Recent reading

Between Alastair Reynolds and Charles Stross I have recently found two authors to look into, one pretty successfully and the other who had a free ebook of his first novel.

First is Linda Nagata who Alastair Reynolds lauded/blamed for several of the ideas in his early work on his blog nearly two months ago. So far I’ve gotten through her first two novels and am enjoying them quite a bit. “Tech-Heaven” was enjoyable even with the somewhat dated technology prognostication. I did spend a fair amount of the book trying to figure out just how much of a cryonics booster the author was and to her credit never quite figured it out, though it sure seemed to come down a fair bit on the positive side much of the time.

While figuring out which book of Ms Nagata’s to start with I ran across her twitter account where she had mentioned that one of my favorite author’s (who I had basically lost track of in the last few years), Martha Wells, had recently published “The Cloud Roads“. As usual for her writing, it caught my attention enough that I ended up spending time with it rather then venturing from my hotel and exploring Niagara Falls and it’s environs. Excellent world, great characters, and a well threaded plot made for a fun read.

After that it was back to Linda Nagata for “The Bohr Maker“. While “Tech-Heaven” had been somewhat obviously a first novel, “The Bohr Maker” is from an obviously more experienced author. The characters were more fleshed out and it read more smoothly with less to distract me into thinking about what the author’s motives where. I’m still not sure I could recommend it to my friends that prefer character relationships to world-building, but it’s certainly at least worth a look.

I had purchased both “Tech-Heaven” and “The Bohr Maker” through the store on my Barnes & Noble Nook Color but had seen Linda Nagata flogging Book View Cafe pretty hard in her twitter stream and figured I’d give that a try for the next novel in The Nanotech Succession, “Deception Well“. I haven’t cracked the cover quite yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

However I haven’t decided if I’m going to start that first or try Karl Schroeder‘s “Ventus”. He has been doing some guest writing on Charles Stross’ blog for the past couple of weeks and has been more then interesting enough to take a look at, and who am I to turn down a free book in the process.

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Recent Reading: Spindrift by Allen Steele

Just finished reading Allen Steele’s new novel “Spindrift“. It was really quite a good read but I could not shake the feeling that it was a book that I had read before. There just didn’t seem to be much that was new or challenging in it, which in some ways I suppose can be a good thing but possibly just wasn’t what I am looking for in a novel these days. The one exception would be the character of Ramirez who turns out to be slightly different than I expected and was fairly well developed as a plot hook. Still, a good read but I have trouble recommending it for purchase in hard cover unless you’re already a fan of Allen Steele’s work, or the Coyote series in particular.

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Excellent advice

From Terry Pratchett:

Let grammar, spelling and punctuation enter your life. Yes, publishers have people who will do this sort of thing—and they are called authors.

(I haven’t been able to run down a link to the quote, and I only have it from an AuthorTracker message.)

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While I’m thinking about books

Does anyone have any thoughts about GuruLib, Shelfari, and LibraryThing?

So far I think GuruLib has both the best feature (list books borrowed from a library using information pulled directly from the library’s database) and the absolute worst interface. OMG does it suck.

Shelfari OTOH has a really beautiful and, more importantly, functional interface but lacks a good way to mark books that you have read but do not own. Adding the item to your “Reading List” does not count.

LibraryThing’s interface is right about the dead center between the polar opposites of the other two and I cannot find any way to list books that I have only read but do not own.

I could swear there was a fourth site that does similar things to these three, but I can’t seem to remember it. Any pointers to similar sites or comments about these would be greatly appreciated.

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Recent Reading: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

I’m not going to say much about “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore. People who like Christopher Moore will like “A Dirty Job”. People who don’t like Christopher Moore will not. If you don’t know if you like Christopher Moore be warned that Mr Moore takes his whimsy very seriously and as long as you can keep up with his introduction of impossibility you should do just fine. While not nearly as surreal as Robert Rankin they inhabit nearby universes, neither of which is your own.

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Recent Reading: Dark Cities Underground by Lisa Goldstein

I finished “Dark Cities Underground” by Lisa Goldstein yesterday, and I’m still having some trouble figuring out exactly what to say about it, but I think I need to say something.

To begin with, I really adored the idea behind this book. While it isn’t entirely original, it is a very nice twist on several similar ideas seen in books by Jasper Fforde, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, and Robert Rankin and is related in many ways to movies like “Stranger than Fiction”. It is a sort of meta-fiction where the line between fiction, mythology, and the real world is a sometimes elusive thing. If you are like me and enjoy that blurring of reality the basic premise of “Dark Cities Underground” is worth looking for despite the problems of the narrative.

Oh, the problems of this narrative.

For the record: I am not one that needs a lot of depth to my characters. I’ve been reading and enjoying mediocre SF and Fantasy for long enough that as long as the story or idea is good the characters can be borrowed from the front of a high sugar cereal box and I’m just fine with that. I do however have my limits and the lack of depth in Ms Goldstein’s characters is pretty amazing. I think that it might be possible to argue that this lack of depth could be appropriate for the meta-fiction context by placing simplistic characters in a blended world of fiction and reality except that my personal definition of meta-fiction involves putting realistic characters in that blended world where the edges of fiction and reality are vague. Without good characters my suspension of disbelief just can not kick in, and I end up writing a paragraph about how I didn’t like the characters.

Cardboard characters themselves would not by themselves inspire such caution about recommending this book to friends. The plot, or more specifically the author’s use of the Plot Stick of Doom, is where I get reticent to even mention this book. If you have ever watched classic horror or SF movies before George Lucas got into the industry you would be hard pressed not to have noticed the obvious strings, models, and primitive blue screens that were the state of the art until the late 1970s. If you have ever watched an episode of Star Trek and noticed that “rock” is Styrofoam or an episode of Doctor Who and the plethora of bubble-wrap costumes, you will have some idea of how subtle Lisa Goldstein is with plot. If you don’t like books that are telegraphed early and often you will not like this book.

Despite all of that I kind of liked it. Despite the flawed narrative the very interesting core idea is explored very well and in decent context. I still don’t think I can call it a good book, but it might be worth reading.