a cotton candy apocalypse done up as dystopian fantasy.

(flips through a few more pages of her thesaurus and curls up on it, tucking her tail underneath her and primly folding her paws)

No, seriously. I really don't know what to make of this one. I mostly enjoyed it, but hated, hated, hated the setting. A cardboard cutout of a friendly evil empire, really. A parody of North American consumer culture that doesn't quite ring true... Despite being set hundreds of years in the future, it's a future that's oddly dry and stale.

Like that catfood on the plate downstairs. *ahem* I said, like that catfood...

(RJ's People exits stage right to remedy situation)

Where was I? Oh, yes. This book has it all: A nobody who wants to be a Somebody (Sidney Malloy, the eponymouse of the title). A Threat to All Life As We Know It, namely the comet co-star. Love. Bureaucracy. Aliens. Plots and counter-plots. Jargon. Acronyms. Dogs and cats, living toget... Oops, wrong story.

When the book observes the characters directly, the result is generally funny and mostly succeeds. When it falls back on slogans and other futurebabble, it just plain gets in the way of the storytelling.

The framework is clunky, too... Telling the story as history? Too distracting. Getting rid of the "Sayerhood" mystics altogether, or integrating them into the main time line, would have produced a much tighter story. As it was, I kept imagining the cast of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy as school patrol kids on a field trip to the roller rink.

And that can't be good.

(watches in horror as Astreja K. dashes back into the room and scribbles down 'Foundation Trilogy, roller rink, NaNoWriMo')

Um... If you'll excuse me... (jumps off thesaurus and runs for dear life)

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Review: The Cartoon Guide to Physics

Being a feline bibliophile in a house full of books is rather edifying. Especially when my People buys books with lots and lots of pictures.

The Cartoon Guide to Physics, by Larry Gonick and Art Huffman, is a really good read for cats like me who don't know the first thing about science.

The helpful cartoons, in a "George Herriman meets Patrick McDonnell" style, helped me calculate the acceleration on that mouse-on-a-string toy that's hanging from the bathroom door. (At least until Greyscale sat on it.) Explained those bright shiny things called 'photons' that happen when a People throws a light switch. Oh, and quantum physics. Gotta have quantum physics.

(pushes scientific calculator off desk) Gravity is a lot of fun, too.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Review: A Game of Thrones

A story lives or dies by its characters. It's trivial to write about dastardly villains and brave heroes; not so easy to give the characters depth and make them into real people that we actually care about.

In A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin accomplishes this difficult task and makes it look easy. Dealing with a veritable army of leading characters from several noble families, Martin uses the simple but entirely appropriate technique of devoting each chapter to a single character's point of view.

Most of the vignettes in Game feature the Stark family, a clan with their home at Winterfell in the northland. The Stark motto is "Winter is Coming", and as the story opens, a summer many years in duration is quickly fading towards a time of cold and darkness. North of Winterfell lies the Wall, a massive ice structure that protects the kingdom from attack, but inauspicious signs suggest that the kingdom is not safe.

To the south, other battles rage: Intrigues among noble houses, rival claims for the throne of the realm, alliances and betrayals, cunning and idiocy.

Game is illuminated by the theme of being true to oneself, of trusting one's instincts and acting upon them. Some characters succeed in doing this; others do not. Internal conflict and difficult decisions make this a mesmerizing story, with startling reversals of fortune coming out of seemingly isolated events.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Review: Dragons of Spring Dawning (Part 1)

My People is in a really good mood tonight. That comic book she's been waiting for is finally here.

Dragons of Spring Dawning, Part 1 (from Devil's Due Publishing) collects the first six issues from the comic of the same name, continuing two prior book editions that covered events in the first two novels of the Dragonlance Chronicles.

Unlike the first two graphic novels in this series, this one isn't trying to tell an entire novel's worth of story. This makes it possible to use near-verbatim sections of dialogue from the novel. The exchange between Raistlin and Astinus is particularly good.

There are a few minor typos, but nothing serious. The art is vastly better than the art in the 1980's DC adaptation of the trilogy. And, unlike that earlier version, it looks like this one will actually be finished someday.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Speed reading for cats (and humans, too)

It has come to my attention that my People has been doing odd things with books lately.

Just yesterday afternoon she was reading Sidney's Comet and chapter 6 of The Blind Watchmaker with a piece of paper in her hand, moving down the page sentence by sentence, covering up the finished parts. I tried it, but I couldn't hold onto the paper because I have no thumbs.

So then she showed me another way, drawing a diagonal line from left to right. (I guess you would go the other way if doing this with Hebrew or Arabic.)

All I know is that I couldn't get settled because she was turning the pages so fast. I'm not so sure I like this 'speed reading' business.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Review: The God Delusion

Finished TGD yesterday evening in an epic session at desk... Previously I had been reading it piecemeal, in bed. Much more satisfying to read in proper light, in a solid chair.

The chapter "The Roots of Morality: Why Are We Good?" I found edifying, as it provides a collection of reasonable non-religious explanations for human morality via an evolutionary mechanism. (I apparently fit neatly into the 'Tit for Tat' category... Give everyone the benefit of a doubt once, but avenge the bad stuff.)

"Childhood, Abuse and the Escape From Religion" was a painful chapter to read because it documents the emotional damage that indoctrination can do to kids.

But overall, I got the most out of the chapter "Why There Almost Certainly Is No God", which contains the "God-as-Ultimate-747" argument: A pre-existing being capable of creating an entire universe would be more complex than the complex thing it supposedly "explains".

However, I see no reason that we can't one day evolve into gods. Hey, I'll sign up for that. ;-)

Welcome to RJ's Book Blog!

On behalf of RJ-45, the lovely little black cat pictured in the corner, welcome to Astreja's list of books... Ones I'm reading, have read, or intend to read Real Soon Now.

Just as soon as I get this *oof* cat off this page...

Now Playing as of 2008-03-25:
Origin of Species - Charles Darwin
A Game of Thrones - George R.R. Martin
Breaking the Spell - Daniel C. Dennett
The Selfish Gene - Richard Dawkins
The Blind Watchmaker - Richard Dawkins
Principia - Isaac Newton (Stephen Hawking, editor)
The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
Think and Grow Rich - Napoleon Hill
This is Your Brain on Music - Daniel Levitkin
Sydney's Comet - Brian Herbert
The Dragons of Eden - Carl Sagan
Completed in the not-too-distant past:
The End of Faith - Sam Harris
Letter to a Christian Nation
- Sam Harris
The God Delusion
- Richard Dawkins
Dragons of the Highlord Skies - Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
The Belgariad - David Eddings
Paddling South - Rick Ranson
Water - H.E. Taylor
Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger
The Demon-Haunted World - Carl Sagan
Turning the Mind Into an Ally - Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche
Flow - Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
Insight Meditation - Joseph Goldstein
Why Christianity Must Change or Die - John Shelby Spong
Neuromancer - William Gibson
Common Sense, Rights of Man and Other Essential Writings - Thomas Paine
No Plot? No Problem! - Chris Baty
Not yet published, or not yet procured (but near the top of the list, and liable to pre-empting all other reads when they do show up):
Dragons of the Hourglass Mage - Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman
Losing Faith in Faith - Dan Barker
The Function of the Orgasm - Wilhelm Reich
As you can see, there's a bit of a pattern to this list. Some science fiction, some epic/serial fantasy, a bit of psychology, a few Zen and Vipassana how-to guides, a couple of books related to writing and music, and a lot of stuff related to secularism, religious criticism, and science.

This list, and this blog, will hopefully provide some much-needed focus and get more of those books into the "completed" category. Because unread books just take up shelf space.