Calendar Girl (kirilaw) wrote,
Calendar Girl
kirilaw

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Some day I will learn to do this more often...

 ... so that the list isn't quite so ginormous when I do finally post it. 



30. The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Edward Luttwak)
This is a military history of the Byzantine Empire, with the thesis that Byzantium's "grand strategy" was to appease or coopt potential enemies or otherwise use diplomacy to make allies out of potential threats. Because the focus is on military themes, there is quite a bit of jumping around in time and skipping over periods that support the thesis less well; also, there are periodic digressions into extensive discussions of military technology that seem to have little or nothing to do with "strategy". A reasonably accessible read for a history, though. ***

31. The Viscount of Adrilanka vol. 1: The Paths of the Dead (Steven Brust)
Alas, we have entered into serious times, and there is no longer as much room for humour as there was the previous volumes of the series. I think the Viscount of Adrilanka is where the needs of the world-building slam into the Dumas pastiche, and neither really makes it out intact. There are bits of the old sparkle here and there, but it wasn't quite the same glorious romp. I guess restoring an Empire is just less fun than going off and having adventures. Also, I didn't find the younger generation as engaging as their elders. Still, even a less-fun Paarfi/Brust collaboration is well worth reading. (This review applies to all three volumes) ****

32. Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely)
This is a breezy, quick read that sets out to disprove the economic assumption that people are "rational actors". I'm not convinced of the scientific validity of the experiments Ariely and his colleagues mount to assess rationality among consumers, but they are certainly suggestive. I don't agree completely with Ariely's conclusions in all cases, but I don't think he's wrong in his basic tenets. It's a quick read, anyway, and well worth reading. *****

33. The Viscount of Adrilanka vol. 2: The Lord of Castle Black (Steven Brust)
See above

34. Preacher vol. 1: Gone to Texas (Garth Ennis et al)
I can't say I wasn't warned. This comic is violent, gory, foul-mouthed, and probably blasphemous several times over. It's also a surprisingly good read. There's a story here... assuming anyone survives long enough for it to be told. ****

35. The Viscount of Adrilanka vol. 3: Sethra Lavode (Steven Brust)
See above

36. Death Note vol. 1: Boredom (Oba Tsugumi)
Yes, I'm dipping my toe into manga. A bored, top-of-the-class high school student named Light finds a mysterious notebook which can be used to bring about the death of any person whose name is written in it. He decides to use the notebook to create a better world... by killing off all the criminals. So far, it's being handled surprisingly well. ****

37. Fruits Basket vol. 1 (Takaya Natsuki)
This one, though, is a disappointment. I found it just too frenetic to follow, and neither funny nor interesting. Shame. *

38. The Gears of the City (Felix Gilman)
Gilman has really found his feet with this one, I think. I liked the first book, Thunderer, but this is even better. I liked the characters better, and the story was much more effective and focused. *****

39. Transmetropolitan vol. 1: Back on the Street (Warren Ellis et al.)
I want to say that this comic must have been written on some kind of crazy drugs, but there's too much evidence of thought and planning and world-building to write it off like that. It's good, if rather overwhelming. You can't blame Spider for wanting to escape from the City completely -- it certainly isn't any place I would want to live, for all that it's full of colour and excitement. I do have to issue a far-too-standard complaint, though -- why do the female characters always have to be strippers? Or ex-strippers? Is there some kind of guild requirement that I don't know about? I mean, it's great that Channon's a smart and fully-realized character... I just wish she wasn't also presented to us defined by her sexuality. ***

40. Dust (Elizabeth Bear)
This was the book that got me hooked on Elizabeth Bear. It's still great. *****

41. Chill (Elizabeth Bear)
There is a mammoth in this book. A mammoth on a space ship. What more do you need to know? Also sentient TV-watching plants. Not to mention all kinds of drama and pain and suffering. *****

42. The Good Fairies of New York (Martin Millar)
Perpetually drunk Scottish fairies. An all-out fairy race war. A heroine with Crohn's disease and a fat slob of a hero. There's so much here that seems like it should go horribly wrong, and of course, it does, and yet the book works. It really shouldn't work, but it does. I... don't know what more to say than that. ****

43. Jhegaala (Steven Brust)
This is an interesting one. Vlad goes to the East and lives among Easterners for a while. It's a rather upsetting story in a lot of ways, and I'm not entirely sure if I like it or not. I probably need to think about it some more... ****

44. Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection (Sarah Blaffer Hrdy)
This is a fascinating book. It takes on traditional approaches to natural selection and its implications for human psychology, and turns them on their head. She's still prone to a somewhat essentialist argument in places (such as arguing that mothers are enraptured by the smell of their babies), but her insistence that human behaviour is more complex than has traditionally been assumed is important, and her willingness to tackle the tabboo subject of infanticide as a traditional alternative to abortion is impressive. Well worth reading, I would say. *****

45. Un Lun Dun (China Mieville)
Masquerading as a typical "chosen one who saves the world" story, this is a wonderful book about the UnChosen one who ends up completely ignoring most of the prophecy but tries to save the world anyway. It's very clever, and full of very silly not-quite-puns and bizarre characters. ****

46. Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man (Marshall McLuhan)
Yes, I read this stuff for the heck of it.
Actually reading McLuhan was an interesting experience; I hadn't realized just how much of a post-modernist he really was. I have plenty of quibbles with him, and his description of culture as "tribal" or "literate" is problematic, to say the least, but there is definitely a reason why he caused such a stir, and why "the medium is the message" ended up as a part of popular culture. I do wonder what he would have made of the Internet, and of the ways TV culture has changed over the years.

47. Preacher vol. 2: Until the End of the World (Garth Ennis et al)
I wouldn't have thought it possible, but this installment is even more messed-up, violent, gory, and disturbing than the last one. And yet, I continue wanting to know what happens next. I'm a little concerned about the treatment of female characters here; Tulip is pretty awesome, but she's also prone to becoming a damsel in distress. I am hoping that the glancing reference to feminist theory is an indicator that Ennis knows what he's doing, and not just an attempt to ensure that we know Jesse is a Good Liberal Guy under all that violence and manliness. ***

48. Transmetropolitan vol. 2: Lust for Life (Warren Ellis et al)
Speaking of messed-up... this volume consists mainly of a series of short stories about Spider and his writing and the City. I particularly enjoyed the one about the cryongenic revivals, and their fate -- it was almost note-perfect in its elegaic tone. This is also a volume in which we are reminded that Spider is not always a good person, and that he is often not only careless, but dangerously neglectful of other people. ****

49. Under Heaven (Guy Gavriel Kay)
A new Kay book is always a gift. I can't say this is one of his best, but that didn't stop it from being an enjoyable, immersive read. His writing is, as always, light and near-transparent, and his characters are (probably excessively) appealing, people you want to spend time with. The pacing of this book is odd, though, as is the plotting. Things are moving along leisurely enough, and then suddenly shift into high gear in the last 150 pages -- it almost feels as though this was going to be two books, and then was compressed at the last minute into one. Part of the effect of this sudden change of gear is that none of the resolutions feel entirely earned. Also, there is something that doesn't quite work about being told everything through the mists of time and history when we've been immersed in people's minds for most of the book. Still, even when I complain, I can't help but love everything Kay does. He gets an extra star just for being able to suck me in like no one else can. ****

50. Wild Life (Molly Gloss)
This is, more than anything else, a really good portrait of an interesting character: Charlotte is a determinedly independent and unconventional 19th-century woman, supporting her five sons with her writing and doing her best to scandalize everyone else. She joins the search for a missing child, gets lost herself, and finds something truly strange. The way her perceptions and her writing in her journal changes over the course of the story is very well done. Recommended. *****

51. The Margarets (Sherri S. Tepper)
I find myself almost completely unable to summarize this story. It's ostensibly science fiction, with multiple planets, and alien races, and space travel... but it reads like fantasy, with magic gates, gods, quests, and destinies. Oh, and cat-people. It ends up being something of a mish-mash that doesn't quite hold together, although you can see where it's trying to go from about a mile away. It's interesting, but I don't think it's Tepper's best work. **

52. Horse Heaven (Jane Smiley)
The book chronicles a couple of years in the lives of the people and horses involved in Thoroughbred racing. It's funny, and sad, and generally a really good read. The people are a widely varied cast of chracters, and so are the horses, who are just as much personalities as the people are. It's a long book, but it doesn't feel like it, and I could have just kept reading about these characters forever (even those I would normally hate). *****
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