Aardy R. DeVarque (aardy) wrote,
Aardy R. DeVarque

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Books that I read in July

Books that I read in July:

30. Wells, H.G. Complete Short Stories (1038 p.)
(Contents: The time machine; The empire of the ants; A vision of judgment; The land ironclads; The beautiful suit; The door in the wall; The pearl of love; The country of the blind; The stolen bacillus; The flowering of the strange orchid; In the Avu observatory; The triumphs of a taxidermist; A deal in ostriches; Through a window; The temptation of Harringay; The flying man; The Diamond maker; &Aelig;pyornis Island; The remarkable case of Davidson's eyes; The lord of the dynamos; The Hammerpond Park burglary; The moth; The treasure in the forest; The Plattner story; The Argonauts of the air; The story of the late Mr. Elvesham; In the abyss; The apple; Under the knife; The sea raiders; Pollock and the Porroh man; The red room; The cone; The purple pileus; The jilting of Jane; In the modern vein: An unsympathetic love story; A castrophe; The lost inheritance; The sad story of a dramatic critic; A slip under the microscope; The reconciliation; My first aeroplane; Little mother up the Morderberg; The story of the last trump; The grizzly folk; The crystal egg; The star; A story of the stone age; A story of the days to come; The man who could work miracles; Filmer; The magic shop; The valley of spiders; Thet ruth about Pyecraft; Mr. Skelmersdale in Fairyland; The inexperienced ghost; Jimmy Goggles the god; The new accelerator; Mr. Ledbetter's vacation; The stolen body; Mr. Brisher's Treasure; Miss WInchelsea's heart; A dream of armageddon)

31. Rohmer, Sax. The Quest of the Sacred Slipper (Masterpieces of Oriental Mystery) (293 p.)

32. Sakai, Stan. Traitors of the Earth (Usagi Yojimbo, v. 26) (197 p.)

33. Rohmer, Sax. The Hand of Fu-Manchu (Fu-Manchu, v. 3 ; Masterpieces of Oriental Mystery) (308 p.)

34. Brown, Dan. Digital Fortress (429 p.)

35. Card, Orson Scott. Shadow of the Hegemon (Ender series) ( 451 p.)

July total: 2,716 pages
2012 total: 11,459 pages

I don't think I knew that H.G. Wells wrote this many short stories--and, despite the book's title, this isn't all of them; this isn't even all of the short stories that he'd written by the time the first edition of this particular collection was published. In any case, these stories are well-written, but several of them haven't aged well. And when the story has aged well enough, his language hasn't; several of them are painfully obviously written by a well-to-do, white, British gentleman steeped in the tradition of "the white man's burden" where anyone from anywhere that at the time was or had been anyone's colony is concerned. In particular, in keeping with the norm of the time & place these stories were written, Wells is often liberal with the N-word (except used in the 19th century British fashion as a casual descriptor of inferiority for Africans, Indians, Pacific islanders, and anyone else darker than thou rather than the 19th & 20th century American fashion specifically as an intentionally hateful, derogatory term). Also, short stories (particularly horror stories) often live and die by the originality, surprise, or shock value of the plot twist--and for many of these stories, the twist might have been original, surprising or shocking when these stories were first published, but those same twists have been used so many times since then that they're now considered predictable, pedestrian, and/or clichéd when used. Many of these are quite good stories, but if you read them, don't expect to be surprised or shocked very often, and bring your thick skin where treatment of minorities is concerned. The stories with "modern" settings are also often now quaint pictures of a bygone time--even "The time machine" starts off with a group of well-educated men who regularly gather at each other's homes for dinner and then retire to candle-lit (not even gas-lit) parlours for conversation about the latest scientific topics. Many of these stories would make for enjoyable movie adaptations, or at least decently watchable straight-to-SyFy fare.

I picked up the two Sax Rohmer books from the library's booksale years ago, thinking they were both collections of Fu Manchu stories, as Fu Manchu became the archetype on which so many comic-book villains are based. It turns out only one of them is a Fu Manchu story; the other features a secret sect of Muslim assassins (based on the etymology of the word "assassin") who are trying to retrieve the purported "slipper of Mohammed" (which was stolen by an archaeologist in the Middle East and delivered to the British Museum), and also maim and/or kill any non-Muslim who touches or transports it. Both stories are very pulpy in feel, which is both a good and bad thing--rollicking adventures, to be sure, but these aren't necessarily the best-written adventure books out there. For The Quest of the Sacred Slipper in particular, it took me a very long time to get used to Rohmer's repeated description of an "aged Oriental" with pale, translucent skin like wrinkled paper and long bony fingers ending in claw-like fingernails not referring a classic pulp Chinese villain, but rather to a pulp Arabic villain. I was also surprised at the non-traditional ending to that story, with the villains and heroes swinging a deal that lets the villains off nearly scot-free. For The Hand of Fu-Manchu, if you've read any comic book stories with The Mandarin, or if you've seen Big Trouble in Little China, or read or watched any of dozens of similar stories featuring a villainous Chinese mastermind with a drooping moustache, this is pretty much the origin of the archetype. (Except that in the books, Fu Manchu didn't have a moustache.)

Traitors of the Earth features a ronin rabbit against an army of undead soldiers. That should be pretty much all I need to say about it. There are better volumes of Usagi Yojimbo out there (such as the original Grasscutter), but this one is still better by far than most comic books out there.

Digital Fortress is basically The Da Vinci Code, except dealing with codebreaking and the National Security Agency rather than the Holy Grail legend. (Oh, and it also pre-dates Brown's better-known books.) As techno-thrillers go, it's a decent read, but rather than educating the reader about technology (or various locales in Seville, Spain, for the B plot), you really have to park your brain at the door for this one, as while he gets a few things right, the main plot rests on the conceptual linchpins that 1) a supercomputer that can crack any known encryption scheme (as of 1998) in mere hours is programmed to automatically execute any program that it runs across the instant it's been decrypted, 2) the NSA would intentionally directly link said computer (even basically describing it as a bottom-feeder that's infected with every known virus out there) with the one and only server farm that's used to store all confidential government data, with no security between the two, and no way to pull a plug (even physically) to disconnect the latter from the outside world, and 3) the Nagasaki bomb wasn't actually a plutonium bomb, but was really a uranium-238 bomb (hint: he's wrong). And to think, when it came out, reviewers praised the book for its realism! Basically, Brown casually rejected reality and substituted his own in order to tell the story he wanted to tell (even little things like the B-plot climax prominently featuring a stairwell in a tower of the Seville cathedral when it actually has ramps), and then got praise for telling a "realistic" story. And yet, despite all that, from a craft standpoint, I think this book is better written than either The Da Vinci Code or Angels & Demons, which seems backwards to me--you'd think a relatively obscure author's (as he was until Da Vinci Code) verbal tics and basic storytelling ability would get better rather than worse with practice.

That leaves Shadow of the Hegemon, the second book in the "Shadow" (a.k.a. "Bean") arc of Card's Ender stories. (I picked up the Shadow arc for free a year or so back, and figured the price was right and Card's ability to support Proposition 8 and the like wasn't profiting from my interest in finding out what happens in the "rest" of the Ender story.) This is a middle book rather than a standalone and is the first of two books that were originally conceived as a single novel, and thus has an inherently somewhat unsatisfying ending, but despite that, it's eminently readable. I'm not sure whether I prefer the Shadow arc so far to Ender's own story arc; Ender's arc started strong and interesting, then bogged down in techno-mystical midichlorian-like details I think are largely related to Mormonism's concepts of self & the soul, and after a while it felt like the characters Card was most interested in talking through were the characters I was least interested in reading more about, doing things I wasn't all that interested in. This time, we're starting off with characters I'm not all that interested in reading more about, but generally doing things that do interest me, and (so far at least), it's stayed more towards geo-political thriller territory. So far the story is strongly holding my interest over the characters I'd prefer to shoot and move on from. The next book is starting to veer off in other directions, so we'll see whether I'm still interested by the time the story wraps up. As with Digital Fortress, it is somewhat interesting from a historical perspective to read a relatively "modern"-set SF novel written before blogs, Facebook, and Tweeting were omnipresent, when e-mail was still the primary electronic mode of communication. (Card claims these stories are set a century or two in the future, but they read like they're set a mere decade or two in the future at most.) Because the story doesn't really end here, it's hard to recommend (or recommend against) the book, but I generally found it enjoyable.

Feudalism: Serf & Turf
Tags: books, reviews

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