May 7th, 2006

last unicorn

World's Shortest Book Reviews

Okay, not really. But I've let myself get much too far behind on the book-tracking, so the reviews will likely be shorter than usual.

14. The Snow Queen (Joan Vinge)
The universe imagined in this novel is a complete and convincing one, and the story is a good one, well-told. I found the swiping of character and place names from Robert Graves to be a bit distracting, but not insurmountable. I was not entirely comfortable with the way the character of Sparks was dealt with -- particularly his rehabilitation. I'm not sure I can be any more specific without getting into significant spoilers, but it didn't have the same emotional authenticity of the rest of the novel. ****

15. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill) Vol. 1
It comes as no surprise that this book is soooo much better than the movie named after it, and that the two really bear no resemblence to each other, apart from a couple of character names. I loved the obscure references scattered throughout the book, and caught maybe half of them. The illustrations do as much to tell the story as the text does -- it's a fine example of the way graphic novels are supposed to work. *****

16. In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed (Carl Honore)
This should have been a better book than it was. I wanted to like it -- it was preaching to the converted in me, and I wanted to be able to praise the work as well as agreeing with it. But it was ultimately too much about a luxury lifestyle and too little about reality. Apart from an almost offhand attempt to claim that "well, farmer's markets are cheaper", there wasn't even any recognition that the lifestyle being extolled was one that only a very privileged few could even aspire to. One of the cover blurbs claims it is "the No Logo of its age". I'm sorry, but no. **

17. Hard Time (Steve Gerber et al.)
To be completely fair, prison drama is about as far from "my kind of book" as it is possible to be. So this review cannot help to be coloured by that. The art is really quite lovely, and the story is promising: a teenaged boy, sent to prison for life after a school shooting, has awakening super-powers. But it didn't quite manage to get me on side. I found the politicizing problematic -- specific references to political figures seem out of place in a universe where there are super-powers, and the references felt too obviously intended to make a point. Still, this is not my thing, and if the prison-life portrayals made me squirm, well, that says as much about me as it does about the book. ***

18. Year's Best SF 2 (ed. David Hartwell)
David Hartwell makes a point of telling us in his introduction that this a book of "hard" sf. Which made me wonder what, exactly, makes something "hard" sf? And that led to me noticing the rather dramatic gender imbalance in the authors, which led me to wonder if some stories get coded as "hard" as much because they're written by men as because of their innate characteristics. Is a virtual-reality story really "hard"? Why? But it's unfair to dwell too much on this particular theoretical hobbyhorse of mine in a capsule review. As is always the case with anthologies, some stories I loved, and some left me saying "eh". But there were more that I liked than that I didn't. ****

19, 20, 21, 22, 23. The First Chronicles of Amber (Roger Zelazny): Nine Princes in Amber, The Guns of Avalon, Sign of the Unicorn, The Hand of Oberon, The Courts of Chaos.
I picked this up cheap at Value Village, and all I can say is, thank goodness I embarked on this series with an omnibus in my hand! Each one of the novels seems to end with a cliffhanger, and I think it would have driven me crazy to try to read them separately. There are, in fact, another five books, but I think I've had enough of this particular universe. The pace of the story is quick, pulling you along for the ride, and leaving you little time to notice that some of the details of character development and shifts of personality are rather sketchy. One never really knows why the characters feel as they do about anything. Then there's the fact that the main character, Corwin, is alternately sympathetic and obnoxious. It was a fun, fluffy read, but I'm happy to let it end here. ***

24. A Song for Arbonne (Guy Gavriel Kay)
I picked this up off my shelf when I wasn't feeling all that well, and needed some good comfort reading. Guy Gavriel Kay may not be a writer of great depth, but he does have the ability to pick me up and carry me along like no one else. All of his male characters are either brilliant and eccentric, or stern and close-mouthed, and the women are all either beautiful or clever-looking, but the writing is transparent and engaging, and Kay is one of the few writers who can reliably make me cry. ****

25. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill) Vol. 2
This volume is darker than the first, and really quite disturbing in places, but still compelling reading. Wells' Martians are magnificent. ****

26, 27, 28. The Fionavar Tapestry (Guy Gavriel Kay): The Summer Tree, The Wandering Fire, The Darkest Road
Okay, so I went on kind of a fluffy-fantasy binge. What can I say? I continue to think that Kay's first series is not as strong as some of his later stand-alone books. But it's still a good read. (if you're curious, my favourite of his is Tigana) ****

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