Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl
kirilaw

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Big list of books, little reviews

I still think I may be missing one or two from the early part of the list...

29. Into the Darkness (Harry Turtledove)
This is Turtedove's idea of a World War in a world where magic works, and where dragons and unicorns and so forth are real. It's an interesting premise, but I didn't find the actual book quite worked for me. The "epic sweep" was a little too epic, and between the sheer number of POV characters and the use of as-unpronounceable-to-English-readers-as-possible names, I had a terrible time keeping track of everybody, and of remembering what they'd been up to when I last encountered them. So that was frustrating. What was perhaps more frustrating, though, was the way that the industrialized war-magic ended up looking almost too much like WWI/WWII war science. They don't have guns, but they have sticks that fire magic bolts. They don't have tanks, but they have behemoths... that are basically tanks in animal form. They don't have biplanes, but they have dragons... They don't have radios, but they have crystals... and so on. It's as if this word started from different premises and ended up at the same conclusion. There were bits of the world-building that really appealed to me, such as the use of blood sacrifice to power some of the magic (and what that implies for prisoners of war). But overall, it just felt too much like a real-world World War novel -- and that's not really my kind of thing. So I don't think I'll be picking up the rest of the series. ***

30. Child of Flame (Kate Elliott)
In this volume, two of our main characters are yanked entirely out of the main time/space of the novel. It's a risky thing to do, but Elliott does pull it off surprisingly well. Alain's adventures in the distant past are wonderful, but constantly tinged with the knowledge that there's no way it can possibly end well. Liath's adventures walking the spheres are a little on the mystical side, and don't work quite as well as a story, but Elliott manages to intersperse enough incidents to keep it interesting. And of course, there's still plenty going on in the real world to be addressed. This wasn't my favourite volume in the series, but it did keep me engaged. And I still really want to know what's going to happen next... ****

31. The Ghost Brigades (John Scalzi)
We're still very much in the realm of fun adventure space story. Only with issues of consciousness transfer and identity. There's something about the way Scalzi writes that prevents me from being too concerned about the outcome of the story -- something chummy and relaxed that distances me. It's a big part, I think, of why he gets classified as "fun read" rather than as "great read". It's very obvious in his first-person works, and even more so here, when he uses third person. That's not to say this isn't a good book -- it's a good story, very readable, and possibly my favourite of the series. ****


32. New Amsterdam (Elizabeth Bear)
If I say this book is about a vampire detective, it will sound silly and fluffy. It is not, however, silly at all. It's more a series of stories than a novel, although it holds together like a novel. It's set in an alternate world, on a rather different historical track, with dirigibles and magic that works, and it features not only the aforementioned vampire detective but also a forensic sorceress, Abigail Irene Garrett, who's a fascinating character. It's no secret that I have a total fan-crush on Elizabeth Bear -- I love the way she writes. This book (really a collection of stories, although tied together enough to read like a novel) is more straightforward in a lot of ways than most of her work, but that's not to say it's shallow and light. It's not. *****

34. Transformers Animated: The Arrival (Marty Isenberg et al)
I'm not too ashamed to admit that I have grown to love the just-canceled Transformers Animated cartoon. This book is an outgrowth of the cartoon, and it's a light and fluffy little piece of candy. It's not quite as good as the cartoon, but it's fun, and what more can you ask? ****

35. The Silver Bough (Lisa Tuttle)
Sweet and romantic, this is a lovely little book. It's about magic intruding into the real world, and about the past coming back to haunt you. My only complaint would be that it's a little pat, and some of the resolution feels too easy. And you can't change the past for the better! Surely, countless time-travel stories have taught us that! But yeah. Generally, a very readable little piece. ****

36. Accelerando (Charles Stross)
I am saddened to say that this book didn't work for me, quite. I think it's fair to say that cyberpunk isn't really my thing, and I found the characters increasingly hard to relate to as the story progressed. I also found myself losing track of the economic-political issues at hand, though that may be more my failing than the book's. **

37. A History of Western Philosophy (D.W. Hamlyn)
You have to give Hamlyn credit: he's quite upfront about his prejudices. In the introduction, he announces, in almost so many words, that he's interested in canonical, “classic” white male philosophy, and that he's going to ignore any and all trends to the contrary. And so he does. This is a history not of Western philosophy, but of canonical, classic, white male philosophy. And it's generally fine for what it is. Hamlyn is occasionally entertainingly snarky about interpretations with which he disagrees, and he's always happy to toot his own horn, but he does a fairly good job of providing an overview of philosophy from what I'm going to call a British boarding-school perspective. ***

38. The Last Colony (John Scalzi)
All of my previous comments about Scalzi still apply. This is a good book, and a good story -- although the pacing is a little weird. There's also the little matter of major plot developments happening entirely off-screen, which is a bit jarring. ***

39. Scott Pilgrim Gets it Together (vol. 4) (Bryan Lee O'Malley)
40. Scott Pilgrim Versus the Universe (vol. 5) (Bryan Lee O'Malley)
Scott is growing up, a little bit. Ramona's evil exes are still an issue, but they're beginning to fade in importance next to Scott and Ramona's actual relationship. Not to mention Scott's relationships with his friends. I begin to think this series, like Scott, may be in danger of gaining emotional maturity or something. No, this is not a bad thing. *****

41. The Gathering Storm (Kate Elliott)
There's something interesting going on with the pacing of the series. What seems like a logical series climax occurs at the end of this volume... but there are still quite a number of storylines that need to be wrapped up and resolved. And, perhaps more to the point, there are still two volumes to go (although Elliott still thought when this book was first published that she was only one more book from the end)! This is a very good instalment, with lots going on, and lots of really believable interpersonal relationship drama. Liath returns to her husband, and things are not immediately perfect between them… how utterly realistic, and how unusual in a fantasy novel! I'm very much looking forward to the last two books, but I'm a bit concerned as to where they can go after the size of the climax to this one. *****

42. Saturn's Children (Charles Stross)
In the distant future, humanity is extinct, leaving only humanoid robots with oddly humanoid brains. Freya, a sexbot without anyone to serve, gets tangled up in espionage and interplanetary travel that's sometimes a little too well thought-out. This book is a good read, and there's clearly a lot of worldbuilding behind it. I had a hard time getting emotionally connected to Freya; in fact, the whole book was a little cold emotionally (as, perhaps, befits a book about robots). I'm not sure I can quite explain why, since Freya tells us about all her emotions, but I couldn't quite connect or buy in. Which might be my fault -- I'm not sure. Generally, though, a fine book, and a decent read. ***

43. Never Let Me Go (Kazuo Ishiguro)
Like Jo Walton, I don't want to say too much about what's going on in this book for fear of spoiling it. It's clear fairly early, but part of the effect is the way you realize gradually what they're talking about when nobody ever comes out and says it. It's a terrific effect, and very well handled. So I'll just say that this is a very good, creepy book and that I must now go out and find Remains of the Day and everything else Ishiguro has written.

44. Over the Wine-Dark Sea (H.N. Turteltaub)
You may remember me being pleasantly surprised by Justinian. Alas, Over the Wine-Dark Sea doesn't work quite as well. The research is a little more bluntly shoehorned in (a common issue with historical novels), and the characters are a little less alive - perhaps because Turteltaub doesn't have the larger-than-life Justinian to work with this time. Still, once the story gets going, it's a pretty good tale, and I did get increasingly engaged over the course of the book. Overall, it's a worthwhile read, even if it didn't set my world on fire. ***

45. Palimpset (Catherynne M. Valente)
This is a story about a sexually-transmitted city. It sounds strange, and it is, but it's lovely and poetic and captivating. It's about being captured and carried away by something larger than oneself - in other words, it's about sex and love and big emotions like that. And it's beautifully written, and it does a very good job of sweeping the reader up and carrying her away (or, at least, this reader). I have to confess, it does not end the way I expected it would. I expected something both darker and more optimistic. I'd say more, but it would be utterly spoilery, so I'll refrain. *****

Non-review related comment: Valente is in the midst of financial difficulties, and has come up with an ingenious way to handle them. The </a></b></a>adoptingcat community is also trying to help her out.

46. Half a Crown (Jo Walton)
This is the conclusion of a trilogy, and the evil of the British collaborationship Regime is becoming increasingly obvious: they're starting to build their own concentration camp, and Hitler is coming to London for a celebration. Carmichael, now Commander of the Watch, has some very hard decisions to make (poor Carmichael). Like the other books in the trilogy, this is all about evil sneaking in before you even notice how far it's gone, and it's unsettling for that reason. The characters are engaging and credible. Recommended. ****

47. Little Brother (Cory Doctorow)
Doctorow has an agenda in the writing of this book, and it is occasionally a little too obvious, particularly at the beginning. Our hero, Marcus, goes out of his way to over-explain surveillance and how he can beat it. Fortunately, the didacticism eases up over the course of the book, and becomes increasingly well integrated into the story. It doesn't hurt that the plot - although itself rather didactic - is engaging, and that Marcus is an appealing hero. I'd rather not believe that the American Department of Homeland Security is both as evil and as incompetent as it appears in this book. ****

48. Anathem (Neal Stephenson)
This is a very good book. The first three-quarters or so are better than the last bit, but overall it's a very enjoyable and absorbing read. It starts in a place very like a cloister, where fraas and suurs are locked away from the world to focus, not on religion, but on science and philosophy. The first third of the book, which focuses almost exclusively on life within the “math” and on internal politics and competing theories, was without doubt my favourite bit. The book opens up to the larger world after that, and I must admit to some disappointment at losing the intense focus on such a fascinating environment. Stephenson can't resist the temptation to make snarky jokes about our world in his world building, and although there are, for once, no samurai, there is an order of deadly shaven-headed martial artists - so you know it's a Stephenson book. There are more female characters than is usual for a Stephenson book, which means two and a half, but the first-person narrator provides a little bit of cover for that issue. Generally, this book is highly recommended, especially the immersive first chunk. ****

29. The Last Unicorn (Peter S. Beagle)
This is my comfort reading. I love this book. I am utterly incapable of being objective where it is concerned. *****
 
1. The Gone-Away World (Nick Harkaway)  *****
2. Old Man's War (John Scalzi) ****
3. Saint Leibowitz and the Wild Horse Woman (Walter M. Miller) *
4. Sprit Gate (Kate Elliott) *****
5. Sunshine (Robin McKinley) *****
6. Capacity (Tony Ballantyne) ***
7. Knitting Rules (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) ****
8. Rite (Tad Williams) ***
9, 10. Astonishing X-Men 1, 2 (Joss Whedon, John Cassaday et al) ***
11. Tigerheart (Peter David) ***
12, 13, 14. The Serrano Legacy: Hunting Party, Sporting Chance, Winning Colours (Elizabeth Moon) ****
15. Scott Pilgrim and the Infinite Sadness (Bryan Lee O'Malley) *****
16. Sweetness in the Belly (Camilla Gibb) *****
17. Serenity vol. 2: Better Days (Joss Whedon et. al.) ***
18, 19. "The Stratford Man" - Ink and Steel, Hell and Earth (Elizabeth Bear) *****
20. The Electric Church (Jeff Somers) ****
21. The Mysteries (Lisa Tuttle) ****
22. Yarn Harlot: the Secret Life of a Knitter (Stephanie Pearl-McPhee) ****
23. Watchmen (Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons) ****
24. Justinian (H.N. Turtletaub) ****
25, 26, 27. King's Dragon, Prince of Dogs, the Burning Stone (Kate Elliott) ****
28. Shadow Gate (Kate Elliott) *****
 
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