swynn reads stuff in 2021 (2): more stuff

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swynn reads stuff in 2021 (2): more stuff

1swynn
apr 18, 8:12pm

I'm Steve, 52, a technical services librarian at a medium-sized public university. I live in Missouri with my wife and son and Buddy (name and occupation), a Terrier-mix chaser of squirrels, rabbits, opossums, deer, and (alas) skunks. This is my 12th year with the 75ers.

My reading follows my whims, but is heaviest with science fiction and fantasy. I also read mysteries, thrillers, and horror. I don't read enough non-fiction, but when I do it covers a range of subjects including history, language, popular science, unpopular mathematics, running, library science, and shiny stuff.

I'm usually reading at least three books:
(1) something on the Kindle app, which I read whenever I'm standing in line or when the lights are off;
(2) a paperback, usually from my own shelves, which I read while walking Buddy; and
(3) something borrowed from the library, of which there is usually a larger stack than I can reasonably expect to finish and which I call "The Tower of Due." Here's what it looks like as of mid-April:


2swynn
Redigerat: jul 29, 6:37pm

(A) The DAWs

For several years now, I've been reading through the catalog of DAW, the first American imprint exclusively devoted to science fiction & fantasy publishing. It launched in 1972 under the editorship of Donald A. Wollheim (hence the name), and continues today, publishing new books at a rate faster than I'm catching up. Last year I read only 8, mostly because of delays to read previous volumes in a series. Case in point is the next DAW, which is also the thirteenth and last in Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu series. But I'm almost there! One more novel (Emperor Fu Manchu) and it's back to the DAWs!

DAWs so far: 7
Next up: Aldair in Albion by Neal Barrett, Jr.

(B) Bestsellers

For the last few years, Liz (lyzard) and I have been reading through American bestsellers at a rate of one per month. I'm running behind, and my goal this year is to catch up -- just like last year.

Bestsellers so far: 6
Next Up: Airport by Alex Hailey

Not Straight Not White Not Dudes

Left to itself, my reading skews straight, white, and male. Wonder why. For the last couple of years I've tracked proportion of non-straight, non-white, and non-male authors in an effort to be more conscious of this. I met my targets last year: 15% LGBTQ, 22% authors of color, and 52% women (including trans women, in case of doubt), and nonbinary authors. (Targets were 10, 20, and 50.) Targets this year are 15%, 20%, and 50%. Recommendations welcome.

(C) Not Straight: 15/87 (17.2%)
(D) Not White: 19/87 (21.8%)
(E) Not Dudes: 45/87 (51.7%)

The "Children's Literature Festival" challenge is postponed again this year.
(F) CLF authors: Nevermind

Other Good Intentions

(G) Read more books off my own shelves.
So far: 4

Continue more series than I start. According to the spreadsheet where I keep track, I have started but not finished 309 series. My insufficient strategy for managing that number is continue more series than I start and to finish a series every now and then. Last year I started 23, continued 26, and finished 12. I'd be happy with similar numbers for 2021.


  • (H) Series started: 12

  • Birdverse by R.B. Lemberg
    Fable by Adrienne Young
    Finna by Nino Cipri
    Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
    Frightville by Mike Ford
    George Smiley by John Le Carré
    Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs
    Morgaine by C.J. Cherryh
    Vatican Tetralogy by Morris West
    Wars of Vis by Tanith Lee
    Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire
    Zoey Ashe by David Wong

  • (I) Series continued: 13

  • Darkover by Marion Zimmer Bradley
    Dray Prescot by Kenneth Bulmer
    Frightville by Mike Ford
    Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
    George Smiley by John Le Carré+
    Glass and Steele by C.J. Archer
    Locked Tomb by Tamsyn Muir
    Murderbot by Martha Wells
    October Daye by Seanan McGuire
    Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo
    Twin Pines by Louise Penny
    Wayward Children by Seanan McGuire
    World's Best Science Fiction Annual

  • (J) Series finished (or up-to-date): 4

  • Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
    Locked Tomb by Tamsyn Muir
    Murderbot by Martha Wells
    Singing Hills Cycle by Nghi Vo

3swynn
Redigerat: jul 29, 6:26pm

Letters in parentheses refer to annual goals listed in post #2 above

1) Library Improvement Through Data Analytics by Leslie J. Farmer and Alan M. Safer (E)
2) Breath by James Nestor
3) Mach nicht so traurige Augen, weil du ein Negerlein bist by Marie Nejar (DE)
4) The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone (B)
5) Hänschen klein, ging allein ... by Hans Massaquoi (DG)
6) If It Bleeds by Stephen King
7) Crossroads by Laurel Hightower (E)
8) Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter (BE)
9) Temper by Nicky Drayden (DE)
10) Outbreaks and Epidemics by Meera Senthilingam (DE)
11) The Floating Opera; and, The End of the Road by John Barth
12) The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West (BH)
13) The Atheist in the Attic by Samuel Delany (CD)
14) When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain by Nghi Vo (CDEIJ)
15) One Nation Under God by Kevin Kruse
16) Cirque Berserk by Jessica Guess (DE)
17) Call For the Dead by John le Carre (H)
18) Just South of Home by Karen Strong (DE)
19) A Murder of Quality by John Le Carré (I)
20) Cove by Cynan Jones
21) Cinderella is Dead by Kaylynn Bayron (E))
22) Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain by Lisa Feldman Barrett (E)
23) Girl, Serpent, Thorn by Melissa Bashardoust (DE)
24) Daheim Unterwegs by Ika Hügel-Marshall (CDE)
25) Island of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer (I)
26) Fable by Adrienne Young (EH)
27) The Spy Who Came In From the Cold by John Le Carré (B)
28) Laws of the Skies by Grégoire Courtois
29) Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
30) Probably Approximately Correct by Leslie Valiant
31) A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny (EI)
32) Shadow of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
33) Re-Enter Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
34) Finna by Nino Cipri (CEH)
35) The Mapmaker's Apprentice by C.J. Archer (EI)
36) Moon Called by Patricia Briggs (EGH)
37) Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (CEH)
38)T he Test by Sylvain Neuvel
39) The Source by James Michener (B)
40) Emperor Fu Manchu
41) Pretty Things by Janelle Brown (D)
42) Humble Pi by Matt Parker
43) Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire (CEH)
44) The Long Dry by Cynan Jones
45) Was Preema nicht weiß by Sameena Jehanzeb (DE)
46) True Story by Kate Reed Petty (E)
47) Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells (EIJ)
48) Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (DE)
49) The Wrath of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
50) The Bible Doesn't Say That by Joel M. Hoffman
51) Don't Let the Doll In by Mike Ford (CH)
52) Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann (BE)
53)A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire (CEGI)
54) Ironcastle by J.H. Rosny and Philip José Farmer (G)
55) Curse of the Wish Eater by Mike Ford (CI)
56) The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (DE)
57) Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
58) An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire (CE)
59) Far Away Across the Sea by Toon Tellegen
60) Harrow the Ninth (CEIJ)
61) Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh (EGH)
62) Shit, Actually by Lindy West (E)
63) Talk Like a Man by Nisi Shawl (CDE)
64) Educated by Tara Westover (E)
65) Crota by Owl Goingback (D)
66) Hombre by Elmore Leonard
67) To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu (D)
68) Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire (CE)
69) Armada of Antares by Alan Burt Akers (Kenneth Bulmer) (GI)
70) The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg (CH)
71)Ancient, My Enemy by Gordon R. Dickson (G)
72)Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (CEI)
73)The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
74) The Shattered Chain by Marion Zimmer Bradley (EI)
75) The Dig by Cynan Jones
76) Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong (H)
77) Salzgras & Lavendel by Gabriele Behrend (E)
78) 1976 Annual World's Best SF (GI)
79) The Arrangement by Elia Kazan (B)
80) The Storm Lord by Tanith Lee (EGH)
81) The Clothing of Books by Jhumpa Lahiri
82) The Mind-Riders by Brian M. Stableford (G)
83) The Yellow Peril by Christopher Frayling
84) Galileo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger (E)
85) This Is Your Brain on Food by Uma Naidoo (DE)
86) Five Children and It by E. Nesbit (EH)
87)The Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher (E)
88)
89)
90)

4swynn
Redigerat: apr 28, 1:14pm

** The Perry Rhodan Post **

Perry Rhodans so far: 9
Next Up: #151: Signale der Ewigkeit

For those who have never encountered it: Perry Rhodan is the hero of a weekly German science-fiction serial that is marketed as the world's largest science fiction series. I don't know whether that claim is true -- no doubt it depends on how one measures "large." Measured by words in print, PR has few if any competitors, certainly neither the Star Wars nor Star Trek franchises, which are relatively puny. The main series has been continuously published since September 1961 in weekly novella-length adventures. Its 3,113th episode appeared April 15, 2021. Stop and think about that: the English translations of these episodes ran to about 100 pages per, so we're talking about a story over 310,000 pages long and growing. And that's just the main series. Besides the main series there have been over 400 standalone paperback novels, not to mention spinoffs (the spinoff series Atlan ran for 850 episodes), reboots (the reboot series Perry Rhodan NEO reaches its 250th episode in 2021), miniseries, video games, comic books, and one comically awful movie.

* Why am I reading this?

I first encountered the series as an exchange student to West Germany in 1986. I fell in love with everything about the series: the complicated backstory, the cheesy plots, the lurid covers, even the cheap newsprint. At that time I had access only to the latest issues and random back issues as I discovered them at flea markets so plots were frequently opaque, which actually added to the series's appeal. A couple of years ago I discovered that digitized back issues could be bought in packages online: I started from issue number 1, and all of that love came back.

So my reasons for reading are multiple and personal. It's about nostalgia, maintaining language skills, and feeding my inner middle-schooler. I wouldn't necessarily recommend the series except in small doses for curiosity's sake. But neither will I apologize: I love this crap even (maybe especially) when Perry Rhodan is an asshole. Which, actually, is most of the time.

* The Story So Far

Episodes 1-49: The Third Power (1971-1984)

The series opens in the year 1971. Perry Rhodan is an American astronaut commanding the first crewed mission to the moon. On the moon Rhodan's team discovers a foundered spacecraft of the Arkonide Empire, a galaxy-spanning civilization in decadent decline. Perry rescues the ship's commander and its science officer in exchange for Arkonide technology. Rhodan uses the technology to establish a government capable of rising above petty human squabbles and confronting the threats that begin to appear from around the galaxy. For personnel he seeks out psychically-talented mutants, many of whom have been born in the wake of the mid-twentieth-century's atomic testing. But even a newly unified Earth and superpowered army are no match for extraterrestrial threats who have been building power for centuries. Perry Rhodan must buy time for Earth to develop security and technology. To this end he fakes the destruction of Earth, thus distracting Terra's most dangerous enemies until a more opportune time.

Episodes 50-99: Atlan and Arkon (2040-2045)

The series picks up again in 2040, fifty-six years after Perry staged Earth's destruction. The Terrans have kept a low profile, but have built a small space fleet, and colonized the solar system. But the secret cannot be kept indefinitely, though. When Earth's true location can be kept secret no more, Perry hatches a plan to simultaneously court and provoke Terra's most dangerous threats, in hopes of turning their hostilities against each other. Those threats are the powerful Arkonide empire ruled by a Robot Regent, the "Springers," a society of galactic merchants, and the Druuf, inhabitants of a parallel universe -- the Red Universe -- that temporarily overlaps ours. While Perry plays at galactic strategy, we also get the story of Atlan, a practically immortal Arkonide who has been living on Earth since prehistory. Perry and Atlan first meet as rivals but later become friends. Atlan returns to Arkon where the Robot Regent recognizes him as the rightful head of state. And as the story cycle closes, Perry's and Atlan's friendship lays the basis for a Terran-Arkonide alliance.

Episodes 100-149: The Posbis (2102-2112)

In 2102 during the testing of an experimental space drive, Perry accidentally discovers "The Blue System," a planetary system home to Akon, the parent civilization of Arkon. Akon does not appreciate being discovered, and makes several attempts to destroy Terra, but Perry teams up with Atlan to force Akon to surrender. Back home, Perry deals with an epidemic of drug addiction, a revolt led by his estranged son, and an Arkonide revolution that temporarily unseats Atlan and permanently destroys the Robot Regent. Also "bacon moss". Then come extragalactic threats: two forces threaten all life in the galaxy. One is the Posbis, machine/biological hybrids who fly cubical warships and seek to destroy all organic life (similarities to the Borg have been noted, let us say); the other is the Laurins, invisible warriors in conflict with the Posbis and anyone else who gets in their way. The Terrans are able to establish an alliance with the Posbi central plasma, source of the Posbis' biological component, who brings the Posbi robotic brain under control and helps the Terrans beat back the Laurins.

Episodes 150-199: The Second Empire

?????

5swynn
apr 18, 8:35pm



35) The Mapmaker's Apprentice by C.J. Archer
Date: 2016

Second in Archer's steampunk romance series, "Glass & Steele," featuring a gentleman with a clockwork heart, and the magical watchmaker who keeps his heart pumping in multiple senses. In this one our primaries are hired to find a magical mapmaker who has gone missing; meanwhile they continue to look for the master watchmaker who installed Glass's heart. It's okay, though leisurely paced and overlong. (Disclaimer: I listened to it on audiobook which may have affected my appreciation of it.)

6BLBera
apr 18, 8:40pm

Happy new one, Steve.

7swynn
apr 18, 8:45pm



36) Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Date: 2006

This is the opener to a paranormal series which gets much love. It's about a coyote-shapeshifter auto mechanic with friends in the werewolf and vampire communities. In this one, she investigates murder and attempted murder in the werewolf pack. It's engaging enough to keep me entertained between chapters of The Source, and I liked it well enough that I'll probably read more. On the other hand, I'd like it better without the looming love triangle and the questionable German.

8swynn
apr 18, 8:45pm

>6 BLBera: Thanks Beth!

9swynn
apr 18, 8:55pm



37) Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire
Date: 2016

First in a series of novellas set in a boarding school for children who have wandered into other worlds and back again. Someone is killing children at the school, and it's up to the newest student -- who spent years in the land of the Lord of the Dead and longs to return -- to solve the murders.

It's fine. I'm sorry to say this series has never clicked with me, though I'm giving it another chance because the latest entry is on the Hugo ballot this year. (This one won Best Novella in 2017, but I bounced off it at that time. At least I finished it this year, and it's fine.)

10swynn
Redigerat: apr 18, 9:50pm



Perry Rhodan #149: Kampf um die Hundertsonnenwelt = "Battle for the World of a Hundred Suns" by Kurt Brand
Date: 1964

The current story arc concludes with just what the title suggests: a rousing battle on and around the Posbi homeworld die Hundertsonnenwelt, "The World of a Hundred Suns," so called because the planet is encircled by a Saturn-like ring of artificial suns. Terrans continue their effort to defend the friendly Posbis and bring hostil Posbis under control. Their efforts are now complicated by the arrival of Laurins, who plan to kill Terrans and Posbis alike by destroying the suns, one by one.

It's the kind of credibility-begging free-for-all that makes the series what it is. We have robot fights, space battles, and exploding suns. If that's enough for you then here it is. If you also want, say, the orbital mechanics to make sense then you might want to find a different series.

11PaulCranswick
apr 18, 9:47pm

Happy new one, Steve.

12swynn
apr 18, 9:49pm

Thanks Paul!

13jjmcgaffey
apr 18, 11:54pm

>36 Yeah, the love triangle (polygon) resolves pretty well by the end of the second book, and the story gets much less annoying. I do like Mercy, but the "every eligible and some ineligible males panting after her" got really old. Is the German questionable? I think it's supposed to be a very old form of the language, if that helps any.

14swynn
Redigerat: apr 19, 1:35pm

>13 jjmcgaffey: I said "questionable" carefully, because my German is conversational modern High German. If Briggs is sourcing Middle- or Old German, or even modern dialects, then it's very possible she's right and I'm wrong.

** LANGUAGE NERDERY**

One of the expressions that jumped out at me was "Adelbertsmiter" with the meaning "Adelbert-Smiter". (It's the name of a character who once smote an Adelbert.) Because "smite" isn't German (at least it doesn't appear as such in dict.leo.org) and the letter combination "sm" doesn't appear often in (modern High) German. I read "Adelbertsmiter" as "Adelbert's-Miter", which doesn't make sense at all. For "Adelbert-Smiter" I'd expect "Adelbertschlager" or "Adelbertschmeißer."

With your suggestion that Briggs may be referencing "a very old form of the language," I checked the OED which tells me that the English verb "to smite" is related to the Middle Low German verb "smiten", which is consistent with the idea that Briggs has done her homework better than I have.

I'm still suspicious of "Metallzauber" rather than "Metallzauberer" as a word for "gremlin," but do appreciate the prompt to give Thompson a little more benefit of the doubt. Thanks Jennifer!

15drneutron
apr 19, 10:21am

Happy new one!

16swynn
apr 19, 10:22am

>14 swynn: Thanks Jim!

17jjmcgaffey
apr 19, 3:29pm

>14 swynn: Slight spoiler for later books - he's a lot older than he appears in the first few. Thus an old form of German. It's not something I picked up on at all - aside from what I can pick up from shared roots, I don't know any German (well, I can count to 10...). That's cool, that she did it that way!

18FAMeulstee
apr 19, 5:45pm

Happy new thread, Steve!

19richardderus
apr 19, 5:49pm

Oh dear, I've missed a bit of the fun. I had a similar issue with Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's Italian and French in her early St-Germain books. Turns out she was using period-appropriate versions, and they rang weird in my brain-ears.

...a Saturn-ring of artificial suns...oh myyyy, as Uncle George says.

Oh, and happy new thread!

20lyzard
apr 19, 6:54pm

Happy New Thread, Steve!

>10 swynn:

Hmm. I'd like to say that robot fights, space battles, and exploding suns are enough for me but if I were qualified in any respect to read this series I suspect the orbital mechanics would have me clenching my teeth.

The penalties of nerdery.

BTW, I've made a start on President Fu Manchu. Blame Morphy, I got 'Asia' for her challenge this month! :D

21swynn
apr 20, 8:10am

>17 jjmcgaffey: Another thing I discovered while checking out some of the language is that Briggs's undergrad degree is in German. I'm ready to assume that she knows more than I do, and we just might be good book-friends. Put me down for another Mercy Thompson, at least.

22swynn
apr 20, 8:11am

>18 FAMeulstee: Thanks Anita!

23swynn
Redigerat: apr 20, 8:14am

>19 richardderus: Thanks for sharing that, Richard -- embarrassment loves company. I never got into the Yarbro books, though I have Hotel Transylvania on my shelves somewhere. Someday ...

And, thanks!

24swynn
Redigerat: apr 20, 10:35pm

>20 lyzard: The series is a sometimes-awkward combination of Cool! and Really? nad Yes! and Please don't go there, sometimes all at once. But we're talking about intelligent bioplasma fighting a robot supermind for dominance of an extragalactic cyborg swarm, complicated by attacks from invisible aliens. "Ring of artificial suns" would be a weird place to bail. But still: Really?

Also: Cool!

Looking forward to your thoughts on President Fu Manchu. It's an odd one.

25jjmcgaffey
apr 20, 11:37pm

26swynn
Redigerat: apr 22, 2:11pm

I follow Eugenia Cheng on Twitter, and she recently posted a link to a site that collects "best books" lists by authors on subjects related to their writing. Cheng, whose most recent work is on gender relations from the perspective of mathematical logic and category theory (x + y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender), has contributed a list of "Best Books By Women About Women, Beyond Romance, Motherhood, Or Emulating Men"

What I'm saying is, don't click this link if you don't want to spend your whole lunch hour expanding your TBR. You have been warned.

27FAMeulstee
apr 22, 3:10pm

>26 swynn: Thanks for sharing the link, Steve.
It is after diner time here, and most books are not available in Dutch translation (yet). So it took only half an hour ;-)

28drneutron
apr 22, 3:15pm

>26 swynn: Well, that was just evil. You realize I had work to do today, right? 😂😂

29richardderus
apr 22, 5:49pm

>26 swynn: what >28 drneutron: said

The bill for my scary orders will arrive under separate cover

30swynn
apr 22, 8:43pm

31swynn
Redigerat: apr 23, 11:01am



38) The Test by Sylvain Neuvel
Date: 2019

It's a novella set in a near-future UK: an immigrant is taking his citizenship test when the exam is violently interrupted -- and a very different test begins. It's intense but also pensive, a white-knuckle thought-experiment in civics, and it's not going where you think it is. Enthusiastically recommended.

32scaifea
apr 23, 11:12am

>31 swynn: Ooooh, adding that one to the list!

33richardderus
apr 23, 12:51pm

>31 swynn: The Bibliocops know where you live, serial book-tempter.

34swynn
apr 23, 2:35pm

>32 scaifea:
>33 richardderus:

Hope you like it as well as I did if you get to it. If not, at least it's short. Unlike ...

35swynn
apr 23, 3:08pm



39) The Source by James Michener
Date: 1964

The bestselling book in the US for 1965 is this, a linked collection of stories, vignettes, and ruminations tracing the history of a Middle Eastern mound. The framing story is an contemporary (i.e., mid-1960s) archaeological dig investigating a tell: per Merriam-Webster, "a mound composed of the ancient remains of successive settlements." The tell in this case is Tell Makor, an unusually fruitful mound yielding artefacts dating back to prehistory. Each artefact then introduces a story about the times and agents who deposited it, from early farmers emerging from caves to build humanity's first structures up to the founding of Israel. Throughout, various themes recur: progress, community, cooperation and conflict, the evolution of religion. We frequently return to the archaeological crew, whose conversations and crises turn out to be iterations of the same. There is much to chew on, and thank goodness it's engaging because dang there is an awful lot of book here. (My edition called it 1,240 pages and thank you 21st century for ebooks.)

Some things have not aged well, like an icky and unfelt romantic polygon among a woman member of the archaeological team and the men who compete to possess her. And some things just didn't resonate with me, like the way early stories accept and incorporate a plainly supernatural god. Michener's politics are not as rabidly Zionist as Uris's, though still broadly so. Still, I admired it much, especially the way a theme or motif from one story reappears with a difference in a later one, so that we feel the continuity of history.

36richardderus
apr 23, 3:47pm

>35 swynn: One of his underknown works. Not a masterpiece, was it. Better than readable, though, and super-easy on the Kindle.

And why didn't he just stay away from sex! He was good at passion, but not at sex.

37ronincats
apr 23, 3:58pm

Happy New Thread, Steve. Glad to see you getting back to the DAWs.

38bell7
apr 23, 10:09pm

>26 swynn: Bookmarking to read sometime over the weekend... my TBR thanks you, I think?

39swynn
apr 25, 4:16pm

>36 richardderus: I've read just one other Michener, and that was long long ago: Centennial, back when the television miniseries was hot. I remember liking it, though I would have been about 13 and one can assume my tastes have drifted somewhat. I may be expanding the list of Micheners-under-my-belt soon, depending on whether others show up on the bestseller project -- a prospect that occurs to me with a mixture of interest and dread. And yes, the romance was pretty cringey though we know that's a low bar for me.

40swynn
apr 25, 4:17pm

>37 ronincats: Almost there!

41swynn
apr 25, 4:17pm

>38 bell7: Hope you find some good ones, Mary!

42swynn
Redigerat: apr 25, 4:50pm



40) Emperor Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Date: 1959

Twelfth and (hooray!) last novel in Rohmer's series featuring supervillain Fu Manchu. Our fresh romantic hero is Tony McKay, an American, living in China, having just enough Chinese heritage to pass as Chinese but not enough to, you know, *be* Chinese, so we're obviously not over all that yet. On Nayland Smith's instructions, McKay goes undercover as a poor fisherman in order to travel behind "the second bamboo curtain" to uncover secrets about Fu Manchu's latest plans. McKay is captured, rescued, and meets a Chinese girl so lovely they both fall immediately in love, et cetera. It turns out that Fu Manchu is now working against Communist and Soviet forces, which would be good except that Nayland Smith disapproves of his methods. Those methods include plague-carrying insects and zombies, and probably more to the point FM will not share his technologies with Western governments (who think that two-way wrist radios are fancy) so it's perfectly reasonable that he must be stopped at all costs.

Obviously I'm not recommending this series, but I'm delighted that I've finally finished the homework for the next DAW.

43swynn
Redigerat: apr 25, 5:55pm



41) Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
Date: 2020

It's a slow-burn crime thriller about a couple of grifters who mark the Lake Tahoe home of an Instagram influencer. There are twists, though not as many as its nearly-500-page length implies. It's okay but I found it rambly.

Apparently it's being adapted for an Amazon Prime series and Nicole Kidman is involved. If it materializes then I wish it well but won't rush to check it out.

44lyzard
apr 25, 5:49pm

>35 swynn:

Yes, it's just the sheer AMOUNT of it, isn't it? It's interesting, it's not hard to read (despite some of the subject matter)...but it just won't stop.

The romance was entirely unnecessary, but I was sort of impressed that it went pear-shaped.

I can't imagine accessing more Michener voluntarily, truthfully, but as you say that may be out of my control.

>42 swynn:

WHOO!!

I'm stuck on 'Drums', for which I'm dismayed to discover I need an ILL. That takes me back to the earliest days of this series, when somehow the Asian librarian was always on duty when the books were ready for pick-up... {*blush*}

45richardderus
apr 25, 8:14pm

>42 swynn: Say hallelujah and bring the jubilee!

>43 swynn: I'm sure it's very nice and its TV show will be, too. I shall never know for sure and I am just fine with that.

Happy new week's reads.

46drneutron
apr 26, 9:50am

By the way, I came across The Yellow Peril: Dr. Fu Manchu and the Rise of Chinaphobia on Overdrive. Haven't read it yet, but caught my eye because of your Rohmer reading.

47swynn
apr 26, 10:14am

>44 lyzard: Agreed about Michener volume problem, and sorry to hear about the 'Drums' availability problem.

Although 'sorry' may not be the most appropriate word here ...

48swynn
apr 26, 10:28am

>45 richardderus: I'm sure that it will be fine and that Ms. Kidman will be lovely. It's also possible that the dramatic format will fix the pacing problems. I'll wait for word of mouth.

49swynn
apr 26, 10:32am

>46 drneutron: Thanks for the link to this, Jim! I'm definitely interested, and it's available through my library consortium, so will get to it soon (for some value of "soon")

50jjmcgaffey
apr 26, 3:47pm

>39 swynn: There were at least two Micheners where I would read and reread the opening chapter(s) about how the land/setting was created...and never went any further. Centennial was one of those - the geography is fascinating; the first time I tried to go further and quit after a chapter or two, so after that I just stuck to the short geography book. I can't remember what the other one was, but similar opening.

51swynn
apr 27, 9:32am

>50 jjmcgaffey: Thanks for sharing that, Jennifer: I don't remember the beginning of Centennial at all now, and remember the rest of it only vaguely. I remember liking best the section about the fur-trapper whose story I had enjoyed in the television series.

On the other hand, I recognize the experience of admiring an early passage, because sometime after finishing Centennial I tried Chesapeake and never got past a very early scene-setting passage, in which a pre-Columbian Native American rows across a placid lake (or bay, more likely, now that I think about it). That image has stuck with me, but I haven't even a vague idea what the rest is about. (Well, I assume it's about Chesapeake but other than that.)

52swynn
Redigerat: apr 27, 3:35pm



42) Humble Pi by Matt Parker
Date: 2020

Matt Parker is a "standup mathematician," a teacher, performer, and author who talks about mathematics to a general audience, with a generous dose of humor. Whether you think "mathematical humorist" is a natural idea or a category error, you're likely to find your opinion confirmed. My opinion is no secret, and I found this accessible, entertaining and thought-provoking.

It's a discussion of mathematical errors, from the inconsequential to the horrifying. The less consequential bits are served with a generous dose of self-aware humor, while the grimmer stories are used to argue for building more failure-resistant systems.

The humor is rarely malicious, worth mentioning because it seeks its jokes in human error. Parker does have an infrequently-expressed animus against a recent president of the U.S. but other than that bigly deserving target his humor is generously humane. It's a recurring theme that humans make errors. It's something we do and it's valuable to acknowledge that. It's also valuable to think about what kinds of errors we make, to correct our understanding as well as we can, and to build systems that tend to help us avoid predictable errors we're going to make anyway.

If you'd like to get a taste without checking out the book, Parker has quite a few videos on YouTube. Here is one where he talks about his quixotic petition to change the incorrect -- nay, impossible -- geometry of football signs. The book has more of the same, with some more somber anecdotes.

53drneutron
apr 27, 1:28pm

Well, that one needs to go on my list...

54swynn
apr 27, 6:23pm

>53 drneutron: I think you'd like it, Jim!

55richardderus
apr 27, 6:29pm

You read equations...I'll read Murderbot. "Delta-V" has come up in these but that's about it numberwise.

I did indeed read, and review, Fugitive Telemetry today. It was fun. Well, of course it was, it's Murderbot!

56swynn
apr 28, 11:36am

>55 richardderus: Yay, Murderbot! I hope to get to it soon. And I really mean "soon" this time.

57ursula
apr 28, 12:51pm

>52 swynn: That looks like the sort of thing misguided people would get my husband for Christmas. He used to have quite a pile of unread books of popular mathematics.

58swynn
apr 28, 1:06pm

>57 ursula: Oh no! I sometimes get gifts of books because I'm a librarian and therefore ... and with few exceptions, they're bad choices for me. (Mrs. swynn and I have an understanding that I will provide author and title for any gift books. Even for surprise gifts.)

59swynn
Redigerat: apr 28, 1:13pm



Perry Rhodan #150: Spezialisten der USO = "Specialists of the USO" by K.H. Scheer
Date: 1964

Two hundred years after last episode's climactic battle, the Terran and Arkonide empires have merged. The Posbis, now fully under control of the bioplasma, are among the empire's closest allies. Perry Rhodan is Administrator of the new empire, while Atlan has resigned the throne to become head of a new security force, the United Stars Organization (USO). This episode introduces a recurring USO team: Lemy Danger and Melbar Kasom, literally a little green man and a giant. The duo's appeal rests on broad humor of the odd-couple sort.

The Terran/Arkonide empire has recently received stunning news from the superintelligence IT. Since early in the series, selected Terrans have been able to visit IT on its homeworld Wanderer, where they receive cell-cleansing treatments that halt aging and guarantee health for 60 years at a time. But IT has announced that these treatments will no longer be available; instead, IT has scattered 25 cell activators -- i.e., personal immortality devices -- around the galaxy. USO agents are told to keep an eye out for them.

Meanwhile, Lemy and Melbar are sent to investigate a civil war on planet Haknor. They discover that the civil war is being provoked by Akons, who have discovered the signal of one of the cell activators.

But the biggest mystery is how Mads Mikkelsen traveled back to 1964 to model for the cover.

60ursula
apr 29, 2:44am

>58 swynn: I'm not surprised it happens across all professions! Providing a list even for surprises is a good idea. :)

61swynn
apr 29, 11:49am



43) Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire
Date: 2009

The Toby Daye series is on the Hugo ballot this year. I read the first one seven or eight years ago, and liked it well enough that I intended to continue.

Well. Intentions. You know.

So I've now reread the first book and thought it was pretty good, and now need to continue before I forget it all again.

62swynn
Redigerat: maj 2, 8:25pm


44) The Long Dry by Cynan Jones
Date: 2006

It's an anti-pastoral novella, set on a farm during a drought, when one cow has wandered off, another will begin calving at any time, ducks have to be taken to the pond, the aging dog must be put down, and the farmer wonders how much longer he'll be able to keep doing this and whether he will ever bridge the growing distance between himself and his wife. The mood is relentlessly despondent, sometimes excessively so. One passage in particular, imagining the future premature death of a child, feels out-of-place and gratuitous, more misery porn than story. But the prose is brilliant, and the anxiety of decline is well articulated.

63swynn
Redigerat: maj 2, 9:09pm



45) Was Preema nicht weiss = "What Preema Doesn't Know" by Sameena Jehanzeb
Date: 2020

This one is a nominee for the Kurd-Laßwitz Award for Best German-Language novel of 2020. It was also a Kobo freebie a couple of weeks ago, so here we are.

Sometime after the end of the world, Preema wakes up naked, alone, missing memories and weightless in a featureless white room. She explores the space and meets David, a self-appointed guide who leads her out of the bewildering white to "The Clearing", a place where other survivors have gathered while they recover their memories and speculate about the new world and what to do about it. Whatever the explanation, there is only one clear exit from the world: "The Vortex," a tunnel from which beckoning voices can be heard, and anyone who follows their call seems to dissolve. Preema's memories return piecewise and chronologically, some memories tragic and others romantic and this recalled story eventually takes over the narrative. Which is too bad because it was the otherworldly weirdness that I found engaging. So for me it was disappointing: a strong beginning got lost in romance and then a flubbed ending.

64richardderus
maj 2, 8:54pm

>62 swynn: Oh good! I'm so glad to know you're becoming a Cynanite!

Now for The Dig...

65swynn
Redigerat: maj 2, 9:08pm

>64 richardderus: On its way! In other news, I have Fugitive Telemetry on Kobo, and plan to get to it after my weekly-ish Perry Rhodan fix.

66swynn
maj 7, 12:31pm



46) True Story by Kate Reed Petty
Date: 2020

Mixed feelings about this one, whose central incident occurs at a party thrown by a high-school lacrosse team, known to the team as an "Everybody gets laid" party. One attendee -- a girl from a private school -- gets drunk and sick and has to be taken home. Two lacrossers take that duty, one a rowdy braggart and the other more reserved and known as the team's virgin. Later the braggart starts a story about how they took advantage of the girl in the back seat: what a great party even the virgin got some. The story blows up. The girl doesn't remember what happened. The only explanation is the boys' boast and now that consequences loom the boys change their story -- naw, they didn't do nuthin' they were just talking trash you know what a braggart he is. Amid the ambiguity, sides are taken for reasons that have nothing to do with truth. Nothing is resolved. Life moves on, but the incident has rippling effects in the lives of several characters, who deal with issues related to trust, self-worth, addiction, remorse, and justice.

The story is told through multiple viewpoints, using different literary styles and genres, including screenplays, horror, memoir, second-person narratives. It seems to be trying to make points about the ambiguity of "true stories" and the value of telling one's own story in one's own voice, but it didn't quite work for me. It's very creative-writing-workshop-y, and while its experiments are interesting I think they also get in the way.

67swynn
Redigerat: maj 7, 6:18pm



47) Fugitive Telemetry by Martha Wells
Date: 2021

And speaking of telling one's story in one's own voice, it is a delight to return to Murderbot who is once again pulled away from media-consuming leisure and forced to intervene among the humans. (One sympathizes.) In this case, it's a locked-room murder mystery on a space station: a messy body, perpetrator(s) disappeared despite heavy surveillance, and who knows what the motive. I love how this series continues to ask what it means to be human while also wondering why so many humans aren't very good at it. Me, I'd rather be more Murderbot.

68swynn
Redigerat: maj 7, 4:30pm



Perry Rhodan #151: Signale der Ewigkeit = "Signals of Eternity" by Clark Darlton
Date: 1964

The superintelligence IT warns Perry that the Milky Way Galaxy is under a threat so severe that IT plans to flee until the danger has passed. This is a huge problem for Perry because the Terrans have depended on the life-prolonging "cell baths" provided on ITs home planet. Without cell bath treatment every 60 years, Perry's leadership team and Mutant Corps -- that is, most of the recurring characters -- will die. But not all is yet lost: before it leaves, IT scatters around the galaxy 25 “cell activators“: immortality-granting devices. You may remember that Perry and Atlan already have personalized cell activators; the 25 now lying around the galaxy are general-purpose ones and should work for any living being who discovers them. Also, they're not hard to find, since they emit a distinctive signal, which can be detected by any receiver within a range of 3 light years. Just such a signal is detected on planet Honur, first by a ship of Springers and then by a Terran explorer ship. The crews of both ships scramble to reach the activator first. Mutiny and mayhem ensue.

69rosalita
maj 7, 4:39pm

>66 swynn: It's too bad the style gets in the way of what sounds like an intriguing and thought-provoking premise, Steve.

70swynn
Redigerat: maj 7, 6:38pm

Agreed. If it sounds intriguing you might give it a try anyway. Others have loved it, and it was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award in the "Best First Novel" Category. Whatever its flaws, it usually moves quickly.

There's one experiment you may find interesting, having worked in academia. It's told through a series of drafts of a personal essay for college applications. The drafts show the private-school girl working through her feelings about the incident, its effect on her self-perception, her choices for public presentation, and those choices are affected by a guidance counselor who makes marginal notes in the interest of getting her into college -- but maybe not in the interest of her emotional well-being. That one section is effective and affecting and just brilliant, and I wish the rest had come together like that for me.

71PaulCranswick
maj 7, 8:53pm

Wishing you a book-filled weekend, buddy.

72swynn
maj 9, 2:20am

>71 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul!

73swynn
Redigerat: maj 9, 2:20am

74richardderus
maj 9, 10:25am

>67 swynn:, >73 swynn: One senses a theme...

>68 swynn: I want a cell activator!

Whatever the week ahead brings, at least you won't die from it.

75swynn
maj 9, 6:10pm

>74 richardderus: One senses correctly. And I too am in the market for a cell activator.

76swynn
Redigerat: maj 9, 10:19pm



48) Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Date: 2020

Mixed feelings. It's about race relations among an upper-middle-class white family (The Chamberlains) and the young black woman (Emira) whom they hire to care for their toddler daughter. The launching point is an incident at a neighborhood grocery store, where store security detains Emira on suspicion that she may be kidnapping the Chamberlain child, but even before the incident the racial baggage is significant: Mr. Chamberlain is a newsman criticized for making an ill-considered and racially charged off-the-cuff comment; Mrs. Chamberlain has issues with employer/employee boundaries; Emira's boyfriend has a complicated history. In the aftermath of the grocery-store incident, the book examines ways that well-meaning white folks can behave in ways that are ignorant, insensitive, or outrageous about race. It largely succeeds, though I'm uncomfortable with what feels to me like an unfair emphasis on the sins of the Mrs. Chamberlain while Mr. Chamberlain's and the boyfriend's cringeworthy behaviors are too easily dropped. Imperfect, but not still thought-provoking.

I want to push back against some other comments I've seen that criticize Emira for being aimless or lacking motivation. I found her sympathetic. Does she lack direction? Maybe. Or maybe there is something wrong with a perspective that labels a failure anyone who isn't on a career track with a 401K by the time they're in their mid-20's. I do not share this perspective. Emira is a 25-year-old still figuring things out, and that's okay. It's not even all that uncommon.

I listened to this on audiobook, during long drives. I'm not very good at ear-reading, so it's likely I missed stuff.

77swynn
Redigerat: maj 19, 9:07pm



49) DAW #186: The Wrath of Fu Manchu by Sax Rohmer
Date: 1976 (selections originally published 1904-1953)

... and the Fu Manchu project closes with the DAW book that prompted it. This one is a collection of stories by Sax Rohmer, including four previously uncollected Fu Manchu stories. I'm happy to report that the collection is not uniformly awful. My favorites are the haunted-house stories "Nightmare House" and "A House Possessed," both of which evoke some creepy for me.

Cover is by Jack Gaughan.

The Wrath of Fu Manchu (1951)
An undercover agent, who had infiltrated the Si-Fan, is assassinated. Nayland Smith attends the next meeting of the Si-Fan in his stead and uncovers a Goldfinger-like plot involving Fort Knox gold.

The Eyes of Fu Manchu (1957)
American scientist Gregory Allen, working on methods for prolonging life, visits the Sorbonne to lecture. Nayland Smith shows up thinking that Fu Manchu may also attend. Allen is courted by a mysterious beautiful woman with the unsubtle name of Mignon and a romantic weakness for heroes of Fu Manchu stories.

The Word of Fu Manchu (1958)
Nayland Smith investigates the unexplained death of a CDI agent who died with a mysterious disc in his possession, and the agent's girlfriend who is determined to recover it. (And who surprisingly does not fall in instant love with either of our heroes!)

The Mind of Fu Manchu (1959)
Bruce Garfield is a scientist working on a new method of spacecraft propulsion. While in London, Fu Manchu kidnaps his girlfriend and steals his experimental model.

Nightmare House (1932)
A scientist investigates mysterious rumors about a house in Cornwall: that it is situated above an unfathomably deep tunnel and that its owner is unnaturally long-lived, thanks to the brimstone fumes that rise from the tunnel. Also, there may be monsters.

The Leopard Couch (1904)
An leopard-shaped couch from ancient Egypt takes loungers on dreamlike voyages.

The Mystery of the Fabulous Lamp (1953)
A couple buys an attractive but not-especially-valuable lamp at a curio store.

A Date at Shepheards (1950)
A visitor to Cairo helps a woman escape from a modern harem.

The Mark of Maat (1944)
A couple of archaeologists share a dig: a deep shaft at the bottom of which is a shrine to an Egyptian goddess. The archaeologists also compete for the the attentions of a woman. When war intervenes, the men go on a mission from which only one returns, and the woman asks the goddess for justice.

The Treasure of Taia (1926)
An archaeologist competes against better-funded, profit-driven projects to recover an ancient treasure.

Crime Takes a Cruise (1950)
A crime thriller involving artefact-smuggling, set in Port Said.

A House Possessed (1912)
An English mansion is haunted by the spirit of Nostra Padua, a student of Nostradamus.

78swynn
maj 10, 12:41pm



50) The Bible Doesn't Say That by Joel M. Hoffman
Date: 2016

I am an ex-evangelical with a lingering fascination for religion and -- let's be honest -- lingering issues related to my indoctrination in a system that seems increasingly foreign to me. I'm always up for a takedown of Biblical literalism -- but this is something more, and I found it surprisingly rewarding.

The author is a linguist, and here he applies his considerable knowledge of ancient Hebrew and Greek to dig through accumulations of history, tradition, translation errors, and linguistic drift to imagine how the text would have been understood at the time it was written. Far from being critical of specific beliefs, the author is admirably ecumenical in his approach, often saying things like "Some religious traditions believe x, and that's fine because the role of religion is to interpret a text and x is a reasonable interpretation. My role is just to tell you that x is not what the text explicitly says." Of course, some beliefs face more thorough deconstruction than others: believers in Biblical literalism or the Prosperity Gospel for instance may find Hoffman's readings unfairly dismissive, but for the most part he aims for a creed-neutral path and succeeds in keeping it. (And even in the exceptional cases he is more diplomatic than I would ever manage.) Sometimes his readings seem like hair-splitting (e.g.: God performed "wonders," not "miracles") or fussy differences of emphasis (e.g.: Genesis 1:1 answers the question "When?" not "Who?" or "What?"), but even in those cases his arguments are interesting. I liked it. It's Bible reading for word nerds, and should appeal to readers who enjoy etymological analysis regardless of personal religious convictions.

79richardderus
maj 10, 2:24pm

>78 swynn: As it is literally impossible to be less diplomatic than I am about the subject, I take my hat off to Dr. Hoffman for doing this urgently needed and really fascinating job.

I disliked >76 swynn: and can't even begin to think why I'd thought I wouldn't.

80drneutron
maj 10, 2:46pm

>78 swynn: Well, on the list that one goes...

81swynn
maj 11, 10:31am

>79 richardderus: I had mixed feelings but didn't hate it, but am interested to hear your criticisms.

>80 drneutron: Hope you find it as interesting as I did, Jim!

83swynn
maj 12, 1:36pm

>82 richardderus: Thanks, Richard! Looks like we both feel that Author Reid could have an interesting career, but that her debut leaves room for development.

84richardderus
maj 12, 1:39pm

>83 swynn: The writing is pretty damn decent, line-by-line, but adds up to less than I want of what I need from a story.

85swynn
Redigerat: maj 12, 4:21pm



Perry Rhodan 152: Größer als die Sonne = "Bigger Than the Sun" by Clark Darlton
Date: 1964

Terran explorers come upon a system whose largest planet is a methane giant whose diameter is larger than that of its own sun. The huge planet has several Earth-sized moons; the explorers land on one of them, where they pick up the signal of another cell activator. Triangulating the signal, they discover that it is This one will be especially difficult to retrieve: not only is the activator hidden deep inside a mountain, but the superintelligence IT sends ship and crew 38,000 years into the past, to the middle of a local civil war, and requires them to retrieve the cell activator using only pre-electric technology. IT will return the Terrans to their own time only when they succeed. The most consequential piece of this episode comes at its end, when the Terrans discover, in the cavern where the activator is hidden, an advanced star map of the entire Milky Way galaxy, apparently created by a past civilization older than Terrans or even Arkonides, here designated "Oldtimers."

86BLBera
maj 12, 7:54pm

The Bible Doesn't Say That sounds interesting, Steve. I'll look for that.

87swynn
Redigerat: maj 13, 2:11pm



51) Don't Let the Doll In by Mike Ford
Date: 2019

First in "Frightville," a new middle-grades series imitating the Goosebumps formula of spooky-but-not-too-threatening thrillers for preteens. The second book in the series was nominated for an Ignyte Award so I thought I'd check it out. The series' continuity gimmick is Frightville, a store that sells supernatural objects, apparently mostly to middle-graders. In this one, a girl buys a haunted doll for her new dollhouse. The story does pretty much what you'd expect, and is fine for what it is.

88swynn
maj 13, 2:08pm

>86 BLBera: Hope you like it if you find it, Beth!

89lyzard
maj 13, 5:57pm

>77 swynn:

...and the Fu Manchu project closes with the DAW book that prompted it.

Yeah, I love how that happens: "Here's this thing, but first I have to do 20 other things." :D

Well done, you! I have 'Drums' on ILL for next month (already blushing at the thought of facing a librarian to pick it up).

90swynn
maj 13, 6:16pm

>89 lyzard:
"Here's this thing, but first I have to do 20 other things." :D

Ah, voice of experience.

Actually, I'm pretty pleased that I didn't give up. I'd be even more pleased if it had been something more worth doing but, you know.

Good luck with Drums. It's an odd one.

91swynn
Redigerat: maj 17, 1:48pm



52) Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
Date: 1966

The bestselling novel of 1966 is this over-the-top show-business soap opera. It's about three young women looking for love and success in the entertainment industry: Anne, secretary in a talent agency and later a model; Neely, a singer/dancer/actress on her way from vaudeville to Hollywood; and Jennifer, a film actress with a body made for movies. The plot is basically: stuff happens.

For me, the experience of reading VOTD was a carnival ride. For the first hundred pages or so I loathed it, for its annoying characters and its over-earnest prose. But then I started feeling its momentum toward spectacular disaster and could not stop until the book stopped and I am now left with a bewildering feeling of WTF did I just read?

Thematically it's a vat of contradictions: full of homophobic language and sentiment but also with at least two bisexual characters, one of them a lead, and recognizes the reality and ubiquity of variety in sexual attraction in a way that no previous book in this bestseller project has done. It's full of fat-shaming but also critical of the industry's obsession with weight, particularly its unhealthy weight-maintenance strategies. Full of age discrimination but critical of an industry that regards thirty as over the hill. It focuses on ambitious women, but offers no examples of happy ambitious women; emphasizes women's independence but also represents marriage as an ultimate goal. It's a hot mess of advocacy, acceptance, and condemnation that confounds any attempt to extract a message, leaving one to conclude that the spectacle is itself the message.

Good? Bad? Recommended? Honestly, I don't know. Others have loved it, both honestly and ironically, but I find myself undecided how to think about it: it is not a *good* book, but its only goal seems to be to engage my attention - a goal which it achieved.

92lyzard
maj 16, 6:38pm

>91 swynn:

Well, well: we do pretty much think it for the same reasons! :D

93swynn
maj 18, 12:12pm

>92 lyzard: I nonetheless look forward to your comments.

94swynn
Redigerat: maj 18, 12:28pm



53 A Local Habitation by Seanan McGuire
Date: 2010

Second in McGuire's "October Daye" series, which is on the Hugo ballot this year in the "Best Series" category. In this one, Toby's liege Sylvester sends her to check on his niece who lives in Fremont and has suddenly stopped calling. Toby finds the niece running a tech startup whose employees are mysteriously dying. Mystery and peril ensue.

I found it a just-okay fantasy and a frustrating mystery. It's overlong and underpaced, more interested in worldbuilding than in story. It's the sort of mystery where the detective doesn't ask questions you want them to ask, fails to suspect the character you find suspicious, and relies too heavily on the investigative technique of waiting around while the killer reduces the suspect pool. To make the Hugo ballot, I have to assume the series gets better.

95richardderus
maj 18, 12:25pm

>94 swynn: ...not in my disappointed experience...

96swynn
maj 18, 12:26pm

>95 richardderus: How far did you get?

97richardderus
maj 18, 1:25pm

>96 swynn: I read Late Eclipses and was...underwhelmed. Repetitious repetitious repetitious repetitious repetitious. Same tropes and tics. Nothing but how fucked-up Toby's decision-making process is...like Harry Dresden, the self-abnegation; and then "I need your help" followed by "never say thank you to the fae" and so on and so on.

I wanted better character development and clearer purposes for all.

98swynn
maj 18, 6:19pm

>97 richardderus: Well that's not encouraging. I do have the next couple of volumes ready to go, so I'll probably read those at least, but if it doesn't pick up I'll probably say enough for now and turn to the other series.

99jjmcgaffey
maj 19, 6:45pm

>94 swynn: etc In my experience - there will be a sequence of four or five books establishing a pattern, then a book where that pattern gets thrown up in the air like a jigsaw puzzle and when it comes down everything and particularly Toby's understanding of herself and her world has been upended. Then four or five books expanding on that new pattern and how it changes (what people know of) what came before...then another All Change book. I very much enjoy the series...oddly, thinking about it, I enjoy the series more than I enjoy any particular book in it.

100swynn
maj 19, 8:33pm

>99 jjmcgaffey: Thanks, Jennifer! A more encouraging reaction. I'll give it at least a couple more, and see.

101swynn
Redigerat: maj 19, 9:17pm



54) DAW #187: Ironcastle by J.H. Rosny and Philip José Farmer
Date: 1976 (original text 1922)

This is a translation/adaptation of a 1922 French lost-world novel by J.H. Rosny by the "Edgar Rice Burroughs of France" (per cover copy). Hareton Ironcastle is an adventurer, inventor of an air cannon, and member of the Baltimore Gun Club. Ironcastle is hanging out at the club one afternoon, talking philosophy, when he receives a message from his friend and fellow adventurer Samuel Darnley, currently exploring in Africa. Darnley's reports of marvelous flora and fauna are so surprising that Ironcastle worries his friend may have gone mad. "Only one way to find out," he announces, and sets forth. There follows a tale of exploration and peril. The setting is imaginative and richly detailed:

The fertile land spawned numberless fantastic beasts: purple hippos, oversized giraffes, hairy saurians, spiders and beetles as large as birds, elephants with four tusks, climbing-fish, snakes the color of fire. The plants were even more astonishing. A mimosa-like plant increased in numbers as they progressed toward the southwest. Their variety was truly inconceivable. Some were as tall as birch. Others were like beech trees, and some surpassed the sequoiahs of California in height.

Unfortunately the plot mostly consists of white men killing things in exotic Africa. Ironcastle's daughter Muriel insists on joining the team, insisting she can shoot a gun with the best of 'em. As it turns out, she spends most of the expedition being rescued. Interesting for what it is, but for me the interest would be primarily historical. That interest, however, is compromised by the translator/adapter. The English is by Philip José Farmer, among whose projects was the "Wold Newton universe," a world in which pulp heroes like Doc Savage, Tarzan, Captain Nemo and Fu Manchu shared a common history. Some of those characters -- Savage and Professor Challenger at least -- are referenced here, clearly embellishments by Farmer. What else is embellished is hard to tell, but I'd have preferred a more faithful translation.

Cover and multiple interior illustrations are by Roy Krenkel.

102swynn
Redigerat: maj 21, 11:20am



55) Curse of the Wish Eater by Mike Ford
Date: 2020

Second in Ford's/Scholastic's "Frightville," a Goosebumps-style series of creepy-thriller chapter books, built around a curio store with supernatural stock. In this one, a boy purchases a chattering-teeth toy that grants wishes: you write out your wishes, insert them between the teeth, and overnight your wish is granted. The boy, exasperated by annoying siblings, wishes to be an only child and in the morning wakes to a quiet house and a family where his brothers and sisters never existed. Subsequent wishes intended to reverse the situation only complicate matters.

This was nominated for an Ignyte award this year (in the "Middle Grades" category). An award nomination seems excessive to me, though it works just fine as an example of the kind of thing it is.

103richardderus
maj 21, 12:19pm

>102 swynn: I sent it to my twin grands. I hope they'll like it...I didn't see anything award-worthy, particularly in the writing, but what the hey. Many adult prize nominees leave me equally verschmeckeled.

104swynn
maj 24, 1:15pm

>103 richardderus: If they like Goosebumps-style stories I don't see why they wouldn't like it. But yeah, one of those weird literary-ballot things.

105swynn
maj 24, 5:55pm



56) The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Date: 1985 (original Spanish 1982)

It's a multigenerational family drama set in Chile, through most of the 20th century up to and including Pinochet's military coup in the early 1970s. I admired the rich prose, the engaging storytelling, and the nuanced characters, though themes of sexual violence made some parts difficult to stomach.

106swynn
maj 24, 6:08pm



57) Home Before Dark by Riley Sager
Date: 2020

When Maggie was too young to remember, her family bought a mansion with a history, then abandoned it one night and never returned. Her father wrote a bestselling book about their experiences in the haunted house, a story which Maggie has slowly learned is a pack of lies. Well mostly. When her father dies, she learns that her parents never sold the house and that she has inherited it. So she returns to the house with a plan to restore it and to investigate just how much of her father's tale might have been true.

I found it just okay, with a disappointing ending. But I mostly "read" it via audiobook during long drives. Others have loved it, so maybe it's just my ears don't read good.

107swynn
maj 31, 8:33pm


58) An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire
Date: 2010

Third in McGuire's "October Daye" series, and an improvement over the second. In this one, Toby investigates the kidnapping of a bunch of children, who have been taken the realm of the very old and powerful and sociopathic fae Blind Michael. I agree with Richard that McGuire's prose gets in her own way, but I did get caught up in the setting and the adventure.

108ronincats
maj 31, 8:40pm

I think the second book is the weakest of the lot, Steve.

109swynn
Redigerat: jun 1, 7:08am



59) Far Away Across the Sea by Toon Tellegen
Date: 2012 (Originally published in Dutch in 1987)

Toon Tellegen is a new author to me, and is a delight. These are animal stories for children, although I'm not sure "stories" is the right word, since they don't follow the usual plot structures -- sketches maybe?, Mood pieces? Meditations, even? Whatever you call them they are utterly charming, and made me wish young swynn still tolerated being read to. Martin Cleaver's translation is so lucid and Jessica Ahlberg's pen-and-watercolor illustrations are a perfect complement.

Thanks Amber for spreading the word about this!

Apparently, the original Dutch title, Toen niemand iets te doen had, means "When Nobody Had Anything To Do." I expect that marketing departments had a problem with the original title. You see what the English translation uses, and apparently the German translation calls it "Very Close Friends" (Richtig dichte Freunde, literally, "Right Thick Friends.")

110swynn
maj 31, 8:46pm

>108 ronincats: That's encouraging. I know the series is well-loved, and hope to pick some of that up.

111swynn
Redigerat: maj 31, 8:56pm



60) Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Date: 2020

Second and latest in Muir's "Locked Tomb" trilogy. Count me among the readers who "WTF-is-happening"-ed their way through a big chunk of the front, but found the payoff more than worth the initial bewilderment. Y'all, this is *nuts*, which to be clear when I'm talking about space necromancers being chased by the ghosts of the planets whose souls they have sucked and that's not even the weird part, is a good thing. Also, Tamsyn Muir can write. Warning that this one does not stand alone -- do read the first, and ideally don't let months pass between reading volumes 1 and 2: I did not follow this advice but recognize it would have helped. (Future self, please reread books 1 & 2 when book 3 arrives next year. It will almost certainly help you figure out WTF is happening.)

112swynn
maj 31, 9:15pm



61) DAW #188: Gate of Ivrel by C.J. Cherryh
Date: 1976

This is Cherryh's debut novel and y'all she hit the ground at a dead sprint. A lost civilization -- the qujal -- has left a network of gates around the galaxy. The gates allow instant traversal of space and time, but time is tricky and the qujal's misuse of the gates caused a time implosion that destroyed their civilization. Remaining civilizations wish to avoid repeating the catastrophe, so they send a team to close the gates. Problem is, the "witchfire" that powers the gates can also be used for all sorts of magic so there are sometimes powerful interests who do not want the gates closed. In this volume, gate-closer Morgaine joins forces with a local outcast to close the gate on his planet. And I'm happy to report that it's quite fun. I hear she gets even better. Looking forward to her next.

113swynn
Redigerat: maj 31, 9:31pm



62) Shit, Actually by Lindy West
Date: 2020

Mostly it's snarky summaries of plots from blockbuster movies of the 80's and 90's and early 00's with occasional observations about things that haven't aged well always sucked but straight white audiences didn't care and too many still don't. You may have guessed from the title: she *really* doesn't like "Love, Actually." They're light and not especially enlightening but often funny: they were originally written as blog posts, and as blog posts many are terrific, but at book length they become wearing. The greatest insight is just to point out that some of these films you remember enjoying are not problem-free, and that it's surprising how painfully obvious their missteps are on rewatching. It can be a hard lesson, and jokes help.

Micky brought this one to my attention, when she mentioned that Lindy West called "The Fugitive" the best film ever made. This intrigued me because I think the Fugitive is a very good film. (I rewatched it and y'all, it is *still* a very good film.) But best film ever made? What great insight does West have? Turns out she has none really: her review of "The Fugitive" is a breathless summary with jokes, and the claim of "best film ever made" is clearly intended as humorous hyperbole.

114FAMeulstee
jun 1, 5:37am

>109 swynn: So good to see more people in our group discover Toon Tellegen, Steve.
I am a fan, and I hope some more of his work will be translated.

115scaifea
jun 1, 8:35am

>109 swynn: Aw, yay! I'm so glad you liked this one, too!

116swynn
jun 1, 4:14pm

>114 FAMeulstee:
>115 scaifea:

Definitely reading some more. And hoping that more will be translated.

117MickyFine
jun 1, 5:51pm

>113 swynn: Sounds like you enjoyed it more than you disliked it (I hope?). I listened to it on audio, which spread it out more, and likely prevented the wearing out feeling you had.

118swynn
jun 1, 6:22pm

>117 MickyFine: Oh, definitely. Once I adjusted expectations I enjoyed it very much for what it was -- more MST3K than Siskel & Ebert. Thanks for recommending it, Micky!

119richardderus
jun 1, 7:27pm

Now it's time for I Wish to enter your eyeholes!

120swynn
jun 2, 10:59am

>119 richardderus: Letters to Anyone and Everyone is already on its way, but I'll put I Wish down for next after that. Thanks for the rec!

121swynn
Redigerat: jun 2, 1:22pm

 

Perry Rhodan 153: Eine Handvoll Leben = "A Handful of Life" by William Voltz

Hendrik Vouner is a passenger on a Terran spacecraft when the signal of a cell activator is detected from planet Velander. Crew and passengers fight for advantage, causing the ship to descend into chaos then crashes on Velander. Vouner is the sole survivor, and sets out to find the cell activator -- but the signal is picked up by ship of Aras, "galactic physicians" from Aralon who also want the cell activator.

Perry Rhodan 154: Der Gehetzte von Aralon = "The hunted of Aralon" by William Voltz

Vouner has escaped Velander by hijacking the Aralon ship and demanding to be taken to Earth. But the Aras deceive him, taking him instead to Aralon. Fortunately, they do not take him through official channels because they would then lose their opportunity to rob him of the cell activator. Vouner quickly escapes the ship's crew, only to find himself a fugitive on a foreign planet, chased by evil doctors.

122MickyFine
jun 2, 5:16pm

>118 swynn: Oh good. :)

123swynn
Redigerat: jun 16, 1:18pm



63) Talk Like a Man by Nisi Shawl
Date: 2020

This is a short anthology including four stories and an essay by, and an interview of, Nisi Shawl. I think these are the first of Shawl's works I've encountered, but really ought to read more. The stories are of the type where it's difficult to say whether I liked or disliked them, and am not entirely sure I caught the intended point, but certainly found them thought-provoking. Highlight for me was the essay, "Ifa," which pushed all of my buttons for fascination with religion, science, and science fiction.

Walk Like a Man is the least accessible of the lot, a sort of cyberpunk/posthuman story about high-school age girls forming social groups in a world where some meet in the physical world, others remotely via avatars, and one is an AI.

Women of the Doll is an unsettling, affecting story about a woman living as a sort of modern sacred prostitute, keeping her soul safe by preserving it in a doll. She encounters a customer who follows an unexpected script.

Something More. A singer finds herself caught in a battle between two battling ghosts. One wishes to seduce her, and the other to protect her. Or is it that one wishes to free her and the other to control her? Or is it that both wish to harm each other and the singer is just a tool?

An Awfully Big Adventure is a short piece told from the perspective of a terminally ill child.

Ifa : Reverence, Science, and Social Technology is an essay about Shawl's practice of a traditional African religion, its relation to science and technology, and how it informs their science fiction.

124swynn
Redigerat: jun 18, 4:14pm



64) Educated by Tara Westover
Date: 2018

I'm behind the crowd on this one, but am glad I finally got around to it. (Even though it was on audio, which I mostly listened to on long drives.)

It's a memoir of a woman who grew up in a very conservative LDS home. Her father imagined himself a survivalist but I don't know if "survivalist" is the right term for someone so criminally indifferent to the health and safety of himself and his family, so let's say he's a bipolar personality with apocalyptic delusions. Anyway, she gets out, eventually, in part along a path of academics. Her story of discovering that the world of her experience is incompatible with the world of her upbringing ... that resonates deeply with me. In my case it's been on a very different scale, thank goodness, but the dilemmas and multilemmas are all recognizable, about what one owes one's family, one's found family, one's perception of reality, and one's self. Westover is perceptive and eloquent, and I'm very grateful for her story.

125richardderus
jun 18, 4:20pm

>124 swynn: the dilemmas and multilemmas

Just avoid the analemma.

126swynn
jun 18, 4:38pm

>125 richardderus: Just avoid the analemma.

It took me a minute but .... good advice.

127richardderus
jun 18, 5:30pm

Amen and selah

128drneutron
jun 18, 9:33pm

*snork*

129scaifea
jun 19, 8:38am

>124 swynn: I'm glad you enjoyed this one, too - I felt much the same way about it as you.

130PaulCranswick
jun 19, 7:42pm

happy Father's Day, Steve.

131swynn
jun 20, 9:03pm

>127 richardderus:
>128 drneutron:
:)

>129 scaifea: I'm generally not a big reader of memoirs, but more like this could convert me.

>130 PaulCranswick: Thanks Paul!

132swynn
Redigerat: jun 21, 11:15am



Perry Rhodan 155: Die Sklaven von Nowhere ("The Slaves of Nowhere") by Kurt Mahr
Date: 1964

Searching for a cell activator, three retired officers of the Solar Fleet land on what they believe is an uninhabited planet. In fact, it is the planet Nowhere, home to a settlement of sick, injured, and diseased colonists -- a colony founded by the "galactic physicians" the Aras as a place to hide cases their medicine could not cure. The able-bodied officers are quickly detained and then put to work by the colony's security -- but it does not take long for them to escape the colony and go looking for the Ara stronghold they are certain lies nearby -- also of course, the secret of the signal they picked up indicating the nearby presence of a cellular activator. They find the stronghold, but instead of an immortality device they discover a plot to manufacture decoy cell activators intended to distract treasure-hunters such as themselves.

133swynn
jun 20, 11:32pm



65) Crota by Owl Goingback
Date: 1996

An earthquake in Missouri wakes an old and hungry creature, and our heroes scramble to stop it. I picked this up because I recently read and loved Goingback's Coyote Rage, but this was a bit of a letdown after that. It delivers on its promises and the prose is energetic, but this is a more conventional gross-out monster-on-a-rampage story.

Also the cover, which sort-of worked for Hemlock Grove season 1 is out of place here.

134swynn
Redigerat: jun 21, 11:05am

The winners of the 2021 Kurd-Laßwitz Prize have been announced, for works published in German in 2020.

Best novel went to Andreas Eschbach for "Eines Menschen Flügel" ("Wings of a Human"), a story set on an exterrestrial colony where colonists genetically engineer their children to grow wings in order to be able to flee from "something murderous that lurks beneath the earth." This is Eschbach's 11th win in this category, and his third in consecutive years.

Best Foreign work went to Simon Stålenhag's gorgeous art book Tales from the Loop, which is also the basis of an Amazon Prime Video series I now must watch.

Best Translation into German went to Susan Gerold for "Die große Stille" (The Great Silence), her translation of N.K. Jemisin's Broken Earth trilogy. German titles are
1. Zerissene Erde (Broken Earth)
2. Brennender Fels (Burning Rock)
3. Steinerner Himmel (Stone Sky)
As German titles go -- sometimes they're pretty wacky -- those aren't bad.

135MickyFine
jun 21, 12:02pm

>134 swynn: Love your comments on the German translations of titles. In John Green's newest book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, he themes his postscript around the German title of the book, which literally translates to How has your Anthropocene been so far?

136richardderus
jun 21, 12:25pm

The Goingback is a disappointment! It's early in the author's career, of course, but I'm not all the way sure that should matter anymore. I'm possibly approaching "cranky old man"hood.

Stop laughing.

And those titles really capture the spirit of her books, so I'm more impressed than befuddled for once.

137swynn
Redigerat: jun 21, 1:54pm

>135 MickyFine: Ha! Excellent case in point.



The translation is accurate. (Well, strictly literally: "How has the Anthropocene pleased you til now?", but "How has your Anthropocene been so far" is fairer.)

Some favorites of mine are

"Ferris Buehler's Day Off" becomes: "Ferris Makes Blue" (okay, "to make blue" is an idiom meaning "to skip work/school/etc." but still.)

"Hart to Hart" becomes: "Hard but Affectionate"

Jodi Taylor's St. Mary's series has also been ill-served:
1. Miss Maxwell's Curious Time Archive
2. Doctor Maxwell's Chaotic Time Compass
3. Doctor Maxwell's Comical Time Experiment
... et cetera

>136 richardderus: If I'd read Crota first I'd probably be wary of later works. As it is, I'm inclined to cut him some slack. (But also no longer in a hurry to read more early works.)

138richardderus
jun 21, 2:47pm

>137 swynn: The translations of Jodi Taylor's books are *dreadful* but...can German do the wordplay that the English titles do? It's so idiom dependent that, in all fairness, I can't really see any other language being able to match it.

139swynn
Redigerat: jun 21, 2:58pm

>138 richardderus: Agreed, that's often the problem with translating titles: idioms or double-entendres that give a title that marketing punch. Taylor's titles, translated literally, would sound awkward auf Deutsch. On the other hand, substituted with comparable idiom they would still sound bizarre translated back into English (see: "Ferris Makes Blue.") In fairness, translating titles is not an easy task. Also in fairness, the publisher's solutions for the St. Mary's novels are ... well, good for a laugh.

140richardderus
jun 21, 3:21pm

>139 swynn: "Chaotic Time Compass" *shudder* there is absolutely no way I'd've ever picked up the book if that'd been its title in English.

141swynn
jun 22, 1:34pm



Perry Rhodan 156: Lemy und der Krötenwolf ("Lemy and the Toad-Wolf") by K. H. Scheer
Date: 1964

Second in a subseries featuring mismatched USO agents Lemy Danger and Melbar Kasom. In this one Lemy and Kasom hunt a renegade agent who murdered Anne Sloan, a telekinetic member of the Mutant Corps and wearer of one of the cell activators. Kasom goes undercover as an arena fighter where he must defeat (IKYN) a dreaded toad-wolf. He, Lemy, and Atlan and some local Anti cultists all go looking for the assassin and his prize. It all builds to a shoot-out, in which the cell activator is accidentally struck and destroyed, with frightful consequences for the galaxy. Says ominous foreshadowing.

The story is okay, but dang I wish the authors would tell stories about their female characters instead of killing them off all the time.

142MickyFine
jun 22, 3:38pm

dang I wish the authors would tell stories about their female characters instead of killing them off all the time

Isn't it always thus?

143lyzard
jun 22, 6:42pm

C'mon, you know very well that women exist for only two purposes. Dying is one of them.

144richardderus
jun 22, 6:58pm

>143 lyzard: If dying is one, then it's three. Can't overlook birthin'

145swynn
Redigerat: jun 22, 9:29pm

>142 MickyFine: The frustrating thing is that it started out more promising. A-hundred-and-fifty-plus episodes ago, when Perry and his crew found the aliens on the Moon, the alien ship's commanding officer was a strong-willed woman who was both a foil to Rhodan and eventually a love interest. When he assembled his Mutant Corps, several members were women. It has been a recurring theme, though, that the authors never really knew what to do with the women they created. Mostly they get rescued, or die.

146swynn
jun 22, 9:30pm

>143 lyzard: Based on this series, I think "get rescued" must be the other.

147swynn
Redigerat: jun 22, 9:52pm

>144 richardderus: That too. Look how well that worked out for Perry and Thora ...

148swynn
Redigerat: jul 1, 12:25pm



66) Hombre by Elmore Leonard
Date: 1961

Linda's (lindapanzo) challenge to "Read a Western" in June reminded me that I had been working through Elmore Leonard's works, and that the next in that on-again, off-again project would satisfy the challenge. Leonard is always a pleasure, so thanks Linda!

This one centers on a stagecoach robbery and its aftermath. The "hombre" is John Russell, a white man raised by Apaches. When the other passengers learn of his connection to and sympathy for "Indians," he is persona non grata and invited to ride up top with the driver where he can keep his mongrel self away from the gentlefolk. Of course, when the coach is robbed, its supplies stolen, and its passengers left to die in the desert it's John Russell whose actions give everyone a chance to live. Humans being what they are, they still find reasons to resent him.

There's much to admire here: its efficient prose, its elegantly-drawn characters, the drive of its plot, and the understanding that prejudice is not easily dropped even in the face of plain facts. It's also a western, and feels a lot like other westerns -- but if you've decided to read a western, it's a pretty good choice.

I "read" this as an audiobook, so may have missed some things.

149richardderus
jul 1, 10:42am

>148 swynn: Elmore Leonard never took off the reality-goggles, did he. Nothin' rose tinted in his world!

150swynn
jul 2, 11:18pm

>149 richardderus: I'm definitely looking forward to getting to his crime fiction. Nice guys were not his jam.

151swynn
Redigerat: jul 2, 11:23pm



67) To Hold Up the Sky by Cixin Liu
Date: 2020

Cixin Liu's stories are heavy with ideas, and generally less strong on character. That's certainly true about the big-idea stories here. Which is fine: I like big-idea stories and generaly liked these too, though more interesting characters and more compelling drama would have been welcome. My favorites are the stories that invoke the vast scale of the universe relative to humans: alien artists who invoke starlight for their symphonies, or casually borrow oceans for their ice sculptures; or a remnant of humanity resides in an earth hollowed out by superbeings enchanted by Chinese poetry. This is sense-of-wonder stuff, and its appeal to me is strong.

The Village Teacher. A teacher in a remote Chinese village devotes his life to teaching the local children physics. Meanwhile, a war of attrition between two galactic civilizations draws Earthward in their battle for advantage.

The Time Migration. A group of people choose to be frozen in order to migrate downtime. Each time they are awakened, they choose to be frozen again, each time encountering a dramatically different civilization.

2018-04-01. A life-extending gene treatment is developed, but is available only to the extremely wealthy.

Fire In The Earth. The son of a coal miner becomes an engineer and develops a method of gasifying and extracting coal that eliminates the need for dangerous mining work. Except it goes wrong.

Contraction. Astrophysicists discuss the fate of the universe. It turns out that the universe does not expand indefinitely, in fact it's just about to start contracting. Consequences turn out to be more than merely academic.

Mirror. A detective's quarry always seems to be a step ahead of him; it turns out he has a quantum computer able to model the universe in such detail that it works as a universal eavesdropper.

Ode To Joy. The United Nations disbands with a fancy to-do, visited by dignitaries of all sorts. And an extraterrestrial mirror-being drops in to play its own piece.

Full Spectrum Barrage Jamming. In a near-future war between NATO and Russia & China, the Sino-Russians have the advantage of numbers, but NATO has superior electronic weapons. As the war approaches its final phases, the only defense against NATO is a general attack on all electronic systems: full spectrum barrage jamming.

Sea of Dreams. A superpowerful alien artist visits an ice-sculpting festival on Earth, and becomes inspired to contribute its own work: an ice sculpure in orbit, constructed from all the water of Earth's oceans.

Cloud of Poems. In a future interstellar empire, humans become feed cattle for intelligent dinosaurs. But the dinosaurs themselves answer to the empire's ruling superbeings, one of whom becomes obsessed with Chinese poetry.

The Thinker. An academic and an astrophysicist meet periodically throughout their careers to discover a shared pattern in stellar flares that resembles communication among the stars.

152swynn
jul 2, 11:58pm



68) Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire
Date: 2011

Fourth in McGuire's "October Daye" series. In this one, an old friend has been poisoned, apparently by one of the villains who turned Toby into a fish four books ago, and it's up to Toby to find an antidote. I'm glad to report that I responded to this one more positively than Richard did (up in post 97), though his points about prose and character are valid. By now the world's rules have been pretty well established and we don't need to be reminded of them repeatedly. I'm generally not a fan of first-person narration, which here seems to be mostly a vehicle for snark, and for me the snark mostly falls flat. But the world and the developing plot intrigue me, and I will continue.

153swynn
Redigerat: jul 3, 5:32pm



69) DAW #189 Armada of Antares by Kenneth Bulmer
Date: 1976

Eleventh in Kenneth Bulmer's "Dray Prescot" series, chronicling the adventures of an 18th-century seaman on the distant planet Kregen. This one wraps the "Havilfar Cycle" subseries that began with Manhounds of Antares. Presmise is, that the nation of Hamal has a monopoly on the aircar technology, and the vehicles they sell to other nations are unreliable. For the last few books, Prescot has been trying to learn the secrets of aircar technology. His task is now more desperate than ever, because Hamal's armada of flyers is advancing toward Prescot's homeland. I will not tell you who wins the final showdown, but there are forty more volumes in this series so ...

My fondness for this series is largely nostalgic, but it is strong.

154swynn
Redigerat: jul 3, 12:40am



Perry Rhodan 157: Explorer in Not (Explorer in Distress) by Clark Darlton
Date: 1964

At the end of episode 156, Lemy Danger accidently destroyed a cell activator, which generated a burst of energy that spread throughout the galaxy. First to witness the consequences of that event are the crew of the EXPLORER-3218.

The EXPLORER-3218 is on a scouting mission, circumnavigating the galaxy and cataloging the planets they find. They land on an apparently habitable planet they christen Zannmalon. There they discover an artificial cave complex inside a mountain. Inside, they discover the skeletal remains of a giant wormlike creature and also thousands of small durable bullet-like pods. Some of the team take a sample of pods back to the ship for further investigation. The rest of the team continue to explore the caves and are trapped there when the cell activator's energy burst reaches Zannmalon. The pods hatch. Creatures emerge resembling horned caterpillars. Which are hungry. And spit acid. And reproduce by mitosis. Rapidly. And wait til you see them swarm.

155swynn
jul 3, 12:44am



70) The Four Profound Weaves by R.B. Lemberg
Date: 2020

I spent the first half of this novella trying to figure out the rules of the world: a place where weavers fashion cloth from sand or bone; where a carpet woven from songs can transform a person's body into their true self. Apparently there are short stories set in the same world that provide background. (Note to self: track 'em down.) But the second half is the payoff, and it pays well. Recommended.

156lyzard
jul 3, 12:49am

>154 swynn:

And wait til you see them swarm.

oooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOoooooo!!!! {*excited hand clapping*}

157richardderus
jul 3, 10:33am

>153 swynn: As I have said since the first time I saw the idea of flying cars back in whichever 1960s year it was: "that's just stupid."

Helicopters are flying cars...look at what happens when they crash. Colossally bad idea.

158swynn
jul 3, 5:35pm

>156 lyzard: It's a pretty good episode.

>157 richardderus: Not going to argue. 'Course in this series, crashes are part of the appeal ...

159swynn
Redigerat: jul 3, 7:07pm



71) DAW #190: Ancient, My Enemy by Gordon R. Dickson
Date: 1976

This is a collection of nine stories originally published in the 1950's and 1960's. They show their age in gender roles and in some of the clichés they recycle, but some still work nevertheless. Highlights for me were the title story, "Tiger Green", and "In the Bone."

Ancient, My Enemy Prospectors on a colony planet clash with cannibalistic indigenes. One of the cannibals develops a personal vendetta against one of the prospectors.

The Odd Ones Two aliens watch from a distance as two humans try to survive on an alien planet. They don't rate the humans' chances very highly ... but humans are odd.

The Monkey Wrench. A meteorologist and his friend are hanging out at a weather outpost when a blizzard sets in. The meteorologist brags about the quality of the station's computer, and the friend decides he can probably make it fail. Cliché follows.

Tiger Green. A spaceship's crew is stranded on an alien planet: their ship is becoming overgrown with vines, and the crew themselves may be going crazy. One of the crew makes contact with the indigenes, who invite him to participate in a ceremony that they claim will cure madness.

The Friendly Man. A time traveler visits the distant future, only to find it suspiciously similar to the time he left behind.

Love Me True After six months in isolation at a weather station on an alien planet, Ted Homan returning to Earth, smuggling with him an alien creature whom he claims will die without love. When the creature is discovered and put into quarantine, the Ted plots to free it.

Our First Death, The first death on a colony world is a teenage girl. Her father is convinced that she died of a broken heart, and opposes having her autopsied.

In the Bone An arrogant space explorer finds himself separated from his ship and stranded on an alien world.

The Bleak and Barren Land. Humans have colonized the planet Modor, but live in an unwritten agreement with the indigenes. Human colonies have been established in the fertile valleys, while Modorians live in the more spacious but less forgiving barren lands, along with a few reclusive human prospectors. But now the valleys are becoming crowded, and a new human settlement will be established in the barren lands. Or not, if the Modorians have anything to say about it.

160swynn
jul 3, 7:13pm



72) Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire
Date: 2017

Second in McGuire's "Wayward Children" series, about child refugees from portal-fantasy worlds. This one digs into the backstory of two characters from book one: Jack and Jill, twins who wander into a grim world of vampires and mad scientists and make it their home. I'm enjoying the prose in this series much more than that of Toby Daye, and liked this entry better then the first.

161swynn
jul 3, 7:22pm



73) The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
Date: 2020

A young woman attempts suicide and finds herself in a library between life and death, where the books are the lives she might have lived. I found it just okay, excessively prone to self-help slogans. If there are books made to be turned into movies, then this is a book made to be turned into Facebook memes. But others have loved it so I conclude I'm probably not the target audience.

162richardderus
jul 3, 7:38pm

>161 swynn: I felt so mean when I finished it and just...detested it. Facile and puerile and all those other -ile words. (Except "campanile".)

>159 swynn: I know I owned it, but not one of those except "The Friendly Man" rings even a faint bell. I wonder if I just never read it.

Always good to get to 75 before the year's really half-over.

163richardderus
Redigerat: jul 3, 7:40pm

(And the first two weeks of July don't really count.)

164swynn
Redigerat: jul 3, 8:11pm



74) DAW #191: The Shattered Chain by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Date: 1976

Tenth in MZB's "Darkover" series, this one consists of three interlinked novellas featuring the "Free Amazons", a community of women warriors who owe allegiance to nobody but themselves. In the first story, the free Amazons help liberate a woman who was abducted and forced to serve as breeding stock in the Dry Towns. In the second, a Terran woman masquerades as a free Amazon in order to rescue her estranged husband from a gang of murderous bandits ... and accidentally encounters an actual band of Amazons. In the final story, a Free Amazon tries to reconcile her vows with her growing attraction for the Terran rescued in the second story.

I somehow missed the MZB bug as a teenager/young adult. My brother was a fan, but I bounced off everything I tried. After struggling through The Forbidden Tower in my college years, I called due diligence done, and wrote her off as Not For Me.

So re-encountering her as part of the DAW project has been mixed bag. On the one hand, I've finally enjoyed some of her works, and think I better understand her appeal. On the other hand, this new appreciation comes in the context of (relatively) recent revelations by her daughter that Bradley was a horrible human being at home. So even a pretty good book like Heritage of Hastur has parts that are difficult to read without an air of contextual creepiness.

I'm happy to report that this is not only my favorite Bradley so far, but there is a minimum of content to invoke that creepy feeling: no violence aimed at children, no references to the sexual lives of minors. Rather than invoke creepiness, it improves on its neighbors in the DAW catalog, by showing a dramatic difference in the roles and agency available to women. With this book, MZB's relationship to feminist science fiction makes more sense to me.

One last comment: the excellent cover by George Barr above is from the first printing. The third and subsequent printings were issued with a cover by Richard Hescox that is as bafflingly bad as Barr's is admirable. In fact, it would easily top my list of Most Regrettable DAW Covers Not By Kelly Freas. Behold:



165bell7
jul 3, 9:31pm

>161 swynn: I also thought this was only okay. I figured maybe I was missing something because it's been so popular, so while I'm sorry it wasn't a better book for you, it's good to know I'm not alone in my reaction.

166richardderus
jul 4, 11:50am

>164 swynn: I *like* the 3rd-printing cover but what it has to do with the book I'm hard-pressed to say.

167swynn
jul 4, 2:24pm

>162 richardderus: If the first two weeks of July count, then I made it! (And #75 is among the best I've read this year.)

>165 bell7: Have you read any other of Haig's works? If so, is it more of the same?

>166 richardderus: The first story has three women rescuing a fourth from a Dry Towns warlord. The rescue scene involves breaking into the warlord's bedroom, where he springs naked from his bed to defend himself.

168richardderus
jul 4, 2:48pm

>167 swynn: ...but...that's...well, whatever, who'm I to argue with a nekkid guy on a cover (no matter how clumsily rendered).

169swynn
Redigerat: jul 4, 7:27pm



75) The Dig by Cynan Jones
Date: 2014

Daniel is a Welsh sheep farmer, a difficult business -- your soul won't let you quit, the system won't let you get ahead, and you're lucky if you can break even. But lately the universe seems to be bent aginst him too: Daniel's wife recently died in a freak accident with a horse, ewes are having difficult births, or even having deformed lambs, and Daniel's desperation is building. Meanwhile, a local badger-baiter feels the unwelcome attention of law enforcement, and goes looking for ways to please his clients without landing in jail. This is the third of Jones's novellas I've read, and of a sort with the others: desperate characters amid natural forces indifferent to their fate. The prose is gorgeous, and the story is a gut punch. Recommended.

170FAMeulstee
jul 4, 6:00pm

>169 swynn: Congratulations on reaching 75, Steve!

171lyzard
jul 4, 6:15pm

Congrats on 75, Steve, great work! :)

172richardderus
jul 4, 6:20pm

>169 swynn: YAY!!

And it was a really good one, too!

173swynn
jul 4, 7:28pm

>170 FAMeulstee:
>171 lyzard:
>172 richardderus:

Thanks!

(And thanks Richard for introducing me to Cynan Jones.)

174richardderus
jul 4, 7:40pm

He writes such beautiful books. Such lapidary prose, flensing your nerve-endings and making you utter little gurgles of agony!

175swynn
Redigerat: jul 5, 9:44am



76) Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong
Date: 2016

Zoe is a barista living in a trailer park with her cat when she becomes the target of a super-powered assassin/influencer. It turns out that Zoe's estranged billionaire father has recently died and left her his fortune, but has also left her his enemies, including a dudebro with the wealth and technology to build an army of supervillains. Mayhem ensues.

I know I should have read John Dies at the End about a decade ago, but this is my first David Wong, and I found it a hoot. It's an over-the-top action thriller with comic-book sensibilities. Also (fair warning) a sort of frat-housey weakness for boob jokes and dick jokes, but there are funny jokes too.

176BLBera
jul 5, 12:50pm

Congrats on reaching and passing 75, Steve.

177swynn
jul 5, 1:11pm

>176 BLBera: Thanks, Beth!

178drneutron
jul 5, 6:42pm

Congrats!

179bell7
jul 6, 10:05am

Congrats on reaching 75 and beyond!

180richardderus
jul 10, 5:58pm

So, apart from the Wong, what's on the TBReviewed stack?

181swynn
jul 10, 6:34pm

>180 richardderus: Two more finished, reviews coming forthwith. In the "actively reading" stack are Elia Kazan's The Appointment (whose review I expect to be generally negative); Tanith Lee's The Storm Lord (which I expect to be generally positive); and the next Perry Rhodan (which is ... Perry Rhodan)

182swynn
Redigerat: jul 10, 9:23pm



77) Salzgras & Lavendel ("Saltgrass and Lavender") by Gabriele Behrend
Date: 2020

This was the runner-up this year in Best Novel for the Kurd-Laßwitz Prize. It's a near-future drama set in a London set in a London where surgery and treatment have been developed to induce and manage multiple personalities. The treatment has been promoted as an efficiency-boosting tool, and has been so widely adopted that almost all productive citizens now live with little committees in their heads. Enter Douglas Hewitt, a "wild" who has never had the personality-splitting treatment, recently charged with homicide. Douglas is offered a state-of-the-art treatment as alternative to a trial and an all-but certain prison sentence. He accepts the offer. But the treatment center is the scene of an ongoing psychodrama, and Douglas steps into the thick of it.

It's an idea-heavy narrative, with much space devoted to working out the details of how the treatment works and the subjective experience of sharing your head with multiple selves. My main problem with the idea is notion of solving social problems by inducing a psychological disorder in the population. For all of the thought Behrend has put into mechanics and subjective experience, she skips over their more general social effects, except to imply that society seems to be running smoothly -- more efficiently, even. OTOH, it may be just as well she avoids that distraction: the book already feels overloaded with exposition to me. I'd have preferred less explanation and more drama, but Behrend's project is to work out a certain idea and she does that well.

183richardderus
jul 10, 8:08pm

>182 swynn: That reminds me of Wyman Guin's story Beyond Bedlam like, a real lot.

Interesting plot, though, worth exploring.

184swynn
Redigerat: jul 20, 12:01pm



78) DAW #192: The 1976 World's Best SF edited by Donald A. Wolheim and Arthur Saha
Date: 1976

This is not one of the stronger collections in the series, but there are a few gems. Michael Bishop's "Allegiances" has aged surprisingly well for a postapocalyptic story about race, history, and political allegiance; Barrington Bayley's "The Bees of Knowledge" contains imagery I won't soon forget; and the idea behind John Brunner's paranoid "Protocols of the Elders of Britain" now feels less like speculative fiction than like recent history.

For context, in 1976:
Best Novel
Hugo: "The Forever War" by Joe Haldeman
Nebula: "Man Plus" by Fred Pohl

Best Novella
Hugo: "Home is the Hangman" by Roger Zelazny
Nebula: "Houston, Houston, Do You Read?" by James Tiptree, Jr.

Best Novellette
Hugo: "The Borderland of Sol" by Larry Niven
Nebula: "The Bicentennial Man" by Isaac Asimov

Best Short Story
Hugo: "Catch that Zeppelin!" by Fritz Leiber
Nebula: "A Crowd of Shadows" by Charles L.Grant

______

Catch that Zeppelin! by Fritz Leiber.
A passenger on a zeppelin has a waking dream in which the Great War did not end all wars, that some Austrian named "Hitler" seems to have start another one, and that the craft he rides in -- now named "Hindenberg" for some reason -- is filled (insanely) with hydrogen rather than helium. (Hugo-winner for Best Short Story)

The Peddler's Apprentice by Joan D. Vinge and Vernor Vinge.
Begins as a high-fantasy story, in which a young gang leader makes plans to waylay a traveling peddler, who is carrying stock of suspiciously high quality for the markets where he sells. But the peddler has even more tricks than his stock suggests.

The Bees of Knowledge by Barrington J. Bayley.
The survivor of wrecked spaceship is taken into the hive of giant bees.

The Storms of Windhaven by George R. R. Martin and Lisa Tuttle.
A human colony is established on a planet mostly covered by water. The ocean is hazardous, so communication between islands is mostly carried by flyers -- humans wearing artificial wings cut from the material of the founders' space ship. (Hugo-nominated for Best Novella)

The Engineer and the Executioner by Brian Stableford
A mad-scientist story in which a researcher develops a new plague, quarantined on a space station. But the government of Earth feels that quarantine is not safe enough, and sends a robot to drive the station into the sun.

Allegiances by Michael Bishop
Atlanta is a domed city. Outside Atlanta is covered with kudzu but the wilderness is not uninhabited. "Evacuation teams" from Atlanta occasionally deploy to locate people of interest living outside the dome, and bring them into the city. In this case, the targets are the widow of an assassinated civil rights activist, and the son of the activist's assassin.

Helbent 4 by Stephen Robinett
Helbent 4 is the last remaining ship of a fleet sent to destroy a hostile alien being/warship/something bad. The fleet was launched 300 years ago, and no ships were expected to return, so Helbent 4 expected surprise or confusion on its return. What it didn't expect is that Earth would have no record that its mission had ever happened.

The Protocols of the Elders of Britain by John Brunner
A supercomputer that processes and decrypts secret messages from British embassies around the world has developed a logjam. The secret service hires a team of computer scientists to troubleshoot the problem. But in solving the problem, the team learns more than they want to know.

The Custodians by Richard Cowper
Not really a sf story, it's a contemporary fantasy about a succession of prophets dating back to the 13th century. (Hugo-nominated for Best Novella)

185swynn
jul 10, 9:20pm

>182 swynn: Yeah, that does sound like Guin and Behrend had very similar ideas. And I see that Guin's story is available on Project Gutenberg. I'll check it out. Thanks!

186swynn
Redigerat: jul 16, 1:01pm

 

Perry Rhodan 158: Die Geißel der Galaxis ("Scourge of the Galaxy") by Clark Darlton
Perry Rhodan 159: Gucky, der Großwildjäger ("Gucky, the Big-Game Hunter") by Kurt Brand

Episode 157 saw the introduction of the Hornschrecken, ravenous swarming acid-spitting rapidly-reproducing caterpillar-things of Zannmalon. A few survivors were rescued by Perry Rhodan in his superbattleship ASSOR. But it turns out that Hornschrecken are not confined to Zannmalon. The critters have appeared on more planets, causing a growing crisis across the Terran/Arkonide empire.

In Episode 158, an infestation of Hornschrecken causes Perry Rhodan to abandon the ASSOR, which he leaves set on a course diving into a sun. He and crew flee to a nearby planet, which they name "Hirosha" because it appears to have been the site of a nuclear apocalypse. But something still lives here: a nearly indestructible, energy-absorbing, blaster-beam-breathing monster worm whose form resembles the skeletal remains discovered on Zannmalon. The castaways name the creature a "Schreckworm" and eventually manage to destroy it with a nuclear bomb.

In Episode 159, a Posbi fragment-ship is destroyed while scouting the planet Nytet. Investigators determine, based on long-wave radiation, that whatever destroyed the Posbi ship was not any known weapon. More puzzling, Nytet was known to have been overrun by Hornschrecken, but when investigators arrive, the caterpillar-things are gone. The planet is not empty, however, because several Schreckworms are in residence. The mysteries are several: who or what destroyed the ship? Where did the Hornschrecken go? Where did the Schreckworms come from? What is the relationship between the two sorts of monster? Perry appoints Gucky head of a hunting party to capture one of the Schreckworms in hope of answers.

187richardderus
jul 16, 12:58pm

>186 swynn: a nearly indestructible, energy-absorbing, blaster-beam-breathing monster worm
...I miss the Good Old Days when I could suspend disbelief like it was a Parma ham...

188swynn
jul 16, 1:02pm

>186 swynn: I'm happy to report that I still have an inner eleven-year-old willing to perform that service for me.

189richardderus
Redigerat: jul 19, 6:33pm

190swynn
Redigerat: jul 19, 1:46pm



79) The Arrangement by Elia Kazan
Date: 1967

Eddie Anderson is a fiftyish ad executive and part-time author of character-assassination pieces for a liberal magazine. Financially, he has achieved success; professionally, the admiration of his colleagues; and sexually a string of conquests that he justifies to himself with the explanation that he and his wife have an "arrangement": she's okay with him sleeping around as along as she never knows about it. Well, Eddie hasn't exactly *told* her about this arrangement, so she hasn't explicitly *agreed* to it but neither has she ever objected. Nor has she ever objected to all the affairs he's kept secret so far, so that's the same as tacit consent, right? And if you think that's a piece of self-serving moral stunt driving, then buckle your safety belt because we still have more than 400 pages to go.

When his wife learns about his latest extramarital affair, Eddie tries to clean up his act. He manages to remain faithful to his wife for a few months, but then has an auto accident. He is convinced that the accident was a subconscious suicide attempt. His true self knows that his way of living has become unbearable -- not just the philandering, but the fundamentally deceptive nature of his work and the burdens of being financially stable. So he decides to stop. Sort of like Bartleby, but with a lot more sex and casual racism.

Most annoying is the fact that he seems to be an example of the kind of thing he rails against. He rages that the advertising business is fundamentally dishonest -- um, who knew? I guess -- but holds himself to no high standard. The speech tag "I lied" appears as often as "I said," and with roughly the same moral weight. This isn't anything unconscious on the part of the author, since much of the novel's attempted humor derives from inconsistency between Eddie's stated ideals and his actions. I wasn't sure whether to read this as satire of as general cluelessness. Let's say, for generosity's sake, that it's the start of a character-development arc where Eddie wants to change but his habits are so ingrained that he doesn't know how. Even with maximum generosity, his internal dialog is so peppered with racist, sexist, and homophobic slurs, references to his own penis, and selfish indifference to everyone else in his life that it is hard to stop wincing long enough to sympathize.

191rosalita
jul 19, 1:22pm

>190 swynn: Better you than me on that one, Steve!

192richardderus
jul 19, 3:06pm

>190 swynn: Hard not to see that as, well, a coming-out of a sort. Eddie = Elia in so many ways.

193swynn
jul 19, 6:23pm

>191 rosalita: Well, I know I signed up for a certain number of these with this project. I understand Phlip Roth's iteration is (ahem) coming up soon.

>192 richardderus: Torn between "Oh, really?" and "Thanks, don't need to know." I did see one Internet commenter suggesting that the love triangle in the latter half of the book are stand-ins for Elia, Marilyn Monroe, and Arthur Miller. Again: how curious am I, really?

194swynn
Redigerat: jul 20, 8:21pm



80) The Storm Lord by Tanith Lee
Date: 1976

When Rehdon, Storm Lord and King of Vis, stops for the night near a Lowlander village, he takes a local girl, Ashne'e into his tent. Local priests beg him to take any other girl, because Ashne'e is a priestess of Anackire the snake goddess. Rehdon takes Ashne'e anyway... and is dead by morning. Rehdon's retinue assume (incorrectly) that Ashne'e is the assassin, but cannot execute her due to Vis succession laws. If she turns out to be pregnant and bears a son, then he will be Rehdon's heir the Storm Lord. And so it is: Ashne'e is indeed pregnant and bears a son Raldnor. But the danger is not past: Rehdon's favorite wife also has a son who would be heir except for Raldnor. Intrigue ensues, and by page 60 Ashne'e is dead and the infant Raldnor is fostered by Lowlands strangers with no knowledge of his history. The rest of the book is about Raldnor learning his destiny and claiming his rightful inheritance.

I loved Lee's first book, The Birthgrave, which makes The Storm Lord even more disappointing by comparison. I fell for The Birthgrave for its surreal atmosphere, its unusual plotting, and its critique of gender-based power imbalances. It's not perfect, and I don't know whether it's a feminist classic, but it sure felt like it was trying to be. Now take The Storm Lord: we have Lee's gorgeous prose, and we have some vivid scenery, but for a story we get a conventional Chosen One epic motivated by the hero's entitlement and by the bodies of women. We also get a disturbing amount of sexual violence that is barely questioned.

It's hard to imagine that we've gone so quickly from The Birthgrave to something that can be reasonably marketed to the Gor crowd, but here we are: not only is the cover by Gino D'Achille, artist for several Gor novels; but the publisher's advertisements at the end of the book feature a full-page promotion of "The Novels of John Norman." And you know what? It's not out-of-place.

Disappointing.

195MickyFine
jul 20, 5:24pm

>194 swynn: Wowzers that cover. It's like the weirdest mash up of Tremors, Tarzan, and Leia's metal bikini from Return of the Jedi...

196lyzard
Redigerat: jul 20, 9:13pm

>194 swynn:, >195 MickyFine:

And yet for all that what's MOST annoying is the tiptoe bit...

197swynn
jul 20, 8:19pm

>1995 Accurate.
>1996 Also accurate. And (sigh) part of the whole disappointing package.

198swynn
Redigerat: jul 22, 5:34pm



81) The Clothing of Books / Jhumpa Lahiri
Date: 2020

This is a short, light, personal essay reflecting on the author's reactions to her book covers, and on book covers in general. It's engaging and won't take much of your time.

199BLBera
jul 24, 11:46am

Thanks for reminding me of this one, Steve. I have a copy and have been looking around for my next non-fiction read.

200richardderus
jul 24, 12:16pm

>198 swynn: ALMOST got me...until I saw it was $6.99.

Um...no.

201swynn
jul 25, 11:39pm

>199 BLBera: Hope you like it, Beth.
>200 richardderus: Yeah, it's a short one ... wait for a sale or check it out from the library. (The library's where I got my copy.)

202swynn
Redigerat: jul 26, 12:41am



82) DAW #194: The Mind Riders by Brian Stableford
Date: 1976

It's an SF sport novel featuring "sim-boxing": a virtual-reality version of boxing where athletes control avatar boxers; and spectators or "vamps" hook into the athletes' emotions. Moving the sport to a virtual arena is a great equalizer, opening the sport to athletes wh don't have to have the kind of physique and training required for boxing: anyone can in principle be a sim-boxer: the 98-pound weakling, the physically disabled ... apparently not women but, you know, anyone else.

Our hero Ryan Hart trained as a sim-boxer, but that was long ago. Problem is, Hart was a technical boxer and a very poor emoter: he could not -- or would not -- produce the emotional show that the mind-riders thrive on. Still, he's kept an interest in the sport, which for years now has been dominated by a single athlete: Paul Herrera, who has been undefeated for years: undefeated so long, in fact, that the last fighter who beat him was a technical boxer and poor emoter named Ryan Hart. But now a powerful executive in the sport has decided that it is time for Herrera to lose, for the good of the sport a little, but a lot more for reasons of a messy personal grudge. The executive also bears a grudge against Hart, but has decided that he has now tried everything else so it's time to bring Hart out of retirement.

It's okay. The story does what it needs to, and there's some meditation on the conflict between individual integrity and "the system." More than necessary maybe, but we've already noted: it is of its time, though maybe that time is a little earlier than 1976.

203swynn
Redigerat: jul 26, 1:20pm



83) The Yellow Peril by Christopher Frayling
Date: 2014

Frayling discusses stereotypes of, and anxieties about, China in the 19th & 20th centuries. In an introduction, he frames this work as an extension of Edward Said's Orientalism, except that where Said focused on academic literature Frayling focuses on popular media, mostly British, and with special attention to what is arguably the most recognizable and enduring figure of "yellow peril" rhetoric: Sax Rohmer's Fu Manchu. Frayling traces the rhetorical origins of Fu Manchu to Thomas De Quincey and the opium dens of Charles Dickens's Edwin Drood. He documents the development of "opium dens" in popular literature from Drood down to Rohmer, and compares exotic, suspenseful descriptions to more clear-eyed accounts: adventurers who bothered to seek out the hives of scum and villainy they'd read about in the pulps were disappointed when they encountered reality.

Frayling also spends a chapter on the music-hall acts where Rohmer learned his, erm, craft. Much of this material is taken from the excellent Lord of Strange Deaths, but also expands on it. When he comes to the Fu Manchu novels, Frayling takes the interesting strategy of analyzing the famous description in Mystery of Fu Manchu:

Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, a close-shaven skull, and long, magnetic eyes of the true cat-green. Invest him with all the cruel cunning of an entire Eastern race, accumulated in one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present, with all the resources, if you will, of a wealthy government -- which, however, already has denied all knowledge of his existence. Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu, the yellow peril incarnate in one man.

Phrase by phrase, Frayling discusses the origins and connotations of the image, identifying ways that specific points of the description develop throughout the series, and are echoed in other popular works.

A final chapter discusses portrayals of Chinese characters in film, with special attention to adaptations of the Fu Manchu novels. This chapter even creeps into the 21st century, with brief comments on "Iron Man 3" and the remake of "Red Dawn."

Having followed the Fu Manchu series to its overdue end, I found Frayling's book very interesting for the context it supplies. I wish it were more readable -- it sometimes reads like a catalog of examples rather than a coordinated analysis, but it was never going to be as thrilling as the materials it describes.

Jim (drneutron) brought this one to my attention. Thanks, Jim!

204richardderus
jul 26, 1:20pm

>203 swynn: One wonders if the current situation, China overtaking the US as a world power with serious cash to splash, will lead to a resurgence of the more overt hatefulness of days of yore.

I sort of fear it will...and this book's exegesis of the roots of Sinophobia might help see the rise to resist it.

205drneutron
jul 26, 1:50pm

>203 swynn: Nice review... and now I need to read it... 😀

206lyzard
jul 26, 6:03pm

>202 swynn:

Sounds a bit like the original Rollerball, which was of the same era.

>203 swynn:

I was trying to remember what non-fiction work I read in this area years ago---probably when I started the Fu Manchu series. It was Michael Diamond's 'Lesser Breeds': Racial Attitudes In Popular British Culture, 1890-1940, which of course devoted a significant chunk of it analysis to the Yellow Peril, but also considers attitudes to the Jews, the Arabs, and people of colour generally. So if you really want to depress yourself...

207swynn
jul 27, 9:28am

>204 richardderus: I worry that this is almost certainly the case. It's very telling that a significant and shrill minority of the electorate thinks "Flu Manchu" is an apt term.

>205 drneutron: Thanks, Jim! If you get around to it, I hope you find it enlightening as I did.

>206 lyzard: Oh yes, very Rollerball. And Lesser Breeds is now in the Swamp.

208swynn
Redigerat: jul 29, 9:50am



84) Galileo's Middle Finger by Alice Dreger
Date: 2015

Alice Dreger, a science historian and activist, discusses cases of conflict between science and social-justice activism. Her own background is in the historical treatment of intersex people, and working to prevent involuntary procedures intended to "normalize" bodies into conformance with social norms about gender. (Bluntly: surgeons cutting babies in order to make them look more like "boys" or "girls," sometimes even without the parents' knowledge.)

In her accounts, the scientists are not always the villains. She describes social-justice activists who deliberately mischaracterize scientific work and attack the straw-man version -- worse, activists who harass researchers, target colleagues and families, and even fabricate fraudulent evidence in order to discredit their enemies.

Sometimes I find I can't quite take Dreger's side: there are points where she dismisses weaknesses in her own case too easily, while denying any nuances in the counterarguments. But broadly I agree with her: scientists must have wide license to ask uncomfortable questions that challenge prevailing narratives. In part, that's what science is for. But scientists have their own narratives, and activism has a role in challenging their assumptions, and demanding a halt to unethical practices -- even (especially) practices whose ethics have gone previously unchallenged. The cases she presents are interesting, sometimes outrageous, and it makes for an absorbing read.

209swynn
Redigerat: jul 29, 3:48pm



85) This Is Your Brain On Food by Uma Naidoo
Date: 2020

Naido is a psychiatrist and a nutritionist. She works with patients to develop diets (or "lifestyles") to address various cognitive issues. She talks about the "brain-gut connection": a perspective that cognition is affected by microbes in the digestive tract. What you eat affects the type and population of the crowd in your gut, and that can affect your mood, your memory, and your habits of thinking. Broadly, her advice is stuff you've heard before: less bad fats, less empty carbs, less red meat, more fruits and vegetables, more fiber, and add probiotics. She also offers more specific recommendations for specific conditions: depression, PTSD, anxiety, ADHD, etc. I appreciate her frequent references to scientific studies, and that she doesn't oversell the importance of diet -- she presents nutrition as one tool in a box that can also include therapeutic and pharmaceutical interventions. I've had some recent concerns about lapses in memory and attention -- hence my interest -- and intend to follow her guidance respecting ADHD and "brain fog."

210richardderus
jul 29, 3:13pm

Interesting reads, Steve, though not ones I'll be joining you on. Dreger sounds like she couldn't control her parti pris, and that uniformly irks me. Usually into abandonment.

I'm very glad more people are working on the importance of the fuel you take into your body as a source of mental and physical health support.

211swynn
Redigerat: jul 30, 9:38am

>210 richardderus: Probably wise about the Dreger. Dreger's account of her opponent's position is sometimes glib enough that I'd really like to hear the other side.

Even when I was running fifty miles a week, I largely ignored diet because I felt I could: whatever I ate I burned and quality didn't matter much. That was not wise, and apparently I am reaching an age where I have to stop ignoring it. I'm hugely grateful that credible resources are out there, that it's the subject of active research, and that authors like Naidoo are breaking the science down for popular consumption.

212swynn
Redigerat: jul 30, 3:32pm



86) Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Date 1902

Five children playing on the beach discover a psammead, or "sand-fairy," who agrees to grant them one wish a day. Their wishes rarely go as planned. This is mostly fun, thanks to gentle humor and avoidance of didacticism, but it is of its time and so includes a few jaw-grinding classist and racist tropes. It's delightful, except when it's not.

213swynn
Redigerat: jul 30, 1:44pm



87) A Wizard's Guide to Defensive Baking by T. Kingfisher
Date: 2020

This, on the other hand, is delightful through & through. It's a YA high-fantasy story about a girl with a little bit of magic -- just enough to play with the bread in her family's bakery. But when her city comes under assault by enemies without and within, it's up to her to defend it.

Does what it sets out to do, and has fun doing it.

I read this for the Hugo ballot, but note that Richard has also recommended it. He's right.

214richardderus
jul 30, 2:44pm

>213 swynn: Oh good, you enjoyed it too! It really is a fun, funny read, a thing I treasure ever more.

>212 swynn: I tried one of her stories a while ago.

I woke up in the hospital being treated for hyperglycemia.

215swynn
jul 30, 4:24pm

>214 richardderus: Ha! Fair.

I may be reading things that aren't there, but I have four Nesbits behind me now and they have all felt darker and more subversive than what I was expecting, certainly more than the children's stories they resemble. In a Nesbit story, children are allowed to roam town and countryside free of supervision -- but parents aren't just absent, they're busy trying to keep themselves above water (or, in the case of Mrs. Bastable, dead). The children's schemes often deal with the making of money, and though they're not very good at it, it's telling that they're so conscious of material needs. And the author always seems to be on the children's side, even in undertakings that could get one of them killed. I don't want to overstate it -- it's subtle enough to still be marketable to Edwardian parents -- but Nesbit feels mock-saccharine to me.

216richardderus
jul 30, 5:55pm

>215 swynn: I think of that as sugar overload because the notion of being effectively out of my parents' purview was total fantasy fulfillment. The One Desired Thing. No more of them!! Bliss!!

So, like most wish-fulfillments, it comes across as just too, too cutesie.

217lyzard
Redigerat: jul 31, 12:14am

It's probably worth remembering that the Nesbit household was one of the great Edwardian scandals---so a reading of "darker stuff under the surface" is likely correct. :)

218swynn
jul 31, 9:53am

>217 lyzard: Well of course now I must know *that* story. Do you have a favorite version?

219lyzard
jul 31, 10:22am

>218 swynn:

Short version, something like Mr installing his main girlfriend (there were others) as part of the household and Mrs raising his other children with her own.

While becoming famous for her delightful tales for the young and innocent... :D